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Mr Harold Walker In The Chair

Volume 100: debated on Thursday 26 June 1986

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4.20 pm

On a point of order. Mr. Walker. You may remember that at our first sitting the Minister intervened and the Government moved the closure before many hon. Members had had an opportunity to speak. Have you had any discussions with the Government about their intentions or any intimation from them with a view to protecting the rights of minority parties and of Back Benchers?

I have received no such representations. It is the Committee that decides whether a debate should be brought to a conclusion.

On a point of order, Mr. Walker. I wish to raise four points of order, and it may be for your convenience and that of hon. Members if I raise them one by one, in case any hon. Member wishes to intervene.

First, I thank you for removing amendments Nos. 23 and 25 from the first group of amendments and for putting them into a grouping into which they fall more naturally. As a result, the Committee will be able to have a more coherent debate. You may well be aware, Mr. Walker, that two of the subjects put together, although analogous, are also important in their own right. When we reach that group of amendments, which involve economic and monetary union as well as political union, will you bear in mind that some of us may wish to raise detailed points on both subjects? I hope that you will take that into account when deciding whether to accept a closure motion on that debate.

I am not sure whether that was a point of order or prior notice of what may happen. At the relevant time I shall take into account the view expressed by the hon. Gentleman.

My second point of order relates to the first group of amendments, as it now stands. Two subjects are involved. The first subject covers the new power of the Assembly, and amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 13. The second subject involves clause 3 and among other things the change of name from Assembly to Parliament, and affects amendments Nos. 51, 52 and 42 to 45. Although those amendments are all related to the Assembly, I hope that due consideration will he given tÓ the fact that they represent important subjects in their own right.

Many of us would have liked to go into each subject in some detail. However, we understand that there is a feeling in the Committee that there should be a reasonably early vote on this important group of amendments. Consequently, I hope that our restraint and self-denying ordinance during the first debate will be taken into account during later debates. There are many things to be said on the first group of amendments, but they will go unsaid because of the relative shortage of time.

For example, I was going to raise the whole issue of financial control by the Assembly during the debate on the first group of amendments. However, I have decided not to do so then, as there is a desire in all parts of the Committee for an early vote. I shall thus try to introduce it at a later stage, subject to your discretion.

May we have a separate vote on amendment No. 13, which relates to the new power of the Assembly to interfere in and approve international agreements concluded by the European Communities? The Assembly does not enjoy that power at present, and it impinges on the royal prerogative. Given the importance of the royal prerogative, will the Committee be allowed to express its opinion through a separate vote?

At the appropriate time, I shall take into account the hon. Gentleman's representations.

I wrote to you, and gave you notice of my third point of order, Mr. Walker. Amendment No. 26 relates to title III of the Single European Act, which concerns co-operation and the co-ordination of foreign policy in pursuit of a common foreign policy among the 12 member states of the EEC. I pointed out to you that on 7 May the Minister of State gave evidence before the Foreign Affairs Committee. When challenged by members of that Committee, the hon. Lady indicated that she would have favoured a debate on the issue of political co-operation. At present, you have chosen, in your wisdom, Mr. Walker, not to select amendment No. 26 or any of the two or three other, similar amendments. However, given the Minister's concern that there should he a debate, and my submission now, perhaps it will be possible to reconsider the matter, if not now, later in our proceedings.

If you rule that that is not in order, Mr. Walker, I am prepared to develop the argument. I would submit that the amendment is in order, and I would welcome an opportunity of raising a point relating to the contents of the documents before us, suggesting that that is so.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Walker. I very much appreciate the way in which you have treated the representations made to you about the selection of amendments. We are all extremely grateful to you for your perception.

However, I seek your guidance. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) has made a valid point. One of the most significant parts of the Single European Act is title III, which is entitled:
"Treaty provisions on European Co-operation in the Sphere of Foreign Policy".
There are many provisions in article 30 that are of enormous consequence for the future conduct of Britain's foreign policy. The Heads of Government are meeting today in The Hague, and they will spend most of their time considering a major issue of foreign policy — South Africa. We are only too well aware that, although the EEC might want to keep such a provision outside the precise terms of the treaty, the reality is that events will dictate what happens. If Heads of Government are spending so much time debating the provisions which we have already agreed and which the Minister of State signed in Luxembourg earlier this year, how can hon. Members have an opportunity to debate the implications of that part of the Single European Act which is probably of more consequence than any other part?

As the hon. Gentleman fairly recognised. I gave very careful consideration to all the many representations made to me during the past few days. I have tried as hard as possible to be fair to hon. Members in all parts of the House. However, I came to the conclusion that it would be wrong to accept that amendment. When we debate clause stand part, the Chair may be able to recognise the interest expressed in those points.

