Previous Section Index Home Page

19 Jan 2010 : Column 217

Mr. Hogg: The concept of the Government responding to individual Back Benchers demanding a debate and a vote is a new one. What would Back Benchers have to do to achieve such success?

Chris Bryant: They would have to ask for it.

A couple of hon. Members referred to the 21-day period. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who is not in his place at the moment, said that the material might be tabled on the last day before a recess. Actually, one of the provisions in the clause has not been mentioned. At present the Ponsonby rule applies only to days when either House is sitting, whereas under our proposal, the term "sitting day" would mean a day on which both Houses are sitting. That will effectively extend the period of time available. This is in response to one of the Committees that examined the Public Administration Committee's report on the draft Bill. We have sought to extend the period in that way.

Mr. Cash: On the question of determining which documents are important and which are not-be they treaties or treaty-like instruments-will the Minister tell us whether the term "written agreement" is wide enough to cover that? Also, under the conventions relating to the Ponsonby rule, it has been open to the Government since 2001 to refer treaties to departmental Select Committees, and they normally do. It is at that point that some of the problems of categorisation could arise. A departmental Select Committee could decide that a treaty was important and ought to be debated and voted on. The crucial question is not merely whether we have a debate on a "take note" motion, but whether we have a substantive motion on which a vote can take place. Those are areas that require further clarification, are they not?

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that if there is a desire for a vote, there has to be a vote on a substantive motion. If such a motion were to fall, the Government could, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) has pointed out, try to bring the issue back to the House. My suspicion, however, is that the politics of the moment would probably determine that if a Government had lost, in the House of Commons, a treaty that they had signed, there would be a real danger that the Government would fall-although that is not what happened to President Wilson when he lost the Versailles treaty in the United States of America. That situation was rather different, of course, because the Executive there are completely separate from the legislature. None the less, it is pretty unlikely that Governments would want to continue to bring such a matter back again and again.

David Howarth: That raises an obvious question. Why do the Government think that this particular provision is at all desirable or necessary?

Chris Bryant: Because there would be circumstances in which one would want to return to such an issue. It will be a political judgment for the Government. They may decide "No, it's clearly dead; we'll have to leave it," but in other circumstances they may believe that it is in the interest of national security, or whatever, to return to the issue and try to make the argument again. The
19 Jan 2010 : Column 218
key point is that the Government would not be able to proceed without the House of Commons having either voted in favour or decided to let the matter rest.

Mr. Grieve: Can the Minister identify any matter on which the Government may currently be defeated which they cannot bring back before the House at their discretion?

Chris Bryant: No. The hon. and learned Gentleman makes a good point.

7 pm

As for my saying that it did not matter that the clause had not been raised in general public consultation, several matters were raised, and there has been a Joint Committee on the Bill, which broadly agreed with the provisions in the clause. It felt that the previous version had not been properly drafted, which is why we redrafted the provisions this time, and we believe that we have made them clearer.

Mr. Hogg: If I did not say this earlier I apologise, but the point that I wanted to make is that the Minister said that no criticism had been made of clause 24, yet this is the opportunity for us to make criticism, and the other place needs to know about the fact of our criticism.

Chris Bryant: Well, some criticism has been made, so let me clarify that: there have been previous debates on this matter.

The hon. Member for Stone asked why the procedures do not apply to treaty-like documents, and he referred to memorandums of understanding. Such procedures would apply to such memorandums if they were legally binding in international law, but memorandums of understanding are not legally binding in international law, which is why those procedures do not apply. That is the clear distinction that we are trying to draw here.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there are some circumstances in which we have to enact certain elements of a treaty before ratification, in order to bring ourselves into line with it. On other occasions we have already substantially legislated in the field, so there is no need for further legislation and the only process left is approval followed by ratification. There are a few instances where ratification happens by virtue of signature, mainly in cases where negotiation is developing fast so that revealing the Government's hand in public-in the UK and therefore to the wider world-would undermine our negotiating stance with another Government. There is, I think, an element of wanting to maintain that distinction.

