I beg to move,
That the Order of 28th January be further amended as follows—
(1) in paragraph (1) for 'the first business is' substitute 'the business includes',
(2) in the Table, in the entry for Allotted Day 9—
(a) in the second column, for 'Clauses 3 to 7' substitute 'Clause 3, the Schedule, and Clauses 4 and 5', and
(b) in the third column, add '6 hours after commencement',
(3) in the Table, in the entry for Allotted Day 10—
(a) in the second column, for 'Clauses 3 to 7, so far as not completed on Allotted Day 9' substitute 'Clauses 6 to 7, and any selected amendments to Clause 8 other than those making commencement contingent on a referendum', and
(b) in the third column, for 'The moment of interruption' substitute '6 hours after commencement', and
(4) in the Table, in the entry for Allotted Day 11—
(a) in the second column, for 'Clause 8, the Schedule, New Clauses and New Schedules' substitute '(1) remaining proceedings on Clause 8, and (2) New Clauses and New Schedules', and
(b) in the third column, for 'The moment of interruption' substitute '(1) 6 hours after commencement, and (2) 15 minutes after commencement'.
The motion does three things in response to concerns about the scrutiny of clauses 3 to 8. First, it provides certainty for the House by protecting a full six hours of debate on each of the three days of debate this week. The time is protected against any statements or urgent questions—such matters have arisen on five occasions during Committee days thus far. I am delighted to see Mr. Harper in his place—he is in a different place from normal, but Conservative Members move around to make it appear that there are more of them. He has asked on a number of occasions whether day 10 and in particular day 11 could have a protected number of hours of business, saying that he would be grateful if Ministers tabled a provision to that effect. I congratulate him on the influence that he has brought to bear in ensuring that just that has happened.
Secondly, the motion structures a division of time over the three days to ensure that sufficient time is given to discuss the clauses of most interest to the House—that is the case with clause 8 and its hook for the discussion of a referendum, and with clause 6, which covers the amending provision and new oversight powers for Parliament.
Following this weekend's astounding referendum results, does the Minister not believe that it is now necessary to extend debate on the referendum question? Perhaps we ought also to debate the issue on Thursday so that we could explore why, for instance, Maria Hutchings's superb campaign in Eastleigh did so well in getting that referendum result.
I thought that the Minister was going to say that I had a different view about the timing. I had said that I was grateful to the Minister and the Government for having listened and for having at least protected the six hours of debate. In an intervention on the Deputy Leader of the House, I pointed out that the debate on the referendum was to be on a Wednesday, and that if we carried on we would have many hours free in the evening to debate the matter at length.
The business of the House motion guarantees a certain number of hours of debate, as the hon. Gentleman requested. The third thing that it sets out to do is to provide an opportunity at the end of day 11 for a new clause to be moved, protecting that possibility without encroaching on the time available for the referendum debate.
In the light of the point made by my hon. Friend Bob Spink—that an overwhelming majority of the people who voted in the constituencies where referendums were held opted to support the holding of a referendum on the treaty—is it too late for the Government to recognise that the people of this country deserve a vote on the matter, and to decide that they will, after all, grant a referendum?
In my constituency, fewer than one in six of the electorate voted for a referendum. The timetable set out for this week, which builds on the first programme motion, sets aside three days, which represents the same number of days of debate as on the Committee stage of the Bill implementing the treaty of Nice. We have already had eight full days of debate.
Sir Nicholas Winterton and I will not agree on whether there should be a referendum, but I disagree with his assertion that Britain would be better off out of the European Union. I do not disrespect him, but I disagree with his view, which I accept he holds strongly.
I know that the Minister always likes to be transparent with the House: when he said that one in six people in his constituency voted for a referendum, he was referring to the sample rather than the percentage of those who voted. He will know that, in his constituency, more than 85 per cent. of those one in six people who were sampled wanted a referendum on the treaty. Are the Government not failing democracy when the people of this country have to take direct action, only a few hundred yards from Parliament, because the Government have reneged on their promises on the EU reform treaty?