You have anticipated my fourth point of order, Mr. Walker. I was going to point out that there are several other amendments that have also not been chosen. I entirely accept your ruling on such matters. However, there is to be no debate on social policy, on social and economic cohesion, or on research and technology. All those subjects are relatively important and are considered as such in Brussels and elsewhere. Consequently, I was hoping that you would take into account the fact that there had been no separate debates on those subjects, when considering whether there should be a debate on clause I stand part.

I have heard what has been said and the Chair will take it into account when we reach that point in our proceedings. I shall, of course, have regard to the scope of any debate that precedes it.

Attention has been drawn to the fact that the selection of amendments before the House last week has been revised. Hon. Members may be pleased to know that I have sought to take into account all the representations made, including those made about the possibility of a debate on clause 2 stand part. It would be proper to allow such a debate when we reach that point.

4.30 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Walker. I join my colleagues in thanking you for the changes that have been made and endorse the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) on clause 1 stand part and in view of the wide ambit of subjects that have been agreed in the matter of closure.

My point relates to Standing Orders Nos. 28 and 29 in relation to the moving of a dilatory motion. Standing Order No. 29 says that the Question on a dilatory motion may be put at once, or may not he put, by the Chair in the event of the issue being an abuse of the rules of the House.

I hope, Mr. Walker, that I would never knowingly be guilty of such an abuse. I therefore seek your permission to move, That the Committee do report progress and ask leave to sit again. I do not want to trespass on to the substance of the matter, in the expectation that you will accept the motion.

On 17 June last the Minister of State, Treasury signed a memorandum for the House and for the public which stated in effect that the Commission of the European Communities, at its meeting on 22 May last year, had proposed a supplementary budget to the EEC which amounted to extending expenditure for the current year up to the limit of the so-called 1·4 per cent. VAT ceiling.

Paragraph 7 of the memorandum says:
"Adoption of the preliminary draft supplementary and amending budget No. 1 as presented by the Commission would exhaust the own resources available within the 1·4 per cent. VAT ceiling."
Paragraph 2 states that the proposal will be considered by the Council of Ministers at the 16–17 July Budget Council.

While I do not wish to go further into the merits of that, I would commend that not only is this proposed extension of expenditure — it may not be accepted — of considerable importance in relation to what we are about to discuss, but, the 1·4 per cent. VAT ceiling having been reached, the Fontainebleau arrangement for rebate, which has been a strong feature of debates and, indeed, of the Government's case, would fall and our relationships with the EEC would therefore be of a wholly different character and nature from that envisaged were the document not available.

The memorandum was not available in the House until, at the earliest, yesterday, and in effect today. The substantive document, which of course we would not have known about, was sent from Brussels to the Government as long ago as 22 May.

I seek to move the adjournment of the Committee, if briefly, to give the Minister an opportunity to reply to many of the financial points which arise, which have not been made very clearly in the Government's financial memorandum and which, I submit, will change the atmosphere in which our debates on the Bill will take place.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Walker.

On 23 June, which was only Tuesday this week, the Minister of State, Treasury in a parliamentary answer stated that the highest rate of VAT contribution for 1986 was 1·22 per cent. I have this morning received a paper from the European Commission, document 71161/86, in which the words are used:
"own resources within the 1·4 VAT limit are insufficient to cover all requirements."
In other words, the Government are saying that 1·22 per cent. is adequate for all contingencies, while the Commission is saying that the Common Market is in effect insolvent and does not have the money to pay for the things that it has agreed to do this year.

One may ask, is this not a wholly separate issue from the Bill? I think you will be aware, Mr. Walker, that two of the clauses deal specifically with the participation of the European Assembly and the Council of Ministers in budgetary matters. I am wondering whether it would be more helpful to the House, before we deal with the two specific articles concerning budgetary matters, to clarify whether the Government are right in saying that there is plenty of room for extra spending this year above 1·22 per cent. or whether the European Commission in its document—an official Community document signed by Commissioner Christophersen—is correct in saying that the Community is in effect insolvent and does not have, even on maximum resources, the money to pay its basic bills for this year.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Walker. The Bill is being put forward as part of our total relationship with the European Community. As part of that total relationship, various negotiations took place and various agreements were made about the level of rebate and therefore the level of net cost contribution that the United Kingdom would make towards the Community. In view of what my hon. Friend has just said, there is a real prospect that that net contribution — the amount of money that the British taxpayer will have to pay net to the Community—will be significantly greater than anticipated.

The British people would be appalled if we were to continue the debate without their first knowing what commitment we are making on their behalf in financial terms, as the Bill is part of the general arrangement that balances out the financial contribution that we intend to make.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) for having given me notice of his intention to raise this matter.

I have listened carefully to what has been said. It seems to me that the matters that have been raised have no bearing on the content of the Bill. Certainly they may be matters for the Committee to take into account in reaching its conclusions. I do not think that they provide any substance for my accepting a motion such as that suggested by the hon. Gentleman, and I cannot accept such a motion.