Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Williams of Crosby: Before the Minister replies, perhaps I might add to what the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, has said. There are always ways of easing situations in which the law stands in the way. Another suggestion I make so that the Minister can turn it over in his mind is the possibility perhaps on one occasion a year of allowing a representative of Gibraltar, possibly the Prime Minister, to meet the British delegation to the European Parliament so that he can at least be assured that the concerns of Gibraltar are heard by those who are legitimately Members of that Parliament.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am sure that both suggestions will be treated with the seriousness that they

27 Apr 1998 : Column 108

deserve by Ministers in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I would not wish to give the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, the wrong impression. In my reply I believe that I described the formidable obstacles to be overcome if a change were to be made to the European Communities Act 1976 in order to give Gibraltarians a vote in the European Parliament. Not least it would require the unanimous agreement of all member states and unanimous ratification afterwards. Those are formidable obstacles.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this very interesting and wide-ranging debate. I also thank my noble friend for his detailed response to the many questions raised by noble Lords. I am relieved that he has given as absolute an undertaking as he can that we shall not join the full acquis system and that ratification of the treaty by Parliament in no way gives the Government carte blanche to accede to the acquis without proper parliamentary debate and consent. However, I am not quite as reassured by his statement that we could enter parts of it without primary or secondary legislation, although parliamentary scrutiny of European legislation would take place. I am most obliged to my noble friend for all the replies that he has given me. Naturally I want to study them, and, if necessary, bring back matters on Report.

I am also happy with my noble friend's assertion that so far as concerns asylum, it is the first friendly country and not the last that is responsible for giving asylum to asylum seekers. Presumably the Belgians and Italians know and understand that and will ensure that people who land in their countries seeking asylum will not be trained on to London or any other railway station in this country. I hope that I have that assurance and that I understand it completely. If I do not have it right, perhaps my noble friend will intervene and say that I have not.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Pepper v. Hart says that what Ministers say on legislation can be taken into account in the courts. It does not say that what other people say in debate has to be taken into account or that the failure or unwillingness of Ministers to reply to statements with which they do not agree has to be taken into account in the courts. If I have misled the Committee or my noble friend in any way, I shall of course write to him.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: That is satisfactory, and I thank my noble friend. We rightly had a number of speeches on Gibraltar. The Gibraltarians are concerned about their position and want it rectified. Representation is probably a matter not for this Bill but for the European Parliamentary Elections Bill, which could perhaps be amended to accommodate Gibraltar, although, as my noble friend said, it would be difficult to achieve. If I can help in any way, of course I shall do so, although I do not know when we shall be considering it.

I am worried about what happened about the Spanish amendment in the Council. I spoke earlier about the hole-in-the-corner way that things are done in the EU.

27 Apr 1998 : Column 109

That seems to confirm my view of it. Here we have what appeared to be an agreed text being amended by the presidency in consort with a member state without the member state which was going to be most affected being aware or informed of it. That is absurd, outrageous and completely unacceptable. I do not know whether the British Government noticed that before or after the treaty was signed. If they noticed it before the treaty was signed, why on earth did they sign a treaty to which they had not agreed? My noble friend might check on that and drop me a line about it.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I can spare my noble friend the pain of receiving correspondence from me. The answer to his question is that we saw to it that Declaration 45 was added to the treaty.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I hope that that is satisfactory. We shall see in due course. Again, I find it almost inconceivable that parties to a discussion which is tape recorded do not have access to those tapes when there is a dispute. I would have thought that since it was a Council discussion the tapes belong to the Council and that, if there was a dispute, all its members had the right to say, "Let us listen to the tapes." After all, even we in this House, if there is a dispute as to what we say, may listen to the parliamentary tapes. Why on earth in matters of great moment--greater moment than we discuss here--cannot governments or their representatives be allowed to listen to the tapes? I do not expect an answer from my noble friend, but I confess that I am completely amazed by the whole business. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 15 to 20 not moved.]

9.45 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington moved Amendment No. 21:

Page 1, line 13, after ("2") insert ("(except paragraph 40)").

The noble Lord said: The treaty with which we are dealing today contains a large number of amendments to the Union treaty. It is possible to trace most of the reasons for their inclusion. One may not always agree with the amendments to the treaty set out in the Treaty of Amsterdam, but one can at least understand the reasons and importance attached to them.

The amendments we are now considering deal with paragraphs 40 and 41 of the Treaty of Amsterdam, set out on page 38. They can be found within the original setting at pages 75 and 76 of that invaluable document, The Treaty of Amsterdam in Perspective. I cannot imagine how those two measures found their way for consideration at the conference held on the treaty.

Paragraph 40 relates to the appointment of the president and members of the Commission. Paragraph 41 relates to extra powers to be given to the president of the Commission. I cannot for the life of me understand who put the proposal forward or the reasons for it. It may conceivably be part of a greater deal

27 Apr 1998 : Column 110

reached between the parties in the course of the negotiations. In precise terms, it provides:

    "The governments of the Member States shall nominate by common accord the person they intend to appoint as President of the Commission; the nomination shall be approved by the European Parliament".

That is a new adjunct to the appointment. I suppose that it can be expected; there is no particular reason why the appointment should not be approved by the European Parliament.

Lord Renton: The word "shall" in that context could have a double meaning. It could mean that the parliament has no option but to be a rubber stamp; it has to approve. Alternatively, it could mean also that the appointment could not be effective unless approved by the European Parliament. If I am right that there is a genuine ambiguity, I should be most grateful if the noble Lord will give us his opinion as to which interpretation may be right.

