Previous Section Index Home Page

28 Jan 2008 : Column 34

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Murphy: I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly) and then to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), who chairs the European Scrutiny Committee.

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): After opposing a private Member’s Bill on the issue tooth and claw, the Government were instrumental in ensuring that there was no agreement on a European directive on temporary and agency workers on 5 December last year. I note from the list of topics that there is no session provided to discuss the social and employment aspects of the treaty. Why is that, given the importance attached to those issues on the Government Benches? What day may issues such as the directive on agency workers, or indeed working rights generally, be discussed?

Mr. Murphy: Of course, it is for you, Mr. Speaker, to decide which amendments will be in order on which day. However, the Government understand that the two themes that would lend themselves to the type of debate that my hon. Friend and others want are the debate on human rights, which will include the charter of fundamental rights, and the themed debate on the single market. Those would be the most appropriate opportunities to raise the issue of agency workers.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): The Minister will realise that one of the most important debates that we had when he and the Foreign Secretary appeared before my Committee was on the charter of fundamental rights. It is clear that there is a wide divergence in the legal and political opinion of the posture taken by the Government and whether it is significant, sustainable or damaging to labour relations. In the interest of labour relations and many people in this country, the charter of fundamental rights deserves a separate day for debate. I notice that the amendment tabled by the Opposition includes a day on the charter combined with other subjects. The question whether the Government’s position on the charter negates it or allows it to be applied in a way that would be useful to working people is fundamental.

Mr. Murphy: On the question when the charter could be debated, I refer my hon. Friend, who speaks with great experience on such matters, to my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme. The fact is that the United Kingdom has neither sought nor achieved an opt-out on the charter of fundamental rights, which will apply in every member state of the European Union. The UK’s position on that is clear, but I look forward to the opportunity to discuss that and other related matters.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): The Minister has said that the timetable that the Government propose is longer than the debates on three previous treaties. Will he put on record that the time taken by the debates on the Maastricht treaty—some of us see a parallel with this Bill, because of the debate about a referendum, which the Tory Government of the
28 Jan 2008 : Column 35
day opposed—was longer than that allocated in this motion? How many days were given to that debate on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Murphy: I was not a Member at the time, and the hon. Gentleman was, but I think that it was 23 days. The motion was tabled, withdrawn and then re-tabled. The lesson of Maastricht, for both sides of the House, is that it was an exercise that we should repeat at our collective peril.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Murphy: I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) and then the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), the Opposition deputy Chief Whip.

Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), the Minister said that there would be ample time to discuss transport under various other headings, such as energy. Can he tell us when a Minister from that Department will answer the debate, so that our many concerns about transport at a European level can be answered satisfactorily on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Murphy: I am certain that whichever Minister stands at the Dispatch Box during that debate will be able to answer the questions in great detail and with great authority. As the debate progresses, Government Members will take a whole-Government approach to making a positive case for Europe, which will involve different Ministers, including Cabinet Ministers, standing at the Dispatch Box making a passionate case for Europe. I give way to the shadow deputy Chief Whip.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): The Minister is being extremely generous in taking interventions. To take him back to that very interesting quote from the Prime Minister, I shall give him another:

That is from 24 June. I have been studying the differences between the constitution and the reform treaty. At some point in our debate, should not the Government put the case for not holding a referendum to the House of Commons?

Mr. Murphy: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind comments and congratulate him on taking a milder tone today than he did last week.

Mr. Robathan: No more propaganda.

Mr. Murphy: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman wishes to complete that sentence as he did last week, but I shall leave it there. I was asked soon after taking this job last summer whether we would guarantee the Commons an opportunity, during the consideration process, to debate and vote on a motion on a referendum on the treaty. We specifically designed
28 Jan 2008 : Column 36
clause 8 of the European Union (Amendment) Bill to enable that. There will be an opportunity for a referendum. I note in passing that the Government and the Opposition both propose a one-day debate on that subject.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Does the Minister accept that even those of us who are not unhappy about the treaty but do not believe in referendums are unhappy about the timetable for the same reasons as many who have doubts about the treaty? A series of subjects has already been raised with him that are not in the timetable. That must make it difficult to argue that we are providing proper parliamentary scrutiny. Can he not realise that this debate ought to be at least as long as the debate on the Maastricht treaty, and that we should have a proper debate on transport, not least because the environmental connections with transport are crucial to the next generation? If the European Union does not deal with those issues, it will not be dealing with the proper issues. For that reason, I should like to have a very long debate on transport.

