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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: That is me!

Lord Grenfell: My Lords, I know that it sends my noble friend Lord Stoddart not only up the wall but over it! It was an absurdity that the parliament, while having the right to be consulted about the presidency, could only accept or reject the Commission as a whole. That anomaly has correctly been removed by Article 2 of the new treaty. What is important is that the exclusive right of member states to nominate the president is maintained. Critics such as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, grumble that the parliament can now block a nominee wanted by all the member states. In theory, the answer to that is yes. But the scenario is far fetched in reality. It would be very unusual to find a majority of parliamentarians so much out of sync with their governments in the Council on a matter of this nature, and the remote risk that they might is a price well worth paying for another step in the democratisation of the Union.

I am convinced that the British public will endorse the right of the European Parliament to have effective control of the actions of the Commission, and the Council when it acts collectively, so long as it is written in stone that it is the Parliament here in Westminster which sanctions the signing up to agreements with the Council of Ministers by our own Ministers. That is a

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proper division and sequencing of democratic control and the British people, whose intelligence is often underestimated by the Conservative Opposition, will, I believe, support that.

The same is true of the provision which strengthens the president's position regarding the composition of the Commission. It is only sensible that those appointed to the Commission should be persons capable of working harmoniously with the president to ensure the efficiency of the Commission's work as a whole. If the member states agree on a nominee for the presidency, and the parliament approves, it is only right that that person, duly approved by both states and parliament, should be granted the means to ensure a Commission that he or she can work with.

As a final point, perhaps I may say how gratified I am that the treaty incorporates the social chapter and that its terms will now be applied to this country, ending the unnecessary opt-out. There is no extension of QMV in the chapter. The accent is on encouraging. The new paragraph of Article 118 states that:

    "co-operation between member states through initiatives aimed at improving knowledge, developing exchanges of information and best practices, promoting innovative approaches and evaluating experiences in order to combat social exclusion".

With regard to any future European social legislation, it is up to us to negotiate successfully in the European Union to ensure that, as my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal put it in our July debate last year:

    "any new legislation in the social field is compatible both with the establishment of sensitive common standards for working conditions and with economic effectiveness".--[Official Report, 28/7/97; col.12.]

I am confident that the Government can do that.

The Amsterdam Treaty introduces some sensible, pragmatic amendments to the European treaties which have gone before it. It is by no means perfect, but it is a good advance. The amendments should be welcomed by all who favour a continuing process of enhancement of the efficiency, transparency and value of the Union's institution and operations. This Government signed up to treaty provisions which are, for the most part, intrinsically and measurably good for Britain. And in those few cases where our enthusiasm may have been muted, the Government have at least ensured, in accepting provisions as part of a negotiated package, that there is nothing to undermine our essential interests. The Government know well where the boundaries are set. I wish them well in the pursuit of the passage of this Bill and of the ratification of what I regard as a good treaty.

6.36 p.m.

Lord Garel-Jones: My Lords, I suppose that all treaties negotiated between six, 12 and now 15 nation states must be something of a disappointment, something of a compromise and something of a delaying tactic. As regards this treaty, I fear that the compromise and delay have perhaps reached the point of pusillanimity and of posing serious difficulties for the Union, as was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Cockfield.

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The noble Lord, Lord Shore, stated that today's debate has gone rather wide. Your Lordships may find my remarks a little prosaic because I intend to concentrate on two areas where I regard the treaty as having been something of a disappointment. The first is democratic accountability and institutional reform and the second is enlargement.

I take the view, which I am sure will be shared across your Lordships' House, that democracy begins at home. It does not end at home, but it begins at home. On the introduction of the Maastricht Bill, and the same is true with the Bill before us, it struck me as one of the areas where we must begin by looking at our own House. Here is a treaty with no more than three clauses. Parliament is invited to debate and discuss the treaty without being able to amend a single dot or comma. Naturally enough, in a lively Parliament such as ours that gives some offence to Members. I share in that feeling. The reason is that Parliament as a whole has not yet adapted to the hybrid nature of European Community business. We treat European Community business as a foreign affair. Therefore, once the treaty is negotiated it is presented to the House under the Ponsonby rules and the House has no alternative but to agree to this three-clause Bill which, as was the case with the Maastricht Treaty, affects up to 60 or 70 per cent. of the daily lives of our fellow citizens.

