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Chris Bryant: One other possible outcome is that the French say yes but the Dutch say no. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that in those circumstances we should none the less proceed with a referendumnotwithstanding his hatred of referendums?
Kenneth Clarke: I think in that case we should have a referendum, although it would be a very serious problem and we would have to address whatever European points the Dutch were raising, to try to get the Dutch on side in due course. But I would prefer instead to see the Dutch put on the spot, saying, "Twenty-four other countries have ratified, so what exactly do you want to do now in order to keep inside the Union?", as the Dutch would.
The other important piece of European business that we have to transact concerns the whole question of European economic reform and the discussion we have about the working time directive. There, I have to sayI think that most British politicians agreeI am firmly on the side of the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he makes speeches about the need for economic reform inside the European Union. Indeed, he makes speeches of the kind that I was making when I was Chancellor of the Exchequer before him.
I am firmly opposed to the working time directive; indeed, I used to have these arguments with Jacques Delors 10 or 20 years agono, 10 years ago, at the birth of the social chapter. It is extremely important that we get it across to the French and the Germans, and the social democrat element of the European Parliament, that protectionism of the kind they are proposingtrying to protect their own very restrictive national labour legislation against competition from the eastern Europeans and ourselvesis doing great harm to the European economy and is actually making us all extremely vulnerable to competition from the Chinese and the Indians if we do not succeed in overcoming this.
I wish the Government well in finding allies from central and eastern Europe and Scandinavia to block this attempt to get foolish legislation in this country. We can only do that because we are in the European Union and our force is greater there if we are an influential member of the European Union. If we were in the position of Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein, we would have to comply with the working time directivethey do, in their trade in
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Europe. We would have to accept whatever decision came out of the European Union but we would have no voice in that decision, let alone the opportunity to play a leading and influential role in introducing economic common sense.
I conclude, as it is the Queen's Speech debate and the beginning of this Parliament, by touching on the other thing that I hope will emerge from the Government's weakened position. I hope that all these issues will be better handled, in a strengthened Parliament that has started to take a move back to make a weakened Government more accountable. A little humility is called for from the Government, this Prime Minister and his successor, in the way they handle these extremely important political affairs.
One of the most important things that we have to discuss in this first Session is the prevention of terrorism Bill that should be presented, because, as we all recall, in an all-night sitting at the end of the last Parliament we were promised new legislation on that subject which could be properly considered. I regard it as an acid test that we get that done properly. The discussion of that Prevention of Terrorism Bill was the lowest point in our parliamentary history for a very long time. An attempt was made to rush through a Bill that took away the civil liberties of the constituents of the hon. Member for Leicester, South and many others, with no debate in the House at all, except about a letter that described the changes that were going to be made, before the Bill went to the House of Lords and ping-pong took place between us. Fortunately, parliamentary sovereignty was reasserted because we wrung from the Government changes and promises of proper legislation. But what proper legislation are we going to have?
All the Bills we are talking about should come to this House for a proper Second Reading and be subjected to proper scrutiny. The timetabling of Bills, which has increasingly ensured that nothing is properly scrutinised, that the Government select the parts of Bills that are debated, and that the whole thing is trundled through to the House of Lords, is bad enough. But the Queen's Speech contains no proposal for reform of the House of Lords, when the vast majority of Members of this House wish to see a largely elected House of Lords. We do not want to hear again the House of Lords being referred to as the unelected second Chamber which we should override. The members of the unreformed House of Lords were actually the heroes of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, but I wish to see a more legitimate House of Lords, which can do that more often to a Government who are misusing their majority.
It is proposed that there should be a Committee. I have served on one of these Joint Committees, which went nowhere. And what is the Committee to consider? If I may briefly describe its agenda, it is to consider ways in which the powers of the House of Lords might be emasculated, before this House is given the opportunity to debate what its composition and future existence should be. I hope that no one sensible will serve on such a Committee, and I do trust that we will reject this whole approach to reform. We need two Houses of Parliament
Kenneth Clarke: Well, I remember that the Committee was agreed that the powers of the House of Lords were largely satisfactory and should be left as they were, and that we came round to the view that those powers could more effectively and properly be exercised by a House with greater legitimacy and one that was elected, but on a quite different basis and for a different term from the House of Commons. I believe that that could quite easily be agreed upon by the majority of Members of all parties now, if we had a proper Bill before us. That is where we had got to. I do not think that the powers of the House of Lords should be reduced.
All 45 Bills should be put through a better parliamentary process. The European constitution Bill is regarded as very importantcertainly by the shadow Foreign Secretary, who gives a description of it which I do not altogether agree with on the factsbut we used to give these important Bills two days in Second Reading debate. They were taken on the Floor of the House; they were not timetabled as soon as we started. The prevention of terrorism Bill, when it comes back, will deprive us of our civil liberties. I was one of those who said that we cannot have jury trial in all these cases; there must be some confidentiality for the protection of the security services. These are very dangerous matters, where we will deprive someone of their liberties under circumstances falling far short of the normal criminal process in this country. That should have two days on Second Reading; it should have protracted consideration in this Chamber. Because on all these things, big and smallbut particularly the big onesthis House should not act lightly, with most Members of Parliament deprived of the opportunity of taking part in discussion, and with the Whips mainly concentrating on trundling the thing along.
Outside comment on the state of this Parliament and the Prime Minister's valedictory term has tended to concentrate on whether the Labour Whips are going to have great difficulty with the 25 or 30 usual suspects in getting their Bills through. Well, rather embarrassingly I found myself agreeing with the usual suspects on quite a lot of issues in the last Parliament and it could be possible that I will do so again on foreign affairs, if not on domestic mattersbut that is not the whole point.
Parliament as a whole should function. Members as a whole, not just the left wing of the Labour party, do have views on these matters. We are turning ourselves into a sausage machine, producing vast quantities of ill-thought-out legislation in order to show signs of activity on subject after subject. The Prime Minister may be impatient to set about his last phase of government in that way; it is time that this Parliament asserted itself and said he should not be allowed to do so.
Let us go back to better government and better parliamentary government; let us address the terrible lack of trust in politics, in the political process and in Parliament that is afflicting the public at the moment,
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and which we all felt at the last election. So let us handle this Queen's Speech in a way that the last quite dreadful and enfeebled Parliament really did not handlewas not allowed to handleits business before it left and was replaced by all of us here.
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