Select Committee on European Scrutiny Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



Mr Cash

  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.

Mr Steen

  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.

Mr Tynan

  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 process.

  Mr Tynan: I am sure our report will help guide you in that direction.

Roger Casale

  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.

Mr Connarty

  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.

Mr Connarty

  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 competences.

  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.

Mr Davis

  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 as suggestions.

  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 that true?
  (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.

Mr Cash

  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 of it.

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