HC Deb 17 December 1997 vol 303 cc408-32

12. In this Order— allotted day" means any day (other than a Friday) on which the Bill is put down as first Government Order of the Day; the Treaty" means the Treaty signed at Amsterdam on 2nd October 1997 amending the Treaty on European Union, the Treaties establishing the European Communities and certain related Acts. The Bill that we are debating again tonight passed its Second Reading five weeks ago and on that night it obtained a majority in the House of 230; 50 more than the Government majority.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

So what?

Mr. Cook

That information is relevant precisely because, in the Division, the Bill received cross-party support from four parties represented in the Chamber. It is not simply a partisan measure supported by the Government alone; it represents a widely held view in the House. Among the mainland parties, only the Conservative party voted against it. Even one or two among that party managed to smuggle out messages that they did so half-heartedly.

Since the Second Reading debate, the Bill has received detailed consideration over three days. It has now been debated on the Floor of the House for 20 hours.

Mr. Shepherd


Mr. Cook

I do not know quite what the hon. Gentleman finds so funny about that idea. I am bound to say that if he had sat through all of those 20 hours he would not have found them quite so funny.

Mr. Shepherd


Mr. Cook

I shall proceed. The hon. Gentleman can intervene later.

That consideration is on top of the evidence on the Bill that I gave to the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), gave to the Scrutiny Committee. No fair-minded person can complain that Parliament has not had an adequate opportunity to scrutinise the Bill.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)


Mr. Shepherd


Mr. Cook

I did say fair minded. I owe it to the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) to give way.

Mr. Shepherd

The right hon. Gentleman is making out a case out about the details of the Bill and he is about to argue that it requires a guillotine. He will remember that the instance cited by the Leader of the House about the Single European Act was one which the right hon. Gentleman thought outrageous at the time, as did the right hon. Lady. They both voted against it. This is a constitutional Bill of the first importance. The right hon. Gentleman appreciates that, yet he is so casual about imposing a guillotine of this nature on such an important Bill.

Mr. Cook


Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is in order for the Leader of the House, who represents the entire House, to provide a cue for the Foreign Secretary?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Such things are not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Cook

I am happy to assure the hon. Gentleman that if I ever require a prompt I shall be delighted to take it from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, but I have quite a lot of material here that I wish to share with the House.

May I say briefly to the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills that I do at least salute the fact that he objected last Thursday when the Bill was proposed. He was the only Opposition Member who complained and I have to report to the House that, since the announcement last Thursday, we have not had one representation from the official Opposition.

Mr. Shepherd

That is not surprising.

Mr. Cook

I understand exactly what the hon. Gentleman means.

The motion is before the House because the House in Committee has dealt with only one third of the selected groups of amendments and is currently stuck on the fourth set of amendments. During our proceedings, hours of debate have been spent on monetary union, although the treaty of Amsterdam does not contain one new provision on monetary union.

I will not deny that some of those debates make entertaining reading, as much of the time has been taken up by one faction of the Conservative party arguing with another.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)


Mr. Cook

I have it all here. There were times when Tory Members appeared more enthusiastic about scrutinising each other' s views than about scrutinising the legislation before the House. [Interruption.] If the right hon. and learned Gentleman disagrees, let me remind him that on the second day in Committee the former Chancellor disagreed with the shadow Foreign Secretary, the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) disagreed with his hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior), the hon. Member for Wycombe (Sir R. Whitney) disagreed with his hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) and the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) disagreed with his hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Wycombe.

In fairness, I recognise that the shadow Foreign Secretary has done his bit to shorten our proceedings by preventing votes that would have revealed the divisions on his Back Benches. On Second Reading and in Committee, the right hon. and learned Gentleman rehearsed his fantasy fears that all 14 other member states would enter into a conspiracy to use the new article on fundamental human rights as a pretext to rob Britain of its voting powers. Despite hours of debate in Committee, the amendment tabled by him on that point was not pressed to a Division. I read in The Daily Telegraph that the amendment was not voted upon because the hon. Member for Wycombe visited the shadow Chief Whip and told him that many Tory Members could not vote for it.

It is, I admit it to my hon. Friends, tempting to allow the proceedings on the Bill to continue to run, so that we can continue to savour the spectacle of an Opposition whose members cannot abide each other's views on Europe, but we have a higher duty—to protect the legislative programme that fulfils the mandate on which the Government were overwhelmingly elected and to ensure that the business of the House proceeds in an orderly fashion.

We therefore present to the House a timetable motion that provides for an orderly and reasonable completion of the proceedings on the Bill with a further full two days of debate. In total, that will mean that the Bill will have been examined on the Floor of the House over six days of debate, which, by any fair test, is a reasonable opportunity for the House to scrutinise it fully.

Mr. Swayne

The Bill may have been examined over six days, but for how much time in any day was it scrutinised? On the days when we have examined it so far, there just happen to have been all sorts of Government statements, which has meant that we have not begun consideration of the Bill until later—not until 6 pm on one occasion.

Mr. Cook

I concede that we are a Government who are active and have a lot of business to announce to the House. Indeed, we are frequently twigged by the hon. Gentleman's colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench on the ground that we do not announce enough to the House. If it would assist the hon. Gentleman, I could tell him that in future we will try to ensure that such announcements fall on an Opposition day rather than on one of the Government's legislation days.

I do not expect any display of gratitude from the shadow Foreign Secretary for curtailing the opportunity for the Conservatives to air their divisions. On the contrary, I look forward with keen anticipation to a display of virtuous indignation on behalf of the rights of Members of Parliament.

There are a couple of reasons why such a display of mock indignation will be especially misplaced in the context of the Bill. The first is that most of the policies in the Bill are policies that even Conservative Members support, notably the legal basis for Britain's external border controls. Indeed, the shadow Foreign Secretary keeps telling us that that is a provision that he himself negotiated. I am bound to say that no such provision was in any text of the draft treaty when we took over, but as he persists in believing his own rhetoric it is all the more odd that he should wish to talk out a provision for which at the same time he claims the credit.

Conversely, the one thing that most Conservatives can agree to oppose in the Bill is that it gives effect to Labour's commitment to take Britain into the social chapter. It would be hard, even for the right hon. and learned Gentleman, to argue that that is a policy which we tried to keep hidden. On the contrary, we have campaigned vigorously for that objective since the Conservatives first invented the opt-out six years ago.

There cannot have been an elector who voted Labour in May who was unaware that the consequence of his or her vote would be to extend the benefits of the social chapter to Britain, and in that full knowledge the nation voted in gratifyingly large numbers for a Government to carry out the policy. It is a perverse distortion of reality to claim that a timetable motion to protect our commitment to the people is an affront to democracy. On the contrary, it is Opposition Members who have sought to frustrate the democratic vote of the nation by delaying the Committee proceedings.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

The Foreign Secretary must know that he went to the country wanting to extend qualified majority voting in four particular areas of policy, but succeeded in delivering only one of them. Never mind that he succeeded in conceding qualified majority voting in 13 other areas, of which the electorate were totally unaware. We are debating precisely that fact in Committee as the right hon. Gentleman introduces the timetable motion.

