Select Committee on European Scrutiny Minutes of Evidence


2 JULY 2008

  Chairman: We will now go into public session. Looking at the A Briefs.

  A1 European Humanitarian Aid (28716). This is the adoption of a European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid. That was cleared on 14 November 2007 and is recommended for final report to the House. I will take silence as agreement. Agreed

  A2 Annual Policy Strategy for 2009 (29474), the Commission's likely priority actions for 2009, which was debated in Westminster Hall on 12 June 2008. The recommendation is to clear. Agreed

  A3 Nuclear safety and security (29718), to review the safety and security issues arising from an increase in the number of nuclear power plants. The recommendation is that we should clear it. Can I add, by the way, that the increased proliferation risk which is mentioned in this is one of these great fallacies started by President Carter, the fact it used mixed-oxide fuel. This is not possible, without huge amounts of technology, out of the reach of most countries, to extract the plutonium from mixed-oxide fuel. That is why the Americans are actually going into reprocessing again.

  Angus Robertson: We are discussing the merits, are we not, Chairman?

  Chairman: I am just putting down some facts for the record.

  Angus Robertson: I am glad the Scottish Government has been consulted, because of course they will not be able to build a nuclear power station. That is just for the record too.

  Chairman: I am ordering candles right now for the future! Agreed

  A4 e-communication (29725), to set out a three-year action plan to support the transition to Internet Protocol version 6. That looks interesting. It is recommended that that is cleared and the draft chapter is attached. Agreed

  A5 Eurojust (29306) (29551) (29747), to amend the Council decision establishing Eurojust (2002/187/JHA). The recommendation is to clear. Mr Steen.

  Mr Steen: Chairman, I am really speaking on behalf of those who might well have found, or will have found, their DNA, or parts of their DNA, circulated throughout Europe, for various reasons which we do not know, and they will never know because their face does not fit, or they are suspected of something, or they are activists that the Police Force somewhere does not like. Any one of the 28 European countries will have access to parts of those who, for some reason, have their DNA circulated. We do not know where they are going to be circulated, who is going to have it circulated, we do not know what is going to be circulated, and I think this is a very important human rights issue which is not satisfactorily explained in our notes. It may well be the Minister has done all the inquiry, but it is not here. I would, therefore, say, until we know that human rights law has been protected, that individuals who may be criminally charged but ultimately not found guilty, we want to know what happens to their DNA? If it is destroyed, we want to know who is responsible. We want to know how it is going to be enforced. There are a lot of questions I feel very uneasy about this particular draft Council decision. Having said that, I am entirely in favour of Eurojust, but I think that we have to be very careful what powers we give it.

  Chairman: I think people will applaud the motivation for making such a contribution, but can I refer members of the committee, in fact in the memorandum, paragraph 11, it says quite clearly, "The Minister explains that recent negotiations have focused on the data protection provisions." He goes on to say, "The recommendations of the European Data Protection Supervisor have been accepted, in particular that the proposal should refer to the Council Framework Decision on the protection of personal data processed in the framework of police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters." I think that the investigation has taken place, that the Data Protection Supervisor rules have been clearly applied to this, and I think it will cover all the items that you suggest. I am quite willing to suggest that we do clear it but that we then do ask the question: who will see this data? How will it be stored? What the protection is for the personal—

  Mr Steen: Will it be destroyed?

  Chairman: How long will it be held, et cetera. I think these would be useful additional questions, but I would still recommend to the committee that we clear it.

  Mr Clappison: I think that is a reasonable approach, Chairman. You could perhaps ask the additional question: what limits will there be on who Eurojust can supply the data to?

  Chairman: That also seems a very reasonable question.

  Mr Clappison: While we are on this subject, if the Minister could supply us with a list of European institutions to which data could be supplied, where they can make a request from Eurojust, and, also, if we could be told whether a person will know whether or not their data has been requested by Eurojust.

  Chairman: I think we should write to both the Commission and Eurojust and ask these questions, because I think it is a matter to ask at European level rather than just ask our ministers, who may not be willing to give us that information.

  Mr Steen: Is there any reason why we should clear this? Is there a reason why a delay would be a bad thing?

  Chairman: It goes to the Council on 26 of the month, so it would be one of these issues where I think we would be holding it up for no good reason, because we are not going to change those rules if the Minister assures us that the Data Protection Supervisor's recommendations have been applied. We are seeking additional information rather than objecting to what is going to happen.

