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Earl Russell: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, has to my pleasure made a number of comments with which I agree, but since they relate to proceedings on a future Bill perhaps I may defer that pleasure until the appropriate moment.
Lord Tordoff: My Lords, I hesitate to intervene because I was not here for the beginning of the debate. However, thanks to the electronic wonders of the Palace, I listened to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Howell. I wondered whether the Government intended to reply to his remarks about the role of Parliament in relation to Amendment No. 10 or Amendment No. 11 and those grouped with it. If it is the former, I shall sit down again very rapidly, perhaps having first taken the opportunity to say to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, that single-Member constituencies are not always in the hands of the electorate but rather in the hands of the party chairman of that constituency.
Lord Monson: My Lords, in introducing this amendment the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said (if I paraphrase him correctly) that where agreements between independent sovereign nation states were contemplated, consensus--as opposed to coercion--was always the best path to try to follow. In effect QMV by definition leads to coercion and opens the floodgates to yet more cynical horse-trading, examples of which we have seen month after month, year after year.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, declared that the Treaty of Amsterdam had introduced a total of 23 new or modified areas to which QMV was to be applied. My brief lists a total of 27. One way or the other, I can identify only three areas in which the application of
I would have thought that one of them would be unattractive to any country which wished to remain an independent sovereign nation state. I refer to the implementation of decisions under a common foreign and security policy. If a nation cannot make its own decisions in that area in perpetuity, what is the point of it remaining an independent sovereign state? For this and other reasons, I fully support the amendment.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I was grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, did not spend a good deal of time on the question of qualified majority voting and that he took a somewhat more pragmatic attitude to it than perhaps was the case at earlier stages of this debate, and certainly earlier in the history of the Conservative Party. I believe that the Conservative Party was just as pragmatic and sensible when negotiating treaties with an extension of QMV as the Labour Government were at Amsterdam. The Single European Act extended QMV to 12 new areas. Maastricht extended QMV to an extra 13 new areas. At the time, most of them appeared to be very sensible and now have total support across Europe. The extension of QMV at Amsterdam was substantially less than that, and in my view that was also very sensible.
If the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, challenges me to prove that it is sensible, I make the general point that some extension of QMV is probably sensible in preparation for enlargement. Indeed, his noble friend Lady Rawlings almost made that point last night. I take research and development as an example. If R&D policy were always subject to veto by, say, Spain or one of the newly arrived member states, we would not achieve very much in that field that would benefit Britain. As I pointed out in Committee, earlier this year Spain threatened to block the R&D framework until it was satisfied about its future receipts under the structural funds. In the event, Spain removed that threat. However, had Spain persisted, that would have been an excellent example of the way in which QMV could be in the interests of Europe and Britain--and especially of British industry and British universities securing a European framework for R&D.
We believe that the extension of QMV within the Treaty of Amsterdam is helpful. We shall not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, about its extension to the social chapter and in the field of the environment, but we believe that it is important. I believe that there is a consensus in this House that the extension of QMV to measures to prevent fraud is a very important decision flowing from the intergovernmental conference. Earlier, my noble friend Lord Bruce gave the example of Greece which vetoed the investigation of fraud in the tobacco trade. This provision removes the ability of the Greek Government in those circumstances to veto such moves.
But it is right that in a treaty between sovereign nations certain areas should remain subject to unanimity. We retained unanimity, as we said in the manifesto, in keys areas of national interest, such as taxation, the Budget, foreign policy, defence and immigration. We are not in the business of extending QMV for its own sake, any more than we are in the business of dogmatically resisting it. I believe that the extension of QMV at Amsterdam was defensible and sensible.
However, I was surprised by the noble Lord's almost root-and-branch attack on the European Parliament. It was a slightly strange attack, for throughout much of the passage of this Bill the noble Lord has objected to the lack of democracy. The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, heard only half of it. The noble Baroness has represented her nation, party and constituents in the European Parliament, as have other noble Lords in this House, on the basis of a democratic vote, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and others have pointed out. Admittedly, the noble Lord's attack on the European Parliament seemed in part like some of the remarks of my noble friend Lord Bruce, to be more concerned with the internal affairs of the Labour Party. I am always happy to debate the internal affairs of the Labour Party, of which I have some experience, but I must inform the House that Clause 4 (in its existing form or its previous form) is not part of the Treaty of Amsterdam. Therefore, I do not believe that it is particularly relevant to this debate.
