§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
moved Amendment No. 9:After Clause 1, insert the following new clause—PRESIDENT AND MEMBERS OF THE COMMISSION(". This Act shall not enter into force until a Minister of the Crown has laid before both Houses of Parliament a report on the implications for the United Kingdom of paragraphs 40 and 41 (President and Members of the Commission) of Article 2 of the Treaty signed at Amsterdam on 2nd October 1997 amending the Treaty on European Union, the Treaties establishing the European Communities and certain related Acts, and such report has been approved by resolution of each House.").The noble Lord said: My Lords, the proposed new clause states that paragraphs 40 and 41 of the treaty will not come into operation until a report of the implications has been made to both Houses and approved by them.
1202 We had quite a long debate in Committee on an amendment admirably moved by my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington. I do not want to repeat all the arguments made then against paragraphs 40 and 41 of the Amsterdam Treaty. However, the two paragraphs are important as they hand more power to the European Parliament in that it will be able to veto the appointment of the Commission President whose appointment has been agreed unanimously by the elected heads of government who represent, and are accountable to, their own elected national parliaments. That is a transfer of power from the nation states and their parliaments to an institution of the European Union.
Under paragraph 40, the governments of the member states will in future be required to agree in common accord with the president of the Commission the other persons they wish to appoint as commissioners. This gives the President an ultimate veto of the candidate or candidates nominated by member states. In other words, the appointed President of the Commission could blackball the candidate of a member state's elected government. Surely that is a serious matter. After all, this involves democratic government and democratic accountability. It is important for that very reason.
When my noble friend Lord Whitty replied to the amendment in Committee on 27th April, he provided no satisfactory reason for this change. He did not say that the previous system was not working or that it had caused problems, so why this shift of power from elected Ministers to an appointed functionary? Perhaps we could now have a proper explanation of that.
Paragraph 43 states that the Commission shall work under the political guidance of its president. That proposition is, to put it mildly, quite startling and should have set alarm bells ringing in another place. That it did not do so was, I hope, an oversight and not neglect. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, pointed out in Committee that even Mr. Heath, Europhile extraordinaire, regarded commissioners, including the President of the Commission, as civil servants who took their instructions from elected Ministers. But now it is not elected Ministers who will give political direction apparently, but the unelected functionary".
Again, my noble friend Lord Whitty did not give a satisfactory explanation as to why it was necessary to include that article in the treaty. As we know, the treaty will be held by the Commission and the European Court of Justice to be sacrosanct. That is the problem with these treaties; once measures are included in them, the European Court of Justice rules in accordance with them. It does not rule in accordance with what we might like to think is in the treaty, but in accordance with what is actually in the treaty. The article states that the Commission will work under the political guidance of its President, not of the Council of Ministers or of the European Parliament or anyone else. So I should like an explanation as to why this article has been slipped into the treaty.
As I have already said, I do not want to rehearse all the arguments expressed in Committee but I have a final question. The Government believe that these new articles are minor adjustments. If they are so minor, why 1203 could they not have been made administratively? Surely amendments to treaties should concern only matters of great moment, not trivia. After all, you cannot take them out of the treaty without unanimity. Therefore it is important that what goes into the treaty concerns matters of great moment and is not trivia, which is how my noble friend described this particular provision in Committee.
The Government had better make up their mind. Either these articles are trivial, in which case they ought not to be in the treaty, or they are of great importance, in which case we and another place need a much better explanation of their meaning and practical effect. In any event, it is quite clear that the House of Commons, which is the true democratic authority representing the people of Britain, has not given proper weight to, and consideration of, paragraphs 40 and 41. I believe that many of its Members would like to do so. If this amendment is carried, it would give another place a further opportunity to consider this vital matter. I hope that noble Lords will therefore support this amendment for that reason alone so that the Commons can have another detailed look at this matter. Noble Lords can support this amendment in the sure knowledge that what they will vote for is democracy. I beg to move.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Moynihan
My Lords, I rise to support this amendment in the light of both the persuasive arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and the response given by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, during an earlier stage of our proceedings, particularly with regard to the implications for the United Kingdom of the provisions on the appointment of the President of the Commission and the Commissioners.
I think it is fair to say that of all the amendments debated in Committee, the Government's refusal to countenance the notion that the provisions in paragraphs 40 and 41 could have any effect whatsoever on the sovereignty of the nation state perhaps most vividly illustrates the discrepancy of their position in purporting to pursue policies to preserve and uphold the role of the nation state in the European Union.
We perceive the Government to have given away important national powers needlessly. We consider the European Parliament's new right to approve the new President of the Commission diminishes the power of this Government, whose authority is derived from this Parliament. We consider that the freedom of member states to appoint commissioners of their choice is diminished, as the President of the Commission has been given new powers to veto the appointment of new commissioners and can therefore effectively pick the other 19 commissioners. What is more, those new commissioners will be required to work under the political guidance of the president for the first time.
When I studied what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said in Committee, I was not convinced that his arguments for the changes benefit this country or this Parliament. On the new powers for the European Parliament, he told the House that these changes represent an improvement in democracy. On the 1204 President of the Commission's power of veto, he told us it was all right because it was just simple arithmetic. It was a little leap of logic to extend common accord from 15 member states to 15 member states plus one unelected official, but the fact that he was unelected did not matter because he had been agreed by elected governments. On the requirement for Commissioners to work under the political guidance of the President, he told us that it was all right. It was a lot of fuss about nothing because the President had a political role anyway.
I find the latter two arguments extraordinary. I fundamentally disagree with the argument when I hear from the Liberal Democrats Benches that the powers given to the European Parliament represent an improvement in democracy. However, I respect the legitimacy of that vision and the sincerity with which it is propounded. In a vision of a European state, the European Parliament represents all the people of that state, so to give more powers to the European Parliament would be a democratic move. But in a Europe of sovereign nation states, where national parliaments remain the guardians of true democratic legitimacy, that argument is far less compelling. For advocates of a federal Europe these changes represent a democratic gain to the European Union and the European Parliament which outweighs the democratic loss to nation states and national parliaments, because to improve the functioning of democracy and efficiency within the Commission it is worth diminishing the power and influence of member states.
For advocates of a federal Europe, the new rights of the European Parliament to approve, or refuse to approve, the name of the person put forward as President of the Commission is an extension, not a diminution, of accountability of a democratic kind. For advocates of a federal Europe, the fact that the nomination of the Commission lies in the hands of member governments, and that member governments must reach a common accord with the President of the Commission, represents an appropriate balance of power. That is another improvement in democratic accountability. For advocates of a federal Europe, the description of the President of the Commission as,more than a civil servant … he is a political figure who gives political direction",would not even raise an eyebrow.
All of that is logical and consistent to a proponent of a federal Europe, a European superstate. It might even be possible to describe the provisions as relatively minor amendments. From these Benches we might fundamentally disagree with that position, but it would be a legitimate and consistent one. But are the Government advocates of a federal Europe? Not according to their election manifesto, in which they promise a commitment to Europe as,an alliance of independent nations choosing to co-operate to achieve the goals they cannot achieve alone".The manifesto continues,We oppose a European federal superstate".As I said previously, while the manifesto supports a Europe which is a partnership of nations, and opposes a federal Europe, it is disingenuous and discreditable to 1205 dismiss those provisions as "minor" and to brand our legitimate scrutiny as "fantastic constructions". The noble Lord did not argue that those "fantastic constructions" were impossible under the terms of the treaty. Indeed, he argued that he was justified in dismissing them by effectively saying, "Yes, theoretically those things could happen, but in practice it is very unlikely so I do not think there is a problem". I have the greatest respect for the noble Lord, but I believe that that is a poor and flawed argument. If Europe has taught us one thing, it is that we should not rely on lack of precedent as an indication of what the future could hold. Nor should we assume that, in future, treaties will not be interpreted imaginatively or, in this case, just to the letter.
For a Europe of nation states whose national parliaments are recognised as the primary guardians of democratic accountability and legitimacy, surely these are major changes, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, stated, with major implications. Yet they were not even mentioned by the Prime Minister in his Statement in another place on his return from Amsterdam. They represent a significant step towards an overtly political Commission in which unprecedented powers are concentrated in one individual's hands. Taken together with the extension of QMV and the substantial additional powers for the European Parliament, the treaty represents a significant shift from the nation state to the central institutions of the European Union. It is therefore vital that today we have the opportunity to hear why those proposals were agreed to by the Government; the implications to Britain of those proposals; and why the Government consider them to be in the national interest.
§ Lord Goodhart
My Lords, at present the European Union is not a federal state in the full sense of the word, as may be seen in states such as Australia, Canada or the United States. Nor, on the other hand, can it be regarded as no more than a forum for co-operation between its individual member states. The existing practice for the appointment of the President of the Union, before the Treaty of Amsterdam, leaving it wholly in the hands of the individual governments acting through the Council of Ministers, does not provide any satisfactory degree of democratic legitimacy or accountability. It is a notable and significant step forward that the European Parliament—it is a democratically elected body accountable to the people of Europe—should have a power of veto over the appointment of the President. In effect it becomes a matter of co-determination, recognising the proper balance between the individual governments, represented through the Council of Ministers, and the people of Europe, represented through the European Parliament.
We also welcome the amendment to the treaties through the Treaty of Amsterdam enabling the President appointed and elected by that process to have a say in the appointment of the individual members of the 1206 Commission. For that reason we support the provisions of Articles 40 and 41 of the Treaty of Amsterdam. We are unable to support the amendment.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, I touched on this matter at Committee stage and have no further contribution to make. However, I wish to ask the Government a question. I hope that they will be able to reply fully. What do Her Majesty's Government understand by the words "political guidance"? What do they believe that that empowers the President of the Commission to do? What do they believe is the real meaning in practice of the term "political guidance"?
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said that the European Parliament is a democratically elected body. Yes, it is elected democratically, but it is not a truly democratic body in so far as the smaller countries have many more seats per capita in Parliament than do the larger countries.
§ Lord Willoughby de Broke
My Lords, perhaps I may make one point to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. He mentioned that the President of the Commission will have a say. It is more than that. He has a right of veto in the provisions set out in the treaty at present. That is why those of us who have put our names to the amendment support it, and reject the wording of the treaty.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, I am afraid it is probably still the case that I am seriously lacking in imagination: I do find some of the constructs put on these relatively minor clauses fantastic. The Government do not wish to accept this amendment. It would not prevent ratification of the treaty; however, it is in our view unnecessary. We regard these changes as relatively minor management changes, desirable improvements in the way in which the institutions of Europe do their business.
I know that there is enormous suspicion in regard to the Commission in certain quarters of this House, not least on the part of my noble friend Lord Bruce. However, a Commission which acts coherently and effectively is in the interests of the United Kingdom. The Commission has a key role to play in the Community and the functioning of the Union. It proposes legislation; it implements decisions made by the Council; and it acts as the guardian of the treaties. An effective Commission and effective president are in our interests and in the interests of Europe. The good running of Commission business is surely a sensible step to introduce into the treaty, particularly in preparation for enlargement.
It is surely right that the President of the Commission should play some part in ensuring that the Commission itself, which is a collegiate body, is made up of a spread of people of the right ability, right representation and right competences.
The change is a relatively minor one, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and others have said. Under the Treaty of Amsterdam, the nominee for president is given 1207 a right of common accord together with the member states when it comes to choosing Commissioners. That is to say, we are replacing a common accord of 14 other member states with a common accord of 16, including the Commission President, the key institution.
