§ House again in Committee on Clause 1, Amendment No. 14.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
I strongly support Amendment No. 45. I am concerned about the anomalous situation in Gibraltar, for which the UK is responsible, and the lack of transparency throughout the many negotiations with the EU which have concerned that territory. Thanks to British advice, Gibraltar long ago stayed out of the Customs Union. She is equally disadvantaged, thanks to Spanish pressure, in matters of air liberalisation and on a number of other issues. But, worst of all, we allowed ourselves to be out-manoeuvred by Spain at Amsterdam on the Schengen issue. That has already been outlined by my noble friend and I shall not, therefore, rehearse it again.
However, Gibraltar has had constantly to find out for itself what clauses in the Amsterdam and the EU treaties may render that territory yet more vulnerable to Spanish harassment, and to warn Her Majesty's Government rather than the other way round. It appears that they cannot or will not secure for Gibraltar even some of the special funding and support which the French overseas departments—and, indeed, some British overseas territories—enjoy from the EU. Gibraltar has no voice in the UK either and seems to have none of the advantages and all of the drawbacks of a dependent territory.
Under Article 227(4) of the Treaty of Rome, Gibraltar is an integral part of the EU. That article applies to European territories for which a "Member State is responsible", yet Gibraltar was not invited to comment on the IGC or to have its views considered. There seems to have been a lamentable failure to consult in time to keep Gibraltar informed and, most of all, to act effectively to protect her interests. I therefore strongly support the amendment and I urge that Gibraltar should be given some way to vote for its own future, if not in the EU then in the United Kingdom.
Other Members of the Committee will have received today, as I did, a note from the Self-Determination for Gibraltar Group which makes two relevant points. First, 92 why have Her Majesty's Government not yet rejected the Spanish proposal for a period of joint Spanish/British sovereignty, leading to full Spanish sovereignty? Secondly, what are the Government's reservations on recognising the right of Gibraltarians to self-determination? What possible argument could be advanced in the EU or, for that matter, in the UN, for handing over a territory to the very power which has consistently harassed it and which is an alien power? All this is very relevant to the related issue of the veto and QMV.
Surely this is a case where we should be free to exert the Luxembourg compromise if the worst comes to the worst and Spain continues to attack the human rights and the economic survival of Gibraltar. I shall be wholly unimpressed by anything the Government may say about human rights or transparency if the Gibraltar issue is not properly and honourably resolved and Spain's disgraceful behaviour exposed.
§ Lord Molyneaux of Killead
I should like to express my support for the noble Baroness. The exclusion of Gibraltar from the right to vote in Europe in elections seems to most people, on this side of the water and where I live in Northern Ireland, to be indefensible. Admittedly we in Northern Ireland are accustomed to having all manner of exotic devices imposed upon us. I imagine that at election time we shall have another tranche of them. But this measure really is the limit. I understand that 30,000 people in Gibraltar regard themselves as British. I refer also to other European Union nationals of other countries who happen to have the misfortune—in the eyes of the bureaucrats—to live in Gibraltar. All of them are denied the right to vote in European elections.
Whatever rather bogus arguments may have been proposed in 1978, the situation of Gibraltar has altered significantly. The European Parliament has acquired a much more extensive role in legislation which applies to Gibraltar, even to the extent of compelling the authorities in Gibraltar to embody certain directives and new laws in their arrangements. Yet in the electoral sense they will not have a say. It is even more staggering to note that French and Spanish territories on the continent of Africa are given full voting rights in European elections. To my simple mind it is difficult to extend the European Union across the Mediterranean to another continent. That seems not only illogical but indefensible. At this end of the Building we debate matters calmly. I hope that we can arrive calmly at some measure of agreement and put to right something which is quite indefensible.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
In a few moments I shall refer to the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, and the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, in their interesting speeches on Gibraltar. I shall for a moment or two address the wider issues. I find it hard to believe that the Schengen opt-out is of any great permanency. It was a convenient way of dealing with a difficult problem at the time. Denmark and the Republic 93 of Ireland opted out of the Schengen agreement. I believe that Denmark wanted to do so but that the Republic of Ireland did not.
The logic of the Schengen agreement is bound almost inevitably to "suck in" the countries that have presently opted out. I refer to having separate sets of policies with regard to third country residence. That raises difficult questions as regards the mobility of senior managers. To have separate visa requirements poses difficult questions. The issue of how to deal with refugee and asylum cases will produce the most horrendous problems for Her Majesty's Government, as those countries that are within the Schengen agreement will be inclined to export some of their problems to those countries that are outside the agreement. I do not say that with any prejudice because I think it is almost inevitable that a country which opts out of an arrangement which then becomes mutual is likely to be the one that loses most in terms of the advantages of such an arrangement.
The poor Minister is always being asked many questions. I shall try to keep mine as brief as possible and as relevant as possible. As regards those countries which are within the Schengen agreement—most of the treaty, including Articles 73J, 73K and 73M, concerns the situation within the Schengen agreement—why is there such a clear reference in the treaty to a three-month period of travel? It seems to me that this is profoundly restrictive. I do not understand why the period of three months is reiterated in the treaty, especially given the importance of trying to encourage people to study, to work, and to work as managers in other countries within the European Union. First, can the Minister throw any light on the reiteration of the three-month period, as if it were, in a sense, central to the granting of visas? Are we right in thinking that it is? Will there be a quite different procedure for people who arrive for more than three months than for those who arrive for less than three months if they are third party nationals? If so, on what basis do we justify this bureaucratic limit?
My second question concerns visas. Will Her Majesty's Government work with the other countries of the European Union on an informal or a co-operative basis with regard to those third country nationals who are neither members of the European Union—who would clearly be within the agreement—or who are members of the Commonwealth? Do the Government envisage any continuing special relationship for those Commonwealth countries which already have substantial numbers of their fellow citizens in this country as regards giving them some degree of preference over other third country nationals?
My third and most serious question concerns asylum and refugee policy. I shall not mince my words. A proper asylum and refugee policy has to be balanced between the need to prevent the swamping of a country by huge numbers of people coming in largely for economic reasons—clearly in our present deeply unequal world two-thirds of the world would like to move into one-third of the world as they would gain far better opportunities than they will enjoy at home—and the absolutely essential requirement that those who have 94 the courage to be political refugees in situations where there are major issues of principle at stake should be offered asylum. I take the example of courageous men and women in Nigeria who risk their lives and their safety for the sake of democracy. Are we to take the view that there are no political refugees at all and therefore we do not need to make provision for them?
Within the treaty there is a reference to that profoundly forgotten document; namely, the Dublin convention on asylum and refugees. There are some other references to the minimum conditions—I use the phrase from the treaty—applied to asylum status, refugee status, the reception of such people, their treatment and the way in which their claims are dealt with. I have recently read the report on Campsfield. Anyone who has read that report cannot for one moment pretend that this country has anything to teach our European neighbours, or they anything to teach us, in this regard. The record of Europe has moved from being excellent to being frankly disgraceful. Germany and Scandinavia and for a long time Great Britain had excellent records of offering asylum to genuine refugees. There are such people. Today all three countries are running away as fast as they can from the inheritance of the past.
I recognise fully that this matter presents us with most acute difficulties. The next decade will be a decade when people seek asylum by any means they can. The position will become more and more difficult. In no way do I hold Her Majesty's Government responsible for the endlessly lengthening queues. But we must have a sensible, reasonable and agreed policy for dealing with political refugees who are genuine cases. We must be humane in dealing with the cases that we do not accept as valid cases of asylum. We must recognise—here the treaty's words are correct—that there has to be a balance of responsibility between the member states of the European Union, or otherwise we shall simply find that we export the problem from one to the other in a kind of lurid form of pass-the-parcel in which human beings constitute the parcel and European states the players. I should be grateful for comments from the Minister on what I believe is one of the most difficult issues that we shall discuss tonight and one to which neither Schengen nor opting out of Schengen offers any satisfactory answer.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
I hope I may ask a further question which arises from what the noble Baroness has said. So long as we are not members of Schengen, are we obliged to abide by the EU negative visa list to which the noble Baroness has referred, which contains an extraordinary anomaly that it includes countries such as India, Pakistan, Zambia, and many countries of the Commonwealth with whom we are on the closest and most longstanding terms, but, according to the EU's rules, we are required to ask them for visas? Are we required to do that or not? It is pretty odd that Latin American countries, whose nationals might be 95 supposed to be bringing drugs into Europe, are not on the list. I hope that the Minister will give me a clear answer. Do we have to recognise that list or not?
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
If the noble Baroness will forgive me, I had not completely finished what I had to say. I apologise, because I looked as if I was about to finish, but then I remembered that I had promised to say something about Gibraltar.
Let me make two comments about Gibraltar. First, I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, about the illogic of excluding Gibraltar from having some voice in European elections. As long as Gibraltar is regarded in the European Union treaties as being associated with and in effect part of the United Kingdom, I believe that there must be some means of representation. If that means of representation is to make Gibraltar part of some other European Union constituency, so be it. What is crucial is that the voice of Gibraltarians should be represented in the European Parliament.
My second point on Gibraltar is perhaps more contentious. On this I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. With regard to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Parks, I simply want to say—contentiously, if you like—that I believe that in the long run a solution may be found along the lines of that which is emerging in the Belfast agreement, where there would be some broad discussion with Spain but a recognition that self-determination must be the final criterion, but where Spain is brought in to discuss the logistics and transport issues that arise from Gibraltar's geographical placement. I regard the Belfast agreement as possibly a model for far beyond Northern Ireland. I am delighted to see that the noble Lord is nodding in agreement.
§ Lord Moynihan
It is important that in the context of this Committee stage we bear in mind the important comment made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, who referred to the logic, as far as Schengen is concerned, of being sucked in, whether or not we particularly want to be. The implications there are very clear. When we consider the impact of Schengen, it is important for us to concentrate on the contribution that she has made.
Throughout the Committee proceedings I have sought from a variety of Ministers one of what are almost three Opposition pillars, the first being clarification, the second being an analysis of policy differences, and the third views on areas where we in Opposition believe that the Government have been incompetent in handling the negotiations. I regret in many ways that it falls to the Minister who will be at the Dispatch Box in a moment to answer charges of incompetence, but they are important and they will be analysed in some detail, not least because they have been referred to by my noble friend and definitely affect Gibraltar.
Before I come to the conflicting views and statements from the Government regarding Gibraltar, I should say that I have tabled new Clause 45 which seeks to correct this most grievous example of the sheer incompetence 96 of the Government's negotiations at Amsterdam. As I said in the Second Reading debate, the early hours of the morning appear to be a particularly low point for the Government's ability to negotiate, as is amply demonstrated by the negligent negotiation of the Schengen acquis. This agreement will move those countries who have chosen to participate in it towards a European Union without common border controls.
The Opposition welcomed the Government's seamless transition of policy in retaining sovereignty over Britain's border controls through the legal binding protocol to the treaty, although I hope that the Government recognise that our support on this is not surprising in the light of the agreement reached in March when a complete British opt-out on border controls was first agreed in principle before the general election. The Government are absolutely right to proclaim that this is a major achievement. That is exactly what it was: a Major achievement with a capital "M".
To put this point firmly on the record, let me refer to an article in the Financial Times in February 1997 which supports this claim:After a decade of battling against pressure to open up the frontiers as part of the EU's single market, the UK now seems certain to be offered an "opt-out" from a new treaty agreement which is expected to set 2001 as the target for banishing customs and police checks at national ports. Mr. Michael Patijn, the Minister for European affairs in the Netherlands, said it was now an accepted political fact that the UK's borders would not be given up in the interests of European Union integration".I am also pleased that the Government have overcome their opposition to opt out:We reject permanent opt-outs or 'variable geometry'".Time prevents me from indulging in a semantic argument over what I understand I must call the Government's right to opt in to any part of the proposals to establish a new area of freedom, security and justice.
This change to the third pillar of justice and home affairs represents the biggest change in the treaty, a point which has been recognised and echoed on many sides of the Chamber. It also represents the single largest transfer of the powers of member states to the Community contained in the treaty. Policy on asylum, immigration and visas will no longer be agreed intergovernmentally; instead we shall be "communitarised" within the European Union first pillar, into which the Schengen frontier zone will also be gradually integrated. This will allow the Commission to initiate proposals, and the institutions of the community will also participate. The European Parliament will be given a full role in these affairs, and the European Court will have legal review powers.
The creation of an area of freedom, security and justice was a main priority for other states to allow freedom of movement for people to become as much a reality as freedom of movement for goods and services. This has major constitutional importance, for, after five years, qualified majority voting will be introduced on these decisions if two-thirds of member states agree to this. This introduction of QMV after five years is critical.
97 I refer Members of the Committee to the fact that, to guarantee that an area of freedom, security and justice is established gradually in the Community, that five-year period from the entry into force of the treaty during which the Council will continue to take decisions by unanimous vote came against an interesting background. At the end of five years, Community decision-making procedures may be introduced if at least two-thirds of member states agree. In fact, it was pressure from Germany's 16 Länder, which share responsibility for immigration with the federal government, which caused Bonn to reverse its position on integrating justice and home affairs. On its insistence, such decisions will remain subject to such unanimous approval for the time being, as I have outlined. Some Länder, such as Bavaria, fear that co-ordinated European immigration policies could grant third-country residents living in one European Union country the same rights of movement as European Union citizens. They have insisted that Germany retains a veto on all issues of immigration policy. The treaty aims to remove obstacles to free movement and to strengthen the means available for maintenance of security. All frontier checks and internal border controls will be abolished, with one heavily policed external border ringing participant countries.
