Clause 4 — Increase of powers of European Parliament
Orders of the Day
10:00 pm

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Jim Murphy

Jim Murphy (Minister of State (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Office; East Renfrewshire, Labour)

I am delighted to rise in support of clause 4. It does not so much

"secure for the workers by hand or by brain",

but it does secure increased powers for the European Parliament. Although that may be one and the same thing. [ Laughter. ]

Clause 4 fulfils the statutory requirement that any increases in the powers of the European Parliament must be approved by Act of Parliament. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak to this clause and to pay tribute to the work undertaken by Mr. Duncan Smith and the close attention that he has paid to the issue over recent months.

The European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002, which amended the original 1978 Act, requires that:

"No treaty which provides for any increase in the powers of the European Parliament is to be ratified by the United Kingdom unless it has been approved by an Act of Parliament".

Clause 4 therefore meets the requirements of the 2002 Act.

Photo of John Redwood

John Redwood (Wokingham, Conservative)

Will the Minister remind the House how the powers are being strengthened?

Photo of Jim Murphy

Jim Murphy (Minister of State (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Office; East Renfrewshire, Labour)

The powers of the European Parliament are being strengthened in a positive way. There are 40 extensions to co-decision in the European Parliament, 30 of which apply to the UK. The other 10 will apply to the UK should we choose for them to do so. It is an important set of reforms that enshrines additional responsibilities on the European Parliament, although some of the debates in this House suggest a collective denial of the fact that European parliamentarians, including those from this nation, are elected by a democratic process. It is a step in the direction of improving the co-decision making of the European Parliament.

It is right that we make provision in primary legislation recognising that the Lisbon Treaty increases the powers of the European Parliament. These changes are intended to strengthen the co-decision extensions. Experience suggests that co-decision leads to better legislation—the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals regulation, or REACH, is a good example. The co-decision powers will not be extended everywhere, and will not apply to key strategic policy areas—such as foreign and defence policy.

Of course, some Conservative Members will oppose clause 4 and the extension of co-decision, but I am sure that in private, reflective moments they will recall that the principle was introduced by the Maastricht treaty, which made the European Parliament a true joint decision-making body for the first time. The Maastricht treaty introduced co-decision procedures in 15 separate articles, on issues such as the free movement of workers, services, internal market, education, public health, consumer protection and environmental policy. All those co-decision arrangements were introduced by the Maastricht treaty.

Of course, the Lisbon treaty also caps the number of Members of the European Parliament at 751—down from 785 at present—and we welcome that smaller European Parliament as well. The European Parliament will elect the president of the Commission. Under new article 9d, the European Council will have to take account of the political complexion of the European Parliament when nominating a new Commission president, and MEPs will gain separate votes on the Commission president and on the college of Commissioners. Of course, that is not a new change in substance. The European Parliament's approval, which it delivers by a vote, is required now to appoint a new Commission. The new wording reflects the procedure followed during the appointment of the Barroso Commission in 2004.

I sense from the mood of the House that hon. Members would like me to bring my comments to a conclusion— [ Interruption ]—but we still have nine minutes or so of the debate left before hon. Members perhaps seek to divide the House. I wish to give Mr. Francois the opportunity to respond. I think that it is fair for me to conclude my remarks, except to say that we believe that these extensions of co-decision to the democratically elected European Parliament are an important reform. These reforms are supported by political parties across the EU. They are supported by the Governments and the main Opposition parties in all 27 countries of the EU. It would be a shame if, in the UK alone, one major political party opposed these extensions as they are now proposed as a consequence of the Lisbon treaty. With those comments, I suggest that clause 4 remain part of the Bill. [ Interruption. ]

The First Deputy Chairman:

Order. Far too many private conversations are going on in the Chamber. The Committee must come to order.

Photo of Mark Francois

Mark Francois (Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs; Rayleigh, Conservative)

To mirror the Minister, I am equally delighted to propose that clause 4 should be deleted from the Bill. This clause 4 allows the increases in power given to the European Parliament that result from the treaty of Lisbon to be approved for the purposes of section 12 of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002. Section 12 of that Act specifically states:

"No treaty which provides for any increase in the powers of the European Parliament is to be ratified by the United Kingdom unless it has been approved by an Act of Parliament."

