|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Waddington: My Lords, the Minister should understand that what I object to, among other things, is the gobbledegook in Declaration 11. We were told by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, that we had nothing to worry about because the regulation power would be seriously circumscribed by the wording of Declaration 11, which refers to the fact that
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, this is about funding to political groups within the European Union, not to the European Union itself. What is at issue here is the leakage that there has been from the legitimate passing of those funds and the kinds of abuse referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, in moving the amendment.
The problem is the steady growth in the importance of the groupings and the partieswe have both groupings and parties, as your Lordships knowand the consequent need to ensure that they are properly regulated to meet the point put forward by the European Court of Auditors, which has said that these abuses must be dealt with. That is what the amendment is designed to do.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, the Minister is missing the point I was making. I ask again whether Declaration 11 circumscribes the powerand is therefore something from which we can take comfortor am I right in saying that Declaration 11 is completely meaningless and in no way circumscribes the power?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, my noble friend Lord McIntosh was right in the point that he put to the noble Lord. I shall check exactly what my noble friend said. I have the relevant Hansard but, as I am on my feet, perhaps the noble Lord will bear with me. I shall read very carefully what my noble friend said in Committee and look again at the point made by the noble Lord. When the noble Lord intervened previously, I thought the point that he was making was that the funding somehow helps the European Union. I shall have a welcome opportunity to discuss this point with my noble friend later and to read what he said. I hope that I have not misunderstood the problem drawn to our attention by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, that this might be funding which would somehow go to the European Union and not to the political parties or the groupings within it. I make that distinction.
I then endeavoured to make the point that this problem has increased because of the growth in such parties and the consequent need to ensure that they are properly regulated. There are many opinions about the growth of these parties but, none the less, it is the right of individuals and those in the European Parliament and elsewhere to form such parties if they wish to do so.
The problem has come forward very starkly, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, pointed out. The political groups within the European Union receive money from the European parliamentary budget for their day-to-day organisation, and it does indeed leak to the European political parties. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that we need to stop this and to ensure that the funding of European political parties is fully transparent and properly audited. Regulation was therefore recommended by the European Court of Auditors in order to combat the financial mismanagement about which the noble Lord was so concerned.
The principles of this regulation are supported by the Party of European Socialists and the European Liberal, Democratic and Reform Groupto which the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats respectively belongas well as by the European People's Party, which may be of more interest to the Benches opposite.
Explicit language is used in a declaration at Nice that no EC money going to European political parties would be transferred, either directly or indirectly, to national political parties. That is explicitly stated and is made clear in the draft regulation which we are currently negotiating. I can assure your Lordships that not a penny will go to the Labour Party or to any other domestic UK party. Nor are the funds for federalism, which is perhaps another point at issue for the noble Lord, Lord Waddington.
There will be no discrimination against parties because of their attitudes to EU integration. The noble Lord did not make that point explicitly, but I suspect that he was worried that this would somehow seep back into the integrationalist tendency, if I can so label it. I can assure the noble Lord that I do not believe that that is an issue about which he need be overly concerned.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, was worried about smaller parties. I know that there is a feeling that the arrangements discriminate against the Conservative Party, but this is about the funding of European political parties, not national ones. The fact is thatfor the best possible reasons, I am sureour colleagues in the Conservative Party have chosen not to join a European political party. That is their choice. If they wish to join a European political partyor, indeed, form a new onewhich meets the objective criteria laid down in the regulation, that, too, is up to them and they will be free to do so.
The noble Lord asked how many are needed to form such a party. The proposed regulation that we are discussing at the moment states that there must be three or more member states and each party must have 5 per cent support in national or European parliamentary elections. Those seem to be sensible safeguards and thresholds and I hope that we will be able to agree that. The money will be allocated annually and there will be a verification mechanism to counter any abuse.
I have done my best to answer the series of question that have been asked. As to the one outstanding issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, I shall check the text, come back to him and endeavour to put a letter in your Lordships' Library before we next have the pleasure of discussing these issues.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, the Minister may have been guilty of a slip of the tongue in answering a question that I put to her or I may have misunderstood what she said. I believe she said that these regulations will be agreed by unanimity and then brought to Parliament here for scrutiny. Obviously, we can scrutinise them as much as we like but we cannot change something which has been agreed by regulation. Perhaps we can get this straight because it is very important. The new wording at Nice states:
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, let me be absolutely clear. There are two sets of regulations. The regulations that we are currently discussing fall under current treaties and will be decided on the basis of unanimity. As I have indicated, those will lapse in two years' time. This of course raises questions about ratification of the treaty, but let us leave that point on one side. Further regulations will then come forward in a way that covers the point to which the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, drew our attentionthe amendment to Article 191and these regulations will be agreed under the qualified majority voting procedure provided for in the Nice treaty. I am sorry if the noble Lord did not follow my reasoning. There will be two sets of regulations. The first set will be decided unanimously; the second set under qualified majority voting because they fall under this treaty.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, will these regulations be framed to make it more difficult for parties that oppose integration? At the moment it reads as though it is saying, "Yes, you can get this funding under the rules, but only parties which are in favour of integration and forming a European awareness". One does not want to form a European awareness. Will the regulations allow one to oppose the European dream, or nightmare, according to taste?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, let me be categoric. I hoped that I had made this point in relation to the matters raised by the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Waddington. These are not funds for federalism. There is no discrimination against any political party or group of parties on the grounds of their attitude to European Union integration. European political parties which oppose the EU hook, line and sinker, or those which oppose further integration, are every bit as eligible as those which think the opposite.
I hope that that reassures the noble Lord. The matter has nothing whatsoever to do with the attitudes taken by the parties but with their performance in electionsthe 5 per cent threshold. There must also be three supporting member states. Those are the thresholds. The regulations we are debating at present will be agreed by unanimity. The issue has nothing to do with the policies of the parties about integration. I hope that I have answered the point as explicitly as I can.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page