§ 3.10 p.m.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
It gives me particular pleasure to introduce the Second Reading debate of the Bill which will enable the United Kingdom to ratify the Treaty of Amsterdam. With your Lordships' indulgence, I should perhaps explain that about three years ago my right honourable friend, now the Prime Minister, asked me to establish a committee chaired by him to consider the Labour Party's approach to the impending Amsterdam negotiations. I can modestly say that we were largely successful in establishing a united and coherent position in the Labour Party; I can certainly claim that we were more successful than were the then government.
In the event, the Labour Government took over on the eve of the final formal stages of negotiation. On day two of the Labour Government I accompanied my right honourable friend Robin Cook across the threshold of the Foreign Office for the first time in government to discuss with officials the state of play and how we should deal with negotiations. On the basis of that meeting my colleague Doug Henderson was able the following Monday to set out clearly the incoming Government's position for the benefit of our European partners, signifying to them a welcome, new, constructive but nevertheless clear and firm UK position as regards those negotiations. I do not claim too much for that preparation. There remained plenty of work for my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to do at Amsterdam, but I like to think that they were working on a sound basis. On 20th May I indicated to the House that I should be covering European questions. I have since then dealt with many European issues in your Lordships' House, but none has given me greater pride than the pride I feel in introducing this Bill.
The Bill comes to us after detailed scrutiny in another place. It was examined over a full five days in Committee; over 100 amendments were discussed there. The detailed attention which the Bill received is noteworthy, but we should also note the overwhelming majority by which the Bill was passed there.
The treaty has also received the attention of your Lordships' House. I replied to a full and stimulating debate on the subject on 28th July, in which many noble 13 Lords made very effective speeches. Your Lordships' Select Committee on the European Communities produced a comprehensive report on the outcome of the intergovernmental conference. That was followed on 31st July by a detailed report from the Select Committee on the enhancement arrangements for scrutiny of the so-called third pillar. Since then the committee has also taken evidence from my colleague, Doug Henderson, Minister for Europe. I am therefore keenly aware that this is a treaty with which many noble Lords are already familiar and in which there is a great deal of interest in this House, as evidenced by the large number of noble Lords who have expressed a wish to speak today.
I should like to take the opportunity of Second Reading to set the treaty in the wider context of the new Government's approach to Britain's role in the European Union. In May last year the new Labour Government said that they saw the European Union as an opportunity. not a threat. For too long the United Kingdom had lost influence in Europe. This Government are clear that the best interests of the country lie in a full, positive and constructive engagement with our European partners.
At Amsterdam my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary showed their great commitment and negotiating skill, which was much respected by their fellow leaders. They also showed that the new Labour Government could do business in Europe, to the benefit of both British interests and the European Union as a whole.
In the Committee stage in another place the Opposition asserted that some aspects of the treaty represented a threat to the interests of this country. I have no doubt that we shall hear that again today. However, I do not believe that the assertion will stand up to serious examination in this House. I have followed closely the debate on the treaty. It has been called many things, some of them complimentary, many of them rather less so, but the description which has been used more often than any is that it is a "modest" treaty. I am struck by that description, but I think a more appropriate one would be that it is a "consolidating" treaty.
It is true that in many respects the treaty is more modest than its two most recent predecessors, the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty. It lacks the dominant, eye-catching, overarching themes of the single market and the single currency. But in many respects these comparisons are misplaced. We should not start from the assumption that every European treaty must necessarily involve a great leap forward. Indeed, the consolidating nature of this treaty catches very well the mood of public opinion, both within this country and the European Union as a whole. The peoples of Europe were not looking for grandiose new constructs or visionary new projects. In so far as they understood the process at all, they were looking for a sensible rationalisation to increase the efficiency and democracy of European institutions, to make them more understandable and in touch with the citizens of Europe and to provide a basis on which we can move forward to tackle the challenges of the next century.
14 Amsterdam represented not only a consolidation but also an end to what I call "institutionitis", the obsession with institutions which affects Eurocrats, politicians and commentators alike. I hope that we can now move on to deal with the issues which concern our citizens—jobs, environment, crime and human rights—and to concentrate on the historic task which we are now beginning with the UK presidency of the European Union: the successful launch of a European currency: and enlargement—the reunification of Europe after the bitter divisions of the Cold War.
For Britain, Amsterdam also represents the normalisation of our relationship with our partners in Europe and the beginning of constructive engagement. For Europe as a whole the treaty substantially, though not entirely, provides the basis on which we can start that process of enlargement. Under the British presidency we shall launch the European conference on 12th March and the enlargement negotiations at the end of next month, a process which will consolidate peace, democracy and security in a wider Europe. It is an historic opportunity and an obligation which we shall fulfil.
That is the context. I hope that in this debate we can also discuss the detail of the treaty on its merits. Looking at the list of speakers, I recognise that it may be a forlorn plea, but I hope we can do so without starting from the assumption that every provision, no matter how minor or benign, and no matter what its evident advantages, must somehow contain some snare simply because it is in a European treaty, supposedly thrust on us by Brussels and a conspiracy of foreigners.
I am the first to recognise that the Treaty of Amsterdam is not a perfect text in every way. I do not wish to grind your Lordships down with a detailed presentation on every sub-paragraph, though I am confident that much of the detail of the treaty will receive proper and full attention in later stages in this House. However, I should like to draw to your Lordships' attention in broader terms some of the practical advantages which the treaty represents for both Britain and Europe. I hope to show that the changes are neither quite as modest as some suggest nor as dangerous as some claim.
First, the treaty begins to address the concerns of the citizens of Europe—for example, the widespread concern about crime. In the field of police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters, the treaty sets out clear objectives for the Union and makes available to the Council new instruments which will improve decision-making and effective co-operation. International criminals—the drug barons and international terrorists—are increasingly agile in pursuing their nefarious trade across international borders. The Union must develop the means to combat them. The treaty marks a step forward in this respect.
The treaty also introduces new provisions on openness and transparency in the Union so that the interested citizen can find out what is being done in his name. It has long been a valid criticism in this House and elsewhere that Europe operates with too much secrecy. Amsterdam begins to set that balance right.
15 There are also improvements which address citizens' concerns—the environmental dimension, consumer protection and anti-fraud provisions. They offer important and significant steps towards addressing, genuine, popular concerns throughout the Union and should be welcomed in this House.
Secondly, the treaty reinforces the rights of the citizen in Europe. For example, it introduces a new legal basis for the Council to adopt anti-discrimination measures, and we support that. It is a welcome provision, but one which has already been misunderstood in this House. Let me explain therefore that the article does not have direct effect; it provides a legal basis for future action by the Council at European level.
The United Kingdom is relatively fortunate to have quite a good story to tell in respect of our anti-discrimination legislation; not all member states are in such a strong position. If we wish to raise standards, not least so that our citizens—particularly those from ethnic minorities—can enjoy the same levels of protection when they travel, work and study in Europe as they do here, we will need legislation at European level. I add however that Article 6a is subject to the important safeguard of unanimous decision making, so that we will be able to shape and influence legislation in a way which is sensitive to our national circumstances.
The treaty also strengthens the human rights provisions. Here again there has been a good deal of scare-mongering. Some have seen and profess to see it as a covert threat to the United Kingdom; that is, that the Council may adopt sanctions against the United Kingdom because it was deemed to be in serious and persistent violation of human rights. That is an improbable scenario to say the least. I can state categorically that as long as this Government are in power—I believe that the same would apply to all parties represented in this House and this Parliament—the United Kingdom will not be in breach of fundamental human rights and it is inconceivable that the 14 other member states would deem us to be so.
Thirdly, in relation to one of the other major concerns of citizens—jobs and working life—I am proud to say that the treaty fulfils the long-standing commitment of the Labour Party to end the damaging opt-out of the social chapter. It will allow British workers to enjoy the same rights and protection in the workplace as their continental counterparts. A lot of nonsense has been talked about the social chapter and I do not aspire to convince the Opposition of the error of their ways today. I know that the social opt-out provided perhaps a convenient and desperate last rallying point for the Conservative Party to try to unite around in opposition to the treaty as a whole. But they failed to provide any evidence that the social chapter will somehow put at risk hundreds of thousands of British jobs.
We set out in our manifesto the objective of incorporation of the social chapter. In that election the vast majority of the British public agreed with us. 16 Similarly, the inclusion of the new employment chapter is also a significant gain. The treaty states that the co-ordinated strategy for employment which it envisages should focus on,promoting a skilled, trained and adaptable workforce and labour markets responsive to economic change".There again we see British wording and British priorities reflected on the European stage, and that is welcome.
This Government do not believe that there is any contradiction between modernising labour markets and providing decent minimum standards for workers, or indeed respecting the position of the trade unions as social partners; quite the reverse. Modernisation requires the active involvement of workers and the constructive engagement of trade unions at all levels. The social chapter and the employment chapter reflect that.
Fourthly, on a different level, we have strengthened the mechanisms and procedures of the common foreign and security policy, building on the Maastricht Treaty. The importance and necessity of that was stressed by speaker after speaker in the debate in this House a few days ago introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond. Amsterdam also clarifies the security provisions of the treaty. It underlines the primacy of NATO as the cornerstone of the European allies' defence. Again, I hope that that can be welcomed across this House.
It has been alleged that the treaty concedes the principles of the integration of the Western European Union into the European Union and thereby turns the EU into a military organisation. That is categorically not the case. It is undeniably true that some of our partners would wish it were so. Those aspirations were advanced at Maastricht and again at Amsterdam. But at our instigation and at our insistence the Amsterdam treaty makes it quite explicit that the integration of the WEU into the European Union could only take place if the European Council so decided, by unanimity, and subject also to the ratification of each member state—another welcome safeguard and a welcome clarification.
The positive closer relationship between the EU and the WEU reflected in the treaty will help to deal with the problems of crisis reaction—the so called Petersberg tasks—where European co-ordination is so vital and has rather too frequently been sadly lacking.
Fifthly, I turn to the vexed problem of border controls. The treaty provides, for the first time, explicit and incontrovertible legal security for this country to maintain its system of border controls. We achieved that in the context of a solution which also recognises the legitimate aspirations of our continental partners with different geographical circumstances and different forms of administration to operate collectively a different system. I know that there are those who claimed that the Conservative government had already negotiated that. But, frankly, we found no trace of any such agreements in the various drafts of the treaty we inherited. It was part of the package negotiated by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister at the summit itself. That is set out in a 17 protocol to the treaty which, as your Lordships know, carries the same legal force as the treaty itself. I hope it will be welcomed by all Members of this House.
Let me now turn to the institutional provisions of the treaty. I do not intend to dwell unduly on those provisions. I recognise that neither the official Opposition nor the Euro-sceptic tendency will agree with us on some of these issues. For instance, this Government see real advantages in a sensible extension of qualified majority voting. An extension of majority voting removes the ability of one country to block measures which may be in the interest of this country and the Union as a whole; for example, in the fight against fraud.
The Government accept also that the question of extending majority voting raises important questions of accountability. We therefore make no apology whatever about our support—indeed our strong advocacy—for the treaty's extension of the powers of the European Parliament, a co-decision with the Council. That is important in terms of democratic legitimacy and we believe that the changes in the powers of the European Parliament are welcome. They represent an advance in democracy and accountability of all the European institutions.
On the agenda for Amsterdam were also other questions of reform of the institutions—of the Commission and of the re-weighting of votes in the Council. In that area I am markedly upbeat. As I said in the July debate, I regret the fact that Amsterdam did not make as much progress in those areas as we would have liked. We did not reach final agreement. But at least we secured a firm commitment to address those questions in good time for the enlargement process.
Finally, I draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that the treaty also contains a new protocol on the role of national parliaments. I am pleased to pay tribute once again to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and his committee who have long sought for a longer period of scrutiny by national parliaments of European legislation. We now have a minimum six-week period for consultation. That is an important improvement, but we also intend to ensure that it is respected.
Your Lordships will know that this Government are committed to more effective, more comprehensive scrutiny here at Westminster of European legislation. My right honourable friend the President of the Council submitted a memorandum to the modernisation committee in another place setting out the Government's proposals. The Government look forward to taking those matters further in consultation with both Houses. In particular, we would welcome the contribution of your Lordships' Select Committee in that process.
The treaty of Amsterdam may well have been described as modest. However, I hope that I have shown some of the important achievements which it represents for this country and for Europe. At Amsterdam we achieved explicit legal security for our border controls and protected our essential interests on immigration, asylum and visa policies; we agreed a limited extension of qualified majority voting in those areas where it will be in our interests while maintaining at the same time 18 unanimity in key areas; we agreed measures which will improve the effectiveness of the common foreign and security policy; and, above all, we endorsed a new focus for the institutions of the Union on issues which really concern the citizens of Europe—on employment, on social policy, on the environment, on combating discrimination and on fighting fraud.
This may not be the stuff of heroic deeds and high oratory. The treaty is neither the looming menace portrayed by the Euro-sceptics nor is it the triumph of the European ideal envisaged by some Euro-fanatics. It is a practical consolidating treaty on the basis of which we can now move forward. Perhaps I may pick up the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, who I do not think is in his place today, in the July debate on the treaty. He said:we are approaching this topic now with objectives that are a lot less grand than we had at one time, and with language a lot less high-flown. But the alarms and hazards are rather less menacing as well. That is not to underrate the process. The opportunities. the challenges and the potential still remain of urgent practical importance to this country".—[Official Report, 28/7/97: col. 37.]Those, I submit, are exactly the right terms in which to describe this treaty. On that, I am in complete agreement with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe.
§ I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Lord Whitty.)
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ Lord Moynihan
My Lords, today we start the process of assessing the action which the Government took on behalf of the British people in Amsterdam last June and judging whether the Government's rhetoric of success after the summit is in proportion to what was negotiated at it. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, as a Government Whip, has won widespread respect in this House for his command of many subjects for which he has responsibility. He has now added well honed Foreign Office rhetoric to his armoury. I know that he will accept our congratulations on his opening speech as genuine and that he will not regard the widespread concern throughout the House that no Foreign Office Minister is at the Dispatch Box today as being in any way a personal attack on his ability. It is not.
However, I have to say that the decision made by the Foreign Secretary that this far-reaching constitutional legislation does not warrant Foreign Office ministerial accountability is a discourtesy to the House. It is the only Foreign Office legislation to come before the House during this lengthy first Session but apparently it is insufficient to warrant Foreign Office ministerial accountability here. This constitutional legislation is of such magnitude that it warrants a nationwide referendum in Denmark and consumes the time of the constitutional court in Germany. But it is not important enough to trouble our Foreign Office Ministers. The Government claim to be putting the United Kingdom at the heart of Europe. They currently hold the key role as president of the European Union. How on earth will our European colleagues judge the Prime Minister and the Government when they see Robin Cook seeking the introduction of the legislation 19 into the Upper House without deeming it important enough to warrant the presence of a Foreign Office Minister, either during Second Reading or at the Committee stage?
These words are spoken more in sorrow than in anger. They obviously cause some amusement to colleagues elsewhere in the House. I say to them that when they look around the House and see the quality of many fine former ambassadors, former Foreign Secretaries and experts in foreign affairs in a House which has become a focal point, not for laughter but for detailed consideration and revision of European policy, they should then contrast the reputation we have long held internationally with today's Foreign Office decision not to ensure that the ministry is accountable to the House on matters of far reaching constitutional importance.
However, irrespective of how strongly my colleagues and I may feel about the Government's treatment of your Lordships' House today, it is my duty to impress upon the House the failings of this measure. I can assure the House that they are as great as the cursory treatment to which we have been subjected. This is no simple consolidating treaty. As a result, it is my intention during the progress of the Bill to examine in a constructive and measured way a treaty which is seriously flawed; to scrutinise the details contained within the legislation; to question the Minister, when, as I sincerely hope, she comes to the House; and to explore fully the effects of the Bill's provisions and the implications of the transfer of power which the treaty provides.
§ Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I find his statement quite astonishing. On the one hand, he has complimented my noble friend Lord Whitty on his exceptional ability in opening the debate and on the experience that he has demonstrated before the House over the past few months. On the other hand, he is criticising my Front Bench for putting my noble friend forward as a speaker in introducing the debate. The noble Lord cannot have it both ways. If he acknowledges the quality of my noble friend Lord Whitty, I think he should acknowledge that we have put forward our best player in the debate.
§ Lord Moynihan
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. He makes an extremely good point. If it is the view of the noble Lord that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is the best person for the job, I would advise him to write to the Prime Minister and ask him immediately to give the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, the job. The noble Lord would do an admirable job. Everything I have said about the outstanding contribution to the House of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, stands. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, agrees.
However, the point I have made and will make again is that it is for a Foreign Office Minister to come before the House when we have before us a matter of major constitutional importance. As I will show to the noble Lord, and to other noble Lords, the Amsterdam treaty is full of issues of major constitutional importance that 20 warrant detailed consideration by each and every one of your Lordships. To proceed without a Foreign Office Minister on the Government Front Bench is an appalling reflection on the importance the Government attach to a measure which is of major constitutional importance both to your Lordships' House and to the people of this country.
I have argued that the Amsterdam treaty is important and has constitutional implications not least for our relationship with Europe and the prospective new members of the European Union. I take this opportunity to repeat that, setting aside those areas where we are in genuine disagreement—the effects of the social chapter and of the employment chapter—there are certainly broad areas of consensus between the Government and the Opposition on the treaty. We agree in principle on the legally-guaranteed retention of sovereignty over our border controls; the rejection of a merger between the European Union and the Western European Union; the protocol to entrench subsidiarity; and the rejection of proposals to give the European Union an explicit legal personality.
Yet we are told that at Amsterdam the Government delivered where they said they would deliver. We are told, too, that the negotiations at Amsterdam provided the concrete proof that the Government have "transformed Britain's relations with our European partners" and that "Britain is now respected as a constructive partner with which the other countries of Europe can do business". We shall be looking at the truth of those statements in reference to enlargement, vote weighting reforms and the size of the Commission, the opt-in to the Schengen Acquis, the Government's deal on quota hopping and the scope of the extension of powers to the European Court of Justice.
Chapter by chapter, article by article, paragraph by paragraph, we will be judging the treaty, and, by implication the Government and their negotiating skills, on a series of key tests. Does it benefit Britain's competitiveness and jobs? Does it protect and enhance British interests? Does it achieve what it set out to do? In sum, is it really the best deal the Government could get for Britain? Or did the Government in fact give up a good deal?
Where better to begin this examination of the treaty and the Government's negotiating ability than with the challenge of enlargement and the consequences of the treaty for the people of central and eastern Europe? If Amsterdam had a raison d'être, an idea behind it, a purpose to achieve, it was the acknowledgement that Europe does not end at the Elbe and that institutional changes and reforms are necessary to pave the way for enlargement. It has been said many times before, but it is nonetheless true, that enlargement is the historic challenge of our generation. We have an opportunity to heal the divisions which have scarred our continent. But the fulfilment of this powerful mission for the future—and it is a mission—carries weighty budgetary, political and social implications. The present Union, its institutions and mechanisms, were designed nearly half a century ago for six states and no one expects those to serve effectively the Europe of the 21st century in all its diversity.
21 Before enlargement can take place, therefore, difficult issues must be addressed and difficult decisions made on reform of the common agricultural policy; on reform of the structural and cohesion funds, without which we will bankrupt the Community budget; and on the size of the Commission and the re-weighting of votes in Council without which smaller member states will have power disproportionate to their populations to out-vote the larger members.
In opposition the Government said that they were "strongly committed" to the enlargement of the European Union which had "a crucial role to play in consolidating democracy and economic reform in central and eastern Europe". Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, said that,the main concern of [the' British presidency will be to get negotiations on the enlargement of Europe off to a flying start".— [Official Report, Commons, 9/6/97; col. 806.]The Minister of State said that it was,a top priority for the future direction of Europe that enlargement of the European Union takes place at the earliest possible (opportunity]'. —[Official Report, Commons, 12/11/97, col. 1000.]Fine rhetoric, but how is it reflected in the treaty text? How did the Government ensure that Amsterdam was used to refashion the European Union to enable us to rebuild Europe'? How does the treaty make the EU's institutions appropriate to an enlarged Community? The answers are that the Government failed to achieve any of these objectives and, regrettably, failed miserably. The Foreign Secretary stated,I believe we can look forward with confidence to obtaining more votes for Britain and the larger countries from the Amsterdam summit. Enlargement could create the perverse outcome of the three largest nations, with a majority of the population of Europe, not having a blocking minority in the Council of Ministers. We have every reason to believe that we shall emerge from Amsterdam with an agreement that will give Britain greater weight in the Council of Ministers".—[Official Report, Commons, 9/6/97; col. 806.]Yet he did not. For, fresh from these negotiations, the Prime Minister was forced to admit that,not as much progress was made as there might have been-.— [Official Report, Commons, 18/6/97; col. 314.1So exactly what progress did take place on weighting of individual member votes in weighted majority voting? Why, when, prior to the summit, the Foreign Secretary was so confident that he would return with the key institutional reforms necessary for enlargement, does Article 1 of the Protocol simply restate the requirement, apparent since the last enlargement took place in 1995, to re-weight votes in the Council and to adjust the present number of Commissioners? And why—potentially damagingly to Britain—does it also contain a commitment to give up our second Commissioner? This is a commitment, contained in a legally binding protocol, upon which others may rely in the Court of Justice.
Britain's position had always before been that we would agree to give up our second Commissioner provided we were compensated through vote re-weighting. Now, sadly, the loss of our second Commissioner by 2003 is not to be compensated by a watertight, legal guarantee to re-weight the votes in Council. One need only consult the Foreign and Commonwealth Office memorandum to the Foreign 22 Affairs Committee, which does not inspire confidence on the point. So the Government have come to the House today with a situation where we are legally bound to give up our second Commissioner in a treaty which only envisages a satisfactory vote re-weighting formula.
It is clear that the European Union cannot afford to enlarge as it stands at present, financially or administratively. This was where the treaty is most visibly and shamefully lacking and where the Government have committed their greatest sin of omission. As the treaty stands, the Government allowed the most important and most difficult decision to be postponed. It put off for tomorrow what it should have done today. I would like to know why this was and whether the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will stand by his explanation for the failure given to me in your Lordships' House in July. He said,We failed on the institutional side to agree the size of the Commission or the reweighting of votes. But we came close to agreement. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, asked me why. One slightly flip answer is to say that we did not reach that item until four o'clock in the morning. It may be that the heads of government of other states were not quite as alert at that point as my honourable friend the Prime Minister".—[Official Report, 28/7/97; col. 72.]The noble Lord may see nothing inappropriate in giving a flip answer to such a question. But I wonder whether the peoples of central and eastern Europe share the joke. However, as I turn to examine the Government's negotiations on our opt-in to the Schengen Acquis the noble Lord's explanation for the Government's failure on enlargement seems to be a case of many a true work spoken in jest.
For certainly the early hours of the morning do appear to be a particularly low point for the Government's ability to negotiate, as is amply demonstrated by the negligent negotiation over 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 must add that our support 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. The Government are absolutely right to proclaim that as a major achievement, which is exactly what it was—a Major achievement with a capital M‡
When we come to the Committee stage we shall be seeking clarification on the issue of Article 4 of the protocol integrating the Schengen Acquis into the framework of the European Union. It is my understanding that as result of negligence on the part of the Foreign Secretary, a late amendment by the Spanish Prime Minister 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 now by unanimity rather than by qualified majority voting. This potentially hands the Spanish a powerful bargaining chip with which to exact concession over Gibraltar. I would like to repeat the 23 question of the noble Lord's colleague, the Labour Member for Wrexham, to the Foreign Secretary. He wanted to know whether that had simply happened because Her 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 Dutch Government, unsurprisingly, have clearly been concerned that we have had four different explanations for this failure to negotiate in another House. Clearly concerned by these extraordinary allegations of 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, will the Government give the House an assurance that that letter will be published?
But there will be those among your Lordships who will be far more concerned about the reforms to the appointment of the President of the Commission and of the new Commissioners from member states, where a reasonable explanation might well be that the negotiations again took place too early in the morning. It would seem to me genuinely to be the only explanation for what has happened in the treaty text.
Of all the changes agreed by the Government in Amsterdam these reforms have potentially the most long-term significance for the people of Britain. The treaty gives away important national powers by diminishing the freedom of member states to appoint the Commissioners of their choice. In future, the European Parliament will have to approve the new President of the Commission and 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. Do the Government agree that these changes take far-reaching 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? Why did the Government agree that the President of the Commission should have the power to veto Commissioners chosen by member states? What was the possible justification for the change?
The Minister of State in another place said on 15th January at col. 544 of Hansard,The changes are very much in Britain's interests".Do the Government think that it is in our national interest that no President of the European Commission can be appointed unless the European Parliament agrees? Do the Government think that it is in our national interest that we in the United Kingdom can no longer be guaranteed the right to chose our own Commissioner? Do the Government 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? Yes,The Commission shall work under the political guidance of its President".The word "political" is inserted for the first time under Article 2, paragraph 41 of the Treaty of Amsterdam. Does the Minister think that it is in our national interest 24 that the balance of power has shifted from intergovernmental control towards a political Commission led by a political President?
This is no simple consolidating treaty. It is a major constitutional issue which, on the points I have already raised and put before your Lordships' House, requires detailed consideration and lengthy and detailed answers. I just do not know the justification for that fundamental shift in the nature of the Commission. The Minister of State justified the powers to the European Parliament, saying that,as Members of the European Parliament come from the same countries and political parties as Council members. I do not think that their views will be very much out of line with the majority Council view. The fear is therefore unrealistic".Given that faith in MEPs—if they have such faith in their MEPs to reflect their line—why did the Government disgracefully, undemocratically and repeatedly try to gag their own MEPs when they expressed a socialist agenda?
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 the provision to allow the European Parliament to set aside the unanimous views of 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.]We know that the Government disapprove—
§ Lord Wallace of Saltaire
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord, but I am trying hard to follow him. I do not recall the exact clause in the original Treaty of Rome of 1958 which said that Commissioners should take no instructions from national governments. We have just had a row about a French Commissioner who wished to behave in a rather more intergovernmental way. I cannot see where the Treaty of Amsterdam changes what was in the original Treaty of Rome about the Commission in the way the noble Lord suggests.
§ Lord Moynihan
My Lords, although I welcome that intervention, there are significant changes in this treaty, not least under Article 2, paragraph 41. That is the first use of the word "political" in terms of direct guidance from the President to the Commission. I am grateful to the noble Lord for intervening because we shall have an opportunity to look into this and all related issues in depth in Committee. The noble Lord has highlighted a vitally important issue, which is the concern that can exist when political direction is given. The noble Lord quoted one example. I suggest to your Lordships that we shall see many more such examples as a result of the drafting of this new part of the Amsterdam treaty which has serious constitutional implications for both this House and future governments.
25 It would be easy for me to spend a similar amount of time assessing the really important issues such as, for example, quota hopping on which the Prime Minister claimed a tremendous result for the Government—a result which the president of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations regarded as a "hopelessly inadequate fudge". We shall need to look in detail also at the reforms of the European Court of Justice. In Committee we shall need to consider the complex area of flexibility.
We shall also need to look at the far-reaching social and employment implications of both of those chapters. That is an area where the Opposition accept that the Government have not been negligent, but rather, deeply misguided, for we are in genuine disagreement on both the social and employment chapters. Over the past 20 years the United States has created 36 million new jobs, of which 31 million are in the private sector. Over the same period, only 8 million jobs have been created in the European Union, with no increase in private sector employment. Unless Europe cuts its social costs and frees up its labour markets, it will be outpriced and outperformed by the rest of the world, ensuring that unacceptable levels of employment will persist. Red tape and regulation are a regime that Europe can no longer afford to keep in place.
On those and many other issues I hope that I have demonstrated to colleagues, even if they disagree with some of my arguments, that this legislation is vital to our national interest. It is also vital to the opportunity to forge a stronger Europe. It is simply a tragedy that the Government do not share the priority that we attach to this measure. That is why it is ultimately not only a discourtesy, but also a snub, to this House as well as to our European aspirations that the Government deem it unnecessary to be accountable for their actions through the presence of a Foreign Office Minister.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned. —(Lord Beloff)
§ The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)
The Question is, That this debate be now adjourned.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, my reasons for moving such a Motion have, to some extent, already been expressed by my noble friend on the Front Bench. It is the opinion of many noble Lords that this is a matter of great constitutional importance and that there are precedents which show that, whenever a matter of constitutional importance is before your Lordships' House, the Bill is piloted on Second Reading and, even more importantly, in its later stages by a Minister from the department concerned. As my noble friend Lord Moynihan said, this is no criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who moved the Second Reading of this Bill. He is obviously well acquainted with these matters even though he 26 informed us that he approached the whole issue of Europe rather from a party background than from immersion in public contacts with our friends and allies.
