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28 Jan 2008 : Column 40

Mr. Murphy: I simply do not agree with the hon. Gentleman; I shall outline the case in just a moment. I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) and then to the hon. Member for Stone. After that, I shall make progress.

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): It is no use the Minister praying in aid the support of those on the Opposition Front Bench for the novel procedure of having a generic debate first. He is not carrying many people from either side of the House in respect of the new procedure. It seems clear to me that the generic debates will be dominated by the Executive, as they will determine what will be debated, and then by those on the Opposition Front Bench. That will be at the expense of the rest of us—who want a proper debate, on amendments, driven by Members from both sides who wish to scrutinise the detail of the treaty and the Bill. The Minister is failing to carry us. He needs to offer a more convincing argument than his assertion that those on the Opposition Front Bench agree with him on the principle.

Mr. Murphy: I accept my hon. Friend’s point—I have not yet convinced him, but I have not yet managed to make my case. Although I know that my hon. Friend holds the Prime Minister’s words in great affection, I accept that the quote in itself will not move him to agree with me. However, I hope to make my case.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con) rose—

Mr. Cash rose—

Mr. Murphy: I shall give way, for the final two occasions, to the hon. Member for Stone and then to the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink). After that, I shall make progress.

Mr. Cash: Does the Minister agree that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) is completely right about the importance of the amendments? The reason is simple: the amendments deal with implementation into United Kingdom law, whereas the motions set down deal with the question of policy. The Government have completely failed to understand that, in Committee, the House is not so concerned with the policy as with implementation into UK law. That is the crucial point—will the Minister at least accept that I am right on that?

Mr. Murphy: I do not accept that. The process set out in the motion will give us the opportunity to discuss and scrutinise the treaty and the Bill in detail, whether or not there are amendments.

Bob Spink rose—

Mr. Murphy: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I will then make some progress.

Bob Spink: I am grateful to the gracious Minister. In the light of what he said about flexibility between the generic debate and the specific debate on amendments, will he at least give us an undertaking now that he will come to an agreement with those on the Opposition Front Bench to limit Front-Bench contributions in the generic debate, so that the Government are not seen to be over-dominating those debates?

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Mr. Murphy: That is a reasonable point, although I think that the hon. Gentleman would accept that the difficulty now is that I am a quarter of the way through the first page of my brief and we are already half an hour into the debate. However, the general sense of his point is fair; it is important that we have the right mix of Front-Bench and Back-Bench contributions. That is for the usual channels to bear in mind as they formalise the debate for each themed day.

Sir Patrick Cormack rose—

Mr. Murphy: I shall make some progress. I will give way to the hon. Gentleman a little later.

Sir Patrick Cormack: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Murphy: To avoid a point of order, I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Sir Patrick Cormack: I was going to make this point: if the Minister has 12 pages left, would it not be better for him to sit down and have a longer winding-up speech? In that way, he could respond to the points made in the debate. Is that not a rather constructive suggestion?

Mr. Murphy: I am sure that my fellow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), would enjoy that opportunity, but I have to deny him it; I am going to work my way through these pages and set out the Government’s case. I shall try to do so now. Although I will, of course, take further interventions, I want to make at least a little progress beyond page 1.

Before you joined us, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I had just concluded the introductory quote from the Prime Minister in his post-European Council statement on 17 December— [ Interruption. ] My hon. Friends can read it in Hansard tomorrow to aid their memories.

On 17 December last year, the Government introduced the European Union (Amendment) Bill to give effect to the treaty of Lisbon in UK law, and the House will recall that the Bill received its Second Reading on 21 January this year, with a majority of 138. The Bill contains the essential elements to give effect to the Lisbon treaty in the UK and to give effect to the commitments that the Prime Minister has given to this House. In his post-European Council statement on 22 October, the Prime Minister made it clear that the Government would, first, oppose further institutional change over the lifetime of this Parliament and the next, and, secondly, provide for parliamentary control over future use of any amending provisions that would alter the constitutional balance between the UK and the EU. The Bill does that.

