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Mr. William Cash (Stone): This is an interesting point. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has heard about amendments to the intergovernmental conferences that take place from time to time. The very Bill that we are debating is the product of renegotiation. If we are renegotiating the treaty of Amsterdam to turn it into the treaty of Nice, is that calling for withdrawal?

Mr. Hendrick: Of course it is not. The hon. Gentleman knows well that that is not the case, because the Government are approaching the negotiation positively. We know that the Opposition oppose not only the Nice treaty, but the Amsterdam and Maastricht treaties. They want to unravel decades of European development and our agreements with European member states, which have kept the peace for many years in Europe. They want to wreck the treaties, stretching back to the first treaty at Messina.

Mr. Bercow: I am exceptionally grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way because he is over-reaching himself. He is in danger—I put it no stronger than that

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because it is a matter for you, Mrs. Heal—of straying from the confines of new clause 4 in the broad historical sweep in which he has just engaged. Does he seriously contend that opposition to the proposals on the funding of pan-European political parties is somehow a byword for withdrawal? That is an absurd proposition, even by his standards.

Mr. Hendrick: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his usual entertaining intervention, but it does not get away from the fact that the proposal on pan-European political parties is just one of many that, as we have seen during the past few days, the Conservative party want to introduce to wreck the Nice treaty.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk made the point that the RPR is not a member of—I say it again—the PPE. Of course, it is not, but the UDF—another centre-right party in France—is a member, so the presumption that, because there is an exception, Conservative or right-wing parties do not necessarily have to be members of the PPE and, therefore, that they are not integrationist is not the majority view. The majority of Conservative and Christian Democrat parties are members of the PPE, and it says more about the Conservative party in this country than it does about its sister parties in Europe that it opposes such measures. Let us be honest: the Conservative party is not interested in the European Parliament or the European Commission; it is not interested in a European Union.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): That was a partisan contribution to our deliberations—perhaps a little more partisan than some that we heard earlier in the Committee's consideration of such matters, and I shall try, so far as I can, to be a little more objective.

Of course, it is worth reminding ourselves that, under article 190(5), there is a move towards qualified majority voting on the general conditions and regulations that govern the performance and duties of Members of the European Parliament, but that taxation remains the subject of unanimity. I understand that that was one of Her Majesty's Government's stipulations that was accepted as part of the discussions in Nice. It is also worth saying that the EU Court of Auditors has consistently called for a statute to regulate European political parties and to ensure transparency in funding, and I shall return to that in a moment.

From what I have said so far, the House may have deduced that I support the changes made in articles 190 and 191, but notwithstanding that fact, I have considerable sympathy with new clause 4, and if it is pressed to a Division, my hon. Friends and I will most certainly support the official Opposition in the Lobby. Whatever one's analysis—we heard one from the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) and another from the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick)—I do not understand how one could possibly resist the suggestion that there should be openness and transparency in scrutinising the use of taxpayers' funds to enable democratic politics to be undertaken at European level.

I should be interested to hear what compelling arguments the Government have on new clause 4, because I should have thought it precisely consistent with those

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principles of openness that have become much more readily part of our political system. Those principles may require further development, but we are being open about financial contributions to political parties and their sources, and there is absolutely no difference in principle in being similarly open about precisely what sums have gone to the political parties represented in this Parliament under the proposed arrangements for political parties in the EU.

Angus Robertson: Following that logic, would the right hon. and learned Gentleman support the proposition that Members of the Scottish Parliament should be able to scrutinise the dissemination of moneys to political parties represented in this House?

Mr. Campbell: What lies behind that intervention is an attempt to make the Scottish Parliament the equivalent of the Westminster Parliament. We understand that that is the raison d'être of the Scottish National party, but it is the United Kingdom that is a member of the European Union, and it is the United Kingdom Parliament that has the responsibility for ensuring that Britain's relationships with the EU are proper and that the necessary supervision is carried out. I do not agree that those matters should become the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament. They might do some day, if the hon. Gentleman's prayer is answered and Scotland becomes independent, but that day is a long way off, and for the moment I see no reason why the Scottish Parliament should be invited to intervene in an issue that is essentially one for the Westminster legislature.

My party has long called for a statute to regulate the affairs of MEPs. It seems that 25 years after the European Parliament was first directly elected, the current system of expenses, including travel expenses, and reimbursements remains, to say the least, complex, opaque and, in many respects, indefensible. It is fair to say that British MEPs have, on various occasions, sought to argue the case for a system much more akin to that in this Parliament, and MEPs of all parties are to be supported and congratulated on having done that. However, that view has not prevailed.

It seems to me, echoing the theme of openness once again, that if we are concerned in our domestic politics to be open and subject to scrutiny, not only should the Government accept the notion of a report of the kind identified and embraced in new clause 4, but the European Union should make a clear statement of the terms and conditions for all Members and their salary, travel and office expenses. We are all concerned about the connection between the electorate and Parliament, and in particular between the British electorate and the European Parliament, and a statute of the kind that I am suggesting would make a substantial contribution to that. There is no doubt that the European Parliament ought to have more power to hold other EU institutions to account, but with an extension of such power must come responsibility, and with an extension of responsibility must come more transparency.

I shall conclude with an observation about the European Parliament which I suspect will get some support from most quarters of the House. It is increasingly difficult to justify the ludicrous state of affairs whereby the Parliament is required to decamp from Brussels to Strasbourg for a week every month. There are those who

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have estimated that the savings made by ending that procedure would be some £100 million a year. I simply cannot see the justification for continuing it. I do not for a moment minimise the difficulty of persuading the French to give up what they see almost as an inalienable right, but if we are serious about reforming the European Union, that seems to me to be one of the more obvious reforms, and one that would make instantaneous financial savings.

The changes in articles 190 and 191 are perfectly reasonable, and they should be supported. New clause 4, which would introduce the transparency and scrutiny to which I referred, is similarly worthy of support and I repeat that if the matter is pressed to a Division, I will invite and advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to support it.

Roger Casale (Wimbledon): I shall make a short contribution to this important debate about article 191 of the treaty of Nice, which creates the legal base for the Council to introduce a statute to regulate European political parties. I emphasise the word "regulate", because anyone listening to the debate might think that as a result of the measures that we will pass this evening, we are creating some new beast in the European jungle, in the form of transnational parties, that will threaten our country's well-being and independence.

5.15 pm

Of course, as my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) pointed out, transnational parties have existed in Europe for some time. There are a number of such groupings in the European Parliament representing the Christian Democrats, the Liberal Democrats, the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Communists. The fact that the Conservative party has decided not to participate in such transnational groupings does not mean that they do not already exist. Let us remind ourselves of the important function that they perform.

In a world increasingly conditioned by international flows of money, international movements of labour, and regulations and directives passed in co-operation with other European countries in an international context, it is right that there should be a parallel process of the formation of democratic will across civic society. That is one of the important functions that political parties in our country and transnational European political parties can perform.

Transnational parties can help the people of Europe to think about the policies that they want for Europe, to the extent that those policies will be decided at a transnational level in the future. Transnational parties provide a valuable tool for putting forward such policies and finding out the common ground across European peoples and societies, parallel to the way in which political parties do that in our own society.


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