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Mr. Cash: I beg to move amendment No. 54, in page 1, line 9, after "to", insert "4 and 6 to".

The First Deputy Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 39, page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—

'other than Article 2, paragraph 11'.

No. 71, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—

'other than Article 2, paragraph 38'.

No. 72, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—

'other than Article 2, paragraph 39'.

No. 73, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—

'other than Article 2, paragraph 40'.

No. 74, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—

'other than Article 2, paragraph 42'.

No. 75, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—

'other than Article 2, paragraph 43'.

No. 76, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—

'other than Article 2, paragraph 45'.

No. 77, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—

'other than Article 2, paragraph 46'.

No. 96, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—

'other than Article 3, paragraph 19'.

No. 97, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—

'other than Article 3, paragraph 20'.

No. 98, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—

'other than Article 3, paragraph 21'.

No. 99, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—

'other than Article 3, paragraph 22'.

No. 101, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—

'other than Article 3, paragraph 24'.

Mr. Cash: We come now to an entirely different subject, social protection, which is very important and

17 Jul 2001 : Column 236

related to the blank cheque book that I have mentioned. What is actually happening is that we are introducing laws that are not capable of being reversed in any reasonable sense as any future amendment would require the agreement of all the member states. There is no apparent intention to amend the provisions, but they entail vast costs. It is perfectly right that there should be social protection in certain areas and I have never had a problem with that. Indeed, when my party was in government, we introduced laws—

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could help the Chair and explain how what he is now referring to relates to the amendment on various institutional matters. We are debating amendment No. 54.

Peter Hain: On a point of order, Mrs. Heal. With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, whose diligence on these matters is well known, he is not speaking to the amendments and I respectfully suggest that either we should move immediately to a conclusion or that he should speak to the subject we are debating.

The First Deputy Chairman: I have asked the hon. Gentleman to address the amendment under discussion.

Mr. Cash: Under the circumstances, I am perfectly prepared to move on, as the Chair may request, but I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) has some remarks to make on these provisions. By the time that he has finished, I will have had the opportunity to find the place in my notes. I understand what the Minister has said, and I am happy that my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk should take up the thread.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. Has the hon. Gentleman finished moving the amendment?

Mr. Cash: Yes, indeed. I invite my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk to pick up the thread of the argument. I shall return to it later.

Mr. Spring: This group is another miscellaneous group of provisions, and I shall keep my remarks short.

Amendment No. 39 relates to the new Social Protection Committee. We will be discussing social policy in connection with new clause 6 at a later date, so at this stage perhaps the Minister could provide us with some further information on the role of that Committee.

The issue arises from the Council decision of June 2000 setting up the Committee to strengthen co-operation on social protection policies. It is meant to promote exchanges of information, formulate opinions and the like. Its remit under the treaty has been expanded slightly, so that it will now be charged with monitoring the social situation in member states.

This would appear to be another example of Ministers' views evolving somewhat during the Nice discussions. The hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) asked the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell), now the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, about the Social Protection Committee during a debate in European Standing Committee C in November. The right hon. Lady said the proposal for a

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Committee would need to be examined very closely before it was given support. Can the Minister say why the result of that examination was to change ministerial scepticism into support? What was the reasoning behind establishing a new treaty base for the Committee and broadening its remit? Can he assure the House that this will not lead to a further increase in the number of social policy measures, including harmonisation, arising from the EU institutions? Each member state appoints two members of the Committee. Can he tell us how the UK representatives are chosen?

Perhaps the Minister could also set out how he sees two of the other Committees included in this group developing in future years—namely, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Both sets of members will now be appointed by qualified majority voting.

The Nice treaty stipulates that the Economic and Social Committee represents

The Minister of State's predecessor told the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies) in a written answer that the aim would be to make the UK delegation as representative as possible. What progress is being made in that respect?

Finally, is it the intention that the role of the Committee of the Regions will increase? I appreciate that UK representatives on that Committee are all from local government, the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh or Northern Ireland Assemblies, but the same is not true of the appointments from other countries. There is some worry that the EU's concern for regions, including transnational regions, is intended to undermine Europe's national identities.

Does the Minister agree that genuine decentralisation should be to local government, and that regional government is more distant from local communities? Will he be cautious about any expansion in the role of regionalism in the European Union?

9 pm

Denzil Davies: The first amendment in this group is No. 54. I have always found it useful if the hon. Member moving an amendment reads out the bit that locates the text to be amended. In this case, it is clause 1, page 1, line 9. The amendment states:

which I assume means "to 10". The numbers refer to paragraphs in article 2. I am sure that I will be corrected if I am not right when I say that one of the amendment's purposes, therefore, is to delete paragraph 5 from article 2. Thanks to a piece of paper issued by the Foreign Office at the last minute, I have been able to find the treaty. Looking at paragraph 5 in article 2, I see that we are dealing once more with a subject that is an old friend. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister—whose letter I have not yet received—will not mind if I ask familiar questions.

I think that paragraph 5 refers to article 100 in the consolidated treaty of the European Communities, which is to be replaced. Thanks to the bit of paper from the Foreign Office, I have found that as well. Basically, article

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100 allows qualified majority voting in certain situations where unanimity was previously required. It has been around for a long time. The draftsmen, out of a sense of tidiness, have inserted a reference to "natural disasters", but, except for the phrase "qualified majority", there is little to distinguish the proposed change from the original version.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can answer some questions on article 100, which, in its new version, will state in paragraph 1 that

I do not want to be a pedantic Welsh lawyer, but what is the word "the" doing there? Which economic situation are we talking about?

The paragraph goes on to say

That is a complete mystery. I apologise again if I sound pedantic, but the House is legislating. The treaty is not the gobbledegook that the EU might churn out almost every two years, and one must hypothesise that it will become British law. If the matter ever came before the courts, lawyers could make a lot of money out of those words.

To contend that the supply of certain products might be in difficulty in this world of global capitalism is a strange concept. Which products are we talking about? I presume that the supply will be difficult within the European Union. Perhaps the article is referring to oil. I do not know. Apart from Britain, none of the EU member states produce crude oil. May we be told which products? The type of products must be in the mind of the person who drafted article 100. That person did not pick the words "certain products" out of the air. What on earth is the first paragraph of article 100 getting at?

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