Mr. Cook

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on complaining that I failed in my objective of extending qualified majority voting. That is a new line of attack for the Conservative Opposition. I must point out to him that the extension of qualified majority voting at Amsterdam was half the extension brought about by the Maastricht treaty, and was almost infinitesimal compared with the major extension that took place when the Conservatives entered the single market in 1986. In the light of that record, we shall take no lectures from Conservative Members about protecting the British veto.

Mr. William Cash (Stone)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cook

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I must make some progress. I shall give way to him later.

I also remind the House that during the Conservative years they presented guillotine motions to the House 82 times—one for every two Tory Members who survived the deluge of the last election. In a previous debate, the shadow Foreign Secretary described Robespierre as a great reforming socialist. I am not sure whether I would go all the way with that characterisation, but I would certainly agree that Robespierre's affection for the guillotine was entirely shared by the Conservatives while they were in government.

Only last year, the present shadow Foreign Secretary presented to the House a guillotine motion that provided not for two days in Committee but for two hours in Committee. At least three times in the previous Parliament, the Conservative Government presented a guillotine motion not after three days in Committee but before the Second Reading had even begun.

I must remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he himself voted for the guillotine motion on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill in 1986. The guillotine motion that he voted for on that occasion was less generous than the one that he will vote against tonight. It, too, followed three days of proceedings in Committee, but it provided for only a further five hours of debate. That Bill set up the single market and made far more sweeping changes to our relations with Europe than anything in the Amsterdam treaty.

Mr. Cash

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the question that was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd)? Why does the Foreign Secretary wax so eloquent on the subject of the single market when he was against the guillotine motion on that Bill?

Mr. Shepherd

So was the Prime Minister.

Mr. Cash

So was the Prime Minister—and the Leader of the House. How can the Foreign Secretary get away with such hypocrisy, given that he thinks it is wrong for us to continue the debate and is imposing a guillotine on this Bill?

Mr. Cook

I can explain that with the greatest of pleasure. First, this is a much more generous timetable motion than the motion we were offered then. Secondly, that Bill was of greater constitutional magnitude because it provided for the most significant extension of qualified majority voting in the history of the European Union.

Mr. Cash

Absolute rubbish.

Mr. Cook

What I said is true. That Bill provided for a wide extension of Community competence through 11 new titles for Community action, which is far more than the Amsterdam treaty provides. It paved the way for most of the European Union regulations that Conservative Members now complain about most loudly.

Mr. Gill

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cook

No, I shall not give way again.

Let us have no humbug about constitutional outrages from the very people who guillotined the earlier Bill. This Bill contains no similar measure of fundamental constitutional change. Indeed, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) described it in Committee as "a mouse", although no doubt that will not prevent him from puffing in mock indignation as he marches through the Division Lobby to oppose his mouse being guillotined.

I do not deny that the Bill is important. It is important because of the real benefits for the people of Britain that the Amsterdam treaty provides. The treaty gives, for the first time, explicit legal authority for Britain to retain its border controls; it confirms NATO as the cornerstone of our defence; it provides a fuller, legally binding basis for the principle of subsidiarity; it provides for tougher action on fraud against the Community budget; it obliges the European Union to give greater priority to protecting the environment, promoting openness in its proceedings and to tackling unemployment; and it extends to the working people in Britain the same rights under the social chapter as are enjoyed throughout the continent, but which were denied to them by the Conservatives.

The Bill fulfils the manifesto commitments on which we were elected by the British people. I commend the timetable motion to the House, so that the Government are not frustrated in their duty to carry out that electoral commitment. A vote for the motion will enable us to give effect to the clearly expressed wishes of the majority of Members of Parliament at Second Reading and to the even clearer choice of the people of Britain at the general election.

8.41 pm
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

The Foreign Secretary's performance showed the complete contempt in which he and the Government hold the House. He advanced two utterly novel propositions in justification of the guillotine. Their novelty was equal to their absurdity.

The first novel proposition advanced by the Foreign Secretary in support of the guillotine motion was that a large majority for a Bill on Second Reading relieves the House of its duty to scrutinise that legislation. What an extraordinary proposition. The second proposition that he advanced was that unanimity on the Opposition Benches in Committee is required if a guillotine is to be averted. That is another extraordinary proposition, even if one does not take into account the fact that some of the most striking speeches in Committee were made by Labour Back Benchers in complete contradiction to everything that we have heard from the Government.

The Foreign Secretary referred at length to some of the minor differences of emphasis placed on this subject by Conservative Back Benchers in Committee. No one could apply that description to the contributions of the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) or the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), whose powerful speeches were different in tone from and completely contradictory to everything we heard from the Government.

One of our first duties as Members of Parliament is to debate legislation. By discharging that duty, we hold Government to account and serve the interests of our constituents. We are not relieved of that duty by the fact that the Bill received a large majority on Second Reading, or that differences of view on the Bill's contents are expressed by hon. Members from both sides of the House.

The Foreign Secretary has moved to guillotine an important constitutional Bill after just 12 hours in Committee. The Bill puts into British law the treaty agreed at Amsterdam. The treaty transfers significant powers from the House and from those whom we are elected to serve, to the European Union.

The Bill is not just another measure relating to domestic affairs, making some adjustment to our domestic arrangements that could easily be put right by another measure in some future Parliament. It is not even a domestic constitutional Bill, such as those for devolution in Scotland and Wales, which could be repealed by future legislation. The Bill enshrines in law a treaty that has been negotiated with our partners in Europe. No future Parliament can undo its provisions unless the Government of the day are prepared to renegotiate the treaty.

What makes the Bill doubly significant is that it reduces the powers of this Parliament. By simultaneously reducing the ability of the member states to veto European legislation and increasing the power of the European Parliament to veto that legislation, it diminishes the powers of the House. That is why the guillotine motion is so obnoxious. It means that these momentous decisions will be taken without full and proper debate.

This is the second time in six months that the Government have stifled debate on a major constitutional issue, and this latest decision is all of a pattern with the contempt that they have shown for Parliament since 1 May. There has been the change without consultation in the format of Prime Minister's questions, a change which I suspect the Prime Minister is already beginning to regret. There is an obsession with making announcements anywhere but in the House, and there has even been the failure of a Minister to turn up to reply to an Adjournment debate. Those are formidable manifestations of the arrogance of the Government's attitude to Parliament.

Of course, the list does not end there. Since taking office, the Government have made plain their intention to whittle away the powers of the House and of those who sent us here, and to transfer them to assemblies elsewhere in Britain, to Europe, to the Bank of England and to an unelected judiciary. When the Government treat the House with contempt, they treat with contempt those who send us here. This motion is just the tip of that iceberg.

