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Peter Bone MP: The Government whips may live to regret stifling debate on the detail of the European Union Bill

Peter Bone Peter Bone is Conservative MP for Wellingborough.

Yesterday on ConservativeHome the Minster for Europe, David Lidington MP wrote:

"This week the new European Union Bill will go through intense scrutiny by MPs as its details are debated, and rightly so. The EU bill is the most radical piece of legislation on how we handle the EU since Britain joined the then EEC in 1973."

Having waited yesterday for six and half hours in the chamber of the House of Commons for my amendment on an in/out referendum to be called, only to see a government filibuster which resulted in only one set of amendments being debated, I find this statement difficult to believe.

Perhaps the Minister for Europe should have said in his ConservativeHome article:

"This week the new European Union Bill will be rushed through the House of Commons, with as little scrutiny as possible by MPs. Its details will not be debated and rightly so. The EU Bill is the most irrelevant and unimaginative piece of legislation on how we handle the EU since Britain joined the then EEC in 1973."

My amendment 48 to the European Union Bill was always going to be a controversial amendment, as it asked for an in/out referendum on the European Union if certain criteria were met. I know my amendment was going to attract substantial support from the Tory benches; unfortunately, so did the whips. Having found out that many Conservative MP’s were happy to support and vote for the principle of an in/out referendum despite all the whips' pressure, they took an alternative course of action.

In a classic whips' operation, they arranged for pliable backbenchers to speak at length on the opening group of amendments to stop debate on mine or any subsequent amendments. In all, the whips managed to stop any debate on four clauses and twenty five amendments.  Hardly intense scrutiny by MPs.

No doubt the Whips were cracking open the champagne last night, yet another victory for government control and another loss for parliamentary scrutiny. But a word of caution to the Whips: this is exactly what the Brown Government did, avoiding debate on controversial matters, for short term gain, but it caused long term pain. It bred discontent and frustration amongst Labour backbenchers and history is beginning to repeat itself.

"Every Bill now has a 'programme motion' setting out how much time can be spent scrutinising and debating each part. These are automatic guillotines, and the time allowed for scrutiny is set in advance, before anyone can see whether or not a particular issue is contentious or complex. Watching a minister in the Commons drawing out one point for an hour to fill the time, to an audience of dozing backbenchers – this is not accountability."

This was said by David Cameron, on May 26th 2009.

Surely now he is Prime Minster his views haven’t changed?


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