  Mr Clappison: Yes, but I think we need to know more.

  Chairman: Cleared, and then we will go forward with questions. Thank you very much. Is that agreed.

  Mr Steen: Agreed. Agreed

  Chairman: A6 The EU's Disaster Response Capacity (29549).

  Keith Hill: Chairman, can I move that we delete paragraph 0.18 from the conclusions. I do so because I really do not understand why there are such lengthy criticisms levelled at the Minister at the end of these conclusions. Of course, I acknowledge that paragraph 18 begins with an expression of gratitude, but if you read through the information that the Minister has supplied to us in paragraphs 15 and 16, it seems to me that the Minister offers a pretty detailed account of the contents of these draft conclusions but he stresses the extent to which these conclusions meet the concerns which this committee has expressed, and I really do not understand why we are so critical, in the end, of the Minister, when, in fact, if I could anticipate the next A brief, A7, we actually use this Minister's letter as an exemplar of what we expect to receive from a minister when we come to criticise the Minister for Europe at the end of A7. So, for all of these reasons, I really do not understand why we have such a critical report to make to the House on this matter.

  Chairman: The aim of the document: proposals for strengthening and enhancing the EU's capacity to respond to natural and man-made disasters. We are recommending that it be cleared. There were some thoughts in my mind, as I read the criticisms, that there were reasons for not clearing it, but clearly we have moved on from the first position, which was not helpful to us as a committee and we were not happy with it at the time. I think the Minister was conscious of that as well, but he did as his officials wished him to do, which is, again, hold this line that they do not tell us what is going to come up in draft conclusions. I know that you, Mr Hill, particularly take a view of this, but that is legitimate for the government. This committee has consistently said it is not legitimate for the Government to take that position, and, therefore, the criticism was that the Minister could have done this in the first place. He could have given us full information, given Parliament full information. It would not have harmed the conclusions at the end of the day, and it does seem to us that that is the criticism. We are saying he does come up with it and I can say that what he is getting is eight out of ten. I have got to say, when we come to A7, I think the Minister of Europe has become an expert in telling people nothing at very great length, and that is a criticism that will be much more strongly expressed in A7, but in A6, I think we are legitimately putting down a marker, a consistent request to ministers to give us draft conclusions and do not get into the embarrassing position where they tell us after the event what they could have told us before the event, to no detriment to either the UK's position in Council but to a great advantage to the knowledge of this committee and Parliament.

  Keith Hill: I certainly want to revert to this issue of this constant stand-off between this committee and the Government on its draft conclusions. Before we break for the division let me say, because I want to come back on this, that the Minister is actually under the guidance of the Council and the arrangements of the European Union in this matter, and that is the constraint under which he is operating. Having said that, if you actually look at what he says in his letter, he goes out of his way, and I can take it case by case, to demonstrate that the Government has been utterly mindful of the consideration and concerns of this committee in its approach to the draft conclusions.

  Chairman: We know that now, if you did not tell us before. Let us get the vote over before we go. There is a motion that we extract paragraph 18 from the report. I stand by the report. Those for Mr Hill's proposed amendment to take 18 out are yes, those against are no.

  Paragraph 1, Headnote read. Amendment proposed in line 7, to leave out the word "For debate in European Committee", and to insert the word "Cleared".— (Keith Hill.)

Question put, That the Amendment be made

The Committee divided.

Ayes, 1
Noes, 5
Keith HillMr Adrian Bailey
Mr James ClappisonMr Greg Hands
Mr Anthony SteenRichard Younger-Ross
Headnote agreed to.

We will clear without amendment. Agreed. Agreed

The committee adjourned for a division in the
House from 3.05 p.m. to 3.15 p.m

  Chairman: A7 The place of the child in EU external action (29436).

  Keith Hill: Chairman, can I ask a question— and the answer may be very simple and straightforward— on this question about draft council conclusions because, of course, we devote a good deal of our report, again, to this issue. Is my understanding correct that we will just revert to this issue, we will state our position, which is that they should be disclosed, and the FCO will simply continue to restate its position, which is that they are not going to disclose them, and we expect this kind of stand-off to go on for ever?