The Prime Minister told us:what we have secured, which is important and a better way of going about things, is what I call an opt-in. We have the power within the Treaty to go into any of these areas if we want to. If we do not want to, we need not, but if we do, no other country can block us"—[Official Report, Commons; 18/6/97; col. 319.]I do not believe that that statement is correct. Subsequently the Foreign Secretary indicated that the Prime Minister's statement referred only to new Title IIIa on asylum, immigration and visas. That is indeed correct, but this seems a little strange since the Prime Minister's next sentence used the example of the Schengen acquis to illustrate his point. If the Minister tells me that the Prime Minister's statement applies only to Title IIIa on asylum, immigration and visas, can he explain to the Committee the distinction between the asylum, immigration and visa provisions under Title IIIa and the provisions of the Schengen acquis, the relationship between that title and the Schengen agreement, and, further, how the Schengen agreement will be incorporated into the treaties?
I seek clarification from the Minister on the issue of Article 4 of the protocol integrating the Schengen acquis into the framework of the European Union. I beg the indulgence and patience of the Committee while I dissect this extremely sorry saga in some detail, not least because of its importance to the people of Gibraltar.
It is my understanding that, as a result of negligence on the part of the Foreign Secretary, a late amendment by the Spanish Prime Minister, José María Aznar, was accepted into the treaty by default in the early hours of the morning of 18th June, meaning that any member state, including Spain, would have a veto over future opt-ins to the Schengen acquis which will be decided by unanimity rather than by qualified majority voting.
98 That potentially hands the Spanish a powerful bargaining chip with which to exact concessions over Gibraltar. I repeat the question of the noble Lord's colleague, the Labour Member for Wrexham, to the Foreign Secretary, when he wanted to know whether this had happened simply becauseHer Majesty's Government do not care about Gibraltar and give it a low priority, or was it just a government cock-up?"—[Official Report, Commons, 25/11/97; col. 754.]The Government have compounded that negligence and blunder by their utter failure to produce a clear, consistent and coherent explanation of what actually happened. Let us hope that we shall receive one tonight. But to date we have heard a catalogue of confused and contradictory explanations. It is important that the Committee is aware of those, because the Foreign Secretary's first explanation for the blunder was that it had been a "misunderstanding", and that the Dutch presidency's note-keeping was, "not as much as we would have wished it to be". That gave the impression that the Foreign Secretary had failed to challenge the Spanish Prime Minister's late amendment, perhaps, I venture, as a result of the lateness of the hour.
But three weeks later, the Foreign Secretary gave another explanation. He had indeed challenged the amendment, and it was withdrawn by the Spanish, only to reappear mysteriously in the text of the treaty when the Foreign Secretary received it "a week later". He explained that mysterious re-emergence as the result of a deal done between the Spanish Government and the Dutch presidency which was kept secret from the other member states and incorporated into the treaty after the negotiations had finished. He explained that,there was no cock-up in the Amsterdam Treaty negotiations".I rather think that the government and people of Gibraltar think otherwise.
I sincerely hope that such hole-in-the-corner deals between member states following the conclusion of intergovernmental summits are not common. Certainly they do not inspire confidence in the European decision-making process.
But then, the Minister of State gave a third explanation, which contradicted that of his own Foreign Secretary. The Minister explained that the deal was not in fact done after the negotiations, but during the summit on the night of 16th/17th December before the negotiations had finished, but that it was still kept a secret from the other member states and incorporated into the treaty without their knowledge, although the United Kingdom found out about it a day after the summit concluded, when it received a copy of the revised treaty text on 19th June and not "after a week", as the Foreign Secretary had alleged.
On closer examination in another place, the Minister of State gave a fourth explanation: that it was in fact both—a deal done between the Dutch presidency and the Spanish Government in the margins of the summit and discussed afterwards, "when it was discovered there was a difference of historic interpretation".—[Official Report, Commons, 4/12/97; col. 568.]
99 Worse still, in alleging that the text of the treaty was changed, to the detriment of the United Kingdom, as the result of a private deal between two member states which was not communicated to the rest of the Council, the Government have managed to portray themselves as cuckolded by the Dutch presidency and the Spanish Government.
The Foreign Secretary has also effectively accused the Dutch Government of lying about whether a challenge to the amendment was made. He has effectively accused the same member state of inefficiency by criticising its note-keeping, although subsequently the Minister of State claimed that there were in fact no provisions for minutes to be taken or for a record.
I should like clarification on this matter. Is it the case that there was absolutely no provision for a record of the meeting in question? Is it not the case that the negotiations were recorded by the Dutch presidency? Would it be possible for the Government to clarify all of this by releasing those tapes in order to clear up the matter? What representations did the Foreign Secretary make to the presidency of the European Union about the bilateral agreement between Spain and the Dutch presidency? Was that matter raised as a priority at the Luxembourg Summit last December as it should have been for the people of Gibraltar?
The Dutch Government have, unsurprisingly, clearly been concerned by these extraordinary allegations in relation to the behaviour of two member states. They wrote to the British Government as long ago as 16th July. Given the Government's commitment to open government and transparency, not to mention their dislike of fraud, will they give the Committee an assurance this evening that that letter will be published?
It may be argued by some that the question of an opt-out is a technical point. That is neither our view nor that of the Foreign Office. When I say it is not the view of the Foreign Office, let me quote from the Foreign Office's memorandum to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which states:There may, however, be aspects of the Schengen acquis unrelated to the removal of frontier controls in which the United Kingdom will want to take part when the Schengen arrangements are brought within the EU Treaties … there may be areas of co-operation, notably on the fight against crime and drugs, where we will want to participate",far further than potentially being sucked in at some stage in the future. That is a direct and clear view expressed by the Foreign Office about the current benefits in areas where the Government may wish to participate in the Schengen acquis. I give way to the noble Baroness.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
I am grateful to the noble Lord. I simply wish to clarify that when I use the phrase "sucked in" I mean sucked in essentially by the circumstances of organised crime and the movement of immigrants and refugees, not by some conspiracy.
§ Lord Moynihan
I had hoped that we had moved on from a clear explanation of the hole-in-the-corner affair to look at areas of the Schengen acquis where the noble 100 Baroness's point is well made. I refer not only to the potential for being sucked in in the future. Already, in Foreign Office memoranda, there are clearly stated areas where today it might be in the interests of the Government to pursue closer involvement with Schengen, not least, as the areas that the noble Baroness mentioned, in the fight against crime and drugs.
It may well be that the Foreign Secretary has secured the declaration of the whole Council which sets out that admission to the Schengen acquis would be on the basis of an opinion of the Commission. I wish to know from the Minister whether the declaration is legally binding in the same way as an amendment to the treaty.
I say that it is not the view of the Foreign Office that the opt-in is a technical point. It clearly is not. Nor is it the view of the Labour MP for Thurrock who has said that future UK governments may wish to opt in, that Article 4 substantially disadvantages Gibraltar for the future and that it puts a powerful tool at the disposal of the Spanish foreign ministry. He too wanted an explanation and he, too, as another Labour Member of Parliament, agreed that the episode illustrated how not to conduct negotiations.
But even if this lapse does not have serious consequences—and we on these Benches very much hope that it does not—it does not lessen the fact that the Foreign Secretary's negotiation being negligent the matter should be brought before this Committee and answers sought from Ministers. Without clarification one is left with lingering doubts about the Government's competence in negotiation, their ability to protect and enhance British interests in all future negotiations, and, frankly, a suspicion of gross dereliction of duty.
Was this what the Foreign Secretary had in mind when he spoke of Britain's "transformed" relations with our European partners? I sincerely hope that the episode is not an example of Britain being respected as a constructive partner with which the other countries of Europe can do business; that it is not an example of the Government getting a better deal for Britain as a result of their new co-operative approach. I hope it is not an example of how the Government intend to make Britain's voice heard in Europe. Rather, it makes a mockery of the Government's claims that their approach to negotiating in Europe is successful.
I have gone into the incident in some detail. I do so not just to highlight incompetence in negotiation. I do so first and foremost because every member of Gibraltar's government, everyone within Gibraltar, and many people in both Houses are very concerned about the implications of this late-night slip-up, whichever of the four different interpretations one may care to believe. Maybe we shall have a fifth tonight; I hope not. I hope we shall have clarification of exactly what happened. The people of Gibraltar should know. That is why I believe that it is important that the Committee has the opportunity to consider Amendment No. 45.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
It may be helpful if, first, we are clear in our minds which amendments we are talking about. The amendment moved was Amendment No. 14 which would exempt the whole of 101 Title IIIa, new Title IV, from the treaty. We follow with Amendment No. 15, which is concerned with Article 73j on border checks and visas; Amendment No. 16, concerned with Article 73k on asylum, refugees and immigration policy; Amendment No. 17, concerned with Article 73m on judicial co-operation in civil matters having cross-border implications; and Amendment No. 18, concerned with Article 73o, which, in turn, is concerned with the decision-making process and the review, which is referred to in the treaty, of the unanimity requirement.
Amendment No. 51 deals with Protocols 2 and 4 which in turn deal with the integration of the Schengen acquis and the UK and Ireland position in Protocol 4. Finally, Amendment No. 45, which has understandably taken up a good deal of time, is particularly concerned with Gibraltar.
Let me acknowledge right from the beginning that the free movement, Title IIIa, and the relationship which the United Kingdom and Ireland will have with the title is probably the most complicated part of the treaty. I say that with due deference to my noble friend Lord Whitty who understands complications which I do not even start to comprehend.
It was a basic negotiating objective for the United Kingdom that a way be found at Amsterdam to give the United Kingdom an explicit assurance of its right to keep internal frontier controls and to retain national control of the sensitive area of immigration and asylum. Equally, however, a way had to be found to accommodate the majority who wanted to use the EU treaties to create an area of passport-free travel within the EU in which policies on immigration, asylum and other related matters would be closely harmonised. The result was an elaborate system of overlapping text, including the various articles under Title IIIa, the two protocols to which I referred and declarations (in particular Declaration 45 which is concerned with Gibraltar), plus a range of opt-in and flexibility provisions. On top of that, we have the text of the Schengen acquis itself and the various decisions which have been taken subsequent to the adoption of the Schengen acquis.
Let me set out briefly what the implications of this package will be to this country. Under the treaty our legal right to maintain frontier controls is explicitly enshrined in EC law. It is important to say that because this is the first time it has happened. That alone is a substantial achievement for the United Kingdom and, judging from the speeches which have been made, one which is welcome in this Chamber. A protocol to the treaty integrates the Schengen agreements and existing Schengen measures—the subsequent documents to which I referred—into the framework of the European Union and sets out procedures for future UK and Irish participation in Schengen measures to the extent that our two countries wish to be involved.
In relation to the free movement, Title IIIa, we will not be bound by any measure adopted under it except where we so choose. However, arrangements are set out in Protocol 4 by which the United Kingdom and Ireland can participate in measures adopted under this title. That 102 means that we will be able to decide whether we want to take part in individual measures adopted under the title. That is quite different from the situation before, where we only had the choice of being wholly in or wholly out of these arrangements. Our main consideration will be whether participation would make us better able to implement UK immigration and asylum policies and safeguard harmonious race relations. Where civil judicial co-operation is concerned, we will similarly want to take a pragmatic decision on participation which will depend on the nature of the measure.
I return to the incorporation into the EU framework of the measures agreed among themselves by the Schengen member states. The arrangements I described are rather different where a measure forms part of the Schengen acquis; in other words, where a measure is part of that package of measures agreed unanimously among the Schengen states in the context of the Schengen agreement—a treaty aimed at the removal of frontier controls between its party states and to which we are not a party and (I emphasise this) have no intention of becoming a party.
Even in that area we have the right, under Amsterdam, to participate in individual measures should we wish to do so and should the others agree. Where the UK and Ireland wanted to take part in a Schengen measure, the Commission would be asked to deliver an opinion. In practice, we have no intention of signing up to the Schengen acquis in full. That would be inconsistent with our determination to maintain frontier controls. Many of the existing Schengen measures are aimed at creating a system able to dispense with internal frontier controls and are therefore unlikely to be of operational value to the United Kingdom. I need only to point to the well-known differences of geography—the absence of land frontiers.
However, we may want to take part in some of those measures; for example, in so far as they relate to drugs or crime. We know that our partners are keen for the United Kingdom to play a full role in helping to keep Europe safe for our citizens. They have all signed up to a declaration making clear that they will use their best efforts to enable us to do so where we wish. That is Declaration 45, to which I have already referred. Where a new measure is being developed which builds on the Schengen acquis, the United Kingdom and Ireland may participate as of right, whether the measure is being developed under the new free movement Title IIIa or the revised third pillar. The agreement of the others is not required in that regard.
Clearly, I shall come on in some detail to the issue of Gibraltar, to which the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, referred. However, before I set out the Government's position on that, perhaps I might deal with the individual points made by Members of the Committee in the debate.
My noble friend Lord Stoddart asked how European Union citizens could be kept out of the United Kingdom. As he is well aware, it is not just European Union citizens; it is the citizens of the European free trade area, an organisation to which I know he attaches credit. 103 European Union and EFTA citizens already have a right to enter the United Kingdom; that is fundamental to the principle of free movement. We have a right to ensure that someone who claims to be an EU citizen possesses documentation that proves that to be the case. In direct answer to my noble friend, therefore, if there is any doubt about a person's citizenship, officials can examine documentation and exercise powers to search belongings and so forth. I can assure my noble friend that that situation is not changed by anything in the Amsterdam Treaty.
