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However worthy, however sensible and however desirable some of the changes that the Prime Minister has outlined, let us not pretend that they are the answer to restoring trust in politics. Constitutional change is not the solution to broken trust, because the constitution is not the cause of broken trust. It is broken promises that are the cause of broken trust. A vote on Europe, no tax rises, fixing the NHSthese are
broken promises and people will ask how the person who broke this trust can be the person to mend it.
Four vital questions go to the heart of this statement. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that real decentralisation must mean scrapping top-down targets? Does he accept that when there is constitutional changetransferring power from Westminster to Brusselsit should be put to the people in a referendum? Does he accept that real power for Parliament means the House of Commonsnot the Government of the daydetermining its own agenda? Does he not understand that real reform must mean answering the West Lothian question, which he failed to do today?
Now the Prime Minister tells us that he wants a proper debate in Parliament in which Ministers answer questions. He can start todayfour straight questions needing four straight answers. We will engage in this constitutional debate, as we have for the last 18 months, but engagement must involve tackling the real reasons why people in this country are so disillusioned with their politics and the political process.
The Prime Minister: Let me thank the Leader of the Opposition for his welcome to me and also for the sentiments that he expressed about those who have lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past week.
I am grateful that the right hon. Gentleman has expressed the agreement of his Opposition party to a number of the proposals that we are putting forwardon the power of the Executive to declare war, on the power of the Executive to ratify international treaties and on the power to restrict parliamentary oversight of the intelligence services. I welcome that. I hope that he will, in time, agree with the other proposals that I have put forward to restrict the patronage of the Executive.
I remember the right hon. Gentleman saying when he became the Leader of the Opposition that he hoped the era of Punch and Judy politics was over. Where we agree with him, I hope that we can make progress, and I hope that all other parties will join us in doing so. Where we disagree, I hope that we can have a vigorous debate that will lead eventually to a consensus in this country.
I want to take up the issues on which the right hon. Gentleman has expressed his disagreement with us. First, he mentioned a British Bill of Rights and the question of whether we can deport people from this country. I can do no better on this matter than quote the chairman of his democracy commission, the man he appointed to do the job of looking at the reform of the constitution and who said that the Conservative proposals for a British Bill of Rights were xenophobic and legal nonsense. I can only also quote the former tutor to the Leader of the Opposition at university. He said of him:
I think he is very confused. Ive read his speech and its filled with contradictions. There are one or two good things in it but one glimpses them, as it were, through a mist of misunderstanding...Id be quite happy to give him a few more tutorials on civil liberties.
Where we disagree on the European referendum, I can again do no better than quote the chairman of the democracy commission, who said [ Interruption. ] We are seeking bipartisan agreement, but there is a case for
some bipartisan agreement within the Conservative party itself. The chairman of the Conservative democracy commission said that the treaty referendum proposal put forward by the Conservative party was Frankly absurd. He said:
a lot of intelligent, well-educated...businessmen type constituents...would think I was dotty
The Prime Minister: As far as the European referendum is concernedand we have discussed it in the last few daysthere is no other country but Ireland that is putting forward a proposal to have a referendum. The last Conservative Government did not have a referendum on Maastricht; they never had a referendum on previous treaties. I believe that the Conservative leader is making a grave mistake if he believes that this constitutional debate about the future of the country and the relationships between legislature, Executive and judiciary should be overshadowed simply by a debate on an issue that we will investigate in detail in the House of Commons when the legislation comes before the House in the next few months.
As for the third point of differenceagain, I believe that we should seek consensus in the House on this matterI have said that although I look forward to a discussion about the implications of devolution for our constitution, I do not believe that English votes for English laws is the answer. If the Conservative party wishes to continue to push that, it has to take into account the fact that the Executive would owe their authority to two different groups of people: on one occasion, to all Members of the House and on another occasion, simply to some Members of the House. That is why the shadow Home Secretary said in 1999 that it would cause constitutional chaos and why the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) said only a few weeks ago:
It would weaken rather than strengthen the United Kingdom.
