The Future of Europe

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Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): On the theme of blue sky thinking, I note that the early sittings in June and between 9 and 12 July were to hear the advice of civil society. In fact, the European youth convention took place from 9 to 12 July. I had the pleasure of meeting a convention member, who was

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buoyed up by what he thought he had taken part in. The document states that the young people represented in the convention

    ''demand a European Union which offers a vision of a united and democratic future, one which offers accessible government to all its citizens, and one which has the instruments of legitimacy to meet their expectations.''

What view did the UK representatives take of that submission?

Lord Maclennan: I took the view that the views of the right hon. Member for Wells were extremely important but not representative of those that had been expressed to the Convention. Although there was no prospect, and the prospect should not even be considered, of a United States of America, many people in this country—it was the youth of this country with whom I had the greatest contact—are capable of having loyalties to more than one political unit. As a Scot I find it not in the least difficult to support a Scottish Parliament and to feel attached to its decisions in respect of its functions. Similarly, as a Briton, I feel attached to the British Parliament and its traditions and its responsibilities. As a European I feel attached to what the European Union can do, which clearly cannot be done at national level. That view came through loud and clear from the representations that we received from the young people to whom the hon. Gentleman referred.

Lord Waddington: I was completely baffled by the remarks of Lord Tomlinson. Why should the Commission alone have the right to propose legislation? Why should it be assumed that if others had the right to propose legislation it would mean more legislation? Surely one of the great advantages in allowing Governments to propose legislation is that they could also propose the repeal of legislation. The Commission will never propose that legislation should be removed from the statute book of the Community.

Lord Tomlinson: I am sorry that Lord Waddington is baffled, as I think that I explained the position as I see it quite clearly. I believe that it is better for those two institutions—the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament—either individually or together to exercise their legislative responsibility totally and completely, subject to the controls of their electorate and their Parliaments. In those circumstances I remain a supporter of the proposal that the right of initiative should be with the Commission, particularly where there is improvement of the proposals for subsidiarity.

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston): May I ask the Convention representatives whether in the absence of European Government it is perfectly logical that the Commission should be able to propose legislation? In addition is it not a fact that none of that can become legislation unless the Commission work programme is approved by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament and that the legislation receives Readings in both the Council and the Parliament by democratically elected Members of Parliament and Governments?

Lord Tomlinson: I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. Increasingly national Parliaments are taking it as part of their responsibilities to scrutinise Commission work programmes. The more effectively

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they do that, the more effectively they can let their Ministers know the sort of views they expect of them within the framework of the Council.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: None of us would tolerate a situation in which a very small group of unelected people had sole right of initiative if the system were under any sort of democratic control or could be amended within our own country. It is intolerable and it is has contributed to the phenomenon of the accumulation of laws touched on by Lord Waddington. The acquis communautaire is now thought to run to 85,000 pages, as the Commission adds but seldom repeals. Worse, we are now to dump this quantity of legislation on to some very small states that are seeking to join the European Union. How can Malta or Estonia, in all seriousness, realistically cope with the colossal burden of regulations and other laws? That is what we have inherited. The Commission takes no interest in correcting, amending or repealing it, because it is always pressing on to new pastures and new unoccupied ground, which it makes its own preserve.

Ms Stuart: I shall make a brief observation. The Council of Ministers is perfectly capable of asking the Commission to make proposals, which it properly does. It is therefore right to leave the power of initiative with the Commission, not least because as soon as responsibilities are divided, accountability is too. Members may want other institutions to be given the power of initiative, but the only institution currently requesting it is the European Parliament. Do they really want the European Parliament to have it?

Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton): We have talked quite a lot this afternoon about effective scrutiny. Can our representatives suggest areas of improvement, which might have been gleaned from other models of scrutiny in other national Parliaments, which would improve our system in the United Kingdom?

Ms Stuart: My hon. Friend asks a question that was very much on the mind of the working group on national Parliaments—comparing how the various systems worked. We took great note of reports of both Houses, and of the experience of the scrutiny Committees. Some of the member states have systems that are good in their own contexts. We discovered that some of the Scandinavian groups, which scrutinise at great depth, became a mechanism of compensatory sovereignty, which they openly admitted. As long they have a seat at the table and can examine everything in great detail, they feel that they are part of the process. I want to see more than just the papers. There should be a real input at an early stage, which is why the flow of information should happen much earlier. Our recommendation that Commission proposals should go direct to national Parliaments is a step forward. It is no longer the function of the Government to forward them, as the annual programme is much greater. At the end of the day, the most significant input that national Parliaments can make is to hold their own Ministers to account about what they do at a European level and to consider how they can improve that.

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Lord Maclennan: The working group on the simplification of legislation is currently working on the absolute need for openness on the part of the Council about its role as a legislative body. It is, as it were, the second chamber of the European Parliament, and although steps were taken at Lisbon that marked an advance, they did not go far enough. The working group argued that when the Council is sitting as part of the legislative process, its proceedings should be held entirely in public. They should be fully reported in print. Effective scrutiny of the European Parliament, never mind of national Parliaments, will not be possible unless that step is taken.

Lord Tomlinson: It might be of interest to hon. Members and Lords to know that in the House of Lords, for example, the European Union Committee is currently considering scrutiny. Last week, we had the benefit of hearing from the Danish parliamentarians about their system. This week, we have had the great benefit of hearing from my hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood), who gave extensive evidence. In particular, we are considering how we would deal with any new proposals on subsidiarity within the time framework available to us for the scrutiny of documents.

Mr. Lilley: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston for withdrawing the suggestion that the constitution would be the end of the road. However, she went on to insult my intelligence again by asking me to believe the ''It's just a process of simplification'' thesis. If the matter were one of simplification, such as Lord Howe's programme of simplification of tax revenue, it would not require a Convention. Simplification would involve a group of people producing a simpler codification of existing law. It would not involve many proposals for changes in competence; the report contains many proposals for changes to the responsibilities of institutions.

I have just flicked through the progress report, and have seen references to the common emigration policy and the common asylum policy. There are proposals for changes in responsibility. If that were not so, why would we need a Convention? If there are such proposals, why cannot the Convention propose some transfers back to member states? If it does not do so, we will know what the Convention is about.

Lord Maclennan: May I quickly deal with the issue of changes in competence? Those changes have not been proposed, and are most unlikely to be proposed. That is not part of the remit of the Convention. The examples that the right hon. Gentleman adduced are of policies that were accepted under earlier treaties, some of which were made when he was a member of the Government. On the justice and home affairs examples, those have been competences of the European Union for a considerable time.

Ms Stuart: I am reminded of the phrase, ''Just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not after you.'' I suggest that there is a slight hint of paranoia.

We need the Convention because those at successive intergovernmental conferences have tried to bring

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about a simplification, and could not. They tried to have a more rational system, and felt that they could not achieve that. The Florence Institute is doing some work on sheer simplification, but that is not enough. The constitution is a definition of who should have what powers, and gives much greater clarity. I urge the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) to have good faith, to wait nine months and to see how the constitution will look then. He may well then no longer think that they are all after him.

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Prepared 23 October 2002