My noble friend went on to ask whether legislation would be needed if the United Kingdom wanted to join the Schengen acquis. If we wanted to joint the Schengen acquis in total and we wanted to participate solely in the zone of free movement by changing the EC treaty—I have already made it clear that that is not our intention—for example, by removing the United Kingdom borders opt-out, Parliament would need to be consulted because a Bill would be required. Therefore, there would be full parliamentary scrutiny. If we wanted to opt in only to a limited part of the Schengen acquis—for example, matters relating to police co-operation—the normal parliamentary arrangements for European Union measures would apply. In other words, it would be available, after sifting, for scrutiny by our own European Communities Committee and there would be opportunities for debate, which I and my noble friends on the Front Bench have already explained to the Committee. The Home Secretary has given an assurance to a committee in the other place that if the United Kingdom wants to participate in aspects of the Schengen acquis, that will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. However, the need for legislation would depend on whether existing United Kingdom law required amendment in order to implement the measures in question.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, asked me about the three-month period which is referred to on a number of occasions in Title IIIa. The three-month period is the period for the short-term visa for which there is to be, and is and will be, a uniform Schengen visa. Longer visits or settlement—this would include visits to this country for lengthy periods of study—are not covered by Schengen. Visas for such purposes are a matter for individual states and will remain a matter for individual states. The fact that we are opting out of Schengen in any case means that we do not have to operate the Schengen short-term visa unless we choose to do so.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Williams and Lady Park, asked whether we will work with our partners to give preference to Commonwealth citizens. We will need to consider how far we want to co-operate with our partners in visa arrangements. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, will know, visa co-operation, even under Maastricht, is a matter for qualified majority voting. We already have agreement with our partners on the European Union common visa list, which sets out certain countries for which all European Union member states must have a visa regime. That seems sensible. Clearly, under QMV it will be difficult to guarantee special arrangements relating to Commonwealth 104 citizens. Although we are part of the EU common visa list, what Amsterdam provides is a choice as to whether we take part in any future arrangements. We are not bound by the Schengen visa list, which is more extensive than the EU common visa list.
I turn now to the issue of asylum, which was referred to particularly by my noble friend Lord Stoddart and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. The UK does and will retain its right to deal with asylum applications under the 1951 Geneva UN Convention on Refugees. Even the most recent asylum and immigration legislation of the previous Conservative Government started off with a declaration that anything that was done would be in accordance with the 1951 convention. The noble Baroness asked me about the Dublin convention, which relates to the member state in which an asylum application should be made. As she will know, the Dublin convention only came into force with the last signatories in December of last year. The arrangements under the Dublin convention will remain in force under the Amsterdam Treaty. If the Schengen members decide, once Amsterdam is in force, to agree further measures dealing with asylum, the UK will have the option of joining in, or not, as it chooses, but if we do not opt in we will not be bound by any such measures and our existing rights of asylum will not be changed.
In taking asylum generally, we co-operate with our partners on some aspects of asylum policy, but always in the context of our obligations under the 1951 convention. It is that convention which is the foundation of our national asylum policy. The fact that there have been difficulties with people coming over in the past few months is evidenced by the fact that the Dublin convention came into force only in December of last year and, clearly, it still needs time to settle down. But I am confident that it will be possible to do that.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord one brief, technical question. Under the Dublin convention will the last friendly country be assumed to be a nation state or the Schengen agreement countries as a whole?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I believe that it is the first country of entry into the European Union rather than the last friendly country which is covered by the Dublin convention. My understanding is that the Dublin convention applies to Schengen and non-Schengen countries alike. So it is where entry takes place into the European Union rather than the last friendly country which is the consideration.
Before I return to the subject of Gibraltar, which is clearly of concern, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, that I do not agree with his claim that the move after five years to qualified majority voting will take place if two-thirds of the member states agree. The treaty states quite clearly in Article 73o that the Council has to act unanimously in order to make a decision as to whether to move to qualified majority voting or to stay with unanimity.
I now turn to the issue of Gibraltar. I recognise that this is a highly sensitive and difficult issue. I refer Members of the Committee not only to the text of the treaty itself, but to Protocol IV and Declaration 45.
105 We shall continue to defend vigorously the position of Gibraltar in the European Union and the Community law rights of Gibraltarians, in particular existing rights of free movement in the EU. There is nothing in the provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty which erodes these rights, nor which gives Spain any additional rights over its border with Gibraltar.
Where a measure that the UK would like to opt into is potentially relevant to Gibraltar, our approach will give due weight to the interests of the UK and to the interests of Gibraltar, as with any other EU measure. Where the UK opts in it will negotiate robustly and in good faith, taking fully into account the interests of Gibraltar.
Nevertheless, a number of criticisms have been levelled at the Government, both here and in another place, on their negotiation of the provisions for UK participation in existing Schengen measures. I would therefore like to take this opportunity, as I was invited to do by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, to set the record straight about what happened at Amsterdam.
During the course of the debate at the European Council, Spain proposed an amendment to the Schengen Protocol to bring in unanimity for UK and Irish participation in the existing Schengen acquis. I am talking about the Schengen acquis, the core text, rather than to any subsequent agreements. At the insistence of the Foreign Secretary, there was agreement that any such amendment should be submitted in writing by Spain. No such amendment was submitted.
When the revised treaty text was circulated after the Summit, we subsequently learnt that the unanimity requirement had been introduced into the text. We took that up with the Dutch presidency and a number of member states. It emerged that there was a misunderstanding about what had been agreed at Amsterdam. As a result of that intervention we obtained Declaration 45 that provides protection for the UK's interests in this area.
The declaration invites the Council to seek the opinion of the Commission before it decides on a request by the United Kingdom to participate in any measure in the existing acquis. Moreover, member states undertake to use their best efforts to enable the UK to participate.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Lord Moynihan
I am most grateful to the Minister for clarifying the position. He said that these matters were taken up with the Dutch Government and I asked whether it would be possible—it would certainly assist the Committee—to see a copy of the letter which the Dutch Government wrote back to our Government. I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm that that letter will be published.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
No, it is not normal practice for intergovernmental correspondence of that kind to be published. Perhaps I may anticipate the noble Lord's next question. Members of his party in another place have asked several questions about the availability 106 of the tapes of the debates in the Council. The answer which has been given consistently, and which I now give, is that the tapes are not available to member states.
The important thing is not the process of what happened on a particular night, however late, in June, but the result. Declaration 45, which has been attached to the final Act of the treaty, makes the provision, to which I have referred, for the Council to seek the opinion of the Commission before it decides on such a request from the UK or Ireland. Other member states undertake to make their best efforts available to allow the UK or Ireland to participate. Moreover, the UK cannot be blocked from opting into proposals and initiatives which build upon the Schengen acquis. That is a declaration of the intergovernmental conference. It is politically binding on all member states and any decision to allow the UK or Ireland to participate in the existing Schengen measures will be a political decision.
Noble Lords have referred to the issue of Gibraltarians taking part in European parliamentary elections. We understand the strong feelings in Gibraltar about the lack of representation in the European Parliament. As has been said, it is true that Gibraltar is bound by a number of directives from the Commission and the Parliament. We have reviewed the situation, but we have had to conclude that the practical and legal difficulties of any change would be formidable. The main obstacle is the requirement to amend the 1976 European Communities Act on direct elections, which has treaty status. An amendment would require the agreement of all member states and subsequent ratification by all member states. The prospect of securing that is uncertain, to say the least. Therefore, we are not attracted to pursuing that possibility now when the chances of such an agreement remain so uncertain. We have other priorities to pursue on Gibraltar's behalf.
I hope that that has set out the position on the negotiations that took place and how they affected Gibraltar in the context of Title IIIa of the protocols, and now of the declaration which has been appended to the treaty.
The free movement title is enormously important and valuable. It is clearly right that those who wish to open their frontiers internally should be able to do so, but at the same time that the position of the UK, which sees, or may well in the future see, advantage in particular aspects of the title but which is determined not to have an open frontier policy, should be protected. Our negotiations at Amsterdam provided both the freedom for the Schengen countries to go ahead as they wish and a clarification and assurance that our opt-out from the Schengen agreement is accepted and included in the treaty, and that we have the ability and the power to adopt those parts of the title that are consistent with our own national interests. That has been our concern throughout, and that has been the result of our negotiations at Amsterdam.
§ Lord Moynihan
Before the Minister concludes his remarks—I thank him for going into these points in detail—I must press him once more on this matter. For a Government who are totally committed to transparency and openness, I believe that on an issue of 107 such critical importance to the people of Gibraltar, and where it is well known that this exchange of correspondence has taken place, it would be of considerable help to make this information available. I do not understand why the Government are not happy to do that. Since the Minister has rightly come clean on every aspect, I do not understand why he cannot give a commitment to publish the letter.
Ironically, he anticipated my second question, which I had not asked. Part of the reason for not asking it was that I took as read the claim by the Minister of State in another place that there were no provisions for minutes to be taken or that there were no tapes. Given that there were Amsterdam tapes, surely it would be helpful if the relevant extracts could be made public along with the letter to clear up these matters. In the interests of open government, surely there is every benefit in making available this information on a matter of critical importance to the people of Gibraltar.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I do not believe that the noble Lord need be in any doubt about our adherence to open government. It would be a quite remarkable state of affairs if, in conflict with all of the principles of diplomatic negotiation between nation states, we unilaterally published confidential correspondence between one nation state and another. The noble Lord's government did not do it. I believe that I see the noble Baroness, Lady Park, nodding in agreement. I think I am right in understanding that she also cannot imagine how it would be done. I do not think that on this occasion we can make such a major change.
§ Lord Molyneaux of Killead
Before the noble Lord sits down, some noble Lords will be greatly encouraged by his words in regard to voting rights for Gibraltarians for the time being. I hope that I do not misquote him. Will Her Majesty's Government give some thought to the helpful suggestion that has been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, in regard to the Belfast treaty? That is not as far fetched as it may seem. That treaty now provides a consultative mechanism for overseas British territories such as all three Channel Islands separately plus the Isle of Man. That is not too great a stretch of the imagination.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
Before the Minister replies, perhaps I might add to what the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, has said. There are always ways of easing situations in which the law stands in the way. Another suggestion I make so that the Minister can turn it over in his mind is the possibility perhaps on one occasion a year of allowing a representative of Gibraltar, possibly the Prime Minister, to meet the British delegation to the European Parliament so that he can at least be assured that the concerns of Gibraltar are heard by those who are legitimately Members of that Parliament.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I am sure that both suggestions will be treated with the seriousness that they 108 deserve by Ministers in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I would not wish to give the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, the wrong impression. In my reply I believe that I described the formidable obstacles to be overcome if a change were to be made to the European Communities Act 1976 in order to give Gibraltarians a vote in the European Parliament. Not least it would require the unanimous agreement of all member states and unanimous ratification afterwards. Those are formidable obstacles.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this very interesting and wide-ranging debate. I also thank my noble friend for his detailed response to the many questions raised by noble Lords. I am relieved that he has given as absolute an undertaking as he can that we shall not join the full acquis system and that ratification of the treaty by Parliament in no way gives the Government carte blanche to accede to the acquis without proper parliamentary debate and consent. However, I am not quite as reassured by his statement that we could enter parts of it without primary or secondary legislation, although parliamentary scrutiny of European legislation would take place. I am most obliged to my noble friend for all the replies that he has given me. Naturally I want to study them, and, if necessary, bring back matters on Report.
I am also happy with my noble friend's assertion that so far as concerns asylum, it is the first friendly country and not the last that is responsible for giving asylum to asylum seekers. Presumably the Belgians and Italians know and understand that and will ensure that people who land in their countries seeking asylum will not be trained on to London or any other railway station in this country. I hope that I have that assurance and that I understand it completely. If I do not have it right, perhaps my noble friend will intervene and say that I have not.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
Pepper v. Hart says that what Ministers say on legislation can be taken into account in the courts. It does not say that what other people say in debate has to be taken into account or that the failure or unwillingness of Ministers to reply to statements with which they do not agree has to be taken into account in the courts. If I have misled the Committee or my noble friend in any way, I shall of course write to him.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
That is satisfactory, and I thank my noble friend. We rightly had a number of speeches on Gibraltar. The Gibraltarians are concerned about their position and want it rectified. Representation is probably a matter not for this Bill but for the European Parliamentary Elections Bill, which could perhaps be amended to accommodate Gibraltar, although, as my noble friend said, it would be difficult to achieve. If I can help in any way, of course I shall do so, although I do not know when we shall be considering it.
I am worried about what happened about the Spanish amendment in the Council. I spoke earlier about the hole-in-the-corner way that things are done in the EU. 109 That seems to confirm my view of it. Here we have what appeared to be an agreed text being amended by the presidency in consort with a member state without the member state which was going to be most affected being aware or informed of it. That is absurd, outrageous and completely unacceptable. I do not know whether the British Government noticed that before or after the treaty was signed. If they noticed it before the treaty was signed, why on earth did they sign a treaty to which they had not agreed? My noble friend might check on that and drop me a line about it.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I can spare my noble friend the pain of receiving correspondence from me. The answer to his question is that we saw to it that Declaration 45 was added to the treaty.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
I hope that that is satisfactory. We shall see in due course. Again, I find it almost inconceivable that parties to a discussion which is tape recorded do not have access to those tapes when there is a dispute. I would have thought that since it was a Council discussion the tapes belong to the Council and that, if there was a dispute, all its members had the right to say, "Let us listen to the tapes." After all, even we in this House, if there is a dispute as to what we say, may listen to the parliamentary tapes. Why on earth in matters of great moment—greater moment than we discuss here—cannot governments or their representatives be allowed to listen to the tapes? I do not expect an answer from my noble friend, but I confess that I am completely amazed by the whole business. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 15 to 20 not moved.]
§ 9.45 p.m.
Lord Bruce of Donington
moved Amendment No. 21:Page 1, line 13, after ("2") insert ("(except paragraph 40)").The noble Lord said: The treaty with which we are dealing today contains a large number of amendments to the Union treaty. It is possible to trace most of the reasons for their inclusion. One may not always agree with the amendments to the treaty set out in the Treaty of Amsterdam, but one can at least understand the reasons and importance attached to them.