I hope that I have reassured the House that the Commons would always have the right of veto, should it choose to implement it. The Government would always make sure that where a debate and vote were requested, they would be made available within the allotted time-or if they were not, we would extend the time in order to allow that provision.

Mr. Cash rose-

Chris Bryant: I am minded not to give way, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.

Mr. Cash rose-

19 Jan 2010 : Column 219

Chris Bryant: No, I am not giving way, as we have already had quite a lengthy debate. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) is sighing at me, but he was not here and he did not listen to my response to his party's questions. Without further ado, I urge the Committee to reject the amendment and to carry the clause.

David Howarth: We have had a good debate, and I thank the Minister for his kind remarks. A series of interesting points have been raised about a wide range of issues. I do not want to go through all of them. I am particularly grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) for his suggestions about how to develop further the proposals on which treaties should or should not be debated in the House, but the proposal before us now-amendment 1-is simply to reverse the negative procedure and introduce the affirmative procedure as the default option, and as the fundamental way in which this House deals with treaties.

Mr. Grieve: I have had the opportunity of listening to the Minister, and although I do not doubt his sincerity, it seems to me that he has not provided an explanation of how Standing Orders can enable the House to consider a negative resolution against a Government who do not wish to provide one. I believe that that is a serious flaw that needs to be addressed and will have to be looked at further in the context of the Bill, even though I support a negative resolution in principle.

David Howarth: I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman. That is the core of the problem with the negative procedure.

The Government's defence has two aspects. First, the procedure is said to be cumbersome, but the response to that point was provided by the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson). The Government have said that there are only 30 treaties a year, and that they will be dealt with in fundamentally the same way as we deal with affirmative resolutions for statutory instruments, of which we deal with several a day-there is one about income tax on the Order Paper today-so this does not seem to be at all a good point for the Government to make. The procedure is not cumbersome in the least.

For the second part of the Government's defence, the Minister gave a guarantee that in certain circumstances, if complaints were made about a treaty on the Floor of the House, the Government would use their power over the agenda of the House to make sure that a debate and a vote took place. The trouble with that defence is that it was later reduced to absurdity when the Minister said that he would accede even to the requests of Back Benchers, which immediately starts to contradict his first point. If anything would be cumbersome, it would be a system under which any Back Bencher could get 90 minutes on the Floor of the House any time they wanted to complain about something. I am afraid that that part of the defence does not work either.

It seemed to me that the Minister was thrown back on to what might be called the "good chap" theory of the constitution-that we are all good chaps together and no one will exploit the power that this particular way of implementing intentions gives the Government. I am afraid that it is too late for the good chap theory of
19 Jan 2010 : Column 220
the constitution. If the whole purpose of the clause, and this part of the Bill, is to transfer power from the Government to Parliament, that transfer itself must be part of the Bill. What the Government cannot do is transfer a little bit so that the proposal does not work in reality-even though one wants it to work-and then say that otherwise Parliament can rely on the Government's good will. That is precisely the form of Government that we are trying to move away from; it relies on the use of the very prerogative that we are trying to undermine.

Mr. Cash: Does the hon. Gentleman accept the central idea-I put it to the Minister, but he would not take the point-that to get the objectives right, it is signature rather than ratification that we need to get right, because under the UK constitutional arrangements ratification tends to take place at the end of the procedure?

David Howarth: I think that the hon. Gentleman is half right. I agree that it would be a good idea to develop proposals to deal with signature, but that does not mean that ratification is irrelevant; indeed, I think it is very important.

