European Communities (Amendment) Bill

– in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 20 November 2001.

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Votes in this debate

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Incorporation of provisions of the Treaty of Nice]:

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

moved Amendment No. 22:

Page 1, line 9, after "10," insert "other than Article 2, paragraph 20, revising Article 207 (2) of the Treaty establishing the European Community,"

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Amendment No. 22, which is grouped with other amendments, concerns Article 207(2) of the treaty establishing the European Community. I hope that that is of guidance and help to those following the details of the debate.

This is one of a series of amendments, several of which concern the new move as embodied in the Treaty of Nice—and therefore will be brought into our legislation should the Bill be approved—for qualified majority voting for certain key appointments and arrangements in the organisation of the European Union's institutions. In this particular case we are concerned with the appointment of the Secretary-General of the General Secretariat, the High Representative for foreign policy and his deputy in the General Secretariat. Members of the Committee will know that in recent years the General Secretariat has expanded somewhat and now covers a wide range of Union activities over the second and third pillars. The role of High Representative for foreign policy has emerged, and it is filled with considerable prominence and ability by Mr Javier Solana.

We believe—if I may, I shall put reasons before the Committee—that this type of appointment is extremely sensitive and that it is very important that it is handled correctly. We do not consider that it is best settled by the rather crude instrument of qualified majority voting. We do not quite understand why the Government ever signed up to this particular veto abandonment. We say that not only because we consider that vetoes and the ability to cry "stop" are always the most wonderful and best way forward but because, in the matter of appointing such crucial figures in European affairs, we believe that discussion and understanding between the member states is a much healthier way of proceeding than the process of one group of people outvoting another. That is particularly the case as we move into the new pattern of weighting of votes in the Council, which we shall debate later. We do not believe that that is the right way to proceed.

We need to be extremely careful mainly for the following reason. There is always a danger—a number of assertions and quotations, one of which I shall refer to in a moment, reinforce this point—that the High Representative for foreign policy will drift into acting as Foreign Secretary for a putative entity—that is, the European Union as a type of enlarged, replicated nation. Of course, that can be extremely dangerous.

In the present case, I consider the High Representative to be a man of vast ability who has done excellent work. I believe that this type of post works best when the person holding it acts as a skilful honest broker or "putter-forward" of positions between disputants or even potential combatants. The contribution made by Mr Solana in, it is hoped, defusing a Macedonia-type situation is considerable. Therefore, the honest broker role is the right one. However, for a number of reasons, it could be extremely dangerous if the holder of the post, having been voted in by qualified majority voting, believed, as some do, that his was a Foreign Minister role.

First, as I believe we mentioned in earlier debates and as Henry Kissinger observed in recent comments, a Foreign Secretary needs to put forward a foreign policy. In the European case, a foreign policy must be woven together out of the vast complex of the different and diverse viewpoints of the 15 member states. In due course, that number may become 25, or perhaps even 28 if all 13—that is, not only the next 10 countries but the three after that—join. Once that position is reached, the matter is non-negotiable. If Americans, Indians, Japanese or Russians arrive and say, "That is a very interesting viewpoint. Ours is slightly different. Can we reach an agreement?", the answer is that the Foreign Secretary's position, if that is the role that has been taken on by the High Representative elected by QMV, becomes impossible. He will say, "This is the given position. I cannot unravel it. You must take it or leave it".

Secondly, the whole concept not merely of a common foreign policy, which is what is usually put forward, but of the pattern evolving into a single foreign policy is dangerous because it raises expectations that every single member of the greatly enlarged Union which lies before us—indeed, even of the present Union—is entitled to a say in evolving the policy which the High Representative is supposed to promote.

Of course, in recent days we have seen the disappointments and difficulties to which that leads. A crisis appears, all types of bilateral alliances and arrangements spring up, often put in place with great subtlety and agility and very rapidly, and, to put the matter crudely, the point is reached where it is not possible to wait for the slowest member of the convoy. Indeed, if one waits too long for the slowest member, the policy never crystallises. No foreign policy emerges, and the type of assistance given recently, for example, by the coalition of members to the United States in forming a coalition to deal with the global attack on terrorism would simply not be forthcoming.

To put it into the vernacular, everyone expects to be invited to the dinner. When they are not, one ends up not with a feeling of unity and brotherhood among the European states, in which I, for one, passionately believe, but a feeling of crossness among certain states that they have been left out and that somehow the big boys are ganging up against the rest. That view was mentioned by Mr Berlusconi and reported in this morning's newspapers. That is not good for the type of Europe that we want to see and for the kind of European unity that some of us have spent half a lifetime trying to work for.

