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Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush): I cannot allow the right hon. Gentleman to persist in his charge of arrogance, given that he served in one of the most arrogant Governments in recent history. I should also be interested to learn why the right hon. Gentleman felt perfectly able, in the last Government, to impose a list system on Northern Ireland.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: As the hon. Gentleman--better, perhaps, than most Members of Parliament--will recall, the legislation to which he refers was intended to enable parties--not individuals--to become involved in discussion, with a view to building on the foundations that we had laid for the Good Friday agreement. The nature of the passage of that legislation was different from the passage of this Bill. The hon. Gentleman, with his detailed knowledge of Northern Ireland, knows that and I hope that he is encouraged that I know it, and remember it, as well.

I give my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) a message. We have four hours, of which more than an hour has been used. I hope that Opposition Front Benchers will not play the Government's arrogant game and that, when the guillotine motion takes effect and we move to Second Reading, my right hon. and hon. Friends will give the Bill the detailed consideration that it deserves, as is appropriate to a Second Reading debate.

If that gets us to the end of four hours before the debate on Second Reading is completed, so be it. The message that will be sent to the country is that the Government are arrogant. The fact that we could not complete the debate on Second Reading, even though there was no hint of filibustering, would add weight to that charge of arrogance. This is a despicable motion, and I hope that the House rejects it.

6.41 pm

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): If I set off now, I could reach neither Skipton nor Ripon in four hours. If I had set off when the debate began, I could not have been in my constituency meeting people by the time that we had completed the entire consideration of a major constitutional Bill. That shows the extent of the discussion that we shall have.

The Home Secretary has only himself to blame for his situation. He began by treating the measure with the utmost flippancy, and he has ended by treating it as constitutional outrage. There has been no intermediate stage between the two--it is quite a transition. He began by reminding us that he was quite open to the idea of an open list, which is why we are so concerned, but it fell foul of the Belgian consideration. The House fell apart, having realised that because the Belgians use it, it is, almost by definition, something that cannot not be pursued. I am afraid that that is rather typical of some attitudes.

I have three concerns, and they are all to do with time. First, we need time to discuss three things that matter. Unlike some hon. Members, I believe that we need a

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European Parliament that enjoys legitimacy. It has a major role to play--a role that neither this House nor any national Parliament can play. As legislation in the European Union develops and becomes more complex, it has to be subject to scrutiny. We in this House try to play our role and try to play a complementary role to the European Parliament, as we should, but it will not do to bundle into this world--through a sort of Caesarean section imposed by a guillotine motion--Members of the European Parliament who do not have the legitimacy to do their job properly.

That is not the right way to deal with constitutional legislation. I have been in the job, and it is difficult enough to discharge one's responsibilities in the European Parliament without feeling that the whole thing has been pushed into a slightly contemnible existence.

This is happening against a background of the ethnic cleansing that has taken place in the Labour party, in respect of the purging of its lists. Selection in my party has not exactly been in disarray, but there have been one or two minor disagreements. No doubt selection in the Liberal party--using whatever jargon it needed to make sure that selection was man-woman-man-woman and perfectly matched to the latest social trends--went extremely well.

All of us would have a certain amount of fun and games if we had to go back to the first-past-the-post system, but the key is that we must have legitimacy for the Parliament. We need to discuss the fact that the Bill will impose institutional anonymity for MEPs, and impose it by guillotine.

The second reason why we need more time is because we have to reflect on the legitimacy of this House. It is a curious and slightly perverse coincidence that, only a week or so ago, we were discussing how to improve our scrutiny of European legislation, and the fact that we were not doing the job adequately and needed to do it better. Practically simultaneously, the guillotine motion has shown what we really feel about the scrutiny of European legislation--it is a secondary issue.

It is crucial that we be consistent with ourselves. I believe in scrutiny, by this House and by the European Parliament. We need equivalent legitimacy to do that job in the name of all our constituents.

Mr. Ian Stewart (Eccles): The right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) said that the measure had been adequately scrutinised. Does the right hon. Gentleman disagree with him?

Mr. Curry: Of course I disagree, for two reasons. First, the scrutiny was of the extremely narrow amendments that came back from the other place. Secondly, we are in a new Session. As far as I am aware, the constitutional rule of this House is that each Session is sufficient unto itself. I understand that only private Bills can roll across Sessions; we have not yet changed our rules.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: Will my right hon. Friend confirm that nothing about the imposition of the Parliament Acts requires a Bill to be guillotined in such a way when it comes back for consideration in a second Session?

Mr. Curry: My right hon. Friend, who has been a Member of the House for twice as long as me, is absolutely right. I am grateful for his remark.

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The third reason why we need more time is that the Bill diminishes democracy in one obvious way--there will be no by-elections. We all know what a check by-elections are on Governments. Moods and circumstances change, and by-elections are massively inconvenient. We might wish that they did not happen.

The one crime that is even worse than openly dissenting from one's party is dying while a Member of this House, which is massively inconvenient for the Whips. I go to the gym so that I can be difficult by the former method rather than the latter, but by-elections are a useful check and their absence will lessen democracy.

A list system also lends itself to abuse. We used to have the list for the European Parliament, which is why the issue of time needs to be developed--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. When we debate Second Reading, the right hon. Gentleman can put all those arguments. At the moment, we must talk about the narrow subject of the guillotine motion.

Mr. Curry: Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall merely offer an aperitif, in that we must be allowed time to consider how the measure could be disfigured. Continental politicians or the leaders of the party--

Mr. Soley: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that the leader of the Conservative party in the House of Lords has resigned. Could we have a statement from the Opposition about whether Conservative Front Benchers in the Commons are speaking for the Conservative party in the House of Lords any more, or are there two Conservative parties--one in the Lords and one here? Either way, it would assist the debate if we knew who is speaking for them.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Only the Government have powers to make statements in the House.

Mr. Curry: Many accusations may be laid against me, but speaking for the Conservative Front Bench is not currently one of them. Therefore, I can continue.

The abuse of the system that can take place is that party leaders--significant political figures overseas--may lead the list and be Members of the European Parliament for 10 minutes before resigning. Did people vote to have Mr. Chirac, Mr. Giscard d'Estaing or Mr. Jospin resign after 10 minutes? Are we to lend ourselves to that manipulation of the lists, where people are merely spectators and are exploited? That is why time--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Only the right hon. Gentleman's last comment was relevant to the motion. He cannot put arguments about closed and open lists at this stage.

Mr. Curry: A talent in politics is to have the intuition to realise when an argument has been taken as far as circumstances permit. I shall therefore conclude.

The Government should have their business, but they should work for it. They should have the Bill, in the end, because that is democracy--but they should work for it. This serious constitutional measure breaks with tradition in our politics. It changes how we have naturally thought

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about the way in which our politics operate and the chemistry of the democracy that we defend. That is why we should give the Bill detailed scrutiny. The Government's imposition of this guillotine is an abuse of the spirit of the way in which things are done in this country.


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