Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

We believe that the new system will ensure more effective decision-making in the enlarged EU. As it is based on population, surely it is more transparent and fairer than the current QMV system. As has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Roper, our share of the votes in the Council of Ministers will rise substantially from 8.4 per cent—that is, 29 votes out of 345 under the incredibly complex Nice system—to 12.3 per cent.

The treaty of Lisbon updates the EU’s institutional structure to reflect the fact that the EU now has 27 member states and faces new global challenges and opportunities. Frankly, effective co-operation in the EU will be essential in meeting those challenges. The treaty updates the EU’s institutional structure in a number of different ways, and we have discussed some of them tonight. That structure was designed for a different era and we believe that the changes will enable Europe to act more effectively. It is in our country’s interest to see more effective decision-making in areas such as energy, the environment and counterterrorism. It is not in our interest to see gridlock as an EU of 27 becomes, it is hoped, even larger in the future.

While considering the merits of a voting system, we have to bear in mind that a single member state is only as strong as the coalition of which it is a part. The benefits, or otherwise, to the UK depend as much on the change to the strengths of other countries as to the UK. By way of example, Germany, which was referred to by the noble Lord, will, as the largest member state by some margin, be the biggest beneficiary of the move to a voting system based on population. Thus, in votes where the UK and Germany are on the

29 Apr 2008 : Column 231

same side—as we tend to be, for example, on budgetary issues—DMV is in the UK’s interest not only because our vote increases but also because the German vote increases too.

Under the new system, it will be simpler to update the voting weights if and when new member states join. Because we will have in place a system based essentially on population, rather than prescribing each country a specific number of votes, we will not need to renegotiate the system every time a new country joins. That could be particularly important as Croatian accession moves closer. It is part of a sensible updating of the institutional framework of the Union to equip it to act more effectively in pursuit of shared interests.

It has been alleged by some—the noble Lord referred to this—that double majority voting would reduce our blocking power. I have seen figures, and they have been mentioned today, suggesting that our blocking power would be reduced by some 30 per cent. Those figures are discredited. Those who used them quoted from a paper published by academics at the London School of Economics in June 2004. One of the authors of the paper, Professor Machover, has made it clear to us that, in his view, under the new voting system the UK’s relative position will substantially improve. The Select Committee, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, who is in his place, concludes:

The committee also repeated:

Finally, we have analysed situations where the UK has recently been in blocking minorities on sensitive issues, such as on the soil directive, the payment services directive, the 2008 Community budget and the European fisheries fund. In each and every case, I am advised that we would have also been in a comfortable position to defend our interests under these new rules.

We step, then, into the field of qualified majority voting. I hope that the Committee will agree that it is really too late to start a debate on that—on its virtues or otherwise—tonight. However, if there are members of the Committee against qualified majority voting in principle, it is important to remember that the first use of it was in the treaty of Rome; it was extended further by the Single European Act. The Government recognise, as we did at Nice—and as our predecessors did in the Single European Act, and at Maastricht, which followed it—that, as the Union grows in size, decision-making by unanimity can become more difficult. QMV can make that easier.

The example, of course, is that the single market could never have been built, nor would much legislation have been passed on, for example, the environment, market liberalisation or reform of the common agricultural policy, without QMV. With the greatest of respect, I will quote the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, who said in this House, long ago now, in 1993:

29 Apr 2008 : Column 232

I hope that—

Lord McNally: Earlier today, the Minister made a useful intervention about the speed of this Committee. We have reached Amendment No. 10. By my calculations, looking at the Marshalled List, we will need another 30 days in Committee to complete this Bill. May I make it clear, with both Chief Whips in their place, that on these Benches we are, in the four remaining days, willing to sit until midnight and, if necessary, through the night to see this Bill through? I have sat through many Committee stages in this House and I have never known such self-indulgence from Members on the opposition Front Bench, who have toured so many horizons in their interventions and given vent to so many old prejudices. I therefore think that the Opposition had better go away and think hard about how they will play this game, because their behaviour goes into dangerous territory.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I hope that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, will reflect carefully on the words that he has just uttered. This is a Bill of constitutional significance. These Benches take the Bill seriously, as we do the scrutiny that this House carries out so valuably. I am aware that, today, Members of the Committee from all Benches have given their expertise and, while I may not have agreed with what they said, I certainly agree with the way in which they said it. We on these Benches will defend the right of this House to carry out proper scrutiny of Bills. We do not abuse process; we use it. We undertake to continue to do that, as we do now, with honour.

Lord Bach: Before I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment, which I was about to do, I am certain that the usual channels will be discussing the progress of this Bill in the usual way. With thanks to the noble Lord again for moving his amendment, I ask him to withdraw it tonight.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Before the noble Lord, Lord Leach, does that, I really must put on record the fact that the Minister took my noble friend Lady Thatcher seriously out of context when he just quoted her. As her latest book reveals, she has changed her mind much since then. I would not want this evening’s debate to finish on a note of unfairness to the greatest peacetime leader that this country has had for many years.

Lord Bach: I hope that I did not do the noble Baroness an injustice; I certainly did not intend to do so. But the quotation about the use of qualified majority voting for the single market is on the record; it is a fact. I hear what the noble Lord says about that but my quotation was fair and is relevant to the amendment that is before the Committee.

Lord Leach of Fairford: It is getting late and I shall try not to detain the Committee for too long. I am extremely grateful to the Minister for his generous

29 Apr 2008 : Column 233

remarks. I did not expect them and I do not deserve them, but it was kind of him.

The noble Lord, Lord Roper, rightly quoted against me—perhaps not against me, but with me—my remarks that I thought it would be a good thing to reflect a little more the weight of population. I said that and I still believe it, and it is reflected in the treaty. But that is not where the shoe pinches; that is at another stage of the triple majority process. So although I welcome it, it is not really the main point.

I struggle with the thought—perhaps my logic fails me at this hour of the night—that it can be both easier to pass and easier to block legislation, which appears to be what is being said by those who disagree with my analysis and that of the LSE. I am grateful for the critique of the LSE analysis and I shall certainly look into it. If the LSE has it wrong, it has it wrong, and it will not be quoted by my lips again. But if it has it right, you may hear from me again.

The Minister returned to the question of effectiveness, a theme which has been raised quite often today. I am in general in favour of effectiveness, but in the matter of passing laws—where we already have an enormous mass of laws, where the weight is so great and where there are recurrent promises from generation to generation that they will be cut back by 25 per cent while the exact opposite happens—my enthusiasm for greater effectiveness is considerably muted.

Gridlock was quoted in connection with matters such as climate change legislation. If there had been gridlock on biofuel limits and on the emissions trading system, we would be a great deal better off because we could have used that gridlock to give some

29 Apr 2008 : Column 234

thought to these proposals, which have turned out to be extremely ill judged. We might then have got them right in the first place instead of struggling to get them right the second, third and fourth time round, or even cancel them altogether.

My main purpose, however, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, was to highlight the economic costs of EU regulation and the danger that this will escalate further by easing the process of passing new laws. That, at least, is agreed on by both sides of the Committee. I shall reflect carefully on the thoughtful points that have been made. I may return to this issue at a later stage, but for the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Before the House resumes, I would like to assure noble Lords that the excellent scrutiny undertaken by the Committee will continue. I am glad to say that we have four days of Committee left. Before we meet again as a Committee, my colleagues in the usual channels and I will be discussing how we move forward with this excellent scrutiny in the time we have left. With that, I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

St Austell Market Bill

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and referred to the Examiners.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page