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Sir Teddy Taylor: Does not my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the situation is far more serious that he suggests? Even if we could change the wording of the documents, under section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993--an unusual measure--the amended documents would not be sent to the Commission. A report based on such documents is sent. So even if all our hon. Friends said that they did not like what the documents say about agriculture and wanted to change that, it would not matter because the Government send a report based on the documents; they do not send the documents themselves. So democracy has been more undermined by section 5 of that Act than perhaps my right hon. and learned Friend realises.
Mr. Hogg: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. He may well be right. Although we have differed on many matters in the past, we are broadly saying the same thing on this occasion--whatever view the Committee expresses and sends to the Commission, it will not necessarily reflect the true view of either the country or the House.
Mr. Bercow: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the reasons why it is wrong to treat the documents on a par with and as if they were delegated legislation is that to do so gives the impression that they are a fait accompli? In fact, far from being delegated legislation, they are precursors to legislation.
Mr. Hogg: I do not agree with my hon. Friend, but he makes an interesting point that I would like to amplify. When people deal with legislation, they consider the consequences of what they write rather more carefully than they would if they were concerned only with a report. If they write legislation, they have to consider, for example, the penal sanctions for those people who contravene its terms. Naturally, even this Government consider carefully the terms of legislation. However, they are able to take a much more cavalier attitude to reports, because they know full well that a report--as distinct from legislation--can never be the subject of judicial review.
My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) makes an interesting point. By referring to this matter as though it were delegated legislation, we are cloaking the process with a degree of respectability that Government propaganda does not deserve. One of the things that most of our colleagues in the European Union would accept is that this country is, generally speaking, careful about legislation.
By moving the motion, the Government are indulging in a sleight of hand that is not respectable. The House needs to devise a mechanism by which we can say, when we remit the matter to the Commission, that it is not legislation but Government propaganda; that the Committee that has considered it has not had the opportunity to amend it; that the issue has been considered only by those Members who are acceptable to the Government Whips and, by definition, that is not a test of the view of the House; and that the House has not had a chance to express a view or to vote on the matter. In short, this is worthless report and should be treated as such. My advice to Members is that they should have nothing to do with a process that is a denial of democracy.
Mr. Tipping: Several hon. Members have said that this has been a serious and interesting debate, and I agree with them. It has been extremely interesting and it has given the House the opportunity to test out our new processes, a point that the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) acknowledged.
As I said in my introductory remarks, I shall focus on the process behind the motion rather than on the substance of section 5. I shall try to resist the temptation of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who challenged me by saying that I should have answered the questions before they were asked. That is an interesting concept. I know that I have a degree of telepathy and understanding of the House, but he will forgive me for not answering all his questions before he asked them. He would think me churlish if I answered the wrong question.
The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham realised, on reflection, that this was a matter of process rather than substance. Nevertheless, several questions have been asked, and I shall try, with your forbearance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to answer them without straying outside what I see as the terms of the debate.
The shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), asked me, in effect, whether this was to be a debate on whether the United Kingdom was meeting the five economic tests. She questioned whether the documents that have figured in our debate are sufficiently up to date to enable Members on the Floor of the House or in a Committee to decide whether those tests are being met.
This debate does not concern an update on the five economic tests. The programme provides information on UK economic policies in line with the stability and growth pact. It does not assess whether the UK has achieved cyclical conversion within the euro area. The hon. Lady will know--my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury reassures me on this point and tells me to be firm, and it is widespread currency--that the Government have said that we will produce another assessment of the five tests early in the next Parliament.
The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), whom I suspect will be with us shortly, made a good case for himself being a member of the Committee. There has been much debate about who the members of the Committee should be. There are plenty of volunteers on the Opposition Whips Bench. I want to reinforce the point that hon. Members can attend Committees and speak in their debates, whether or not they are members of those Committees. In preparing for the debate, I took the precaution of looking at Opposition Members' attendance at the previous two such Committee debates, and I have to say that it was extremely sparse. I look forward, if this matter is referred to a Committee, to studying the attendance record and reading the report of its proceedings.
The hon. Gentleman told us that we were sending the matter to a Standing Committee to put it out of sight and out of mind. He did not use those words, but he said that the debate would take place away from public view. The Committee will be open to the public, and there is no question of us trying to hide it.
Mr. Gerald Howarth: I entirely accept that the Standing Committee will be open to the public. My point was that proceedings are generally more visible if they take place on the Floor of the House. I know that the Press Gallery is empty now, but there is more focus on what goes on in the House than on what happens in Committee.
Mr. Tipping: I look forward to reading the hon. Gentleman's important comments in tomorrow's national press. He has made many valid points and I would be disappointed if The Daily Telegraph and The Times did not quote him at length.
The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, who, surprisingly, has not yet rejoined the debate, asked whether the procedure under Standing Order No. 16 was appropriate. Standing Order No. 16 provides for the Question to be put after one and a half hours on any motion pursuant to an Act. He argued that, since the motion was not a statutory instrument, Standing Order No. 16 did not apply. As section 5 of the 1993 Act is clearly part of an Act, it is eligible for such debate.