Previous Section Index Home Page

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): I am sure that the Minister does not always produce such a dramatic effect in the Chamber. Can he tell me why there is not some clear demonstration of
26 Feb 2008 : Column 928
the sort of machinery that Parliament will have to look at? I have tabled a little amendment to clause 8, which I shall certainly make a scene about when the time comes—I hope that lots of people will walk out then. Frankly, unless we have a clear idea of the machinery we have in this House for scrutinising the directives and regulations that flow out of Brussels, it is rather pointless having the sort of discussion he suggests. We are not asking him to take decisions, but simply to tell us what it is that we have to look at.

Mr. Murphy: There are a range of options to look at with regard to the way in which we organise matters. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), who chairs the European Scrutiny Committee, we have not come to a view on the best way to involve Select Committees, the Chamber and the Members of the other place, or on the exact procedures to follow. It is for the House to develop its own rules in that regard. It is important to say, however, that we will undertake to ensure that those discussions take place and that decisions are put in place in time for ratification. It is crucial that the procedures are in place in time for the ratification across the 27 member states, and the commencement of the treaty—

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Murphy: I will give way to the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) and then to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart).

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): The Minister has indicated that he will listen to the various interest groups, Members of this House and Members of the House of Lords with regard to the working of the mechanism. He will appreciate, however, that more than half of the powers currently enacted by the European Union relate to devolved matters. Does he agree that the mechanism that operates in this place will take due consideration of the views of devolved legislatures and Governments in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman and I often cross swords, but he makes a fair point that we have to design our system to ensure that there is an effective way in which to gather views and reach a conclusion. However, I hope that he accepts that making a decision will ultimately be a matter for this place. I agree that it is important to construct a meaningful dialogue.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): I appreciate that my hon. Friend said that the mechanisms must be examined, especially in consultation with Select Committees. However, has he decided whether he wants the scrutiny to be similar to that of Select Committees, which scrutinise the Executive’s actions and may reach a different policy view from Government, or whether he wants the Committees to police subsidiarity and proportionality? Those are distinct functions, and I wonder whether my hon. Friend has already formed a view.

Mr. Murphy: We have not yet formed a firm view and we need to discuss such issues with the relevant Select Committees because it is important to get it
26 Feb 2008 : Column 929
right. I know that my hon. Friend has strong views on those matters and I look forward to the opportunity of discussing with her and other hon. Members from all parties the best way in which to implement the procedures.

Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con) rose—

Mr. Murphy: I have not yet got past page 1 of my introductory comments, but I will give way to the hon. Lady and then try to make progress.

Angela Browning: Will the Minister confirm that we can debate as much as we like any regulation that has been subject to qualified majority voting in Brussels and then comes to the House, but that we do not have the power to change it?

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Lady knows that I have served on European Standing Committees A, B and C and examined such matters in great detail. Before I became Minister for Europe, my view was—and remains—that we must find more effective ways in which to scrutinise European legislation. The way in which we structure matters is therefore an issue for the House and we can adjust our own rules.

Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con) rose—

Mr. Murphy: I shall make some progress and then, of course, give way to hon. Members who want to intervene.

I will set out the main changes under each category shortly. However, I first want to remind the House that institutional reform of the EU is not new. Indeed, it is one of the few constants of almost every EU treaty. The European Economic Community started in 1957 with an institutional framework designed to meet the needs of a club of six member states. It had a Commission, a rotating presidency, Community competences and a legal personality. However, at each stage of development, faced with fresh challenges, member states have adapted the EU’s institutions and decision making to address those new challenges. There has therefore been continuing reform of the EU’s institutions and decision making.

In the 1980s, faced with economic underperformance and the challenge of making a reality of the single market, the member states, with this country in the lead, introduced a widespread extension of qualified majority voting. In its effects, that was perhaps the most radical change to European decision making. However, as the Government of Baroness Thatcher recognised at the time, those major moves to QMV were in the UK’s national interest. Without that, the single market could not have been created. As Baroness Thatcher said in a speech in the other place in 1993:

26 Feb 2008 : Column 930

Foreign and security policy, co-operation in justice and home affairs and the process of creating the euro was part of the reform that the Maastricht treaty enabled. That treaty introduced the concept of co-decision with the European Parliament and moved important policy areas to QMV, including education, public health, transport safety, development co-operation and consumer protection.

