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The motion is of a piece with that attitude. That is why it is unacceptable to those of us who are opposed to the EU treaty and why it should be unacceptable to those who are in favour of or indifferent to the treaty but want to see the functioning of Parliament and the scrutiny of an important treaty carried out in a way that lives up to the traditions of Parliament and the history
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of democratic debate. No parliamentary consideration of the treaty can be adequate without the referendum to which 40 million voters are entitled.

A longer time for consideration that allowed more thorough discussion of amendments, was focused on the most far-reaching provisions of the treaty and allowed greater time for the Government to explain those many aspects of the treaty that they have not yet explained would be a great improvement on what they have proposed. That is why, if the Government will not take their motion away, I ask the House to support the Opposition amendment when we come to vote on it.

6.22 pm

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): The House will be pleased to hear that I do not intend to speak for the same length of time as the previous two speakers. However, I want to make some important points.

First, as a proud Labour MP, it has never been my wish to interfere with the Government’s intention to legislate on particular matters, although we have disagreed from time to time. I have been driven into some unusual situations by that. I have had doubts about such a motion on only one previous occasion, but I am afraid the Minister has not convinced me that this motion makes adequate provision for debates such as those that I and many other Labour colleagues want.

I have already intervened several times, so the House may have gathered what my objections are, but I shall quickly run through them now. The motion provides for eight days during which we will discuss clause 2. In effect, the Bill is a single-clause Bill. The treaty’s effects on UK legislation are included in that clause. Most of the amendments will be tabled during those eight days, but the days have been divided in an unusual way. The House will not go into Committee for the first four and a half hours of each day while it is scrutinising the Bill. That is a constitutional novelty. On Friday, I will have been in the House for 12 years and so I suppose that I am a relatively junior Member, but in those 12 years I have never seen the scrutiny of a Bill involving a generic debate, determined by the Executive, for the first three quarters of the day, with the House going into Committee only for the last 25 per cent. of the day—the last hour and a half, in this case.

The first problem with the form that has been adopted is that not only is it a constitutional novelty but it allows the manipulation of the debates by the Executive to their advantage. The themes that have been determined by the Executive are clearly intended to exemplify what they see as the beneficial aspects of the treaty. However, many other aspects of the treaty will not have the same beneficial effects on the UK. The Government have deliberately set about creating a set of debates on themes that are intended to exemplify the beneficial effects of the legislation and the treaty, but that is not how legislation ought to be scrutinised in this place.

The second and equally important problem with this way of proceeding is that we know that generic debates—Adjournment debates and other debates on Government motions—are largely dominated by the speakers from the two Front Benches. We have just seen
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an example of that. The debate started three and a half hours ago, and I am the first Back-Bencher to speak. The four and a half hour generic debates will be dominated by those on the two Front Benches and it is clear that the voices of Back Benchers will not be heard in the way they would if the House were in Committee, where they could seek to amend the legislation and thereby affect the treaty. It is clear that the miserable one and a half hours each day might be dominated by a series of Divisions, while the four and a half hours will be dominated by the Front-Bench spokespeople and, in particular, by the Executive. That is not the way in which the House should proceed.

It seems that such a process will also distort the character of the debate. It is clear that the division between those who sit on the Front Benches is about the role of the nation state and national Parliaments vis- -vis a superstate or federal states. That is clearly an important debate for the House, but other voices, on our side at least—and I am one of them—want to raise another critique of the EU.

Let me briefly exemplify the kind of debates that we should have, but which are excluded by the motion. Many of us have accepted that the economic powers that in the past were coterminous with the nation state are now supranational and even global. It is therefore inevitable that if we want to attempt to control the effects of those economic powers, we must have some supranational co-operation. The argument in favour of a Europe of the peoples that attempts in some way to control the power of those global corporations has been won.

We want not a liberal, market-driven Europe but a social Europe. However, the terms of the motion exclude the possibility of our having that debate. The debate will largely be between those who speak from the two Front Benches and it will be about the nation state as opposed to the superstate, whereas we want a debate about a liberal Europe as opposed to a social Europe.

That brings me to the subject of what the Minister has denied is an opt-out. I want to speak about the charter of fundamental rights. When the previous Prime Minister, Tony Blair, went to negotiate the treaty, we were told that the red line would not be crossed—the charter would not be allowed to create judiciable rights in the United Kingdom. When he had finished the negotiations and had been on the phone to the then occupant of No. 11, he came out and said, “We’ve secured an opt-out from the charter.” Those were the words he used, both on the record and in briefings to the press. Now the Minister denies that an opt-out has been secured. That needs to be debated because the charter of fundamental rights is central to the sort of Europe that is being constructed. Will it be a liberal, market-driven Europe, where inequality is intensified and companies are allowed to move across the globe with no accountability to the work force or the nation states? Will it be a Europe where the interests of ordinary people are secured by the charter of fundamental rights? In our debates, there is no opportunity to test whether the Minister was right to deny the opt-out or whether Tony Blair was right to say that there was an opt-out.

