Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I support the Statement and I thank my noble friend for repeating it. I remind the House of the result of the previous general election when the British people endorsed the Labour Party's manifesto which stated,

Bearing in mind the significance of recent developments, will my noble friend take a strong message from this House that we hope that the Government will take further practical steps to achieve the object of the manifesto,

    "towards our goal of the global elimination of nuclear weapons"?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for reminding us all of the clear, unequivocal manifesto commitment of Her Majesty's Government. As I have on previous occasions been able to tell the House, we shall proceed on the basis of verifiable reductions. I shall be happy to convey the message of my noble friend, and indeed others, to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

European Communities (Amendment) Bill

5.11 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon moved Amendment No. 9:

After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

President and Members of the Commission

(". This Act shall not enter into force until a Minister of the Crown has laid before both Houses of Parliament a report on the implications for the United Kingdom of paragraphs 40 and 41 (President and Members of the Commission) of Article 2 of the Treaty signed at Amsterdam on 2nd October 1997 amending the Treaty on European Union, the Treaties establishing the European Communities and certain related Acts, and such report has been approved by resolution of each House.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the proposed new clause states that paragraphs 40 and 41 of the treaty will not come into operation until a report of the implications has been made to both Houses and approved by them.

14 May 1998 : Column 1202

We had quite a long debate in Committee on an amendment admirably moved by my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington. I do not want to repeat all the arguments made then against paragraphs 40 and 41 of the Amsterdam Treaty. However, the two paragraphs are important as they hand more power to the European Parliament in that it will be able to veto the appointment of the Commission President whose appointment has been agreed unanimously by the elected heads of government who represent, and are accountable to, their own elected national parliaments. That is a transfer of power from the nation states and their parliaments to an institution of the European Union.

Under paragraph 40, the governments of the member states will in future be required to agree in common accord with the president of the Commission the other persons they wish to appoint as commissioners. This gives the President an ultimate veto of the candidate or candidates nominated by member states. In other words, the appointed President of the Commission could blackball the candidate of a member state's elected government. Surely that is a serious matter. After all, this involves democratic government and democratic accountability. It is important for that very reason.

When my noble friend Lord Whitty replied to the amendment in Committee on 27th April, he provided no satisfactory reason for this change. He did not say that the previous system was not working or that it had caused problems, so why this shift of power from elected Ministers to an appointed functionary? Perhaps we could now have a proper explanation of that.

Paragraph 43 states that the Commission shall work under the political guidance of its president. That proposition is, to put it mildly, quite startling and should have set alarm bells ringing in another place. That it did not do so was, I hope, an oversight and not neglect. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, pointed out in Committee that even Mr. Heath, Europhile extraordinaire, regarded commissioners, including the President of the Commission, as civil servants who took their instructions from elected Ministers. But now it is not elected Ministers who will give political direction apparently, but the unelected functionary".

Again, my noble friend Lord Whitty did not give a satisfactory explanation as to why it was necessary to include that article in the treaty. As we know, the treaty will be held by the Commission and the European Court of Justice to be sacrosanct. That is the problem with these treaties; once measures are included in them, the European Court of Justice rules in accordance with them. It does not rule in accordance with what we might like to think is in the treaty, but in accordance with what is actually in the treaty. The article states that the Commission will work under the political guidance of its President, not of the Council of Ministers or of the European Parliament or anyone else. So I should like an explanation as to why this article has been slipped into the treaty.

As I have already said, I do not want to rehearse all the arguments expressed in Committee but I have a final question. The Government believe that these new articles are minor adjustments. If they are so minor, why

14 May 1998 : Column 1203

could they not have been made administratively? Surely amendments to treaties should concern only matters of great moment, not trivia. After all, you cannot take them out of the treaty without unanimity. Therefore it is important that what goes into the treaty concerns matters of great moment and is not trivia, which is how my noble friend described this particular provision in Committee.

The Government had better make up their mind. Either these articles are trivial, in which case they ought not to be in the treaty, or they are of great importance, in which case we and another place need a much better explanation of their meaning and practical effect. In any event, it is quite clear that the House of Commons, which is the true democratic authority representing the people of Britain, has not given proper weight to, and consideration of, paragraphs 40 and 41. I believe that many of its Members would like to do so. If this amendment is carried, it would give another place a further opportunity to consider this vital matter. I hope that noble Lords will therefore support this amendment for that reason alone so that the Commons can have another detailed look at this matter. Noble Lords can support this amendment in the sure knowledge that what they will vote for is democracy. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, I rise to support this amendment in the light of both the persuasive arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and the response given by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, during an earlier stage of our proceedings, particularly with regard to the implications for the United Kingdom of the provisions on the appointment of the President of the Commission and the Commissioners.

