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From 2014, the number of commissioners will be reduced so that two thirds of member states provide a commissioner at any one time, with every country taking equal turns. The members of the Commission will still, as now, be decided by national Governments, acting on qualified majority voting, and by the European Parliament. The treaty also reduces the size of the European Parliament, with the number of MEPs capped at 751down from the current 785.
Mr. Goodwill: The Minister makes no mention of the Economic and Social Committee or the Committee of the Regions, which are both very expensive and, in my opinion, superfluous. Will the Minister tell me what those two bodies bring to the picnic and can he defend their continuation?
Mr. Murphy: I believe that the Committee of the Regions is important, because it provides a significant opportunity for those who do not live with or practise the politics of civic society in the capital cities of sovereign member states to become involved in consultations and offer their views. It is an important dynamic, showing the multi-layered nature of the EU, and I believe that removing it would be a weakness.
The second group of changes relates to better decision making and accountability. This group of reforms alters the way in which the EU takes decisions and the means of accountability for them. It provides new powers for national Parliaments; more effective decision making where it is in the UKs interests; and explicitly sets out the EUs competencesand where those competences endfor the first time.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Has the Minister seen the authoritative report published this week about the operation of the artists resale right directive? The Government voted against it, but it was passed by a majority vote. The Government opposed it on the grounds that it would damage the British art market, which is much the biggest in Europe. The report confirms that that damage has occurred. Does the Minister think it wise to extend majority voting to a further 51 areas? Will that not ensure that in future the views and priorities of this Government and this Parliament will be overridden, to the detriment of British interests?
Mr. Murphy: I do not agree with the right hon. Gentlemans assertion. The areas in which we have agreed to the extension of qualified majority voting are those in which we want quicker decision making, and want to remove the power of any one member state to block that decision making.
Two groups of amendments to the European Union (Amendment) Bill have been tabled in my name. Will the Minister be good enough to explain exactly what would be left to the United Kingdom in terms of
sovereignty, given that, as he well knows, the notions of shared competence and exclusive competence mean that we would no longer be able to legislate in certain areas? On what does he believe we would still be able to legislate, comprehensively?
As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, the setting out of competences does not change the position in any legal sense; it simply clarifies it. Article 1(6) of the Lisbon treatyarticle 5.2 on page 6 of the consolidated treatystates that
the Union shall act only within the limits of the competences conferred upon it by the Member States in the Treaties to attain the objectives set out therein. Competences not conferred upon the Union in the Treaties remain with the Member States.
Mr. Murphy: I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I will tell him what is left. The United Kingdom Government set this out in great detail. It has been made very clear that on issues of defence and international policy, social security, justice and home affairsall the big national issues in relation to which it makes sense for national Parliaments and national Governments to act in unanimitythey reserve that right.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Can the Minister confirm that 99 per cent. of European Union national income stays in the hands of member states, and that of the 1 per cent. that goes to Brussels, 85 per cent. is sent back to them for disbursement? Moreover, according to the House of Commons Library, fewer than 10 per cent. of the laws that we pass here emanate from Europe and more than 90 per cent. are our laws, made in this House.
Ms Gisela Stuart: Does the Minister agree that there is one area in which we should have moved to qualified majority voting, but have not done so? I refer to the vote that determines the seat of the European Parliament. I think that we should have removed the French veto and moved to qualified majority voting, and that the European Parliament should have sat only in Brussels.
Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend has argued that case for some time. It is an established arrangement for the European Parliament to sit in Strasbourg for one week, although I am sure that that arrangement can and will be examined as part of the continuing reform of the European Parliament.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab):
Will the Minister give us an indicationperhaps later in the debate, if not nowof how frequently the United Kingdom is on the losing side of a QMV vote, and how frequently we are on the winning side? I suspect that we are on the winning side on the overwhelming majority of occasions, and that the United Kingdom is able to persuade other European Union members to agree with us on what we
think is right for this country. There is give and take in all negotiations. We need to assess how often we lose and how often we win under QMV to gain some sense of proportion, and to determine whether QMV is worth engaging in.
