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Let us consider what would happen if we devoted a proportionate amount of time to each of those articles. The others are equally important. There are articles on co-operation between police forces, on co-operation in criminal matters, and on co-operation in civil judicial
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matters. If we gave an equal amount of time to immigration and asylum in the general debates, we would be debating that issue for 54 minutes. That would be 54 minutes to debate articles dealing with the whole range of policy and law on asylum, illegal immigration and co-operation between Governments. In that time, we would also be getting into the subject of legal migration, which the European Union is greatly interested in taking on board as one of its competencies.

Moreover, we would have 18 minutes to move amendments on asylum and immigration. The asylum and immigration provisions in this Bill touch on all such matters that regularly come before this House. We spend hours debating asylum and immigration, because these are extremely important and fundamental issues that touch on the liberty of the individual and on control over our borders, yet we are supposed to amend a treaty that deals with those issues within a total of 18 minutes.

The same is true of foreign and security policy, the important changes to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks took the House through. For example, changes in majority voting arrangements will affect our ability to have an independent foreign policy. There is the highly significant creation of a new diplomatic service for the EU, and the creation of a new Foreign Minister. Apparently, the Government are now saying that all such matters will be decided on after we have debated the issues before us. We should be debating them on the Floor of the House.

The most important issues appear to have been compressed with others that, although important in themselves, are little changed by the treaty. Subjects as fundamental as foreign policy, immigration and asylum, and judicial and home affairs—including the very important question of the increased jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, let alone all the other matters that are dealt with in the treaty—are important, and if we do not have adequate time to debate them on the Floor of the House, frankly, we will be unable to look our constituents in the eye.

Yes, a lot of constituents do write to me about Europe. They want to know what is happening there, and they are alarmed by some of the things that are going on; sometimes, they do not fully understand what is taking place. If we cannot look them in the eye and say, “Yes we debated those issues in the House of Commons as fully as we possibly could. We went through the legislation line by line and it was properly debated”, what sort of opinion will they entertain about this House?

9.24 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), who always brings balance and good sense to these debates.

The treaty transfers crucial powers from this Parliament to the European Union. Although amendment (f) is imperfect, it is supremely superior to the Government motion. If we compare that motion with the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), we see a number of problems with the Government’s proposal. For instance, the Government seek to combine on the first day of debate—tomorrow—the
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issues of migration and asylum, and crime and justice. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere has just spoken about that eloquently, so I shall not repeat what he said. I merely point out that he informed the House that that impossible task insults our very democracy.

No specific allotted time is given to debate matters of important national concern, such as the transfer of powers on the common fisheries policy. In respect of that matter, article 3 of the consolidated version of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union states:

Fishing is an important issue, and we should be given an allotted day to debate it. The common fisheries policy has virtually destroyed our fishing industry. Under CFP rules fish conservation has been decimated, and more fish are thrown back dead or landed illegally than are landed legitimately. Britain provides three quarters of the fish stocks and two thirds of the waters but gets only one eighth of the fish by value. We should programme business to debate that matter on a specific day.

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) talked about the importance of debating transport—rail, air travel and space policy—and that should be given a specific dedicated debate. Employment and industrial relations issues should also be given specific allotted time, as should the charter of fundamental rights.

As I have said, the Opposition amendment is far from ideal, but it is designed to recommend itself to the Government. I hope that they will examine it, accept the good sense that it contains and go through the Lobby with us to support it tonight. They should do so because it offers six additional days’ debate on particularly important areas. It offers this House the opportunity to debate, in specifically allotted time, asylum and immigration separately from justice and crime matters. Given the importance that asylum and migration have for our constituents, we should examine them specifically. Those things put enormous pressure on our public services, infrastructure and housing, and deserve to be examined specifically on a separate allotted day.

The amendment also offers a specific allotted day to discuss the economy, social security and public services, which are important matters, and another to discuss foreign policy. Given the changes that this constitution— that is what it is—forces on this country, and particularly the impact that an EU Foreign Minister will have on our foreign policy, we need a specific allotted day to debate that issue.

The amendment also offers a specific day to discuss the new EU President and the EU’s legal personality, and another to examine the structures of the European Union and the distribution of competences between the EU and member states. In particular, it offers a specific allotted day to debate the provisions concerning national Parliaments. That brings me to the subject of the referendum. My constituents, like every other Member’s constituents, were promised a referendum on the constitution by the three main parties. This is the constitution, and we deserve and we need a referendum on it. It is a matter of trust. The Labour party will have to answer to those constituents when it presents its manifesto at the next election for the lies that it told in its manifesto in the last election.