The guillotine motion is the most draconian way to silence debate that exists in Parliament. "Erskine May" is clear. Under "Allocation of Time Orders (Guillotines)" it states: They may be regarded as the extreme limit to which procedure goes in affirming the rights of the majority at the expense of the minorities of the House, and it cannot be denied that they are capable of being used in such a way as to upset the balance, generally so carefully preserved, between the claims of business and the rights of debate. Governments have traditionally sought to guillotine debate only after it has become clear that insufficient progress is being made. "Erskine May" also states: An allocation of time order is not usually moved … until the rate of progress in Committee has provided an argument for its necessity. However, this arrogant and disdainful Government moved to guillotine the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill before it had even reached Committee. On this Bill, if the Government are so concerned about time and progress, why have they not moved a single closure motion? They have not made one complaint about our speed of progress so far. The Government now intend to cram the rest of the Committee debate on the Bill and Report and Third Reading into just two days. How can Ministers credibly argue that the timetable gives the House sufficient time to scrutinise legislation?

Qualified majority voting, the co-decision procedure, institutional change, flexibility, the free movement of people, discrimination, subsidiarity, proportionality and the location of European institutions are all vital issues of constitutional importance, and the Government deem it fit to debate them, if at all, for just a few hours. Guillotines can be justified only where an Opposition have filibustered a Bill, where they have refused all reasonable suggestions to agree a timetable, or where there is no possibility of the Government getting their business through at reasonable speed without a guillotine."—[Official Report, 1 February 1988; Vol.126, c.756.] Those are not my words: they are the words of the present Home Secretary. I challenge the Foreign Secretary to tell the House which, if any, of those conditions have been fulfilled in this case. There has been no question of a filibuster, no suggestion of agreeing a timetable has been put to us, and there is absolutely no reason why the Government should not get their business through at reasonable speed without the guillotine.

Mr. Cook

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asks why we have not come and asked the Opposition to agree to a timetable motion and I must answer, although I do not think that it is an answer he will find comfortable. We have not come and asked him to agree to a voluntary timetable motion, because we knew that he could not deliver his own Back Benchers. As he has discovered all these weighty arguments against a guillotine motion, will he now tell the House which of the arguments he advanced inside the Conservative Government when they guillotined the Bill that became the Local Government Finance Act 1988, which introduced the poll tax?

Mr. Howard

These arguments were highly relevant to that Bill—the conditions were fulfilled. That is the difference between the two cases.

Let me make the position clear. There are those of my hon. Friends who can argue the case tonight on the basis that no guillotine is justified, but I do not argue the case on that basis. Of course I recognise that guillotines can be justified, but I accept the criteria that I have just put forward. Those criteria, or at least one of them, have to be met if a guillotine is to be justified. All the Foreign Secretary could say in answer to my challenge to identify which of the three criteria was being used to justify this guillotine was not to identify any of them, but to give a reason why the Government had not even approached the Opposition with an offer for an agreed timetable for the rest of the Bill.

Mr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for showing his characteristic courtesy to me. With 1997 hindsight, can he now say that the guillotining of the poll tax legislation was justified? That Bill imposed the poll tax on Scotland a year ahead of its introduction in England, and was, in my view, the beginning of the end for Scottish Conservative representation in this House.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman is perfectly entitled to his view on the merits of that legislation, but the justification for the guillotine was ample. If he goes back and sees the extent to which these criteria applied to that Bill, he will find his answer.

There are, of course, some who claim that the constitutional issues to which I have referred are not really of any interest to people, and that people are really interested only in the nitty-gritty issues such as jobs; but I do not share that view. I think that the people of this country are keenly interested in their rights and freedoms and the extent to which those will survive; but even on the least abstract test—the extent to which people's jobs and livelihoods will be affected—the Bill is of supreme importance, because it would incorporate the social chapter into our law. It would enable our European partners and our competitors to force us to impose on British business the burdens that are having such a significant impact on their own firms.

Jacques Delors said that the social chapter opt-out won by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) would make the United Kingdom a paradise for Japanese investment". He was right. Because we have a flexible labour market, excellent industrial relations and low overheads, Britain's firms have been able to take on and beat the competition. That is why we have created the jobs and why unemployment has come down, but that opt-out will now be ended. There are already proposals on the table to which even the Labour Government are opposed, but which we shall be powerless to prevent as a result of the Bill. What an outrage that such a far-reaching measure should be subjected to the guillotine.

I now turn to the areas of the Bill that have yet to be discussed in Committee—vital areas, about which we will barely have time to say a word or two because of the guillotine.

We are opposed to the extensions of qualified majority voting and the co-decision procedure agreed at Amsterdam, because they would take power from this Parliament and give it to Brussels. On institutional changes, we fail to understand why the Government agreed to more powers for the President of the Commission. Why should he have the power to veto Commissioners recommended by the member states? What was the justification for a change that takes power from democratically elected Governments and gives it to an unelected official?

On the question of free movement of people, we support the British opt-out on frontiers. It was not I who had the privilege of negotiating that opt-out, nor have I ever suggested that it was, but it was a Conservative Foreign Secretary who secured agreement to it. Policy on frontier controls, asylum and immigration should be decided in Britain, not in Brussels.

We must have an opportunity to debate the Government's extraordinary allegations about the behaviour of the Spanish and Dutch Governments at and after the Amsterdam summit. The Government of the United Kingdom are alleging that those governments did a private deal in the margins of the summit, failed to report it to the other members of the Council, and smuggled it into the treaty. In other words, say the Government, they cheated.

That is a truly astonishing allegation. What confidence does it foster in the decision-making process of the European Union? After all, no self-respecting golf club would allow two members of its committee to do a hole-in-the-corner deal, keep it secret from the rest of the committee, and smuggle it through into the minutes of the committee decision.

We are told that the Government made representations to the Dutch presidency, but they clearly did not think it serious enough to raise at the Luxembourg summit. Why on earth not? Why on earth did they not complain at that gathering? We know that the Dutch Government are concerned about the allegations. We know that they wrote to the British Government about them as long ago as 16 July, but the Government refuse to publish that letter.

We are continually being told about the Government's devotion to open government. Indeed, the treaty of Amsterdam introduces a requirement for the European Union to espouse the cause of open government. Why, then, will not the Government publish the letter of 16 July? I hope that the Minister will deal fully with that point when he replies to the debate.

I have not dealt this evening with all the shortcomings of the Amsterdam treaty; it would not have been appropriate to do so, serious and far-reaching though those shortcomings are. The treaty was as bad for what it omitted as for what it included—nothing to stop quota hopping, nothing to reform the European Court of Justice, and nothing to help enlargement. The treaty was a negotiating failure for the Government: bad for Britain and bad for Europe.

We have opposed the Bill in a constructive and measured way. We believe that it is necessary to scrutinise the details; we believe that it is necessary to question Ministers on the effects of the various provisions; we believe that it is necessary to explore the implications of the transfer of powers that the treaty provides. This guillotine will make it impossible for us to discharge those essential constitutional details. It is the action of an arrogant and complacent Government, who have no respect for this House. That is why we shall oppose it in the Lobby tonight.

