Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Point of Order

3.31 pm

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As Speaker, you are the guardian of the rights of all Members of Parliament, so will you consider the position in relation to a note from the Electoral Commission that has been sent to many, if not all, hon. Members about the treatment of parking passes from BAA plc for Members at airports? Hon. Members have expressed concern that the commission in its early days may not fully appreciate the position of Members of Parliament. I know that you, Mr. Speaker, will be anxious to talk to both sides of the House through the usual channels, and particularly, perhaps, to Home Office Ministers, under whose remit the Electoral Commission comes. Will you consider carefully the letter that hon. Members have received and whether the matter relates to MPs' privileges?

Mr. Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter. I am aware of the problem and shall look into it.

11 Jul 2001 : Column 794

European Communities (Amendment) Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

3.32 pm

The Minister for Europe (Peter Hain): I beg to move,

    (3) any proceedings on consideration and proceedings on Third Reading shall, so far as not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 10.00 p.m. on the fourth allotted day (or, if that day is a Thursday, 7.00 p.m.).

I am pleased to move the motion for the first programme drawn up by the Programming Committee. The purpose of changing our method of programming is to move the initial debate on the size of the time envelope for debate on a Bill from the Floor of the House to Committee, where there will be less grandstanding and more opportunity for sensible discussion. I hope that the programme will prove the wisdom of that approach.

Now that the detailed programme proposed by the Programming Committee has been published in the Order Paper, it is for the House to decide whether to agree to it. I hope that it agrees that it reflects the Opposition's priorities and ensures that all matters of concern to Members are properly debated. That was certainly my intention when the Committee met yesterday. Some 276 amendments have been tabled, not all of them by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). It is important that all the key issues are fully debated, and three full days in Committee will give ample time to address them. The arrangements will allow us to tackle properly each substantive clause, and will enable the House to address various proposals for new clauses—a point of some importance to the Opposition.

11 Jul 2001 : Column 795

It is proposed that the first substantive debate on qualified majority voting take place today until 8 pm. For the rest of the day and the second day in Committee, we shall cover other amendments to clauses 1 to 4. On the third and final Committee day, we shall address proposals for new clauses 4, 5 and 6 until 7 o'clock, and then the remaining new clauses. I commend the motion to the House.

3.34 pm

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): The Bill raises fundamental questions about the future development of the European Union, and the issues are extremely complex.

In Committee, we shall discuss comprehensively such matters as the extension of qualified majority voting in 31 articles and 35 provisions; European defence policy outside NATO and its effect on the Western European Union and NATO; enhanced flexibility and the loss of the emergency brake veto; Eurojust and its effect on United Kingdom criminal and judicial procedures; detailed reforms of the European Court procedures; the extension of EU competence in areas such as common commercial policy; the social chapter, European political parties and several other institutional reforms; structural funds and the effect of the extension of QMV on the United Kingdom's regions; and a possible referendum in Britain to address the lack of democratic accountability and the disconnection with the structures of the EU.

Given the Government's contention, which we hotly contest, that the treaty and the Bill are essential for enlargement, presumably they, too, believe that the Bill's contents are fundamentally important. That makes their attitude disappointing.

We believe that the issues require four days of debate in Committee. That is more important than any more general debate after the Committee stage. It would be a matter for regret if the Government were to curtail the opportunity for us to analyse these important changes in full. I unequivocally put our sentiments about that on the record.

3.36 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): I am slightly surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) seems to know as well as the Minister how long the Bill will take in Committee. The difficulty that we confront is the apparent ability of hon. Members on both Front Benches to foretell with great accuracy and precision how long it will take a Committee properly to scrutinise a Bill, without necessarily knowing the totality of amendments and new clauses that will be tabled, as that process can continue during the Committee stage. Perhaps the Government, and even my hon. Friend, expect the Committee to take not a dynamic approach, but a rather static approach, whereby we freeze the item at the beginning, take a view of it, or a snapshot, and say, "Well, that's your lot."

That is not good enough. It is the ultimate absurdity that, in relation to a Bill of such magnitude and importance, the Government say that they not only know exactly how long deliberations will take in totality, but, with their huge majority, are laying down the detailed timetable for the consideration of the Bill in Committee, regardless of the magnitude of the matters under

11 Jul 2001 : Column 796

consideration and without any knowledge—by definition—of the number and nature of the amendments that may be tabled. There may, however, be partial knowledge of the amendments at this stage. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has already tabled a number of extremely important amendments, which merit substantial debate and consideration.

Of course, the Government are not interested in that. They see it as their task to get rid of legislation as quickly and as conveniently as possible—not for the Government or their Members any delay or prolongation of deliberation. That is apparently unacceptable to people who—I concede this even about Government Members—dedicated considerable time and effort to being elected as Members of Parliament, but who, as soon as they arrive here, cannot wait to get out of the building as quickly as possible. They do not want to be delayed by the inconvenience and superfluity of consideration of the details of Bills.

Oh no, such matters are not for the Government or their Members. They regard what they choose to call "the mandate" as sufficient. If the mandate given to them by the electorate at the time of an election states that they are entitled to certain legislation, the Government seem ready to override the deliberative processes developed in the House over many centuries, which may, I concede, occasionally cause inconvenience to the Government and their Members. Yes, they may be delayed in this place a little longer than they would have chosen. Perhaps they want more time out of the building to dispose of the increase in pay that they all voted themselves just last week.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. He is addressing the House with that combination of charm and understatement for which he is renowned in all parts of it. Does he agree that there can never be any justification in any circumstances for the abandonment of self-government by legislative default and by what amounts to parliamentary truancy from the Government Benches?

Mr. Forth: Of course, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Every time we consider a programme motion, we see that it provides excuses for hon. Members not to be present, rather than any reason for them to be here attending to their duties. It seems that the point of the exercise is to shrink to the minimum the time that we commit to the scrutiny of legislation.

That is a bad principle in itself, but it is underlain by the assumption that the Minister knows so much about the mood of the House and about what hon. Members have in mind that he can foretell with great precision how long it will take the Committee properly to consider the details of the Bill, notwithstanding the number, scope and importance of the amendments that have been tabled. Surely it is possible for further amendments and new clauses to be tabled during the Committee stage, unless we are to be denied even that right. Of course, such amendments would require further deliberation, so almost by definition we cannot know at this stage how much time we will require properly to consider the detail of the Bill.

11 Jul 2001 : Column 797

The motion is yet another step on a road that the House has taken; at least, the Government have taken it, but I hope that my hon. Friends have not done so. The Government seem determined to minimise or dispose of all opportunities for proper scrutiny of legislation.

Next Section

IndexHome Page