The amendments we are now considering deal with paragraphs 40 and 41 of the Treaty of Amsterdam, set out on page 38. They can be found within the original setting at pages 75 and 76 of that invaluable document, The Treaty of Amsterdam in Perspective. I cannot imagine how those two measures found their way for consideration at the conference held on the treaty.
Paragraph 40 relates to the appointment of the president and members of the Commission. Paragraph 41 relates to extra powers to be given to the president of the Commission. I cannot for the life of me understand who put the proposal forward or the reasons for it. It may conceivably be part of a greater deal 110 reached between the parties in the course of the negotiations. In precise terms, it provides:The governments of the Member States shall nominate by common accord the person they intend to appoint as President of the Commission; the nomination shall be approved by the European Parliament".That is a new adjunct to the appointment. I suppose that it can be expected; there is no particular reason why the appointment should not be approved by the European Parliament.
The word "shall" in that context could have a double meaning. It could mean that the parliament has no option but to be a rubber stamp; it has to approve. Alternatively, it could mean also that the appointment could not be effective unless approved by the European Parliament. If I am right that there is a genuine ambiguity, I should be most grateful if the noble Lord will give us his opinion as to which interpretation may be right.
Lord Bruce of Donington
Read in terms of the actual text, it appears to follow automatically. The paragraph states:The governments of the Member States shall nominate by common accord the person they intend to appoint as President of the Commission; the nomination shall be approved by the European Parliament".I do not know whether that is a command to the European Parliament to approve automatically or whether the European Parliament has a discretion in the matter. I am quite content to accept the interpretation that the European Parliament definitely has some choice, if sufficient of its members are present in plenary at the time to be qualified to record a vote at all.
It then goes on to state:The governments of the Member States shall, by common accord with the nominee for President, nominate the other persons whom they intend to appoint as Members of the Commission".Since when has the nominee for president of the European Commission been given the power of veto over who the member states may decide to nominate as members of the Commission? That is extraordinary.
It would be bad enough if the provision referred to "The member states, by common accord, with the president of the Commission"—but no, they are supposed to arrive at an accord on the persons to be appointed members of the Commission, with a person whose status is not even that of president yet but merely a nominee. That seems to be quite extraordinary.
I pass no particular observation other than to say that it is quite true that the president of the Commission over the years—and to my own personal knowledge I speak of the time since 1975 when I first became a member of the European Parliament—has steadily acquired more influence. That has matched the growing influence of the Commission itself which has become the powerhouse, in effect, of developments within the European Union. That is quite natural because that is its function. It does not have to govern member states; it has no departmental responsibilities to anybody; it has no territory to administer and no armed forces, yet, at 111 its disposal. Its entire function is to carry forward the impetus towards its own objectives, which it puts most forcefully.
Therefore, one can understand that some further formal recognition of importance as an individual member state is sought. I do not speak of Luxembourg, which has the population of Bristol, but of Germany and the larger member states. We are arrogating to the nominee for the post of president of the Commission a power of veto.
I should have thought that the Commission has power enough. Of its own accord, it appoints ambassadors throughout the world without any objection from the Council. In fact, under the treaties, the Council cannot object in any event. It administers whole areas of finance, quite out of control of the Council. It makes apportionments of budgeted funds in relation to various projects without the slightest need to have the consent of the Council. Therefore, it is extremely powerful.
Some people in the United Kingdom might wear that; but I do not intend to do so. I do not approve of, and will not agree to—and I am now a European citizen, too, although I did not elect to become one—the president of the Commission, let alone a nominee president, having that power of veto. There are, of course, circumstances in which that might be possible, but that in itself would be in breach of the treaty. Because it is the only logical supposition, are we to suppose that member states of the European Parliament, before they nominate a president of the Commission, will make unofficial inquiries to him as to who in advance he is prepared to approve as a member? Surely that is rather a degrading position for a member state to find itself in.
I do not necessarily stand on ceremony, and other countries can take whatever consciousness of their national identity as they wish. However, as a Briton, I object to it. No doubt the Government can tell us who raised the proposition. Who put it forward in the negotiations over Amsterdam? Surely it could not have been the British Government putting forward such a proposal. If so, what kind of package deal was involved in giving way to the wishes of the president? Surely these questions require answers. They do not even involve party politics.
I turn now to the second item which is to be found in paragraph 41 of the treaty and which reads:The Commission shall work under the political guidance of the President".Tut, tut: what political guidance? Members of the Commission are supposed to be quite objective in their work and they are not supposed to pay attention to representations from outside. They are supposed to be—and I have no doubt that they are—persons of the utmost personal integrity. But now, suddenly, out of the blue and without any discussion, we see that the president of the Commission shall give "political guidance". But what kind of political guidance will that be?
Perhaps we shall be given some idea as to what was in the minds of the representatives of Her Majesty's Government who apparently agreed to this clause. Will the president of the Commission be able to define what 112 the attitude of individual members of the Commission is, for example, towards the budget? Alternatively, will he be in a position to satisfy himself as to whether the existing control of European affairs at Commission level is adequate? In the event of arguments between one or another member state, will he be able to decide which side to take? All these matters fall due to be considered. There should be answers to them.
For my own part, as regards any endeavour by the president of the Commission to give any kind of political guidance whether party, ideological or even technical—as long as it comes within the term "political"— I do not think that he should be entitled to do this. I am at a complete loss to understand why these amendments should ever have been included within the treaty itself. I cannot find any reason for them at all unless they mark the relentless advance of the president of the Commission and the members of the Commission towards the progressive achievement of their goal of the ultimate government of a federal Europe. That is the only thing that makes sense and is fully in accordance, incidentally, with an instance that I reported to this Chamber many years ago—this is not new—when the then spokesman, Mr. de Vries, talking on behalf of the socialist group in the European Parliament, said that there should be no misunderstanding. He said that his party believed in the Commission becoming the government and Parliament exercising its normal parliamentary functions over them.
This is my suspicion. I sincerely hope that my noble friend will be able to dispel it and say that the insertion of these absurd clauses in the Treaty of Amsterdam was something that happened while people were taking a post-prandial nap, or that they were smuggled into the presidential summary without anyone's knowledge. That has often been the case. Certainly there must be some logical explanation for a ridiculous action such as this. I beg to move.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Viscount Montgomery of Alamein
Before the noble Lord sits down, if the president of the Commission whose authority he is questioning happened to be British, would he express the same opposition?
§ Baroness Ludford
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, wondered why these proposals had been put forward. I confess that I do not know who put them forward. I hope it may have been the British Government; I would be proud if that were the case as I submit that these proposals, which do not please the noble Lord, seek to improve the quality and the accountability of the Commission.
We are dealing with three issues. The first concerns the greater involvement of the European Parliament in approving commissioners. The second concerns giving the president in waiting a say in the appointment of his or her colleagues. The third concerns encouraging the president to be a real team leader. As regards the involvement of the European Parliament, the 113 Amsterdam Treaty simply builds on the influence granted to the European Parliament by the Maastricht Treaty. Maastricht gave the European Parliament the right of approval of the whole Commission before appointment by governments. The Parliament used this power in 1995 to hold a series of hearings before approving the Santer Commission as a whole. Therefore the practice of questioning individual commissioners—the president and others—has already been established.
It is but a small further step for the president on his or her own to be subject to approval by the European Parliament. Surely accountability can only help to ensure that the president is of the highest possible standard. Will the Minister confirm that the word "shall" in relation to the European Parliament's approval process means that the European Parliament is obliged to institute an approval process—that is, it means more than "may"—and indeed that the European Parliament can approve or reject?
By the same logic of what I have said about the president, we on these Benches would like in the future to see the European Parliament acquire the right to approve individual commissioners via a series of confirmation hearings analogous to the way in which the US Senate approves executive appointments. That is not on offer now, but I flag it up for the future.
The second issue challenged in these amendments is that the putative president should have a say in the appointment of other commissioners. This is only formalising the previous behind-the-scenes soundings. I do not believe that we would think much of any nominee who did not have sufficient leadership aspirations to want to influence his team.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
Will the noble Baroness give way? On my reading of the treaty, it is not that the president elect will have "some say" in the nomination of the other members of the Commission; it is that he will have a veto. It says:The governments of the member states shalland the new words in the Amsterdam Treaty are,by common accord with the nominee for President, nominate the other persons whom they intend to appoint as Members of the Commission".To me, that means that if that common accord is not there, nobody can be appointed. It means that the president elect of the Commission can go on blackballing anyone he likes until eventually the member states come up with a Commission that suits him. That gives the man a veto.
§ Baroness Ludford
I stand corrected. It is indeed the approval of the president in waiting that is required. I stand corrected on my loose use of the term "a say". That leads on to the question I was about to ask the Minister. Can he confirm that the term "nominee" means after approval by the European Parliament, so that this nominee is truly the president in waiting and does not have that rather irresponsible power to horse-trade which I believe the noble Lord was suggesting? I believe that, once the nominee is the 114 president in waiting, having been approved by the European Parliament, we can have good confidence in the responsibility of that person.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness again, but I do not agree. The fact that the president elect, or the president in waiting, has become the president and as such has the power of veto to which I referred earlier does not make any difference. It merely makes him more presidential and less acceptable to those of us who support these amendments.
§ Baroness Ludford
The noble Lord and I will not agree. I believe that it is a good idea for the president of the Commission to have responsibility for his or her team, and the noble Lord perhaps does not. Therefore I fear that we shall not see eye to eye. What I want to achieve—and I therefore applaud these provisions in the Amsterdam Treaty—is a position where the president of the Commission cannot evade responsibility for the performance of a weak colleague, as can happen at present, by pointing out that he or she has to put up with the choice of governments; that the president simply has to take what they decide and therefore "the buck does not stop here", as it were. We on these Benches want the Commission president to be a true team leader. We do not expect team leaders in other circumstances—a sports team captain or a business chief executive, for example—to have no ability to approve the selection of the team.
Finally, on political guidance, perhaps that term should not be interpreted in the way the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, interprets it. I do not believe that it means that a socialist president—if socialists exist any more—should ensure that all his team are socialists. I believe it means political with a small "p" and that the president will be responsible for keeping the team in line and working well. We believe that giving the president this kind of influence will make him or her accountable for the effective working of the Commission as a whole and improve the chances of the Commission being cohesive and efficient. It will help to meet the aim of the declaration at Amsterdam by the heads of government supporting the rationalisation and reorganisation of the Commission to improve its effectiveness.
This provision is not about the president forcing unwanted appointments down the throats of governments. We therefore believe that the provisions challenged by these amendments are designed to improve the quality and accountability of the Commission and are laudable. It is surely not in the interests of our citizens or our governments to block improvements in the working of the Commission. These amendments cannot be supported from these Benches.
§ Lord Monson
Before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I might put one question to her. She said that her party looks for leadership qualities in any president of the European Commission. Since when has a civil 115 servant been required to have leadership qualities? Such qualities are required in a politician, such as the Prime Minister of a nation state, not in a civil servant.
§ Baroness Ludford
I should have thought that anyone in a position of public responsibility, or indeed in the private sector, would be expected to have leadership qualities—the Permanent Secretary of a Whitehall department, the chief executive of a company or the captain of a sports team. Surely we are looking for qualities across the spectrum of leadership and ability to inspire loyalty, hard work and effectiveness. I am afraid I am at a loss otherwise to answer the noble Lord's point.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
Surely it is inherent in the notion of any effective servant of an organisation—which this person, as president, would be—that he or she is expected to be a good manager and to have loyalty and all the other qualities. But they are not expected to give a political lead. We cannot get round the word "political". It suggests directions, guidelines, acting as if the Union were one political body. That is what concerns us.
Constitutional democracies vary a great deal, but they all have four factors in common. They have a head of state who may be, like our Queen, the sovereign head of the state, or, like the President of the United States, may also be a politician, providing leadership to the nation. All democracies have their political bodies—in our case a Cabinet and other Ministers. They all have a Civil Service; and they all have a Parliament.
With those factors in mind, it is interesting to consider the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, with great clarity and force in moving this amendment so that we can see and understand clearly what it is to be like in the European Union (I avoid the word "Commission" for the moment). There will not be anything analogous at all with a head of state—either political, as in America, or an hereditary head of state, as in this country, or with an elected head of state who keeps himself above party politics. There will be none of that, so far as we can tell.
We know that there is to be a gathering of democratically elected politicians serving on the Council of Ministers. That is analogous with the Cabinet in our country. We know that there is a Parliament. In our country, our Parliament, coupled with the Queen, is given sovereignty. The Civil Service does not have to share sovereignty at all. It is separate from it and subordinate to it. None of us would imagine giving the head of the Civil Service—and calling him a president—the kind of power that is now envisaged under the Treaty of Amsterdam.
The Government must do their best—they may find it very difficult—to explain two matters in particular. They must first explain how it is that the president of the Commission is to have this tremendous power, which Parliament, it would seem, in making his appointment, 116 has to endorse whether it likes it or not. Or it may—we should be glad to be told—have a discretion not to endorse it.
The other matter I find strange is that the president of the Commission shall give political guidance to other members of the Commission. Whoever heard of the head of the Civil Service in any democracy in the world having a power and an obligation to give political guidance to his subordinates? If anyone is to give political guidance, it is the Ministers at the head of each department, but not the head of the Civil Service. The Prime Minister can give political guidance to the whole of the Government if he has the support of the Cabinet. Those are important questions to which constitutionally we must have an answer.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
Before my noble friend sits down, I might have misunderstood him, but I do not think I heard him recognise the fact that the Commission to which he referred, under the Treaty of Rome, has the monopoly of proposing legislation to the Council and the institutions of the Community for acceptance. So we are looking at a budding presidential system, with a president or president-elect who has the power to blackball every other member of the Commission and to give them political guidance for an institution of the Community which has the monopoly of proposing legislation. I submit that it takes my worries a little further than those expressed by my noble friend Lord Renton.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
I am surprised that another place should have let this go through without much discussion. We see the power seeping away gradually from the British Parliament, and the House of Commons in particular. They seem not to realise what is happening. My noble friend and others have exposed what is happening, but the House of Commons does not appear to understand that every time it gives the power to an institution of the European Community, it takes perhaps just a little bit—but it is a little bit or a big bit—of power away from Parliament.