The initiative still clearly rests with member states. Some noble Lords have suggested that the nominee for president might reject a whole series of potential Commissioners. I do not consider that to be a feasible situation. It is surely fanciful to think that the Commission President, just appointed by the 15 governments unanimously, would go ahead and offend the member state concerned unnecessarily, particularly given that it is the member state alone that can nominate any candidate.
The proposal regarding the president's right to give political guidance to the Commission recognises the reality that has existed since the Treaty of Rome first came into force. It is again a relatively minor change confirming current practice. The president does play a political role. He is more than a civil servant, but is substantially less than a political overlord. At the end of the day the Commission carries out decisions reached by the Council. The president remains an appointed, not an elected, figure. Ministers in the Council are national Ministers responsible to national parliaments. The position of member states is totally safeguarded. To say that there is a sudden translation of the President of the Commission into a political figure is surely nonsense. Since we first became members of the European Union, successive governments have appointed senior politicians to be Commissioners. Why did they do so if the Commissioners, and the President of the Commission in particular, were not to have a political role?
My noble friend Lord Bruce asked me to explain what I mean by "political role". I mean a political role in the sense of presenting and implementing policy, offering advice and opinions and dealing as an institution of the European Union with each of the member states and the other institutions of the Union. That is a political role; almost all nominees to the Commission have been politicians, and it is a political task that they carry out. However, at the end of the day, the political responsibility rests with the Council of Ministers, and the Council of Ministers is responsible to its national parliaments and in certain respects to the European Parliament.
Far from being an anti-democratic move, there is another change in this part of the treaty which relates to the increased democratic accountability of the Commission and consultation with the European Parliament as regards appointments to the Commission. This is a package, not for a federal Europe, not for a superstate, but for a more democratic Europe, a more efficient Europe, a Europe which is more prepared for the challenge of enlargement.
I may not be able to convince my noble friend Lord Stoddart and others that their constructs do not indeed flow from those changes. However, I hope the noble Lord will accept that I have given sufficient explanation, and that this amendment, requiring further explanation 1208 to Parliament before this Bill can be passed, is unnecessary. I ask my noble friend to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I am afraid that my noble friend has not convinced me one bit. Indeed, I have been impressed with some of the arguments that have come from the other side. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, fundamentally disagrees with paragraphs 40 and 41 in the same way as I do. Those paragraphs are not about a Europe of nation states. They represent a further turning of the ratchet towards a federal Europe. If the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, is worried about that—and he is not as sceptical about Europe as I am—then I am entitled to take comfort from that. The noble Lord has reached the same conclusion as I have, although we take a slightly different view on the whole concept of Europe, and that has to be taken into account.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, as I expected, believes that the new proposals are perfectly all right. Since the Liberal Party takes a federalist view, I suppose they are all right because they are federal in their concept. But we should make no mistake about it, in a Europe of nation states it is the national parliaments that have democratic legitimacy. It is they that are elected directly by their own people, and they have the final say. They cannot, and should not, hand over any of their real power of sovereignty to another body for decisions to be made not by their own nationals but by the nationals of 14 other states. Therefore, while I understand the noble Lord's point of view, this is nevertheless a recipe for a federal European state.
§ Lord Goodhart
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Does he agree that the new procedure under paragraph 40 comes nowhere near the sort of procedure that would be found in a genuinely federal state? In the USA, for instance, there is no question of the governments of individual states being asked to take part in the election of the President.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
No, my Lords, but we are talking about federal states. Here we have the European Parliament, which can veto the appointment of the President of the Commission, a decision which has been agreed by all the national leaders presumably with the consent of their national parliaments. That weakens the democratic accountability of this Parliament, and particularly the House of Commons. That may very well be all right for the federal system, but not for a Europe of nation states.
The noble Lord also mentioned the president in relation to the appointment of Commissioners. He said that the president will have a say. Nobody objects to the president having a say. But under these articles, he has a veto. That is the problem. He does not merely have a say; he is not being consulted. If the article stated that he was to be consulted, nobody would be concerned about the matter. But he does in fact have an effective veto, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke.
1209 My noble friend says that he still considers those matters to be minor managerial adjustments. I have to say to him that if they are mere managerial adjustments, why can they not be dealt with administratively? They may need alteration later if they are merely managerial adjustments. Once they are in the treaty, we have to have unanimity before they can be altered or taken out. So even on my noble friend's argument, it is very unwise to put such matters into the treaty.
My noble friend says that it is not feasible that the President-elect of the Commission would use his power of veto. How do we know? We are not futurologists. It may well be different once the President of the Commission has been appointed. What if the president does not like a particular representative, such as Mr. Kinnock? If he had had those powers when Mr. Kinnock was appointed, what would we have said if he had blackballed Mr. Kinnock? It is feasible for the President-elect of the Commission to use his power of veto, but I do not think it is a power he should have.
Finally, in relation to the political role of the President of the Commission, as I have already said, what goes into the treaty is what will be interpreted by the Commission and the courts. When we talk about having a political role and giving political guidance, we think we know what we mean. We think that politics is about making political decisions. The impression given by the article is that the President of the Commission will in future make political decisions. I believe—and I hope that many other people believe—that political decisions are for elected political leaders and elected parliaments, and not for appointed functionaries.
I shall press the amendment to a Division and I hope that noble Lords will support us in the Division Lobby.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 9) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 78; Not-Contents, 97.1210
|Division No. 2|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Dartmouth, E.|
|Anelay of St. Johns, B.||Denbigh, E.|
|Annaly, L.||Denham, L.|
|Ashbourne, L.||Dixon-Smith, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Dundee, E.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Elliott of Morpeth, L.|
|Bethell, L.||Falmouth, V.|
|Biffen, L.||Feldman, L.|
|Birdwood, L.||Flather, B.|
|Blatch, B.||Fookes, B.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Gage, V.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Harmsworth, L.|
|Burnham, L.||Harris of High Cross, L.|
|Byford, B.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Jenkin of Roding, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Kintore, E.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Knight of Collingtree, B.|
|Colwyn, L.||Lane of Horsell, L.|
|Cranborne, V.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.|
|Cumberlege, B.||Liverpool, E.|
|Long, V.||Rawlings, B. [Teller.]|
|Luke, L.||Rees, L.|
|McColl of Dulwich, L.||Rennell, L.|
|Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Marlesford, L.||Rotherwick, L.|
|Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Rowallan, L.|
|Miller of Hendon, B.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Monson, L.||Seccombe, B.|
|Mountevans, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L. [Teller.]|
|Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Moynihan, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Newton of Braintree, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Noel-Buxton, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|O'Cathain, B.||Torrington, V.|
|Oppenheim-Barnes, B.||Vivian, L.|
|Park of Monmouth, B.||Weatherill, L.|
|Pearson of Rannoch, L.||Wilcox, B.|
|Plumb, L.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Rankeillour, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Acton, L.||Maddock, B.|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||Mallalieu, B.|
|Avebury, L.||Mar and Kellie, E.|
|Berkeley, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Borrie, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.||Monckton of Brenchley, V.|
|Burlison, L.||Monkswell, L.|
|Calverley, L.||Montague of Oxford, L.|
|Carlisle, E.||Morris of Manchester, L.|
|Carter, L. [Teller.]||Newby, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Nicholson of Winterbourne, B.|
|Dahrendorf, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Davies of Coity, L.||Norton, L.|
|Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Desai, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Dholakia, L.||Ramsay of Cartvale, B.|
|Donoughue, L.||Randall of St. Budeaux, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Rea, L.|
|Farrington of Ribbleton, B.||Redesdale, L.|
|Gallacher, L||Rendell of Babergh, B.|
|Gillbert, L.||Richard, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]|
|Gladwin of Clee, L.||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.|
|Goodhart, L.||Russell, E.|
|Gordon of Strathblane, L.||Sainsbury of Turville, L.|
|Gould of Potternewton, B.||St John of Fawsley, L.|
|Hamwee, B.||Serota, B.|
|Hanworth, V.||Sewel, L.|
|Hardy of Wath, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Haskel, L.||Simon of Highbury, L.|
|Hayman, B.||Smith of Gilmorehill, B.|
|Hilton of Eggardon, B.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Symons of Vernham Dean, B.|
|Hoyle, L.||Taverne, L.|
|Hughes of Woodside, L.||Thomas of Gresford, L.|
|Hylton, L.||Thomas of Macclesfield, L.|
|Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Janner of Braunstone, L.||Thomas of Walliswood, B.|
|Jay of Paddington, B.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Tordoff, L.|
|Turner of Camden, B.|
|Walker of Doncaster, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Watson of Invergowrie, L.|
|Judd, L.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Kennet, L.||Whitty, L.|
|Levy, L.||Williams of Crosby, B.|
|Linklater of Butlerstone, B.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Lockwood, B.||Williams of Mostyn, L.|
|Lovell-Davis, L.||Winston, L.|
|McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]||Young of Old Scone, B.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.1211
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Lord Moynihan
moved Amendment No. 10:After Clause 1, insert the following new clause—REPORT ON QUALIFIED MAJORITY VOTING(". A Minister of the Crown shall lay before both Houses of Parliament an annual report on the action taken by Her Majesty's Government in accordance with paragraphs 6, 13, 26, 31 to 33, 44, 45, 52 to 55 and 57 of Article 2 of the Treaty signed at Amsterdam on 2nd October 1997 amending the Treaty on European Union, the Treaties establishing the European Communities and certain related Acts.").The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not intend to speak at length this evening on qualified majority voting. The Committee looked into this in considerable detail, particularly in relation to the constitutional implications. At that stage I outlined my view that certain agreed areas, such as the single market, would bring real benefits to the peoples of the member states.
There has been a clear need for majority voting to ensure that decisions are taken in a timely and effective way. That is not because there is virtue in majority voting per se; there is not. Between nation states, consensus is always preferable in principle, but sometimes majority voting has been necessary to provide effective and, above all, uniform implementation of a single set of rules for a common policy, the underlying objectives of which have already been agreed.
I believe that the case has been made for making it easier to override the objections of member states. The burden of proof is on those who advocate more majority voting to explain why it is needed. I indicated that I do not believe the Government have succeeded in making a case for the so-called sensible extension of QMV to which they agreed, which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, claimed would greatly benefit this country and the decision-making process both immediately and in anticipation of enlargement. He did not explain how, but at least we have the opportunity today to learn from him.
I turn briefly to the new power of co-decision granted to the European Parliament by the Treaty of Amsterdam which was only raised briefly in Committee. At that point I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty; he is quite right. The co-decision procedure was introduced in Maastricht and we do not object to it in principle. We recognise that it enables the European Parliament to exercise democracy directly within the European institutions. However, in practice, it also enables the European Parliament to exercise a veto over decisions of the Council.
We recognise also that in most areas co-decision has been extended to those areas where QMV will now apply in the treaty, so we are not objecting that co-decision alone constitutes a loss of sovereignty. We object to the extension of QMV and, by definition, the extension of the co-decision procedure on this occasion. The treaty extends the co-decision procedure to 23 areas in total—eight new provisions and 15 existing ones. Co-decision now applies broadly to where there is majority voting, so the European Parliament now has equal decision-making rights to those of European Ministers in all areas decided by QMV, which in fact amounts to most of the European Union's policy areas.
