Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
TUESDAY 21 MAY 2002
20. Mr Heathcoat-Amory, you will have seen,
of course, the speech by the Shadow Foreign Secretary, given on
9 May to the European People's Party, which clearly dealt with
the question of the Acquis communautaire in the terms in
which you described it just now, that there will be no sacred
cows, no sealed vaults, and that we would make it clear that we
regarded no part of the Acquis communautaire as off limits,
for the purposes of examination. Clearly, from what you have said,
it appears that that is not something which is going to be accepted
by the majority of people who are in that Convention, as things
stand at the moment; but can you help me with this. Is it, in
your view, possible to adopt a position which is that we are going
to have an open examination in this Convention about the question
of the role of national parliaments, accountability and democracy,
and not examine the Acquis communautaire in an open, transparent
and radical fashion?
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) No. If this Convention is going
to be worthy of its ambition, it must be prepared to examine everything,
and I am afraid I have met a reluctance to do this, because they
still cling to the theory of the occupied field, that once there
has been an advance it will not retreat. But this is profoundly
undemocratic; we repeal things here, they must repeal things there.
And, indeed, I think, one of the frustrations that the public
have is that nothing ever gets changed back, it is a one-way street;
and I find it very difficult to square that with democracy, it
is as simple as that.
21. What I am anxious about is the clarification
on this point that the members of the Convention are not majoring
on the idea of giving more powers back to the national parliaments;
because, in our visits to some of the countries, I have been asking
that question of Members of Parliament, of Spain, of Portugal.
The ones I have met have all said they want to see more powers
passed back to the national parliaments, that the only issues
which Europe should consider are the issues which are beneficial
to all the countries involved, and they limited that to perhaps
half a dozen issues. Now what you are saying, if I understand
this, is, the delegates, or the people who have been elected onto,
or have come onto the Convention take a very different view, and
I am very concerned about this, because it may be that not only
is there not a reflection on the Convention of what Member State
parliaments actually feel, but that is going to take you even
further away from the public at large, who I am sure do feel they
want their Member State parliaments to take powers; that is the
question? A long one, but not as long as Mr Cash's.
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) I believe that the idea of repatriating
some decisions is perhaps more widely shared than I have yet heard,
because there are a number of candidate countries who I know think
along these lines; after all, they are new democracies, they are
proud of their independence, they have thought carefully about
self-government, and they do not want to be controlled from Brussels
any more than they used to enjoy being controlled, in a different
sense, from Moscow. So I think that we will begin to hear, I hope,
more voices who try to draw a distinction between what has to
be decided multinationally, cross-border issues, trade issues,
competition issues, and then, on the other hand, those matters
that ought to be debated and discussed and decided nationally,
where people primarily feel represented. And there is a very widely
shared perception that we have gone way beyond that, but a great
reluctance to actually face up to the consequences, which is to
transfer back certain areas to Member State parliaments.
(Ms Stuart) May I just add that the President of the
Convention, Giscard d'Estaing, in a speech to the European Parliament
in April, stated quite clearly that he regarded it as one of functions
of the convention to explore all issues, and that no part of the
Acquis should be regarded as untouchable; so Mr Cash may be delighted
to hear that the President of the Convention agrees with the Opposition
Shadow Foreign Secretary. Every part of the Acquis has
to be looked at; to say that, at this stage, the voices have not
been specific enough as to how powers should be aligned is simply
premature, because the first sessions were, much of it, we just
had to get to know each other, to recognise the faces. The working
groups, if you look at the topics, subsidiarity, complementary
competences, I would not be at all surprised if, in the autumn,
we actually saw a working group which looked at the pillar structure.
I think there is a tremendous consensus that we must have what
I tend to describe as two-way valves, which allow powers to go
one way and then go back. The Convention would end up in gridlock
if we tried to define what those powers precisely would be, but
I think the mechanisms by which you could establish it would be
very much within the framework of the Convention.
22. I am grateful, Mr Chairman, for pointing
that out to me. But my supplementary, probably to Ms Stuart, is
this. Do you feel the Convention is going to consider the volume
and complexity of legislation emanating from Brussels and the
anathema this presents to the public at large, probably in all
countries; is there a recognition of that situation?
(Ms Stuart) There are a number of things which are
widely shared. One is that the institutions of the European Union,
certainly about the last ten years, have deteriorated in their
efficiency. The second thing is that all the segments, probably
with the exception of the European Parliament, have renationalised
the European Union; if you look at the way the Commission is acting,
in its weakness, if you look at the way even the European Parliament
has started to vote along national blocks, if you look at the
way Qualified Majority Voting, which was seen as a mechanism to
enable decision-making, has been used as a mechanism to build
up blocking minorities. So there is a whole dynamics, which I
think is universally shared, that the way the institutions work
currently simply is not sustainable in the long run; and the Convention
will look at the structures of how you can tease it out and make
it more efficient than, I think, getting bogged down with individual
Directives, for example.
