HC Deb 29 November 1995 vol 267 cc1185-6
8. Sir David Knox

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next expects to meet his counterparts in the European Union to discuss greater political union. [859]

Mr. David Davis

My right hon. and learned Friend and I regularly meet our counterparts in the European Union at the Foreign Affairs Council. The next meeting will be held in Brussels on 4 and 5 December.

Sir David Knox

Does my hon. Friend agree that the closer the co-operation within the European Union, the greater the influence that Britain can exert in international affairs?

Mr. Davis

The Government's perspective on the European Union is that we intend to improve it by increasing prosperity and competitiveness, enhancing internal and external security, making enlargement possible and rebuilding popular support. We get support from all our allies in connection with all those factors.

Mr. MacShane

Does the Minister accept that reform of the common agricultural policy, on which we now spend about £3 billion—£60 for every man, woman and child in the country—can be achieved only through co-operation with political allies in Europe and by asking them to drop the veto in that area, so that Europe can move forward on that front, especially in allowing the entry of the east European nations, which will not be able to enter Europe if the CAP is maintained in its present form?

Mr. Davis

The hon. Gentleman is surprisingly ill informed. The great majority of common agricultural policies are already decided by qualified majority voting. He is simply trying to cover up his party's willingness to give up the veto on Britain's behalf.

Mr. Cash

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not enough simply to talk about co-operation, or about allies? Does not political union really mean a legal framework within the rule of law, which—through majority voting, and in line with the arrangements promoted by 12, if not 14, of the other member states—would impose a state of affairs in which the British people would no longer be able to conduct their sovereign Parliament or make their own choices in general elections? Does he agree that we cannot contemplate that prospect, that we shall not do so at the intergovernmental conference and that we shall not give in to the pressures from Germany and elsewhere? Do we not need a White Paper to set out the British Government's position well in advance, so that the other countries know exactly where we stand, and we can explain our position to the British people?

Mr. Davis

There is no doubt whatever about the British Government's position on qualified majority voting. I have made it clear, as has my right hon. and learned Friend, many times both at the Dispatch Box and to several Select Committees. It is clearly the case, and will remain the case, that decisions at the IGC are made by consensus, not by majority voting. So long as that applies—it will apply so long as we have any say in the matter—we shall stick to our guns on that subject.

Mr. Spearing

With regard to the future of the political union that already exists, has the Minister noticed the section in the reflections group's first report about the place of national Parliaments? In particular, has he noticed paragraph 107, which mentions notice to national Parliaments of documents presented to the Council of Ministers—including those in the home and justice pillar, which of course do not come under our present scrutiny procedure? Does he agree that the suggested period of four weeks would have avoided the recent difficulties over the Home Affairs Council, and the document that the Commission presented there?

Mr. Davis

I cannot comment immediately on the Home Affairs Council but, as I think the hon. Gentleman already knows, in the reflections group I have argued in favour of the Scrutiny Committee's comments on the declaration 13 position that he described.

Mr. Dykes

As greater political union presumably means sovereign countries working closer and closer together in agreed integrated structures, including some majority voting, on which we robustly insisted for the single market, why is that so dangerous? Could the Government not occasionally say that it is a good idea?

Mr. Davis

My hon. Friend is right in one respect; we supported qualified majority voting for areas in which we thought it would be useful in removing protectionism and protectionist tendencies within the European Union. That has promoted one of our country's greatest successes in Europe—the development of the single market.