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For those three reasons, we should not allow the clause to stand part. It is manifestly less important than other aspects of the treaty that will pass undebated, and we should not allow it to stand part unless and until they are debated. The clause is deliberately opaque, reflecting the duplicitous nature of the whole operationthe introduction of a so-called reforming treaty, which is actually the constitution, lock, stock and barrel. We should not allow the clause because it is open-ended,
and the Government themselves do not know the implications that will flow from it.
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): I shall not detain the Committee for long, but I want to say something about trust, which was mentioned a moment ago by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith). We are asking the House and the British public to trust a treaty that is a constitution in all but name. In the narrower context of our debate on whether clause 3 should stand part of the Bill, there are three aspects that I do not think either the Minister or the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), has addressed correctly.
The debate on the Maastricht Bill was long drawn out, and very divisive for most parties in the House. One of the key aspects of the Maastricht treaty, however, was the existence of the pillars. We were promised that the pillars were safe, and would prevent the European Union from developing into a super-Union. Now here we are this evening, being told by the Liberal Democrat spokesman that the pillars have partially collapsed but Trust us, it will all be okay.
The British public will not trust Parliament or the Government over the pillars. They will understand from the debates that have been allowed here, and from what has been said in the press, that the breakdown of the pillars means more and more open-ended powers for the European Union, as was said a moment ago. It is hugely dangerous to tamper with pillars that prevent civil servants, and those in the system within Europe, from developing the sort of Europe that they want but the people of the country almost certainly do not.
The other promise made to ushere I make my point about trust even more stronglywas that we would be allowed to take part in line-by-line scrutiny of this huge document, which runs to 328 pages excluding the amendments and annexes. If any members of the general public were willing to pay £30-odd for it, most of them would not understand it. Indeed, the purpose is for the British public not to understand it. It is not open, honest and frank, as we would expect a document dealt with by a British parliamentary Chamber to be; it is massively complicated. It is fundamentally wrong that the Government are forcing it through without our being able to debate it in full, and without fulfilling the promise of all three major parliamentary parties that there would be a referendum on the constitutionwhich is what this document is.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I have sat through a number of these debates. I wonder whether the hon. Gentlemanwho has obviously taken the trouble to read the treaty, as I havecould identify a specific section that his constituents have raised with him, and to which they wish him to object.
What my constituents have raised with me is the question of why the Government promised them a referendum on that document in front of him, and have now firmly refused to give them one. I will take no lectures about what was promised and what my constituents are concerned about. What my
constituents are concerned about is the country losing its sovereignty, and ceding it to another institution.
The position is quite simple. We are being asked to pass a clause many parts of which would meanas my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) said earlierthat more and more legislation would be forced through the House by affirmative resolution, without the debate that is needed, and less and less would be subject to the negative procedure. Why are we doing this? Why is the House not sitting for longer? We are not short of time in which to debate matters such as this. The House does not sit for half as long as it should. My constituents believe that it should sit for much longer, and I happen to agree. Why are we forcing through predictive legislation on which we can have no debate whatsoever? That is fundamentally wrong.
The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. That is not a point of order for the Chair. The debate so far today has been conducted in a very sensible, thoughtful and orderly way. I suggest we continue in that vein.
I have been inundated with constituents concerns about the future defence of this country and the effect the treaty will have on our armed forces and our commitments to the European army that the EU is trying to set up. We are not able to debate that, sadly, which is enormously undemocratic. When Labour Members bother to stand up to speak later, they will talk about the defence of this nation, something about which my constituents are particularly concerned.
Today is the first time that I have felt that the Chamber has done its job. It has interrogated the Ministeran old footballing friend whom I congratulate on his courtesyand we have been able to get to the nub of the issue. I listened to two excellent speeches; one from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) and the other from my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who made two telling points on fine detail, which is critical.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) that the clause is not necessarily the most important element in the Bill. None the less, we must oppose it for two reasons. First, I agree with my right hon. Friend that previously we have not had the opportunity to undertake the level of scrutiny that was promised to us. I was stupid enough to believe the Prime Minister when he said that we would have line-by-line scrutiny. I did not realise that he meant line-by-line to mean two lines, rather than every single line of the Bill. I now know what he meant: we would discuss the title and the end of the Bill, and that would be good enough. I never agreed with the nonsense of the Second Reading debate at the beginning of every day and I refused to speak in them because they have ripped the heart out of what the House is about. I came to speak to amendments on defence to which I had attached my name but I was unable to do so.
