§ 4.4 p.m.
§ Baroness Chalker of Wallasey
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on the Intergovernmental Conference which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The Statement is as follows:
"I should like to make a Statement on the forthcoming Intergovernmental Conference.
"Britain has a vision of Europe which is reflected in the White Paper which we are publishing today and which is entitled A Partnership of Nations. We want 755 to see a Europe that respects cultural and political diversity, which only does those things at the European level which need to be done at that level, which is outward-looking, free-trading, democratic and flexible: a partnership of nations working together to advance their national interests. The IGC is, of course, only one means available to us through which we intend to realise our objectives. We shall continue to work tirelessly in all the other fora for the same goal.
"Successive British Governments have seen the European Union as a means of safeguarding stability and creating prosperity in Europe. Of course there have been frustrations and controversies. But, overall, the UK has greatly benefited from more than 20 years of membership.
"So the Government approaches the launch of the Intergovernmental Conference at Turin on 29th March unambiguously committed to our membership of the European Union. We shall play a leading role in the Union as one of Europe's biggest and most powerful nations. Our voice is influential. We have helped shape the European Community in the past. Britain was the pioneer of the single market. We have been one of the leading advocates of enlargement and of a European Union open to the world.
"The Government believe the European Union will succeed only if it respects the integrity of the independent democratic nation states which comprise its membership; and if it is flexible enough to accommodate their political and cultural differences. The Government are totally opposed to a monolithic, centralised, federal Europe.
"The Treaty on European Union, like the original Treaty of Rome, calls for an 'ever closer union among the peoples of Europe', not, let it be noted, among the states of Europe or among their governments. This aspiration for strengthened co-operation and friendship across the whole of Europe is a noble one, fully shared by the Government. But it should not mean an ever closer political union in the sense of an inexorable drift of power towards supra-national institutions, the erosion of the powers of national parliaments, or the gradual development of a United States of Europe. The Government reject that conception of Europe's future. That is why it is crucial that national parliaments remain the central focus of democratic legitimacy. Europe must develop with the instincts of free people in free nations. As the European Union matures it needs a clearer sense of what it is and of what it should never aspire to be. These principles are closely adhered to in the White Paper.
"The Intergovernmental Conference is clearly important to the European Union's future. But it is not the only, or perhaps even the most important, challenge which the Union faces. Outside the Intergovernmental Conference, we must prepare for the enlargement of the Union to the east and south. That will involve the herculean task of reforming the Community's agricultural and regional policies.
756 Meanwhile we cannot ignore the urgent need to strengthen Europe's competitiveness and thereby generate new jobs. There will also be hard choices to make on a single currency and on the Union's future financing. These critically important matters do not fall within the scope of the Intergovernmental Conference, though the United Kingdom is developing clear and robust policies in each area.
"The Maastricht Treaty came into force little more than two years ago. We agree with the conclusion of the study group which was set up to prepare for the IGC that,the Conference should focus on necessary changes, without embarking on a complete revision of the Treaty".British objectives such as a major reform of the common agricultural policy do not need treaty amendment and will be taken forward in other negotiations.
"The IGC has yet to begin. In common with other member states, the Government are still considering their detailed approach. We may have further proposals to make as the negotiations proceed. The following represent our specific proposals for this Intergovernmental Conference.
"First, subsidiarity is the key to ensuring that the Union concentrates single-mindedly on doing what needs to be done at a European level, and only that. The UK introduced this vital concept into the treaty at Maastricht. The principle has been developed at subsequent European Councils. It is having the effect we intended. But more clarity is needed in the treaty itself. We will therefore bring forward proposals at the IGC to entrench subsidiarity still further in the treaty.
"Secondly, we are concerned at the way in which certain directives have been used or may be used for purposes that were never intended by the governments that agreed to them. For example, health and safety articles that may be used for social policy; or fiscal measures that may be added on to single market or environment proposals. Another example is in the common fisheries policy where the practice of `quota-hopping' is preventing fishing communities from enjoying a secure benefit from national quotas, thereby undermining their entire purpose.
"The Government do not believe that directives once enacted are irreversible and will press for treaty amendment if that proves to be the best way of ensuring that the original purpose of these directives is fully respected.
