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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: It is not that the president is playing a part; he has a veto. That is a tremendous difference.

Lord Renton: Before the Minister replies to my noble friend's question, will he say whether common accord means unanimity or a majority vote?

Lord Whitty: It means unanimity and it has always meant unanimity. It meant unanimity over the appointment of the president and it means unanimity over the approval of the nominees of the member states which, I repeat, are the only ones that can nominate the members of the Commission. Therefore, the initiative clearly rests with the member states, but, surely, the president will be in a better position to help ensure that the Commissioners are the right calibre for the job and can meet all its varied political requirements.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Will the Minister confirm absolutely clearly whether the president elect has a veto or does not have a veto over the appointment of the other members of the Commission? I used the word "veto".

Lord Whitty: And I used the words "common accord". That is a common accord between 16 entities--15 member states and the president. I do not believe that I can be clearer than that.

Lord Tebbit: What word would the Minister use if the Secretary of the Cabinet were to be given a veto over the appointment of the permanent secretaries of the departments of state?

Lord Whitty: The Secretary of the Cabinet is not the appropriate equivalent in this situation. That takes us on to the misunderstanding as regards the role of the president of the Commission in the first place.

Lord Tebbit: Of course, that is quite correct, because the Secretary of the Cabinet is a civil servant who works

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to the instructions of Ministers who are working on the instructions from this sovereign Parliament. That is the difference.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: Will the noble Lord accept that those of us on these Benches find it extremely shocking that in that situation Luxembourg clearly has a veto?

Lord Whitty: And always has. I find it surprising that in all issues noble Lords are insisting on unanimity and yet on this particular issue they find unanimity unacceptable. However, the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, goes to the heart of the matter. Perhaps there is a major ideological or perceptual problem in this regard. The president of the Commission is more than the Secretary of the Cabinet. He is more than a civil servant. He is a political figure who gives political direction. At present, in practice, he gives political guidance to the other commissioners. That is the reality of the matter and has always been so since the Treaty of Rome onwards. The practice of the European Commission, which has been complained about many times in this Chamber, will bear me out.

Lord Tebbit: I recollect most clearly the words of the then Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath, on this matter when he returned from his discussions with President Pompidou. He made it plain that the members of the Commission are civil servants and no more than civil servants who took their instructions from Ministers and had no rights of policy initiation. The doctrine which the Minister is now expounding is very different from that.

Lord Whitty: No, the position has always been, from the Treaty of Rome onwards, that in pillar 1 areas at least the Commission has sole initiative for policy proposals. The issue as to whether it is accountable to the Council is an entirely separate matter. It has a political role but its political accountability is to the Council of Ministers and, in certain circumstances, to the European Parliament. Therefore, members of the Commission are political rather than purely civil servants but they do not have the ultimate political responsibility. That rests, not with an appointed figure like the president, but with the Council which is, and will continue to be, the main decision-making body of the Union to varying degrees, subject to the agreement of the European Parliament.

Perhaps this debate indicates the chasm of misunderstanding which exists. It certainly shows that the role of the Commission is both misunderstood and denigrated within this Chamber. A Commission which acts coherently within the structure of the European institutions acts effectively also in the interests of the citizens of the United Kingdom. It has an absolutely key role to play in the functions of the Union. Its roles on proposing legislation, on implementing the decisions of the Council, as the guardian of the treaties and as an independent institution of the treaties are all vitally important political roles. But at the end of the day, as regards the carrying out of those decisions, it is subject

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to the Council of Ministers which is responsible to national parliaments and, to some degree, it is responsible to the European Parliament. The idea that it is an unelected dictator model for a super-European state, as we have heard suggested over the past hour, should be dismissed from our minds.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, said right at the beginning of this debate, these are relatively minor amendments and we should recognise them as such. However, they are important and they will improve the functioning of both democracy and efficiency within the Commission.