8.56 pm
Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

The great Arizona senator, Morris Udall, was once asked why the convention of the Democratic party, of which he was such a distinguished member, lasted for four days. He said, "It is really quite simple. After two days, everything had been said, but not everyone had said it." For those who have had any connection with the Second Reading or Committee stage of the Bill, that judgment applies as equally and acutely as it possibly could. Everything that the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) said, in outraged tones redolent of his previous practice, seemed to me to be things that I had heard before—if not from him, from the phalanx of eager-faced young men recently elected to the House of Commons and anxious to make their mark on the Benches of the Conservative party. Those of us who have sat through—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where are your colleagues?"] They have every confidence in me to deal with these matters.

Those of us who had to listen to the Conservative party's participation in the debate felt that there was nothing new to be said.

Mr. Blunt


Mr. Campbell

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is about to demonstrate that once again.

Mr. Blunt

The hon. and learned Gentleman's observations would carry more weight if he had been in the House for rather more of the Committee stage.

Mr. Campbell

That is untrue; I have been present for 80 or 90 per cent. of the Committee stage. That compares pretty favourably with other hon. Members. Hansard will show that many of the speeches have been repetitious, rehearsing points that had been made on Second Reading. Indeed, in some cases they were merely a rehearsal of the speeches made on Second Reading.

Therefore, when the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe presents himself with such enthusiasm and anxiety to protect the interests of his constituents, he would do well to reflect on the fact that virtually everything he said in support of that proposition has been said in the House not once, but many times on and since Second Reading.

It is unacceptable that a Bill of this importance should be allowed to make so little progress. Between Second Reading and the Committee stage, more than 20 hours have been devoted to the Bill in the House. All the issues to which I have referred have been canvassed and we are barely past the second group of amendments.

Mr. Swayne

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Campbell

Not for the moment.

I have noted with interest not only the duration of Conservative Members's speeches, but the number of interventions that they have made and the number of artificial interventions that they have made on each other. That, perhaps more than anything else, gives the lie to the notion that there has been no effort at stringing the Bill out and at filibuster.

It has not only been the length of speeches or the frequency of interventions: some of the quality of argument has shown that there is no serious intent to deal with the issues that the Bill raises.

For example, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe became very exercised about article J16 and the role of the Secretary-General of the Council, high representative for the common foreign and security policy. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he had the powers of a Metternich or a Kissinger, but when we read the article, we find that the high representative shall assist the Council in matters coming within the scope of the common foreign and security policy, in particular through contributing to the formulation, preparation and implementation of policy decisions, and, when appropriate and acting on behalf of the Council at the request of the Presidency, through conducting political dialogue with third parties. It would be hard to imagine a more lukewarm job specification for someone acting in the common foreign and security policy arena. That sort of argument in the debate was as much of a window on the attitude of the Conservative Opposition as were the duration of their speeches or the frequency of their interventions.

As has been pointed out, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) described the treaty, for which the Bill is the enabling instrument, as a mouse of a treaty. Of course, in those days, the official position of Her Majesty's Opposition was that, so important were the issues raised by the Bill—they were so fundamental constitutionally—that there had to be a referendum. The referendum, along with the baseball cap, appears to have disappeared from the political scene, but that does not alter the fact that the Bill does not justify the apocalyptic terms in which it has been described, or the synthetic description of the consequences of the guillotine motion that is to be passed by the House.

I would prefer it if it were not necessary to guillotine legislation at all, but that could be achieved only if we were to adopt what the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons has accepted, for the purpose of experiment, as a matter at least of principle: that all Bills should be timetabled from the beginning, so that there would be proper opportunity for scrutiny of all relevant parts of all Bills, and there would not be either the need to impose guillotines or encouragement to create circumstances in which guillotines might be imposed.

As the Bill has gone through the three Committee days on the Floor of the House, it has been obvious that the official Opposition were almost willing the Government to impose a guillotine, so that the official Opposition could reflect the synthetic anger and anxiety of which we have heard so much. It was clearly part of the tactic. Unable to deal the merits of the argument, they think that there may be something a little more substantial to attack in the imposition of a guillotine.

The Bill should be passed as soon as possible. It is in the interests of all our constituents—

Mr. Swayne


Mr. Campbell

If the hon. Gentleman thinks of our constituents as subjects, and if that was a common view among Conservative candidates at the general election, it is perhaps not surprising that so few Conservative Members were returned to Parliament. I did not hear my Conservative opponent saying that the electors were all subjects, but perhaps Conservative candidates in other parts of the United Kingdom thought that that was the appropriate way to proceed. If so, it would explain their lack of numbers.

The Bill should be passed as soon as possible. By the time the terms of the guillotine motion have been implemented, the Bill will have been allotted sufficient time. It is in the interests of our constituents that it should be passed, which is why I invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the Government in the Lobby tonight.

9.5 pm

Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire)

One thing that has to be said about the Committee stage of the Bill that enshrined the Maastricht treaty in law—I had the honour to play a part in it—was that there was no guillotine. My colleagues and I who took part in the Maastricht debate were trying to guess how many times the Government had to bring the Committee stage to a close. We may not be absolutely correct, but we guess that it was about 30 times. If that is the case, I had the honour to vote against the closure 30 times, as did several of my hon. Friends who are here now.

The then Government used the usual procedures of the House in dealing with a highly controversial Bill that they could have guillotined. They had the power to guillotine it and certainly had the votes. The Opposition, who were in collusion with the Government on the matter at that time, would no doubt have abstained or faded into the night, and the Government would have got the guillotine motion. However, the Government chose not to take that route.

It is perfectly legitimate for my hon. Friends, and especially my colleagues on the Front Bench, to argue that it would have been appropriate to use the usual procedures to deal with a highly contentious Bill now. As I understand it, part of the Government's argument is that this is not a very important Bill. They say that we are making too much fuss about it. I have to say—this may surprise my colleagues as much as it surprises the Government—that large parts of the Bill are simply more of what we already have.

We have not yet got to the foreign and security policy aspects of the Bill, but, when we do, we will find that they are simply more of what we have had before. The same is true of qualified majority voting—one can happily argue that, to some extent, the pass was sold on the principles of QMV. It might also be contentious to say from the Opposition Benches that the social chapter provisions were pretty well established through the parts of the treaty dealing with health and safety. I would make the same case for the frontier opt-out which matters enormously to the Danes. However, the opt-out can be circumvented.

I suspect that one would not need to be a very clever lawyer in the European Court to start arguing about the frontier opt-out on the grounds of competition policy, as happened with health and safety on the social chapter. Of course, it is better to have the opt-out than not to have it; nevertheless, one suspects that, in the context of the movement that Europe is making at the moment, it does not amount to a tin of beans.

