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When it came to publicity, I talked to our press officer, whom the noble Lord, our chairman, mentioned, and we agreed that we would do our best. So we had a little drinks party for journalists, which I think that I paid for. It took place in the Attlee Room. Sixteen young journalists came, and I am sure that they were delighted to see the Attlee Room and to meet Peers and Peeresses. I asked our press officer to send me copies of all the publicity that we received. How much have I had from him? Zero. I was very disappointed, because I thought that this subject should command attention.
We made some sensible recommendations. We said that we were against the EU having the primary legislative role in this matter, but that we thought that the EUwe put this into the reportcould act as a channel for information about the future of nuclear energy, the pros and cons, and try to spread this knowledge throughout the EU countries, bearing in mind that, for example, a lot of people are worried about whether there might be another Chernobyl and about the state of the nuclear reactors in countries such as Bulgaria, which is just joining the EU. So the report seemed to us a very appropriate one to write and I hoped, with my colleagues, that we would get a lot of interest. We did not.
I go from thereand I am about to retire, as the noble Lord said, as chairman of Sub-Committee D; I have greatly enjoyed the workto the question: what do we do now? How do we take forward this area where we all want to do things better? We are living in
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There is a reverse side to this. On Sub-Committee D, we are aware that the European Commission is quickly moving far ahead on environmental issues. As I am sure many noble Lords will know, there are now seven what are called EU thematic strategies. They cover waste, soil, air, natural resources, pesticides, marine and water. Only this Wednesday, we were considering the draft directivethis was a scrutiny matteron proposals of the European Parliament and of the Council for environmental quality standards in the field water policy. That is a huge issue, and it has been taken forward under this label of mandated thematic strategies. There is little talk about it, but all these thematic strategies may well lead in due course to directives because they are continental and not national matters. The quality of air in Sweden and Denmark affects us in the UK. The same applies to water and waste. It is therefore very necessary for us to consider how we can be more effective in our scrutiny than we are at present and, in the process, occasionally even change something.
In the course of our travels, I went to Finland twice: once to look at its nuclear power stations and again, three weeks ago, with Michael Jack, chairman of the environment committee in the other place. Because of that, I have met quite a few of the Finnish MPs and so forth. I would like to read out descriptions of parliamentary EU scrutiny legislation, first in Finland and then in Denmark. Finland has a unicameral Parliament, the Eduskunta, with 200 seats.
The Finnish constitution sets out a system of scrutiny of EU policy that divides proposals into U-matters on which the Finnish government must seek parliaments approval before agreement in Council, and E ... matters, on which the Eduskunta has the right to receive information.
Our task is to go through the agenda before every Council meeting and see that the Danish Government does not commit itself to something which cannot be carried through or implemented afterwards in the Danish parliament with a solid majority ... We have scrutiny where we go through every Council meeting and tell the Minister that he can say Yes or No to this or that.
That is revolutionary stuff, is it not? Ministers would hate the thought that they had to appear before a Select Committee of Members ofI hopeboth Houses before they could decide how they would vote, yes or no, at Council meetings.
We have to consider very carefully how we can be more effective in this field. In my committee, we often say of environmental and agricultural matters, We wish to scrutinise further; we dont like this and we want to look further. Then, in technical terms, our scrutiny is overridden because there is not enough
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We all know perfectly well that at this time the EU is not popular. There is very little media interest unless, as I have said, it is bad news. At the same time, however, the EU is substantially widening its scope. We must look hard and seriously for a change of processand maybe we have something to learn from the Finns and the Danes.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, we have listened to two extremely impressive speeches. I pay my tribute and, I think, that of many Members of this House to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, for the extraordinary, conscientious and thorough way in which he has undertaken the difficult job of chairman of the European scrutiny committee. Those of us who know his work and the extraordinary amount of effort that he puts into it are eternally grateful to him and recognise that he has managed to make the committee a very influential force.
I am delighted to say that the two members of my own party who serve also as Members of the European Parliament assure me that the reports of the scrutiny committee and its sub-committeesthe noble Lord, Lord Renton, has been a very distinguished chairman of one of those sub-committeeshave a considerable impact on the European Parliament. That is very important. We must consider how that impact might be further increased.
I have already given a good deal of evidence to the committee that considered how far the scrutiny of the European scrutiny committee could be made better known to the public. I shall therefore follow the fascinating and challenging speech of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, by trying to be very specific about some of the things that I think we might do.
Before I do that, I want to remind the House of two things that are often forgotten. First, whatever our differences of opinion, we are members of the European Union, therefore we have a responsibility to try to influence it in ways that we think are helpful and constructive and not simply to sit on the sidelines and pretend that somehow it has nothing to do with us.
Secondly, following very directly what the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said, we must recognise that the European Union is today a major player globally. It is perhaps the most significant force, alongside China and the United States, in global trade regulation and global trade directives. It is a very significant player in how we deal with the increasingly frightening and immediate problem of climate change. It is a very significant player in intellectual property, one of the rising areas of concern in world trade, and is increasingly significant in the important area of human rights and trying to resolve global crises by conflict resolution and peaceful methods. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, will doubtless remind us, it
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There are strong reasons why it is important that the work of the European scrutiny committee is closely considered in this House. The single most important way to do that is to establish a number of parliamentary conventions. For that reason, I am especially grateful that our excellent and very sensitive Lord Speaker happens to be with us at the moment. The first of those conventionshere, I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, saidis that there should be a major debate, at least a day long, on the annual work programme, which is the closest that we come in the EU to a Queens Speech. If we cannot discuss the plans of the European Union for the forthcoming year or years, we are already chasing after the facts rather than trying to influence them. Therefore, my first plea for a parliamentary convention of the House is that there should be major time for a debate on the annual work programme.
