The government tries to silence Parliament

Last night was another sorry coda to our long and distinguished history of Parliamentary debate.

Once again we are allowed just one and half hours after 8pm to discuss a fistful of important amendments and complex issues about the government’s wish to bring the European Charter of Human Rights into our law codes through adopting the Constitutional treaty. The government had allowed four and half hours for a general debate on human rights, in order to prevent MPs getting into the important line by line analysis of the 358 Articles and 327 pages of the “Consolidated texts of the EU Treaties as amended by the Treaty of Lisbon”. Several MPs were unable to make the speech they wished to make on the first group of amendments. I had to cut my remarks down to a few minutes, preventing me from referring to any of the amendments in detail. Subsequent amendments on the order paper went undebated, thrown into the dustbin of history without word or vote.

This is a constitutional outrage. All previous governments have allowed substantial time for proper debate of constitutional bills on the floor of the House. Much of the time the House has met in committee, which means MPs have time to move amendments and speak to them. Some move probing amendments, to test out what Ministers think the words of the legislation they are recommending mean and will do. Some are important amendments designed to change the bill, to correct errors or remove harmful clauses and provisions.

Bill Cash invited a number of us concerned about this legislation to meetings before the debates began in the House. We all agreed that we needed to move a series of amendments to strike out the varying parts of the Treaty and Bill which transfer substantial powers from the UK to the EU. Bill kindly produced a wide ranging series of amendments which we co-signed and lodged. I am grateful to him for his hard work in producing them. Anyone who values a democracy in the UK should be glad he took the trouble and set out to make a fight of it before these powers are lost.

The government turned down the official Opposition’s request for 20 days of consideration. We were offered 12 in committee, plus a day on Second Reading to discuss the overall picture, and a day to discuss the so-called timetable motion. The Official Opposition argued passionately against the whole Treaty, and we voted against it on a three line whip. We all argued passionately against the very restrictive timetable, and voted against that on a three line whip.

We were promised by the government “line by line scrutiny” of this massive piece of legislation, as if this were new or a concession. “Line by line scrutiny” of legislation was what we usually had before this government. Most bills went through on no timetable, allowing the Opposition to table as many amendments as they wished and debate for as long as they liked. Parliament often met into the early hours in the morning to hammer out disagreements on complex bills.

What takes my breath away is the audacity of the government to introduce a constitutional outrage on this bill of all bills. Their decision to allow only one and half hours a day to stifle debate on amendments and to replace time in committee with a series of longer general debates is a cynical manoeuvre designed to prevent the Opposition revealing all the danger in the detail as we see it. It implies Ministers are unsure of their ground and their case, that they do not wish to be exposed to the usual cross examination on the wording of each part of this long and complex text.

This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

21 Comments

  1. newmania
    Posted February 6, 2008 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    I `m very suprised the National press do not seem to have picked up on this at all.

  2. David Hannah
    Posted February 6, 2008 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    I am slightly confused about the process of amendments here. I was under the impression that the treaty could only be ratified in full, or rejected by Parliament. I did not think it was possible for Parliament to amend particular details of a treaty that has already been signed. Not that it matters in any event; the numbers game makes any useful alteration impossible.

    I only managed to watch a small part of yesterday

  3. Peter
    Posted February 6, 2008 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Will the next government be able to remove this abomination from the statute books?
    Better still, what possibility is there of Her Majesty refusing to give Royal Assent on a statute throwing away Her Governments powers to legislate in its own country?

    Reply: You cannot expect the Queen to refuse assent to somethign wanted by the majority of MPs and peers.
    A future government could accept it, negotiate a better answer with our partners or undertake unilateral action. Any party seeking election if this has all gone thorugh and been ratified by all member states will need to make its position clear at an appropiate time.This is the time to concentrate on trying to stop it.

