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4 Mar 2008 : Column 1698

The other amendment I tabled concerned the insistence that the scrutiny reserve should be fully complied with. Again that links back to my point on the difficulty in terms of the timetable and the chronology into which we could be locked simply by saying that we want to have an Act of Parliament, as that itself might fall victim to a provision agreed by QMV or some other way through the aegis of the Council of Ministers, and therefore become binding in UK law under the European Communities Act 1972. I proposed a requirement that we would have to comply with all the scrutiny arrangements so there would be no excuse for a Government Department to override the European scrutiny arrangements. That would therefore protect any legislation that we decide we want to approve by this procedure. The procedure is faulty, and it is also fraudulent because it is not possible to disapply legislation that has been passed in pursuance of the 1972 Act. I have made my case. We must not allow the Government to get away with any more of these fraudulent activities.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) on the case he has presented. As someone who is totally committed to the integrity, independence and authority of the House, often against the Executive of the day and certainly against the unelected bureaucracy in Brussels, I fervently believe that this clause will be hugely damaging to the House. I follow entirely my hon. Friend’s case. He has quoted with knowledge historical precedent, and I believe he is right. I only wish that more Members had been present tonight to listen to a speech that is of critical importance to the future of the authority of the House.

My main purpose, however, is to support the brave and thoughtful, but very brief, contribution of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart). I remind Members that the hon. Lady represented the House on the constitutional Convention. She is well aware that the Lisbon treaty is in substance precisely the same as the proposed constitution that was defeated in the Netherlands and France. She has stated tonight, with conviction and knowledge, that if we move towards an increase in qualified majority voting and pass dozens of additional competences to the EU, this House will become part of a federal structure; I might be paraphrasing her exact words, but that is what she stated would be the case. To pass a huge number of competences in areas of critical importance would be extremely damaging not only to this House but, more importantly, to the people of our country, who are represented by the Members of this House. I do not believe that they consider it appropriate for the House to pass to the European Union authority over areas that are of such critical importance.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that more Labour Members should be emboldened to take the principled stand of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart)? As the Prime Minister has said that he wants full parliamentary scrutiny, he should support amendment No. 20, because given that the treaty can amend itself, all the amendment does is support his wish for proper parliamentary scrutiny of the treaty.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have always considered the Prime Minister to
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be a man of Christian integrity. I believe that he probably meant what he said, but, unfortunately, that is not what is happening in his name.

Mr. Duncan Smith: My hon. Friend is a kind man.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Perhaps I am a kind man. I believe that after a good many years in this place one perhaps moderates some of one’s views and considers most Members of this House with respect, regardless of the side on which they sit. I am pleased that I have many friends on both sides of the House, because that is what Parliament is all about. Unfortunately, Parliament is reaching a situation whereby people believe in and perhaps even speak in support of something but too few of them vote in the Lobby in support of their words.

Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): The Government’s main argument on the passerelle clauses, with which the amendments are concerned, seems to be that they are all very technical, and therefore not that interesting, and will not be used in any case. Is that not the classic tactic that has been used over the entire 50 years of the European project to disguise major constitutional change and prevent it from being properly scrutinised by the people whose rights are being removed by proposed changes?

Sir Nicholas Winterton: My hon. Friend, who has a great parliamentary career in front of her and who has recently been speaking from the Front Bench with great authority, is right. I came into this House at the beginning of the passage—

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): To India.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: No. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I have some experience under my belt, but it does not go back that far.

I came into this House when we were debating joining the European Union. I recall assurances given by a Conservative Prime Minister as well as by Labour Prime Ministers that we would always have the ultimate authority over all important matters concerning this country. We were sold out, misled and deceived. My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) is right to say that the passerelle clauses are of critical importance to this debate and this treaty. We will be handing over a huge range of competences to the European Union and, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston said, we will be immersed and submerged in a federal state because at no time will Parliament have the right to change what has been done.

I have established that I would like us to come out of the European Union. After all the time that I have been in this House I have no doubt that what we are doing is not in the best interests of this country. The clause is of critical importance, and I fully support amendment No. 20, upon which we will vote. It would retain for this House the sort of authority that gives us some say in what is being done in our name and allows us to stand up in this House for those whom we represent.

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Finally, I yet again commend the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston on her courageousness. Despite her party, she has done a great service to this House, to those whom she represents and even to those whom I represent by her courage in taking the positions that she does.

Sir Patrick Cormack: I do not want to make a long speech; nor do I wish to embarrass the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), although I endorse the encomiums delivered so magniloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton). She served this House without regard for party on the European Convention. She went to it thinking she would come back commending and endorsing what was agreed, but instead she returned convinced that what had been agreed was not in Parliament’s best interests, and she has spoken out consistently and bravely on the subject ever since.

