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On the European Commission, there is an old maxim, with which I am sure Members are familiar, that a camel is a horse designed by committee. I am sure that those of us with experience in politics know that that can be true and that the larger the committee,
the more unwieldy it becomes. With 27 member states, the Commission faced that very problem, and it is eminently sensible to move to reduce its size. Indeed, even the Conservatives have agreed that that is a welcome move. This morning, I attended a debate about the western Balkans where many Members said that it would be welcome to see other Balkan states gaining accession to the EU. That issue will clearly become more important as the number of member states increases.
Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): The hon. Lady seems to be an erstwhile expert on the Conservative partys policy on Europe. Does she agree or disagreea straight answer is what I requirewith the position taken by the hon. Members for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock), for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and for North Devon (Nick Harvey), who have implored their constituents and their own party to vote for a referendum, which was agreed in the hon. Ladys manifesto in 2005? Are they right or wrong?
Jo Swinson: I think that the hon. Gentleman is putting words into the mouths of my hon. Friends, but I certainly do not agree with the position that has been outlined in some cases, and I make no apologies for that.
On the European Parliament, one of the biggest criticisms of the European Union has been that the balance of power is weighted in favour of those parts of it that are appointed instead of directly elected, such as the Commission and the Council of Ministers. More co-decision between the Parliament and the Council is therefore welcome, as is the stronger role that the Parliament will have in appointing the President of the Commission. We would like major reform in areas such as the common fisheries policy, which we have heard about from Scottish nationalist Members, and the common agricultural policy, and they will benefit from the additional parliamentary scrutiny that will result. It is not easy for the European Parliament to be seen as close to voters, particularly with MEPs covering such large constituencies. Indeed, I do not envy my colleagues who are MEPs in Scotland and whose constituency is the entirety of Scotland. As a Member of this House, I find it enough of a challenge to ensure that I represent 65,000 electors. Nevertheless, the European Parliament is closer to voters than the alternatives, which are unelected and therefore less accountable, so these moves are welcome.
Mr. Harper: Given that the hon. Lady is so keen on citizens initiatives, does she think that it would be an initiative to give citizens in her own constituency a referendum on the treaty, as she promised?
As we saw earlierother people in the Chamber may not have been asleep when it happenedthe Liberal Democrats would like to have a referendum on the major issue of whether we are in or out of Europe. I also say to the hon. Gentleman that I have had a total of nine representations from my constituents on this, so it is clearly not the top issue in my mailbag. In fact, I
consult my constituents on a wide range of matters, and I welcome the fact that the House is doing so by trialling lots of new modernisation procedures such as more e-democracy, petitioning and the excellent work of the education unit.
The hon. Lady has explained why she thinks that her constituents should be given an opportunity to vote in a referendum on whether we are in or out of Europe and why that is, in her partys view, the substantive question. However, given that that has not found support in this House, she has not explained why she none the less wants to remove her constituents right to vote in a referendum on the treatythe policy of her party on which she stood when she was elected to this House.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. There is a limited amount of time for this debate. I suspect that the hon. Lady is being sidetracked into issues that are not strictly relevant to the motion that is before the House, so I hope that she will not be tempted too much by the hon. Gentleman.
I will just say that the two things are very different for the following reason. The constitution would have abolished all the preceding treaties: Rome, Nice, Amsterdam, Maastricht and the Single European Act. Therefore, a vote on the constitution would have been a de facto vote on in or out, so an in-or-out referendum would actually be on the substantive issue. We support such a referendum; we will continue to campaign for it and hope that it will find favour in this House. I also welcome the citizens initiative idea, which may need to be developed or changed. Time will tell how much it is used, but the principle of trying to connect better with the electorate is a good one.
Extending the time for national Parliaments to consider legislation is obviously a good idea. There are many practical difficulties, such as different parliamentary timetables, recess dates and so on, that make six weeks inadequate. Is eight weeks enough? We will have to see, but it is certainly a step in the right direction, and it could be the subject of further review. We also heard about the yellow card, which is an important innovation for the protection of subsidiarity, and one that Conservative Front Benchers felt minded to agree with.
Last Wednesday, during the foreign policy debate, we discussed in more detail the role of the high representative, and without going over that ground again, let me just say that it is sensible to have one set of offices, rather than two, working on the EUs external relations, with one individual responsible.
That removes confusion and strengthens the voice of the EU where there is unanimity, and it therefore amplifies the view of the UK on such issues.
A legal personality for the EU is not the huge move that the Tories would have us believe. Many organisations have legal personality, from the United Nations to the Universal Postal Union, and indeed the European Community that preceded the European Union also had such status.