  4. Laurence
    Posted February 6, 2008 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    'What takes my breath away is the audacity of the government to introduce a constitutional outrage on this bill of all bills'

    They do it because they know they *can* do it. What can you or anyone else do to stop them? And what *are* you trying to do, if I may ask, apart from protesting in this blog? Personally I am very disappointed that the Queen has not done something to stop this precipitate dismantling of the constitution – after all, that is what a constitutional monarch is there for in the last analysis. I suppose it's a bit much to ask of an elderly lady to inititiate the biggest constitutional crisis for centuries, but as far as I can see it is the only hope, and she would have massive support in the country.
    Otherwise the only other hope to my mind is some kind of British 'resistance' or 'dissident' movement which may hope, in generations, to succeed against the EUSSR as similar movements did against the USSR (phrase removed-ed). But it will be a very long haul and will require persistence and bravery which only a handful may have in sufficient quantities.

  5. Susan
    Posted February 6, 2008 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    I've been following the debates with interest so far. However, I don't think I can take much more of Jim Murphy's smirking disdain and arrogant smugness so I may have to curtail my viewing in order to save my sanity and my television screen.

    I note that the government benches are now taking every opportunity to present the Conservative Party's position as one of leaving the EU completely. It isn't pleasant to see how they wriggle on a hook of their own making in order to divert attention from their own deceits.

    Once again Mr Redwood, my heartfelt thanks to you and your colleagues, for your persistent efforts on our behalf.

  6. Cliff
    Posted February 6, 2008 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    We need to get used to these undemocratic policies if we allow ourselves to slide further into the undemocratic EUSSR.

    Keep fighting for the UK John and continue your work to educate the public to the reality of the EUSSR.

  7. Rose
    Posted February 6, 2008 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    The public is apolitical, as Mrs T understood, and needs a simple but important message to be repeated over and over again before it finally gets it. This has so far not been tried with the EU, as the forces of Common Purpose etc. have always seen off the argument for national sovereignty with that poisonous little phrase: "banging on about Europe", which has been as effective as that other one: "the nasty party" – a phrase which never even existed in common parlance anyway as it always used to be described by its enemies as "the stupid party".

  8. Will Rees
    Posted February 6, 2008 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Have you any idea what they are saving the other 9 days (Ponsonby Rule) for ?
    I agree the contortion of a day is a scandal, but given apathy from the media and the public, (not sure which is the causal determinant) Britain may well end up with the government it deserves.

    In the mean time, I thank you and the rest of the usual suspects for your valient efforts.

    Reply: All the days on the EU Treaty have been allocated to different subject areas. Today is the single market.

  9. Robert the Biker
    Posted February 6, 2008 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Please….As you know perfectly well, you cannot modify a jot or comma of this document, so this 'debate' is yet more smoke and mirrors from your pathetic excuse for an opposition party.
    Offer me a choice in your manifesto regarding our leaving this anarchic shambles (otherwise the EU) and I will vote for you. Fail to do so, or waffle, and I will vote for someone else.

  10. David Hannah
    Posted February 6, 2008 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    I find the notion of petitioning the monarch in this case quite fascinating. However, I agree with John Redwood

  11. Will Rees
    Posted February 6, 2008 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for taking time to reply, although you misunderstand my question (what do they plan to do with the other 9 days), the answer you gave, I knew already from Hansard.

    The Ponsonby Rule as cited on the FCO page on UK Treaty Practice and Procedures. http://www.fco.gov.uk/Files/kfile/ponsonbyrule,0….

    It, according to the FCO's published documentation,
    -" REQUIRES every treaty signed by the UK subject to ratification should be laid before Parliament for 21 sitting days" (not necessarily continuously) (Page 2 of 4)

  12. mikestallard
    Posted February 6, 2008 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    I happened to catch Bill Cash's speech, on a very badly received TV, which was delivered in a very dignified and thoughtful way, I thought.
    It is reassuring that at least there are a few people out there who can see the threat.
    And allow me to congratulate you personally for your principled stance.
    Afterwards, on BBC4, I watched a film about Poland where several suspected crimes of murder were tried without a jury by a tired looking judge in a golden chain. In one case the judge was referred to as "not standing any nonsense". Guilt was, in other words, assumed. It could have been a Soviet trial.
    It was admitted that the prosecutor had little or no evidence to go on and was relying on a confession from the dock. When he didn't get it, he sort of gave up.
    The sentence, for 12 years imprisonment, was delivered by a prison warder with a letter to the condemned man in the cell, not in the court. The verdict was given in the same letter.
    (Meanwhile the real murderer was interviewed in his own house as a free man.)
    When will people realise what MPs in parliament are simply throwing away?

