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I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraphs 2, 3, 5, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 29, 30, 32, 36 subsection (b), 37 sub-section (b) as it relates to qualified majority voting, 41, 42 as it relates to qualified majority voting, and 44.'.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 3, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 2.'.
No. 4, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 3.'.
No. 5, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 5.'.
No. 6, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 9.'.
No. 7, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 12.'.
No. 8, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 13.'.
No. 9, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 14.'.
No. 10, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 15.'.
No. 11, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 16.'.
No. 12, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 18.'.
No. 13, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 19.'.
No. 14, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 20.'.
No. 15, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 21.'.
No. 16, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraphs 22 and 23.'.
No. 17, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 29.'.
No. 18, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 30.'.
No. 20, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 36, subsection (b)'.
No. 21, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than in the final line of Article 2, paragraph 37, the words "acting by a qualified majority.".'.
No. 22, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 41.'.
No. 23, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than in Article 2, paragraph 42 the words "acting by a qualified majority".'.
No. 24, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 44.'.
No. 25, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 4.'.
No. 26, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 6.'.
No. 27, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 7.'.
No. 57, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2 paragraph 10'.
No. 80, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 3, paragraph 2'.
No. 81, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 3, paragraph 3'.
No. 82, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 3, paragraph 4'.
No. 106, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 4, paragraph 6'.
No. 107, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 4, paragraph 7'.
No. 233, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than in Article 2 paragraph 4 the words "with the exception of aspects relating to family law".'.
No. 28, in page 1, line 12, after "occasion", insert—
'other than the Protocol on Article 67 of the Treaty establishing the European Community'.
'Prior to 2007, Her Majesty's Government shall lay before Parliament a report assessing the implication for the regions of the United Kingdom of the changes provided for by Article 2, paragraph 14, of the Nice Treaty, amending Article 161 TEC.'.
Today, we start our detailed discussions on the provisions of the Bill, which indeed are wide ranging. It is fitting that our proceedings should start with the issue of qualified majority voting, as its extension is a dominant theme throughout much of the Bill and the treaty.
Amendment No. 1 is a catch-all provision covering extensions of QMV in the treaty establishing the European Community, over which the United Kingdom does not have an opt-out. The extensions are covered in separate amendments tabled for discussion today, although right hon. and hon. Members may be reassured to learn that I do not intend to speak to all of them.
During all our discussions in the Committee, we shall try to measure this and other provisions against one yardstick: will they assist in the development of a modern, enlarged, diverse Europe that enhances the security and prosperity of the peoples of Europe? It is important that we consider the effect of the Bill on Britain itself, but the treaty is for the whole of the European Union. The effect of the treaty on the whole of Europe must be our dominant consideration.
We contend that while letting Britain down in the Nice negotiations the Government also let down the rest of Europe. The approach taken at Nice is no more in the interests of people elsewhere in Europe, especially those in the applicant states, than it is in the interests of the people of Britain.
A little more than three months ago, the Foreign Affairs Committee produced a report on European enlargement and the treaty of Nice. It concluded:
Does not that encapsulate the result of the Government's lack of leadership at Nice? Is not it inevitable that when our Government fail to put the case for reform, other Governments will fill the vacuum? Do Labour Members take pride in the fact that it was their Government who were taken by surprise by an agenda set by others? What does that say about the negotiating skills of the Ministers who represented us?
The remainder of the Select Committee's conclusion should be to the forefront of our minds as we consider the future:
"The 2004 IGC looks certain to be very much more substantial still, going to the very heart of the balance between the EU's governmental and parliamentary institutions and those of the member states."
Whenever the Government look as though they are about to repeat the mistakes they made at Nice—playing down the likelihood of a substantial agenda, refusing to show leadership and being taken by surprise by the leadership shown by others—we shall endeavour to remind them of the Select Committee's conclusion. It is crucial that Britain is proactively involved in the debate leading up to the intergovernmental conference.
Today, we are examining a particular result of the Government's lack of leadership: the extension of qualified majority voting in 31 articles or 35 areas. As I said, we should assess every measure taken at Nice against one main yardstick: is the measure right for a diverse, enlarged Europe that will be acceptable to the citizens of member states?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking that question. He may not be aware that in our 1997 general election manifesto we made it plain that we would not extend QMV and that we would not be in favour of it. That principle remains. We also want to draw a line to enable a movement back to national Parliaments and to their authority. The main threat to the EU is the disconnection of the peoples of Europe from the EU's institutions and structures. If that disconnection persists, that is the route the EU should take—not the one-way route to integration.
Are we to understand from what the hon. Gentleman has just said that if it were demonstrated that it was in the interests of the United Kingdom and of the European Union that there should be an extension of qualified majority voting in a particular area, the hon. Gentleman would still not be in favour of it?
I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has obviously misunderstood me. We want to draw a line to say that powers must be returned to national Parliaments, and we wanted that line to be drawn at Nice. I am sure that is difficult for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to understand, given the almost unbelievable attitude of Liberal Democrats to the whole political integration process in the European Union.
I shall make some progress.
We must assess every measure proposed at Nice against the yardstick of what is acceptable to the citizens of member states. That is a huge challenge for us all, and if we do not address it the success and viability of the European Union will be in peril. I hope that the Liberal Democrats in particular understand the difficulties of that.
The wide extension of QMV is one of the Nice provisions that fails that test most graphically. Some of the items in the list have the potential to be particularly damaging in themselves, but all of them, even the ones characterised by the Government as relatively minor, indicate a direction towards uniform integration that is absolutely the wrong one for a Europe on the verge of enlargement to take.
"the areas in which the majority can ride roughshod over the wishes of a minority" only has to be stated to be seen to be completely ludicrous. As he said,
The central and eastern European applicant states are among those who have the most to lose from a centralised approach and a lack of respect for diversity.
We are told—wrongly, of course—that the areas in which QMV is being extended are relatively minor: for example, nothing but the pension arrangements for the Court of Auditors, to use the Prime Minister's mistaken example that he gave in December in the House. If that were true, they would hardly be essential prerequisites for enlargement and, as my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Howard brilliantly and accurately pointed out in the House last week, the two arguments used for the Nice treaty—that it is, at the same time, essential and inconsequential—are mutually exclusive and utterly contradictory.
I turn to a couple of specific aspects of QMV to illustrate our concerns; I will return to them in more detail later if there is the opportunity to do so.
First, I should like to address the extension of QMV in article 13, relating to incentive measures in the area of anti-discrimination. That is covered by amendments Nos. 1 and 3. The agreed wording makes it clear that any harmonisation of the laws and regulations of member states is excluded, so what precisely is meant by "Community incentive measures"? Perhaps the Minister could enlighten us, although his predecessor certainly could not. When asked at the European Scrutiny Committee, after the Nice treaty had been agreed, what the new incentive measures on anti-discrimination would amount to, the then Minister for Europe, Mr. Vaz, replied,
"I do not know. It has just been agreed".
Is not that precisely the problem? Why do Ministers persist in agreeing to open-ended extensions of qualified majority voting without having the first idea about what proposals might follow? It is an extraordinary way to negotiate on behalf of the peoples of the United Kingdom.
Would my hon. Friend care to cast his mind back to our exchanges on Second Reading last week? He will recall that Mr. Campbell believed that it was right that QMV should apply on anti-discrimination measures and that there should be a formal European Union position. Would my hon. Friend, by contrast, not agree with me that important though anti-discrimination policy undoubtedly is, it is pre-eminently a matter for democratically elected members of the British legislature and is no business whatever of the European Union?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, but we must accept that the position of the Liberal Democrat party, of which Mr. Campbell is a member, is to have a written constitution for the European Union, to remove further the powers of national Parliaments and to have much greater centralisation. The Liberal Democrats have consistently pursued that theme whenever the issue arises.
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned me, after all. It is just as well that I do not have a persecution complex, because he does not seem to be able to complete a sentence without mentioning me or my party. The purpose of a constitution would be to ensure that the rights, roles and responsibilities of EU institutions were set down clearly and unequivocally, enabling people to understand what the EU is about. The hon. Gentleman ought to be in favour of such clarity.
I am perfectly satisfied that the laws on discrimination, and so on, that govern the people of the United Kingdom adequately protect them. If we continue to centralise the structures of the EU, the process of alienation of the people of the EU from its structures and institutions will only grow worse. I find it extraordinary that that is not understood, particularly after the Irish referendum.
I propose to make to a little more progress.
The treaty of Nice extends qualified majority voting in article 100, which covers measures to be taken in the event of severe difficulties in the supply of certain products and Community financial assistance to member states in severe difficulties. That is covered by amendment No. 5, and it is also included in amendment No. 1. Perhaps the Minister would now like to explain what that provision does. What are the benefits for Britain of that extension of QMV?
On the face of it, that extension allows fairly sweeping powers. Subsection (1) of article 100 allows the Council of Ministers, now by QMV, to
"decide upon the measures appropriate to the economic situation, in particular if severe difficulties arise in the supply of certain products".
When asked, the Minister's predecessor said that that did not, for example, extend competence over North sea oil reserves. We can be grateful for that, but the provision was used for Council directive 1998/93/EC, which amended a directive imposing an obligation on member states of the EEC to maintain minimum stocks of crude oil and petroleum products. Whatever the merits of that decision, and without the article extending competence over the supply of a particular reserve, could it not nevertheless be used to pass further legislation on such issues in future—this time by QMV?
Will the Government list which products fall under the scope of article 100? Who will measure the so-called severe difficulties, and how will they be measured? The second subsection states:
"Where a Member State is in difficulties or is seriously threatened with severe difficulties caused by natural disasters or exceptional occurrences beyond its control, the Council, acting by a qualified majority on a proposal from the Commission, may grant, under certain conditions, Community financial assistance to the Member State concerned".
Will the Minister tell us what was in Ministers' minds when they agreed to abandon the veto on that? Who will define what constitutes an exceptional occurrence beyond the control of a member state?
On Second Reading, the Minister made great play of the fact that article 100, as revised, will be subject, under declaration 6, to the 2000–06 financial perspective and the "no bail-out rule" laid down in article 103, which states that a member state shall not be liable for or assume the commitments of other member state Governments or other member state public bodies, except in the case of mutual financial guarantees.
The fact that the Government have to defend their decision to extend QMV on the basis of what it does not do rather than on what it does says a great deal about the measure. If decisions that are made under the article are meant to respect budgetary ceilings, does that not still provide large room for manoeuvre? If the article is not meant to be used to bail out the commitments of other member state Governments or public bodies, what about non-public bodies? If the events are so truly exceptional, why is this extension of QMV essential for enlargement, which is the stock reason for the Nice treaty? Are we expecting more exceptional occurrences in an enlarged Europe? Will the decision-making process grind to a halt without QMV?
The hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that it was right to extend QMV when the Conservatives were in office, but that it should not be increased in future. The structure of his argument is familiar because it was deployed when the Conservatives opposed increases in tobacco tax and the fuel duty escalator. The difference is that his resistance to extending QMV now is ideologically driven. He has given no practical justification for his argument. Is he really saying that even if there is practical merit in extending QMV, he will resist it?
I am disappointed in the hon. Gentleman. I have been trying to establish the fact that there is no basis to extend QMV in this case without a considered Government view, and all we have heard is multiple contradiction.
If we have a policy of one size fits all in an enlarged European Community and larger countries gang up on smaller ones by using QMV, the huge increase in EU member states will put fresh strains on administration and structure. If we do not seek protection we will increase the strain that we are under and land ourselves in considerable difficulties. I would have been much happier had the hon. Gentleman stood up and said that the Government fought to return powers to the national Parliament where there can be proper scrutiny to connect us once again with the British people. The fact that the Government have not done that is what is wrong in principle.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not here when I cited our manifesto commitment, which made it plain that we would not seek any extension. In the process of constant negotiation in the EU, we would want to return powers to national Parliaments. That is the crucial objective. If Labour Members who want the European Union to survive and prosper do not accept that the democratic deficit will undermine the structures and success of the EU, they do not understand the fundamental problems.
In a few minutes.
Several appointments will be subject to a qualified majority vote, and some are far from minor. The high representative for common, foreign and security policy will be subject to QMV under article 207(2) TEC, which is covered by amendments Nos. 1 and 14. That raises the possibility of the EU's two permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—Britain and France—being outvoted on the appointment of the EU's foreign policy representative. Article 214 TEC covers the appointment of the Commission President, which is the subject of amendments Nos. 1 and 16. Does the Minister not agree that that appointment is vital? Without the veto, for example, Britain under the Conservatives would not have been able to prevent the appointment of Jean-Luc Dehaene.
Article 214, as revised by Nice, states that the Council shall act by qualified majority in adopting the list of commissioners. That is meant to be
"drawn up in accordance with the proposals made by each Member State", but that provides no guarantee that the list will be submitted to the Council. Will the Minister tell the House why it is necessary to extend QMV on that matter, or will he give the House a guarantee that no vote on future commissioners will be taken by QMV on the basis of the ideology of the commissioners concerned and against the wishes of the member states that are appointing them?
In response to my hon. Friend Roger Casale, the hon. Gentleman appeared to argue that it was necessary not to allow an extension of QMV because it would allow large nations to gang up on small ones, yet with his current example he appears to be making the opposite argument—he opposes extension because it would allow everyone else to gang up on a couple of the large nations, namely Britain and France. Will he make clear which of the two reasons worries him most, or is it the case that he is opposed to any extension of QMV and any old argument will do?
Again, I am disappointed—the hon. Lady does not understand the principle that we are trying to establish. We want a line to be drawn about the remorseless process of political integration that is occurring under the EU, to which the Government appear to subscribe in the absence of any clear alternative. We Conservatives, on the other hand, have set out a clear vision of a much more flexible and diverse EU wherein the one-size-fits-all policy—an ossified example of 1950s and 1960s thinking, frozen in time—is finished for good. Ours is a conception of an EU that should work and our amendments to the Bill represent part of that vision.
Later, I shall speak in detail to new clause 11, which deals with extensions of the social chapter to structural fund issues. For now, does the Minister accept that the loss of the veto would leave Britain powerless to stop British regions losing out under the provision? The amendment merely asks the Government to be open and honest about the effect of the proposed change on the regions of this country.