I think it is fair to say that of all the amendments debated in Committee, the Government's refusal to countenance the notion that the provisions in paragraphs 40 and 41 could have any effect whatsoever on the sovereignty of the nation state perhaps most vividly illustrates the discrepancy of their position in purporting to pursue policies to preserve and uphold the role of the nation state in the European Union.

We perceive the Government to have given away important national powers needlessly. We consider the European Parliament's new right to approve the new President of the Commission diminishes the power of this Government, whose authority is derived from this Parliament. We consider that the freedom of member states to appoint commissioners of their choice is diminished, as the President of the Commission has been given new powers to veto the appointment of new commissioners and can therefore effectively pick the other 19 commissioners. What is more, those new commissioners will be required to work under the political guidance of the president for the first time.

When I studied what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said in Committee, I was not convinced that his arguments for the changes benefit this country or this Parliament. On the new powers for the European Parliament, he told the House that these changes represent an improvement in democracy. On the

14 May 1998 : Column 1204

President of the Commission's power of veto, he told us it was all right because it was just simple arithmetic. It was a little leap of logic to extend common accord from 15 member states to 15 member states plus one unelected official, but the fact that he was unelected did not matter because he had been agreed by elected governments. On the requirement for Commissioners to work under the political guidance of the President, he told us that it was all right. It was a lot of fuss about nothing because the President had a political role anyway.

I find the latter two arguments extraordinary. I fundamentally disagree with the argument when I hear from the Liberal Democrats Benches that the powers given to the European Parliament represent an improvement in democracy. However, I respect the legitimacy of that vision and the sincerity with which it is propounded. In a vision of a European state, the European Parliament represents all the people of that state, so to give more powers to the European Parliament would be a democratic move. But in a Europe of sovereign nation states, where national parliaments remain the guardians of true democratic legitimacy, that argument is far less compelling. For advocates of a federal Europe these changes represent a democratic gain to the European Union and the European Parliament which outweighs the democratic loss to nation states and national parliaments, because to improve the functioning of democracy and efficiency within the Commission it is worth diminishing the power and influence of member states.

For advocates of a federal Europe, the new rights of the European Parliament to approve, or refuse to approve, the name of the person put forward as President of the Commission is an extension, not a diminution, of accountability of a democratic kind. For advocates of a federal Europe, the fact that the nomination of the Commission lies in the hands of member governments, and that member governments must reach a common accord with the President of the Commission, represents an appropriate balance of power. That is another improvement in democratic accountability. For advocates of a federal Europe, the description of the President of the Commission as,

    "more than a civil servant ... he is a political figure who gives political direction",

would not even raise an eyebrow.

All of that is logical and consistent to a proponent of a federal Europe, a European superstate. It might even be possible to describe the provisions as relatively minor amendments. From these Benches we might fundamentally disagree with that position, but it would be a legitimate and consistent one. But are the Government advocates of a federal Europe? Not according to their election manifesto, in which they promise a commitment to Europe as,

    "an alliance of independent nations choosing to co-operate to achieve the goals they cannot achieve alone".

The manifesto continues,

    "We oppose a European federal superstate".

As I said previously, while the manifesto supports a Europe which is a partnership of nations, and opposes a federal Europe, it is disingenuous and discreditable to

14 May 1998 : Column 1205

dismiss those provisions as "minor" and to brand our legitimate scrutiny as "fantastic constructions". The noble Lord did not argue that those "fantastic constructions" were impossible under the terms of the treaty. Indeed, he argued that he was justified in dismissing them by effectively saying, "Yes, theoretically those things could happen, but in practice it is very unlikely so I do not think there is a problem". I have the greatest respect for the noble Lord, but I believe that that is a poor and flawed argument. If Europe has taught us one thing, it is that we should not rely on lack of precedent as an indication of what the future could hold. Nor should we assume that, in future, treaties will not be interpreted imaginatively or, in this case, just to the letter.

For a Europe of nation states whose national parliaments are recognised as the primary guardians of democratic accountability and legitimacy, surely these are major changes, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, stated, with major implications. Yet they were not even mentioned by the Prime Minister in his Statement in another place on his return from Amsterdam. They represent a significant step towards an overtly political Commission in which unprecedented powers are concentrated in one individual's hands. Taken together with the extension of QMV and the substantial additional powers for the European Parliament, the treaty represents a significant shift from the nation state to the central institutions of the European Union. It is therefore vital that today we have the opportunity to hear why those proposals were agreed to by the Government; the implications to Britain of those proposals; and why the Government consider them to be in the national interest.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page