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Though such orders are usually more all-enveloping than guillotines... and they remain a controversial innovation, their details may often be settled with more agreement than guillotines enjoyed.
The table sets out the proceedings on each day. For the first eight days, we will start with substantive motions relating to each of the themes. The Government also thought it important to provide for the substantive motions to be amendable. Following a themed debate, the House will consider amendments relating to that theme. Once it has completed the themed debates, the remaining Committee days will follow the usual procedures for a Committee of the whole House.
The themed debates will cover the key areas of the Lisbon treaty. Rather than being abstract debates, they will be grouped under recognisable headings covering the necessary component parts of the treaty, but also putting them in the context of the Governments objectives and wider European Union enlargement. The themes contained in the table and the motion are justice and home affairs, energy, human rights, the single market, common foreign and security policy, international development, EU institutions and decision making, and climate change.
The Minister mentioned energy. There is only one new article on energy in the treaty, which the Government opposed on the correct ground that there are powers in the existing treaties to liberalise the energy market. Why is this much-compressed timetable to include a whole day of debate on energy, and no debate on provisions relating to the powers of national Parliaments, which go to the root of the relationship between the House of Commons and the European Union? Is this not a further illustration of the fact that
the whole timetable motion is more about the Governments policy objectives than about the legal powers of the House and the country, which are what we should be debating?
Mr. Murphy: Not at all. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will seek to remove that EU competence on energy as we go through the process, and I look forward to debating the amendment in question. However, a co-ordinated European approach to energy is of vital national importance to the United Kingdom, not least in the light of the challenge in Russia, energy supply and diversity of routes to market. The policy arises from the Hampton Court agenda on liberalisation of the energy market. It is in our interest in the context of strategic safety and security of routes to market, diversity of supply and renewables.
We make no apology for proposing a full days debate on energy. I think that Conservative Front Benchers have also proposed a full days debate, which suggests a strong acceptance of the importance of energy policy across the European Union.
The allocation and division of subjects has been carefully considered to ensure sufficient time to debate all the key issues. We have, for example, singled out human rights, for which we have set aside a whole day in a self-standing sitting that will cover provisions on the charter of fundamental rights. There will also be a full sitting to consider the institutional provisions. It is also worth clarifying that, although the bulk of the treatythe themes I have just mentionedwill fall to be considered under clause 2, other themes will, of course, fall under subsequent clauses.
Jon Trickett: The charter lies at the core of my concerns about the treaty. Will the Minister undertake to look carefully again at the timetable that has been outlined on the day devoted to human rights, in order to give a proper debate on the charter and particularly chapter IV on solidarity, which the Government appear to want to avoid at all costs?
Mr. Murphy: I have already given an assurance, which I hope reassures my hon. Friend, that we intend to be flexible about the timing and balance of themed debates and discussions of specific amendments. I also hope that I will be able to reassure my hon. Friend about the nature of the charter of fundamental rights and the fact that it applies fully in the UKthat the charter records rather than creates new rights, and that the protocol does not equal an opt-out from it in any sense whatever.
Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab): I am rapidly advancing in age so perhaps I miss things now and again, but will the Minister reassure me that there is no opt-out protocol for this country and Poland from the provisions in chapter IV on solidarity?
We have made it clear that we do not have an opt-out from the charter of fundamental rights. What we have negotiated is legally binding in
protocol and it is within the competence of the European Court of Justice or any domestic court to strike down any UK law. The charter of fundamental rights will apply in every EU nationall 27 member statesbut I look forward to discussing this issue in great detail with my hon. Friends over the next few weeks.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): The Minister did not respond to the point of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) about when we will have time to debate the powers of this House in relation to Europe under the changes in the treaty. The Governments statement on the reform treaty contains no section on energy, but there is a long section on the role of Parliaments in which we are told that national Parliaments will be given a direct say in the EUs law-making procedures for the first time. As matters stand, we are not even given a say in our own law-making procedures. Under this timetable motion, when will there be an opportunity to debate the position of this House?
Mr. Murphy: There is an opportunity to discuss that during the full-day debate on institutions. There will also be an opportunity in open day debates, which are not themed, on clauses 3 to 7 to have detailed discussions of every amendment that meets the approval of the Speaker and is brought before the House.
The Government have listened to requests for time to discuss a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. I am happy to confirm that there will be time to debate, and vote on, that; there will be a hook to do so under consideration of clause 8.
Mr. Jenkin: Supposing we reach the debate on the referendum, we know that under the timetable motion Mr. Speaker will not be able to grant an emergency debate on that day, but will there be anything to prevent the Government from making a statement?
Mr. Murphy: I have already given a detailed response to that. We are seeking to protect the time available to the House by allowing an extension beyond the moment of interruption. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Gerald Howarth: My hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) has made an important point. The Government frequently put on statements to delay and thereby compress a debate on a main subject later in the day. Given that the Minister has tried to reassure us throughout his speech that there will be time for the House to debate these important issues, will he give an assurance on behalf of the Government that there will be no attempt to make statements on matters that are not of the greatest importance to the House? Alternatively, will he be willing to extend the debate beyond the 10 oclock limit?
