HC Deb 16 June 1986 vol 99 cc812-52

Considered in Committee.

[Sir PAUL DEAN in the Chair]

7.13 pm
Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

On a point of order, Sir Paul. We appreciate that, as always, the Chair has selected the amendments with great care, but is there any chance of debating amendment No. 47? The section referred to is the only one that deals with the common agricultural policy, and under section 25 of the Act there is a requirement on the Commission to bring forward proposals for a major change of the various funds, including agriculture funds. As that is a major issue, and there is to be no debate on any aspect of the CAP, despite the fact that it accounts for 70 per cent. of EEC' expenditure, could we discuss either amendment No. 17 tabled by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) or amendment No. 47 tabled by me?

That would provide us with the only opportunity to make any reference to the CAP'. As the proposal in article 23 of the Single European Act is fundamental, and instructs the Commission to make a major reappraisal of the CAP, a brief debate on that amendment would be helpful. I should make it clear that the amendments have been selected superbly. This is the only change that I would wish to make.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Further to that point or order, Sir Paul. I do not know whether you had the good fortune yesterday, as I did, to watch the tail end of the farming programme on television, but it revealed that the prognosis for agriculture is very gloomy indeed. I must support my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), because the farming community—and many of us have a lot of farms in our constituencies — would be somewhat outraged if this matter was not debated, as it is of great importance.

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Paul Dean)

I am sure that the Chairman of Ways and Means will wish to consider the points raised by the hon. Members for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) and for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor). However, their points refer to matters that may arise later, and it is fairly unlikely that we shall reach that stage today. Nevertheless, I give an assurance, without any commitment, that the issue that they have raised will be considered.

7.15 pm
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

On a point of order, Sir Paul. I wish to raise a lengthier but important point of order regarding the long title and the potential selection of amendments thereto. I understand that the long title has four objectives: first, to add certain provisions in the Single European Act to the European Communities Act 1972; secondly, to extend the powers of the court; thirdly, to enlarge retrospectively the functions of the European Parliament; and, fourthly, to "approve the Single European Act". May I therefore assume that, apart from those objectives, the purpose of the Bill is to ratify the Single European Act treaty? Once Royal Assent is given, the House will be responsible for enacting any matter that is in the treaty but that is not being transferred into our domestic law by virtue of the Act.

If the purpose of the Bill is partly to endorse the totality of the Single European Act treaty, its scope encompasses anything that is directly relevant to the treaty. In Committee, we shall have to bear in mind whether anything has emerged after Second Reading that should change the minds of hon. Members on Third Reading. Whether one should vote in favour of giving the Bill a Third Reading thus depends on one's views on the merits of the treaty. The first article in the Single European Act treaty refers to the solemn declaration of European unity which was passed in Stuttgart in 1983. Indeed, that appears in the objectives of the preamble. Its terms do not appear directly anywhere in the treaty, although it is mentioned in the first article. However, when the Single European Bill was passed, Ministers put their signature to a decision at The Hague. Indeed, I think that the Minister of State was one of the signatories. It brought into effect another international treaty, known as the decision of the Ministers. That is printed in appendix B to the report of the Select Committee, published today. That international agreement runs parallel with the solemn declaration of European unity. Any comparison of the text will show that one gives effect to the other.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) tabled amendment No. 50 in order to add that decision treaty to the list of treaties covered by the European Communities Act 1972. Given the nature of that Act and the importance of the treaty that the Minister signed, one would have thought that it was highly relevant to the debate, as it is part and parcel of the execution of the legislation under discussion.

You have decided, Sir Paul, that the amendment should not be called at this stage. In view of the considerations that I have placed before you—I do not press my point too hard now—I ask you to examine what I have said. If my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) retables his amendment at another point in the Bill—perhaps at the end of clause 1, since it can sit at the end just as well as at the beginning — will you reconsider the selection of that amendment?

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Further to that point of order, Sir Paul. Since reference has been made to the Single European Act, may I inquire on a trivially simple point—is the Single European Act on the Table?