The hon. Gentleman knows his constituency better than I do, and I hope that he would accept that all hon. Members know their own constituencies better than any other Member. In my constituency, more people voted for the failed Conservative candidate at the last election than in the process that we have just been through. Of course, the process cost nearly £50,000.
I shall return to the business motion, because I do not think that you would thank us for going much wider, Mr. Speaker.
The place to make decisions is in this Chamber, not in a crane in the sky above London. This Chamber will decide later this week whether it is right to have a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, in the same way that it decided whether there should be referendums on the treaties of Maastricht, Nice and Amsterdam.
Does the Minister agree that, when he mentions the Nice, Maastricht and Amsterdam treaties, he ignores an issue that we shall debate shortly: the amalgamation of all those treaties into one? To say that there is no need for us to examine the whole, and that we need only examine individual treaties, is to deny what the Government are saying in their own proposals and about the mandate.
No, the mandate is clear, and has been clear on each day of the debate. Every Government of the European Union has agreed that the constitutional approach has been abandoned. That view has been accepted by Governments on the left, centre-left, centre and centre-right of European politics.
I am grateful to the Minister, and I promise him that this will be the last time that I intervene on him; he has been most generous in giving way. If he were to allow the debate this week to extend into Thursday, so that we had more time, we could explore how the referendums this weekend had a greater turnout than many EU elections in this country.
Does my hon. Friend accept that a fundamentally different situation now faces us in that, if the desire of the Liberal Democrats is upheld, we will be effectively making a decision based on two referendums? Should he not take that into account, so that we can extend the time, to debate both fully?
As I am against holding one referendum, it will hardly come as a surprise to my hon. Friend to learn that I am against holding two referendums. We are not tempted by that approach, and I have set out a business motion that protects the time on each day available to the House this week. We have been flexible.
So that we can determine how much time will be required and given what the Minister has said about what has taken place already, does he accept that much of what he has described as debate has, in fact, been very general debate on subjects connected with the treaty but not detailed scrutiny of its provisions? Does he accept that, for example, we have had no detailed scrutiny so far of the treaty's provisions on defence, which is a very important subject in the treaty?
The Minister always makes comparisons with treaties that were much shorter and much less controversial, but does he not accept the point made by my hon. Friend Mr. Clappison? The Minister makes great play of the time that we have taken so far, but it has been largely taken up at the Government's insistence with general debates on European issues that have gone very wide of the treaty of Lisbon? The debates have been very familiar to many hon. Members; they have been about the merits and otherwise of various aspects of our European policy. Does he not agree that this experiment has been a failure and that we should have debated the amendments tabled by those hon. Members who, unlike me, disagree with the treaty's contents?
Of course, on these issues of substance and on some of the policy issues that relate to Europe, I find myself at common cause with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but the fact is that the structured approach that we have taken to each day was contained in the programme motion and the principle was in both the Government's motion and Conservative Front Benchers' motion. Although, of course, the Conservatives demanded more days, they nevertheless suggested their own set of proposals along this structured approach.
But does not the Minister understand how difficult he is making things, even for those of us who support the treaty of Lisbon? To have a debate on the treaty of Lisbon that excludes a debate on the treaty's effect on defence is not to have a complete debate on the treaty. Similarly, would he not be in a stronger position if he had spoken out against holding a referendum in the first place, as some of us did, instead of supporting a referendum when that was convenient and now opposing a referendum when that is convenient? Is it not better to be against referendums always?
I hope that it does not unsettle the right hon. Gentleman if I disagree with him. Where there is an issue of substantial constitutional significance—for example, if we were ever to consider joining the euro—there is a case for consulting the public in a referendum, as we did when we established devolution in Scotland and Wales. Those are substantial, lasting constitutional changes, and I agree that there is, on occasion, a place for a referendum.
I thank the Minister for giving way. My point is directly about the motion, Mr. Speaker. The Minister asserted that when we debated the original business of the House motion, we consented to the Government's procedure in principle, but we did not. Let me read him what my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague said on that point, in response to an intervention on the topic:
"We certainly do not agree with the motion, and we will vote against it. We will, of course, vote for our amendment, not because we agree with any of the procedures involved but because we wish to propose an amendment that ought to be acceptable to the Government and that would address many of Members' concerns about the time available for consideration of amendments. We are no fans of the procedure employed in the motion or of the constraints that it sets on debate."—[ Hansard, 28 January 2008; Vol. 471, c. 61.]