I am certain that the hon. Gentleman shares the view that, as was alluded to in an earlier exchange, it is important that, where there is an issue of great national and international importance, the opportunity exists for the Government to make a statement on itindeed, they have a responsibility to do so. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman is reassured that time is protected as part of the motion,
and that the moment of interruption can indeed be extended. I think that we have struck the correct balance on that point.
Mr. Jenkin: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have already heard from you, very helpfully and clearly, that this motion prevents Mr. Speaker, in the usual course of business, from allowing an emergency debate under the relevant Standing Orders concerning the correct timing of such a debate. Would that also apply to the timing of a statement, or would it still be completely in the gift of the Government to interrupt vital scrutiny of this Bill with a statement or many statements of their own choosingwhether or not there happens to be an emergencyjust because it suits their political agenda to do so?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. As I understand itI do not want to tread on the Ministers groundthe Governments motion envisages that if there are statements or Mr. Speaker grants an urgent question, the time devoted to consideration of this Bill is protected. That is clear, and I think that the Minister has himself just said that.
Mr. Shepherd: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to build on that, and the House agrees entirely with your interpretation. The problem is, however, that the Minister uses conditional language such as may be. He has to give a commitment to the House that he is prepared to move the 10 oclock motion, for example, on the day of business in question. Is there a commitment to do that?
Mr. Harper: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I notice that on allotted days 1 to 8, there is indeed protected time for debate. However, there is no protected time on allotted day 9, and on day 11the very important day on which we can debate clause 8 and the referendumreference is made simply to the moment of interruption; there is no protected time period. Am I right in thinking that if, on the day when we will debate the very important issue of a referendumthe most important, in the eyes of manythere were two Government statements and the normal rules of the House were in place, we could have a very compressed debate?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman nearly gave the game away when he tried to pursue the point of order of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). My answer has to be the samethis is something for the Minister to explain to the House if he wishes to gain a majority for his motion.
Mr. Murphy: I have already made it clear on a number of occasions that the Government fully intend, where necessarybecause of a statement or matters of that natureto extend the moment of interruption. The situation is also set out in the table regarding themed days; reference is made to there being four and a half hours after commencement, and one and a half hours after commencement on specific days. It is important to make that point very clearly. This is about protecting a core number of hours each and every day, and I give the House the very clear commitment that the Government intend to protect the opportunity to scrutinise both the Bill and the treaty in great detail. When it is necessary to have a statementMembers on both sides of the House acknowledge that on occasion, such things are importantthe timetable is protected.
Mr. Harper: It cannot have escaped the Ministers noticeI am sure that this is deliberatethat on all the other days, there is indeed a fixed period of protected time for this House, except on the day when we will debate clause 8 and the referendum. The Minister might have noticed that that is probably the single most controversial thing that we will talk about. No amount of protected time is allocated for that day, and we are simply relying on the Ministers good nature to protect the time. The House would be much more comfortable if day 10 and, in particular, day 11 had a protected number of hours of business. I should be grateful if the Minister tabled an amendment to that effect.
Mr. Murphy: We have said that we intend to be flexible; there will be an opportunity to table revisions to this timetable each day. The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) made an important point about the length of Front-Bench speecheswe have now been debating for an hour and 20 minutesand the issue raised by the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) is also important. We will pay great attention to it, and we will ensure that time is protected for that clause 8 debate on the referendum.
Sir Patrick Cormack: I am grateful to the Minister. Nobody could criticise him for his performance this afternoonhe has tried to give way whenever possible. He has been on his feet, although he has been up and down, for almost an hour and a half, so how can he tell the House with any degree of conviction that an hour and a half, or even four and a half hours, is long enough to debate important constitutional and controversial issues? He has needed his hour and a half. If we were dealing with an allocated time, no Back-Bench speeches would have been madethere would have been no speeches other than the Ministersand that illustrates what a tight rein the Government are placing on the House.
Mr. Murphy: As I saidabout 45 minutes agothe issue is whether the right balance on themed days is four and a half hours and one and a half hours or, as the Opposition Front-Bench team suggests, three hours and three hours. I have indicated, on nearly a dozen occasions, the Governments intention to be flexible. Where the temperature and will of the House is behind altering the balance, we would be minded to do so. I envisage that, on occasion, where a limited number of amendments or a substantial number of relevant amendments have been tabled, such a change would take place. The three-hour split might, on occasion, be appropriate.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May I bring the Minister back to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean? The Minister is saying that he intends that the time will be protected for important matters such as debating the referendum, but the Government intended to hold a referendum on this treaty and have backed out of that. I am sure that he will understand that there is a bit of scepticism on the Conservative Benches about these intentions. Please may we have a guarantee that the time will be protected, rather than be given these warm intentions, which this Government have broken time after time?
Mr. Davidson: The Minister mentioned Euroscepticism, and I thought I just had to rise to that. He said that he wanted to draw his remarks to a close so that the House could hear from the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey. May I clarify why it is necessary to do so? I understood that the Liberal party had outsourced its policy making on this issue to the Government and was simply in their pocket on it.
Mr. Murphy: I congratulate my hon. Friend on the typical ingenuity with which he digs at the Lib Dems as only he is able. The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey, who divided the House a little earlier, will be able to speak for himself, at great length, a little later. I am conscious of the fact that there are only four and a half hours of this debate left in which to allow him to speak, so I shall make some progress.
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