Originally, the Government clearly opposed measures such as those on enhanced co-operation, but they gave way on QMV while offering contradictory justifications, saying that the matters given away were either necessary for the smooth functioning of the EU or unimportant.
I hope that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will speak in this afternoon's Committee consideration of a highly important series of issues. I conclude by saying that the confusion arises from a Government who, unlike the Governments of so many of our European partners, have no clear view of the architecture of the EU or of what it should be in the next few years and decades to come.
As several Members observed on Second Reading, the Conservatives are clearly in some difficulty. I expected Mr. Spring to say that, given that difficulty, he would be guided by his party's 2001 manifesto, but he told us at the start of his speech that he was still being guided by the Conservatives' 1997 manifesto.
If my knowledge of history serves me, right, that slightly predates the establishment of the European Union.
My electors, watching this afternoon's debate on cable television, will see the hint of hypocrisy that tinges the Conservative party's position on qualified majority voting. Avid watchers of such debates will remember that under the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty, many extensions were made to QMV. I hate to repeat a point that has been made many times in the Chamber during debates on these matters, but it needs to be said that in the Single European Act, Conservative Members agreed to 12 extensions of QMV. They knew at the time that if those extensions were not included, the Act would not work because countries would just say, "We're sorry, this issue is not in our interest, bang bang." At the same time, Conservative Members do not say that the Single European Act is the most important thing in the EU, but that it is the only thing that matters in the EU. They therefore recognise the need for QMV in the only thing that they regard as a virtue of the EU.
My hon. Friend is right, and I am grateful for his foresight of my next point. The Conservative party was not unanimous about the Maastricht treaty but, to be fair, most Conservative Members recognised that the treaty was essential if Europe was to hold together, be stable and develop, and accepted that obligations were involved. One obligation was that Parliament could not have exclusive control over decisions on certain issues and that sovereignty had to be pooled on issues where an EU view was needed to prevent a country from vetoing any proposal that it found to be against its interests or that it did not want.
Electors in my constituency and elsewhere who are watching our debate will say that there is at least some hypocrisy in the Conservative position. If there was hypocrisy in the past, there is neanderthalism today. Opposition Members have their heads in the sand. Even when the tiger is coming up behind, the ostrich is still bending down. Essentially, in their proposals, the Conservatives are saying, "We don't care how practical a proposal is; we don't even care if it's only in Britain's interest. Under no circumstances will we agree to QMV on any issue at any time."
I am exceptionally grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way because he has blood on his hands from piloting the treaty of Amsterdam in 1998. I am increasingly frustrated by his contribution. Will he confirm his recollection of
I am glad that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, who has reminded me of the divisions that were apparent in the Conservative party three years ago on this very subject. I do not think that the position has changed; if anything, the divisions have become deeper and Conservative Members connect less to the real issues.
I come back to my earlier point: even if there is a proposal that is clearly in Britain's interest, the hon. Gentleman is against any extension of QMV, even if it wipes out an industry in Britain or causes enormous environmental damage to part of our country. He is prepared to lay waste to industry and the environment in defence of his political and ideological position. He is entitled to adopt that position, but the public have a right to know exactly where he and some of his hon. Friends are coming from.
Someone said to me, "The Conservative party is finished if it cannot persuade parts of the financial services industry that it is in their interest to have a Conservative Government in Britain." There is clear evidence of that in some of the attitudes that the Conservative party has struck on QMV, and it is apparent to any operator in the City of London or any British operator elsewhere in the EU or in other parts of Britain.
If a position makes sense and is adopted by consensus in the EU, one country should not be able to block negotiations with other major players in the financial services industry, probably in the United States or the far east. That is tantamount to destroying the Single European Act as it relates to financial services. With the enlargement of the European Union, all sorts of prospects appear on the horizon. Surely one country should not be able to block a sensible proposal.
When EU negotiators enter into talks with other countries on financial services, they should have a clear mandate that has been agreed, after discussion, by QMV. If we adopted the position advanced from the Conservative Front Bench, such negotiations would not take place at all, as there is every likelihood that the proposal would be vetoed by one country that did not stand to gain as much as the others or that would perhaps lose a little. That would undermine the operation of the Single European Act in respect of financial services.
The ostrich is about to counter-attack. The hon. Gentleman argues that if any matter is subject to QMV, negotiations may lead to some agreement, but that if a veto is retained there may never be agreement. Is it not an odd argument that we cannot be involved in negotiations unless QMV operates? Surely we can be involved in negotiations, and if there is a proposal to which we object, we can use our veto, although most of the time we may not choose to do that. His argument is daft.
With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, I think that the financial services industry in the EU will understand my argument. We will not even get to the starting gate for negotiations with the Americans or the Japanese unless we can firm up a European position. If Latvia or Germany—any country, regardless of size—did not support a particular piece of trade liberalisation, there would be no negotiation whatever. That is the point that I have been trying to establish.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again. Does he consider, as I do, that the view of the Conservative party is extremely unpatriotic? Under the Conservative Government, markets in this country were liberalised and opened to companies from other countries. We are considering a measure that would push through the liberalisation of financial services across Europe. British banks and financial institutions are vulnerable to those in other countries, but because of the intransigence of one or two member states we cannot push through agreement to ensure that British companies can acquire French or German companies, particularly banks and insurance companies. Is it not unpatriotic of the Opposition to block the mechanisms that would allow that?
I have been more generous than others were towards me when I tried to intervene. I shall see how we go on the next point, then I may be tempted to give way again.
The hon. Member for West Suffolk made a silly and jingoistic point when he said that if the veto was removed in respect of the rules and tasks of the structural and cohesion funds, some of our regions could lose out. That is a misunderstanding of how the structural and cohesion fund industry works. We are not the main recipients, and that will remain the case, quite fairly, because others need more help than we do. Higher aggregate demand in the economies of those other countries encourages our exporters, so it is in our long-term trading interests for countries in the eastern part of the European Union to develop their economies.
The motivating force for establishing QMV in respect of such funding was the negotiating attitude adopted by the Iberian countries and Greece. They said, "Unless we get our way on structural and cohesion funds, everything else will be disrupted, not only in this negotiation, but in others, whether in Council meetings or in relation to particular treaties." I have been a negotiator in my time, so I know that that card can be played sometimes, but not for ever. Anybody who plays it for too long will be shut out and left without influence.
If one wants to be part of the building of a European ideal and the European economic and political process, one must make a positive contribution. The Iberian countries have understood that, which is why they have been tempted to accept a QMV decision, even though changes are occurring and they will not continue to be the main recipients of such funds. Once enlargement occurs, for the foreseeable future, other countries will receive a substantial part of the funding. The hon. Member for West Suffolk should reconsider the matter before he makes another point about it.
I apologise if I did not give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I hope that he will agree that I gave way a great deal to many other Labour Members.
The hon. Gentleman may have slightly misunderstood the point that I was trying to make. We are calling for openness in the Government's approach so that the facts can be established. The Library has concluded that, on all available evidence, a significant number of areas in the United Kingdom that currently have objective 1 status would lose out. We should know what the Government's view is, and that is the basis of our proposal. It has nothing to do with jingoism; we merely seek some openness and honesty from the Government for a change.
The precise terms that have been used refer to that aim, but the hon. Gentleman raised this issue: some British areas might lose if the veto is removed. We cannot continue to proceed on that basis. If we want a sensible system to disburse social funding, there must be some fairness and an understanding that fairness must be taken into account. One has to make progress, but one cannot do so if all participants veto every little bit that they do not like. Enlargement would not happen if that attitude prevailed, and anyone who has ever been at such negotiations or acted on behalf of potential recipients in their constituencies knows that that is so. There must be give and take on all such issues.
The hon. Gentleman also suggested that small countries would be discriminated against if QMV were extended, but I do not think that that is correct. If small countries are discriminated against by QMV, discrimination must already be occurring under the Single European Act before extension. He suggested that abolition of the veto means that small countries will be discriminated against. That is not how it works. People in the European Union with common interests put together a proposition, whether it is an environmental one from the Scandinavian countries or an industrial one from the French and British. They then try to persuade other countries to accept it. There are big and small countries that have an interest and take part, but others say that the matter does not affect them and that they will flow with the decision that is reached. The idea that this extension discriminates against smaller countries while the 42 extensions to which the Conservative Government agreed do not is silly. The hon. Member for West Suffolk has been coaxed into adopting that stance because of his position.
The hon. Gentleman draws a distinction between different sorts of treaties without paying heed to their contents. The Single European Act is primarily about increasing trading opportunities and competition. The Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice treaties are primarily about European government. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr. MacShane, who has just walked in, again displays his complete ignorance of the treaties' contents by shaking his head. I am glad that the Minister for Europe understands those matters.
Qualified majority voting makes a substantial difference in the context of the Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice treaties. That is one of the main reasons why the Irish people voted against the Nice treaty, which is about QMV and larger states bulldozing smaller ones.
I am glad that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman. The Under-Secretary should know about the treaty because he was well coached in the past. I am confident that he knows a lot more about it than me.
I do not accept the point of Mr. Cash. The Single European Act provided for extensions of QMV and dealt with economic issues such as building a single market. The Amsterdam, Maastricht and Nice treaties cover some similar issues. Financial services negotiations with third parties are a matter of single market economics. Some aspects of the treaties did not cover economics, but that is the case with all treaties. I understand the point that he tried to make, but I do not accept that it is empirically correct.
I am always glad to give way to my right hon. Friend, but I am especially glad this afternoon. She made an important point.
If enlargement is to happen, the Nice treaty must be adopted. Those who have examined it know that without QMV, there is no treaty. As we move towards enlargement, QMV is essential for all the reasons that have been given in the debate.
The treaty will not be the end of extending QMV, but I believe that many existing provisions will be used more often. They will form the bulk of QMV in future. However, some modification and development will be required and further proposals will be made. I am not ashamed to say that, and I do not hide from it. As information technology and environmental issues develop, the Community may believe that decisions should be made through majority voting so that no individual country has a veto.
I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's speech. Does not it appear on the surface that majority voting favours the larger nations, especially Germany?
No. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but I do not think that that is the case. The large nations such as France, Germany and Britain might say, "We must be able to block a proposal under qualified majority voting if we feel it is against our collective interest and the European Union's interest." However, that situation hardly ever arises; indeed, I do not know whether it has ever arisen. I need to check the history books.
More normally, countries with a common interest ask the Commission to initiate a proposal or to respond to a proposal from the Commission. They then build support for their case, and if they do not get it, they usually back off and have another go, review, modify or whatever. If they get the support that they need, they try to reach unanimity before QMV is raised. However, if it proves difficult to establish unanimity, one member state will rely on QMV. Member states will try to build support among small and large countries. I do not think that small countries are discriminated against.
Proposals such as the measure to review the rules on the tasks of the structural and cohesion funds are an important development for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. I can foresee a situation in which there could be quite a ganging-up against the Republic and Northern Ireland—because they have both been heavy recipients of funding in the past—to support a particular distribution of structural funds elsewhere. If there were a veto, it might mean that there would be no agreement, or that the UK and Ireland had to give way to protect their position. With QMV, there will be a more balanced approach in which a largish group of nations will make decisions on the distribution of structural funds. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will gain from that process.
I have made the points that I wanted to make, and I shall leave it to others to speak further.
The speech by Mr. Spring was pretty brave stuff. He was reflecting on what we were invited to understand was his party's clear and unequivocal position. However, any reference to the views of that apostate, as we might describe him, Mr. Clarke, who is currently a candidate for the leadership of the official Opposition, was absent from any part of the hon. Gentleman's speech.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman's attitude towards the Nice treaty is, I fear, a long way away from that expressed on behalf of the official Opposition by the hon. Member for West Suffolk—and the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not the only one of whom that is true. Mr. Maples made it clear last week in a most illuminating article in the newspaper of record, The Times, why he was supporting the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe, and evinced a certain amount of embarrassment about the arguments that he had had to advance about the Nice treaty during the election campaign.
The hon. Member for West Suffolk frequently said how disappointed he was, and I confess that I, too, am pretty disappointed, that we have not heard from the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe—or from David Davis, because he was the Whip charged with the responsibility of taking the legislation on the Maastricht treaty through the House of Commons. That shows that gratitude rarely lasts long in politics. All the way through that process, the Liberal Democrats supported the then Government, assisting them in getting the legislation on the Maastricht treaty on to the statute book. There were no accusations at that time from the Conservatives that the Liberal Democrats were overly committed to European integration. Indeed, they were happy to exploit our commitment towards Europe.
The hon. Member for West Suffolk has made a brave statement of the case that he would like the Opposition to put forward, but in truth it is a case sustained neither by history nor by contemporary events in his party.
Bearing in mind the comments of many Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidates in the recent general election, I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not suggesting that there is any unanimity of view among Liberal Democrats. There certainly is not. The issue of how we approach our relationship with the European Union produces different views and attitudes right across the political spectrum, and right across the breadth of the political parties in this country. There is nothing new about that.
The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. A little while ago he was accusing the Liberal Democrats of being hell-bent on further integration. Now he says that we are split on the topic. If we are split on the topic, we can hardly be hell-bent on it.
If I thought that the hon. Gentleman was going to try to push me in a different direction, I would be pretty confident that I could hold my own course.
I shall not give way to the right hon. Gentleman at the moment, although I may do in due course.
What I find difficult to understand in the attitude of the official Opposition, as evidenced by the amendment, is their argument that there should be no extension of qualified majority voting in any circumstances, because it is time to bring powers back from Brussels to domestic Parliaments. I could understand it if they proposed to approach the issue of qualified majority voting on a case-by-case, merit-by-merit basis, and said that when they examined the treaty of Nice and the extensions of QMV therein, they objected to one, three, five, six, seven or any other particular number of the extensions
I thought that Mr. Henderson put the question very clearly indeed. On matters such as the liberalisation of financial services and transport, how can it possibly be in the interests of the United Kingdom to oppose qualified majority voting when our economy would benefit and our interests would be served? Arguing against a particular provision on the ground that it does not serve those interests seems entirely logical, but I do not find it easy to understand the necessity to argue against qualified majority voting in all circumstances, even when it is demonstrably in the interests of the people whom we represent.
