[Sylvia Heal in the Chair] — New Clause 4 — Political parties at European level (No. 1)

Orders of the Day — European Communities (Amendment) Bill — [3rd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 4:32 pm on 18th July 2001.

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'Her Majesty's Government should lay before Parliament an annual report setting out the funds received by political parties at European level of which political parties represented in UK Parliament are members, pursuant to Article 2, paragraph 19 of the Treaty of Nice.'.—[Mr. Spring.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment (a) to the proposed clause, in line 1, leave out "should" and insert "shall".

New clause 5—Political parties at European level (No. 2)

'Regulations governing political parties at European level and rules regarding their funding adopted under Article 191 of the Treaty establishing the European Community as amended by Article 2 paragraph 19 of the Treaty of Nice, shall not have legal effect in the United Kingdom unless approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.'.

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

New clauses 4 and 5 relate to an issue of fundamental importance to the House and to the future development of the European Union—the funding and regulation of pan-European political parties. The treaty of Nice allows the Council of Ministers to lay down regulations governing political parties at a European level and, in particular, rules on their funding. I am aware that Ministers may point to the statement in declaration 11 claiming that there is no transfer of competence to the European Community. Currently, however, article 191 makes no mention whatever of the funding or regulation of parties.

The treaty of Nice amends article 191 on political parties. It adds:

"The Council, acting in accordance with the procedure referred to in Article 251"— which deals with co-decision making—

"shall lay down the regulations governing political parties at European level and in particular the rules regarding their funding."

The existence of a treaty base under article 308 for the proposed draft party statute is by no means universally accepted. Indeed, the House's European Scrutiny Committee declined to clear the document for precisely that reason.

Therefore, Ministers signed up at Nice to placing in the treaties for the first time the power to regulate and fund political parties. They then went a step further and agreed that relevant measures would be decided by qualified majority voting. The Opposition believe that those decisions were wrong and that they merit a serious discussion in Committee and a detailed explanation from the Minister for Europe.

Our new clause 5 provides that specific parliamentary approval is needed before party political regulations can take effect in British law. New clause 4 provides for openness concerning the amount that different parties are receiving. If Labour Members intend to vote against our new clauses, the Committee should be told why they regard the proposals as unacceptable.

The Committee may be aware of the background to the developments. Currently, groups in the European Parliament receive funding from the Parliament. The Court of Auditors, however, has criticised the so-called leakage of those funds, which are intended for Members of the European Parliament but go instead into the hands of the European political parties themselves. Of course, we all support calls for more transparency in funding, but we believe that it is possible to achieve that objective by ensuring that such leakage stops.

All too typically, the European Union institutions intend to tackle the problem by becoming involved in an entirely new sphere. The idea is not only that groups in the European Parliament would receive funding, but that pan-European parties themselves would be funded directly by the EU taxpayer, and that with that funding would come the power for the EU to regulate. We believe that that is totally unacceptable.

First, it is wrong in principle for the EU to regulate political parties such as the European People's party, the party of European Socialists and the European Liberals, Democrats and Reformers.

Secondly, it is wrong for the EU taxpayer to be told that he or she has to pay for those political parties. To reiterate, we are talking not about contributing to the cost of the parties' work in the European Parliament, which is provided for separately, but about subsidising the parties themselves.

Thirdly, those provisions have the potential to discriminate systematically against non-integrationist political parties both in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

Fourthly, the ability to decide the regulations and funding not by unanimity but by QMV further increases the chances of the measures being used in a harmful and negative manner.

We are concerned about the draft statute for pan-European parties, which is proposed under current treaty bases and has been subject to lengthy discussion. Initially, 7 million euros are to be made available for party funding, divided between the five existing European political parties. It may be said that that is not a huge sum, but 7 million euros is 7 million too many in our view. There is potential for the amount to rise in future—that may even be inevitable—and its distribution may be discriminatory.

In advancing its proposal earlier this year, the Commission said:

"holding political views favourable to European integration is not a precondition to obtaining the status of a European political party, nor for receiving Community financing."

I am sure that we are grateful for that. However, our concern is that giving the money to pan-European political parties means that, in Britain and elsewhere, the effect is exactly the same in practice.

Unlike Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative party is not a member of a pan-European political party. That is the distinction. Prior to the Nice Council, the former Foreign Secretary seemed to think, when he appeared in front of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, that we were members of the European People's party. We are not. Conservative MEPs are allied to the European People's party-European Democrats group in the European Parliament, but that is not a political party. Our party is not a member of the EPP itself, which is such a transnational party. We are not the UK branch of the EPP in the way that the Labour party is the UK branch of the party of European Socialists or the Liberal Democrat party is of the ELDR.

It is true that declaration 11 states that funding provisions shall apply on the same basis to all the political forces represented in the European Parliament. But if the second-largest national force in the European Parliament—namely the United Kingdom Conservative party—is not a member of any of the organisations receiving the funding, how can that principle be honoured?

It is also true that the draft party statute states that a union of European political parties may register a statute of a European political party for these purposes. The Conservative party is a member of the European Democrat Union, which is a centre-right grouping, encompassing a range of parties across the European continent. But as far as I understand it, the EDU wishes to remain as a union, and does not intend to register as a political party. And why should it?

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 4:45 pm, 18th July 2001

Why is the hon. Gentleman asking a Government Minister of another party for guidance on how the Conservative party should find friends in Europe, just because no one is prepared to serve in the same group with it?

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

If the hon. Gentleman believes that that is the basis of our relationship with the EPP, he is classically misinformed.

As matters stand, even under the existing proposal and before the new treaty base is introduced, there may be discrimination in funding against organisations of which the main Opposition party in the UK is a member.

We are not alone. In France, the Gaullist RPR is not currently a member of a transnational party. Thus, the main centre-right parties in two of the four larger member states of the EU would lose out under these proposals. That may be an indication to Angus Robertson that we are not alone. This is not a coincidental effect. It is obviously more likely that a party that favours much greater European integration will want to sign itself up as part of a pan-European party.

Indeed, Labour politicians were reported in January as welcoming the fact that the Conservative party would be disadvantaged as a result of our non-integrationist political views. It serves us right, was the gist of what they said. Yet we are talking about taxpayers' money, paid by people with a wide range of views on European integration.

Any regulations introduced under the new part of article 191 will be agreed against the backdrop of the provisions of article 191 that already exist. They state that political parties at a European level are important because they are a

"factor for integration within the Union" and

"contribute to forming a European awareness."

Does the Minister really believe that the powers now being introduced to regulate and fund European parties under that article will not be used systematically to further those aims? That is the explicit intention on the face of the treaty. How can it be right to use taxpayers' money in that way? That is the simple question that needs to be answered.

Declaration 11 makes it clear that national parties will not be funded under this article. However, the pan-European parties—and the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties are full members of that group—would be so funded. That will boost those parties' ability to promote their case, and it may also mean that the national parties benefit from having to pay lower subscriptions.