1212 That means that the European Parliament now has the power of veto and the ability to check the decision-making of the Council of Ministers in important areas such as social policy; employment and incentive measures; public health and transport policy. Parliament is now in a position to insist on modifying Council measures in accordance with its view in all those areas. Those are major new powers for the European Parliament, as is confirmed by an internal briefing note produced by the European Community on 7th July last, which stated;The European Parliament made two major gains at the conference to become a genuine co-legislator and a full arm of the European legislature alongside the Council".First, the co-decision procedure has been considerably extended, essentially along the lines of the principles suggested by the Commission in its report of July 1996 whereby any instrument of a legislative nature should be adopted under the co-decision procedure between the European Parliament and the Council. The co-decision procedure is nothing short of a veto over decisions of the Council of Ministers handed to the European Parliament, and the Government agreed to that veto in 23 new areas.
It is important this evening that we hear from the Government the justification for those new powers. Can the noble Lord tell us what impact it will have on the role of the national parliaments and how we will benefit from any weakening of the powers of the British Parliament? Can he assure the House that, with that massive extension of co-decision taken together with the European Parliament's new powers to approve the nomination of the President of the Commission, we are not in danger of weakening the direct link between member states and European decision-making as qualified majority voting replaces unanimity, as the European Parliament is able to veto more and more and as we lose the ability to secure our own choice of Commissioner—an issue we have just covered extensively under the previous amendment?
It is against that background that in 1997 the Conservative manifesto contained a pledge,to defend the rights of national parliaments and oppose more powers being given to the European Parliament at the expense of national parliaments".Can the noble Lord also guarantee that the European Parliament will not use the co-decision procedure to enhance its status at the expense of the substance of legislation? The Prime Minister concluded his remarks to the House on his return from Amsterdam with the statement,We said that we would … make [Amsterdam] more relevant to the concerns of the peoples of Europe, and we did".—[Official Report, Commons, 18/6/97; col. 316.]I have difficulty with that. Can the Minister tell the House how Europe can be more relevant to the peoples of Europe when they have less say because their veto has been taken away; when they have less control because more power has gone to the European Parliament at the expense of national parliaments, and when they have less say because more power has gone to unaccountable judges in Brussels?
1213 It is important to examine the role in which this Parliament appears by some who have argued the case to have become less than a beneficiary of these new powers; indeed, it is strongly argued that the European Parliament has become the beneficiary of these new powers. Does it deserve the 23 areas of veto and its new powers over the appointment of the President of the Commission? What will be the effect of the European Parliament having those new powers?
We are considering that against the recognition that the European Parliament is a young institution which already plays a significant role in the European legislative process. But it is not a parliament in any Westminster sense of law-making. Indeed, its democratic credentials, which again were debated at some length on the previous amendment are, one can argue, tenuous. A voter in the United Kingdom—or even all the voters in the United Kingdom—have reasonably little influence on the composition of the whole parliament or its policies.
When one reflects on the turnout in the European parliamentary elections—well known to everyone here—the results are interesting. In many cases, the turnout is hardly surprising since many Members of the European Parliament failed to turn up to the sessions of that parliament. A few years ago, the Sunday Times—as noble Lords will recall—investigated the evidence that MEPs were not compelled to appear for plenary sessions. The survey found that a French Conservative failed to register at all; a French Socialist and an Italian were present for only one day out of 58; two more Italians (a Christian Democrat and a Socialist priest and journalist) attended twice.
The article went on to say that,Many of the absent members may be ill, some may be dead. But the Parliament's administration was unable this weekend to produce a list of those who have died since the last election in 1989".It is not wholly surprising that there has not been overwhelming support for the impact of the European Parliament. What hope can we have—perhaps the Minister can assist on this—that the situation will be improved after the forthcoming elections?
Moreover, the Government themselves have clearly had a less than favourable opinion of their own MEPs, who have had a track record of pushing a radical socialist agenda in Europe, which is very different from the one propounded by New Labour. Since June 1994 these MEPs have established patterns of playing what are undoubtedly irresponsible party politics in Europe, voting for intrusive, bureaucratic and extremist policies, earning epithets of "infantile" and "incompetent" from the Prime Minister himself. Having taken positions substantially to the left of the New Labour leadership in the UK, Labour MEPs have proved to be a large and painful thorn in the side of the Prime Minister's attempts when as Opposition leader he was seeking to modernise the Labour Party at home. Their behaviour in Brussels and Strasbourg has marked them out as advocates of the high spending and interventionist policies of old Labour. 1214 Indeed, the words of David Martin, the former leader of the Labour MEPs, sum up their views neatly:A socialist superstate is exactly what we do want to create".We considered at an earlier stage some examples to support this argument—the Clause 4 fiasco and the Labour MEP suspensions. There are, as noble Lords on both sides of the House know, many such examples. I think it would be wrong to rehearse them again today, but I believe the point I made was a strong one. No doubt the Minister, in his usual courteous way, will also comment on that very point.
In conclusion, I should like to know how the Amsterdam Treaty achieves the objectives which the Government said it would by the extension of QMV. Let us be clear about exactly what Amsterdam does. First, it creates a significant transfer of decision making from the member states of the European Union to the European Parliament. While the power of the member states is weakened by extending QMV in 15 new areas, plus five areas included in the social chapter, the power of the European Parliament is increased, giving it a veto in 23 new areas. Secondly, as I have already demonstrated, Amsterdam allows the Commission to become politicised. The president is now nominated by the European Parliament, individual Commissioners are subject to approval by the president and the Commission is to work under the political guidance of the president. In short, the European Parliament is able to influence the political agenda of the entire European Union.
Taken together, it is clear that these changes are a considerable alteration of the balance of power between Brussels and member states and between the Council of Ministers and Parliament. The power exercised in the European Union is, and should be, a delicate balance between national parliaments, national governments, the Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. If the Government have agreed to extensions of power to the European Parliament, which the Commission says they have, will the Minister tell us from whom that additional power has been taken? Has it been taken from the Commission? No, it has been taken from national governments and national parliaments; and I would argue, in this instance, for nothing in return. Therefore, I look forward to hearing why. I beg to move.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, on this amendment we reach a major distinction between the Official Opposition and the Liberal Democrat Benches with regard to the role of the European Parliament. Indeed, if there is a direct conflict between accepting the idea of democratic control over the European Community—I use the word "community" advisedly as part of the Union and not the whole of it—then the role of the European Parliament is central to that. There is no direct way in which the specifically European legislation under the Community can become fully accountable to a single national parliament. However, as is clear from later amendments, it is the view of the Liberal Democrat Benches that there is no zero sum gain, that both the national parliaments and the European parliaments can 1215 have greater strength and power of scrutiny over the Acts of European legislation, and that there is no necessary conflict between them.
I am pleased to see that Her Majesty's Government have taken steps to strengthen the powers of national parliaments to scrutinise European legislation and have not seen that as being in conflict with the strengthening of the decision-making powers of the European Parliament. Strengthening the power of the European Parliament does not subtract from the powers of national parliaments over Community legislation—that is to say, legislation initiated by the Commission and agreed to by the Council of Ministers. What it does is to limit the powers of the Council and the Commission by making them both responsive to a parliamentary institution. I therefore believe that there is a strong case for saying—my colleagues on these Benches share this view—that the processes of decision making in the European Community part of the European Union should be made much more transparent, much more simple and much more well known and for that to happen we will need to strengthen the role of the European Parliament.
Let me pause for one moment to set out what Amsterdam fundamentally did. It reduced the processes of decision making from a confusing shambles of many, many such processes basically to three. Those three were assent, to a convention or a treaty; consultation, which applies where the matter lies largely outside the remit of the European Parliament; and co-decision making, where in effect the parliament exercises a veto. There are still one or two areas where the complicated process of the so-called co-operative procedures still obtains; and the sooner those turn into the co-decision procedure the better for everyone.
I cannot see how any argument can be made for maintaining the extraordinarily complex and confusing structure of decision making that existed before Amsterdam. Having said that, it is also right and proper that the European Parliament should exercise a veto in the areas where no other veto by a parliament effectively exists. I find it extremely strange that those noble Lords who have advocated democracy all the way through these long debates do not seem to perceive that the elected European Parliament is itself a democratic institution.
I fully share the criticisms that some have made. For example, I fully share the criticism made by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, of some individual members of the European Parliament who see fit to be absent from parliament for periods of time and who appear to think they have a right to sit in parliament and to give us the benefit of their views without effectively representing their constituents. I have to say that that is not unique to the European Parliament. Would that it were so. It is not a good reason for not making the European Parliament as effective a democratic institution as possible.
The Earl of Dartmouth
My Lords, the whole point of the European Parliament is that there are not any constituents.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, with great respect to the noble Earl, I find that puzzling since I know many people who engaged in voting at the last 1216 European elections for members of the European Parliament. I do not quite agree that they have no constituents. My view is rather the opposite of the noble Earl's. The sooner they realise they have, the better for everyone.
The Earl of Dartmouth
My Lords, I must apologise for some imprecision of language on my part. There are no European parliamentary constituencies outside the United Kingdom. As a consequence of the Government's legislation, at the United Kingdom European elections in 1999 there will be no parliamentary constituencies here either. In that sense, there are no constituents. There are just a mass of party lists. Hence, there is very little connection between the electors of Europe and the members of the European Parliament.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, I take the noble Earl's point. I was assuming that by "constituents" he meant "electors"; and electors there certainly are.
I wish to resume my theme just for a moment. I shall not detain the House for very long. The other part of what I want to say concerns the responsibility of the European Parliament with regard to some matters that have been brought within its purview by the Treaty of Amsterdam. The veto has been extended primarily by the change in decision making, which is entirely to clarify the way in which it is done. It has also extended into certain areas, one of which is the environment. There must be a strong case for having some qualified majority votes in the area of the environment. Indeed, I found it interesting that earlier in the debate there was passionate argument about the fact that Spain could actually veto a change in the Schengen arrangements on her own because she had managed to have included a clause as regards unanimity. I understood that a number of noble Lords believed passionately in the principle of unanimity. One cannot have it working one way and not another.
In my view—and I shall conclude on this note—there are certain crucial cross-border issues which affect all member states of the European Union. The noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, understood that about the single market. Her Majesty's Government understand that about certain aspects of environmental and social policy. I do not see any great conflict between these two on issues of the kind that go well beyond the scope of any individual national parliament, including our own. It must be right and proper that there should be a straightforward, transparent and democratic decision-making structure.
§ Lord Howell of Guildford
My Lords, when the Minister replies can he say a word about the Conference of European Affairs Committees which is mentioned in the protocol in the treaty? During the previous parliament there was a good deal of debate about the way that representatives from these committees from the national parliaments, which included both Houses in our case, could, when meeting together, exert some kind of linkage or influence on the proceedings of the European 1217 institutions and on the whole process of European law-making and decision-making. It was felt that that would fill a gap.
It was rightly pointed out—as indeed it was pointed out during debates in your Lordships' House this very Tuesday—that however much scrutiny we have and however detailed our examination of legislative proposals, directives and regulations from the Commission, possibly in this House the real problem is not at the precise legislative stage. The real problem about engaging national parliaments in the European policy-making process lies in the need for national parliaments and their representatives to be more involved in the initial processes which give birth to the Commission recommendations to the Council of Ministers and to the regulations and directives which sometimes descend on a surprised House of Commons or your Lordships' House or which, in many cases, bypass the national parliamentary procedures altogether and leap straight from the Commission into our national laws and our statute book.
That is where the "aggro", if I may use that word, arises. It is the feeling that the whole European legislative machine is rolling forward in an unaccountable way. As the noble Baroness reminds us, there is the European Parliament and it has its role to play. But the European Parliament is a curious arrangement. It does not have Ministers to hold to account. Many of the representatives in the parliament do not have constituents. When one asks whether they have constituents and ask what they are saying, they look very surprised and say that they have not arrived by that process.
