Letter: Flaws exposed in the Maastricht Bill

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Sir: Now that MPs have stopped rolling about the aisles in misplaced hilarity over their incompetent handling of the Maastricht Bill, they should address themselves to the real cause of the trouble, which has so far not been exposed either by Members or, dare one say, by the media's commentocracy.

The Bill now contains two provisions whose legal effect is uncertain and which do not reflect what their authors really wanted. Considerable blame for this attaches to MPs, including the official Opposition, for bad draftsmanship. But these imperfect provisions were only pressed because the chair ruled out of order, as being 'outside the scope of the Bill', other texts which, if passed, would have done the job properly.

Here we had a Bill giving legal effect to a treaty from part of which the Government had negotiated British exemption. Parliament is entitled to disagree with that exemption and, in the course of passing the legislation, to substitute its own judgement on the point. For such a move to be ruled outside the scope of the Bill is absurd: it is manifestly relevant and a legitimate exercise of Parliament's right to second-guess the Government.

MPs should therefore urgently review their procedures to ensure that the concept of the 'scope of the Bill' is interpreted more sensibly in future to embrace all amendments relevant to the main purpose of the legislation.

Yours faithfully,




13 May

The writer was MP for Islington South, 1970-83.