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Mr. Spring: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking that question. He may not be aware that in our 1997 general election manifesto we made it plain that we would not extend QMV and that we would not be in favour of it. That principle remains. We also want to draw a line to enable a movement back to national Parliaments and to their authority. The main threat to the EU is the disconnection of the peoples of Europe from the EU's institutions and structures. If that disconnection persists, that is the route the EU should take—not the one-way route to integration.

4.30 pm

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): Are we to understand from what the hon. Gentleman has just said that if it were demonstrated that it was in the interests of

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the United Kingdom and of the European Union that there should be an extension of qualified majority voting in a particular area, the hon. Gentleman would still not be in favour of it?

Mr. Spring: I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has obviously misunderstood me. We want to draw a line to say that powers must be returned to national Parliaments, and we wanted that line to be drawn at Nice. I am sure that is difficult for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to understand, given the almost unbelievable attitude of Liberal Democrats to the whole political integration process in the European Union.

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Spring: I shall make some progress.

We must assess every measure proposed at Nice against the yardstick of what is acceptable to the citizens of member states. That is a huge challenge for us all, and if we do not address it the success and viability of the European Union will be in peril. I hope that the Liberal Democrats in particular understand the difficulties of that.

The wide extension of QMV is one of the Nice provisions that fails that test most graphically. Some of the items in the list have the potential to be particularly damaging in themselves, but all of them, even the ones characterised by the Government as relatively minor, indicate a direction towards uniform integration that is absolutely the wrong one for a Europe on the verge of enlargement to take.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) pointed out on Second Reading, the idea that harmony and unity in a diverse, enlarged Europe can be increased by extending

only has to be stated to be seen to be completely ludicrous. As he said,

The central and eastern European applicant states are among those who have the most to lose from a centralised approach and a lack of respect for diversity.

We are told—wrongly, of course—that the areas in which QMV is being extended are relatively minor: for example, nothing but the pension arrangements for the Court of Auditors, to use the Prime Minister's mistaken example that he gave in December in the House. If that were true, they would hardly be essential prerequisites for enlargement and, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) brilliantly and accurately pointed out in the House last week, the two arguments used for the Nice treaty—that it is, at the same time, essential and inconsequential—are mutually exclusive and utterly contradictory.

I turn to a couple of specific aspects of QMV to illustrate our concerns; I will return to them in more detail later if there is the opportunity to do so.

First, I should like to address the extension of QMV in article 13, relating to incentive measures in the area of anti-discrimination. That is covered by amendments

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Nos. 1 and 3. The agreed wording makes it clear that any harmonisation of the laws and regulations of member states is excluded, so what precisely is meant by "Community incentive measures"? Perhaps the Minister could enlighten us, although his predecessor certainly could not. When asked at the European Scrutiny Committee, after the Nice treaty had been agreed, what the new incentive measures on anti-discrimination would amount to, the then Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), replied,

Is not that precisely the problem? Why do Ministers persist in agreeing to open-ended extensions of qualified majority voting without having the first idea about what proposals might follow? It is an extraordinary way to negotiate on behalf of the peoples of the United Kingdom.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Would my hon. Friend care to cast his mind back to our exchanges on Second Reading last week? He will recall that the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) believed that it was right that QMV should apply on anti-discrimination measures and that there should be a formal European Union position. Would my hon. Friend, by contrast, not agree with me that important though anti-discrimination policy undoubtedly is, it is pre-eminently a matter for democratically elected members of the British legislature and is no business whatever of the European Union?

Mr. Spring: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, but we must accept that the position of the Liberal Democrat party, of which the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) is a member, is to have a written constitution for the European Union, to remove further the powers of national Parliaments and to have much greater centralisation. The Liberal Democrats have consistently pursued that theme whenever the issue arises.

Mr. Menzies Campbell: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Spring indicated assent.

Mr. Campbell: The hon. Gentleman has mentioned me, after all. It is just as well that I do not have a persecution complex, because he does not seem to be able to complete a sentence without mentioning me or my party. The purpose of a constitution would be to ensure that the rights, roles and responsibilities of EU institutions were set down clearly and unequivocally, enabling people to understand what the EU is about. The hon. Gentleman ought to be in favour of such clarity.

Mr. Spring: I am perfectly satisfied that the laws on discrimination, and so on, that govern the people of the United Kingdom adequately protect them. If we continue to centralise the structures of the EU, the process of alienation of the people of the EU from its structures and

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institutions will only grow worse. I find it extraordinary that that is not understood, particularly after the Irish referendum.

Mr. Doug Henderson rose

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) rose

Mr. Spring: I propose to make to a little more progress.

The treaty of Nice extends qualified majority voting in article 100, which covers measures to be taken in the event of severe difficulties in the supply of certain products and Community financial assistance to member states in severe difficulties. That is covered by amendment No. 5, and it is also included in amendment No. 1. Perhaps the Minister would now like to explain what that provision does. What are the benefits for Britain of that extension of QMV?

On the face of it, that extension allows fairly sweeping powers. Subsection (1) of article 100 allows the Council of Ministers, now by QMV, to

When asked, the Minister's predecessor said that that did not, for example, extend competence over North sea oil reserves. We can be grateful for that, but the provision was used for Council directive 1998/93/EC, which amended a directive imposing an obligation on member states of the EEC to maintain minimum stocks of crude oil and petroleum products. Whatever the merits of that decision, and without the article extending competence over the supply of a particular reserve, could it not nevertheless be used to pass further legislation on such issues in future—this time by QMV?

Will the Government list which products fall under the scope of article 100? Who will measure the so-called severe difficulties, and how will they be measured? The second subsection states:

Will the Minister tell us what was in Ministers' minds when they agreed to abandon the veto on that? Who will define what constitutes an exceptional occurrence beyond the control of a member state?

On Second Reading, the Minister made great play of the fact that article 100, as revised, will be subject, under declaration 6, to the 2000–06 financial perspective and the "no bail-out rule" laid down in article 103, which states that a member state shall not be liable for or assume the commitments of other member state Governments or other member state public bodies, except in the case of mutual financial guarantees.

The fact that the Government have to defend their decision to extend QMV on the basis of what it does not do rather than on what it does says a great deal about the measure. If decisions that are made under the article are meant to respect budgetary ceilings, does that not still provide large room for manoeuvre? If the article is not meant to be used to bail out the commitments of other

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member state Governments or public bodies, what about non-public bodies? If the events are so truly exceptional, why is this extension of QMV essential for enlargement, which is the stock reason for the Nice treaty? Are we expecting more exceptional occurrences in an enlarged Europe? Will the decision-making process grind to a halt without QMV?

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