Not for the moment.
What lies behind that is the suggestion that with qualified majority voting, the interests of the United Kingdom are irreparably damaged on a regular basis. The fact is that in the past two years Britain has been outvoted in the Council of Ministers on only five occasions, while in the same period Germany was outvoted 20 times and France eight times. Those statistics do not suggest that the rest of Europe is somehow ganging up on us and damaging our significant domestic interests so much that we cannot consider the extension of qualified majority voting in future on a case-by-case basis.
I do not understand why the right hon. and learned Gentleman failed to understand my hon. Friend Mr. Spring, who speaks for the official Opposition with great clarity. He put forward the proposition that we do not wish more powers to pass to Brussels. That was agreed by every Conservative Member present—a goodly number of us—because we believe very strongly in that case. Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman understand that the United Kingdom has not been outvoted recently because we have such a craven Government, who never stand up for the British national interest because they do not want to test the system, as they know that they would lose the vote?
There may be still be time for another leadership candidate, Sir Alan.
The right hon. Gentleman is entitled to his view that the Government are craven. I think that they have demonstrated timidity over Europe, and that the case for a single European currency should have been argued with much more vehemence than it has been so far. However, the position that the Opposition seek to adopt on qualified majority voting simply does not stand up to any logical scrutiny.
Reference has already been made to the Single European Act, and I have referred to Maastricht. It is interesting to consider the attitude of the Government of the day—a Conservative Government—to some of these issues. I am sorry that Mr. Maude is not present. I understand that he has other responsibilities, but it is notable that when talking about the process of signing up for the Maastricht treaty, he said that
"qualified majority voting has enabled us to get some liberalising measures through against protectionist resistance by some of our partners."—[Hansard, 11 June 1990; Vol. 174, c. 103.]
I cannot think of a better way of encapsulating the value of qualified majority voting. It allows us to seek, so far as we can, and as quickly as we can, the kind of liberal Europe that is in our interests, and enables us to overcome protectionist resistance from those who may believe that they have some special interest that must be defended to the death by the exercise of a veto. If we have an enlarged European Union, which we all apparently want, qualified majority voting will be necessary to ensure that it functions, and that it does so in a way that accords with our domestic interests.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that there is a clear conceptual difference between the acceptance of qualified majority voting for the purpose of creating or bolstering a single market and dismantling barriers, and for the adoption of policies that interfere with the autonomy of nation states in relation to the labour market? The two are radically different.
I would accept that the hon. Gentleman's argument had some force if he were not supporting shadow Ministers who say that there should be no extension of qualified majority voting in any circumstances, and that a line must be drawn in the sand. If there are circumstances in which it can be shown that it is in our interest to cross that line, I cannot understand why it is necessary to maintain a blanket ban on any extension.
It is perfectly reasonable to have an argument, as we did on Second Reading, about whether it is appropriate to have QMV with regard to discrimination, but I part company with the Conservative party, and in particular with its Front Benchers, over the idea that we should take a blanket approach and not have an argument on the merits.
As on the programme motion, I find that I am in agreement with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, although on a limited point. Amendment No. 233 deals with the incredibly important question of child abduction. Under the treaty—at the specific behest of Germany and Austria, as I understand it—family law is subjected to unanimity. There are certain cases that lead me to believe that in this particular instance, qualified majority voting is the only way of breaking the stranglehold, and that is why I tabled that amendment.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, but he will forgive me if I ask why he did not make it to the hon. Member for West Suffolk, because it drives a horse and cart through the position adopted by the official Opposition.
Qualified majority voting is now extended to 31 articles, over half of which refer to technical portions of the treaty, dealing with appointments, rules of procedure and the management of the European Parliament and European committees and courts. A further four of the articles refer to areas that Britain has opted out of. Of the remaining 10, the extensions are in such areas as anti-discrimination practice, support for industry and environmental measures. Exercising my best judgment, I cannot believe that those are matters of such fundamental constitutional importance that the United Kingdom's interests can be properly regulated only if we maintain our veto over them. That is why I cannot support the amendment.
I am following the theme started by Mr. Campbell. Perhaps my hon. Friend Mr. Henderson was a little cruel to suggest that the Opposition were being hypocritical. I think that they are simply so confused that they are facing several ways at the same time. That seems to be the case with everything on which we have to deal with the official Opposition in this House.
I had the pleasure of being in Nice the week before the treaty negotiations, speaking at a conference involving a wide range of groups from the applicant countries. The only negative point is that to get to Nice, I would certainly advise hon. Members never to fly Sabena, which seems to leave things around Europe, including my luggage.
Interesting points were raised at the meeting by a number of the smaller countries, which were represented by people from outside the main political arena, and by people representing businesses and aspects of industry in their respective nations. They did not see how it would be possible to make the new Europe work effectively without some change in the voting patterns,
There was some merit in the earlier arguments of Mr. Spring, but that slipped away. As I understood him, he argued that, as a matter of principle, no extension of QMV could make sense. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North said, it is blindingly obvious that within the future evolution of the European institutions, in some circumstances it will be easily agreed that there are matters to which it would be beneficial to extend QMV.
I am totally confused by the Opposition position. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North said, they rely on the 1997 manifesto rejection of any extension of QMV. The hon. Member for West Suffolk said that the Government did a bad job in Nice, but did not go on to explain the logic by which, on a case-by-case basis, the extension of QMV was a bad thing. If there is an ideological principle I have yet to hear it. If the case is based simply on dogma, perhaps nothing has changed in that wing of the Conservative party, as represented by Mrs. Thatcher all those years ago. [Hon. Members: "Who?"] Conservative Members are trying to erase their memories. If Mrs. Thatcher is being airbrushed out, the Conservative party really is moving to the right.
Last week I referred to earlier negotiations involving Peter Carrington and Ian Gilmour, and to their conflicts with the then Prime Minister. The dogma has now reached a point of total and utter absurdity. Now the official argument seems to be that, as a matter of principle, QMV is a bad thing. That is all we have heard from the official Opposition.
The Opposition have not recognised that in Nice the British Government insisted that certain issues should be decided by unanimity. Britain has, of course, a veto over such issues as taxation, social security, border controls, defence, the financing of the EU and future changes to treaties. That is a good, solid, principled position because in all those areas no new rules can be introduced unless the British Government agree.
Let us start with what the Nice treaty actually says. If the hon. Member for West Suffolk had presented to the House a logical reason why the Government should not have given ground on any of the articles in the Nice treaty, perhaps the House would listen more readily to the Conservatives.
Does the hon. Gentleman concede that the rejection of qualified majority voting in respect of taxation, by this Government as by the Conservative Government, is not of itself a guarantee of the retention of sovereignty in relation to tax matters? That is transparently obvious to most observers. As proof of that point, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the fact that the Paymaster General has voluntarily chucked away no fewer than 85 tax advantages that this country enjoyed, simply to satisfy the European Union.
We could get into a deep philosophical argument about definitions of sovereignty here. Perhaps it is time that the nation became engaged in such a debate and we moved away from some of the trivial nonsense that the Conservative party seeks to portray as definitions of sovereignty. The hon. Gentleman and I will, I am sure, agree on one thing: Britain still has a veto over taxation.
If we can also agree on the day of the week, that will be two things we can agree on.
The Government have spelled out the key areas on which they have not given ground, and it would be helpful to hear in detail—point by point—from the Opposition their reasons why the Government should not have given ground on the other measures. Mr. Campbell mentioned 31 articles that comprised 35 measures. The Opposition therefore have many opportunities to find a flaw in the arguments of my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe. However, that will be difficult because 11 of the measures deal with the streamlining of appointments and procedures, four deal with international negotiations and agreements, to give Europe a stronger voice in the world, and six deal with improvements in the effectiveness of EU spending—perhaps the Opposition are worried about those. A further five will help business to complete the single market, and three more will help individuals. All the measures have specific phrases associated with them in the treaty and the supplementary text. Perhaps if the official Opposition could leave dogma behind and deal with the principles, the nation would be better served by them.
I see that the hon. Gentleman and I agree about something else.
In conclusion, I return to the observations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North. He said that in some sectors—he cited the example of information technology—we may have to reach agreements with our European partners. Those agreements would be for the benefit of Europe's competitiveness, as they would enable us to move faster than, for example, the Asiatic countries or north America.
Although we have a broad idea of what will happen to the IT industry over the next few years, none of us can predict its future exactly, and we cannot envisage what its long-term structure will be. As Europe may have to move faster than its competitors to maintain its edge over them, it would be absurd for a Government not to leave the door open to the possible extension of QMV.
Yet the Opposition appear to believe that, as a matter of principle and irrespective of what might happen in the future, their 1997 gospel that there should be no extension of QMV must be adhered to. That is an absurd position, and it cannot be logically sustained. It merely typifies the naive view of a very split Opposition.
Amendment No. 1 focuses on qualified majority voting, which covers a series of articles. That puts me in a quandary, as each of those articles merits discussion on its own account. QMV has two aspects. On the one hand, there is the problem of its practical application, which requires changes to domestic British legislation; on the other, there is a matter of principle.
As I pointed out in my interventions on Mr. Campbell and Mr. Henderson, QMV raises a matter of principle with a difference. I certainly voted for the Single European Act, and Britain adopted QMV on a variety of matters when it joined the European Community in 1972.
There are a number of amendments to which I need to speak, so I hope that the House will forgive me if I deal with them all in this speech. I shall be as brief as possible, but I do not want to jump around from one subject to another. I shall try to deal with the amendments in the order in which they have been selected for debate.
I shall begin with the general point that debates such as this are hugely important to people outside the House. It is the duty of hon. Members to do their best to make them intelligible, so we must be careful to distinguish the wood from the trees.
In that connection, I am reminded of the White Paper published in 1971, which clearly stated that Britain would retain the veto, because to relinquish it would damage our national interest. The White Paper went further, stating that relinquishing the veto would damage the very fabric of the European Community.
The point being made in that White Paper was simple. It was that the members of a harmonious community do not railroad and bulldoze each other by the use of qualified majority voting. They allow discussion to take place and understandings to develop; they do not push people up against a wall and say, "We will shoot you with qualified majority voting if you don't agree." That is particularly relevant when it comes to government.
There is a distinction between arriving at a degree of understanding and compromise and changes in legal processes in an arena such as the European Union in which there is a degree of co-operation, with which I agree. My party is conscious of the advantages that can come from greater co-operation—as am I—but not at the price of giving up our own government. That is the key point. Therefore, the Single European Act is, as I said in an intervention on the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North, distinguishable from the treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and now Nice, because those are, with qualifications, primarily to do with the creation of a European Government.
The Irish vote has a lot to do with this. The application of qualified majority voting in relation to the enhancement of the powers of the larger states caused great concern in Ireland. My travels with the Select Committee on European Scrutiny around eastern and central Europe have shown that there is deep concern there as well. Those countries do not make too much noise about it because they see certain advantages in being in a European union. Even so, they hope that the Government and the Opposition—or the unofficial Opposition, if I can put it like that—will help them to maintain their democracy, acquired at the "springtime of nations". That is an important message for the Government.
The European Union will not survive if it creates tensions as a result of qualified majority voting, which alienates the populations of the countries concerned. It is primarily devoted to getting through whatever technocratic decisions may be taken by the lego-wonks of the European Commission and the politico-wonks that exist in some parts of the European elite.
The extension of the use of qualified majority voting, which reduces the need for unanimity and the value of the national veto, has had a serious detrimental effect on the confidence that member states have in the European Union, full stop.
Will the hon. Gentleman consider the converse of what he has just described? For example, Jean-Luc Dehaene was rejected because of the use of the veto and Jacques Santer eventually became head of the European Commission. We found that the Commission was badly managed and had to persuade the College of Commissioners to resign. In terms of quality, the appointment of President Santer was, in effect, the lowest common denominator rather than the highest common factor.
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has raised that instance. It was Mr. Jens-Peter Bonde and the Eurosceptics who led the campaign to get rid of the Commission, despite the fact that the MEPs in the Labour party and my own claimed rather more influence over what happened. The bottom line is that the Commissioners went because they were no good. The tragedy is that they were reappointed.
The blocking minority is in jeopardy under these arrangements, which is detrimental to the interests of the harmonious working of the European Union.
May I take the hon. Gentleman back to his intervention during my speech and pick up the theme of what he has just said? Am I right to understand that he believes that there are circumstances in which qualified majority voting is essential? If so, on what principles does he base his view? He gave an illustration with regard to the abduction of children, but perhaps he could go a little further and tell us the principle upon which he holds that view.
I shall indeed. The principle is that the whole of the European Union needs to be renegotiated. If we reached a point at which we had to reduce the functions of the EU and that was done properly and we continued to accept the principle of political co-operation—as we should—we could get down to the business of deciding the arenas within which it should apply. We do not have the time or the disposition to go into that at present, although I tabled a new clause on the subject that was not called, much to my chagrin—to use a French expression. However, everything has grown like Topsy and the bottom line is that we developed qualified majority voting on a continuous escalator with no discrimination.
My principle is that we should go back to the drawing board: save Europe, as Edmund Burke once suggested about the depredations of the French revolution, and get the thing right. That is the principle on which we should operate. It is in the interests of democratic nation states not only that they should have their say but that they should not be bulldozed by this monumental leviathan.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a possible logical consequence of his argument would be a constitution for Europe that laid down the very principles that he describes?
I also tabled a new clause on that subject, which I regret was not selected. I see the twinkle in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's eye. The irony is that, under the arrangements leading up to 2004, the constitution that would emerge by then would produce an epicentre—thanks to the acquis communautaire, the existing legal framework and the crazy idea that there will be enhanced co-operation in eight member states even if the total number of member states rises to 27. There will be a core or a centre of gravity that will take that European constitution along a line, together with QMV and enhanced co-operation and the so-called flexibility that goes with it. That, too, is a wood-for-the-trees point because the line will go in only one direction. I therefore dispute the right hon. and learned Gentleman's proposition, because I take the contrary view about a constitution that would work properly and that I would consider safe or desirable for the EU. That is the key point.
