Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
WEDNESDAY 7 MARCH 2001
VAZ, MP AND
140. So those three countries have not voiced
(Mr Vaz) No.
Sir John Stanley
141. On a different issue, Minister, post-Nice.
As you know, the Prime Minister stated, following his experience
at the Nice summit, and I quote: "We cannot go on taking
decisions like this." Can you give us what is now the British
Government's present position as to how it would like to see the
next IGC being conducted, how it should be prepared for, whether
there should be fresh institutional arrangements, or whether it
should be conducted in the same way as the previous ones have
been, with the Commission basically taking the initiative, preparatory
documents being put out, and then a final summit at which the
deal is done? Or does the British Government want to see it played
differently, and, if so, how?
(Mr Vaz) Sir John is right. The Prime Minister, I
think, was frustrated at the length of time it took to get these
matters resolved, 330 hours of the time of our officials and ministers,
together with five full days at Nice, and, though exhausted, at
the end of this process, he played a pivotal role, along with
Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, in ensuring that we got a deal
out of Nice. But I think we do have to reform the way in which
we operate, the reform agenda is very important, this is a Government
that is pro Europe, but it is also pro reform; we want to make
sure that there is greater transparency, accountability, a much
more lengthy discussion pre ministerial meetings, which actually
will involve the people of our countries. And one of the conclusions
at Nice, as the Committee will know, is actually to consult the
people of Europe about the way in which these things are done,
about the future of Europe, and I think it is important that we
should take on board that point.
142. It has been suggested, as you know, Minister,
that there should be some form of EU constitutional convention
established, prior to the next IGC. What is the British Government's
view towards that?
(Mr Vaz) Ah; well, we would need to look at that,
and we would need to look at the way in which any of these conventions
are drawn together. I am not personally a great fan of the convention
process, because I think it is one step removed from Members of
this House; and the Prime Minister, at Warsaw, on 6 October, talked
about the second chamber as a possibility of ensuring that there
was a stronger link between the people of our country, Parliament
and what was happening in the EU, and I think we have to look
at these arrangements. But, I think, in the end, these decisions
have got to be taken by the Member States, by Ministers, as Sir
John will know, because he was part of this process, and, in the
end, Ministers have to come before the House.
143. So you are saying to us, at the moment,
the British Government has got no specific or positive proposals,
as of now, as to how the next IGC should be prepared for?
(Mr Vaz) It is only six weeks since the last IGC;
the next one is 2004, so we will be having some proposals. But
anything the Committee may want to say about this issue we would
be happy to look at.
144. Just to wind up this area, Minister. Turkey
is currently, in effect, putting a veto on the use of NATO assets
for EU operations until they get a certain agreement about their
role. Does this mean that if they persist in that objection the
French concept of an autonomous European position is more likely
to grow among other European countries?
(Mr Vaz) No, I do not think so, Mr Chairman. Turkey,
as a NATO ally, is raising its concerns, and I think that the
whole point of having an organisation like NATO is to deal with
the concerns that have been raised by Turkey and to make progress.
145. And they maintain those concerns currently;
they are maintaining what is, in effect, a veto?
(Mr Vaz) I would not call it a veto, I think they
have raised concerns, Lord Robertson has been actively involved
in trying to deal with these points, and we have, too. I think
it is important that we talk with allies.
146. But, until their objections are met, there
will be no progress on the Rapid Reaction Force?
(Mr Vaz) No, that is not true. We have made enormous
progress on the Rapid Reaction Force, and, indeed, at the risk
of getting Mr Maples worked up again, we have defined those areas
where it will act. Turkey is a NATO ally, and therefore we have
to talk to our allies, and if they have concerns we have to address
those concerns. It does not stop what we are doing.
147. Quickly, on the IGC. In the Warsaw speech,
the Prime Minister put forward two areas: one, the concept of
a second chamber, which appears to have received very little support
from other countries; two, the idea of this charter of competences.
What is the status of those, and the response from our partner
(Mr Vaz) These are excellent ideas, which we need
to look at and we need to discuss. The point of the Warsaw speech
was to look at the future of Europe, and these and a number of
the other ideas that the Prime Minister has had, I think, will
be a defining text, as far as this country is concerned. There
has been support for the second chamber. What the Prime Minister
was raising was whether or not a second chamber would help democratic
148. Which countries have supported it?
(Mr Vaz) It is not a question of countries supporting
it, others have joined the debate. I myself have received, I think,
20, or so, letters from Members of the European Parliament, from
organisations, from others, about the second chamber proposals,
but we have not really discussed it as a Parliament, and I think
it would be good to do so. I think that it would be important
to look at ways in which we can strengthen the link between the
people and Parliament. On the issue of competences, this is not
just something that the Prime Minister has raised; of course,
the Lander, in Germany, are very keen to know what can
be done as far as competences are concerned. I think the people
of our country also want to know, in the discussions I have had
with them, they want to know about the finality of Europe. Sometimes,
as I have been round the country on my roadshow, people have asked
me the question, "Where will it all end?", and I think
what they think is, you start at Westminster, they all understand
Westminster, they understand what MPs do, and then you have Europe,
and it seems so vast and so large that they do not actually know
what it is all about. I think that we have a responsibility and
a duty to explain to them what our vision of Europe is, and that
is what the Prime Minister sought to do.