The fact that this Bill is of constitutional importance hardly needs demonstrating by reference to its own clauses. In another place, it was taken through all its stages by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. Clearly, they thought that it was a matter of such constitutional importance that, in spite of their many other commitments, often airborne, they would have to devote the necessary time to dealing with it.
Therefore, one is driven to the belief—regretfully, in my case—that it is not that the Government dispute that this is a constitutional measure but that they dispute that the arguments which apply in another place to the handling of constitutional measures apply to this House. They mean to illustrate, if one can put it rather strongly, their reservations about the ability of this House to deal with serious constitutional and foreign policy issues. One might think, looking around your Lordships' House not only today but also on previous occasions when we have discussed Europe, that the experience of European institutions in this House is at least as great as that in another place—and some, perhaps vauntingly, would say that it is considerably greater.
One is bound to ask what has possessed the Government to believe that this of all issues is one on which they can afford to ignore the traditional way of handling the business of your Lordships' House. I believe that this view is widely shared—it is not my own particularly—both by those who are dedicated to the cause of European integration, like the noble Baroness who is about to speak, and those who may he described in the language of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, as Eurosceptics. All of us agree, some with pleasure and some with apprehension, that it is important and if it is important it is right that a Minister should deal with the later stages of the Bill. I hope that during the short debate that follows we shall get an undertaking to that effect.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
My Lords, I have listened with great interest and some learning to the words of the very experienced noble Lord opposite who has moved that this debate be now adjourned. In the short six years that I have been here and observed both parties in government I have been conscious of the fact that there are shortcomings in relation to the ministerial complement that forms the Front Bench of whichever party is in power. When one compares the other place with this House it is obvious that one is not comparing like with like. In the field of foreign affairs in the other place there are four or five Foreign Office Ministers, all of whom could have dealt with this Bill in all its stages in another place.
I believe that one of the great weaknesses of your Lordships' House is that, whichever party is in government, there is always only one person with ministerial responsibility for each department. There must come a time when the responsible Minister is physically not available to be present in your Lordships' House to deal with the particular legislation that is before us for consideration. I respectfully suggest that 27 when reform of your Lordships' House is being considered, not only the membership but the structure of your Lordships' House should be examined so that we do not find ourselves in this position of discussing across the Floor of your Lordships' House why the Foreign Office Minister that most of your Lordships would have expected to be present is not here to deal with the Second Reading of a Bill.
It has been my understanding since coming to your Lordships' House, rightly or wrongly—I am coming to the conclusion that it is "wrongly"—that designated Whips are second in line to the Minister responsible for particular departments. No one, but no one, in your Lordships' House today can gainsay that my noble friend Lord Whitty has made an outstanding contribution to this debate. I know that the noble Lord opposite in no way denigrates the contribution that has been made by my noble friend. That is said within these four walls, but that is not how it will be seen outside.
In conclusion, I appeal to your Lordships to allow the debate to continue but also to allow the lesson to be learned.
§ Lord Tebbit
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, made two interesting and useful points which have underlined exactly what my noble friend Lord Beloff has said. First, the noble Lord said that there were at least four junior Foreign Office Ministers in the other place. If this was a Bill of such little constitutional importance, why was it that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary chose to take part of the burden of carrying the Bill through the other place when there were all those other Ministers who might have done it? Secondly, the noble Lord pointed out that there was but one Foreign Office Minister in your Lordships' House, but he had already made the point that there were four junior Foreign Office Ministers in the other place. That there is only one Foreign Office Minister in your Lordships' House is not a choice of this House; it is the choice of Her Majesty's Government that the Foreign Office is under-represented in this House.
I believe that what my noble friend has said is very much to the point. He is quite correct. It would be a remarkably good thing if this House put its collective foot down and asked that a Foreign Office Minister be here to deal with this Bill. It is no good all of us observing, quite rightly, how well the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, read his brief and took on the role. Of course he did. We all respect him. He knows full well how well I respect him personally. In the past he and I have had many matters in common. Indeed, we have in the past shared some duties across the political divide. We understand each other quite well. But the point is that he is not a Minister in the department concerned and therefore has no direct responsibility for that 28 department. My noble friend Lord Beloff is right. I think that the best thing we can do is to get on with the Division and decide the issue.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, can noble Lords opposite inform the House what the Foreign Office Minister is doing as opposed to coming to this House?
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, the Minister is getting ready for a debate in your Lordships' House tomorrow. Your Lordships have agreed that tomorrow there should be a debate on Iraq. She is dealing with the affairs of Iraq today, and tomorrow she will no doubt tell the House what must be said about the affairs of Iraq.
I regret that I missed the beginning of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. I was in a meeting when someone suddenly burst in to tell me that the noble Lord had moved the adjournment of the House. I should have liked to be here to hear the whole of his speech, but I believe that I got the gist of it. I assume that it was much the same point as was made by other speakers on the other side.
It is said that somehow or other this debate is diminished by the fact that the person who is handling it for the Government is my noble friend Lord Whitty rather than "a Foreign Office Minister". With great respect to the Opposition, they cannot get away with that. Those who take that view can wrap it up in all kinds of constitutional terms and play parliamentary games as much as they like, but let us have no illusions about what is going on here. No attack is made on the competence of my noble friend, as I understand it. First, it is agreed that he knows his subject. Secondly, it is agreed that he can speak for the Government because he is a Member of the Government. Thirdly, my noble friend has dealt with Europe for a number of years. Fourthly, I remind the Opposition that it was pointed out to them at the beginning of this Government's life that my noble friend Lord Whitty would be speaking on European affairs in this House. I did not hear any objection to that at the time.
I am bound to consider the way in which the Opposition used their Whips when on this side of the House. They complain about my noble friend Lord Whitty, but I said very little about the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington. I am very fond of the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington. She is a great lady. I have listened to her with enjoyment and respect. When she gets up she commands the attention of the House. Certainly everyone agrees with that. The idea that somehow that was all right but that this is wrong is not an argument that carries much weight.
The Prime Minister was not involved in the Bill in the other place. The Foreign Secretary opened it on Second Reading but took no part in Committee or on Third Reading. He did, however, move the guillotine Motion, so perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, will accept that as the position.
I entirely agree that this is an important Bill. It is right that the "Minister" in the Foreign Office who deals with Europe in probably a more intimate way than any other of the Foreign Office Ministers—namely, my noble 29 friend—is the person most fitted to deal with this in this House. That is the view that the Government continue to hold. There is nothing constitutionally wrong in it; there is nothing wrong in it in terms of the personality or competence of the Minister doing the job. With great respect, this is taking parliamentary games a little too far.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, surely the noble Lord will accept that he has misunderstood the matter. He has got it wrong. I speak for myself, but it is not a question, as I see it, of diminishing the debate; it is a question of the proprieties, government responsibility and the way in which the House should be treated. That is how I understand this.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says. I do not know how he can say that it does not concern my noble friend's capacity or confidence, when the whole attack from the other side is that he is not a person who is in a position to deal with the Bill. I am sorry, perhaps I am being dense this afternoon, but I do not understand it. The argument coming from the other side, as I understand it, is that somehow or another my noble friend is not the person who should be dealing with the Bill—although he is the person who should be dealing with the Bill because of his competence and his knowledge—because there is some constitutional objection to his doing so. There is no constitutional objection to his doing so.
Whips have been used for this purpose in this House by successive governments. They were used during the five years that I sat over there and the noble Viscount sat here.
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord the Leader of the House will accept that the whole House has learnt to admire the skill and competence of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, during his so far brief period with us. I have confidence that the distinction that he has earned in your Lordships' House during his brief period will only be added to during the rest of his career here. It has been very much helped, as so often in your Lordships' House, by the feeling—if I may put it this way—of increasing affection in which the noble Lord is held. The noble Lord the Leader of the House is right when he sustains the proposition—a proposition with which we all agree—that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is an ornament to the Government Front Bench, and long may he remain so.
With the greatest respect to the Leader of the House, that is not the point to which my noble friends are addressing themselves. Perhaps I may take the noble Lord on a little trip down memory lane, because he was kind enough to refer to the precedent when he and I were sitting in different places before the last election—when our roles were reversed. At that time—I think the noble Lord will accept this, indeed he said so himself—as was usual in this House, as has indeed continued to be usual in your Lordships' House since 1st May, Government Whips and Opposition Front Bench Whips have played a prominent role in the 30 proceedings of your Lordships' House. That has always been so, and I hope that it will continue to be so, especially in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to whom we all pay genuine tribute.
The point is rather different from that. The point is that we always took immense trouble to ensure that when there was a major piece of legislation in your Lordships' House, the Minister responsible in your Lordships' House, if there was one—I am the first to admit that, for instance, latterly before 1st May there was not a Minister responsible for agriculture in your Lordships' House, and therefore that responsibility did devolve on a Whip, and, if I may say so, the Whip concerned discharged his responsibilities competently—took the lead in taking that legislation through the House.
We deemed that that was constitutionally proper because your Lordships' House is, after all, a House of Parliament and as such is entitled to hold the Government to account. The most responsible individual practicable should therefore try to ensure that he or she is responsible for that particular piece of legislation. It is for that reason that I believe, if the noble Lord the Leader of the House looks through every example, certainly during my time as Leader of the House, he will find that when it was possible to produce a Minister responsible for a piece of legislation in the department concerned, the Minister responsible always took the lead during the course of the proceedings on that Bill.
We had hoped that it might be possible for this important piece of legislation to be no exception to the practice of the House which we indeed attempted— I think successfully attempted—to observe in my time as Leader. I understand that my predecessors did very much the same.
I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Beloff intends to push his Motion to a Division. We have discussed this matter through the usual channels, and it would not be the intention of the Government Front Bench to support my noble friend were that to be the case.
My Lords, old habits die hard. I am the first to admit that. I rephrase that-the Opposition Front Bench does not intend to support my noble friend in that Division.
Nevertheless, I hope that the noble Lord the Leader of the House will reflect carefully on what has been said. I say that with all the humility at my command. I do not want in any way to hector or to be difficult about this, but precedent in this House clearly shows that when there is a Minister in a department, that Minister takes important pieces of legislation through your Lordships' House.
The noble Lord the Leader of the House has himself said to the House—and rightly so—and I supported him, that contrary to popular opinion Ministers in your Lordships' House are busy people. Their job is at least as onerous as the job of Ministers in another place. It is for that reason that we admire the noble Lord's efforts 31 to ensure that the rewards—fewer though they may be—for Government Ministers in your Lordships' House do not lag too far behind the rewards available to Ministers in another place, because the review body which is looking at these matters has to be brought to realise that Ministers in this House are often even busier than Ministers in another place, for all the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, so rightly pointed out.
Perhaps the noble Lord the Leader of the House can review this matter, not now—we would of course not want the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, to interrupt her preparation for the important debate tomorrow, in which my noble friend Lord Moynihan is also taking part—and as a courtesy to the House come back to the House on this, and perhaps the noble Baroness could favour us with her presence during at least some of the remaining stages of the Bill for reasons which have been made plain this afternoon from a number of sides of the House.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, since this is something of a storm in a teacup, I hope that we shall be able to proceed with the main body of Business very soon. Over 30 noble Lords wish to speak. This is just delaying their opportunity to do so. I recognise the deep and proper concern of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, for the constitutional proprieties. I also recognise the strong argument that whatever government are in power, they must never neglect their duties to this House. Ministers must see their responsibility, whether in another place or here, as being first to Parliament.
As was said by the noble Viscount, there is no doubt that, given the collective responsibility of government, it is perfectly proper to have the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, open the debate. He is a competent person in every possible way. I should have liked the noble Viscount to say that, having heard his noble friend, he would advise all his colleagues not to vote for the Motion. However, if the Motion comes before the House I hope that it will in no way become a substitute for a vote on the Second Reading, which is not the custom in this place. Certainly we on these Benches will vote against the Motion should it be put.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, before the House continues, perhaps I may refer to a matter that I should have raised earlier. The noble Viscount referred to his attitude towards my noble friend Lord Whitty. On 20th May, my noble friend Lord Whitty said:Alongside my noble friend Lady Symons I shall be replying on European Union issues in this House".—[Official Report, 20/5/97 co1.256.]Later, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said:Perhaps I may welcome the noble Lord to his new responsibilities. We much look forward to hearing what he has to say on the subject as we have enjoyed what he has had to say during his previous sallies in the House".—[Official Report, 20/5/97; co1.257.]Therefore, it was made perfectly clear as long ago as 20th May that my noble friend Lord Whitty would be replying on European Union issues in this House. I can only repeat what I have said—and that would be merely 32 repetition. I hope that in all the circumstances the Motion does not go to a Division. If it does, I shall certainly ask my noble friends to vote against it.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, the House has heard the arguments on both sides. I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the Motion shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 40; Not-Contents, 115.33
|Division No. 1|
|Ailsa, M.||Long, V.|
|Annaly, L.||McConnell, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Monson, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Newall, L.|
|Bruntisfield, L.||Northesk, E.|
|Butterworth, L.||Onslow, E. [Teller.]|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Chesham, L. [Teller.]||Pender, L.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Cox, B.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Rotherwick, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Selkirk of Douglas, L.|
|Exmouth, V.||Shaw of Northstead, L|
|Gisborough, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Gray, L.||Tebbit, L.|
|Haig, E.||Teviot, L.|
|Hamilton of Dalzell, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|HolmPatrick, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Westbury, L.|
|Acton, L.||Freyberg, L.|
|Addington, L.||Gladwin of Clee, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Gordon of Strathblane, L.|
|Allen of Abbeydale, L.||Gould of Potternewton, B.|
|Ampthill, L.||Grenfell, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Grey, E.|
|Barnett, L.||Halsbury, E.|
|Bassam of Brighton, L.||Hardie, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Hardy of Wath, L.|
|Berkeley, L.||Harris of Greenwich, L.|
|Blackburn, Bp.||Haskel, L.|
|Blease, L.||Hayter, L.|
|Bridges, L.||Hilton of Eggardon, B.|
|Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.||Howie of Troon L|
|Bruce of Donington, L.|
|Burlison, L.||Hoyle, L.|
|Carew, L.||Hughes, L.|
|Carlisle, E.||Hughes of Woodside, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Hunt of Kings Heath, L.|
|Carter, L. [Teller.]||Hutchinson of Lullington, L.|
|Clancarty, E.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Ilchester, E.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Irvine of Lairg, L.[Lord Chancellor.]|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.|
|Dahrendorf, L.||Islwyn, L.|
|David, B.||Jeger, B.|
|Desai, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Dixon, L.||Kennet, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Kilbracken, L.|
|Ewing of Kirkford, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Ezra, L.||Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Ludford, B.|
|McIntosh of Haringey, L.[Teller.]||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Shore of Stepney, L.|
|Mason of Barnsley, L.||Simon, V.|
|Merlyn-Rees, L.||Smith of Gilmorehill, B.|
|Milner of Leeds, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Monkswell, L.||Steel of Aikwood, L.|
|Montague of Oxford, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Moyne, L.||Taverne, L.|
|Murray of Epping Forest, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Nicholson of Winterbourne, B.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Noel-Buxton, L.||Tenby, V.|
|Ogmore, L.||Thomas of Macclesfield, L.|
|Paul, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Pitkeathley, B.||Tombs, L.|
|Plant of Highfield, L.||Tope, L.|
|Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Prys-Davies, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Puttnam, L.||Walker of Doncaster, L.|
|Ramsay of Cartvale, B.||Wallace of Saltaire,L.|
|Randall of St. Budeaux, L.||Whitty, L.|
|Redesdale, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Richard, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]||Williams of Crosby, B.|
|Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Russell, E.||Williams of Mostyn, L.|
|Russell-Johnston, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E|
|St. John of Bletso, L.||Wright of Richmond, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, first I profoundly regret the 38 minutes that we have spent on that Motion. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for informing me that a question may be raised about the non-presence of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. I am grateful to him for that. But I do not believe that the past 38 minutes commend this House for its seriousness and concerns about the issues raised in the way that I would have hoped.
I cannot see any major constitutional issue. As the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal effectively pointed out, from the very beginning of this Government's administration, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has been one of the Front Bench Members handling European issues and he has done so to the great satisfaction of the House. Like many other noble Lords, I wish this House to be treated with the seriousness it deserves. I do not believe that the past 38 minutes have particularly helped in doing so. Perhaps I may be indelicate and ask the question whether those on the Front Bench of the Official Opposition were aware of the position. I trust not.
I begin by dealing with one issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, simply because my noble friends and I found it rather difficult to understand. Several noble Lords are about to speak in this debate who are or have been Commissioners. It has always been my understanding that no Commissioner is appointed by the government of a single member state, nor should he be, for the responsibility of the Commission is a collegiate one. The decision to appoint Commissioners is consensual. There have been occasions when Commissioners have not been further advanced because there was not an agreement among other member states as to the appointment. That is as it should be. They all 34 take an oath to the effect that their responsibility is to the European Community and not to the member state from which they come. Therefore, I found a good deal of that argument difficult to follow other than the discovery of monsters in strange corners of all European issues with which many of us in this House are familiar.
I agree with the noble Lord on his statement that the Amsterdam treaty was a treaty of considerable significance. But I cannot help reflecting on the fact that shortly after the change in government, the Shadow Foreign Secretary in another place announced that it was a matter of such importance that there should be a test of the opinion of the British people on it; namely, that there should be a referendum. In view of the extreme importance of this treaty, I was slightly surprised that we heard no more about that possibility. Perhaps the Official Opposition will assist the House by telling us into which black hole that particular proposal has vanished.
I turn to an issue on which I very much agreed with both noble Lords who have spoken so far. While the Treaty of Amsterdam may be regarded as a consolidating treaty, it is also an essential clearing of the way towards enlargement. Almost all noble Lords in this House regard enlargement as one of those historic challenges of the greatest possible significance, for if enlargement is conducted successfully, it should give us a more stable and democratic Europe all the way across the Continent than has ever been enjoyed before in this century.
It is a great responsibility of the British presidency to so conduct the early stages of enlargement that that highly desirable objective is attained. In that context, I ask the Minister to comment in particular on the European conference which is shortly to be inaugurated under the British presidency. I ask him to be kind enough to tell us a little bit more about how he expects that to be handled: in particular, the link between the first wave of future candidates' countries—the so-called five plus one—and the second wave of states which will come in a little after.
To my mind, one of the most significant features of the Treaty of Amsterdam, which should not be underestimated, is the existence of Article F1 and Article O. All that sounds rather like an alphabetical game so perhaps I may underline what they provide. They provide that at the centre of the European Union lies a commitment to the principle of democracy, individual liberty, non-discrimination and human rights. That is of the greatest importance and significance. That has never been there before. It was not in the Treaty of Rome, nor in the Treaty of Maastricht, nor in the Single European Act.
I believe that the Government can take credit for having arrived, like the sheriff at the OK Corral, to approve the new treaty with human rights at the heart of it when it was clear that the previous government had no interest in putting it there at all, and no interest in putting in place Article 4, which deals with discrimination on grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, disablement and age, and no interest in putting in place the strengthening of the gender equality objectives.
35 I say clearly and loudly that I believe there can be no refutation of this. In the approximately six weeks that the present Government conducted negotiations as regards the Amsterdam treaty, they succeeded in putting in place certain crucial principles that the previous government never did in eight months of negotiations. Therefore, I cannot agree with the proposal made by the Official Opposition that the present Government take full responsibility for the Treaty of Amsterdam. They arrived very late; and, having arrived very late, they put some essential features in place and, in my view, had they had more time, they would have put more of them in place.
I mention one other matter in the context of human rights and civil liberties. Article F1 is of the greatest importance because for the first time it provides that tough sanctions—and they include the removal of voting rights—can be applied against member states which stand in breach of crucial human rights considerations. That is beginning to lay the ground of a constitutional and ethical order in the affairs of the European Union which I believe to be of crucial importance. I do not believe that there is any noble Lord on either side of the European argument who would wish to see a member state in direct contradiction of human rights allowed to join the European Union. That new article places clearly on the line that a country which wishes to be a member state of the Union must meet those tests of human rights and anti-discrimination as well as the economic tests which have applied in the past.
Secondly, I should say a few words about the issue of the third pillar. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, regarded as an achievement the continuation of the opt-out by the UK, Denmark and Ireland from the attempt to establish a so-called area of freedom, justice and security. In that respect, to some extent, he echoed the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. We on these Benches do not think that that is an achievement. In our view, one of the greatest benefits which could be brought by the EU to the ordinary peoples of Europe is the opportunity to move around, reside and live where one wishes. Indeed, many people in Europe believed that that was one of the bonuses they would get; not just capital and establishment, but ordinary people's choices. Indeed, it is something that we all believe we care about.
There are problems and I do not diminish them, not least while we still have a terrorist risk on these islands. However, it is unwise to regard the continuation of the opt-out as desirable on more than a purely pragmatic and temporary basis. We would wish to see the attempt to establish that free area of movement and justice as one of the objectives for which Her Majesty's Government were committed. I hope that the Minister will say something about that in his response.
I have two broad points to make on economic issues. First, on these Benches, I do not pretend that we other than regret the Government's decision to indicate their interest in European monetary union but to do so sine die, by which I mean without indicating any kind of target date. The trouble with that—and this emerged very clearly from the House of Lords study of European monetary union—is that momentum gets dangerously 36 lost. It is already clear at least in parts of British business that, whether or not we go in, it is of crucial importance that we are prepared to deal with the euro when it comes. I am troubled by the fact that there is a great lack of preparation, especially in the areas of small and medium-sized businesses. That will not help to make Britain as competitive as it ought to be.
Secondly, there is the significance of the employment chapter. Here again, having criticised Her Majesty's Government on the issue of Schengen and the zone of freedom and liberty, I want to commend them for what has been a very rapid building on the Luxembourg summit and on the employment chapter. It is most encouraging to see now the effort to move towards the comparison of good practice in job creation and in employment policy. That will come to its culmination at the Cardiff summit when all the countries of the Union submit their proposals on how to deal with creating more jobs and how to deal with employment. On this one, I believe that Her Majesty's Government have taken the lead and done so most successfully.
Perhaps I should declare a momentary interest at this point in that I am the chairman of something called the "Jobs Creation Competition" in the European Union. The most fascinating aspect of that work is the extraordinarily good and innovative ideas that are coming from some of the member states, including ourselves, in the area of job creation. I believe that to be of vital importance in encouraging such innovation.
In that context, I have a further question for the Minister. Shortly before the change of government, the then shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer—today's Chancellor of the Exchequer—talked briefly about the possibility of a contra-cyclical fund to deal with what might be some of the effects of differential shocks on the member states and member regions of the EU should there be, by any chance, a combination of some slowdown within the region—within Europe itself—in economic growth at the time of the introduction by some member states of European monetary union. I do not know now quite what has happened to that idea. It seems to me to be an extremely attractive one. I speak as someone who is most conscious of the fact that in the United States if a state suffers from differential shocks, from an emergency or from an unexpected crisis, the federal government have the power to channel funds towards it, but that there is no analogue to that in the European Union.
I have two further points to make before I conclude. I hope that I shall keep those remarks well below the amount of time that has been taken so far in this debate by individual speakers. I have already pointed out that we have wasted 38 minutes and I believe that to be regrettable. The first of my final points concerns a most important aspect of the switch of visa, immigration and asylum policy from the third pillar to the European Community, with the exception, of course, of Britain, Ireland and Denmark. Can the Minister say something about the need in this country to take steps to speed up our processing of asylum and refugee applications?
It is shameful that, of the whole of the European Union, we should have the worst record in respect of the number of people we detain against whom no charge 37 of any crime has been made. I know that the Government intend to act on this, and I only hope that they will do so with urgency; otherwise our opt-out will be regarded as an opt-out to cover our tracks rather than for better reasons.
In conclusion, I should like to say a few words about the common foreign and security policy about which my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire will speak at considerably greater length. I highlight one particular aspect. There has been discussion under the heading of the common foreign and security policy about some form of code of practice with regard to the sale of arms. In the light of the revelations of the past few days, sadly it has become all too clear that certain European countries, and other countries, have supplied the means to create weapons of mass destruction to Iraq and other countries. It also emerges that there is a feeling—it emerged in a letter to The Times today from a number of distinguished military and other figures—that the present controls are hopelessly weak. That is partly because countries compete with one another to sell such weapons of mass destruction.
I wish to commend the idea—and this is our final suggestion of a positive nature for the Minister's consideration—that we should look again at a possibility of creating an arms procurement agency bound by a single and strict code of practice regarding the supply of weapons and arms of destruction to countries which cannot be relied upon not to misuse them. This is exactly the kind of opportunity that the British presidency might pursue. When replying, I should be most grateful if the Minister would comment on that suggestion. I should add that I believe the noble Lord has already shown to the House that his comments on all our suggestions and proposals are likely to be wise, well-informed and helpful.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Lord Tombs
My Lords, in following three such wide-ranging speeches, I shall be very brief. I want to deal with the question of public awareness. In doing so, I should like to draw attention to the steady, if largely imperceptible, movement towards a federal Europe which this Bill will promote. That process has continued through a succession of summits, directives and European Court judgments. Its inexorable progress has been aided by a stream of seemingly unimportant developments and by the failure of successive administrations to draw attention to those developments.
I am reminded of the way in which Gulliver was ensnared by a myriad of slender threads by the Lilliputians—a cautionary simile, but we might remind ourselves that Gulliver broke free. I am concerned to make the point that the process has been continuous and largely unperceived by the electorate. I hope that today's debate, and the ensuing Committee stage, will help in rectifying that important gap.
There is surely no doubt that the founders of the European Union wanted to create a federal Europe. That has been amply demonstrated over the years by public pronouncements and by the general trend of settlements. Successive British leaders have denied our willingness 38 to accept that notion but have, nonetheless, been drawn towards it by the gradual process which I have described. At no time has a British Prime Minister acknowledged publicly the extent to which we have accepted the process and its invasions. This debate will illustrate the further erosion now proposed.
But the keystone of the federal process is, of course, economic and monetary union which would remove effective control of individual economies by seeking to establish a common way forward for a group of countries widely different in culture, economic strength, philosophy and interests. The difficulties in this Utopian vision are already becoming apparent in the fudging of the convergence criteria agreed only two years ago. Basic economic facts are to be ignored so that essentially political aims can be achieved. Such a structure—if it goes ahead—will be built on sand and is likely to have serious consequences unforeseen by its reckless supporters, but with inevitable knock-on effects for other nations.
The fact of the matter is that most of our European partners believe in a social-democratic state in which bureaucracy and protectionism combine to stifle enterprise. Despite that the Government have accepted the social chapter, perhaps failing to realise that proposals will evolve, under qualified majority voting, which will prove undesirable and damaging to this country. It is certainly possible to be pro-European without being pro-federation. I am one such individual. I believe that close collaboration between sovereign European states is to be encouraged by every available means in many areas. But the present mechanism is ruthless in its pursuit of a vision—a politically and economically integrated Europe. To suggest, as has been done, that supporters of that vision in this country should form what is breathtakingly called a "patriotic front" is taking the misuse of our language to new depths. For what is patriotic about surrender of sovereignty?
But the debate in your Lordships' House offers the opportunity of bringing to the attention of the nation the cumulative process of the past 30 years which already affects their lives and governance and which will increasingly come to do so. This country's scope for limiting such developments has been largely ineffective despite trenchant assurances to the contrary. I hope that today and in Committee we shall expose the reality.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Lord Russell-Johnston
My Lords, I am happy to be enabled to make my maiden speech. I am not sure how I will do as it is such a long time since I last made one. For me it is an occasion which was quite beyond imagination when I was a child on the Isle of Skye, off the north-west coast of Scotland, half a century ago. There I received as good an education as I believe I could have had and also was given a sound basis of thought and outlook upon which to found my life. I was warmed before this debate to receive from my primary school teacher, Mrs. Marion MacDonald, who taught me during the war, a letter of kind good wishes. But I did not believe that this background would lead me here; 39 nor for that matter did I believe it would lead me to the other place, where I was elected Member for Inverness in 1964 and subsequently on another eight occasions.