Let us take the appointment of the president of the Commission. Up to now, or up to the time when the Amsterdam Treaty goes through, he will have been appointed by the elected representatives from their parliament, in other words the individual governments. So our Prime Minister will have something to do with the appointment of the president of the Commission, untrammelled by anything else.
Now the European Parliament comes into it, so that in itself weakens the vote of the British Prime Minister and every other Prime Minster. Thus another little bit of power has seeped away from Parliament, in particular the House of Commons. Of course, the House of Commons is the real representative body of the people of Britain. When it gives the power to the president to refuse the nomination of a representative of its Parliament—the Prime Minister—again it loses a little bit of its power. The House of Commons has ceded it to someone else; indeed, in this case not even to an elected body but to an appointed person. So the House 117 of Commons has now ceded its power to an official, for that is what he is. Because they will weaken the political presidency and have given a share in political guidance to an official, they will have weakened themselves and a bit more power seeps away from the House of Commons to the institution of Europe.
That is why I am surprised that the House of Commons did not block this. It was its duty to block it. It is the true representative of the British people. It is to the House of Commons that the people have given power and the people do not give power for it to be ceded to somebody else. I am sorry therefore that it did not do what I consider to be its duty.
However, as my noble friend Lord Bruce said, it is part of the plot. We know well that the federalists or the unitarists wish to see the Commission as the government of Europe. That is no secret. The European Parliament passed a resolution in that regard. That is the game plan—that eventually the Commission will become the government of Europe and the parliament will become the parliament of Europe. But they want to speak for the peoples of Europe; not Westminster, but Strasbourg and Brussels. They are the people who will speak for the British people. Anybody who doubts that needs only to look at the issue we are discussing. It is a move forward to that position.
I asked a question as to why, in discussions, reference was made to "President Santer" rather than to the "President of the European Commission", but reference was made to the "President of the Council" rather than to "President Blair". I thought that the real president of Europe was the president of the Council for the time being. That is Mr. Blair, for the time being. The answer came back that the president of the Commission was always referred to as "the president". So, by nomenclature, he is already the "president of Europe" and poor Mr. Blair is relegated to being the "President of the European Council".
One can see where we are going. We are going away from an elected system to an appointed system. That is not democratic. I thought we were all democrats here. In fact, it is anti-democratic and should not go further. Indeed, the reason these amendments are tabled is to try to prevent it going further. We believe it is dangerous.
In relation to political protection, we must know from my noble friend what that means—whether it means that the president of the Commission will give a political lead or whether he will become the political leader rather than the troika which is at present the leader under the presidency of the European Council for the time being. We also want to know whether the president is the president with a writ firmly to impose his views and his discipline, or whether he is primus interpares. That is an important distinction and we are entitled to know exactly what the president will be. If we are not careful, we could be on our way to a nasty little dictatorship. The question is asked, "Why do people like Stoddart, Bruce and Tebbit become so worked up about this whole thing?" The answer is that we believe in democracy. We see steps like this as taking us away from a proper democratic system in which the people and not the officials rule.
118 I hope that my noble friend will be able to give us some answers tonight that will put our very real fears at rest. I am not at all sure that he will be able to.
§ Lord Moynihan
The amendments that I have tabled on Article 2.40 and 2.41 relate to another area addressed in the treaty which has been debated by noble Lords on both sides of the Committee. The debate has focused on the reforms to the appointment of the president of the Commission and new commissioners from member states. It seems yet again that the Government may simply not have been present at the time of negotiation on these points for nowhere in the treaty is the Government's negotiating failure more clear. Nowhere in the treaty is the Government's giveaway more apparent and nowhere in the treaty have the Government sacrificed national interests so greatly for the sake of the Brussels bandwagon with so little apparent thought. Of all the changes agreed by the Government in Amsterdam, these reforms are potentially of the most long-term significance for the people of Britain. That is why the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, focusing on why the other House had not addressed this subject in greater detail, was extremely important. I hope that in due course this House will provide the other place with another opportunity to discuss the matter.
In this treaty the Government have given away important national powers. As we have heard, in future the European Parliament will have to approve the new president of the Commission. The freedom of member states to appoint commissioners of their choice is diminished, as the president of the Commission has been given new powers to veto the appointment of new commissioners and can therefore effectively pick the other 19 commissioners. What is more, those new commissioners will be required for the first time to work under the political guidance of the president. I shall come to the interpretation from the Liberal Democrat Benches of the word "political" in this context, which frankly I find astonishing.
My amendment, to remove Article 2.40, would correct the situation where, first, the European Parliament has been given a veto over the agreed nominee of the president of the Commission. This means that even a candidate on whom all member states had unanimously agreed could be blocked by the European Parliament. Secondly, my amendment seeks to remove the proposal that the president of the Commission should have a veto over the nominee for commissioner of each member state. This means that if the United Kingdom, France, Germany or another member state wanted a particular person as its commissioner, the president of the Commission could say no. I should like to know whether the Minister agreed with the attempts of the Euro socialists to block the appointment of the European Commission in January 1995 under the leadership of Pauline Green, MEP for London, North. For this is the parliament which in future will have the right to veto the appointment of the president of the Commission.
119 Under the existing arrangements the president is appointed by common accord by member states after consulting the European Parliament, so the power to appoint the president lies quite properly with member states. Under Maastricht, the nomination must be unanimously agreed by the member states, which is an important and necessary power. Previously, the European Parliament was consulted about the presidency but had to approve or reject the Commission as a whole. That is no longer the case.
It is true to say that the treaty does not provide for the right of nomination for the European Parliament, either originally or in the place of a rejected candidate, so the nomination of the president still lies with member states. But given the Government's approach to protecting our national interest in this area, it is wholly legitimate to wonder how long that will be the case.
Furthermore, Article 2 paragraph 40 of the treaty provides that,governments of the Member States shall, by common accord with the nominee for President, nominate other persons whom they intend to appoint as Members of the Commission".That gives the president of the Commission the completely new right to veto the appointment of any other member of the Commission thus substantially diminishing the unfettered right of member states, under the Maastricht Treaty, to nominate their own representatives to the Commission.
Under the Maastricht Treaty there was a duty for member states to consult the president of the Commission when putting forward their choices for the commissioner. That was simply and rightly consultation. Member states were free to ignore the views of the president if they so wished and to appoint a person of their choice. That has been the position since the Treaty of Rome. The previous government successfully defended that arrangement every time the European treaties were negotiated. Why did this Government fail at their first attempt?
I move on briefly to my second amendment which addresses Article 2 paragraph 41. That paragraph states,The Commission shall work under the political guidance of its president".As Members of the Committee have pointed out this evening, it is a short sentence but far from being an innocuous one. In the context of this new sentence Article 160, left unaltered by the Amsterdam Treaty, is worthy of some reflection. It provides that,If any Member of the Commission no longer fulfils the conditions required for the performance of his duties … the Court of Justice may … compulsorily retire him".Article 2 paragraph 41 of the Treaty of Amsterdam imposes a new condition on each commissioner to work under the political guidance of the president. That is not under the managerial effectiveness or leadership of the president, about working well or helping to keep in line and doing the job, but under the clear political guidance of the president. Is it not the case, then, that if a commissioner, in the president's opinion, fails to toe the president's political line, shows too much independence of thought, or questions the president's political 120 direction or even disagrees with it, the Commission can simply apply to the European Court of Justice to remove him or her.
If the commissioner is found to have failed to follow the president's political guidance the court would then have little option under the treaty but to remove him or her. I accept that in practice it is unlikely that such a case would reach the court, and I sincerely hope so, since the president would use his powers to force the resignation of the commissioner in question. But I give it as an example to illustrate the potential danger of these new powers concentrated in the hands of, as has so rightly been pointed out, an unelected official, the president of the Commission.
What may be the Government's justification for allowing these changes from the debates that we have had in another place? Does the Minister agree that these changes take power away from democratically elected governments who are accountable to the people of their countries and place it in the hands of an unelected official? The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, searched for this: what is the justification for such a change? Why did the Government agree that the president of the Commission should have the power to veto commissioners chosen by member states? On what criteria will selection by the president be based? What assurances are there in the treaty that the commissioners who take office in the year 2000 will not all be drawn from one political party or from one point of view? What assurances did the Minister seek on these issues? If he sought none, why not?
The Government have said that amended Article 2 paragraph 40, which amends Article 158, represents an enhanced role for the Commission president in the appointment of commission members. I do not understand the justification for this enhancement. The Minister of State in another place has said that the changes are very much in Britain's interests. Does the Minister think that it is in our national interest that no President of the European Commission can be appointed unless the European Parliament agrees?
The Minister of State said that he,cannot foresee a situation in which the European Parliament would reject someone as President if the Council is agreed on who he or she should be".He would not be the first Minister to fall into the guessing-game trap of what might or might not be a realistic scenario in Europe. Does the Minister really think that it is in our national interest that we in the UK can no longer be guaranteed the right to choose our own Commissioner? Does he really think that it is in our national interest that the Commission must in future work under the political guidance of its President and that the President now has the power to hire and fire? Does the Minister really think that it is in our national interest that the balance of power in Europe has shifted away from nation states and from intergovernmental control towards a political Commission led by a political President with the word "political" spelled out in the papers before us?
What possibly can be the justification for that fundamental shift in the nature of the Commission where the President can use his veto again and again to 121 ensure the right result for himself or for the Commission but possibly the wrong result for Britain? Once the President is appointed, all the Commissioners must work under his political guidance. Why has the independence of the Commissioners been removed? What defects are these proposals designed to correct? What flaws have the Government identified in the existing arrangements? I looked long and hard to find criticisms from the then Opposition on these points. I could find none that warranted and pushed for the changes that are now being sought.
The Minister of State justified the powers to the European Parliament saying that,as Members of the European Parliament come form the same countries and political parties as Council Members, I do not think their views will he very much out of line with the majority Council view. The fear is therefore unrealistic".That was a direct quotation from the Minister of State. Is that faith in MEPs why the Government have undemocratically and repeatedly tried to gag their own MPs when it came to hearing them express a socialist agenda? Was that faith in MEPs justified by the Euro-Socialist group's efforts to block the appointment of the Santer Commission in 1995?
If the Minister cannot,foresee a situation in which the European Parliament would reject someone as President if the Council had agreed on who he or she should be",what was the reason for enshrining in treaty form a provision to allow the European Parliament to set aside the unanimous view of its member states? The Minister of State justified the shift to a political Commission because,some Commissioners do not always take the Commission … view and grind their own axe. Some Commissioners have a view of their own and go off on their own track"—[Official Report, Commons, 15/1/98; col. 544.]That is what he said. Is it now government policy that their appointees—indeed, their Members—should not have a view of their own'? If that is the case, even when that view being expressed or that axe being ground happens to be in their view in the British national interest, I would greatly appreciate it if the Minister could justify that fundamental and inexplicable shift in power to the President of the Commission and the European Parliament with no apparent gain whatsoever to the British people.
Ultimately, it is still for member states to decide by unanimity the big issues. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the Commission clearly plays a role in driving the EU forward and in setting the agenda. These are major changes with major implications yet they were not even mentioned by the Prime Minister in his Statement in another place on his return from Amsterdam. They represent a significant step towards an overtly political Commission in which unprecedented powers are concentrated in one individual's hands. Taken together with the extension in QMV and the substantial additional powers for the European Parliament, which we have yet to debate, the treaty represents a significant shift from the nation state to the central institutions of the European Union. It is no mild amendment to the current position in Europe. It is a 122 fundamental shift. It is therefore vital that today we hear from the Government why these proposals were agreed by them, their implications for Britain and why they consider them to be in the national interest.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
I make a brief intervention. I am extremely puzzled by part of the argument advanced by the noble Lord, Stoddart of Swindon, and the noble Lord who speaks for the Official Opposition. Time and again the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, in a very eloquent speech referred to loss of democracy. On a number of occasions he said that he deeply disapproved of these sections of the Treaty of Amsterdam because they represented a loss of democracy. I do not understand the English language in that sense. I believe that the proposals in the treaty represent a democratic gain. In the past proposals for nominating the president of the Commission have been conducted secretly by governments. Governments have reached precisely the back-door deals of which the noble Lord has expressed such powerful disapproval. They have never consulted Parliament or the people but simply reached understandings with other member states about the name of the person to be advanced as president of the Commission. I am sure that the Committee would not wish me to detain it by going through the history of previous presidents from the very beginning. But if noble Lords care to consider the matter they will find that time and again the president of the Commission has been appointed following agreement between two or three powerful member states.
The shocking crime of Her Majesty's Government is to have agreed to a change in the Treaty of Amerstdam which for the first time subjects the president of the Commission to some kind of democratic procedure. I can understand the argument advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, who leads for the Official Opposition—I acquit the latter to a certain extent in this matter—only on the basis that democracy is defined to exist only in national parliaments and in no way at the level of the directly elected European Parliament. We may not like the directly elected European Parliament, but the truth of the matter is that the people of Britain, France, Germany and Italy have elected freely the people they wish to represent them by a recognised democratic procedure. That parliament will now be able to approve, or I assume refuse to approve, the name of the person put forward as president of the Commission. By any simple standard that must represent an extension, not a diminution, of accountability of a democratic kind.