It is possible that the wording of the existing draft statute will be clarified during the course of the discussions to ensure that the EDU and other organisations will qualify.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Does my hon. Friend agree with the verdict reached in the 19th century by the great philosopher John Stuart Mill, that peoples who lack fellow feeling and who speak and read different languages cannot achieve the common public opinion necessary for representative government?

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

As always, my hon. Friend brings a welcome sense of erudition and historical perspective to our debate.

Who is to say that future measures introduced under the Nice treaty will not reintroduce such discrimination? Who is to say that regulations on matters other than funding will not be introduced that disadvantage pan-European parties with non-integrationist views, or that start making reference to some of the more controversial aspects of the charter of fundamental rights—such as the right to strike—as a condition for recognition? Safeguards on the non-funding aspects of regulations are not covered at all by declaration 11.

Future Governments, in the UK or elsewhere, may not be able to block such measures. Does that not illustrate the sheer folly of abandoning unanimity in this area?

That brings me to the most fundamental point of all. Even if there were no chance at all of discrimination against non-integrationist parties, we would still not support this article. It is a matter of principle. The EU institutions simply should not be getting involved in this area; it should not be their business.

It seemed for a long time that the Labour party agreed with us, at least on the changes proposed at Nice. Prior to Nice, my hon. Friend Mr. Maples put the following point to the then Foreign Secretary, who is now the Leader of the House. At the sitting of the Foreign Affairs Committee of 21 November 2000, my hon. Friend said:

"Article 191. It is proposed it deals with political parties, which it says are a good thing, and it goes on that the amendment is that the Council acting by QMV should lay down regulations governing political parties in Europe and in particular rules regarding their funding."

The right hon. Gentleman replied:

"You will be intrigued to hear that it is missing from the Foreign Office list, by which I take it that we are not wildly enthusiastic about it . . . I personally am not aware of having given a view whether or not it should be QMV."

I hope that the Minister will explain what happened at Nice to ensure that the Government signed up to a measure about which they were not enthusiastic. The familiar pattern of build-up, muddle, contradiction and lack of direction is evident again in relation to this matter.

It was also reported in January that both UK Commissioners opposed the draft plans for a party statute. In The Times of 25 January, Neil Kinnock reportedly objected for

"reasons of democracy and political common sense."

In fact, there seem to be so many arguments against this new treaty provision that, on the face of it, it is difficult to see why it should be proposed. However, a further look at what the Commission has been saying makes its longer-term intentions clear.

In its report entitled "Adapting the Institutions to Make a Success of Enlargement", published in January 2000, the Commission stated:

"The Union would greatly benefit from having a number of members of the European Parliament elected on European lists, presented to all European voters throughout the Union."

The report goes on:

"Organising the European elections in this way would encourage the development of Europe-wide political parties and produce members who could claim to represent a European constituency rather than a purely national one."

By endorsing the measures in the Nice treaty, the Government are encouraging further steps to be taken down that path that, frankly, most people in this country would find unacceptable.

The two new clauses would not even stop article 2.19 of Nice being incorporated into United Kingdom law—that has already been voted on as part of amendment No. 1. They would simply provide for certain safeguards. I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members listening objectively to what I say will understand the need for such safeguards.

New clause 5 would provide a chance for scrutiny by the House of any regulations adopted under this paragraph. That would stop the issue being swept under the carpet. If the measures are as harmless as the Government claim, they have nothing to fear from new clause 5. They would have even less to fear from new clause 4, which would merely provide for openness about the amount that the different parties receive. There would be an annual report from the Government, and what could be more open, transparent or fair than that?

Following the report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the House has provided for new levels of openness and scrutiny in the funding and regulation of UK political parties, including public disclosure of contributions. There was substantial debate on the measures contained in that report.

It is vital that the measures on EU-wide political parties should not be allowed to slip through without similar scrutiny. I believe that it is owed to the House of Commons and the people of Britain that those standards are upheld and maintained on this basis. The Commission and others want this to be an area of growing activity in years to come. If it is, it will have a growing impact on the work of the political parties represented in the House. I therefore look forward to cross-party support for the important safeguards contained in the new clauses. They have everything to do with parliamentary accountability and the role of national Parliaments, and we intend to press the matter to a vote in due course.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour/Co-operative, Preston

I am not surprised by the comments of Mr. Spring. The debate on the treaty has been going on for a few days now, and it is clear that Conservative Members are opposed to any form of co-operation or integration with our European partners, even where political parties in their own part of the political spectrum are concerned.

I wish to deal with a few of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. Political parties in Europe already receive funding through the European Parliament to promote activities on behalf of their political groups—not their national parties—which share interests across national boundaries. That is legitimate activity, and as the hon. Gentleman said, it includes parties such as the PPE, the PES and the ELDR. I believe that the Conservatives were fairly close to the PPE at one time but, given that they have moved further to the right, they might not be accepted into it, even if they wished to be.

More than 100 political parties sit in the European Parliament. If decisions are to be made and groups are to work cohesively, they need resources and funding, and unless they are made available, we will see a sclerosis in the European Parliament that will bring the whole place to a halt. That is why funding has been made available in the past and needs to be made available in the future.

There was talk about non-integrationist parties. That means perhaps parties that do not want to join one of the political groups. They are perfectly free to hold that position; they can receive funding to support their views even though they do not wish to integrate with other parties in the European Parliament. So that point needs clearing up. Just because the Conservative party does not wish to join the PPE does not mean to say that it is not eligible for funds.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 5:00 pm, 18th July 2001

How does the hon. Gentleman square the observation that he has just made with the contents of the Schleicher report and specifically its emphasis on the importance of European political parties being instrumental in securing public support for the European integration project?

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour/Co-operative, Preston

I am sure that the report has been passed since I left the European Parliament in 1999. I know Mrs. Schleicher well; I was friendly with her. Given the preponderance of right-wing parties in the European Parliament, her view is not necessarily held by parties such as mine. To answer the question directly, the hon. Gentleman supposes that any funding received centrally, albeit out of taxpayers' money, would necessarily be unpopular among the general population. A poll has never been taken to see whether that is the case. It is merely the assertion of the Conservative party.

Any non-integrationist party, as the Conservative party would presumably call itself, would be eligible for funding. If it chose not to receive it—to my knowledge, the Conservative party has not done so in the past—it would be perfectly entitled to do so.

Let us look at the figures. The hon. Member for West Suffolk mentioned 7 million euros. Given that we are looking at a Community of more than 350 million people, and that that could rise to 500 million people, 7 million euros—roughly £5 million—is chickenfeed. To make out that the cost will be a major burden on the European taxpayer and that the money that is being provided is immoral is a travesty.

Let us look at the facts about the Conservative party in Europe. It is not a member of the PPE

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour/Co-operative, Preston

In French, it is PPE. I am happy to correct the hon. Gentleman. Conservative Members often mention the European Democratic Union. There are some very right-wing organisations in that group. We have seen associations between the Conservatives and the Alleanza Nazionale in Italy and Forza Europa. It is clear which way the Conservative party is moving, and it is not towards mainstream European political activity.