So, however much one wants to see the European parliamentary system play its part, it cannot really ensure the thread of legitimacy that ought to run from the top; that is, people and voters in the nation states down to the ultimate servants of the system which are the institutions at the bottom. I know that many people like to put that triangle the other way up, but I put it with people at the top. That system cannot ensure that that thread is continuous and legitimacy is maintained. That is why some of us in the previous parliament urged that at least in some areas there was a coming together of the Conference of European Affairs Committees—whether legislative committees or foreign affairs committees was a matter for debate—or other specialist committees in transport and education which might provide a better way for national parliaments to involve themselves in the initial thinking and the initial mixing, long before the cake is baked, when the ideas are put forward which subsequently lead to legislation. It would be very good if the Minister could say more on that subject which is mentioned in detail in the Amsterdam Treaty.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, perhaps I may add a short footnote to the speech of my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby. I agree with every word she said. What she really brought out is that those who criticise the Bill are making two incompatible objections. On the one hand 1218 they are objecting that the European Union is supranational; on the other they are objecting that it has a democratic deficit. They cannot have both of those objections at once for reasons that my noble friend explained very clearly. If they want to tackle the democratic deficit they must do it through the European Parliament which is, of its nature, supranational. So they are making two incompatible objections. Which one are they going to give up?
I say to the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, who made so notable a maiden speech yesterday, that if he follows proceedings on the European Parliamentary Elections Bill, he may find that we have a little more in common than he believes.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
My Lords, I wish to make a small point which is really a question of elucidation. In the protocol on the role of national parliaments, provision is made for a six-week period between eliciting the proposal and it being adopted. In that time it has to be made available to the European Parliament and the Council. That is excellent. But I cannot understand why, if we regard six weeks as appropriate in such cases, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, is suggesting, in her Amendment No. 16 on parliamentary scrutiny, only 10 working days for a national parliament. Perhaps I have misunderstood something. It seems curious. National parliaments need the time much more because they have to translate the consequences in terms of cost benefit analysis and everything else. I wonder why there are only 10 days for national parliaments whereas there is provision for six weeks for the European Parliament.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, as usual, I listened with great interest to the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. I do not know whether she was here at the time, but I invite her to recall an occasion recently when the member of the Government representing the Home Office was putting forward a Bill through this place for the regulation of the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament. He was doing his very best to prove that Members of the European Parliament are nothing like Members of Parliament as we understand them.
He made a brave point. He said that they did not have contact with constituents to the same degree that we have in elections in this country. He gave them the status of "representatives" rather than legislators. I invite the noble Baroness to consider that and to read the speeches made by the noble Lord who spoke for the Home Office.
I ask her to take into account another factor. It is becoming dangerously easy to equate an election carried out on the basis of party lists as being the same, and carrying the same democratic connotations, as the election of a Member selected by local constituents or the constituency party within the district they hope to represent. I suggest to the noble Baroness and to the House that we are in very considerable danger of equating, in almost precise, meaningful terms, an election on the basis of a party list, particularly where it 1219 is a closed one—which is the situation in many cases in Europe—as being of the same democratic nature as an election from constituencies.
It is a long time ago, but when I first joined the Labour Party I went to the occasional summer school organised by the illustrious father of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. He was Sir George Shepherd. I was warned of the dangers of what he described as "democratic centralism". He said, "Bruce, my boy"—because I was young at the time—"that is the doctrine of the Communist Party". What does it mean? It means that the policy is determined at the top and that those below are required not to argue about it but to accept it and propound it. I begin to detect in our affairs in Europe a tendency towards that, too. I detect a tendency for similar institutions to try to pass as here credible examples of "democracies". In the UK, let alone in Europe, I detect a return to Leninism which is dictation of policy from the top with all the rest below in the party requiring to conform.
Under the party list system in the main it is the party machine that is responsible for selection. If an individual is not on the party machine approved list—there have been occasions when I have been dangerously close to going outside it—he does not stand very much chance of getting into Parliament. Yet our Parliament has always been enriched by the degree of independence among its Members.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, has to my pleasure made a number of comments with which I agree, but since they relate to proceedings on a future Bill perhaps I may defer that pleasure until the appropriate moment.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, I hesitate to intervene because I was not here for the beginning of the debate. However, thanks to the electronic wonders of the Palace, I listened to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Howell. I wondered whether the Government intended to reply to his remarks about the role of Parliament in relation to Amendment No. 10 or Amendment No. 11 and those grouped with it. If it is the former, I shall sit down again very rapidly, perhaps having first taken the opportunity to say to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, that single-Member constituencies are not always in the hands of the electorate but rather in the hands of the party chairman of that constituency.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, in introducing this amendment the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said (if I paraphrase him correctly) that where agreements between independent sovereign nation states were contemplated, consensus—as opposed to coercion—was always the best path to try to follow. In effect QMV by definition leads to coercion and opens the floodgates to yet more cynical horse-trading, examples of which we have seen month after month, year after year.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, declared that the Treaty of Amsterdam had introduced a total of 23 new or modified areas to which QMV was to be applied. My brief lists a total of 27. One way or the other, I can identify only three areas in which the application of 1220 QMV would be of benefit to this and other countries and disadvantageous to no honest person; namely, countering fraud, the preparation of statistics and transparency. Many of the other areas may appear to be superficially innocuous, but could be twisted and turned against us as has happened in the past, notably over matters such as the 48-hour week.
I would have thought that one of them would be unattractive to any country which wished to remain an independent sovereign nation state. I refer to the implementation of decisions under a common foreign and security policy. If a nation cannot make its own decisions in that area in perpetuity, what is the point of it remaining an independent sovereign state? For this and other reasons, I fully support the amendment.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, I was grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, did not spend a good deal of time on the question of qualified majority voting and that he took a somewhat more pragmatic attitude to it than perhaps was the case at earlier stages of this debate, and certainly earlier in the history of the Conservative Party. I believe that the Conservative Party was just as pragmatic and sensible when negotiating treaties with an extension of QMV as the Labour Government were at Amsterdam. The Single European Act extended QMV to 12 new areas. Maastricht extended QMV to an extra 13 new areas. At the time, most of them appeared to be very sensible and now have total support across Europe. The extension of QMV at Amsterdam was substantially less than that, and in my view that was also very sensible.
If the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, challenges me to prove that it is sensible, I make the general point that some extension of QMV is probably sensible in preparation for enlargement. Indeed, his noble friend Lady Rawlings almost made that point last night. I take research and development as an example. If R&D policy were always subject to veto by, say, Spain or one of the newly arrived member states, we would not achieve very much in that field that would benefit Britain. As I pointed out in Committee, earlier this year Spain threatened to block the R&D framework until it was satisfied about its future receipts under the structural funds. In the event, Spain removed that threat. However, had Spain persisted, that would have been an excellent example of the way in which QMV could be in the interests of Europe and Britain—and especially of British industry and British universities securing a European framework for R&D.
We believe that the extension of QMV within the Treaty of Amsterdam is helpful. We shall not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, about its extension to the social chapter and in the field of the environment, but we believe that it is important. I believe that there is a consensus in this House that the extension of QMV to measures to prevent fraud is a very important decision flowing from the intergovernmental conference. Earlier, my noble friend Lord Bruce gave the example of Greece which vetoed the investigation of fraud in the tobacco trade. This provision removes the ability of the Greek Government in those circumstances to veto such moves. 1221 We also agreed to the extension of QMV to transparency, with which I believe most Members of the House agree.
But it is right that in a treaty between sovereign nations certain areas should remain subject to unanimity. We retained unanimity, as we said in the manifesto, in keys areas of national interest, such as taxation, the Budget, foreign policy, defence and immigration. We are not in the business of extending QMV for its own sake, any more than we are in the business of dogmatically resisting it. I believe that the extension of QMV at Amsterdam was defensible and sensible.
However, I was surprised by the noble Lord's almost root-and-branch attack on the European Parliament. It was a slightly strange attack, for throughout much of the passage of this Bill the noble Lord has objected to the lack of democracy. The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, heard only half of it. The noble Baroness has represented her nation, party and constituents in the European Parliament, as have other noble Lords in this House, on the basis of a democratic vote, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and others have pointed out. Admittedly, the noble Lord's attack on the European Parliament seemed in part like some of the remarks of my noble friend Lord Bruce, to be more concerned with the internal affairs of the Labour Party. I am always happy to debate the internal affairs of the Labour Party, of which I have some experience, but I must inform the House that Clause 4 (in its existing form or its previous form) is not part of the Treaty of Amsterdam. Therefore, I do not believe that it is particularly relevant to this debate.
We support co-decision because, contrary to what I believe to be the stance of the Opposition, the European Parliament is an essential part of the democratic process in the European Union. The extension of co-decision is a limited but sensible enhancement of that democratic role. It does not enable the European Parliament to propose a measure or to insist upon a proposal proposed by the Council, but it ensures that it cannot go ahead in the areas now subject to co-decision without the approval of the European Parliament. The noble Lord refers to that as a veto; I call it democratic decision-making. In most cases, it relates to areas in which there is an extension of co-decision to which qualified majority voting applies.
This is not an issue of transferring powers or sovereignty from the national parliaments to the European Parliament. It is a question of decisions which are already being taken by majority vote at European level being subject to a degree of national democratic accountability. It is not at the expense of national parliaments. If anything it is at the expense of the Commission and the Council.
The European Parliament is an essential element of European democracy. It is not an alternative to strengthening the role of national parliaments, which we will debate in the next amendment. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, this is not a zero sum game. It is quite the opposite. The two are 1222 complementary and mutually enhancing. We strongly support both the extension of the European Parliament's powers and the new protocol on national parliaments.
Additional points were raised by other noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Park, raised an issue which is really more adjacent to the next amendment and if she does not mind, I will leave it until that discussion.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, raised the question of co-operation between national parliaments at earlier stages of preparation of European legislation. This is an important point, which also is germane to some extent to the next amendment. The Amsterdam Treaty envisages an enhanced, institutionalised role for COSAC—which deals with co-operation at parliamentary level. It will meet together and have a non-binding, consultative but important role, in assessing the way in which European legislation is being developed. The noble Lord wishes to see this extended further to specialist committees. This is a useful point which we ought to assume in our consideration of the role of national parliaments.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, at the end of the day it will not be 15 or 26 national parliaments which provide the detailed scrutiny of European legislation in the first instance, but the European Parliament. It is important that we do not cast aspersions on the democratic nature of the European Parliament, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and my noble friend Lord Bruce and others have done. It is true that the turn-out in European Parliament elections has been relatively low compared with national parliament elections. It has, however, been higher than that for a whole range of democratic institutions in this country and across Europe. It is not healthy or sensible for us to impugn their democratic status by suggesting that that of itself proves that the European Parliament is not part of the democratic accountability of the European Union.
A more positive approach to the European Parliament will lead to a greater status for it and a greater degree of transparency, accountability and democracy in the European Union as a whole.
There are differences between ourselves and the approach of the noble Lord. On QMV there are no differences in principle but differences at the edges. In relation to co-decision, there might be a difference in principle on various points, but the Conservative Party, particularly in a year when it is preparing for European elections, may come to express a greater appreciation of the role of the European Parliament in the coming months than the noble Lord is prepared to do today.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Moynihan
My Lords, in drafting my remarks this afternoon, the European elections were not in the forefront of my mind, but the exchange that we had during Committee stage was. The debate that we have had this evening has been one of the best during these lengthy proceedings. It has crystallised the views that are held on all sides of the House.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, began by pointing out that we have polarised, different views on one or two of these issues. We do. I respect her for 1223 holding her views; I disagree with them. I have attempted to put the arguments as clearly as I can as regards my position. So be it. That is the case. If we are not going to meet on this issue, I am pleased that we meet on other issues of foreign policy.