As for the specific motion before us, I wish to make some comments on the nature of the structured debate that is proposed, reflect on previous Committee provisions, offer some comment on the length of time that the Government consider to be appropriate in Committee, and identify the specific themes that the Government intend to—

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I want to draw the Minister back to something that he said earlier. When he was questioned on the time split, he seemed to say that we would see how things went. Is he
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therefore suggesting that the Government will take a view during the debate, and if they decide that the time balance is unsatisfactory, they may return to the House with a revised motion to vary the way that the debate is progressing to reflect better the mood of the House?

Mr. Murphy: I will deal with those points a little later, because I intend to make some comments that will perhaps reassure the hon. Gentleman.

Let me turn to the need for a structured consideration of the Bill. The approach that we set out in the business motion ensures that we have a structured debate around the key themes of the Lisbon treaty and enough time to debate the relevant amendments. The Government are clear that the best way to achieve that is through structured consideration in Committee, with debates organised around those themes. As the House knows, Bills implementing amending treaties are short, and in the past Members have had to be ingenious to construct selectable amendments to enable debate on a given treaty. As a result, the structure of debates has often been confusing. In this business motion, we aim to guarantee that Parliament can scrutinise the Lisbon treaty. The bulk of the treaty will be incorporated into UK law through clause 2. The motion enables Members to debate the benefits of the Lisbon treaty for the UK and the international community through a series of themed debates on substantive motions. The House will, in addition, have plenty of time to consider amendments, following the usual procedures for Committee of the whole House. A clear structure of that type also means that we have sufficient time allocated to discuss the key issues and general principles as well as detailed questions.

The Government tabled this motion last week to ensure that those inside and outside the House have a clear timetable that sets out when important issues relating to the treaty will be considered in the Committee. That can only be a further improvement to the way in which we scrutinise the treaty.

Mrs. Dunwoody: In that case, could my hon. Friend answer this simple question: who decided which important subjects that are affected by the treaty should be left out of the discussion?

Mr. Murphy: The Government have framed the themed debates in the broadest possible terms. In respect of transport, as I have already said to my hon. Friend, there will an opportunity, with the indulgence of the Speaker and Deputy Speakers, to discuss those matters in the debate on the single market, climate change and energy. She will also know that there is an opportunity on days 9, 10 and 11 to discuss wider specific amendments to the Bill.

Mrs. Dunwoody: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will be aware that the provisional timetable for the European Union (Amendment) Bill has been circulated by the Chief Whip—I assume that that has also happened on the Opposition Benches—and it is clear that the debate on 30 January is specifically on energy. May I ask you to say, from the Chair, whether it would be in order for me to make a detailed speech about all the aspects of transport affected if the subject for debate is energy?

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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I am not sure that I can give an entirely definitive reply to the hon. Lady. It will depend very much on how the debate goes. She acknowledged that this is a particular procedure that has been devised, and the Chair will obviously be bound by it.

Mr. Murphy: In drafting the motion, we also looked with great care at the provisions for previous Committees. There are lessons to be learned, to which I have already alluded, from previous EU debates on the timing and structure of parliamentary scrutiny. Committee proceedings lasted four days on the Single European Act, five days on the treaty of Amsterdam and just three days on the treaty of Nice. Of course, with great hesitation I refer to the organisational debacle that was the Maastricht treaty process, which lasted for 23 separate days. An analysis of previous debates also shows that the majority of hon. Members throughout the House consider the Committee debates, with the Chamber being the property of a few lonely souls, as something to be avoided.

I turn now to the length of time in the motion and the effect of it.

Mr. Jenkin: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When there is a Committee of the whole House, is it correct to say that the House is the property of a few lonely souls? No group of Members can take control of the House of Commons in Committee because it is by definition open to all Members.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman must know that the propensity of hon. Members to attend the Chamber for a Committee of the whole House will depend upon their intensity of feeling on the subject.