  13. peter whale
    Posted February 6, 2008 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    If it is an amending treaty only consolidating what has already been agreed. Why does it need ratifying?

  14. Alan G
    Posted February 6, 2008 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    On 21 July 1993, the Speaker of the House of Commons issued a reminder to the courts:

  15. Shades
    Posted February 7, 2008 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Peter whale- it isn't that. The Constitution consolidated (& replaced) what had already been agreed in previous treaties, plus extra stuff. The treaty dispenses with the consolidated bit but still adds most of the extra stuff, scattergun approach over all of the existing treaties.

    I think it is loopy for us to sign the thing before we ratify it, but there is something rather Soviet about the way we do these things these days.

    Check out the 6th one down above from Nation of Shopkeepers- an excellent analogy between the EU and dodgy double glazing salesmen.

  16. Anthony db
    Posted February 7, 2008 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    I find the whole Constitution/Lisbon treaty ratification process a sad & depressing epitaph for UK parliamentary democracy. I am not even angry, I am just deeply saddened.

  17. John Archer
    Posted February 7, 2008 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    One day, when we're finally shot of the EU, I want to see all those responsible for this treason very severely punished. And that includes those in your party too.

    In fact, I'd like to see the whole affair conducted in the manner of a farcical show trial, to mirror the status and flavour of the current proceedings; all the while with the prosecution conducting itself in the quiet, calm, reasonable, thespian, lying manner of a Jim Murphy, David Milibland or Douglas Alexander, to be followed by the inevitable unspeakable acts of vengeance against these traitors.

    Much as I appreciate your efforts (and I do thank you) and the efforts of likeminded members of your party I will now never vote for the Conservative Party again until it rids itself of its europhiliac infestation

  18. Agincourt
    Posted February 7, 2008 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    John
    Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly tell me that they voted in support of a motion on 8 October 2007 recommending that there should be a UK-wide referendum on the current Lisbon EU Constitutional Reform Treaty. Scottish MSPs tell me that they voted in support of a similar motion on 19 December 2007. Finally Guernsey held its own "referendum on a referendum" on the Lisbon Treaty on 26 January 2008.

    Some of the members of both assemblies are now considering holding full referendums on the treaty within Northern Ireland & Scotland respectively. Is this the way forward?

    Certainly, I think so. It would be hard for a UK government to disregard a Northern Irish vote, & near impossible to disregard a Scottish one. And if the government did so, not only would this be potentially electorally catastrophic for Labour, it also would be excellent material for lawyers with the government probably losing some at least (& hopefully all) of the related court cases. Meanwhile the totally artificial EU timetable of having everything signed, sealed, & delivered by the end of 2008 would slip by, & the government's self-proclaimed competence would become even less convincing than it is now.

    If the Tory party genuinely wants to defend our ancient & very hard-won liberties, then I recommend most strongly that the Tory party gives all its support to those in Northern Ireland & Scotland, & Wales too if they start thinking the same way, who want a full-scale referendums on the Lisbon Treaty within their regions – independently of Westminster if the government fails to provide them with one.

    Democracy demands nothing less!

    Agincourt

    Reply: I agree.

  19. Anne
    Posted February 8, 2008 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Is it only Parliament that has been "silenced"? Are you sure it is not the Television? Radio? The Press?

    I am absolutely sick of watching the process of voting for a new American President and wonder if ANYTHING will do as long as no one mention's The Lisbon Treaty. Blimy, its a re-run of "don't mention the war".