It was in the run-in to the 1964 election that I became deeply involved in the European argument and wholly persuaded both of its economic need and political vision. It was not an especially popular cause in a rural Scottish seat and both Conservative and Labour parties were eager, not only then but in subsequent elections, to drain every drop of anti-European prejudice they could from the electorate. I do not deny the contention that we did not strongly stress the ultimate political objective of a federal Europe. When Hugo Young wrote in the Guardian on 6th January that Sir Ted Heath and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe,always muted the political dimension. They never told a lie as the phobes spend so much time trying to prove, but neither did they exalt the truth. Fearful of causing alarm they retreated into its trading necessity",he was quite right. But what he and others should recognise is that it is a foolish general indeed who advances indiscriminately on all fronts. For myself in these times it was quite enough clearly to support entry into the European community; to defend endlessly the abolition of capital punishment; and to argue the case for a Scottish parliament against scornful opposition from Conservative and Labour. Labour opposition then was most vigorous‡
I want on the occasion of my maiden speech to pay tribute to the Liberals in another place who in 1960 divided the House on the choice between EFTA and the European Community and were roundly defeated by Conservative and Labour alike by 215 votes to four. Grimond, Clement Davies, Thorpe, Holt and Wade stood up for their beliefs. In 1972 I went as an appointed Member on behalf of the Liberals to the European Parliament, along with that wonderful man, the late Lord Gladwyn. Your Lordships will recall that at that time the Labour Party (old Labour Party) refused to take part. I was, of course, attacked. The slogan of the day was, "Where's Russell? Russell's in Brussels‡". Some days ago a great Frenchman, Maurice Schumann, died, rich in years at 86 or thereabouts. Unlike Enoch Powell, who died at almost the same time, he believed and worked, in far more difficult circumstances of bitter memories of three Franco-German wars, for reconciliation and co-operation. That for me is the role model.
I am grateful to your Lordships on the occasion of my maiden speech for allowing me some recollections and some sentiment. That is all part of the process which led to Amsterdam. In the eyes of some, including myself, it is a disappointing treaty. As a Back-Bencher I imagine that I am allowed to be a little more purist than the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. There is no harm in having some purists around. As I said, it is a disappointing treaty and a treaty of hesitation rather than commitment. Much of the hesitation stemmed from the then British Government, and we look to the Prime Minister to reverse that. To judge from the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, this seems to be the intention.
40 I believe that there are two great fears behind the hesitation and the opposition which, after all, have persisted for a long time, and both will prove to be two great fallacies, although they were evident in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, to whom I recommend the possibility of a change by deed poll to the Lord Opt Out‡ The first is the notion that there is a peculiarly British or French or German or Dutch view not just of life and culture—which there is and which will persist—but of politics. I have never really understood why the Euro-sceptics guddle these two things together. The experience of Scotland and Wales within the United Kingdom demonstrates how absurd the contention is. The second is that each of the Union's states have clear national interests which must at all costs, and in all ditches, be defended.
The argument about the adhesion to the social chapter, to which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred, was not an argument about British interest versus so-called continental European interest, although it was repeatedly so portrayed, but an argument between the dogma of the British Conservative Party and a Liberal, Christian and Social Democrat consensus on the Continent—a consensus of which I believe a majority in this country was also a part. The present Government should beware of using this hollow argument, although I suspect that some time in the future they will. Further, we see clearly in the European Parliament that the groupings are political, not national. The political question is not, what is your nationality, but, what do you want to do? In the previous major debate on Europe in the Commons in which I took part I found myself sandwiched between the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, and Sir Edward Heath. Did I say sandwiched? I think "squashed" might be a better word. I said then, "Sometimes I have nightmares and in those nightmares the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, is Chancellor of Germany".
Nationalism begets retribution. Interest is almost always a euphemism for advantage, and almost always governmental advantage. We must put behind us that way of thinking. The Treaty of Amsterdam takes us further on the road to creating the stable political and economic conditions in Europe which will be the best safeguard of our diverse peoples, not only in the most populous areas but also the sparsely populated such as those which gave me the opportunity to take part in this Parliament—Inverness, Badenoch, Lochaber and Skye.
§ 5 p.m.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, the pleasant job falls to me of congratulating the noble Lord on his maiden speech and that I do without any reservation whatever. The noble Lord has a considerable reputation against which my perhaps half a page compares with his volume of 10 books. He is well known to all of us, and not only because of his role in the Scottish Liberal Party. For many years he was a Scottish Member of Parliament. He was the leader of his party for a time. However, the role in which I remember him is as a Member of the European Parliament. We had the pleasure of serving together for two or three years when we had the honour of jointly representing our country. 41 This much should be said about European Members of Parliament who do not always have the best of public approbation: in our time the British Members of the European Parliament, whether Liberal, Conservative or Labour were always there on the job, and were the most regular attenders of all.
I now pass to the Bill that we are discussing and its relationship with the Amsterdam Treaty. The Bill does not come to us out of a vacuum. In many ways we have already been preconditioned by the European Commission as to how we should receive it. The way in which the whole operation has been carried out over the past few years, and the manner in which it has been conducted by the Commission, is itself conducive to our approaching it from the Commission's angle. Every now and again it becomes necessary to view the issue from a wider perspective.
It may not be generally realised—I await a sharp intake of breath of disbelief—that the European Union is in crisis at present, and that its future is far from assured not only for the reasons set forth by the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, with whose speech I profoundly agreed in many ways, but for the following reason. While all the treaties and their detailed warnings and interpretations have been laid before us, together with an ever increasing mass of paper—a record number of 751 documents were received by the British Parliament for its consideration—the world has marched on. At present in the 15 countries of the European Union unemployment has risen steadily to a point where it is now close on 20 million. The figure has been rising for many years. Why has it been going up? The answer is that, quite deliberately and with acquiescence, or perhaps active support and consent, a deflationary policy has been pursued—a policy which has relied mainly on monetarist considerations, and almost complete repudiation of the constructive economic policies of Keynes.
As noble Lords will be aware, it started with the famous Delors speech some little time before the Maastricht Treaty which laid down the economic rules to be followed by the Community. Although I suspect that not everyone read the Delors Report, a large number of noble Lords may have done so. The effect was to reinstitute supply side economics. Supply side economics have failed, and failed badly. As I indicated, in Europe unemployment has risen to 20 million. It may go a little higher when the true British figures are referred to. Currently the figure claimed is 1.3 million but actually it is nearer 3 million. So there may be a further increase.
What is remarkable is that those supply side economics have not been argued about with any regard to variables. Economic and financial life is essentially a variable quantity from day to day and week to week, with one factor interacting upon another. It was decided to enshrine supply side economics into the Maastricht Treaty. It specifies them in considerable detail in terms of permissible deficit, total national debt, degrees of convergence, balance of payment difficulties, and matters of that kind. We should bear in mind that there is a considerable difference between the way that we in the United Kingdom consider the treaties and the laws 42 that result from them, and the manner in which they are considered by our Continental friends. We believe that if they are in print and incorporated into British law under the European Act 1972, that is the law. We sometimes forget that our Continental colleagues tend to regard such matters as a guide rather than being formally incorporated into their legal systems. It is perhaps wise for us to remember that from time to time. However, our memories may occasionally be jogged by French farmers burning British sheep, with gendarmes looking on. We may wonder what is happening to law enforcement; but that is the way it is.
The same Delors, as noble Lords may recall, said at roughly the same time as the report was issued within a few years 80 per cent. of legislation affecting member states would be accomplished at European level. At the time that seemed to me—I do not know whether it seemed so to your Lordships—to be a rather ambitious statement that ran contrary to notions of maintaining the sovereignty of our country.
My attitude towards this matter may perhaps be more informally expressed. When we joined the original Common Market at the request—nay, the demand—of Sir Edward Heath we were promised that there would be no infringement of the national sovereignty of the United Kingdom. That has plainly gone by the board; and I think that Sir Edward would probably agree that he may lay himself open to the charge of having misled the country at the time. I welcome, and indeed have always welcomed, any endeavour to bring the peoples of Europe together on the basis of co-operation to the maximum extent with one another and also for the extension of a common market. That would seem sensible. So would the bringing under some kind of control of pollution throughout Europe—because pollution knows no boundaries.
But what has happened since is totally different. What is beginning to happen more and more every year, with every treaty that passes, is an endeavour to formalise economic matters, particularly matters such as economic and monetary union, which would be far better dealt with in collaboration and close contact with one another rather than by diktat. But it has not happened that way. And it has not happened for a very good reason. I well remember the Commission's earlier stages, particularly when the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, was president. It brought forward proposals which in the main seemed reasonable and commanded national assent. But as time went on, the cascade of paper coming from the Commission progressively increased to a point where it was not easily capable of absorption by any of the government machines of the member states to which the communications were addressed. That happened here. It must be a very rare Minister, even in the Foreign Office or the Treasury, who reads the documentation that comes from the Commission.
The reason for that is very simple. I am quite prepared to believe that the European Commission, appointed as it was with the consent of the various member states, was full of good intentions. But after a while it found that by creating further pressure upon member states it could get more power for itself. The result has been a whole series of measures, accepted with reluctance and 43 sometimes in ignorance by member states, which go all the time to increase the power of the institutions, and particularly the Commission. Over the past five years the Commission has been mainly concerned with the fate, not of the peoples of Europe, but of institutions and the powers which it is itself able to wield.
Let us consider those powers, which have indeed been extended further by the Treaty of Amsterdam. The Commission has sole power to originate proposals. Not only are the Council of Ministers and the various types of Minister powerless to initiate proposals, but also the European Council is not permitted to do so. I obtained confirmation of that the other day. The Council itself cannot originate proposals. They must all come from the Commission.
Moreover, the Commission has a profound effect on the matters that are able to be discussed at the European Parliament. I well remember, as I am sure will the noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston, the publication of the Maldague Report in 1975 dealing with the position of international companies within the Community. Before that, there was the McDougall Report, to which many people have made reference in the past, determining how changes in fiscal policy could even up some of the structural differences in the various countries concerned. However, the Commission did not allow those reports to be discussed by the Parliament—they were never discussed by the Parliament. It was only the other day that a copy of the McDougall Report was placed in the Library of this House, even though these were vital documents.
In addition to having sole power to make proposals, the Commission is represented in every institution, except at the Court of Auditors. It has representation at all Council meetings, at COREPER meetings, at the deputies of COREPER meetings and on every management and advisory committee; it has 126 embassies throughout the world, side by side with the embassies of member states, all under the control of the Commission itself.
I bear no personal antagonism; I personally found the commissioners with whom I was in contact; namely, the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, Mr. Brunner, and Viscount Davignon, whom I knew quite well, to be very nice people indeed. But, with the passage of time, the Commission has accumulated powers to the extent that it is now becoming arrogant. That is a very great mistake. For a non-elected, appointed body of people with power, it is very dangerous to be in that position. That is one of the reasons why I look askance at the Treaty of Amsterdam, which consolidates their position yet further. I do not think it wise for my own country to allow that to continue indefinitely—more particularly, as within the next couple of years, in my view, the system will break down for precisely that reason. The multiplication of institutions, the continued encroachment on the powers of member states by the Commission itself cannot go on for long, and will not be able to resist the feelings of ordinary people in the various countries concerned, who, with unemployment as high as it has now become, are beginning to replicate some of the symptoms of which many noble Lords were 44 aware before the war in relation to the rise of fascism. We cannot assume that we shall be immune to those tendencies. While sympathising with Her Majesty's Government in relation to the troubles that they face at such short notice, and without any doubt as to my noble friend's full intellectual capability to deal with these matters in this place, I venture to suggest that we all ought to begin to think again.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Lord Tebbit
My Lords, I suspect that the matter arising from our proceedings that most newspapers will report fully tomorrow will be the moving of the Adjournment of the House by my noble friend Lord Beloff. That is a pity, since I am sure that we shall have a long and interesting debate. If, regrettably, I am not here to listen to the winding-up speeches, it is because I have to catch a train to be at an early morning engagement tomorrow in the West Country. I shall read all that is said with very great interest. In particular, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will not think that there is any degree of personal animus in these matters. The whole affair could have been solved very quickly—had he been promoted in the field to the rank of Minister of State, it would have been well deserved.
I differ from the noble Lord on a number of matters, but one of his remarks worried me slightly. It is a matter that worries me in relation to the whole of the Government, and may have something to do with the way in which some of us felt that the correct procedures were not being followed. If I jotted down the noble Lord's words correctly, he said in relation to the question of the social chapter that at the general election the vast majority of the British electorate agreed with the Labour Party. I have to say that the noble Lord is deluding himself. As I recollect it, 11.3 million people out of an electorate of 36.4 million voted Labour. I do not know whether that makes a vast majority in his understanding of the English language; in mine it works out at something like 33 per cent.
I also took great pleasure in hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston. He referred back to 1964 when he was inspired—as he still is and had been previously—by the European ideal. I was strongly inclined to agree with him in 1964. He also referred to his education. My school education took place at about the same time as his. I well recollect being instructed by my biology master that one of the distinguishing features of intelligent life is that it can learn from experience and, having learnt, change its response. Certainly I found it necessary to do that.
I recollect that in the past on these matters, particularly when discussing the Treaty of Maastricht, I quoted that great Americanism: if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, it probably is a duck. I observed that if it has citizens, a currency, an economic policy, frontiers and import duties, just like a state, then the European Union probably is a state.
Since then the shadows of single foreign and defence policies and means of defence have been added. Those shadows have become more substantive in the Treaty of 45 Amsterdam. That treaty allows us to see more of the plumage of this bird. There is little doubt that it is growing up to be a duck: a federal European state. The noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston, said that that was a very good thing; he was not worried about that at all; many people think that it is a very good thing. The noble Lord, Lord Tombs, correctly said that that may well be the view of some people, but at least we should be clear about it and about where we are heading.
I do not take the view, as does the noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston, that politicians, like generals, should seek to defeat their opponents by deception, which was the gist of what the noble Lord said. I take the view that my right honourable friend Sir Edward Heath and others at the time of our debates almost 30 years ago were not merely being economical with the truth but were from time to time over-generous with the less-than-truth.
We shall be told, as we were about Maastricht, not to worry; that all these things, such as a single foreign policy and a single defence policy, are in the future and are in any case subject to unanimity. The lesson that my right honourable and honourable friends should have learnt, even if the party opposite has not, is that, if you do not want a thing in the treaty, you should keep it right out of the treaty. Things should not be allowed to creep in through the back door through protocols attached to the treaty, because, like Schengen, they will steadily worm their way in.
The social chapter came in in that way. I know that many noble Lords opposite wanted the social chapter's policies. Equally, there are many of them who do not think that that was the right way for those policies to be brought into this country.
One or two noble Lords have referred to the issue of the single currency. I shall not do so; I believe that that is a matter for another day. However, I find it interesting how quickly the transition has been achieved. It seems that one day it was much too early for anyone to take decisions about these things; then suddenly, as my right honourable friend Mr. Kenneth Clarke observed, it is now too late to change anybody's mind. When was that split second when it would have been right to think about the issue and to decide? One day it was too early, the next too late. These are the split moments in politics that one has to grab; they are the fleeting moments of life; they have gone already.
Much has gone already in other ways. The Treaty of Amsterdam is a further step along the road to a European state. Of course it is not yet fully formed, but each treaty amendment has taken us along the road. Nothing in any of the treaty amendments has reversed the direction of the march or even put a roadblock in the way.
I was reflecting on this treaty the other day when I took a few moments off for some lighter reading and turned to the New York Times. It led me down an interesting path of thought. I read therein that last week the electors of the State of Maine voted in a referendum—the result of which was mandatory upon the state legislature—for the repeal of the state's legislation banning discrimination on grounds of sex, in 46 reference to homosexuals. I do not know if that is the beginning of a new tide of opinion which will sweep across the United States, but I do not think that members of the homosexual community in the State of Maine should be unduly concerned. The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution requires the states of the Union not to deny to any person within their jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.
I now return to the European question. In similar fashion, this treaty imposes an obligation which has to a considerable extent been accepted by signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights and which will soon be justiciable directly in our courts. Perhaps I may remind noble Lords of Article F(1), to which reference has already been made. That article states:The Union is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law, principles which are common to the Member States".That is great stuff; I have no objection to that. But what are human rights? Which freedoms are fundamental? If those questions had been asked 50 or 75 years ago, the answers would have been different to those that would be given today. Is it a fundamental human right to be allowed to join a trade union? Is it a human right to carry arms? The US Constitution would appear to think so. Is there a fundamental human right to a minimum wage or to the right to work or, perhaps more controversially, to take drugs or, even more controversially, to engage in sex with children? Some of these things sound outlandish to us but they are no more outlandish than some rights accepted today would have sounded 30 years ago.
While the citizens of Maine can speak and have perhaps struck down laws which are unjust, the 14th Amendment still stands, not because the citizens are citizens of the State of Maine but because they are citizens of the United States of America.
If at some future stage any one of the states of the European Union should enact legislation which the others consider as outlandish, as perhaps many people consider the views of the citizens of the state of Maine in their referendum last week, there is now a power within the European Union to act on that member state concerned—and to act in an extraordinary manner. It can suspend the right of that state but not its obligations.
Therefore, such a state would be able to be deprived of its vote in the Council of Ministers. There are special procedures set out under which a unanimous vote would be one where a member state was not allowed to have a vote. We only had to wait 25 years or so for a unanimous vote with one dissenter to come about—1984. Then, while the dissenter is deprived of its vote, all sorts of things can be done by majority voting or even by unanimity. The structure of the voting procedures in the Council of Ministers could be changed in the absence of that member state.
The question I ask therefore, the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, and which many noble Lords must ask, is this: after the ratification of this treaty, will the United Kingdom be more like the United Kingdom we were when we entered into the European 47 Common Market, or more like the state of Maine—subject to over-arching federal law about which the citizens of this country can do nothing?
§ Lord Wallace of Saltaire
My Lords, perhaps I can tempt the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, a little further and ask whether he feels that the United Kingdom should also withdraw from the European Convention on Human rights. It has much the same effect on domestic law.
§ Lord Tebbit
My Lords, of course the United Kingdom could withdraw from the convention. Also, that is now being entrenched not only into the law of the United Kingdom, but also the law of the European Union. That is the key point. That is the point which we should be discussing. We should be taking the bold view and choosing between the view of the noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston and the view of the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, instead of pretending that we are not taking any radical decisions at all and are simply engaged in improving the organisation of the European Economic Community.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
My Lords, it has been a privilege to sit by the side of my noble friend Lord Russell-Johnston and listen to his maiden speech. I congratulate him on it. I did not find that the description of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, as regards one part of my noble friend's speech, related to what I heard. If my noble friend has a weakness, it is not in being economical with the truth; it is in being generous about the processes that he himself went through as someone who has believed deeply for many years in creating a European Union.
I always listen to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, with great interest because I know how deep his convictions are on these matters. However, speaking for myself, from the time that I first became a deep believer in the benefits for Britain, Europe and the human race generally of creating an "ever-closer Union"—to use the language of the treaty—I have always put forward the argument for the pooling of sovereignty. It is my recollection—I may be at fault because I never followed the speeches of the Conservative leader too closely—that Sir Edward Heath also continually emphasised the argument that going in for European integration was a process of pooling sovereignty and that the advantages for the future lay in pooling sovereignty rather than standing absolutely pat on what was becoming an increasingly out-of-date concept of national sovereignty.
§ Lord Tebbit
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. I do not want to prolong my speech, nor indeed his. I say only this: sovereignty cannot be pooled; it lies in one place or another. It cannot be pooled.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
My Lords, in view of the time I do not wish to continue this argument at any length. But, for example, the collective security in which we took part in NATO did more than anything else to 48 preserve, not the balance of terror, but the balance of peace in the postwar world. That involved a significant degree of pooling of sovereignty in that most sacred of aspects of national sovereignty; that is, the right to deploy military force.
I want to deal briefly with one specific British aspect of our approach to the Treaty of Amsterdam. I share my noble friend's view that it is a rather disappointing treaty. But it is a modest treaty. It is consequential on Maastricht and certainly contains many things that will need close examination in the Committee stage of the Bill to obtain clarification from the Government as to how they mean to implement its provisions. My noble friend Lady Williams described some of those in some detail, for example, in the field of human rights.
For my part, I believe the advantage of the Treaty of Amsterdam is that it represents the first step in the reconciliation between the United Kingdom and its European partners. The new Labour Government, after 1st May, were faced with the difficult task of going into the Treaty of Amsterdam discussions after a long period of total sterility in the IGC brought about by the attitude of the previous Conservative government.
I want to draw attention to the fact that this debate on the ratification of the Treaty of Amsterdam coincides not only with the British presidency of the European Union, but also with the 25th anniversary of British membership of the Community. It is a sobering thought, certainly for someone who has held the beliefs that I have held over these years, when one looks over the 25 years to find that 23 of the 25 years saw Britain with a reluctant or sometimes hostile government towards the Community. It was only in the first year of membership, in 1973 under the prime ministership of Sir Edward Heath and now in 1998 under the prime ministership of Tony Blair, that we have a Britain that at government level is showing itself to be enthusiastic for British membership of the European Union, making a success both of that membership and the Union itself.
Against the sobering perspective of 23 out of 25 years when we have been the odd man out, I draw two main lessons for the Government in conducting their presidency of the European Union. The first lesson is that we should not become too self-congratulatory about the welcome the new Government are presently enjoying from the rest of the members of the European Union. Sir Edward Heath had the same experience in 1973 and neither he nor indeed the welcome lasted very long.
Our present Prime Minister, with his massive majority, is fortunately immune from the domestic political problems which forced Sir Edward out of Downing Street after only one year of British membership of the Community. But since then we have a lot of leeway to make up. First, there was the Labour government's largely cosmetic renegotiation in 1974, ending with a decisive referendum of the British people in favour of remaining in the Community. Then there were the long years of the hostility of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, the then Prime Minister followed by John Major's ambiguities as Prime Minister in the face of a rising floodtide of Tory Euro-scepticism. No wonder that 49 Tony Blair and New Labour come as a breath of fresh air in Brussels. However, I must warn the present Government that underneath the present love-in there remains in Brussels a mood of waiting to see how far the Government's rhetoric lives up to their actions.
The residual distrust of Britain as a full-hearted member of the European Union has deep historical roots. When I was a young MP at the Council of Europe in the 1950s, I found a bruised sense of disillusion on the mainland of Europe over the attitude of Winston Churchill, who had just returned as Prime Minister. In opposition, as older Members of your Lordships' House will remember, he made a famous speech at Zurich in which he proclaimed his vision of a United States of Europe. His oratory converted, among others, the young Helmut Kohl, who will he with us in the City later this week and will perhaps make some mention of that as one of his formative influences. Then, when the Coal and Steel Community was converted at Messina into the EEC, with its aim of an ever-closer political union, Britain dismissed it out of hand as totally misguided and absolutely bound to fail. It took a long climb back during the 1960s by both Conservative and Labour governments over two de Gaulle vetoes to make Britain a member, only to be followed, as I have said, by almost a quarter of a century of dismal confrontation which has diminished seriously our capital of good will.
The British presidency offers a chance to put that history behind us. This brings me to the second lesson I draw from my memories of the British arrival in Brussels in 1973. We found the biggest obstacle we had to face in making a success of British membership lay in the fact that all new members had to accept the administrative and other arrangements the rest had made to meet their own needs in their own interests over the years since the Community was formed. This was the formidable acquis communautaire.
My own responsibility, as one of the Commissioners in Brussels at that time, was to supervise the setting up of the Community's first regional development fund. I do not wish to make too much of that role except to point out that this was a new policy and that the final shape of that major new institution took full account of the needs of all the new members. But a dominating old institution like the common agricultural policy still reflects the vested interests of the original members and has so far defied radical reform over the whole 25 years of British membership.
Now a new major policy is being born—the single currency—to enhance the existing achievement of the single market. Once again, the British Government will not be there at the beginning. Last year the Labour Party refused—I understand it very well as a working politician—to risk losing votes in the general election by making at that time a declaration of principle in favour of trying to join the single currency in the first wave, if all the criteria had been fulfilled. Now, although the Government have a massive majority, their hands are tied and time has run out on being among the founders.
The Prime Minister and the Chancellor will therefore preside over the final decisions about the start of the single currency without being immediate participants. It 50 will he a delicate task. The priority must be to convince our partners in the European Union not only that Britain wants to contribute to shaping a successful economic and monetary union but also wants to join a single currency as soon as possible after it is launched.
The publicity surrounding the UK presidency is a priceless opportunity to create a positive climate of opinion about EMU in Britain and to speed up the practical preparations for joining. In my view, a referendum could then still be held during the lifetime of the present parliament. As recent statements by senior Conservatives have shown, this is, as it has been over many years, a national matter, transcending party political divisions. It is not an appropriate general election issue.
A clear referendum decision in favour of joining, which I believe would be once again obtained as it was back in 1975, before the next general election would have the advantage of rescuing Mr. William Hague from what is really the nonsense of his compromise policy of "not for 10 years". I can understand a policy of "never" as a matter of principle; I can understand a policy of "as soon as possible"; but a policy of "not for 10 years" seems a very odd one indeed. However, if a referendum were to be held before the general election and the issue were to be out of the way, it is just possible that, after 25 years, at last the issue of continued full-hearted membership of the European Union for Britain might be taken out of the mainstream of British politics.
I say this in conclusion. There is a good deal of talk going around about a single currency being something special and being the end of hundreds of years of British history. I take a different view of this matter. I think we would he deserting hundreds of years of British history if we were to continue opting out of a single currency and of economic and monetary union. We would become a marginalised member of the European Union while the other members went ahead with these great policy developments. Over our history we have always been there helping to shape developments in European diplomacy. The new framework for that is the European Union. We shall cease to be a central member of that greatly at our peril.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord Shore of Stepney
My Lords, the debate we are having on the Second Reading of the Bill is appropriately going wide of the actual contents both of the Bill itself, which we know are negligible, and of the Treaty of Amsterdam. I find no reason to object to that. On the contrary, I welcome it. We will have time enough to look at the details of the Amsterdam Treaty and to weigh up the different claims of "we have no reason for concern or worry" and the opposite anxieties that have been expressed about the further erosion of our own self-government that is entailed in the extension of competence in the treaty.
I am glad that my noble friend who opened the debate encouraged this rather wider scrutiny. He said that we should set the treaty—he tried to do so himself—in the wider context. That is absolutely essential if we are to understand what has happened to Britain and to Europe 51 in the past 40 or 50 years, and very much so in the past 10 years, of development. I have followed events in Europe closely over my political lifetime and I have had the advantage of considerable direct contact with parliamentarians, Ministers and Commissioners in the European Union. In the 10 years that preceded my entry to your Lordships' House, I served on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in another place, under the excellent chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, who I am glad to see is in his place and who will be speaking later. I often put the question which I think has to be answered most clearly today: where are we in terms of the development of the European Community and our own nation; where are we going; what is the destination? I found that virtually everywhere but in London people would say, either informally or occasionally quite publicly, that the purpose and goal is to create a new European state. It is perhaps only here, and for reasons which we may have to examine very carefully, that political leaders cannot find it in them to face the British people with the truth about what is involved in the European Community.
No one should doubt that even from the beginning, from the High Authority set up in the European Coal and Steel Community in 1948 and the European Defence Community and European Political Union which were aborted in the 1950s, this thrust towards a new state was there. If anyone has any lingering doubt then please go and read the admirable memoirs of Jean Monnet. In many ways he was the intellectual architect of the whole enterprise. He himself quite openly spoke about and set up the action committee for a United States of Europe as long ago as 1956.
In those earlier years there were quite powerful counter-forces. Above all, there was the opposite vision of a Europe des patries. That was pushed forward by General de Gaulle. For a considerable period of time, although the competence of the European Community and its institutions gradually spread, the countervailing forces of a Europe of nation states—the desire to maintain national independence on many matters—prevented, as it were, the thrust towards a European state from becoming the dominant force. Indeed, I would say that it was recessive until that fatal year 1989. We all know what changed then. There was a change in Community terms in the form of the Maastricht Treaty. But what preceded that and what gave a particular thrust to it was the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany and the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Then there was that remarkable, historic change in, above all, French policy on Europe. It was the total abandonment by Mitterrand of the Gaullist concept of a Europe des patries and a passionate thrust by the French to embrace as much as they could of a new Germany, 80 million strong, in the meshes of a new, larger and more embracing European treaty. Was it coincidence or good fortune, because at the same time they had the most powerful president of the Commission—which had an openly federal agenda—working alongside them in the person of Jacques Delors, who was by far the most 52 powerful European Commission president since Walter Hallstein? Together with Chancellor Kohl they drove forward the European project into the Maastricht Treaty.
Let us just consider for a moment what it embraces. I am quite entitled to talk about Maastricht because the Amsterdam Treaty is simply a minor adaptation of what is in the Maastricht Treaty. That treaty establishes a European citizenship. We know a little about its rights and we shall hear more as the years go by about the obligations of that citizenship. It established economic and monetary union and the commitment to a single currency. It created the two new treaty pillars to encompass both internal domestic legislation, including civil law, immigration and aspects of policing, and external, foreign, security and defence policies.