Jon Cruddas (Dagenham) (Lab): Has my hon. Friend seen the rulings of the European Court of Justice on the Laval and Viking cases, the implications of which
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split labour lawyers throughout Europe? We need to discuss that thoroughly, especially in the context of title IV and our opt-out of the charter of fundamental rights. The consequences could drive a coach and horses through workers’ protections throughout Europe, especially in this country.

Jon Trickett: The Viking and Laval cases, which were determined in the European Court of Justice recently, clearly signal that we should hold a debate on a neo-liberal Europe, where corporations can move across the continent uncontested by trade unionists.

Let us consider title IV of the charter of fundamental rights, from which the Minister claims that there is no opt-out whereas Tony Blair said that there was. That needs to be debated. Page 173 of the treaty refers to the United Kingdom, ostensibly led by a social democratic Government, and Poland, which is hardly a social democratic country. Articles 1 and 2 clearly contain an intention to ensure that the UK and Poland are exempt from most of the justiciable rights in title IV, which is entitled “Solidarity”. Paragraph 2 of article 1 states:

What is this amazing title IV, which the programme motion excludes from debate? I shall not go through it in detail because you would rule me out of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. However, it is important to explain why I do not find the motion in its current form acceptable and why I am frankly tempted by the Opposition amendment. Many colleagues are also tempted as they consider how to vote. Title IV gives workers throughout Europe the right to information and consultation within an undertaking. It gives trade unions the right of collective action and bargaining. It grants a right of access to placement services, a protection in the event of unjustified dismissal and a right to fair and just working conditions. How can the Government have said that the treaty’s solidarity clauses cannot be incorporated into UK law?

Mr. Cash: The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech from his own point of view. As with Michael Foot and Enoch Powell in their day, combination in opposition on a matter of principle can be achieved. Does the hon. Gentleman hope that the broadcasting authorities, for example, will pay attention to the views that are being expressed? So far, there has been almost no serious commentary or analysis of important questions, which have to be resolved.

Jon Trickett: I take the hon. Gentleman’s point because the views that I am expressing rarely appear in the media. However, millions of people hold those views.

Let me draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that every trade union supported the amendment that I tabled, which Mr. Speaker, perhaps rightly, failed to select. The trade unions are concerned by the UK Government’s apparent decision to exempt the UK from title IV of the charter. If the media are not adequately reflecting our views, it is essential that the House at least structures its debates to allow Back Benchers such as me and others to express their desire for a more social and less neo-liberal Europe than the Government currently envisage.


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Colin Burgon: My hon. Friend makes a powerful case against a neo-liberal Europe. He will have heard the Minister deny that we have opted out from title IV solidarity. Is not the confusion that has ensued as the day has progressed an argument for a full day’s debate on the charter of fundamental rights as it affects working people?

Jon Trickett: My amendment might have achieved precisely that, had it been selected. I want a full, six-hour debate, not dominated by Labour and Conservative Front Benchers, to ensure that the voices of people such as me are properly heard.

Graham Stringer: I listened carefully when my hon. Friend said that he was considering voting for the Conservative amendment. However, although it is better than the substantive motion, might it not be best to go back to square one? All the flaws that he mentions in the context of the charter also apply to other subjects that are being missed out of the debate. Would it not be a cleaner decision to vote against the substantive motion?

Jon Trickett: My hon. Friend tempts me to another course of action, which I shall consider during the evening. However, I want to stress to my hon. Friend the Minister and anyone else on the Treasury Bench who is listening, that some of us accept the argument for some sort of supranational co-operation on a social democratic basis to try to control the powers that the globalisation of capitalism has unleashed. I am more than half convinced that a European entity of some kind is necessary, but I am equally adamant that what the Government have negotiated unleashes the power of big business, while the opt-out that we appear to have secured diminishes the power of organised labour to resist the actions of specific corporations.

I want to consider the Viking and Laval cases briefly.

Colin Burgon: Is the concept that the bureaucrats and Peter Mandelsons of this world—[Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] I am sorry to say his name, but there is a perception that such people exist in a sort of nether world. However, have not this week’s events shown—Peter Mandelson, who is keen to push through the various trade agreements, said today, “This must happen before Bush loses power”—that there is close working between the bureaucracy and the neo-liberal forces?

Jon Trickett: It was interesting to read Commissioner Mandelson’s comments that it was essential to get the trade agreement in place before the demise of President Bush. However, Madam Deputy Speaker may think that I am straying from the point—

Colin Burgon: She is not listening.