I do not share all the views on Europe that have been expounded ad infinitum by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), with great passion and sincerity. Nor do I share the desire of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield, whom I greatly respect as a parliamentarian of real stature, to come out of the European Union. However, I do believe that what has been done over the past few weeks in this place has done a great disservice to the European Union and to Parliament.

10.15 pm

We have been taking part in a parliamentary farce. The Government decided that debate was to be time limited and have allowed little opportunity for proper debate of the actual substance of the Bill. Tonight is one of the first occasions when Parliament has had the chance to say, “Hold on a minute, we are going to retain certain matters within our own jurisdiction.” My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) made a magnificent speech, with which I agreed entirely. He spelled out clearly what an utter farce it would be to allow the treaty to be changed darkly, at dead of night, with a pink slip of paper handed in the next morning. That is what we have to reckon with unless the Government accept the amendments.

The Minister can choose to accept the amendments or he can give a pledge that something similar will be introduced in the other place. Unless he does one of those two things he will be taking part in a ministerial abdication of parliamentary authority that should shame any Government. I put it to him, quietly and soberly, that if he has true regard for parliamentary government—and a real regard for this place—he will accept these amendments in spirit, if not in substance. If the Government steamroller this clause through this evening and ignore the substance of the amendments, it will constitute a handing over of parliamentary sovereignty.

I cannot plead with the Minister too earnestly to have regard for the position that he holds and the people whom he represents—just as we should all have regard for the people whom we represent. We know that the people of this country feel cheated. As I have said before, I am not a great advocate of referendums, but we have established the precedent for them in constitutional issues. This is a constitutional issue, and the people were promised an opportunity to pronounce on this treaty. That has been taken away from them. It
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would not have been quite so bad if there had been proper, exhaustive parliamentary debate, but instead we have a parliamentary charade and farce.

The least that any self-respecting Government—or Minister speaking for that Government—could do is to say, “This House will always have the opportunity, through primary legislation, to decide on any subsequent changes. We will not allow such changes to be made in this quiet, hole-in-the-corner manner.” One of the worst innovations produced by this so-called modernising Government was the deferred Division. I would be ashamed to think that this Parliament would, by deferred Division, change its whole substance and stature and reduce itself to the level of a county council. That is, ultimately, what would happen. I hope that the Minister will speak tonight not for the Government, but for Parliament.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I have not participated in any of the Lisbon treaty debates up until now. I am moved to participate in the debate because I believe that the passerelle clauses are the most serious part of the treaty. They are the most serious because they allow the European Council, by qualified majority voting, not unanimity, to change the treaty without any reference whatsoever to this Parliament.

I do not believe that we were elected to this Parliament to give powers away to the EU or to anyone else. We were elected to this Parliament to do the right thing on behalf of our constituents, the electors of this country. The minimum that we need is amendment No. 20, so that if the passerelle clauses are proposed they will have to be sanctioned by primary legislation in this House. That is the very least that we should do.

We are talking about serious issues—about the possibility of changing through qualified majority voting the whole European foreign and security policy, home affairs and justice, and environmental matters. Those are far-reaching matters that we deal with on behalf of our constituents and the people of this country. If the European Council can alter such things on its own, without reference to this Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) was so right to go back to the events of the 17th century. That is where autonomies and tyrannies are born.

We are elected to this place to debate such serious matters and to come to a conclusion through debate. We are not elected to give powers away to a body that does not debate and does not have to obtain the sanction and approval of this Parliament. The matter is far worse than my hon. Friend even envisaged. As I intimated in an intervention, even if his amendment is passed—I shall certainly support it with alacrity tonight, and I hope that the Liberals and some Labour Members will, too—all the Government will have to do is pass a miscellaneous provisions Act on the treaty of Lisbon, and then such provisions could be passed through secondary legislation. They would be passed upstairs, with a vote after an hour and a half. Proceedings would be whipped and there would be no possibility of rejecting or voting for the provision, as you know too well, Sir Alan.

The Government have a reputation—all one can do with any Government is consider what they have done in the past—of abrogating the rights of this Parliament. We need only to consider what happened with Northern Rock and what huge powers were given away under
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secondary legislation. It is not impossible that the Government, and the Minister—who is not even listening to what I have to say—will vote against the amendment. That shows their arrogance and how little they regard this Parliament, which was elected by the people of the UK.