This marked a major tilt in the balance of forces within the European Community. From that moment onwards it is impossible for any serious student of European affairs to deny that the reality of Europe is now its programme towards a single state. In a sense, the preamble to the treaty itself marks it. It says,This Treaty marks a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer Union among the peoples of Europe".They very nearly actually stated something which was even firmer. The final Dutch draft of the Maastricht Treaty, which was considered in Maastricht by the Council of Ministers on 8th November 1991, just before signing, had these words in Article A, which is the opening article of the Maastricht Treaty:This treaty marks a new stage in a process leading gradually to a Union with a Federal goal".That dreadful "federal" word was used again in Article W which said that there would have to be an IGC within two years of the signing of the treaty so that further progress could be made in the direction of integrating the European Union.
My understanding is that it was only a desperate, last-minute plea by British representatives in Maastricht which secured the removal of that dread word "federal".
§ Lord Garel-Jones
My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord will be interested to know that only one country voted for the Dutch draft.
§ Lord Garel-Jones
My Lords, only one country, apart from the Dutch presidency itself, actually voted for that draft.
§ Lord Shore of Stepney
My Lords, it was due to a rather desperate British plea to other friendly countries not to hideously embarrass us and imperil the process of securing acceptance of the Maastricht Treaty once they got back home.
One must consider what the commitment to a single currency and EMU involves. It denies a nation its own currency; it denies it its use of its own national, central bank; it has no control over the domestic money supply, and it loses, or has seriously curtailed, its right to borrow. I maintain that under those conditions a nation state can no longer function as an independent entity. At 53 the same time the European Union, with its newly acquired single currency, its central bank in Frankfurt and its control over interest rates and exchange policies, besides its treaty control over public borrowing, takes on the power of a separate sovereign state.
The Amsterdam Treaty says nothing new about a single currency and EMU—yet there is an important addition, which is the adjacently negotiated Stability and Growth Pact. Under that pact it has now been agreed what punishments, mathematically computed, are to be inflicted on offending nation states which dare to borrow too much beyond the 3 per cent. GDP limit. Such a penalty would have had considerable significance for the UK if these arrangements had been in place and we had been a member of the single currency during the last parliament. Indeed, on the best calculations that I can make, Britain would have been fined £14 billion for its efforts to escape from the desperate difficulties in which we found ourselves after the collapse and withdrawal of the pound sterling from the ERM.
As it has been said, the Amsterdam Treaty itself advances further in the direction of a European state, particularly by strengthening the federal institutions of the Union, but also in its extension of treaty control over virtually the whole of the third pillar of the Maastricht Treaty.
Perhaps I may return to the main point that I am putting. The big picture is indeed the creation of a state. The ruling circles—the class politique—in the majority of the member states of the European Union are now openly committed to the creation of such a state. But we are not. Indeed, the whole idea of absorption into a European state is repugnant to the vast majority of British people. More—and very interestingly—political leaders of all parties who are broadly friendly and Europhile in their attitudes do genuinely recoil from the prospect of our absorption, via EMU and the single currency, into a European state. I would cite among others the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Mr. William Waldegrave, and, in the light of his recent statements, the noble Lord, Lord Owen, who was certainly an enthusiast during many stages of the development of the European Union. I would include in that category of basically friendly pro-Europeans who cannot stand the idea of being absorbed by a single currency into a European state the present Prime Minister and his predecessor.
The European state is, indeed, the dividing issue. So, what are we to do now that our European partners are clearly set on a different course with a different goal? Frankly, I think that our first requirement is to be honest about the whole development. There is a suspicion in the minds of many of our people that politicians of all parties find it difficult—and have found great difficulty over many years—to speak frankly about Europe and its true destination.
I recall two quotations which are worth citing. One was Prime Minister Edward Heath's assurance in the White Paper of 1971:there is no question of any erosion … of essential national sovereignty".54 I am afraid that that has been wholly disproved by events. The second quotation, to maintain a balance, was the assurance given by Prime Minister Harold Wilson in the 1975 referendum campaign that it was safe to remain within the European Community because:there was a threat to employment in Britain from the movement in the Common Market towards an Economic and Monetary Union. This would have forced us to accept a fixed exchange rate for the pound, restricting industrial growth and so putting jobs at risk. This threat has been removed".I do not claim that there was any deception—I do not think that it was deliberate—but I do think that both of them misread and failed to anticipate the power of the thrust towards a single state in Europe.
Now that the issues are so much clearer, there can be no excuse for not telling the British people the whole truth about what is involved. I cannot abide—and the British people will not forgive—those often covert federalists who deny that the EMU/single currency project has any significant political or constitutional implications. We heard that statement solemnly made despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary not long ago by the highest authority in another place.
Next, we must be honest with our European neighbours. We have been reluctant to be so, but since we are now pursuing different goals and since we are in a minority, we are obliged either to negotiate opt-outs in increasing numbers for ourselves or to hinder, obstruct and delay the rest of the European Community. The previous government found themselves in precisely that position over both the Maastricht and Amsterdam Treaties. Needless to say, it was not the only reason, but it was a powerful underlying reason, why our relations with our continental neighbours so markedly deteriorated. Those relations have somewhat improved, and I am glad of it. But I hope that we shall he able to sustain that position, but we shall he able to do so only if we have an open and honest understanding that we have reached the point where we can no longer go further into the project which the majority of our continental neighbours have set for themselves.
We must also be honest with ourselves. It is no good now for British Prime Ministers and Foreign Secretaries to say that they wish to "lead Europe" or that they want Britain to be "at the heart of Europe" when the majority of European states are now clearly heading for a very different goal—a European state—from that which we want for ourselves.
I do not want to end my speech on too negative a note. I am very much in favour of the most friendly relations and the maximum co-operation in the economic and political field with our European neighbours. My view of the future of Europe is indeed of a continent of democratic self-governing nation states working together to achieve greater prosperity for all their peoples and for peace and harmony in their interstate relations.
It is inevitable with so large an area being brought into the compass of the European association that some member states will wish to go for the goal of total integration, the creation of a new state, while many others will wish to hold hack. For the first time—this may be the most significant part of the Amsterdam 55 Treaty—the treaty itself, in its clauses on flexibility and "enhanced" co-operation, envisages the possibility of some states, the majority of states, moving forward in one direction while others remain permanently outside and do not share that endeavour. I do not think that flexibility is yet sufficiently well defined in the Amsterdam Treaty for us to be able to build on it, but the treaty gives us a new opportunity to achieve something more satisfactory for all of us—those who want to go forward into a European state and those who do not—than has so far been offered us.
I am not one of those who fear a strong new continental power on the other side of the Channel. If that be the wish, not only of their political leaders but of their peoples, we should not stand in the way of a European state. I see no reason why we should feel any more threatened or disadvantaged by its existence than Canada today feels anxious or threatened by its great neighbour to the south.
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union into 15 separate nation states and the collapse of Yugoslavia into five new sovereign republics, this is clearly not the age of the giant state—not even of the large but rather artificial federal state. It is in fact the age of the democratic nation state—over 200 of them now occupying all the different continents of the world. I believe that the United Kingdom and its people have the will, the self-confidence, the resource and the alliances to remain a leader and an exemplar to those states.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Lord Cockfield
My Lords, I am always intrigued in this and similar debates by the constant reference to "the nation state". The one thing the United Kingdom is not is a nation state. Its very name indicates that it is a union of four nations: the English, the Scots, the Welsh—indeed, not so very long ago a Bill on the Welsh language passed through Parliament—and the people of Northern Ireland. We are a union. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the present debate, but it is a matter which constantly comes to my mind.
One of the interesting points about debates on Europe is that divisions do not follow the usual party lines. In that respect, I am happy to say that tonight, in relation to the Amsterdam Treaty, I agree neither with the uncritical eulogy of the noble Lord speaking on behalf of the Labour Government, nor entirely with the root-and-branch condemnation of my noble friend Lord Moynihan in his attractive and well presented speech.
The Amsterdam Treaty is important not for what it does but for what it fails to do. This is the one and only point that I propose to raise this evening. The task that the Government were set was set out clearly in the Maastricht Treaty in Article N, referring back to the fifth indent of paragraph 1 of Article B. That remit was to make whatever changes were necessary to secure—I now quote the words of the Maastricht Treaty:the effectiveness of the mechanisms"—56 your Lordships should note that reference to "the mechanisms"—and the institutions of the Community".I repeat the reference to the "mechanisms and the institutions". That was what the Amsterdam Treaty was supposed to do; and that is what it has singularly failed to do.
The treaty has done all kinds of other things that it was not asked to do. One can understand this. The Union was subject to all kinds of pressure from special interest groups, lobbies, the European Parliament and individual governments, all of whom had their national agendas. One government in particular in its earlier manifestation pursued diversionary tactics; in its later manifestation it pursued its own domestic agenda. While all of this no doubt pleased or angered the special interest concerned, it frustrated the whole purpose of the exercise defined in the Maastricht Treaty, which was to secure the effectiveness of the institutions and the mechanisms of the Community.
Before I explain why this point is so fundamentally important, while I regard the treaty as a failure because it has failed to do what it was supposed to do, nevertheless I believe that we should ratify it and pass this Bill simply to get it off the agenda in order to turn our attention to what really matters.
We must be absolutely clear what is at stake. My noble friend Lord Moynihan dealt with this point in some detail. I follow what he said. Enlargement is by common consent the greatest challenge and opportunity that faces the European Union. Unless one succeeds with enlargement, the immense opportunities opened up by the collapse of the Russian empire and the liberation of central and eastern Europe will be squandered. Unless one deals properly and effectively with the effectiveness of the mechanisms and institutions of the Community—incidentally, it is the Community to which the Maastricht Treaty refers; it is the first pillar, not the second and third pillars—one will not have enlargement within any realistic period of time, or if one does it will fail. That is what is at stake, and we had better recognise it. The issue was dodged in the run-up to the previous enlargement; it was dodged again at Maastricht; and it has been dodged once more at Amsterdam. We simply cannot go on dodging it.
I do not propose to debate the merits or demerits of enlargement. It rests upon a political decision already taken and reaffirmed on more than one occasion. I also leave on one side the immense task that the candidate countries themselves face. Because we are debating the Amsterdam Treaty and what it has done or failed to do, I deal only with the task that faces the European Union. The abiding trouble with the European Union is that it tries to advance on too broad a front and do too many things all at once. This is understandable. It is subject to so many pressures from special interest groups, national governments, the European Parliament and every conceivable lobby, but it simply does not have the resources to respond. It does not have the collective will. The bureaucracy is too small judged even by British standards.
57 The Council of Ministers, which is the nearest thing to a government that the Union has, has no sense of collective responsibility. Its members are more interested in pursuing their national interests than serving the common good. The European Parliament can spend money but has no responsibility for raising the revenue that is required to finance the policies that it advocates. As a result, many projects are started, few are properly finished and some not at all. Those that are finished take far, far longer than they should.
Let us look at the present position. The single market programme launched in 1985 and due for completion by 1992 is still not complete, due not least to the fact that attention was switched to the single currency as early as 1988 before the single market had got properly on its feet. As a result, we have to cope with the launch of the single currency at the same time as we struggle with the single market. We have now embarked upon enlargement, but look at what it involves. If enlargement is to proceed not only do we have to complete the single market and launch the single currency successfully but we have to reform the common agricultural policy and the structural funds. There is a need for a drastic overhaul of the finances of the Union. There has been a great deal of talk but little action. A vast amount of paper has been produced but no results.
As at present the omens are not good. The reform of the common agricultural policy is in the hands of the Council of Agricultural Ministers. It will be within the recollection of many noble Lords that the Ministry of Agriculture in this country was always defined as "n 'but a farmers' lobby". I assure noble Lords that the Council of Agricultural Ministers is far worse than that. Its only remit is to protect the interests of the farmer. I have nothing whatever against the interests of farmers, but unfortunately every reform of the CAP that has been undertaken so far has cost more money.
As far as concerns the structural funds, some of the major beneficiaries have already staked out an intransigent position and hostages have been taken. The anodyne and comforting assurances given by the Commission that enlargement can be encompassed within the Edinburgh ceiling of 1.27 per cent. of GNP are complete rubbish, which is the mildest description that I can think of. There is no hope whatever of this immense series of tasks being completed in time for enlargement to take place in any acceptable time-frame unless drastic action is taken on the very matter that the Amsterdam Treaty was supposed to deal with but did not; namely, the effectiveness of the mechanisms and institutions of the Community. All we have is a weak-kneed protocol postponing once again a decision on two—and frankly the least important—aspects of this problem; namely, the size of the Commission and the distribution of votes in the Council of Ministers until the next enlargement takes place. But on the crucially important issue of majority voting and the use of the so-called veto there is virtually nothing. That is to be postponed until the next enlargement takes place. We have had one, two, three and now a prospective fourth postponement of a critically important matter in relation 58 to enlargement. On the crucially important issue of majority voting and the use of the so-called veto there is virtually nothing in the treaty.
What are we to do about this, at least if we are serious about enlargement? I look back to what we did about the single market programme. Its success—to the extent that it was a success—rested upon two matters: first, the introduction by the Single European Act of majority voting for single market issues. I ask noble Lords to note that particular qualification. Secondly, it rested on the personal commitment of the heads of government themselves, not just their Ministers or officials, to the single market programme. The commitment was not only that of the major countries—France, Germany and the United Kingdom—but the smaller countries. Sometimes in those discussions people tend to be somewhat critical of the smaller countries, but from my experience Belgium and Luxembourg played a crucially important role in conducting the Council of Ministers during their presidency on the specific issue of the single market programme.
The adoption of majority voting on enlargement issues—I refer again specifically to enlargement issues—will raise the most bitter of nationalistic hackles but it is the price we will have to pay if we seriously want enlargement: if we seriously want to create a united Europe bringing together all the peoples of Europe from the Atlantic to the borders of the now defunct Russian empire.
Nor can that job be left to the Council of Ministers. The Council is the nearest the Union comes to having a government. But unlike national governments the Council does not represent the general interest: it represents the national interests of the individual member states. Leadership must come from the heads of government meeting in the European Council and they must impose their authority on the Council of Ministers—something they do not always do.
There is a price to be paid for enlargement and it is a very heavy price indeed—not just a financial price but a price in terms of subordinating the national interest to the common good. That is the real challenge we and the European Union face.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Lord Grenfell
My Lords, I am sure that no one was more embarrassed than my noble friend Lord Whitty by what one might call the "Love-in with Larry" that followed the curious démarche of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. The praise was well deserved, and I shall say only that I believe that my noble friend is the right person in the right place on the right occasion.
I share the disappointment of a number of other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Whitty, that the clock ran out on the treaty negotiations before there was time to agree on the reform of the European Commission or on vote re-weighting—two very important issues. But I do not share the view of those who say that that has endangered the enlargement of the Union. The question of voting weights, and the number of Commissioners, will be on the table in any case in the accession negotiations.
59 If, as is possible, the next enlargement involves six or more countries, then of course there will, a year ahead of the enlargement accession, have to be another IGC. With fewer than five, those issues will still have to be addressed in time for the next enlargement, but given the priority attached to enlargement by all member states, the necessary reforms should not be unattainable.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, speaks as if the loss of one Commissioner would be a tragedy to be visited exclusively on the UK. He must know that the second commissioner would be lost only were satisfactory vote re-weighting achieved. I find getting the voting weight for the large states correct is far more important than having a second commissioner.
The Amsterdam Treaty, as many noble Lords have said, enshrines the results of a long and tortuous process of negotiation in the IGC. Those results, as many noble Lords have said, are modest, and that is all to the good. It is a sensible, workmanlike treaty which eschews the more radical ideas and aspirations that were being promoted by some member countries, and embraces some undramatic but highly practical steps, as described by my noble friend Lord Whitty, which will help smooth the path to enlargement. I shall touch on just a few of those in a moment, but, first, let me endorse what has already been said about getting this treaty into proper perspective.
I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and noted the ferocity with which the Conservative Opposition have been attacking the treaty here and in another place. One might have been led to suppose that that was an earth-shaking treaty with the seismic force of another Treaty of Versailles, instead of the modest, though important, stepping stone towards a more efficient and people-friendly European Union.
I suppose that by now we should not be surprised that as soon as the European Council agrees a series of practical, undramatic, timely and necessary amendments to existing Community treaties, the sceptics accuse the Council of stepping on the federal accelerator. The noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition described the Amsterdam result in your Lordships' House as:a substantial further step towards European integration"".—[Official Report, 28/7/97; col. 16.]When Conservatives use the word "integration" in the EU context, it is usually laden with dark meaning. But for the life of me I have not been able to read that into this essentially unradical and modest treaty.
While the Conservative Opposition may have abandoned their absurd call for a referendum on the Amsterdam results, the airwaves still crackle with the "Save our Sovereignty" SOS distress calls of the sceptics—these clause-by-clause Cassandras, claiming to see the end of Britain as we know it as the certain aim and inevitable result of every modest treaty reform. They have of course convinced themselves that a great federal European state lurks just beyond the portals of the Millennium. I cannot subscribe to that fearsome figment of their imagination, for the good reason that the future of the EU lies in the hands of a majority of countries which want no such federal superstate. My 60 noble friend Lord Shore of Stepney seems to communicate only with people who are hell-bent on creating such a unified European state. I have come across a few of them in my time, but I have met far more people who embrace no such aspirations.
If the Amsterdam Treaty tells us anything, it tells us, in the modesty and pragmatism of its results, that the Union, in its development, is not so far now from the boundaries beyond which further integration would run into the quagmire of political unacceptability. I am confident that we are not going to be dragged across that boundary because Britain now has a strong voice to add to those who have no intention of crossing that boundary either. That is the influence that an engaged Britain can bring to bear on the future of the Union. And that is just what a sidelined Britain under the Tories could not do.
I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, who I am sorry to see has already had to take his train to the West Country, and I feel moved to remind him that the "The Unimportance of Being European"—that dreary tragi-comedy about a policy found in a handbag—has now run its course. The public brought down the curtain on it on 1st May last year, and the prospect of reviving it is mercifully remote.
To be frank, I find it wholly risible that anyone should claim, as some do—among them the Shadow Foreign Secretary in another place—that a Tory government would have delivered an Amsterdam Treaty that was both better for Britain and better for Europe. Official Tory policy on this nation's place in the Union would have rendered those two results mutually exclusive. By contrast, the Labour Government were able to put their signature to a treaty that was good both for Britain and Europe. In the negotiations the Government were able to ensure that our essential interests over immigration, foreign policy and defence, were protected, as my noble friend the Minister pointed out this afternoon.
It is of course the sceptics' cry that the limited and sensible extension of QMV (qualified majority voting) was just a sell-out, a capitulation, another nail in the coffin of British sovereignty over its own interest and affairs. How self-deluding can they get? For example, can they suggest a better way of ensuring that no one country can block Council action where fraud is perpetrated against the Community budget? Conservative voices have been vociferous in their condemnation of fraud in the Community, and rightly so. But when it comes to extending qualified majority voting in order to strengthen the Council's hand in its fight against fraud, and the powers of the Court of Auditors to investigate the use of Community funds, the same old dreary save-our-sovereignty distress call echoes around the Chamber.
And while we are at it, may we assume that a Conservative government, in keeping with their total hostility to any extension of QMV, would have fought at Amsterdam against the extension designed to improve the transparency of the Union's decision malting? How totally inconsistent with their traditional protestations about a lack of such transparency. And how fortunate they were not at Amsterdam to wreck that one. They hang the millstone of no extension of QMV about their 61 necks, all the while complaining about the conditions that only extension can effectively change for the better. And where is the logic in the Conservative argument that qualified majority voting was necessary to create the Single Market, but not in relation to anything else?
I am delighted that the principle of subsidiarity is strengthened by the treaty. Article 3b in the Maastricht Treaty has rightly been criticised as too vague in its guidelines on when and how it is to be applied. The Conservative Opposition cannot credibly object now to the protocol's insistence that the subsidiarity principle does not affect the primacy of the acquis communautaire. It was already there in the Maastricht Treaty negotiated by them. What is of great importance in Protocol 7 is that it requires the reasons for concluding that a Community objective can better be achieved by the Community to be substantiated by qualitative and, where possible, quantitative indicators. And what is also good for Britain is that we can challenge the Commission in the European Court if we feel that it is wrongly treating a matter at Community level when it ought to be a matter for subsidiarity.
That is a big advance, as is the provision that the Court will also have the authority to intervene, if asked to do so, to ensure that the rules on flexibility have been properly applied. In my view, yet a further major advance is the treaty provision under which the European Parliament gains the power to approve the appointment of the Commission president, and that the nominee for the Commission presidency gains the right of common accord with member states over the appointment of commissioners, and subsequently on their replacement.
The very mention of an increase in the powers of the European Parliament sends many sceptics up the wall—
§ Lord Grenfell
My Lords, I know that it sends my noble friend Lord Stoddart not only up the wall but over it‡ It was an absurdity that the parliament, while having the right to be consulted about the presidency, could only accept or reject the Commission as a whole. That anomaly has correctly been removed by Article 2 of the new treaty. What is important is that the exclusive right of member states to nominate the president is maintained. Critics such as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, grumble that the parliament can now block a nominee wanted by all the member states. In theory, the answer to that is yes. But the scenario is far fetched in reality. It would be very unusual to find a majority of parliamentarians so much out of sync with their governments in the Council on a matter of this nature, and the remote risk that they might is a price well worth paying for another step in the democratisation of the Union.
I am convinced that the British public will endorse the right of the European Parliament to have effective control of the actions of the Commission, and the Council when it acts collectively, so long as it is written in stone that it is the Parliament here in Westminster which sanctions the signing up to agreements with the Council of Ministers by our own Ministers. That is a 62 proper division and sequencing of democratic control and the British people, whose intelligence is often underestimated by the Conservative Opposition, will, I believe, support that.
The same is true of the provision which strengthens the president's position regarding the composition of the Commission. It is only sensible that those appointed to the Commission should be persons capable of working harmoniously with the president to ensure the efficiency of the Commission's work as a whole. If the member states agree on a nominee for the presidency, and the parliament approves, it is only right that that person, duly approved by both states and parliament, should he granted the means to ensure a Commission that he or she can work with.
As a final point, perhaps I may say how gratified I am that the treaty incorporates the social chapter and that its terms will now he applied to this country, ending the unnecessary opt-out. There is no extension of QMV in the chapter. The accent is on encouraging. The new paragraph of Article 118 states that:co-operation between member states through initiatives aimed at improving knowledge, developing exchanges of information and best practices, promoting innovative approaches and evaluating experiences in order to combat social exclusion".With regard to any future European social legislation, it is up to us to negotiate successfully in the European Union to ensure that, as my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal put it in our July debate last year:any new legislation in the social field is compatible both with the establishment of sensitive common standards for working conditions and with economic effectiveness".—[Official Report, 28/7/97; col. 12.]I am confident that the Government can do that.
The Amsterdam Treaty introduces some sensible, pragmatic amendments to the European treaties which have gone before it. It is by no means perfect, but it is a good advance. The amendments should be welcomed by all who favour a continuing process of enhancement of the efficiency, transparency and value of the Union's institution and operations. This Government signed up to treaty provisions which are, for the most part, intrinsically and measurably good for Britain. And in those few cases where our enthusiasm may have been muted, the Government have at least ensured, in accepting provisions as part of a negotiated package, that there is nothing to undermine our essential interests. The Government know well where the boundaries are set. I wish them well in the pursuit of the passage of this Bill and of the ratification of what I regard as a good treaty.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Lord Garel-Jones
My Lords, I suppose that all treaties negotiated between six, 12 and now 15 nation states must be something of a disappointment, something of a compromise and something of a delaying tactic. As regards this treaty, I fear that the compromise and delay have perhaps reached the point of pusillanimity and of posing serious difficulties for the Union, as was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Cockfield.
63 The noble Lord, Lord Shore, stated that today's debate has gone rather wide. Your Lordships may find my remarks a little prosaic because I intend to concentrate on two areas where I regard the treaty as having been something of a disappointment. The first is democratic accountability and institutional reform and the second is enlargement.
I take the view, which I am sure will be shared across your Lordships' House, that democracy begins at home. It does not end at home, but it begins at home. On the introduction of the Maastricht Bill, and the same is true with the Bill before us, it struck me as one of the areas where we must begin by looking at our own House. Here is a treaty with no more than three clauses. Parliament is invited to debate and discuss the treaty without being able to amend a single dot or comma. Naturally enough, in a lively Parliament such as ours that gives some offence to Members. I share in that feeling. The reason is that Parliament as a whole has not yet adapted to the hybrid nature of European Community business. We treat European Community business as a foreign affair. Therefore, once the treaty is negotiated it is presented to the House under the Ponsonby rules and the House has no alternative but to agree to this three-clause Bill which, as was the case with the Maastricht Treaty, affects up to 60 or 70 per cent. of the daily lives of our fellow citizens.
Therefore, it is quite important that Parliament, through the committee under the chairmanship of the Lord President of the Council, begins to address ways—and I know it is very difficult, but the Danes have found a way forward—by which Parliament itself can be much more closely involved with the Executive in the negotiating process so that we do not find the Executive coming to a British Parliament with a three-clause Bill and saying, "You can debate the Bill and talk about it as much as you like but you cannot amend it or alter it by a single dot or comma".
Just as important in terms of scrutiny and parliamentary involvement—and this is one of the key areas that we must get right in the next decade of the development of the European Union—is the way in which we scrutinise European Union draft directives. It is fair to say that the British Parliament, along with the Danish Parliament, does quite a good job. But it is not enough for us to do a good job. We must ensure that every other parliament is also given that opportunity. One of the things that struck me most forcibly when I was involved in those matters was that any British Minister—it was true of the government which I served and I am sure it is true of the present Government—went to Brussels feeling that parliamentary opinion was almost sitting on his shoulder. I very often felt that some of the other Ministers with whom I was negotiating were unencumbered by the difficulties which Ministers often face here.
The Amsterdam Treaty goes some way in that regard. There is a new protocol whereby the COSAC Committee—the Conference on European Affairs Committee—is now able to meet and make formal although not yet binding recommendations to the body of the European Union. But in my view, we must go 64 much further than that. A number of years ago, the French Government made a proposal for a parliamentary assise. It was not a success. It was a kind of second chamber within the European Union where the concerns of national parliament could not only be voiced but could be fed into the whole comitology procedure. That was not a success but it is something which should be revisited.
I turn now to institutional reforms, the sort of plumbing of the European Union. Plumbing, whether it be in international organisations or in private homes, is rather important. In that area, the Amsterdam Treaty is a very grave disappointment. My noble friend Lord Cockfield has pointed out that we shall not be able to proceed with enlargement or with a sensible structure for the European Union unless we get these matters right.
There are five areas where action is needed and has so far been delayed. The first concerns languages. The European Union has 11 official languages. The United Nations manages to jog along with six, three of which—Chinese, Arabic and one other—so far, at any rate, do not concern the European Union. In the first instance, we should aim to bring that number down to five in the European Union. That seems to me a fairly modest aspiration and it would certainly make the physical workings of the European Union much simpler.
As regards Commissioners, it is right that the larger countries should reduce to one Commissioner. I believe that it follows from that that the five main portfolios should always be held by one of the large countries and the presidency should always be held by a small or medium-sized country. That is a fair balance of power between the large and small and medium-sized countries.
I believe also that presidencies should be annual. The United Kingdom is a large country with quite substantial resources but I well remember that the strain on resources not just as regards the time of Ministers but the resources of officials in keeping that presidency on the road was simply enormous. It is impossible to believe that small and medium-sized countries are able properly to cope with that. The danger of asking them to do so is that it puts too much into the hands of the Commission—and I am certainly not one of those who regards the Commission as the devil incarnate, but it is important that the presidency should be led by a nation state. I should like to see annual presidencies run by a troika consisting of one large country, one medium and one small.
Finally, as regards weighted voting, the extreme case is the comparison is between Luxembourg and the Federal Republic of Germany. It works out at about 200,000 per vote for Luxembourg and 800,000 for Germany. Clearly, that must be brought more into line. All those decisions have been funked and they must be confronted.
Finally, as regards enlargement, many noble Lords have said already, and I shall not labour the point, that enlargement is perhaps the most important moral issue that we have faced in this part of the world since the end of the Second World War. Suffice it to say that what the European Union proposes at present is to increase 65 the size of the Union by about one-third and to devote about one-tenth of its budget to that enterprise. It simply will not work.
I make three suggestions. First, I agree with my noble friend Lord Cockfield that we should ring-fence the issue and have majority voting. That is what pushed through the single market and that will be one of the ways of pushing through enlargement.
Secondly, it may come as something of a surprise to some of your Lordships but at the moment the European Union is underspending on its budget. I believe that the 1.27 guideline is running at about 1.16, which leaves about 11 basis points, as I believe they are called in the City. I should certainly be in favour—and the Government could certainly put forward this proposal during their presidency—of ring-fencing, if not all, then a substantial part of that remaining ceiling in the budget and devoting it specifically to the important subject of enlargement.