"Thirdly, the President of the Commission, Jacques Santer has said that the Union should do 'less but better'. Britain agrees. The volume of new legislative proposals being put forward has been falling rapidly, with only 19 proposals for principal legislation expected in 1996. This compares to 61 in 1990. But there is also an urgent need to improve the quality of European legislation. We shall be pressing for a range of measures to achieve this, including much wider consultation of interested parties via the Commission 757 before proposals are put forward, and the automatic withdrawal of proposals which are not adopted by the Council within a given period.
"Fourthly, Madam Speaker, national parliaments are the primary focus of democratic legitimacy, in the Union. This House, like the Government, rightly attaches importance to the role of national parliaments in EU decision-making. We have taken careful note of views expressed in a number of helpful reports by committees of this House. We are examining a range of ideas, including a binding period for parliaments to scrutinise Community documents before decisions are taken in the Council, and a greater role for national parliaments in the justice and home affairs pillar. The European Parliament, by contrast, already has a major role in the European legislative process, including a number of new powers acquired at Maastricht, some of which have yet to be fully tested. The Government do not, therefore, see the case for new powers for the European Parliament at the expense of national parliaments or governments.
"Fifthly, we believe that foreign and defence policy must remain the responsibility of national governments. The common foreign and security policy has, since its inception, achieved more than many had expected. It is in this country's national interest that members of the EU should speak and act together on the world stage where our objectives are the same. Our joint support for the Middle East peace process or for democratic institutions and market economies in central and eastern Europe are obvious examples. We shall be pressing for a more effective CFSP at the forthcoming conference. But, crucially, Britain believes that the CFSP must remain based on unanimity and be intergovernmental in character if it is to succeed. As the House knows, I put forward our ideas in a speech in Paris last week. Ultimately, the CFSP will only carry weight internationally if it represents a genuinely common policy, not a majority one.
"Sixthly, the IGC will also be considering the arrangements for European defence co-operation. The Government set out their approach in a full memorandum last year. That memorandum has been attached to the White Paper which is being issued today. We believe it would be useful to improve defence co-operation in Europe by closer co-operation between the European Union and the Western European Union. We do not, however, believe in the integration of these two bodies or the subordination of the WEU to the European Union. NATO must remain the bedrock of Western security. The European Union, four of whose member states are neutrals, and who are neither in NATO nor the WEU, cannot expect to take decisions on defence policy or on the use of military forces.
"Seventhly, co-operation in justice and home affairs will be of particular importance in the IGC because terrorism, organised crime, illegal immigration and drug trafficking are among the greatest challenges facing modern society. They require a co-ordinated, multi-national response.
758 Substantial progress has been achieved in the last few years in this area and Britain has proposals for improving this co-operation. But, as with CFSP, the Government believe that these issues must remain intergovernmental and subject to unanimity if they are to carry the support of the peoples of Europe. These are matters of high political sensitivity involving questions of national sovereignty.
"Eighthly, the European Court of Justice is another area where we shall be pressing for improvements at the IGC. Britain is committed to a strong and independent Court without which it would be impossible to ensure even application of Community law or to prevent abuse of power by the Community institutions. But the functioning of the Court can, and in the Government's view must, be improved. There is very great concern that the ECJ's interpretations sometimes seem to go beyond what governments intended when laws were framed.
"The Government are working up a number of proposals to enable the Court to address these concerns better. These include: strengthening the ability of the Court to limit retrospective application of its judgments; introducing the principle that a member state should only be liable for damages in cases of serious and manifest breach of its obligations; applying national time limits to all cases based on EC laws except where the member state's failure to implement a directive is in serious and manifest breach of its obligations; and internal appeals procedure; streamlined procedures for the rapid amendment of EC legislation which has been interpreted in a way which was never intended by the Council; an accelerated procedure for time-sensitive cases; and a treaty provision clarifying the application of subsidiarity in the interpretation of EC laws. The Government will shortly be issuing a memorandum setting out their proposals in detail.
"Ninthly, certain changes to the Council voting system will be necessary if the Union is to continue to function democratically in an enlarged Union. At present, the system of weighted votes is biased against the larger member states. There is growing acceptance across Europe that a way must be found to address this imbalance. Possible alternatives include changing the number of votes of larger countries so that population is better reflected. What is clear is that the system must not allow countries representing a significant percentage of the EU's population or the major net contributors as a group to be out-voted.
"Tenthly, as the Union enlarges to as many as 27 members it will be necessary to change the current policy whereby every member state, however small, has a commissioner and is responsible for a six-month presidency. Such a structure would quickly become unworkable in an enlarged Union.