Therefore, the whole question of who fills the role is delicate. It needs to be handled by very careful, friendly debate and discussion in good faith and not by the hammer instrument of saying, "Well, we can't discuss it. We'll have a vote and the people with the most votes win". That is not a healthy approach.

Thirdly, to take another current example, is the question of the posture of the European Union member states in relation to the crucial Israel-Palestine issue. Different member states and, indeed, different parties and groupings inside member states have different views on how pressure should be applied and to which side—that is, Israel or Palestine or both—if we are to reach the dream (I hope that it is more than a dream) or perhaps the attainable goal about which Colin Powell spoke only yesterday of a separate Palestinian state and Israel living side by side in peace.

If, by having the wrong person in the post, an EU view is allowed to develop that is in any way one-sided, and if it is not possible to articulate and interweave that view with the evolving policies of Washington, in which America is bound to play a vast and key role in this whole issue whether or not the world likes it—personally, I do like it—then we have not created more stability. We have not opened out the past away from the hideous, endless tit-for-tat killing of the Israel-Palestine situation but have raised further barriers and put further obstacles in the way. That, again, I consider to be dangerous.

Fourthly, there is the concern, which I do not believe is only in the mind or can be dismissed, that behind the idea of common foreign policy, a common approach in certain situations or the use of Mr Solana as a skilled broker, is a strong impulse to wrap up all foreign policy into a single approach and put it in the first pillar inside the Community. Mr Romano Prodi, who is an invaluable quarry of quotes, said on 14th November—less than a week ago—that he wanted to see a single European Union foreign policy and he wanted it to be under the Commission. He said,

"as I have said many times in the past and will say again here today, [Europe] will not succeed in contributing to peace and stability in the world, nor will it be able to fill a political role that matches its economic stature, or indeed be accepted in such a role, unless it is united in its actions".

I believe that that sounds all right in relation to that point. He then goes on to say:

"This problem will be resolved once and for all only if the necessary adjustments are made and the entire foreign and security policy of the Union is brought inside the Community system".

That is what we are up against and that is what lies behind the concern which some Members of the Committee may consider fanciful but which I do not. The High Representative and Secretary-General of the Secretariat is a person on whose discretion and skill we rely greatly to prevent that coming about. I do not believe that the Government or any sensible and committed European want to see the entire foreign and security policy of the Union brought inside the Community system. We want a Secretary-General and a High Representative who can resist that. Those are reasons why we are doubtful about the proposal and do not understand why the Government signed up to it.

I have yet one more reason in this context; namely, that there exists in certain foreign policy discussion circles the view that one cannot really do anything unless one has an army—one needs a military force in order successfully to project influence in the world. That view might have been valid until about 10 years ago, but I suspect that in the knowledge-based age of information technology it no longer applies and that nations or political entities can project their weight in terms of their contribution to global stability without the military attachment. That has been for many years the view of the Europe-builders—it was the view until recently, when there began to be talk of Europe becoming in some senses a military power. We have been told hitherto that that was not happening and that all that was involved was the minor matter of carrying out certain low-intensity, low-profile semi-policing tasks rather than going for a full-blown, fully equipped European army, which would be somehow autonomous from NATO.

I notice that the Secretary of State for Defence has changed his tune. That makes us a little worried about the role of the High Representative. He is reported in this morning's papers as saying that the new force must move quickly, have heavy-lift air transport and go quickly into combat zones; he also referred to mid-air refuelling and radar-jamming devices. That is far from the low-level humanitarian tasks that we were earlier discussing and it makes one feel even more strongly that there is an old-fashioned doctrine at the heart of much of this thinking. That involves saying, "Yes, there must be a European identity and the weight of Europe must be projected in the world. We must have forces to back that up. That is how we can achieve balance against the hegemony of the United States of America". We believe that that is a false perception and the wrong approach. If there is to be reinforcement of America's efforts, it must involve the strengthening of NATO and that must be done in the spirit of partnership not of duplication and it must not involve rival forces or rival foreign policies. We have seen too much of that—for example, delegations went off to Korea to second-guess and to attempt to outwit the Americans in their handling of that situation. Again and again, the spirit has been one of rivalry rather than of partnership.

For all of those reasons—there are many more, and noble Lords may point out those that I have overlooked—the matter of who fills the role is crucial. The matter of how the role is chosen is also crucial and requires great delicacy and a careful approach. The introduction of QMV does not seem to us to be consistent with that approach. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, has built an extremely elaborate castle on the modest foundations of this amendment. First, I remind him that I was listening again—for the second time in two weeks—to a group of visiting American officials, who began by reminding us that the United States strongly supports a European security and defence policy. As one of them said, "We bought into this after St. Malo". They also said that the United States now sees the NATO relationship as being balanced between a more coherent European security and defence policy and the United States.