One of the important reasons why we should oppose this and every clause is that none of them so far has had enough debate and scrutiny to allow us to give the right attention to detail. Detail is what we do in this place. I have heard it called petty or trivial detail; the truth is that the House is about detail, and the grandstanding speeches that have been made are less important and less relevant to how the treaty will affect our legislation.
The second point was that the clause gives form to a substantial element of change in the treaty: the partial collapse of the pillars, as the Liberal Democrats put it. It seems to me that when a house collapses, it collapses; it can partially collapse or fully collapse, but try living in it afterwards. In this so-called partial collapse, we have collapsed a huge undertaking made at the time of the Maastricht debates. I never believed the Government on the EU anyway, whether Conservative or Labour. I stand by that even today. I think that I was right about this matter. Undertakings were made at the time about what would happen to us subsequently: we were given undertakings that because of the new pillar construct, we would be protected thereafter from any further incursionsthe tide had been stemmed and all would be reversed. That cannot honestly be said to be what has happened. Those pillars were pillars not just of the whole process of the EU, but of an argument that said, We have reached the high point and thereafter all will be changed. We should therefore oppose the clause because it breaks a previous Governments commitment on the EU treaties. The change from the European Community to the European Union is not a minor one; to be fair, Labour Members have not pretended that it was. It is not just a terminological change, but a major change to how everything flows and the legal context.
We should also oppose the clause as it is based on the idea that all that flows from it will come from a kindly Government who will only ever do the right things and make the right changes. I and hon. Friends tabled an amendment to strike out clause 3(6) for that very reasonbecause the extent of this is almost limitless. Of course the Government will say to us, as all Governments have always said to us, You can trust us as we have the best interests of the British nation at heart. I am sure that all Governments believe that. I do not think for one moment that the Minister would try to sell the country down the river; he believes that what he is doing is right and that the Government would resist any change. The problem is that there is a natural dimension to this: this whole process of change from within the European Communitynow the European Unionhas a dimension that overcomes Government resistance. In due course, more and more will change and flow from this, and Governments will go along with it. In fact, we get so casual with secondary legislation that it flows through this place like a river in spate. There is so little that we ever do about it. We nod through measures that we should never nod through. Admittedly, there are good Select Committees that try to pinpoint things that go wrong. The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), the Chairman of one such Committee, is present, and I congratulate him. They are, however, like the little boy with his finger in the dyke. The truth is that we will be overcomein fact, we are overcome. More and more power is taken away from Members of this House and put into the hands of the Government, and exercised in due course on behalf of the EU. Therefore, I do not trust Governments either of my own persuasion or of the other political persuasion when they say, Trust me.
This House should never trust Governments. That is what we are here for. Why do we sit on these Benches if all we want to do is give way to the Government? We should never trust them for one simple reason. Our history over hundreds of years is bound up in this clause, because it is about us not trusting them; it is about us fighting to take back powers, not about giving them to another body to be exercised via the Government. That is why I feel strongly about the clause, and why we should resist it. It is alien to the entire way we believe we should operate. We were elected here not to trust, but to spell out. Our trust should be placed in the words in front of us, not in what a Government say might be their meaning in 10 years. If we do not believe what their meaning is said to be, but instead believe that they would allow a Government to extend things beyond and far into the future, we should say no. Even if that does not happen, we should say no because that is a power we have no right to give them.
Michael Connarty: I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) even though I think he accused meor Select Committees in general, perhapsof giving the finger to the Government. I deny the charge, even though I do not deny the temptation.
