Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham) : Will my hon. Friend consider that a Hong Kong resident would not have to go to Portugal to buy a villa, but would be able to go to Macau, just across the water from Hong Kong? All Macau residents will be able to move to Portugal at any time they wish.
Mr. Cormack : When my hon. Friend answers the point raised by our hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart), will he consider that residents from Hong Kong, from wherever they come, are perhaps more likely to enjoy living in the climate of the south of France, than Bolton or Bootle? Therefore, the argument can be turned to good effect by those of us who feel that the Hong Kong people may come here, but many of them may choose to live not in Great Britain but in other parts of the Community.
Mr. Aitken : The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) is a case of special pleading and seems to be a question of hope over experience, because all evidence suggests that this country is still a mecca for people from all over the world. they come for language and many other reasons, and the flow of Hong Kong nationals within the Community, from wherever they come, is more likely to be to here than from here to other outlying parts.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) raises a significant point. It is correct--I omitted it--that the loophole is even wider than that which I illustrated when I spoke of people buying Portuguese villas. Hong Kong nationals can easily go to Macau, get
Column 1113European residence by that route, and then, as EC nationals, they can, with the extensive rights and privileges granted to them, have full right of residence in this country.
I am simply arguing that, instead of turning up at a late hour and nodding these big changes through, we should be aware that they have profound implications, which deserve the full parliamentary attention that was originally requested by the Select Committee.
Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) : I am listening with care to the hon. Gentleman's xenophobic ramblings. Given the weather in this country, the relatively low social security benefits and the general decline in the quality of life that has accompanied 10 years of Tory misrule, is he really saying that people from the four corners of the world are panting to come to Ramsgate?
Mr. Aitken : The hon. Lady's eloquence on behalf of Ramsgate means that, if she were to lose her seat, there might be a job for her as the tourist promotion officer there. At the end of the day, these significant changes in the rules are valuable to European nationals. They are not available yet to British citizens. I suspect that the hon. Lady handles as many immigration cases as any hon. Member. She must recognise, as the whole House should--as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central recognises--that whether one is for looser or tighter immigration, there is something intrinsically wrong with being offered, on the one hand, a set of British immigration rules that say one thing, and now suddenly, in a midnight debate in the House-- [Interruption.] It is not quite midnight, although it feels like it ; it has been a long day. On the other hand, we now have a different set of immigration rules offered to us by Europe.
Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East) : I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the House should debate such matters in a better way. Would the people who are economically inactive, of whom he spoke, who might come to Ramsgate or wherever, automatically qualify for British social security benefits, pensions and so on by coming here?
Mr. Aitken : No. I gather that the Government assure us that, by a mechanism not yet devised--when it is devised it will almost certainly not be large enough to operate, or be quick enough to be operated, in a satisfactory way--somehow there will be no financial loss to Britain because those social security benefits will be transferable across frontiers.
I am not arguing on an economic basis, but pointing out that we are now getting, as a result of the directive, two different sets of immigration rules and two standards. With such double standards, whether one favours one or the other, it is unacceptable that it should happen in this way, in a late-night debate, via a European directive.
The Government, whose relations with the Select Committee on European Legislation are normally good, have not behaved courteously or correctly in this episode, because the Select Committee demanded a debate on the subject, recognising that it was of considerable political importance, but has been denied one. We are now debating it, in effect, after the horse has bolted. The
Column 1114Government seem to have made every decision and made every concession except one--that is, whether unanimity is required or whether it can be done by majority voting. Other hon. Members who serve on the Select Committee on European Legislation may develop that theme, because the Government have not behaved in a constitutionally correct way towards the Committee. The House should recognise that the changes in the immigration rules are being carried out in a wrong parliamentary way.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : The hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) finished on a note that I wish to take up. There are two themes to tonight's debate--the substance of the matter and the merits that have already exercised the minds of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) and the hon. Member for Thanet, South. However, the underlying theme is that of the constitution and parliamentary procedure, and it is to the latter that I wish to direct the attention of the House. While I agree with the hon. Member for Thanet, South in his reference to the relationship between the Government and the Select Committee--which is not good on that matter, although I hasten to add that there is a good understanding on most matters--the damage is not to the Committee but to the House and to parliamentary procedure.