Secondly, my understanding is that the model for the role of High Representative was precisely designed on the role of the NATO Secretary-General and that the intention was that something like that useful model would operate in relation to the High Representative. It was partly for that reason that the first person appointed by the European Union to be High Representative was the serving NATO Secretary-General.

Thirdly, I turn to the role of QMV in relation to that position and the President of the Commission. As those who were in the previous Conservative government should remember, one reason for the introduction of that approach was the competitive vetoing of nominees for President of the Commission by Chancellor Kohl and Prime Minister Major. As a result, we lost Ruud Lubbers, who would have been an excellent President of the Commission, and Jean-Luc Dehaene, who might have been a good president, and we found ourselves with Mr Santer instead. There is a good argument for gaining as much as we can in terms of consensus but for preventing the kind of competitive vetoing that unfortunately mars this business.

We should stick closely to the proposed clause and not wander into questions about the future European army or where we might be in 25 years. The proposal is an entirely helpful step forward.

Photo of Lord Williamson of Horton Lord Williamson of Horton Crossbench

We are dealing with a simple series of amendments, which relate to a simple series of provisions in the treaty, and we are dealing with a single point—the relevant voting arrangements. In other words, we are concerned with the change from unanimity to QMV in relation to several appointments to European institutions and other bodies, starting with the Secretary-General of the Council, which is the subject of the amendment. We shall later deal with appointments to the Commission, the Court of Auditors, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions.

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, is in his place. Although he apparently has nothing to declare on European affairs except his genius, on the previous occasion on which we discussed the Bill he commented on the pensions of some noble Lords. I am happy to state that I worked for many years in the United Kingdom Civil Service and that I have a pension from the United Kingdom Government. I worked for rather fewer years in European institutions and I have a pension from that source as well. That seems pretty normal to me. I am also a co-chairman of Europe 21.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

Perhaps I may say how grateful I am to the noble Lord, who sets some Members of the Committee an excellent example. I trust that it will be followed in the course of our debate.

Photo of Lord Williamson of Horton Lord Williamson of Horton Crossbench

I add that the noble Lord recognises that he has only to declare his genius—that is to be welcomed.

I made it clear at Second Reading that my view is that with the Treaty of Nice we have come to the end of the road of changes with regard to unanimity and QMV. It is wise to retain unanimity in relation to several important matters, such as constitutional change, taxation and so on. However, the decisions that we are now discussing—those about appointments—are suitable for QMV and may in some cases reduce the rather undesirable tendency to excessive bargaining about such appointments. There can be advantages in that. So far as concerns the Secretary-General of the Council, especially in his role as High Representative, we have to keep in mind the fact that we are in the intergovernmental sphere. Whatever his method of appointment, he remains fully under the control of the member states.

There is a wide difference between the types of appointments. Some of them are important, such as that of the Secretary-General of the Council, and others are less important because they are predominantly decided beforehand, such as the appointments to the Committee of the Regions. It is justified to move to QMV in relation to all of those appointments.

I do not in any way take a doctrinaire view on the question of QMV. We need efficiency and to protect the important interests of member states. The proposed change to the Treaty of Nice does not in any way damage the essential interests of the United Kingdom. I support the change to the treaty and I do not support the amendment.

Photo of Lord Biffen Lord Biffen Conservative

My noble friend Lord Howell, who moved the amendment, highlighted one of the continuing anxieties—not so much what the proposed changes in the treaty imply, but whether ultimately they will lead to further consequences. As has already been said, this debate is being carried out not in a vacuum but against the wishes of Senor Prodi. He is obviously the star turn so far as concerns my noble friend; he is certainly valuable to all of us as a source of quotations. However, no joke is involved. He clearly has in view the completion of the slogan, "Europe: a nation". That involves saying that Europe should have the qualities that are normally associated with a unitary state and that it should have its own foreign policy.

The question of whether the appointment is made by qualified majority voting or by unanimity is a narrow one. I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, that it is not a ditch upon which one would want to fight and die. However, the issue touches upon whether a move to qualified majority voting will encourage those who have as an objective a European foreign policy, or whether staying with unanimity will retain the present situation whereby the affairs of the European Union are conducted substantially outside the existing, closely-knit Commission-generated apparatus.

