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3 Mar 2008 : Column 1453

Point of Order

3.34 pm

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As all Members know, the Government have said on a number of occasions that the police pay award cannot be honoured in full because it would be inflationary, and that any pay increase would be eaten up by inflation. On the back of that, I tabled a written question to the Chancellor asking what effect paying the police 1.9 per cent. and 2.5 per cent. would have on the official inflation rate, to try to tease out from the Government exactly what the inflationary impact would be. I received a reply from a Minister, which did not address the question at all. It merely stated:

I therefore tabled the following question to calculate—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am going to assist the hon. Gentleman by saying that that is not a point of order, and that it is not a matter for me as I have no responsibility for the perceived quality of a Minister’s reply. Therefore, I cannot take this matter any further.

3 Mar 2008 : Column 1454

Business of the House (Lisbon Treaty) (No. 8)

3.35 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): I beg to move,

The motion does three things in response to concerns about the scrutiny of clauses 3 to 8. First, it provides certainty for the House by protecting a full six hours of debate on each of the three days of debate this week. The time is protected against any statements or urgent questions—such matters have arisen on five occasions during Committee days thus far. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) in his place—he is in a different place from normal, but Conservative Members move around to make it appear that there are more of them. He has asked on a number of occasions whether day 10 and in particular day 11 could have a protected number of hours of business, saying that he would be grateful if Ministers tabled a provision to that effect. I congratulate him on the influence that he has brought to bear in ensuring that just that has happened.

Secondly, the motion structures a division of time over the three days to ensure that sufficient time is given to discuss the clauses of most interest to the House—that is the case with clause 8 and its hook for the discussion of a referendum, and with clause 6, which covers the amending provision and new oversight powers for Parliament.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Following this weekend’s astounding referendum results, does the Minister not believe that it is now necessary to extend debate on the referendum question? Perhaps we ought also to debate the issue on Thursday so that we could explore why, for instance, Maria Hutchings’s superb campaign in Eastleigh did so well in getting that referendum result.

Mr. Murphy: We are not tempted by that approach. I cannot congratulate the hon. Gentleman in the same way as I encouraged the hon. Member for Forest of
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Dean, who has a different view from him—the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) wishes to see us out of Europe altogether.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I thought that the Minister was going to say that I had a different view about the timing. I had said that I was grateful to the Minister and the Government for having listened and for having at least protected the six hours of debate. In an intervention on the Deputy Leader of the House, I pointed out that the debate on the referendum was to be on a Wednesday, and that if we carried on we would have many hours free in the evening to debate the matter at length.

Mr. Murphy: The business of the House motion guarantees a certain number of hours of debate, as the hon. Gentleman requested. The third thing that it sets out to do is to provide an opportunity at the end of day 11 for a new clause to be moved, protecting that possibility without encroaching on the time available for the referendum debate.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): I am always impressed with the Minister’s tact and charm. I have tabled an amendment for Wednesday, but as that is a busy day for some of us would he like to be really tactful and allow me to debate my amendment earlier?

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is a matter for the Chairman of Ways and Means.

Mr. Murphy: May I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) that our affection for one another’s tact, diplomacy and guile is mutual? As she is aware, the timing of the discussion of amendments is, of course, a matter for the Chairman of Ways and Means.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): In the light of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink)—that an overwhelming majority of the people who voted in the constituencies where referendums were held opted to support the holding of a referendum on the treaty—is it too late for the Government to recognise that the people of this country deserve a vote on the matter, and to decide that they will, after all, grant a referendum?

Mr. Murphy: In my constituency, fewer than one in six of the electorate voted for a referendum. The timetable set out for this week, which builds on the first programme motion, sets aside three days, which represents the same number of days of debate as on the Committee stage of the Bill implementing the treaty of Nice. We have already had eight full days of debate.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) and I will not agree on whether there should be a referendum, but I disagree with his assertion that Britain would be better off out of the European Union. I do not disrespect him, but I disagree with his view, which I accept he holds strongly.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I know that the Minister always likes to be transparent with the House: when he said that one in six people in his constituency
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voted for a referendum, he was referring to the sample rather than the percentage of those who voted. He will know that, in his constituency, more than 85 per cent. of those one in six people who were sampled wanted a referendum on the treaty. Are the Government not failing democracy when the people of this country have to take direct action, only a few hundred yards from Parliament, because the Government have reneged on their promises on the EU reform treaty?

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman knows his constituency better than I do, and I hope that he would accept that all hon. Members know their own constituencies better than any other Member. In my constituency, more people voted for the failed Conservative candidate at the last election than in the process that we have just been through. Of course, the process cost nearly £50,000.

I shall return to the business motion, because I do not think that you would thank us for going much wider, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): If the turnout in local elections in the Minister’s and other constituencies falls below that achieved in the recent voluntary polls, do the Government propose to ignore the outcome?

