HC Deb 10 January 1996 vol 269 cc191-2
3. Mr. Whittingdale

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations he has received in favour of an extension of qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers. [6840]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. David Davis)

Several other member states have told us that they favour more majority voting in the Council of Ministers.

Mr. Whittingdale

Will my hon. Friend give an absolute assurance that a Conservative Government will not agree to any extension of qualified majority voting? Will he contrast that with the policy of the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats which would lead to the abandonment of the British veto and a further erosion of the sovereignty of this Parliament?

Mr. Davis

I can give a categorical assurance. We have made it clear that we oppose a further extension of qualified majority voting. We have heard the arguments of those who wish to see an erosion of the national veto, including those from the Opposition. We are not persuaded. We also note that their various arguments conceal many differences of view about the areas in which they wish to abandon unanimity. We can be clear on this: we will not give up our veto.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

Does the Minister recognise that the only advantage, in many cases, of retaining qualified majority voting arises when the United Kingdom finds itself in a minority? In those cases when it is necessary to make alliances, and when there is a majority opinion supporting very great changes on matters such as the transport of animals, it is important to make alliances. Are not there cases in which majority voting would assist the United Kingdom rather than the contrary?

Mr. Davis

When we came to our decision on that policy, we made a careful assessment and undertook the type of analysis that the hon. Gentleman has presented, of occasions when it is to our advantage to have majority voting and when it is not to our advantage. I made the comment that I just made, on the basis of that assessment.

Mr. Wilkinson

While I welcome my hon. Friend's comments as far as they go, may I say to him that some aspects of qualified majority voting are fundamentally flawed and perverse? For example, on fishing policy, landlocked nations have a say on fishing in what should be our waters. Will my hon. Friend give his hon. Friends an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will seek to roll back that insidious process?

Mr. Davis

What I can assure my hon. Friend is that we understand only too well the worries about fishing policy and some of its inefficiencies. It does not necessarily help us to have unanimity in that aspect of policy. There are policy areas in which it can work the other way against us. However, we are very clear in our minds that that is a matter that needs examining.

Ms Quin

Given that the Government had previously favoured a substantial increase in majority voting, especially at the time of the Single European Act but also at the time of the Maastricht treaty, will the Minister confirm that a change in policy has taken place, and that he is saying that now there are absolutely no circumstances in which the Government would envisage further majority voting, even if that meant blocking or jeopardising the enlargement of the European Union, which we all want?

Mr. Davis

The hon. Lady obviously was not listening to the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones). I said clearly that we made that judgment on the basis of what was in the British national interest. That is a judgment that assesses every sector of European policy and decides whether it is right to have what we have now. We decided that we do not want majority voting to be progressed any further. The hon. Lady's suggestion that that will somehow block the enlargement process appears to me completely misconceived.

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