Mr. Murphy: It is absolutely clear that in the vast majority of casesI will happily put what is available on the public record and into the public domainthe UK is effective in achieving a blocking minority where we seek to do so, and that will be protected even further under the new arrangements that will be put in place by 2017 and the double majority voting changes.
Mr. Clappison: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He has just said that he is happy with all the concessions made on qualified majority voting, but let us take just one example, although an important one: the QMV that the treaty introduces for proposals made by the new high representative. When this matter first came before the intergovernmental conference, the Ministers predecessor, now the Secretary of State for Justice, opposed it, saying it was simply unacceptable. Why did the Government at that time find it to be simply unacceptable?
The Lisbon treaty gives national Parliaments a direct say in making European laws for the first time. Every national Parliament will receive proposals for new EU legislation directly. They may judge whether the proposal conforms to the principles of subsidiarity. If one third of national Parliaments object, the proposal will be sent back for review by the Commission. If a majority of national Parliaments oppose a Commission proposal, and national Governments or MEPs agree, it can be struck down.
Each national Parliament gets two votes, so for the UK this House and another place will each have a yellow and orange card to play. As I suggested to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, how that is exercised will be a matter for Parliament to decide. We will work with both Houses to ensure that an effective mechanism is in place to allow Parliament to exercise its new rights from the date of entry into force of the Lisbon treaty.
This is an opportunity, not any kind of threat. However, the original House of Commons ESC report on the IGC of 9 October 2007on which my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk did sterling worksaid:
We wish to emphasise that the proposals in the Reform Treaty raise a serious difficulty of a constitutional order in as much as they appear to impose, whether by accident or design, a legal duty on national parliaments to contribute actively to the good functioning of the Union by taking part in various described activities.
Although we did not share the ESCs view, we listened to the concerns raised and secured changes to the text to make it clear that national Parliaments have the right to contribute to the work of the Union but are not obliged to do so. We are sure that the text is now unambiguous and that there is no question of any obligation on national Parliaments. All member states and the EU institutions are clear that the final text confers rights on national Parliaments, but does not impose obligations.
Mr. Cash: I do not think the Minister intended to do so, but he has slightly misconstruedso to speakwhat the ESC said in its follow-up report, where we made it crystal clear in the concluding provision that it would be intolerable for there to be any ambiguity in respect of any suggestion that an EU obligation should be imposed on our Parliament, and that that would, of course, be inconsistent with the whole of our constitutional arrangements. That is what the ESC said, and it is backed by the most learned opinionsby Queens counsel and many others. I know that the Minister did not mean to mislead the House.
As I have said, although we did not share the concerns expressed, we nevertheless acted to secure changes to the text. The House of Lords EU Select Committee stated in its report of 1 November 2007 that while it accepted the reassurances that the treaty was not intended to impose obligations on national Parliaments,
we considered it necessary to ensure that the phraseology was correct while the interests of national parliaments were appropriately presented in the text...We were accordingly pleased to have heard that the word shall has been eliminated from the English text.
the way in which national Parliaments scrutinise their governments in relation to the activities of the European Union is a matter for the particular constitutional organisation and practice of each Member State?
Mr. Murphy: My right hon. Friend is correct. She amplifies the point that I was making in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, who is Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, and my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody)it is for national Parliaments to resolve the way in which they structure the new rights offered to them.
National Parliaments contribute...to the good functioning of the Union.
The word shall was taken out. Paragraph 16 of the European Scrutiny Committees third report of Session 2007-08 suggested that the word may should have replaced the word shall. May I inform the Minister that at the conference of the Chairs of European Committees on 18 February, a representative of another Parliament said clearly that Parliaments shall contribute? When we questioned that, we were told, They must contribute. It says so in the treaty. Clearly the interpretation outside this House is that removing the word shall has not diminished the compulsion to contribute seen by others.