I did not make a root and branch attack on the European Parliament. I might have gently pointed to the antics of some MEPs—you would not expect me to do otherwise. There is plenty more material on that subject but, in the interests of progress on the Bill, it is best to leave the matter and not return to it in the context of this Bill.
I was, I hope, pointing out that there are many areas where historically, as the Minister has pointed out, there is agreement about the benefits of QMV. Where there is a single purpose, where there is a clear purpose to achieve a specific objective—and I mentioned the single market—it is important that majority voting is used to ensure that those decisions are taken effectively. I made that point to begin with. I may be in disagreement with some noble Lords on that point but, for once on this Bill, I am in agreement with the Government Front Bench.
I was trying to state that it is very important when you extend QMV for the Government to come before the House to make the case for that extension—and to make a case in each and every area—because there is, unquestionably, the issue of the transfer of sovereignty and power. One can argue whether it is from the Commission to the Parliament or from one national parliament to the European Parliament but, when you accept that there are new areas where you extend decision-making to QMV, it is important for the Government to come before the House and defend that extension. As in Committee, my argument this evening is that that case has not been made on the specific cases. To that extent I am being as pragmatic as I can be, despite the noble Lord's chiding in that context.
As for co-decision, I was not objecting. When the noble Lord has had the opportunity to read Hansard tomorrow, he will reflect that I was not objecting in principle to co-decision. I recognise fully that the European Parliament is enabled to exercise its role more effectively and democratically within the European institutions where the principle of co-decision is recognised. What I have done is reflect in some detail on QMV and the areas of QMV that concern me.
I can add very little more to this debate. As I said at the outset, it represents one of the most constructive exchanges of view in this area that we have had. I disagree with the Government and I strongly disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in the specific point that she made at the outset of her speech.
I do not intend to press this amendment to a vote. I am grateful to the Government and to noble Lords on all sides of the House for participating in a debate in which I knew we would not come to agreement. I do not think there is any benefit at this stage in dividing the House and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Bruce of Donington
moved Amendment No. 11:After Clause 1, insert the following new clause—REPORT ON ROLE OF NATIONAL PARLIAMENTS(". A Minister of the Crown shall, no later than 1st June 1999 and at annual intervals thereafter, lay before both Houses of Parliament a report on the action taken by the Her Majesty's Government in pursuance of the Protocol on the role of national parliaments in the European Union annexed to the Treaty signed at Amsterdam on 2nd October 1997 amending the Treaty on European Union, the Treaties establishing the European Communities and certain related Acts.").The noble Lord said: My Lords, you will recall that I dealt very briefly with the essence of this amendment in Committee.
Will the Minister explain the origins of this extraordinary protocol? Just who is responsible for producing it? Under what conditions was it produced?
Your Lordships will recall from the diaries of Mr. Alan Clark, now the MP for Kensington and Chelsea, and Mr. Lamont, who was sometimes Chancellor of the Exchequer and attended Council meetings from time to time, the rather realistic and graphic descriptions of how Council business was discussed—for example, the recumbent or otherwise attitude of some of those attending, the doubt as to whether some were awake at the time, and one or two other matters—which placed the Council in rather an unfavourable light.
I am not for the moment suggesting that this applies now. I suggest that all members who attended the council meeting at which the text of the treaty and the protocols were agreed were alert people, bent on arriving at a solution and determined to meet the requirements of their countries in so far as possible and on a normal give-and-take basis.
When I last discussed this matter with your Lordships, I indicated that one of the preambles exhibited a less than vigorous attitude towards the provision of information to the members of the national parliaments. I should like to read it in order to refresh your Lordships' memories. It states:DESIRING, however, to encourage greater involvement of national parliaments in the activities of the European Union and to enhance their ability to express their views on matters which may be of particular interest to them".According to those who drafted the protocol, that was the main purpose.
I may be wrong, and once again I may be out of step with the Government I am pleased to support. However, I did not and do not take that attitude in regard to information provided to us by the European Commission. I thought that one of the principal purposes was to enable parliaments to advise their own Ministers on what they thought about proposed legislation. It was not merely a matter of passing interest; it was because under parliamentary government, to which most of them are strangers, it is customary for members of parliaments to want to be fully informed in order to advise their governments and if necessary—and perish the thought—occasionally to rebel in order to establish their will. That is why I am curious to know how the provision originated.
1225 My second inquiry relates to what the Government propose to do about it. The protocol states:All Commission consultation documents (green and white papers and communications) shall be promptly forwarded to the national parliaments of the Member States".I want to know what is the Government's concept of the word "promptly". I do not wish to refer to domestic matters too much, but from time to time I have been in correspondence with government departments here and have been promised prompt responses. "Prompt" may mean as much as four or five months, even in our domestic affairs. I wonder at what understanding they arrived in order to determine what was meant by "promptly".
Paragraph 2 of the protocol states:Commission proposals for legislationand this has a certain resonance with a comment I made earlier—as defined by the Council in accordance with Article 207(3) of the Treaty establishing the European Community, shall be made available in good time so that the Government of each Member State may ensure that its own national parliament receives them as appropriate".Paragraph 3 states:A six-week period shall elapse between a legislative proposal or a proposal for a measure to be adopted under Title VI of the Treaty on European Union being made available in all languages to the European Parliament … subject to exceptions on grounds of urgency".All that sounds a little vague. What I want to know, and what the House may be interested to know, is exactly how the Government propose that the protocol shall be adhered to principally by the Commission. What sanctions do they believe they have to demand that proposals are sent to them in good time so that they can be considered by their parliaments? What arrangements have they come to with other members of the Council who may or may not think on similar lines? I would have thought that we wanted something a little more definite.
For a time I was a member of the Select Committee on European legislation. I will not bother to relate to the House the history of my participation in that committee or the circumstances of my departure. But from time to time we were hampered—and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, will agree—by lack of information provided in good time. Indeed, the noble Lord complained eloquently and most efficiently to the various parties in Europe in order to have that difficulty rectified.
These are important matters. It is not only a question of getting information to us on time but also of bringing to a halt the flood of proposed legislation which the European Commission, as a trained bureaucracy, knows very well we cannot possibly scrutinise before it is enacted in law. I refer your Lordships, for example, to the latest progress of scrutiny document issued by the House of Lords on 1st May. It sets out a list of the various proposals and communications received from the European Commission on which explanatory memoranda have already been prepared by the 1226 government department concerned and which it will not send for scrutiny and recommends should not be scrutinised at all.
That is reasonable because the committee knows quite well that even if the members of the sub-committees of the European Community Select Committee in this place were doubled they would not get through all the documents at all promptly. In the three weeks up to 1st May, 60 such items were not sent to any sub-committee or to the Select Committee; they were passed through as not requiring scrutiny.
Your Lordships may have different views; all our priorities are different according to our preferences, our subjects and possibly even our skills. But if your Lordships look at List A in the progress of legislation document you may believe that it would have been a good idea if such-and-such a document were sent to the committee and scrutinised. It illustrates that even now the flood of communications—perhaps proposals for decisions, directives or regulations—coming to the British Parliament is too much for it to deal with.
Do not let us kid ourselves. The Commission is a bureaucracy, and I have had a long experience of them in business and elsewhere. I know that one of the easiest ways of overwhelming your adversaries is to flood them with so much work that they cannot possibly deal with it. It happens in professions and in associations in exactly the same way and that is what is being done by the Commission.
We are not free from blame in this matter, I regret to say. I must be fair because there are deficiencies in our own parliamentary institutions which match some of the decisions of the bureaucracy in Brussels. For example, on 28th February the Annual Report and Statement of Assurance of the European Court of Auditors concerning the financial year 1996 was passed through on the nod late at night at about a quarter past ten without examination by Parliament. That hardly indicates a degree of devotion to duty of Members of another place. There is another one too with regard to the budget itself, about which the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, made representations because we did not get the documents in time to consider them. On 25th November 1997 at 10.15 p.m. the following Question was put without debate:That this House takes note of the European Community documents Nos. 10153/97, the draft general budget of the European Communities for 1998, and PE262.699, the European Parliament's proposed amendments to the draft general budget of the European Communities for 1998; and supports the Government's efforts to maintain budget discipline in the Community.Question agreed to".That means that we ourselves, as a British Parliament, will have to pull up our socks a little as well and look at these matters on which we demand particulars and on which we have a right to have particulars.
Noble Lords may feel that I am too particular about these matters. It is a very old saying but the price of liberty is, of course, eternal vigilance. And before we make political judgments, judgments which affect our citizens not only in this country but elsewhere, it 1227 behoves us to be provided with the information and the documents enabling us to reach a balanced and true judgment. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, it may be to the benefit of the Report Stage of this Bill if I speak to Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 briefly at this stage so that we can take part in the general debate. Then, of course, they will be moved separately.
I should make it absolutely clear that in my view Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 address themselves to the issue of how Parliament can most effectively deal with European legislation. I believe that a report would be unnecessary because one could almost issue the first report immediately. I intend, in the few moments which I shall take, to try to do that.
If one goes back first to the issue of legislation under the Community part of the European Union, that is to say the part which falls within the non-intergovernmental areas, so-called pillars 2 and 3, there has been, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, pointed out, a scrutiny machinery set up in this House which I believe has been one of the most striking developments of this House's functions in recent years. It has been most effective.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, I have had the great honour to be a member of one of the sub-committees of the European Communities Committee. It is an excellent development of Parliament's powers and a most effective way to have Parliament's views brought to bear on European legislation.
I have also had the pleasure of going with the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, to a meeting of other parliamentary groups looking into the issue of scrutiny. I heard how effectively and brilliantly he has put forward the way in which scrutiny is conducted by the Houses of Parliament in this country and how that has influenced other countries.
Over recent years there have been a series of reports by committees of this House dealing with the issue of the scrutiny of European legislation. I take just a couple of examples. The 27th report contained a long list of the ways in which scrutiny is delayed, held up or made difficult. The problems range from explanatory memoranda not showing up to drafts of documents not appearing. And, in many, many instances, the responsibility lies, unfortunately, with our own government departments.
The same 27th report gives an example of an important piece of legislation concerned with the environment. It was presented to the sub-committee on 27th November but the Minister was obliged to explain that the matter had already been decided a few weeks previously. Not even a draft had reached the sub-committee.
There are, unfortunately, recent examples, even under this Government, of similar somewhat—how can one put it—"high-handed" treatment of sub-committees. Frankly, it is not in our interests, if we care about democratic scrutiny, to make sure that this machinery does not work well. Fortunately, the Government have 1228 taken the matter very much to heart. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, referred to the protocol and did so, I thought, in somewhat critical terms. The protocol is a very substantial achievement. The fact that the protocol says that all Commission consultation documents, both green and white, should in future be forwarded to national parliaments for their consideration goes a few steps towards meeting the extremely powerful point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. The noble Lord said that it was important that these matters were discussed before decisions were taken upon them and not, as so often, after those decisions had effectively been made. To have Green and White Papers coming before national parliaments is an important element in ensuring that the views of national parliament are taken much more seriously into account.
I draw attention also to the six-week period now laid down in the protocol. That is a huge step forward. We now have six weeks before any Council can reach a decision and during which the documents must be made available to the Council and to the national parliament.
