HL Deb 12 July 1995 vol 565 cc1673-5
The Clerk of the Parliaments

Lord Pearson of Rannoch.

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

My Lords, no.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that reply, but I believe that it is in order for me to put the Question before she answers. I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they consider that widening the European Union to include new member states is likely to lead to an increase in the powers of the European Commission and other Community institutions at the expense of the sovereignty of national parliaments.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I must apologise to my noble friend and the House for that error, but I was so keen to give my noble friend the Answer. No. There is no reason why further enlargement should change the broad balance of powers within the European Union.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that reply, by which I take it she confirms that there will be no extension of the qualified majority vote or any loss of our veto under Article N of the treaty. In view of my noble friend's robust reply, does she agree with me that any future widening of the Community should give the UK the opportunity to achieve the variable geometry, or different nations moving at different speeds towards perhaps different European goals—the variable geometry so favoured by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, and, I would hope, favoured by the Foreign Office and even perhaps the Treasury?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the treaty retains unanimity for highly sensitive issues of treaty change, accession and own resources, and certainly that will continue. Recent evidence suggests to us that unanimity does not prevent decisions being reached on highly difficult issues. We do not anticipate more qualified majority voting; the Prime Minister has made that clear many times over. I can also agree with my noble friend that widening should allow us to achieve the very variable geometry which indeed has been something this country has worked successfully for and which many other countries are now working for.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, does the Minister agree that in current circumstances, or certainly in an enlarged Community, qualified majority voting as it is now would not necessarily be helpful to the UK?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord is not referring to qualified majority voting; he is referring indirectly to the balance in the number of votes. As he well knows, that is a matter for further discussion because the large nations in the European Union feel that they are sometimes not well looked after by the current system. But that does not mean extending QMV.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, surely the addition to the Community of a number of well run democratic states, as is proposed, will, if anything, diminish the influence of the central authority and will help also to offset the predominance which exists at the moment of France and Germany.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. We have to have a better balance. That is essentially what he is saying, and we agree. We know also that one cannot force 15, let alone 20 or more members, as we may well be in the next 10 years, into the same mould. As a cook, I can tell my noble friend that putting too much mixture into a vessel and cooking it too hard will break that vessel. We had better take things step by step. I believe also that it is important that we conform where necessary but ensure that flexibility is the name of European Union relationships.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, is it not a major UK interest to see the major reform of the CAP? Will not that be promoted by the enlargement of the Community? Does the Minister believe that that kind of reform of the CAP in an enlarged Community can be brought about without qualified majority voting?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the answer is yes to the noble Lord's first two questions. We must think carefully about how we reform the CAP. Unless we do, it is becoming clearer and clearer that the enlargement of the Community cannot take place. I believe that it can be done without forcing a situation, as some would have us do, where we move to qualified majority voting on something which has a major financial implication.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, would my noble friend care to re-read the Question? She says that there is no reason for an increase in the powers of the Commission. Of course not; there never has been. However, the Question is whether she thinks it likely.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my answer to whether I thought it likely was no.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, the Minister was kind enough to indicate that she thought that the broad balance of powers between the institutions would continue more or less unchanged. Within that context, would she confirm that the Commission will retain the absolute and exclusive power given to it under the Treaty of Maastricht to originate all proposals?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I would have thought that by now my good friend the noble Lord would have realised that that is not quite how the reality occurs. It may be a formal matter that the Commission proposes but, before one ever has a proposal from the Commission, the amount of discussion is something which I have learned to respect. During that pre-discussion and pre-proposal phase we must remain at the heart of Europe in order to influence what arises in the first place.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, will my noble friend help me on the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson? She says that she hopes the Community will be widened in the next 10 years. A committee of your Lordships' House found that it was totally impossible to do that with the common agricultural policy in its present state. The CAP takes 50 per cent. of direct expenditure and about 20 per cent. of indirect expenditure. In other words, it takes about 70 per cent. of the European budget. That must be reformed. How does the Minister see that being done root and branch, which is the only way that it can happen?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, there is only one answer to my noble friend's question; it is by discussion and hard work. We must recognise the kind of agricultural policy that we all need and how it affects markets world wide. We must also recognise the need to develop the agricultural markets of the developing nations.

Lord Richard

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I was pleased to hear her say that she did not foresee that a widening of the Community would result in any great change in the balance between its different institutions? Is she also aware that I share her views on the way in which the Commission works? However, may I urge the Minister not to be over-mathematical in her approach to the way in which the Community will develop? The trouble with mathematics is that all too frequently it ceases to be variable and flexible, which is what we need.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I agree about flexibility. As a mathematician and a statistician, I learnt a long time ago not to put all my faith in figures but to look at what lies behind them.

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