Letter to Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, Secretary
of State for Foreign and Commonwealth
Affairs, from the Chairman of the Committee,
5 December 2001
The Foreign Affairs Committee has noted the European
Scrutiny Committee's Fifth Report, Convention to Prepare for the
2004 Inter-Governmental Conference, which was published on 12
November, and in particular the recommendation contained in that
Report that the Commons Member of the Convention established to
examine the matters for discussion at the IGC should be a Member
of the European Scrutiny Committee (as should any substitute),
appointed formally by a Motion in the House, who should consult
and report back to other Members.
The Foreign Affairs Committee's duty to examine the
expenditure, administration and policy of the Foreign and Commonwealth
Office clearly places upon it the primary responsibility to inquire
on behalf of the House into the Government's policy on the European
Union, including arrangements for inter-governmental conferences.
An IGC, of course, is not an internal Commission or Council matter;
it is a meeting between Heads of Government, usually to discuss
proposals for the amendment of international treaties. In the
United Kingdom, responsibility for such meetings rests with the
Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
As you know, the Foreign Affairs Committee has already
announced its Inquiry into the IGC 2004. We will be hearing evidence
in the period leading up to the IGC and will report our conclusions
to the House. Meanwhile, it is the firm view of myself and my
colleagues on the Committee that the Commons member of the proposed
Convention (and any substitute) should be drawn from the Foreign
Affairs Committee. I would be grateful if you would bear this
in mind when considering any such appointment.
I am copying this letter to Jimmy Hood.
Letter to the Chairman of the Committee
from the Rt Hon Jack Straw MP,
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth
Affairs, 17 December 2001
Thank you for your letter of 5 December about representation
to the Convention on the Future of Europe.
There have been a number of suggestions as to how
the representatives to the Convention should be appointed. As
I told your Committee when I gave evidence we shall certainly
bear your proposal carefully in mind in reaching decisions.
I welcome your Committee's Inquiry into the IGC.
I look forward to its deliberations.
Letter to the Prime Minister, from the
Chairman of the Committee,
18 December 2001
I was very interested to hear your pledge in response
to a question from Andrew Mackinlay yesterday that "We shall
certainly consult very closely on the proper arrangements"
for the appointment of representatives of Parliament to the Convention
on the Future of Europe (Official Report, col. 33).
As Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I have
already made representations to Jack Straw (enclosed). I would
therefore be interested to learn how precisely you propose to
consult; with whom you propose to consult; and what procedures
will be adopted for making the appointments?
It is clearly an important matter of principle that
the persons chosen should be, and be seen to be, representatives
of Parliament rather than nominees of the executive. I believe
it is essential, therefore, that the promised consultations should
be held directly with Members of Parliament.
Is it your intentionwhich would be consistent
with your pledgethat the names which eventually emerge
will be put to Parliament for its approval?
Oral Questions, 8 January 2002, Column
Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly):
If he will make a statement on what was agreed at the Laeken summit
with regard to the establishment of a convention to prepare for
the next IGC.
The Minister for Europe (Peter Hain): I
refer my hon. Friend to the statement on the Laeken European Council
made by the Prime Minister on 17 December.
Mr. David: I thank my
right hon. Friend for his response. Given the need to reconnect
the European Union with its citizens, does he agree that national
Parliaments have a crucial role to play in the forthcoming convention?
Peter Hain: Yes, I do.
That is why representatives from our Parliament will attend the
convention. The encouraging thing from Laeken was the recognition,
probably for the first time, by the European Council that member
states powers' should be not be further encroached on. On the
contrary: there should be an examination which could lead
"to restoring tasks to the Member States
and to assigning new missions to the Union",
or to the extension of existing powers. In other
words, the European Union recognised that the process of centralisation
had to be reconsidered and reversed as a result of British influence
there. However, our Parliament should certainly have its voice
heard at the convention.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire):
In view of that, will the Minister give the House an unequivocal,
unconditional, unambiguous guarantee that the parliamentary representatives
will be chosen by Members of Parliament, not by members of the
Peter Hain: I am grateful
to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter, on which we have
received representations from the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs
Committee and the Leader of the Opposition. Consultations are
taking place and we are sympathetic to the views expressed to
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North):
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, within two to three years,
there will be a written constitution for this country? It will
be drafted in Brussels as a result of the Laeken summit. Early
drafts of that constitution are already being penned by Valery
Giscard d'Estaing. Does he share the feeling that it is very important
that our British representatives be appointed quickly to the constitutional
convention? Will he also make a point of consulting the Speaker
and any other necessary authorities so that the two representatives
of the British Parliament are seen to represent all parties in
this House and carry the full weight of the British Parliament
as well as the British Government?
Peter Hain: I well understand
the point that my hon. Friend makes. We are anxious that the representatives
to the convention should represent the House. There will be consultations,
as there already have been. We are listening very carefully to
representations made to us from the House.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East):
With his newly acquired Euro-enthusiasm, will the Minister tell
us whether this convention will be likely to discuss the new proposal
for an elected Euro-president? What particular powers would the
new president of Europe have, and where precisely will his base
be located? [Hon. Members: "Southend.] Will he have a palace
in one country or separate palaces in each member state?