I recall that the right hon. Gentleman received an award at the end of last year, and that I received one on the same day. I said something then that, funnily enough, he has stolen; I said that I was not a Eurosceptic, but a Government sceptic. That is a healthy thing to be on the Government Benches as well as on the Opposition Benches.
The problem with a lot of these debates is that people make arguments for parliamentary democracy at the highest levelthe right hon. Gentleman made a good speech about thatwhile also saying that we should abandon it and let people have a referendum run by the tabloid press and certain prejudiced people who have such power in this land because of their ownership of multimedia. Such people would distort anything and take things away from parliamentary democracy, which is why I am pleased that we have had so many days of debate on the treaty.
Hon. Members keep coming back to simplified speeches that they can doubtless make to their constituents, but I ask them to read the consolidated treaty, a copy of which I have here. It shows how the treaty on the functioning of the European Union will work. If they did that, they would not be opposed to allowing clause 3 to stand part of the Bill.
I commend the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) for his thoughtful amendment. I also commend some of the speeches made about it. We heard discussions about how the Government should bring to the Floor of the House a procedure that would give confidence that Parliament would be engaged in deciding not only whether the right terminology is being usedfor example, ensuring that EC becomes EUbut whether a power should be given away by an opt-in or a decision to opt out. I have put that matter again and again to my Front-Bench team from these Benches and in my Committees report, and the point has been echoed by contributions by members of the Public Administration Committee. I hope that before the Government finish this procedure they will lay before us clear regulations that we can approve.
The White Paper...refers to...simplified treaty revision.
articles IV-444 and 445 of the Constitutional Treaty
The simplified revision procedure would allow a change from unanimity to QMV (except in relation to decisions with military implications or in the area of defence).
I must point that out to hon. Members who were worried about defence. Neither the treaty for a constitution nor this treaty intended to hand over defence to anything other than a unanimity procedure; there was no intention to go to QMV, and that position remains firm.
I found it strange that the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) spoke about defence, because I had expected him to discuss institutions. The Chair was open to letting him speak. He argued, incorrectlyI tried to intervene on him, but he would not let methat defence was going to be compromised by this treaty.
The same simplified procedure may be used to amend all or part of the provisions of Part Three of the Treaty on the Functioning of the Union.
concerned that these provisions could allow substantial changes to be made without convening an IGC and so lead to even less transparency in the way the EU is governed, and less accountability of governments to their national parliaments. We ask the Government to outline what safeguards they would put in place to prevent this further erosion of transparency and accountability.
As a result of that conclusion and our interrogating the Minister and the Foreign Secretary, they secured a series of agreements in the protocols on how this Government, and perhaps the Polish and Irish Governments, would have the right to opt-in after a matter was transposed and a clear procedure whereby if we did not like an amendment to something that had been agreed toin other words, when we had already opted inwe would have the right to opt out or opt in to that amendment.
There were consequences to that. There could have been financial penalties, because the countries that remained in the agreement could have decided that any costs incurred in pursuing an amendment that they had agreed should fall on the UK. We were assured by the Foreign Secretary and his officials that they could never see such a measure being enacted, but the European Scrutiny Committee was concerned that the decision to impose such penalties would be taken by qualified majority voting of the remaining countries, without the UK being allowed to participate. In other words, it would be a court at which we could not make our case.
We summed up the situation as the law of unintended consequences. The Foreign Secretaryand his officials, whom I met separatelyargued strongly that we had worked out the deal, that the amendments were to our advantage and that they would lay out a proper timetable for opting in and out. I have asked the Minister about the matter several times in the House. I know that he is burdened down with dealing with these debates, but I hope that someone in the Foreign Office is working on a set of procedures that show how the provisions will be enacted. If that does not happen, we will be taking a leap in the dark, although I believe that clause 3 should stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Francois: I shall not praise the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, as I have on previous occasions, because I do not want to get him in trouble with his own party. He has touched on an extremely important point, and it shows that his Committee is doing exactly its job of holding the Government to account on points of detail. He has pressed the Minister on the important point of whether we might be fined and I hope that he will give us a definitive answer when he replies to the debate, because the question is fundamental.
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