"As the White Paper makes clear, there are a number of other specific areas where the Government see scope for improvements to the treaty at this IGC, including animal welfare and possible changes to the common fisheries policy as announced by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture last 759 week. There are many areas where the countries of the Union could and should co-operate more closely in their own national interests and in the interest of Europe as a whole. But at a time when there is concern about Europe trying to do too much, we do not believe that the rules on qualified majority voting in the treaty should be changed to make it easier to override national concerns in areas of particular sensitivity. That is why we will oppose the extension of majority voting at the IGC.
"Nor do we favour further harmonisation or the extension of Community competence in the area of employment. The need to create jobs is one of the highest priorities facing the European Union. But jobs cannot be wished into being simply by legislating for them. It is businesses that make jobs. That is why the Prime Minister negotiated Britain's Social Chapter opt-out at Maastricht. I can tell the House that our opt-out is here to stay.
"The Government approach this IGC with confidence and determination. The national interest of this country is the starting point for our approach since for all free nations the national interest can be defined as the collective expression of the democratic process. In many areas, our national interest coincides with that of our European partners and in those areas working with our partners enables our collective effort better to achieve our ends. We shall argue constructively for treaty changes to improve the operation of the Union. We want to strengthen the treaty so that Europe can face and overcome the challenges ahead and, in particular, so that we can prepare for further enlargement. As I have said, the conference is only one forum where we shall press for our vision of Europe. There are others and we shall argue robustly in all of them. Britain will be at the heart of the debate about the future of the European Union because it is our future and we can best shape our national destiny by working with our closest neighbours to make a strong and effective partnership of nations."
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness .for repeating the Statement made in another place. It was somewhat lengthy and I assure the House that I shall take nowhere near as long as the Minister. In that connection, we must do something about our procedures. I do not have quite the same volume of complaints, either in terms of sound or content, this afternoon as I did over Scott. However, the White Paper is detailed and to receive it, as one does on these occasions, relatively shortly before one has to rise to deal with the detail is a difficult task. As in all such matters, as the House knows, the devil is in the details, not in the Statement that is made upon them.
I start by expressing sympathy for the Minister in making the Statement. I suppose that one should express sympathy with the Government in totality because the impression that they are trying to give under all the verbiage is: "Here is a government committed to a 760 policy of ever-closer co-operation with our partners in Europe. But we're terribly sorry, we can't actually say so because we have problems within our own party and because of the divisions within the Conservative Party". Therefore, on the big issues the White Paper is silent.
On the little issues—or littler anyway—the White Paper has quite a lot to say, particularly on the veto. There is not a word on EMU, not a word on monetary union. Of course, that is an issue on which we might have trouble behind us. I also looked in vain for a mention of the word "referendum" throughout the paper, but there is nothing on it. Perhaps we will have trouble with the people sitting behind us if we mention that.
It is a predictable and somewhat pallid document. I sympathise with the Government's difficulties—good Europeans as some of them are—in dealing with their recalcitrant Back-Benchers. It is a document in which the Prime Minister, in the foreword, produces a ringing statement that,we should throw ourselves into the debate … with confidence and determination".He then produces a document in which the vision, when we come down to it, seems to resolve itself into animal welfare and what to do about the procedures of the European Court. That does not entirely ring true and it did not so far as I was concerned.
The problem is not new; it will not go away. If we wish to co-operate with our partners, we have to accept some of the disciplines and constraints that arise from that relationship. That is precisely what the Government cannot admit at present. In his foreword, the Prime Minister said that there is:a strong sense of shared purpose and common enterprise".One cannot achieve a shared purpose except by being openly prepared to share a common purpose. One cannot achieve a common enterprise except by being prepared to identify what the common enterprise is and say how one will co-operate with one's partners in pursuing those enterprises. In some ways, the most interesting part of the document is what it does not contain rather than what it does.
Perhaps I may turn to the Court, with which a considerable section of the White Paper deals. Will the Minister confirm that there are no proposals for altering the jurisdiction or competence of the European Court of Justice? There is a lot about procedures and matters of detail, and I shall be asking about that later. However, the central issue is whether the European Court shall continue to have the powers that it has been given in the treaty. As I understand it, there are no proposals or suggestions from the Government that that should be changed.
