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Roger Casale (Wimbledon): If I understand the right hon. Gentleman correctly, he is saying that there should be greater time to debate the treaty of Nice in this place. He speaks from the Back Benches, but the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), who spoke from the Front Benches, would like the matter to be decided by a referendum. Which of the two deliberative processes should it be?

Mr. Forth: I should certainly be intrigued about the possibility of a referendum on the Nice treaty, as on any matter of profound constitutional importance. If we can have a referendum on a matter as utterly trivial and irrelevant as the Greater London Assembly and the Mayor, there should be ample scope for one on something as important as our nationhood. I would not shrink from that possibility.

Mr. Speaker: Order. We are discussing the programme motion.

Mr. Forth: Yes, Mr. Speaker. I know that you would not want me to pursue such matters.

I concede that the great danger in programme motion debates is the appearance of repetition on the part of Opposition Members. I make no apology for that, as the underlying principles to which we object remain the same in each case, although the detail is different. The principle is even more important in respect of this Bill, not only because of its scope and enormity, but in the light of the number and scale of the amendments that have been tabled, to say nothing of those of which we cannot yet even be aware.

I oppose the programme motion, just as I hope that I shall continue to oppose all such motions—on principle and in relation to their application, detail and the terms in which they are presented. For me, they demonstrate all too well the Government's attitude, as they seek constantly to diminish the role of the House of Commons, its Members and its Committees, whether Upstairs or on the Floor of the House. I hope that hon. Members will oppose this and all other such motions.

3.43 pm

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): I support the principle of a programme motion where it is demonstrated that adequate time has been provided to ensure that all parts of a Bill are properly scrutinised and that all those who have realistic amendments can speak to them and gain a response from the Government. In respect of the motion before us, which allots three full days in Committee, I say respectfully that it seems to me that those criteria have been more than satisfied.

Interestingly, the contributions that we have so far heard from the official Opposition suggest that they would prefer a wholly open-ended arrangement. The Bill would thus become the Marie Celeste of the legislative

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programme, travelling hither and thither, with no clear destination. That is because the official Opposition believe that delay equals scrutiny. I have never been persuaded by that argument. Anyone who has faced 50 minutes of cross-examination by the late Mr. George Carman QC realises that delay does not necessarily equal scrutiny, and that a point of any substance can be made succinctly, effectively and in a short time.

I am convinced that the official Opposition are anxious not to scrutinise the Bill but to ensure that it never reaches the statute book. [Interruption.] That is a perfectly legitimate position. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) must calm himself.

Mr. Campbell: The Opposition's position is legitimate, but it should not be given spurious respectability, as if their determination to scrutinise every provision line by line, phrase by phrase lies at the heart of their objections.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman acknowledge that, however succinctly a point is made, elements of the Bill that we have not previously considered will come before us. Their consideration will take time, and anything that is introduced later will inevitably be denied that time. We experienced that difficulty time and again when a programme motion was agreed for the Scotland Bill. Many clauses were not discussed, to the great frustration of Labour Members, simply because provisions that were not expected to take much time did so.

Mr. Campbell: It would have frustrated the people of Scotland if the Bill had been considered in the way in which the Opposition are urging upon us this afternoon. Their position would be legitimate if many Conservative Members who are present had not been party to guillotine motions in the 18 years that they were in government. Some of us remember legislation that was pushed through on a three-line Whip. Guillotines were used to ensure its passage because the Conservative Government believed that it was in the national interest and perhaps in their political interest to do that.

Protestations in support of endless delay whereby intellectual scrutiny can somehow be achieved carry little conviction from those who have in the past used every device available to a Government to ensure that their legislation reached the statute book.

Mr. Forth: Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. Campbell: No.

Mr. Forth: What is the problem?

Mr. Campbell: I am about to sit down so that we can get on to the real business of the Bill.

The programme motion is reasonable and sensible. We should adopt it and proceed to the substance of the Bill, about which the Opposition claim to be worried.

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3.48 pm

Mr. William Cash (Stone): I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) on the point that delay does not equal scrutiny. I have never believed that. However, legislation, especially on the scale of the Bill, which incorporates a treaty into our domestic law, requires rational analysis and proper examination. It cannot be done in the limited time available under the programme motion. It is frankly impossible, and the Government know it.

The relevant early-day motion and the Parliament First group received support from all parties. This afternoon, we are considering proper scrutiny and the independence of Back-Bench Members. I make no apology for tabling 250 amendments and new clauses because the treaty requires proper examination. I do not believe that there is the slightest chance of that in the parameters of the programme motion.

We need to get on and, in the interests of brevity, I shall simply add that I am slightly surprised, though not offended, that I was given no opportunity to participate in the Programming Committee, despite tabling so many amendments. Perhaps that is because the procedures do not allow it. The Prime Minister himself has suggested that he would like to see my pamphlet, along with the amendments and the arguments, and I have sent them to him. I am glad to see that the Minister, with whom I have had perfectly amiable relations over a long time, is holding up my pamphlet.

I have told the Minister in advance that, because of the shortage of time and because we do not have an opportunity to go into all the matters in the depth required, I will send him my briefing papers, which are also being supplied to certain Conservative colleagues of mine. He can then respond to them in writing. I should simply like to know, before we start these proceedings, whether he would be glad to follow that as an alternative procedure to the proper examination of this matter on the Floor of the House.

3.50 pm

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): It is a crying shame, and no great tribute to the Minister for Europe that he should come to the House this afternoon to commend to it quite the most draconian truncation of debate on an important constitutional measure that we have seen for some considerable time. [Interruption.] People may chunter from sedentary positions in evident disapproval of my expression of that opinion, but I am bound to say to Labour Members that if they wish to cite recent examples of a more severe truncation of debate, I shall be happy to listen to all comers. We are discussing a treaty of the greatest moment for the future of this country. It has profound implications for the future of this nation, and for the question of whether we ultimately remain a nation at all in any meaningful sense. That is not a matter about which people should joke or skit. It is of the first importance.

I want to say to the Minister for Europe, with whom it is always a pleasure to joust in the House, that it is especially insulting that the Government have proposed to proceed with such a severe circumscription on the time for debate in the light of the decision of the people of Ireland. [Interruption.] The Government Whip, the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Caplin)—who does not, I hope,

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have an opinion to express on these matters—seems to regard my reference to the verdict of the people of Ireland with a sniffy disdain that is both unworthy and a regular feature of the Government's attitude. The verdict of the people of Ireland is directly relevant to, and should have implications for, the attitude of the House to whether the process of ratification should proceed at all.

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bercow: I am anxious to develop my argument, but it is always irresistible to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

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