If the Conservative party is not integrationist, I find that strange for a party that supposedly wants to stay in the EU. A union, by its very name, means that one wants to come together to co-operate and integrate. It is strange that the Conservatives are not coming clean with the electorate, as they should have done before the general election. All the sham about renegotiating treaties is just a front for withdrawal. Conservative Members want to withdraw from the EU.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

This is an interesting point. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has heard about amendments to the intergovernmental conferences that take place from time to time. The very Bill that we are debating is the product of renegotiation. If we are renegotiating the treaty of Amsterdam to turn it into the treaty of Nice, is that calling for withdrawal?

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour/Co-operative, Preston

Of course it is not. The hon. Gentleman knows well that that is not the case, because the Government are approaching the negotiation positively. We know that the Opposition oppose not only the Nice treaty, but the Amsterdam and Maastricht treaties. They want to unravel decades of European development and our agreements with European member states, which have kept the peace for many years in Europe. They want to wreck the treaties, stretching back to the first treaty at Messina.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am exceptionally grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way because he is over-reaching himself. He is in danger—I put it no stronger than that because it is a matter for you, Mrs. Heal—of straying from the confines of new clause 4 in the broad historical sweep in which he has just engaged. Does he seriously contend that opposition to the proposals on the funding of pan-European political parties is somehow a byword for withdrawal? That is an absurd proposition, even by his standards.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour/Co-operative, Preston

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his usual entertaining intervention, but it does not get away from the fact that the proposal on pan-European political parties is just one of many that, as we have seen during the past few days, the Conservative party want to introduce to wreck the Nice treaty.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk made the point that the RPR is not a member of—I say it again—the PPE. Of course, it is not, but the UDF—another centre-right party in France—is a member, so the presumption that, because there is an exception, Conservative or right-wing parties do not necessarily have to be members of the PPE and, therefore, that they are not integrationist is not the majority view. The majority of Conservative and Christian Democrat parties are members of the PPE, and it says more about the Conservative party in this country than it does about its sister parties in Europe that it opposes such measures. Let us be honest: the Conservative party is not interested in the European Parliament or the European Commission; it is not interested in a European Union.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

That was a partisan contribution to our deliberations—perhaps a little more partisan than some that we heard earlier in the Committee's consideration of such matters, and I shall try, so far as I can, to be a little more objective.

Of course, it is worth reminding ourselves that, under article 190(5), there is a move towards qualified majority voting on the general conditions and regulations that govern the performance and duties of Members of the European Parliament, but that taxation remains the subject of unanimity. I understand that that was one of Her Majesty's Government's stipulations that was accepted as part of the discussions in Nice. It is also worth saying that the EU Court of Auditors has consistently called for a statute to regulate European political parties and to ensure transparency in funding, and I shall return to that in a moment.

From what I have said so far, the House may have deduced that I support the changes made in articles 190 and 191, but notwithstanding that fact, I have considerable sympathy with new clause 4, and if it is pressed to a Division, my hon. Friends and I will most certainly support the official Opposition in the Lobby. Whatever one's analysis—we heard one from Mr. Spring and another from Mr. Hendrick—I do not understand how one could possibly resist the suggestion that there should be openness and transparency in scrutinising the use of taxpayers' funds to enable democratic politics to be undertaken at European level.

I should be interested to hear what compelling arguments the Government have on new clause 4, because I should have thought it precisely consistent with those principles of openness that have become much more readily part of our political system. Those principles may require further development, but we are being open about financial contributions to political parties and their sources, and there is absolutely no difference in principle in being similarly open about precisely what sums have gone to the political parties represented in this Parliament under the proposed arrangements for political parties in the EU.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Following that logic, would the right hon. and learned Gentleman support the proposition that Members of the Scottish Parliament should be able to scrutinise the dissemination of moneys to political parties represented in this House?

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

What lies behind that intervention is an attempt to make the Scottish Parliament the equivalent of the Westminster Parliament. We understand that that is the raison d'être of the Scottish National party, but it is the United Kingdom that is a member of the European Union, and it is the United Kingdom Parliament that has the responsibility for ensuring that Britain's relationships with the EU are proper and that the necessary supervision is carried out. I do not agree that those matters should become the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament. They might do some day, if the hon. Gentleman's prayer is answered and Scotland becomes independent, but that day is a long way off, and for the moment I see no reason why the Scottish Parliament should be invited to intervene in an issue that is essentially one for the Westminster legislature.

My party has long called for a statute to regulate the affairs of MEPs. It seems that 25 years after the European Parliament was first directly elected, the current system of expenses, including travel expenses, and reimbursements remains, to say the least, complex, opaque and, in many respects, indefensible. It is fair to say that British MEPs have, on various occasions, sought to argue the case for a system much more akin to that in this Parliament, and MEPs of all parties are to be supported and congratulated on having done that. However, that view has not prevailed.

It seems to me, echoing the theme of openness once again, that if we are concerned in our domestic politics to be open and subject to scrutiny, not only should the Government accept the notion of a report of the kind identified and embraced in new clause 4, but the European Union should make a clear statement of the terms and conditions for all Members and their salary, travel and office expenses. We are all concerned about the connection between the electorate and Parliament, and in particular between the British electorate and the European Parliament, and a statute of the kind that I am suggesting would make a substantial contribution to that. There is no doubt that the European Parliament ought to have more power to hold other EU institutions to account, but with an extension of such power must come responsibility, and with an extension of responsibility must come more transparency.

I shall conclude with an observation about the European Parliament which I suspect will get some support from most quarters of the House. It is increasingly difficult to justify the ludicrous state of affairs whereby the Parliament is required to decamp from Brussels to Strasbourg for a week every month. There are those who have estimated that the savings made by ending that procedure would be some £100 million a year. I simply cannot see the justification for continuing it. I do not for a moment minimise the difficulty of persuading the French to give up what they see almost as an inalienable right, but if we are serious about reforming the European Union, that seems to me to be one of the more obvious reforms, and one that would make instantaneous financial savings.

The changes in articles 190 and 191 are perfectly reasonable, and they should be supported. New clause 4, which would introduce the transparency and scrutiny to which I referred, is similarly worthy of support and I repeat that if the matter is pressed to a Division, I will invite and advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to support it.

Photo of Mr Roger Casale Mr Roger Casale Labour, Wimbledon

I shall make a short contribution to this important debate about article 191 of the treaty of Nice, which creates the legal base for the Council to introduce a statute to regulate European political parties. I emphasise the word "regulate", because anyone listening to the debate might think that as a result of the measures that we will pass this evening, we are creating some new beast in the European jungle, in the form of transnational parties, that will threaten our country's well-being and independence.

Of course, as my hon. Friend Mr. Hendrick pointed out, transnational parties have existed in Europe for some time. There are a number of such groupings in the European Parliament representing the Christian Democrats, the Liberal Democrats, the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Communists. The fact that the Conservative party has decided not to participate in such transnational groupings does not mean that they do not already exist. Let us remind ourselves of the important function that they perform.