    I can understand the reluctance of MP's to talk about the complications of ratifying such a treacherous Treaty. It is not the kind of Treaty that anyone whose loyal and true allegiance is to their Queen (Crown) and country would want to ratify, is it?
    I mean, how could they even contemplate transferring the Royal Prerogative of Treaty Making Powers to a foreign Government that owes no allegiance to the Monarch and is not accountable to the people of this Country? Ah yes, of course, we tend to forget, ALL MP's are accountable to the people of this Country.. We pay them out of our taxes and we vote for them don't we? Will we still do so if ever the Treaty is ratified?
    Have MP's any idea of the anger brewing up in the people?

  20. Anne
    Posted February 9, 2008 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    Mr Redwood, To my knowledge the numbering of the articles have been changed three times. and how about article like this one? 36) The text of Article 17 shall become Article 28 A, it shall be amended as set out below in point 49.
    49) An Article 28 A shall be inserted, taking over the wording of Article 17, with the following amendments:
    (a) the following new paragraph 1 shall be inserted and the next paragraph shall be
    renumbered 2: etc, etc and so it goes on.

    Does it meet the criteria of the Vienna Convention of the Law of Treaties? I certainly do not think so. Having read the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, I do believe that Members of Parliament have a duty to really look at the Treaty in the light I have mentioned and if they believe that people may not be able to understand this Treaty that will affect the lives of every one throughout this our Country for generations to come, it should either go before the convention now with a challenge or rejected by those "Honourable" Members that sit (for now) in those hallowed Halls.

    Have ALL Heads of State had sight of the Contents or was a blank sheet of paper signed by them.

  21. Denis Cooper
    Posted February 10, 2008 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    MPs can't change the treaty itself for a very simple reason – because it isn't their treaty to change.

    It's an agreement between 27 states, with their heads of state and/or government as the "High Contracting Parties", signed in our case by two Ministers acting as the Queen's "plenipotentiaries", ie granted full powers by Her, to represent Her and exercise the Royal Prerogative on Her behalf.

    Equally, because it's an external agreement made by the British government it can't have any effect in our internal law until Parliament has passed a Bill saying that it shall have such effect, and the Queen has given Her Royal Assent to that Bill, making it an Act.

    Parliament is under no legal or moral obligation to pass that Bill. If Parliament had given its approval to the Treaty prior to signature that might be a different matter, but even then Parliament could change its mind.

    If there was any provision included in the Bill which would limit the application of the agreed Treaty to the UK, in such a way that any of the other 26 states could object that their rights under the Treaty had been materially diminished, then no doubt they would object and they would insist on a re-negotiation to restore the balance between their rights and their obligations.

    On the other hand, Parliament could and should repudiate the attached Declaration 17, which flagrantly denies the sovereignty of our Parliament by espousing the fundamentally incompatible legal doctrine of the primacy of EU treaties and laws – a theory which was no more than the invention of federalist lawyers at the EU's Court of Justice, exceeding the powers granted to them under the original Treaty of Rome – without the rejection of that doctrine in itself having any material effect on the rights of the other EU states.

    See Christopher Booker's Notebook today:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/n

    New Clause 9, tabled by Bill Cash MP, would in effect repudiate Declaration 17::

    "Notwithstanding any provision of the European Communities Act 1972, nothing in this Act shall affect or be construed by any court in the United Kingdom as affecting the supremacy of the United Kingdom Parliament."

    In the event that this amendment joins the dozens of others which are not being debated, let alone put to a vote, an Early Day Motion would provide a mechanism for those MPs who are still loyal to this country to clearly express their determination that their (and our) Parliament will retain its legal supremacy in the United Kingdom.

    Reply: as a co-signatory to Bill Cash's amendment I am keen to have a vote on it. An EDM is no help – any MP who agrees with us can just sign the amendment, which increases the chances of it being debated.

One Trackback

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

  • John’s Books

  • Email Alerts

    You can sign up to receive John's blog posts by e-mail by entering your e-mail address in the box below.

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

    The e-mail service is powered by Google's FeedBurner service. Your information is not shared.

  • Map of Visitors

    Locations of visitors to this page