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Mr. Bercow: My right hon. Friend alluded to an important point: the possibility--I put it no more strongly--that the debate might continue throughout the night. In such circumstances, does my right hon. Friend believe that it would be a definite breach of protocol if, at some stage during the night, no member of the Treasury Bench were present?
Mr. Forth: I think that that would not only be extremely irregular but would display contempt of the House. However, that would be nothing new from the Government. We have come to expect from them constant and continual contempt of the House and its traditions, and an attitude that the House of Commons does not matter any more because the Government must have their way and are entitled to do everything that they present to the House without proper scrutiny and now without even a proper vote.
We now have the ridiculous procedure of so-called deferred Divisions. I suggest that when we embark on such Divisions, probably as soon as tomorrow, the world will see how ludicrous and bizarre they are. Again, that is a story for another day. I urge the House to reject the motion.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has rightly attacked the Government in a vicious manner for the scandalous activities in which they are involved, but it is only fair to say that I am grateful to them for the chance to ask some questions that I tried hard to put during debates on the Maastricht Bill and the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, which was passed by the previous Government.
I have two simple questions, which I was unable to have clarified at that time. First, are we obliged to submit such reports to the European Union and what would happen if we did not do so? I want the Government to make the position clear. Is there an absolute obligation to submit those reports? Would Treasury Ministers end up in a Euro prison if they did not do so and could Britain be fined? Those are important matters.
My second question is also important. Is there any procedure whereby the European Commission or European officials could take the view that the information provided by Britain was not accurate or proper and could they ask for
Sir Teddy Taylor: I accept that absolutely; I simply point out that the question of whether information is accurate or propaganda is terribly important in relation to whether it should be considered by a specialist Committee of MPs or by the whole House. If there were any question of misunderstandings being created, the whole House should discuss such information. That point might influence how Members vote on the motion.
Mr. Hogg: Does my hon. Friend accept that a defect of the process that we are being asked to approve is that that process will not allow the House an opportunity to add to or subtract from the reports? That means that they will be imperfect documents because they cannot properly reflect the views of the House.
Sir Teddy Taylor: My right hon. and learned Friend is right to point out that our democracy was effectively destroyed by membership of the European Union and the various treaties cast by previous Parliaments. I have argued for many years that joining a European Union that has approved such treaties has effectively destroyed our democracy. I am very glad indeed that he accepts that point, which is why I am sure that he must have been with me in opposing all those dreadful treaties.
It is crucial to consider what would happen if the EU said, "This is not the information that we want--it is a lot of silly propaganda." That is important in terms of whether such information should be considered by a Committee or the whole House. "Budget 2000" states:
Sir Teddy Taylor: I cannot be responsible for the number of Members present in the Chamber. That is a difficult argument, because if we are deciding whether the matter should go to a Committee or be considered on the Floor of the House, some people may say, "What does it matter whether we have 14 people down here or 14 people upstairs in Committee?".
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but I shall increasingly have to interrupt hon. Members unless they stick more strictly to the motion before the House. The House is being asked whether it will treat these reports as if they were instruments subject to the provisions of Standing Order No. 118. That is all.
Sir Teddy Taylor: You are absolutely right, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That is why I want to make this one point. If we approved or rejected this motion, how would the Committee or the House view a letter from the Commission saying, "In our opinion, this point is not accurate"?
I shall just mention the issue of EU contributions, because I asked the Prime Minister about that when he made his statement yesterday and he said that they were going down. Page 190 of the report says that our EU contributions in the forthcoming year will be £6.6 billion.
Should the motion go to a Committee or should it be considered on the Floor of the House? Will the Government say specifically and clearly what we will be considering? Will we simply consider the Government sending a piece of paper to the European Commission saying, "That's it. If you don't like it, too bad"? Will the Government say that we must send it by a certain date? What will happen if we do not send the report, and what will happen if the Commission takes the view that it is either inaccurate or it does not deal with the policy issues as effectively as it should?
We are considering a motion about whether reports should go to a Committee or to the House as a whole. Before we decide whether they should go to a small group of experts or should be considered by all of us, it is terribly important for us to know whether this is a serious issue or just a bit of fun.
Sir Teddy Taylor: I appreciate fully what my hon. Friend says. Although he is a recent arrival, he is a leading and outstanding Member of the House of Commons. I can assure him that some of the old lags and I have asked Ministers these questions on the treaties year after year. I have felt the same frustration as he has. Even Ministers from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food--an outstanding former Minister of Agriculture is present--
Mr. Hogg: Will my hon. Friend please reconsider the use of the word "expert"? He suggested that this matter will be committed to a Committee of experts. Perhaps he would care to confirm, lest the Commission is listening, that those whom he calls experts are in fact designated by the Government Whips.