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The hon. Member for Macclesfield rightly paid tribute to the informed and relatively brief tutorial on the treaties by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who took us back to 1649, up and down St. Georges hill and everything else. We enjoyed his interventions, too. At the beginning of the debate, we heard about the paucity of attendance by Labour Back Benchers. There was one contribution from a Labour Back Bencher, and I am reminded never to confuse Back-Bench attendance with support. We heard from the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), whom I also hold in great personal regard. Although we had a limited opportunity to hear from the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), I am glad that he is here and has heard me say so. I am pleased, too, that the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Davies) is in the Chamber. Unbeknown to most hon. Members, he has quietly and patiently paid great attention to the detail of our debate. As the Committee will acknowledge, he is a one-man bandthat is not meant disparaginglyand he has paid great attention to the detail of the treaty.
Clause 6(2) provides that, if any draft decision under the listed provision comes before the European Council or the Council, the UK may not agree to the adoption of the decision unless parliamentary approval has first been given. Approval must be signified by the agreement of both Houses of Parliament to motions approving the Governments intention to support the decision as it was received. Clause 6(3) provides flexibility, if Parliament agrees, to allow the Government to agree a text that is worded differently from the motion approved by Parliament.
There are two scenarios. In the first, a Minister asks Parliament to agree a motion under subsection (1)(g) on a straight yes-no question. That is the basis of the amending measures or passerelles, and it provides the House with an opportunity to decide a yes-no question. There is no flexibility built into that first scenario. If, after the Minister asks Parliament to agree the motion, Parliament says no, the motion falls. If Parliament assents, the motion is agreed and the Minister can take it forward.
In the second scenario, a Minister asks Parliament to agree a motion, for example under subsection (1)(g), with flexibility built in. The Minister asks Parliament to agree to the motion. If Parliament says no to the motion, it falls, but if it says yes, the motion is agreed. The Minister would have to return to the House to confirm that the Government had voted in line with the parameters granted by either House on the amended motion. As for the specifics of clause 6, as I have suggested, the Bill goes much further than it needs to in terms of the ratification of the treaty.
In my conversations with Europe Ministers in many Governments across the EU, I have discovered that the UK, in ratifying the Lisbon treaty, is alone in taking
the opportunity to enshrine the right of Parliament, in both Houses, to make the decision on prior assent. I think that there are nine passerelle clauses.
A parliamentary lock is set out in the treaty on three of the nine passerelles in the Bill, namely the two general passerelles and the passerelle on family law with cross-border implications. In those three passerelles, where the treaty requires parliamentary approval or adoption in line with national constitutional requirements, national Parliaments would only have the chance to object after a decision has been made. The Bill gives us the opportunity to go much further than the treaty envisaged with a further lock on six passerelles, which have no parliamentary lock under the treatyI suspect that the Committee will thank me if I do not go into the detail of each of those locks, although I will do so if that is what hon. Members want.
The European Union has agreed that the process of continuing reform on IGC processes and treaties must end. Passerelles represent a safety valve inside that declaration, for example, to ensure a minor change for the amending of the treaties without going through a full-blown IGC process. Those passerelle processes are not new, because they were agreed in 1986 in the Single European Act. Before the Single European Act, there was no opportunity enshrined in legislation for either House of Parliament to have prior assent in the exercise of passerelles. We are the first Government in the European Union of whom I am aware to use the process to ensure that the powers are enshrined to Parliament. This is also the first time in UK law that a Government have sought the opportunity in ratifying a treaty to ensure the prior assent of either House of Parliament on passerelles.
Passerelles are potentially important. The one implementation of passerelles concerned the creation of a European order of payment, which has simplified procedure for court judgments on uncontested claims and established a small claims procedure for disputes involving less than €2,000. With the right framework to ensure Parliaments prior assent, passerelles are an important way to make minor changes given the end of the IGC process for new treaties.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will the Minister accept that his argument sounds reasonable, until one examines it in detail? The procedures of this House are such that the vote that he is discussing could be arranged by business managers to take place on an order after 10 oclock. That would involve a deferred vote on a Wednesday afternoon, which would be whipped. This Parliament could therefore vote through important powers on a Wednesday afternoon without any debate whatsoever.