Yes, we are prepared to look at proposals that will strengthen the United Kingdom in the light of devolution, but no, I do not believe that we will have a sensible debate if it is purely about English votes for English lawssomething that would create two categories of Members in the House of Commons.
We will look carefully at all the other proposals that have been put forward by the right hon. Gentleman, but I hope that, on reflection, the Conservative partywhich, in its democracy commission, has put forward proposals for the reform of the constitutionwill see this as an opportunity for there to be common ground in this country about improving our constitution, making Parliament accountable to the people and renewing trust in our democracy.
This is indeed a comprehensive statement and it is therefore not possible to deal with it all in detail in the time available, but we will give a considered response to the Green Paper. My starting point is that reform of our constitution is long overdue and that the United Kingdom deserves a constitution that is fit for the challenges and standards of contemporary Britain. If we are to restore public confidence in our political system, we must be both innovative and inclusive. I therefore welcome the proposals with regard to the prerogative powers and the principle that they should rest with Parliament. However, the Prime Minister used the words surrender or limit when describing what he proposed to do, and there is obviously an issue about what is to be surrendered and what is to be limited, and in what way.
I support the Prime Ministers determination that Parliament should have the final word in issues of peace and war, but I notice that he observed that that should be done by way of resolution. Will he consider whether that should be put on a proper statutory footing? I also support the intention to establish a national security council, but from where will members of that council be drawn? Will they simply be drawn from the Ministries or will there be opportunities for Members of Parliament to serve on the council? I also believe [ Interruption. ]
Sir Menzies Campbell: I also believe that we should all welcome the Prime Ministers intention to make the intelligence and security oversight much more transparent. As for Parliament square, it has been a source of great discomfort to many Members, on both sides of the House, that there has been such a limitation on legitimate protest so close to Parliament.
The Prime Minister did not mention in detail a strengthened Committee system. Does he have any proposals to strengthen the powers of Select Committees? He did not mention electoral reformother than in the context of fulfilling a previous manifesto commitment. Does he understand that, for many people, the reform of the constitution in essence requires electoral reform? There should be fixed terms of Parliament. The best way in which to deal with those matters is through a written constitution.
On the issue of English votes for English laws, does the Prime Minister accept that once devolution is properly established in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, it will be impossible to ignore the role of Members of Parliament from those three nations here in Westminster? That is an issue that simply cannot be dismissed. Finally, will the Prime Minister accept that if the public are to be properly engaged in the matters that he has outlined so comprehensively today, a constitutional convention would be the best and most effective way of ensuring it?
The Prime Minister:
I agree with what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said about the following issues. The first is the reform of the Intelligence and Security Committeehe supports us in that. The second is on the setting up of the national security
councilI am glad that he is prepared to support us on that. The third is the reform of the right to demonstrate outside WestminsterI understand that he is prepared to support a change in the way that we carry that out. Fourthly, I believe that he supports all the measures that we are bringing forward that will change the royal prerogative. I say to him that the door is always open if he wishes to discuss other matters.
On the questions on which we are not wholly in agreement, of course there is a debate to be had about the future of Select Committees, and it can be led from within the House. Of course I am open to discussing the implications of devolution for our constitution, but I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would agree that English votes for English laws would mean that we would no longer have one United Kingdom. As for the constitutional convention that he proposes, let me tell him that a constitutional convention of the great and the good is not as good as hearings that will be held in all parts of the country, that will involve people in different communities of the country, and that will be led by the Secretary of State for Justice after consultation with the other parties. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will join us in supporting the nationwide debate on the future of the constitution.
Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on a most remarkable document, but more particularly I welcome the proposals that he has put before the House on ensuring that the Intelligence and Security Committee, which I chair, will be more transparent and accountable. May I reassure him that all members of the Committee, from whatever party, look forward to examining the proposals to make the Committee more transparent, and particularly the proposals on holding more debates in this Chamber and the Chamber of the other place?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has been an excellent chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. He has led the way in suggesting that reforms can be made. I feel that the two functions of a Select Committee are first, to investigate, to interrogate and to examine events and what is happening in our country, and secondly, to persuade the country that important things are being done by the services that the Committees are monitoring. It is the second function to which we can now turn our attention. If we have a national security strategy, and if there is a debate on that both in Parliament and in the country, and if there is a power to call witnesses and to report on that, I believe that that second important job of a Select Committee, which is to inform the country of the good work that our services are doing, can be best achieved. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to take forward the proposals.
Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD):
I welcome the fact that in setting out his encyclopaedia of proposals the Prime Minister has made it clear that they are for debate and discussion, and are not the kind of instant constitutional change that the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs criticised
following recent events. Will he show good faith by resolving the dispute with the senior judges about the arrangements for setting up the Ministry of Justice, and does he recognise that the transfer of power to Parliament will not be meaningful if the Government are able to wheel out their majority to suppress all dissent?
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman plays a very important role as chairman of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, and I hope that he will join in the discussions that we are having on the future of the constitutional arrangements about which he speaks.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice is holding discussions with the judges about the very issues that the right hon. Gentleman raised, and of course he will report back to the House on the resolution of them.
Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): On behalf of the Church of England, and as the Second Church Estates Commissioner, may I say that the Church congratulates the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Justice on the proposals put forward today? They will be given a fair wind and there will be a constructive, positive response from the Church. I also thank the Prime Minister for the prior consultation with the Church of England, and particularly with His Grace the Archbishop of York. Following todays publication of the Green Paper, will there be appropriate consultation with the Church, so that it can modify its internal procedures to encompass the Governments proposals?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The important role that he plays as a Church Commissioner is reflected in his contribution today. At the same time as he has been commenting on these issues, there has been full consultation, where possible, with the Church of England. I have met the Archbishop of York, the Government have been in touch with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and I hope that we can proceed with the changes by consensus. I know that they reflect the views of many in the House.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): If the Prime Minister truly believes in an effective bicameral Parliament, will he take steps to abandon the automatic timetabling of all controversial legislation, and will he not take steps to create a rival elected second Chamber at the other end of the Corridor?
The Prime Minister: I cannot assure the hon. Gentleman about the second matter, which is the subject of debate and where the will of the House of Commons has already been very clearly expressed. On the first matter, I know that it is the subject of discussions by the Modernisation Committee.
Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab):
I congratulate the Prime Minister on his statement. At a time of change, nothing could be more significant than this abrupt departure from the past on central issues of civil liberty. Does he accept that although there may be problems with the letter of the statement, not least the
West Lothian question, it is the spirit in which it is made to the House that will give many of us cause for considerable optimism?
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): I welcome many of the proposals that the Prime Minister has put forward, but in rejecting the case for English votes for English laws, he said that he did not want to create two classes of Members of the House. Is it not a fact, as pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, that we already have two classes of Members of the Housethose who are able to vote on all measures affecting their constituents, and those who, on many measures, are able to vote only on measures affecting the constituents of others?
The Prime Minister: I disagree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman who, if he studies these matters, will note that devolution is devolution from this United Kingdom Parliamenta decision made by this United Kingdom Parliament and by all Members of the Parliament. I can only quote to him the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), who said:
Either you are a Member of Parliament or you are not. If you go ahead with this, you will have 100 MPs . . . who are second-class legislators.
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): I strongly commend my right hon. Friends proposals, particularly his introducing them at the outset as the flagship of his new Administration. Does he accept that if Parliament is genuinely to hold the Executive to account, it must also have the right to set up its own parliamentary commissions of inquiry, where appropriate, into major issues that go beyond the resources and scope of current Select Committees, even in cases where the Executive may, for whatever reason, decline to set up its own investigation?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I am sorry that he was not able to join me in the contest for the leadership of the Labour party. It is a matter for Parliament to decide whether to set up its own committees on such matters. That is a matter for Parliament to vote on, but I hope that he agrees that the progress that we are making today, with my proposals for the Intelligence and Security Committee, shows that we are aware of the need for our Select Committees not only to be able to conduct investigations within the House, but to be able to tell the nation, through public reports for which they are responsible, about the work of services such as the security services. By all means, let my right hon. Friend put forward his proposals for the House to decidebut I hope that he will agree that we have made progress on the Intelligence and Security Committee today.
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