We support co-decision because, contrary to what I believe to be the stance of the Opposition, the European Parliament is an essential part of the democratic process in the European Union. The extension of co-decision is a limited but sensible enhancement of that democratic role. It does not enable the European Parliament to propose a measure or to insist upon a proposal proposed by the Council, but it ensures that it cannot go ahead in the areas now subject to co-decision without the approval of the European Parliament. The noble Lord refers to that as a veto; I call it democratic decision-making. In most cases, it relates to areas in which there is an extension of co-decision to which qualified majority voting applies.
This is not an issue of transferring powers or sovereignty from the national parliaments to the European Parliament. It is a question of decisions which are already being taken by majority vote at European level being subject to a degree of national democratic accountability. It is not at the expense of national parliaments. If anything it is at the expense of the Commission and the Council.
The European Parliament is an essential element of European democracy. It is not an alternative to strengthening the role of national parliaments, which we will debate in the next amendment. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, this is not a zero sum game. It is quite the opposite. The two are
Additional points were raised by other noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Park, raised an issue which is really more adjacent to the next amendment and if she does not mind, I will leave it until that discussion.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, raised the question of co-operation between national parliaments at earlier stages of preparation of European legislation. This is an important point, which also is germane to some extent to the next amendment. The Amsterdam Treaty envisages an enhanced, institutionalised role for COSAC--which deals with co-operation at parliamentary level. It will meet together and have a non-binding, consultative but important role, in assessing the way in which European legislation is being developed. The noble Lord wishes to see this extended further to specialist committees. This is a useful point which we ought to assume in our consideration of the role of national parliaments.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, at the end of the day it will not be 15 or 26 national parliaments which provide the detailed scrutiny of European legislation in the first instance, but the European Parliament. It is important that we do not cast aspersions on the democratic nature of the European Parliament, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and my noble friend Lord Bruce and others have done. It is true that the turn-out in European Parliament elections has been relatively low compared with national parliament elections. It has, however, been higher than that for a whole range of democratic institutions in this country and across Europe. It is not healthy or sensible for us to impugn their democratic status by suggesting that that of itself proves that the European Parliament is not part of the democratic accountability of the European Union.
There are differences between ourselves and the approach of the noble Lord. On QMV there are no differences in principle but differences at the edges. In relation to co-decision, there might be a difference in principle on various points, but the Conservative Party, particularly in a year when it is preparing for European elections, may come to express a greater appreciation of the role of the European Parliament in the coming months than the noble Lord is prepared to do today.
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, in drafting my remarks this afternoon, the European elections were not in the forefront of my mind, but the exchange that we had during Committee stage was. The debate that we have had this evening has been one of the best during these lengthy proceedings. It has crystallised the views that are held on all sides of the House.
I did not make a root and branch attack on the European Parliament. I might have gently pointed to the antics of some MEPs--you would not expect me to do otherwise. There is plenty more material on that subject but, in the interests of progress on the Bill, it is best to leave the matter and not return to it in the context of this Bill.
I was, I hope, pointing out that there are many areas where historically, as the Minister has pointed out, there is agreement about the benefits of QMV. Where there is a single purpose, where there is a clear purpose to achieve a specific objective--and I mentioned the single market--it is important that majority voting is used to ensure that those decisions are taken effectively. I made that point to begin with. I may be in disagreement with some noble Lords on that point but, for once on this Bill, I am in agreement with the Government Front Bench.
I was trying to state that it is very important when you extend QMV for the Government to come before the House to make the case for that extension--and to make a case in each and every area--because there is, unquestionably, the issue of the transfer of sovereignty and power. One can argue whether it is from the Commission to the Parliament or from one national parliament to the European Parliament but, when you accept that there are new areas where you extend decision-making to QMV, it is important for the Government to come before the House and defend that extension. As in Committee, my argument this evening is that that case has not been made on the specific cases. To that extent I am being as pragmatic as I can be, despite the noble Lord's chiding in that context.
As for co-decision, I was not objecting. When the noble Lord has had the opportunity to read Hansard tomorrow, he will reflect that I was not objecting in principle to co-decision. I recognise fully that the European Parliament is enabled to exercise its role more effectively and democratically within the European institutions where the principle of co-decision is recognised. What I have done is reflect in some detail on QMV and the areas of QMV that concern me.
I can add very little more to this debate. As I said at the outset, it represents one of the most constructive exchanges of view in this area that we have had. I disagree with the Government and I strongly disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in the specific point that she made at the outset of her speech.
I do not intend to press this amendment to a vote. I am grateful to the Government and to noble Lords on all sides of the House for participating in a debate in which I knew we would not come to agreement. I do not think there is any benefit at this stage in dividing the House and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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