I shall try to deal briefly with the question of Britain's influence. Much has been made of that by Ministers and by the Secretary of State in his Second Reading speech. As I pointed out in the Select Committee during my cross-examination of the former Minister for Europe, Britain's influence is not only on the wane, it is being fundamentally reduced as more vetoes are abolished by the Council of Ministers.
At Nice, about 43 vetoes were lost—the exact number depends on how the tally is made. In the 1971 White Paper, when the House was so badly misled, such matters were described as imperilling the fabric of the Community. That is happening at present. The Community is in peril because of those mistakes. Only 19 vetoes were lost at Amsterdam. They were largely negotiated by the previous Conservative Government, although I was not enthusiastic about that, and inherited by the Labour Government. I wrote a blue paper—a 25-page hatchet job—on that.
Forty-one vetoes were lost at Maastricht. In conjunction with many of my hon. Friends, I opposed that. Many of those hon. Friends are on the Opposition Benches at present. Some hon. Members who have recently arrived on these Benches would most emphatically have been with us during those great and heady days when we held the Government to ransom, fighting for the interests not only of the United Kingdom but also of Europe as a whole.
Thirty-seven vetoes went in the Single European Act—I have dealt with that—and 38 went in the treaty of Rome.
Although those are demonstrations of the emasculation of our democracy, the standard justification for the proposed massive extension of QMV at the Nice intergovernmental conference is that the veto would
"imperil the single market in an enlarged European Union".
So the official line from the EU is that these 43 vetoes would somehow prevent enlargement or lead the Union to grind to a halt.
It is argued that the single market has come to be understood, quite conveniently from the Brussels perspective, as including virtually every aspect of European Union business. The removal of barriers to trade and obstacles to the free movement of people has become a convenient excuse to centralise more and more powers at the EU level. That is where the concept of subsidiarity is upturned.
As I said at the time of the Maastricht treaty in 1990, the first time that I heard the word "subsidiarity" I realised, having been brought up by the Jesuits and recognising it as a concept that comes from Catholic theology, that the concept of subsidiarity was a con trick. It is based on the assumption that there will be a hierarchy of norms—a hierarchy of government—and in jurisprudence that is perfectly well understood. The only problem is that one should not apply religious theological concepts to matters of politics. I think that that is all I need to say on that.
My hon. Friend and I agree entirely about the risible concept of subsidiarity, but would he care to recall the verdict of the celebrated Lord Mackenzie-Stuart on the subject of subsidiarity, for was it not that great man who described subsidiarity as
"a prime example of gobbledegook" and said that those who regarded it as a constitutional safeguard were showing
Yes indeed, and after he had been challenged he had the good sense to repeat it—in one of the great Hamlyn lectures, I believe. I very much appreciate that intervention. It is a reminder that some very eminent jurists know what rubbish subsidiarity is. It is not just rubbish as a concept; its practical application causes changes in domestic law that are bad for the people who must live under it. That is the key point.
I return to the subject of the effects of the new voting system. I know that there are those who disagree with me in this respect, but I have made my case in very many publications and articles and no one has taken issue with me about it. It would be easy to try to do so and I wish that people would. However, I simply make my proposition, which is that the elite of Germany has increased its influence. It is the unspoken word; I cannot imagine why. One need not be at loggerheads with everyone to point out the truth or the facts. It is a fact and, to my mind, not standing up to it, not explaining it and not dealing with it is simply walking away from reality.
No; I am sorry. The hon. Gentleman did himself no good with his previous intervention, so I will not allow him this one.
The new voting system, which is called double majority voting, was introduced in the Nice treaty and it will especially benefit the German Government. First, it is useful to recall how the qualified majority voting system worked until Nice. A decision required a 71.26 per cent. share of the vote to be approved: 62 of 87 votes in the Council of Ministers. That meant that the votes of countries accounting for 58.16 per cent. of the EU's population would constitute a majority.
Following Nice, the new procedures for QMV are very much more complex. Whenever a decision goes to QMV in the Council of Ministers, a country can demand—the Minister knows it—that double majority voting be used. Double majority voting requires two conditions to be met for a decision to be adopted.
First, in a 27-member EU, a proposal must gather 258 of 345 votes, or 74.78 per cent. of the votes in the Council of Ministers. In other words, a significantly higher threshold is required, making it easier to block a proposal, although it would be harder for existing member states to block it as their share of the vote would be lower.
Secondly, the proposal must be backed by countries representing 62 per cent. of the EU population—the so-called population safeguard. But thanks to that second clause, the so-called safeguard, Germany and two other large countries, such as France or Italy, will be able to block anything that they do not like, whereas Britain will need more than two other countries to vote with it to oppose undesirable decisions from its point of view.
The blocking minority is 88 votes in the Council, which means that Germany would not have been able to block decisions so easily in the absence of the population requirement. Therefore, many EU observers are calling Chancellor Schroeder the victor of Nice. It was all over the papers at the time and it was the German papers that were saying it. Following Nice, Germany will start to lose its traditional deference to the EU. As I pointed out on Second Reading, a fundamental geopolitical shift in the balance of power in Europe is taking place, but it is being done through lego-political power play.
My hon. Friend is recognised as one of the greatest authorities, in the legal sense, of the understanding of these treaties and constitutions developed through the European Union—he probably has greater understanding than revealed in anything that the Foreign Office has produced. The burden of my hon. Friend's argument is that the transference by the proposed limitation on the veto is such that it changes the constitutional order within Europe. Therefore, many of my constituents are asking why the Danes do not require a referendum in this instance. They ask me whether it is because the corruption of the Danish constitution is now so great that this further transference of power to the Community or the European Union is such that the Danes no longer have the scope for a referendum on such important constitutional issues.
My hon. Friend raises an important point, again on the matter relating to a referendum and its impact on qualified majority voting, because the referendum is the safeguard for the electorate where the elite, through qualified majority voting, has been taking decisions that, as a result of the scrutiny processes throughout the European Union, are nothing less than a farce.
The bottom line is that the Irish, with their tremendous good sense, voted against the elite, as did the Danes in their referendum on the euro, when every single radio and television programme and newspaper was against them. The people know best, and if I may say so, as a Tory, it follows that great dictum of either Lord Randolph Churchill or Disraeli: "Trust the people." I put more trust in the people than I do in the House or the Council of Ministers. The plain fact is that it is for the people to take that decision, and they need to be properly informed about it.
Have the Danish given away, as a result of a previous referendum, the right to take a decision on this treaty? Why is there not a referendum in Denmark on this treaty?
There certainly should be. The answer to that question is that the Government, the elite, in Denmark are not prepared to hold another referendum, just as, for example, there is a reluctance—
There are many roads to the treaty of Nice, and my hon. Friend suggests one that I shall have to avoid, just for the moment. We shall have ample opportunity to consider it later.
Basically, my main proposition is that the smaller states will lose out, and the effect will be that they will be bulldozed, which is one of the reasons why they are so concerned. Indeed, their voting shares will decrease even in the absence of enlargement, which is one of the main reasons that Ireland voted against the treaty of Nice.
Will the hon. Gentleman take the time to mention the number of Members of the European Parliament, which will be affected by the change? Is he aware that, given the drastic cut in the number of Members for the south of Ireland, Northern Ireland, which has three Members, will not retain that number in future? Indeed, Northern Ireland might not even have one Member in the new Parliament.
I understand why the hon. Gentleman makes that point, but I must not be diverted down that path either. Suffice it to say that there has been a substantial change in the number of MEPs, and—surprise, surprise—it turns out that Germany has the most, although some may say that that it because of its population. That is all part of the real problem. Some may dispute this, but those countries dependent on Germany economically or politically, or in coalition with it—in the European Parliament, with the new co-decision procedure, or whatever—will vote with it, so we shall have a greater Germany, and in the words of Thomas Mann, will it be a European Germany, or a German Europe? I am confident, but concerned that it will be a German Europe. We need to face those questions in a responsible and, I hope, sensible and friendly manner, but we must point out that we do not like such things and we will not have them. That is my message on that key point.
It has been said that QMV will lead to a two-speed Europe. I wrote a paper for the then Foreign Secretary, Lord Hurd of Westwell, at the time of the Maastricht treaty. I shall not repeat any part of that paper, other than to say that it was published in 1993, in the appendix to a book called, "Visions of Europe", in which I gave my reasons for objecting to QMV. I said that the movement toward majority voting and a two-speed Europe would put us on the sidelines, whereas that was what we were accused of doing.
When we deal with the clauses relating to enhanced co-operation, I shall have a good deal more to say about the relationship between that and majority voting because that, in itself, creates an extremely deep black hole. As I said on Second Reading, those who have advocated variable geometry have made a very profound strategic mistake—in fact, a strategic mistake of such enormous proportions that it is incapable of being described. That monumental mistake in foreign policy is based on the idea that, if words such as "flexibility" and "subsidiarity" are used, the proposal means what it appears to say. "Through the Looking-Glass" and "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" have a lot to say about such things.
It is a seamless treaty, and I can assure you, Mrs. Heal, that in this context enhanced co-operation cannot be treated separately. The Clerk of Public Bills, to whom I am not supposed to refer, knows well enough that QMV and enhanced co-operation go hand in hand. If I have to try to explain the inner workings and the entrails of the treaty, it is difficult, given the fact that we started out with the dilemma that I described at the beginning of my remarks, to separate the vast number of articles dealt with under amendment No. 1 and its incidental application to individual parts of the treaty as we proceed. If it were possible to disentangle this Heath Robinson business and produce a workable and sensible treaty, I wish we could do so. The problem is that the proposal has been deliberately devised as a mechanism for unbelievable complexity, which is completely beyond the man in the street, but thank God people see through it when they vote.
As I have a simple mind, I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would clarify something for me. He says that we are about to create a European Union dominated by a greater Germany, which was the great victor of Nice, but Germany's population is 82 million and its new vote is 29—the same as that of the United Kingdom, France and Italy. Earlier on, if I understood the hon. Gentleman correctly, he accepted that QMV was needed on certain occasions, and that smaller countries need to be equally represented. I should be grateful if he could tell me what weighting he would think it fair to apply. Could he explain why a country of 82 million people, which now has the same number of votes as a country with 57 million, is still seen as the victor? I simply do not understand the logical sequence of his argument.
That is simple—the treaties and the concept of political union are hopelessly illogical. The problem is that the anomalies that arise cannot be got rid of without having total political union, which is the objective. The problem is a simple one for me; I simply say that we must renegotiate the treaties and take them back at least to the Single European Act, so that we do not go down the route of political union. Yes, Germany has certainly increased in power. The day that the Berlin wall came down—
I am afraid that I have been diverted by the eloquence of Ms Stuart, which is difficult to resist.
Having said that, I shall now speak to amendment No. 233, which I tabled, and which deals with child abduction. I am jumping into that amendment, but I want to deal with other amendments, and I shall do so as quickly as I possibly can. Child abduction is a horrifying business, so much so that, notwithstanding the fact that I wish to see the EU framework renegotiated, it warrants the application of QMV to that aspect of family law that deals with it.
Many hon. Members will know that the wife of our ambassador to the United States, Lady Meyer, has children who were taken from her by her husband. They have not been returned to her, primarily because the German courts will not allow it. Indeed, the problem seems to be peculiar to the German jurisdiction. I have not the time to go into every detail, but Germany and Austria are primarily involved because their laws effectively prohibit the return of children who have been abducted by their natural parents in the EU.
The number of cases of abduction has increased every year. According to the Belgian Ministry of Justice, 221 children were abducted from Belgium in 1998, and 562 in 2000. In France, a fourfold increase in abductions was recorded between 1997 and today. That is pretty horrendous stuff. As far as I am aware, none of the parents—who are mostly American and French, but some are British—has been able to regain access to their children if they are held in Germany. I shall send the Minister details of two particularly difficult cases.
In one case, the gentleman concerned has managed to see his children for only a few hours since he finally traced them seven years ago. In another, an Australian lady is unable to get her daughter back from Germany although the German father died last October. She has seen her for only a few hours in the presence of the social services youth authority, the Jugendamnt, and the grandparents are suing for custody.
A Franco-American father, Maurice Elfeke, recently went to Germany when he heard that his children's name was going to be changed without his consent. They were abducted two years ago and since then he has had no contact whatsoever. He was arrested last week and put in jail because he sprayed his mother-in-law's garden with black paint. He is now on hunger strike in jail and several parents will meet in Berlin on
A Franco-German commission has been established, but it has produced no results. A US-German Commission was established last year at the behest of President Clinton. The proposed reforms have been backed by Hillary Clinton and, most recently, Colin Powell. Although the initiatives have not resolved a single case, the main problem is the lack of enforcement of orders in Germany, Austria and, I believe, Sweden.
The French have produced proposals for the recognition and enforcement of actions and the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children has been set up to protect children. The problem is serious. The ICMEC is preparing a written paper, which I can supply to the Minister, and in early September the European Commission will present the draft regulation. The main problem is that although justice and home affairs have moved to the first pillar, unanimity is still required in family law. We have the European Court of Justice and I hope that the Committee will understand why, in such exceptional circumstances, it is essential to change the law in the interests of those children and their parents. The Prime Minister's wife is also deeply engaged in the problem. She understands it and gives full support to those who advocate change.
This is not the first time that I have taken a slightly unusual view. As a realist, I put the interests of those children and their parents ahead of any other concerns. It might be best to change The Hague convention. Failing that, we need to change the qualified majority vote. I intend to press the amendment to a vote. I want to know what the Government are going to do about those children and their parents. There is enough time before we finish our deliberations on Wednesday for the Minister to give my concerns careful consideration.
I am listening carefully and it seems that the hon. Gentleman's argument underlines what I said about it being wrong to rule out in principle an extension of QMV in the circumstances. Although we are at different ends of the telescope in terms of the development of the EU, he makes a powerful case on this subject.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the temperate way in which he phrased his intervention. I object to QMV in many arenas for the reasons that I gave. We must make a decision: do we want a European Union or not? That is the difference between my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke and me.