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9.30 pm

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): Today’s debate essentially revolves around one question—whether the Prime Minister will keep his word and Parliament will be able to debate this treaty in any depth. As has clearly been shown by Member after Member, the Government programme for the Bill is just a parliamentary gesture and not what was promised to this House.

First, we had the broken promise on the referendum, and now we have a broken promise on detailed scrutiny of this momentous Bill in this House. Ministers seem not to want to listen to anyone. The European Scrutiny Committee has reported that the treaty was negotiated in a way that could not have been better designed to marginalise the role of national Parliaments. Now Ministers, through this motion, are setting out to marginalise Parliament all over again.

The Government are losing the people’s trust on so many issues, so what do they do on this critical issue? They effectively ignore the public, the trade unions, their own Back Benchers tonight and the Select Committee, and plough on regardless. That is borne out by the debate. Of the 15 contributions so far, only three have supported the Government and one of those was the Minister for Europe himself. I shall return to the subject of his contribution, but I wish to comment on the other contributions we have heard.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) made another powerful contribution to the debate, as I am sure the whole House will agree. Among other things, he pointed out the absolute absurdity of attempting to debate the extremely complex provisions on criminal justice and home affairs that are embedded in the treaty in just one day. The very idea that we can debate 27 amendments on that subject in 90 minutes tomorrow evening is itself a farce.

The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) was representative of the frustration felt among Labour Members about the way in which this is being handled. He directly criticised the Government’s approach and he made the point that not enough time will be made available for Back Benchers’ contributions. For his own reasons, he highlighted especially the charter of fundamental rights and criticised the Government for failing to mention it in their motion—something that we attempt to rectify in our amendment.

We then heard from the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), who surprised the House twice over—first, because he spoke for less than half an hour, and secondly, because he said that the Liberal Democrats would vote against the Government tonight. That is a welcome change with regard to this treaty. He also said, generously, that his party would support our amendment. He made the case for the importance of detailed scrutiny of the Bill, and we look forward to enjoying his support in the Lobby tonight.

We then heard from the right hon. Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt), who accused us of nitpicking over procedure. That seems to be at variance with the Prime Minister’s promise that the House would be allowed to debate the treaty line by line and in detail. I ask her and her colleagues who support the Government whether they want the House to debate the treaty in detail or not.

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We then heard from my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), who brought his considerable experience in the House to bear on the debate. He pointed out, wisely, that the Prime Minister’s pledge to put Parliament back at the centre of our national life is completely at odds with the motion before the House. He was followed by the redoubtable hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who asked a crucial question: whom does the business motion most benefit? She powerfully answered her own question—it benefits the Government, and not the House.

We then heard a passionate speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who pointed out to the Government that Parliament’s standing in the eyes of the public can only be undermined by initiatives such as the Bill, and I entirely agree. We then heard from the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), who said that timing was more important than time. That is an interesting observation, given that a major leak from the Slovenian presidency today revealed that there are about 30 unanswered questions on how the treaty will work in practice; that is embarrassing timing for the Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) pointed out that the motion was designed more from the point of view of news management than for the convenience of the House, and I entirely agree. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) gave us an historical tour d’horizon of English and British law. He memorably described the Government’s position as a fetid sludge. I have a funny feeling that we will hear from him again once or twice as the debates continue. I may be wrong, but I would encourage the House not to bet against me.

We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), who rightly mentioned his long service in the House, and who referred to, among other things, the weaknesses in the Government’s red lines. My hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) doggedly challenged the Minister on the lack of protected time on the day when we debate the referendum, and got a concession out of him; I shall return to that point later. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) made an important point that reinforced what my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks, said about the severe lack of time in which to discuss the key provisions on criminal justice and home affairs. My parliamentary neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), rounded off the Back Benchers’ contributions by reminding the Government of their pledge on the referendum, among other things.

I now come back to the Minister’s contribution. He was courteous to take so many interventions, but despite his courtesy he completely failed to convince the House of his argument. He gave a commitment that on the day we debate the referendum, the business will be protected. That commitment was not in the Government’s motion, and we therefore welcome it. On timetabling, he said that the Government would be flexible and would look at matters almost on a daily basis. Given that we begin debating the treaty in detail tomorrow, if he really wants to be flexible on a daily basis, the best thing that he can do is withdraw the Government’s motion tonight.

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The Minister really got into trouble over Standing Order No. 24. After frequent interventions and points of order, it was eventually established that if the Government’s motion is passed tonight, and if an emergency occurs on a day when the House is debating the treaty of Lisbon as set down in the programme, the decision on whether to have a debate under Standing Order No. 24 will effectively rest with the Government and not with you, Mr. Speaker. That is a considerable change to our established procedures. It took a long while to wangle that from the Minister, but eventually he admitted it, and that is another reason to vote against the motion.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon) indicated dissent.