  Chairman: I hope the stand-off will not go on for ever, Mr Hill, on the basis that the Government will see reason, given that we know, and we did say in our evidence, that these draft conclusions are put to some Parliaments, they are public documents in at least three Parliaments of the EU, and they are circulated informally throughout the Brussels offices on a regular basis. We do not use them as our information, because we do not take informal documents like that, but they would certainly be available to us if we ever wished to seek to take that position. I remember Professor Simon Hix saying in part of his evidence, if not conclusions on the question of the general lack of transparency of the EU, that much benefit would be gained if we would just accept that to put information out into the public domain would improve people's perceptions of the EU. We might not get into the situation where they are so suspicious that they vote against treaties beneficial to us. So we will consistently stick with our position.

  Keith Hill: I note Professor Hix's view on this, but I have to say as a minister who has negotiated in the European Council that my own view is that it would not be helpful to disclose every aspect of your negotiating hand before you actually finalise the negotiations; but there you go, I think we have a different angle on this. Can I also just note, somewhat ironically, Chairman, that in paragraph 21 of the report, having castigated Mr Watson in our previous report, we here shower him with praise in order to pour further ordure over the Minister for Europe. I think this is known as having it both ways.

  Chairman: I think, as I said earlier, we did say that we would at least give Mr Watson eight out of ten, because he did give us quite a lot of information but did not give us the draft conclusions, but it would have been very beneficial, and he would probably have had ten out of ten, if he had given us draft conclusions.

  Keith Hill: Chairman, as they say in Scotland: I hear you.

  Chairman: I think the Minister for Europe would be considered to have a fail on this one and not eight out of ten, so I move that, to promote a comprehensive EU approach towards the protection and promotion of children's human rights in third countries, but we have already cleared this on 30 April.

  Richard Younger-Ross: There may be a drafting point which may be made on the copy I have in front of me. On 21 it says, "Chapter question mark, question mark".

  Chairman: The reason is that we do not know how many of these chapters of our report are chapters of our actual printed document, and we will not know which one that will be until it is actually approved by the committee. That is the reason. The number will go in when these matters are ordered and put into a final version. Do not worry. I did notice that question.

  Richard Younger-Ross: As long as the Government continues its position of not telling us what is actually in the public domain in Europe, it just helps those in opposition to describe the Government as being secretive and not being transparent; so may Mr Hill's physician long remain in government!

  Keith Hill: Chairman, I concluded long ago that the greatest of all political virtues was self-restraint, and I propose to exercise my self-restraint on this occasion.

  Chairman: I commend you upon that.

  Keith Hill: I made that conclusion when I was the Deputy Chief Whip, probably because I was the Deputy Chief Whip. Agreed

  Chairman: A8 Emissions from heavy duty vehicles (29317), to set new, more demanding limits on emissions from heavy duty vehicles. The recommendation is that we have this debated in the European Committee. Mr Bailey.

  Mr Bailey: I was going to speak up in support of that. I am the last person to speak on behalf of the road haulage industry, but I do think that, as of this time, if we are to introduce extra regulations, they must be based on very sound and robust statistical scientific evidence. There does seem to be a genuine divergence, both between this Government's position and the Commission's position on this, and, indeed, scientifically, on the basis of the figures that are put before them, there seems to be some doubt as to the actual overall benefit that would accrue from the policy. Given the fact that the thrust of government taxation policy at the moment is to reduce CO2 emissions, this, on the face of it, whilst maybe being beneficial in some other areas, would appear to contradict this. So, on that basis, would support it going for broader debate because I think both the scientific and the environmental issues have to be more fully developed before it is implemented.

  Chairman: I agree.

  Keith Hill: Chairman, since I am obviously on a winning streak this afternoon, can I propose that we do not debate this matter, and I do so for the following reasons. It does seem to me that essentially what we are debating here is a technical disagreement over fuel consumption with, of course, consequential implications for cost-benefit analysis, but I think this is an extremely technical and, frankly, complex issue which is simply unsuitable for a Parliamentary debate. Remember that already our debates attract extremely low levels of participation. I think at the debate in which you participated, Chairman, on the annual policy strategy, there were only two other back-benchers involved in that debate and three front-benchers. When we had our debate in the European Standing Committee on the consular arrangements, there were, effectively, only two participants who were actually members of this committee, which adds to the somewhat incestuous nature of these things. I do think that it behoves us to consider whether we are recommending for wider debate in the House issues which are really going to attract any level of participation. Finally, can I draw the committee's attention to the fact that there is a consultation taking place precisely on this issue, and it is surely far more appropriate that the academics, the economists and other stakeholders who will, obviously, be involved in that consultation should participate in a technical exercise of this nature. For all of those reasons, I reiterate my recommendation that we do not debate this in Standing Committee.

