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Clause 6 — Parliamentary control of decisions

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 8:15 pm on 4th March 2008.

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Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory Conservative, Wells 8:15 pm, 4th March 2008

I am grateful to my hon. Friends, particularly to my hon. Friends the Members for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) and for Stone (Mr. Cash), for their support for my amendments. I apologise for missing the contribution of my hon. Friend Mr. Horam, whose comments I shall read tomorrow morning. I believe that there was a general feeling on both sides of the House that something has gone badly wrong with this part of the Bill.

I listened with interest to the contributions of the hon. Members for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett), for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey). They are absolutely right. The intrusion of the EU into public services is a matter of great concern, and it will get worse under the treaty because of its powers to regulate services of general economic interest by qualified majority voting. They are right: people do not have confidence when such vital matters are decided not here, but in remote institutions that they do not control and do not feel part of.

I probably differ from Labour Members about the degree to which market forces should apply to matters such as the Post Office and public health, but that should be contested here in this House. That is normal. That is part of the democratic process. It is what general elections are about. People must feel that through their votes, they can affect the outcomes of these policy matters. When it is all decided in another jurisdiction in institutions that they feel they do not control, democracy dies. That is why, if Members press their amendments, they will certainly have my support. I hope that they do not accept what I thought were very unconvincing assurances from the Minister when he replied to their perfectly legitimate concerns.

On the passerelle clauses, it remains our contention—and it has certainly been strengthened in my mind during these debates—that the European Union has concluded that the traditional way of making treaty changes is too risky. The people simply say no. Democracy for the EU is too messy, too uncertain and unpredictable. That is why it will never again submit policy and treaty changes to an intergovernmental conference and use referendums. Instead, it will use these passerelle clauses to make big, fundamental and far-reaching changes to the treaty of Lisbon.

My amendments would build on the modest concession that the Government have accepted, whereby this House must agree to the passerelle changes, because all the passerelles are not included. I instance three passerelles that are not subject to the Bill; my amendments would ensure their inclusion. I also believe that a vote of this House is not adequate. Those provisions should be subject to primary legislation. In addition, my amendments include matters such as the setting up of a European public prosecutor—that should be subject to a vote in the House—and the formation of a European defence force, by which we all mean, of course, a European army.

Amendment No. 47, which the Government reject, would correct a defect in the Bill. As it stands, Ministers cannot vote in favour of or support a passerelle change without parliamentary approval, but if they abstain, the measure could go through, because abstention does not stop agreement by unanimity.

The Minister made the specious claim that abstention is somehow a form of support. When we abstain in votes here, we are taking a neutral position, neither supporting nor opposing, so his argument that this was a form of support is wrong—and I am glad to have the support of the Liberal Democrats. They said that their support was conditional on the Minister's reply. In view of his inadequate reply, I confidently expect—at least on this matter—that the Liberal Democrats will vote with us.

Finally, amendment No. 48 would set up a proper system of parliamentary control over EU decisions. It would, in all cases, require prior approval for Ministers to vote in favour of EU measures subject to unanimity—or, indeed, subject to QMV, where it had been inserted under the treaty. Without such approval, Ministers would reject it. If passed over the objections of a Minister in the Council, it would not be binding on the United Kingdom, notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972.

I understand that the amendment is a little too strong for my Front-Bench colleagues, so I shall not press it to a Division on this occasion, but, with the leave of the Committee, I shall press amendment No. 47. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 286, in page 2, line 39, at beginning insert—

'(A1) The Prime Minister may not attend a meeting of the European Council without having laid before Parliament a statement on their negotiating mandate and receiving Parliamentary approval in accordance with this section.

(A2) A Minister of the Crown may not attend a meeting of any configuration of the Council (within the meaning of Article 9C of the Treaty on European Union) without having laid before Parliament a statement on their negotiating mandate and receiving Parliamentary approval in accordance with this section.

(A3) A Minister of the Crown may not vote in favour of or otherwise support any legislative measure under any article of the Treaty on European Union or the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that relates to the internal market, if it applies to, or could be applied in relation to, any of the following, unless Parliamentary approval has been given in accordance with this section:

(a) health services provided by any NHS body,

(b) the statutory system of public education,

(c) social housing,

(d) postal services,

(e) public transport.

(A4) A Minister of the Crown may not vote either in favour of or against or otherwise support or oppose any legislative measure under Article 153 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, unless Parliamentary approval has been given in accordance with this section.

(A5) A Minister of the Crown may not authorise any person to represent the United Kingdom at a meeting of the special committee to assist the Commission in negotiating agreements with international organisations or third countries established in Article 188C of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union without having laid before Parliament a statement on their negotiating mandate; and where any person represents the United Kingdom at such a meeting, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament a statement on the matters discussed at the meeting, the positions taken by all persons representing the United Kingdom and the outcomes of the meeting, within 30 days of the meeting taking place.'.— [Jon Trickett.]

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