That sets the record straight. We did not favour the Government's methodology, and we still do not.
I hope that my hon. Friend will make it clear that it was the Government who proposed the procedure; other people opposed it. The Government radically changed the way in which we are handling the Bill. That may be a good thing or a bad thing—in my view, it is an extraordinarily bad, selfish and rather unimaginative thing to do—but he should be proud of what he has done, because it was the Government's decision not to have amendments tabled in the normal way, not to proceed in the normal way, and to limit the discussion.
I shall conclude my remarks—my one paragraph. We have varied the motion on six occasions. On each of those occasions we responded to the amendments tabled and extended the time available for detailed debate. Today's motion makes good the further undertaking that I gave the House that we would be flexible and would secure sufficient protected time to debate clauses 3 to 8. With that, I commend the motion to the House.
The Minister referred to the previous business of the House motion, so I shall do so too, if I may. I wish to begin by explaining with what part of today's Government business of the House motion we agree. The motion in effect divides up the time for the three remaining days of Committee, and protects the business. The Minister will recall—in fact, he mentioned the matter in his opening remarks—that when we debated the original business of the House motion on
However, there is much that is wrong with the motion. For instance, the House will recall that when we debated the original motion, we objected to the Government's methodology in relation to the debate, and sought more time to debate specific amendments. We also argued for at least six extra days of debate to match the figure of 20 days that the Government have repeatedly floated in the media. We asked for a day on which to debate the defence implications of Lisbon—a point that we subsequently pressed repeatedly at business questions—given that the defence amendments were not touched on at all. Unfortunately, the motion does not allow any extra time for the important topic of defence to be debated in detail, and that is to be deprecated.
As the amendments relating to defence were tabled in my name, I concur with my hon. Friend Mr. Francois and—this is unusual, but welcome—my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke and my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer. Although we disagree about certain aspects of the treaty, we agree that the defence issue has not been discussed. Our boys out in Afghanistan and Iraq are at risk as result of some of the provisions of this treaty.
My hon. Friend has made a powerful point. In the run-up to these debates, the Government repeatedly said in the media that their strategy was to divide the Conservative party on Europe. As has been said, they have succeeded in unifying my hon. Friend Mr. Cash, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke and my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer, which is more than we have managed to do for years.
Will my hon. Friend point out that some of us want a debate on defence in order to show that the treaty will help our boys in Afghanistan and elsewhere? If we do not have a chance to say it—
As has been said, we really did want that extra day on defence.
It has emerged that we have the rest of today to debate just four amendments, whereas we will have six hours tomorrow to debate many more amendments. That will hopefully include our important amendment No. 20, which would not wreck the treaty, because it is procedural. It would amend the Bill so that no further vetoes could be given up under the so-called ratchet clause without an Act of Parliament. I raise that question because previous experience of debating this Bill does not set an encouraging precedent for being able to debate everything, not least because of the Government's deliberate ploy of using so-called themed debates to eat up time that would otherwise be available to debate specific, detailed amendments.
On day one in Committee of the whole House, when we debated justice and home affairs, there were three groups of amendments. We only managed to debate the first group, and we did not discuss any of the important amendments concerning borders, visas, asylum and immigration. On day four, the theme was the single market. There were four groups of amendments, but we only reached the first group, so we did not touch on subjects such as social policy, the free movement of workers and intellectual property rights.
On day five, as a number of hon. Members have said, we debated foreign, security and defence policy. That night there were three groups of amendments, and again, only the first group was reached. The treaty includes proposals on creating military structures that could rival NATO, a mutual defence guarantee and an armaments agency, but none of the amendments relating to defence were considered. I reiterate that we have repeatedly pressed the Government at business questions to allow us to debate defence, but the motion does not reflect that request.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Foreign Affairs Committee's analysis of the defence provisions of the treaty identified five important changes introduced by the treaty? The Committee found one change in which the Government's wording, which was taken directly from the treaty, was ambiguous and needed clarification. None of those matters has been debated, although they are important to this country's defence.