One point in the White Paper about the European Court slightly intrigued me. It asks for:streamlined procedures, for the rapid amendment of EC legislation which has been interpreted in a way which was never intended by the Council".Who is to decide what the Council intended or did not intend unless there is a far greater degree of openness in the procedures of the Council? Are the Government in favour of opening up the Council to such disclosure?
761 I may be wrong but I received the impression that it was not something that the Government were prepared to contemplate.
The White Paper mentioned the reform of the common agricultural policy. There are no proposals in the document about how the Government will set about reforming it. It would be interesting at some stage to hear about it. There is little in the document on unemployment, one of the major factors facing the countries of the European Union at the moment. There is a ritual attack upon the Social Chapter but no reference to the referendum or the EMU.
It is a White Paper of a government who are running scared of a considerable part of their own supporters. In my view, it is a blinkered document with little vision. The Government are extremely good at erecting windmills and then spending a great deal of time and effort tilting at them. There is a lot of windmill about the White Paper. Finally, the White Paper now having been produced, on our side we would expect an opportunity for an early debate on the details.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in thanking the Minister for repeating the full Statement which was made in another place on the White Paper on the IGC. Like the noble Lord, I have not had much opportunity to examine the White Paper in detail. It is attractively produced and we shall wish to consider whether the policies set out in it are as attractive to us on full examination.
I noticed with contentment, in a brief glimpse at the small print on page 33 that,Britain is irrevocably part of the European Union".I hope Euro-sceptics on both sides of this House will remember that statement as our debates develop.
I was also glad to see at the beginning a robust statement from the Government that overall the United Kingdom has greatly benefited from more than 20 years of membership. I also noted the commitment to play a leading role in the Union as one of Europe's biggest and most powerful nations. However, will the Minister tell the House how that is consistent with the generally negative tone of much of the main body of the Statement? It seems to us to be full of inconsistencies.
The United Kingdom is thoroughly committed to enlargement of the European Union; it is thoroughly committed to reform of the common agricultural policy. Is it not a fact that both those aims are achievable only on the basis of some extension of qualified majority voting? Yet the Government remain stubbornly opposed to any extension. How on earth do the Government seek to justify that position? The Statement is full of ambiguous language which, as we know very well since we have all been through this over the years, is designed to fudge the gap between the Government's serious commitment to European union and their appeasement of the Euro-sceptics within their own ranks.
The very title of the White Paper is typical of that approach: A Partnership of Nations. The whole thrust of the Statement, and what I was able to see of the 762 White Paper, provide a blueprint for Britain being a very junior partner of nations—and a very reluctant junior partner—within the European Union.
The truth that emerges in every sentence of the Statement is that the Government would just love it if only the European Union would decide to stand still. But the European Union will not stand still. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, said yesterday in a very interesting article in the Financial Times, the Government by their policy are deliberately excluding themselves from the inner core of the European Union that will shape developments which, as usual, we shall ultimately have to live with and adapt ourselves to, often when it is too late.
§ Baroness Chalker of Wallasey
My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Richard and Lord Thomson of Monifieth for their cautious welcome—not all their remarks—for the Statement. I apologise to both for the length of the Statement; but I felt it important to try to spell out, to those who may not have time for a few days to take in the whole of the White Paper, the broad outlines of what it covers. I did my very best to make sure that both noble Lords had a copy of the White Paper some one and a half hours before we began the Statement.
I agree that the detail is in the devil and perhaps I might reply right away—the devil is in the detail! It is amazing the effect that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, has upon me. The noble Lord asked for an early debate. I am sure that the usual channels heard his request, as we all did, and that it will be dealt with in the normal manner.
The reason that neither the White Paper nor my Statement covered the issues of EMU or the referendum is that these are not matters for the IGC; they are matters for the Government. So far as a referendum on a single currency is concerned, the Cabinet will decide whether to hold a referendum within weeks rather than months and the noble Lord will hear the news very soon.
The noble Lord went on to say that he thought the White Paper was predictable and padded. Or was it my Statement? It was probably both. We felt it important to put in one place all those elements of the discussions that had been going on in a rather unfocused way for far too long. That is why there may be many items which noble Lords know only too well. But at least the information is brought together in a comprehensive document in an effort to be helpful.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, also asked about openness and who would decide what was in line with the original intentions so far as the Court was concerned. I ask the noble Lord to read again paragraph 36, which states quite clearly that,The IGC will provide an opportunity to examine the role of the European Court of Justice".It goes on to give our view, our commitment to a strong, independent court, and explains in subsequent paragraphs exactly what we believe; namely, that the functioning of the Court could be further improved. Much of what is stated in those paragraphs is contained 763 in my Statement. The noble Lord is, however, quite right. I confirm that they are not proposals for a change in the jurisdiction.