With respect to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, it is the case that the six-week period could largely apply to a national parliament if our own Government got the document to us fast enough. It will be laid before our own Government in the Council of Ministers within the same requisite six weeks. The reason why my amendments refer only to 10 working days stems from the miserable experience of all too many documents that became totally stuck in a government department. I am allowing, frankly, three and a half weeks for them to be stuck in government departments before they have to be laid before the scrutiny committee of the respective Houses. I consider that not an ungenerous amount of time.
The second substantial achievement appears in the European Communities Committee report called Enhancing Parliamentary Scrutiny of the Third Pillar. The report draws attention to the wholly unsatisfactory absence of any effective scrutiny over an area of intergovernmental legislation here which directly affects in one area after another the liberties of the individual. Anyone who has studied carefully the sections dealing with Europol and other aspects of internal security will know how sensitive such material is. I was appalled to discover how extraordinarily weak the accountability in this area was. It seemed that we were spending all our time seeking to ensure that it did not drift towards the Community pillar but doing very little indeed to establish the rights of our Parliament to be heard on these matters.
I share as emphatically as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, a sense that Parliament has a significant role to play. In that document, the sixth report, noble Lords drew attention to the importance of a formal scrutiny reserve on intergovernmental documents—specifically, in this case, internal security. They drew attention to the need for the Government to refuse to agree any adoption of such legislation within the intergovernmental structure of the Council of Ministers unless the scrutiny reserve had been removed.
1229 Many of your Lordships know how much they have been concerned about that and how much it has been pressed over recent years. It was therefore a delight for me to see that in her memorandum, the President of the Council, the Leader of the House in another place, brought forward two very striking commitments.
The first commitment is that:The Government undertakes, subject to certain exceptions, not to give agreement to the Council of Ministers to any proposal in which either House has not completed scrutiny—the so-called scrutiny reserve".That applies specifically in that area to the intergovernmental pillar. She went on to say that the scrutiny reserve would apply to documents deposited in both Houses for scrutiny under the intergovernmental pillars.
Those two commitments by the President of the Council extend very substantially the ability of this House and of another place to scrutinise crucial legislation affecting individuals in this country and the liberty of those individuals. It is crucial that we support the President of the Council in what she is doing. It is crucial that we follow this up.
I do not intend to press either of the amendments to a Division. It would be wholly inappropriate to do so because the Government have already taken very long steps—much longer steps than their predecessors—in the very direction which my colleagues and I wish to move. I congratulate them on what they have done. It substantially strengthens the role of Parliament. I hope that the Government will respond to what is essentially a probing amendment to establish how far we can now go and what they hope for from the Modernisation Committee in another place. That is why I have tabled the amendments. Again, I should say how glad I am that we are moving in that direction as quickly as we are doing.
§ 7 p.m.
§ The Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Tordoff)
My Lords, it may be appropriate for me to intervene at this stage and say a few words on this important subject, which is the bread and butter of my daily life these days.
I hope that I can stay until the end of the debate and I apologise if I cannot. However, I must catch the last train back to the South West this evening. Normally, in the circumstances, I would have stayed overnight but I must be back in London on Sunday for the start of the COSAC meeting which we are hosting on Sunday evening, Monday and Tuesday of next week. I shall return to COSAC in a few moments.
I have heard some interesting remarks in the last few moments from all sides of the House. I overheard, as it were, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, through my monitor, talking about parliamentary scrutiny, and I listened with interest, as always, to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, and my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby.
1230 Matters have improved over the past few years but, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, said, they are far from perfect. One of the issues which the noble Lord did not stress in what he said was the synergy between the two Houses of Parliament. One must remember that the other place provides a different form of scrutiny. It vets each document and decides whether it is of political or legal importance. If it is, it is passed either to a Standing Committee or to the Whole House. Finding a slot to debate the issue thereafter is a matter with which we all have difficulty. That is the case also in this House in relation to reports from your Lordships' Select Committee. Particularly later in the year, it is difficult to find a slot so that matters can be debated at a reasonable time. Such matters tend to get pushed to the back of the queue after government legislation, which is quite understandable.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, mentioned the number of A-list matters which do not normally go to the sub-committees for scrutiny. However, a sub-committee chairman, assisted by the clerk and the legal support that we have in the Select Committee, can always have such measures brought back for further consideration if it is felt that there is something that the system has missed.
In your Lordships' Select Committee, we are looking to focus on those matters which we can consider in depth and on which we can look outside for expert witnesses who are prepared to come and give their time and wisdom to our sub-committees. As your Lordships may know, there is a report being considered at the moment by Sub-Committee A on the central bank. When that is published fairly shortly, it will be seen that the list of witnesses is most impressive—Mr. Eddie George, Herr Tietmeyer, Mr. Duisenberg, M. Trichet and so on. It is a list of the great and the good in central banking. Those people are prepared to give up their time to answer questions because they recognise that your Lordships' Select Committee is serious and produces serious reports. That is our role: to look at issues in depth. The House of Commons tends to take a horizontal approach.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, is quite right in terms of the timing of documents coming to Select Committees or to Parliament. It is not quite as simple as all that because the tendency is to say, "We want to have the document as soon as we can". One may then find oneself becoming involved in in-depth scrutiny and then suddenly find that the document is changed completely; that there is a new draft; or that its terms have changed. While I accept that it is better to be in at the early stages rather than to be too late, an awful lot of time and effort can be wasted if there is a significant change in the draft directive before the committee.
I believe that the question of the six weeks is one of the most important features of the Amsterdam Treaty for this House. Our Select Committee and our colleagues in another place recommended that there should be a four-week period and, to their credit, the Government managed to extend that to six weeks. There are provisos. There may be exceptional circumstances.
At present, as our presidency reaches its latter days, there is a tendency by Ministers to say, "I must have this cleared by next Tuesday because I want it to go 1231 before the energy council", or it may be the agriculture council and so on. That is on the increase and must be decreased. I have had some slightly terse correspondence backwards and forwards with Ministers in the past few weeks. Although I had hoped that the British presidency would set an example to other countries and future presidencies, I am not at all sure that that has been achieved. However, we shall have a postmortem when the presidency is finished and I shall continue my correspondence with the Lord Privy Seal, which noble Lords may already have seen in the publication of letters to Ministers. The noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal has been helpful and understanding and he has used his clout to make sure that Ministers understand the position, as has Mrs. Ann Taylor in the other place. But things are still not satisfactory. I understand the temptation for Ministers and their staff to want to chalk up successes during the course of a presidency but that must not be at the expense of parliamentary scrutiny.
I turn now to the Conference of European Affairs Committees, which is known by the French acronym of COSAC. As I said, that is meeting on Monday and Tuesday of next week. The view has been expressed by the British delegation on many occasions—and it is my view—that there is a limit as to how formal that can become. There was a lot of pressure from the French National Assembly and Senate to try to formalise that; to have formal votes; and to produce documents from COSAC. I have believed always that that is a mistake because if you are sending three people from each chamber of each parliament across Europe, you cannot pretend that they are representative of the parliament. Once you go down that road, they will become representatives of the government. We know that in certain countries, the way in which their democracies work, even now, they are representatives of the government. But at least on the part of this country and the Scandinavian countries in particular, they are certainly not; they are representatives of the parliament. Indeed, in the case of some of the Scandinavian countries, they actually mandate their Ministers before they go to meetings of the European Council. I am not suggesting that we go down that road, because it seems to me that it could delay matters interminably if we all did so. Nevertheless, it means that there is proper scrutiny to a degree that we do not know in this country.
So, here we have this strange body of people from right across Europe. I believe that it is useful for exchanging ideas on how to keep our governments on their toes. To that end, in the COSAC which is due to take place on Monday and Tuesday, we have on the agenda a paper from the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, dealing with the European Central Bank, which my noble friend Lady Williams will introduce. We shall also have a paper from my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire on scrutiny of the third pillar.
As my noble friend Lady Williams has already said, the third pillar scrutiny is perhaps more important than anything else we do, because the European Parliament cannot scrutinise third pillar matters as they are entirely matters for the Council. If we do not do it, no one will. In the main, these are subjects which are very close to 1232 the whole area of human rights. Therefore, I believe that we have a special responsibility and that we are starting to do it quite well, especially through Sub-Committee F, which is chaired by my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire. Moreover, we want to encourage other parliaments in the European Community to do the same and, in that way, to bear on the Council through Ministers to ensure that it abides by the rules.
One of the problems with the Council has been its refusal to allow documents to be released. There was a time when it was impossible to get the agenda. Indeed, there was a time when, after a meeting, the agendas were all burnt. However, things are improving from that point of view. One recent route has been through the European ombudsman. He is not someone about whom one hears much; indeed, I do not know that he has been mentioned in the whole of this arena. Nevertheless, there have been recent findings by the European ombudsman which have begun to open up access to the Council of Ministers and the documentation. Although the Commission comes in for much criticism, the culture of secrecy in the Council has been much greater than in the Commission.
I have intervened in this debate to say that I believe matters have been improved. However, governments really do have to abide by the new rules and ensure that, when they attend Council meetings, they are not brow beaten into accepting things that have not been completely scrutinised by their Parliaments.
§ Lord Howell of Guildford
My Lords, I must frankly confess that the remarks I made during the debate on the last amendment would have been more suitably addressed to this one. I can only plead that I was carried away by the eloquence of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in her remarks about the European Parliament, into issues related generally to parliamentary control over the activities of the European Union. However, without tedious repetition, I should like to say, first, that many of the queries that I raised have been marvellously eliminated by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, in his intervention. Indeed, he described the progress that the COSAC concept is making.
As regards the second and third pillars, especially the third pillar, the noble Lord rightly said that, because we are dealing with intergovernmentalism, there is no European parliamentary role. The European institutions are not equipped to call to account the decisions reached on the intergovernmental basis and we have a real task in strengthening our own democratic methods of examining such matters.
The noble Lord also rightly said that our Parliament is not like other parliaments in that we cannot just produce people who can claim to represent something called, "the views of Parliament". Indeed, every Member of the other place represents himself. They are equal in that sense and have very interesting views, but they do not represent Parliament and never can. So there is a difficulty there which I can recall being conscious of in relation to representatives of other parliaments. They sometimes spoke as though they carried a mandate of a very authoritative kind—sometimes they did—from 1233 their parliamentary groups and committees. Therefore, I hope that we can hear more from the Minister about how he or she sees the COSAC concept developing.
There is one route that I hope we will not follow. In the late 1980s, I seem to remember being summoned to something called a parliamentary assise in Rome where groups from all the parliaments of the EU member states gathered with a view to developing the role of national parliaments. However, when we got there, the whole thing had already been fixed, hijacked and arranged by the European Parliament and by some officers of the Commission. We were rapidly told that we could not even sit in parliamentary groups but that we must sit in party groups. That removed the whole point of the exercise and we came away deeply disappointed. Therefore, I hope that no one will attempt again that kind of approach which merely had the tone of satisfying the grumblings of national parliaments and actually hoped that they would all go home without noticing. We did grumble and go home; but it seemed to us that national parliaments must play a stronger role in the areas that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, so eloquently and clearly described.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
My Lords, I hesitate to speak after the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, on an issue which is so peculiarly his own. However, I should like, first, to add my support and feeling to the issue of timing. I believe that the strength of our committees lies in the fact that they take evidence; but evidence takes time to assemble. Therefore, I very much hope that the Government—I welcome the way that they have succeeded in this so far as regards obtaining a much longer time—are prepared to insist in Council that, if by the time six weeks have expired there are still important matters to be established, no one should be forced into making a decision. That is particularly true in issues like cost/benefit analysis, as we found in the committee on which I had the honour to serve.