This debate relates to the enlargement of the European Union. We should apply that test all the time. It is a Union that will accept the applicant states and inevitably, unavoidably and logically Turkey also. It appears to me that in a European Union of such a size we should play the hand of diversity because Europe will become diverse. We are a European Union of many proud, national states, with national interests, able to play those interests to the advantage of the Community generally.

I speak in the presence of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, who played so signal a role in developing the Anglo-American relationship. We like to believe that we made that contribution to the European Union. The same may be true of other countries. The enlargement includes Poland. What better country is there to speak to Ukraine and to Russia than a country with Poland's experience? In relation to Turkey, we can consider the set of relationships that will be brought into play in regard to the Middle East, which will be so much more germane because of the events of 11th September.

That is the Europe that beckons; it is a Europe that is wider and more diverse. In my view, if the role of the Secretary-General did not exist we would still have a satisfactory arrangement for European policies based upon a reconciliation of our joint national interests. That is the shadow behind this debate. Of course, this debate is on a relatively narrow point, but I was delighted to hear my noble friend make his points. I do not know whether he will press the amendment to a Division, but I shall be happy to say that I look to a diverse Europe that does not need this drift towards centralisation. Indeed, it requires that such a drift be reversed.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench 3:30, 20 November 2001

It appears to me that qualified majority voting arouses strong feelings that are often based on a misplaced analysis. The noble Lord, Lord Biffen, has just made a cry for diversity, but a European Union of 27 with no qualified majority voting would resemble the medieval Polish parliament where everyone had a veto. I doubt that our Polish friends would thank us for recreating their medieval parliament just as they arrive in the European Union.

On qualified majority voting for such appointments, I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, that unanimity does not always achieve good results. I shall choose my words carefully. The two "least good" Presidents of the Commission in living memory were chosen after a veto by someone. That is not a very happy precedent. Moreover, when qualified majority voting is used in the European Union votes are not required all the time as, frequently, it encourages consensus. It means that one country out of 27 cannot block abusively a nomination.

I believe that the case for the change to the Treaty of Nice is quite good and I support it. I also consider that what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said about the appointment of the High Representative was a confusion of two points. Whether the High Representative is appointed by qualified majority or by unanimity does not affect, one way or the other, his ability or stupidity in relation to exceeding his powers. That simply does not arise. However, there is the matter of whether in exceeding his powers the High Representative is under the control of the member states or not and that relates to whether foreign policy decisions are taken by unanimity or by qualified majority voting. The situation remains that such decisions are taken by unanimity, so the scope for exceeding his powers is slight. In that context I regard the matter of how the High Representative is chosen as an irrelevance.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for the powerful arguments that he advanced for having qualified majority voting in the foreign policy area so as to stop a few countries preventing a joint action of the kind currently taking place with the United States. I am not convinced by that argument. I believe that keeping unanimity in the main issues of foreign policy will be necessary.

Furthermore, I do not agree with the view that foreign policy issues have been sliding towards the Commission. I am well aware of what the President of the Commission has said. Presidents of the Commission have been saying that for years and they have not advanced towards their goal of achieving greater influence in foreign policy. Rather the contrary has happened. In recent years, the foreign policy work of the European Union has moved away from the Commission; not towards it. The Commission has to play a role within that, but it does not direct it. That is the reality.

When the European Union set up the office of High Representative and appointed a distinguished former Secretary-General of NATO, Mr Solana, it drove a nail into the coffin of the Commission's hopes of controlling foreign policy. That does not mean to say that every President of the Commission from now until eternity will not make speeches saying that he believes that that is a shame and that he wishes it were otherwise.

The reality is as it is, and with Mr Solana, the servant of the member states, acting intergovernmentally and the dominant figure in the implementation of such foreign policy as the member states agree, I believe that the situation is much more solidly entrenched than before. I argue that the changes to make certain appointments by qualified majority voting are justified. They do not touch on the areas for which I could not support an extension of qualified majority voting; for example, a change to the treaty, an increase in the financial resources of the Community, new member states and taxation. They touch on much less important areas and I believe that the case for the change is a good one.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

Any consideration of the merits of qualified majority voting always takes place on the terms of extending the role of QMV. We never have debates on the overall virtues of QMV and of unanimity. That is because there has been no case in the history of the European Union of a move away from the requirement for unanimity back towards QMV. In other words, this is a one-way street.

Of course, distinguished ex-civil servants from the Foreign Office, who have later served in the European Union, will always come forward to tell us that we are living in the best of all possible worlds, except that this treaty would make just one little improvement to make it even better than the best of all possible worlds. Never, in any circumstances, is the European Union said to have over-reached itself in its extension of its powers. This is not a debate on the merits; it is merely a debate on whether we shall take one further step this week, this year, in this treaty in the same direction. Having said that, on the issue of the appointment of the President of the Commission, there is a good case for unanimity.

