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Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North) (Lab): I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's proposals, which should improve the depth, quality and effectiveness of parliamentary scrutiny on European issues. The fact that the possible significance of the energy chapter of the proposed European constitution was fully recognised only as a result of the diligence of my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) and others is an example of why such improved scrutiny is desirable.
Mr. Straw: I agree, and I am happy to endorse my hon. Friend's compliment to my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard). One effect of increasing Parliament's role in the process will be to ensure that the level at which EU matters are dealt with inside Government is also raised. Anyone who has been a Minister will know that the fact of having to give evidence to a Select Committee or any other body of the House, or having to taking part in a debate, raises the level and quality of consideration by their Departments. That will be an important side effect.
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) (UUP): The Foreign Secretary referred with approval to how energy was handled at the recent IGC. He said that the views expressed in Parliament greatly strengthened his hand. Would not his hand be immeasurably stronger if there were a clear arrangement, similar to that in Denmark, whereby the Government did not, in the Council of Ministers, commit the UK to any position without the prior approval of Parliament? We have a structural problem in handling these matters. It is welcome to see changes in committees, but we will not change our experience unless the structural problem is dealt with. That problem is that this Parliament is not involved in the decision-making process. Until that is changed, we will not change our experience.
Mr. Straw: I am genuinely open to proposals on that matter. I have seen how the Danish and Finnish systems operate, and Ministers from those countries have a clearer idea of what their Parliaments are, or are not, willing to accept. At the same time, those Ministers must have a degree of discretion because they actively participate in negotiations in the room in the same way as us. I repeat that the more that Parliament is involved,
Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead) (Lab/Co-op): In welcoming these excellent proposals, and following the question from the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), is there scope in the new arrangements for European policy to be initiated here? I am thinking of issues such as animal welfare. There is a wide perception in the House that our standards on, for example, pig welfare are much higher than those in the rest of Europe. It would be welcome if the new arrangements allowed us to initiate processes to obtain wider European agreement on such matters.
Mr. Straw: Yes, there is. The earlier there are proposals, the earlier we can get them into draft programmesfor example, into the conclusions of sectoral councils and then into the European Council, and then that can form part of the work programme.
On animal welfare, my hon. Friend may like to know that, with our encouragement, the reference to animal welfare in the draft convention has been significantly upgraded. I was trying to find the exact text and failed to do so, but I will ensure that it is sent to him.
Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary ensure that every Member of this House receives a copy of a draft of every regulation, directive or other legislative instrument that will ultimately come into force and bear on our constituents? Although we can do nothing about such regulations, that would allow us to know their scale and nature. Will he confirm that it is currently impossible to obtain those documents, although I receive a copy of every statutory instrument issued by the Government? Indeed, even the European Scrutiny Committee must consider such regulations in private. If I am wrong, will he tell me how to obtain copies of the regulations? If I am right, will he confirm that that reflects the fundamentally undemocratic nature of our supranational masters?
Mr. Straw: The right hon. Gentleman's party invited the House to join the European Union, and the basic legislative system under which we joined is still there today. Unless there is a good reason for regulations to be confidential, they should be available to all hon. Members in the same way as other draft regulations, and I shall examine his point.
Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing the proposals to the House. Europe will be a very different place after EU enlargement, and we must ensure that we match such changes with changes in our parliamentary proceedings. What specific talks has he had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural
Mr. Straw: I have not had specific discussions on that point, but I am happy to talk to my hon. Friend and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to try to follow through on those proposals.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): I welcome the Foreign Secretary's statement as an important step forward, although we believe that scrutiny by and accountability to Parliament must be further strengthened and deepened. May I press him on the membership of the new Standing Committee? How will members be appointed? Can he assure the House that there will be adequate representation for smaller parties to allow them proper input in this important area?
Mr. Straw: Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman. The proposalthis is a matter for the House and the other placeis that there should be a Standing Grand Committee on Europe. It will be open to any hon. Member to attend and take part in proceedings, so minority parties will be fully represented if they want to be.
Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): I warmly welcome the Foreign Secretary's statement. He has been a long-standing and consistent advocate of the greater involvement of this House in the affairs of the European Union. In particular, I welcome the proposed Grand Committee, and I am pleased that he has mentioned the possible involvement of Members of the European Parliament. Will he consider whether Members of the devolved institutions could also be involved? That point is important because much European legislation is implemented by the devolved Administrations.
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his welcome. The argument for Members of the European Parliament attending the Standing Grand Committee is stronger than that for Members of the devolved Administrations, but the matter is one for the Modernisation Committee and the Procedure Committee, not for me.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May I put a specific suggestion to the Foreign Secretary with regard to gold-plating? I think that he would agree that one of the problems with gold-plating is that it is very difficult for Ministers to spot the degree to which the officials are proposing implementation in
Mr. Straw: The right hon. and learned Gentleman's observation is accurate; it is impossible for a busy Minister to check on such matters. I commend the report to him if he has not seen it: one of the issues that Robin Bellis examined was the practice in some other countries of "copying out". That practice would involve simply copying out the directives, and if there were an argument it would be resolved by the interpretation of the British courts and the European Court of Justice. His idea is good and, with his permission, I will take the details of how he operated it when he was a Minister and do my best to take it forward.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given that the Prime Minister said on 18 June 1997 that the subsidiarity and proportionality protocol of the Amsterdam treaty had real teeth and that nearly six years later the Foreign Secretary told the House on 21 May last year that the protocol had in fact not proved satisfactory and that the proposal on the subject in the draft European constitution was pitifully weak, what exactly does the Foreign Secretary intend to do to ensure that in the future subsidiarity is a safeguard of national self-government and not a thin cover for the continuing legislative imperialism of the European Union?