11 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington: After listening to the very interesting debate that has taken place, I stand astounded at my own moderation. I am normally known as someone who goes into debate in fair combative style--and that is still not a sin within a parliament; indeed, that is what the conflict of ideas is all about--but I approached this matter on a very modest scale. My noble friend, who effectively excluded me from the debate in his reply, may find on reflection that what I said is strictly in accordance with the facts as they have been presented not only by him but also in the treaty. I could have gone a long way further.

It will be within the recollection of this Chamber that I have objected publicly to the cavalier attitudes shown by successive presidents of the Commission, excluding the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, who was always polite and correct in such matters. They have sometimes intervened rudely in the political debates which have taken place between the heads of member states and even between Prime Ministers and the opposition within their own countries. I heard President Delors, who came across to this country to attend a conference organised by the Financial Times, refer derisively and dismissively to the then British Prime Minister, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher. I objected publicly to anyone in his position--that is, in a collegiate position, a civil servant position or its equivalent--presuming to criticise a British Prime Minister personally, regardless of the fact that she did not happen to be a member of my party and that politically I was firmly opposed to her. I got up and objected publicly to that and received a reply from Delors, who said: "Well, it's a free country, isn't it?". This was in public in the United Kingdom.

I have heard successive presidents of the Commission take it upon themselves to enter unilaterally into political disputations between the heads of member states; they are quite permissible and, indeed, normal, and should be so. They have intervened personally in debates that have taken place in this country; indeed, it is not only the president of the Commission who has been guilty of this but so also have several of the Commissioners who have presumed to lecture us as to how we should conduct affairs in our own country. It would be far better if they conducted their own affairs.

I listened to my noble friend the Minister, for whom I have the utmost respect--indeed, he knows that--cataloguing the successes and the brilliance of the

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European Commission. However, I have news for him. I have watched those concerned for years and have witnessed their activities. I am thoroughly familiar with the way that they work. If any Member of this Committee wishes to get up and praise the Commission for its control, for example, over financial affairs (for which it is responsible), all he or she has to do is to read the last report of the Court of Auditors and the latest document produced by our own Audit Office here to find out the depth of gross inefficiency, negligence and, in some sections of the staff, actual fraud at Commission level. I am under no illusion about that. I shall be proved to be correct with the passage of time even though I may perhaps be derided now on the grounds that this is old hat, or possibly because of my advancing years. I tell the Committee that I shall be proved to be right, and so will my colleagues.

Having delivered that friendly homily to my friends on both sides of the Chamber, believing as I do in consensus politics, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 not moved.]

Lord Moynihan moved Amendment No. 23A:

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

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 23A I wish to speak also to the amendments grouped with it. I hope that the Minister appreciates that the points being made from all sides of the Chamber reflect our concern and consideration for what is in the treaty. As the hour grows late, I am concerned that there is a tendency to dismiss amendments lightly as minor drafting amendments which should not agitate the Committee, let alone lead to serious questioning. If that were the case it would be a pity because the points being made in different ways from all sides of the Chamber reflect genuine, legitimate concerns about principle, drafting and negotiation. We intend to examine the Bill in detail and the spirit in which we do so inevitably requires a full consideration from the Government Ministers who respond.

The amendments on QMV may well be the final series of amendments we consider this evening in Committee. Therefore I shall speak briefly. I may return to some of the points I want to make about the importance of the fight against fraud and the significant and new powers for the European Parliament, not to mention the location of the European Parliament. Those are three important issues which are covered in the amendments. They will be mentioned at a later stage and I do not intend to cover them in detail this evening.

I fear or expect that at an early stage of my comments concerning QMV, the Government will probably say that we did not have a blanket ideological opposition to QMV when we were in government. That is certainly the case as we agreed to a considerable extension of QMV at the time of the Single European Act in 1986 and subsequently at Maastricht. As a result majority voting now already applies to a wide range of issues such as the single market. However, there was always a clear tangible benefit to the extension presided over by

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the previous government which was worth the price of sacrificing our veto. In 1986 it ensured the progress and the development of the single market. This evening I question the Government's claim that the extension of QMV we are discussing gives a similar benefit. The previous government accepted QMV in limited areas for a specific purpose. I do not believe they ever did so without getting a real tangible benefit in return.