Mr. Murphy: I do not accept that. The House will reach a decision on the rules that govern it, and it is not for the Government to stipulate how that should happen. However, we have given my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), who is not currently in his place, an assurance that we will work with the Select Committees on the best way in which to structure those agreements.
The hon. Member for Stone has discussed scrutiny override. In its 12th report, which was published earlier this year, the European Scrutiny Committee accepted thatI can claim no personal credit for thisthe number
of scrutiny overrides has decreased to five, which is the lowest figure ever. The report warmly welcomed the improvements in the reduction of scrutiny override.
Sir Patrick Cormack: The Minister must acknowledge what my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) said a moment ago and what I said earlier, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) agreed with me from the Front Bench, about such votes becoming the subject of deferred Divisions. That new procedure was introduced into this House by this Government, so there is no reason why such votes should not take place. Will the Minister acknowledge that fact?
Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman is well regarded by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I say to him that the new power is established in the Bill, but that the exact detail on the timetabling of the debates is not stipulated in it. Clause 6 stipulates simply the power and protection for Parliament.
Mr. Cash: The Minister must understand that the European Scrutiny Committee resolutions are absolutely integral to this issue. I do not think that the Minister has understood the dangerous waters that the Government are getting into.
Mr. Murphy: We continue to discuss all such issues with the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee and all its members. As the process continues, we will happily, as Ministers, avail ourselves to the Committee to discuss the exact details of how the business could work.
I wish to conclude, so that the shadow Foreign Secretary has the opportunity to respond to the amendments. As I mentioned, the passerelles were introduced two decades ago. They are an important way of introducing minor changes. In those two decades, no Government have sought the opportunity to provide for the right of parliamentary protection on the passerelle proposals.
Of every EU country seeking to ratify the Lisbon treaty, we are the only Government to seek to ensure that Parliament has these additional protections. That makes good my right hon. Friend the Prime Ministers commitment after the signing of the Lisbon treaty that any moves from unanimity to QMV would need the prior consent of this and the other place. On that basis, I invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to reject the amendments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) said that so strong had been the arguments put in favour of the amendments, particularly amendment No. 20, that the Minister would have to have a very convincing reply. I am afraid that I do not think that he has made one. For all his continually good-humoured efforts in these debates, he has on this occasion been the only Member in the past two hours to have spoken on this matter and in any way defended the Governments position. He is paid to defend the Governments position,
and it is not at all surprising that he has done so. However, during a debate in which a wide variety of Members have spoken, not a single Member in any other quarter of the House has supported that position.
Several hon. Members have spoken as parliamentarians rather than as party politicians in this debate. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) and I have not seen eye to eye throughout most of this debate
Mr. Hague: The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton and I have not seen eye to eye throughout most of todays proceedings, but on these amendments we see absolutely eye to eye. He even said that I had underplayed the arguments in their favour. Amendment No. 20 is not a wrecking amendment, but something to ensurewhether one is in favour of the treaty, like the hon. Gentleman, or against it, as I amthat the provisions are subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny in future.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie) mentioned the necessity of primary legislation to provide the time to consult with the devolved Administrations. Having taken part in the Convention on the Future of Europe, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) spoke with her enormous experience of these matters. She also cogently put the argument for the amendments.
I have already made it clear that amendment No. 20 is the particular one that I want to press to a Division because, as so many hon. Members have said, it most accurately accomplishes what Members across the House have spoken in favour of this evening. In the exercise of passerellesthe ratchet clauses, as we term themthe movement from unanimity to qualified majority voting could be of sufficiently immense importance to have to be considered exhaustively by the British Parliament.
The Minister said that the passerellespluralhad first been introduced in the Single European Act 1986. However, on 6 February this year I asked the Foreign Secretary about the issue and it turned out that the 1986 Act had introduced
one amending provision...This was article 130S, relating to environment policy.[ Official Report, 6 February 2008; Vol. 471, c. 1166W.]
What is envisaged in the treaty of Lisbon is a wholesale extension of the passerelle. It is the ability for the European Council almost across the board, except for defence, to [ Interruption. ] It is no good the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) saying that he does not believe a word of it when he has not been present for the whole of the debate, or shouting out from a sedentary position when we have had a perfectly reasonable debate for the past two hours. This is the wholesale extension of the passerelle and therefore
It being six hours after the commencement of proceedings in Committee, The Second Deputy Chairman put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Orders [28 January and 3 March].
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