Mr Steen: I am most grateful to you, Mr Chairman.
23. How strong was support for the idea of greater
involvement of national parliaments in reviewing compliance with
subsidiarity and proportionality?
(Ms Stuart) I think it is universally shared that
national parliamentarians should be more involved, but the question
is, how; and that will be one of the themes of the working groups.
But the one thing which I just want to flag up, one of the debates
which ought to be had is, when you police subsidiarity, whether
this should be a political process or a judicial process; and
my personal view is that actually it should be firmly a political
Mr Tynan: I am sure our report will help guide
you in that direction.
24. This question is addressed to Ms Stuart.
Do you accept that, as there is a rebalancing in the European
Union, that I think most of us would accept is taking place, whereby
national governments are having much more the upper hand again,
vis-a"-vis the Commission, say, and the European Parliament,
as we strengthen the role of national governments in EU decision-making
and move towards what sometimes is referred to as a Europe of
the nation states, is it not important that, at the same time,
there should be a strengthening of the role of national parliaments,
because, after all, the line of accountability, as far as national
governments are concerned, runs primarily through the national
parliaments rather than the European institutions?
(Ms Stuart) I think, whilst I broadly agree with the
scenario outlined, we have a difficulty in Britain, which is probably
unusual, and that is that, national parliaments, and Mr Davis,
I think, quite rightly, highlighted why are the four of us not
hunting more as a pack, the House of Commons has no mechanisms
by which the Commons, as an institution, finds a view, because
our politics are adversarial. We do not form the kind of coalitions
that European parliaments tend to do, and there is quite often
a confusion as to where national governments and national parliaments
interlock, and a lot of the European institutions would say, to
national parliamentarians, "You are represented via your
national governments, who are answerable to you in parliament,"
and this is the chain, how it works. I have a sense that we must
find means by which you have a more direct influence as national
parliaments, and there are some ideas being floated of how that
can be achieved, but it is certainly something which I think is
extremely important. And it is almost a challenge to this House
also, at what level does the House form a view; currently, there
is no such mechanism.
25. Can I just make a comment. I am sorry I
have been drifting in and out, but I am trying to solve a very
important problem for a young constituent, who may not be going
on holiday tomorrow if she does not get her passport, which, as
you know, is our first duty, to represent the people who send
us here. But my comment is, I am concerned that we are getting
a view that people who have gone from the Parliament, from the
House of Commons, which is an elected body, think they are there
as independent individuals. It worries me that, if that is what
everyone is doing in Europe, what we have, in fact, is a group
of individuals paddling their own canoe and not actually making
an attempt to represent the view of an elected body, and that
elected body is the UK Parliament. For the House of Lords representatives,
I am not quite sure who they think they represent, so they obviously
can act as independents. And I would be worried if, in fact, what
we had in the Convention from the UK was people who thought they
were there to represent the view either of their political party
only, because it would have to be weighted according to how many
votes they got, how many seats they had in the Parliament, to
be given a true reflection of its weight in the Parliament they
are there to represent. So, if it turns out like that, I think
what we will have is a very devalued process; but if it is a genuine
attempt to represent some idea of a consensus of the Parliament,
and think in blue sky terms, then it will be very beneficial.
So I am still worried about it. But the question I want to ask
is not on that but on the timetable, because we saw, even in the
grand strategies of the European Union, that the Nice Conference
was a confusion, because, at the end of the day, they had to try
to make decisions at the last moment. Now how much is the Convention's
timetable a realistic timetable, that will allow a genuine, staged
process of ideas to develop, or how much will it be a matter of
trying to rush into some sort of Euro-fudge at the end. How realistic
is the timetable, and how are we going to avoid the same calamity
that happened in the Nice Conference?
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) Can I just comment on what you
said about whether we are representing ourselves or interests
to which we belong. I think it must be a mixture, if it is just
to be an undertaking which thinks as well as acts. I belong to
a number of different groups, I am a member of the EPP parliamentary
group, I also regard myself very much as a representative of the
House of Commons, and, more generally, parliamentary interests,
and I belong to a number of other informal and shifting alliances,
because I am trying to get to know the East European countries,
for instance, who do not naturally and automatically fit into
our existing blocs. But I also, I think, try to take my own judgement
into the Convention, because, otherwise, if these matters are
simply decided by the power or size of the existing institutions
or power blocs, or a right/left confrontation, then I think we
will be failing, and certainly we will be disappointing the public.