Among the issues in the legislation that we will not be discussing in the detail that we should is human rights—which, one must accept, is a new matter of principle: the idea that a member state will not be expelled but will be refused its voting rights because it does not comply with the will of the majority. Ministers have asked, "Who would possibly attack or gang up on the United Kingdom on human rights grounds? Only the Greeks will be in the dock on that matter."

One could, however, quite easily conceive—as some have conceived in debates on the Bill—of circumstances in which it might be said that what we were doing in Northern Ireland, for example, was unacceptable to other member states. If they do not like what we are doing on the single currency, for example, perhaps they will gang up on us. They certainly have the power to do so, and that is the important point. The powers now exist, and that is a new step and a new matter of principle. It is an important matter, and we should have further time to debate it. Although it has been wrongly caricatured by Labour Members, the Government have conceded a new principle. Other member states will be able to gang up to remove all voting rights from one of their number. Ministers may shake their heads, but that is the established principle.

The point that really worries me is one that we have not yet debated and one which the Government make a big play of in their favour: subsidiarity. Subsidiarity was presented to those of us who had concerns about the treaty of Maastricht as one of the treaty's fig-leaves. It was always said that, in the treaty of Maastricht, we had at least started to establish some counterpoise to the movement towards a federal, centralised, socialised European state. Time and again, during that Bill's passage, the argument from both Front Benches was that we had firmly established something called subsidiarity. The wording in article 3b was said to be quite clear. It stated:

In areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Community shall take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity". The wording was given as some kind of answer to hon. Members who said that we were moving inexorably towards a federal state of Europe. Some hon. Members asked, "Who will determine which matters fall within the competence of the nation state, and which matters fall within the competence of the federal state?" We never received a proper answer to that question, although it was obvious that federal institutions would ultimately determine which bits they would have the goodness of heart to cast back to national authorities. Those bits were few. I remember having long discussions about planning decisions, many of which were to be reserved or at least held at the discretion of the federal authority.

Ministers have said with great excitement that, in the treaty of Amsterdam, they have now somehow achieved something on subsidiarity, and that they have really—for once, they say—established some firmness of definition and of purpose.

Mr. Swayne

The Foreign Secretary said it himself.

Mr. Robin Cook

I did not say it.

Sir Michael Spicer

If the Foreign Secretary did not say it, it does not really matter, because we need to be concerned only with the wording. Paragraph (2) of the protocol on subsidiarity states: The application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality shall respect the general provisions and objectives of the Treaty, particularly as regards the maintaining in full of the acquis communautaire and the institutional balance; it shall not affect the principles developed by the Court of Justice regarding the relationship between national and Community law". There we have it. Some of us have always argued—in that sense, we do not get desperately excited about the Bill because it is just more of the same—that we have been moving in a clear and apparently irreversible direction; we have maintained our position on the basis that two forces are moving us towards a federal state. First, there is the apparently inexorable move towards monetary union, with all the effects on monetary policy and the transfer of reserves, and—as we argue strongly—in terms of fiscal policy. We cannot have a single monetary policy without a single fiscal policy, not least because the two have to be run in tandem, but also because a single price system without a single wage system throughout Europe must mean a massive transfer of funds from rich to poor nations. That must be combined with a central taxation feature. Of course, all the institutional arrangements for that are in place.

The process is inexorable. I know that at least one of my right hon. Friends says that there is a distinction between a federal state and a single currency state—or a system in which there is a single currency. However, I cannot understand how that can be true.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman and perhaps other hon. Members that this is not a general debate on Europe. We are talking about the allocation of time.

Sir Michael Spicer

I understand that, and I shall move straight on to my next point.

The section on subsidiarity in the treaty of Amsterdam has to be seen in the context of what is happening in Europe. It relates in particular to the second force that is working inexorably towards a federal state—the European Court of Justice.

We should have time to discuss the treaty and the protocol, which are of intense importance because, for the first time, they enshrine into the European Court of Justice and into the concept of the acquis communautaire the concept of subsidiarity. Until now, that has been left vague. Some of us said that it was too vague and that it was being used as an excuse for moving towards a federal state, but now it is enshrined in the treaty. The European Court has derived its powers largely from itself—it has built up its own powers through various court cases with Sabena, giving it priority to set up new law, the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, giving it priority over domestic Parliaments, and acquis communitaire, giving it the powers of occupied territory to move further forward in one direction.

Now, in the treaty of Amsterdam, the Government are blowing their own trumpet and trying to get away with the argument that the enshrinement of subsidiarity somehow provides a balance. In the treaty of Amsterdam, they have enshrined the concept and handed it over to the European Court of Justice.

Mr. Swayne

May I ask my hon. Friend how long he suspects that subsidiarity might survive, given that article B of the treaty says: The Union shall set itself the following objectives". The fourth such objective is to maintain in full the acquis communitaire and build on it"?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman should not be encouraged to answer that intervention. I have already made the point that we are talking specifically about the allocation of time.

Sir Michael Spicer

Of course I understand. If I may be so bold as to say so, my point fits directly into the question that my hon. Friend has just asked me. We are not being given enough time to discuss paragraph 2 of the protocol on subsidiarity which is a central part of the Amsterdam treaty—it is the part which the Government swank about. As my hon. Friend pointed out, this time the acquis communautaire is being connected to subsidiarity and the whole matter handed over to the European Court to determine what should be subsidiary and what should not.

That is a major new step. The Government should not be allowed to get away with making such assertions about legislation. That is one of the central reasons why we should have more time to discuss the matter. Governments have claimed for some time that they are retracting power from Europe through a piece of European legislation, when, in fact, they are doing precisely the opposite. Only if we have time to explore the issue will we be able to winkle that out of the Government and put them on their back foot. It is terribly important to the public understanding of what is going on through the treaty of Amsterdam that that should be so.

I rest my case, as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will perhaps be glad to hear, on a point about ratification of the treaty by national Parliaments. Especially in this country, where we do not have a pattern of holding referendums, we must ensure that Parliament has time to discuss the ratification of treaties. Such treaties fundamentally affect this country's constitution in, as it happens, a progressive way, towards a federal state of Europe.

Apart from Portugal, which may have a referendum, Denmark is the only country left with a referendum. As we shall pass the legislation in a matter of hours, this country will certainly not have much more to say about the treaty. The ratification process is becoming a matter of rubber stamping as a result of this motion.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for referring to Denmark. Is not it ominous and significant that, in Denmark, when the Euro-apologists and those who support a federal Europe did not get their way, the rules were changed? We should have more time to discuss what is involved. In Denmark, those who support a federal Europe persuaded others to undertake a second referendum. Are we going to allow a second referendum if, for instance, Denmark—again—or Portugal vote no? Are we again going to breach all the principles and time limits that formed part of the Maastricht debate on the European Community?

My hon. Friend is correct. The legislation will have a fundamental effect on our constitution, and that is why we should have more time to discuss it. We are talking not only about the European Court of Justice but a single currency. If one gives up control of one's currency, one loses control of one's economy; and if one loses control of one's economy, one loses control of one's country. Should this Parliament allow that to happen? I do not believe that it should.

