The Future of Europe

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Lord Tomlinson: I just want to add that, besides there being four parliamentary representatives, at every plenary meeting of the convention we make a point of convening a meeting of all the British representatives so that we can benefit from a wider exchange of views. That means that Government representatives, British European parliamentarians and the parliamentary representatives come together with civil servants. With such dialogue we have the benefit of the advice of, for example, someone like Neil MacCormick, who is a member of the Convention representing the European Parliament.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: It is proposed that the single legal personality should replace existing ones. The existing ones include defence, foreign affairs, justice and home affairs. Previously, it was ascertained by national Governments that such matters could not be compromised or Europeanised, but if we have a single legal personality, it seems that such matters will be subsumed into one treaty. I should like clarification of that.

Lord Maclennan: Perhaps it would be convenient if I tried to answer that question as I was a member of the group that made the recommendation. First, the attribution—

The Chairman: Order. I remind the Committee that I am partially deaf, and that it would make things easier if Members spoke in my direction and with a slightly raised voice.

Lord Maclennan: I am more than happy to do so. Sharing that physical difficulty with you, Mr. Cook, I understand entirely what you say.

I was endeavouring to make the point that the simple attribution of legal personality by the treaty has no effect whatever on the competences of the Union in respect of foreign or defence policies—or, for that matter, in respect of justice and home affairs. It makes clear what has hitherto probably been clear only to the lawyers who have been advising the Government, as well as those who have been advising the European Union's institutions—that the Union is capable of suing and being sued in its own name. That is about the beginning and end of it.

As for what the working group had to say about the conduct of foreign and defence policies in light of its recommendation that the Union should have a single legal personality, it is clear that it was not part of the ratio decidendi—I use the lawyers' expression. It was considered sensible to point out some of the problems that would result from giving the Union a single legal personality and the fact that the need for a single voice could be dealt with in other ways—ways that should be considered by the groups considering foreign and defence policies. The only surprise was that that group took roughly seven meetings to arrive at a decision that could have been made in an hour, even allowing everyone to participate. It was not a profound decision with necessary or earth-shattering consequences.

I want to deal with another point helpfully made by Lord Stoddart about the wrapping up of the pillars—a subject referred to by the right hon. Member for Wells. No necessary consequences flow from the single personality decision in that respect. It was made clear in the working group's report that the protections provided for both second and third pillar decision making could be retained within a single treaty—and that they should be so retained in respect of at least some matters. However, that will be considered again by the working groups on home affairs and defence policy.

The Chairman: Order. Just in case any noble, right hon. or hon. Members have forgotten, it is beneficial to have brief questions and brief answers.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): I am grateful to our representatives for reporting back. From all that we have heard and seen, it seems that the European joyriders are still in our car, that the car is thundering through the night, that it is raining and that they are trying to keep us in the dark about the power grab. If the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston is to be proved right about the charming visage that she presents of a sudden outbreak of democracy and national independence within the European Union, surely we must see a massive transfer of competences from the Union to member states, the abolition of the qualified majority vote and the restoration of the veto; and there must be a clear statement that powers will be transferred back. Can she tell us of any power, on any important area, that is likely to be returned to member states? Can she tell us of any veto that will be restored? If not, I cannot believe a word of what we have heard.

Ms Stuart: It is refreshing to listen to the right hon. Gentleman, and those of us who were in danger of dozing off have thoroughly woken up again. However, he misunderstands the Convention process. It would be wholly inappropriate for the Convention to pick out particular areas at the end of the year, but it would be appropriate, while consolidating the treaties, for us to establish a mechanism to allow that to happen. At present there is no mechanism, and there clearly must be one. It is also clear that, for example, any treaty would have to include a clause on leaving the Union. The Convention's role is to pull treaty provisions together, make them more transparent and allow for a two-way flow. I am confident that that will happen. Which bits flow which way is a political decision, which we will have to face later.

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly): On a slightly more positive note, the right hon. Member for Wells expressed concern about the Commission's right of initiative. Seen in a vacuum, that concern is understandable, but it is important to recognise from our discussions on subsidiarity that national Parliaments will have a more significant role. It is also important to recognise that the Convention has discussed enhancing the Council's role. Will my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston say a few words about that and, in particular, about the discussion of the six-month presidency and of whether the Council should take a more strategic role in the development of the Union?

Ms Stuart: The Convention has not yet got to the point of studying all the other institutional arrangements. The first non-European Union institutions that we considered were national Parliaments; it is a kind of anchoring process. What emerged from the discussions in the working group on national Parliaments was that the Council of Ministers must be much more open and that national Parliaments must know what Ministers have done on their behalf. At present, they do not know, because the Council is held behind closed doors. There is also the issue of the flow of information during the conciliation process.

There is a real feeling that the six-month presidency cannot continue with its current structure, although there can still be hosting presidencies. That is something for the new year. The first 10 working groups are smaller bodies, and I expect institutional arrangements to be debated at the plenary session in the new year; the issue cannot simply be farmed out to small groups.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I am afraid that a horrible Community method is at work and that everyone will get something and go away happy, claiming success. There is a danger that the Commission will keep its existing powers at the end of the process and perhaps augment them; it has certainly bid for extra powers in the fields of crime, security and foreign policy. The Council may also get more powers, as the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) said. The European Parliament always gets something, as it has done following the last three treaty changes. National Parliaments will get a new, exciting scrutiny role as a result of subsidiarity, although that would not be necessary if the treaties worked as they should. The only people not to get more powers will be the electors, but it is they who feel alienated. I am afraid that they will say at the end of the process that a lot of politicians spent a year talking and distributed more powers, competences, duties and probably money, but that they left the public out.

A Convention worthy of the name should start to set priorities, because something has to give. Personally, I would make the Commission into a secretariat, which would service the will of the people, as expressed through their Parliaments. However, that

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kind of radical thinking is entirely absent. That is the big difference between Brussels in 2002 and Philadelphia in 1787, where people started by asking what the nature of government was and whether it was possible to have a federal Government on a continental scale. Until people begin asking such questions, all we shall have is an institutional bargaining session, and the public will pay the price.

Lord Tomlinson: There is a different perspective to this. I support the Commission's having the sole right of initiative, but that must be properly used and controlled. That places an enormous responsibility on the Council of Ministers to say no at an early stage to that which it regards as nonsense. National Parliaments, through their scrutiny procedures, therefore have an equally responsible role to play in ensuring that Ministers know what is considered unacceptable as a Commission proposal. They now have an additional important role: to make sure that the proposed early warning system for subsidiarity works. That is one of the surest ways of ensuring that there are fewer legislative proposals as any extension of the base of those who can make legislative proposals is a certain guarantee that there will be more, rather than less, legislation.

Lord Willoughby de Broke: May I ask the noble Lord why he believes that the 20 unelected members of the Commission should retain the right? He has said that they should, but has not told us why. It would be interesting to find out why those people, some politically successful, others less so, should continue to have the right to propose legislation that affects all the electors in the European Union.

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Prepared 23 October 2002