Jon Trickett: That’s okay then.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will now confine his remarks to the motion.

Jon Trickett: I am grateful for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker.


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The point that I am trying to make—perhaps inadequately—is that the terms of the motion seem to have been deliberately constructed to engineer a debate on the Government’s view and the Opposition’s view and the nation v. the supranational entity. I should like amendments to be debated to allow us to hold a proper debate on the opt-out, to which the Minister often referred.

I want briefly to consider the Viking and Laval cases before handing over to somebody else. Those cases clearly determined a hierarchy of rights in the EU, in which the rights of property, free competition and an open market are of a higher order than those of ordinary working people to organise collectively to defend what they perceive as their interests. If the opt-out, as I insist on calling it, continues, that gives a clear signal to the ECJ that the Government entirely accept the argument that there is such a hierarchy and that the rights of trade unionists and others hold a lesser place than the rights of capital to move freely across the European Union.

Therefore, I will be an invidious position when it comes to tonight’s vote at 10 o’clock. I want my Government to get their legislation—they have many excellent pieces of legislation about to go through the House—but I am not convinced by the Minister’s claim that there will be the flexibility to enable us to secure the kind of debate about a social Europe versus a liberal Europe that I would like. Therefore, I am looking to him or his colleagues to indicate in the next hour or two that there will be a clear opportunity to debate and to vote on the charter, and on title IV in particular. Otherwise, I might well be tempted into the Opposition Lobby tonight.

6.40 pm

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I am not surprised that the two Members who signed the motion in the name of the Government are not here. The Leader of the House, who is often here working diligently, is noticeably absent and the Foreign Secretary is yet to show his face. They have left the estimable Minister for Europe to deal with how the Government hope to get their proposal—we debated it a week ago today and they got general support for it, including from our Benches—from an agreement in principle to the other end of its progress. However, now that the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman and the first Labour Back Bencher to speak, the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett), have both made it clear that the proposed route is not acceptable—I will say similar things to them—it will be clear to the Government that they have got themselves into a muddle and that they cannot hope to go down that road.

The Government came up with the idea that it would be good to discuss an important treaty—it is the reason for the European Union (Amendment) Bill, but it is not the Bill itself—by grouping subject areas of the treaty into discussion of different provisions in the Bill. However, anybody who looks at the Bill will see that it is only marginally detailed. It goes to the specific mechanics for implementing the treaty—for example, clause 2 is the important one that says that if we join the treaty to a list of treaties for which we already have legislative power, it has direct effect in the United
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Kingdom. However, the Bill does not set out the different subject areas. The Government therefore sought to manage the debate.

What has happened shows how completely flawed our systems for dealing with treaties are in this place. I have argued that ever since I arrived here, and my colleagues have sought to persuade Governments of it in the past. We cannot expect colleagues and Governments satisfactorily to shoehorn a debate on a treaty into a debate on a Bill.

The hon. Member for Hemsworth said that he would hand the baton on to somebody else when he finished. I was a bit worried that he was hoping that I would pick it up for the neo-liberal view of the world that he described. I am happy to be a Liberal, but that was not quite my understanding of my position—I am a much more traditional Liberal than that, for which I am sure he will be thankful.

The hon. Gentleman argued that there should be both a debate about the general implication of the treaty and whether it would effectively give institutional power to deal with the private sector—a perfectly proper debate about one of the reasons colleagues such as me have supported the development of the European Union—and a debate about specific proposals, such as the implications for workers’ rights and the rest, related either to the parts on which we currently have no obligation, but to which we could opt in, or to the charter of fundamental rights, which is attached to the treaty but not a part of it as far as the UK is concerned. That would be perfectly proper, but we will not get a chance to debate those matters at all. Under the proposal, we are being presented with an attempt to shoehorn debates about some things into limited time, which will be inadequate, as is abundantly clear.

Last week my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) made clear our position on the central issue. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches believe that the treaty is a good thing, that it will be good for Britain, that we were right to ratify it and that we should agree to it. That is our position and we do not resile from it. We also had an exchange, which is now familiar, about whether we should have a referendum on the treaty or on the wider issue. The House knows the positions: the Government said that there should be no referendum, the Conservative party wants one just on the treaty and we want one, once the treaty is agreed, on whether the United Kingdom should remain in the European Union. We would campaign in support of our remaining in the EU.

However, those are not the matters for today. Before I even saw the Conservatives’ amendment, I was clear that the Government proposal would not work and that we should vote against it—defective though the Conservatives’ amendment is, it is a better attempt than what the Government have proposed. At 10 o’clock tonight, my colleagues and I will therefore vote against the proposal in motion No. 2. We are absolutely clear that it is defective. We shall support amendment (f), standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, because it is the best alternative in town, although it, too, is substantially defective.


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