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Mr. Henderson: I am glad that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman. The Under-Secretary should know about the treaty because he was well coached in the past. I am confident that he knows a lot more about it than me.
I do not accept the point of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). The Single European Act provided for extensions of QMV and dealt with economic issues such as building a single market. The Amsterdam, Maastricht and Nice treaties cover some similar issues. Financial services negotiations with third parties are a matter of single market economics. Some aspects of the treaties did not cover economics, but that is the case with all treaties. I understand the point that he tried to make, but I do not accept that it is empirically correct.
Joyce Quin: The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) pointed out that he voted for the Single European Act. Perhaps he will not mind my reminding hon. Members that during the debate on that measure, he said that the dangers of QMV were exaggerated.
If enlargement is to happen, the Nice treaty must be adopted. Those who have examined it know that without QMV, there is no treaty. As we move towards enlargement, QMV is essential for all the reasons that have been given in the debate.
The treaty will not be the end of extending QMV, but I believe that many existing provisions will be used more often. They will form the bulk of QMV in future. However, some modification and development will be required and further proposals will be made. I am not ashamed to say that, and I do not hide from it. As information technology and environmental issues develop, the Community may believe that decisions should be made through majority voting so that no individual country has a veto.
Mr. Henderson: No. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but I do not think that that is the case. The large nations such as France, Germany and Britain might say, "We must be able to block a proposal under qualified majority voting if we feel it is against our collective interest and the European Union's interest." However, that situation hardly ever arises; indeed, I do not know whether it has ever arisen. I need to check the history books.
More normally, countries with a common interest ask the Commission to initiate a proposal or to respond to a proposal from the Commission. They then build support for their case, and if they do not get it, they usually back off and have another go, review, modify or whatever. If they get the support that they need, they try to reach unanimity before QMV is raised. However, if it proves difficult to establish unanimity, one member state will rely on QMV. Member states will try to build support among small and large countries. I do not think that small countries are discriminated against.
Proposals such as the measure to review the rules on the tasks of the structural and cohesion funds are an important development for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. I can foresee a situation in which there could be quite a ganging-up against the Republic and Northern Irelandbecause they have both been heavy recipients of funding in the pastto support a particular distribution of structural funds elsewhere. If there were a veto, it might mean that there would be no agreement, or that the UK and Ireland had to give way to protect their position. With QMV, there will be a more balanced approach in which a largish group of nations will make decisions on the distribution of structural funds. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will gain from that process.
Mr. Menzies Campbell: The speech by the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) was pretty brave stuff. He was reflecting on what we were invited to understand was his party's clear and unequivocal position. However, any reference to the views of that apostate, as we might describe him, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who is currently a candidate for the leadership of the official Opposition, was absent from any part of the hon. Gentleman's speech.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman's attitude towards the Nice treaty is, I fear, a long way away from that expressed on behalf of the official Opposition by the hon. Member for West Suffolkand the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not the only one of whom that is true. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) made it clear last week in a most illuminating article in the newspaper of record, The Times, why he was supporting the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe, and evinced a certain amount of embarrassment about the arguments that he had had to advance about the Nice treaty during the election campaign.
The hon. Member for West Suffolk frequently said how disappointed he was, and I confess that I, too, am pretty disappointed, that we have not heard from the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffeor from the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), because he was the Whip charged with the responsibility of taking the legislation on the Maastricht treaty through the House of Commons. That shows that gratitude rarely lasts long in politics. All the way through that process, the Liberal Democrats supported the then Government, assisting them in getting the legislation on the Maastricht treaty on to the statute book. There were no accusations at that time from the Conservatives that the Liberal Democrats were overly committed to European integration. Indeed, they were happy to exploit our commitment towards Europe.
The hon. Member for West Suffolk has made a brave statement of the case that he would like the Opposition to put forward, but in truth it is a case sustained neither by history nor by contemporary events in his party.
Mr. Spring: Bearing in mind the comments of many Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidates in the recent general election, I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not suggesting that there is any unanimity of view among Liberal Democrats. There certainly is not. The issue of how we approach our relationship with the European Union produces different views and attitudes right across the political spectrum, and right across the breadth of the political parties in this country. There is nothing new about that.
Mr. Campbell: The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. A little while ago he was accusing the Liberal Democrats of being hell-bent on further integration. Now he says that we are split on the topic. If we are split on the topic, we can hardly be hell-bent on it.
What I find difficult to understand in the attitude of the official Opposition, as evidenced by the amendment, is their argument that there should be no extension of qualified majority voting in any circumstances, because it is time to bring powers back from Brussels to domestic Parliaments. I could understand it if they proposed to approach the issue of qualified majority voting on a case-by-case, merit-by-merit basis, and said that when they examined the treaty of Nice and the extensions of QMV therein, they objected to one, three, five, six, seven or any other particular number of the extensions
I thought that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) put the question very clearly indeed. On matters such as the liberalisation of financial services and transport, how can it possibly be in the interests of the United Kingdom to oppose qualified majority voting when our economy would benefit and our interests would be served? Arguing against a particular provision on the ground that it does not serve those interests seems entirely logical, but I do not find it easy to understand the necessity to argue against qualified majority voting in all circumstances, even when it is demonstrably in the interests of the people whom we represent.