I believe that the Amsterdam Treaty is one sense innocuous but in another sense is something of a disappointment because it has yet again failed to face up to the two major tasks which it was set—institutional reform and enlargement. I cannot disagree with the remarks made in a report entitled Britain's Role in Europe published recently by the Royal Institute of International Affairs under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat. It stated:Given the weak Amsterdam results these new conditions do not inspire confidence either in the European Union's commitment to enlargement or in its ability to address and agree serious institutional reform".The problem with debates about the European Union in our country is that they are constantly being polarised between those like the noble Lord, Lord Shore, who believe that the European Union is in some way going to destroy our island home and starry-eyed enthusiasts who tend to take the view, "Europe right or wrong". My noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford has already been quoted in this debate. He was right to say in a letter he wrote to the Financial Times that the difficulty which he faces—and I face it as well—is in trying to steer a middle course between those two views. My noble friend Lord Tebbit says that we want to be clear; we want certainty. He is certain that we are heading towards a single state, as is the noble Lord, Lord Shore. I have no such certainty at all. However, I believe and continue to believe that this enterprise is the most important that we have undertaken in Europe in peacetime in this century.
Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Shore, and my noble friend Lord Tebbit, I travel in hope and with determination: in hope because I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Shore, about the abilities of the British people; and with determination because I am determined, as I know this House will be, to ensure that the values which this country has stood for should prevail and shall prevail within that Union.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Baroness Ludford
My Lords, it is once again my privilege to precede the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, in a debate involving Europe. I did so on a previous occasion when we debated foreign policy. On that occasion the noble Lord sympathised with the Minister for having to sum up on,a speech such as the one we have just heard, which reminds me of nothing so much as the kind of thing that was talked about by the League of Nations in the 1930s. I thought we had grown out of that sort of thing".I think I am right in discerning that that was not meant as a compliment. However, I shall not be abusive in return about matters that took place earlier this afternoon. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, was quite right to trace a link between the failure of the League of Nations and the steadfast belief that I, and many others of all parties, hold today in the need for an effective and integrated Europe, rather than an intergovernmental and impotent Europe. I am rather glad that I have not grown out of that belief.
I very much welcome the element of cross-party agreement today. I was extremely pleased to listen not only to the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield—one of the great architects of an effective Europe through his work on the single market—but also to the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, who was one of the most constructive members of the previous administration in regard to European policy.
For most people, especially of my generation and younger, effectiveness through pooling efforts—pooling sovereignty—to provide prosperity, democracy and security, which we cannot do on our own, is more important than empty national sovereignty. I believe that there is a cleavage between those who wish to hang on to the past and its symbols and those who are self-confident enough about Britain to accept that progress towards security in a world which is as uncertain as it is exciting, means sharing power in order to gain real influence.
Indeed, one can trace a link between acceptance of diversity and power-sharing on a domestic and on a European level. The voices that I hear in favour of "lone Britannia" often seem to be the same ones who are against devolution of power within the UK and suspicious of a diverse society.
The new Government's more rational approach to Europe is a welcome contrast and relief, despite, perhaps the efforts of people like the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, from the alternate hysteria and hostility sometimes shown by the last government. One does not want perhaps to have too much realism and rationality at the expense of enthusiasm. The failure of this Government to seek a more united and coherent role for the European Union over Iraq is a great disappointment for those who believed what they said about leadership in Europe.
On the Richter scale of impact in building Europe, the Amsterdam Treaty scores maybe two as opposed to nine for the ground-breaking Treaty of Rome and six or seven for the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty. It should have scored a lot higher, as other noble Lords have said, hut, regrettably, the major hoped-for institutional 67 reforms to prepare for enlargement were not achieved; namely, the changes to voting rules in the Council and the linked question of the streamlining of the Commission. That procrastination was really rather poor, and it means yet another intergovernmental conference will have to be convened in a few years' time before six more members join to sort it out. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what preparations the Government are making towards those essential reforms?
It would be excellent if we could open up the process of EU development to greater public debate. I was interested to bear what the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, said about the limits of the present process and the limits of our role in debating the Bill. Perhaps we need something more akin to a constitutional convention as has happened in Scotland. If institutional issues are presented in terms of democracy, accountability and openness, I believe that they would come more alive and be seen as being more relevant, rather than institutional issues being described as "boring"; as, indeed, the Prime Minister has done. I believe that calling such matters boring can sometimes be a deep cover for those who cling to secrecy.
There are modest but welcome improvements in the Amsterdam Treaty: first, in the streamlining of the legislative procedures, especially the extension of co-decision between the Council and the European Parliament and, secondly, the simplification to three procedures involving the Parliament. There is also the modest extension in the use of majority voting in the Council. I well remember asking a previous Conservative Secretary of State for Trade and Industry why the then government were so opposed to the extension of majority voting when, for instance, our own companies in financial services—such as in pension funds—and in the energy sector would greatly benefit from the liberalisation of continental markets, which could only be achieved through the use of majority voting. He replied that it was more important to stick to the principle of unanimity than it was to give our own companies commercial opportunities. That is rather sad.
I also welcome in the Amsterdam Treaty, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, the fact that the position and authority of the Commission president is usefully reinforced by giving him—or perhaps there may soon be a her—broad discretion to allocate portfolios in the Commission as well as the right to be consulted on the nominations. It is to be hoped that that will mean the end of the "Night of the Long Knives" at the beginning of each new Commission when member states haggle over these portfolios. It is also right that the European Parliament is to have power to approve, or reject, the nominee for president.
Overall, accountability is enhanced by a greater role for the European Parliament. That is very good news. Moreover, there is the protocol on information for national parliaments which is binding. The treaty shows the complementary roles of the national and European parliaments, especially over the third pillar 68 matters. It is important to stress that those roles are complementary and that national parliaments should not seek to be part of the legislative process but rather play a role in the scrutiny process.
I also welcome greater progress in transparency—the citizen's right of access to documents. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether there is a prospect of those rules on access to documents being drawn up by June—during the Government's presidency, in advance of the two-year time-scale which will be imposed by the Amsterdam Treaty. It would be good news if the Government were to get ahead of that timetable.
I have just one small matter to mention. Nevertheless, it is quite important as regards citizens' rights. I refer to the role of the ombudsman. That process has been very much under used since Maastricht and it would be good if it could be strengthened. Indeed, perhaps the location of the ombudsman could be transferred from Strasbourg to Brussels and perhaps more publicity could be given to citizens' rights as regards approaching the ombudsman.
As my noble friend Lady Williams remarked, it is very welcome that there is a strengthening of commitment to fundamental human rights and action to combat discrimination by entrenching them in the treaty for the first time. There are several other measures which are welcome; for example, the measure to make the subsidiarity protocol binding. I shall not enter into debate about the difference between a federal and a unitary state, but at least the subsidiarity protocol makes the point that we are talking as much about decentralisation as about effective central activities.
Finally, I welcome the strengthening of the common foreign and security policy, although it is rather a modest strengthening. Nevertheless, it has one particular aspect which is helpful; namely, it introduces rules about the financing of actions under the common foreign and security policy. The introduction of constructive abstention is also a useful reform. Overall, I believe that the balance sheet is positive. It will not perhaps have people on these Benches dancing in the aisles, but it is part of the building blocks of European construction.
In conclusion, perhaps I may suggest two actions that the Government could take—one negative and one positive—to boost public confidence in Europe. I suspect that many people will think that the first one has more to do with Europe than the Government. It is rather off the point of previous debates, but I refer to the banning of the use of unpasteurised milk, including in cheese. I am sure that many people will ascribe that to Brussels. Indeed, it is a great shame that it should be happening at this time. It would be good if the Government did not impose that. Secondly, it would be good if they did take up the offer of European money to promote an information campaign on the single currency. More of our citizens would then start to understand the 69 practical benefits of co-operation and why clinging to empty sovereignty offers no way forward in the 21st century.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, it has been claimed in some quarters that the Treaty of Amsterdam is of little importance, has no real constitutional implications, no far-reaching economic and social provisions and should not, therefore, concern Parliament overmuch. Nothing could be further from the truth, as my noble friend Lord Whitty confirmed in his opening speech, upon which of course he was complimented by everyone who has subsequently spoken. Indeed, like other noble Lords I congratulate my noble friend on his opening speech. However, I say to him that, while I did not support the move to adjourn our proceedings this afternoon, I nevertheless believe that the point that was raised is an important one. I sincerely hope that between now and Committee stage the Government will consider what has been said about providing a Foreign Office Minister to deal with subsequent stages. That in no way detracts from the excellence of my noble friend's contributions but I believe that it is a reasonable point. I hope that my noble friend and the Government will consider what has been said.
This treaty, like all its predecessors, is very important and provides for further European integration. The objective of this treaty, like that of the Treaty of Rome, the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty, is to take forward European integration by allocating new areas of competence to the institutions of the European Union or to extend and build upon the competencies that they already possess. Noble Lords must understand that that is what is meant by this treaty and should not be bamboozled in any way by any pretence that the treaty is designed to curtail Euro-competence or to reverse the inexorable tide of European integration. That being so, it is essential that this House examines in great detail and at length the provisions of this Bill and the Amsterdam Treaty and should do so in the knowledge that the House of Commons severely curtailed debate through what I can only term a repressive guillotine.
Why on earth the Government wish to rush ratification through I simply do not know. It is extremely unlikely that all other countries will have ratified by the end of this year. Indeed the referendum in Denmark is not due until May. So why the undue rush to ratify this treaty? Is it perhaps to put pressure on the Danish voters? I sincerely hope it is not. If it is, it will be counter-productive.
The prime question that we have to ask about this Bill and treaty is whether they take us towards the oft repeated goal of both the Labour and Conservative Parties of a Europe as an alliance of independent nations, or towards further integration and "a country called Europe". Clearly it is not the former because the treaty accords additional powers and competencies to the various institutions of the European Union, especially through the extension of qualified majority voting and the expansion of the powers of the European Parliament and indeed of the Commission and its 70 president. That all points towards further integration. Therefore the treaty is integrationist and militates against the Europe of independent states.
It is, of course, being claimed that the new subsidiarity arrangements will limit the power of the European Union. My noble friend Lord Grenfell claimed exactly that. But that was what was claimed in 1992 when the then Prime Minister came back to us and said that he had won, "Game, set and match". That was about subsidiarity. We were promised at that time that 25 per cent. of Community laws would be repealed and powers returned to this Parliament and to national governments. However, that promise has not been kept. No laws have been repealed. Instead, new directives and regulations have continued to be churned out. Far from the new articles on subsidiarity reversing the present trend, they are likely to entrench the acquis communautaire and lead to further power transfers to the European Union and its institutions leading to a centralised European unitary state, not a federal state. That is what we are embarked upon. This idea that we are embarked upon a federation is completely wrong. What we are embarked upon is a new European unitary state. It will be centralised and indeed it will be bureaucratic.
During the later stages of the Bill we shall need to examine in great detail the provisions of this treaty. Like many other noble Lords I shall want to examine the revised arrangements relating to the police and judicial co-operation which will, I understand, erode in some way the inter-governmental nature of this particular title of the treaty and bring its operation closer to Community arrangements. Under these new arrangements, as I understand them, it would be quite possible for foreign police forces to operate in the United Kingdom without Parliament's consent or knowledge. Perhaps my noble friend would like to comment on that when he winds up.
I also understand that Article 35 of the treaty will expand the role of the European Court of Justice in relation to police and judicial co-operation. Yet I understood that the aim of government was to restrict the powers of the European Court of Justice, not to expand them. Indeed there is great danger in expanding them. We ought to look at Article 35(6) for example. According to some people, that article could undermine the rock upon which our unwritten constitution rests; namely, the doctrine that a Parliament cannot bind its successor. I shall certainly want to probe that article. I hope that the whole House will want to probe that article as it was not probed in another place. Perhaps when my noble friend winds up he could comment on that also.
We shall also need to examine in detail the new areas of decision by qualified majority voting. For every time we hand over a decision to QMV we weaken our veto and remove power from Parliament and the electors and hand it over to a polyglot conglomerate not answerable to them. Then, of course, there are the new powers to be handed to the European Parliament. My noble friend Lord Grenfell said that I did not like the European Parliament. He is absolutely right. I opposed the directly elected European Parliament in 1977 and because I was 71 not prepared to support it on Third Reading I resigned from the government. The noble Lord is absolutely right that I did not, and do not, approve of an elected European assembly. Far from being a democratic extension it is the reverse, because it removes power from the national parliaments, and this Parliament in particular. Of course they got that power through the extension of co-decision and the power to veto the appointment of the President of the Commission. People say that that is an extension of democracy. It is nothing of the kind because the European president will have been agreed by the heads of government, who have been elected by their own electors to their own national assemblies or parliaments. Therefore, again, the main body of electors will be ignored. So that is not an extension of democracy.
§ Lord Tebbit
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that it depends which way one defines the democratic electorate? If one's view is that there is a European state, then the European Parliament represents all the people of that state, so it would be a democratic move. But if one takes the view that there are sovereign states, as the noble Lord quite rightly says, it would be an anti-democratic move. Surely that is where we are today. We have to decide whether we want a European state—democratic, bureaucratic or any kind—or we want to remain with the union of sovereign states. It is the issue which can no longer be fudged.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, did the noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches expect me to say anything different?
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, as usual, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is right on the ball. We have to make up our minds whether we are to remain a self-governing nation state or whether we shall be absorbed into a country called Europe. That is the decision we shall eventually have to take.
§ Lord Wallace of Saltaire
My Lords, will the noble Lord accept that we are not a nation state? The United Kingdom has never been a nation state. We are a united kingdom of several states. Under the noble Lord's own Government we are currently going through a set of constitutional reforms which will make us less a unitary state than we were.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, Wales has been part of the Union since 1536, I believe; and Scotland since 1707. That is a union which has stood the test of time. It has been extremely successful over a long period of time. I believe that it will continue to 72 succeed provided it remains united as a united kingdom. That does not apply to what is an artificial union called the European Union.
Perhaps I may return to my speech. Fortunately Section 6 of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978 provides that no treaty which increases the powers of the European Parliament shall be ratified by the United Kingdom unless it has been approved by an Act of Parliament. In the light of that section of the 1978 Act, we shall be able to scrutinise Clause 2 of the Bill very closely indeed. Those who framed that clause of the 1978 Bill were far seeing and knew what the Euro-mongers would get up to once they achieved an elected assembly.
And of course there is the power of the President of the Commission to reject commissioners appointed by national governments. This will virtually give him the right to select his own cabinet—a precursor perhaps of the coming conversion of the Commission to the de facto European Government so desired by some member states, the Commission itself and the power hungry European Parliament.
All the proposals in the Amsterdam Treaty are of vital importance and will need to be examined in detail. The proposal for a common foreign and security policy, which hands more influence over foreign affairs to the European Council and the Commission, especially to the bureaucrats, will need to be closely scrutinised to see whether that will undermine the principle that the foreign policy of this country exists to promote British interests. I sincerely hope that that will not be undermined by anything in the treaty.
It will also be interesting to know what would be the effect on our policy in Iraq at present if the Amsterdam arrangements were now in place. We shall be able, I believe, to examine in some detail economic and monetary union, and the stability pact arrangements. It will give us the opportunity to probe the Government's real thinking on the subject of EMU third stage and a single currency. I trust that a Treasury spokesman will be made available to deal with that subject.
This Second Reading has shown that the provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty are not trivial but deal with matters of great moment for our country and people. This House must indeed do its duty well, and must consider, scrutinise and amend the Bill in such a way as to prevent yet further ceding of our sovereign powers to institutions alien to our traditional ways of self government and inimical to the best interests of the British people.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, began her speech some time ago by criticising my raising in this House a matter of its internal constitutional arrangements. The fact that this is an important issue has just been agreed to by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. I find it surprising that the noble Baroness should think that the House is wasting its time when it considers matters upon which it has, or could have, some influence and is not wasting its time when it is asked to listen for the umpteenth time, 73 if I may say so, to the familiar litany of the quisling tendency in this House which goes by the curious name of Liberal Democrat since its adherents all seem to believe in an institution which is neither liberal nor democratic.
The debate has nevertheless been useful. We have heard some important contributions, notably—I do not always agree with him—from the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield. It is a fact that the Amsterdam affair was supposed to advance the cause of European enlargement; and it clearly failed to do anything of the kind, as the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, pointed out, because it would have to make changes which individual governments were not prepared to make.
Similarly, we are told that there has been some advance towards a common foreign and security policy. When one looks at the record of the European Union in that area, one wonders that even its most devoted advocates in this House raise that issue. What constructive role did the European Union play in Bosnia? I shall not go into the less than constructive role of certain member states. What has it been able to do with regard to the appalling events going on in Algeria—a country which is close to many member states and which treats with the utmost contempt any idea that the European Union can have a say in whether those massacres continue? There is not the slightest evidence at present that the countries of Europe have such common views on major policies that any institutional way of creating a single policy would do any good at all.
I am tempted to go further. The most troubling effect of the Amsterdam Conference could be to make people realise that perhaps the whole European Union enterprise was an error based upon an inadequate comprehension of the nature of Europe and its countries; and the effort on the part of certain members of the continental elite to create a single European state (for that is what it has been)—of which the absurd suggestion of a common currency, which flies in the face of all economic argument, is just the latest phase—has now brought home the fact that if we are to achieve (here is the one point upon which surely all noble Lords are agreed) a Europe of countries co-operating with each other in a friendly fashion, stretching at least up to the frontier of the Russian empire, we will have to start all over again. We will have to drop the idea that there can be law-making institutions of the type described. We will have to say that for a long time to come countries will need, unless they make their own arrangements to the contrary, to control their economic destinies, including their currency, interest rates and so forth; and, alas, that they will have to continue—and this is a pity—to restrict to some extent the free movement of people, which in the last resort is what we should like to have. Is it likely that any of the continental countries would in fact welcome the kind of free movement that makes possible the American economy with a single currency and a single market? Why live in a world of illusions? Why not try to tackle matters about which something could be done?
I agree—as I must occasionally—with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, that we are considerably at fault, so far as I know, in our treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. But that is a matter to which the Government could give their own attention. They 74 could put more civil servants on to dealing with that crucial issue rather than tangling them up in various European notions, experiments, review bodies and so forth. There are practical things which could be done and which a government could do but which are neglected because of the absurd belief that somehow or other a thing that has clearly gone wrong will suddenly be put right.
There has been talk of the European Parliament "filling the democratic deficit". What do people in this country think the European Parliament is? They know that it is a body which builds itself enormous and expensive palaces. Saddam Hussein has nothing on the European Parliament when it comes to architecture and comfort. They know that, for reasons of national state bargaining, it is compelled to take its circus once a month all the way from Brussels to Strasbourg and start all over again. People do not regard the European Parliament as a serious body capable of filling a democratic deficit. They know something about their own parliaments. They may think that they are good or bad, or that the wrong party is in power. But, fundamentally, nearly all member states (there are one or two exceptions) have serious democratic and liberal institutions. Let us build on those, and not be carried away by empty rhetoric.
That was fine when Jean Monnet was alive and Europe was finding some way out of the depths into which the Second World War had plunged it, but it is of no possible relevance to the kind of economy, society and countries that we now are. At least our debates on this minimal, rather than modest, treaty will give us a chance to examine some of these serious issues.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. I welcomed his constitutional intervention. It was good for us to stop and think about an appropriate response to this treaty. While I voted against the noble Lord's Motion, it was nevertheless good to have the issue discussed. It may also have a good unintended consequence. The only way for the Government to get out of the problem is for them immediately to promote my noble friend Lord Whitty to the status of Minister, because he alone can pilot this Bill through its Committee and Report stages. It was a particular pleasure to hear him introduce the Bill. I remember—although my noble friend may wish to forget—the day after the 1992 election when, at half-past four in the morning, we were wandering along some building on Millbank and we embraced each other in a forlorn way. At that time there was absolutely no hope. Little did we think that in a few years' time he would, quite properly and deservedly, be leading for the Government on such an important issue. I very much welcome his being there and arguing this case.
I am in the peculiar position of being neither a Euro-sceptic nor a satisfied enthusiast. I am a disappointed enthusiast. When the issue was under discussion in 1973, I was not in Parliament but was just an ordinary citizen. I had no doubt that Sir Edward Heath was fudging the issue. I clearly saw that. I was a 75 federalist—perhaps even worse, a unitarian. I thought that we were entering Europe because within my lifetime there would be a European parliament, possibly with two chambers, that that European parliament would elect a cabinet and that that cabinet would run Europe. That is what I believed would happen. That is what I mean by a federal Europe; I have no other definitions. So it was a surprise to me to learn that people genuinely thought it to be a matter of a common market, a Europe of nation states with sovereignty and so on. I was young then. As I grow up, I become more disillusioned with the way in which the world fails to follow my instincts. I voted yes in the referendum. At the time I was in a small minority of pro-Europeans in the Labour Party.
The noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, is entirely correct. What happened was that, following the Single European Act, somehow the whole process got speeded up—quite unnecessarily so. The European Community is not yet a single market. Before it can become a single market—which should have been allowed to happen over more than just four or five years; merely to pass the laws takes more than four or five years, and more time is needed to create a single market—it started jumping onto the single currency bandwaggon. And before the single currency is even in operation, there is the question of enlargement. As I said, I am a disappointed enthusiast. Not much reference has been made to this, but the spectre which haunts this debate is the Edinburgh Summit. That summit stopped the federal European experiment in its tracks and it has never since gained momentum. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, does not wish to take the credit for his government's achievement.
We are about to embark on a single currency. Let us for the time being suppose that it goes ahead. It is generally agreed that, if there is a single currency and different economies, what economists call asymmetric shocks will cost somebody a lot of money. Ideally that body should be the federal European Union budget. Here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit: if you want a single currency, you should have a single state. There should be no messing about. People who used to be communautaire have taken the view that we should have a single currency, but with a ceiling on the budget of 1.27 per cent. I think it unlikely that the unspent part of the 1.27 per cent. could be devoted to enlargement. Countries have already said: "If you have unspent money, we want it back".
Since the Edinburgh Summit, major countries have behaved in a completely non-communautaire fashion. This train is not getting anywhere; it may yet do so, but at the moment it is not. The Amsterdam Treaty is a perfect example of that.
The noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston, gave a wonderful maiden speech, with much of which I agree. Like him, I am a purist, and I do not like what is going on. Perhaps the Union will never be as I should like it to be. But the Amsterdam Treaty was meant to solve a lot of problems. As the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, said, the intergovernmental conference which preceded it utterly and completely failed; it did not solve a single problem that it was supposed to solve. Therefore 76 enlargement looms. I am sure that noble Lords know my view on enlargement: I believe it is a disaster. But, if we are to have enlargement, there should long ago have been preparation in the form of institutional and budgetary changes and budgetary enlargement.
Here we have an experiment, which has unfortunately stalled, in which there are three problems: single market, single currency and enlargement. Individual, powerful countries are no longer behaving in a co-operative fashion with regard to those problems but in a divided fashion. For example, preparations to meet the convergence conditions of the Maastricht Treaty have been carried out by governments in beggar my-neighbour separate economic deflationary policies. There has been no co-operation whatever between Germany, France and Italy about how they could together meet the convergence criteria. The result is that, as my noble friend Lord Bruce said, unemployment will grow. That is protectionist behaviour.
I should love to believe, as the noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches believe, that the train is still moving happily towards its destination. I do not believe it is moving anywhere. However, perhaps to the annoyance of my noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon, I should welcome it if the European Parliament, such as it is, had more power. Again I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. I believe that the European Parliament is a democratic institution. I would rather that the European Parliament should decide who the president of the Commission should be than have the bickering between members of the European Council or the Council of Europe. As we saw on the previous occasion, that does not produce the best president but the one who is least disliked, for completely dubious reasons. I should like the president of the Commission to be popularly elected—that might be rather fun—but with, as the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, said, a second chamber which would represent national parliaments.
This is a modest and not very consequential treaty. Why do I think that? I remember the Second Reading debate on the Maastricht Treaty which ran to two days. I remember that at 1.30 in the morning the 124th speaker from the Back Benches—the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit—spoke. One hundred and fifty Members were in the Chamber. The Maastricht Treaty mattered. This treaty does not matter. However, let us wish it luck and get it out of the way so that we can turn our attention to something serious.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Lord Howell of Guildford
My Lords, as I inflicted my views on the Amsterdam Treaty on your Lordships' House when we debated this rather uninspiring treaty on 28th July, I shall confine myself to three detailed points on the treaty and the legislation before us. I apologise that, for unavoidable reasons, I may not be present to hear all the speeches at the end of the debate.
The three issues I wish briefly to discuss are subsidiarity, to which the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, referred; the stability pact, which was engineered at Amsterdam and is not strictly in the treaty or the Bill 77 but lies behind both; and the question of common foreign and security policy, which seems to be in deep trouble at the moment.
On the subsidiarity issue, like the noble Lord, Lord Desai, I have a sense of disappointment. We were told at the time of Maastricht that this would be the great thing; that Maastricht was a turning point and from then on there would be an unravelling of the undue acquisition of central powers by the Community—in some cases, high officials admitted, unnecessary powers—and that there would be a process of unwinding these and in future directives examining them most carefully to see if they were necessary at all at Community level. As the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said, not very much has happened. Even before the Amsterdam Treaty only one directive, on the management of zoos, was examined to see whether it could be delegated back to the nation states, but that is about it. In this treaty and this Bill we see that, far from the whole subsidiarity idea being carried forward, it is undoubtedly, and to my great regret, carried back. In Protocol 30 to the treaty all kinds of new hedging conditions are laid down, almost as though the high officials concerned with drafting these treaties have discovered that, unless corralled, subsidiarity could, after all, be quite a dangerous instrument in taking power from the centre.
It may be said that those who believed that subsidiarity could deliver the goods were naïve, too dutiful or too anxious to support the government of the day. I plead guilty to all three weaknesses at times. What I now read in Protocol 30 makes me realise that even what we have is being taken away. We are told in Protocol 30 that subsidiarity must not affect the acquis. All acquired powers cannot be unravelled even when the pattern of Europe changes, the Berlin wall falls and the world is completely different. The acquis is absolutely sacred and cannot be affected by subsidiarity. We are told that it must not affect the principles by which the Court of Justice chooses to uphold Community law. That is taking a huge sledgehammer to the subsidiarity belief in the hope that either as a legal principle or a political one—there is a debate as to which it is—some of the centralist tendencies of earlier years in the Community and the Union, when economies were totally differently structured and the behaviour of economies was different, could now be unwound in the new conditions of the information society which did not exist when the original institutions of the Community were fabricated.
We are told that subsidiarity must not call into question the powers of the European Community—a second sledgehammer blow in the same place. It must not apply where the Community has exclusive competence. That means that at no point can one re-examine issues and question whether it would have been better if they had been handled at national and supranational level. The curtain is down on that as well. Subsidiarity is not to intrude ever again into those areas.
There are some mitigating sops to the subsidiarity case. It says in the protocol that care should be taken to respect well-established national arrangements. Some of us would argue that not enough care is taken. But that 78 is the sad story of subsidiarity. Those who believe that it is a marvellous treaty and that subsidiarity is a good thing I am afraid are riding two horses travelling in opposite directions. The truth is that centralism rules in the protocol. I used to argue with my friends in the Labour Party—socialists—many of whom said that we could have socialism without state centralism, without state socialism; it could be done. I believe that it is possible to have good Europeanism without centralism. However, the people who put their signature to Protocol 30 do not believe that and did not like the tendency of those of us who were arguing the other way.
I want to say a word on the stability pact and monetary union. Again, it is not directly covered by the legislation before us but obviously lies at the heart of the debate. Amsterdam marks the final preparations for the third stage of EMU on 1st January 1999. There are a great many anxieties felt about that and I have many also.
I hear what my noble friend Lord Tebbit says about sovereignty. Of course he is right. It is absolute; either we have it or we do not, in the literal, fundamental sense. But operational sovereignty on the monetary front has been drifting away from independent nation states for years and the drift has now accelerated. If we put forward too much of an argument about sovereignty in relation to the monetary union issues, we shall get on to the wrong track. The operational sovereignty was taken away. From the days of the gold standard we have not had operational sovereignty in the monetary field.
The real problem with monetary union is that it will be impossible to guarantee the right exchange rates at the moment of freezing them on 1st January. No one has the least idea what the right rates will be for the three years ahead and it will be a dangerous time. There will be the task of managing 12 currencies—assuming that there are 11 members of the currency zone, which is not an optimal zone anyway—the euro being the new one. Huge technical monetary problems will arise. They may be boring and people may not want to understand them, but they will be extremely destabilising.