The issues before us are of considerable constitutional significance because they show that we do not deal properly with advising the House on what is afoot in the European Community in respect of institutions and developments. The Committee that I have the honour to chair cannot do that, because the House has not provided it with adequate terms of reference, a matter that we hope will soon be addressed by the Government. The current arrangements could work better. They have broken down in spirit, if not in letter, on this occasion. Therefore, if I appear to be tedious in reading some of the verbatim reports of the Committee and the correspondence that has passed between the Minister and myself on behalf of that Committee, I apologise. However, it is important to have these matters on record because, irrespective of whatever of the substance of the matter may come back to haunt us in the future, the procedural matters relating to this debate may do so, although I hope not. The treaty base was referred to by the hon. Member for Thanet, South. The Single European Act changed the whole outlook in respect of decision-making in the Community. No longer was it possible for a single member to delay or to hold up decision-making ; indeed, the purpose of parts of the Single European Act, as the Leader of the House told us when he was Foreign Secretary, was to streamline and speed up decision-making. Vast areas of decision-making were transferred from, in effect, unanimity to qualified majority voting.
There are 76 votes on the Council of Ministers, 54 of which are required to pass a matter requiring a qualified majority, and 23 to block. The United Kingdom has 10 votes. I shall not go through the other member states as it would take too long. The important question is whether the Commission promulgates a regulation under an article of the treaty that requires qualified majority voting, simple majority voting or unanimity. It is those three choices. If it promulgates it under unanimity, the powers of the
Column 1115Government and the influence of the House-- because that is what these debates are supposed to be about--is much the greater. The articles that have been quoted in respect of these regulations are 7, 8A, 49, and 54. As the Minister said in his opening speech, they require qualified majority voting. Articles 100 and 235 require unanimity.
The difference of opinion that the Government have with the Commission, probably rightly, is on whether freedom of movement and residence of economically non-active persons can properly come under the first four articles that I read out. There has been some discussion and, as we heard from the Minister and as we shall hear later, there is probably an expectation--I put it no higher than that--that ultimately these regulations will be retabled or withdrawn or the Council could agree unanimously to translate them into articles 100 and 235, but on condition that we agree to the matters in hand. That was part of the deal.
Let me deal now with our scrutiny procedure. For the record, because it is relatively unknown I want to read out the resolution of the House of 30 October 1980. It says :
That, in the opinion of this House, no Minister of the Crown should give agreement in the Council of Ministers to any proposal for European Legislation which has been recommended by the Select Committee on European Legislation, &c., for consideration by the House before the House has given it that consideration unless-- (a) that Committee has indicated that agreement need not be withheld, or
(b) the Minister concerned decides that for special reasons agreement should not be withheld ; and in the latter case the Minister should, at the first opportunity thereafter, explain the reasons for his decision to the House."--[ Official Report, 30 October 1980 ; Vol. 991, c. 843-4.]
That matter was recommended by the Williams committee, which sat between 1976 and 1978, and was put through the House under the leadership of the noble Lord St. John of Fawsley, now a well-known Member of the other place.
The proposals before us have a long history. They were first promulgated in 1974 in a different form and subsequently withdrawn. They were retabled by the Commission as recently as 29 June 1989. On 20 October, the Government then published, as is their wont, the memorandum, from which the hon. Member for Thanet, South quoted, and on 25 October the Select Committee, in its 35th report, HC15, XXXV, said :
"The explanatory memorandum recalls that the United Kingdom has reserved its position on these proposals but, if they were agreed, this wider definition of family members would also apply in the case of persons covered by the draft Directive on pensioners and other non-economically active people. This would have the effect of further increasing the number of third-country nationals with the right of entry to the United Kingdom under Community law."
All that is well known to the House--it has been rehearsed in debates already--but I want to put on record the exchanges between ourselves, the Minister and the House in that respect.
