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I do not share the pessimism that is attributed to the hon. Lady, and neither do my right hon. and hon. colleagues. In proper terms, the constitution is in the interests of the European Union and the United Kingdom, and let us hope that that is what will emerge from Brussels this weekend.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): First, I should like to reply to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). If he had been in some of the numerous committees at the intergovernmental conference and at the Convention itself, he would have heard many such comments over the past nine months[Interruption.] And here as well.
While the Foreign Secretary is still in his place, I would like to remind himif I may be so presumptuousof some of the things that happened at the Convention, which he might find helpful. If he is told by Convention representatives that it was the Convention that had democratic legitimacy to arrive at compromises and conclusions, he will be justified in rebutting that presumption and saying, "No, it is Heads of Government who have democratic legitimacy to make those decisions." Those who were at the Convention could not bind the institutions that sent them, and the right and proper place for making such decisions is this weekend's meeting.
I would also like to put on record that, in many parts of Europe, the document is being described as a deeply British document. The reason for that is that one of the most significant institutional changesthe creation of the President of the Councilwas strongly supported by the British to begin with, and accepted at a later stage with some reluctance, particularly by the smaller countries. I must offer a word of caution. Although that function significantly strengthens the institution that represents member states, it does not necessarily strengthen the representation of the individual member states. I simply point that out. There is a strengthening of that institution, which is undoubtedly recognised.
This weekend, the Secretary of State should keep in mind one thing about the document, which is that it contains three elements. One simplifies the procedures, whether those involve the new legal instruments or the
What is contentious is the third elementthe political one. If the Government do not feel at the end of the weekend that the political aspects are in Britain's and the Union's interest, they should not agree. It is perfectly possible to move away from the IGC and maintain the elements that are essential for enlargement. Here, I want to say something about the debate on a superstate. In an odd way, I am agnostic about it. If my children and grandchildren want to live in a United States of Europe, it is not up to me to say whether they can or cannot do so, if it is possible to create one.
I do not think that it is possible to create such a superstate, given our thousands of years of history and the commitment of the member states to the nation state but what would be damaging is an attempt to create a superstate that was contrary to a lot of traditions in Europe. It would be damaging for Europe if a small group of people tried to create something that, practically, would not work in the end. That is particularly so on the eve of enlargement, when it is so significant that those countries are coming in.
We must respect the Union's new motto, which is, "United in diversity". To respect that diversity, we need to pay far greater attention to principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. If I have one criticism of the constitution and the document as it stands, it is that I very much hope that the Government, either in the IGC or at a later stage, recognise that that aspect needs to be respected far more in practice.
That takes me to the role of the House. There is, undoubtedly, disengagement among the public in their support of the EU and the House needs to recognise that we have been guilty in respect of, or accomplices in, that disengagement. If half our domestic legislation derives from some Brussels initiative and we do not debate it, people will put all their worst fears and ignorance in one envelope and call it "Brussels", assuming that nothing good ever comes out of it. A lot of good comes out of it, but we need to start to debate it seriously here.
We spend five days discussing the Queen's Speech, which contains the Government's annual legislative programme, but we spend no time discussing the Commission's annual legislative programme. It is about time that we spent equal time on discussing the Commission's programme when the European Parliament discusses it. We had special sittings of the Standing Committee on the Convention and the Standing Committee on the Intergovernmental Conference, but even though this Parliament is the world's second-largest legislative body, with more than 1,000 Members, we struggled time and again in those sittings to be quorateto find the 13 Members required to be present. Given that six of them had to be there and had no choice, we had to find only another seven.
Mr. Spring: The hon. Lady makes a good and interesting point on scrutiny of Commission proposals, but should this Parliament not like those proposals would she be satisfied as to the adequacy of the so-called
Ms Stuart: I would certainly have preferred a stronger mechanism, but the real danger is that of mistaking the little pocket of power represented by a veto for influence. We shall have a problem if we do not take note of Commission proposals early enough here, regardless of whether they are welcome or unwelcome. The use of a red card at the end of the six-week period would constitute a blunt and brutal tool. The threat is actually greater than any influence that it might carry in itself.
Let me give a practical example. Earlier this year, the Italian presidency presented proposals on hallmarking, and industry in Britain began to alert MPs and MEPs. There was a very effective campaign involving MPs and MEPs with assay offices in their constituencies, who told the Government that they would not support the proposals. Eventually, the proposal disappeared. During the last six weeks, no red card would have been as successful as a mechanism enabling early note to be taken of what was coming, and the subsequent forging of alliances at Westminster and with Brussels.
Angus Robertson: Does the hon. Lady agree that, because of the nature of shared sovereignty, in many contexts, it is shared between Brussels and Holyrood rather than the House of Commons? Should not the Government give careful consideration to an early-warning mechanism ensuring that those elected north of the border to deal with these issues can have their rightful say?
At a time when the Government are saying that they want more transparency in the EU and welcoming the opening up of Council of Ministers meetings, is it not time for concordats in the UK to end the confidentiality of relationships involving European matters between the UK Government and the devolved Governments?
Ms Stuart: I must confess that I do not know enough about the concordats to comment on the second question, but I recall attending a Council of Ministers meeting with Scottish and Welsh colleagues. The important part of the proceedings is not one's arrival at the table in the company of a Minister from a devolved Administration; the important part always happens six, nine or 12 months earlier.
The House of Commons needs to be much more strategic and involved much earlier when it comes to Commission proposals; otherwise, we shall see more of what the latest Euro-barometer figures have shown usabout 48 per cent. support for the EU. The problem is disengagement and ignorance rather than genuine concern.
Let me say something about the Commission as an institution. I assumeI rather fearthat, as a result of one of the compromises reached at the IGC, each country will end up with its own Commissioner, and we shall not succeed in reducing the size of the Commission.
I wish all who go to the IGC a short weekend, although I doubt that it will be short. I ask them not to be sidetracked by meaningless language such as, "If we do not agree to this, we will be in the slow lane of Europe". What does that mean, other than suggesting that it is desirable to be in the fast lane? None of that makes any sense. What does make sense, in the interests of the European Union and of Britain, is that that document be seen as a good one that provides a sustainable structure. If it is not seen as such, it is better not to sign up to it.