Mr. Murphy: I am certainly of the view, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich, that the themed debates on climate, energy and the single market will give hon. Members—and right hon. Members such as the right hon. Gentleman—the opportunity to discuss those issues.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Murphy: Of course I will take some more interventions, but with your agreement, Mr. Speaker, not four simultaneously. I am still only a quarter of the way through page 1 of my brief, and all that I have done is to offer the introductory quote from the Prime Minister. I have another 12 and three quarter pages left. I give way to the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin).

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): I am most grateful for the Minister’s courtesy and generosity in giving way. Will he confirm that if the Government were to lose a vote on a substantive amendment when we discuss the Bill in Committee, it would have an effect on the Bill, but that most of our time will be spent discussing Government motions? Even in the unlikely event that the Government lose a vote on a motion, that will have no effect whatever on the Bill. We are not actually discussing the Bill when we are discussing a Government motion. It is hardly the line-by-line debate that the Prime Minister promised.

Mr. Murphy: As the debate progresses during the forthcoming weeks, we will have the opportunity to discuss both the Government’s approach to Europe generally and specific proposals in the Bill and the treaty of Lisbon. The hon. Gentleman may wish to reflect on his observation as we progress in our proceedings on the treaty and the Bill; he will see whether it is indeed a fair criticism.

Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): May I come back to the charter of fundamental rights, as it is peculiar that specific time has not be set aside to debate it? The Minister will recall that last week, I intervened on him and asked him about the fact that
28 Jan 2008 : Column 37
the previous Prime Minister had said that the charter of fundamental rights would not apply in the United Kingdom at all. However, the Minister told the European Scrutiny Committee on 2 October that the protocol

It is absolutely fundamental to the question whether the treaty is acceptable or not that we should debate whether the charter will take effect in the United Kingdom, and whether judgments by the European Court of Justice will have an impact on UK law or not.

Mr. Murphy: Without wishing to repeat what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, there is an opportunity, both in the themed debate on the single market, and in the debate on human rights, which includes the charter, to have a detailed conversation about those matters. Again—in Glasgow, we would say for the umpteenth time—may I repeat that the UK has neither sought nor achieved an opt-out from the charter of fundamental rights, which will apply in the UK? The position is very clear indeed.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): rose—

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con) rose—

Mr. Murphy: I will give way to the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) first, and then to his hon. Friend.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Under the Government proposals, we will debate Government amendments on a line-by-line basis for only an hour and a half. If those amendments are grouped, we would vote on them within that period. If we divide the House on three occasions, that would reduce the time for debating amendments to 45 minutes, although the subject may be as general and important as foreign, security and defence policy. Does that really discharge the Government’s promise to scrutinise the treaty line by line—something on which I received personal assurances from two Foreign Secretaries and the previous Prime Minister?

Mr. Murphy: May I make a little progress? I fully intend to deal with the points made by the right hon. Gentleman, and I will give way to him again at an appropriate point later. I hope that I can offer him some of the reassurance, at least on the surface, that he wishes to receive. I am not sure that I will convince him entirely about the approach we seek to take, but I will give way to him again a little later.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: I am extremely grateful to the Minister for his courtesy in giving way. He will be aware that the real issue of concern to the British people is the extent to which the treaty transfers further powers to the European Union. May I put it to him that, given those concerns, the Government would be well advised to accept the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, in which he suggests that there should be specific discussion of

28 Jan 2008 : Column 38

That goes to the heart of the case that has been made on the continent for a united states of Europe, which the Minister will accept ought to be the subject for specific debate in the House.

