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Mr. Straw: The statement was about what it said it was about: strengthening the role of Parliament in the European Union. I point out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that at any stage between 1979 and 1997, he and his colleagues in the then Government could have introduced changes of this kind. They wholly failed to do so. I also point out that as a result of a lack of proper engagement in the European Union when his party was in power, we have ended up with some really serious difficulties with the drafting of directives and regulations.
For example, the problems with the Data Protection Act 1998, with which I had to deal in relation to implementation, were caused by what the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues in government had signed up to lock, stock and barrel between 1990 and 1997, and we are still facing those problems. The same applies to the inadequate drafting and consideration of aspects of the working time directive. The Conservative Government could and should have dealt with those matters, and they failed to do so. I therefore greatly regret the grudging and churlish tone of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks about proposals that are designed to increase the role and effectiveness of this House and the other place in dealing with EU business.
Let me deal with some of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's specific questions. He asked whether Parliament should have a greater role than it does now. I very much hope so, and we are open to proposals to strengthen the role of Parliament further. It is for Ministers to propose, and for Parliament to dispose. I referred to the problems with European Standing Committees A, B and C, which were introduced with all-party support in the early 1990s. The idea was that they should better scrutinise European regulations, and I attended them when I was in opposition. The truth, however, is that they are not working, and they do not get proper attendance. We therefore need to look at ways in which the scrutiny of such documents can be enhanced.
I have no fear whatever about Parliament being involved much earlier, not just in the scrutiny of documents but in establishing policy in advance. It strengthens our hand when we go to Brussels or Luxembourg if we know what Parliament wants and what it does not want. That was our experience in respect of both the Convention and, above all, the IGC. I mention just one example of that among many: energy policy. The express strength of sentiment on both sides of the House about the inadequacy of the articles relating to energy in the draft Convention enabled me simply to say to my colleagues in the European Union that we could not tolerate those proposals and that we must have something different, and we ended up with something different. That is the approach that I want for the future.
One of the key proposals that I am announcing today is to extend back in time the point at which Parliament gets involved in the development of EU policy. The European Scrutiny Committees play an important role, but that happens when draft legislation is brought forward. Often, by that stage, issues are set in stone. In relation to the White Paper, the reason why I want a long prospective look to be taken at the European Union equivalent of the Queen's Speech is so that Parliament as a whole can better help us get a grip on issues. We can therefore intervene when policy decisions can properly be influenced, rather than after they have been taken.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): I should have thought that no one could do other than endorse, in principle, proposals for better parliamentary scrutiny of European affairs, and a more strategic approach on the part of the United Kingdom Government. The Modernisation Committee will no
The statement made no express mention of the Prime Minister. Is it expected that he will be an active participant in the procedures outlined by the Foreign Secretary? On Cyprus and Turkey, the Foreign Secretary enjoys my support and that of my colleagues. Turkey's accession will of course have to be subject to its fulfilling all the necessary criteria, including the Copenhagen criteria, but that seems to us to be an effort well worth making.
The Foreign Secretary's proposals doubtless allow for better scrutiny of constitutional change in Europe. I thought he was uncharacteristically coy in saying nothing about the progress of the constitution. Perhaps he could say what discussions he has had recently with the Irish Government, and what progress, if any, he anticipates.
I hope the proposals also allow for greater scrutiny of the European Union's budget, but there was no particular reference to that in the statement. We are at one with the Government in believing that there should be no increase in the central budget, and that Britain's rebate should be maintained; but does the Foreign Secretary agree that the fundamental issuethe issue at the heart of financial considerations of the European Unionremains the unreformed common agricultural policy? Until that is dealt with properly, discussions of the kind that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been having over the last two or three days are likely to continue.
Mr. Straw: I was about to explain. The Prime Ministerthis is unusual for Ministers involved in EU businessroutinely makes an oral statement to the House the day after, or two days after, every European Council; I refer to the key European Union sessions. He attends those, unlike other members of the Cabinet, who go back and forth to and from Brussels and Luxembourg much more regularly.
The negotiations on Cyprus and Turkey began in New York yesterday. They are likely to prove difficult because the issue is difficult, but I am grateful for the support that has been given by Members throughout the House. We have actively supported Turkey and the start of its negotiations. It should be recognised that Turkey has made significant strides towards ensuring that it can meet the Copenhagen criteria. We will continue to work with our colleagues in the EU 15, and subsequently the 25, towards a date for the start of the negotiations being set by the European Council at the end of this year. I happen to think that that is very important.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that I had been coy about the IGC, and I plead guilty. The reason is that it is impossible to say whether the IGC negotiations will or will not be reopened. I have had many discussions with my Irish counterpart, as the
As for the budget, I am glad to have the Liberal Democrats' support for the position taken by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) is right about the state of the common agricultural policy, apart from the fact that some important changes in principle have been made to detach subsidy from production. Over time, they will make a difference. However, there is also the issue of the distribution of the cohesion and structural funds, which is bound to have to be considered if we are going to keep the budget down to 1 per cent. of EU GDP, as I believe we should.
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North) (Lab): In welcoming my right hon. Friend's statement, may I say that I hope that there will be a satisfactory conclusion to the Cyprus problem, which is a blot on our country too, because we were one of the guaranteeing powers for the first Republic of Cyprus? With regard to my right hon. Friend's statements about control for the House, I strongly welcome his decision to have a new strong Standing Committee. Too often, Back Benchers have complained that decisions have been made without their being able to influence policy. The fact that programmes are going to be brought before us that we will be able to discuss, and, we hope, to amendwe hope to change the Government's position on thatis important for our role in Parliament, and strengthens our position particularly. It will also be an opportunity for people to discuss events in Europe properly, so that we will not see the hysteria that we have seen in the past few weeks about entrants from new countries, particularly the vicious and nasty statements in the tabloid press about our fellow European citizens, the Roma.
Mr. Straw: I agree with my hon. Friend's sentiments, and I am grateful for his support. As he will not mind me saying, he is an assiduous attender of all the Committees of which he is a member. We have our responsibilities to involve Parliament better, but Parliament has its responsibilities too. It is a matter for regret that many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have failed to attend relevant Standing Committees, even when the business that they were dealing with has been important. I want to make it clear that we regard the role of the House, including this Chamber, and its Committees in EU business as extremely important but I hope that as we get this going, that is reciprocated by better attendance at such Committees.