So, although I do not pretend I can have much influence as an
individual, and therefore I do look for alliances, and I come
from a certain background, which I am representing, I am genuinely
trying to add ideas to this, because I do not think anyone has
a solution. I think there has been a loss of confidence in Europe,
and I think the reason we are having a Convention is that this
is showing up in the disillusionment and in these unexpected electoral
results. So we must listen and not suppose that we have some prepackaged
solutions. As regards the timescale, I find it very difficult
to comment on that, except to say this, that I hope there will
not be an automatically assumed single outcome, and then it will
be presented to us on a "take it or leave it" basis.
I think that may be an aim of the President, but I think, myself,
that it would be perhaps more healthy if we could have a range
of options, and then the final decision may be made either by
Member States meeting at the next IGC, or even by referendums,
with maybe multiple choice referendums, so people can have an
alternative model for them to decide on. In other words, if we
are really interested in returning Europe to the people, let us
give them some real choices at the end of it all, and that cannot
be done on an artificial timescale which assumes that by next
June there will be a single package solution.
(Ms Stuart) I agree with Mr Connarty's concern, how
do we, as the representatives, find a means of representing the
opinions of the House; when I talk to other colleagues, I have
to say, we are actually far ahead in the mechanisms we have managed
to put into place here. The fact that we published the first reports
from the Convention, which are available in the Vote Office, the
papers are made available, the Commons authorities are looking
at changes of possible Standing Orders, so that we can be questioned,
the fact that we are appearing in front of Select Committees of
both Houses, we are going to Northern Ireland to talk to the Assembly
there, we have talked to Welsh and Scottish representatives. So
I hope that the Committee has the sense that certainly we, as
individuals, are trying to do our best to have the views, and,
in terms of the different sides of the House, I have been to Labour
Party meetings, made the e-mail available, try to actually get
as much input as possible from those who wish to do so. In terms
of the timescale, I think it is quite difficult; we are supposed
to report back to the IGC in 2004; a number of national governments
want a fire-break between the report of the Convention and going
to that IGC, so we are aiming for next summer, to have a report.
My view is that there is a minimum outcome, which is a simplification
of the Treaties, some of which may not even require a new treaty;
but I would be extremely surprised if we would not end up with
also a number of options being put on the table, which then can
go to the IGC.
26. Have there been any discussions with the
Leader of the House about new Standing Orders, to allow you to
report back to the House about these meetings?
(Ms Stuart) Yes, there have, and they are ongoing;
and, as I understand it, we should be drawing to the completion
of this process pretty soon.
27. Moving on to other matters, I note the choice
of six working groups, subsidiarity, Charter of Fundamental Rights,
the legal personality of the EU, or simplification of the Treaties,
whichever way you want to view it, national parliaments, complementary
competences and economic governance. Now, I wonder how you feel
about both the choice of those six working groups in the areas
you think they are correct, and the ones which should be, and
are you content that the membership should be determined by the
Praesidium. Obviously, Ms Stuart may have a particular view about
that, since I believe she is going to chair one of them, but how
will the Praesidium achieve a desired balance in membership? It
would be good to understand that process. Finally, do you think
that when the Praesidium makes its recommendations it will carry
universal acceptance, or will it be a cause for continuing disgruntlement
in the Convention?
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) I would like to sit on all six,
but I have got to choose, so I am going for the one on complementary
28. Do you think they are the right six; do
you think the choices are correct?
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) No. I personally think there
should be one on democracy. I want to ask these very basic questions
first, about how the people feel about this, do they identify
with the European Parliament, if so, why do they not vote for
it; is the Commission something that they know anything about,
therefore, is the idea of electing the President of the Commission
anything more than a gimmick. And I wrote, accordingly, asking
for that, but it has been turned down. So I am happy there should
be one on competencies, although the very phrase "complementary
competences" is gobbledegook to the public; it is actually
a question of who does what, and I would like to call it the "who
does what" working group. Whether I will be put on it, well,
as a trouble-maker, I will probably be put in some sort of other
working group, breaking stones somewhere; but, no, I rely very
much on my colleague, as a member of the Praesidium, to guard
my interests in this respect. So, to answer your question, no,
I do not think they are entirely right, but they are at least
a step in the right direction, provided we can not be confined
by them. And, on the question of competences, I want to widen
it into a very general debate about at what level decision-making
should be done in Europe, rather than simply this curious sub-division,
called "complementary competences".
29. And, as to the Praesidium's choice and control
over membership, do you think that is acceptable ?