The other problem that we encountered, which is another aspect of the same thing, is that of transparency. So many of the specialist committees refused—and, indeed, continue to refuse—to give the reasons for the recommendations that they had made or even, in many cases, to say who made them and their competence to do so. I know that this Government, and the previous one, certainly intended to secure much greater transparency in the Amsterdam Treaty. I can remember report after report in the committee on the environment, stretching back for six years at least, where we had to say every single time that we were unable to establish why the recommendations were made, by whom and what their competence was. Therefore, we cannot stress too strongly that scrutiny which ultimately has to say, "We didn't have the facts", is not, in the end, scrutiny. That point must be stressed to a very considerable degree.
I am also somewhat disturbed by a few words in paragraph 3 of the protocol on national parliaments 1234 regarding the provision of information; namely that such provision is,subject to exceptions on grounds of urgency".I—and, I believe, every committee—would need very considerable evidence to show why the "urgency" made it impossible to provide the information. One does not make decisions of national importance without knowing why. I simply wanted to stress that, although I am pleased that the amendment urges the period of six weeks, I am depressed by the noble Baroness's probably accurate assessment that, if we are to get any sense in terms of explanation from the department, another fortnight at least would have to elapse. It is quite unreal to consider major issues in the time-scale proposed.
Therefore, on the grounds of the need for transparency and for a truly responsible scrutiny, which actually rests on full knowledge of the facts, we must hope that our Government will be able to be extremely strong in Council. I see absolutely no reason why— I think of such provisions as the quality of water—there should not be a much longer period of time given to the consideration of many of the directives before decisions are required.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, one remembers well when this treaty was first published what a warm welcome everyone gave to this measure—be they Euro-enthusiast, Euro-sceptic or something in between—to provide a greater role for national parliaments. Here at last was something which we could all agree was an unmitigated good thing. Good thing it may be, but the more one examines it the less meaningful and significant it appears, which is not to deny that it still produces some benefits.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, has explained to your Lordships how parliamentary scrutiny has improved over recent years and months quite independent of the treaty. What the treaty appears to do—which may be of some use, of course—is to dot a few i's and cross a few t's. What, after all, are the primary purposes of any national parliament? The first is to legislate. The individual national parliaments will still have no power to legislate on purely Community matters.
The second primary purpose of any national parliament is to hold the Executive to account. It was only yesterday in an excellent five-hour debate that the vital importance of Parliament being able to hold the Executive to account was emphasised time and time again by noble Lords from all quarters of the House. Of course, as regards the EU, national parliaments will have no real powers in this regard either. For that reason I believe that this amendment—so well introduced, as always, by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington—is well worth considering.
§ Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne
My Lords, I have listened to all the speakers in this interesting debate. First, I support the general thrust of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in seeking more information from the Government on the important Titles V and VI. Despite my relative disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, I believe that the Government now in power should look carefully at ways 1235 and means of ensuring that the national Parliament of the United Kingdom plays its full part in the Council, Commission and Parliament of the European Union. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, expressed surprise that the Treaty of Amsterdam should chivvy national parliaments to consider material that they should already be considering. He said that in his view the European Union produces more material than we can get through. That is perhaps a little ambivalent.
In my experience in the other place on European Standing Committees A and B and on the Employment Select Committee I found, sadly, that the material given to committees was insufficient and was presented in an untimely way. That did not enable us to function properly. I was particularly interested in the social chapter which reflects the major strides the European Union has taken for women, low-paid workers, the disabled and ethnic minority workers—the kinds of people without whom the famous single market could not operate at all. It was galling to discover that other national parliaments had been involved over months and years in discussing the social chapter with the Commission. Our Parliament and our Employment Select Committee had not done so because we had neither knowledge of the meetings nor the relevant information. That material had been kept in the Whips Office of the then government in the House of Commons. I believe therefore that scrutiny and analysis of information are called for now so that we can be confident that in the future we shall be able to contribute as fully as other national parliaments have done in matters which affect our people, through subsidiarity.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, the protocol on national parliaments is a small bone tossed to national parliaments to try to assuage their doubts about this matter. When we talk about scrutiny that is all we are talking about. What I am concerned about is accountability. All this protocol gives us is six weeks to scrutinise some difficult and complicated legislation which is proposed. Frankly, I am not impressed. Six weeks is not always sufficient, bearing in mind the examination which must take place. What is more, when that scrutiny by Parliament has taken place, and when Parliament has made its decision known, Ministers can then go off to Europe and do exactly as they like. That may be scrutiny, but it certainly is not accountability. I would much prefer us to do as Denmark does—some people may not prefer this—namely, to hold our discussions and to mandate Ministers before they go to Europe to make decisions supposedly on behalf of Parliament. However, in actual fact they make the decisions on behalf of themselves. I give an example.
I, too, served on the European Communities Committee. The members do an enormously good job and work hard. Those who sit on Sub-Committee E probably do the hardest work of all because they are inundated with "legalities" and documents which they strive hard to understand. Generally only judges, Law Lords and barristers can understand those documents. I served on that committee. We examined a directive on consumer protection. We sat long hours and worked hard. We summoned countless witnesses. In the end we decided that the directive was not good enough and that our 1236 present arrangements were rather better. We recommended against adopting the directive. What happened? The Government completely ignored what we said and they proposed the opposite of what our committee had suggested. That scrutiny did not do much good, did it? I fear that much of the scrutiny and much of the work that is carried out by the Select Committee in this place and in another place is non-productive. Unless we are to have accountability, all the work we do is largely wasted.
I remember when I worked for the Central Electricity Generating Board we had what was called a local advisory committee. I was once a member of it and then I became the secretary of it. We had long discussions with management and we advised them from the point of view of ordinary working people. The management said they had listened to what we had said and had reached a decision which was usually the opposite of what the working people had recommended.
I repeat that I am not impressed by this protocol, particularly when so much more power and influence have been given to the institutions of the European Union through the Amsterdam Treaty. A far greater power of co-decision has been given to the Parliament. Much more power has been given to the Commission, as we heard in our earlier debates, although perhaps not so much to the Council. Nevertheless, the institutions of Europe have gained more power and we have been thrown this little bone of two weeks' extra scrutiny. Frankly, it simply is not good enough. As I said in an earlier debate, and have said no doubt from the point of view of some noble Lords ad nauseam, gradually our power in this Parliament and the powers of the House of Commons are being eroded. They are being transferred from this Parliament, from the people of this country, to institutions which in the last analysis the people do not control. It is not good enough. I hope that we shall vote on the amendment. Small though the concession is, as my noble friend proposes, we should have a proper report as to what it means.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Lord Moynihan
My Lords, I support the new clause. It is such a reasonable request that I am sure the Government will find it in their wisdom to accede to the arguments deployed so eloquently by noble Lords in favour of it. I wish to say a few words on the role of national parliaments. Unsurprisingly, it has become something of a theme throughout our deliberations on the Bill. I shall then focus specifically on points made by the Minister in Committee.
I was pleased to hear the noble Baroness's reassurance that she considers the principal source of democratic legitimacy in the European Union to be national parliaments. In Committee, she pointed to the fact that it is to national parliaments that governments are answerable, and that it is with national parliaments that the people most readily identify. I also welcomed her commitment to reinforcing the role of national parliaments in the context of the European Union; and her confirmation that the treaty will provide a stronger role and a clearer voice for national parliaments, in particular since there have been occasions during these 1237 proceedings when some of us have had good cause to question, or even to doubt, the Government's position on this point, not least in our lengthy debates on qualified majority voting.
As I said in Committee, it is not a matter in respect of which there we have any difference of principle with the Government—another good reason why the Government should accept the amendment. I wish to make it clear again that that is the case. I believe that there is a good deal of common ground between us on the matter. We welcome the fact that the treaty includes measures to permit better scrutiny of Community legislation by national parliaments. Our debate in Committee was a timely opportunity to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff—I do so again this evening, not least following his insight, and his useful contributions to this stage of our proceedings—and the work of the Select Committee which considers European legislation. Many of the measures we are considering today had their origins in the important work that they carried out.
Nevertheless, two important issues were raised during our debate on the protocol, upon which the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington focused, relating to the role of national parliaments in the European Union. I believe that matters relating to the starting point for the six-week period of notice and the issue of urgency were not fully debated in Committee. I put precise questions to the Minister on both issues. I fear that I was not as happy as the noble Baroness would like me to be with either of her two answers. I therefore take this opportunity to return to the specific issues I raised.
First, I asked the Minister to be specific on the starting point for the six-week period of notice. I appreciate that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, sees this as an important step forward in its own right; and it is. I should like it to go further. I argue that we need to be absolutely clear when the starting point for the six-week period of notice will be between the depositing of Commission consultation documents before the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers and the date on which they are to be discussed in the Council. I wanted an assurance that that will be the date when the relevant documents reach national governments. This is a critical point and relates to the possibility of a delay in transmission. National parliaments have control over national governments. They do not have control over the European Parliament and the Council as a whole.
The Minister was clear in her answer. She stated that the six-week scrutiny period will begin when the document is received by the Council Secretariat after which it will be translated and distributed to member states. I appreciated her clear argument as to why that is the case. I recognised that the period was extended from four to six weeks to enable those additional two weeks to be used for the delivery of such documentation. I was grateful that the Minister recognised that it is an important issue. Although I was not wholly clear about her reference to the electronic pilot transmission project, it sounded as though it was a serious step in the right direction.
1238 No doubt the Minister will be unsurprised to learn that I am somewhat disappointed in my hope that the six weeks will start when the documents arrive at Westminster. The critical issue to take into account is not so much the date on which the documents are received by the Council Secretariat, but the date on which Westminster receives its copy. If we knew that delivery of documentation from the Council would be speedy, efficient and reliable, we should be far more confident. Much of my concern on the issue depends on whether or not we can find a mechanism to ensure that Westminster receives the paperwork well in advance of consideration by the Council, and preferably on a specific date.
On the question of sufficient time for scrutiny, my noble friend Lady Park made a valuable point about the problem of the incomplete nature of information arriving from the Commission. If documents arrive without vital information, as sometimes they must do—the noble Baroness quoted cost/benefit analysis in this context—it is important to recognise that extra time is then spent on consultation and hearing evidence from the relevant agencies.
Scrutiny must be done properly so that a serious recommendation can be made to the Government. It is a necessary part of the process. That fact must be taken into account when determining an appropriate period for scrutiny by national parliaments. I fully endorse my noble friend's comments and reflections and join in urging the Minister to take this dimension into consideration—although I know the Minister needs no urging about the importance of time for due consideration of documents.
I echo the comments made by my noble friend Lady Park. I asked about the exception to the six-week rule for national parliamentary scrutiny on the ground of urgency. I wanted to know who would define an exception on the ground of urgency. I wanted an assurance from the Minister that it is essential that that provision is tightly defined to avoid the exception becoming the norm; and that there should be a requirement for the Council to state formally the ground for urgency.
I fully understand that it is difficult to give precise hypothetical examples for the future. But the thrust behind my question was not so much to request a detailed list of exceptions on the ground of urgency, but rather to seek an assurance that Parliament will know the moment the Council has determined that a subject is an exception on the ground of urgency so that it can be aware that the procedure outlined on the six-week rule would be waived.
In the context of the memorandum published by the President of the Council in January setting out the Government's four proposals, which has been sent to the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, I ask the Minister to give due weight to the arguments put forward during debates in Committee, and to the importance which the Opposition attach to the need for the Council to be required to state formally and immediately when it decides that there will be an exception on the ground of urgency.