My hon. Friend has scrutinised the treaty in detail, and as usual he has made an important point. The Government said that there were only 50 vetoes, but on the day of the foreign policy and defence debate, they released an answer saying, "Oops! Sorry! There are 51 vetoes, and the extra one relates to defence." We did not get an opportunity to debate that, either.
On day six in Committee of the whole House, we debated international development. There were two groups of amendments, and we actually reached the second group for five minutes.
This is yet another motion that slightly amends the timetable. Although my hon. Friend has acknowledged that that involves meeting hon. Members' desire to protect the time for the referendum debate, how far are the Government consulting the usual channels? Were Conservative Front Benchers or Liberal Democrat Front Benchers approached about this latest motion, and was there an attempt to agree it? Surely the point of timetabling in this House is to enable the maximum opportunity for debate involving the widest range of opinions in order to achieve proper scrutiny. Have the Government presented yet another unsolicited business motion, or was there at least an attempt to reach an agreement first?
As an ex-Whip, I have learned never to comment in the Chamber on any discussions through the usual channels; that is always safest career-wise. Nevertheless, my right hon. and learned Friend will know that we asked repeatedly at business questions for an extra day to be added for debating defence. That request was made almost ad nauseam, but unfortunately the Government have not complied with it. It is disappointing that we have not been allowed to debate defence.
I am not sure that my hon. Friend should be concerned about his career—he should be concerned about the principle of what we do in the House and our ability to scrutinise.
I should like to take up the matter to which my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke and my hon. Friend Mr. Clappison referred. Is my hon. Friend Mr. Francois aware that Mr. Giscard d'Estaing, an author of the European constitution and past President of France, has said that the treaty contains all the critical elements of the constitution? Is it not true, therefore, that this business motion is inadequate and does not reflect the best interests of this House?
We will continue the discussion in the Tea Room, but my hon. Friend is entirely right.
On day seven in Committee, we debated four groups of amendments relating to EU institutions and remaining matters in clause 2. That day, there were four quite large groups of amendments, but we touched only on the first. How can the Government be confident about their business motion given that so far in Committee the Chair has selected 20 groups of amendments, only eight of which have ever been debated—one of them for only five minutes?
The subjects of borders, visas, asylum, immigration, defence, social policy and free movement of workers have never been debated in detail at all. The Government had hoped that they would be able to get away with the whole process, of which today's motion forms a further part, without anyone outside the House noticing and with no media attention. However, I am pleased to say that they have been unsuccessful. For instance, I doubt whether their motion today will redeem them in the eyes of Simon Carr, who, following the debate on the original business motion, wrote a piece about all this in The Independent, entitled "Gordon's trickery backfires on him". He noted the Government's methodology for the Committee stage as follows:
"The Government's promises for unparalleled opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny were, frankly, demolished by both sides...Why was so much time being given to these nebulous themes and so little to amendments?"
Will my hon. Friend be careful not to allow the Government to get away with the idea that they have misused the House's arrangements only in respect of the treaty of Lisbon to ensure that there is not proper debate of Bills? There has never been a time when legislation has been so ill-debated, so ill-argued and therefore so ill-produced as since the so-called modernisation that the Government have carried through.
My right hon. Friend has made a pertinent point, which I wish to reinforce. It is even worse when the Government constrain debate on a treaty to which this country would theoretically be committed for a very long time.
"Labour's chief whip has persuaded MP's to vote to overrule their own standing orders. Instead of line-by-line debate which explores changes to foreign policy procedures, EU co-operation on crime or energy, at least half of each day is devoted to a 'themed' discussion, with debate on specific amendments tacked on later. Does procedure matter? No one would be allowed to change the rules before a football match or criminal trial."
I also doubt that today's motion will impress Philip Johnston of The Daily Telegraph, who, in a piece on
"Conventionally, this is done by tabling amendments to specific clauses and debating them in fine detail. But this is not happening and it is a scandal."