Peter Hain: I think that
the election of a president of the European Union, especially,
as is proposed by some, by the citizens of the European Union,
is frankly a barmy idea. It will be opposed by the British Government
and any such suggestion that is made through the convention will
not fly at the intergovernmental conference. I ask hon. Members
to remember that the convention does not bind the intergovernmental
conference that will probably occur early in 2004. We will have
a say there and, if necessary, we will exercise a veto there.
Donald Anderson (Swansea, East):
My right hon. Friend rightly implied that the representatives
of Parliament should be seen not as placemen or placewomen, but
as proper representatives. He went on to say that there had already
been consultations. With whom have those consultations been held
and in what circumstances?
Peter Hain: My right hon.
Friend has, as he well knows, written to us.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock):
He has not had a reply.
Peter Hain: I know, but
Christmas has intervened and we are considering the issues. No
game is being played here. We are anxious that the very strong
views that have been represented by my right hon. Friend and others
should be taken into account. Can I say too-
Hon. Members: Answer!
Mr. Speaker: Order. Hon.
Members should let the Minister answer in his own way.
Peter Hain: I am grateful,
Mr. Speaker. Consultations occurred when a convention was held
some years ago on the charter of rights. In addition, we have
had representations that we are taking very seriously indeed.
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes):
The Minister's definition of consultations does not bode well
for the consultations that are to take place at the convention.
Does he agree that, if the convention is to have any value, it
must encompass and consider more than one model of the future
structure of Europe? Would it not be unthinkable for such a convention
not to include proposals for a flexible Europe of nation states-proposals
that reflect the views of the vast majority of the British people
and the position of the Opposition?
While it should finally be a matter for the House
to decide who the representatives are, will the Minister press
the Prime Minister to respond positively to the written offer
made by the Leader of the Opposition on 19 December for my party
to play a full and constructive part in the convention, promoting
those positive views to which I have referred-[Laughter.]
I listen very carefully to the laughter and note whence it comes.
Or will the convention be just another stitch-up to drive forward
the European superstate regardless of the genuine views of the
peoples of Europe?
Peter Hain: I thought
that the right hon. Gentleman started very well. He began constructively
and I hoped that he would continue in that vein. The answer is
yes: the Leader of the Opposition will, of course, be fully responded
to and his representations will be listened to. We will not always
respond negatively to the Leader of the Opposition, although,
frankly, that is very tempting. On the serious point that he made
about the superstate, it is very interesting that we ensured with
virtually unanimous support the insertion in the Laeken declaration
of, for the first time, a rejection of the idea of a superstate
by the European Council. The declaration states that what the
citizens of Europe expect is
"more results, better responses to practical
issues and not a European superstate or European nstitutions inveigling
their way into every nook and cranny of life."
It is exactly that model of the European Union-based
on intergovernmentalism, supporting its citizens and reflecting
their practical daily-life wishes-which we are pressing. We are
confident that it can be secured at the intergovernmental conference,
not least because Britain under this Government is a leading European
power, not a marginal power as it was under the previous, Conservative
Andrew Mackinlay: May
I take the Minister back to his statement that there had been
consultation with the Leader of the Opposition? Apart from the
cosy choreography that goes on between those on the two Front
Benches, who else has been consulted about the arrangements for
appointing Parliament's representatives to the conventions? What
is to be done, given that there are alternate members? Will my
right hon. Friend make it abundantly clear to the people here
and to the Sunday press, which has got it all wrong, that while
the rubrics for choosing these people may be a matter for the
Leader of the House, the question of who should represent this
Parliament-as distinct from the Government's representatives-is
for this House to decide, not those on the Government Front Bench?
Peter Hain: My hon. Friend
is a good and fiery democrat and he is right to keep pressing
that issue. His voice will be listened to-[Interruption.]
It is being listened to and it has been in the past minute by
my good self. His colleague, my right hon. Friend the Member for
Swansea, East (Donald Anderson), Chairman of the Select Committee
on Foreign Affairs, has put a series of strong points to us on
behalf of that Committee, as has the Leader of the Opposition,
and those representations are being considered.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood):
While we are on the subject of constitutions and conventions in
Europe, is it not premature of the European Union to be pressing
ahead for a new IGC and, presumably, a new treaty when the last
one has not even been ratified, by virtue of the negative vote
of the Irish people democratically expressed? Or will it be a
case in future of pressing ahead regardless?
Peter Hain: The answer
to that question is no. There is an important initiative here.
For the first time, the European Union has agreed to set up a
convention and consult the people of Europe about the future.
That is welcome and I would have thought that it ought to be welcome
to the hon. Gentleman and all Opposition Members, as it is welcome
to the Labour party. There is an enormously worrying and growing
gap between the institutions and the people of the EU. It is the
task of the next IGC, which will not take place for at least two
years, to try to close that gap and to ensure that the leaders
of the EU follow the wishes of its citizens.