The amendments we are discussing tonight deal with three specific areas: the extension of qualified majority voting; the reduction in the use of the national veto agreed at Amsterdam; and the extension of the powers of the European Parliament, and particularly its co-decision powers on the location of the European Parliament. I question the Minister as to whether we gain tangible benefits in return for a significant extension of the use of QMV and the co-decision procedure in the European Parliament which, on the face of it, represents a significant transfer of influence from this Parliament to the institutions of the European Union. There will be those who will argue that these concessions, given away at Amsterdam, were wholly unnecessary. No one is claiming that they constitute in themselves the end of the United Kingdom as a sovereign national state; but, the more I look at them, the more I feel that they represent a significant reduction in the influence of this Parliament and of the British Government. It is a further step away from our vision of an enlarged, competitive, decentralised, flexible Europe, a partnership of nation states which deepens instead of widens the Union.

I should like to start with the extension of QMV. The weighted voting system, or QMV, works against the background of the political agreement known to all Members of the Committee as the Luxembourg Compromise, whereby in the last resort a member state may insist that, where it has a very important national interest at stake in a particular decision, discussions should continue until its fundamental problem has been resolved. It was agreed at the informal Foreign Affairs Council in Ioannina in March 1994 to discuss the arrangements for majority voting and the scope of QMV at the intergovernmental conference.

However, the result has been that the Amsterdam Treaty extends QMV to 15 new areas--four existing areas and 11 new ones. This is a significant increase in the power of the EU institutions. To increase this power, it must be transferred from elsewhere, and it has been. It has been transferred from Parliament to Brussels. Together with Britain's competitive advantage, jettisoned by joining the social chapter, which we covered earlier, Britain's veto and position of negotiating strength have also been discarded, with the result that we are now powerless to resist many more potentially burdensome legislative proposals in a wide variety of areas.

Let me spell out the sheer scale of what was agreed to at Amsterdam in this context. The four areas currently decided by unanimity consist of co-ordination of provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action for special treatment for foreign nationals; the adoption of the research framework

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programme; adapting or supplementing the research framework programme; and the setting up of joint undertakings in R&T development.

The 11 new treaty provisions which will also be subject to QMV consist of employment guidelines; incentive measures; social exclusion; equality of opportunity and treatment of men and women; public health; transparency; countering fraud; statistics; protection of individuals with regard to the processing and free movement of persons' data; outermost regions and customs co-operation.

Under the social chapter, legislation in any one of the following areas can be adopted by QMV: working conditions; the information and consultation of workers; equality between men and women in relation to both work opportunities and treatment at work; the integration of people excluded from the labour market; and health and safety at work. Not only that, but there are provisions for QMV under the employment chapter and within the flexibility provisions.

On the reduction in the use of the national veto and the extension of QMV, I wonder if the Minister can give the Committee one concrete example of how giving up our veto in the four areas previously decided by unanimity--that is, the right of establishment for foreign nationals; adoption of the research framework programme; adapting or supplementing the research framework programme; and the setting up of joint undertakings in R&T development--will benefit this House or the British people? Is it not the case that under the European Union framework programmes for research Britain has done well, winning money for our research programmes under various schemes--for example, the European Strategic Programme in Information Technology, ESPRIT? If QMV is used to decide these programmes, the UK could do less well, and, at the very least, we shall no longer be able to use our veto as a persuasive tool in arguing our case.

Secondly, can the Minister guarantee that the extension of QMV to cover 15 new areas would not result in the introduction of policies harmful to our national interest which this House and another place would be powerless to prevent? Is it not the case that any new proposals should be not only open to all but agreed by all?

Let me take one example, Article 129, to which QMV applies. The article seeks to ensure,

    "A high level of human health protection ... in the definition and implementation of all Community policies and activities",

and that,

    "Community action, which shall complement national policies, shall be directed towards improving public health, preventing human illness and diseases, and obviating sources of danger to human health. Such action shall cover the fight against the major health scourges, by promoting research into their causes, their transmission and their prevention, as well as health information and education".

