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Firearms (Amendment)

Mr. Jonathan R. Shaw, supported by Mr. Vernon Coaker, Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews, Mr. Tony Banks, Mr. David Amess, Mr. Mike Hancock, Norman Baker and Mr. David Hinchliffe presented a Bill to make provision for the regulation of the purchase of air weapons: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 30 November, and to be printed [Bill 27].

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Orders of the Day

European Communities (Amendment) Bill

[3rd Allotted Day]

Considered in Committee [Progress, 17 July].

[Sylvia Heal in the Chair]

New Clause 4

Political parties at European level (No. 1)

'Her Majesty's Government should lay before Parliament an annual report setting out the funds received by political parties at European level of which political parties represented in UK Parliament are members, pursuant to Article 2, paragraph 19 of the Treaty of Nice.'.—[Mr. Spring.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.39 pm

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sylvia Heal): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment (a) to the proposed clause, in line 1, leave out "should" and insert "shall".

New clause 5—Political parties at European level (No. 2)

'Regulations governing political parties at European level and rules regarding their funding adopted under Article 191 of the Treaty establishing the European Community as amended by Article 2 paragraph 19 of the Treaty of Nice, shall not have legal effect in the United Kingdom unless approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.'.

Mr. Spring: New clauses 4 and 5 relate to an issue of fundamental importance to the House and to the future development of the European Union—the funding and regulation of pan-European political parties. The treaty of Nice allows the Council of Ministers to lay down regulations governing political parties at a European level and, in particular, rules on their funding. I am aware that Ministers may point to the statement in declaration 11 claiming that there is no transfer of competence to the European Community. Currently, however, article 191 makes no mention whatever of the funding or regulation of parties.

The treaty of Nice amends article 191 on political parties. It adds:

which deals with co-decision making—

The existence of a treaty base under article 308 for the proposed draft party statute is by no means universally accepted. Indeed, the House's European Scrutiny Committee declined to clear the document for precisely that reason.

Therefore, Ministers signed up at Nice to placing in the treaties for the first time the power to regulate and fund political parties. They then went a step further and agreed

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that relevant measures would be decided by qualified majority voting. The Opposition believe that those decisions were wrong and that they merit a serious discussion in Committee and a detailed explanation from the Minister for Europe.

Our new clause 5 provides that specific parliamentary approval is needed before party political regulations can take effect in British law. New clause 4 provides for openness concerning the amount that different parties are receiving. If Labour Members intend to vote against our new clauses, the Committee should be told why they regard the proposals as unacceptable.

The Committee may be aware of the background to the developments. Currently, groups in the European Parliament receive funding from the Parliament. The Court of Auditors, however, has criticised the so-called leakage of those funds, which are intended for Members of the European Parliament but go instead into the hands of the European political parties themselves. Of course, we all support calls for more transparency in funding, but we believe that it is possible to achieve that objective by ensuring that such leakage stops.

All too typically, the European Union institutions intend to tackle the problem by becoming involved in an entirely new sphere. The idea is not only that groups in the European Parliament would receive funding, but that pan-European parties themselves would be funded directly by the EU taxpayer, and that with that funding would come the power for the EU to regulate. We believe that that is totally unacceptable.

First, it is wrong in principle for the EU to regulate political parties such as the European People's party, the party of European Socialists and the European Liberals, Democrats and Reformers.

Secondly, it is wrong for the EU taxpayer to be told that he or she has to pay for those political parties. To reiterate, we are talking not about contributing to the cost of the parties' work in the European Parliament, which is provided for separately, but about subsidising the parties themselves.

Thirdly, those provisions have the potential to discriminate systematically against non-integrationist political parties both in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

Fourthly, the ability to decide the regulations and funding not by unanimity but by QMV further increases the chances of the measures being used in a harmful and negative manner.

We are concerned about the draft statute for pan-European parties, which is proposed under current treaty bases and has been subject to lengthy discussion. Initially, 7 million euros are to be made available for party funding, divided between the five existing European political parties. It may be said that that is not a huge sum, but 7 million euros is 7 million too many in our view. There is potential for the amount to rise in future—that may even be inevitable—and its distribution may be discriminatory.

In advancing its proposal earlier this year, the Commission said:

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I am sure that we are grateful for that. However, our concern is that giving the money to pan-European political parties means that, in Britain and elsewhere, the effect is exactly the same in practice.

4.45 pm

Unlike Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative party is not a member of a pan-European political party. That is the distinction. Prior to the Nice Council, the former Foreign Secretary seemed to think, when he appeared in front of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, that we were members of the European People's party. We are not. Conservative MEPs are allied to the European People's party-European Democrats group in the European Parliament, but that is not a political party. Our party is not a member of the EPP itself, which is such a transnational party. We are not the UK branch of the EPP in the way that the Labour party is the UK branch of the party of European Socialists or the Liberal Democrat party is of the ELDR.

It is true that declaration 11 states that funding provisions shall apply on the same basis to all the political forces represented in the European Parliament. But if the second-largest national force in the European Parliament—namely the United Kingdom Conservative party—is not a member of any of the organisations receiving the funding, how can that principle be honoured?

It is also true that the draft party statute states that a union of European political parties may register a statute of a European political party for these purposes. The Conservative party is a member of the European Democrat Union, which is a centre-right grouping, encompassing a range of parties across the European continent. But as far as I understand it, the EDU wishes to remain as a union, and does not intend to register as a political party. And why should it?

Angus Robertson (Moray): Why is the hon. Gentleman asking a Government Minister of another party for guidance on how the Conservative party should find friends in Europe, just because no one is prepared to serve in the same group with it?

Mr. Spring: If the hon. Gentleman believes that that is the basis of our relationship with the EPP, he is classically misinformed.

As matters stand, even under the existing proposal and before the new treaty base is introduced, there may be discrimination in funding against organisations of which the main Opposition party in the UK is a member.

We are not alone. In France, the Gaullist RPR is not currently a member of a transnational party. Thus, the main centre-right parties in two of the four larger member states of the EU would lose out under these proposals. That may be an indication to the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) that we are not alone. This is not a coincidental effect. It is obviously more likely that a party that favours much greater European integration will want to sign itself up as part of a pan-European party.

Indeed, Labour politicians were reported in January as welcoming the fact that the Conservative party would be disadvantaged as a result of our non-integrationist political views. It serves us right, was the gist of what

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they said. Yet we are talking about taxpayers' money, paid by people with a wide range of views on European integration.

Any regulations introduced under the new part of article 191 will be agreed against the backdrop of the provisions of article 191 that already exist. They state that political parties at a European level are important because they are a


Does the Minister really believe that the powers now being introduced to regulate and fund European parties under that article will not be used systematically to further those aims? That is the explicit intention on the face of the treaty. How can it be right to use taxpayers' money in that way? That is the simple question that needs to be answered.

Declaration 11 makes it clear that national parties will not be funded under this article. However, the pan-European parties—and the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties are full members of that group—would be so funded. That will boost those parties' ability to promote their case, and it may also mean that the national parties benefit from having to pay lower subscriptions.

It is possible that the wording of the existing draft statute will be clarified during the course of the discussions to ensure that the EDU and other organisations will qualify.

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