Sir Michael Spicer

That was an excellent speech, and I am very pleased that my hon. Friend was able to make it.

The point that I was making was that if Parliament goes ahead with the process of rubber stamping this legislation, the only country left which will be able to try to stand its ground will be Denmark.

I end on this question: what is this all about? What are we doing? One thing that we are doing is moving towards a federal state of Europe. My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) mentioned the economic aspect, and I mentioned the legislative aspect. We will not be able to get to grips with the Government's claim that the legislation is some kind of balancing act, and that there is give and take. There is not; the legislation is part of an inexorable process towards a federal state of Europe. No one has shown me why it is to the good of this country to give up our economy and our democracy. What will that be replaced with? It will certainly not be replaced with stronger democratic institutions. No new seasoned economic instrument will safeguard this country.

The treaty is of great importance because it is part of a seemingly seamless process. We should have had time to discuss the phoney element of the Government's claim that the Bill is balanced. We will not have enough time to challenge the argument that the element of subsidiarity in the Bill is a balance against all the federal moves and the changes to qualified majority voting that it contains. It is the opposite, and we should have had time to discuss that.

9.24 pm
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

I agree with some of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer). The hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) revealed what the concept of new Liberal, new Democrat means: essentially, it is that what he believes in is right and what others believe in is wrong. He is happy to have a guillotine on that basis.

The Foreign Secretary, whose talents as a forensic cross-examiner in the House have been exhilarating to witness, resorts to Tweedledum—or possibly Tweedledee—politics: the arguments that he advocated yesterday are not the ones that he advocated today. The cynicism associated with that reversal of position undermines the standing of the House, and, if I may be so frank, the standing of the Foreign Secretary himself. We are not sent here only to administer the actions of government, as the Foreign Secretary well knows. In his long 18 years in opposition, he fought many battles, one of which was opposition to the guillotine. In almost all the guillotine votes, I joined him in the Lobby to express the inappropriateness and unreasonableness of curtailing debate. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) made the points that everyone in opposition would make.

I wish to refer closely to a note of a previous speech: the European Communities (Amendment) Bill is not just another Bill relating to our domestic affairs. It is not a Bill which, however objectionable to the Opposition and others and however truncated the debate on it, is still capable of repeal and replacement in a subsequent Parliament when a different party will occupy the Treasury Bench. It is not even what might be described as a domestic constitutional Bill, such as the Bill abolishing the metropolitan counties or the Bill on devolution for Scotland and Wales, for they, too, are capable of restoration or repeal in a subsequent Parliament.> What is special about the Bill is that it gives legislative effect to a treaty concluded with other nations—the member states of the EEC—and upon whose institutions it confers additional legislative powers. Once passed, this measure cannot be repealed by a subsequent Parliament, unless that Parliament is prepared to tear up the underlying treaty itself—a special dimension of difficulty which I do not believe many … Members have even given serious thought to."—[Official Report, 1 July 1986; Vol. 100, c. 937.] Those words were spoken in opposition to the Single European Act by the then Shadow Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney—now Lord Shore. That is the essence of this Bill and why it is important to us.

The Bill is a transfer from democratic institutions to other arrangements which are not democratic. The treaty gives more power to the European Parliament, extends competencies, extends qualified majority voting, redefines or re-emphasises citizenship and deals with other matters, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe pointed out. No one doubts that those issues are important; that is why we are fighting and struggling for a form of democracy that the Government are prepared—as were the previous Government—to wave goodbye to. There was seen to be greater grasp in conceding the democratic right to change the laws under which we live, but the equality of citizens is the first trust of democracy.

I have heard many a fine speech on these matters by the Foreign Secretary, but that is all out of the window now. Office has converted and changed his view, and that saddens me. In those days, the right hon. Gentleman contended fiercely with Sir Malcolm Rifkind across the Floor of the House; we well remember that. I believed—perhaps wrongly—that the trust that he held then in the democratic and detailed discussion of these points was important.

I take the imposition of a guillotine at this stage very seriously. Some 19 hours have been cited—in 19 hours a detail is passed away. I will now explain why this is important, and the contribution of the Single European Act, which went through with a guillotine motion far worse than the one that we are debating today. I accept all that. I disliked it then and I thought it inappropriate and wrong.

It is interesting that none of us understood entirely the weight of the argument. We were given assurances by Ministers that the Act could not be interpreted in certain ways. Those assurances were given and accepted in good faith, but we discovered—as they unwound—that they did not amount to much. Circumstances, judgments made by others elsewhere and qualified majority voting changed our understanding of the weight of constitutional arrangements. The unpicking of Maastricht laid open to the House the full ambition of this new constitutional arrangement.

Perhaps that is what the Foreign Secretary and his Front-Bench colleagues fear, but I think not. The right hon. Gentleman was right when he mentioned that the Government did not want their programme upset. We are in a medley of vast constitutional change—unbalanced, unthought and guillotined, for this is now the third guillotine of the new Parliament.

The Foreign Secretary is right to excoriate the Conservative party's past. Many of those who voted so triumphantly for guillotines are no longer here to see the outcome of their actions. We learned, and that is why I want the Foreign Secretary and his Front-Bench colleagues to reflect solemnly on this. The argument is very important, and each clause and chapter means something. This new constitution is beyond the reach of this House—other than, as Lord Shore said, by completely repealing the legislation. I do not think that most hon. Members want that.

The Government have—without understanding, I would contend—entered into a series of new agreements. The then Conservative Government found at the time of Maastricht that they had no understanding of the overall architecture of the legislation. Ministers negotiated little bits; the Home Secretary did the home affairs bit, the Foreign Secretary did this and Treasury Ministers did that, but no one stood back to look at the overall picture. Each could say, "My little bit is not so significant, as it is all part of a piece that is fine."

The then Home Secretary—my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke)—to whom the Foreign Secretary referred, did not even know that the Queen was a citizen. There was no understanding of the constitutional changes and that is why a guillotine is inappropriate now. The Government should seriously reflect on that point. I fear that we shall see a process of guillotines; first, on Scotland. The Welsh business has been taken off the Floor of the House. The right of every hon. Member to speak on a matter of fundamental constitutional importance is being withdrawn from us.

The new Labour Government, in their first flush, have taken this opportunity to use their Back Benchers, who have not yet weighed the responsibilities of law making—this was true of my party in the past—to make a law which is, in terms of the treaty, irrevocable and irreversible.

9.33 pm
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

I come to this debate as a new Member; it is the first timetable debate in which I have taken part. Faced with a new Government who came to office talking about openness, change and cleaning up after those frightful Tories, one would have thought that the examples that they were quoting in the debate would not be examples from the previous Government—but that is what we are faced with. They cited the Single European Act 1985, and the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, cited the poll tax debates, to which I shall return in detail in a moment.