Mr. Francois: The Chief Whip shakes his head; he should read the ruling given by Mr. Deputy Speaker in Hansard tomorrow. The matter does not rest there. The Government’s case for avoiding a referendum rests largely on providing “detailed parliamentary scrutiny” , as they put it, of the Lisbon treaty in the House, but the Minister completely failed to justify the abandonment of the referendum pledge, on which almost every Member to the House was elected.

The marginalisation of Parliament is even more disturbing given the leak of a confidential Slovenian EU presidency strategy paper today. It sets out a raft of areas in which the detail of what the treaty will mean in practice has yet to be decided. That applies to decisions on the exact role of the new EU President and the high representative and; on the powers of Eurojust and Europol, and to the exact meaning of the solidarity clause should an EU member be subject to a terrorist attack. Those are the very areas that Parliament should wish to scrutinise, yet the process in which the Government have collaborated is designed to avoid exactly that scrutiny. How can the House question the details of the role of the new EU President, if those details are still being worked out? Effectively, as the think-tank, Open Europe, has argued, we are being asked to trust the Government to sign a blank cheque. I do not think that we should sign it.

On one level, the Government have already lost the argument about the treaty. Almost every impartial observer has concluded that in substance it is essentially the same as the EU constitution, and that it will mean a substantial increase in the EU’s powers. The programme motion is an admission of the extent of the Government’s defeat. It cuts time for debate on matters of genuine importance in the treaty—justice and home affairs; the EU President; the EU Foreign Minister; the EU’s new legal status; changes to defence arrangements; and the profound changes to the treaties—to a minimum. Instead, it ekes out time for talk about other subjects, some of which are important in their own right but to which the treaty makes very little difference at all.

Ministers are behaving rather like a student who, when asked a question to which he does not know the answer, gives an answer to a completely different query. That is the level to which the Government have sunk: jester politics in place of the detailed debate that they promised us all along. Our amendment to the motion would give the House the bare minimum of debate that the Bill merits. It would ensure that, as promised by the
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Government, there would be 20 days of debate in the Commons. Instead of the absurdity of trying to discuss the vast and far-reaching changes in justice and home affairs in one day, we would have at least two days to do so. Let us remember that the Government’s position is that the establishment of a common EU asylum policy and a common EU immigration policy by treaty does not even merit a day’s debate in itself, which is indefensible.

The amendment would allow greater consideration of the major changes that the treaty will make in foreign and defence policy, including the role of the EU Foreign Minister, the diplomatic service, the loss of vetoes in foreign affairs, and the creation for the first time of a common European defence policy. Those issues surely merit more than one day’s debate. The amendment would provide two days to consider the profound legal changes that the treaty effects such as the granting to the EU of its own legal personality; the abolition of the intergovernmental status of criminal justice; and the declaration on the primacy of EU law. The amendment would allow some debate on the distribution of powers between EU and member states brought about by the treaty, yet the Government, according to the motion, think that such discussion is completely unnecessary, even though the treaty, for the first time, lists the EU’s areas of competence and their nature.

The amendment would ensure, too, that the charter of fundamental rights and the British protocol pertaining to it are debated, whereas Ministers, who are already very sensitive on this issue, clearly did not want the charter even to be mentioned in the programme for debate. The amendment would allow some discussion of the treaty’s effects on national Parliaments. The European Scrutiny Committee has repeatedly drawn attention to the obligations that the treaty places on the House, but Ministers seem to think that there should not be any debate about that, either.

Our amendment rectifies a basic structural flaw in the Government’s programme. One and a half hours to debate amendments is practically unworkable. It prevents detailed discussion of the treaty, and as anyone remotely familiar with European treaties knows, the details matter. In our view, 20 days is not enough to do justice to the treaty. A case could easily be made for more debate and, as confirmed by the House of Commons Library, Maastricht, by comparison, was debated for 29 days. The programme motion, however, offers less than half that time. We have sought to allow the House to vote for a programme that simply holds the Government to their original word. The amendment would not wreck the Bill; it would simply allow the House to do the job that the Government promised that it would do in the first place.

The whole story of the treaty is shabby: it was cooked up behind closed doors; it was rammed through to avoid public debate, with almost any deal being struck to evade the people’s verdict in a referendum; and it was signed in circumstances of considerable national embarrassment.

The Government know that they are losing the argument. To take one recent example, this week’s Charlemagne column in The Economist stated:

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The Minister was certainly struggling earlier, when he did not justify the Government motion to the House. The Government’s programme motion represents a further betrayal of the people and of this House as well. We should deal with the treaty with proper thoroughness in accordance with the promise that the Prime Minister made to this House and to the people who sent us here. That is what we propose to the House tonight.

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