The next thing that happened was that the Select Committee received a letter from the Minister on 19 December 1989. It is fairly long, but it is right that I should quote it in full. It says :
"At its meeting on 25 October the Scrutiny Committee understandably concluded that in view of their legal and political importance these documents should be debated. We have recently been seeking to arrange a debate, but it has not proved possible to re-arrange business in the short time
Column 1116available before the House rises and I thought you ought to know that there is a possibility of agreement being reached in the Community before a debate can be held.
This is because progress in the discussions (after, as you know, a very long period of deadlock) has recently quickened markedly. At a meeting of the Internal Market Council on 23 November, a settlement was reached which adequately deals with the concerns which we and a number of other Member States had to ensure that non-economically active EC nationals who take up residence in another country would not become a burden on that country's public funds. In the light of this settlement the French Presidency has been pressing hard for the adoption of the Directives, and the European Council on 8-9 December referred to them as an important measure which is scheduled for adoption by the end of the year'. At the same time, the Government has looked again at the question of Community competence and has concluded that our longstanding reserve can now be lifted, provided our earlier concerns about the legal base can be resolved. The matter will come up again at the meeting of the Internal Market Council on 21-22 December, at which the Presidency will be pressing for a final decision on all three Directives. As the drafts currently stand, we will have a difference with the Commission and with some other Member States over the proposed legal bases. Given the Presidency's eagerness for a decision there is, however, now a chance that we can secure the legal bases we want provided that we and other Member States can agree to accept the Directives at this meeting." That was the meeting of 21-22 December.
"In these circumstances, in order to secure negotiating advantage, we would like to hold open the possibility of agreeing to the Directives, without putting on a scrutiny reserve, notwithstanding that it has not yet proved possible to arrange a debate on the legal bases which we consider more satisfactory.
It is of course conceivable that matters will not go quite this way and that it will after all be possible to have a debate before final conclusions are reached. Needless to say, that would normally be our strong preference. We shall in any event be submitting a further Explanatory Memorandum and seeking to arrange debate as soon as possible in the New Year. After anxious consideration, however, we are satisfied that, given the extra momentum which the proposals have gathered since the end of November, it would be wrong to pass up the chance of a satisfactory outcome on the grounds that it has not so far been possible to arrange a debate."
Happily, there was no final agreement on the date. I ought to say here and now that the members of the Committee and I are obliged to the Minister for that letter : it was full and frank, and it told us the exact position. To be fair, any of us in the position of the Minister sitting in that chair might well have done the same thing. I ought to add that the matters that I am now rehearsing represent the unanimous view of the Committee which understands the Minister's position ; but it means that, by the end of the year, the following position has emerged. After nearly 10 years, we have a proposal, albeit a modified one. We recommended a debate many years ago on this topic, but we have a debate recommended on the proposals but there is a possibility that the Government will agree to them in substance prior to debate and--here I quote from our memorandum of 20 December-- "agree to adoption of these proposals prior to a debate being held. In essence, the Minister anticipates that it may be possible to trade willingness to agree at the Internal Market Council on 21-22 December for the Government's preferred choice of Treaty base."
That was a new element that the Committee espied in these matters : in our view, there was a very big jump between package bargaining over a fairly wide area, which we well understand must take place, and the fact that, in order to change the treaty base, one must agree to the substance of the proposal.
Column 1117The Minister kindly wrote to me again on 9 January and I will put what he said on the record. He has dealt with us scrupulously on this matter, and I want to emphasise that. He said :
"At the IMC on 21 December it was noted that neither Danish nor United Kingdom Parliamentary scrutiny procedures had been completed ; there was further discussion, but no final agreement, on the question of legal base ; and a number of other, minor, issues remained unsettled. As a result, no vote was taken on any of the Directives. The Presidency recorded, however, that political agreement on the substance of the texts had been reached, subject to the completion of Danish and United Kingdom Parliamentary procedures, and suggested that the IMC should give further consideration to the draft Directives at its next meeting on 22 February."
In his opening remarks, the Minister told us that that expectation was to come--the expectation that the treaty base will be changed--but of course that does not really alter the fact that at an earlier stage the Government were willing to go ahead--perhaps justifiably, perhaps not--before a debate in the House, and that the issue of trading--these are the words we used-- treaty base in substance has in our judgment probably occurred.