Given the obvious lack of convergence—except in the fudged Maastricht criteria sense—there will be immediate adverse consequences. We will not have to wait for the first big downturn in the European economies. The present recovery is faltering somewhat and the impact of the single currency problem over the next three years on the faltering European economies will be extremely serious. In my view the stability pact—desperate rearguard action by the Germans to try and plug the gap that they suddenly realised existed in the monetary union system—will be blown away by the fiscal expansion of governments determined to stay in office and not be thrown out by having to pursue policies of growing unpopularity with ever-rising unemployment.
We will debate that on another day. Let me turn to the common foreign and security policy. I want to say just a word or two on that. I hope to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who speaks with great authority on these matters and we heard a trailer of that. But these are my thoughts on the situation.
79 This is an area where there is a major expansion of policy in Title 5 of the Treaty of Amsterdam. It goes into considerable detail. It is also an area where, in the past, the enthusiasts for pooling sovereignty made quite a splash. They have always said, "This is the area where we will create Europe as a bloc; it will be able to throw its weight around. This is the state of Europe in the new world of super powers and super blocs and this is the pool we want to be in". Almost a sea of solidarity was conjured up by the enthusiasts for a common foreign and security policy.
The treaty tries to reinforce the whole pattern, the whole framework of a common foreign and security policy. It requires members to refrain from actions which impair cohesiveness. It asks them to decide on common strategies. It insists that they ensure that national policies conform to common positions. It insists that common policy should embrace humanitarian, rescue tasks, peace-keeping and peace enforcement. The Bill is an extremely ambitious document and if one believed for a moment that any of those things could be delivered other than on paper, that would create a pooled entity—a powerful European bloc which would be a great force in the world.
That is the theory, but what is the practice? The practice is what we see before us and to what my noble friend referred. We only have to look over the past week or 10 days to see the reality. The practice is that, faced with a real issue of a humanitarian nature—what could be more humanitarian than trying to control a maniac in the Middle East with powers of anthrax spore?—faced with a major strategic issue of world stability, the whole thing falls apart. France goes in one direction; the Germans give grudging support from the sidelines; there is silent embarrassment from other members of the European Union; and the British go along strongly with the American stance. Indeed, the only robust support for the common policy that emerged is from the eastern European countries. They are not yet even members—Poland, Czechoslovakia and the gallant Baltic three. They uttered strong words saying that they are ready to support a serious common policy to deal with Saddam Hussein.
What has happened is not merely that common foreign and security policy has failed to deliver on this issue; it has done more than that. It has greatly damaged the credibility of the European Union as a force in foreign affairs. There are a number of issues where European Union countries can work well together and should do so in a trans-governmental setting. That is the way that they should and can operate effectively. However, if we build up this attempt to impose a common foreign policy on issues where there can be no common line or where, as soon as we get down to the realities, national interests intervene and divide, we end up with a worse situation than when we started. If we build up, then when there is failure everything is let down; discredit emerges; failure of diplomacy emerges and the world and Europe are set back by the over-ambitious attempt to create too much unity where none can exist.
80 Common issues, yes; trans-governmental handling of those issues of an intense kind, certainly, all the time; but the attempt to supranationalise foreign policy was going to be a failure from the start. If pursued through this treaty and this Bill, it will lead to more failures, more damage and more disunity in Europe which deeply offends those of us who regard ourselves as good Europeans.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Lord Taverne
My Lords, I had not intended to refer to the specific issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. However, I want to take him up on what he said with regard to the period of difficulty in managing what he called 12 different currencies for the three years after 1st January 1999.
I agree that there is possibly some problem in relation to the period between May, when the announcement is made of what the currencies will be converted at, and 1st January 1999, but after 1st January 1999 the position will be the very opposite of the ERM. The noble Lord spoke of managing 12 different currencies. There will not be 12 different currencies. There will not be an exchange rate between the Deutschmark and the French franc; in fact, we will have one currency with different names in different countries. The European Central Bank will operate under a system which admittedly has the fairly unattractive name of "complete fungibility" so that all electronic and financial system transactions will be treated as though they were in euros. The problem therefore of managing the currencies within that period does not exist.
However, I want in the course of my remarks to return to what in some ways has been to many speakers the central issue of the debate. I refer to the question of sovereignty, which arouses many passions. I enjoyed the provocative remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, who is not now in his place. It certainly aroused him to passion, although he spoke with his usual courtesy, moderation and tolerance.
I want to look at sovereignty, particularly in relation to qualified majority voting. Qualified majority voting has been of enormous benefit to this country. We would never have got the single market without it; we would never have got agreement to the Uruguay Round without it; and we would have no chance of further reforming the common agricultural policy without it. Indeed, some useful reforms have been made entirely because of qualified majority voting. It is also central to enlargement.
Perhaps the strongest argument for qualified majority voting was, perhaps surprisingly, put by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, whose courtesy for remaining in his place throughout the debate I appreciate. He put the point extremely well. He said, "Look what happened when the question came up about the opt-in to Schengen? He said, "Monstrously, the Government did not favour qualified majority voting but allowed unanimity to prevail". He pointed to the obstacle which exists when one has unanimity—someone can exercise a veto, and the veto can be used as a bargaining point for all kinds of undesirable consequences. He argued 81 that we must not allow Spain to have a veto. But what applies in the case of Schengen applies all the way round. If we have confidence in ourselves, we should be confident about qualified majority voting, because on nearly every occasion we have been in the majority.
Indeed, it was welcome to find that the United Kingdom supported the extension of qualified majority voting to a number of new areas. Perhaps the most important were the structure of research, development and employment. It is also reasonable that at this stage it should not be extended to matters like foreign policy and defence. I am somewhat sorry that the Government dug in their heels over immigration because in the long run it is certainly in our interests to have a common immigration policy. After all, if someone achieves residence through the local immigration policy of another country, he has a right to come to this country. If we have no say over other countries' immigration policies, we effectively abandon control over our own.
What is perhaps most noteworthy about the discussions on qualified majority voting at Amsterdam was the surprising attitude of the Germans. In the past Chancellor Kohl has been very much a strong advocate of a federal Europe. I am a great admirer of Chancellor Kohl. I am delighted that he is to be the first foreigner since Eisenhower to be given the keys to the City of London. That is a magnificent and imaginative gesture. He is the most anti-nationalist politician in Europe. He is determined to see that there should not be through German strength a German roof over Europe but a European roof over Germany. He is a man I much admire, although I would not go all the way with his aim of a federal Europe. While I have no objection to it in principle, it seems to me to be not practical politics.
The Germans took a surprising attitude. I quote from a very good book about the Amsterdam Treaty, which I commend to Members on the Conservative Benches, written by two very eminent Conservatives, Brendan Donnelly, MEP, and Anthony Teasdale. They describe very well what happened. They state:The Germans, in a dramatic and last-minute volte face, decided to oppose QMV in environment, industry, free movement of persons, social security and culture, for example, because of resistance from the Laender … They also opposed the automatic use of QMV in the JHA [justice and home affairs] pillar, previously a firm Bonn goal. As one German participant wryly observed: 'one form of federalism took precedence over another'".What we saw at Amsterdam was the high tide of federalism; or perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Desai, was right, and it was reached earlier at Edinburgh.
This is in some ways to be deplored because it makes enlargement more difficult. One will now need a new treaty to deal with the complex institutional questions bound up with enlargement. That will create considerable difficulties. But what it does mean is that it is the end of the idea of the threat of a superstate. Not only is the UK opposed to it; not only has France been opposed to it throughout; but now Germany has abandoned the aim. You can have qualified majority voting without a superstate but you certainly cannot have a superstate without qualified majority voting. You cannot have a superstate if the national veto is retained. 82 The Germans actually argued at Amsterdam for the retention of the veto, a point that has not been noticed—or at least has been noticed, but not by many.
I wish to return to the question of more flexible integration. We have talked about a multi-speed Europe, a two-speed Europe, a Europe à la carte, and variable geometry. The issue now is one of flexible integration. In December 1995 Chancellor Kohl and President Chirac called for a new treaty clause to allow for greater flexibility. It was more or less accepted at Amsterdam that it should be decided on by qualified majority voting, but not if important and stated reasons of national policy were involved. So, on the face of it, again the veto applies. But no one seems quite clear how it will work out.
The test of this is the Euro-X committee, which is clearly an important committee. I think it is a desirable committee for the reasons given by the noble Lord. Lord Desai—one wants to see much better co-ordination of fiscal policy but one does not wish the whole of anti-inflation policy in Europe to be decided only by the bankers. I welcome the establishment of the Euro-X committee. But what is clear is that if some people want to go off to decide things on their own, they will do so. Although formally the decisions have to be taken by ECOFIN, in practice they will be decided by the Euro-X committee. The four non-member states of monetary union will have to accept what the others have decided. In effect, we will have flexible integration.
While we are outside monetary union we will suffer a major loss of sovereignty over issues of the greatest importance to us. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and others who have spoken claim that they are concerned about sovereignty. What sovereignty means is having effective control over your own affairs. What in fact they are seeking to preserve is nothing less than a shadow and an illusion. The only way in which we will achieve sovereignty over the issues that really affect us is to find ourselves at the heart of Europe when the important decisions are taken.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Lord Inglewood
My Lords, I remember when I was young that the villains of the political scene were the Gnomes of Zurich—nameless, rather unidentifiable people who were somehow conspiring to bring our country to its knees. Well, time passed and they did not seem really to have been quite the threat that they were portrayed to be at the time. But they seem now to have been superseded by the Brussels "federasts", who are closeted somewhere inside the Berlaymont building, waiting to take over this country and to subsume it in some single centralised European state.
On the occasions when I have been abroad to the various countries of the Community and to Brussels I have met some of these Euro-centralisers. But there really are not very many of them. The vast majority of citizens of European countries, like the citizens of this country, do not want a single European state. What they want to see is a political system that is based around the nation state but which operates within a transnational, or some type of supranational, system, which eliminates 83 the intrusive and damaging effects of borders, barriers and restrictions that get in the way of improved communications, telecommunications and the mobility of goods, services, people and capital, all of which offer considerable opportunities, benefits and advantages to the citizens of this country and the other member states. The European Community is an effort to try to bring that about. I am clear in my mind that it is wrong to see it in terms of whether Europe is a state because I believe that it is sui generis; it is a unique political experiment. The debate we are having is about the detail of how one achieves all this.
It seems to me that this is an example of something which is happening much more widely around the globe. We are seeing the development and evolution of a new politico-diplomatic order which affects not only Europe but the whole of the globe. These changes are essentially systemic. They may be party political, but I do not believe they are inherently ideological.
Unlike a number of distinguished Members of your Lordships' House, I am neither a diplomat nor an historian. But I understand it is generally accepted that the story of classical diplomacy began in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia. The era that began then came to an end at the time of the First World War. Whether the war was the cause of that ending or whether it was merely symptomatic of the changes that caused it to happen, I do not want to speculate, although I suspect that it may have been the latter.
But what is clear is that, if one looks at the history of this century, there has been extraordinary instability and uncertainty about the rules that govern the relationships both between countries and between people doing business between countries across not only the countries of western Europe, but around the globe. As we know, a lot of blood has been spilled.
Obviously, one of the changes which we have seen is the development of the European Community and its subsequent evolution into the European Union. During the debate that we have in this and other countries about what is going on, I believe that insufficient attention is being paid to the effect of these systemic changes on the processes and responsibilities which remain member state competences and which at first sight are clearly, legally outside Community or Union competence.
I should like to give two examples. The first one was triggered by the distinguished maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell in the debate in this House not so long ago. He referred to the beginnings of co-operation in common, foreign and security policy going back to the days of European political co-operation. What was happening was that there were changes occurring informally outside the treaty in response to a perceived need by the participants in the negotiations.
Secondly, I should like to refer to my own experiences in the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, where I was the Conservative representative between 1989 and 1994. In the period prior to the Maastricht Treaty we devoted a great deal of our attention to the activities which are currently 84 contained in the third pillar. I give one example. The reason was that, if one has a single market and if there is not a simple, user-friendly system to gain redress when something goes wrong with a transaction, the system is not serving the citizen and it is not being very user friendly.
I was very interested in some evidence given to Sub-committee F by Customs and Excise. It explained how, prior to the provisions of the Maastricht Treaty coming into effect, a series of provisions and arrangements had developed informally, which seamlessly transferred themselves into the formal procedures that were put in place once the treaty came into effect. In each of these instances the existence of the Community fundamentally affected the way that member states dealt with each other on business which was important to them and which was outside the scope of the treaties. Informal systems evolved. Unless one wants one's own country to be an international wallflower, it has to participate in them. What we have seen in this case is development from informal systems into the second and third pillars, which, while inter-governmental, are clearly very different from the inter-governmentalism of classical diplomacy.
I should now like to look forward to one further future example, and that is EMU. I do not want to offer any views about whether or not we should or might participate. I should merely like to point out that it seems that, whatever one's views about that aspect of the matter, there is more or less complete unanimity that whatever happens—if anything happens—it is going to affect this country very significantly.
From these examples I make two specific points and point out the relevance they might have to the consideration of this Bill. First, I do not find it surprising, if one thinks about it, that, just as the nation state evolved in the past, it is now evolving, and will continue to evolve, in the future. We must recognise that in considering what the future holds for us. Secondly, I am sure that saying no is no assurance of retaining the status quo.
We have heard it on a number of occasions this evening. It is said that the problem of the Community is that there is a lack of democracy. In the sense a democratic system is one where power is exercised legitimately, according to the strict tenets of representative democracy, the system we have is entirely legitimate, albeit in a number of respects unfamiliar to us because it is based on ways of doing things which are widespread and recognised elsewhere in other member states. I believe that the real problem is a lack of transparency and accountability. Again, I refer to the work that we have been doing on Sub-committee F. It is not at all easy to discover exactly what is going on under the third pillar and neither is it necessarily very easy to see who it is who is taking the various decisions.
We have heard reference to the European Parliament this evening and, en passant, to its building and architectural aspirations. One does not have to cross the Channel to see a Parliament building an expensive new building: one has only to cross the road. Perhaps 85 the principal role of the European Parliament in the structure of the Community as a whole is to bring the Commission to account. There is no other institution in the system currently constituted to do that. Of course, it is easy to laugh at the European Parliament because it is very good at advertising some of its follies. But let us not forget that it actually contains a number of very eminent people who make a significant contribution to the good of all countries within the Community. In particular, it is its role as the scrutineer of the Commission that we should emphasise and encourage.
In his opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred to the reservations that we have on these Benches about signing up to the Social Chapter. I do not want to rehearse those again at this time of the evening. I merely ask the Minister if he can tell the House, in the context of social policy, whether there are any indicators or some kind of test that the Government will apply to determine what matters are properly dealt with at Community level and what matters ought properly to be left at member state level.
I believe that, in considering the way we respond both to the constitutional changes that we are seeing within the European Union and to the policies that may emerge from them, we must continue at all times to be realistic and pragmatic. We are living at a time of great change in the way the nations of the world and their citizens conduct business with each other. We must not be mesmerised by what was done in the past. Rather, we must try to build systems which will meet the aspirations of people in the 21st century instead of practices current in the 19th century. Those systems must serve the citizen and not the other way around.
Simply saying no cannot preserve the status quo. Saying no may be as emphatic a means of launching a policy as saying yes. If we do not really know for sure what to do, it does not automatically follow that the right response is to be negative. I believe, perhaps more than ever before, that we must keep in mind Bismarck's famous maxim, which was taken by that great Conservative Rab Butler, as the title for his autobiography: namely, "Politics is the art of the possible".
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I put one question to him? He claimed that the European Commission and all those at Berlaymont are not the fanatical centralisers that Euro-sceptics imagine them to be. If that is the case, why do they resist so fiercely, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, pointed out, even the slightest rolling back of the acquis communautaire?
§ Lord Inglewood
My Lords, I do not think that it is for me to respond to that point. However, if the noble Lord were to go to Berlaymont and speak to those who work there, he would find that the view which is held is mine rather than his. Furthermore, the noble Lord is referring to the provisions of the Treaty of Amsterdam, which was a child of the intergovernmental conference.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Whitty on the way in 86 which he introduced this debate, which has been fascinating and illuminating. I must also express my gratitude to him for his significant work over the years in contributing to moving European affairs forward.
This is my first opportunity to congratulate the Prime Minister on his performance at Amsterdam last June. By any standards, the British delegation came away from Amsterdam not only with a treaty which is reasonable in safeguarding British national interests but, importantly, having raised British standing in European eyes. The Prime Minister impressed our European partners with the fact that Britain wants to be at the heart of Europe and to be giving a lead rather than be seen to be negative, as has been the case so often in the past.
That is not to say that all that was aimed for at Amsterdam was delivered. It was not. The issues of enlargement and of institutional reform were deferred, or even possibly postponed. However, deferment on such topics is not unusual or even surprising. Reform and modernisation of power structures do not come easily, as we know only too well in these Houses. Recalling some of the contributions that have been made today by noble Lords who in some respects are pro-Europe but list the long catalogue of obstacles which have to be overcome—I refer particularly to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield—one wonders whether, even if we could define where we were going, we would ever get there. There is a long haul ahead of us. I believe that many people shout and scream too quickly their concerns about a project which is still a long way from being embraced.
There were some beneficial changes in the Amsterdam Treaty. Modest though some may seem to be, they are very important indeed for a significant number of our citizens. I refer specifically to the Government ending the opt-out from the social chapter, as it is loosely called. I first remind those who oppose the ending of the UK Maastricht opt-out that it was an explicit manifesto commitment—not only on the part of the Labour Party but also for the Liberal Democrats. If any question is raised about the extent to which there was a popular vote for ending that opt-out, the question should not be addressed purely on the basis of the Labour Party's vote; we should take into account also the votes cast for the Liberal Democrat Party. Taken together, they show a substantial majority voting in favour of what the Government did at Amsterdam.
The British people were wise not only to support the ending of that opt-out, but also to ignore the many scare stories that were engineered around not only the opt-out but the minimum wage which it was said would lead to possible job losses. We were told that difficulties would arise also from equal pay. Threats abounded about pensions being interfered with as a result of changes being made following the opt-out.
We must bear in mind not only the general election result but the fact that opinion polls show that our citizens want more social policy, not less. It is important that this change which the Government have introduced is recorded and welcomed—although I recognise that not all noble Lords would support that view.
87 I would argue that social policy is an integral part of the European internal market. It sets down minimum conditions to help to establish a level playing field. National measures can, of course, be introduced further to improve those conditions if individual countries choose to do so under subsidiarity.
Those of us who are in favour of European development and closer co-operation would not wish to engage in the beggar-my-neighbour spiral of competing on the basis of ever-decreasing levels of social protection. We want to compete on the basis of quality and value added. In my experience, that is achieved by having a well informed, well trained and fairly remunerated workforce—a workforce which one hopes will be in employment which is as safe and secure as is possible in the economic circumstances of the late 1990s.
I turn to the measures already agreed under the social chapter. The only one in operation so far is the European Works Councils Directive. Even before the election, dozens of British companies were setting up European works councils, including representatives of British workers. Can any of them really say that informing and consulting their workforces has made them uncompetitive, either before the election or subsequently?
We are expecting the Parental Leave Directive to come into force soon, then that on the reversal of the burden of proof in equal pay cases, and then that giving part-time workers some equivalent rights to their full-time colleagues. Again, that issue has aroused anxiety in some quarters, but those who believe in fairness and equity can only seek to see it put into place.
In the foreseeable future, there may be a directive extending some rights to workers on fixed-term contracts, and perhaps also on measures on providing information to, and consultation of, workers not only at the European level but also at the national level. I know that in some quarters the last item could be regarded as controversial, but we should not in this country be nervous about proposals for a basic right for workers to information and consultation. Why should two such simple principles be a burden on business when they are essential components of any good business or public or voluntary organisation?
Finally, I should like to say a few words about the employment title because the Amsterdam Treaty gives new prominence to employment. The promotion of a high level of employment is made one of the Union's objectives in Article B (TEU), and the promotion of competitiveness is added to the Community's tasks alongside the existing task of promoting a high level of employment. I do not see how anyone can rationally object to working towards,developing a coordinated strategy for employment and particularly for promoting a skilled, trained and adaptable workforce and labour markets responsive to economic change".Those words, from Article 109n (now Article 125), were negotiated by the Prime Minister as part of the treaty at Amsterdam. They are the essence of the European social model as a developing entity.
88 Much of the employment title is already being put into practice, even before the treaty comes into force. The Special European Council on Employment held in Luxembourg last November agreed employment guidelines for member states. The main headings are, first, improving employability; secondly, developing entrepreneurship; thirdly, encouraging adaptability of businesses and their employees; and, fourthly, strengthening equal opportunity policies. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, referred to that point earlier.
Work on a national employment action plan is already under way here, with the TUC and the CBI co-operating particularly on issues of training, work experience, traineeships and the development of lifelong learning. The employment title is encouraging a practical approach so that the various member states can learn best employment practices from each other. Of course, it will not replace national employment policies—it is not designed to do so—but there is a European dimension which it rightly recognises. I believe that Britain can show the way.
Finally, on a broader and more general issue, I was born during the last war and since then I have had the happy experience of living in a country that has not been scarred by any European war. I thank God for that. I also thank the European movement for being principally responsible for delivering that. For those who ask us to think again about European partnership and co-operation in order to live and work together more closely, I ask them to pause before they embark upon a venture into the unknown. They are no clearer as to what the future holds for them than those of us who struggle to make a better Europe. I believe that the evidence of peace over the past 50 years is a strong testament in historical terms that we should not case aside lightly before we move in any other direction.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
My Lords, I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, with great interest. I simply say that NATO has had something to do with keeping the peace over the past 50 years.
No one would deny that, like the Maastricht Treaty before it, this treaty has moved yet further into qualified majority voting and the abandonment of the national veto in more and more areas of decision. It is a manifestation of the growing power of the Commission and its institutions and the growing loss of national power. All the right noises are being made, and we have congratulated ourselves on putting subsidiarity high on the agenda, improving scrutiny and securing greater transparency and accountability in the operation of the institutions. The new Article 6–3 says that the Union shall respect the national identities of its member states. On subsidiarity Protocol 30(2) however requires that the application of the principle of subsidiarity,shall respect the general provisions and objectives of the Treaty, particularly as regards maintaining in full of the acquis communautaire and the institutional balance",and should take into account Article 6(4) of the Treaty on European Union, according to which the Union shall provide itself with the means to attain its objectives and 89 carry through policies. That objective, as Article 1 states, is creating an ever-closer Union. The Protocol requires that Community measures,should leave as much scope for national decision as possible, consistent with securing the aim of measure and observing the requirements of the Treaty".Member states on the other hand are,required to abstain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the objectives of the Treaty.Article 12 requires them to work together to enhance and develop their mutual political solidarity and refrain from any act which is contrary to the interests of the Union or likely to impair its effectiveness as a cohesive force in international relations.
What concerns me is that the assumption throughout seems to be that the Commission at the top decides what it will do and the nation states at the bottom are expected to conform. It is surely wholly unlikely that the interests of so many states can possibly coincide. This is particularly true in the case of structural cohesion funds. I do not find it reassuring that no fewer than seven directorates of the Commission, not just Directorate XVI responsible for regional policy and cohesion, are closely involved in the administration of the scheme and the funds. There is an immense proliferation of Community initiatives (CIs), Community support frameworks (CSFs), single programming documents (SPDs) and four different funds in the structural funds. The Committee of the Regions seems to be becoming even more powerful. There is now a new provision in Article 265 requiring the Committee of the Regions to be consulted by the Council and the Commission in appropriate cases,in particular, those which concern cross-border cooperation".What are the implications of this for Northern Ireland? I should like to know.
The structural and cohesion funds and the whole infrastructure of directorates, committees and special funds will be a major issue when it comes to enlargement. Where is the money to come from? Is there effective national access to knowledge about projects, and how the money is spent? There is only too much evidence of expensive and often incompetent bureaucracy and an absence of machinery for accountability. I find nothing in the treaty to reassure me that national parliaments yet have adequate means to control what happens now. Without effective scrutiny, and time to intervene and argue before decisions are taken, and without effective access to information, things can only get worse not better.
At least we have a six-week scrutiny period, which is something. Satisfaction has been expressed that there is now an explicit proviso for transparency over the work of the committees which serve and advise the Commission. In 1995 the EU budget provided for a total of 333 committees established under the comitology procedure. It was estimated that 20,000 people served on them, quite apart from a legion of other special advisers and experts. The work of these committees, for instance when they concern scientific matters, is not open to peer review and their work forms the basis for important decisions. The existing Council decision 90 defining the use of delegated powers by the Commission says that on the issue of transparency each committee has its own rule of procedure and this needs to be consulted to determine each committee's scope for openness. Article 255 in the new treaty says that each institution shall elaborate in its own rule of procedure specific provisions regarding access to its documents. I cannot see any change for the better, though there is also a reference to,general principles and limits on grounds of public or private interest governing right of access to documents shall be determined by the Council within 2 years of the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam".Under Article 207 the Council is to define the cases in which it is regarded as acting in its legislative capacity with a view to allowing greater access to documents while at the same time preserving the effectiveness of its decision-making process.
I am torn between some horror at the prospects of all the vast mountains of undigested paper, all translated into or out of some 15 languages, descending on the unfortunate Whitehall departments and Parliament and concern about the decisions being taken daily under the comitology system about which we know nothing. The system provides no accountability. If the Council decides to deal with an issue through a regulatory comitology committee it need never come near Parliament. Who decides whether something is a core issue or a technical matter?
In the written evidence to the 1996 Committee on the Inter-Governmental Conference (HL Paper 88) there were disquieting references to the fact that the Commission had tended to abrogate to itself through closed committees of national experts the responsibility for detailed implementation of EU legislation. The intention may have been to simplify and speed up decision-making, but it ends up opaque and undemocratic. What are we to make of a system where the manual of operational procedure concerning complaints is published in French only and is so confidential that it is simply for internal use? Another example given in the evidence was food hygiene where,important steps can be taken under the directives on the basis of Comitology, away from the gaze of Parliament and Council, and to some extent of the food industry".A similar example was given in evidence before a House of Lords committee on enhancing parliamentary scrutiny of the third pillar (HL 25) where it was said that the memorandum of understanding on the legal interception of communication was not deemed to be an appropriate document for scrutiny and deposit and the agenda of the K4 Committee was deemed too confidential to be made available in advance to national parliaments. Incidentally, the same principle is not expected to apply in reverse.
In the declaration on the establishment of a policy planning and early warning unit under that new creation, the High Representative of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the unit will produce policy option papers at the request of the Council or the Presidency or on its own initiative. The declaration says that,member states and the Commission shall assist … by providing, to the fullest extent possible, relevant information, including confidential information".91 One of the great secret weapons of the Commission is the proliferation of Brussels-speak. We have joint action, common positions, the Community method, flexibility and constructive abstention, which seems to be a new way of saying no. The power of the Parliament has been significantly increased by further application of the co-decision procedure which is also fairly arcane. "Common positions", incidentally, represents a further strengthening of Community powers in that,Council shall adopt common positions. Common positions shall define the approach of the Union to a particular matter of geographical or thematic nature. Member states shall ensure that their national policies conform to the common positions".However, if these policies are to be defined by for instance the new policy planning and early warning unit it will be interesting to see how many months after a crisis the common position will emerge, if it ever does.
Your Lordships will understand that I am far from reassured by the proliferation of new tasks and institutions, the slowly tightening bindweed in which we are entangled and the failure to address the serious institutional questions of how effectively to control a vast, unwieldy octopus and how to finance enlargement, although Agenda 2000 does begin to do this. Frankly, I find it difficult to understand those who can reconcile a drive towards devolution within the. British Isles, where the people are in general homogenous, and towards unravelling the Union, with an apparent readiness to give more and more power to an unaccountable, non-elected series of central institutions which are far more alien in culture.
I can accept partnership but not a takeover bid. I think, too, with grief about the defence and other cuts which are still to come here at home while so much money is going, relatively unchecked, into the hungry bureaucratic maw of the Commission. Of course we get some of it back, and some of the ideas are good, but should it be spent on comitology and all its works?
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
My Lords, this morning I reread the Second Reading debate on this Bill in another place. I was struck by the phrase, "modest but important" which was used repeatedly on both sides of the House. Many honourable Members went on to debate those modest but important aspects of the Bill. Today's debate has been different from that in the other place. It has been far more wide-ranging, and I welcome it for that reason.