In a world increasingly conditioned by international flows of money, international movements of labour, and regulations and directives passed in co-operation with other European countries in an international context, it is right that there should be a parallel process of the formation of democratic will across civic society. That is one of the important functions that political parties in our country and transnational European political parties can perform.

Transnational parties can help the people of Europe to think about the policies that they want for Europe, to the extent that those policies will be decided at a transnational level in the future. Transnational parties provide a valuable tool for putting forward such policies and finding out the common ground across European peoples and societies, parallel to the way in which political parties do that in our own society.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 5:15 pm, 18th July 2001

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has helpfully confirmed a suspicion that has been fuelled in my mind for some time. Will he put it on the record so that it is clear beyond peradventure that he accepts that the flow of funds to European political parties as currently proposed will necessarily and inexorably increase the pressure for more supranational legislative activity? If that is what he wants, it is not dishonourable, but I think it is wrong.

Photo of Mr Roger Casale Mr Roger Casale Labour, Wimbledon

I do not accept that that will give rise to inexorable pressure. The hon. Gentleman's comment is a further example of a knee-jerk reaction to any proposal in the name of European co-operation. As regards funding, we need to know about the flow of funds into European political parties and the source of those funds. That needs to be properly regulated by statute at a pan-European level, which is exactly what article 191 of the treaty of Nice seeks to achieve.

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is inadvertently supporting the cause of the Opposition. He says that he wants transparency. The place to air such issues in relation to British political parties is in the House of Commons.

Photo of Mr Roger Casale Mr Roger Casale Labour, Wimbledon

I shall deal with the detail of the new clauses later. The point of article 191 is to provide a legal foundation for the Council to introduce a statute to allow for the regulation of European political parties. Opposition Members seem to be suggesting that the treaty of Nice will allow the development of such parties. One can see why some of them think that a bad thing. They do not like Europe or the idea of Governments-let alone political parties-getting together. They think that they have found a hint of conspiracy and have removed themselves from any co-operation or participation in transnational groups of the centre right. It is clear why they would be against such political formulations, but it is also clear that article 191 does not establish them, as they already exist. I am in favour of the article because it provides a basis for the regulation of European parties.

I am proud to be a member not only of the Labour party, but of the party of European Socialists. I think that we have much more in common than we realise with some of the members of our sister parties in the European Union. It is a common feature of debate in this House that hon. Members berate the European Union or attack various member states. As soon as the summer holidays arrive, however, many of them set off to Europe. When they do so, perhaps they should try to meet some of their colleagues in other European parties. If they talk to those people, they might discover that one can have a lot in common with colleagues in national Parliaments abroad.

The point of European political parties is to allow and promote such exchanges, so that as we build a European institutional architecture, we can discover that what we do together is based on a common set of values and, to some extent, on common aspirations. The process should be advanced through the European Parliament and political parties, and the existence of European political parties assists its progress. My strong recommendation to Opposition Members is that, although their party will not participate as a European political party, they should meet their colleagues from other European countries individually. They might find that they like such meetings and learn something from them.

Photo of Mr Peter Duncan Mr Peter Duncan Conservative, Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

Will the hon. Gentleman accept our simple point, which is that although we are delighted that he feels so at home with his socialist friends in Europe, we do not believe that the British taxpayer should be required to pay for that interaction?

Photo of Mr Roger Casale Mr Roger Casale Labour, Wimbledon

That has been a common theme at every stage of our debate. Opposition Members are sometimes good enough to recognise that Britain's membership of the European Union has benefits, but they want to have them at no price. I am afraid that that view, which has been repeatedly expressed during our deliberations, is unacceptable. The hon. Gentleman must decide whether he is against the existence of European political parties in principle, as his party seems to be, or whether he merely does not want to pay for them.

I can understand why the Opposition do not like the measure, as they are clear about what they do not like. They like neither the European Union nor the idea of political parties within it. That is why they refuse to join the European People's party. It parallels their reluctance to be involved in Europe. The article provides the opportunity for the Council to introduce measures that will regulate the purpose and funding of European political parties. It will introduce more democracy, accountability and transparency to the funding of political parties. Since the European political parties will receive funds, it will also make clear the criteria for recognising them.

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

The difficulty of examining such issues in the clear light of day in the House of Commons is not clear to me. We talk about the disconnection between the people of Europe, their Parliaments and European institutions and the funding for them. We now have an opportunity to give uncontentious support to enhancing the House's scrutiny procedures. If the hon. Gentleman were impartial, he could not object to that.

Photo of Mr Roger Casale Mr Roger Casale Labour, Wimbledon

If the hon. Gentleman believes that political parties can reconnect people with the political process, he should support the concept of European political parties. He claims that he objects to it.

The amendments deal with the role of the House of Commons in scrutinising European Union measures. Time and again, Conservative Members have tabled amendments to provide for further debate in the House on any new initiatives from the European Union. Yet we already have a good and effective scrutiny mechanism for European legislation: the European Scrutiny Committee.

At a meeting of that Committee this morning, we held a debate about the statute to regulate European political parties. Mr. Spring referred to the work of the European Scrutiny Committee at an earlier stage in our deliberations, when article 191 was discussed. The Committee scrutinised it and we discussed it again this morning. We decided that we were happy to lift the scrutiny reserve on the draft statute. It is therefore wrong to claim that, without the amendments, no scrutiny of any statute to regulate the work of the European Parliament will occur.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I regret that I was unable to be present at the meeting this morning. Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that the Committee believes that the article does not require debate? Did we refer it for debate in Standing Committee or on the Floor of the House?

Photo of Mr Roger Casale Mr Roger Casale Labour, Wimbledon

We decided that we would not refer it for debate because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, that would handicap the Government in progressing with negotiations on the statute.

Photo of Mr Roger Casale Mr Roger Casale Labour, Wimbledon

If Mr. Cash had been present at this morning's meeting, he could have made his point. However, we discussed the matter and, as he knows, the Committee does not refer for debate every item that comes before it.

The First Deputy Chairman:

Order. We are straying wide of the new clause. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will now confine his remarks to it.

Photo of Mr Roger Casale Mr Roger Casale Labour, Wimbledon

I am grateful for your advice, Mrs. Heal. We debated the matter in the European Scrutiny Committee this morning.

In conclusion, what lies behind the new clause is the usual cocktail of great fear and anxiety about the European Union, and an unwillingness fully to participate in any aspect of European integration, including the formation of transnational parties. That fear is not justified. There is a need for proper regulation of political parties, and that is provided for in the statute that will be created following the ratification of the treaty. There is also a need for proper scrutiny, and that is effectively carried out by the European Scrutiny Committee. For those reasons, I will not support the new clause.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone 5:30 pm, 18th July 2001

We have just been treated to a pretty astonishing series of admissions. We have been told by Roger Casale that the European Scrutiny Committee did a good job this morning in ensuring that there would not be a debate on the regulation to which we are supposed to be referring. If that is scrutiny, I should like to know what is not.