Therefore, it is quite important that Parliament, through the committee under the chairmanship of the Lord President of the Council, begins to address ways--and I know it is very difficult, but the Danes have found a way forward--by which Parliament itself can be much more closely involved with the Executive in the negotiating process so that we do not find the Executive coming to a British Parliament with a three-clause Bill and saying, "You can debate the Bill and talk about it as much as you like but you cannot amend it or alter it by a single dot or comma".

Just as important in terms of scrutiny and parliamentary involvement--and this is one of the key areas that we must get right in the next decade of the development of the European Union--is the way in which we scrutinise European Union draft directives. It is fair to say that the British Parliament, along with the Danish Parliament, does quite a good job. But it is not enough for us to do a good job. We must ensure that every other parliament is also given that opportunity. One of the things that struck me most forcibly when I was involved in those matters was that any British Minister--it was true of the government which I served and I am sure it is true of the present Government--went to Brussels feeling that parliamentary opinion was almost sitting on his shoulder. I very often felt that some of the other Ministers with whom I was negotiating were unencumbered by the difficulties which Ministers often face here.

The Amsterdam Treaty goes some way in that regard. There is a new protocol whereby the COSAC Committee--the Conference on European Affairs Committee--is now able to meet and make formal although not yet binding recommendations to the body of the European Union. But in my view, we must go

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much further than that. A number of years ago, the French Government made a proposal for a parliamentary assise. It was not a success. It was a kind of second chamber within the European Union where the concerns of national parliament could not only be voiced but could be fed into the whole comitology procedure. That was not a success but it is something which should be revisited.

I turn now to institutional reforms, the sort of plumbing of the European Union. Plumbing, whether it be in international organisations or in private homes, is rather important. In that area, the Amsterdam Treaty is a very grave disappointment. My noble friend Lord Cockfield has pointed out that we shall not be able to proceed with enlargement or with a sensible structure for the European Union unless we get these matters right.

There are five areas where action is needed and has so far been delayed. The first concerns languages. The European Union has 11 official languages. The United Nations manages to jog along with six, three of which--Chinese, Arabic and one other--so far, at any rate, do not concern the European Union. In the first instance, we should aim to bring that number down to five in the European Union. That seems to me a fairly modest aspiration and it would certainly make the physical workings of the European Union much simpler.

As regards Commissioners, it is right that the larger countries should reduce to one Commissioner. I believe that it follows from that that the five main portfolios should always be held by one of the large countries and the presidency should always be held by a small or medium-sized country. That is a fair balance of power between the large and small and medium-sized countries.

I believe also that presidencies should be annual. The United Kingdom is a large country with quite substantial resources but I well remember that the strain on resources not just as regards the time of Ministers but the resources of officials in keeping that presidency on the road was simply enormous. It is impossible to believe that small and medium-sized countries are able properly to cope with that. The danger of asking them to do so is that it puts too much into the hands of the Commission--and I am certainly not one of those who regards the Commission as the devil incarnate, but it is important that the presidency should be led by a nation state. I should like to see annual presidencies run by a troika consisting of one large country, one medium and one small.

Finally, as regards weighted voting, the extreme case is the comparison is between Luxembourg and the Federal Republic of Germany. It works out at about 200,000 per vote for Luxembourg and 800,000 for Germany. Clearly, that must be brought more into line. All those decisions have been funked and they must be confronted.

Finally, as regards enlargement, many noble Lords have said already, and I shall not labour the point, that enlargement is perhaps the most important moral issue that we have faced in this part of the world since the end of the Second World War. Suffice it to say that what the European Union proposes at present is to increase

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the size of the Union by about one-third and to devote about one-tenth of its budget to that enterprise. It simply will not work.

I make three suggestions. First, I agree with my noble friend Lord Cockfield that we should ring-fence the issue and have majority voting. That is what pushed through the single market and that will be one of the ways of pushing through enlargement.

Secondly, it may come as something of a surprise to some of your Lordships but at the moment the European Union is underspending on its budget. I believe that the 1.27 guideline is running at about 1.16, which leaves about 11 basis points, as I believe they are called in the City. I should certainly be in favour--and the Government could certainly put forward this proposal during their presidency--of ring-fencing, if not all, then a substantial part of that remaining ceiling in the budget and devoting it specifically to the important subject of enlargement.