By that, I do not mean that I do not want a European Union; it is just whether I want this one. The principle of renegotiation comes into that. To say that in principle we are against QMV hardly sits well with the fact that we passed the Single European Act. Incidentally, I wrote to the Prime Minister a few days ago and ended the letter by explaining, a little cheekily, that I voted for the Single European Act and he voted against it. We must remember that issues of principle are extremely important when applied in particular circumstances.
Other issues also concern me. Amendment No. 3 deals with anti-discrimination and article 251 as it applies to the new provision. It is the usual combination of QMV in the Council and co-decision with the European Parliament. We should attack the implicit argument that member states will be racist in the absence of EU-wide anti-discrimination laws. We have seen what is going on in Bradford and Burnley. I am chairman of the all-party committee for the reduction of third world debt and am devoted to ensuring that there is no racism in this country. However, we are talking about a quasi-constitutional way to deal with an extremely sensitive issue. To assume that member states will be racist in the absence of EU-wide anti-discrimination laws is a difficult and dangerous route to take.
I respectfully ask the hon. Gentleman how he can possibly argue for QMV on, for example, child welfare, about which we heard powerful arguments, yet allow member states in modern western civilised democracies, which believe in humanity, to let employers and organisations discriminate on the grounds of race without legal redress in the EU?
The answer to that probably lies in the Race Relations Act 1976. In fact, I was one of the first people to sign the equality declaration because I believe that we must ensure that there is no discrimination, but that should be achieved in a national context. My prime concern is with quasi-constitutional issues that apply to the EU as a whole. Race is a matter for nation states and is a good example of subsidiarity. Indeed, I could go into the problem of the Turks in Germany and similar issues, but I would probably take up too much time. Cross-border abductions are another matter.
I recommend an interesting article by Professor Roberto de Matei on the charter of fundamental rights and the totalitarian spirit. No doubt you will pull me up sharply, Mrs. Heal, if I dwell on that, much as I should like to. I cannot understand why we are not allowed to debate the charter because it is a monumental shift in the juridical and jurisdictional nature of the EU and thus of this country.
Amendment No. 4 deals with freedom of movement. Frankly, it boils down to my objection to the fact that decisions will be taken by QMV because of the move towards an arrangement that we would do best to avoid at this juncture.
Amendment No. 5 covers article 100 on Community financial assistance, which deals with emergency relief for accidents, disasters and supply problems. Aid can now be given to member states in the event of "natural disasters", rather than solely in connection with "exceptional occurrences". I believe that that increases the probability of misinterpretation and what I call EU functional creep. Again, QMV is extended and the veto abolished. The attached non-binding declaration restricts the subsidies available for the next few years, but I regard the article as highly dangerous because it opens the door to extensive intra-EU redistribution of wealth.
Amendment No. 6 deals with social provisions. The remit of the EU is being expanded to encompass the combating of social exclusion. I cannot imagine why that effort should be carried out on a European scale. The provision opens a book of blank cheques that will increase the sums of money made available on European scale, but does not answer the question of how those sums are to be provided. The modernisation of social protection systems is mentioned, but who knows what such vague terms mean? Again, everything is subject to QMV with the exception of four matters: protection of sacked workers, representation and collective defence of workers and the conditions of employment of third-country nationals, which remain subject to unanimity for the time being.
In the final analysis, it is likely that the EU will use QMV in that context to meddle extensively with national security systems, which will threaten British interests. We noticed that during the general election the Chancellor of the Exchequer made it clear that he does not believe that the EU would start to play around with our national security system, but I regard the provision as an open door. It will be an Achilles' heel: the consequences of adopting such a route will be to make EU economic growth even more difficult.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain how it is possible for the EU to spend as much money as it wants on anything when its member states have just agreed that there should be an absolute ceiling on EU spending of 1.27 per cent. of European gross national product?
Skilful characters are trying to tempt me down all sorts of routes that would not meet with the Chairman's approval, but let me give an example by way of a quick response. Creating functions inevitably takes us closer to a tax regime, as Mr. Hans Eichel suggests. Romano Prodi calls for 60 billion euros. There is the problem. A gun is put to people's head: they are told that they have created the functions, so they must now pay for them. That equals taxation. I should like to refer to an article that I wrote, "The Paradox"—
Indeed, I am doing so, Mrs. Heal, but questions remain regarding unfunded pensions, and other issues crop up in that context.
Amendment No. 7 relates to QMV and codetermination with the European Parliament, which is now introduced for industrial policy. A necessary consequence of that is a further increase as socialist policies are imposed on countries such as the United Kingdom, or those with right-of-centre Governments. I object to the provision on those grounds.
Amendment No. 8 relates to social cohesion and structural funds. After a massive fight at Nice in which the rearguard action was led by Spain, it was decided that structural funds are to be determined by QMV only from 2007. The problem for countries such as Spain, and the cause of the battle, is that enlargement reduces their relative degree of poverty and so deprives them of handouts, with the money going instead to eastern European countries. I have no doubt that they are truly poor and need the money, but the bottom line is that the eastern European elites have, in effect, been blackmailed and that is one of the reasons why they agreed to the extension of QMV. The problem is a serious one.
Amendment No. 10 relates to environmental policy. QMV is introduced for recycling and waste management and a non-binding declaration adds that the EU is to take the lead in environmental issues, including sustainable development. That will, of course, not be accompanied by the necessary abolition of the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy.
Amendment No. 11 relates to economic, financial and technical co-operation with third countries, which raises serious problems. Again, QMV is attached, as are measures that allegedly reinforce democracy and the rule of law, which strikes one with my interest in third-world countries as a bit rich, considering the EU's record. That record causes me to doubt that the provision is liable to achieve its objective.
Amendment No. 12 relates to the statute for Members of the European Parliament. Unanimity for the determination of the general conditions of MEPs is abolished, which means that the regulations and general conditions, including salaries, of Britain MEPs will no longer be determined by the United Kingdom. Article 190(5) represents the first step towards making MEPs wholly independent of member states. No doubt that is why the leader of the Conservative group was telling us to change the rules on our leadership on this morning's "Today" programme.
Amendment No. 13 relates to article 191, which deals with "political parties at European level". The implication appears to be that restrictions will be placed on the way in which political parties are funded, which jeopardises free speech—an issue that affects us all. The article on regulations governing political parties could be interpreted as giving the Council powers to ban political parties that it dislikes. That must be watched extremely carefully. In my view, it should not be in the treaty.
The original article was purely declaratory and quite vague about what was meant by "European political parties", but the article now gives the Council a role, a regulation and funding from EU funds. Decisions are to be taken by QMV with European Parliament co-decision. All in all, the article represents an important and unacceptable extension of EU power. He who pays the piper calls the tune. Parties in the European Parliament should be funded by national parties.
Article 191 is followed by so-called declaration 11. It is intended to soothe Eurosceptic fears, but is legally non-binding. In addition, its first paragraph is factually incorrect. The whole point of the provisions added at Nice is to give more powers to the European Union.
Amendment No. 14 relates to the appointment of the Secretary-General of the Council, which is to be made by a qualified majority vote. I could spend some time exploring that, but it is not necessary to do so. Suffice it to say that I disagree with it.
Amendment No. 15 relates to salaries, pensions and allowances. I do not believe that the officers of the Court of First Instance should have their salaries determined by qualified majority vote.
Amendment No. 7 relates to the European Court of Justice. Member states are to appoint judges and advocates by common accord. The replacement of judges is to be determined by the statute of the ECJ, and a new provision is included to determine the ECJ's rules of procedure by QMV. That is extremely dangerous, given that body's increasing importance.
Amendment No. 18 relates to article 224 of the treaty, which deals with the Court of First Instance. Again, QMV is introduced. I do not agree with that. Amendment No. 22 deals with the Economic and Social Committee, whose numbers are to increase from 222 to 350.
Amendment No. 24 deals with financial controls. Arguments have been advanced to show that from 2007 accounting procedures will be determined by QMV; it seems incredible that they should be dealt with in that way.
Amendment No. 25 deals with articles on immigration and asylum policy, which are extremely opaque; there are many arguments against them but time does not permit me to develop them. Amendment No. 26 deals with the representation of the EU at international level on monetary union, which again is determined by QMV. Amendment No. 27 deals with special measures for the introduction of the euro, but I shall leave it and other amendments in the group for consideration in writing by the Minister. There are many amendments on matters amounting to an abrogation of the powers of the House.
I shall return briefly to my opening remarks about not being able to see the wood for the trees. I have various objections to many aspects of the clause. Child abduction has to be dealt with; we must remedy the position of not being able to see the wood for the trees; in a nutshell, we must renegotiate the treaties. Until we do so, we shall continue to go in the wrong direction in the Europe Union.
I shall be brief. Our debate has been a kind of Second Reading—I do not criticise it for that—on qualified majority voting. I have a few points that I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with in his reply. First, I want to make sure that I have the right treaties with me. I have been looking at some of them, but I cannot find certain things that perhaps I should be able to find.
Amendment No. 1, the lead amendment, seeks to exclude article 2, paragraphs 2, 3, 5, 9 and others from the Bill. Looking at article 2, paragraph 2—this is no criticism of anybody, it is just me—I see that it relates to enhanced co-operation. It also states:
"Article 11 shall be replaced by the following Articles 11 and 11a".
As I understand it, article 11 is article 11 of the treaty establishing the European Community. It is cited on page 3 of the treaty of Nice, which says that it is in treaty series No. 29 (1996) Cm 3151.
I went to the Vote Office and asked for Cm 3151, which—again I am not making any criticism—contains the treaty on European Union. That treaty is not terribly relevant to our discussion, as it does not create the rights and obligations that may impinge on domestic law. Cm 3151 also contains, conveniently, the treaty establishing the European Community; again, that is perfectly all right. That treaty is amended by the treaty of Nice; I hope that hon. Members can follow me. Article 11 of the treaty establishing the European Community is, as I understand it, being replaced by new articles 11 and 11a of the treaty of Nice. Fine; I looked up page 51 of the treaty establishing the European Community and found article 11.
Until that point, I was deliriously happy; at least I had got that far. I found that the original article 11 is about enabling
"governments to carry out . . . obligations with regard to customs duties".
I looked at the top of the page, which is headed "Part Three: Community Policies". The new article 11, however, has nothing to do with customs duties; it is about enhanced co-operation and various other matters. Well, fine. Looking at page 51 of the treaty establishing the European Community, I found the heading "Community Policies" and thought, "Well, that is all right too." Title I under that heading is "Free movement of goods". I am not sure what that has got to do with enhanced co-operation or, indeed, all the other matters that are being amended or repealed. I am not going to complicate matters further but, looking further ahead in the treaty, I found the same problem again.
I only want to ask the Minister, "Is it me?" I am prepared to accept that it is; perhaps over the past few years I have not followed certain treaties as closely as I should. Now that we are in a world of transparency for the EU, we are going to have a committee like the rather ridiculous tax rewrite Committee for Finance Bills. Apparently, we are now going to have an EU treaties rewrite committee. I do not particularly want to serve on that committee, and I am sure that it will take a long time to establish. However, I should like to know where I can find the article 11 that is being replaced by new articles 11 and 11a; the original article 11 is not in my copy of the treaty establishing the European Community. It may be in someone else's, but the Vote Office does not seem to have it. I do not know which copy the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is working from; I am not suggesting that it has a secret treaty, but perhaps it is working from different drafts.
The treaty is in different languages, but presumably the problem is still in the French version and every other version. Where do I find the article 11 that is being replaced by new articles 11 and 11a in the treaty of Nice? Or is article 11 in the treaty establishing the European Community, which has nothing to do with the new articles, being replaced? The Bill is important, so I hope that we will know which treaties we are talking about when we insert them in the European Communities Act 1972.
I want to ask a few brief questions about the substance of some new articles that are incorporated by the treaty of Nice. Paragraph 5—if it is a paragraph—on page 16 says:
"Article 100 shall be replaced by the following".
I have not had the energy to check whether article 100 in the treaty of Nice is completely different from article 100 in the treaty establishing the European Community, or only a little different; I do not know whether the problem that applies to article 11 applies to it. However, we will let that go. Article 100 deals with paying money out or providing financial assistance to member states with difficulties caused by natural disasters. It refers to a member state
"threatened with severe difficulties caused by natural disasters"—
I think that we probably understand what is meant by natural disasters—
"or exceptional occurrences beyond its control".
I do not know what is meant by "exceptional occurrences". Perhaps the Minister will give us, if not a definition—that may be asking too much of such a wide phrase—an example of exceptional occurrences that are beyond a state's control. I am sure that they exist and, no doubt, were discussed.
The problem with incorporating treaties in statutory legislation—in effect, that is what we are doing—is that we do not have many definitions. Hardly ever do we find definitions in the treaty of Nice or in any of the other treaties, as one would expect in a statute, yet we are incorporating the treaty into the statute law of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
I understand how curious the provisions seem. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is, at least potentially, a clear conflict between the provision for qualified majority voting in respect of what are opaquely described as "exceptional occurrences", and the general European prohibition on state aids?
I assume that the prohibition on state aids was a prohibition on aid from the state—its own Government—to an entity within that state. The treaty of Nice deals with supranational aid from the centre to the state, I suppose. Perhaps that is because there is a prohibition on state aids, but I am not sure.
The measure goes on to state that
"the Council, acting by a qualified majority . . . may grant, under certain conditions, Community financial assistance".
May we be told what those conditions are? The person who drafted that must have had some idea of the kind of conditions that were meant; otherwise the word "certain" would, presumably, not have been inserted. It probably limits the relevant conditions, in the mind of the draftsman. What conditions would be imposed on the member state by the centralised body—the Council of Ministers or the Commission—in granting such aid?
At the top of page 17 of the treaty of Nice, sub-paragraph (7) states:
"Article 123(4) shall be replaced".