To return to the central issue of the Government's control over the House, that is precisely what makes clause 24 ineffective as a way of transferring power. If the Wright Committee's proposals were to be accepted by the Government, that situation might change. Unfortunately, however, we have no sign yet that the Government intend to bring those proposals to the Floor of the House and accept them in full. At this point, if the Minister would like to spring to his feet to contradict me, I would be grateful-but I would also be surprised. In the absence of any guarantees to change the House's procedure, the point still stands that the negative procedure achieves very little, if anything. On that basis, I shall press amendment 1 to the vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The House divided: Ayes 232, Noes 277.
Division No. 44]
[7.9 pm


Afriyie, Adam
Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Alexander, Danny
Amess, Mr. David
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Baldry, Tony
Barker, Gregory
Baron, Mr. John
Barrett, John
Beith, rh Sir Alan
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Beresford, Sir Paul
Binley, Mr. Brian
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Bone, Mr. Peter
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Bottomley, Peter
Brady, Mr. Graham
Brake, Tom
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Breed, Mr. Colin
Brokenshire, James
Brooke, Annette
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Browning, Angela
Bruce, rh Malcolm
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burrowes, Mr. David
Burstow, Mr. Paul
Burt, Alistair
Burt, Lorely
Butterfill, Sir John
Cameron, rh Mr. David
Campbell, Mr. Gregory
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Cash, Mr. William
Clappison, Mr. James
Clark, Greg
Clarke, rh Mr. Kenneth
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey
Crabb, Mr. Stephen
Davey, Mr. Edward
Davies, Mr. Dai

Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth)
Davies, Philip
Davis, rh David
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Dorrell, rh Mr. Stephen
Dorries, Nadine
Duddridge, James
Duncan, Alan
Dunne, Mr. Philip
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Evennett, Mr. David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Farron, Tim
Featherstone, Lynne
Field, Mr. Mark
Foster, Mr. Don
Fox, Dr. Liam
Francois, Mr. Mark
Fraser, Christopher
Gale, Mr. Roger
Gauke, Mr. David
George, Andrew
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gidley, Sandra
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Goldsworthy, Julia
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gray, Mr. James
Green, Damian
Greening, Justine
Greenway, Mr. John
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hancock, Mr. Mike
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harper, Mr. Mark
Harris, Dr. Evan
Hayes, Mr. John
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Heath, Mr. David
Heathcoat-Amory, rh Mr. David
Hemming, John
Hendry, Charles
Herbert, Nick
Hoban, Mr. Mark
Hoey, Kate
Hogg, rh Mr. Douglas
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holmes, Paul
Hopkins, Kelvin
Horwood, Martin
Hosie, Stewart
Howarth, David
Howell, John
Hughes, Simon
Huhne, Chris
Hunt, Mr. Jeremy
Hunter, Mark
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Jones, Mr. David
Kawczynski, Daniel
Kennedy, rh Mr. Charles
Key, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Kramer, Susan
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Lamb, Norman
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Lansley, Mr. Andrew
Laws, Mr. David
Leigh, Mr. Edward
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Lidington, Mr. David
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
Maclean, rh David
MacNeil, Mr. Angus
Main, Anne
Malins, Mr. Humfrey
Mates, rh Mr. Michael
Maude, rh Mr. Francis
McCrea, Dr. William
McDonnell, John
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Milton, Anne
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew
Moore, Mr. Michael
Mulholland, Greg
Mundell, David
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Newmark, Mr. Brooks
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Oaten, Mr. Mark
Öpik, Lembit
Ottaway, Richard
Paterson, Mr. Owen
Pelling, Mr. Andrew
Penning, Mike
Penrose, John
Price, Adam
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Pritchard, Mark
Pugh, Dr. John
Randall, Mr. John
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Rennie, Willie
Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Angus
Robertson, Hugh
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Rosindell, Andrew
Rowen, Paul
Russell, Bob
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Scott, Mr. Lee
Selous, Andrew
Shapps, Grant
Shepherd, Mr. Richard
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, David
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Smith, Chloe
Smith, Sir Robert
Soames, Mr. Nicholas
Spelman, Mrs. Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Spring, Mr. Richard
Steen, Mr. Anthony