I believe that the Amsterdam Treaty is one sense innocuous but in another sense is something of a disappointment because it has yet again failed to face up to the two major tasks which it was set--institutional reform and enlargement. I cannot disagree with the remarks made in a report entitled Britain's Role in Europe published recently by the Royal Institute of International Affairs under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat. It stated:

    "Given the weak Amsterdam results these new conditions do not inspire confidence either in the European Union's commitment to enlargement or in its ability to address and agree serious institutional reform".

The problem with debates about the European Union in our country is that they are constantly being polarised between those like the noble Lord, Lord Shore, who believe that the European Union is in some way going to destroy our island home and starry-eyed enthusiasts who tend to take the view, "Europe right or wrong". My noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford has already been quoted in this debate. He was right to say in a letter he wrote to the Financial Times that the difficulty which he faces--and I face it as well--is in trying to steer a middle course between those two views. My noble friend Lord Tebbit says that we want to be clear; we want certainty. He is certain that we are heading towards a single state, as is the noble Lord, Lord Shore. I have no such certainty at all. However, I believe and continue to believe that this enterprise is the most important that we have undertaken in Europe in peacetime in this century.

Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Shore, and my noble friend Lord Tebbit, I travel in hope and with determination: in hope because I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Shore, about the abilities of the British people; and with determination because I am determined, as I know this House will be, to ensure that the values which this country has stood for should prevail and shall prevail within that Union.

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6.49 p.m.

Baroness Ludford: My Lords, it is once again my privilege to precede the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, in a debate involving Europe. I did so on a previous occasion when we debated foreign policy. On that occasion the noble Lord sympathised with the Minister for having to sum up on,

    "a speech such as the one we have just heard, which reminds me of nothing so much as the kind of thing that was talked about by the League of Nations in the 1930s. I thought we had grown out of that sort of thing".

I think I am right in discerning that that was not meant as a compliment. However, I shall not be abusive in return about matters that took place earlier this afternoon. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, was quite right to trace a link between the failure of the League of Nations and the steadfast belief that I, and many others of all parties, hold today in the need for an effective and integrated Europe, rather than an intergovernmental and impotent Europe. I am rather glad that I have not grown out of that belief.

I very much welcome the element of cross-party agreement today. I was extremely pleased to listen not only to the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield--one of the great architects of an effective Europe through his work on the single market--but also to the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, who was one of the most constructive members of the previous administration in regard to European policy.

For most people, especially of my generation and younger, effectiveness through pooling efforts--pooling sovereignty--to provide prosperity, democracy and security, which we cannot do on our own, is more important than empty national sovereignty. I believe that there is a cleavage between those who wish to hang on to the past and its symbols and those who are self-confident enough about Britain to accept that progress towards security in a world which is as uncertain as it is exciting, means sharing power in order to gain real influence.

Indeed, one can trace a link between acceptance of diversity and power-sharing on a domestic and on a European level. The voices that I hear in favour of "lone Britannia" often seem to be the same ones who are against devolution of power within the UK and suspicious of a diverse society.

The new Government's more rational approach to Europe is a welcome contrast and relief, despite, perhaps the efforts of people like the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, from the alternate hysteria and hostility sometimes shown by the last government. One does not want perhaps to have too much realism and rationality at the expense of enthusiasm. The failure of this Government to seek a more united and coherent role for the European Union over Iraq is a great disappointment for those who believed what they said about leadership in Europe.

On the Richter scale of impact in building Europe, the Amsterdam Treaty scores maybe two as opposed to nine for the ground-breaking Treaty of Rome and six or seven for the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty. It should have scored a lot higher, as other noble Lords have said, but, regrettably, the major hoped-for institutional

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reforms to prepare for enlargement were not achieved; namely, the changes to voting rules in the Council and the linked question of the streamlining of the Commission. That procrastination was really rather poor, and it means yet another intergovernmental conference will have to be convened in a few years' time before six more members join to sort it out. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what preparations the Government are making towards those essential reforms?

It would be excellent if we could open up the process of EU development to greater public debate. I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, said about the limits of the present process and the limits of our role in debating the Bill. Perhaps we need something more akin to a constitutional convention as has happened in Scotland. If institutional issues are presented in terms of democracy, accountability and openness, I believe that they would come more alive and be seen as being more relevant, rather than institutional issues being described as "boring"; as, indeed, the Prime Minister has done. I believe that calling such matters boring can sometimes be a deep cover for those who cling to secrecy.