The Second Deputy Chairman

Yes, it is on the Table.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) for giving me notice of his point of order so that I was able to consider it. I can assure him that when the First Deputy Chairman made his selection earlier in the day he considered the point and he was satisfied that amendment No. 50 was out of order because it is outside the scope of the Bill.

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's final point, if the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) cares to table an amendment, it will be considered carefully. Again, I shall be surprised if we reach that stage this evening.

Mr. Spearing

I am grateful for that answer, Sir Paul. Perhaps you can help me once more. The point of order that I raised was of considerable significance to the purpose of the Bill in approving the Single European Act. If you can confirm that that is one of the purposes of the Bill, because the Single European Act itself requires constitutional ratification by the relevant national organisations, surely anything which bears upon the merits of that Act, particularly its context, must be in order so that we can discuss the matter and thoroughly explore the merits of the treaty.

The Second Deputy Chairman

I shall not try to deal with a hypothetical case. If amendments are tabled, they will, of course, be considered by the Chairman in the normal way.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

Further to the point of order, Sir Paul. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee report, which was published recently, states in paragraph 11: Questions relating to the scope of the Bill, and consequently the admissibility of amendments at Committee and Report stage, are of course matters for the Chair in Committee and in the House. Am I right to infer that the reason for the non-selection of my amendment No. 48, which seeks to state Nothing in this Act…shall derogate from the sovereignty of the Parliament of the United Kingdom is that it is assumed that nothing in the Bill shall derogate from the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament? Does the fact that my amendment was not selected mean that there is no question of that sovereignty being impaired?

The Second Deputy Chairman

The hon. Gentleman's amendment was not selected because it is outside the scope of the Bill and therefore out of order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to use his ingenuity when we discuss other amendments which have been selected for debate to make some of the comments that he was hoping to make on that amendment.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Further to the points of order, Sir Paul. In view of your ruling on the point raised by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), will references to the preamble, which has been shown to be of great importance and relevance in interpreting the Act by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report, be in order in relation to the amendments that have been selected?

The Second Deputy Chairman

We had better see how we go. The selection is generous and covers a wide range of issues. I shall listen carefully to the debate and I shall allow the hon. Gentleman and any other hon. Members to say anything which is in order.

Mr. Marlow

Further to the point of of order, Sir Paul. I hope that my point of order will accelerate our business. The House of Lords has said that the power of the United Kingdom Parliament will be weakened by the Single European Act. It is referred to as the "Final Act". Some of my hon. Friends are worried that it might be the final solution to the powers of this Parliament. There is one possible safeguard — the Luxumbourg compromise, or the right of Her Majesty's Ministers, supported by this Parliament, to veto matters outside the interests of the United Kingdom and on fundamental issues of national interest. We are not sure where we stand with the veto.

The House of Lords Select Committee report believes that the Luxembourg compromise is not likely to be affected under the terms of the Single European Act. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister believes that it will be, and the Minister believes that the Luxembourg compromise is unchanged by the Act.

If we were persuaded by a statement from the Minister that the Luxembourg compromise was still healthy and hearty and could he used by Her Majesty's Government, it would make it much easier when considering later amendments to allay the concern felt by many hon. Members.

The Second Deputy Chairman

The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) has already answered his own question. He said that he hoped that the Minister would be able to enlighten him. It is a matter for debate, not a matter of order for the Chair.

Mr. Marlow

Further to that point of order, Sir Paul. I am suggesting that the Luxembourg compromise would apply throughout. I do not know when the Minister will make her remarks, but she certainly will not make them before the debate has begun and perhaps not until we reach the third or fourth group of amendments, because she might believe her remarks to be more apposite later. If the House could have the benefit of her remarks and the opportunity for cross-examination at an early stage, many of the points that right hon. and hon. Members might like to make would be no longer necessary.

The Second Deputy Chairman

This is a matter for the Minister, not for me.

Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)

I have three separate points of order. I have given notice to the Chairman of Ways and Means of a point of order which I shall seek to make later, since it does not relate to the first group of amendments. I shall also wish to raise a point of order when we come to the second group of amendments. I shall not go into detail now but I shall wait until the appropriate time.

