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Mr. Hendrick: The hon. Gentleman may or may not be aware that these debates are normally held before European Councils so that we can reflect on the presidency of whichever country has held it and perhaps offer advice or support for the forthcoming meeting. I understand that the Western European Union is not on the agenda of the forthcoming European Council.

Mr. Walter: If the hon. Gentleman does not believe that the matter is on the agenda, he does not believe in democratic accountability for the European security and defence policy. As has already been pointed out, seven more missions under the ESDP have taken place under this presidency. Surely we, as parliamentarians, should exercise democratic scrutiny of what is being done in our name and the names of the peoples of Europe under the policy. If the ESDP is not on the agenda for the European Council, it jolly well should be. I believe that it will be on the agenda because there will have to be stocktaking of what has taken place regarding the missions, especially the new missions that are under way and those that have been agreed to. Only two weeks ago, the EU agreed to a new mission on the border between Moldova and Ukraine.

Mr. Hendrick: I would appreciate the hon. Gentleman's remarks more if he would discuss the new institutions and not go back to 1948.

Mr. Walter: I was merely trying to give right hon. and hon. Members who may be unaware of their role and powers in this regard an outline of what they are. I will continue briefly to develop that point. It is important that we have scrutiny of European intergovernmental activities because that scrutiny cannot be exercised elsewhere. It must be exercised either through individual national parliaments or through an inter-parliamentary body. That body already exists, and it has existed since 1954. I have made the point about the Foreign Secretary's non-attendance at two important meetings. It is important that Governments take note, and particularly that the presidency takes note, of the fact that parliamentarians deserve to be treated in such a way that they can exercise appropriate scrutiny and achieve democratic accountability.

The nature of the operations that we have embarked upon—the 14 missions—is that they take place under the Berlin-plus agreements, which means that they take place within NATO. They are EU operations within NATO, using NATO assets. The EU military commander in this regard is the deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO.

There are missions in the Balkans, to which reference has already been made. There are missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and in Palestine, which the hon. Member
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for Ilford, South mentioned. There are other missions in Africa and also in south-east Asia. I am concerned about the lack of effective scrutiny of these missions. If the European Parliament has no competence, is it realistic to expect 25 individual national parliaments to exercise effective scrutiny of missions that are intergovernmental and international with an international commander? That is why I make the point that under the second pillar of the European Union, this intergovernmental pillar, we should give real weight to the one inter-parliamentary body that exists, which is the Western European Union Assembly. Power is exercised already in terms of the Council of the WEU in the form of its permanent representatives, which is also the Political and Security Committee of the EU. The western European armaments group has become the European Defence Agency and the military staff are now part of the EU. If we are to have effective parliamentary scrutiny, Ministers must attend.

I will make one other point on scrutiny and I direct it to the Minister, who can relay it to the Foreign Secretary, who holds the presidency of the General Affairs Council. It is that the EU high representative, who is Secretary-General of the European Council, and was also Secretary-General of the Western European Union, Mr. Javier Solana, must also be subject to some form of democratic accountability. His record is worse than that of Ministers. It is four years since he has subjected himself to any form of democratic scrutiny.

I understand that Mr. Solana never appears before the Political and Security Committee of the EU. He rarely appears before the General Affairs Council because he regards himself as solely responsible to Heads of Government and Heads of state. He appears to go round the world like some proconsul taking responsibility for sorting out all this ESDP on his own shoulders and then presenting the occasional report to Heads of State and Government in the European Council.

This democratic deficit must be solved. There has to be better scrutiny of all EU affairs in the House and in other national parliaments. We must make sure that accountability and transparency is much greater in Brussels. I was not in favour of the European constitution, but one of its provisions was that the Council should meet in public for its decision-taking processes. That does not require a treaty or a constitution, and the decision could be put before the Council by the incumbent presidency. Given that the constitution is no longer on the radar screen, I am disappointed that the UK presidency has not put before the European Council the proposal that the Council of Ministers should meet in public so that we can see what decisions are made.

The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), a former Minister for Europe, said that he always argued Britain's case in the council. It would be nice to see our Ministers doing so, so that we can be sure that a British Minister has argued our case. If they lose, we can see them doing so. At the moment, when Ministers find a decision from Brussels embarrassing they use the cover of blaming Brussels, even though they were at the Council meeting that agreed those provisions. We therefore need transparency in that decision making. Finally, we need much better and much more effective democratic scrutiny of the ESDP, which is a second-pillar measure.
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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I must announce the result of a deferred Division.

On the motion on the national health service, the Ayes were 243, the Noes were 211, so the motion was agreed to.

[The Division List is published at the end of today's debate.]

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European Affairs

Question again proposed.

4.41 pm

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): May I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on the UK presidency, and wish him, the Prime Minister and other Ministers all the best for the forthcoming European Council? As a former Member of the European Parliament, I recall that we held the presidency in 1997, not long after our election victory in the UK, when the introduction of the single currency was under way. I was interested to hear my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary say that he had saved the pound, only to qualify that achievement with reference to the five economic tests, because I believe that, one day, the UK will join the eurozone, from which it will benefit greatly.

Since then, there has been a great deal of change in Europe. When I became a Member of the European Parliament in 1994, just 12 member states were represented. Three more countries joined the European Union, and last year, another 10 states joined. The progress of those countries and the way in which they have developed since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the fall of communism are a tremendous achievement and testament to the popularity and success of the EU in recent years. I am therefore dismayed that many hon. Members should take a negative view of the EU. We need only look at recent history to see the role that it has played in maintaining peace, prosperity and democracy and understand why countries are clamouring to join. The EU is the key to peace, prosperity and political stability, as is NATO, which many of those countries have also joined.

Kelvin Hopkins: My hon. Friend talked about prosperity, but is it not the case that the eurozone has grown more slowly than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development area in general and, in recent years, more slowly than Britain? Economically, it has not been very successful.

Mr. Hendrick: The failure of certain countries in the eurozone to grow at a good rate compared with the UK has much to do with structural economic reforms that need to take place, many of which have been discussed by hon. Members on both sides of the House and which include the labour market and competition policy. The competition authorities in Brussels would have liked to improve many aspects but member states have dragged their feet. It is a matter not just of monetary policy, but of the labour market and economic policy adopted by those countries.

Mr. Gauke : The hon. Gentleman says that the EU has been heavily involved in bringing prosperity to Europe. Is it not the case that the four countries with the highest average incomes in Europe are Liechtenstein, Iceland, Switzerland and Norway, none of which is in the EU?

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