There are modest but welcome improvements in the Amsterdam Treaty: first, in the streamlining of the legislative procedures, especially the extension of co-decision between the Council and the European Parliament and, secondly, the simplification to three procedures involving the Parliament. There is also the modest extension in the use of majority voting in the Council. I well remember asking a previous Conservative Secretary of State for Trade and Industry why the then government were so opposed to the extension of majority voting when, for instance, our own companies in financial services--such as in pension funds--and in the energy sector would greatly benefit from the liberalisation of continental markets, which could only be achieved through the use of majority voting. He replied that it was more important to stick to the principle of unanimity than it was to give our own companies commercial opportunities. That is rather sad.

I also welcome in the Amsterdam Treaty, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, the fact that the position and authority of the Commission president is usefully reinforced by giving him--or perhaps there may soon be a her--broad discretion to allocate portfolios in the Commission as well as the right to be consulted on the nominations. It is to be hoped that that will mean the end of the "Night of the Long Knives" at the beginning of each new Commission when member states haggle over these portfolios. It is also right that the European Parliament is to have power to approve, or reject, the nominee for president.

Overall, accountability is enhanced by a greater role for the European Parliament. That is very good news. Moreover, there is the protocol on information for national parliaments which is binding. The treaty shows the complementary roles of the national and European parliaments, especially over the third pillar

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matters. It is important to stress that those roles are complementary and that national parliaments should not seek to be part of the legislative process but rather play a role in the scrutiny process.

I also welcome greater progress in transparency--the citizen's right of access to documents. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether there is a prospect of those rules on access to documents being drawn up by June--during the Government's presidency, in advance of the two-year time-scale which will be imposed by the Amsterdam Treaty. It would be good news if the Government were to get ahead of that timetable.

I have just one small matter to mention. Nevertheless, it is quite important as regards citizens' rights. I refer to the role of the ombudsman. That process has been very much under used since Maastricht and it would be good if it could be strengthened. Indeed, perhaps the location of the ombudsman could be transferred from Strasbourg to Brussels and perhaps more publicity could be given to citizens' rights as regards approaching the ombudsman.

As my noble friend Lady Williams remarked, it is very welcome that there is a strengthening of commitment to fundamental human rights and action to combat discrimination by entrenching them in the treaty for the first time. There are several other measures which are welcome; for example, the measure to make the subsidiarity protocol binding. I shall not enter into debate about the difference between a federal and a unitary state, but at least the subsidiarity protocol makes the point that we are talking as much about decentralisation as about effective central activities.

Finally, I welcome the strengthening of the common foreign and security policy, although it is rather a modest strengthening. Nevertheless, it has one particular aspect which is helpful; namely, it introduces rules about the financing of actions under the common foreign and security policy. The introduction of constructive abstention is also a useful reform. Overall, I believe that the balance sheet is positive. It will not perhaps have people on these Benches dancing in the aisles, but it is part of the building blocks of European construction.

In conclusion, perhaps I may suggest two actions that the Government could take--one negative and one positive--to boost public confidence in Europe. I suspect that many people will think that the first one has more to do with Europe than the Government. It is rather off the point of previous debates, but I refer to the banning of the use of unpasteurised milk, including in cheese. I am sure that many people will ascribe that to Brussels. Indeed, it is a great shame that it should be happening at this time. It would be good if the Government did not impose that. Secondly, it would be good if they did take up the offer of European money to promote an information campaign on the single currency. More of our citizens would then start to understand the

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practical benefits of co-operation and why clinging to empty sovereignty offers no way forward in the 21st century.

6.59 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, it has been claimed in some quarters that the Treaty of Amsterdam is of little importance, has no real constitutional implications, no far-reaching economic and social provisions and should not, therefore, concern Parliament overmuch. Nothing could be further from the truth, as my noble friend Lord Whitty confirmed in his opening speech, upon which of course he was complimented by everyone who has subsequently spoken. Indeed, like other noble Lords I congratulate my noble friend on his opening speech. However, I say to him that, while I did not support the move to adjourn our proceedings this afternoon, I nevertheless believe that the point that was raised is an important one. I sincerely hope that between now and Committee stage the Government will consider what has been said about providing a Foreign Office Minister to deal with subsequent stages. That in no way detracts from the excellence of my noble friend's contributions but I believe that it is a reasonable point. I hope that my noble friend and the Government will consider what has been said.