The CAP is a matter at which we have to work. It is not a matter for the IGC. The IGC would probably get itself totally tied up if it were to face that as well. It is a matter for separate negotiation.
In regard to unemployment, we are absolutely clear. I have never made any secret of the fact in this House that to gain jobs, not only in this country but in the Community as a whole, is one of the most important aspects of what we need to do in Europe. It is absolutely right that we are showing a good performance in our economy and that our unemployment has fallen. One important reason why that has happened is that we are unfettered by the social chapter, and we intend to go on being unfettered by it. It is very important that unemployment is discussed, and also the positive side of employment creation. That is obviously a very big subject for other member states. In general this will all be subject to our debate, when it is held.
To reply to the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, I understand why he believes that many changes would come about as the result of an extension of qualified majority voting. However, I do not believe it to be in the best interests of the needs of this country to go down that path. That is why I spoke as I did. We are neither junior nor reluctant in the European Union. In many of the ideas that we have put to the European Union, we may have been a single voice, but they have eventually been accepted. One example is the concept of subsidiarity, which we wish to entrench further through the work of the IGC.
I do not believe that the European Union has to stand still. It cannot stand still. It will evolve. But it should evolve as a partnership of nation states, and the United Kingdom will play its full part in shaping that evolution of the European Union.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, will my noble friend say whether it is the intention of the Government at the forthcoming meeting to secure that there are no further examples of the European Court interfering in our social security system, and in particular altering the age entitlement for social security benefits, as it recently did, at an annual cost to the British taxpayer of £40 million? Will the Government secure that that does not happen again?
§ Baroness Chalker of Wallasey
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. The meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference which starts on 29th March in Turin will not be just one meeting. It will continue into next year.
Regarding the judgments of the ECJ, we are certainly working out proposals for the IGC to prevent the misuse of articles in the way my noble friend described. However, this is not just a straightforward matter concerning one area of government policy; it concerns a number of areas of government policy, and we shall do that most thoroughly.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, as a member of your Lordships' committee concerned with the 1996 IGC, I am glad to note that the proposals in the Statement follow very much the recommendations made by that committee. In particular, I am glad to see that two of its recommendations—that an extension of majority voting should he opposed and that the European Parliament should have no new powers at the expense of national parliaments—have been adopted in the Government's proposals.
I should like to ask the noble Baroness whether the question of the common fisheries policy will be actively pursued in the IGC. Can she give an assurance that the Government will not be satisfied with any arrangement that does not fully meet their case that quota-hopping has torpedoed the entire basis of the policy and therefore must be put right.
§ Baroness Chalker of Wallasey
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, for his comments. The work of your Lordships' committee on European affairs has been most useful, not only in the preparation of the White Paper but in many aspects of the European Union. I commend to the noble Lord paragraph 65 of the White Paper. The paragraph refers to the common fisheries policy. The penultimate sentence reads:The Government is determined to address [quota-hopping] and other problems in the Common Fisheries Policy and will explore every avenue for that purpose. If Treaty changes arc needed, we shall seek them".I hope that the noble Lord is satisfied with the approach that we take. We cannot at this time spell out all of the detail, but we intend to follow it through.
§ Lord Taverne
My Lords, I should like to put a further question about qualified majority voting. I understand the reluctance to see an extension of qualified majority voting to sensitive areas like defence. But how can the noble Baroness reconcile the immense benefits derived from the single market programme, made possible only through the extension of qualified majority voting, with an apparent reluctance to envisage any further qualified majority voting, even in areas such as third-party access to national energy markets where we have much to gain nationally?
§ Baroness Chalker of Wallasey
My Lords, I understand the point that the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, makes. However, this does not appear to be the time to extend qualified majority voting when across the whole of the European Union there is not popular concern for the growth of centralised decision making. It would give entirely the wrong signals and make it easier to overrule national governments. We need to keep unanimity for key constitutional and policy issues. I believe that there are issues that we have properly dealt with by QMV. The matter mentioned by the noble Lord, because it is a single market area, is probably one that should he covered by QMV. But I shall look again at what he said because I am not sure that I have entirely taken his point. I shall reply to him by letter.
