HL Deb 25 June 1992 vol 538 cc543-6

3.14 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will support the reappointment of M. Jacques Delors as President of the European Commission.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, the European Council in Lisbon on 26th-27th June will consider the appointment of the President of the next Commission. My noble friend the Leader of the House will report to this House after the Lisbon council.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Is she satisfied that if, as seems likely, M. Delors is reappointed he will now be prepared to help to make the EC more open and accountable and wherever possible leave decision-making to member states?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, M. Delors has indicated that there needs to be a change of approach in the Commission. But that is not a new theme. He told the European Parliament on 12th December last year that subsidiarity is a guarantee against the spread of Community action and against worries about the encroachment of bureaucracy. We shall work with M. Delors during our presidency to put those sentiments into firm practice.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, can the Minister explain why the Government are reluctant to tell us how they will vote on 27th June? Is there any particular reason why the Government are reluctant? Has M. Delors done anything to offend them?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord knows full well that we are not always in agreement with M. Delors. It is right that we should have a proper discussion in Lisbon, and on the basis of that discussion we shall make up our minds.

Lord Boardman

My Lords, might there not be some advantage in continuing with the devil we know?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I have heard and read that very statement in respect of the Presidency of the Commission, but I think that we need to be very sensible about this. There are times when M. Delors attracts a great deal of public attention by his comments, as do other members of the Commission, but he is a highly competent man; and even the Daily Telegraph has said that today.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say whether the Prime Minister and M. Delors reached agreement on the precise definition of "subsidiarity"? If so, can she say what the agreed definition is?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to say that discussions are continuing about the detail of the word "subsidiarity". I have myself given some information in the past on that very subject. What I think is important is that we should have not just agreement between M. Delors and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister but among all 12 member states, which certainly do have a very good idea of what subsidiarity ought to be. We shall be working on that in our presidency.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that when considering the matter of reappointing M. Delors it is important to look at the other possible candidates in the frame? Despite M. Delors having been created a bit of a bogeyman, it may well be that he has been sufficiently chastened by his experiences over the past month or two to make him the best possible candidate for the next two years. Does she further agree that during those two years, especially during the first six months of those two years when we hold the presidency, we shall be in a position to line up a sensible successor to M. Delors? In particular, does she not agree that, under the tutelage of our right honourable friend the Prime Minister in the next six months, M. Delors may well improve as a president?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, as my noble friend said, M. Delors has many qualities, and on that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has also remarked. I believe that M. Delors has the most experience of any possible candidate for the job. Whatever the decision made in Lisbon about whether or not to reappoint him, M. Delors' term of office runs to 6th January 1993. In that period we shall be holding the presidency for the most part. We shall certainly be looking to a common decision among all member states about the presidency of the Commission for the future.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, on the assumption that Her Majesty's Government are prepared to extend what must be regarded as an exceptional degree of generosity to M. Delors in respect of his continued holding of the office, can the Minister say what assurances as to his future conduct Her Majesty's Government have received from him? Further, in the absence of anything in writing from the Commission as a whole in regard to its future conduct, can the noble Earl say whether they are prepared to accept verbal assurances in whatever dulcet terms—unusually dulcet terms—they may have been delivered?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I think that it is a bit much, even for the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, to expect me to answer that question in the affirmative. I really believe that M. Delors is serious about the changes that he and other Commissioners wish to see introduced. That is why, during the British presidency, it is vital that we ensure that the decisions that are made are decisions with which we can happily live.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, will the definition of subsidiarity include clarification of the article on subsidiarity in the Maastricht agreement which the former President of the European Court described as "unenforceable gobbledygook"?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I believe that my noble friend is putting together two quotations from the former President of the European Court. In my view, it is possible to have a clear definition of subsidiarity. I believe that we shall succeed in achieving that during our presidency.

Lord Monson

My Lords, despite M. Delors' last-minute conversion to the somewhat nebulous principle of subsidiarity, does the noble Baroness agree that M. Delors makes no secret of his passionate attachment to the ideal of a united states of Europe, broadly on the lines of the United States of America with all that that implies in terms of a single army, navy, air force and so on? Is that not totally contrary to what most people in this country and, in all probability, most people on the Continent actually want?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I believe that it is. However, I also believe that that is not what we shall get. Looking at the membership of the European Community as it is at present, and knowing what those member states think, we shall not have the sort of united states of Europe just described by the noble Lord.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, bearing in mind the fact that many members of the Conservative Party believe that M. Delors is a centraliser, a federalist and a corporatist, would it not be surprising if the Government were now to support an extension of his term of office? However, if they do so, will they tell M. Delors that a period of silence for the next two-and-a-half years would be most welcome?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I understand the noble Lord's frustration over the question. But, like many politicians—that is, both Socialist and Conservative—I do not think that one could bind even the President of the Commission to silence over the next few years.

Lord Elton

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that her highly successful and effective use of her diminishing voice affords a very good example of making maximum use of diminishing resources and that that should be urged on M. Delors for imitation by the Commission?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

Yes, my Lords.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, perhaps I may return to the original Question as the Chamber seems to he reflecting three replies—namely, yes, no, or do not know. Which reply has the Minister given us?

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

All three!

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I sought to make very clear to the House the fact that the decision will be taken at Lisbon by all the member states together.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, can my noble friend give the House the definition of the President of the European Commission? For example, will it devolve into some form of head of state and, if so, will we be threatened with the possibility of a state visit by M. Delors?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am sure that we shall continue to have many visits from M. Delors during our presidency over the next six months —that being the first of them. However, I believe that it is quite fair to say that we shall not have a single state. It is not something of which the Government, or this country, have ever been in favour. The president of the Commission is just that: he is the president of a Commission consisting of himself and 16 other members whose duty it is to propose the business in Europe. But it is the Council of Ministers that will continue to decide the outcomes.