I had a sneak preview of the original article 123(4) in my copy of the treaty establishing the European Community. I do not know what is stated in the Foreign Office copy, but in my copy that paragraph has nothing to do with what is contained in the amendment to the treaty. It has nothing to do with that extremely important article, which deals with the third stage. I remember something about the third stage from years ago, when we discussed the treaty of Maastricht. No doubt Mr. Cash remembers it well.
I am not sure about flexibility. The third stage is not very flexible in respect of the amendment.
What is being replaced by sub-paragraph (7)? It is certainly not replacing what I have in my copy, but it may be replacing what the Foreign Office has in its copy. Why is the change necessary now? Is the new article 123(4) substantially different from that which it replaces?
The article deals with unanimity and the fixed rate at which a member state's currency is translated into ecus. I thought that the ecu had gone, but apparently we still have ecus, at least in the paragraph to which I refer. It states that
"the ECU shall be substituted for these currencies"— that is, the member states' currencies. The fixed rate becomes the rate for the ecu, as I understand it.
The article continues:
"This measure shall by itself not modify the external value of the ECU."
I have no idea what that means. I hope that we will be told. We are incorporating the new article, which refers to fixing rates irrevocably. Would that apply if and when the United Kingdom joins the single currency? Will new article 123(4) then be applicable to us? I should have thought so. It refers to fixing the rate and converting that rate into ecus. What happens to the preceding two years and the need for sterling to float? I do not understand. I hope that the Minister can tell us whether the article will affect us.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that he is behaving like Mr. Gradgrind? Such detailed questions are outrageous. The thrust of the treaty is surely to consolidate a European state. It is therefore outrageous to discuss the mere detail, as he is doing. We should accept the intent, which is clear to most of us. The treaty drives towards the consolidation of a state in which the United Kingdom is a subordinate constituent.
That has been my view ever since the European Communities Act 1972. I do not want digress and be out of order, but being a Celt, I could smell an Act of Union in 1972. The English are not very good at smelling Acts of Union, because they have never had such Acts imposed on them, but that is coming. That was the hon. Gentleman's point, I think.
The detail of the single currency is important, and I hope that the Minister will explain why we have new article 123(4) and what the old one was, as it is not in my copy of the treaty establishing the European Community.
Finally, there is another extremely important amendment in paragraph 5 at the bottom of page 17. It deals with GATT—the general agreement on tariffs and trade—trade in services, intellectual property, the Uruguay round and all that went with it, and the surprising decision of the European Court of Justice in favour of the competence of the nation state. That must be one of the few cases in which that political court came down in favour of the nation state against the Commission, which was particularly angry at the time. Now, that is being overturned. The competence of the nation state is being taken away. Whether that could have been called a veto, I do not know.
In case I cannot deal in my reply with all the details that my right hon. Friend raises, I shall write to him. He may wish to know that there was a mistake in the Command Paper containing the treaty of Nice. Two footnotes were later corrected. I want to be sure that he has that correction.
I do not, although I studied the footnotes carefully. Perhaps I should not refer to the footnotes in the treaty establishing the European Community, as that might confuse the Foreign Office even more. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the intervention. It is my fault that I did not understand a word that he said, but I am sure that he will deal with the matter at greater length when he winds up. If not, no doubt he will, like all Ministers, resort to a letter. I am sure that I shall get a learned letter, which will be placed in the Library.
The trade in services negotiation will be difficult and important. There are fundamental views on all sides about it. I am sorry that the Government have given up the competence of the member state—of this member state, which is my concern. Whatever view one takes of the agreement on trade in services, the effect of multinational companies and so on, I am sorry that my Government have given up their competence on that and handed it over to qualified majority voting. This is not a trivial veto on a matter such as the registrar of the European Court. Who cares who the registrar is? That, apparently, is the Foreign Office view, but I do not agree with it.
The veto is extremely important, as it goes to the heart of trade in services and its effect on this country and others. Of course, the French have protected their culture and have obtained a derogation. Where negotiation deals with French culture, they have got a veto, but the Brits gave that right up. Perhaps we are not as interested in culture as the French. I am sorry that we have given up the veto, which is not trivial or minor. Will my hon. Friend the Minister explain, in what might be a rather lengthy reply, the rationale behind giving up the power of the House in a matter that is as important as international trade in services?
I think that I had better stop there. I am sure that I could speak about many other aspects of the treaty, but I have made a few points with which I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will deal.
I have made my declaration in the Register of Members' Interests.
I follow Denzil Davies, who has done the Committee a great service by pointing out a problem that I, too, have discovered. I thought that I had come to the Chamber well prepared for this detailed debate in Committee. I brought the treaty with me, but when I tried to pursue the amendments and the Government's proposals in the documentation, I encountered exactly the same problems that he faced. I shall not repeat what he said about them, but I hope that the Minister will deal with them. We appear to be amending and introducing legislation for a treaty under the heading of articles that bear no relation to the documentation that is available to hon. Members for this debate. I shall proceed on the basis that the Government should know what they are doing and in the light of the other documentation that I have read, even though it is not within the correct frame of reference for this debate.
I want to return to the main issue with which the amendments deal—the question of how much qualified majority voting is desirable—and to consider whether it would be better to join my hon. Friend Mr. Spring in saying that we do not want any of the proposed extensions of qualified majority voting, or whether the Government have a point. Their argument is that, because modest powers over trade and commerce were surrendered to qualified majority voting under a previous Conservative Government, it is clear that we must surrender a range of other powers, some of which are more serious, dealing with a range of other matters that are in no way connected with the single market or trading. Similarly, one could suggest that, if one drink makes someone happy and shows that they are clubbable, that person should get stoned out of their mind by drinking everything that they can lay their hands on. According to the Government, they would have no problems whatever with a hangover or a headache.
Although it is the official Conservative case that a few drinks of qualified majority voting are all right, but a lot would make one completely drunk, I take the view, having negotiated under QMV, that it should be a prohibited substance. I do not believe that, even in our new inclusive spirit, we should seek to remove it from the list of prohibited substances, because it is closer to a hard drug than anything else that might be up for review.
I would be interested to hear my right hon. Friend's view on one specific increase in qualified majority voting—the one that my hon. Friend Mr. Cash mentioned in relation to child abduction. Does he agree that such a move would be a step too far? Should the issue be covered by multilateral and bilateral negotiations, or was my hon. Friend the Member for Stone right to table his amendment?
I usually find myself in agreement with my hon. Friend Mr. Cash on European matters, but I fear that I cannot follow him on that specific issue. His usual cogent arguments against qualified majority voting relate to issues on which we wish to develop international agreement as well as to those on which we do not want to develop any such agreement. He should bear in mind the fact that if the leading continental countries are against his proposal, they can block it under qualified majority voting. If they favour it, however, he can obtain what he seeks by negotiation with the veto in place. The veto is an important guarantee even in that respect, as it can prevent this country from being forced into doing things with which he would not agree.
As my right hon. Friend and I are going to disagree—we can agree to disagree—I must remind him that when the Maastricht treaty was considered, there were many matters on which we voted differently. I leave that as a matter of record.
My hon. Friend is right. He might like to remember my record on qualified majority voting. I was the chief policy adviser to Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven when she was negotiating the Single European Act as Prime Minister. My advice was that we should not surrender the powers in perpetuity, but make the surrender extremely limited for the specific purpose of the few directives needed—as we saw it—for the single market, and let the powers revert. Unfortunately, the Baroness did not accept my advice on that occasion, although she did so on many others. I did my best to prevent surrender of the powers, as I thought that that was wrong then.
On the Maastricht treaty, my hon. Friend will know that mine was one of the few voices—often the only voice—in the Cabinet to say that it was wrong to surrender the powers. After I resigned from the Government, I was able to make my view public. I can assure him that I never agreed to the proposals in the Cabinet Committee, but I obviously could not make that known to the general public until I had resigned. Perhaps I fought on too long, but I felt that somebody in that Cabinet had to put the case against QMV and other measures that I thought were leading too fast towards European integration.
After some of the interventions by Opposition Members, the right hon. Gentleman's argument seemed to take a more frivolous turn. I am not sure whether we have now returned to serious debate. There is a difference between what he and Opposition Front Benchers seem to want. Those on the Front Bench would like to rule out in principle any further extensions of QMV in future, but he would like to end all the qualified majority voting procedures that already exist, too. How does he propose to negotiate with our partner states an end to all the qualified majority voting procedures that currently exist in the European Union? How would he achieve that?
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has leapt to conclusions that my comments did not justify. I explained that I had in the past consistently opposed extensions of qualified majority voting, but I fully support the Conservative Front Bench position, which is to say no to the further surrenders in the treaty. Furthermore, I support my Front-Bench colleagues in saying that we should get powers back over a wide range of matters, including agriculture and fisheries, in respect of which the surrender has gone too far.
I accept that there has to be a renegotiation and that we will not get all the powers back, but if we do not ask for some of them back, we will not get any. I object strongly to what the Government are doing, not only because they fail to try to get powers back when we are clearly at a disadvantage after surrenders by Governments of all persuasions, but because they then frivolously give away the powers under discussion without understanding how that undermines their position and that of future Governments. They do not understand how their actions are undermining the position of United Kingdom voters and our democracy, or how they will come back to haunt this country in future.
Labour Members suggest that the measures are needed for enlargement, but that is one of the most misleading points that has been made in this debate. We know that the Irish people wisely voted against the whole treaty. It is difficult to see why we must rush through this discussion on qualified majority voting, when they have said that it is not important for enlargement, and they do not want it to be foisted upon them in larger measure, so they have vetoed it and other important parts of the treaty.
When the Danish voted no in the original referendum on the Maastricht treaty and the single currency, mine was a lager. I am now more attracted to stout. It is good that two smaller European countries have shown their independence and a democratic will that can be expressed in referendums. I wish that the Government would give us a referendum on QMV and the Nice treaty, which has fundamental constitutional implications. I do not understand why they need to rush the Bill through when the Irish people have said no, and there is no immediate prospect of reversing their decision. The British Government believe that in the case of a no vote, they should keep balloting, in the hope that people will vote yes through exhaustion. That does not augur well for any referendum for which they may provide.
Government amendments to the treaty and the Bill are required to allow us to renegotiate the common agricultural policy. That issue is not being solved and it is crucial for member states and applicant members.
I was trying to put QMV in context. It is at the heart of the amendments that I support.
More QMV will lead directly to more Community activism, orchestrated by the European Commission. A European government already exists; it is unelected and powerful. The measure that we are considering manifests that government's wish to gain more and more power over the aspects of our lives that are detailed in the documents we are discussing. Those aspects range widely from product markets through discrimination to control over political parties. A powerful executive Government might take such powers in a democracy, with voters' approval—but they should not be given to an unelected, undemocratic government, which usually meets behind closed doors and is not subject to the same scrutiny and exposure as a proper democratic regime.
My right hon. Friend is right. One does not need to look into the crystal ball when one can read the book. Does he realise that there was a dramatic extension of QMV in the treaty of Amsterdam? Since its ratification, 4,995 European Union directives, regulations and decisions have had an impact on this country. That precisely illustrates my right hon. Friend's point.
I knew the general point, but I am grateful for my hon. Friend's repertoire of statistics, which illustrates it with great clarity and precision.
Enlarging the Community does not require a super-active or hyperactive government, which generates more and more laws. Indeed, that makes enlargement more difficult. If more regulations and laws are imposed not only on richer members, but on poorer states at a different level of economic development, they may not be able to catch up with such intrusive government and expensive regulation. More power for the Commission to legislate through QMV is the last thing an enlarged Community needs.
We are told that the Community will come to a halt without qualified majority powers—but if, as a legislature, it slows down, that is not bad news; it is good news. We have too many laws. Some are generated by our Government, but at least they can be democratically removed when people believe that the position has become insufferable. If we allow QMV to advance ever more strongly, we cannot control the massive volume of law from Brussels. That will be damaging to applicant members. The poorer the country, the more damaging it will be; it will create an impenetrable barrier for poor countries.
The right hon. Gentleman says that he wants to renegotiate the treaties on the European Union. Which other Governments of member states would like a European Union in which the veto was restored and powers were repatriated? What would the right hon. Gentleman offer in return? Does he believe that his negotiating stance is such that he could achieve something for nothing?
That is a little wide of the debate, but I have set the facts out elsewhere. Baroness Thatcher was 11:1 down when she sought repayment of our colossal contributions. That did not daunt her, and her negotiating skills were sufficient to gain unanimity in favour of a rebate for us. We need such a negotiating power, and a Conservative Administration could provide it. We would offer our partners many things, such as our presence, our trade and our good will. The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind the fact that they sell us far more than we sell them. They have every interest in our remaining part of the trading club; there is no reason for us to join their common government.
I thank you, Mrs. Heal, for respecting the secrecy of the ballot.
We have been told that the Government are committed, as the previous Administration claimed to be, to subsidiarity. We are also told that subsidiarity flourishes and is alive. It is difficult to understand how it can develop or flourish when so much extra QMV is to be introduced. That is a contradiction. If we lose our veto over more subjects, more will be decided in Brussels. More decisions will be made against our will. Far from letting power percolate back to member states and their democratically elected Parliaments, the Bill constitutes a massive extension of state power at the European level by the unelected government of the Commission, aided and abetted by the absentee Ministers who occasionally attend lunches in Brussels and rubber-stamp the Commission's plans.
The democratically elected constituent parts of the European government cannot even propose a draft law or regulation. The Commissioners of the unelected government in Brussels have to do all the drafting. The British Government are incapable of setting an agenda, negotiating in favour of a British position and changing the Brussels agenda. The current British style of negotiation is to ring the Commission, discover its agenda, rush out a press release stating that that is what they would like, and return claiming triumph when they have run up the white flag yet again. As QMV increases, that will be increasingly true.
My right hon. Friend is making a thoughtful speech. Not only is it true that the British Government are incapable of drafting a directive or regulation that could be adopted by Brussels, but more importantly, Members of Parliament are incapable of stopping any draft regulation or directive. The sole power of our European Standing Committees is to refuse to "take note" of something—and the Question is then put on the Floor of the House and automatically nodded through even if we have voted in favour of not taking note.
