Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As you know, the Opposition parties have been told to expect a Government statement tomorrow on the "taking stock" proposals for Scotland. However, I understand that the editors of certain Scottish newspapers have had a closed briefing on the contents of that statement at some point today. Many is the time that I have heard you deprecate the practice of briefings taking place in the morning before a Government statement. It would be quite extraordinary if such a briefing took place 24 hours before Members of this House have had a chance to analyse the contents of a Government Command Paper. We are told to expect 50 pages in this document. By the usual practice, we shall receive it at 3.30 tomorrow and we will have to ask questions straight away. Perhaps, Madam Speaker, the document and the proposals have been leaked so much that there will be nothing left in the bucket. It may turn out to be the biggest damp squib since Guy Fawkes. It would be a tremendous discourtesy to the House if this briefing has taken place. I note that the Leader of the House is in his place on the Government Front Bench and perhaps, with your intervention, we might have some clarification and the Government could confirm or deny whether such a briefing took place today.
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I, too, have heard that complaint levelled this morning by a journalist in Scotland. If we are to receive such a hefty document, would it be possible to place it on the Board some 30 minutes before the Secretary of State comes to make his statement?
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. As I understand it, that briefing has been given by a Minister of the Crown, not just by officials. That in itself should be of some concern to you. I notice that, in addition to the Leader of the House, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is also on the Treasury Bench. He might be able to elucidate whether the fourth estate has been given advance notice of what we expect to hear tomorrow.
There is nothing new about Government documents and statements being embargoed, but I would regard it as a great discourtesy to the House if there had been an extensive unembargoed briefing of the sort to which the hon. Members have referred. In recent weeks, there have been more leaks from papers and more statements than there are holes in my kitchen colander. I would deprecate very much statements and heavy briefing of the nature that has been raised on the Floor of the House today. I regard this Chamber as supreme. Any statements that have to be made should be made here in the first instance. [Hon. Members :-- "Answer."] Order. I began by saying that the points of order were to me as Speaker. I have to respond to them and I have done so. This is a long-awaited statement and I have no idea when I shall be in the Chair to deal with such a statement, but I look forward to it enormously.
Statutory Instruments, &c
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(3) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).
That the Council Tax (Transitional Reduction Scheme) (Scotland) Regulations 1993 (S.I., 1993, No. 277) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Local Government Superannuation (Amendment) Regulations 1993 (S.I., 1993, No. 366) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Sea Fishing (Enforcement of Community Quota Measures) Order 1993 (S.I., 1993, No. 387) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Loch Crinan Scallops Fishery Order 1993 (S.I., 1993, No. 177) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Arbuthnot.]
Question agreed to.
European Communities (Amendment) Bill
Considered in Committee [Progress, 4 March]
in the Chair ]
Amendment proposed [4 March] : in page 1, line 9, after II', to insert the words
(except Article 138d on page 42 of Cm 1934)'.-- [Mr. George Robertson]
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
(except Article 158 on page 44 of Cm 1934 relating to the appointment of the Commission).'.
Amendment No. 34, in page 1, line 9, after II', insert (with the proviso that the Government of the United Kingdom shall before the nomination of persons they intend to appoint as members of the Commission seek the approval of the House of Commons to the nomination of those persons).'.
Amendment No. 99, in page 1, line 9, after II', insert (except Article 146 on page 43 of Cm 1934 which relates to the Composition of the Council of Ministers)'.
Amendment No. 168, in page 1, line 9, after II', insert (except Article 8d on page 12 of Cm 1934)'.
Amendment No. 221, in page 1, line 9, after II', insert except Article 189c(a) on page 52 of Cm 1934'.
Amendment No. 222, in page 1, line 9, after II', insert except Article 189c(e) on page 52 of Cm 1934'.
Amendment No. 235, in page 1, line 9, after II', insert except Article 138b'.
Amendment No. 236, in page 1, line 9, after II', insert except Article 138e'.
Amendment No. 393, in page 1, line 9, after II', insert except Article 138(c) as referred to in Article G on page 42 of Command Paper number 1934'.
