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Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Does my hon. Friend agree with the verdict reached in the 19th century by the great philosopher John Stuart Mill, that peoples who lack fellow feeling and who speak and read different languages cannot achieve the common public opinion necessary for representative government?

Mr. Spring: As always, my hon. Friend brings a welcome sense of erudition and historical perspective to our debate.

Who is to say that future measures introduced under the Nice treaty will not reintroduce such discrimination? Who is to say that regulations on matters other than funding will not be introduced that disadvantage pan-European parties with non-integrationist views, or that start making reference to some of the more controversial aspects of the charter of fundamental rights—such as the right to strike—as a condition for recognition? Safeguards on the non-funding aspects of regulations are not covered at all by declaration 11.

Future Governments, in the UK or elsewhere, may not be able to block such measures. Does that not illustrate the sheer folly of abandoning unanimity in this area?

That brings me to the most fundamental point of all. Even if there were no chance at all of discrimination against non-integrationist parties, we would still not support this article. It is a matter of principle. The EU institutions simply should not be getting involved in this area; it should not be their business.

It seemed for a long time that the Labour party agreed with us, at least on the changes proposed at Nice. Prior to Nice, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon

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(Mr. Maples) put the following point to the then Foreign Secretary, who is now the Leader of the House. At the sitting of the Foreign Affairs Committee of 21 November 2000, my hon. Friend said:

The right hon. Gentleman replied:

I hope that the Minister will explain what happened at Nice to ensure that the Government signed up to a measure about which they were not enthusiastic. The familiar pattern of build-up, muddle, contradiction and lack of direction is evident again in relation to this matter.

It was also reported in January that both UK Commissioners opposed the draft plans for a party statute. In The Times of 25 January, Neil Kinnock reportedly objected for

In fact, there seem to be so many arguments against this new treaty provision that, on the face of it, it is difficult to see why it should be proposed. However, a further look at what the Commission has been saying makes its longer-term intentions clear.

In its report entitled "Adapting the Institutions to Make a Success of Enlargement", published in January 2000, the Commission stated:

The report goes on:

By endorsing the measures in the Nice treaty, the Government are encouraging further steps to be taken down that path that, frankly, most people in this country would find unacceptable.

The two new clauses would not even stop article 2.19 of Nice being incorporated into United Kingdom law—that has already been voted on as part of amendment No. 1. They would simply provide for certain safeguards. I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members listening objectively to what I say will understand the need for such safeguards.

New clause 5 would provide a chance for scrutiny by the House of any regulations adopted under this paragraph. That would stop the issue being swept under the carpet. If the measures are as harmless as the Government claim, they have nothing to fear from new clause 5. They would have even less to fear from new clause 4, which would merely provide for openness about the amount that the different parties receive. There would be an annual report from the Government, and what could be more open, transparent or fair than that?

Following the report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the House has provided for new levels of openness and scrutiny in the funding and regulation of

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UK political parties, including public disclosure of contributions. There was substantial debate on the measures contained in that report.

It is vital that the measures on EU-wide political parties should not be allowed to slip through without similar scrutiny. I believe that it is owed to the House of Commons and the people of Britain that those standards are upheld and maintained on this basis. The Commission and others want this to be an area of growing activity in years to come. If it is, it will have a growing impact on the work of the political parties represented in the House. I therefore look forward to cross-party support for the important safeguards contained in the new clauses. They have everything to do with parliamentary accountability and the role of national Parliaments, and we intend to press the matter to a vote in due course.

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston): I am not surprised by the comments of the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring). The debate on the treaty has been going on for a few days now, and it is clear that Conservative Members are opposed to any form of co-operation or integration with our European partners, even where political parties in their own part of the political spectrum are concerned.

I wish to deal with a few of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. Political parties in Europe already receive funding through the European Parliament to promote activities on behalf of their political groups—not their national parties—which share interests across national boundaries. That is legitimate activity, and as the hon. Gentleman said, it includes parties such as the PPE, the PES and the ELDR. I believe that the Conservatives were fairly close to the PPE at one time but, given that they have moved further to the right, they might not be accepted into it, even if they wished to be.

More than 100 political parties sit in the European Parliament. If decisions are to be made and groups are to work cohesively, they need resources and funding, and unless they are made available, we will see a sclerosis in the European Parliament that will bring the whole place to a halt. That is why funding has been made available in the past and needs to be made available in the future.

5 pm

There was talk about non-integrationist parties. That means perhaps parties that do not want to join one of the political groups. They are perfectly free to hold that position; they can receive funding to support their views even though they do not wish to integrate with other parties in the European Parliament. So that point needs clearing up. Just because the Conservative party does not wish to join the PPE does not mean to say that it is not eligible for funds.

Mr. Bercow: How does the hon. Gentleman square the observation that he has just made with the contents of the Schleicher report and specifically its emphasis on the importance of European political parties being instrumental in securing public support for the European integration project?

Mr. Hendrick: I am sure that the report has been passed since I left the European Parliament in 1999. I know Mrs. Schleicher well; I was friendly with her. Given the preponderance of right-wing parties in the European

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Parliament, her view is not necessarily held by parties such as mine. To answer the question directly, the hon. Gentleman supposes that any funding received centrally, albeit out of taxpayers' money, would necessarily be unpopular among the general population. A poll has never been taken to see whether that is the case. It is merely the assertion of the Conservative party.

Any non-integrationist party, as the Conservative party would presumably call itself, would be eligible for funding. If it chose not to receive it—to my knowledge, the Conservative party has not done so in the past—it would be perfectly entitled to do so.

Let us look at the figures. The hon. Member for West Suffolk mentioned 7 million euros. Given that we are looking at a Community of more than 350 million people, and that that could rise to 500 million people, 7 million euros—roughly £5 million—is chickenfeed. To make out that the cost will be a major burden on the European taxpayer and that the money that is being provided is immoral is a travesty.

Let us look at the facts about the Conservative party in Europe. It is not a member of the PPE—

Mr. Bercow: EPP.

Mr. Hendrick: In French, it is PPE. I am happy to correct the hon. Gentleman. Conservative Members often mention the European Democratic Union. There are some very right-wing organisations in that group. We have seen associations between the Conservatives and the Alleanza Nazionale in Italy and Forza Europa. It is clear which way the Conservative party is moving, and it is not towards mainstream European political activity.

If the Conservative party is not integrationist, I find that strange for a party that supposedly wants to stay in the EU. A union, by its very name, means that one wants to come together to co-operate and integrate. It is strange that the Conservatives are not coming clean with the electorate, as they should have done before the general election. All the sham about renegotiating treaties is just a front for withdrawal. Conservative Members want to withdraw from the EU.

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