Therefore, the Committee issued another report, which I hope hon. Members have been able to get from the Vote Office, on 17 January, HC II-VII of this Session, which says :
"The Committee was therefore surprised to learn that political agreement was reached on the substance of the proposals at the Internal Market Council on 21-22 December, subject to United Kingdom and Danish scrutiny reserves, and that the only remaining issues for consideration are the appropriate legal bases for the Directives and a number of minor matters. In effect, the Government appeared to have agreed to the substance of the proposal, albeit with a Parliamentary scrutiny reserve, without securing agreement on its preferred choice of legal base."
I interpolate here a reference to what the Minister said at the beginning of the debate, which was that that was expected, and of course it could well be part of the political agreement to which he referred.
The report continues :
"The Department's Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum makes it clear that the Government now accepts that it is reasonable to interpret Treaty provisions on freedom of movement for persons as applying to non- economically active as well as to economically active Community nationals. It is also content that amendments to the proposal have strengthened the understanding that beneficiaries should not become a burden on host Member States. The Committee notes the Government's view that the draft Directives do not pose any major or unacceptable policy implications for the United Kingdom, and its position on the relevance of Article 235 as the appropriate Treaty base in each case. Nevertheless, the Committee maintains its recommendation for the early consideration of these proposals. The Committee remains disappointed that the Government has not found it possible to afford the House the opportunity to consider these proposals in the decade since the original recommendation until after substantive decisions on their content had been taken. It also reiterates its concern that the Government should have regarded, in this or any similar circumstances, the choice of Treaty base as being negotiable in a similar fashion to the substance of a Commission proposal, given the possible legal implications of adopting Community legislation on inappropriate treaty bases.
In view of the intrinsic importance of the draft Directives, and the circumstances which led to political agreement being reached at the Internal Market Council, the Committee
Column 1118considers the debate which it has recommended should be held on the Floor of the House, and not in a Standing Committee on European Community Documents."
There was a motion down for this batch of documents to be sent to a Standing Committee, but representations were made and that is why we are here now. I place that on the record for the judgment of hon. Members as to the relative importance of this matter--whether it be of substance or procedural, and whether it should have been debated on the Floor of the House or in committee.
The amendment put down by the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) is entirely on the matter of procedure. Whatever his own views may be on substance, and he has not told us them--not that I necessarily expect him to be here--his amendment reflects absolutely the view of the Select Committee. It has not been selected, and I make no complaint about that, but I wish to put it on record that the unanimous view of the Select Committee is in line with the sentiments expressed in that amendment.
The womb of law in the United Kingdom has been until fairly recently this Chamber and that of the other place. We are now, of course, in a completely different situation ; and the linkage between what Ministers do in the Council of Ministers and the influence that we can bring to bear on them before they go to the Council--the extent, to use an in phrase of the moment, of pre-legislative glasnost--is very important. I can only hope that the rather lengthy and perhaps tedious quotations that I have had to put on the record this evening will assist in improving visibility in these matters in the future. 10.29 pm
Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud) : I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for setting out so clearly and carefully the full effect of the draft directives in relatively few minutes, and I shall try to be brief.
I appreciate the full importance of the EC as a trading bloc, and its necessity to our future prosperity, but I should like to make a few comments on these fairly wide-ranging measures--especially wide-ranging for a Thursday night.
I understand the three draft directives to some extent. I certainly understand the first, which concerns students, and the second, which concerns employees and self-employed pensioners. However, the third directive causes me some concern. It involves the rights of residence for nationals of member states who do not enjoy this right under other provisions of Community law, and members of their families. I thought that my hon. Friend mentioned that this amounted to only a few groups of people, in which case, I must be, as usual, totally naive, because I looked at the directive again and again and I have come to the conclusion that it could apply to everybody.
As the directive concerns only a few groups, can my hon. Friend say whether he has any idea of the potential numbers of people involved, particularly in view of paragraph 23 of the explanatory memorandum, headed "Financial Implications", which says :
"there should be no direct increase in costs as a result of these proposals."