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) I am crossing my fingers on that,
and I am being very nice to my colleague, who I am sure has a
lot of influence in this matter.
(Ms Stuart) Very briefly, these are simply the first
six; for example, I am quite certain there will be one on European
security and defence policy later on, I am quite sure we will
be looking at the pillar structure later on. So it is your first
cut. In terms of, it is not so much control, we were trying to
get all the alternate members to have their place as well, so
you would be looking at something like around 25, and it is a
question of just simply balancing it, rather than actually having
a wish to control it.
30. Who chose the six subjects?
(Ms Stuart) They came out of some of the early recommendations
from the Praesidium secretariat, then were discussed, and actually
the sixth one, on economic governance, was added at the request
of Praesidium members.
31. You have not answered my question. I said
who chose the subjects, the Praesidium?
(Ms Stuart) Yes; the secretariat put them forward
32. So the Praesidium chose the subjects?
(Ms Stuart) But we looked at the kinds of issues which
were raised during the first three sessions of the Convention,
and, for example, on the competences, it kept coming back, the
question, should you have a catalogue of competences; so you followed
issues which were raised.
33. I am sure you are very responsive to views
expressed by members of the Convention, but the answer to my question
is the Praesidium, is it not?
(Ms Stuart) May I almost reply with an answer, who
do you think should have chosen them?
34. It was possible that; in our system, Parliament
decides these things, so one might have expected the Convention
to decide it, this sounds a bit like a sort of cabinet which you
have got. Let me ask you this. Is it true that, as chairman of
a working group, you will be required to show the draft report
to the Praesidium before it is shown to the working group; is
(Ms Stuart) It is not something which has been put
to me, that that is one of the requirements. However there are
some things, which will happen. For example for the meeting tomorrow
I have prepared a draft reference paper, which will form the basis
of the working group. I will take that paper to the praesidium
for discussion. I would expect the other working group chairs
to do the same. For example there is significant overlap between
my group on national parliaments and the working group on competences.
I do not think it would make sense for us to end up with reports,
which were mutually incompatible. So it will be an exchange of
ideas, rather than a process of authorisation of the final reports.
35. I am a simple man; could I have a simple
answer to a simple question? Is it true that, as chairman of a
working group, you will show the draft report to the Praesidium
before it is shown to the working group which you chair?
(Ms Stuart) I would wish to share it with my colleagues,
but there is not a requirement, it is not "Thou shalt show
this to us before you do anything else."
36. So it is a voluntary thing, you are going
to discuss it with the Praesidium?
(Ms Stuart) Yes.
37. How do you justify that then? It just sounds
to me a bit élitist, you see. How do you justify having
a working group which does a report but you discuss it with somebody
else before you discuss it with the people in the working group?
(Ms Stuart) Because, if you have got the first draft,
which would come as a result of what all the working group did,
and the draft you would clear with your working group, and then,
before you make it the final draft, it would make sense, to me,
to make sure that what the various working groups come up with
actually makes coherent sense. I think it would show bad management
if you have got six working groups going off preparing their little
reports, which do not add up.
38. Yes; sometimes people do say that democracy
is bad management. It does sound a little bit to me like the Politburo
in the Soviet Union?
(Ms Stuart) If I did not do that, you could very rightly
accuse me of being the little dictator of the working group who
goes off and does her own bit, which she does not talk to anybody
else about, and says, "This is my paper."
Mr Davis: I would not have thought the working
group would control those, Chairman; perhaps they are not the
sort of people we have in Parliament.
39. Would you agree, Ms Stuart, with the idea
of proposing, as one of the other future working groups, democracy,
as one issue, and referendums, as another? Simply because it seems
to me, and I do not want to prejudge anything, that there is such
a stitch-up going on, in advance of this Convention's conclusions,
that I would want to see that the matter was referred to the electorates
of the individual countries, so that they could form a judgement
about the outcome. Do you agree with that?
(Ms Stuart) Two observations. I have continuously
heard the suggestion that someone, somewhere, has already got
the outcome of the Convention in their back pocket; if there is,
I have not met that person yet. There genuinely is not a stitch-up.
There is some working on how can we move forward. So I do not
even accept your premise. A working group on democracy, I hope
that, out of all the working groups, the outcome will be whether
processes are transparent, whether they are accountable; that
is democracy. There will be no-one there saying, "We don't
want democracy, I would hope this to emerge." In terms of
referenda in the countries, that really is a matter for the individual
countries. I am sure that, Mr Cash, you would be most upset if
the Convention came up with a suggestion telling the British people,
for example, that they must have a referendum.
Mr Cash: No, I would be very much in favour