Before deciding whether to approve those clauses that increase the power of the European Parliament and in the seven minutes that I now have left, I want first to set out very briefly what powers the treaty gives to the European Parliament and, secondly, to make at least a few remarks on the Parliament itself and whether any improvement should be made to its functioning before it is granted these additional powers. It makes sense that, before increasing the powers of an institution, its ability to use those new powers should be analysed.

What new powers will the European Parliament gain? Under the treaty, the power of the European Parliament will be increased by a move to co-decision with the Council in up to 40 new areas, including such controversial things as financial regulation, the laws on police co-operation, Eurojust's structure and operation, laws that relate to the implementation of the common agricultural policy and laws on the mutual recognition of criminal judgments, to name but a few.

As the Committee will know, co-decision, which is sometimes known as the article 251 procedure, is a method of decision making between the European Council and Parliament that requires those two institutions to agree. If I had more time, I would develop that further, but suffice it to say that the Lisbon treaty represents a major transfer of power by extending co-decision in the direction of the European Parliament.

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John Redwood (Wokingham, Conservative)

Did my hon. Friend notice that when I asked the Minister to name a single one of the 40 powers being transferred, he would not do so because there is not enough time to discuss those wide-ranging matters? I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning a few of them. Is it not a disgrace that we do not have time to talk about all the ones that we want to discuss?

10:30 pm
Photo of Mark Francois

Mark Francois (Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs; Rayleigh, Conservative)

My right hon. Friend refers to the disgrace of the timing; we have five minutes left in which to debate clause 4, and we will have no time at all to debate clause 5. We will not even reach it because of the way in which the Government have rigged the debate on the treaty, time and again.

I want to make some quick points about the need for better regulation on the part of the European Parliament. It is a problem that the European Parliament's structure and machinery are entirely dedicated to processing new legislation. Conservatives have long pressed for that Parliament to have instead mechanisms to monitor implementation of existing legislation, and to be able to propose the repeal of legislation, but those proposals have never been actively taken up by the Government. The European Parliament has a string of legislative committees, but no deregulation committee. I ask the Minister—when I have his attention—to consider that proposal in the context of tonight's debate, and any avenues that there might be for pressing it forward.

There is one other matter that I have to mention: the farce of the two seats. The European Parliament spends £120 million annually commuting, for one week a month, to Strasbourg from Brussels. In 2006, more than 1 million people signed an online petition calling for an end to Parliament meetings in Strasbourg. Independent studies have calculated that the Strasbourg commute, as it is known, generates 20,000 tonnes of additional carbon dioxide emissions a year, yet far from acknowledging that the situation is clearly unsustainable, the European Parliament is currently negotiating to buy its buildings in Strasbourg from the French Government at a cost to the taxpayer of many hundreds of millions of euros.

The decision to abandon Strasbourg can be taken only by EU Governments, but the UK Government have repeatedly refused to raise the issue proactively at European Union meetings. It cannot be right that the European Parliament continues to commute from Strasbourg to Brussels, and Brussels to Strasbourg, at a massive cost to the taxpayer, and a great cost to the environment. That should have been put right many years ago. We are debating the European Parliament now, but why have the Government remained so completely silent on the matter? They have been in power for 10 years; why have they not done something about it?

Let me conclude by saying that it is a shame that more Members of the House will not be able to air their views on clause 4 and on the operation of the European Parliament. In fairness, that is not the fault of the European Parliament or the UK Parliament, but of the Government, who have rigged the debate so that such issues cannot adequately be discussed. They have timetabled debate on the treaty in a way that does not give us the line-by-line scrutiny that we were promised. In lieu of that, they should be held accountable by the British people, and should give them the referendum that they promised.

Photo of Edward Davey

Edward Davey (Leader's Chief of Staff & Chair of Campaigns & Communications, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities, Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs; Kingston and Surbiton, Liberal Democrat)

The Liberal Democrats totally support clause 4, mainly for a reason that the Conservatives have not touched on: increasing democracy in the European Union has to be a good thing. It seems quite extraordinary—

It being six hours after the commencement of proceedings in Committee, The Chairman put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order s [28 January and this day].

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 324, Noes 152.

Division number 111

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Chairman then put the remaining Question necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that hour.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

To report progress and ask leave to sit again. —[Mr. Watts.]

Committee report progress; to sit again tomorrow.