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Mr. Hendrick: The decision-making processes agreed at Nice are considerably to the benefit of the United Kingdom. They have been changed to ensure democratic legitimacy. In qualified majority voting, not only will the qualified majority be necessary but the votes will have to represent at least 62 per cent. of the total population of the European Union before a decision can be made.
The comments of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) about the Germanification of Europe are totally unfounded, because the treaty says that Germany will have the same number of votes as the UK, even though the German population is 82 million and ours only 57 million. It says:
The President of the European Commission will now have to be approved by the European Council by QMV and there will be new powers to organise the Commission and sack individual Commissioners if necessary. Many of us remember the appointment of the previous Commission President and the disagreement between European Governments, when unanimity was needed. Every single member state had a veto. If that was bad with the 12 member states that existed then, what would it be like with 25, 26, 27 or 28 members? Because they could not reach agreement, the 12 member states at the time came up with Mr. Jacques Santer, who proved to be a useless head of the European Commission. Decisions were made that lacked clarity, concision or vision, and we ended with the spectacle of a totally discredited European Commission.
Mr. Hendrick: I was in discussions with Mr. Kinnock at the time. He wanted the entire Commission to resign, and he was instrumental in persuading certain Commissioners, including Mrs. Cresson, to do so. One of the most reluctant to resign was the President himself, who was appointed under the unanimity procedures that the Conservative party is still trying to defend. Unanimity may be okay for decisions such as own resources, border
QMV protects Britain's interests in many areas, including the European Court of Justice; trade in services; article 161, on the tasks and rules of the structural and cohesion funds, which will stop net recipients blocking efficiency and cost savings; environmental issues; financial regulation; appointments; and industrial policy. The Opposition amendments are aimed not at improving the European Union, but at wrecking the Nice treaty and other treaties negotiated over decades, as well as wrecking the relationship that we have with the 14 other member states.
Peter Hain: I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in this interesting debate, including my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies), who will appreciateindeed, he anticipatedthat I will study what he said with great care before I write to him in detail on the points he raised. I have pointed out to him that there were a number of errors in the footnotes of the Command Paper that have been corrected. That may account for some of the issues he mentioned, if not all.
The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), as before, exulted in being Mr. Veto in Europe. A fine load of good that did Britain and I am not sure that it did him much good either. It is important that we concentrate on the big picture. People listening to this debate could have been sidetracked into some of the intricate detail and away from the big picture.
When Britain joined the European Economic Community, under a Conservative Government, there were already a considerable number of articles in the treaty of Rome that were subject to qualified majority voting. As the EEC and, later, the EU has grown larger, so there has been a need to extend QMV to stop decision making grinding to a halt.
Frankly, the picture painted by the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) was literally incredible, as the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) pointed out. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) observed, there is at least a measure of hypocrisy in Conservative criticisms of the Bill because the biggest extension of QMV came with Mrs. Thatcher's Single European Act in 1986. Literally thousands of directives and regulations have been passed using articles to which QMV was extended under the Single European Act.
The Single European Act allowed progress on the single market to be accelerated; a good thing, too. Yet the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) was happy to see QMV, to use his phrase, "bulldozed through" in the Single European Act, for which he voted, but not in other areas.
Maastricht also introduced QMV to many new areas of activity: implementing measures for common foreign and security policy and for the justice and home affairs pillars; for trans-European networks in transport; for telecommunications and energy infrastructures; for development policy co-operation; for consumer protection; and for the environment.
Why am I dwelling on the history? Because it was not this Government who agreed to those moves, but the Conservative party: the same party that now tells us that it is against new extensions of QMV in principle; the same party that calls QMV "giving away the veto" and an "erosion of national sovereignty"; the same party that has such a negative view of Europe that it seemingly cannot accept that QMV can ever be in Britain's interests. It is also the same party that has tabled amendments to the Bill seeking to remove every single new area of QMV.
Let us examine some of the new areas where Britain's national sovereignty is being eroded. The Conservatives object to the use of QMV on the financial regulations in article 279, which will make it easier to carry out much-needed reforms to tighten financial management, making rules for accounting officers and financial audit. These provisions will ensure that the British taxpayers' money is used properly. We do not want vested interests to block such reforms; we want more efficient ways to tackle fraud, mismanagement and waste in the EU. I am astonished that the Conservatives do not.
Mr. Cash: I recognise the dilemma in amendment No. 233, but we are considering the problems affecting children and their parents in difficult circumstances. We should be able to concede on that matter, but not in relation to matters of European government, which is a different issue altogether. That applies to common foreign and security policy, as well as to Maastricht and Amsterdam, which we largely negotiated.
Peter Hain: I always enjoy my dialogues with the hon. Gentleman, who is a serious student of this matter. He deserves respect and to be listened to. However, government is about areas of social policy such as family law. It is to his credit that he has recognised that, in the appalling example to which he referred, QMV should apply; we wanted that in Nice, but were unable to achieve it. However, he should look with similar objectivity at other aspects of its application.
The Conservatives object to QMV being applied to incentive measures to help stamp out discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, religion, disability, age or sexual orientation. We have been encouraging the Commission to do more in this area; QMV will make that task easier. We still have built-in safeguards to prevent any weakening of British standards through harmonisation of national legislation.
I could go on; in fact, I will. Another important point is that the Conservatives object to QMV on industrial policy under article 157(3), which is about competitiveness. QMV will help us to deliver the Lisbon economic reform agenda. It will deliver measures to support initiative, the development of small and large enterprises and better exploitation of innovation and research; all measures that will clearly benefit British business.
The amendment that really takes the biscuit and shows how far down the road of madness the Conservatives have gone is the one that would strike from the treaty the move to QMV on deciding the pension rights of the registrar of the Court of First Instance. Apparently this and articles like it represent such a monumental erosion of national sovereignty that the Opposition are demanding complete renegotiation of the treaty; more, they are demanding a referendum. The Conservative party would deny the British people a referendum on joining the euro, one of the most important issues of our time; the same party that denied the people a referendum on the fundamental changes made by the treaty of Maastricht. However, it wants the British people trooping off to the polls over the crucial constitutional issue of the pension rights of the registrar of the Court of First Instance. This is bizarre.