Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has helpfully confirmed a suspicion that has been fuelled in my mind for some time. Will he put it on the record so that it is clear beyond peradventure that he accepts that the flow of funds to European political parties as currently proposed will necessarily and

18 Jul 2001 : Column 320

inexorably increase the pressure for more supranational legislative activity? If that is what he wants, it is not dishonourable, but I think it is wrong.

Roger Casale: I do not accept that that will give rise to inexorable pressure. The hon. Gentleman's comment is a further example of a knee-jerk reaction to any proposal in the name of European co-operation. As regards funding, we need to know about the flow of funds into European political parties and the source of those funds. That needs to be properly regulated by statute at a pan-European level, which is exactly what article 191 of the treaty of Nice seeks to achieve.

Mr. Spring: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is inadvertently supporting the cause of the Opposition. He says that he wants transparency. The place to air such issues in relation to British political parties is in the House of Commons.

Roger Casale: I shall deal with the detail of the new clauses later. The point of article 191 is to provide a legal foundation for the Council to introduce a statute to allow for the regulation of European political parties. Opposition Members seem to be suggesting that the treaty of Nice will allow the development of such parties. One can see why some of them think that a bad thing. They do not like Europe or the idea of Governments-let alone political parties-getting together. They think that they have found a hint of conspiracy and have removed themselves from any co-operation or participation in transnational groups of the centre right. It is clear why they would be against such political formulations, but it is also clear that article 191 does not establish them, as they already exist. I am in favour of the article because it provides a basis for the regulation of European parties.

I am proud to be a member not only of the Labour party, but of the party of European Socialists. I think that we have much more in common than we realise with some of the members of our sister parties in the European Union. It is a common feature of debate in this House that hon. Members berate the European Union or attack various member states. As soon as the summer holidays arrive, however, many of them set off to Europe. When they do so, perhaps they should try to meet some of their colleagues in other European parties. If they talk to those people, they might discover that one can have a lot in common with colleagues in national Parliaments abroad.

The point of European political parties is to allow and promote such exchanges, so that as we build a European institutional architecture, we can discover that what we do together is based on a common set of values and, to some extent, on common aspirations. The process should be advanced through the European Parliament and political parties, and the existence of European political parties assists its progress. My strong recommendation to Opposition Members is that, although their party will not participate as a European political party, they should meet their colleagues from other European countries individually. They might find that they like such meetings and learn something from them.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): Will the hon. Gentleman accept our simple point, which is that although we are delighted that he feels so at home

18 Jul 2001 : Column 321

with his socialist friends in Europe, we do not believe that the British taxpayer should be required to pay for that interaction?

Roger Casale: That has been a common theme at every stage of our debate. Opposition Members are sometimes good enough to recognise that Britain's membership of the European Union has benefits, but they want to have them at no price. I am afraid that that view, which has been repeatedly expressed during our deliberations, is unacceptable. The hon. Gentleman must decide whether he is against the existence of European political parties in principle, as his party seems to be, or whether he merely does not want to pay for them.

I can understand why the Opposition do not like the measure, as they are clear about what they do not like. They like neither the European Union nor the idea of political parties within it. That is why they refuse to join the European People's party. It parallels their reluctance to be involved in Europe. The article provides the opportunity for the Council to introduce measures that will regulate the purpose and funding of European political parties. It will introduce more democracy, accountability and transparency to the funding of political parties. Since the European political parties will receive funds, it will also make clear the criteria for recognising them.

Mr. Spring: The difficulty of examining such issues in the clear light of day in the House of Commons is not clear to me. We talk about the disconnection between the people of Europe, their Parliaments and European institutions and the funding for them. We now have an opportunity to give uncontentious support to enhancing the House's scrutiny procedures. If the hon. Gentleman were impartial, he could not object to that.

Roger Casale: If the hon. Gentleman believes that political parties can reconnect people with the political process, he should support the concept of European political parties. He claims that he objects to it.

The amendments deal with the role of the House of Commons in scrutinising European Union measures. Time and again, Conservative Members have tabled amendments to provide for further debate in the House on any new initiatives from the European Union. Yet we already have a good and effective scrutiny mechanism for European legislation: the European Scrutiny Committee.

At a meeting of that Committee this morning, we held a debate about the statute to regulate European political parties. The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) referred to the work of the European Scrutiny Committee at an earlier stage in our deliberations, when article 191 was discussed. The Committee scrutinised it and we discussed it again this morning. We decided that we were happy to lift the scrutiny reserve on the draft statute. It is therefore wrong to claim that, without the amendments, no scrutiny of any statute to regulate the work of the European Parliament will occur.

Mr. Cash: I regret that I was unable to be present at the meeting this morning. Is the hon. Gentleman seriously

18 Jul 2001 : Column 322

suggesting that the Committee believes that the article does not require debate? Did we refer it for debate in Standing Committee or on the Floor of the House?

Roger Casale: We decided that we would not refer it for debate because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, that would handicap the Government in progressing with negotiations on the statute.

Mr. Bercow: How inconvenient.

Roger Casale: If the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) had been present at this morning's meeting, he could have made his point. However, we discussed the matter and, as he knows, the Committee does not refer for debate every item that comes before it.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. We are straying wide of the new clause. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will now confine his remarks to it.

Roger Casale: I am grateful for your advice, Mrs. Heal. We debated the matter in the European Scrutiny Committee this morning.

5.30 pm

In conclusion, what lies behind the new clause is the usual cocktail of great fear and anxiety about the European Union, and an unwillingness fully to participate in any aspect of European integration, including the formation of transnational parties. That fear is not justified. There is a need for proper regulation of political parties, and that is provided for in the statute that will be created following the ratification of the treaty. There is also a need for proper scrutiny, and that is effectively carried out by the European Scrutiny Committee. For those reasons, I will not support the new clause.

Mr. Cash: We have just been treated to a pretty astonishing series of admissions. We have been told by the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale) that the European Scrutiny Committee did a good job this morning in ensuring that there would not be a debate on the regulation to which we are supposed to be referring. If that is scrutiny, I should like to know what is not.

This regulation creates serious problems.

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cash: No, he will not. Not a chance. I have not even started yet.

The regulation is extremely important in relation to the manner in which political parties and groups are differentiated in the European Parliament and, therefore, the European Union. It is disappointing that so few people are attending these debates. One could understand the reason for that yesterday, with all the euphoria and depression colliding in various parts of the Palace of Westminster, but there is no excuse for such a poor attendance today.

I am standing here opposite the distinguished Minister for Europe, a member of another political party. I strongly approve of the fact that we have a party political system

18 Jul 2001 : Column 323

in this country, but the rainbow arrangements—the totally chaotic alliances—that are created in the European Parliament have no clear philosophy underpinning them to enable anyone to know what they are voting for. This debate is about an increase in the functions of a so-called Parliament and a so-called European Union based on an extremely uncertain course of navigation.

Next Section

IndexHome Page