Mr. Murphy: Again, I hope I can reassure the hon. Gentleman on that point. We are simply taking a different approach in seeking the most effective way to scrutinise issues related to the institutional debate. The Government, in the motion, have adopted an approach that focuses on themed debates, and have taken a different perspective from Opposition spokesmen. With your agreement, Mr. Speaker, we expect the debates on the environment, climate and development to allow ample opportunity for debate about the European structures relevant to those themed policy debates. That is reflected in some of the amendments that have been tabled, and the same applies to the single market and human rights and issues such as co-decisions and moves towards qualified majority voting. All those important EU institutional issues can be captured within the debate about European structures. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): rose—

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP) rose—

Mr. Murphy: I will give way to my hon. Friend first, then to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the second time today, and then to the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) for the first time. With your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, I will then make some progress.

Ms Gisela Stuart: Will the Minister help me, because he said earlier that there would be a vote on whether there should be a referendum or not when we debate clause 8 of the European Union (Amendment) Bill? According to his schedule, we would debate that on day 11. Is my understanding correct?

Mr. Murphy: Yes.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way a second time, and I shall try to exercise restraint, because I am waiting to hear his arguments. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) has touched on the main point: the Government propose that a great deal of time should be spent on general debates and that one and a half hours should be spent on specific amendments, which is a radical change to the way in which we normally conduct a Committee of the whole House. We have lots of general debate on Europe, and if one allows four hours in which any comment on Europe or climate change is in order, the debate will go all over the place. We will then consider specific amendments, when we can address the detail. Just one and a half hours will be devoted to all the amendments on a subject, and most amendments will not be debated or voted on—I suspect that that will simply set off the upper House, which will debate them all over again. The Minister is having difficulty in moving on to his main argument, because
28 Jan 2008 : Column 39
he is finding it difficult to persuade us why we cannot have debates on amendments and why general topics chosen by the Government must take up the lion’s share of the time.

Mr. Murphy: As I have said, I will address the point raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman a little later. As we have said, this is a different approach to the scrutiny of a European treaty and the consideration of a European treaty Bill. This is the most effective way to scrutinise the Bill and the treaty, and I will reflect on how the new approach will work in practice later. The Government think that four and a half hours of open debate on themes and one and a half hours of debate on specific amendments is the right mix. Opposition Front Benchers have reached a different view, but according to a similar principle—they have suggested three hours of open debate and three hours for consideration in Committee.

Given the way in which the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) framed his question, I shall also respond to the point raised earlier by the right hon. Member for Wells. In principle, the new approach commands a degree of cross-party support, and we will be flexible and judge whether, given that this is an innovation, the allocation of four and a half hours and one and a half hours respectively is the right mix. We will seek to do that as the process evolves, and I hope to add more detail when I formally move the programme motion—all I have done so far is move this motion.

Angus Robertson: The Minister has been generous in outlining when certain subjects not listed in the Government’s timetable motion should be debated. He knows that my party, the Scottish Government and I have long-standing problems on enshrining fisheries as an exclusive competence of the European Union, which does not appear in the timetable. Does he agree that there is at least the possibility of raising the issue of fisheries as an exclusive competence in the debate on day 7, which concerns

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman and I regularly cross swords, but we can make common cause on that point. I confirm that in the Government’s view—it is, of course, for you to rule, Mr. Speaker—the themed debate on day 7 is the most appropriate opportunity to debate the EU institutional framework around fishing policy.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): The Minister is inverting our normal parliamentary procedures. Our way of scrutinising legislation in Committee is to go through the amendments, which are normally tabled by the Opposition in response to a proposal, one by one and then to consider clause stand part. That is the traditional way. Amendments to the text will allow us to get to the nitty-gritty of what the business is about. The new approach is flummery and a ruse, and it destroys the basis for the credibility that the Government are seeking in introducing this wretched treaty.

Next Section Index Home Page