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Mr. Wiggin: One of the difficulties, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree, is that once a country has committed itself to the euro and its debt has been denominated in euros, it is impossible for it to withdraw. Countries may be tempted, or have a strong desire, to withdraw from the single currency, but does the hon. Gentleman have any ideas about whether they will be able to do so? I do not think that they can.
Mr. Hopkins: It would not be easy. It would have to be done by international agreement to dissolve the single currency, rather than by a single country withdrawing, and an arrangement would have to be made about the debt. There are examples of groups of nations with a single currency that has been dissolved, sometimes with a lot of economic pain. The Soviet Union is one such example, and the Czech Republic and Slovakia is another more recent one. Not long ago I went to a lecture by the former Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia, who handled that parting of the ways. The two countries successfully separated their currencies. Theirs are not strong economies like ours, but they are functioning. Of course if they both enter the eurozone, their currencies may be reunited.
My argument is that the sensible way forward for coherent and separate economies, with separate polities, is to have their own currency and, over time, to adjust its value relative to that of other countries. In that way, they can ensure that they keep the economy in balance and they do not suffer either from being over-valued and losing out on trade or from being under-valued and having too much inflation. There is a sensible value for most currencies at any particular point in time, but it changes, and the only way to deal with that is to retain one's own currency. I suggest that that is the way forward for Britain.
Angus Robertson (Moray): I am pleased to be able to participate in this important debate on behalf of the largest opposition parties in Scotland and Walesthe Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru. I am also pleased to participate as a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, which is set to publish a report on the role of democracy and accountability, and of national Parliaments. Many of the issues that have been discussed today are covered in that report, which I commend to hon. Members.
I want to associate myself entirely with the Foreign Secretary's comments at the beginning of the debate about the tragic situation in Israel. On a less serious note, I dissociate myself entirely from the remarks of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) and, in the finest civic and inclusive traditions of the SNP, in the run-up to the England-Brazil football game I condemn narrow-minded nationalism and wish England all the best in that match.
That is the nub of a problem that has not yet been debated today. I find that interesting because we regularly hear, especially from the Labour party, that that is the optimal way to represent the interests of Scotland, Wales and Northern Irelandyet there has been not a single mention of the views of MSPs, Members of the National Assembly for Wales or Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, or of the devolved Executives of those nations. Not one mention was made of those views by the Minister, by Labour Members, by Conservative Members or by Liberal Democrats.
People in Scotland in particular will be astounded that only days after a Council of Ministers meeting on the vital issue of fishing, in which there was a controversial U-turn by Commissioner Franz Fischler on a quota system for the deep-water fisheries to the west of Scotland, the matter has not been mentioned in a debate in a House in which Government and Opposition Members from Unionist parties declare that the interests of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are taken seriously. They are not, and the absence of such matters from the debate is proof of that.
First, on the convention, I start by expressing my appreciation of the work of the only two directly elected Scottish representatives on the conventionProfessor Sir Neil McCormick MEP and councillor Keith Brown, both of whom represent my party. I also praise the work of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who has taken seriously her role of representing the interests of the House and all its Members. I look forward to continuing discussions with her. I have not yet been approached by the other representative of the House to share any thoughts. The Front Bench of the Conservative party described him as a party nomineebut I hope that is not the approach that he takes to his work.
I am interested in and excited by the role of the convention. It is supposed to listen and to draft new processes in an effort to democratise the decision-making structures of the European Union. I welcome that. We should follow the watchwords adopted by members of the convention, whose task has been laid down by the Governments of the EU: democracy, accountability, transparency and subsidiarity. The UK Government and the devolved Administrations should be leading by example, but the reality is very different.
Let us consider the reality of democracy. The devolved nations in the UK are not directly represented in the convention, unlike the German Lander, which are. The reality of the involvement of Ministers from the devolved Administrations at Council of Ministers meetings is that they attend only a fraction of those meetings, despite the fact that they are elected to represent
Angus Robertson: I am grateful for the Minister's intervention. I am certain that he understands that one of the representatives from the upper House of the German Parliament is a representative of a German Land, because the upper House of the German Parliament is made up of the representatives of the German Lander. Ergo the Lander are represented directly in the convention.
With regard to the involvement of Ministers from the various devolved Administrations in the Council of Ministers discussions, I referred earlier to the meeting of the Fisheries Council, which is vital to Scotland. I have the agenda and the attendance list, from which I see that the UK Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), was present this week, but the Scottish Minister with responsibility for agriculturethe Minister for Environment and Rural Development, Mr. Ross Finnie of the Liberal Democratswas not.
Similarly, the statistics for recent ministerial meetings on justice and home affairs, which are vital to Scotland, with its own legal system, show that since devolution the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Scotland, who is responsible for the Justice portfolio, the Deputy First Minister, Jim Wallace, has attended only four out of 19 meetings.
The reality of democratic representation leaves a lot to be desired. If hon. Members do not take my word for it, they should listen to the recent comments of the Scottish Labour Member of the European Parliament, Mr. Bill Miller, who I understand has a pretty senior role in the party of European Socialists. He described the efforts of the Scottish Executive in the European Union as being "virtually zilch". On the democratic element of the agenda set by the convention, much is left to be desired.
On accountability, it is astounding that not one UK Minister from any Department has ever given pre-Council or post-Council evidence to the European Committee of the Scottish Parliamentor, to my knowledge, to the National Assembly for Wales or to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
It is also a fact that paperwork giving notice of Council of Ministers meetings is not forwarded regularly by the various UK Government Departments to the Scottish Executive. That was confirmed in the recent report to the European Scrutiny Committee. Hon. Members who have not picked up on the minutiae of that may find it rather amusing that the letter from DEFRA confirming that it has not been forwarding letters to the devolved Administrations states:
the Scottish Executive
the Scottish Parliament
the Scottish Parliament's Library
the National Assembly for Wales
the Northern Ireland Executive
the Northern Ireland Assembly".
The reality of transparencyanother of the key issues that the convention is followingalso leaves a lot to be desired in the context of the devolved institutions in the UK. How is transparency served when, for example, Scottish Executive Ministers claim that they have been at meetings when they have not? Again, Mr. Finnie from the Liberal Democrats claimed to be at a key meeting, then the Scottish Executive was forced to "clarify the situation". There had been an administrative error and he had not been at the meeting as claimed.
How transparent is it that the Scottish Executive falsely tried to hike its attendance statistics in a parliamentary answer to the Scottish Parliament? It had to do a U-turn on that as well, and admit its appalling track record by confirming a lesser figure. All that can be read in the Official Report of the Scottish Parliament. It might interest Conservative Members that the attendance record of Scottish Executive Ministers from the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats is now even worse than it was under the Conservative party pre-devolution.
It is interesting that the issue of representation at Council of Ministers meetings was raised at First Minister's questions in Aberdeen recently. First Minister Jack McConnell claimed to MSPs that Scottish Ministers have led Fisheries Council meetings, although they never have. He was forced to make a U-turn to explain that Scottish Ministers have never led any Council of Ministers meeting when the Scottish interest is overwhelming within the UK.
In relation to transparency, it is also interesting that European policy making in the UK is governed by concordats that seek to maintain confidentialityknown to most people as secrecyat a time when Ministers are advocating that we should open up the proceedings of the Council of Ministers, which I fully endorse. However, when information is sought about how policy is formed between the various Governments in the United Kingdom, they say that that is unnecessary.