Streeter, Mr. Gary
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Swinson, Jo
Swire, Mr. Hugo
Syms, Mr. Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Mr. Ian
Taylor, Dr. Richard
Teather, Sarah
Thurso, John
Timpson, Mr. Edward
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Vaizey, Mr. Edward
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Viggers, Sir Peter
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Walker, Mr. Charles
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Webb, Steve
Weir, Mr. Mike
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, Mr. David
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Mark
Williams, Mr. Roger
Willis, Mr. Phil
Willott, Jenny
Wilshire, Mr. David
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Wilson, Sammy
Winterton, Ann
Wishart, Pete
Wright, Jeremy
Yeo, Mr. Tim
Young, rh Sir George
Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Alan Reid and
Dan Rogerson

Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Alexander, rh Mr. Douglas
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Mr. David
Armstrong, rh Hilary
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, Mr. Ian
Austin, John
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Bain, Mr. William
Baird, Vera
Balls, rh Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Battle, rh John
Bayley, Hugh
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr. Joe
Berry, Roger
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blears, rh Hazel
Blizzard, Mr. Bob
Blunkett, rh Mr. David
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Bradshaw, rh Mr. Ben
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Browne, rh Des
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, rh Andy
Butler, Ms Dawn
Byrne, rh Mr. Liam
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Caton, Mr. Martin
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben
Chaytor, Mr. David
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Ms Katy
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank
Cooper, Rosie
Cooper, rh Yvette
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, Mr. David
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
David, Mr. Wayne
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Denham, rh Mr. John
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Efford, Clive
Engel, Natascha
Ennis, Jeff
Farrelly, Paul
Fisher, Mark
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, rh Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)

Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gardiner, Barry
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Grogan, Mr. John
Hain, rh Mr. Peter
Hall, Patrick
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Harris, Mr. Tom
Healey, rh John
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Heppell, Mr. John
Hermon, Lady
Hesford, Stephen
Heyes, David
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hood, Mr. Jim
Hope, Phil
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howells, rh Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Hutton, rh Mr. John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Lynne
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Khan, rh Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Knight, rh Jim
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, rh Mr. David
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Love, Mr. Andrew
Lucas, Ian
MacShane, rh Mr. Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Martlew, Mr. Eric
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Chris
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McCartney, rh Mr. Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
McFadden, rh Mr. Pat
McFall, rh John
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McGuire, rh Mrs. Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, rh Mr. Tony
Meacher, rh Mr. Michael
Merron, Gillian
Miliband, rh David
Miliband, rh Edward
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Mr. Austin
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Morden, Jessica
Morgan, Julie
Morley, rh Mr. Elliot
Mudie, Mr. George
Munn, Meg
Murphy, Mr. Denis
Murphy, rh Mr. Jim
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
O'Brien, rh Mr. Mike
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Olner, Mr. Bill
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pearson, Ian
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Prescott, rh Mr. John
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purnell, rh James
Rammell, Bill
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Reid, rh John
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robertson, John
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Roy, Mr. Frank
Roy, Lindsay
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Ryan, rh Joan
Salter, Martin
Seabeck, Alison
Sharma, Mr. Virendra
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Simpson, Alan
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, rh Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, Geraldine
Smith, rh Jacqui

Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, Ian
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stringer, Graham
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Taylor, Ms Dari
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Thornberry, Emily
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Mr. Paul
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Turner, Mr. Neil
Twigg, Derek
Ussher, Kitty
Vaz, rh Keith
Walley, Joan
Waltho, Lynda
Wareing, Mr. Robert N.
Watson, Mr. Tom
Watts, Mr. Dave
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, rh Malcolm
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Wills, rh Mr. Michael
Wilson, Phil
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Wood, Mike
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wright, Dr. Tony
Wyatt, Derek
Tellers for the Noes:

Mark Tami and
Mary Creagh
Question accordingly negatived.
Next Section Index Home Page