Previous Section Index Home Page

3 Mar 2008 : Column 1459

That sets the record straight. We did not favour the Government’s methodology, and we still do not.

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman makes his point in his own way. The fact is that the Conservatives tabled a substantive amendment to the business of the House motion—an amendment with its own structure and its own purpose, and which included provision for themed debates. If I may conclude—

Mrs. Dunwoody: May I upset my hon. Friend once more?

Mr. Murphy: Only if it is just a little.

Mrs. Dunwoody: I hope that my hon. Friend will make it clear that it was the Government who proposed the procedure; other people opposed it. The Government radically changed the way in which we are handling the Bill. That may be a good thing or a bad thing—in my view, it is an extraordinarily bad, selfish and rather unimaginative thing to do—but he should be proud of what he has done, because it was the Government’s decision not to have amendments tabled in the normal way, not to proceed in the normal way, and to limit the discussion.

Mr. Murphy: Of course the procedure was recommended by the Government, but it was decided on by the House, which came to its conclusion on 28 January, agreeing to the motion with a substantial majority.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Murphy: I shall conclude my remarks—my one paragraph. We have varied the motion on six occasions. On each of those occasions we responded to the amendments tabled and extended the time available for detailed debate. Today’s motion makes good the further undertaking that I gave the House that we would be flexible and would secure sufficient protected time to debate clauses 3 to 8. With that, I commend the motion to the House.

3.52 pm

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): The Minister referred to the previous business of the House motion, so I shall do so too, if I may. I wish to begin by explaining with what part of today’s Government business of the House motion we agree. The motion in effect divides up the time for the three remaining days of Committee, and protects the business. The Minister will recall—in fact, he mentioned the matter in his opening remarks—that when we debated the original business of the House motion on 28 January, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) noticed, in his usual eagle-eyed way, that the time for day 11, allocated to discussion of the referendum, was not
3 Mar 2008 : Column 1460
protected. He repeatedly pressed the Minister to give an assurance that it would be protected. In fairness, the Minister undertook to consider that, and today’s motion does indeed protect the time for the debate; we should acknowledge that.

However, there is much that is wrong with the motion. For instance, the House will recall that when we debated the original motion, we objected to the Government’s methodology in relation to the debate, and sought more time to debate specific amendments. We also argued for at least six extra days of debate to match the figure of 20 days that the Government have repeatedly floated in the media. We asked for a day on which to debate the defence implications of Lisbon—a point that we subsequently pressed repeatedly at business questions—given that the defence amendments were not touched on at all. Unfortunately, the motion does not allow any extra time for the important topic of defence to be debated in detail, and that is to be deprecated.

Mr. Cash: As the amendments relating to defence were tabled in my name, I concur with my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) and—this is unusual, but welcome—my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). Although we disagree about certain aspects of the treaty, we agree that the defence issue has not been discussed. Our boys out in Afghanistan and Iraq are at risk as result of some of the provisions of this treaty.

Mr. Francois: My hon. Friend has made a powerful point. In the run-up to these debates, the Government repeatedly said in the media that their strategy was to divide the Conservative party on Europe. As has been said, they have succeeded in unifying my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), which is more than we have managed to do for years.

Mr. Gummer rose—

Mr. Francois: Don’t spoil it.

Mr. Gummer: Will my hon. Friend point out that some of us want a debate on defence in order to show that the treaty will help our boys in Afghanistan and elsewhere? If we do not have a chance to say it—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. The debate is going wide of the business motion.

Mr. Francois: As has been said, we really did want that extra day on defence.

It has emerged that we have the rest of today to debate just four amendments, whereas we will have six hours tomorrow to debate many more amendments. That will hopefully include our important amendment No. 20, which would not wreck the treaty, because it is procedural. It would amend the Bill so that no further vetoes could be given up under the so-called ratchet clause without an Act of Parliament. I raise that question because previous experience of debating this Bill does
3 Mar 2008 : Column 1461
not set an encouraging precedent for being able to debate everything, not least because of the Government’s deliberate ploy of using so-called themed debates to eat up time that would otherwise be available to debate specific, detailed amendments.