1239 I appreciate that I have asked some specific, detailed questions on an important part of the work done by the Government in negotiation. I am sure that the Minister will have no difficulty in clarifying the points that I have raised and giving assurances where I have requested them. To reiterate, I welcome the Minister's assurance that the Government intend the provisions of the new protocol to strengthen the role of national parliaments in ensuring democratic legitimacy; likewise, that they intend them to help to rectify weaknesses in our national scrutiny system—important points were made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in that context; and that they will build on the new provisions in separate proposals to update and strengthen our national arrangements.
As in Committee, my remarks underpin this important point. On these Benches we believe that national parliaments remain the primary focus of democratic legitimacy within the European Union, for it is they that hold national Ministers to account. In moving this amendment, the noble Lord has given the House the opportunity to receive regularly a report, to be laid before both Houses of Parliament, so that we can assess how effectively the issues that we have raised in this debate have been delivered and bring new ideas forward as a result of the report which will be debated. When, I hope, rather than if, the noble Lord presses this amendment to a vote, I assure him that he will have my support.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, we have had a very good debate on these amendments. I shall do my best to answer the points that noble Lords have raised. I shall cover all three amendments, Amendments Nos. 11, 15 and 16.
I assure the House, as I did on Tuesday, that the Government are determined to build a European Union that is more open and more democratic. The Council of Ministers, the European Parliament and, in particular, national parliaments all have a part to play in this effort. We believe that national parliaments are the principal source of democratic legitimacy in the European Union, as I reiterated in the debate on Tuesday. We must therefore reinforce the role of national parliaments, nationally and at the EU level. I do not believe that there is a single Member of this House who has spoken on these matters this evening who would disagree.
During our debate on Tuesday I described the steps that we take nationally to facilitate scrutiny of EU issues, and how we plan to build on that. I shall return to that matter when I respond to Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 on parliamentary scrutiny. However, perhaps I may turn first to Amendment No. 11.
At the European level, Her Majesty's Government agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that the protocol on national parliaments, which is the subject of Amendment No. 11, provides the right way forward. For the first time the role of national parliaments is recognised in a legally binding form. The protocol strikes the right balance between preserving the efficient conduct of business and allowing proper scrutiny. We 1240 have to bear both of those matters in mind. Proper scrutiny is extremely important, as I have emphasised. But so, as I am sure all noble Lords would agree, is the necessity for the efficient conduct of business.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, the protocol's main feature is a new legally binding minimum period of six weeks between the circulation of a proposal and a Council decision on it, except in genuinely urgent cases. That will greatly facilitate scrutiny by national parliaments. The protocol also provides for an enhanced role for COSAC. It is of a non-binding consultative kind only, as COSAC wanted.
Two specific aspects of the protocol were raised when we discussed it in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, reiterated them. The first is the starting point for the six-week period; the second, how to define genuinely urgent cases.
On the first point, the period begins when a text reaches the Council Secretariat. That is clear. It would be impractical to start the clock when, say, it has reached all capitals. Arrangements for that are for each member state, and vary from one to another. So the point the noble Lord makes about starting the clock at that point, is simply not a practical option. Instead, we ought other ways to ensure that a reasonable minimum period was preserved. I am pleased to say that in negotiation we succeeded.
The average time taken for texts to be translated and sent from the Secretariat to capitals has fallen sharply over the past two years, from 40 days to 14. That is an improvement, but it would still consume two weeks of the scrutiny period. We therefore argued, and partners agreed, that the period must be extended to six weeks. This means that national parliaments will still have about four weeks to study draft legislation—the minimum suggested when the Westminster Select Committees, including the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff s, first proposed the idea. So we believe we have met that point.
The second point raised by the noble Lord related to exceptions for genuinely urgent cases. It is right to make provision for such cases, as I am sure the noble Lord himself would agree. We do so in our national scrutiny system. There may be cases where sanctions measures are needed rapidly against a third country, or an environmental or health crisis may demand a swift response.
But there are two potential risks: first, if it is too easy to invoke the period, that full scrutiny will be by-passed without good and proper reason; second, if it is too difficult, that one country can block a genuinely urgent measure for its own ends.
The protocol therefore includes a provision to lessen both risks. The Council must state specific reasons in the Act for invoking the urgency clause. The same majority is thus needed to invoke the urgency clause as to approve the Act itself.
The new protocol will greatly strengthen the role of national parliaments in scrutinising EU business. We support the protocol strongly and are determined that it should work effectively. We believe the provisions I have described should ensure that it does.
1241 There may be one or two noble Lords who are still worried on this point. So perhaps I may give your Lordships a further assurance. The Government will keep the operation of this under review. If we see any instances of the abuse that I have described as one of your Lordships' worries, we will raise the matter with our partners and will seek appropriate action. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, will also take a very close interest in how that works. The Government will respond to any reports that his committee, or its counterpart in another place, may make on this matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, raised a couple of additional points. He asked how the protocol originated. The protocol was originally tabled before this Government came into office. I hesitate to speculate on whose hand actually held the pen that originally put the document into being. What we can say is that it clearly reflects the views of the Committee of this House chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff.
The noble Lord also asked how we can enforce the protocol. The protocol is a binding commitment. It will be open to a member state to challenge before the ECJ an Act adopted in a way that breaches the terms of the protocol.
I hope that I have been able to say enough to your Lordships to explain why the Government believe that this amendment is so unnecessary. It is for that reason that the Government oppose it, and I urge the House to do the same.
I now turn to Amendments Nos. 15 and 16. The intention of the amendment is to strengthen existing parliamentary scrutiny. We sympathise with that desire. We are committed to enhancing Westminster scrutiny procedures. That will reinforce the Amsterdam Treaty provisions I have just described to strengthen the role of national parliaments in the EU. We therefore welcome the positive spirit in which the amendments have been tabled. However, we do not believe that they offer the right way forward in practice.
I described on Tuesday the steps we had taken to keep Parliament informed and to encourage discussion of EU issues. We have also undertaken to deposit all legislative proposals, and other texts, in Parliament within two days of their receipt, and not to agree them until parliamentary scrutiny is complete. As a result, in the great majority of cases Parliament has several weeks at least to consider new legislative proposals.
The existing system does not cover all EU documents and does not work in every case. We have therefore made the proposals which I described on Tuesday to strengthen the system. We propose to extend it to cover the second and third pillars as Amendment No. 16 proposes. Meanwhile the Amsterdam Treaty provides for a minimum six-week period for national parliaments to examine new proposals. Even with a two-week delay for the text to be translated and reach capitals, that exceeds the 10-day period in the amendments.
Our proposals and the provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty go far beyond the position under the last government. I hope that the noble Lords who spoke from the Liberal Democrat Benches will welcome our 1242 readiness to strengthen the system we inherited. Where we differ from those who tabled these amendments is over the idea of regulating those matters in primary legislation. Such business has traditionally been covered by convention and by standing order. We believe that there are good reasons to continue with that, particularly given that that route allows greater flexibility.
The scrutiny reserve resolution illustrates the point well. It allows exceptions for documents that are urgent, trivial or confidential. Ministers may agree such proposals before clear scrutiny, but must explain why to the House at the first opportunity. The Amsterdam Treaty also allows exemption of urgent business from the minimum notice period. In this case the reason for that urgency must be stated in the Act.
I note the reference by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, to the failings of government departments in meeting their obligations under the scrutiny process. I believe that generally the record is improving, but I accept that we must strive for the highest level of efficiency and accuracy. I can assure the noble Baroness that the Government have ensured that all departments dealing with scrutiny business have reviewed their procedures in an effort to meet the test.
I was grateful for the intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. I am sure that the whole House welcomed his expertise on the issue. I can assure him that the Government are determined to ensure effective scrutiny. It is particularly appropriate that he should have intervened in the debate in that way. I fully agree with him that COSAC should not have the status which would allow it to appear to represent national parliaments. That was why we supported the protocol which gives COSAC a non-binding and consultative role.
I hope that I have been able to answer the major points of difficulty raised by your Lordships in support of the amendments and that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, I am deeply grateful to the noble Baroness for having replied in such terms in this debate. It appears that we are completely at one. She has emphasised the importance of our national parliament and in non-party terms. It is important for me because I have tried throughout my political life to fight precisely for that: the British Parliament reflecting British democracy. It seems, therefore, that we are at one.
The Minister gave an indication that she intends, and that the Government intend, to ensure meticulous observation of the provisions of the protocol. Therefore, there is no division between us. It is a completely non-party matter. There is no reason why the provision should not go into the Bill. It would be a completely non-controversial clause. It has the complete support of Ministers. In case there might be marginal difficulties lower down the bureaucratic line, the fact that the provision is incorporated in the Bill itself, would be an added authority to make quite sure that the will of the political leaders of the country becomes all-pervasive. The provision would then be enshrined in an Act of Parliament.
1243 So in the spirit of complete unanimity between myself and the Government —which is pretty unusual in these fields—I had rather hoped that the Minister would immediately accept the amendment. That would call old Bruce's bluff. However, it has not gone that way. So, with the utmost friendship, I regret that I shall be unable to withdraw the amendment. I ask for the support of the entire House, both Front Benches and all Back Benches, for the amendment.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 11) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 39; Not-Contents, 66.1244
|Division No. 3|
|Annaly, L.||Liverpool, E.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Luke, L.|
|Blatch, B.||McColl of Dulwich, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Monson, L.|
|Burnham, L.||Montrose, D.|
|Byford, B.||Moynihan, L.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Newton of Braintree, L.|
|Cumberlege, B.||Northbrook, L.|
|Darcy de Knayth, B.||Norton, L.|
|Dixon-Smith, L.||O'Cathain, B.|
|Park of Monmouth, B.|
|Eccles of Moulton, B.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Fookes, B.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Gage, V.||Rawlings, B. [Teller.]|
|Harris of High Cross, L.||Rennell, L.|
|Howe, E.||Selborne, E.|
|Jenkin of Roding, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L. [Teller.]|
|Kinnoull, E.||Wharton, B.|
|Kintore, E.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Lawrence, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Acton, L.||Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.|
|Berkeley, L.||Janner of Braunstone, L.|
|Borrie, L.||Jay of Paddington, B.|
|Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Carlisle, E.||Kennedy of The Shaws, B.|
|Carter, L. [Teller.]||Levy, L|
|Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.||Linklater of Bulterstone, B.|
|Desai, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]|
|Dholakia, L.||McNally, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Maddock, B.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Mallalieu, B.|
|Elis-Thomas, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Farrington of Ribbleton, B.||Mishcon, L.|
|Gilbert, L.||Monkswell, L.|
|Gladwin of Clee, L.||Montague of Oxford, L.|
|Goodhart, L.||Nicholson of Winterbourne, B.|
|Gordon of Strathblane, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Hacking, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Hamwee, B.||Ramsay of Cartvale, B.|
|Hanworth, V.||Randall of St. Budeaux, L.|
|Hardy of Wath, L.||Razzall, L.|
|Haskel, L.||Richard, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]|
|Hayman, B.||Russell, E.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Sandwich, E.|
|Hoyle, L.||Scotland of Asthal, B.|
|Hughes of Woodside, L.||Simon, V.|
|Hunt of Kings Heath, L.||Simon of Highbury, L.|
|Strabolgi, L.||Whitty, L.|
|Symons of Vernham Dean, B.||Williams of Crosby, B.|
|Thomas of Swynnerton, L.||Williams of Mostyn, L.|
|Thomas of Walliswood, B.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E|
|Walker of Doncaster, L.||Winston, L.|
|Wedderbum of Charlton, L.||Young of Old Scone, B.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale
My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Report stage begins again not before five minutes past nine.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.