I wish to concentrate on two aspects of the treaty which will contribute towards enlargement. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, described enlargement as being of the greatest possible significance. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, agreed with that view. I, too, believe that it is a tremendous challenge for the Government to move towards enlargement and, what is more important, to convince the British people of the importance of enlargement and the inevitable cost that will flow through it.
First, the extension of QMV is a real step towards making enlargement possible. Enlargement would not be possible without the extension of QMV. That is not 92 something to be feared. Extension of QMV removes the ability of one country to block measures which may be in the interest of this country, and that, in itself, is a good thing. The extension of QMV raises the issue of accountability. That is why I welcome the modest but significant improvement in the powers of the European Parliament, and the extension of co-decision with the Council of Ministers.
Irrespective of the argument for enlargement, those changes should be welcomed in their own right. They represent an advance in the democracy and accountability of the European institutions. They will advance the cause of enlargement. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, complained about lack of reform of the CAP and that the issue of the strategic funds was not addressed in the treaty. I would argue that it is only the realities of an imminent enlargement that will lead to reform of the CAP and the strategic funds. That, in itself, will be one of the benefits of enlargement.
I shall turn now to the common foreign and security policy aspect of the treaty. The treaty, as noble Lords will be aware, underlines the primacy of NATO as the cornerstone of the European allies' defence, which I welcome. My noble friend made it clear in his opening address that the treaty does not concede the principle of the integration of the WEU into the EU. That I also welcome.
As a recent delegate to the WEU, I was disturbed to hear some delegates using it as a forum for expressing anti-American sentiments, which I regard as wholly unhelpful. While I believe that Europe should pay its fair share for defence, and should be responsible for its own defence policy, I do not believe that there should be any damage to the NATO alliance between America and our European allies. Nevertheless, that raises the question of the WEU's role, and how it can contribute to greater European security and enhance conditions for enlargement.
My noble friend will be aware that there are many different categories of membership of the WEU. It is a complex institution. It has a limited operational capability. It is basically a talking shop with a moral authority. But far be it from a Member of the House of Lords to criticise an institution on that basis.
My noble friend will also know that Russia has aspirations to join the WEU in some way. Russia's aspirations should be met. Our government should use their influence in the WEU Council of Ministers to encourage Russian membership in some form. Russia is still sore at the prospect of NATO expansion. It is just about the only thing on which Russian politicians can agree. They are looking for a forum in which to express their defence concerns. The WEU could offer them that forum.
The WEU is in its second childhood. Its first childhood was after the Second World War when it was born. Its second childhood is now, following the collapse of the lion Curtain. Like any child, it is looking for direction and a role in life. The Amsterdam Treaty has clearly defined what it is not; namely, it is not to be the defence arm of the EU. However, it does not define what it is to be for. If it is to be a taking shop, it needs to 93 talk to the people who matter. Undeniably, the Russians matter a great deal, as they are, after all, still the largest military power within Europe.
I have sought to concentrate upon aspects of the treaty which will affect and enhance the potential enlargement of the EU. I have spoken briefly about QMV and the CFSP. However, if we are serious about enlargement, we need to utilise all the institutions of which we are a member to ensure that enlargement can occur. I have talked about the WEU. The Council of Europe also has a pivotal role to play in ensuring that human rights are properly observed and understood by aspirant countries. That was a point made obliquely by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and I support her in that.
The Government need to form a strategic view of how they will utilise the various institutions to work towards the goal of enlargement. They have more than one string to their bow. It is regrettable that the institution of the EU itself is only talked about when we discuss the potential for enlargement of the EU. There are other institutions available working towards that end.
My noble friend Lord Brooke spoke movingly of the achievements of the European institutions in maintaining peace and prosperity over the past 50 years. We have a moral imperative and obligation to extend that peace and prosperity to the countries of the former Soviet Union. I welcome the treaty—for what it has achieved and for what it promises. I wish my noble friend well as he pilots it through the House.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Lord Hamilton of Dalzell
My Lords, I shall start by paying a personal tribute to my right honourable friend Enoch Powell, in particular, for his contribution to the European debate. I recognise that he was one of those great Englishmen who have enlightened our history by speaking what they see to be the truth, without fear or favour. That passion for speaking out was accompanied by an equal passion for logic and a formidable intellectual capacity. He persuaded me, against my previous inclinations, to vote against our membership of the Common Market. He will be remembered long after many of those who outranked him have been forgotten.
Now that we are debating yet another treaty to carry forward the political union, which Enoch Powell always said would follow, I am astonished that the question he asked in 1970—whether we can and will enter into a political union that deals with the major matters of political life affecting the daily lives of people in this country—still remains substantially unanswered.
Today, the question is wrapped up in the anxieties expressed by those of us on this side of the debate who keep denying the possibility of sharing sovereignty. In the debate on the Maastricht Treaty, the view that the processes of European integration were inherent in our signing the Treaty of Rome was honestly and directly spelt out in particular by my noble friend Lord Cockfield. But in that debate, even he said that his only regret was that he lost the argument with the Commission that we ought to complete the economic agenda and leave the political agenda for a future generation. Here we are taking just such a further step.
94 To my recollection, in every major political debate, there is a minority which is vehemently in favour of the measure and a minority which is similarly opposed to it. The opinion of the majority lies somewhere in the middle and it could be said to be pragmatic. Again in the debate on the Maastricht Treaty, I read the speech of my noble friend Lord Carrington in which he made the distinction in attitudes between the conceptualists and the pragmatists. His final view was that in his judgment much that is in the treaty will not happen. That opinion, coming from such a distinguished Member of our House, coupled with the opt-outs from the treaty, did much, I dare say, to sway the uncommitted middle view.
Nevertheless, the political agenda which lies at the root of the dispute which most of us have with Europe has not gone away. It must now be the conclusion that in ratifying the Maastricht Treaty the conceptualists won. The opt-out from the social chapter has gone and monetary union looms. The game of grandmother's footsteps continues. The Treaty of Amsterdam is a further step. It is a smaller step than the conceptualists would have liked and it is presented as being of little significance to keep the pragmatists on side. Its true significance will be further revealed in Committee which—and I apologise to the House—unfortunately, I regret that I shall be unable to attend.
Since the election, the preparation for absorbing the United Kingdom into a European framework has been running at a furious pace in many respects. The Government have accepted the social chapter. They are keeping the country on track to join the monetary union as soon as may be. We urgently need to apply the tests necessary to answer the Powell question; that our membership provides a necessary democratic legitimacy to deal with the major matters of political life affecting the daily lives of the people.
The Conservative Party suffered a devastating defeat at the last general election. One of the main complaints was that it was arrogant and remote from the aspirations of the people. Is that not the same thing as failing to deal with the major matters affecting the daily lives of the people? I could give plenty of instances when edicts from the European Commission and regulations passed to implement them were regarded in just such a light.
Under the auspices of the "people's party", we are having to re-invent the semblances of democracy. The slogan itself seems to recognise the gulf which is appearing. The Bill incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights has just been through your Lordships' House. The conceptualists would regard that as progress and the pragmatists as inevitable. Whichever view one takes, it incorporates an alien system into British law. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor regards it as a jewel of a Bill. In my own private vocabulary, it is a barrack room lawyer's Bill. It enables individuals to challenge the state for perceived injustices not through a political process but through the courts.
The Treaty of Amsterdam continues its process and takes human rights into the competence of the Community as well as giving the European Court of 95 Justice and Interpol a greater role in the criminal field. We will in due course discuss the federalisation of Britain brought about by Scottish and Welsh devolution. Is it coincidental that it emulates the German federal system so well? It incorporates the principle of subsidiarity into our constitution. It is, in my view, a curiosity that having eliminated Conservative representation in Scotland at the election and achieved unanimously the government which they wanted, the Scots still voted to have their own government. It remains a matter of doubt whether in achieving that they will have solved the problem of finding a process which will deal with the major matters affecting the lives of the people better than they already have.
The key to our success as a nation was a system which put a government into power by democratic election to deliver prosperity and peace by whatever democratic means they choose with the rights of the people guarded by English common law, based on common sense. We should not so carelessly have abandoned it.
In much of Europe the demonstrable benefits of membership are difficult to find, riven as it is by unemployment and growing discontent. Political unification is being pushed ahead with monetary union as its linchpin before growing national self-interest leads to disintegration. The political reunification of Europe is being constructed on its failures rather than its successes. If we cannot accept Powell's view of Europe or answer his question, let us at least take the opinion of my noble friend Lord Cockfield and leave it to a future generation to complete the process, built on Europe's economic success, if that should turn out to be the outcome.
§ 8.45 p.m.
The Earl of Carlisle
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Dalzell. I was moved by his charitable remarks about the late John Enoch Powell. I have always been wary of those who take up extremist positions. I have always listened with interest, fascination and concern to the speeches of the late Mr. Powell. As regards Europe, I believe that he advocated not splendid isolation but dangerous isolation.
Although the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is not in his seat—I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, in his place—I am grateful to him for introducing the Bill. I wish it a speedy passage through Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, like his colleague the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, will be aware that I have asked a number of probing questions about the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It is my belief that at the time of our presidency of the European Union it is understaffed and overworked. I welcomed the interjection of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, will tell his colleagues in another place that there is a need in this House not only for a Minister for Europe but also for a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for central and eastern Europe so that in future a Motion such as that moved by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, will be unnecessary. I believe that a Minister of State 96 from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should be appointed to the Government Benches in this House so that the Minister can answer questions on Europe.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, I read the debate in another place on 12th November. I welcomed the remark made by the Secretary of State that:Britain is now respected as a constructive partner with which the other countries of Europe can do serious business".—[Official Report, Commons, 12/11/97; col. 919.]I emphasise the words "serious business". He said that Britain is no longer regarded as a persistent opponent which sabotages the business of Europe. Those are strong words and they are true.
I always listen with respect to the speeches of Members of the Official Opposition and I listen with care. However, I could not help noting that they are deeply divided on the question of Europe. I am only too pleased that they are not in power now during our presidency of Europe from 1st January to 30th June. What would our 14 colleagues and the aspirant nations make of their policy towards Europe?
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Russell-Johnston on his maiden speech from these Benches. He described the Treaty of Amsterdam as hesitation, not commitment.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, I wish to deal with the issues of the institutions and also the enlargement process—bringing in the first wave of the five-plus-one nations into our European Union, and the negotiations start, of course, on 31st March.
First, on the institutions, I agreed with a great deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, said about the institutions. He said that the presidency could possibly be held by one of the minority states and, indeed, always held by one of the minority states. We should not have a hard and fast rule. Sometimes there will be a head of state with the vision to lead. Why should we not go with that president rather than alphabetical order? Let the European Union institutions be as flexible as possible. I hope that the British Government, during their presidency, will reinforce that principle throughout their deliberations.
Secondly, I turn to the enlargement process. In nine days' time, the president and delegation of the smallest state in population and in size of the present five-plus-one will arrive in this country, in London. He is President Meri, the President of Estonia, and I declare an interest as Secretary of the British-Estonian all-party parliamentary group.
In 1991, the then foreign minister of the provisional government of Estonia, because that government had not been officially recognised by the United Nations and other institutions, arrived in Britain. I learnt subsequently that there was a lot of toing and froing within the Foreign Office as to whether that statesman should be welcomed at an official level. It was Mr. Douglas Hogg, the then Minister of State, who met him.
97 How different it is, seven years on. The president will be received by Her Majesty the Queen. He will meet the Prime Minister. He will no doubt, with his distinguished delegation, meet officials from the Foreign Office. He will come to this House and be entertained by the British-Estonian parliamentary group. He will go to the City of London where the Lord Mayor will entertain him. He will make speeches. He is a formidable orator, writer and statesman. He speaks five or six languages fluently.
I shall be listening very carefully to what he says and I hope Her Majesty's Government will listen too because if Estonia joins the European Union in course of time, the European Union in Europe—not so much in Scandinavia, because Finland is a member of the European Union—will have a border with the Russian Federation. In my opinion, that changes everything.
We shall be back to the 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th centuries where we have within Europe a free trade area, a union and a common currency. I refer of course to the Hanseatic League. Anybody who has lived in an Hanseatic port as I have done for the past five years—and it could be argued that London was such a port—can look at the buildings of the Middle Ages, the churches and the works of art and can realise that that was founded on a free trade area with a common currency called gold and silver. Why are we frightened of a single market and a common monetary currency called EMU? It has been tried before and was successful.
We are rightly worried about minorities, the minority problems in central and eastern Europe. Occasionally I have had the honour to entertain Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians. They come to this House and look around. I see them off at Victoria Station or take them to Gatwick. I say to them, "What surprised you most about our nation?" Invariably they refer to one fact and they say, "You have so many coloured people in your nation and you all live in harmony. We would like to follow that example". I say to them, "You are absolutely right. There are more minority ethnic community citizens in Britain, 3 million, double the number of citizens of the population of a country like Estonia".
When they come to join the Union, there will be a number of criteria to be met. When His Excellency, President Meri, arrives on 25th/26th, I hope that Ministers, and not only from the Foreign Office, will ask him what difficulties his nation will have to meet before it can satisfy the criteria to join the Union. I hope then that all 15 nations of the European Union will be able to assist the second group of nations, which are not in the first group, to start negotiations on 31st March, to make it easier for them. I hope that the period between the first group and the second group will not be over-prolonged. That is my hope because after the First World War, the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and German Empires dissolved. At that point in time, we had the opportunity to create a Europe at peace and in harmony with itself. We missed that opportunity. That opportunity has arisen again with the collapse of the Soviet Union. I beg 98 anybody connected with the negotiations on enlargement not to funk or fail that opportunity which has now come twice this century.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, the noble Earl. Lord Carlisle, is a bit iffy on the subject of whether EMU will work. Try telling that to Philip Snowden, Stafford Cripps, Norman Lamont and one or two others. He is also technically wrong, because there were tariffs on Baltic amber and Polish wheat exports throughout the Hanseatic League, and on spars and pitch for the navy of Charles II. Therefore, I think he was wrong on that one as he was, although I may be being a bit beastly to him, on the proposals in relation to the presidency. They are not in the treaty and therefore, they seem to be slightly irrelevant.
My father died in 1971 and when I came to your Lordships' House, when I was 30 or so, I decided to make my maiden speech on the accession treaties to Europe. I was sat on heavily by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, who was then Leader of the House, and the very nice chap whose name I cannot remember who was Government Chief Whip at the time. I was sat on and not allowed to make that speech. My maiden speech was going to say that I foresaw the possibility of a recreation of a western Roman empire and that I foresaw that it would involve the politicisation of a federal Europe. At that stage, I welcomed it.
I have done a little tripping towards Damascus since then. It does not stop me being a fellow European, because I am a European. My culture is European; and my love of European history is deep and, I suspect and hope, quite knowledgeable. While I have now reversed my views, it strikes me that, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston, who made an excellent maiden speech today, I have done so not because I am anti-European but because it seems to me that Europe is going diametrically in the wrong direction.
There was a Bishop sitting on the opposite Benches earlier today. I was going to tell him that the Amsterdam Treaty reminds me irresistibly of the words of the General Confession. As he was a Bishop, I was going to take him gently through The Book of Common Prayer, which says:We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us".The modern Church of England is unsound on The Book of Common Prayer, but that seems to me to be exactly what the Amsterdam Treaty has done. It has concentrated on the minutiae of bureaucratic government and has not attacked the fundamental weaknesses of the policies of Europe.
Europe at present has, I suggest, three seriously bad policies which take up most of its budget. No one in his right mind would defend the CAP. I get lots of money from it; indeed, I am delighted to receive the cheque. However, having put the cheque in the bank, I can still say that I should not have had that money. I am sufficiently hypocritical to take the cheque, yet still argue against being given it.
99 Europe has a fisheries policy, but even the Namibians run a better policy than we do. It also has a social policy which is doing nothing at all except great big things like draining the Missolonghi marshes, cutting down Spanish oak trees and sticking European stars all over bridges in Scotland. In other words, it spends its money on silly things. Surely Europe should be about travelling without let or hindrance; buying or selling widgets without let or hindrance; and being friends and having a concert of Europe. It is the concert of Europe which is so important. When we start saying that there should be a common foreign policy, of course it will not work if Mr. Poos gets up and says, "Now is the moment of Europe". This was done over Bosnia and the whole thing imploded. It took decisive action by the Americans to bring progress.
As has frequently been pointed out this evening, we have seen the disaster in Europe over the Gulf. I have grave doubts about the Anglo-American policy. That is not because I think that Iraq is lovely; I do not. It is just that I am not sure whether the policy will work. Equally, we have been down the social chapter road before. I was reading a book only yesterday on the Austro-Hungarian empire. Joseph II introduced compulsory education and unified tariffs, and indeed he introduced some quite enlightened social legislation. However, that did not make Austria prosper. The only way that we can make Europe prosper is by removing any barriers to the buying and selling of widgets, and that includes silly things like the CAP. Unless we do so, we shall not allow the east European countries in. If we have a barrier on the Oder or on the Elbe, what will happen is that those people will not be able to sell their goods because a tariff war will begin just like that instigated by Joseph II in 1770 or 1780. Unless we expand towards the East, it will not prosper and it will not grow rich. If it grows rich, it will grow fat and idle and there will not be social upset. We must help them get rich. Unless we do so, our own security will be threatened.
I sat on a Committee of your Lordships' House which studied what would happen if the east European countries came into the European Union and what would be the effect on the CAP. The unanimous view of that committee was that either we had the east Europeans in or we had the CAP. No one has contradicted that committee's findings. We must expand towards the East; we must stop worrying about the minutiae; and we must go back in foreign affairs to the concept of those great Europeans, Metternich, Castlereagh and Talleyrand, who managed a system of congresses for 30 years and kept the peace of Europe. That is how it must be done and not by bureaucratic means and falsely holding things together. The Treaty of Amsterdam is like the General Confession: it has left undone those things which it ought to have done and it has done those things which it ought not to have done. I have a feeling that there is no health in it.
§ 9.5 p.m.
My Lords, unlike my noble friend Lord Onslow, I did have the opportunity to speak at the time of our accession to the Common Market. I spoke and voted against it. I did so then because of my fears for the future and nothing that has happened since has allayed them. The failure to hold a Maastricht referendum haunts us now. It is ironic that the Maastricht pill was sweetened with the sugar of subsidiarity—a doctrine which has never delivered anything and which, as my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford reminded us, will be virtually swept away in practice by Amsterdam.
If at Maastricht we crossed the bridge from association to integration, Amsterdam merely emphasises that; indeed, it not only emphasises that, it also takes us a league or two further. I do not believe that I recognised the Minister's description of Maastricht as a "modest treaty". I think that that is what he said, but no doubt he will correct me if I am wrong. Amsterdam, by building on the existing competencies and adding to them moves us nearer to a centralised European state. The objective of creating a European state has long since been on the agendas of Eurocrats and Europhile politicians. But the stark reality of this has never been openly brought to the attention of the British electorate by successive British governments or, as the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, put it, by British political leaders. Hence my observation that we are haunted by the failure to hold a Maastricht referendum with campaigning that would have brought the issue to the fore.
Of course the electorate know the possibility of a Euro state exists; but those who have predicted its inevitability have usually, in the various contexts of their predictions, been labelled rebels. We who legislate must study the treaties, but knowledge and understanding of the myriad detailed ways federation is advanced are hardly in the public domain, buried as they are in the tangled skein of treaties unfamiliar to the public. Amsterdam has constitutional implications which make me admit that I favour defying convention and refusing this Bill a Second Reading. But in the extreme unlikelihood of such a dramatic outcome, I put it to this House and to Her Majesty's Government that this time round we should have a referendum, not a referendum on specific treaty provisions or even on its generality but one which simply puts the question, "Do you want a single European super state governed from Brussels?" Widespread unease exists and people deserve to be asked.
It may be that neither we nor some other nations want a super state; but national governments are inexorably negotiating the framework. We are promised a single currency referendum but despite its significance as a central element in a Euro state, it can still be presented in terms that will ignore my fundamental question. What is more, perhaps the intending participants of monetary union will not be able to fudge the criteria to get it off the ground. Even if it does, there exists a view that it will fail. Therefore we may never get that referendum 101 on a single currency. There is time for my suggested referendum. Like the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, I ask: why the haste to ratify?
We are promised a long and intensive Committee stage which is only proper not just because of the important detail to be examined but because of the guillotine in another place. In the course of today's debate we have heard of many items inviting close scrutiny. I shall not rehearse a list; but clearly the powers and role of the European Court, and its relation with national courts, need to be discussed in detail, as does extension of qualified majority voting and the threat to the national veto by the back door through potential abuse of the human rights article.
Noble Lords will be anxious to listen to the "big guns" and therefore I shall close. If any noble Lord feels that I have overstated my views on the possibility or prospect of a European super state I suggest, if he or she has not already done so, that they should read the European Parliament's welcome of Amsterdam set out in its resolution on the treaty.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Lord Wallace of Saltaire
My Lords, we have had a long debate and it behoves the closing speakers not to delay your Lordships further.
I think that many will agree that the treaty is a curate's egg. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, is correct in saying that it has done a number of things that it should not have done and that it has not done a number of things that it should have done. One has to remember that the negotiations for the treaty were conducted primarily by the former Conservative Government and that a number of the faults in the treaty are retained from the particularly obstructive and obscurantist position taken by the Conservative Government until 1st May, leaving those involved in the negotiations with a tremendous rush in order to conclude it and get on with the important and serious business of the European Union. I hope that we all agree that that is enlargement and the restructuring of Europe.
The treaty has achieved less than it should have done. However, I read it through again yesterday. We may discover in five or 10 years' time that it is a little like the Single European Act. At the time everyone on all sides said how disappointing that legislation was and how little it achieved but discovered five to 10 years later that it had moved the European Community further forward in a number of useful ways.
The British Conservative Government pursued flexibility as a source of opting out when they wanted. Others, sadly, pursued flexibility as a principle by which they could shut out the awkward British. To answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, that is one of the reasons why the flexibility clauses in the treaty are so immensely confused.
The treaty did not sort out subsidiarity. I regret that. It did not unlock institutional reform. It made only limited progress on a common and foreign security policy; and made potentially large steps forward in justice and home affairs, asylum and refugees, border controls and police co-operation. The shadow of the divisions within the 102 Conservative Party—I refer to Michael Howard, Rupert Murdoch and others—fell first over the Conservatives' shoulder and then the Blair Government's shoulder. It led Britain to opt out, with difficult consequences for the British Government. I hope that we shall explore those a little further in Committee.
How should the House now consider the Bill? We could and should examine the weaknesses within the treaty, consider the difficulties of implementation and challenge the Government to make clear what they understand the implications of commitments made may be. Some of us will wish to press them on justice and home affairs. One of the most appalling aspects of the late night negotiations was the signing into the treaty of an acquis under Schengen which had not yet been fully agreed. It has taken a further six months to sort out the contents. The negotiations, I understand, are still under way as to exactly which part goes where between the European Community treaty and the continuing third pillar.
This House is a revising Chamber which should bring the expertise of its Members to bear on legislation in progress. There are those who have suggested that we should be, and act as, a tribune of the people. I suggest that this House is not best equipped for that, let alone to claim that we speak for the people of England better than another place.
There have been two kinds of speeches in the debate. Some noble Lords addressed the treaty and its implications. There were some good speeches. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. I enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones. Both were extremely helpful, constructive and detailed. And there have been those who claimed to speak the truth that feebler men deny—the self-claimed honest bloke. Their speeches were almost uniformly longer. I conducted an informal timing process. All those over 15 minutes were familiar speeches on familiar themes. One speech took 20 minutes. There was no sense of a changing Britain, let alone a changing world. Those speeches could have been made in 1988, 1978 or 1968—and some were. They could have been made in 1958. As a student I remember reading Sir Derek Walker-Smith making exactly the same points, and making the same honest mistake as the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Dalzell, made in referring to English law as British law.
The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, suggested that in the 1997 election only a minority of the British electorate voted for parties which supported the treaty. That is not the case. If one adds together those who voted for the new Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, it was a clear majority. But if one adds together those who voted for the Conservatives and Referendum Party—it was a well financed Referendum Party campaign—the figure is a great deal smaller. I well remember going around Somerset during the election campaign and noting that there were as many Referendum Party posters in many villages as Conservative posters and thinking that the Referendum Party would do extremely well. It must have received at least one vote for every poster that it had on display‡ It was not a resounding victory for those 103 who claimed to speak for "the British people", otherwise neglected. The Referendum Party claimed all of that—and look what happened to it.
Let us remember just how much Britain has changed over the past 30 years. The British economy, I remind the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, who spoke about the need to maintain sovereignty, and the electricity industry as a particular example, is not quite so British as it used to be. I read in my copy of the Financial Times that takeovers between French and American companies go on within the British electricity industry these days, contrary to the idea that we still have an independent economic policy. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, whom I am sorry not to see in the Chamber today, wrote in the New Statesman of, "the independence of economic policy we know", which rather neglects the extent to which Mrs Thatcher's Government depended on persuading foreign companies to invest in Britain as a vehicle for British economic generation. The deliberate abandonment of British economic sovereignty was, after all, one of the principles on which the Thatcher Government operated.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way. Surely he must know that there is a difference between control and ownership. We own overseas rather more than people own in this country. It is control of economic policies rather than the ownership of assets which must matter. I thought that even O-levels made that understandable.
§ Lord Wallace of Saltaire
My Lords, I stand corrected. Britain maintains in particular a large amount of portfolio investment in other countries. The question as to how much of the City of London is now owned by others and how much British banks now own in other countries arguably suggests that the balance of control is more against us than for us.
Other noble Lords spoke of the British people and the sinews of nationhood, in that deeply emotive phrase. Their image is of a British society that is also unchanging. I spend my time professionally teaching British people aged 18 to 21, all of whom were born after we joined the European Community. My son attends a school where a quarter of the British citizens in that school are Moslems. British society has also changed a great deal. The idea of a coherent English nation, different and separate from the Continent, certainly does not fit with what I see in London and Bradford.
Turning to communications with the outside world, heaven knows, Mrs Thatcher's greatest monument to Britain is the Channel Tunnel, which enables me to travel to Brussels as fast as I can travel to Bradford—and which, my friends in Westminster Abbey tell me, now has the effect that, between 20 and 30 minutes after each Eurostar train arrives at Waterloo, there is a notable surge of tourists entering Westminster Abbey and asking for a cup of coffee in the cloisters. That is the whole globalisation of Britain—which has consequences, some of which are in this treaty. If 10 times as many people cross the English Channel each year as did 20 years ago 104 (and the figure is of that nature) clearly the British police have to co-operate with police in other countries to a far higher extent than they did before.
If one wishes to defend British nationhood, one should talk about reintroducing proper border controls. It used to take me, as a student, four or five minutes to get through British Customs to British passport control. It now takes me about 20 seconds. Perhaps we need therefore to double or treble the number of immigration officers, Customs officers and others to cope with that great surge and defend British people and British nationhood.
We do not, of course, because we have not put together the old rhetoric of nationhood and sovereignty with what is happening outside in terms of our society, economy and communications—and, of course, of Europe itself. The Cold War has ended and we find ourselves, as many speakers have said, faced with the redefinition of Europe and with the most important issue facing the European Union; namely, is the inclusion of those former socialist states within our community of states.
Many good criticisms have been made in the debate regarding the inadequacies of preparation for enlargement so far. Again, the previous British Conservative Government, by their obstructiveness, contributed to the inadequacies. The over-preoccupation with monetary union has also left preparations for enlargement behind it.
Let me focus briefly on two aspects of the treaty which I hope we shall come to in Committee: the third pillar, the whole Schengen dimension, and the CSFP. Activity under justice and home affairs now accounts for some 30 per cent. of meetings serviced by the Council secretariat and some 40 per cent. of communications managed by it. That represents an immense growth over the past 10 years. It is not growth of European bureaucracy; it is driven by national police forces, Customs services and others wanting to work together.
In the assessment of Justice, a highly reputable non-governmental organisation, what this treaty puts forward is an improvement in transparency and a transfer of a number of functions from the third pillar into the European Community itself, giving better scrutiny and better judicial oversight.
Some of us will have many concerns about this—in particular, as to how Britain intends to handle the complicated opt-out and future opt-ins which, under the shadow of its Conservative predecessors, the Government negotiated. If, as the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, said, what Europe should be about is travel without let or hindrance, the British Government. encouraged by their predecessors, were determined to slow that process down. I regret that.
There is much here with regard to strengthening the common foreign and security policy. When I look at the behaviour of the British Government as president of the European Union over the past few weeks, it seems to me that a number of people in the British Foreign Office have not read this part of the treaty. There is, for example, an agreement that members of the United 105 Nations Security Council shall in all circumstances consult their Community colleagues. There is a statement in a protocol that the Western European Union is an integral part in the development of the European Union. A number of matters here provide us with the potential for greater co-operation in foreign policy, but that depends on close co-operation between the three key players in European foreign policy: the United Kingdom, France and Germany. I regret that the Government have made only limited progress in building closer co-operation with France and Germany since May last year.