This regulation creates serious problems.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

No, he will not. Not a chance. I have not even started yet.

The regulation is extremely important in relation to the manner in which political parties and groups are differentiated in the European Parliament and, therefore, the European Union. It is disappointing that so few people are attending these debates. One could understand the reason for that yesterday, with all the euphoria and depression colliding in various parts of the Palace of Westminster, but there is no excuse for such a poor attendance today.

I am standing here opposite the distinguished Minister for Europe, a member of another political party. I strongly approve of the fact that we have a party political system in this country, but the rainbow arrangements—the totally chaotic alliances—that are created in the European Parliament have no clear philosophy underpinning them to enable anyone to know what they are voting for. This debate is about an increase in the functions of a so-called Parliament and a so-called European Union based on an extremely uncertain course of navigation.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Minister of State (Europe)

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the reason why there are relatively few Members on the Government Benches is that there is still a great deal of euphoria among Labour Members at the result of the election yesterday.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I have no idea how all that will pan out in due course. All I can say is that I am confident that my Learned Friend Mr. Duncan Smith is going to do extremely well and, in my opinion, win. Then, Labour will discover some serious opposition to the sort of proposals coming from its Front Bench. I am just doing my best, at the moment, to supplement some of the arguments that I have been developing over a long period. My hon. Friend Mr. Spring has done a marvellously urbane job in speaking to the amendments and I pay tribute to him as a dear friend and colleague. Sometimes, however, I think that we could go a little bit further in some of the decisions that we take when voting on these matters.

That is one of the reasons why I tabled my amendment (a) to new clause 4. I say this with great respect to the shadow Foreign Secretary, whose name heads the list of those tabling the new clause: I entirely agree with most of it, but I believe it would provide us only with an annual report, as opposed to the serious opposition that is required, for the reasons that I shall give. It says:

"Her Majesty's Government should lay before Parliament an annual report".

I shall be kind and assume that that is supposed to mean something a little more emphatic, although I very gently tabled a little amendment to leave out "should" and insert "shall". I do not want to make a great issue of that, but with respect to new clause 5, the business of the regulations is much more serious. I do not want to draw nice distinctions between new clause 5 and my amendment, but the new clause says that the regulations

"shall not have legal effect in the United Kingdom unless approved by resolution of each House of Parliament."

I suggest that we leave out "have legal effect in" and insert

"be incorporated in the domestic law".

There is a nice distinction there, but I do not want to press it too much, because I know that my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk and his colleagues took the right approach—or at any rate had the right intention. There is a bigger problem. When the treaty goes through by way of incorporation in domestic law, it follows—[Interruption.] Although my dear and hon. Friend has to speak to the usual channels in the usual way, would he be kind enough to pay a tiny bit of attention to the point I am about to make?

If a treaty is to be incorporated in the domestic law of this country by way of an Act of Parliament, regulations must subsequently be made that deal with, in this example, political parties. However, there is a problem with new clause 5, which would not allow regulations through unless they were

"approved by resolution of each House of Parliament."

The little problem is section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972, which invokes the Court of Justice and, indeed, the implementation of laws followed by their absorption in our own legal bloodstream. Once that has happened, it will unfortunately not be possible for us then to pass a resolution disapproving those regulations.

I very much agree with the sentiment behind the new clause and I am glad to say that my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk has, perhaps peradventure, raised a serious point. Indeed, many Opposition Members have wanted to raise it emphatically for a long time: the House of Commons will not be dictated to by legislation that comes from another source in the EU. We say that there is a residual sovereignty in the House as a result of which it is incumbent on us—let alone the fact that we want to do so—to ensure that in respect of matters as fundamental as what a political party is, we in this House should not be overridden.

You and I, Mrs. Heal, and all other Members are voted for in our constituencies in relation to political parties which would not be recognised under the regulations. I hope that Members of the House, though few are here today, appreciate how invasive the provisions are. That goes not only to the mechanics of political parties or groups, but to what people believe in and what they vote for. As I have said over and over again in several debates in the past few weeks, this is their Parliament—the Parliament of the people. The political parties represent different points of view that are reflected in the people's choice, which is the essence of democracy and the freedom that goes with it.

If the regulations are introduced and passed, we shall be unable to reverse them. The Court of Justice would rule any such resolution of the House invalid and we would find ourselves roly-poly absorbed in the new arrangements being prescribed by the EU.

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Labour, Caerphilly

Would the hon. Gentleman be kind enough to give us an explanation of this roly-poly process?

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

It is called roly-poly pudding, and it means that we will get rolled up somewhere in the attic, like Samuel Whiskers in Beatrix Potter, and left there for a long time unless we are lucky and someone comes along to save us. Someone must save the Conservative party and the country from these arrangements. That is the problem. Believe it or not, the Labour party is also caught up in this, but it has not twigged yet. It will not be able to differentiate itself from the Conservative party under the principles that will be laid down in the regulations. Sooner or later it will wake up.

I want to pay tribute to a good friend and colleague of mine, Roger Helmer MEP. He wrote an important article called "The Brave New World of European Political Parties" in The European Journal published by the European Foundation, of which I happen to be the chairman. It was published in June, so it is pretty well up to date. I shall send it to the Minister, because I am sure that he will be extremely interested to read it.

The article says that the launch of new pan-European political parties has been on the agenda since at least 1996 when the Tsatsos report was prepared by the European Parliament's Committee on Institutional Affairs—in fact, it was going on some time before that. It is essential to distinguish political parties from political groups in the European Parliament. Most national political parties represented in the European Parliament form part of a parliamentary group. For example, Labour MEPs sit with the PSE, which is the party of European socialists, and the Tories are associate but not full members of the EPP/ED, which is known as the European People's party and the European Democrats group.

As Roger Helmer cogently explains,

"European political parties, on the other hand, exist outside the parliament. Clearly, where both a group in the EP and a corresponding political party exist, there will be close links between the two, as is the case in the UK between Westminster parties and national parties, but they are plainly not the same thing. European funding already exists for both MEPs and political groups in the EP. The proposals now on the table, and especially those outlined in the report prepared by . . . Ursula Schleicher, MEP"— who was mentioned by my hon. Friend Mr. Bercow

"which is currently before the EP, are for European political parties, not for groups in the EP."

Roger Helmer goes on to say:

"The definition of a European party is clearly set out."

That is where the difference is and where the real problem lies. He gives the definition.

"Such a party must have representation in the European parliament, or in national or regional parliaments, in at least five member states, or have achieved at least 5 per cent. of the vote in at least five member states at the last European elections."

Surprise, surprise—the Conservative party does not qualify! Isn't that a funny thing? This is quite dangerous, and I am interested to know how the Minister will reply. Apart from anything else, this is a serious attack on democracy in the United Kingdom. I would love to know what my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk thinks about all this. Back Benchers are speaking in complete unison on such matters. I hope that I have not missed anything my hon. Friend said, but I also hope that he, like me, thinks that this represents a dangerous invasion and annihilation of the funding arrangements for the Conservative party. That is a fairly dramatic thing to have to say.