I reinforce the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) about the need for an opportunity to debate article 23 of the Single European Act, which allows reference to the common agricultural policy and the structural fund. I realise that this matter is to be considered later, but it is important.

I accept the Chair's wisdom and discretion in the selection of amendments. Some of the amendments relate to the declarations which are part of the Final Act but not part of the Single European Act. I am aware that the Single European Act is covered by the long title and that the Final Act is not. Some of the declarations are linked with clauses in the Single European Act. If we were to pass the Single European Act without the declarations, it would be like having a dog and leaving the tail behind. A dog without a tail is not a pleasant sight.

If we did not embody in British law those declarations which are directly relevant and legally linked to articles in the Single European Act, we should do ourselves a disservice and an injustice. I shall give one example. On page 24 of the Single European Act it is stated: At the time of signing this text, the Conference"— that is, the conference of Heads of Government— adopted the declarations listed hereinafter and annexed to this Final Act. Declaration No. 4 applies to article 100A of the EEC treaty. That declaration reads: In its proposals pursuant to Article 100A the Commission"— that is, the EEC Commission— shall give precedence to the use of the instrument of a directive if harmonization involves the amendment of legislative provisions in one or more Member States. That is a clear statement of the way in which the Community is proposing to proceed on a matter which will affect the law of Britain if the Single European Act is passed as a result of the Bill.

I therefore put it to you, Sir Paul, that this matter should be considered again. I entirely appreciate that the declarations are not part of the Act and are not, therefore. prima facie covered by the long title. However, in view of the peculiar nature of this Single European Act and the fact that it is a dog with a tail that is outside it, I hope that further consideration will be given to that point.

7.30 pm
The Second Deputy Chairman

I gladly assure the hon. Gentleman, although without any commitment, that I am prepared to ensure that the points that he has raised are fully considered.

I now propose to call amendment No. 1, with which are grouped amendments Nos. 4 and 38 and the Question that clause 2 stand part.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)

On a point of order, Sir Paul. You have indicated that the Question that clause 2 stand part is to be taken with the Questions on the other amendments that you mentioned by number. It is always unwise, Sir, to chance one's arm and say that any particular matter is unprecedented, but I think that I would be within the knowledge of the House in saying that it is unusual for the Chair to indicate in advance its intention not to allow a separate debate upon the Question that a clause stand part of a Bill.

I appreciate that the Chair has unrestricted discretion to do that, and to do so without cause shown, but I submit that the Chair decides that after having heard the debate, and only when satisfied as a result of that debate that it would be superfluous to debate the Question that a certain clause stand part. I hope, Sir Paul, that you will suspend judgment on the Question that clause 2 stand part until you or other incombents of the Chair have had the opportunity to hear the debate upon the other amendments. There is another Question that it might be convenient to put now, which relates to the grouping of amendment No. 4 with amendments Nos. 1 and 38. I submit that the subject matter of amendment No. 4, although concerned, like the other amendments, with the proposed new courts of justice., is essentially different in that amendment No. 4 creates a power of delegated legislation in the Council of Ministers. Perhaps more accurately, it creates a power of delegated treaty-making in the Council of Ministers. That is a matter of principle that is separate from the decision whether one or more additional courts should be set up under the provisions to which amendments Nos. 1 and 38 relate.

I submit that it would be advantageous and for the convenience of the Committee if it were permissible to take amendment No. 4 separately from the other amendments with which it is your proposal to group it.

The Second Deputy Chairman

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order, which has enabled me to consider the matter.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, there is a connection between all the groupings, and having reconsidered the matter I am not prepared to alter the selection. Of course, when we reach the appropriate time, if he wishes to have a separate vote on amendment No. 4 that will be sympathetically considered.

With regard to clause stand part, I fully understand the right hon. Gentleman's point. If it appears to the Chair that there has not been adequate debate on all the matters that come within clause 2, the position will certainly be reconsidered at the appropriate time.