A noble Lord:

The high commissioner.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

The high commissioner, I am sorry. He must carry the absolute confidence of all member states.

A noble Lord:

It does not matter.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

The noble Lord says that it does not matter. He need not carry—

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

That was a slip of the tongue. We will get on to him perhaps a little later. But we can be sure that sooner or later that will come before us.

On the general issue of the merits of QMV and of unanimity, I say again what I half said in the debate on Second Reading. Those of us who in general take the view that unanimity is a safeguard must also remember that on many issues—not this one—of policy making unanimity is something of a two-edged sword. Once a UK Government say yes to a proposal—such as the Social Chapter—and it goes into the treaty, it would require unanimity of all member states to get it back out again.

So the unanimity rule can make it impossible for an incoming Parliament, however large its majority in terms of votes or seats, to change something which has been agreed within the Council. Therefore, it leaves more and more areas open to reform—should that be what the British people want—only by the nuclear option of opting out of the Treaty of Rome altogether. It pushes us down that road. We must bear that in mind. But, in general, in cases that are more administrative than consist of policy, there is a strong case for maintaining the rule of unanimity.

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour 3:45, 20 November 2001

The problem for many of us who have been engaged in discussing these treaties over a long period of time is that we remember some of the things that were said in previous debates. During the discussions on the Amsterdam Treaty, for example, when we dealt with this question of the High Representative for defence and foreign affairs, we were told that it would be all right because he would be appointed by unanimity. Therefore, if we did not like the appointment, Britain would be able to veto it.

The ratchet moves on. With the European Union everything happens by stealth and by ratchet. The ratchet moves slowly up one and then another until eventually we arrive at the position at which those who form the European Community always wanted to arrive: that is a country called Europe. With that in mind and with the assurances that we were given at earlier times we now wonder why we had the safeguard of unanimity and why we were told that that was a safeguard. We are now told that it does not really matter whether we have unanimity; and qualified majority voting is okay. So that is one of the problems.

I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. I listened with the utmost respect because he has much experience in these matters. But he will forgive us, I am sure, for taking what people say at face value. We cannot get away from the fact that the President of the Commission in his interview with the Independent on 4th February 2000 said:

"Step by step, the Commission is like a growing government".

There is no equivocation about that. Mr Prodi, like all Presidents of the Commission, wants to see the powers of the Commission and of European government growing and growing. At least Mr Prodi is honest enough to say what he is about. Unfortunately, other people deny that that is what he is saying he is about. It is about time that we had some straight and truthful talking about what is intended.

Not everyone reads the new arrangements in the same way. Having heard the noble Lord, Lord Howell, I am discouraged. I thought that perhaps there was some good in this new arrangement; that perhaps it meant that the Council will take power from the Commission; and that it was trying to arrive at a situation that would cut the Commission down to size, because it is growing, as Mr Prodi says, too big for its boots.

I had some hope—it seems that I was wrong—that the Council was saying to the Commission, "This is going far enough", and that, "We are going to listen to what Mr Chirac says about the Commission; that it should not grow into a government, but that it should be the civil service of the European Union and the servant of the Council and not its master; and that it should not be the sole organisation and institution that proposes policy". I had some hope that that is what this was about. But unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who has had much experience in this area, has disabused me of the marvellous thought that perhaps the whole thing was going to become a little more democratic. So I am disappointed that perhaps I am wrong.

On the other hand, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, may be wrong. It may be that that is what the governments of the EU intend. They, like so many of us, have been concerned about the Commission accruing power which it should not have. It may be that they have been listening to what we have said. It may be that they want to take power from the Commission and to exercise their considerable power in a more democratic and open way rather than from behind closed doors.

Those are my thoughts. We are in Committee. This is when we put forward our ideas, our fears and our questions. I hope that the Minister will be able to come down on my side and say that at last the elected representatives will go backwards and regain power from the Commission and not allow it to take more and more power and, indeed, become the government of Europe, as Mr Prodi so wants.

Photo of Lord Tomlinson Lord Tomlinson Labour

Perhaps I may sound a warning to my noble friend on the Front Bench. If perchance he were tempted to come down on the same side as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, he would create far more problems for those who sit immediately behind him than he might solve.

The debate has been interesting and wide ranging, but the vast majority of it has borne no relevance to the group of amendments. There are three amendments in the group and they are identical. The only change in the treaty would be the addition of the words "by a qualified majority". The amendments do not deal with Mr Prodi, the Commission, or anyone else.

