HC Deb 13 July 1994 vol 246 cc1092-5

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

10.30 pm
Sir Teddy Taylor

I wish to make one brief point which is of some significance, and I would appreciate the Minister's view on it. When we passed the Maastricht treaty, we were told that when we became citizens of the European Union we had certain entitlements given to us in relation to voting in European elections and in council elections.

Although I did not choose to become such a citizen, can the Minister say how article 13 on page 359 of the treaty conforms to that? The article provides that member states who find that 20 per cent. of their citizens are citizens not of their country but of other parts of the European Union can say that those people cannot vote unless they have resided in that country for five years and cannot stand for election unless they have resided there for ten years. That is set out in detail in article 13 of page 359. Can the Minister say why the Government accepted that and, in particular, whether it does not conflict totally with the assurances given in Maastricht on the rights of European citizens?

My second point is also brief. As the treaty also excludes certain areas of Norway and Sweden from having representation in the European Parliament—the Minister kindly provided detailed written answers on 11 July on the matter—is that also in conflict with Maastricht? It seems to be almost a form of ethnic cleansing. If that applied in Britain, and we felt that 20 per cent. of our voters were French, German, Italian or from other parts of the Union, we could say that they would have to have had five years' residence. That seems to be an unusual clause which does not seem to have any relevance to the previous treaty. Why on earth was it put in the treaty at all?

Mr. Spearing

First, may I apologise for a wholly out of order remark, Mr. Lofthouse? You may realise that a brief contribution at the end of the previous debate might have been of interest, particularly as the Minister rose when the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) and myself had indicated that we wished to speak. I will not pursue that matter because we are now debating clause 2.

I wish to ask—why is the clause here? We are all, whether we like it or not, citizens of the European Union and we all have a vote for the European Parliament. If the powers of the European Parliament were being expanded by virtue of the treaty of accession, under the European Assembly Elections Act 1981, there must be permission for that in an Act of Parliament.

I hope that the Minister can tell us why the clause is here. I was not aware that the treaty of accession, as distinct from the treaty of Union, enlarged the powers of the European Parliament, although of course it would enlarge its membership.

Mr. Biffen

What I have to say is tolerably brief and could certainly be as easily contained in a debate on clause 1 as on clause 2. It does not require much elasticity to ensure that it can relate to clause 2. I want to talk about the principles of consent which are contained in the Bill. I want to do so in the context of a quite remarkable speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash). It will not be the first occasion when a parliamentary campaign is conducted with relentless concentration upon one central issue which it is believed will have growing dominance in the public perception of what is at stake.

I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) is in his place. He adds great intellectual distinction to our gatherings—a Greek planted among Romans—and he will confirm that Cicero warned again and again about the danger that Carthage posed for Rome. In that tradition, my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford is claiming that we cannot understand the European Union, or the implications of this Bill, or the enlargement process described in it, without relating it all to German policy. Those who believe that enlargement will, as it were, modify the sharpness of Germany have got it wrong. Enlargement will merely serve to underline the German confrontation with the rest of Europe that will almost inevitably proceed from the collapse of Soviet power as Europe reverts to its more historic power structures.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford on the determination with which he pursues the argument. I happen to disagree with it; I would not want hon. Members to think that I share that view of Germany. I do say, however, that we cannot understand what is developing in Europe without trying to see it through the eyes of the major European power. That does not entail facile performances of the type that President Kennedy attempted when he went to Germany and said, "Ich bin ein Berliner". That was all very well for a word bite, but our perceptions and judgments must be a good deal more sustained than that.

I welcome the clarity that my hon. Friend brings to these debates, although I also understand why the Minister did not immediately endorse his arguments. This is a debate that will remain with us. I look forward to more—perhaps briefer—contributions with the same degree of persistence by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford.

To return to my theme of consent: clause 2 mentions the European Parliament, perhaps the institution most clearly linked to the idea of consent in all this. As we are being somewhat intellectual this evening, I should like to recall Shakespeare's comment that a monarch needs no unwilling subjects". The truth about the European Community is that it is a bosses' show, a bureaucrats' show, a politicians' show. It has never been a people's Europe, although I know the Liberal Democrats hope to develop that idea.

Perhaps the most depressing feature of the recent European elections was the fact that so few people turned out to vote, and they do so in diminishing numbers at each election. Worse still, in almost every country the elections were fought on every subject under the sun—except the European Union. There is no basis for the EU in popular consent, which has been lacking even when a referendum has been used as a device to secure endorsement. The consequences of using that device have been relatively short lived.

My observations arise not out of any hostility for the arrangements that we have in the European Union but out of the fact that what I have described is the truth. Any analysis rooted in realism must accept that. Some of my hon. Friends have begun to develop a dialectic that contrasts widening with deepening. Those who claim that deepening must parallel widening must be quite sure what they mean by deepening. They had better be quite clear as to what further commitments should be made and, above all, they have to be able to demonstrate that the powers that will be taken by Government do not have to take account of the very thin levels of popular support for the European Union across all its functions.

I make that observation with no great foreboding or warning, except that if we are to have a debate about the balance between widening and deepening, let it be quite clear that unless and until we have clear, enduring evidence of popular affection for the European Union as a concept which commands loyalty and, above all, will support sacrifice—because government is about ordering priorities and the sacrifice that goes with ordering priorities—and if that mood and that commitment does not exist, whatever we advocate in respect of deepening has to take that severely into account or once more we shall embark upon a false trail which will end in disillusion.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

I shall try briefly to answer one or two of the points that have been raised. I shall have to write to my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), who raised a rather detailed point. One might say that he has taken out one of my stumps as I am not aware of the particular residency voting requirements in the clause to which he drew attention.

In answer to my hon. Friend's other point, there are provisions for some of the states, particularly Norway and Finland, to decide later whether they wish to include particular areas in the franchise for the European Parliament. My hon. Friend may be referring in particular to the Aland islands, which enjoy a high degree of autonomy within Finland. The Finnish Government have not yet decided whether they should be directly represented in the European Parliament.

The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) asked what was the point of the clause. We are required to legislate through the House when the powers of the European Parliament are enhanced in any way. They are in one small and detailed respect: the European Parliament will have the power to vet and approve the credentials of Members of the European Parliament elected between now and the end of the year from the accession states, in the event that in the next few months any of those countries wish to elect people to sit in the European Parliament. After 1 January next year, their credentials will have to be approved and that power, small though it is, will pass to the European Parliament.

In answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), I cannot possibly satisfy him or give him an adequate answer, except that I entirely accept his point about the need to take the people with us. One of the lessons of Maastricht was that the political class in Europe got well ahead of the people that it represented. It behoves us all to try to create a Europe for people, not one to satisfy political vanities or bureaucratic convenience.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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