My hon. Friend is right. It is dispiriting that so much of our democracy is being removed. The Bill will make things worse. On many subjects, the House may not even be consulted before a Minister goes to Brussels to consider a proposition. The Minister may go along with a proposition because he fears being outvoted, or he may be bold enough to endure that. He will then return to the House and claim that he has triumphed and that it is in our interest to accept the proposition. If we try to do anything, it will not matter because the proposition will already be good law, settled at European government level. The views of the House will be overridden yet again.
The Under-Secretary smiles wanly because he knows that I have outlined the true position; perhaps he is in favour of that. I wonder why he wants to remain a Member of Parliament when he is so keen for all the decisions that we used to make to be taken elsewhere by QMV or by the executive order and fiat of Commissioners whom we have not elected.
We are considering the negotiating powers of member states, and whether they have the right to defend their national interest. When I was a Minister, I attended some 21 Councils of Ministers—primarily the single market Council, but others as well—and I got a range of experience. Whenever I went with a veto, I found negotiating a pleasurable and relatively straightforward experience. I could guarantee to my colleagues in the Government that I would never come back with an answer that we could not accept.
All the time that there was political support in the Government for the line that I wished to take—that was another issue—I could guarantee to my colleagues that I would either come back with a vastly improved draft because I had threatened to use the veto until I got the draft that I wanted, or come back empty-handed, and often happier that way, saying that I had used the veto because the proposals were totally unacceptable and that the British position had been preserved by exercising that veto. There was never any danger: we got either good law or no law. I would normally favour no law, although there are rare occasions when one might want a good law. With a veto, one can guarantee either good law or no law. Surely that makes sense for any Minister.
Not as often as I would have liked. It is entirely reasonable that member states should protect their national interests. It is also reasonable, in a world of subsidiarity, that in most cases there should be not a European law but national laws passed by each member state according to its wishes. I want a trading arrangement, primarily, and a single market that works. I do not believe that we get a single market by having lots of laws. We pass too many laws in the name of the single market.
A single market is about traders, freedom of movement and removing barriers. It is also about having no customs dues, about having the ability to sell a product or service here as well as there, and about Governments not getting in the way. As always with the European Union, it tries to turn the single market into a massive extension of state power. It has proposed some 300 laws, many of which we finally agreed to because we had to under QMV, and many of those were not strictly necessary for a single market. The single market would be stronger if quite a number of them were repealed.
When I tried to negotiate under QMV, I found it far more time-consuming and expensive in every way. There were times when I was able to persuade my partners and colleagues and win them over. However, that might take three to six months of intensive campaigning involving international telephone calls, getting on planes to foreign capitals to persuade friendly Ministers, horse-trading on particular issues, developing parliamentary tactics or making people sit up late into the night—which they were not used to doing—in the hope that they would give in to me on a vital clause because they wanted to go home.
All those things had to be done, and it was not a pleasurable experience. I often had to come back and report to the House of Commons—as I always did, because I thought that that was important—that we were making law that was not ideal, but that it was the best we could do in the circumstances because we had given away our right to make, in the House and on behalf of the British people, the laws that we thought were correct.
I urge the House to support the position of my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk and of the official Opposition—supporting whatever amendments are necessary in the light of the advice that we get on the documentation from the Foreign Office, which seems to be a bit of a shambles—to ensure that we do not give away any more qualified majority votes. Before the Minister says, "We can't do that, because Britain has given its word", I would say that Britain is surely still sufficiently democratic that, if the British people and their parliamentary representatives think that this treaty goes a step too far, we can go back to our European partners and say that it goes a step too far. We have the opportunity to do that now, because the Irish people have said that it goes several steps too far, and that, as far as they can see, the treaty of Nice is a dead letter.
Many good points have been made on individual items. I do not want to take up much more time, as others wish to contribute, but I am worried by the proposals on product intervention and the surrender of the unanimity clause. I find those proposals ambiguous, and I am not sure that the Government have protected our position on oil in the way that they claim. Whenever I have raised the issue, their defence has always sounded rather shrill. They are clearly worried by the issue, and I would like to hear their legal advice on it.
I am worried about the subsidies to member states in trouble. We have not had a clear enough definition of what that might mean and how much it might cost British taxpayers.
I am also worried by any hint of dilution of the veto on the common foreign and security policy. This country should control its own foreign policy, and its own Army, Navy and Air Force. The Government are on the slide on that issue. I trust that they will offer leadership in Europe, but I want them to do so by power of persuasion, not by giving away our right to go it alone should the need arise. I am worried that the rules on structural funds might now pass out of veto territory into qualified majority voting territory. I fear that we might not do as well as we would wish if that were to happen.
My final observation is about the extraordinary text—highlighted by the right hon. Member for Llanelli—concerning the European Central Bank and the ecu. I thought that the ecu had been pensioned off some time ago, and was being replaced by the euro. I was always worried about the legality of that move, because the ecu is the currency in the treaty and it has a specific value, which could be different from that of the euro at any given point because of the way in which currencies move, and the fact that it is a weighted basket currency. We now see the ecu coming back in the language of the treaty of Nice.
I hope that the Minister will explain why we have reinvented the ecu when the Germans and others were trying to polish it off, and why we did not have proper amendments to the treaty confessing that the whole third stage plan for the ecu had gone wrong. That plan was blown up when the exchange rate mechanism fell to pieces, and when the German Government decided that the ecu was an embarrassment because it had sunk so far against the deutschmark. I hope that the Minister will also explain why we do not have proper treaty amendments for incorporation into the Bill to make the euro an honest currency in the legal sense, even if it is still a devaluing currency in every other sense. It is not a currency that I welcome. I see the Minister laughing. He would be well advised to make it legally honest, even if it is never going to be honest money.
I have great pleasure in supporting my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk and a united Conservative party in saying that we do not want all this qualified majority voting. It undermines our liberties and our democracy, and it is taking away the rights entrusted to us by the British people. Our tenure in this place is leasehold—although some have longer leases than others—and it is wrong to give away the freehold.
The treaty of Nice is an exceptionally good deal for the United Kingdom. There is much in it that deserves to be commended. For example, it contains proposals for sensible changes to the European Parliament, for well-thought-out changes to the European Commission and for significant changes to the European Union's legal system. There will also be significant changes to the Council of Ministers, especially with regard to qualified majority voting and to voting in the Council of Ministers.
As the Government explained in their White Paper in the lead-up to the Nice summit, QMV does not weaken Britain's place in Europe. The opposite is the case: a sensible extension of QMV will strengthen the United Kingdom's position. It is interesting that, in this philosophical debate, the Opposition have conceded that there are many circumstances in which QMV has already operated to the material benefit of the United Kingdom. The greatest single achievement of the European Union to date is the single European market. No one in this debate has doubted for a moment that that single market, although not yet complete, would not have proceeded as far as it has done without qualified majority voting.
I am, therefore, happy to see an extension to qualified majority voting. Some of the measures proposed in the treaty of Nice advocate an extension of QMV in areas of no tremendous significance—for example, with regard to the Committee of the Regions and to the Economic and Social Committee. Not many people would argue that those two bodies were institutions of great significance. In fact, they are decidedly not European Union institutions.
However, I accept that other areas in which an extension of QMV is proposed are of some significance. The structural funds have already been mentioned. The extension is also proposed in areas of industrial and commercial policy and in environmental measures. It is also suggested that it be extended to ensure that the single European market is made complete.
Arguing by advocacy rather than by evidence, the hon. Gentleman contends that the single market is a tribute to qualified majority voting. If that is his position—it is a perfectly honourable one—can he tell the House how and why the free trade agreement that Switzerland has with the European Union is inferior to participation within the formal confines of the single market?
The free trade agreement with Switzerland is a positive measure, but it is only the beginning of what, we hope, will become a more complete arrangement. I hope that, as many people have advocated, the Swiss will reconsider their position and develop an ever-closer association with the EU in future. The current arrangements are a step in the right direction, but there is further to go.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the position of Switzerland and Norway will become untenable as the EU expands further, as they will have the benefits of the EU but none of the costs, and that those benefits, if they wish to retain them, will have to be looked at carefully?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the position is not ideal, but not that it is untenable. It is satisfactory at present and points us in the right direction. The position of Switzerland and Norway indicates that a deeper association is mutually desirable.
Further to my points about the single European market, it has been accepted that there were difficulties in securing the legislation that we wanted in our national interests when unanimity was required. Given that there were difficulties with an EU membership of 15, we can imagine how much more difficult it would be with a membership of 27. It would be enormously difficult to try to achieve unanimity. Mr. Redwood told us that when he was a Minister he used to fly around Europe making deals and arrangements. Even he would find it difficult to fly around 26 member states trying to secure agreement on different items of policy.
On the other hand, instead of voting everything down, seeking to destroy everything and being entirely negative, as the Opposition would like us to be, would it not be far better if we had an imaginative, powerful agenda for Europe, as the Government have, and the power of advocacy to fulfil that agenda?
We have heard a lot about the United Kingdom being able to exercise a veto, but we should not forget that if we have a veto so will every other member state. At the moment the EU comprises 15 member states. If there were 27 member states, they would all have a veto and that would be a farcical situation. Apart from the Opposition, very few people in Europe are trying to argue that proposition.
Does not the hon. Gentleman betray the mindset with which he and his hon. Friends come to this House by suggesting that the great enterprise of additional legislation will lead us to some utopia? Is it not a matter of the danger of additional legislation that we can prevent by the exercise of a veto, but not through qualified majority voting?
I return to the point that I was making earlier. The Government have a positive agenda for Europe. We want to build a better Europe. We are not satisfied with simply maintaining the status quo or attempting to turn the clock back. We want the EU to develop so that we have a single market, supported by a strong social backdrop to produce the wealth-creating capacity that we all want.
Let me give an example of what could happen if we had enlargement without the extension of qualified majority voting. Reference has been made to the structural funds. Let us imagine that the British Government, negotiating the new financial perspective from 2007 onwards, negotiated a very good deal for the regions of the United Kingdom, drawing substantial sums of money from the structural funds, but at the last moment one of the new member states—such as Slovenia, with a population of under 2 million—suddenly refused to accept that and decided to exercise its veto. It would be perfectly entitled to do so. What would happen if Cyprus, with a population of 700,000, decided to exercise its veto? It would be perfectly entitled to do so. What would happen if Malta, with a population of under 300,000, decided that the deal negotiated by the United Kingdom was unacceptable and chose to exercise its veto? That would be an untenable and farcical situation in which deals negotiated by our democratically elected Government could be scuppered by a small minority of people in a far-flung section of the EU. That is not democracy.
The hon. Gentleman must surely not need reminding that we are a net contributor to the EU and the vetoing of a structural fund allocation is not something over which we should weep if we were able to retain the money and distribute it among our own regions as we wished.
That is a much broader argument that goes far beyond this debate. It is not an argument against the Nice treaty, but in favour of our withdrawal from the EU, which I suspect many Opposition Members would like to happen.
Let me return to qualified majority voting and the proposed changes. With regard to the weighting of votes at the Council of Ministers, it is worth pointing out that under the present formula the United Kingdom has 10 votes, which represent 11.4 per cent. of the 87 votes. Under the Nice treaty it is proposed that, with a membership of 15, the United Kingdom would have 29 of the 237 votes. That would be an increase to 12.2 per cent. of the votes, so under the Nice treaty the United Kingdom's position would be strengthened by the reformulation of votes. Admittedly, that is only in the short term. After enlargement, the voting strength of all the larger states will be reduced as a percentage of the total.
I wish that Mr. Cash were in his place, as it is worth noting that Germany, which has the largest population in the EU, will have the lowest voting strength in relation to its population. I find it objectionable that the hon. Member suggests that there is some kind of plot whereby Germany is trying to take the lead and subvert democracy. What has been negotiated at Nice demonstrates that that is absurd.
As we have already heard, qualified majority voting is not being advocated across the board. It is important for us to recognise that in some areas such as taxation, social security and border controls, there is an argument for maintaining the principle of unanimity. We are not arguing a maximalist position, but a reasoned pragmatic position that will take Europe and the United Kingdom forward.
In conclusion, I believe that the treaty of Nice is absolutely essential for EU enlargement, as is qualified majority voting, and enlargement is in the interests of all the candidate countries. Clearly, those countries would not be applying for membership of the EU if it were not in their best interests to do so. Let me stress, however, that it is also in our best interests. It will mean more jobs and more trade and will allow us to tackle common problems. It will mean fewer pressures for economic migration. Perhaps above all else, it will mean greater economic stability, with peace and security. It will mean an end to the east-west divide that has scarred our continent for too long.
That is why I honestly believe that the amendment will be rejected and that the House will eventually lend its support to the treaty of Nice.
My hon. Friend Mr. Cash said that he wanted to press amendment No. 233 to a vote. I ask hon. Members to look at the amendment paper, where they will see that people have subscribed to that amendment whom one would normally regard as the standard bearers of rectitude in matters European. One would have thought that they were the people to follow, given the reputation that they have established in these matters.
My hon. Friend was persuasive in his arguments for amendment No. 233. He told us of the agony experienced by a mother who had her children abducted and could not gain access to them. Those emotional arguments were so powerful that he abrogated the principle that my hon. Friend Mr. Spring set out at the beginning of the debate: that the Opposition were opposed to any further encroachments of qualified majority voting.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stone said that such was the extremity of this one case that we should take a further leap and place family law into the domain of qualified majority voting, and many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have been persuaded by him and subscribed to the amendment.
The problem of child abduction in Europe is very much, though not exclusively, a German one, under laws that date back unreformed to national socialism. My hon. Friend was forensic in his exposition of how majority voting has changed under the treaty of Nice and how the Germans will increasingly get their way as a consequence of their increase in the share of the qualified majority, and particularly the double majority voting. That entirely undermines his case for the amendment. The consequence will be that we will have cast family law into the pot for qualified majority voting, but the Germans, by the strength of his own argument, will get their way anyway. Far better, I urge my hon. Friends, to oppose the amendment and stick with the principle established by my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk, dealing with such matters by bilateral negotiations.