§ Lord Shaw of Northstead
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on her Statement. I believe it to be a 765 thoroughly practical and worthwhile Statement. I hope that the whole country unites behind it and extends every good wish to all those who take part in the IGC later this month. It has been said that the EU will not stand still. I entirely agree. If it goes forward it must do so on sound and firmly-based foundations. There are practical matters which have to be discussed and examined in detail and proper solutions found in order that we can in confidence go forward into the future. I believe that many of the matters which have to be looked at closely are clearly and properly identified in the Statement.
I hope that during the forthcoming and continuing conference the basic need for financial regularity will not be neglected. I am afraid that this is a matter that I raise every time in dealing with the European Union. Until we can ensure at every stage that this is being achieved, any further enlargement of the Union will bring disaster, because the irregularities which currently exist, and which were shown in the last auditors' report, will become much greater should other countries to the east be brought in.
§ Baroness Chalker of Wallasey
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his comments. I thoroughly agree that there must be a sound base. I can assure him that in the continuing discussions of the IGC we will, as we always have done, continue to take the lead in the fight against fraud, waste and financial mismanagement. It was the United Kingdom who at Maastricht secured full institutional status for the European Court of Auditors, the statement of assurance—that is, the general audit of the Union's finances—greater status for the ECA's reports, and the obligation upon member states to treat fraud against the Union's budget as seriously as if it were fraud against national finances. It is absolutely crucial that we work on this matter prior to enlargement and continue to work on it. Just as one devises schemes to detect any fraud or bad dealings, so new ones are invented. It will not be something that comes to an end; it will be a continuing process, as it is in business and life in general.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, at the risk of not accelerating any differences that may conceivably exist between the Government and Her Majesty's Opposition on this matter, I should like to congratulate the Government in one respect. On page 7 of the White Paper they have reproduced, very conveniently, their views as to what progress may be made over the next five years. I find the diagrammatic form very convenient. It will certainly be helpful in holding the Government down to their own programme. I suggest that during the course of the proceedings outlined here the Government do not wait until the end before they report to Parliament on certain aspects that they achieve. It would be hopeless if a whole series of IGCs went on more or less indefinitely without Parliament being informed from time to time, on an interim basis, of what was being achieved.
The defect in the whole approach of the Government is that all the time it deals in generalities. For example, the Statement is replete with phrases such as "we see 766 the force of this", "we shall continue to work tirelessly towards", "we shall play a leading role", "we are totally opposed to", or "we must prepare for". All of those phrases are beloved of the Civil Service. If the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, had been present he would have been able to give a far more amusing comment than I am capable of doing.
Neither the White Paper nor the Statement addresses the existence of institutional powers, particularly those exercised by the Commission, which were certainly not anticipated at the time the treaty was signed or the various directives determined. In particular, I refer to the concept of subsidiarity. The Government must be aware—and both Opposition parties should be aware—of the endeavours that are being made by the Commission in bypassing national parliaments. The House should be aware of the efforts that are being made to enable the Commission to establish lines of communication and powers of legislation and direction, excluding member states, directly with the regions. It is happening all the time on a gradual basis. There are now conferences between the Commission and various local authority interests. It has already divided Europe into four different zones based on the various authorities that belong to them.
We have to be aware of this point. It is one thing to emphasise, as the noble Baroness has done today, the importance of the nation state, which I trust my own party will also endorse. It is another thing altogether to tolerate the progressive growth of Community powers exercised by the Commission direct to the regions inside the Community rather than through the member states. I hope that some endeavour will be made to correct that development.
Apart from that I wish to congratulate the noble Baroness and to say that I trust that nothing I have said has determined the coalition on this matter that presently exists between all three parties as to the essential validity of Maastricht.
§ Baroness Chalker of Wallasey
My Lords, I am always careful to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, for his remarks but afterwards to re-read them three or four times over to make sure I really do know what I have let myself in for. He was certainly very generous in describing the diagram on page 7 as helpful. I, too, found it extremely helpful. To have it all in one place saves an endless number of pieces of paper.
The noble Lord asked that we should keep your Lordships informed during the negotiations. At the conclusion of any set of negotiations it may be possible to do so but obviously not during the negotiations. It would be foolish to reveal more widely in the middle of negotiations something that was happening before we had secured the things we are after, which I outlined in the Statement and which are stated in the White Paper.