I have looked back at the various precedents. We have had 12 hours discussion in Committee on the Bill so far, and much of the talking has been done by Members from the Government side. The Minister for Europe spent an hour carefully summing up the points made by Members of all parties. That was a proper consideration in Committee of a treaty of fundamental importance. Once the treaty is signed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) made absolutely clear, there is no way back except with the nuclear bomb of repealing the treaty in its entirety.

We have sat in Committee for three days. Each day we have started late—almost as late as 6 pm—and we have ended at 10 pm. I am not a zealot who says that we must discuss everything endlessly and that a minority should be allowed to obstruct Government business, but the Single European Act 1985 had 17.5 hours discussion in Committee, and that discussion was clearly subject to filibuster and obstruction by opponents of the treaty. I understand that up to an hour on each occasion was taken up with points of order, and clear delaying tactics were used. The Government's justification for introducing a guillotine was clear under "Erskine May", as my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary said.

An extremely useful document from the Public Information Office of the House of Commons goes further and says: The guillotine is not lightly used, and is not applied without reason. The usual reason is to counter delaying tactics … amounting, in the government's view, to obstruction. We have not had that in the 12 hours consideration of the Bill in Committee. I have listened to contributions from Members on both sides, and they have been constructive. I made one contribution myself. It is hardly as though certain hon. Members had constantly been getting up to obstruct the Government's purpose. So constructive were the contributions that it took the Minister for Europe an hour to sum up on the first occasion.

As a new Member, I wanted to find out whether 12 hours was a long time to consider the Bill in Committee. After all, we are only dealing with a treaty that we cannot do anything with. The motion will mean that we have considered it in Committee for less than 20 hours in total.

I looked up the other Bills that have been considered in this Session.The Finance Bill had 36.5 hours consideration in Committee, and that was not a Committee of the whole House, as it was not a measure of constitutional significance and parts of it can be repealed if the House so wishes; the Bank of England Bill had 30 hours consideration in Committee; and this Bill has had 12.

We heard sedentary interventions from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker)—or perhaps I should call him the Minister for beef on the bone and vitamin B6, as he has shown his contempt for the ability of the British people to make their own decisions and could be an embodiment of the nanny state. He spoke about the poll tax; when that legislation was before the House there had been 16 Committee sittings and 13 clauses had been considered before the Government introduced the guillotine motion. Indeed, after that guillotine motion there were a further 18 sittings. If that is the precedent that the Government are citing today, it is a pretty shabby and self-evidently thin one to present to the House on a measure of constitutional significance.

It was 110 years ago that Sir William Harcourt warned that great constitutional measures might be pushed through the House in a fortnight when the guillotine procedure was first introduced … All our parliamentary safeguards are now swept away. Sir William was talking about the theoretical possibility of the disestablishment of the Church of England. We are faced here with a treaty which, once ratified by Parliament, we can do nothing more about in this place. The warning that Sir William gave 110 years ago is a real warning today.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills talked about joining the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), in opposing previous guillotine motions. On those occasions, the right hon. Gentleman was on the other side of the debate. On 22 February 1977, the right hon. Gentleman will find that he was voting on a guillotine measure on the Wales Bill. The right hon. Gentleman's principles seem to change, depending on which side of the Chamber he is sitting.

We are faced with a treaty of profound importance. In discussions about defence, I have talked about the progressive framing of a common defence policy—a significant Government concession. We have been discussing that policy in Committee at the same time as Defence Ministers of the United Kingdom, Germany and France have given instructions to their aerospace industries to produce proposals by 31 March for the reunification of a European aerospace industry.

There is an agenda of stealth and we are seeing it implemented before our eyes. The Government are forcing through decisions by cutting short discussions in Committee. At the same time, significant issues are running in tandem which are fundamentally changing the United Kingdom's position in the world, in Europe and in the United States. These issues are not being discussed because there is no opportunity to do so in the House.

We were in the middle of discussing qualified majority voting when the motion was put before the House. We heard the Foreign Secretary talking about a mandate from the electorate. He referred to the trust that it had been given and talked about the social chapter. The right hon. Gentleman did not set out the Government's policies on QMV. I accept that he promised to try to extend QMV in four areas, but he succeeded only in one: employment policy. The right hon. Gentleman conceded that there were 14 other areas on which the British electorate had no idea that it was being asked to vote on 1 May, including public health.

We had to listen to the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who is turning into a pretty impressive food fascist. What we must endure from the hon. Gentleman is what the House and the Government will be able to do nothing about when faced with a diktat from the majority of member states of the European Union. We shall not have time to discuss these issues. We are left with the possibility of only about seven hours of debate in Committee.

The details of the treaty are not understood outside this place. I thought that we were sent to the House to get into the nitty-gritty of these issues. How can we expect our constituents to get to grips with these issues and understand them? It is a task which is virtually impossible except for those of us who are prepared to go through the detail, with the time to do so.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

My hon. Friend said that people outside the House—the electorate, Mr. and Mrs. average citizen—do not understand what the issue is all about. Why, then, does every public opinion poll on entry into the single currency and further integration into Europe—the development of a federal state—show a substantial majority against? I believe that our people fundamentally understand the matter. That is why I believe that the House needs more time to explore the issues.

Mr. Blunt

My hon. Friend is right to a degree. People have an instinctive understanding of the issues, but it cannot be a detailed understanding. They do not have the time to go through it. I worked in the Foreign Office for 18 months. Getting to grips with and preparing for the Committee on this legislation, working it through detail by detail, took far longer than what I did there. It deals with vital issues of national interest, especially defence and qualified majority voting. Hon. Members will identify issues of special concern to them.

Mr. Winterton

Is not one of the great problems that the House and the people outside whom we have the honour to represent face that people such as the Foreign Secretary—for whose manner of dealing with the matter in the past I have had immense respect and who before the general election was strongly anti-Europe—are now so positively pro-Europe?

Mr. Blunt

My hon. Friend makes a brilliant point. We have watched most Labour Members turn themselves upside down on European policy not once, twice or three times, but four or five times in the past three decades. They are victims of fashion. They have no idea or understanding of where the basic interests of the United Kingdom lie. That is why they can table a measure to curtail discussion in Committee.

It is surely our duty to examine the Bill in detail constructively. We have not obstructed the Government. We have made proper progress on the Bill in Committee, yet we are now presented with a timetable motion with no warning, no suggestion through the usual channels that our guys are taking too long. It was suddenly banged down after we had made consistent progress over three days. We were into the fourth day of discussion of serious issues. We were discussing qualified majority voting. We were taking part in constructive debate. It would have been fair enough to table the motion if no progress was being made, if the Opposition had been obstructing debate, but we were not. Conservative Members took care to ensure that there would be no grounds for the Government to make such a charge.

As a new Member, I have seen the House treated with contempt month after month since my arrival at the beginning of May. When the Government treat the House with contempt, they treat the people with contempt. We are told that nanny knows best. In the end, the children will grow up and they will understand what has been done to them in this House.

9.47 pm
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)

I am pleased to have been present for a good part of our deliberations on this subject, because it is a matter of great significance and importance to the House and the nation. It is now clear that the Government do not see it that way. If they did, they would not have tabled the guillotine motion.