Chairman: With respect, the US constitution
did not end with the Philadelphia Convention. Dr Godman, finally,
149. Just to end. There is a declaration attached
to the Nice Treaty that states that the 2004 IGC should address
inter alia how to establish and monitor a more precise
delimitation of competences between the European Union and the
Member States, reflecting the principle of subsidiarity, and so
on and so forth; and you mentioned the German Lander. Is
it the Prime Minister's view and the Secretary of State's view
that, if there were to be a second chamber in the European Parliament,
there would be representatives in that chamber from this Parliament,
the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the
(Mr Vaz) I do not think that the Prime Minister and
the Foreign Secretary have defined who is to be in the second
chamber, but I think that this is an issue that I think ought
to be discussed, and we ought, as parliamentarians, to be making
a contribution to this.
Chairman: Minister, you know that this Committee
has had very strong concerns about Government policy on Gibraltar
150. Mr Chairman, one final question on the
European Union, one final question, and it relates to our previous
report, and it relates to a matter which I have raised with the
Minister and the Prime Minister, time and time again.
(Mr Vaz) And I have an answer.
Mr Mackinlay: We have now had four years of
a Labour Government, we have had three Secretaries of State for
Trade and Industry; we had Margaret Beckett, who went to Australasia,
we had Peter Mandelson, who went to South America, we have Byers,
who has been to India, but not one Secretary of State, in this
administration, for Trade and Industry, I know this Minister has
been, I know a plethora of other Ministers, full marks to them,
but what have we got to do to get a Secretary of State for Trade
and Industry to go to the applicant countries of the European
Union? I just find it amazing; short of setting fire to myself
in Parliament Square, what more can we do to get the Prime Minister
to instruct Byers to go there? I find it an amazing abdication,
that the Secretary of State for Trade refuses to go to the applicant
countries of the European Union: why is it, when is he going,
and what is the impediment, why has this principal, keen Secretary
of State not gone?
151. Minister, is there an answer to that?
(Mr Vaz) It is one of the great questions that has
been asked by Mr Mackinlay, and I correctly predicted that he
would ask this question.
152. I am going to keep on doing it.
(Mr Vaz) And can I just, first of all, tell him that
the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor, Alan Howarth, Baroness
Scotland, Michael Meacher, Keith Vaz, Joyce Quin, Keith Hill,
Helen Liddell and Geoff Hoon have all been to Poland. This morning,
I asked my private office
153. That is Central Europe, it is not Poland,
I never mentioned Poland, I never mentioned Poland.
(Mr Vaz) Mr Mackinlay, wait for it, I asked my private
office to telephone the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
to tell him that I was appearing before this Committee and that
Mr Mackinlay was bound to raise the fact that he has not been
Mr Mackinlay: I did not say Poland; why do you
keep saying Poland? I am talking about Central Europe, the applicant
countries. Chairman, it is an irritating point, because, the last
meeting, if you remember, he kept saying, "Mackinlay keeps
going on about Poland." Mackinlay deliberately did not say
Poland; it is a serious point. I am talking about the principal
applicant countries, of which Poland is one, I did not mention
Poland. The abdication of the Secretary of State for Trade and
Industry not going relates to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic,
Slovenia, Estonia, the principal applicant countries, it is not
just Poland. And I resent people making it flip that I keep going
on about Poland, I do not, I am talking about our interest in
the Central Europe, principal applicant countries.
154. Minister, the question relates not specifically
to Poland but to the Central European countries as a whole. What
was the response of the private office of the Secretary of State?
(Mr Vaz) We did ask, Mr Chairman, about Poland, but
tomorrow I will widen the area to give him a greater choice of
countries to visit, and I am sure that the Secretary of State
will look favourably on the points put forward. And, as soon as
we have a date for this visit, I can assure this Committee, I
will be the first to telephone Mr Mackinlay and tell him the good
155. Minister, Gibraltar; the Committee has
turned to the problems of Gibraltar. I understand that you have
another official who will be joining you in respect of Gibraltar?
(Mr Vaz) Indeed.
156. Then perhaps you could effect the change?
(Mr Vaz) We have to divide up the Foreign Office between
Chairman: And then Mr Mackinlay will begin on