Amendment No. 394, in page 1, line 9, after II', insert except Article 147 as referred to in Article G on page 43 of Command Paper number 1934'.
Amendment No. 395, in page 1, line 9, after II', insert except Article 151 as referred to in Article G on page 43 of Command Paper number 1934'.
Amendment No. 396, in page 1, line 9, after II', insert except Article 159 as referred to in Article G on page 45 of Command Paper number 1934'.
Amendment No. 397, in page 1, line 9, after II', insert except Article 160 as referred to in Article G on page 45 of Command Paper number 1934'.
Amendment No. 398, in page 1, line 9, after II', insert except Article 175 as referred to in Article G on page 47 of Command Paper number 1934'.
Amendment No. 430, in page 1, line 9, after II', insert (except Article 157(2) on page 44 of Cm. 1934 relating to the independence of members of the Commission).'.
Amendment No. 19, in page 1, line 9, after III', insert (except Article 10, Clause 2 on pages 60 and 61 of Cm 1934).'. Amendment No. 21 in page 1, line 9, after III', insert (except Article 9 on page 60 of Cm 1934).'.
Amendment No. 22, in page 1, line 9, after III', insert (except Article 10 on page 60 of Cm 1934).'.
Amendment No. 23, in page 1, line 9, after III', insert (except Article 20a on page 62 of Cm 1934).'.
Column 666Amendment No. 24, in page 1, line 9, after III', insert (except Article 20b on page 62 of Cm 1934).'.
Amendment No. 25, in page 1, line 9, after III', insert (except Article 20d on page 62 of Cm 1934).'.
Amendment No. 26, in page 1, line 9, after III', insert (except Chapter V on page 65 of Cm 1934).'.
Amendment No. 136, in page 1, line 9, after III', insert except paragraph 3 of Article 21'.
Amendment No. 137, in page 1, line 9, after III', insert except Article 20d'.
Amendment No. 410, in page 1, line 9, after III', insert (except Articles 7 to 17 on pages 60 to 62 of Cm 1934).'. Amendment No. 413, in page 1, line 9, after III', insert (except Articles 20a and 24 on pages 62 to 63 of Cm 1934).'. Amendment No. 141, in page 1, line 9, after IV', insert except paragraph 3 of Article 108'.
Amendment No. 142, in page 1, line 9, after IV', insert except Article 170d'.
Amendment No. 414, in page 1, line 9 after IV', insert
(except Articles 107 a-c on pages 69 and 70 of Cm 1934).'. Amendment No. 417, in page 1, line 9, after IV', insert (except Articles 160 a-c on pages 74 to 76 of Cm 1934).'. Amendment No. 55, in page 1, line 10, after 1992', insert but not Article 137 in Title II thereof'.
Amendment No. 143, in page 1, line 10, after 1992', insert but not paragraph 3 of Article 21 in Title III thereof'. Amendment No. 144, in page 1, line 10, after 1992', insert but not the second paragraph of Article 24 in Title III thereof'. Amendment No. 148, in page 1, line 10, after 1992', insert but not Article 107a in Title IV thereof'.
Amendment No. 219, in page 1, line 10 after 1992', insert but not Article 189a(2) on page 50 of Cm 1934'.
Amendment No. 220, in page 1, line 10, after 1992', insert but not Article 189b on pages 51 and 52 of Cm 1934'.
Amendment No. 285, in page 1, line 14, leave out subsection (2). Amendment No. 426, in page 1, line 17, at end add
with the proviso that Article 138(3) is fully implemented in the United Kingdom before the fourth direct elections to the European Parliament.'.
New clause 1-- Rejection of common position --
(1) Where, in pursuance of Article 189b of the Treaty of Union, Paragraph 2 (c) or (d) of that Article, the European Parliament has given notice that it intends to reject the common position of the Council of Ministers of the Community, Her Majesty's Government shall lay before Parliament in a Command Paper an account of the Commission proposal and the view of Her Majesty's Government concerning that proposal the reasons for the Council common position, its reaction to any proposal of the European Parliament, and any subsequent proceedings of the Conciliation Committee and subsequent events provided for in the Article.