Lord Bruce of Donington: Read in terms of the actual text, it appears to follow automatically. The paragraph states:

    "The governments of the Member States shall nominate by common accord the person they intend to appoint as President of the Commission; the nomination shall be approved by the European Parliament".

I do not know whether that is a command to the European Parliament to approve automatically or whether the European Parliament has a discretion in the matter. I am quite content to accept the interpretation that the European Parliament definitely has some choice, if sufficient of its members are present in plenary at the time to be qualified to record a vote at all.

It then goes on to state:

    "The governments of the Member States shall, by common accord with the nominee for President, nominate the other persons whom they intend to appoint as Members of the Commission".

Since when has the nominee for president of the European Commission been given the power of veto over who the member states may decide to nominate as members of the Commission? That is extraordinary.

It would be bad enough if the provision referred to "The member states, by common accord, with the president of the Commission"--but no, they are supposed to arrive at an accord on the persons to be appointed members of the Commission, with a person whose status is not even that of president yet but merely a nominee. That seems to be quite extraordinary.

I pass no particular observation other than to say that it is quite true that the president of the Commission over the years--and to my own personal knowledge I speak of the time since 1975 when I first became a member of the European Parliament--has steadily acquired more influence. That has matched the growing influence of the Commission itself which has become the powerhouse, in effect, of developments within the European Union. That is quite natural because that is its function. It does not have to govern member states; it has no departmental responsibilities to anybody; it has no territory to administer and no armed forces, yet, at

27 Apr 1998 : Column 111

its disposal. Its entire function is to carry forward the impetus towards its own objectives, which it puts most forcefully.

Therefore, one can understand that some further formal recognition of importance as an individual member state is sought. I do not speak of Luxembourg, which has the population of Bristol, but of Germany and the larger member states. We are arrogating to the nominee for the post of president of the Commission a power of veto.

I should have thought that the Commission has power enough. Of its own accord, it appoints ambassadors throughout the world without any objection from the Council. In fact, under the treaties, the Council cannot object in any event. It administers whole areas of finance, quite out of control of the Council. It makes apportionments of budgeted funds in relation to various projects without the slightest need to have the consent of the Council. Therefore, it is extremely powerful.

Some people in the United Kingdom might wear that; but I do not intend to do so. I do not approve of, and will not agree to--and I am now a European citizen, too, although I did not elect to become one--the president of the Commission, let alone a nominee president, having that power of veto. There are, of course, circumstances in which that might be possible, but that in itself would be in breach of the treaty. Because it is the only logical supposition, are we to suppose that member states of the European Parliament, before they nominate a president of the Commission, will make unofficial inquiries to him as to who in advance he is prepared to approve as a member? Surely that is rather a degrading position for a member state to find itself in.

I do not necessarily stand on ceremony, and other countries can take whatever consciousness of their national identity as they wish. However, as a Briton, I object to it. No doubt the Government can tell us who raised the proposition. Who put it forward in the negotiations over Amsterdam? Surely it could not have been the British Government putting forward such a proposal. If so, what kind of package deal was involved in giving way to the wishes of the president? Surely these questions require answers. They do not even involve party politics.

I turn now to the second item which is to be found in paragraph 41 of the treaty and which reads:

    "The Commission shall work under the political guidance of the President".

Tut, tut: what political guidance? Members of the Commission are supposed to be quite objective in their work and they are not supposed to pay attention to representations from outside. They are supposed to be--and I have no doubt that they are--persons of the utmost personal integrity. But now, suddenly, out of the blue and without any discussion, we see that the president of the Commission shall give "political guidance". But what kind of political guidance will that be?

Perhaps we shall be given some idea as to what was in the minds of the representatives of Her Majesty's Government who apparently agreed to this clause. Will the president of the Commission be able to define what

27 Apr 1998 : Column 112

the attitude of individual members of the Commission is, for example, towards the budget? Alternatively, will he be in a position to satisfy himself as to whether the existing control of European affairs at Commission level is adequate? In the event of arguments between one or another member state, will he be able to decide which side to take? All these matters fall due to be considered. There should be answers to them.

For my own part, as regards any endeavour by the president of the Commission to give any kind of political guidance whether party, ideological or even technical--as long as it comes within the term "political"-- I do not think that he should be entitled to do this. I am at a complete loss to understand why these amendments should ever have been included within the treaty itself. I cannot find any reason for them at all unless they mark the relentless advance of the president of the Commission and the members of the Commission towards the progressive achievement of their goal of the ultimate government of a federal Europe. That is the only thing that makes sense and is fully in accordance, incidentally, with an instance that I reported to this Chamber many years ago--this is not new--when the then spokesman, Mr. de Vries, talking on behalf of the socialist group in the European Parliament, said that there should be no misunderstanding. He said that his party believed in the Commission becoming the government and Parliament exercising its normal parliamentary functions over them.

This is my suspicion. I sincerely hope that my noble friend will be able to dispel it and say that the insertion of these absurd clauses in the Treaty of Amsterdam was something that happened while people were taking a post-prandial nap, or that they were smuggled into the presidential summary without anyone's knowledge. That has often been the case. Certainly there must be some logical explanation for a ridiculous action such as this. I beg to move.

10 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: Before the noble Lord sits down, if the president of the Commission whose authority he is questioning happened to be British, would he express the same opposition?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page