It is possible that decisions by QMV on the public health provisions contained within Article 129 could lead to considerable interference by Brussels which we should not welcome, given how liberally a court, or indeed this House, could interpret, first, what constitutes public health and, secondly, what amounts to "preventative" measures. For example, preventative measures could

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refer to anything from a good diet, housing and shelter, to school meals or the provision of milk to children. Is it up to Brussels to determine those preventative measures, or is it something that the Government believe should be done at national level?

Thirdly, can the Minister explain how the proposals for social legislation in the pipeline will be subject to QMV and, under the social chapter, benefit the national interest? I have already spoken at some length on these issues, particularly about the directive to extend the remit of works councils to all companies with 50 or more employees, a proposal which the Government themselves oppose but which they could be powerless to resist.

Likewise, the proposed directive to change the burden of proof in sex discrimination cases, so that employers would be assumed guilty of discrimination unless they can prove otherwise, will also be subject to QMV. Is it not the case that qualified majority voting could succeed in this case in overturning the basic principle of British justice and lead to a flood of speculative cases?

Were we to debate this matter at length, we should come up with an endless list of such examples--full rights, terms and conditions for employees for those on part-time, temporary and fixed-term employment contracts; the incentive measures to be adopted by QMV under the employment chapter, which could prove to be a source of employment programmes for which the UK would have no need but would be expected to pay. And is it not the case that such an instrument to devise incentives, possibly financial ones, could be used to encourage member states to act in a certain way?

As I have already demonstrated, the Amsterdam Treaty provides for more majority voting in the operation of the CFSP decision-making process. Article J.13 provides for subsequent decisions on the implementation of overall strategies--that is, on the adoption of joint actions and common positions--and on any other decisions made on the basis of the new CFSP instrument, the "common strategy", to be taken by QMV in the Council of Ministers.

The treaty continues the distinction on decision-making on principle, which is still unanimous, and implementation of decisions, which is now generally to be by QMV. But is the line between principle and action so black and white? In the Minister's opinion, is one trade sanction the same as another? Is the trade sanction a principle, or is it an action? That represents an important question and a potentially dangerous move from a true common foreign policy agreed by all to a foreign policy supported by most. Likewise, the flexibility provisions are also subject to QMV.

I do not intend to go into further detail on these points. I hope the Committee will forgive me for not doing so at this late hour. There are critical issues associated with the Ford argument which I hope noble Lords will take up during this Committee stage.

Finally, perhaps I may touch upon the gridlock enlargement argument in this context. The Government have used the gridlock argument to justify the extension

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of QMV on the grounds that an enlarged European Union will be paralysed unless more decisions are taken by QMV. The QMV already applies in those areas where regular decisions are needed to enable the Community to conduct its day-to-day business such as the single market, agriculture and external trade. It is inappropriate, in my view, for fundamental decisions such as foreign policy and defence, which must remain intergovernmental in their nature. Are the Government seriously arguing that, in those remaining areas, indecisions on research or industrial policy, retention of unanimity would render the Union unmanageable after enlargement? I am sure that the Minister will be the first to agree that there are greater obstacles to the process of enlargement which the Treaty of Amsterdam singularly fails to address.

Perhaps if the Government believe that the only way forward for Europe is instinctive integration from west to east and north to south, then the argument I have just made does not carry sufficient weight. But there is a different way forward which does not require every member state to sign up to absolutely every aspect of the treaty of which the Government are already taking advantage in terms of borders and the single currency. If that way is taken, then it is not necessary to have more QMV to enlarge.

On these Benches, we do not believe that unanimity in those areas to which it currently applies would be incompatible with effective decision-making, even in an enlarged Union. The European Union has been able to reach decisions on highly contentious issues such as the Maastricht Treaty itself and the 1992 financing package, despite the unanimity requirement. Unanimity ensures that decisions on even the most sensitive issues take proper account of vital national interests, as indeed they should--a fact which the Government appear, sadly, with the Amsterdam Treaty before us this evening, largely to have forgotten. I beg to move.

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