Were we to be tempted into dealing with the election of the President of the Commission, I remind members of the Committee that twice in recent years we have been the country that has exercised the veto. I am not sure whether we are more proud of having created the presidency of Mr Jacques Santer or Mr Jacques Delors.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

The noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, has put his finger on the point. We are dealing with another example of Euro-creep in that we are discussing the move towards qualified majority voting for the appointment of the High Representative for the common foreign and security policy. I do not know why the European Union has to indulge in the hubris of always putting the word "high" in front of representative. There is a high representative of this, that and the other, which smacks of something from Gilbert and Sullivan. I fear that that is a little more dangerous than was intended.

My noble friend Lord Tebbit made an excellent contribution, but I may have misunderstood him when he said that, in the progress of these unions towards the glorious European mega-state that awaits us at the end of the gilded ladder, there has never been a move from QMV to unanimity. There has never been an example of giving up the veto. All the examples show a move from unanimity towards qualified majority voting.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

If I did get it the wrong way round, I was going to say that I would be sure to send my secretary up to the Hansard office in the manner of Ministers to put into the official record what I thought afterwards that I ought to have said rather than what I actually did say.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

I am sure that the Committee would agree that the Hansard office will be invited to oblige.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, in his excellent contribution, referred to "the ratchet". It is important to understand that we are dealing with a ratchet that can move in only one direction. The treaties say that it must do so. They say that the so-called acquis communitaire can never be reversed. If your Lordships do not agree, I can name the articles concerned. It is worth reading them so that one can see exactly how one is caught. I refer to Articles 2, 3 and 6.4 of the Treaty of European Union and Protocol 30, which is supposed to be the protocol on the glorious clause on subsidiarity, which supposedly allows member states to do their own thing. It is interesting to note that it is Protocol 30 on subsidiarity in the TEC—the treaty establishing the European Community—that makes any reverse of power acquired by the European Union impossible. But, once the European Union has something, it keeps it for ever.

On the specific matter of the common foreign and security policy, it is worth saying that there is a case for suggesting that the events of 11th September do not show that we need more CFSP. We do not need to move towards ever closer union on that issue. I know that those who support the European dream immediately pounced after those events, saying that we must have more collaboration and CFSP, and that it was once again the hour of European unity in standing and fighting together.

I note that the Prime Minister, whom everyone believes has done a magnificent job since 11th September, and on which he should be congratulated from all sides of this Chamber, did not rush off to sit down with his friends in Brussels. He contacted the President of the United States immediately and has stood shoulder to shoulder with him ever since. The other leaders in the European Union have been rushing round the world trying to emulate him in a rather unsatisfactory manner. The Dutch Prime Minister rushed to Downing Street to a dinner to which he had not been invited because the Prime Minister had rightly put together the big hitters of the European Union and asked them to dinner. There was the spectacle of the Dutch Prime Minister muscling in on that.

We also heard chippy remarks from the Belgian Prime Minister when he said that our Prime Minister was hogging the world stage too much, which was not helpful. Our Prime Minister was trying to help in the interests of civilisation and humanity as we know it.

I do not agree with the theory that the events of 11th September mean that we should have more common foreign and security policy in the European Union.

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour

Is the noble Lord suggesting that Luxembourg should have had a veto on who to invite to that famous dinner?

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

No. I was merely pointing out that it is not the European Union that responds in times of crisis, but the old and tested alliance and friendship of this country and the United States of America. The behaviour of the Dutch Prime Minister shows an ambition to muscle in on this tried and tested and, if I may say so, powerful and effective alliance. It shows how pathetic the ambitions of some of those leaders of European countries are.

Photo of Lord Acton Lord Acton Labour

The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is making an admirable speech as usual, but I cannot understand what it has to do with the amendment.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

If the noble Lord will be good enough to read Hansard tomorrow, he will find out that I am trying to suggest that the last thing we need is more unity over common foreign and security policy. That includes the appointment of a High Representative.

When one considers matters of Euro-creep, one always does well to consider just how bad things have already become. In that respect, I do not know whether your Lordships are aware that there are already 28 foreign policy security groups which meet in Brussels. I do not expect the noble Lord to respond today, but I should be grateful if he could write to me, placing a copy in the Library, saying which areas those 28 groups cover. To whom do they report? What action have we ever taken outside the agreement of one of those 28 groups in Brussels? I do not suggest that these groups are binding but that they have already compromised our foreign policy to a degree which many of us would find unacceptable. It would be helpful if the Minister could provide some enlightenment on that matter at least by way of correspondence.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) 4:00, 20 November 2001

Following this debate I have a problem; namely, that I can reply either to the amendment or to some of the speeches. I shall cut my speech on the amendment and very briefly respond to the admirable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, on foreign policy. There is so much misunderstanding contained in a period of only 14 minutes that something needs to be said in public. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said—I must repeat it from the Dispatch Box—foreign policy is made by member states, not the Commission. Foreign policy is made by unanimity, not qualified majority voting. The arrangements for foreign policy were established in the Treaty of Maastricht, not the Treaty of Nice. There is no change in the Treaty of Nice. Any change would require the unanimous agreement of the member states.