Similarly, in relation to the second part of the paragraph which the amendments address, the Committee has heard over and over again about the "veto exercised by the president of the Commission". The truth of the matter is that the provision precisely states that nomination will lie in the hands of member governments and that member governments must reach a common accord with the president of the Commission. In ordinary English, it means that they must continue to consult until such point as they can agree upon a name. It resembles the strange process by which in this country we manage wisely to appoint bishops. There is an almost endless process, 123 which I do not fully understand, of consultation between the Church and the Prime Minister of the day by which we end up with bishops apparently approved by both sides.
I believe that this debate has entered a rather strange self-contradictory phase. In my view, and I believe the view of any fair-minded person who reads the treaty, there is an improvement in democratic accountability. There is a requirement on both member state governments and the Commission president to agree the names of commissioners. I believe that that is very much in the interests of good government within the European Union.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
We were discussing earlier what the word "political" meant. Perhaps I might draw the Committee's attention to Article J.1 where the member states are required to support the Union's external and security policy actively and unreservedly, and work together, and refrain from any action which is contrary to the interests of the Union or likely to impair its effectiveness as a cohesive force in international relations.
We pass then to Article J.8 where we are told:The Presidency shall represent the Union in matters coming within the common foreign and security policy".That is a definition of a pretty wide mandate for political action.
§ Lord Tebbit
I had not intended to intervene in the debate. It is worth mentioning that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has once again clarified issues for us. If the EU is to be a state, then what she has said had some force; if, on the other hand, the EU is to remain an organisation comprised of sovereign national states, then what she has said is absolute nonsense. That is where we divide: between those who, like the noble Baroness, want to create the state of Europe and those of us who do not.
§ Lord Whitty
Like the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, because until then I thought that I was becoming slightly unhinged. I should be used by now to recognising that all European debates in this place give rise to a degree of paranoia and demonology about the Commission. But I had not expected to have the fantastic constructions put on the relatively minor provisions that we have heard in the past hour.
I am even more surprised that the Official Opposition should go along with those interpretations, because these proposals are, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, said, about the quality and efficiency of the governance of the EU, and what is important, they are about the European dimension of the accountability and democracy of the EU. They are not about creating a superstate; they are not about creating a president of the European Commission who is the equivalent of a President of the USA. That may be a complete misunderstanding and an attempt to apply British structures and British definitions to what are evolving new apolitical institutions within Europe.
124 Indeed, the debate in another place which my noble friend Lord Stoddart had clearly read was at the more superficial level of why we called Jacques Santer president in the first place. I suppose that I would expect this place to be more respectful of title, but it must be recognised that the title "president" does not imply that one is running a superstate. Some Conservative Members in the other place were making an issue of us changing to President Santer, as respect requires, the previous government's convention of referring to Mr. Santer simply as Mr. Santer. They saw it as a major shift of politics and sovereignty away from this place towards Brussels and Strasbourg. Those are fantasies.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
I thank my noble friend for giving way. It is not fantasy when the president of the Commission is called Mr. President and the president of the Council is called the President of the Council. That is the point that I was making: the official is called Mr. President and the president of the Council is called the President of the Council. That is not fantasy; that is fact.
§ Lord Whitty
I was not directly referring to that contribution of my noble friend but to expressions in another place that our designation of the president of the Commission by his proper title somehow shifted sovereignty and power from here to Brussels. Admittedly, the debate here has been a little more sophisticated, but let us return to the proposal.
The first part increases democracy within the European Union. The European Parliament is now part of our democracy. Those who resent it are rejecting the past 30 years, whereby we in this country—Parliament by Parliament and Government by Government—have agreed that some of our powers should be pooled within a pool sovereignty within Europe; that there should be a European Parliament to look after the democratic interests of the British people and the rest of the peoples of Europe; and that we should provide for accountability in the exercise of those powers.
The Amsterdam Treaty changes the relationship between the Parliament and the appointment of the Commission in one important way. I clarify the interpretation understood by everyone until tonight, when the noble Lord, Lord Renton, raised the issue that the Parliament is not obliged to give its approval, that it does have a choice. Admittedly, it is unlikely that that choice would ever be exercised in contradistinction to the decision of the Commission to appoint a president. However, it is important that we have made this change so that we have a separate power to appoint the president and the Commission.
The UK has always supported an elected European Parliament having a stronger role in appointments to the Commission. The European Parliament will not have the right to nominate the European Commission's president; only member states will have that right. The European 125 Parliament's right will simply be to agree or disagree with the Council's candidate. We believe that that is an improvement in democracy which retains the essential right of the member states in this respect and also makes their choice subject ultimately to the European Parliament's agreement.
The second issue is that of concord over the appointment of member states' nominees to the Commission. The current position is that the nominee president of the Commission is only consulted about nominees to that Commission rather than having a separate voice. But it is already a common accord. We are moving from a common accord of 15 member states to a common accord of 15 member states plus the president. The president will already have been agreed by all the member states, including this one, and by the European Parliament in order to become a president in waiting.
Surely, it is sensible that the Commission president should play a part in ensuring that the Commission is made up of people with the right ability, the right spread of representation and the right spread of competence. But that common accord for appointing all the members of the Commission is not new. We are extending the right of participation to the presidency, and that already existed for all 15 member states to approve each other's nominees.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
It is not that the president is playing a part; he has a veto. That is a tremendous difference.
Before the Minister replies to my noble friend's question, will he say whether common accord means unanimity or a majority vote?
§ Lord Whitty
It means unanimity and it has always meant unanimity. It meant unanimity over the appointment of the president and it means unanimity over the approval of the nominees of the member states which, I repeat, are the only ones that can nominate the members of the Commission. Therefore, the initiative clearly rests with the member states, but, surely, the president will be in a better position to help ensure that the Commissioners are the right calibre for the job and can meet all its varied political requirements.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
Will the Minister confirm absolutely clearly whether the president elect has a veto or does not have a veto over the appointment of the other members of the Commission? I used the word "veto".
§ Lord Whitty
And I used the words "common accord". That is a common accord between 16 entities—15 member states and the president. I do not believe that I can be clearer than that.
§ Lord Tebbit
What word would the Minister use if the Secretary of the Cabinet were to be given a veto over the appointment of the permanent secretaries of the departments of state?
§ Lord Whitty
The Secretary of the Cabinet is not the appropriate equivalent in this situation. That takes us on to the misunderstanding as regards the role of the president of the Commission in the first place.
§ Lord Tebbit
Of course, that is quite correct, because the Secretary of the Cabinet is a civil servant who works 126 to the instructions of Ministers who are working on the instructions from this sovereign Parliament. That is the difference.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
Will the noble Lord accept that those of us on these Benches find it extremely shocking that in that situation Luxembourg clearly has a veto?
§ Lord Whitty
And always has. I find it surprising that in all issues noble Lords are insisting on unanimity and yet on this particular issue they find unanimity unacceptable. However, the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, goes to the heart of the matter. Perhaps there is a major ideological or perceptual problem in this regard. The president of the Commission is more than the Secretary of the Cabinet. He is more than a civil servant. He is a political figure who gives political direction. At present, in practice, he gives political guidance to the other commissioners. That is the reality of the matter and has always been so since the Treaty of Rome onwards. The practice of the European Commission, which has been complained about many times in this Chamber, will bear me out.
§ Lord Tebbit
I recollect most clearly the words of the then Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath, on this matter when he returned from his discussions with President Pompidou. He made it plain that the members of the Commission are civil servants and no more than civil servants who took their instructions from Ministers and had no rights of policy initiation. The doctrine which the Minister is now expounding is very different from that.
§ Lord Whitty
No, the position has always been, from the Treaty of Rome onwards, that in pillar 1 areas at least the Commission has sole initiative for policy proposals. The issue as to whether it is accountable to the Council is an entirely separate matter. It has a political role but its political accountability is to the Council of Ministers and, in certain circumstances, to the European Parliament. Therefore, members of the Commission are political rather than purely civil servants but they do not have the ultimate political responsibility. That rests, not with an appointed figure like the president, but with the Council which is, and will continue to be, the main decision-making body of the Union to varying degrees, subject to the agreement of the European Parliament.
Perhaps this debate indicates the chasm of misunderstanding which exists. It certainly shows that the role of the Commission is both misunderstood and denigrated within this Chamber. A Commission which acts coherently within the structure of the European institutions acts effectively also in the interests of the citizens of the United Kingdom. It has an absolutely key role to play in the functions of the Union. Its roles on proposing legislation, on implementing the decisions of the Council, as the guardian of the treaties and as an independent institution of the treaties are all vitally important political roles. But at the end of the day, as regards the carrying out of those decisions, it is subject 127 to the Council of Ministers which is responsible to national parliaments and, to some degree, it is responsible to the European Parliament. The idea that it is an unelected dictator model for a super-European state, as we have heard suggested over the past hour, should be dismissed from our minds.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, said right at the beginning of this debate, these are relatively minor amendments and we should recognise them as such. However, they are important and they will improve the functioning of both democracy and efficiency within the Commission.
§ 11 p.m.
Lord Bruce of Donington
After listening to the very interesting debate that has taken place, I stand astounded at my own moderation. I am normally known as someone who goes into debate in fair combative style—and that is still not a sin within a parliament; indeed, that is what the conflict of ideas is all about—but I approached this matter on a very modest scale. My noble friend, who effectively excluded me from the debate in his reply, may find on reflection that what I said is strictly in accordance with the facts as they have been presented not only by him but also in the treaty. I could have gone a long way further.
It will be within the recollection of this Chamber that I have objected publicly to the cavalier attitudes shown by successive presidents of the Commission, excluding the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, who was always polite and correct in such matters. They have sometimes intervened rudely in the political debates which have taken place between the heads of member states and even between Prime Ministers and the opposition within their own countries. I heard President Delors, who came across to this country to attend a conference organised by the Financial Times, refer derisively and dismissively to the then British Prime Minister, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher. I objected publicly to anyone in his position—that is, in a collegiate position, a civil servant position or its equivalent—presuming to criticise a British Prime Minister personally, regardless of the fact that she did not happen to be a member of my party and that politically I was firmly opposed to her. I got up and objected publicly to that and received a reply from Delors, who said: "Well, it's a free country, isn't it?". This was in public in the United Kingdom.
I have heard successive presidents of the Commission take it upon themselves to enter unilaterally into political disputations between the heads of member states; they are quite permissible and, indeed, normal, and should be so. They have intervened personally in debates that have taken place in this country; indeed, it is not only the president of the Commission who has been guilty of this but so also have several of the Commissioners who have presumed to lecture us as to how we should conduct affairs in our own country. It would be far better if they conducted their own affairs.
I listened to my noble friend the Minister, for whom I have the utmost respect—indeed, he knows that—cataloguing the successes and the brilliance of the 128 European Commission. However, I have news for him. I have watched those concerned for years and have witnessed their activities. I am thoroughly familiar with the way that they work. If any Member of this Committee wishes to get up and praise the Commission for its control, for example, over financial affairs (for which it is responsible), all he or she has to do is to read the last report of the Court of Auditors and the latest document produced by our own Audit Office here to find out the depth of gross inefficiency, negligence and, in some sections of the staff, actual fraud at Commission level. I am under no illusion about that. I shall be proved to be correct with the passage of time even though I may perhaps be derided now on the grounds that this is old hat, or possibly because of my advancing years. I tell the Committee that I shall be proved to be right, and so will my colleagues.
Having delivered that friendly homily to my friends on both sides of the Chamber, believing as I do in consensus politics, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 not moved.]
§ Lord Moynihan
moved Amendment No. 23A:Page 1, line 13, after ("2") insert ("(except paragraph 13)").The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 23A I wish to speak also to the amendments grouped with it. I hope that the Minister appreciates that the points being made from all sides of the Chamber reflect our concern and consideration for what is in the treaty. As the hour grows late, I am concerned that there is a tendency to dismiss amendments lightly as minor drafting amendments which should not agitate the Committee, let alone lead to serious questioning. If that were the case it would be a pity because the points being made in different ways from all sides of the Chamber reflect genuine, legitimate concerns about principle, drafting and negotiation. We intend to examine the Bill in detail and the spirit in which we do so inevitably requires a full consideration from the Government Ministers who respond.
The amendments on QMV may well be the final series of amendments we consider this evening in Committee. Therefore I shall speak briefly. I may return to some of the points I want to make about the importance of the fight against fraud and the significant and new powers for the European Parliament, not to mention the location of the European Parliament. Those are three important issues which are covered in the amendments. They will be mentioned at a later stage and I do not intend to cover them in detail this evening.
I fear or expect that at an early stage of my comments concerning QMV, the Government will probably say that we did not have a blanket ideological opposition to QMV when we were in government. That is certainly the case as we agreed to a considerable extension of QMV at the time of the Single European Act in 1986 and subsequently at Maastricht. As a result majority voting now already applies to a wide range of issues such as the single market. However, there was always a clear tangible benefit to the extension presided over by 129 the previous government which was worth the price of sacrificing our veto. In 1986 it ensured the progress and the development of the single market. This evening I question the Government's claim that the extension of QMV we are discussing gives a similar benefit. The previous government accepted QMV in limited areas for a specific purpose. I do not believe they ever did so without getting a real tangible benefit in return.
The amendments we are discussing tonight deal with three specific areas: the extension of qualified majority voting; the reduction in the use of the national veto agreed at Amsterdam; and the extension of the powers of the European Parliament, and particularly its co-decision powers on the location of the European Parliament. I question the Minister as to whether we gain tangible benefits in return for a significant extension of the use of QMV and the co-decision procedure in the European Parliament which, on the face of it, represents a significant transfer of influence from this Parliament to the institutions of the European Union. There will be those who will argue that these concessions, given away at Amsterdam, were wholly unnecessary. No one is claiming that they constitute in themselves the end of the United Kingdom as a sovereign national state; but, the more I look at them, the more I feel that they represent a significant reduction in the influence of this Parliament and of the British Government. It is a further step away from our vision of an enlarged, competitive, decentralised, flexible Europe, a partnership of nation states which deepens instead of widens the Union.