We must ask what is behind all this. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham quoted John Stuart Mill, and others have expressed similar sentiments. This is, in fact, about the whole idea of European democracy: it is about why, under these arrangements, which are much more important than they seem at first sight, European democracy is a non-starter and European political parties unnecessary.

As if we did not already know, as a result of all these debates, that we are moving towards full-blown political union, let me ask the Minister a specific question: does he really appreciate that that is what is going on? I see his advisers scribbling away; I hope that they can rush something to him. I trust that they recognise that this question will, or ought to, concern a good many Conservative Members, because we are in the middle of a leadership election.

Some years ago, a former contender for the Conservative party leadership rang me to ask whether I would vote for him. I said no. He asked why not. I said "What is the point of being Prime Minister of nothing?" He said "You cannot say that to me." I said "Yes I can. Et tu, Brute," and put the phone down.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I shall have to tell the hon. Gentleman later. It will all emerge in due course.

The plain fact is that we already have a European flag, passport and anthem, and we now have the brave new world represented by the call for European political parties. As if all that were not enough, a proposed amendment to the Schleicher report requires assent to the so-called charter of fundamental rights as a criterion for funding.

No doubt the Minister knows all this. He has not been in his job for long, but there are some real crackers here, and I am sure he has caught up with them by now.

To obtain consent for funding under the proposals, including those in the Schleicher report, it would be necessary to express agreement with the charter of fundamental rights—which, as we all know, we are not even allowed to debate. That is a very unfair arrangement: we are not allowed to stipulate the basis on which we would be prevented, under the proposals in the report, from receiving funding that would enable us to exist as a political party. That would rule out the Tory party at a stroke.

The report contains some superficial reassurance in regard to whether a Euro-realist party could exist in the European Parliament. It says:

"Parties need not necessarily"—

I think this is wonderful—

"be advocates of European integration; Euro-sceptical parties may also be supported if their policies focus on issues of European integration"— at which we all say "Hurrah! Isn't this wonderful! We are allowed to focus on issues of European integration." As the Minister and others may know, I have been focusing on those questions for the best part of 16 years, and I have no intention of giving up.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I always applaud my hon. Friend's careful study of the minutiae of these matters, but does he not agree, on a broader level, that the very notion of pan-European political parties is transparently absurd, given that they have no demos to represent? Does he not agree that they would only cease to be absurd and become meaningful if there were among the peoples of Europe a common identity, a common purpose and a common willingness to make equal sacrifices to achieve that purpose? As none of those conditions exists, what is the point of such parties?

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Excepting one or two minor matters that have arisen recently, which I am glad to say we have now put behind us, I always agree with my hon. Friend, particularly on the issues that are before us. Three cheers for the fact that he is here fighting with us on this particular issue! That goes to prove that we really are a political party—and we will remain one, by the way.

Hurrah, hurrah that we are allowed to focus on issues of European integration! As I have said, however, the reassurance is very thin. The report goes on,

"They"— that is, the Euro parties—

"are seen as instrumental in securing public support for the European integration project."

As Mr. Helmer points out,

"So that's all right then. And remember it will be either federalist 'wise men' or the federalist EP—

European Parliament—

"which will decide on eligibility."

A curious thing went on in the European Parliament. It just goes to show what can go on when serious arguments are brought up in that strange body. As Mr. Helmer pointed out,

"We decided to fight back. The Schleicher report was the subject of an extraordinary procedural ambush in the Strasbourg plenary on 16 May 2001, planned and executed by a group of committed Euro-realist Tory MEPs".

The First Deputy Chairman:

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is wandering rather wide of the new clause.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I will only say that the Tory MEPs managed to ambush the project, but the triumph did not last long: it was all over the next day following a procedural motion.

The proposal raises some important questions. As I have said, the British Conservative party clearly does not qualify under the arrangements proposed in the regulations. [Interruption.] Would the Minister be kind enough to intervene? Perhaps he will be able to help me as I come to my peroration. He does not want to. He wants to deal with the point during his winding-up speech.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Indeed. I saw a lot of frantic scribbling going on over there. I trust it is accurate but we will find out later.

I have to confess that I had something of a tiff with—is he Lord Patten, Sir Christopher Patten or Mr. Christopher Patten? I cannot remember. At the time, I had a few words of disagreement with him upstairs over the question of the European People's party and our application to join it—it lasted about an hour and a half.

The First Deputy Chairman:

Order. I fail to see the relevance of the hon. Gentleman's argument to the new clause.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

It is absolutely relevant and I say that with great respect, Mrs. Heal. The European People's party is in fact a group in the European Parliament. It is absolutely relevant to the question of where the money will go. I think that that is a fair point. It is bang slap wallop within the arrangements that are stipulated by the regulations.

That was some time ago. We have heard from the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman that we are rather loosely connected with that strange body, the EPP. It would be strange if we were fully connected with it. After all it is exclusively federal. I am glad to get that reassurance from my hon. Friend.

This is a matter of considerable importance to the Conservative party for many reasons. If we ask the question in Conservative party terms, "What is a political party?" we go back to the great dictum of Edmund Burke, the greatest exponent of the philosophy of the Conservative party and a person of whom we should all be inordinately proud. He said that a political party is a body of men—of course now he would say men and women—who are joined together in the national interest and on a particular principle on which they are all agreed.

That raises an important question. There is no doubt that the present proposal is not in the national interest. It is in the European interest. That is the big difference. The definition of a political party is a body of men and women who are all agreed on a particular principle. That raises a fundamental question about who governs. There are big issues here.

It was Disraeli, one of our greatest Prime Ministers, who said that the Tory party is a national party or it is nothing. He did not say nationalistic and his remarks referred to the democratic nation state. I wish that my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke were here. I would like him to hear some of the debate because I know that he is in favour of the Nice treaty; he is in favour of all these arrangements.

Against that background, I would like the Minister to answer the questions that I have posed, and some of my colleagues to do likewise.

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Labour, Caerphilly

May I correct a misapprehension that was suggested earlier with regard to the sitting of the European Scrutiny Committee this morning? The reason why the Committee decided not to discuss this subject was that we knew full well that this debate was taking place this afternoon; it was as simple as that.

Every hon. Member would surely agree that in the European Union there is a huge democratic deficit. There are many ways in which we can reduce that deficit, and one of the key ways is by ensuring that far more scrutiny and attention are given to European issues—and, indeed, to the House. We also need to think about how all the European Union institutions function and relate to each other. A debate is about to begin on governance in the European Union and how we define subsidiarity in determining where power can and should lie in the EU.

It is important that we consider how the European Parliament develops as an institution. One of the positive things about the Nice treaty is that it gives extra, albeit modest, powers to the European Parliament. We need to ensure that the European Parliament, along with the member states, can monitor the European Commission effectively and hold it to account.