Mr. Spearing

Further to that point of order, Sir Paul. The complexities of this point are considerable because, as I understand it, the base statute is the European Communities Act 1972 and the amending legislation is clause 2 of the Bill that we are discussing, which puts into effect at least one, two or even three parts of the Single European Act. In fact, the jurisdiction of the court to which the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) referred rests on no fewer than three principal pieces of treaty and primary legislation.

We may well have an exhaustive debate—although I hope not exhausting—on the principle of the court, but in the ensuing debates on the remainder of clause I, and before we reach clause 2 stand part, issues may arise relating to the suitability and competence — even the wisdom—of the court in dealing with some of the issues that arise in that debate between now and then.

When we reach clause 2 stand part, I hope that it will be possible to put to you, Sir Paul, the possibility of having another, shorter debate on the points that have arisen, rather than having a straight vote in the order of sequence of events. I hope that I can have your assurance on that.

The Second Deputy Chairman

I thought that I had made it clear in answer to the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) that we can consider that point. Without giving any commitment, I can say that the Chair will be prepared to consider that matter when we reach the appropriate stage.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

On a point of order, Sir Paul. Am I interpreting correctly the notice in the name of the First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means, who has made specific mention of clause stand part only when it is taken in conjunction with amendments? In the provisional selection list there is no mention of a debate and vote on clause 3 stand part. That cannot possibily mean, can it, Sir Paul, that there will not be a debate and vote—I raise this point for the elucidation of the House—because it is not being taken in conjunction with any amendment, and so does not appear on the list? It is not the intention to go against the normal rules of Committee stage and not have a debate and vote, is it?

The Second Deputy Chairman

I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the Committee on that point. The only reason that clause 2 stand part appears on the selection list is that it was thought proper for it to be debated with other amendments. Of course, as the Committee well knows, the usual procedure is that, assuming that all the matters on a certain clause have not been discussed on the amendments, a debate is allowed on clause stand part.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

I am most obliged, Sir Paul.

Mr. Marlow

On a point of order, Sir Paul. Perhaps you could help me in anticipation. I notice that the second group of amendments has amendments to do with clause 1 and clause 3. Were you telling my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) that there would be a debate on clause 1 stand part, that there would be a debate on clause 3 stand part and even, perhaps, on clause 4 stand part? Can you say at what stage those debates will take place?

The Second Deputy Chairman

I cannot guarantee that; it will depend on the course of the debate. When we have disposed of the amendments relating to a clause, the Chair then has to decide whether the whole of that clause has been fully aired and discussed. I cannot anticipate the decision of the Chair; we must wait until we reach that stage.

Mr. Deakins

Further to that point of order, Sir Paul. It is an important point about clause 3, although I do not wish to raise it now because it does not arise until we reach the second grouping of amendments. However, on the more general principle, may I strongly emphasise that the amendments to clause 3, such as they are — there are about half a dozen, some of which are in my name—do not exhaust the possibilities of clause 3 and its serious implications for this House and the people of this country?

If one were not certain that there was to be a debate on clause 3 stand part, hon. Members—myself included—might be tempted to make rather lengthier speeches on the individual amendments on the basis that otherwise we would be deprived of the opportunity to make the general points of principle that do not arise on specific amendments.

The Second Deputy Chairman

I cannot anticipate that, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman realises. I understand what he is saying and when we have dealt with the amendments to clause 3, the Chair will consider sympathetically a request for a clause stand part debate. I think that he will appreciate that I cannot go further than that at this stage.

Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)

On a point of order, Sir Paul. May I ask you two questions? I appreciate that the European Single Act encompasses many amendments to the treaty of Rome and to other treaties of the European Communities, but can we take it that these amendments are tabled for the purposes of the debate? Secondly, the Government have published a document which is of considerable relevance to the debate on the entire subject with which we are concerned this evening. They have produced a strategy document on behalf of themselves and the Governments of Ireland and Italy. This has been given some exposure in the press and apparently it outlines the Government's objectives during the presidency of the European Council, which Britain will take over in two weeks' time. That will be a subject of considerable substance during the debate on the Single Act.