The decision-making processes agreed at Nice are considerably to the benefit of the United Kingdom. They have been changed to ensure democratic legitimacy. In qualified majority voting, not only will the qualified majority be necessary but the votes will have to represent at least 62 per cent. of the total population of the European Union before a decision can be made.
The comments of Mr. Cash about the Germanification of Europe are totally unfounded, because the treaty says that Germany will have the same number of votes as the UK, even though the German population is 82 million and ours only 57 million. It says:
"Acts of the Council shall require for their adoption at least 258 votes in favour, cast by a majority of members, where this Treaty requires them to be adopted on a proposal from the Commission."
Germany has only 29 of those 258 votes. We can see that people who pretend to be interested in Britain remaining in the European Union are using scaremongering tactics on qualified majority voting and enhanced co-operation.
The President of the European Commission will now have to be approved by the European Council by QMV and there will be new powers to organise the Commission and sack individual Commissioners if necessary. Many of us remember the appointment of the previous Commission President and the disagreement between European Governments, when unanimity was needed. Every single member state had a veto. If that was bad with the 12 member states that existed then, what would it be like with 25, 26, 27 or 28 members? Because they could not reach agreement, the 12 member states at the time came up with Mr. Jacques Santer, who proved to be a useless head of the European Commission. Decisions were made that lacked clarity, concision or vision, and we ended with the spectacle of a totally discredited European Commission.
I was in discussions with Mr. Kinnock at the time. He wanted the entire Commission to resign, and he was instrumental in persuading certain Commissioners, including Mrs. Cresson, to do so. One of the most reluctant to resign was the President himself, who was appointed under the unanimity procedures that the Conservative party is still trying to defend. Unanimity may be okay for decisions such as own resources, border controls, treaty changes and taxation, but not across the board. QMV has worked in Britain's interests. In 1998–99, there were 85 contested QM votes in the Council of Ministers. The UK was outvoted or abstained on five occasions, compared with eight for France and 21 for Germany.
QMV protects Britain's interests in many areas, including the European Court of Justice; trade in services; article 161, on the tasks and rules of the structural and cohesion funds, which will stop net recipients blocking efficiency and cost savings; environmental issues; financial regulation; appointments; and industrial policy. The Opposition amendments are aimed not at improving the European Union, but at wrecking the Nice treaty and other treaties negotiated over decades, as well as wrecking the relationship that we have with the 14 other member states.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in this interesting debate, including my hon. Friend Mr. Miller and my right hon. Friend Denzil Davies, who will appreciate—indeed, he anticipated—that I will study what he said with great care before I write to him in detail on the points he raised. I have pointed out to him that there were a number of errors in the footnotes of the Command Paper that have been corrected. That may account for some of the issues he mentioned, if not all.
Mr. Redwood, as before, exulted in being Mr. Veto in Europe. A fine load of good that did Britain and I am not sure that it did him much good either. It is important that we concentrate on the big picture. People listening to this debate could have been sidetracked into some of the intricate detail and away from the big picture.
When Britain joined the European Economic Community, under a Conservative Government, there were already a considerable number of articles in the treaty of Rome that were subject to qualified majority voting. As the EEC and, later, the EU has grown larger, so there has been a need to extend QMV to stop decision making grinding to a halt.
Frankly, the picture painted by Mr. Spring was literally incredible, as Mr. Campbell and my hon. Friend Mr. Hendrick pointed out. As my hon. Friend Mr. Henderson observed, there is at least a measure of hypocrisy in Conservative criticisms of the Bill because the biggest extension of QMV came with Mrs. Thatcher's Single European Act in 1986. Literally thousands of directives and regulations have been passed using articles to which QMV was extended under the Single European Act.
The Single European Act allowed progress on the single market to be accelerated; a good thing, too. Yet Mr. Cash was happy to see QMV, to use his phrase, "bulldozed through" in the Single European Act, for which he voted, but not in other areas.
I admire the sense of principle and integrity of the hon. Member for Stone when he realises that an issue needs addressing—he spoke with great eloquence and sincerity about child abduction. The original proposal at Nice was that the whole of article 65 should move to QMV but one member state in particular was adamant that family law should be excluded. Given that unanimity applies to treaty change, and that we asked others to respect where we considered a matter of fundamental importance to be at stake, we had to respect that decision. Mr. Swayne, who seems blind to the dreadful problem of child abduction.
Maastricht also introduced QMV to many new areas of activity: implementing measures for common foreign and security policy and for the justice and home affairs pillars; for trans-European networks in transport; for telecommunications and energy infrastructures; for development policy co-operation; for consumer protection; and for the environment.
Why am I dwelling on the history? Because it was not this Government who agreed to those moves, but the Conservative party: the same party that now tells us that it is against new extensions of QMV in principle; the same party that calls QMV "giving away the veto" and an "erosion of national sovereignty"; the same party that has such a negative view of Europe that it seemingly cannot accept that QMV can ever be in Britain's interests. It is also the same party that has tabled amendments to the Bill seeking to remove every single new area of QMV.
Let us examine some of the new areas where Britain's national sovereignty is being eroded. The Conservatives object to the use of QMV on the financial regulations in article 279, which will make it easier to carry out much-needed reforms to tighten financial management, making rules for accounting officers and financial audit. These provisions will ensure that the British taxpayers' money is used properly. We do not want vested interests to block such reforms; we want more efficient ways to tackle fraud, mismanagement and waste in the EU. I am astonished that the Conservatives do not.
I recognise the dilemma in amendment No. 233, but we are considering the problems affecting children and their parents in difficult circumstances. We should be able to concede on that matter, but not in relation to matters of European government, which is a different issue altogether. That applies to common foreign and security policy, as well as to Maastricht and Amsterdam, which we largely negotiated.
I always enjoy my dialogues with the hon. Gentleman, who is a serious student of this matter. He deserves respect and to be listened to. However, government is about areas of social policy such as family law. It is to his credit that he has recognised that, in the appalling example to which he referred, QMV should apply; we wanted that in Nice, but were unable to achieve it. However, he should look with similar objectivity at other aspects of its application.
The Conservative party objects to QMV to appoint special representatives in common foreign and security policy.
"Quite right," says the right hon. Gentleman. To whose credit is haggling over the nationality of these representatives, so that they arrive too late do any good? QMV will make sure that the right person is appointed quickly—a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Preston in another context. We have had national interests blocking the best person for the job. QMV enables that to be overcome.
The Conservatives object to QMV being applied to incentive measures to help stamp out discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, religion, disability, age or sexual orientation. We have been encouraging the Commission to do more in this area; QMV will make that task easier. We still have built-in safeguards to prevent any weakening of British standards through harmonisation of national legislation.
I could go on; in fact, I will. Another important point is that the Conservatives object to QMV on industrial policy under article 157(3), which is about competitiveness. QMV will help us to deliver the Lisbon economic reform agenda. It will deliver measures to support initiative, the development of small and large enterprises and better exploitation of innovation and research; all measures that will clearly benefit British business.
The amendment that really takes the biscuit and shows how far down the road of madness the Conservatives have gone is the one that would strike from the treaty the move to QMV on deciding the pension rights of the registrar of the Court of First Instance. Apparently this and articles like it represent such a monumental erosion of national sovereignty that the Opposition are demanding complete renegotiation of the treaty; more, they are demanding a referendum. The Conservative party would deny the British people a referendum on joining the euro, one of the most important issues of our time; the same party that denied the people a referendum on the fundamental changes made by the treaty of Maastricht. However, it wants the British people trooping off to the polls over the crucial constitutional issue of the pension rights of the registrar of the Court of First Instance. This is bizarre.
Like the Minister, I wish to see fraud and racism stamped out throughout the EU and beyond. Which are the countries that the Minister thinks will support fraud and racism that need to be overridden by the use of QMV? Surely we can negotiate on those matters by unanimity. Which countries are so awful?
That is not the way to look at the issue. In tackling discrimination, difficult and tough decisions are needed. There are different views about how we achieve it, and QMV helps.
The Government take a pragmatic view towards QMV based on calculating Britain's interests, as my hon. Friend Mr. David said in his excellent speech. On structural funds post-2007, QMV may well assist in advancing that issue for areas such as Wales. QMV works for Britain; it built the single market on which more than 3 million British jobs and thousands of businesses depend. It is simply not true that Britain always loses out and others always win, as Conservative fantasy suggests. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston was right to say that in 1999 Britain was not outvoted on a single issue, but Germany was twice, France was three times and Italy was eight times.
We are clear that more QMV, in the right areas, can work strongly in Britain's interest in the future and that is how we approached the negotiation on the Nice treaty. When we felt strongly that an issue was of such fundamental importance that the decision must remain in the UK, with this Government and this Parliament, we just said, "No, we will not agree to QMV." We made that clear to the House and to our EU partners even before we had begun the negotiations.
We set out in advance the areas on which we would not agree to QMV. We said that we would not accept QMV in areas such as tax, social security, defence, border controls, treaty change or the Community budget. And nor did we. The UK veto remains on all of those issues.
We firmly and successfully defended our interests as we saw them. Of course, that works both ways. We could have accepted QMV on some issues at Nice—such as on family law within article 65, which is the issue to which the hon. Member for Stone referred—but they were red line issues for other member states.
We have heard several times today that Nice extends QMV in 31 articles of the treaties. That is true, and there are good reasons for all those changes. However, the Committee should consider how many times the article on appointing common foreign and security policy special representatives will be used compared with the number of times the articles that the Conservatives agreed should move to QMV under the Single European Act have already been used. The Committee could also compare the significance of moving decisions on consumer protection to QMV, as the Conservatives did at Maastricht, compared to moving to QMV for decisions on the rules of procedure of the Court of Auditors, as we did at Nice.
Closer to home, does the Minister for Europe not recognise that the loss of the veto has already resulted in the imposition on this country of the information and consultation directive? Mr. Mandelson told the Trade and Industry Committee on
That sounds like the scare stories put about before the 1997 general election, when we were told that the minimum wage would cause the loss of millions of jobs. Instead, 1 million new jobs were created under this Government. I went to the Council of Ministers in Luxembourg after the general election—at short notice, I might add—and was able to negotiate a better deal on that information and consultation directive so that it will be introduced over seven years and will not apply to companies with fewer than 50 workers. It will have little impact, contrary to what Mr. Bercow suggests.
The debate is not about numbers, but about British interests. It is a shortsighted view to oppose QMV in principle, as the Conservatives do, and every one of the 31 moves to QMV that we agreed at Nice will be in Britain's interests. It is in Britain's interests to have QMV for industrial policy to increase competition, as we decided at Nice. Our companies do very well out of the single market.
It is in Britain's interest to have QMV for international agreements on trade in services because our companies will benefit from the liberalisation that that is likely to offer. It is in the UK's interests to have QMV for the rules and procedures of the European Court of Justice because that will deliver more efficient procedures and speedier judgments to ensure that the EU's rules are respected.
I could go on. The fact is that QMV works for Britain, which the Conservatives seem to have forgotten since they agreed to QMV in 42 articles or sub-articles under the Single European Act and Maastricht.
The Minister mentioned defending the national interest and the trade in services. I am pleased that he was not drawn into the game of playing one EU country off against another. My point is about the surrender of negotiating rights under QMV, in so far as that then transfers exclusive authority to negotiate on those issues to European Commissioners. The Minister will know that Pascal Lamy was keen to deny individual states the right to negotiate on trade in services—
I do not agree with my hon. Friend. Why do he and Opposition Members have so little confidence in Britain's ability to go to Europe and get a good deal? We have been consistently able to do that, but my hon. Friend, like Opposition Members, seems to suffer from an incredible inferiority complex about the strength of our arguments and our ability to win in Europe.
The position of the Government is crystal clear: when QMV is in Britain's interests we will agree to it, and when it is not in Britain's interests we will not agree to it. It is as simple as that. The QMV provisions of the Nice treaty fully reflect that principle. That is why we strongly support the treaty, and why we reject the amendments.
I must be very brief. The matters that have been discussed can be dealt with by renegotiation. It is essential that we solve the problem of QMV by rejecting it in all its aspects, except when it affects the people I described in my earlier speech. I am a member of the Child Abduction Committee, as set out in the Register of Members' Interests, and as such I am completely in favour of all the arguments put forward by my right hon. and hon. Friends about QMV, with the exception of amendment No. 233.
I agree with the Minister for Europe that we have heard several fine contributions tonight from both sides of the Committee. What has emerged clearly is how confused the Government are on QMV. They are schizoid. They say that the moves on QMV are hugely important and then, in the next breath, say that they are inconsequential. The Government cannot have it both ways. The real reason for that confusion is that the Government do not have a clear view of the architecture of Europe and the role of Britain in it. That is the heart of the problem.
Before Nice, the former Foreign Secretary talked to the Foreign Affairs Committee about the 50 items on the French presidency's list of potential extensions to QMV, and he substantially ruled them out. In practice at Nice, the majority of the items on that list were eventually accepted in one form or another. Some were amended, but were still accepted. The rhetoric beforehand was entirely different from what actually happened.
Before the last IGC, Ministers repeatedly listed six areas in which they would refuse to extend QMV—treaty change, taxation, border controls, social security, defence and own resources. However, Labour's recent election manifesto mentioned only two issues in relation to retaining the veto—tax and border controls. I tabled a written question specifically on that point and received a bland reply about the national interest. The increasing ambiguity on the subject is a hallmark of a Government who have no clear view on Britain's interests.
We keep hearing the parrot cry about constructive engagement in Europe, but the Government cannot name a single power that has been returned to this national Parliament as a result of their negotiating skills in the past four years.
The political integration process is going in one direction only. We want a modern, dynamic and successful EU that will incorporate all 27 or 28 countries. Qualified majority voting undermines that. Nice was not, in practice, about enlargement: its effect will be to slow down and damage enlargement.
We may well wish to press new clause 11 to a Division in due course, but the debate has made it clear that the Government have undertaken no fresh thinking about our relationship with Europe. The evidence for that is the way in which they have given up our veto on crucial matters.
We therefore have no hesitation about pressing the amendment to a Division this evening.
It being Eight o'clock, Madam Deputy Speaker, pursuant to Order [