He then went on to note:
"When Mr. Brown was challenged about this in the Commons last week, he said 'We are considering the European Union (Amendment) Bill day by day in the House of Commons in great detail.' Day by day, but not line by line. The cynicism is breathtaking."
In view of the unequivocal views quoted by the hon. Gentleman, can he explain why his Front Benchers lay down and allowed the Government to run right over them, and why the Liberals, who made their pathetic little mewling noise last week, have nevertheless continued to co-operate with the Government, who are determined that we should not debate the legislation as opposed to some of the ideas?
I thank the hon. Lady. We have not lain down at all—we opposed the Government's motion and voted against it; that is why I deliberately read into the record the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal. [ Interruption. ]
I am grateful for the gentle wave. I am not accustomed to that from the hon. Lady, but I will take it in the spirit in which it was offered.
The truth is that this whole process has been rigged from the outset. First, we were promised a referendum on the treaty, and then that promise was broken. Then we were promised 20 days of debate, and that promise was broken too. We have been given only 14 days, which today's motion does not extend and which, according to the Library, represents less than half of the 29 days' debate in the Commons allocated to the treaty of Maastricht. That is why the Minister talks about Nice and Amsterdam but never makes the comparison with Maastricht. We were then promised an opportunity for line-by-line scrutiny of the treaty itself, and even that promise was broken, because the Government came up with a totally new way to debate treaties specifically designed to curtail the detailed scrutiny of the document that they tell the country they are so proud of.
Will my hon. Friend note, too, that a day is not a day in the sense that the public outside understand? It has been reduced to an hour and a half or two and a half hours, and we spent a total of 19 hours on clause 2, which is the guts of the Bill. That bears no comparison with any constitutional measure that we have had on the Floor of the House in the past, and questions the legitimacy of the process.
My hon. Friend, who has, as usual, followed these debates very closely, makes a powerful point. I reiterate: when the Government are comparing treaties, they never like to compare this with Maastricht because they know that that had twice as much debate. Indeed, in those days, a parliamentary day was usually much longer in terms of the time available for debate, so the disparity is even greater if one makes the comparison in hours, as my hon. Friend encourages me to.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Is it not worse than he suggests, because not only have all these promises been broken but the Government have not been completely transparent about how they have done it? They keep repeating that we are allegedly having line-by-line scrutiny, but very little of that time is devoted to looking at the treaty, as it is spent on debating these wide motions.
My hon. Friend will recall that on
The hon. Gentleman may be making a powerful case, but it is also a completely pointless case. Unaccustomed as I am to being helpful to those on my Front Bench during these debates, if I consider the amendments that have been tabled during the limited time we have had, I find that the Opposition have not come up with any ideas, other than, "I don't like what's in the treaty". He should be a bit more positive in the next couple of days.
The hon. Lady is of course entitled to her view, but if we had had an opportunity to debate a number of those amendments, powerful cases would have been made. Because of the way in which the debate was structured, it was not possible to do so.
The Government's whole case against a referendum is based on the alternative of detailed parliamentary scrutiny. We have not had detailed parliamentary scrutiny. The Government do not deserve to get away with this, and on Wednesday, hon. and right hon. Members will have a vital opportunity to prevent them from doing so. I shall end, as I have taken quite a lot of interventions, with an editorial from The Times today, which is entitled "Let The People Speak". It says:
"Institutional subterfuge, such as that in which the Government has engaged, will do great harm to the reputation of Parliament, will increase the contempt felt for the EU by much of the electorate and make a mockery of the 'new', more inclusive, politics which the Prime Minister insists that he favours."
We agree. We say that these debates have been rigged from start to finish for the Government's convenience. We say, "Let the people decide".
I shall speak very briefly. We should be quite clear about what is happening here. This legislation is being guillotined, not programmed. It is being cut short in a most brutal and unhelpful manner. Presumably, that is happening because we are frightened of debating in this Chamber every massive change to the way in which we organise our affairs. The House of Commons has always been jealous of its command of powers over the Government and of the way in which it proceeds through legislation.