Some, including Baroness Thatcher, felt that the Maastricht treaty went even further than the Single European Act in transferring decision-making powers to European level. Maastricht, according to Baroness Thatcher, “is much, much wider” than the Single European Act.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Do the Government believe that parliamentary sovereignty persists? Has it been temporarily handed to European institutions and can it brought back by an Act of Parliament, or has it been transferred permanently?

Mr. Murphy: The fact is that the supremacy of European law was established before the UK joined the European Community. It was confirmed in case law in—

Hon. Members: 1963.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): 1964.

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman is better informed than the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart)—the supremacy of European law was confirmed in a 1964 case. That has been the case since before the United Kingdom joined the European Community. In respect of the extension of qualified majority voting, that was also enabled by the treaty of Rome in 1957. Every subsequent European amending treaty since has extended qualified majority voting, which is important to recognise.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): Is the Minister not indicating that the best way of undermining the sovereignty of Parliament is to have a referendum, which is designed to bypass Parliament? However, let me leave that aside. The key point that Baroness Thatcher made in the House when she was Prime Minister in 1989 was that qualified majority voting is an advantage to the United Kingdom, which rarely gets outvoted, in that it enables this country to ensure that the European Union can pass legislation that bypasses the protectionist instincts of any one country. Is that not the reason that this country has always found qualified majority voting an advantage rather than a disadvantage?

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in his analysis of qualified majority voting and of why this Government and previous Conservative Governments have extended it in the careful way that we have. It has ensured that, where protectionist tendencies exist, no one country can block economic reforms, which are so important to the United Kingdom.

Mr. Redwood: The Minister is right that there has been a progressive surrender of powers and a progressive increase in qualified majority voting, but to
26 Feb 2008 : Column 931
ensure that the record is accurate, will he confirm that qualified majority voting has been granted in 10 times as many areas since 1997 as were granted by Baroness Thatcher?

Mr. Murphy: The fact was that—[Hon. Members: “Yes.”] No, I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman’s analysis of Europe and, looking at the figures, I disagree with his analysis of qualified majority voting. The Single European Act made 12 such moves and the Maastricht treaty, which he supported, made 32 moves. There were 26 moves under the Amsterdam treaty and 32 under the Nice treaty, while the Lisbon treaty, as we have all discussed, makes 51 extensions.

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend also agree that it is not a question of giving up sovereignty, but a question of sharing it where issues such as the environment and energy have to be dealt with in common?

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the sharing of that sovereignty. The fact is that Parliament remains sovereign. Parliament is free to repeal the European Communities Act 1972, but we would have to leave the European Union as a consequence. That is not an agenda that we on the Government Benches are in any way interested in.

Mr. Cash: On the important point that my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) raised, and to which the Minister has just begun to give an answer, does he agree that it is well established in case law of the House of Lords that it is possible for the United Kingdom to make provisions that contradict provisions of the 1972 Act and all the Community obligations that flow from it, providing that such legislation is express, consistent and clearly intended to achieve that objective? In those circumstances, courts of the United Kingdom will give effect to the latest Act that complies with those criteria. Does the Minister agree with that?

Mr. Murphy: Where I agree is that the European Communities Act 1972 would be the way to seek the removal, as it were, of the type of proposals in the European Union (Amendment) Bill, which will come before us this evening. Notwithstanding what the hon. Gentleman has said, repealing the 1972 Act would be an invitation by Parliament to remove the United Kingdom from membership of the European Union.

Mr. Goodwill: I speak as someone who used to head up the European Parliament side in conciliation negotiations. On the effectiveness of the QMV system, does the Minister not agree that the British Government would be better represented in the Council were they to be represented by Ministers, rather than by civil servants? In most cases, when I was there, there was one Minister from the presidency and the rest of those involved were civil servants.