(2) Any Report shall include reference to any United Kingdom parliamentary proceeding related to that proposal and may include matter relating to more than one proposal.'.
Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North) : When I was last speaking on the treaty, I was interrupted by the 10 o'clock motion. I had been talking about the growing bureaucracy in Europe being duplicated, both there and here. I said that additional powers in Europe normally tended to mean the diminution of United Kingdom powers.
Column 667I say to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and other Ministers : many Conservative Members feel sincerely about the problems in Europe. We think that Ministers would do themselves more credit if they argued their case for the benefit of the country and ceased to denigrate Back Benchers who have individual views. It is important that we should deal with the matters as we find them, and the European institutions such as the European Parliament. There seems to be a cleavage between the views of those who have read the treaty and those who have bothered to go through the clauses one by one.
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for showing his characteristic courtesy and giving way. Did he read yesterday's edition of the Observer, particularly the article by the grand old Conservative Lord Blake, who argued the case for a referendum from a Conservative perspective? Does the hon. Gentleman agreee with Lord Blake's view?
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : My hon. Friend said that he wished that more people would read the treaty, as they could come to only one conclusion. The division in the House is between those who believe that what is in the treaty will happen and those who do not believe that. Those who believe that what is in the treaty will happen are against it.
Sir Trevor Skeet : If one reads the treaty carefully and takes a long-term view, one reaches a conclusion about precisely what will happen. Many people who take a short-term view will get the wrong end of the stick. It was not surprising that, when the Minister of State sought the opinion of his Department, he was given one version, and when he went to the Attorney-General, he received another. I am sorry that I cannot pursue that subject further, as I shall be ruled out of order. I shall return to the subject of the institutions.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : Is not my hon. Friend sad that some of the Ministers and others who hurl abuse at men of integrity and principle like my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet), are never here to listen to the arguments about the treaty when they are advanced in Committee, which is conducted under a splendid Chairmanship?
Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be much better if, instead of trying to negotiate scrappy and nasty deals with minority parties in smoke- filled rooms, more of the so-called tiny band of Euro-hitmen in the Government would come to our debates and listen to the arguments? Instead, they engage in dreadful bogus deals with minority parties, in which they have to try to stand on their heads. As my hon. Friend rightly said, we should have a referendum.
Sir Trevor Skeet : I agree with my hon. Friend. My simple point was that Ministers should take the arguments to the country and argue them before the country, so that everyone can hear the debates, and that they should not simply argue about matters in the Chamber and reach general conclusions.
As for the European Parliament, certain co-operation procedures have been in operation, and they have been greatly extended under the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty. These procedures are fairly complicated, as is article 189b.
I am thinking of the negative assent procedure, the information procedure, and the budget procedure under article 206. With the completion of the single market on 1 January 1993, the volume of co-operation procedure legislation will be sharply reduced, so it would be desirable to assign further pieces of legislation to this category. Although I am not encouraged by a great increase in the powers of the European Parliament, I believe that it should enjoy a balanced position, and this is the only way of achieving that. The European Parliament still cannot initiate legislation ; that is the sole prerogative of the Commission and of the Council of Ministers. The powers of the Commission have not been reduced, and there is no prospect of their being reduced. The democratic deficit will remain for many years to come.
Having looked at article 189b, I have come to the conclusion that it is far too complicated to work. If the treaty is to be revised in 1996, it would be a good idea if those who revise it carefully looked at this matter again to determine whether more of a controlling influence would be had over the Commission, which is the cause of many of the troubles.
Mr. Marlow : I apologise for interrupting again, but is it not an essential ingredient of good government that people should understand how they are being governed? Anyone looking at article 189b or article 189c would throw up his hands in horror and not have the vaguest idea of what was being done to him.
Sir Trevor Skeet : In the House of Commons, we pass legislation through various stages ; that is not done in the European Parliament. It has only a right of veto. That veto may be exercised only over legislation that falls into a defined set of categories--outside them, it does not operate at all. It is a well known fact--it is an admitted fact--that the Commission is a non-elected body. The Council of Ministers is appointed by the Governments of the member states. So between the two, the people have little say.