What we are debating has enormously far-ranging implications, and because of the way in which the process has been managed, we are unable to discuss whole fields of affairs that are of enormous importance to our people. For instance, transport is not even mentioned under the arrangements for this so-called programme. The Government are foolish and unwise; they ought to have handled this matter better.
The thing that depresses me most is that neither the Front Benchers of the official Opposition, nor the unofficial hangers-on, have made the slightest attempt to wreck this legislation in the way that they should, or have been prepared to, despite the artificial noise. Until we do so, we are failing those who sent us here.
I do not often agree with Mr. Francois, or Mrs. Dunwoody, but I agree with their opposition to this motion. We disagreed with the original business motion because, as others have said, it curtailed time for this House, and we do not like the Government's overall approach. As the hon. Member for Rayleigh said, it is wrong that we have not had proper time to debate common defence and security policy. Many trenchant views are held in the House on that and it is wrong that we cannot debate it. Other matters, too, have had scant attention.
I say to the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich that we were not consulted on the business motion. My only discussions—formally and informally—with the Government have been to ask for more time.
I have long believed that, if we are to have timetabling, which apparently now applies to all Bills, it should essentially be for the Opposition parties to decide how best to use the time on the matters that most concern them. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if the Government had said to his Front Benchers and to my hon. Friend Mr. Francois that there were three days in which to cover the clauses that we are considering, and had allocated three generous timetables, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the nationalist parties could have reached agreement on how to divide them so that the most important amendments, in the opinion of critics, would take up our time? Instead, we have the Government's best offer of what seems to them to be most convenient and right in dividing up the available time.
I strongly agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. We often go through a charade and pretend that the House controls the Government when the Government railroad matters through. We should change the rules to allow the Opposition parties a much greater say. Perhaps we should consider other legislatures, which have business committees and do things differently—in my view, more democratically.
I made the point to the Minister that we should have extra time—at least an extra day—to debate especially common defence and security policy. If he has a chance to answer the debate, I hope that he will explain why he has been unable to provide that. Not doing so is wrong and undermines the process. As someone who is pro-European and supports the Lisbon treaty, I stress that such actions do not help the Government's case. That is why they are misguided, and really should withdraw the motion and start again.
I shall be brief. In compensation for breaking a solemn manifesto pledge to hold a referendum, the Government—the Prime Minister himself—promised that the House would be given an opportunity to debate in Committee, line by line, the provisions of the Lisbon treaty, which effectively incorporates the constitutional treaty on which they promised us a referendum. We have not had that line-by-line consideration. The House has not had—and will not have, if the Government motion is passed—the opportunity to debate a single line of the numerous and important clauses in the treaty that affect immigration, asylum and border control, to consider a single amendment or to take a single vote. In other words, the Prime Minister will break a second promise if the business motion is passed. I find that disgraceful.
I find it appalling that a Minister who is personally so charming and agreeable can be party to such a duplicitous attempt to prevent the House from having what it was promised.
The Government must think again. There is no doubt that there is much in the Lisbon treaty to debate; there is no doubt that we have not debated it; and there is also no doubt that Oppositions always make that claim, but on this occasion the claim has very serious truth in it.
The Government promised us line-by-line scrutiny but they have not given us the same length of time as the previous Conservative Government gave the debate on Maastricht. They have made debate difficult with their novel procedure and they have wrongly accused my hon. Friend Mr. Francois of going along with that procedure when he manifestly did not. They have upset their own supporters, who see that the motion is utterly unfair, and have made Conservative Members who believe in the treaty of Lisbon extremely angry about the process that they have introduced. I hope very much that they will withdraw the motion.
Views on the EU and the Lisbon treaty transcend the party political spectrum. There are a number of amendments tabled in my name and those of my hon. Friends who wish to discuss the implications for public services. We hope that the Chairman of Ways and Means will look on them preferentially, but it seems very unfair that our debate is again being shoehorned into a very short time. There is also the issue of the referendum. As I said in my earlier intervention, we are now, in effect, discussing two referendums. Again, it would be only right and proper—