Sir Patrick Cormack: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With great respect, Sir, that will depend also on what we are allowed to debate. In response to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), you gave an extremely honest answer, but you said you could not guarantee that transport could be debated when energy is the subject of the debate. This afternoon, two prominent Labour Members have asked for debates on transport; it is a crucial issue that affects us all. If you cannot guarantee that a subject can be debated, Sir, can you not tell the Government to go away and think again?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The occupant of the Chair might often be tempted in that direction by hon. Members, but the hon. Gentleman will know that that is not possible. The matters that can be debated by the House in Committee will depend on the amendments that are put down. If they are in order, it will be possible for them to be debated. I do not think that I can go further than that at this stage.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Are you not the custodian and guardian of the Back-Bench interest in this House? I personally believe that you are. I strongly oppose the procedure that the Government are seeking to force upon us, and the time that they are allowing for debate in Committee is so limited that it will not enable those who are deeply interested to come back for a
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second time, which is what would typically be the case in a Bill Committee, either on the floor of this House or otherwise.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is not strictly a point of order for the Chair because the motion before the House sets down a procedure, and an amendment to that procedure has been tabled. Those are the confines of the debate, and it is clear already that there is more than one point of view in this House about the way in which this matter should be decided. That is the matter for substantive debate at present, and it is not a matter of order for the Chair.

Simon Hughes: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Could you help the House? If we agree to this motion, it will govern the Committee proceedings. Can you tell us what restrictions there will be on debating matters on Report that will have been covered, in part or more extensively, through amendments in Committee on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: As I understand it, all stages of the Bill are governed by the motion before the House.

Mr. Murphy: My earlier point about lonely souls, which instigated the first in the latest points of order, was simply a reflection that any objective reading of the history of the Maastricht treaty would show that Members from both sides of the House were coming into the Chamber with flasks and sandwiches to sustain them through an evening’s debate.

Mr. Jenkin: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It would be out of order to come into this Chamber with a flask and sandwiches. Will you instruct the Minister on the procedures of this House, which he does not appear to understand?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I think that for any such thing to happen, it would have to be discussed first and a recommendation would have to be made by the Modernisation Committee.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Unless the right hon. and learned Gentleman is raising a point of order, we are back to the substance of the debate. I call Mr. Murphy who may, in turn, cede to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Murphy: I happily give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Clarke: The Minister had already given way.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Things are moving so fast.

Mr. Clarke: The Minister has so far not made an argument in favour of his new procedure. He has merely asserted what it is. He has gone on to say that it is what it is because of what he has been told were the deficiencies in previous Committees. I was involved in all four of the treaties that he described, and I do not recognise what he is saying. The Single European Act
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and the Amsterdam and Nice treaties were comparatively non-controversial and were therefore taken in quite a short time.

Maastricht is the best comparison with this treaty. I took part in the Maastricht debates as a Minister, and the Minister’s description of the problem is a complete transformation of history. The problem for the Government was that the House, as a whole, would not allow us to waive the 10 o’clock rule. We could bring debates to an end only when we could get a closure, which was rarely. Only when everyone had spoken themselves into exhaustion could we get a timetable at all. That was inconvenient for the Government, which I suspect is what has weighed most heavily on the Minister’s mind. It meant that the subject matter was chosen by the Members of the House, who argued about it for as long as they decided. We moved on from subject to subject as the House allowed us. The votes were all the difficult ones on amendments—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is now making a speech. He has probably put his point across.

Mr. Murphy: I look forward to having the opportunity to listen to the right hon. and learned Gentleman make the rest of that speech a little later in our proceedings.

Let me return to the points that I was making about detailed scrutiny. The proposal in the motion before us will allow 36 hours of detailed amendments and scrutiny. That compares with 18 hours on the Nice treaty, 12 hours on Amsterdam and 15 to 18 hours on the Single European Act. It compares favourably with previous motions.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Murphy: I shall make some progress on the subject of the length of time available and the effect of the motion, and shall then come back to hon. Members.

As I said earlier, the number of days that we have set aside for the scrutiny of the treaty and the Bill are the same as the total number of days spent on the Single European Act and the Nice and Amsterdam treaties. The substance of the motion is in the table that has been provided to the House. Paragraphs (1) to (6) of the motion include definitions and apply or disapply various Standing Orders.

I shall now turn briefly to the subject of the table and make some technical remarks.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Will the Minister explain why Standing Order No. 24 is being disapplied? Standing Order No. 24 permits an emergency debate. It is extremely difficult to get it to the Floor of the House, but the whole point of an emergency debate is that it must be taken there and then.

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