Mr. Murphy: The make-up of these Committees, in regard to the balance between Ministers and civil servants, is an important established arrangement governing the way in which Governments act. Governments of both parties have acted in a way
26 Feb 2008 : Column 932
whereby, at a particular time, it is appropriate for officials to discuss and examine the legal basis of the texts involved, and, at an appropriate time, Ministers become involved. That is the correct way of organising the business.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): Does the Minister accept that, for example, the French Conseil d’Etat regularly maintains a conflict between French administrative law and European Community law, and that that is not greeted as an invitation to leave the European Union? On the contrary, it becomes a political matter to be resolved. Were the United Kingdom expressly to create a non-conformity in terms of United Kingdom law with EC law, that would be a matter to be resolved politically, and not necessarily an invitation to leave the European Union.

Mr. Murphy: The fact is that, if we were to repeal the European Communities Act 1972, it would be an invitation to leave the European Union. The hon. Gentleman has me at a slight disadvantage, in that I am not an expert on French legal and constitutional arrangements. Perhaps, however, I shall have to brush up on them as we progress through our proceedings, the second half of which we have reached today.

After 2003, following the collapse of communism and the enlargement involving the central and eastern European countries, the EU reformed its institutional and voting systems. Today, a Europe of 27 countries—with more to come—faces the challenges of globalisation, defending and extending free and fair trade, climate change, energy security, migration and terrorism. The EU has the potential to deliver for our citizens on these challenges but, to do so, it needs strong, effective and accountable institutions. The Lisbon treaty introduces reforms to help to achieve that. As the Law Society guide to the Lisbon treaty says:

I would like to set out the reforms that the treaty actually makes—the facts, rather than the fictions that have been peddled.

There are two sets of reforms. The first involves those that will allow the existing EU institutions to function more effectively and with more accountability to the member states. The new full-time president of the European Council replaces the current system in which presidency of the European Council rotates every 26 weeks. The European Council is the body through which the leaders of member states steer the political direction of the EU, and it is in our national interest to ensure greater continuity.

We have heard allegations from the Opposition that this will mean the creation, over time, of a US-style President. That is a ludicrous assertion. The President of the US is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. All Executive functions are vested in him—or perhaps, shortly, her. The President appoints judges, makes treaties and can veto legislation. The president of the European Council, on the other hand, will do none of those things. He or she will have no legislative or Executive functions.

26 Feb 2008 : Column 933

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): As so often happens with European issues, my hon. Friend is talking about the changes as though they were the end of the story. The direction of travel is towards stronger and stronger central institutions and a stronger president who will perhaps, in time, become like the American President. That is something with which we would profoundly disagree.

Mr. Murphy: I respect my hon. Friend’s point of view, although we do not agree. The changes will ensure that the European Union can be much more effective. I do not know whether my hon. Friend shares our ambition to deliver on behalf of all our constituents an organisation that could be a great force for good across the globe. Such an organisation should not have within its architecture the inbuilt instability of a change of leadership every 26 months. As I have previously reflected, that is no way to run a bowling club or a golf club in any of our constituencies and it is certainly no way to set out the rules of the largest rules-based market in human history.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): I want to raise a relatively small matter that has not yet been addressed. Each member state that hosts the presidency currently bankrolls it for the six-month period, which must be extraordinarily expensive. How will the costs now be met not just for the job of the president, but for the additional functions whose costs were hitherto picked up by the host national state?

Mr. Murphy: As we end the process of diplomatic musical chairs and travelling around the 27 European capitals, the expectation is that rationalisation will bring an end to what I think was an indefensible process and lead to some savings. As to how it is then funded, it would no longer be the responsibility of the rotating presidency to pick up that bill, but of Europe as a whole.

Still on the first group of reforms, the treaty reduces the size of the European Commission with the aim of ensuring that it can work more effectively as the EU enlarges.

Michael Connarty: I wanted to raise this matter as I was not sure whether the Minister was going to expand on the point. One part of the structure is for vice-presidencies during the six-month period, but has any thought been given to that role? There is certainly a sense of engagement in the present system—though I would also have to say that there are inefficiencies when the individual countries take up their six-month duties—but the promise made in the Convention, and after, was that countries would still be engaged in some sort of rotating vice-presidential role. Will the Minister elaborate further on that?

Mr. Murphy: Time does not allow me to elaborate in much detail, apart from saying that the expectation was that rotating sectoral councils would continue under the auspices of the six-month rotating period. That might provide the opportunity that my hon. Friend alluded to, but, significantly, the office of president of the Council would no longer rotate.

Next Section Index Home Page