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The Nice treaty is about a lot of things. In respect of the amendments, it is about reforming and modernising the European Union's institutions for enlargement. That is what the amendments are seeking to wreck. The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) quite properly asked a series of questions about the Committees and I shall seek to answer them.
The Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee are important and they need reforming. That is why we agreed at Nice that the UK delegations to the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee should remain the same size, with a full 24 United Kingdom representatives on each. Both Committees will expand with enlargement, but there will be no change to the balance struck at Maastricht. We and the other big member states will retain more seats than anybody else.
The Nice treaty also requires that the Committee of the Regions should comprise representatives who are elected to a local regional authority or who are accountable to an elected assembly. The current practice in Britain is indeed to nominate people for membership who already hold an electoral mandate, so there will be no change to our appointment procedure. Nice brings others into line with our democratic standards. The treaty also introduces qualified majority voting for appointments to the two Committees. That makes sense too. In practice, no member state ever objects to another's nominations. That is another prudent efficiency measure.
In respect of the point raised by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife on the European central bank, the future of the ECB after enlargement is an important issue. The Nice treaty changes the ECB's statute to allow the voting rules in the ECB's governing council to be amended by EU heads of state and the Government acting unanimously. That will allow the European Council to decide how the ECB should best function after enlargement.
However, any changes to the ECB's voting rules will still require unanimitya point made by the right hon. and learned Gentlemanand ratification by all member states in accordance with their own constitutional provisions. That will ensure that British interests are fully protected and preserved, which I would have thought everybody would welcome, too.
Britain is one of the four major shareholders in the European investment bank, with nearly 18 per cent. of shares. The board currently has 38 members. Britain and the other three large states each have five full directors and two alternates. The distribution of shareholdings
I turn to one additional point of substance. We all agreed on the Social Committee at Lisbon that our systems of social protection would need to be modernised to cope with the new flexible marketplace and knowledge-based economy. The Social Committee already monitors the development of social protection policies in member states and promotes exchanges of information and experience among them.
The Nice treaty gives the Committee a proper legal base. It provides for the Council to act by qualified majority voting in formally setting up the Committee, but there is no question of the Committee forcing change on national social security systems. The Committee will prepare reports and opinions, and that is its job. However, if the Commission chooses to take those up in legislative proposals, they will be subject to the unanimous approval of the Council, as for all social security and social protection legislation. I should have thought that even the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) would welcome that.
I shall address one more issue in case I do not have a chance to do so before the end of this debate. It concerns a matter raised by the hon. Member for Stone on the question of child abduction. That matter is dealt with in amendment No. 233, which I accept does not come under the umbrella of the amendments that we are discussing, but I want to make a brief point that may help the House.
I understand and share the concerns of the hon. Member for Stone about child abduction, which is an international injustice and crime. As he knows, his representations have encouraged me to look closely at the issue. I, too, am keen to consider improvements to international rules and, to that end, I should like to invite him, and other members of the all-party group on child abduction, to discuss with me ways in which we can advance work in that area. I shall also ask a Minister from the Lord Chancellor's Department to join us if possible. I hope that that gives the hon. Gentleman some reassurance, so that he may not need to press his amendment to a vote at 10 o'clock.
Finally, lest there be any complaintsI have recently heard mutterings from the Oppositionabout lack of time to discuss all these matters, I gently draw everybody's attention to the last full day's debate on the Bill. There were five Conservative speakers and six Labour speakers. The five Conservative speakers took three hours, five minutes; the six Labour speakers took one hour forty-five minutes. Three Conservative speakers took two hours, twenty minutes to make their points. I do not think that there is any reason for arguing in another place or here that there has not been time to address all the issues seriously. If people had been a little less long-winded, all the points that they made could have been addressed.
Mr. Cash: First, I thank the Minister not only for his concluding remarks but for his generous offer on child abduction, an issue about which he knows I feel stronglyas, I suspect, do many Members on both sides of the House. There has been a great step forward; I hope
Briefly, on article 10 of the statute of the European system of central banks and of the European central bank, perhaps the Minister was a trifle disingenuous because he omitted to mention the fact that we have argued that the Nice treaty introduces the possibility of abolishing equal voting rights for ECB governors. I acknowledge that proposed article 10.6 is governed by unanimity, but recommendation 19 insists that work will begin speedily on reviewing paragraph 2in other words, it gives a pretty firm indication that the balance currently maintained by the unanimity of voting rights on the ECB is under threat; otherwise, why have recommendation 19 at the end of article 10? In other words, the larger countries appear to be gearing up to grab more power from the smaller ones which, again, fits in with the arguments that I have already advanced on enhanced co-operation.
The tendency towards a combination of larger states and QMV illustrates the point that I have repeatedly made: the larger states will increase their power. The question is, who will they be? From the voting arrangements that have been set outdouble majority voting and the rest of itthey will include our friend Germany yet again; we need to watch out for those things. In an opinion poll, the German people have just said that they want to keep the deutschmark, but would be glad if we managed to lose the pound. It all comes down to one simple thing; they are sensible, and we have to be equally sensible ourselves.
We can now expect a major pro-euro argument to collapse. The larger economies, particularly Germany, will eventually gain the most political and economic power in the ECB. Furthermore, nation states cannot legally instruct the ECB because, we remember from Maastricht, the governors of the banks congregating at the ECB cannot seek or take instructions from member states. So we have a problem in relation to the powers that are exercised over interest rates and inflation, for example. It is an unaccountable arrangement that affects UK voters. Yet at the same time, running in parallel, is a tendency towards an increase in the power of the larger states at the expense of the smaller ones.
I am grateful to the Minister for his remarks. I shall not press the amendment to a vote, and that is in the interests of my colleagues who are outside celebrating other things. The Committee will have an opportunity to vote on clause 1 stand part. There is no need for me to say anything further on that subject. For the record, in the light of what the Minister had to say, I shall also not press amendment No. 233 on child abduction to a Division. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.