I do not think the Statement is full of generalities, as the noble Lord tried to say. To state that one is totally opposed to something is pretty clear. I understand very well his concern about institutional powers but I do not believe that the Commission would be successful if it tried to bypass the established communication lines to national governments. I have to point out to the noble 767 Lord that many Labour Members of the European Parliament have encouraged regionalisation because they believe it to be in the best interests of the regions of this country to have a direct line to Brussels. I can understand why that is seen, superficially at least, to be a quick way of doing things. But it will not fit unless it also fits with the policy of the national government of the day. Therefore, in dealing with regional matters, it is essential that the government of the country concerned are also involved in what is happening in their regions. That is something the Government seek to ensure the Commission never forgets. If the noble Lord re-reads paragraph 33 on page 15, and re-reads what I have said this afternoon, he will see that we are second to none in believing that national parliaments must remain the primary focus of democratic legitimacy.
§ Lord Lester of Herne Hill
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Moran, I had the privilege of serving on the IGC sub-committee. I very much welcome the fact that in the Statement there is strong support for the role of the independent court in deciding what the law is and what European legislation is meant to be. However, there are two aspects of the Statement that I do not entirely understand. I should be very grateful to the Minister if she could deal with them.
First, do the Government agree or disagree with the IGC sub-committee when we say that at present no suitable tribunal is available, apart from the European Court, which could sensibly be given the job of interpreting and applying conventions drawn up under the justice and home affairs pillar? It is not clear to me whether the Government have accepted that.
Secondly, there is a reference to entrenching subsidiarity in the treaty. Is there not a danger that by doing that and making it, as lawyers would say, justiciable, we would turn the European Court into one that had to deal with political questions rather than legal questions? If that is not to be the position, who in the system will decide how the principle of subsidiarity is to be interpreted and enforced?
§ Baroness Chalker of Wallasey
My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord's second question, it is clear that the role of the Commission, the European Parliament and the European Court should continue to be strictly limited. That is exactly what we say in dealing with the whole question of justice and home affairs, in which I know the noble Lord is extremely interested. The answer which he seeks about the recommendations on the ECJ of your Lordships' sub-committee is one to which I shall return because a final decision has not been taken upon it.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, I hope that the Government will be successful when they start these negotiations. However, can my noble friend give more details about the sentence on which the whole of her Statement is based? One sentence at the beginning of the Statement refers to the benefits we have already derived from being a member of the European Union and suggests that we ought to look with sympathy at remaining there, extending our commitment and moving in certain directions. Can my noble friend give a list 768 of the benefits we have obtained through being in the European Union? I should like to know what those benefits arc. When I have had a brief answer on occasions the Government have mentioned an increase in trade. But that has nothing to do with membership of the Union. That has happened because we have become more competitive and have offered better quality. I should like a clear explanation to justify the statement that because of the benefits we have already derived from our membership we ought to go on with it.
When subsidiarity was first announced I asked the Government to define it. I asked what was the meaning of subsidiarity. At the time I said that it meant that any decisions we make here will automatically be accepted by the others because under subsidiarity, with our special knowledge of our own affairs, that is what should happen. However, that is not the definition that others have applied and it certainly is not the definition that has applied in the way we have been dealt with. I should like a list of the great advantages that have been brought to my country as a consequence of our membership of the European Union.
§ Baroness Chalker of Wallasey
My Lords, my noble friend has raised this issue on many occasions. He asks about benefits to the United Kingdom. Many of the benefits are indeed in industry. The majority of respondents to a CBI survey last November showed clearly that they had greater trade opportunities and efficiency savings. Many of those things could not have happened without our membership of the European Union. I can refer my noble friend to all types of information but I shall not give him a list at the Dispatch Box today. I ask him to read the introduction. If, when he has read that and the other material that is available, he then wants a list, I shall write to him.
My noble friend referred to subsidiarity. If he reads the whole of paragraphs 20 and 20(a) of the White Paper he will find exactly what we have always said. Subsidiarity is only to do, at European level, those things which will bring benefits which cannot be achieved by member states acting alone. I believe that that has been clear throughout our debates in the nearly four years that I have been privileged to be a Member of your Lordships' House.
§ Lord Finsberg
My Lords, perhaps I may thank my noble friend for what she said on the issue of defence.