Despite the scaremongering we have seen on the passerelle clause, there is a secure triple lock that will, importantly, enable the reduction of EU powers. In any case, before any change is made to voting arrangements, the European Parliament, Council and national Parliaments must all agree, so this House will retain the final say.
Finally, new article 49(a) in the Maastrict treaty, or the treaty on European Union, explicitly sets out how a member state would go about withdrawing from the EU. For most of our constituents, this article gets to the nub of the debate they are having about Europeto the extent that they are engaged in such a debate at all. What is Britains future? Is it as a strong voice in the EU, with more global influence, or is it outside, weak and isolated? It would be welcome to have such a debate in the country, and as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am disappointed that we will not be voting on that issue today.
I know that there are many members on the Conservative Benches who subscribe to the Better Off Out campaign, and as much as I disagree with them, they are entitled to their views. I find it only a little strange that they are by and large opposing moves in the treaty that set an explicit framework for countries to be able to leave the EU should they wish. That seems a bit of a strange position.
The changes will help the EU to work better. Although the Union will still obviously be far from perfect, they are a step in the right direction. Therefore, we will not support the amendment that has been selected. It is a shame, however, that we will not have the opportunity to vote on the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg).
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the Lib Dems, who I am sure will still be basking in the glory of getting the headline that they were thrown out of the Chamber for demanding a referendum. I just wish that they had demanded one on the real question, which is whether we agree with this treaty.
I want to confine my comments to national Parliaments. I went to Brussels in February 2002 and rather foolishly agreed to represent national Parliaments at the Convention on the Future of Europe. I confess that if I had imagined I would still be talking about it six years on, I would have chosen a different job, but there we are. I want people to think back to the debates we had on the role of national Parliaments. Front Benchers keep saying that the treaty gives more power to national Parliaments, but that is based on an interesting definition of what amounts to power.
There are three different strands to the debate. Do I argue that national Parliaments should become a separate institution within the institutional framework of the European Union? No, I do not. We should have the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers representing Governments. I am not an advocate of a system whereby national Parliamentsours or any otherhabitually arrive at a different view from their own Governments. That does not mean that such an outcome should be precluded, but a system in which it is seen to be the function of Parliaments to oppose their own Governments would seem rather absurd.
There is, however, a role for national Parliaments to scrutinise and to monitor a principle that seems extraordinarily important: the principle of subsidiarity and proportionality. When the working group on national Parliaments was first set up, and the issue of subsidiarity was brought up, an old hand who was a legal adviser during the Maastricht negotiations muttered to me, Oh, thats the dud they sold to Major. John Major returned from the Maastricht negotiations saying, We have negotiated a protocol on subsidiarity and proportionality; we should keep the two together. This will mean that Brussels will never have any influence on anything that is not appropriate at EU level. He confidently predicted that 25 per cent. of the legislation coming from Brussels would be rescinded because it breached that principle. Whitehall looked at the matter, but nothing happened. I thought something similar was going on when the two working groups were split so that one considered only subsidiarity. That group came back with the idea of the yellow and orange card, but rejected our proposals on the red card, which would have had some significance. National Parliaments were dealt with by a separate group, so there was a division.
During the negotiations, the Commission started saying that subsidiarity is very important and, mysteriously, the figure of 25 per cent. came up again. Again, nothing happened. When we inquired whether the Commission could come up with a single example of when it had withdrawn a proposal because it breached the principle of subsidiarity, it could come up with only onein 10 years. It was one of the bright ideas put forward during a UK presidency, when we proposed an EU zoo directive, which would have regulated the water temperature for sealions. Even the rest of Europe thought that that was slightly wacky, and it was thrown out. One example in 10 years does not suggest to me that this is an important, meaningful or effective mechanism.
Mr. Duncan Smith: I was present during the Maastricht debates, and I did not believe any of that at the time, which is why I voted againstand why I voted for a referendum, by the way. The key point is that the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), who loves all this stuff, was absolutely right earlier on. From the outset, the institutions were set up with one purpose in mind, which was centralisation, and taking powers from the nation state. It is impossible to reverse that process at any stage.
Ms Stuart: I am not quite so gloomy. If the Commission were to take the principle of subsidiarity and proportionality seriously, it would change the way in which it legislates. Currently, we put a statement on our Bills saying that they comply with the Human Rights Act, for example. I would like every Commission proposal to start with a preamble, saying, The following measures cannot be achieved at the nation state level because. . . I would change the presumption. Rather than national Parliaments having to say that there were breaches of subsidiarity, the Commission would have to prove its observation of subsidiarity.