On day one in Committee of the whole House, when we debated justice and home affairs, there were three groups of amendments. We only managed to debate the first group, and we did not discuss any of the important amendments concerning borders, visas, asylum and immigration. On day four, the theme was the single market. There were four groups of amendments, but we only reached the first group, so we did not touch on subjects such as social policy, the free movement of workers and intellectual property rights.

On day five, as a number of hon. Members have said, we debated foreign, security and defence policy. That night there were three groups of amendments, and again, only the first group was reached. The treaty includes proposals on creating military structures that could rival NATO, a mutual defence guarantee and an armaments agency, but none of the amendments relating to defence were considered. I reiterate that we have repeatedly pressed the Government at business questions to allow us to debate defence, but the motion does not reflect that request.

Mr. Clappison: Is my hon. Friend aware that the Foreign Affairs Committee’s analysis of the defence provisions of the treaty identified five important changes introduced by the treaty? The Committee found one change in which the Government’s wording, which was taken directly from the treaty, was ambiguous and needed clarification. None of those matters has been debated, although they are important to this country’s defence.

Mr. Francois: My hon. Friend has scrutinised the treaty in detail, and as usual he has made an important point. The Government said that there were only 50 vetoes, but on the day of the foreign policy and defence debate, they released an answer saying, “Oops! Sorry! There are 51 vetoes, and the extra one relates to defence.” We did not get an opportunity to debate that, either.

On day six in Committee of the whole House, we debated international development. There were two groups of amendments, and we actually reached the second group for five minutes.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke: This is yet another motion that slightly amends the timetable. Although my hon. Friend has acknowledged that that involves meeting hon. Members’ desire to protect the time for the referendum debate, how far are the Government consulting the usual channels? Were Conservative Front Benchers or Liberal Democrat Front Benchers approached about this latest motion, and was there an attempt to agree it? Surely the point of timetabling in this House is to enable the maximum opportunity for debate involving the widest range of opinions in order to achieve proper scrutiny. Have the Government presented yet another unsolicited business motion, or was there at least an attempt to reach an agreement first?

3 Mar 2008 : Column 1462

Mr. Francois: As an ex-Whip, I have learned never to comment in the Chamber on any discussions through the usual channels; that is always safest career-wise. Nevertheless, my right hon. and learned Friend will know that we asked repeatedly at business questions for an extra day to be added for debating defence. That request was made almost ad nauseam, but unfortunately the Government have not complied with it. It is disappointing that we have not been allowed to debate defence.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Francois: I shall do so only briefly, because I would like to move on to a related point.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: I am not sure that my hon. Friend should be concerned about his career—he should be concerned about the principle of what we do in the House and our ability to scrutinise.

I should like to take up the matter to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) referred. Is my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) aware that Mr. Giscard d’Estaing, an author of the European constitution and past President of France, has said that the treaty contains all the critical elements of the constitution? Is it not true, therefore, that this business motion is inadequate and does not reflect the best interests of this House?

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. That intervention was very wide of the motion under discussion. We are talking about the business motion and the time allowed.

Mr. Francois: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way— [Laughter.] I am well aware of Mr. Giscard d’Estaing’s comments about the treaty. The one that sticks in my mind is—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Will the hon. Gentleman, too, address the motion under debate?

Mr. Francois: We will continue the discussion in the Tea Room, but my hon. Friend is entirely right.

On day seven in Committee, we debated four groups of amendments relating to EU institutions and remaining matters in clause 2. That day, there were four quite large groups of amendments, but we touched only on the first. How can the Government be confident about their business motion given that so far in Committee the Chair has selected 20 groups of amendments, only eight of which have ever been debated—one of them for only five minutes?