If that is so, presumably no great numbers of people will be involved. Once we know the number, perhaps we will be able to say what effect it might have on the housing situation, because in this country we have a greater
Column 1119population in a smaller number of square miles than many other member countries, and therefore that is of particular importance to us.
Can my hon. Friend say what will be the position of the citizens of East Germany if Germany reunites? Will they automatically have the right of abode here?
The third point I would put to my hon. Friend--and I appreciate that this involves some detail--is that I have always understood that citizens of the French overseas territories have rights of abode, and presumably that will apply in Britain, but it seems unfortunate that some of our own dependencies and protectorates do not have the same privileges. Could my hon. Friend comment on that?
I am not--I say this almost thankfully--a member of the Select Committee on European Legislation, but I read the note that the Committee
"was surprised to learn that political agreement was reached on the substance of the proposals of the Internal Market Council on 21 December."
That seems to be very strong meat.
The criteria used to determine sufficient resources in this case seem to be pretty basic--nothing like the Hong Kong £150,000. How do we determine whether there are sufficient resources? Is some form of means test involved, and how will it be brought about in practical terms?
I also have a copy of the supplementary explanatory memorandum on European Community legislation which I see is somewhat ominously entitled "final" on the front page. Turning to what I guess is the main issue, I see that paragraph 14 suggests :
"the legal base for all three draft Directives remains under discussion pending final agreement."
I wonder, therefore, whether my hon. Friend believes that this is the most suitable time to debate this matter. There seem to be several fairly profound legal and political implications. Indeed, paragraph 15 describes the full operational procedures, and I am afraid that I must read it out in full. It says :
"Proposals based on Article 7 or Article 49, among others, attract the Co- operation procedure. If, however, the Commission were to revise their proposals by substituting Article 235, as the legal base for each Directive, the Co-operation procedure would not apply. Until there is agreement on the question of legal base it is not possible to be certain whether the co-operation procedure is relevant." That seems to me to be of paramount importance.
Mr. Spearing : I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, especially as I made a long speech. He has raised an important point--the bifurcation of a second reading by the European Parliament. He may be under a certain misapprehension about the timing of debates. There has always been a feeling in the House and the Committee that debate at an earlier stage rather than when the final document is ready is more likely to influence the Minister in the Council of Ministers, particularly prior to the common position being taken if the matter is debated a second time. Therefore, rather than having a debate too early, the feeling has been that, for the reasons that I have outlined, it is rather too late.
Should we be applying to the European Court of Justice to determine these matters, or should we be insisting on article 235? At what stage will my hon. Friend consider whether a veto should be used to force the matter?
Column 1120Paragraph 16 states :
"Similarly, until the legal base is settled it is not possible to say what the voting procedure will be. However, in the event of Article 235 being chosen, each draft Directive will require unanimity."
Does my hon. Friend accept that it is vital to know whether majority voting or unanimity is applicable? Unless we know, we are taking something of a leap in the dark.
If national frontiers are to become things of the past--that is not putting it too strongly--we must be certain that the frontiers of Europe assume even greater significance.
Mr. Peter Lloyd : A great many points have been raised. The House would not take it kindly if I tried to address each of them, so I shall comment on what I consider to be the crucial and essential points. I apologise in advance if I leave out any items that hon. Members consider important. If they draw my attention to them during or after the debate, I shall reply to them in a letter, which I hope will be as full and frank as the one that the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) commended for its content if not for its conclusion.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) said little about the directives, so I presume that he was not too unhappy with them. He wanted us to harmonise the rules that we in the United Kingdom operate for the immigration of dependants from third countries with the European rules governing the movement of dependants between EC countries. We have the rules that best suit our circumstances and we should take decisions on them in the light of our particular national needs.
However, I understand the hon. Gentleman's interest in changing them in certain directions. The EC rules for the movement of those who are economically active predate our entry into the Community. We had no hand in formulating them ; they existed during the Labour party's last period in government. The Labour Government did not seek to bring them in line and I quite understand why.
If the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central feels able to tell us now, would he change the rule for dependants so that the maximum age for child dependency is not 18, as it is in our immigration rules for third countries, but 21? The House would be interested to know, and so would I.