I should like to start with the extension of QMV. The weighted voting system, or QMV, works against the background of the political agreement known to all Members of the Committee as the Luxembourg Compromise, whereby in the last resort a member state may insist that, where it has a very important national interest at stake in a particular decision, discussions should continue until its fundamental problem has been resolved. It was agreed at the informal Foreign Affairs Council in Ioannina in March 1994 to discuss the arrangements for majority voting and the scope of QMV at the intergovernmental conference.
However, the result has been that the Amsterdam Treaty extends QMV to 15 new areas—four existing areas and 11 new ones. This is a significant increase in the power of the EU institutions. To increase this power, it must be transferred from elsewhere, and it has been. It has been transferred from Parliament to Brussels. Together with Britain's competitive advantage, jettisoned by joining the social chapter, which we covered earlier, Britain's veto and position of negotiating strength have also been discarded, with the result that we are now powerless to resist many more potentially burdensome legislative proposals in a wide variety of areas.
Let me spell out the sheer scale of what was agreed to at Amsterdam in this context. The four areas currently decided by unanimity consist of co-ordination of provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action for special treatment for foreign nationals; the adoption of the research framework 130 programme; adapting or supplementing the research framework programme; and the setting up of joint undertakings in R&T development.
The 11 new treaty provisions which will also be subject to QMV consist of employment guidelines; incentive measures; social exclusion; equality of opportunity and treatment of men and women; public health; transparency; countering fraud; statistics; protection of individuals with regard to the processing and free movement of persons' data; outermost regions and customs co-operation.
Under the social chapter, legislation in any one of the following areas can be adopted by QMV: working conditions; the information and consultation of workers; equality between men and women in relation to both work opportunities and treatment at work; the integration of people excluded from the labour market; and health and safety at work. Not only that, but there are provisions for QMV under the employment chapter and within the flexibility provisions.
On the reduction in the use of the national veto and the extension of QMV, I wonder if the Minister can give the Committee one concrete example of how giving up our veto in the four areas previously decided by unanimity—that is, the right of establishment for foreign nationals; adoption of the research framework programme; adapting or supplementing the research framework programme; and the setting up of joint undertakings in R&T development—will benefit this House or the British people? Is it not the case that under the European Union framework programmes for research Britain has done well, winning money for our research programmes under various schemes—for example, the European Strategic Programme in Information Technology, ESPRIT? If QMV is used to decide these programmes, the UK could do less well, and, at the very least, we shall no longer be able to use our veto as a persuasive tool in arguing our case.
Secondly, can the Minister guarantee that the extension of QMV to cover 15 new areas would not result in the introduction of policies harmful to our national interest which this House and another place would be powerless to prevent? Is it not the case that any new proposals should be not only open to all but agreed by all?
Let me take one example, Article 129, to which QMV applies. The article seeks to ensure,A high level of human health protection … in the definition and implementation of all Community policies and activities",and that,Community action, which shall complement national policies, shall be directed towards improving public health, preventing human illness and diseases, and obviating sources of danger to human health. Such action shall cover the fight against the major health scourges, by promoting research into their causes, their transmission and their prevention, as well as health information and education".It is possible that decisions by QMV on the public health provisions contained within Article 129 could lead to considerable interference by Brussels which we should not welcome, given how liberally a court, or indeed this House, could interpret, first, what constitutes public health and, secondly, what amounts to "preventative" measures. For example, preventative measures could 131 refer to anything from a good diet, housing and shelter, to school meals or the provision of milk to children. Is it up to Brussels to determine those preventative measures, or is it something that the Government believe should be done at national level?
Thirdly, can the Minister explain how the proposals for social legislation in the pipeline will be subject to QMV and, under the social chapter, benefit the national interest? I have already spoken at some length on these issues, particularly about the directive to extend the remit of works councils to all companies with 50 or more employees, a proposal which the Government themselves oppose but which they could be powerless to resist.
Likewise, the proposed directive to change the burden of proof in sex discrimination cases, so that employers would be assumed guilty of discrimination unless they can prove otherwise, will also be subject to QMV. Is it not the case that qualified majority voting could succeed in this case in overturning the basic principle of British justice and lead to a flood of speculative cases?
Were we to debate this matter at length, we should come up with an endless list of such examples—full rights, terms and conditions for employees for those on part-time, temporary and fixed-term employment contracts; the incentive measures to be adopted by QMV under the employment chapter, which could prove to be a source of employment programmes for which the UK would have no need but would be expected to pay. And is it not the case that such an instrument to devise incentives, possibly financial ones, could be used to encourage member states to act in a certain way?
As I have already demonstrated, the Amsterdam Treaty provides for more majority voting in the operation of the CFSP decision-making process. Article J.13 provides for subsequent decisions on the implementation of overall strategies—that is, on the adoption of joint actions and common positions—and on any other decisions made on the basis of the new CFSP instrument, the "common strategy", to be taken by QMV in the Council of Ministers.
The treaty continues the distinction on decision-making on principle, which is still unanimous, and implementation of decisions, which is now generally to be by QMV. But is the line between principle and action so black and white? In the Minister's opinion, is one trade sanction the same as another? Is the trade sanction a principle, or is it an action? That represents an important question and a potentially dangerous move from a true common foreign policy agreed by all to a foreign policy supported by most. Likewise, the flexibility provisions are also subject to QMV.
I do not intend to go into further detail on these points. I hope the Committee will forgive me for not doing so at this late hour. There are critical issues associated with the Ford argument which I hope noble Lords will take up during this Committee stage.
Finally, perhaps I may touch upon the gridlock enlargement argument in this context. The Government have used the gridlock argument to justify the extension 132 of QMV on the grounds that an enlarged European Union will be paralysed unless more decisions are taken by QMV. The QMV already applies in those areas where regular decisions are needed to enable the Community to conduct its day-to-day business such as the single market, agriculture and external trade. It is inappropriate, in my view, for fundamental decisions such as foreign policy and defence, which must remain intergovernmental in their nature. Are the Government seriously arguing that, in those remaining areas, indecisions on research or industrial policy, retention of unanimity would render the Union unmanageable after enlargement? I am sure that the Minister will be the first to agree that there are greater obstacles to the process of enlargement which the Treaty of Amsterdam singularly fails to address.
Perhaps if the Government believe that the only way forward for Europe is instinctive integration from west to east and north to south, then the argument I have just made does not carry sufficient weight. But there is a different way forward which does not require every member state to sign up to absolutely every aspect of the treaty of which the Government are already taking advantage in terms of borders and the single currency. If that way is taken, then it is not necessary to have more QMV to enlarge.
On these Benches, we do not believe that unanimity in those areas to which it currently applies would be incompatible with effective decision-making, even in an enlarged Union. The European Union has been able to reach decisions on highly contentious issues such as the Maastricht Treaty itself and the 1992 financing package, despite the unanimity requirement. Unanimity ensures that decisions on even the most sensitive issues take proper account of vital national interests, as indeed they should—a fact which the Government appear, sadly, with the Amsterdam Treaty before us this evening, largely to have forgotten. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
I begin by saying a few complimentary words to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. Throughout the debate he has addressed the subject with great detail, thoroughness and care, and, although quite frequently on these Benches we do not find ourselves in agreement with him, we always listen carefully to the arguments he makes. They are rational and well argued.
On this group of amendments, I wish to distinguish between three elements. The first concerns qualified majority voting. Here, perhaps to the surprise of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, we have sympathy with the view that qualified majority voting should not just be randomly extended as a simple way out of the problems of trying to get agreement on difficult issues. Clearly a substantial area falls within the responsibility of the Community and will continue to do so. That area becomes more complex, as Members of the Committee have indicated, in such areas as how one deals with organised crime, the drug trade, and so on. None of us can seriously think of trying to repatriate the national governments' responsibility in a large part of the field. As has been said before in this debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, as Prime Minister, fully 133 recognised that, in agreeing to qualified majority voting, as regards the Single Act which established the Common Market. That should not be forgotten.
At that point, we were doing a certain amount of cherry-picking. We liked the single market. We were prepared to accept qualified majority voting for the single market; and then we drew the line at almost every other area of qualified majority voting because we did not want it, we just wanted the single market. Nevertheless, it is obviously right that national parliaments and this Parliament in particular should scrutinise carefully the argument made for extending qualified majority voting.
With regard to the long list of amendments to that effect that were put down by the noble Lord and his colleagues in the Opposition, I thought that both Customs co-operation and fraud were odd subjects to choose. I should have thought that they were good examples of where qualified majority voting might be appropriate. One needs only one naughty government to be able to veto effective measures to deal with the issues. They seem to be prime examples of where QMV is appropriate.
On these Benches, we do not argue that QMV should be extended loosely to more and more areas. It is essential, if the European Union is to work, that member states have an area which they regard rightly as their own, where the principle of subsidiarity is fully recognised, and where member states also work with one another within those areas on the basis of co-operation and not of qualified majority voting.
Having said that, I found it puzzling that on Amendment No. 25 the Opposition took exception to the co-decision-making procedure. Until the Amsterdam Treaty, the methods of making decisions within the European structures, the Community structures, were ludicrously complex, obscure, lengthy, and difficult; it was hard to understand what was going on. I cannot see any objection to simplifying those democratic procedures down to the three that now effectively exist: consultation, assent and co-decision. Co-decision makes it quite plain that the European Parliament's agreement—by way of conciliation procedures and all the rest of it—is a necessary component of passing major European legislation. That has to be right. In this area, which falls to the Community—I use the word advisedly because the Community is only part of the Union—it is surely vital that the European Parliament must be carried by the Council and the Commission before law becomes law. Therefore, on Amendment No. 25, from these Benches we cannot offer the sympathy we offer for the earlier amendments in at least the sense that they should be taken seriously, because we believe that the co-decision procedure is a substantial improvement on what has gone before.
In that context let me add one further word of sympathy for amendments we will later approach; that is, that central to this Bench's argument—it may sound paradoxical to some noble Lords—is the strengthening of the scrutiny by our own Parliament of European legislation and proposals. That is crucial to maintaining democratic control, and nothing we say from these 134 Benches about the importance of including the European Parliament in decision-making procedures in any way reduces our total commitment to having the strongest possible scrutiny, advice and consultation by national parliaments.
I should like to say a few words about Amendment No. 26B. This amendment is well taken. It makes no sense for the European Parliament to he a perpetual mobile theatre, where secretaries, files, computers and heavy material are dragged around Europe by large lorries at great expense to the taxpayer, making the Parliament less efficient than it ought to be. I fully understand the desire of the Government of France to maintain Strasbourg as a significant city. I would have thought that it was not beyond the bounds of the imagination of Commissioners and the Council of Ministers to find some excellent European agency that could be settled in Strasbourg, in those attractive surroundings, which would then save the expense of shuffling Parliament to and fro. Those of us who care about parliamentary democracy recognise that that is no way to build up respect for the European Parliament, and it would be much better all round if the European Parliament, like the wandering dervish, were to be allowed to finally settle in one place.
§ Lord Grenfell
Perhaps I might briefly intervene. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, I listened with great attention to what the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said. It is always to the point and interesting, though we do not always agree with him. However, with all due respect to the noble Lord, he tends to speak with a mind-set which is indicative of a party which when in government always found itself in a minority of one in Brussels. In those circumstances, of course, the veto is extremely attractive.
I wish that noble Lords opposite who take objection to the extension of QMV would think a little about that. All that the extension is designed to do is to try to make the conduct of affairs in the European Union a little easier. There is seemingly a great lack of confidence on the Opposition Benches in the possibility of being able to assemble a blocking minority in the Commission and the Council. It is possible to do that. But with this reluctance to give up the veto, it suggests that there is a mind-set which reflects the fact that the idea of assembling a blocking minority is almost an impossibility; it is not. This Government are perfectly capable of putting together a blocking minority when they feel it is necessary to do so. We should therefore not be afraid of an extension of qualified majority voting in areas where we believe that that would be suitable.
My final point—I hope it will not be taken as being too jocular at this late hour—relates to what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said when she referred to the movement of the European Parliament from Brussels to Strasbourg and back again. As a member of the Council of Europe I have suffered somewhat in the past from arriving in Strasbourg having been blocked on the way by trailer trucks carrying documents backwards and forwards. I simply suggest that we might be able to make a deal if we were prepared to allow M. Trichet 135 to have the presidency of the European Central Bank in exchange for France agreeing to give up Strasbourg as a centre for the European Parliament.
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
No one has yet spoken in support of Amendment No. 25, which deals with the co-decision procedure and its extension under the Amsterdam Treaty. It gives me great pleasure to agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said about the European Parliament and the jamboree, which I understand costs fully £10 million a year, of moving the files from one building to the other and back, and also with what she had to say about the scrutiny procedure, which I understand becomes strengthened under the treaty. However, when we come to Amendment No. 25, we have to face the fact that the co-decision procedure is being extended by the treaty into 21 new areas, some of which overlap with other areas, or are the same areas but different parts of them, covered by the extension of qualified majority voting.
Co-decision may sound an innocent enough procedure but in fact it boils down to qualified majority voting with which the European Parliament agrees. If the European Parliament does not agree, then we go into the common position procedure, which, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, is complicated. So, extremely briefly for the record, I ought to mention the areas which the Amsterdam Treaty does subject to the co-decision procedure—in other words, qualified majority voting plus the agreement of the Parliament if it is available.
They are: discrimination on grounds of nationality; freedom of movement and residence of citizens of the Union; social security measures for migrant workers; special treatment for foreign nationals; provisions relating to self-employment and professional qualifications; common transport policy—that could be a big one; incentive measures for employment; customs co-operation; equality provisions; the European Social Fund; vocational training policy; public health; trans-European networks—another big one; the European regional development fund; multi-annual framework programmes for research; some elements of environmental protection; multi-annual framework programmes for development co-operation; transparency; anti-fraud measures; statistics; and the independent advisory body on data protection.
