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European Communities (Finance) Bill

4.46 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Henley): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Henley.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Extended meaning of "the Treaties" and "the Community Treaties"]:

Lord Bruce of Donington moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 13, after ("1994") insert ("(as set out in the Schedule to this Act)").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 1, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 7. They have as their purpose the incorporation of the Council decision of 31st October 1994 as a schedule to the Bill. Today we spent longer than expected on the extremely interesting Motion relating to Standing Orders. I and colleagues in other parts of the Committee have tabled amendments to the Bill. Without in any way binding them, I must

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point out that it will be necessary for me to curtail my remarks with the object of concluding the Committee procedure at a reasonable hour, preferably before dinner. Obviously, I cannot bind my colleagues, but those are my sentiments on the matter.

During Second Reading much was made of the authority of the Prime Minister to give an undertaking on behalf of Parliament—whether it was on behalf of Parliament or his own Government—to the provisions relating to own resources within the Community and within a new financial perspective.

It was said that the House and, indeed, Parliament should automatically agree to the new ceilings which are set out on the basis that the Prime Minister had given an undertaking to carry them into effect. For my part, and perhaps for the part of some of my colleagues, that authority did not exist on the basis of the Council of Ministers' deliberations in Edinburgh.

Therefore, I thought it necessary to clarify the matter beyond all reasonable doubt. I have before me the detailed proceedings of the European Council in Edinburgh and the conclusions of the presidency. Connoisseurs of the diaries of Mr. Alan Clark, which have been referred to on a number of occasions in relation to the deliberations of the Council, will confirm that sometimes those deliberations take place under rather unpromising circumstances. It will be recalled that Mr. Clark, as a matter of his own personal memory, commented on the sobriety or otherwise of members of the Council when taking part in its proceedings. Indeed, more recently, the right honourable gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames also ventured to suggest that very important decisions were taken over port and cigars in the evening without the benefit of papers. We all know that those presidential conclusions are, in the main, drafted before the conference takes place.

Bearing that in mind, it would seem that the presidency of 22nd December 1992 in Edinburgh reached two conclusions. The first conclusion was included in Part C at paragraph Ai, which refers to the own resources ceiling. It ventures to put forward the actual figures. It states that:

    "The annual ceiling on own resources for appropriations for payments will be as follows and shall under no circumstances be exceeded".

That assent by the British presidency to the proposition which is implied by the presence of that paragraph in the president's conclusions would seem to be conclusive.

But yet, it is followed almost on the next page, by another decision which is essentially in conflict with the one already agreed. It states:

    "The European Council asks the Commission to prepare a new Own Resources Decision...",

although one had already been agreed to earlier on in the communiqué,

    "for the Council to approve and recommend to Member States for adoption by 1995 in accordance with the procedure set out in Article 201 of the Treaty. The ceilings applicable in 1999 will continue to apply until such time as the new Own Resources Decision is amended".

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Therefore, there is a half justification for the decision that has been taken by the Government.

However, one matter is certain on a reading of the documents: it was open to the Government, prior to the decision which was reached as a result of that conclusion, to seek to amend it before the Council decision of 31st October. Noble Lords will observe that it is the Council's decision of 31st October which I wish to have incorporated as a schedule to the Bill.

I am told that it is not proper for the decision to be incorporated as a schedule to the Bill because a schedule to a Bill can be amended and, therefore, the schedule should not contain that decision. All I can say is that I was advised by the Table that the amendment was quite in order. Who am I to suggest that the Table was wrong to advise that I could table the decision in the form of a schedule and add it to the Bill?

Of course, there is another purpose. If one goes back to the original Bill, one finds that it is very short. Its principal provision in Clause 1 is to incorporate:

    "the decisions of the Council of 7th May 1985, 24th June 1988, and 31st October 1994, on the Communities' system of own resources".

At this stage, I imagined that on seeing the Bill and being immediately seized of the necessity to grasp its implications thoroughly before any observations were made on it in the Chamber, there would have been a rush by noble Lords on the Printed Paper Office to provide copies of the decision which Members were invited to debate on Second Reading. I am pleased to say that the House was well attended on Second Reading. Therefore, I should have thought that the Printed Paper Office would have been overwhelmed by demands for copies of the decision. I doubt whether there were sufficient copies of the Council's decision, as a Community document, on the premises at the time. Therefore, by tabling the amendment my intention is that the attention of Members of the Committee should be drawn to the contents of the decision. I am quite sure that most Members of the Committee here today have a copy of those amendments. Therefore, by tabling this amendment, I have at least drawn the attention of Members of the Committee to what the Council's decision really comprises.

I see no reason why it should not be included as a schedule. There are legal, accounting and management considerations. Members of the Committee will have noted that Amendment No. 3, which we shall debate, states:

    "Provided that Her Majesty's Government shall lay before both Houses of Parliament an annual report on the operation of Article 2(1) (c) of the latter decision".

It would have been impossible for the Committee to have considered in detail the various matters relating to Article 2(1) (c), which has now been reproduced as Amendment No. 7, unless it was read in the context of the decision as a whole.

Therefore, I have quite properly tabled the amendment and when matters for elucidation under Amendment No. 3 come to be discussed, Members of the Committee will at least have the decision before them. Indeed, later amendments will also refer to the

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decision. Without having the decision in front of the Committee, it would be difficult to judge such amendments within the context of the decision.

That is why—and I am keeping one eye on the Clock, as well as trying to safeguard what remains of my voice—I urge the Government to accept the amendment. What conceivable harm is there in incorporating as a schedule to a government Bill a decision, in detail, which has already been agreed by the Government? Why should they be such blushing brides in the face of the results of their own detailed negotiations and ingenuity? Is there something in a decision reached on 31st October by virtue of which they feel we might find out something that they would rather we did not know? Why should it not be incorporated in the Bill?

There are other matters involved; as, indeed, will emerge from discussion on later amendments with which we are due to deal, albeit shortly, this afternoon. There are questions relating to VAT and questions relating to estimates or figures in respect of the gross national product or the gross national income of each country which are set out in some detail. Such matters are likely to be in dispute for some time and need to be discussed. On the way forward to the intergovernmental conference, it must not be imagined that the agenda which Parliament will discuss will be set for us in advance or that we shall be dictated to regarding what we shall or shall not discuss in the lead-up to the conference. Therefore, it is vital that the decisions arrived at are readily available, not only to Members of this Chamber but also to members of the legal profession in the UK. Such decisions should also be available to the European Court of Justice and in Europe generally.

Is it expected that those people will ask their respective sources of published data for copies of an opinion or explanatory notes by their own governments or, for that matter, explanatory notes by our Government, when there is a perfectly easy way of dealing with it by simply referring to the legislation itself which would be in the office of every lawyer in the country and in the offices of all the European lawyers? It would be a much greater advantage for them in terms of time and—dare I mention it?—in terms of cost to have the text readily available in the legal document that they are examining.

Therefore, I urge the Government, with all the powers that my croaky voice will permit, to accept the amendment. They will do themselves justice and they will greatly facilitate the workings of this Chamber and, possibly, of the courts. I beg to move.

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