Mr. Murphy: I believe that my hon. Friend was attending a COSAC meeting, where he has an opportunity to discuss these issues with his equivalentsthe Chairs of the Scrutiny Committees in the other 26 national Parliaments. The second Chambers of those national Parliaments are also involved in such meetings. It is clearwe are precise about thisthat we responded to concerns that he raised. He has been fair enough to observe that in another place. [Interruption.] He has acknowledged from a sedentary position that he agrees with that. As to how we persuade other European Parliaments, as the treaty is ratified across the European Union it will be clear that other national Parliaments will have to adjust their rules and the way in which they operate. I would not seek to interfere in how another national Parliament organised its business.
Hon. Members on both sides wish to make their contributions, so I shall now make some progress. The treaty extends qualified majority voting, and that will offer faster decision making where the UK wants to see more effective EU action. I cannot accept the view of some hon. Members that in respect of this new treaty alone there is no case for moves to QMV. I believe, the Government believe and the rest of the European Union believes that the case is a strong one.
Mr. Clappison: I take it that the Minister is referring to the very important provisionI believe it is article 48that enables the European Council to move from unanimity to QMV in a wide area of decision making. The Government originally opposed that at the time of their 2003 White Paper, saying that it would undermine the role of national Parliaments. Why have they changed their mind?
Mr. Murphy: In response to that fair point, may I say that there is clearly a triple lock on any of these changes? It is a triple lock of the European Parliament, the European Council and any national Parliament. Alone in the European Union, this Government have proposedthe provision is in clause 6 of the Billthat any move from unanimity to QMV would require the assent of this place and the other place before it was to happen. As far as I can ascertain, we are the only Government who have taken the opportunity to provide that additional protection and power to a national Parliament.
Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): If there is a move towards greater use of qualified majority voting, the introduction of double majority voting from 2014 will mean that the UKs share of votes in the Council will rise to 12 per cent., from 8 per cent., giving us that much more power.
Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend has great experience of these issues and he is absolutely correct. Our share in the Council of Ministers will go from 8 to 12 per cent. and our share of a blocking minority will go from 32 to 35 per cent.
Mr. Harper: On the QMV point raised by the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), who is no longer in his place, could the Ministerwhen he has finished furnishing the House with the interesting data about the votes in which we were not outvotedput on record whether the Government calculate whether they could win a vote before deciding what position to take?
Mr. Murphy: What an innovative idea! I cannot go further than putting on the record those votes in which we were outvoted. I can only assume that if we force an issue to a vote, we anticipate winning that vote. The two lists are probably one and the same thing.
Mr. Ian Taylor: It was obvious in the last Conservative Government that good Ministers rarely had problems with voting, as they could dominate what happened in the Council of Ministers. Given that there are extra blocking minority powers now, I am sure that even Labour Ministers can keep up that record.
Mr. Murphy: I was with the hon. Gentleman right up to his last few syllables. Thus far, in the vast majority of cases under Governments of both parties, effective Ministers supported by first class civil servants have enabled the UK to achieve its objectives. The institutions have been structured in a way that will strengthen the UKs hand in the future, not weaken it.
Michael Connarty: I wish to raise a technical point. QMV will be introduced for areas in which it is not used at the moment. One of them is the famous passerelle clause, which the Prime Minister has said will be dealt with on the Floor of the House. There are all the other opt-in areas, and I understand that there are 70 or 80 of them. When they are transposed into the new Community method under the treaty, they will be subject to QMV. Has the Minister given any further thought to the point that I made on Second Reading about the procedure for that? I am concerned that that should not be decided under the statutory instrument procedure, off the Floor of the House, because those issues are the business of this Chamber.
Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend talks with great authority on these issues. Alone in the EU, this Government have provided the protection enabled in clause 4 of the Bill which means that any moves from unanimity to QMV could be vetoed by the House. The exact way we configure that will be an issue for dialogue and the decisions that we need to have in place in time for the commencement of the treaty across the European Union.
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