All those are further erosions of our national sovereignty, however else one likes to look at it. I do not propose to say any more about those matters now, but I have no doubt that we shall be coming to them at the next stage.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
At the risk of again being described as paranoid, I want to support what has just been said about co-decision and qualified majority voting. Before I do so, I am pleased to be able to support the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in her plea for the European Parliament to be allowed to sit in one place. Brussels. It is completely ludicrous and a waste of taxpayers' money that the Parliament should be moving 136 around. It is inefficient for the operation of the Parliament itself, it is costly and it is very upsetting for the Members of the European Parliament. After all, we have just spent around £670 million on providing a new parliament building in Brussels which is unoccupied for part of the year. That is quite absurd. Therefore, I find myself in total agreement with that.
I am of course—my noble friend would expect me to be—against further qualified majority voting and co-decision. I have already said that I object to further erosion of British parliamentary sovereignty. I believe that the British Parliament represents the British people. That has been our constitution over a very long period of time. I object to it being undermined. Every time we agree to some measure of new qualified voting or co-decision we undermine another piece of sovereignty, because once qualified majority voting has applied and the co-decision procedure ended, that is the end of the matter. Apart from giving its opinion, the British Parliament then has no further say. That is my objection.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, criticised me in our previous debate. She said that we are extending democracy, but I do not believe that we are. I shall tell her why. As far as I am concerned, democracy lies in the House of Commons. There they are elected to appoint a government to govern the country; to hold that government to account; to check on what they are doing and to raise supply. That is our parliamentary democracy. All the people there are elected by the British people. But when one goes across to the European Parliament that is not so, because out of 626 members we in this country elect only 87. Therefore, on every occasion we can be outvoted by people who have not been elected by the British people. That is my objection. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that it is a reasonable one and a reasonable point of view to take. She takes a different point of view and I understand that. But that is where I am coming from and I hope that I have been able to explain to her the difference that we bring to European democracy.
With those words, I ask my noble friend to believe that when we discuss these matters in detail we are not being paranoid but we are being good parliamentarians because the essence of real parliamentary democracy for parliamentarians, whether they are in another place or here, is to understand what is being put before them; to object, if necessary, and to make those objections heard, however bizarre they may seem to the government, and to have those objections considered seriously and, if necessary, at length. I hope that my noble friend will understand that and take those objections into account when he replies.
§ Lord Monson
Before the noble Lord sits down, will he agree that people the world over will accept laws that they dislike, albeit grudgingly, made by their fellow countrymen, but that they will not accept laws that they dislike made by strangers?
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
Before the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, answers that, and in amplification of what he was saying about the lack of democratic legitimacy of the European Parliament, it is interesting 137 to note that the public perception of that parliament appears to have decreased over the years with the greater powers that have been given to it. For instance, in 1979 when direct elections were first held to the European Parliament, 63 per cent. of the population voted. In 1984, that decreased to 61 per cent. In 1989, it further decreased to 58.5 per cent. In 1994, it fell to 56 per cent. or just over half of the available population, and all this despite the fact that in a number of member states voting is compulsory and despite the arrival of new members in the European Community whom one might have expected to have been enthusiastic about the wretched thing. Clearly, they are not and that is why I, among others, do not take the great democratic legitimacy of the European Parliament very seriously. If it were abolished, life would be much easier for all of us.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
I concur with those two points. It is right that, as the noble Lord, Lord Monson, said, people are prepared to take a lot from their own countrymen; they are not always prepared to take the same from people who live abroad. I hesitate to call them "foreigners", or I shall be criticized—
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
There you are, straightaway!
The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is right that support for the European Parliament has continued to decline. I cannot tell the reasons for that. It may very well be that MEPs are ineffective or that the public do not notice them because they do not do the sort of jobs done by local councillors or MPs. At the last European elections, turnout was 36 per cent. in this country and in the last European by-election, in Liverpool it was down to 11 per cent. It is true that the European Parliament is not held in great regard or is perhaps not properly understood by people in this country and, increasingly, in other countries.
§ Lord Whitty
I am gratified that this is, I hope, the last debate of the evening and that it has been a measured one in which noble Lords have expressed expected but nevertheless important views. When I perhaps provoked my noble friend Lord Stoddart to say that I should not accuse him of paranoia for raising these issues, I must point out that I was not doing that. I have great respect for my noble friend's views and for all other views expressed this evening. It is just that on some issues a construction is built which does not bear a reading of the text and, on other points, important issues of principle clearly arise. There have been differences over both QMV and the role of the European Parliament. On QMV, it has been unfortunate that at the back end of the previous administration it became such a totemic issue. It was not during the earlier stages of the Conservative regime. Under the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty, successive Conservative Prime Ministers rightly judged the issue on whether it would be in Britain's interests to go along or whether the only way of getting something, even if they were 138 not particularly keen on it, was to use the QMV process. That gave us the single market, and the Maastricht treaty gave us 30 new articles subject to QMV.
This treaty is far more minor with regard to the extension of QMV, as was clear from the list that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, rightly read out. We are not unhappy about that extension of QMV. Indeed, we would even have been prepared in certain circumstances to have gone slightly further. Nevertheless, that seemed sensible progress at this point in the development of the EU.
We have a view of QMV which is not informed, as my noble friend Lord Grenfell said, by the expectation what we will always be in a minority, that we will never be able to build a blocking minority or that we will always be in a minority of one. At Amsterdam, we argued strongly that some extension of QMV was necessary to allow the Council to push through effective measures in important areas. Those areas included fraud. If we allow measures against fraud to continue to be subject to unanimity, we can expect a veto from one country or another. Fraud is rightly an issue of serious concern which we shall be debating at some unearthly hour tomorrow, but if we are serious about expecting to do something about fraud in the Community—it is a serious problem—we must accept that decisions will have to be made through QMV. We argued also for QMV on transparency, so that some member states which are less keen on openness in government would not be able to block those measures.
The noble Lord raised queries in relation to research and development. It is true that the British Government, the British economy, British industry and British universities have had a good deal out of the R&D framework programmes over the years. But that depends in future on other member governments not vetoing the excellent criteria on which we gain those resources. If unanimity were required we would face that prospect. Earlier this year there was an excellent example of it. Spain threatened to block the R&D framework until she got satisfaction over her future receipts under the structural and cohesion funds. In the event we were able to agree the framework, but had we not been able to do so after long and difficult negotiation we would have faced a veto which would not have been in the interests of this country, yet a European framework for R&D is for the benefit of Europe and Britain has differentially benefited from it.
On the other hand, at Amsterdam we rightly insisted that many major areas should remain subject to unanimity, as we said in our manifesto. We retain the veto in key national interest areas such as taxation, the budget, foreign policy—subject to discussions that we have had in previous debate—defence, immigration and border controls. We are not a government that is in the business of extending QMV left, right and centre 'for dogmatic, ideological, federalist reasons—any more than we are in the business of resisting it for equally static reasons. There are some areas where QMV is simply inappropriate, but those areas to which the Treaty of Amsterdam extends QMV will greatly benefit 139 this country and the decision-making process of the European Union both immediately and in anticipation of enlargement.
I turn to co-decision and the role of the European Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, cited the list of areas to which co-decision would henceforth apply. I did not quite understand the argument put forward by the noble Lord and others that somehow it represented a loss of sovereignty. Those areas are already subject to decision by the Council of Ministers. In most cases such decisions are subject to qualified majority voting and can lead to legislation at European level. The issue here is not the balance of sovereignty between Britain and Brussels or Strasbourg but the balance between the powers of the executive and a degree of democratic accountability. I am aware that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, and others almost deny that the European Parliament has, or should have, democratic credentials. I am also aware that the legitimacy and importance of the European Parliament in this respect has suffered over recent years, particularly here but in other member states, by some denigration and failure on its part to put its own house in order and to ensure that the citizens of Europe understand what the European Parliament is about.
The Committee is aware that co-decision means that the agreement of the European Parliament and Council is required for Community legislation. It does not enable the European Parliament to propose an Act or to insist upon a proposal or a provision that is in any sense opposed by the Council, but it makes the Council's decisions subject to the agreement of the European Parliament. The European Parliament is therefore able directly to exercise democracy within the European institutions, which we welcome. Co-decision was introduced under the Treaty of Maastricht signed by the previous government. Therefore, there can be no objection in principle to co-decision by the Opposition Front Benches. I assume that they, like us, supported co-decision because they believed that, despite its difficulties and set-backs, the European Parliament had an important oversight role to play in the European Union's legislative process, particularly in areas subject to majority vote in the Council. It is an important democratic check which needs to be further developed. We also realised before Amsterdam that the co-decision procedure laid down in Maastricht needed to be streamlined. That has also been done under the Amsterdam procedure.
The anxiety expressed here, that giving the European Parliament greater oversight of European legislation somehow takes away the role of national parliaments, is misplaced. We believe, as the principles laid out in the new treaty indicate, that there are complementary roles for national parliaments and the European Parliament. We strongly welcome the new national parliaments protocol. It gives a new and legally binding minimum period for national parliaments to scrutinise new legislative proposals.
Co-decision is not appropriate in all cases. It is appropriate in those limited cases to which it has been extended by the Amsterdam Treaty. If there is to be an 140 extension of co-decision in future that needs to be accompanied by an extension of scrutiny by national parliaments. We shall be returning to that issue early in tomorrow's debate when we consider the protocol on national parliaments.
I should emphasise that there is no contradiction in wishing to extend the role of the European Parliament on European legislation and extending the role of national parliaments in scrutinising and controlling the European decisions of their national governments. We wish to see improved scrutiny at both ends of that process.
Finally, I suppose that I have to respond to an issue with which I have considerable sympathy—that relating to the dual location of the European Parliament, which has proved irksome to me as it has to other Members of this place and MEPs and which is an unnecessary cost for the European taxpayer.
Although we did not seek in any sense to include this provision in the treaty, it is consistent with the existing agreement on dual sites which had been reached in Edinburgh in 1992. In October 1997 the ECJ ruled that the European Parliament is legally obliged to hold 12 plenary sessions a year in Strasbourg. That ruling was based on the existing legal provision after the protocol agreed at Edinburgh, signed by the previous government, and not on any new agreement.
There are enormous problems with that, but the status quo pre-dates even UK accession. It can be changed only by unanimity, irrespective of whether it is in the Edinburgh decision or the treaty. There is no greater prospect now of unanimous agreement to a single European site than there was in 1992. Unfortunately there is no prospect in sight in the future. We therefore agreed with some reluctance to that provision which merely carried over into the new treaty the Edinburgh provision. I hope that with those remarks the noble Lord can withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Moynihan
I thank the Minister for his response. I was slightly concerned about the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. He believed, to a certain degree at least, that my mindset was that of a blocking minority. There are two arguments which militate against that observation. The first is that, no doubt greatly to my disadvantage, my observations throughout the Committee's proceedings came from a politician who spent the past five years in industry outside Parliament, regretting deeply the polarity which existed in the Conservative Parliamentary Party and which I believe proved so electorally damaging.
Secondly, all my comments have been considered and drafted in my offices south of the river and revised late at night. For the past six weeks my three children, all of whom are under four years-old, had chicken pox and accordingly kept me awake most nights and allowed me to do some of that work. For those reasons my contributions may not have matched the excellence of Conservative Party briefings. I sincerely hope that from our Benches they provide a constructive approach to our 141 role in Europe and Europe's relationship with us, and were not in any sense made in the mindset of a blocking minority.
§ Lord Grenfell
I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I was not intending to say that he was acting as a blocking minority. I was saying that there is a certain mindset on his side of the Committee which reflects his party having been in a minority of one so often in Brussels and that has made it much attached to the idea of the veto.
§ Lord Moynihan
I am grateful to the noble Lord for clarifying that position. Perhaps I may make one or two swift observations. First, we will return to fraud at a late hour tomorrow, so I will hold back on my comments until then.
Secondly, I welcome the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in highlighting the fact that there are strong arguments, not least financial ones, for all the parliamentary sessions, the committees and the secretariat to be based if not under the same roof at least in the same city and, in my view, surely in the same country. I believe that by tabling the amendment tonight it has been useful to place on record our concerns about the location of the European Parliament.
Thirdly, I was concerned by the echoing "Hear, hear" to the view that at the end of the previous government a blanket ideological opposition appeared to creep in with regard to QMV. That is not the case. It may have been brilliantly exposed as such by the electoral machinations of those seeking to beat us at the last election, and if that was the case I offer congratulations to colleagues opposite. However, at all stages, the issue of QMV should seriously be considered in the context 142 of cases in which QMV in limited areas can, for specific purposes, produce a tangible benefit in return. That is how we should be looking at the extension of QMV, and it is the point I underlined at the outset of my comments. It certainly underpins the position of my Benches.
Finally, I believe that at this late hour we have not given sufficient consideration to the whole question of co-decision in the treaty. For the record, there are massive new powers for the European Parliament, and this was confirmed in a briefing note produced by the European Community in July last year. It stated:The European Parliament made two major gains at the Conference to become a genuine co-legislator and a full arm of the European legislature alongside the Council … Firstly the co-decision procedure has been considerably extended essentially along the lines of the principle suggested by the Commission in its report of July 1996, whereby any instrument of a legislative nature should be adopted under the co-decision procedure between the European Parliament and the Council".The co-decision procedure is nothing short of a veto over decisions of the Council of Ministers handed to the European Parliament, and the Government have agreed that veto in 23 new areas. It was right and appropriate, even at this late hour, that attention should be focused on those provisions in this set of amendments.
I indicated that I intend to return to some of the key points that have arisen during the debates, but at this point in the Committee stage tonight, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 23B to 23K not moved.]
§ House resumed.
§ House adjourned at two minutes before midnight.