We have touched on other changes in the treaty. I was puzzled by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, at the beginning of the debate. I have checked the Treaty of Rome and I note that Article 158 of the 1958 treaty says:The members of the Commission shall he appointed by common accord of the Governments of the Member States".What we have here is a relatively minor and useful move forward, not the shift from intergovernmental control to supranational control which the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, seems to be suggesting.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, threw in front of us the biggest nightmare of all: that there is somehow a plot to build not a federal state but a unitary state in Europe. I am not sure where one draws that conclusion from.
We have had other fantasies of the nation state versus the European state, as if there were a European super-state. I believe we all understand the reality that the nation state is not what it was 50 years ago, that none of us entirely wishes to see a European state and that we are attempting to design something in between the two which can retain national identity while providing all of us with the means to pursue common tasks more efficiently than any of us can do alone. This treaty takes us some small steps in that direction. It has not done a number of things which it ought to have done. I look forward to examining some of its weaknesses and strengths in more detail.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Lord Burnham
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, realises that the reason he gets through the Customs so much more quickly is that he is a noble Lord. When I was a mere "honourable" it took me ages to get through the Customs into America because the Customs officers always wanted to know what on earth "The Honourable" meant, and it was very difficult to describe.
The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, described the Bill in the words of another place as "modest but important". It may be modest, but it has taken up an awful lot of your Lordships' time. Perhaps I may give some small consolation to the noble Whip, Lord Whitty. I remind him that not only have three speakers scratched from the debate, but the brief guide to the Conduct of the House sets out that those noble Lords who have spoken and who are not in their place when the Minister comes to sum up, cannot expect to have their questions answered. And there are an awful 106 lot of questions. My noble friend Lord Moynihan asked enough to enable us to go straight into tomorrow's debate on Iraq without going to bed. That is a debate in which both he and, to a lesser degree, I are involved, but we look forward to having the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, refreshed and well-slept because she has been able to have a full night and a full day today.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
My Lords, perhaps I may intervene. It is my understanding that it is the custom and practice of this House to refer to noble Lords who are replying to the debate as, "the noble Lord the Minister".
§ Lord Burnham
My Lords, all I can say is that I note what the noble Baroness said. I referred to the noble Lord as "the Minister".
§ Lord Burnham
My Lords, yes, but later as "the Minister". Perhaps I can offer apologies, if apologies are deserved, to the noble Baroness.
My noble friend Lord Moynihan pointed out that we will have to enter into detailed consideration in Committee of the objective contained within Article 1 of the treaty, to move towards the establishment of economic and monetary union with the ultimate goal of a single currency. I look forward to the ingenuity of noble Lords in putting together the immense number of amendments we will undoubtedly see in this extremely short Bill where to date the longest number of words have been spoken per word in the Bill.
I wish to turn, following on from my noble friend, to the area of common foreign and security policy also covered in the treaty. We are told that one of the Government's aims at the summit was to retain Britain's veto, though it is true that the Foreign Secretary's pronouncements on that became increasingly equivocal as the summit approached.
The provisions of the treaty mean that the overall strategy on foreign policy issues will remain a matter for unanimous decision-making, so in that sense the Government succeeded in their aim. However, Article J13 provides for subsequent decisions on the implementation of those strategies, on the adoption of joint action committee positions (Article J4) and on decisions based on "common strategy" (Article J3) to be taken by QMV. We will be asking the Minister for a clear definition of exactly what is meant by a "common strategy", since it is nowhere defined in the treaty, and what decisions it is likely to result in—decisions which we would have no power to prevent.
It is true that we could abstain. Article J13a provides for a constructive abstention mechanism—referred to during the debate—although abstainers from the adoption of a decision must,refrain from any action likely to conflict with or impede Union action based on that decision".107 If past experience has taught us anything, it is that constructive abstention is a tool best used in a "can't" not "won't" situation; when a country agrees with a decision but for domestic reasons is not able to participate in its adoption. I am sure that we have all seen many cases in Europe where that has happened. The Government will need to tell us if constructive abstention is an adequate and appropriate mechanism to deal with real disagreements between countries over foreign policy decisions.
As I mentioned, we have the Iraq debate tomorrow. That may well be considered to be a TEWT—a tactical exercise without treaty—for what will go on when this Bill becomes law and part of the European treaty. If it is not, we are going to find out what action will be jointly agreed and can be jointly taken by the European countries; who will say yes, who will say no, and what they will do about it when they have said yes or no. If it is not, it would appear that the Euro-train will be repeatedly stopped and delayed as the passengers pull the "emergency cord", as they may well do over Iraq. The Prime Minister is proud of this "emergency brake" mechanism, whereby no country can be outvoted if there are,important, stated reasons of national policy",which cause it to oppose a decision. But a Minister will need to come to the House to tell us what will constitute an "important, stated reason". Who will arbitrate on this matter? Who will say whether the action of a member state in this position would be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice?
What will happen if a common decision on strategy—here is where we come to Iraq—has been taken to take certain action if then a qualified majority decision is taken that the action should stop short of the use of force? If this country wanted to use force, would it be debarred from using it by the qualified majority voting provision? Would it be prevented from doing it if, for instance, it wished to support the United States?
Can the Minister further explain why the article which applies to the area of common foreign and security policy has been drafted via such a circuitous route, using the vocabulary of qualified majority voting, when in fact the article is based on the language of unanimity? I would therefore like an assurance from the Minister when he replies that the CFSP should be a complement to national foreign policies and not a replacement for them.
Today the nations of Europe live together in a state of interdependence, within a framework of collective standards and disciplines set by a number of international bodies, including the United Nations and the Council of Europe. No negative connotations should be attached to the possession and indeed the active promotion of our national foreign policy interests, even when they quite naturally differ from those of our neighbours. I believe that we have reached a time when the "national interest" can be defined as the collective expression of the democratic process in each of our countries; it represents the guiding spirit of democracy. It is for this reason that our foreign policy should be 108 decided here, with the Foreign Secretary answerable to the House. No one disputes that close and effective co-operation with our neighbours should be pursued when it is in the interests of the people of Britain, but achieving common positions must not become a goal in its own right.
My noble friends and I offer the Government our unreserved support for resisting merging the European Union with the Western European Union. The Prime Minister is rightly proud of the article in the treaty which states that NATO, rather than the European Union, is the cornerstone of our defence. Likewise, the previous administration were proud of the explicit reference expressing a similar sentiment in the Maastricht text, which stated that nothing undertaken by the EU should prejudice the importance of NATO. But it is worrying that, under Article J.7, the text states unequivocally:The Union shall accordingly foster closer relationships with the WEU with a view to the possibility of integration of the WEU into the Union".The phrase "the possibility of integration" worries me. What guarantees can the Government give that, despite this possibility of a merger, enshrined in treaty form for the first time, no such merger will take place? For if this treaty gives an explicit recognition that NATO is the foundation of our common defence, it also gives an explicit recognition of the possibility of an EU and WEU merger, and the first steps towards a common defence identity for the European Union. A decision to send members of our Armed Forces to risk their lives, as may happen in Iraq—let us all pray not—must remain a decision for the Government, accountable to Parliament, and should not become a Community competence.
Furthermore, article J7 goes on to state that,The CFSP shall include all questions relating to the security of the Union, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy … which might lead to a common defence should the European Council so decide".Given the statement before the election that,Labour will not permit an EC Commissioner to determine our defence policy".can the Government give an assurance that we are not slowly but surely moving into the orbit of an unrealistic, potentially damaging common defence policy?
I do hope that what the Minister said and the reply he can give us will be noted by the Treasury when it comes to prepare the finances of the strategic defence review and that what can happen is allowed for in the amount of money which is given to the Armed Forces.
In the course of this debate we have swung between the optimism of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, to the views of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, at the other extreme. I hope that the Government will consider all aspects of this question. I hope that we can hear either tonight—it will take a long time—or in the context of amendments in Committee something which will make all Members, particularly on this side of the House, but also on the other, happier about our future under this treaty.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, this has been a lengthy and fascinating debate. It was perhaps a little lengthier than it might otherwise have been. But I can assure the House that I was not particularly embarrassed by the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. My colleagues and some of my ex-colleagues will know that under old Labour we always had people moving procedural Motions on speeches for constitutional reasons. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, to the ranks. I was slightly more embarrassed by the subsequent plaudits that I received. I caution noble Lords that a round robin signed by my noble friend Lord Desai and the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, who is no longer in his place, to the Prime Minister would not necessarily improve my chances of preferment.
There have been many interesting and thoughtful speeches. I pay particular tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston. Clearly, the early educational work of Miss Marion MacDonald has borne fruit. I am sure that in our deliberations on European matters, in which the noble Lord is extremely experienced, he will be of great value to this House. He calls himself a purist: we have other purists in this House on European issues on various sides of the argument. He is welcome to join our debates.
Contributions have ranged widely, from the broad sweep of history to some pretty narrow questions of textual interpretation. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I do not follow some of the more elaborate historical analogies or some of the more esoteric interpretations. But I shall try to deal with as many of the points raised as I can. I shall read the debate in Hansard and reply in writing on any that I have missed. We shall also have what I perhaps hope and fear will be relatively lengthy Committee stages on the Bill.
Perhaps I may first make a central political point. For most of the debate I was pleasantly surprised. One or two of your Lordships failed to recognise that the May election meant a dramatic change in our relationship with Europe, but in general the balance of debate now recognises that the issue before us is not whether we participate in the European train but the speed, degree and detail of the way in which we do so.
I answer in his absence the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, as my noble friend Lord Brooke already has. At the last general election two-thirds of the British electorate voted for parties which were demonstrably more in favour of the European Union than the incumbent government. There cannot have been a clearer verdict. Therefore, I assume that is why the Front Bench, apart from the noble Lord, Lord Gray, has not demanded a referendum on the issue, as they did not that long ago in this House. We are in a new era. It is not an easy one, but it is one where our participation in the European project and the questions arising from it are in a sense very important but nevertheless second order questions as to how that project will develop.
The views held by noble Lords have varied. We have heard from those like my noble friend Lord Desai and the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, who have been deeply disappointed that the treaty did not go further. That was 110 clear also from the tone of the contributions made by those on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. On the other hand, we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Gray, my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington and various other noble Lords who have said that the treaty takes us far too far towards a federalist state. We heard an interesting speech from my noble friend Lord Shore of Stepney who said that this treaty is not the relevant treaty; that it is only a minor adaptation of Maastricht and that it was Maastricht that was wrong.
I respect all those points of view. I have quoted others as saying that this is a modest but important treaty, while I have tended to use the term "a consolidating treaty". I believe that that is the best term. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, suggested, the treaty is a curate's egg, I would contend that there is more good in it than bad. In that sense, perhaps we should move into the details of the debate.
The Treaty of Amsterdam signalled consolidation, but consolidation with a purpose. The immediate purpose was to allow Europe the time and the political will to make the difficult decisions on how to make enlargement—the reunification of Europe—a reality. Such decisions will not be easy. Noble Lords have referred to the Community budget, the CAP, the structural funds, further institutional reform and the development of a common foreign and security policy, all of which must be faced up to in the context of enlargement. In our debate in July, I said that one of the most important points about the intergovernmental conference was that it was over. That was the tone of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield. He made very much the same point—that we have got it off the agenda. We can now concentrate on the central issues.
The Treaty of Amsterdam—and the fact that we have agreed a treaty—gives us the ground on which we can build and the context in which we can take key decisions. As my noble friend Lord Shore of Stepney said, it is legitimate for noble Lords to raise wider issues. I shall do my best to respond, but my objectives tonight are much less ambitious. The Bill that I am presenting to the House does not pretend of itself to answer all—or, to a large extent, any—of those questions. The treaty simply gives us an improved legal and institutional structure in which to operate. The Bill simply gives authority for the ratification of that treaty by incorporating into British law those parts of the treaty that we are required to incorporate, principally the amendments to the first pillar of the Community treaties.
I turn now to some of the detailed points that have been raised. A whole range of points were raised about the institutions of the Community. I shall refer first to qualified majority voting. We have heard predictable and dire warnings about the dangers of signing up to more QMV. On the other hand, we have heard the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, my noble friend Lord Ponsonby and others defend the extension of QMV. I believe that, judged on its merits, the extension of QMV was in the national interest. Indeed, extending QMV is not new. The noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, signed up to 30 extensions of QMV in the Single European Act. She was right then—and I believe that we are right now.
111 There is another big difference between ourselves and the Conservatives on this issue. The Opposition and even my noble friend Lord Stoddart—perhaps I should say "particularly my noble friend Lord Stoddart"—condemn the extensions of the powers of the European Parliament. However, the very extension of qualified majority voting raises questions of accountability and legitimacy. It is there that the need for the European Parliament to have a strengthened role in legislation arises. Therefore, by and large, we have extended co-decision between the Council and the European Parliament to those areas where qualified majority voting will now apply in the treaty.
I recognise that certain noble Lords—my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington is perhaps the most experienced and knowledgeable—object to most of this legislation. My noble friend also made the valid point that there is concern in this country that once legislation is on the statute book other member states will be less effective than ourselves in enforcing, or even transposing, that legislation. I understand those concerns. As part of the commitment of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister to attempt to complete so far as possible the single market during the period of our presidency, his main emphasis is on the enforcement of existing EU legislation, as is the priority in the programme on the completion of the single market put forward by the successor of the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, Commissioner Monti. Clearly, enforcement in other members states and our own courts of law is very important for the completion of the single market.
As to the institutional issues that remained unresolved, the noble Lords, Lord Moynihan, Lord Wallace and Lord Cockfield, and my noble friend Lord Grenfell, all referred to the disappointment, which I share, that the IGC was unable to grasp the nettle of reform of the Commission and the weighted voting system in the Council. We were close to agreement. The institutions protocol in the treaty will ensure that key decisions will be taken before enlargement. There is no reason to believe that the enlargement negotiations will be held up as a result. Any enlargement will involve an examination of voting weights and the number of commissioners as part of the accession negotiations. That is precisely what we are doing. To try to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, the protocol on institutions is quite clear. Article 1 of the protocol provides that the Commission will consist of one per member state on enlargement, but only ifby that date the weighting of votes in the Council … has been modified in a manner acceptable to all member states".Therefore, we give up our second commissioner only if we are satisfied on the far more important issue of the re-weighting of votes in the Council of Ministers.
Other noble Lords have raised wider issues on the institutions and expressed disappointment. The noble Lords. Lord Cockfield and Lord Garel-Jones, made interesting proposals, but I fear that they are beyond the bounds of political reality at Amsterdam or in the near future. Queries were raised particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, about the powers of the 112 Commission and the Commission president. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and others made it quite clear that the nature of the Commission was that it was consensual on employment and collegiate in operation. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, referred to the fact that commissioners were appointed under the terms of the original Treaty of Rome by common accord. The criticism of Amsterdam for extending the powers of the president of the Commission in selecting commissioners and exercising political guidance merely extends that common accord. He cannot impose a British Commissioner on a reluctant British government or any other government for that matter. It makes good sense for the Commission President to have authority over the Commission and to be able to work well with his or her commissioners. An efficient co-ordinated Commission works in everybody's interests.
As for the role of the European Parliament in this connection, it is already the case that indirectly—perhaps in a sightly drastic way—the European Parliament can veto a British nominee by voting against the endorsement of the whole Commission. But the involvement of the European Parliament in the appointment of the Commission president is surely an improvement in accountability and the relationship between the various institutions of the European Union.
Another institution that normally attains considerable prominence in these debates is the European Court of Justice. In this debate it attained rather less prominence than I anticipated. It was left largely to my noble friend Lord Stoddart to raise these points. The Government believe that if the European Union is to work effectively, the Court of Justice must have strong if carefully circumscribed powers. This new treaty strikes a careful balance which we believe will serve the Union well. For the record, perhaps I should set out the scope of the limited extensions in the powers of the court which are dealt with in Article K.7 of the new treaty. That gives the court a very limited role in the JHA pillar. It is limited to preliminary rulings jurisdiction but only for those member states who choose to accept it. We have indicated that we would not in normal circumstances go down that road. It also deals with jurisdiction to review the legality of framework decisions and decisions adopted by the Council and jurisdiction over certain disputes between member states and between member states and the Council. A further power is contained in Article L of the treaty. which gives the Court jurisdiction over the fundamental rights implications of the institutions' action—of the institutions, not of member states—within the JHA pillar within the limits set out in Article K7. The Prime Minister agreed to those provisions because they are central to the effective operation of the treaty and in the UK interest.
In the previous debate I described the flexibility provisions almost as "the dog that did not bark"; nevertheless, there are some important flexibility provisions, as the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, and my noble friend Lord Shore of Stepney pointed out. The flexibility provisions which were agreed in Amsterdam are nothing like those which were being rumoured 113 before the treaty was agreed. They are modest, sensible provisions, allowing for some degree of diversity in the way the Union operates.
We were not strong advocates of such flexibility, but we recognised that it was a priority for some others. However we did ensure, as did others, that any decision to use flexibility mechanisms can be made only with the consent of all member states, any one of which can exercise a veto through the emergency break provisions. That is a key provision which will prevent flexibility from opening damaging divisions in the Union and the development of a two-tier Europe; secondly, it is made explicit that action undertaken under flexibility must remain open on equal terms to all member states which wish to join later; and, thirdly, the treaty protects the achievements of the single market by ruling out any undermining of the acquis. In short, the flexibility provisions which were agreed at Amsterdam will rule out the development of a two-speed or cumulatively hard core second class Europe. They are modest proposals which allow for differentiation as a last resort and when circumstances allow.
There are some institutional changes which will be required before the full effect of enlargement takes place. To that extent it is true that Amsterdam did not make as much progress as was hoped on some points, but all the institutional changes which were made move in the right direction. Those institutional changes which remain to be agreed and achieved have been set in the right context and atmosphere of co-operation between the existing member states of the EU.
There were of course issues which were never thought likely to be resolved at Amsterdam, and never time-tabled so to be, by even the most federalist of the member states and certainly not by the previous British government. They relate to reform of the EU budget. I agree with everyone—from the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, through the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones—that the reform of the budget will be essential before we can move fully into enlargement mode. That is particularly true of the reform of the CAP, but there must also be reform of the structural funds and the assurance that any reduction in the structural funds to existing member states will be shared fairly. Facilities and resources will be available to ensure that applicant countries can meet the criteria for membership over the period of negotiation for their accession.
We shall need a detailed renegotiation of the budgets. That will start during the period of the UK presidency, continue intensively under the Austrian presidency, and move into next year. I agree with noble Lords who say that that is essential before we engage in substantial enlargement.
I come now to the issue of frontiers. Again, that did not feature as largely as I expected. I shall return to a possibly throw-away remark of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. He claimed that the security of frontiers had been negotiated by the previous government. That is not so. If there was any progress made before May, it was due, if anything, to the line taken by the Labour Party in opposition. I should know: I do not believe that it is 114 any great secret that at the beginning of last year the Dutch presidency, dealing as it was with a lame duck British government, judged it right to try to ascertain the views of the Opposition. With perhaps slightly less wisdom, the conduit chosen to convey those views was me. I indicated to the Dutch presidency that a Labour government would agree with the then government and would not join in the free movement chapter then proposed. I found it slightly surprising a few days later when it appeared in the press that that had been recognised by the Dutch presidency. But what certain Tories now claim as a triumph for themselves was a reflection of the view reached by the Dutch presidency that no British government would at this stage move into the then draft proposal for a chapter on free movement.
The fact remains that no text was agreed prior to the election and that at Amsterdam the great success in this area by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was to take that negative exemption that the Dutch presidency had accepted and turn it into a clear and explicit legal security for our forms of migration control and border control. That was a substantial negotiating achievement.
I recognise that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and others regret that we cannot be participants in this free movement area and in the Schengen agreement. But we have all recognised that there are different patterns and histories of migration and administrative systems. It was wise to stay out of the free movement area agreed by our Continental partners.
I turn to an issue which is in part related but is different. It is slightly bizarre that those who have been most vociferously against us touching the Schengen agreement with a bargepole are now criticising us for failing to negotiate an easier way to join. Nevertheless, as a result of the criticisms which have been levelled here and at great length in another place. I need to set the record straight about what happened at Amsterdam. First, this is a limited issue. The United Kingdom Government, can of their own volition, join the free movement area at some future stage. Should the ambitions of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, be achieved and the Government change their mind, we can join without let or hindrance by the other member states. We can also join in any future development of Schengen. Therefore, the only area in dispute is that of UK or Ireland wishing to join in the existing Schengen acquis. Of course, we and the Conservative Party are clearly opposed to joining the bulk of that in any case.
My right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have been accused of being negligent in that respect. Therefore, I should lay down what happened. 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. At the insistence of my right honourable friend 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 115 that up with the presidency and a number of member states and as a result of that intervention we obtained a declaration that provides protection for the UK's interests in this area. That declaration states that other member states may invite the Council to seek the opinion of the Commission before it decides on a request by the UK to participate in any measure in the existing acquis. Moreover, member states also undertook to use their "best efforts" to enable the UK to participate.
That was a messy situation, but let it not blind us to the substance. The Amsterdam Treaty is a distinct improvement on the previous situation. Before Amsterdam, the situation was that the UK could, had we wanted, have sought full Schengen membership or remained completely outside the Schengen agreement. No halfway accommodation was available to us. We now have mechanisms written into the treaty which enable us to seek to take part in the existing acquis and to participate in future developments without restriction when that is considered to be in the national interest.
Several other issues related to migration. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, asked about improving the situation for asylum-seekers and about the backlog in relation to asylum-seekers. As has been registered in this House, we recognise that there is a serious situation. An inter-departmental study of the asylum process was announced in August. It is an extremely complex study, examining the process from beginning to end. As part of that process, we are looking at how best to tackle delays and to deal with the backlog of asylum cases. We expect to have the outcome of that study very shortly.
My noble friend Lord Stoddart raised the question of Europol. Under the articles governing Europol—for example, under Article K.4—there will not be any possibility of a police force operating in the United Kingdom without government approval. Indeed, Article K.4 allows a police force to operate in the territory of another member state only in liaison and agreement with and support of the authorities of that state. Of course, Article K.4 is subject to unanimity.
Moreover, on the second point raised by my noble friend, Article K.7 does not bind future parliaments.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, what is the point of having an article like that when a police force can do that perfectly well without a treaty? If the Metropolitan police wishes to co-operate with the French Sûreté, that can be done without having a treaty if it is in the interests of both national governments.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, we are not talking here about bilateral co-operation with the Sûreté. We are talking about co-operation between the new Europol operation and national police forces. Therefore, a treaty base is needed for the operation of that European police office.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, before my noble friend leaves that matter, and I am obliged to him for dealing with it, I am concerned that foreign police forces could be operating in this country not only 116 without parliamentary approval but without parliamentary knowledge. I believe that is important. I hope that the Minister can reassure me that when foreign police forces operate here, it will be possible for Parliament to know that they are doing so.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, I repeat that we are not talking here about bilateral co-operation between the British and other police forces which operates in a number of respects with, one must say, varying degrees of transparency, and has done for many decades. Here we are talking about the operation of the new Europol set-up with national police forces. In those situations, it will be able to operate only in support of, and therefore with the knowledge of, the national police authorities.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I am sorry to pursue this, but it really is an important point. I understand the point which the Minister makes. However, many people feel that it could be the beginning of a federal police force. I should like the Minister's assurance that that is not so and I should be delighted if he can give it.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, clearly, this treaty does not create a federal police force. Any such move could be achieved only with unanimity, as with all other areas of the third pillar. However, it provides the legal base for the development of the European police office which will act in support of police forces. Therefore, we are not talking about an operational police force but a supportive police office.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, the difference is fairly obvious. A national police force acting to combat a particular crime or suspected crime can call on the resources of Europol in terms of information, technical support and personnel in order to tackle that crime which may, more often than not these days, have a trans-national implication. But it is the national police force which calls on that support system. The national police force is the operational police force. I hope that is clear to noble Lords and if it is not, I can provide more detail in writing.
I must move on to the common and foreign security policy. I find rather illogical the criticism of the Amsterdam Treaty by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. He argues that, because Europe has failed to have a common policy in relation to Bosnia and Algeria, we should not try elsewhere. The CFSP is strengthened by Amsterdam in several ways, including the creation of a High Representative and new decision-making processes which were queried by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Park. The treaty establishes the possibility of developing common strategies which will set out policies where member states have important interests in common and also more flexible decision-making arrangements to enable the EU to respond more quickly to international developments.
The CFSP will retain its distinctively intergovernmental character. It is, therefore, certainly important that the UK operates closely especially with 117 France and Germany but also with the other nations of Europe. We shall retain our national veto both over important policy decisions and under those implementation decisions where we have important national issues at stake.
Because there is no existing EU policy on the Iraq crisis, the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, and others argued that that supposedly demonstrates the inherent weakness of the CFSP. However, others such as the Shadow Foreign Secretary in the Committee stage of the Bill in another place argued almost the exact opposite; namely, that the creation of common strategies implemented by QMV could lead to a situation in which the UK was forced to follow any new policy—for example, on Iraq—with which we disagreed. Both arguments are misguided. The strength of the CFSP comes from the will of member states to act together by consensus. That will cannot be artificially created through institutional mechanisms. That is why Her Majesty's Government have ensured that under the treaty no member state can be obliged to act or not to act in foreign or security affairs against its will. Common strategies are agreed by unanimity.
QMV is only used to implement agreed policies and even there we would use the emergency brake to block any attempt to use QMV to extend or otherwise change the policy set by a common strategy. Therefore, to answer the specific point of the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, we could not get into a situation where we were prevented from taking further action—for example, in Iraq—because we would not have agreed to an action which prevented us from doing so. QMV decisions to implement common strategies are subject to the emergency brake and we would, if necessary, use it in those circumstances.
There are many other issues which have been raised. I agree with my noble friend Lord Brooke on the social chapter and, indeed, I agree with spokespeople from the Liberal Benches in relation to the human rights and the non-discrimination chapters. However, at this hour I do not intend to go into the issues raised by a number of noble Lords in relation to the single currency, as the Amsterdam Treaty does not alter any provisions on that front.
I should make it clear that I disagree with some of the historic and constitutional analyses of my noble friend Lord Shore. However, I agree that we should tell the truth about Europe. The truth in relation to this treaty and in relation to developments over many years has two sides. On the one hand, Europe is still clearly an association of free and individual states. That is why we have a treaty before us and not a constitution. On the other hand, there are at the same time widening and deepening areas not only of co-operation between those member states but also of some pooling of sovereignty. I shall not go into the conceptual difficulty that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, had in that respect; but, even there when we move into new areas of pooling of sovereignty they are subject to unanimity in relation to the treaty and they are also subject to ratification by each individual member state severally before they come into effect. Therefore, we are well short of a federal state and dramatically short of a unitary state. Indeed, I agree with 118 the way in which it was described by my noble friend Lord Grenfell and by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, in his most thoughtful contribution. We are dealing with a new entity in the European Union, and it is a developing one. However, it is not a superstate and it will not become one as a result of this treaty.
I hope I have shown that the Treaty of Amsterdam is a treaty which is modest, consolidating and important—whatever you like to call it—and which deserves the support of all who value Britain's place in the European Union. I recognise that there are some who cannot, and will not, share that analysis but I do not believe that this treaty is a threat to the continuation of Britain as a nation state. Nor do I believe that it is a threat to competitiveness or jobs. Nor do I believe that it will isolate Britain in Europe. It is a treaty which could have been negotiated only by a Government who are determined to play a positive and constructive role in Europe. The fact that this Government were able to achieve their negotiating aims—or most of them—at Amsterdam is a persuasive argument for our policy of engaging constructively in Europe in Britain's interest.
There may be other points on which I shall write to noble Lords, but I wish to end with what the next stage of the European project will bring, which is the whole issue of enlargement. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, referred to that. The next few weeks will see the start of the process of enlargement. There will he the European conference on 12th March. The accession negotiations will start on 30th March. We hope that we shall bring into that process not only the five plus one front runners but also the other five applicant states. The aim of this process is a big one. The treaty may be modest but the follow-on to the treaty is immense. It is to bring to the whole of Europe a new era of peace, democracy, security and prosperity and to ensure that Europe is capable of facing the economic, environmental and political challenges of the next century.
I am glad that many noble Lords from all sides of the House have broadly supported this treaty. I am even more glad that they have broadly supported the move into the enlargement negotiations and all that that entails. I very much look forward to the continuation of such co-operation on all sides. I hope that we shall return to some of these subjects in the Committee stage. For the moment I urge your Lordships to support the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.