Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Roger Casale (Wimbledon): The hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that it was right to extend QMV when the Conservatives were in office, but that it should not be increased in future. The structure of his argument is familiar because it was deployed when the Conservatives opposed increases in tobacco tax and the fuel duty escalator. The difference is that his resistance to extending QMV now is ideologically driven. He has given no practical justification for his argument. Is he really saying that even if there is practical merit in extending QMV, he will resist it?

Mr. Spring: I am disappointed in the hon. Gentleman. I have been trying to establish the fact that there is no basis to extend QMV in this case without a considered Government view, and all we have heard is multiple contradiction.

If we have a policy of one size fits all in an enlarged European Community and larger countries gang up on smaller ones by using QMV, the huge increase in EU member states will put fresh strains on administration and structure. If we do not seek protection we will increase the strain that we are under and land ourselves in considerable difficulties. I would have been much happier had the hon. Gentleman stood up and said that the Government fought to return powers to the national Parliament where there can be proper scrutiny to connect us once again with the British people. The fact that the Government have not done that is what is wrong in principle.

Roger Casale: Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear whether he and his party refuse to accept any extension of QMV in principle?

Mr. Spring: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not here when I cited our manifesto commitment, which made it plain that we would not seek any extension. In the process of constant negotiation in the EU, we would want to return powers to national Parliaments. That is the crucial objective. If Labour Members who want the European Union to survive and prosper do not accept that the democratic deficit will undermine the structures and success of the EU, they do not understand the fundamental problems.

Mr. Doug Henderson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Spring: In a few minutes.

Several appointments will be subject to a qualified majority vote, and some are far from minor. The high representative for common, foreign and security policy will be subject to QMV under article 207(2) TEC, which is covered by amendments Nos. 1 and 14. That raises the possibility of the EU's two permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—Britain and France—being outvoted on the appointment of the EU's foreign policy representative. Article 214 TEC covers the

11 Jul 2001 : Column 816

appointment of the Commission President, which is the subject of amendments Nos. 1 and 16. Does the Minister not agree that that appointment is vital? Without the veto, for example, Britain under the Conservatives would not have been able to prevent the appointment of Jean-Luc Dehaene.

4.45 pm

Article 214, as revised by Nice, states that the Council shall act by qualified majority in adopting the list of commissioners. That is meant to be

but that provides no guarantee that the list will be submitted to the Council. Will the Minister tell the House why it is necessary to extend QMV on that matter, or will he give the House a guarantee that no vote on future commissioners will be taken by QMV on the basis of the ideology of the commissioners concerned and against the wishes of the member states that are appointing them?

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale), the hon. Gentleman appeared to argue that it was necessary not to allow an extension of QMV because it would allow large nations to gang up on small ones, yet with his current example he appears to be making the opposite argument—he opposes extension because it would allow everyone else to gang up on a couple of the large nations, namely Britain and France. Will he make clear which of the two reasons worries him most, or is it the case that he is opposed to any extension of QMV and any old argument will do?

Mr. Spring: Again, I am disappointed—the hon. Lady does not understand the principle that we are trying to establish. We want a line to be drawn about the remorseless process of political integration that is occurring under the EU, to which the Government appear to subscribe in the absence of any clear alternative. We Conservatives, on the other hand, have set out a clear vision of a much more flexible and diverse EU wherein the one-size-fits-all policy—an ossified example of 1950s and 1960s thinking, frozen in time—is finished for good. Ours is a conception of an EU that should work and our amendments to the Bill represent part of that vision.

Later, I shall speak in detail to new clause 11, which deals with extensions of the social chapter to structural fund issues. For now, does the Minister accept that the loss of the veto would leave Britain powerless to stop British regions losing out under the provision? The amendment merely asks the Government to be open and honest about the effect of the proposed change on the regions of this country.

Originally, the Government clearly opposed measures such as those on enhanced co-operation, but they gave way on QMV while offering contradictory justifications, saying that the matters given away were either necessary for the smooth functioning of the EU or unimportant.

I hope that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will speak in this afternoon's Committee consideration of a highly important series of issues. I conclude by saying that the confusion arises from a Government who, unlike the Governments of so many of our European partners,

11 Jul 2001 : Column 817

have no clear view of the architecture of the EU or of what it should be in the next few years and decades to come.

Mr. Doug Henderson: As several Members observed on Second Reading, the Conservatives are clearly in some difficulty. I expected the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) to say that, given that difficulty, he would be guided by his party's 2001 manifesto, but he told us at the start of his speech that he was still being guided by the Conservatives' 1997 manifesto.

Mr. Miller: More like 1897.

Mr. Henderson: If my knowledge of history serves me, right, that slightly predates the establishment of the European Union.

My electors, watching this afternoon's debate on cable television, will see the hint of hypocrisy that tinges the Conservative party's position on qualified majority voting. Avid watchers of such debates will remember that under the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty, many extensions were made to QMV. I hate to repeat a point that has been made many times in the Chamber during debates on these matters, but it needs to be said that in the Single European Act, Conservative Members agreed to 12 extensions of QMV. They knew at the time that if those extensions were not included, the Act would not work because countries would just say, "We're sorry, this issue is not in our interest, bang bang." At the same time, Conservative Members do not say that the Single European Act is the most important thing in the EU, but that it is the only thing that matters in the EU. They therefore recognise the need for QMV in the only thing that they regard as a virtue of the EU.

Mr. Hendrick: My hon. Friend said that the Conservatives agreed to 12 measures on QMV in the Single European Act. I remind him that they agreed to some 30 such measures in the Maastricht treaty. Does that not smack of hypocrisy?

Mr. Henderson: My hon. Friend is right, and I am grateful for his foresight of my next point. The Conservative party was not unanimous about the Maastricht treaty but, to be fair, most Conservative Members recognised that the treaty was essential if Europe was to hold together, be stable and develop, and accepted that obligations were involved. One obligation was that Parliament could not have exclusive control over decisions on certain issues and that sovereignty had to be pooled on issues where an EU view was needed to prevent a country from vetoing any proposal that it found to be against its interests or that it did not want.

Electors in my constituency and elsewhere who are watching our debate will say that there is at least some hypocrisy in the Conservative position. If there was hypocrisy in the past, there is neanderthalism today. Opposition Members have their heads in the sand. Even when the tiger is coming up behind, the ostrich is still bending down. Essentially, in their proposals, the Conservatives are saying, "We don't care how practical a

11 Jul 2001 : Column 818

proposal is; we don't even care if it's only in Britain's interest. Under no circumstances will we agree to QMV on any issue at any time."

Mr. Bercow: I am exceptionally grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way because he has blood on his hands from piloting the treaty of Amsterdam in 1998. I am increasingly frustrated by his contribution. Will he confirm his recollection of 19 January 1998, when we debated in detail some of these matters, including subsidiarity and proportionality, that many of us made clear our consistent opposition to QMV in both the treaty of Maastricht and the treaty of Amsterdam?

Next Section

IndexHome Page