This treaty, like all its predecessors, is very important and provides for further European integration. The objective of this treaty, like that of the Treaty of Rome, the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty, is to take forward European integration by allocating new areas of competence to the institutions of the European Union or to extend and build upon the competencies that they already possess. Noble Lords must understand that that is what is meant by this treaty and should not be bamboozled in any way by any pretence that the treaty is designed to curtail Euro-competence or to reverse the inexorable tide of European integration. That being so, it is essential that this House examines in great detail and at length the provisions of this Bill and the Amsterdam Treaty and should do so in the knowledge that the House of Commons severely curtailed debate through what I can only term a repressive guillotine.

Why on earth the Government wish to rush ratification through I simply do not know. It is extremely unlikely that all other countries will have ratified by the end of this year. Indeed the referendum in Denmark is not due until May. So why the undue rush to ratify this treaty? Is it perhaps to put pressure on the Danish voters? I sincerely hope it is not. If it is, it will be counter-productive.

The prime question that we have to ask about this Bill and treaty is whether they take us towards the oft repeated goal of both the Labour and Conservative Parties of a Europe as an alliance of independent nations, or towards further integration and "a country called Europe". Clearly it is not the former because the treaty accords additional powers and competencies to the various institutions of the European Union, especially through the extension of qualified majority voting and the expansion of the powers of the European Parliament and indeed of the Commission and its

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president. That all points towards further integration. Therefore the treaty is integrationist and militates against the Europe of independent states.

It is, of course, being claimed that the new subsidiarity arrangements will limit the power of the European Union. My noble friend Lord Grenfell claimed exactly that. But that was what was claimed in 1992 when the then Prime Minister came back to us and said that he had won, "Game, set and match". That was about subsidiarity. We were promised at that time that 25 per cent. of Community laws would be repealed and powers returned to this Parliament and to national governments. However, that promise has not been kept. No laws have been repealed. Instead, new directives and regulations have continued to be churned out. Far from the new articles on subsidiarity reversing the present trend, they are likely to entrench the acquis communautaire and lead to further power transfers to the European Union and its institutions leading to a centralised European unitary state, not a federal state. That is what we are embarked upon. This idea that we are embarked upon a federation is completely wrong. What we are embarked upon is a new European unitary state. It will be centralised and indeed it will be bureaucratic.

During the later stages of the Bill we shall need to examine in great detail the provisions of this treaty. Like many other noble Lords I shall want to examine the revised arrangements relating to the police and judicial co-operation which will, I understand, erode in some way the inter-governmental nature of this particular title of the treaty and bring its operation closer to Community arrangements. Under these new arrangements, as I understand them, it would be quite possible for foreign police forces to operate in the United Kingdom without Parliament's consent or knowledge. Perhaps my noble friend would like to comment on that when he winds up.

I also understand that Article 35 of the treaty will expand the role of the European Court of Justice in relation to police and judicial co-operation. Yet I understood that the aim of government was to restrict the powers of the European Court of Justice, not to expand them. Indeed there is great danger in expanding them. We ought to look at Article 35(6) for example. According to some people, that article could undermine the rock upon which our unwritten constitution rests; namely, the doctrine that a Parliament cannot bind its successor. I shall certainly want to probe that article. I hope that the whole House will want to probe that article as it was not probed in another place. Perhaps when my noble friend winds up he could comment on that also.

We shall also need to examine in detail the new areas of decision by qualified majority voting. For every time we hand over a decision to QMV we weaken our veto and remove power from Parliament and the electors and hand it over to a polyglot conglomerate not answerable to them. Then, of course, there are the new powers to be handed to the European Parliament. My noble friend Lord Grenfell said that I did not like the European Parliament. He is absolutely right. I opposed the directly elected European Parliament in 1977 and because I was

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not prepared to support it on Third Reading I resigned from the government. The noble Lord is absolutely right that I did not, and do not, approve of an elected European assembly. Far from being a democratic extension it is the reverse, because it removes power from the national parliaments, and this Parliament in particular. Of course they got that power through the extension of co-decision and the power to veto the appointment of the President of the Commission. People say that that is an extension of democracy. It is nothing of the kind because the European president will have been agreed by the heads of government, who have been elected by their own electors to their own national assemblies or parliaments. Therefore, again, the main body of electors will be ignored. So that is not an extension of democracy.

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