I hope that even at this late stage the Government will see the folly of what they are doing by not allowing the British people to have a say on this far-reaching treaty. The Government promised the people that say in their manifesto. If the constitution of this country means anything at all, they should uphold the promises that they made in their manifesto. For my whole life I have been brought up with the premise that if one promises something, one should deliver it. I do not understand how the Government of this country—the UK is supposed to have one of the most upstanding Governments in the world—can promise something and then abrogate that promise. That is a shocking omission.

I hope that the Government, at the very least, will ameliorate that situation to a degree and uphold the tradition of this Parliament by encouraging their Members to vote for amendment No. 20. It is the very least that they can do as regards some of the most important clauses in the treaty, which are giving away some of the biggest powers. I bet my bottom dollar that they will not do that. I bet that the Minister will not stand at the Dispatch Box tonight and urge the Committee to vote for the amendment. He will not do it; I bet he will not.

Mr. Clappison: It is a great pleasure to follow those of my hon. Friends who have spoken to this amendment. Their feeling for the House, and their commitment to parliamentary democracy, is self-evident and beyond peradventure.

It is a particular pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who made a most careful speech in support of amendment No. 60. I very much support that amendment, and also amendment No. 20, which was moved so ably by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague).

The Minister has quite a weighty responsibility in answering the arguments in support of the amendments. They are so strong that he will have to argue very convincingly if he is to do them justice. He will correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that the amendments could be passed without putting this country’s ratification of the treaty in doubt. We could ratify the treaty and still adopt the amendments, which offer a much stronger safeguard than the one in the Bill, to whose weaknesses various hon. Members have rightly drawn attention.

My concern is that the passerelle provisions will mean that constitutional change will come thick and fast. In an earlier debate, I put it to the Minister that they made constitutional change much easier to accomplish than at present. In fairness to the Minister—who has been very fair in these debates—I think that he accepts that.

I have another question in the same vein: does the Minister believe that constitutional change will happen much more often under the passerelle provisions than it has in the past? I suspect that he does. The passerelle provisions mean that there is no need for any of the paraphernalia and rigmarole—that is, an intergovernmental
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conference, its associated mandate and a lengthy process of ratification—that have accompanied a constitutional treaty in the past. They also mean that no spotlight of attention will focus on the treaty and the package of changes that it contains. Instead, change will come before the House on a case-by-case basis. As the Bill stands, that change will be subject to a most lightweight parliamentary procedure.

Why cannot we have primary legislation on this matter? At least such legislation would embody and highlight change and make it transparent, so that everyone could see what was happening. It would also mean that this House had an opportunity to debate the change in full.

As far as I am concerned, these amendments—even if the Government accepted them—could be only second best. That is because I simply do not want the provisions in the treaty of Lisbon that enable the proposed changes to be made. I do not like the treaty: some parts may not be as bad as others but, on balance, I do not want it to be brought into law. I think that the treaty marks a sea change in this country’s relationship with the EU, and that it will result in much faster incremental change than in the past.

Earlier, I was challenged by a Liberal Democrat Member to say whether there was anything in the treaty that I liked. I shall have another look through it, but I shall make the following deal with the Liberal Democrats. If I were given a choice between keeping the European flag and anthem and getting rid of the rest of the treaty, I would not have much hesitation about keeping the flag and the anthem. I would run up the European flag—I would have to build the flagpole first—and I would learn how to hum the anthem. I would much rather adopt all that than the provisions in the treaty.

The passerelle clauses are very important because they make change much easier to accomplish and, as a result, it will come thick and fast. Some people in Britain are worried about the amount of incremental change that has happened already. Various Labour Members talked earlier about how the democratic deficit had caused power and authority to slip away to a political elite in Europe. However, if the passerelle clauses operate as I fear that they will, there will be many more instances of power slipping away to Brussels, bit by bit and case by case, on an incremental basis.

People are worried about the steady drip of power and authority away from this country and this Parliament, and towards Europe. However, if they are worried about what has happened through conventional treaties—and many would say that those treaties led to enough incremental change—there is one message that they need to bear in mind: if the passerelle clauses are allowed to operate without a proper safeguard, they ain’t seen nothing yet.

Mr. Jim Murphy: I am delighted to have the opportunity to respond to the debate on this group of amendments. I am delighted, too, that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) has taken part in the debate because, like everyone in the House, I hold him in great regard. We disagree on Europe, but he was frank enough to acknowledge his in-principle objection to our continued membership of the European Union. He is an entirely
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reasonable man, so I hope that he accepts the way in which I have tried to engage in these debates over the past month or so. My record in recent years shows that I hold the House in great regard, and I would like the Chamber to continue to play an important role in national life. I have genuinely spoken about that in the past, and did so even before I became Minister for Europe.

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