HL Deb 16 March 2000 vol 610 cc1677-9

3.9 p.m.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their attitude to the proposal by the European Commission that some Members of the European Parliament should be elected on European lists, presented to all voters throughout the European Union.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, the Government see little merit in this proposal, which would only lead to a decrease in the number of MEPs representing local, regional and national interests in the European Parliament. Nor is it an idea which has so far attracted any serious support from other member states in the IGC.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that surprisingly welcome reply regarding a suggestion that was put forward by the Commission. Does she agree that, given the deep gulf between the man and woman in the street and European institutions, it would further increase alienation were we to have European-wide lists of candidates unrelated to countries or constituencies—Greeks standing in Italy, Fins in Luxembourg, Portuguese in Spain, Swedes in France? While it is utterly unobjectionable if an individual decides to stand, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, did, in another country, it is wholly different if that is forced upon the European public by treaty and by European-wide parties financed by Brussels. Does the Minister agree that that idea is wholly incompatible with a Europe of nation states and that it is designed simply to further the idea of a European political entity?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I do not agree with all that the noble Lord says. So far as we are concerned, this idea is wholly unworkable. It is not something that we would promote or agree with, and we do not believe that it would be endorsed by other member states. This issue is a matter for the member states to decide. Of course, it is always useful and interesting to hear ideas promoted by the Commission.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will my noble friend make it quite clear to the Commission that the member states are not yet ready for any further self-initiated proposals from the Commission; and that it is high time that, before making any proposals to anyone, it starts putting its own house in order?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the Commission is of course in the process of putting its own house in order. It is right and proper that the Commission should make its recommendations, and that those recommendations should be listened to. Only when member states feel that they are pertinent and cogent should they be given any due weight.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, is the Minister aware that her Answer will bring a great deal of satisfaction to many of us who thought that this was quite the craziest idea we had heard? Does she recollect that we changed our voting system, because we were forced to do so by our European partners, to a list system, indeed to a closed list system—which must be about the most iniquitous method of allowing the electorate to elect representatives? Does she further recollect that that caused a drastic decline in turnout at the European elections, contrary to what the Government and our friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches said? Will the Minister give an absolute guarantee that the Government will stick by the Answer that she has just given and will not back down in the face of pressure from our continental friends?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, first, I do not agree with the noble Lord's analysis as to why there was a low turn-out. That is still a matter of some dispute. I have just outlined the Government's stance. That is our position; it will not change. This IGC will concentrate, as it properly should, on the institutional reforms necessary for enlargement, and this proposal is not central to that process.