Mr. Murphy: The place to make decisions is in this Chamber, not in a crane in the sky above London. This Chamber will decide later this week whether it is right to have a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, in the same way that it decided whether there should be referendums on the treaties of Maastricht, Nice and Amsterdam.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does the Minister agree that, when he mentions the Nice, Maastricht and Amsterdam treaties, he ignores an issue that we shall debate shortly: the amalgamation of all those treaties into one? To say that there is no need for us to examine the whole, and that we need only examine individual treaties, is to deny what the Government are saying in their own proposals and about the mandate.

Mr. Murphy: No, the mandate is clear, and has been clear on each day of the debate. Every Government of the European Union has agreed that the constitutional approach has been abandoned. That view has been accepted by Governments on the left, centre-left, centre and centre-right of European politics.

Mr. Speaker: Order. We are now at the stage of debating the issues, which is not what this motion is about.

Mr. Murphy: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your encouragement.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): I absolutely agree with the Minister when he says that all of us know our constituencies better than anyone else does. Given that the Government are not inclined to allow a referendum, could the party Whips at least give Members a free vote?

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is beyond the scope of the business motion.

3 Mar 2008 : Column 1457

Mr. Murphy: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I shall return to the business motion.

Bob Spink: I am grateful to the Minister, and I promise him that this will be the last time that I intervene on him; he has been most generous in giving way. If he were to allow the debate this week to extend into Thursday, so that we had more time, we could explore how the referendums this weekend had a greater turnout than many EU elections in this country.

Mr. Murphy: I will not hold the hon. Gentleman to his assertion that that was the last time that he will intervene on me today; no hon. Member believes that to be the case.

Bob Spink: In this debate.

Mr. Murphy: I accept that it is probably the last in this debate; I have only one paragraph left of my comments in moving the rather narrow business motion.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend accept that a fundamentally different situation now faces us in that, if the desire of the Liberal Democrats is upheld, we will be effectively making a decision based on two referendums? Should he not take that into account, so that we can extend the time, to debate both fully?

Mr. Murphy: As I am against holding one referendum, it will hardly come as a surprise to my hon. Friend to learn that I am against holding two referendums. We are not tempted by that approach, and I have set out a business motion that protects the time on each day available to the House this week. We have been flexible.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): So that we can determine how much time will be required and given what the Minister has said about what has taken place already, does he accept that much of what he has described as debate has, in fact, been very general debate on subjects connected with the treaty but not detailed scrutiny of its provisions? Does he accept that, for example, we have had no detailed scrutiny so far of the treaty’s provisions on defence, which is a very important subject in the treaty?

Mr. Murphy: The total number of days available for the House to discuss the Lisbon treaty and the Bill to enact it has been the same as for the treaties of Nice and Amsterdam and the Single European Act.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Murphy: I am spoilt for choice.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): The Minister always makes comparisons with treaties that were much shorter and much less controversial, but does he not accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison)? The Minister makes great play of the time that we have taken so far, but it has been largely taken up at the Government’s insistence with general debates on European issues that have gone very wide of the treaty of Lisbon? The debates have
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been very familiar to many hon. Members; they have been about the merits and otherwise of various aspects of our European policy. Does he not agree that this experiment has been a failure and that we should have debated the amendments tabled by those hon. Members who, unlike me, disagree with the treaty’s contents?

Mr. Murphy: Of course, on these issues of substance and on some of the policy issues that relate to Europe, I find myself at common cause with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but the fact is that the structured approach that we have taken to each day was contained in the programme motion and the principle was in both the Government’s motion and Conservative Front Benchers’ motion. Although, of course, the Conservatives demanded more days, they nevertheless suggested their own set of proposals along this structured approach.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): But does not the Minister understand how difficult he is making things, even for those of us who support the treaty of Lisbon? To have a debate on the treaty of Lisbon that excludes a debate on the treaty’s effect on defence is not to have a complete debate on the treaty. Similarly, would he not be in a stronger position if he had spoken out against holding a referendum in the first place, as some of us did, instead of supporting a referendum when that was convenient and now opposing a referendum when that is convenient? Is it not better to be against referendums always?

Mr. Murphy: I hope that it does not unsettle the right hon. Gentleman if I disagree with him. Where there is an issue of substantial constitutional significance—for example, if we were ever to consider joining the euro—there is a case for consulting the public in a referendum, as we did when we established devolution in Scotland and Wales. Those are substantial, lasting constitutional changes, and I agree that there is, on occasion, a place for a referendum.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con) rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. We have to get back to the business of the House motion.

Mr. Francois: My point is on the motion.

Mr. Speaker: I know that it will be; I am trying to tell the Minister that we have to get back to the motion.

Mr. Murphy: Mr. Speaker, I know that you will accept that I am simply responding to the interventions that I take. I shall give way to the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois). It is perhaps the last time that I shall give way, as I want to conclude the one paragraph that I mentioned in my response to the hon. Member for Castle Point.

Mr. Francois: I thank the Minister for giving way. My point is directly about the motion, Mr. Speaker. The Minister asserted that when we debated the original business of the House motion, we consented to the Government’s procedure in principle, but we did not. Let me read him what my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) said on that point, in response to an intervention on the topic:

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