  Mr Clappison: Is that a motion you are putting forward?

  Keith Hill: Yes.

  Mr Hands: Can I totally disagree with that. HGVs is not something that is my area of specialisation either, but I think this document is relatively easy to understand. I think it is not an esoteric subject at all, emissions from HGVs, and I think it would be easy for a committee to get to grips with it. Can I say, from my own experience of the two European committees that I have done recently, I think since we have changed the procedure whereby members of this committee are members of the Standing Committee, it has actually worked incredibly well. I was amazed, as I mentioned to this committee, Chairman, at the attendance on the Western Balkans one, where I think there were seven or eight people participating in that debate. It was extremely interesting. Just on the EU consular affairs, there were at least six speakers, including Mr Hill, myself, Mr Heathcoat-Amory, plus at least three other speakers, and I thought, again, that was an extremely helpful and useful debate on something which was not that difficult to understand. So I think the system is working well. I think it is relatively easy for one of those committees to get to grips with it.

  Mr Steen: I am all for lorries. I have just been down to be photographed with them. Is it anything to do with it?

  Chairman: It is, yes

  Mr Steen: I am all for them, and if Mr Hill is for heavy lorries—

  Chairman: As long as you do not have dirty, polluting—

  Mr Steen: That is exactly right. If that is what he is talking about, I would support him. If he is not talking about that, I do not know what he is talking about.

  Chairman: Mr Hill is moving that we do not have a debate.

  Mr Steen: Indeed. He is wrong.

  Chairman: It is aye for no debate and no for a debate.

  Mr Steen: We want a debate.

Paragraph 5.18 read.

Question put, That the paragraph stand part of the report.
The Committee divided

Ayes, 5
Noes, 1
Mr Adrian BaileyKeith Hill
Mr James ClappisonMr Greg Hands
Mr Anthony SteenRichard Younger-Ross

  Paragraph agreed to.

  Chairman: Expressions of interest—we have one already from Kelvin Hopkins—for participating in this debate.

  Mr Steen: If it is lorries, I am interested in lorries.

  Chairman: Mr Bailey, did you indicate an interest.

  Mr Bailey: No.

  Mr Steen: If it is this year.

  Mr Bailey: I am sorry, are we talking about attending the Standing Committee? Yes, I would be interested in attending.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. At least there will be a number of people.

  A9 European Transparency Initiative (29726), to outline the Commission's Code of Conduct on lobbying. The recommendation is that we clear it with a report to the House.

  Richard Younger-Ross: This is an important issue which I hope will come back to us when they have done their pilot study. As the committee may be aware, there are 15,000 lobbyists in Brussels, which is the equivalent of one lobbyist for every MEP and every member of MEP staff. It would be interesting to see whether these regulations can be extended at a later stage so that when lobbyists see a decision-maker the decision-maker has to be aware they have actually seen the lobbyist, so that we have even more transparency.

  Chairman: I know that Mr Kelvin Hopkins, who unfortunately had to leave the committee, said the Public Administration Committee of this House has been undertaking a year-long study into all these practices in this House. I think everyone is interested in improving lobbying, which can be legitimate but it must not be abused. So we are recommending a report to the House. Is that agreed?

  Richard Younger-Ross: Agreed. Agreed

  Chairman: A10 Public access to documents (29666), to amend Regulation (EC) 1049/2001 on public access to documents. The recommendation is that we do not clear this but seek further information. Is that agreed. Agreed

  B Briefs, which, as you know, are briefs which are recommended to be of insufficient legal or political importance to warrant a substantive report to the House. I will read through the numbers and I will take silence as assent.

  B1 Evaluation of a small spending programme (29733). Agreed

  B2 The Eurozone (a) (29677) (b)(29680). Agreed

  B3 Addressing the challenge of energy efficiency through Information and Communication Technologies (29688). Agreed

  B4 Aviation Insurance (29654). Agreed

  B5 Statistics (29741). Agreed

  B6 Eligibility for beef subsidy payments (29683). Agreed

  B7 The European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) (29742). Agreed

  B8 Production and labelling of organic products (29721). Agreed

  C Briefs, again summary briefs only provided. Silence is taken as consent.

  C1 Agreement between the European and Community and the Government of Denmark and the Home Government of the Faeroe Islands (29707.) Agreed

  C2 Statutory markings for two or three-wheel motor vehicles (29740). Agreed

  There are no pre and post council scrutiny matters. Thank you for your attendance.

previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 25 July 2008