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Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for giving way because I hope that he will not misunderstand what I said. When I became a Commissioner, I took a very solemn oath that I would be a European Commissioner and not take any instructions or in any way be the direct representative of the government of the country from which I came.

However, I regarded it as one of my duties to inform my colleagues, when proposals were made, as to what I thought the general British public might think about those proposals and whether or not they might find them acceptable. That is totally different from in any way being under instructions or a representative of the government of the country from which I came.

Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, I fully accept that. Of course, I do not suggest that Commissioners are puppets with a brief drafted in Whitehall or in any other similar part of the Union. It is plain from what the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, told us, which is set out in paragraph 43, that because each Commissioner has a country, he regards it as almost his duty to speak in a tour de table, as the noble Lord, Lord Brittan described it, on almost every subject which is under discussion rather than merely, as one hopes happens in a Cabinet, although I have never been in one, where only those whose departments are particularly involved or who have particular views feel obliged to take part in the discussion. Quite plainly, a system whereby every single person speaks on every topic is a

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totally inefficient way for an executive body to conduct its proceedings or to attempt to reach a sensible or prompt conclusion.

Therefore, we have a system which is inefficient at present. If the Inter-Governmental Conference ignores that point and succumbs to the idea of one Commissioner for one state, surely two things are inevitable. First, there will be a further demonstration that Commissioners are expected to represent the attitudes of their country because if it is said that every country has one Commissioner and no country has more than one Commissioner, then that is surely saying that that Commissioner must speak as to the views of his country. Secondly, if that is decided at this Inter-Governmental Conference, then surely the pass will have been sold for all time and whenever there is an enlargement in the number of states, so there will be a corresponding increase in the number of Commissioners.

Moreover, as the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, indicated, there can be an enlargement of the number of states because states fragment and not merely because one takes on further areas of Europe. Indeed, listening to the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, it occurred to me that it was a rather good argument for independence for Scotland because on that basis, we should have three Commissioners rather than one. There may be other possible arguments against it. But if some of the influences of the countries of Europe succeed in fragmenting their countries, that is another reason that there could be ever more Commissioners.

Surely it is unrealistic of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, to think that we can give one Commissioner to each state now and say, "Well, that is all right because it does not increase the overall numbers" but then later, when other countries join, say, "Well, we must now change the principle and you cannot have one". I venture to suggest that either the nettle must be grasped now or the pass will be for ever sold.

The report says that the members of the committee are not convinced that one Commissioner per state is a desirable result. That is very nice, courteous language. I should go somewhat further and say that I am wholly convinced that it is an utterly undesirable result and that it is very dangerous for the future of the Union to sacrifice the opportunity to make the institution work merely on the grounds of considerations of political expediency.

I venture to differ from the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. I see no reason why limiting the number of Commissioners should be offensive to the applicant states, provided that the principle on which the number of Commissioners is limited applies equally to the existing states as well as to the applicant members.

Obviously if you say, "Everybody who is here at the moment can keep a Commissioner but for all you new applicants, there are only a couple of new Commissioners and you can share them out between you", they would be entitled to take that amiss. If a new principle is adopted whereby smaller countries or groups of countries share a Commissioner on rotation

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and that principle applies equally to the existing countries as to the applicant countries, I see no reason why it should be found by the applicants to be offensive.

Inevitably, in reality, with a team of 20 or more Commissioners there will be first and second class citizens. Not all of them can have important portfolios and inevitably the larger countries will have the bigger portfolios. In a group of 25 or 30 not everyone can be as important as everyone else, even though they may have the same legal status.

I hope that the Minister will be able to tell the House that the United Kingdom will press for a sensible solution that will work and that it will not give in to the easy argument of expediency.

2.20 p.m.

Lord Roper: My Lords, as one of the non-members of the Select Committee taking part in this debate, I begin by joining the universal gratitude to the committee, and particularly to my noble friend Lord Tordoff, for their further contribution to your Lordships' consideration of European matters with this report on the Inter-Governmental Conference.

For a long time I have been an admirer of the committee. Some 25 years ago, when serving on a committee in another place dealing with European matters, I admired with envy the depth and expertise of your Lordships' committee covering such matters. Subsequently, in the 1983-84 Session, I had the honour to serve as specialist adviser to the sub-committee chaired by Lord O'Brien of Lothbury, dealing with the future financing of the European Committee. I was able to see at first hand the serious way in which the committees of this House addressed those important problems.

Such reports are not only of considerable value in improving the quality of debates in this House, but they play an important part in improving the quality of debates and the study of European matters more widely in this country and further afield. Therefore, we should be particularly grateful for the work of all those who serve on the committee as well as of those who serve the committee and produce such excellent reports.

It gives me particular pleasure to speak from these Benches in strong support of most of the conclusions reached in the report that we are considering today. In particular I support what was said, first, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and subsequently by the noble Lords, Lord Tomlinson, Lord Lamont, and others, about the real importance of reaching a timely conclusion at Nice so that the European Union can go ahead with what is the most challenging task of the next decade--namely, enlargement.

I was going to risk the temptation of being diverted by Denmark, but the words of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, who referred to his great grandfather, reminded me that our first non-co-operation with the Danes on monetary matters led to what was known as the Danegeld. Also if we had not been diverted by Danish activities, we would probably

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have won the Battle of Hastings and the noble Lord and his colleagues would not have arrived in this country. The moral I draw is: do not be diverted by the Danes!

One small criticism of the work of the committee is that paragraph 12 refers to Articles 1 and 2 of the relevant protocol of the Amsterdam Treaty, but it has not paid sufficient attention to Article 2, which is quoted in paragraph 12 and which calls for,


    "a comprehensive review of the provisions of the Treaties on the composition and functioning of the institutions",

at least one year before the membership of the European Union exceeds 20. Of course, that is not the direct business of this IGC, but as we have heard from the debate, particularly in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shore, it certainly overhangs the current IGC and, unfortunately in my view, distracts us. It is of course quite likely that the first group of states to be admitted will bring us above 20 and therefore trigger Article 2 in 2003 or 2004.

However, before returning to that matter, I should like to comment on the three Amsterdam leftovers and the Feira addition to the theme of reinforced co-operation or flexibility. It is a mistake to think that, just because we refer to them as "leftovers", they will be easy problems. As the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, indicated, it is because they were difficult at Amsterdam that they were left over.

I start with the matter recently addressed so effectively by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe. I have a great deal of sympathy with the view of the committee expressed in paragraphs 41 and 42 that the Commission should be limited to 20 or fewer. However, I listened with great interest to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Thomson of Monifieth. It seems to me that a solution which may well appear rational at Westminster, and even desirable, based on the assumption which may or may not be justified that this country will always have a Commissioner, may not necessarily look the same elsewhere.

Lord Tordoff: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. He may have noticed that when we were taking evidence from the French Ambassador I had the temerity to ask whether he considered the possibility of the French being without a Commissioner at any time. He seemed remarkably unfazed by that thought.


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