That could incrementally reduce the democratic deficit in the EU, but it is important to recognise that there is another way to do that: ensuring that there is sufficient debate, discussion and policy formulation among political parties at European level. That is vital. Only when we encourage debate at European level will we have proper control over European Union institutions. They cannot exist in a political vacuum. That is why, gradually over time, political parties have developed.

Hon. Members have referred to a number of political parties. I am proud to be a member of the party of European Socialists as well as of the Labour party. The pan-European parties have come together naturally, voluntarily and out of choice. People have decided that it is necessary for them to come together to advance a political perspective.

It is up to the Conservative party whether it wants to be part of that process, but it should not try to impede the democracy and development of others simply because it does not want to be part of it. That is its choice. Equally, it is our choice. It is undemocratic of people to try to undermine what they do not agree with.

As I said, the process has already begun. It is evident not only at a European level, but at other levels of administration and governance. There is also a parallel with events inside the United Kingdom, such as devolution to Scotland and to Wales. It is significant that in my own country of Wales, for example, with the advent of devolution, a Welsh Labour party and a Welsh Conservative party have developed. Although not many people vote for the latter party, it is there. That is a recognition that there is a tier of governance in Wales. The same type of development is occurring at European level, and that development is perfectly natural and sensible.

Amended article 191 will not simply reduce the democratic deficit and recognise the new political reality: it will achieve greater transparency and greater financial probity. I say that as one who was a Member of the European Parliament for 10 years. In that time, I saw—this is not a party political point—that the pan-European parties were being indirectly funded by the seepage of European Parliament resources. The Court of Auditors pointed out that reality, and the Labour party has strongly supported the Court's observations and recommendations. Article 191 has been amended because we want to ensure that everything is done properly, above board and with the utmost transparency and probity.

In view of the rhetoric of Conservative Members, who always tell us that they want to reduce any suggestion of maladministration or lack of probity in the European Union, I should have thought that they would support the Bill. It is a step forward in ensuring greater accountability and transparency, which is a very sound argument for supporting it. The democratic argument and arguments for greater probity support the Nice treaty.

We have heard much today about Edmund Burke and his definitions of democracy. I remind Conservative Members that we should not forget other great political thinkers, such as Thomas Paine, who said very clearly in the 1790s that we should never forget that, ultimately, democracy rests with the people.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone 6:00 pm, 18th July 2001

We are well versed in Tom Paine. All I can say is, was he not extremely lucky to get away without being guillotined? Was he not a lucky man?

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Labour, Caerphilly

Yes indeed, he was very lucky. It is lucky for us, too, that he was not guillotined, because we can all learn a great deal not only from his thesis on democracy but from his internationalism. However, I do not want to stray from the point.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Conservative, Rayleigh

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman, a Labour Member, has chosen to quote a republican political philosopher.

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Labour, Caerphilly

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the Labour party is a broad church.

We should recognise that ultimately, in any civilised civil society, sovereignty rests with the people. Ultimately, it is a matter of choice whether people wish to associate across national boundaries in political entities and political parties. In a mature democracy, sufficient resources should be found for that other sort of democracy to flourish. We want a European Union that will once again express the genuine aspirations of the people of Europe.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I shall not take up much of the Committee's time, but I want to touch on two very specific points: the funding of transnational political parties, and the level of democracy at which scrutiny should be exercised over such an enterprise.

It is rather curious that most of the time taken up by the official Opposition at Westminster in considering the Bill has focused on the Conservative party's funding arrangements and its interrelationship with, or semi- detachment from, its colleagues on the centre right. Every political party has to make choices about who its friends are at a European level. My party, the Scottish National party, had to make that choice and is part of the fourth largest group in the European Parliament, the Greens/European Free Alliance. However, although we all have to make choices about who our friends are, it is absolutely mind-boggling that it is beyond the wit of the Conservative party to find like-minded colleagues.

It is regrettable that that should be the most substantive and time-consuming matter for Conservative Members in considering the Bill. I listened very closely to the speeches by the hon. Members for Stone (Mr. Cash) and for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), and they seemed to spend most of their time on it. However, their argument did not hold water. Although the hon. Member for Stone raised more serious issues that should perhaps be addressed, the problem of finding colleagues at a European level does not constitute a substantial objection to the proposals.

Mr. Duncan seemed to be opposed to the funding of political parties by taxpayers, but I suspect that that was probably because he prefers the support of big business. Again, I do not think that that is a substantive argument.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Campbell has left the Chamber. I should have thought that he—as a man of note in the Scottish legal profession—and the Liberal Democrat party would support the notion that, at least in Scotland's case, the people, not Parliament, are sovereign. That is a very established tradition. It is strange that the Liberal Democrats chose not to support the idea that scrutiny—if indeed we need more scrutiny—should be exercised in the Scottish Parliament, not in this House.

Mr. Bercow often talks about subsidiarity and proportionality. I believe that democracy should be scrutinised at the level closest to the people, which is why I shall not support new clause 4. The devolved level is the right place for such matters to be decided.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Minister of State (Europe)

I assure Mr. Cash that his persistent arguments do indeed lead to a great deal of scribbling by Foreign Office officials. The legendary "JB"—the Foreign Office official who was outed yesterday morning on the "Today" programme—is doing nothing but scribble, because of the formidable points made by the hon. Gentleman. I am told that JB may even have to cancel his annual holiday to respond to the detailed submissions, which we await with enthusiasm, that the hon. Gentleman promised me last week.

Mr. Campbell very courteously told us that he would have to leave the Chamber briefly, but I can tell him that I am very sorry that we lost his general support for the Government's position on the treaty and the Bill. He has advanced some extremely compelling arguments.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me what the compelling arguments against new clause 4 were. The first argument, in reply to one of his points, is that the statute for Members of the European Parliament is different from the statute on the European political parties. For two and a half years we have been negotiating a statute for MEPs' terms and conditions under article 190(5) of the treaty, but we cannot reach agreement with the European Parliament. There is also no chance of ending the division between the European Parliament's sites. Sometimes, the Parliament meets for plenary sessions in Strasbourg and for committees in Brussels, whereas the secretariat meets in Luxembourg. The French will not agree to a sensible resolution of the sites issue. That whole question depends on achieving the very unanimity that Conservative Members always invite us to endorse, and sometimes that stops sensible progress of this kind.

New clause 4 is not necessary. Parliament has a highly effective scrutiny system—as my hon. Friend Roger Casale pointed out—in the European Scrutiny Committee, of which the hon. Member for Stone is a distinguished member. I wrote to the scrutiny Committees yesterday with details of the proposals from the Belgian presidency on the dossier, which were discussed in the presidency working group last Friday.