He asked about Schengen. We are not associated with Schengen. We do not have observer status there. We are extremely interested in what eventually emerges. No treaty has yet been signed. If it is, I disagree with the hon. Gentleman's assumption of what our attitude would be. We do not regard it as a blueprint or model for the rules and arrangements in the wider Community.
Mr. Darling : I am surprised by that, because I had always understood from official and unofficial sources that, first, the Government are kept informed by a civil servant at Schengen and that, secondly, as everyone in Schengen is a member of Trevi, in which the Government are represented, it would be inconceivable for the Benelux countries, France and West Germany to adopt the Schengen rules but seek to do something entirely different by Trevi. If I am wrong, I should welcome a Government statement on that. The previous Home Secretary made a
Column 1121helpful statement--I am not suggesting that he made an admission--saying that the general thrust of what I am saying is right.
Will the Minister explain why a Frenchman and his wife and family are allowed to enter this country, whereas a British citizen and his wife cannot automatically do the same? That shows the inconsistency in the definition of the "family".
Mr. Lloyd : The French are responsible for those who enter France from third countries. That is not regulated by Community law ; nor are our immigration rules. Movement of people from one Community country to another is regulated by Community law. Community nationals are of primary significance and their dependants derive their rights from the EC national. That is why a distinction is made, but it is a smaller problem than the hon. Gentleman thinks.
We are not part of the Schengen discussions. We know only what we are told, what we learn and what we read. Obviously, we are kept in touch, but not in the detail that the hon. Gentleman believes. I have made it pretty clear that what we believe may have been the objective of those discussions, but which has not emerged yet, ought to act as a blueprint for the rest of the Community.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central asked about the common visa. Again, that has little to do with the directives or with immigration. Discussions are being held to see whether we can agree similar rules for visas for short-term visitors to the Community--not people who wish to settle, but holidaymakers or people who are visiting for a limited period--so that each member country does not have to issue a new visa if a visitor wants to visit several countries and to make it easier for visitors to move between countries. That bears no relation to the directives that we are discussing or to long-term immigration for settlement.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) said that the directives drive a coach and horses through our immigration controls, but they do not. They extend the rights of movement and residence in the Community, but the reality of those rights exist already for the economically active, who are most likely to move and who represent the greatest numbers. They are not completely insignificant, because pensioners may decide to move to another country if they have the resources to do so. Well-resourced pensioners from the south of France or the Mediterranean may move to the midlands because they like the weather, but I suspect that the movement will tend to be in the opposite direction.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South also thought that the category of "dependant" was extremely unclear. In fact, it has been clear since before we joined the European Community, because it is set out in regulation 1612/68. We are writing in the category in detail and we especially wanted to insist on that because there were proposals in the European Community that the rules should be expanded. We wanted to be certain that no expansion appeared in the new directives as a result of changes to which we might agree elsewhere or which might have taken place without our agreement, so we wanted to insist on that detail. What my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South found most confusing was really a recognition that there was discussion over regulation
Column 11221612/68 which at present governs this area, but which may not if it changes. However, there is no doubt that the definition is there to be read and is easily understood.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) also asked about non-economically active people. They comprise everybody who does not come under some other category and who has sufficient resources to maintain himself at or above the social security levels in whichever European Community country he determines to settle. There is no question about such a person becoming a cost, because he will not be eligible for benefits or social security payments. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud thought that there must be a cost somewhere. To the country, there must be a movement in of resources because people must bring with them the resources with which they will maintain themselves and any dependants whom they might bring with them.
Mr. Janman : I appreciate what my hon. Friend is saying about the cost effect if such immigration were to occur. However, immigration is a subject about which the people of this country feel very strongly, not only in terms of the possible costs to the taxpayer, but as a result of the other concerns, about which I am sure my hon. Friend is aware and about which I do not need to go into detail. If one used his logic about the weather and the direction of immigration and emigration, clearly we should have had massive emigration from Britain to the West Indies and the Indian sub-continent as opposed to immigration into Britain from those places.