Despite the fact that the document has been given press coverage, no copy of it has been deposited in the Library, nor is it available in the Vote Office. How are Members to assess the position of the European Council if we do not have available a document of such importance? As I understand it, it outlines the Government's major strategy during their presidency of the Council of Ministers. Can you help the Committee on whether the document can be made available before we start our consideration of the Bill?

The Second Deputy Chairman

I shall make inquiries about the document to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I remind the Committee that we are debating the Bill and the amendments to it. It will be much easier to judge what is in order and how we should proceed if we start the debate. It is a complicated Bill and there is a complicated series of amendments. I think that it will he appreciated that it would he most unwise of me to try to make judgments on hypothetical cases. Let us see how we get on.

Mr. Ian Cow (Eastbourne)

On a point of order, Sir Paul. There is no one in the Chamber who can match the length of service of that of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), but I ask you to assist the Committee further on the selection. In my short time in the House of Commons, I have never seen a selection by the Chair that states that certain amendments shall be discussed with a particular clause standing part of the Bill. I have never seen a selection which suggests that there should be a stand part debate in advance of the Committee considering the clause in question. Is it a precedent that the Chair shall decide that there will be a clause stand part debate before the Committee has engaged in debate on the amendments that are before it?

If I understand the selection which has been made of the groups of amendments, it is that the Committee is to consider whether clause 2 should stand part of the Bill before any possible debate, which would be in your discretion, Sir Paul, on whether clause I should stand part of the Bill.

The Second Deputy Chairman

I believe that there are precedents for the selection including a clause stand part debate. Its presence in the selection is intended merely to convey to the Committee that there is a strong connection between amendment No. 1 and clause 2. It is intended to guide and assist the Committee on the course of the first debate. I repeat my assurance that the fact that the clause stand part debate is grouped with the first batch of amendments will not prejudice the possibility, at the appropriate time, of a debate on whether clause 2 should stand part of the Bill, if the Chair judges that all the matters directly relevant to clause 2 have not been considered fully.

Mr. Cow

Further to that point of order, Sir Paul. I am most grateful for your ruling, but it may have occurred to you during these points of order that, although the inclusion in the first group of amendments of a clause stand part debate was intended to assist the Committee, it has resulted in some confusion.

7.45 pm
The Second Deputy Chairman

If that is so, I apologise to the hon. Gentleman and to the Committee. I hope that I have clarified the position. The inclusion of the clause stand part debate in the first group of amendments was intended to be helpful to the Committee. There is a direct connection between amendment No. 1 and clause 2. As I have said, a further discussion on whether clause 2 should stand part of the Bill will not be prejudiced if that appears to be appropriate at the appropriate time.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

Further to that point of order, Sir Paul. I am sure that the Committee has been completely reassured by your statement. I am sure also that no one doubts that you will not allow the Committee to miss an opportunity of having the fullest possible debate on whether clause 2 should stand part of the Bill and on the amendments. The concern of some of us is whether this procedure is creating a precedent. Surely it is unusual on a paper described as the provisional selection of amendments to incorporate a clause 2 stand part debate. You have said, Sir Paul, that this procedure is well precedented, but many of us would find it hard to remember when it was previously done. It would be a matter of general concern if a procedure were adopted—one intended undoubtedly to assist the Committee—and it were seen as a precedent. that could be more widely used by other Chairmen in other circumstances, who might be less generous and concerned for the fullest possible debate than you are, Sir Paul.

I should like to know whether it is normal procedure to include a clause stand part debate with a list of amendments. If it is precedented, can we establish clearly that it is not expected to be a normal procedure that is to be widely adopted, which might cause great concern?

The Second Deputy Chairman

Each Bill is considered as a Bill. As I have said, there are precedents for a selection of this sort. I have made it clear more than once that the selection will not prejudice the Committee by denying it the opportunity of debating whether clause 2 should stand part of the Bill if, when we reach that stage, such a debate appears to be appropriate. I think that we should get on with the amendments.

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