The High Representative—we come to the tenuous link between these debates and the amendments—whether chosen by qualified majority voting or unanimity, implements the policy agreed by the member states. As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, rightly said, the role of the High Representative is modelled on NATO's Secretary-General. There is no danger in future of a high representative following a policy which is inconsistent with the unanimous views of the member states. That is as much as I want to say about foreign policy.

However, I should like to deal with qualified majority voting because it refers not only to these amendments but to all the others which were grouped with it by agreement last week but have now been ungrouped. I shall not speculate in public on the reasons for that.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

I know that the Minister, in referring to the adoption of foreign policy by QMV through the Council—that is part of the Treaty of Maastricht, which he will recall I strongly opposed—will draw the attention of the Committee to the second paragraph of Article 11 which provides that member states shall refrain from any action which is contrary to the interests of the Union, or is likely to impair its effectiveness as a cohesive force in international relations. Clearly, that means that once a policy has been adopted any member state which seeks to deviate from that policy after a change of government will be in breach of the treaty.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

I thought that I had said enough about foreign policy, but even now the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, appears to believe that decisions on foreign policy made by member states are by qualified majority voting. He just said so.

When the United Kingdom joined the then European Economic Community there were already a number of articles in the Treaty of Rome which were subject to QMV. As the EEC, and later the European Union, has grown larger there has been a need to extend QMV to stop decision-making grinding to a halt. The biggest extension came with the Single European Act 1986. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, may have disagreed with the Treaty of Maastricht, but his party did not. Literally thousands of directives and regulations have been passed using articles to which QMV has been extended. That allowed progress on the single market to be accelerated—and a very good thing, too.

My partial answer to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson—for the extensive range of information that he requires he must refer to published documents—is that Maastricht also introduced QMV into many new areas of activity: implementing measures for common foreign and security policy; justice and home affairs pillars; trans-European networks and transport; telecommunications; energy infrastructures; development policy co-operation; consumer protection; environment, and many others.

I have a whole section of brief which attacks the Conservative Party but I do not propose to use it.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

Like my noble friend Lord Tebbit, I did my best to oppose the Treaty of Maastricht. Any attack that the Minister may make on the party is not something which will worry me very much. The noble Lord may have misunderstood my question when he cited a list of items which moved to QMV under Maastricht. My question concerned the 28 foreign policy groups which meet in Brussels and, as I understand it, already decide most of our foreign policy. I accept that it is not appropriate for the noble Lord to provide all this information, even if he had it at his fingertips—which I suspect he may not—during Committee stage. To establish just how bad is the situation already, my question is: what areas do these groups cover, to whom do they report and what action have we ever taken outside them? Have we ever acted against the view of the majority in those 28 groups?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

Since the question has nothing to do with the amendment I shall write to the noble Lord referring him to the published documents which will answer his question. I believe that that is as fair as I can offer. Like the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is entirely consistent about Maastricht, but it was their party which put forward that treaty. I did not hear the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, as a member of the then government object to the Single European Act 1986 in quite the same way.

I turn away from the Conservative Party, with some pleasure, to talk about this Government's views. The Government take a pragmatic view of QMV which is based on calculating Britain's best interests. Qualified majority voting works for Britain and has built the single market on which over 3 million UK jobs and thousands of businesses depend. It simply is not true that Britain always loses out and others almost always win. In 1999 the UK was not outvoted on a single issue, but Germany was twice, France three times and Italy eight times.

We are clear that more qualified majority voting in the right areas can work strongly in Britain's interest in future. That was how we approached the negotiations on the Treaty of Nice. Where we felt strongly that an issue was of such fundamental importance that the decision must remain with the UK—with this Government and Parliament—we simply said that we would not agree. We made that clear to this House and our European Union partners even before we started the negotiations. We set out in advance in a White Paper in February 2000 the areas where we would not agree to QMV. We said that we would not accept QMV for tax, social security, defence, border controls, treaty change or the Union's own resources—its budget—nor did we. The UK veto remains on all these issues.

