HC Deb 20 February 1985 vol 73 cc1027-8
79. Mr. Park

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the use of majority voting in the European Council.

Mr. Rifkind

The European Council's task is to provide strategic direction and general political impetus to the Community. Majority voting would not be appropriate for this purpose. The European Council therefore proceeds by consensus.

Mr. Park

Does not the system of qualified voting on the budgetary provision end any effective United Kingdom say in the amount of money spent on agriculture, and will this not be even more so when Spain and Portugal join the Community?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman's supplementary question refers not to the European Community but to the Council of Ministers, where different procedures apply. It has been the case for some time that a qualified majority applies in budgetary matters, but the hon. Gentleman should also bear in mind that new arrangements have been reached on agricultural guidelines that will control agriculture expenditure.

Sir Anthony Meyer

In view of the persistent frustration of an emerging consensus on policies of direct advantage to the United Kingdom through the abuse of the veto by countries such as Greece, is not the balance of the argument now shifting in favour of going back to the original concept of the treaty and accepting majority voting in those cases where it is specifically provided for?

Mr. Rifkind

There are many circumstances in which the Presidency can request a vote, and it would then be up to the country concerned to decide whether it wished to apply the veto. Recently it has been the practice for voting to take place rarely, but there is nothing either in the treaty or in what is called the Luxembourg compromise that prevents further voting if the Presidency of the day so chooses.

Mr. Maclennan

Does the Minister recognise that at many of the previous European Council meetings matters of detail and not of broad strategy have been discussed by the Heads of Government? When that is so, would it not be appropriate to move towards a majority voting system?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is correct in that it has been one of the causes of concern that European Councils have often had to deal with matters of detail. When the European Council is dealing not with matters of strategy but with points of detail, it takes on the form of a Council of Ministers and can take decisions in the normal way.