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I have long argued for reform in our own procedures for scrutinising all matters European in this House. I must accept that this Government, more than any other before them, have done more to improve our scrutiny procedures in this House, butthis is a good wee phrase that I have heard beforewe have done a lot but have a lot more to do. One of the first actions of our Government should have been to set up the Select Committees a lot more quickly. That is very important.
The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) mentioned some statistics. Since the European Scrutiny Committee met on 6 April, before the general election, 150 EU documents have been deposited in Parliament. The UK presidency begins in a couple of weeks' time, yet we do not have a Committee set up so have been unable even to question our Ministers on what they intend to do and what their priorities will be during their presidency. That is something that the European Scrutiny Committee has done on every previous occasion. There are 150 directives that will either need to have the scrutiny reserve removed from them or delay the business in the European Council. That cannot be a good example for the country that is taking over the presidency to set. I want to make a plea that next time our Parliament is dissolved the scrutiny processes must be in firmly in place as soon as we have a new Parliament back.
Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend is making a very important point. Likewise on the scrutiny issue, when EU legislation is being transposed into British legislation, it often ends up coming in through a statutory instrument, which means that we have only one and a half hours' debate and no opportunity to amend. Does he agree that we need to find some third way between a full Bill and a statutory instrument so that we can have better scrutiny of the transposition process into UK law?
Mr. Hood: I would welcome any such positive proposals. We have long had a debate on how best we scrutinise. Indeed, the Modernisation Committee will soon send the House some proposals that I hope will answer some of these questions. I gave evidence to the Committee and made some proposals that could improve the scrutiny process. I hope that we are able to get some progress as a result of its recommendations.
As I have some time left, I should like to answer the question that was asked of the Foreign Secretary about the European Scrutiny Committee. I have chaired that Committee since it was set up in 1998 under the new rules and procedures. The Committee meets and takes evidence in public and is televised, and we publish reports every fortnight on what we are doing. It does not meet in private. It does the same as every other Select Committee in this House. It deliberates with its legal advisers and special advisers in camera. The Modernisation Committee is proposing to revisit this and to have a trial period on how best to proceed. We should welcome that and consider it, but let us not give the impression to the public that we are discussing European issues in private, because that is not the case. I am sure that we will discuss the Modernisation Committee's proposals when they come to the House, and I look forward to that.
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Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): I am afraid that I cannot resist an historical reference. I apologise to those, including the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), who has just left, who may have heard it before. It is this: there was an opportunity during the Committee stage of the Maastricht Bill to vote for a referendum. It was provided by new clause 51, which was tabled by Mr. Bryan Gould, who was then a Labour Opposition Member. There was a vote, and if my memory serves me right 50 or 60 Members voted in favour of a referendum. I do not offer that as an effort to establish virtue on my part or on the part of my right hon. and hon. Friends but to point out that there was an opportunity for those who felt that the treaty of Maastricht went so far that a referendum was required to express that preference by way of a vote. It is notable that the treaty of Maastricht was the origin of the common foreign and security policy about which we have had so many discussions in this House, and which envisaged the possibility of a common defence. That has not proceeded for reasons that are doubtless intelligent and sensible. However, it is worth re-examining Maastricht when people feel concerned about the extent to whichthey claimpowers would be transferred unnecessarily and illegitimately to Brussels as a result of the constitutional treaty, which has been the subject of negative votes in France and the Netherlands.
We owe the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton, East (Mr. Hood)I wanted to say "Clydesdale"thanks because he has brought the debate to where precisely we go from here. Although I found the contribution of the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) interesting, it seemed to those of us who are survivorsI use that expression advisedlyof the many debates on the constitutional treaty that he was dwelling in the past.
Much of what we discuss comes to down to belief. I shall therefore start with what could be described as an affirmation of faith. I have no doubt that the European Union has been instrumental in promoting peace, stability, democracy and human rights throughout Europe. With NATO, it has strengthened our security and, through the free market, it is the foundation of our economic prosperity. If that were not so, how do we explain why so many countries, freed from the yoke of communism, have shown such unbridled enthusiasm for joining not only NATO but the European Union and availing themselves of its benefits?
I believeand have no doubtthat there is no option in the modern world for states to do other than co-operate in tackling global challenges such as cross-border crime, terrorism, weapons proliferation, the environment and climate change. Isolation or failure to co-operate would undermine, not enhance the national sovereignty, which we all, whatever our position, regard as greatly important.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op):
I was intrigued to read early-day motion 318, which two of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's new colleagues tabled. If I interpret it correctly, it takes a much more
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lukewarm approach to the EU. I appreciate that custom and practice means that he cannot sign that early-day motion, but does he support its spirit?
Sir Menzies Campbell: It is the curse of the Front Bench not to be able to control the Back Bench. New Members of Parliament are entitled to their point of view; I am now setting my position clearly and unequivocally on the record.
Later this week at the Council meeting, the Heads of Government would do well to reaffirm their commitment to a Europe that is secure and economically strong. I do not discount for a moment the importance of the budget or the rebate, but over-concentration on them would be a diversion from a much larger debate, which is now necessary and prompted by the no votes in the referendums in France and Holland.
We have to decide what sort of Europe we want before we can determine the amount of resources required to support it, and what individual members are required to pay for that support. Of course, the rebate and the budget are important, but how much more important is the threat of nuclear proliferation on our doorstep or the vulnerability of European states on energy supplies? If we consider the long-term significance of those issues, perhaps it will put the rebate and the budget into perspective.
It must be the case that prolonged infighting, as one newspaper described it in the past two or three days, can only damage the European Union in the eyes of its citizens. It is worth making a point that could be perceived as partisan, but has some substance. The main protagonists in the European Union, Mr. Chirac, Mr. Berlusconi, Mr. Schröder and even the Prime Minister are, for various reasonssome voluntary and some caused by other pressuresreaching the end of their political careers. Perhaps a new prospectus for Europe requires new people to promote it.
I want a European Union that is decentralised, transparent and accountable and that protects human rights, civil liberties and the rule of law. There is no other economic association that requires those who wish to join it to satisfy a set of criteria on good governance and human rights. The Copenhagen criteria are unique. No other economic organisation or association requires its members to satisfy such standards of governance. That is often forgotten and not given sufficient emphasis.
Mr. Lilley: The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he was in favour of a decentralised Europe. Does that mean that he opposes the ratchet whereby powers can be transferred only from European nation states to European institutions, and not back again? If he opposes that, will he nominate any powers or competences that he believes should be transferred back from central institutions and decentralised to the nation state?
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