I can do no better than amplify the comments of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). I, too, went to "Erskine May". As a new Member, I sought guidance. I have not the experience, wit or charm of the Foreign Secretary. I am a humble patriot and a representative of ordinary men and women who value their freedom and independence. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe has already suggested, "Erskine May" describes the use of the guillotine as the extreme limit to which procedure goes in affirming the rights of the majority at the expense of the minorities". It goes on to say that the harshness of the procedure is to some extent mitigated either by consultation between the party leaders or in the Business Committee". Has there been appropriate and proper consultation between the party leaders on the tonight's guillotine? I suggest that there has not. The introduction of this guillotine has been exercised with ruthless disregard not only for the House but for the subject of the debate.

After looking at "Erskine May", I considered the precedent for the use of guillotines. In this regard, I refer hon. Members to the debate on 1 July 1986, when the then right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney, now a Labour peer, Lord Peter Shore, debated the European Communities (Amendment) Bill—not the one that we are dealing with today, but an earlier incarnation. On that occasion, he argued forcefully against the use of the guillotine. What grounds did he use? He said that the Bill was: not just another Bill relating to our domestic affairs … it is a Bill that directly affects the power of Parliament. What is special about the Bill is that it gives legislative effect to a treaty concluded with other nations—the member states of the EEC—and upon whose institutions it confers additional legislative powers. Once passed, this measure cannot be repealed by a subsequent Parliament, unless that Parliament is prepared to tear up the underlying treaty itselr".—[Official Report, 1 July 1986; Vol.100, c.937.] Precisely the same words could be used in tonight's debate. I am sure that Lord Shore would share the same opinion about the Government's behaviour tonight.

After studying "Erskine May" and precedent, I sought an explanation for the Government's extraordinary course of action. I studied the evidence given by the Foreign Secretary to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs on 4 November 1997. Of course, much of the loss of power which the Amsterdam treaty offers to the British people relates to the extension of qualified majority voting and subsequent loss of our veto. The right hon. Gentleman said of that: The use of the veto should only be exercised in circumstances of gravity and importance. The veto should not be exercised in circumstances which are frivolous or marginal. The treaty will, however, reduce the powers of this sovereign state to veto legislation and it will extend to the procedures which allow for QMV in a range of areas. Perhaps those areas could be judged frivolous or marginal. Let us test them. Is employment policy frivolous and marginal? Is public health policy frivolous? What about equal opportunities—perhaps that is a little more frivolous, but I will not comment too much on that. [Interruption.] No, I do not want to distress the Stepford wives—there are only a couple of them here, but I do not want to upset them. Is regional policy frivolous and marginal? Is customs policy frivolous and marginal? Of course not. None of those policies is frivolous or marginal.

We have already heard a great deal about the treaty in respect of those policies, but I want to explore the fundamental truth about the treaty—it is a significant attack on British sovereignty. The Daily Telegraph—which I imagine is not widely read by Labour Members—[Interruption.] I look at The Guardian now and again—for the sport. The Daily Telegraph described the treaty as a degree of constitutional masochism and a self-mutilation of our democratic institutions. A parallel difficulty in assessing the nature and extent of that mutilation is caused by the fact that the injuries are obscured by the coded nature of the language used to describe the problem.

The nature of the European debate is deliberately obscured and the plain facts distorted either by dressing them up in esoteric rhetoric or by the Euro-technique of using bizarre and colourful metaphors. We all know what they are: we are on a train or in a fast car or a slow car—presumably not a racing car, in the light of current circumstances. In short, we are always on some sort of journey to a pre-ordained destination over which we have little choice. It is rather like going on holiday to a place that one knows little about and will not especially like; the assumption is that that is the only place available to spend the vacation.

The result of this esoteric European debate is that the ordinary man and woman in the street feels isolated and remote from it, powerless to do anything about it. The saddest phrase that a democrat can hear is one that we frequently hear about the debate on Europe: "We don't understand it, so we leave it to other people. We aren't sure what it means, so we have to leave it to the experts." When a democrat hears such expressions from ordinary voters he—or she—should be very sad indeed.

Now, let us examine in detail what the treaty actually does. We heard in earlier speeches some discussion of unemployment. In that context, I want to draw particular attention to article 13, with which hon. Members will, no doubt, be familiar. The inclusion of religion, belief and sexual orientation in the article—we are back to equal opportunities here—establishes a principle which may be given legal effect by the European Court of Justice. That could mean that Church schools could lose their freedom to employ only staff who support the ethos of the school. Faith-based voluntary organisations in the private sector could also be affected. Article 13 could restrict their freedom of association and their ability to employ only people who profess and practise in accordance with the organisation's beliefs and that, of course, does not apply to Christians alone. Employment law changes created by article 13 could have dramatic effects on those areas.

We have also heard about the worrying extension of the powers of the European Court of Justice over a range of other areas, and the greater powers for the secretary-general of the Commission, with little or no accountability, in foreign and security policy. There is also, of course, the matter that we were discussing before the guillotine motion was introduced—the significant extension of qualified majority voting.

Is this all in line with what we were promised when we decided to join the European Community? Of course not. Hon. Members will remember what happened at the time. As a young Conservative, I campaigned for a yes vote. I am prepared to bare my soul now and admit that. I was duped along with all the rest.

Indeed, I am still in favour of an association of sovereign nations, a free-trade Europe with countries combining and co-operating to get the best possible deal for their citizens. Of course Conservatives are pro-Europe—[Laughter.]—but pro-Europe in the sense and the spirit in which the people of Britain voted for Europe in the first place.

We were expressly told that there was no possibility of federalism. Do we all remember? To illustrate, I shall quote from the document that was distributed at the time, "Britain's New Deal in Europe". I remind Labour Members that many of them will have helped to distribute that document and used it to defend the idea of a yes vote in the referendum.

"Britain's New Deal in Europe" says No important new policy can be decided in Brussels or anywhere else without the consent of a British Minister answerable to a British Government and a British Parliament. The top decision-making body in the Market is the Council of Ministers, which is composed of senior Ministers representing each of the nine member Governments. It is the Council of Ministers, not the Common Market officials, who take important decisions".> It is hard to believe that now.

The document continued: These decisions can only be taken if all the members of the Council agree. The Minister representing Britain can veto any proposal for a new law or a new tax if he considers it to be considered to be against British interests". We have travelled a long and sorry road since then, and all without the consent of the British people.

The Foreign Secretary listed the items to which qualified majority voting is being extended. They include employment guidelines, employment incentive measures, social exclusion, sexual discrimination, public health, transparency, countering fraud, statistics, the data protection advisory body, outermost regions and Customs co-operation. He failed to tell us that the Amsterdam treaty allows states to make general agreements and to outline broad policy, and then to thrash out the detail under qualified majority voting. That category includes services and copyright negotiation, approximation of the police and the judiciary, and the common foreign and security policy.