Ms Hewitt: Does my hon. Friend accept that what she proposes is exactly what is set out in the protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality? Article 5 of the protocol says:
Draft legislative acts shall be justified with regard to the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. Any draft legislative act should contain a detailed statement making it possible to appraise compliance...The reasons for concluding that a Union objective can be better achieved at Union level shall be substantiated by qualitative and, wherever possible, quantitative indicators.
Ms Stuart: With the greatest respect, I disagree with my right hon. Friend. At the moment, the treaty tells us that something can be achieved at Union level without breaching the principle. I would like it to be the other way round. I would like it to determine whether something cannot be achieved at national level. The presumption would be changed, and when it is proved that something has to be done at European level, such as in the case of the environment and certain other things, I would be perfectly content to give the Union more power and say that something must be done at that level because we cannot do it. But the presumption is the wrong way round.
Similarly, as we are talking about institutional arrangements, the Commission should, like Parliament, follow a five-year mandate, and anything that has not been achieved within the lifetime of one Commission should fall, instead of having negotiations that drag on for five or 20 years, when things get negotiated to death.
Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend will know about the German Reinheitsgebot, which states that one cannot brew beer unless it contains water and pure ingredients. Under that law, every other beer is illegal and unacceptable in Germany. That is a clear breach of the single market. If her proposal had been included on the front of every directive, the Bundestag would never have voted to do away with the Reinheitsgebot. Consequently, no beer from outside Germany would be on sale in that country.
That is a genuine problem for me. As a Bavarian brewers granddaughter, I would be happy to drink only German beer. However, that is not the point. I was making a wider point, as hon. Members know. With some matters, such as the single market, we have different rules, but as we expand we should change the presumption, whether we are dealing with health or
shared competences and so on. If the single market is so important, why have not we fully implemented it? However, I am digressing.
I want to consider the role of national Parliaments. I do not want them to be completely separate institutions, but proper guardians of subsidiarity. The current system does not work. I know that through chairing meetings of 27 countries, which sent representatives of their national Parliaments to Brussels. The only thing about which we could agree was that, if it was Tuesday, we were in Brussels. We could sometimes agree about whether it was raining. However, trying to get two thirds of representatives to agree on a matter in eight weeks is impossible. Everything is out of synchronisation.
If we are serious about the role of national Parliaments, the House must change the way in which it operates. It is not a matter of strengthening the European Scrutiny Committee or providing more information, which would simply cause even more confusion. The role of the Minister for Europe needs to be changed. We need a Minister for Europe who is not based in the Foreign Office and who comes to the Dispatch Box regularly to answer questions about negotiations in Brussels and the deals we have madewhether on health, trade and so on. That person needs to fulfil the political function that UKRep currently performs. It is incredibly powerful and not accountable at the Dispatch Box. If that were changed, hon. Members would routinely come here and ask questions.
I object to the provision in the treaty on the peoples petition. It was included deliberately to keep the Germans happy. They felt that, without that provision, the Green party, which was a coalition partner at that point, would demand a referendum. The provision was included because their constitution allows for a referendum. I object to it because national Parliaments do not have the power to petition the Commission. Everybody furiously protects the Commissions right to be the only initiator of legislation. Yet we say that a significant number of people should have the right of initiation. That is wrong and undermines this place even more.
When the Minister talks about more power for national Parliaments, will he please not only focus on more information but take notethat also applies to the Deputy Leader of the House, who is sitting next to himthat the House is currently failing in its duty to make European decisions accountable? Even outside the treaty, we can make significant changes that give genuine power to national Parliaments. So far, we have not done that.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con):
I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who is the best sort of Eurosceptic. Not only is she genuinely European, but she approached the process, which started six years ago, in good faith. Her frustration with, for example, subsidiarity, is purely the result of her experience, not of any prejudice that she brought to the matter. I made a special study of subsidiarity when the Maastricht treaty was considered in the House. The problem with it is that it does not attack the doctrine of the occupied field or question the powers and competences that the
European Union should have. It was always a charade and if she worries at the question for much longer, she will prove to herself that one cannot push water up a hill.
I intend to speak about EU institutions and EU decision making about defence, and the impact that the decision-making arrangements are likely to have on the EUs relations with NATO and on the defence policies of member states. It is typical of Ministers to say that defence is entirely governed by unanimity. That is not true and I will demonstrate how qualified majority voting now permeates decision making in EU defence, and will ultimately compromise the independence of the defence policies of member states and undermine NATO primacy in the defence policies of EU members of NATO.
defining a European capabilities and armaments policy.
Such a policy will inevitably become a general obligation of EU membership. I will remind hon. Members of what those obligations entail. The treaty spells them out. Article 3(a)(3) states that the Union and member states shall
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