Nice extends QMV in 31 articles of the treaty, and there are good reasons for all those changes. How significant are they compared with those articles which were agreed by the Conservative Party—I am sorry, previous governments? How many times is the new article on the appointment of the CFSP special representative to be used compared with the number of times the articles which moved to QMV under the Single European Act have already been used? Consider the significance of moving consumer protection to QMV as the opposition did at Maastricht compared with moving the rules for the procedures of the Court of Auditors as we did at Nice.

This is not about numbers but about British interests. To oppose QMV in principle is short-sighted. 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. Our companies do very well out of the single market. It is in Britain's interest to have QMV for international agreements on trade and services. Our companies benefit from the liberalisation that this is likely to deliver.

It is also in the UK's interests to have QMV for the rules and procedures of the European Court of Justice. That will deliver more efficient procedures and speedier judgments to ensure that the EU's rules are respected. In this group of amendments, it is in the UK's interests that decisions on who should be appointed to official positions should be made efficiently. They should not be held up on the principle of Buggins' turn, or on the basis of nationality or cross-border rivalry. We need the best people appointed quickly and efficiently so that they can get on with their duties. That is what QMV will do for us in this area.

We have nothing to apologise for in the changes made in the Treaty of Nice. I oppose the amendment.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

The Minister extols the virtues of QMV and says how helpful it has been to the British economy. Does he agree that there have also been occasions when we knew that we would be outvoted on a matter and therefore did not even put it to the vote? I refer, for instance, to the directive on young people at work with which I was associated. Let us also take the example of the British art market—a valuable asset to the country—which has been destroyed by QMV. I trust that the Minister will agree that QMV is not all one-way traffic.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

It is not all one-way traffic. In the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, last week we had a specific example of one-way traffic in the other direction which I meant to draw to the Committee's attention. The noble Lord challenged whether there were any cases of QMV moving to unanimity. Hansard will show that we debated last week the changes to Article 175(2) on the environment which restored to unanimity decisions on measures of a general nature on land use.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, that this debate is about appointing the secretary-general of the secretariat, but not the President of the Commission—an even more important issue which we shall debate in another amendment. I am sorry that we have missed the attack on the Conservative Party which sits steaming in the Minister's brief. That might have stimulated a wide debate. However, I am on his side. We want to keep the debate to the issues in the amendment as much as possible.

I do not apologise for considering the implications underlying the amendment in order to argue the force of the case. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, reproved me for that. I believe that that reinforces and defines some of the problems under both governments with European Union legislation. When one seeks to halt a trend or a broad drift, every grandmother's footstep looks somewhat small, Therefore any attempt to halt that step opens itself to the charge of pettiness. Yet when those steps are added up, when each little salami slice is put together again, one has moved significantly in a certain direction.

The noble Lord may say that this step is not very great. However, since Maastricht and the Amsterdam Treaty there has been a constant underlying murmur that the inter-governmental pillars shall one day somehow be brought into the full Community system. One needs to be on guard against that trend. Many of us believe that it will be very unhealthy.

With his usual authority the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said that it does not matter how the person is appointed because he or she will be a servant of the Council of Ministers. That is undeniable; but it surely does matter, even if it appears to be a marginal issue, as to whether it is one person or another. That might well be shaped by a QMV or unanimity with general agreement and consensus.

I agree with the view that power is drifting away from the Commission to the Council. I may not carry with me all my noble friends on this point. The trend in decentralising the tendencies and longings of the Commission to establish a major role in foreign and military policies has been encouraging. Under the present arrangements that has been prevented. The present arrangements have begun to develop a fascinating pattern of redistribution of power in the European Union which weakens the motor role of the Commission over previous decades. That is a healthy development which we need to reinforce. There are quite solid moves to ensure that foreign policy is kept as far as possible in a sensible, flexible pattern of arrangements and not too centralised or "communitised". That is good.

I close this lively short debate by appealing not to higher glories and higher principles but merely by asking, "If it ain't broke, why fix it?" Those who want to see a flexible, democratic Europe may be just about holding their own. The Prime Minister has done magnificently in holding his corner against too much centralisation and singularisation of foreign policy in Europe. It is just about working. By bringing in QMV—it is a small touch—we are allowing matters to drift a little in the opposite direction. It is time that here as elsewhere in many areas the drift was stopped. It is an important principle. It is not a marginal issue. I should like to have the opinion of the Committee tested on this matter.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 22) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 119; Not-Contents, 176.

Division number 1 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — European Communities (Amendment) Bill

Aye: 117 Members of the House of Lords

No: 174 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Government Whip

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.