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Baroness Williams of Crosby: I begin by saying a few complimentary words to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. Throughout the debate he has addressed the subject with great detail, thoroughness and care, and, although quite frequently on these Benches we do not find ourselves in agreement with him, we always listen carefully to the arguments he makes. They are rational and well argued.
On this group of amendments, I wish to distinguish between three elements. The first concerns qualified majority voting. Here, perhaps to the surprise of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, we have sympathy with the view that qualified majority voting should not just be randomly extended as a simple way out of the problems of trying to get agreement on difficult issues. Clearly a substantial area falls within the responsibility of the Community and will continue to do so. That area becomes more complex, as Members of the Committee have indicated, in such areas as how one deals with organised crime, the drug trade, and so on. None of us can seriously think of trying to repatriate the national governments' responsibility in a large part of the field. As has been said before in this debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, as Prime Minister, fully
At that point, we were doing a certain amount of cherry-picking. We liked the single market. We were prepared to accept qualified majority voting for the single market; and then we drew the line at almost every other area of qualified majority voting because we did not want it, we just wanted the single market. Nevertheless, it is obviously right that national parliaments and this Parliament in particular should scrutinise carefully the argument made for extending qualified majority voting.
With regard to the long list of amendments to that effect that were put down by the noble Lord and his colleagues in the Opposition, I thought that both Customs co-operation and fraud were odd subjects to choose. I should have thought that they were good examples of where qualified majority voting might be appropriate. One needs only one naughty government to be able to veto effective measures to deal with the issues. They seem to be prime examples of where QMV is appropriate.
On these Benches, we do not argue that QMV should be extended loosely to more and more areas. It is essential, if the European Union is to work, that member states have an area which they regard rightly as their own, where the principle of subsidiarity is fully recognised, and where member states also work with one another within those areas on the basis of co-operation and not of qualified majority voting.
Having said that, I found it puzzling that on Amendment No. 25 the Opposition took exception to the co-decision-making procedure. Until the Amsterdam Treaty, the methods of making decisions within the European structures, the Community structures, were ludicrously complex, obscure, lengthy, and difficult; it was hard to understand what was going on. I cannot see any objection to simplifying those democratic procedures down to the three that now effectively exist: consultation, assent and co-decision. Co-decision makes it quite plain that the European Parliament's agreement--by way of conciliation procedures and all the rest of it--is a necessary component of passing major European legislation. That has to be right. In this area, which falls to the Community--I use the word advisedly because the Community is only part of the Union--it is surely vital that the European Parliament must be carried by the Council and the Commission before law becomes law. Therefore, on Amendment No. 25, from these Benches we cannot offer the sympathy we offer for the earlier amendments in at least the sense that they should be taken seriously, because we believe that the co-decision procedure is a substantial improvement on what has gone before.
In that context let me add one further word of sympathy for amendments we will later approach; that is, that central to this Bench's argument--it may sound paradoxical to some noble Lords--is the strengthening of the scrutiny by our own Parliament of European legislation and proposals. That is crucial to maintaining democratic control, and nothing we say from these
I should like to say a few words about Amendment No. 26B. This amendment is well taken. It makes no sense for the European Parliament to be a perpetual mobile theatre, where secretaries, files, computers and heavy material are dragged around Europe by large lorries at great expense to the taxpayer, making the Parliament less efficient than it ought to be. I fully understand the desire of the Government of France to maintain Strasbourg as a significant city. I would have thought that it was not beyond the bounds of the imagination of Commissioners and the Council of Ministers to find some excellent European agency that could be settled in Strasbourg, in those attractive surroundings, which would then save the expense of shuffling Parliament to and fro. Those of us who care about parliamentary democracy recognise that that is no way to build up respect for the European Parliament, and it would be much better all round if the European Parliament, like the wandering dervish, were to be allowed to finally settle in one place.
Lord Grenfell: Perhaps I might briefly intervene. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, I listened with great attention to what the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said. It is always to the point and interesting, though we do not always agree with him. However, with all due respect to the noble Lord, he tends to speak with a mind-set which is indicative of a party which when in government always found itself in a minority of one in Brussels. In those circumstances, of course, the veto is extremely attractive.
I wish that noble Lords opposite who take objection to the extension of QMV would think a little about that. All that the extension is designed to do is to try to make the conduct of affairs in the European Union a little easier. There is seemingly a great lack of confidence on the Opposition Benches in the possibility of being able to assemble a blocking minority in the Commission and the Council. It is possible to do that. But with this reluctance to give up the veto, it suggests that there is a mind-set which reflects the fact that the idea of assembling a blocking minority is almost an impossibility; it is not. This Government are perfectly capable of putting together a blocking minority when they feel it is necessary to do so. We should therefore not be afraid of an extension of qualified majority voting in areas where we believe that that would be suitable.
My final point--I hope it will not be taken as being too jocular at this late hour--relates to what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said when she referred to the movement of the European Parliament from Brussels to Strasbourg and back again. As a member of the Council of Europe I have suffered somewhat in the past from arriving in Strasbourg having been blocked on the way by trailer trucks carrying documents backwards and forwards. I simply suggest that we might be able to make a deal if we were prepared to allow M. Trichet
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: No one has yet spoken in support of Amendment No. 25, which deals with the co-decision procedure and its extension under the Amsterdam Treaty. It gives me great pleasure to agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said about the European Parliament and the jamboree, which I understand costs fully £10 million a year, of moving the files from one building to the other and back, and also with what she had to say about the scrutiny procedure, which I understand becomes strengthened under the treaty. However, when we come to Amendment No. 25, we have to face the fact that the co-decision procedure is being extended by the treaty into 21 new areas, some of which overlap with other areas, or are the same areas but different parts of them, covered by the extension of qualified majority voting.
Co-decision may sound an innocent enough procedure but in fact it boils down to qualified majority voting with which the European Parliament agrees. If the European Parliament does not agree, then we go into the common position procedure, which, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, is complicated. So, extremely briefly for the record, I ought to mention the areas which the Amsterdam Treaty does subject to the co-decision procedure--in other words, qualified majority voting plus the agreement of the Parliament if it is available.
They are: discrimination on grounds of nationality; freedom of movement and residence of citizens of the Union; social security measures for migrant workers; special treatment for foreign nationals; provisions relating to self-employment and professional qualifications; common transport policy--that could be a big one; incentive measures for employment; customs co-operation; equality provisions; the European Social Fund; vocational training policy; public health; trans-European networks--another big one; the European regional development fund; multi-annual framework programmes for research; some elements of environmental protection; multi-annual framework programmes for development co-operation; transparency; anti-fraud measures; statistics; and the independent advisory body on data protection.
All those are further erosions of our national sovereignty, however else one likes to look at it. I do not propose to say any more about those matters now, but I have no doubt that we shall be coming to them at the next stage.
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