If one takes the matter in the context of the European Community, there is a danger of fairly substantial immigration from the countries within the Community that have a lower gross domestic product per head than we do, such as countries in the more southern part of the Community. The concerns about which my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) has hinted are very real.
Mr. Lloyd : If there is any such danger--and I do not want to go down that track with my hon. Friend now, as the clock is ticking on--it already exists because of the treaty and because of the movement of the economically active, which has nothing to do with the directives. If there is a movement upwards, it will be as a result of the freedom to migrate that people have. There certainly is a movement towards the Mediterranean, which is manifest in the number of British pensioners who are currently resident in Spain. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) may have a point, but it is related not to the directives, but to the treaty itself and to the freedom of movement of those who are economically active. The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) is not here at present, but I want to respond to his point. He suggested quite unwarrantably that queues are used as a weapon and he seemed to be thinking especially of the Indian sub-continent. The queues that were very long there have been reduced sharply in recent years and they are far shorter than they were when we came to office. We have increased the number of officers there in an attempt to make the queues shorter, and we have succeeded in that.
The points made by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who is the Chairman of the Select Committee on European Legislation and was speaking on behalf of the Select Committee, were most important. I
Column 1123understand his concern that there was a suggestion that there would be full agreement on the issues without a debate. He is right to press the point and I understand why he does. He spent some time going into the background, about which I wish to say a few words. We were advised only a few days before the meeting on 21 December to which the hon. Gentleman referred that the presidency appeared to be determined to bring the matter to a conclusion before the end of its presidency. The base for two of the directives--I refer again to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud--was a qualified majority. It was extremely likely that not only the substance of the directives but a legal base that we did not think right or justified could have been imposed on us.
The hon. Member for Newham, South is frank and honest. He said that he understood that, if he had been in my right hon. and learned Friend's position, he might have made the same decision. We came to the conclusion that, because the directives were to be decided by qualified majority voting, we had to use our best endeavours to ensure that the legal base was changed. We judged that the best way was to agree to the substance and the changes made in the few weeks beforehand, which we were basically in agreement with, but stated that we were not satisfied with the legal base.
I disagreed strongly with the hon. Gentleman when he suggested that the legal base was negotiable. It was not negotiable by us. We have always been prefectly clear that there is only one proper base--article 235. We have stuck to that. The whole purpose of agreeing to the substance of the directives was to give us more leverage to ensure that we secure the proper base. It now looks as if we may be successful. We have had this debate before a final agreement has been made. I am happy on both those points. I hope that the hon. Gentleman takes some satisfaction from that.
Mr. Spearing : I am not sure that I can. It is for the members of the Committee to read the report of the debate. I understand from the Minister--perhaps we have not given adequate weight to this--that the changes in the proposals were conterminous with speeding up the
Column 1124timetable. I concede that the Minister was placed in a difficult position with the presidency, but apparently that is how it works. We regret that there was no opportunity for a debate. There should have been one before Christmas and perhaps one fairly soon afterwards.
Mr. Lloyd : We regret that there was no opportunity for a debate. We should have regretted it even more if we had been lumbered with the directives on the wrong legal base. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and his Committee agree with that.
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher) : The main principles of the measures will be widely welcomed by the people affected by them. Although the treaty base is regularly discussed by the British Government and the Commission and may ultimately be referred to the European Court of Justice, the thrust of the measures is welcome. Will my hon. Friend confirm that they do not affect the British interest because under the treaty of Rome, Britain still has powers to protect the national interest from drugs and other dangers?
Mr. Lloyd : That is absolutely right. We retain those rights both at our frontier and under the fairly narrow but real public policy limitation to remove EC nationals whom it is against the public interest to have here.
I emphasise that, under the treaty of Rome, EC nationals already have freedom of movement and residence to take employment or become self- employed in any other member country. All that the directive does is extend the rights that are implicit in the treaty in defined terms to the other groups that I mentioned. In the process, we wish to make sure that people do not become an expense to our Exchequer or those of other member countries. I commend the proposals to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 7706/89 and the Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Home Office on 8th January 1990 relating to rights of residence ; and supports the objective of facilitating the free movement of European Community nationals.