The subjects of borders, visas, asylum, immigration, defence, social policy and free movement of workers have never been debated in detail at all. The Government had hoped that they would be able to get away with the whole process, of which today’s motion forms a further part, without anyone outside the House noticing and with no media attention. However, I am pleased to say that they have been unsuccessful. For instance, I doubt whether their motion today will
3 Mar 2008 : Column 1463
redeem them in the eyes of Simon Carr, who, following the debate on the original business motion, wrote a piece about all this in The Independent, entitled “Gordon’s trickery backfires on him”. He noted the Government’s methodology for the Committee stage as follows:

Mr. Gummer: Will my hon. Friend be careful not to allow the Government to get away with the idea that they have misused the House’s arrangements only in respect of the treaty of Lisbon to ensure that there is not proper debate of Bills? There has never been a time when legislation has been so ill-debated, so ill-argued and therefore so ill-produced as since the so-called modernisation that the Government have carried through.

Mr. Francois: My right hon. Friend has made a pertinent point, which I wish to reinforce. It is even worse when the Government constrain debate on a treaty to which this country would theoretically be committed for a very long time.

I doubt whether the Government’s motion today will cut much ice with Michael White of The Guardian. On 22 February, he wrote in that newspaper, in an article entitled, “Lisbon debate rings hollow”:

I also doubt that today’s motion will impress Philip Johnston of The Daily Telegraph, who, in a piece on 11 February entitled “The debate on the Treaty of Lisbon is a scandal”, argued about the procedure for debating treaties as follows:

He then went on to note:

Mrs. Dunwoody: In view of the unequivocal views quoted by the hon. Gentleman, can he explain why his Front Benchers lay down and allowed the Government to run right over them, and why the Liberals, who made their pathetic little mewling noise last week, have nevertheless continued to co-operate with the Government, who are determined that we should not debate the legislation as opposed to some of the ideas?

Mr. Francois: I thank the hon. Lady. We have not lain down at all—we opposed the Government’s motion and voted against it; that is why I deliberately read into the record the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal. [ Interruption. ]

3 Mar 2008 : Column 1464

Mr. Gummer: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Could you explain to Hansard how to put down in the record that last very important contribution by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody)?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I think that that is for the editors of Hansard to work out for themselves.

Mrs. Dunwoody: Could I just explain that I was waving genteelly in the direction of the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois)?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am sure that the editors of Hansard will be very grateful for those remarks.

Mr. Francois: I am grateful for the gentle wave. I am not accustomed to that from the hon. Lady, but I will take it in the spirit in which it was offered.

The truth is that this whole process has been rigged from the outset. First, we were promised a referendum on the treaty, and then that promise was broken. Then we were promised 20 days of debate, and that promise was broken too. We have been given only 14 days, which today’s motion does not extend and which, according to the Library, represents less than half of the 29 days’ debate in the Commons allocated to the treaty of Maastricht. That is why the Minister talks about Nice and Amsterdam but never makes the comparison with Maastricht. We were then promised an opportunity for line-by-line scrutiny of the treaty itself, and even that promise was broken, because the Government came up with a totally new way to debate treaties specifically designed to curtail the detailed scrutiny of the document that they tell the country they are so proud of.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): Will my hon. Friend note, too, that a day is not a day in the sense that the public outside understand? It has been reduced to an hour and a half or two and a half hours, and we spent a total of 19 hours on clause 2, which is the guts of the Bill. That bears no comparison with any constitutional measure that we have had on the Floor of the House in the past, and questions the legitimacy of the process.

Mr. Francois: My hon. Friend, who has, as usual, followed these debates very closely, makes a powerful point. I reiterate: when the Government are comparing treaties, they never like to compare this with Maastricht because they know that that had twice as much debate. Indeed, in those days, a parliamentary day was usually much longer in terms of the time available for debate, so the disparity is even greater if one makes the comparison in hours, as my hon. Friend encourages me to.

Mr. Harper: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Francois: I will, but only briefly because I sense that other Members want to speak.

Mr. Harper: My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Is it not worse than he suggests, because not only have all these promises been broken but the Government have not been completely transparent about how they have done it? They keep repeating that we are allegedly having line-by-line scrutiny, but very little of that time is devoted to looking at the treaty, as it is spent on debating these wide motions.

Next Section Index Home Page