The letter covered presidency proposals—not final regulations, as I must explain to counter some of the hot air from the hon. Member for Stone and his colleagues—covering registration, verification, legal personality, expenses, financing and control. The last will be of interest to the Committee. Money must be accounted for in accordance with the rules applicable to the general budget of the EU and the financial regulation on the basis of an annual certificate by an external and independent auditor to be transmitted to the European Parliament and the European Court of Auditors. In other words, the proposals contain rigorous procedures for accountability and transparency.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I have been familiar with these procedures for some time. On what date is it intended that this matter will be put through? Is it a matter of urgency?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Minister of State (Europe)

It is a presidency proposal, which will be put to the forthcoming General Affairs Council.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Minister of State (Europe)

In October, I think. We will continue to keep the Committees and the House informed on the issue.

In response to the points made by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife, it is worth remembering that the arrangements to be negotiated for EC funding will require a public statement of accounts by each European political party. All the necessary information will be available publicly, and that is why the new clause is not necessary.

New clause 5 requires Parliament to approve the EC regulation before it comes into effect. This is not acceptable; the statute, once agreed, will have immediate legal effect in the UK, under the terms of the European Communities Act 1972. But Parliament has a highly effective system for scrutinising European Community documents, and scrutiny Committees can request a debate on the draft statute before its adoption.

I enjoy sparring with Mr. Spring. For a Conservative, he is a pretty straight and decent guy. But his speech was full of puffed-up and contrived anger on a series of specious points that were not relevant to the issue. I am not sure whether the kind of speech that he made will be good for his career if Mr. Clarke becomes leader of the Conservative party. As someone who is concerned about his career and wants to see him do well, I urge him to show caution and prudence on this point.

Nice provides a new legal basis for a measure to regulate European political parties, and in particular, their funding arrangements. It is important to dwell on the facts for a moment. Parties such as the PES and the EPP are not new; indeed, they were first recognised by the Maastricht treaty, which was signed by Mr. Maude, who is the boss of the hon. Member for West Suffolk. His boss signed the treaty that set up the system, and the hon. Gentleman is now having a go at it; that is very ill-disciplined.

It is right that people should be able to form parties at European as well as national level, if they want to. Several British national parties are affiliated to European political parties, as my hon. Friends the Members for Preston (Mr. Hendrick), for Caerphilly (Mr. David) and for Wimbledon pointed out. Those parties are not inherently evil, as some Conservative Members seem to suggest. It is revealing that when my hon. Friend the Member for Preston said that if the political groups within the European Parliament did not have funding provided as it is here, it would gum up the workings of the European Parliament, Mr. Bercow and some of his colleagues said, "Good," as if their objective was to create chaos in the European Parliament. That was a revealing reaction.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 6:15 pm, 18th July 2001

I was rather perturbed by the Minister's unsubtle attempt at censorship of the views of my hon. Friend Mr Spring. In the context of the funding and operation of political parties, may I put it on record for the House that in the event of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke becoming leader of my party, I for one intend to express my views about European political parties as forcefully in the future as I have in the past?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Minister of State (Europe)

And a jolly good thing too. I do not imagine that the hon. Gentleman will be doing so from the Front Bench.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Minister of State (Europe)

Exactly. I am anxious to see the hon. Member for West Suffolk—a very able Front Bencher—continue to sit on the Opposition Front Bench for as long as possible; I am concerned about his career.

There is a problem with the situation as it has developed over the years. The political groups within the European Parliament receive money from that Parliament's budget for their day-to-day organisation, and that can leak through to the European political parties. That point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly, who knows what he is talking about because he has been in the European Parliament.

To put it in simple terms—as is often necessary for Conservative Members—it is as if some of the so-called Short money in the House of Commons leaked from the parliamentary Labour party to the Labour party, or from the parliamentary Conservative party to the Conservative party. We do not allow that, and with the new procedures, we want to build in exactly the same bars in the European Parliament as we have here.

We must regulate to ensure that the funding of European political parties is fully transparent and properly audited, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly argued so convincingly. That is why the regulations recommended by the European Court of Auditors will combat financial mismanagement. I would have thought that we would have the wholehearted support of Conservative Members in that. That is why the principle of such regulation is supported by the PES and the ELDR, to which the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats respectively belong. It is also supported by the EPP, to which the Conservative party is allied—and to which, if the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe becomes leader, it will become affiliated. That is why member states are negotiating suitable regulation that will stop financial abuse. They are doing so under the provisions in article 308 of the EC treaty. We support that, and we want action as soon as possible to clean up such funding.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Will the Minister come to the question of the definition and the criteria that enable people to qualify for those arrangements? The key question is what one stands for; if one stands for something outside European integration, one is clearly at risk.

The Minister shakes his head, but that is the burden of the Schleicher report.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Minister of State (Europe)

The hon. Gentleman is erecting false phantoms. A report is a report; in the end, this is a matter for negotiation between Governments. The Nice treaty, by means of amended article 191 of the EC treaty, provides a specific new treaty base for such measures. Qualified majority voting will ensure that the provisions governing European political parties' funding are agreed, or, as necessary, updated speedily. No single member state will be able to block much needed reforms. That is important.

The Opposition have made various charges, and I shall demolish them one by one.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Conservative, Rayleigh

Does the Minister agree that it is possible to summarise the way in which parties would qualify for the money by saying that although it is not necessary to be fully in favour of European integration, it certainly helps?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Minister of State (Europe)

The hon. Gentleman is new, so I shall be charitable to him—but the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Stone applies to his question, too.

The Opposition claimed that the measure would finance national parties. It will not. We secured at Nice, in explicit language, the condition that no European Community money going to European political parties would be transferred, directly or indirectly, to national political parties. Not a penny will go to the Labour party or to any other domestic British political party.

The hon. Members for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) and for Stone implied that the measure amounted to "funds for federalism". It does not. There will be no discrimination against parties on the grounds of their attitude to European Union integration. European political parties that oppose the EU, or its further integration, will be just as eligible as those that think the opposite. In the Nice treaty negotiations, the Government secured explicit language covering that matter too. We protected the interests of Opposition Members, and we ought to get a bit of credit for that for a change.

The Nice treaty and the proposed regulation will not, as was suggested, give the EU the power to ban political parties. That is a ridiculous suggestion. It will not transfer power to the Community. The declaration that we agreed at Nice states:

"The conference recalls that the provisions of Article 191 do not imply any transfer of powers to the European Community and do not affect the application of the relevant national constitutional rules".

Opposition Members have claimed that the treaty would discriminate against the Conservative party. It will not. The measure is to do with funding European political parties, not national ones. I am sorry that the Conservatives have not found a European political party that shares their agenda on Europe. That may change after the leadership election. The French Gaullists' decision to join will leave the Tories as the only major right wing party outside the group of the European People's party. That is their choice, and we do not quarrel with it. They can choose to join a European political party, or to form a new one that meets the objective criteria which will be laid down in the measures to be agreed. It is up to them. They can form their own party and qualify in exactly the same way that other parties do. There is no discrimination in that.

The measure will improve financial accountability and rigour, and end abuses in the financing of European political parties. That is something that we would have expected the Opposition to welcome. The proposal to regulate European political parties is another plank in our European Union reform strategy. That is why we support it, and reject the amendments.