Before we concede any additional powers, should we not ensure that the people have their say on matters that are indispensible to the future of this country?
Would the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) accept that the European Parliament is rather better at monitoring what it has done and the money that
Column 669it has given out than is the House of Commons? We are in no position to lecture that Parliament on the monitoring of legislation or of what happens to the money.
Sir Trevor Skeet : But we have several Committees to monitor these things, and they do remarkably good work. This House has many years of experience of these matters, and some of the Select Committees are quite capable of handling them. We should remember that the European system is of a European type, which is rather different from our own. Certainly, it is up to European standards, but the European Parliament has had a short life by contrast with the centuries of experience behind this place.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : Would the hon. Gentleman like to remind the Committee that, although the work of the Court of Auditors is excellent, it is limited? Does he agree that, when the work of the Public Accounts Committee is set against the work of any of the European institutions, it becomes painfully clear that, far from there being proper auditing, not hundreds of pounds but hundreds of thousands of pounds are wasted by European institutions?
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones) : In view of the point made by the hon. Member for Crewand Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) no doubt my hon. Friend will welcome the provisions of the Maastricht treaty to strengthen the powers of the Court of Auditors and formally to make it an institution of the Community.
Sir Trevor Skeet : Shall we not have an extraordinary system? We shall have checks in the United Kingdom and in Europe, and we shall be over -governed by all those additions. Why not continue with the existing, thorough arrangements? Over time, there could be more Select Committees and not simply a check on legislation covering a vast range of subjects and coming from other people.
Mr. Garel-Jones : I am afraid that I cannot allow my hon. Friend, or the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich, to have it both ways. I agree that, regrettably, there is fraud in the European Community, but surely the Court of Auditors being formally made an institution of the Community and being given further powers to investigate such fraud should be welcomed.
Sir Trevor Skeet : Does not the Minister agree that the United Kingdom is known for the purity of its operations? I have been in Parliament for about 26 years, and I do not think that I have discovered a single case of fraud. In the European Parliament, and in some of the European institutions that have been built up, there is evidence of fraud-- in Greece and Italy and elsewhere. I do not know how my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) can smile at that, because he knows perfectly well that it exists.
Column 670out, emphasises that there is fraud in every member state, including the United Kingdom, over the operation of the CAP and other matters.
Sir Trevor Skeet : I have listened attentively to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East. He and I have roughly the same experience of Parliament. He says that there are illustrations of fraud here, but I have not discovered any. One cannot say that about the European institutions which we are being invited to join.
Sir Teddy Taylor : Would my hon. Friend explain to the Minister of State that, while greater powers of inquiry and the principle of a European institution are to be granted to the Court of Auditors, it will still have absolutely no power of any sort to do anything apart from publishing its annual report? Does my hon. Friend appreciate that the Government do not seem to take those reports very seriously, because this week, as my hon. Friend is aware, we shall discuss the latest annual report for an hour and a half after midnight on Wednesday?
Will my hon. Friend make it clear to the Minister of State that, although there is a vast amount of shameful, scandalous and shocking fraud, the Court of Auditors has no power : it can only publish its reports and seek views on them? Those views are usually disregarded, especially by the Government, who will have them discussed for an hour and a half after midnight.
Is not the trouble precisely that we have not uncovered fraud? I have experience of the Public Acounts Committee and the sub-committee of the Budget Committee of the indirectly elected European Parliament, which was responsible for such matters. Along with Martin Bangemann, who was then an MEP, and others, we turned our attention to fraud. We did so, often in difficult circumstances, in respect of Italy. Something was done years before the issue would have been examined by the Public Accounts Committee. At least such incidents are dealt with reasonably currently. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) does a splendid job, but his Committee examines only cases that arose many moons ago, by which time nothing can be done. At least the European Parliament can attempt to take some action.
Sir Trevor Skeet : I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's comments, but I do not want to be taken too far down that path. It will be apparent from the record that we have a good reputation. Many of the other European countries will say what they will do and then ignore the result, and allow checking by the Commission at a later stage. Our attitude towards government and the law is one of respect and compliance.