Secondlythis would be useful to Members of the House, whatever their view of the European Unionwe should establish as a convention that we invite the representative of each rotating presidency to come before the European scrutiny committee to say what are his or her proposals for the objectives of the country during its presidency. As most of us know, the presidency is often considerably influenced by the interests or the national vision of the president country. Therefore, to be able to influence the effect of that presidency, the shape that it gives to the European Union, is extremely important. It is crucial to establish a convention under which, as a normal pattern of behaviour, the European scrutiny committee invites that person or his or her representative to come before it. That would establish a link that might conceivably interest the media as well as Members of Parliament.
The third convention that I propose is that there should be biennial questioning of the European summit Statements made in this House. Where that Statement concerns a summit of particular importance touching on major subjects such as the environment, energy or agriculture, the House should debate it within a week or so of the summit report to enable it to be explored in greater detail than is possible in a debate on a Statement that lasts perhaps 40 minutes. Where there is a major subject in a summit, the House should expect a substantial debate to follow it. That is only to ask for time on two occasions a year, in addition to the one day discussing the annual work programme.
All that would be helpfulI repeat that it should be a parliamentary convention that we debate the annual work programme and summit discussions or Statements. Once they become established as conventions, almost immediately the European scrutiny committee and its sub-committees get a profile in the House that ought finally to get across to our friends in the media Gallery.
The Government could ask the European Parliament and Commission to expect there to be opportunities for the scrutiny committee to make its reports known, not just in writing but orally before the commissioner responsible, or his or her representative, in Brussels. It would be very helpful for our reports to be considered by the relevant commissioner and, where appropriate, by the European Parliament.
In that context, I want to pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Ludford, who has made a tremendous impact in human rights, an area in which, more than most, a link-up between the national Parliament and the European Parliament is critical. It does not work unless there is that link. In the light of the so-called period of consideration or reflection to which the Prime Minister referred, the Government could do more to establish links, discussion and debate between the Parliaments and between the Parliaments and the Commission.
I turn to the media. A redesign of the website is critical. Michael White, the political editor of the Guardian, giving evidence to the European scrutiny committee, said that often what journalists need is a nudge from the elbow. He meant that they digest short, terse and relevant material and do not digest long reports. That means that the explanatory memoranda and the executive summaries of reports are critical if we are ever to attract mainstream journalists. As far as possible, our website should concentrate on getting across the meat of a report, perhaps also making clear that the chairman of a sub-committee is available to answer questions and provide more information on the substance of the report. I also suggest that the committee and its sub-committees consider holding a launch for their reports, inviting the specialist press where relevant and remembering that there is nothing like coffee and biscuits to bring the press along early in the morning.
The final area that I want to consider is education, where there is a great deal to be done. Here, I shall talk rather straightforwardly, as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has done. It is simply ludicrous in a country which is, like it or not, a member of the European Union, that our citizenship curriculum and our study of history virtually do not mention it. I do not understand how we expect to have a constructive impact on the European Unionmost of us recognise that it is highly unlikely that this country is about to withdraw from the European Union now or in the next 20 yearswithout our citizens having at least some glimmer of knowledge on what it is all about. We are probably the least educated of all the old European members. Whatever view you take, we know almost nothing about that hugely influential and important international group of countries. In our education and, not least, in our citizenship, we must give our children and young people some idea of what the European Union is about, where it came from and, dare I say it, just possibly, the fact that it is recognised in large parts of the worldfrom the United States to Chinaas having been one of the most constructive answers to the problem of dealing with continuing conflict, hatred and civil war.
How do we do that? We must include the European Union in the syllabus for citizenship. The committee could request a resumption of the famous sixth-form conferences which used to take place regularly under the aegis of the Council for Education in World Citizenship down the road at the Methodist Central Hall, where literally hundreds of sixth-formers came to discuss world citizenship and the European Union year after year. Those conferences have ceased, which is a tremendous shame.
Lastly on education, the opportunity to bring together teachers involved in teaching European politics, possibly to meet from time to time with chairs of the sub-committees or other members of the European scrutiny committee would be very useful.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that, in this excellent attempt to widen the education of our children into matters concerning the European Union, the curriculum would have to be very carefully balanced between those who favour the project and those who do not?
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I have always accepted that. I believe that, when teaching domestic politics, it is crucial that the representatives of different parties, not just a single voice, should be heard. In no sense am I arguing for a single voice; I am arguing for something different. I am arguing for informed debate instead of ignorant debate. Much of the debate in our country is, sadly, ignorant at present.
I have already taken enough of the Houses time. I conclude by saying that we could be far more proactive. One result of the so-called period of reflection should be that this House insists that our own Parliament and the European institutions recognise the crucial need to link up again with citizens, especially young ones. In that respect, the European Scrutiny Committee has already played a considerable part, and could play an even greater one.
Lord Boyd of Duncansby: My Lords, I trace my interest in Europe back to a debate in which I participated. It was entitled The Common Market: should Britain join?, and was held at a school debating society in Wick in Caithness. My family moved to Wick when I was 11 and left when I was 17, so I spent only a short period of my life there. These were, however, formative years, and Caithness and its people left a deep impression on me.
My first visit to this House was when the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, was the local Member in the other place. He was the one who arranged for me to sit up in the Gallery with my sister and to watch proceedings here. Little did I think that, 40 years later, I would be among noble Lords.
When it came to choosing a title, I wanted to choose one that represented Caithness and reflected my childhood. Duncansby Head is the most north-easterly point in Caithness and, for that matter, in Scotland. It was a favourite place for walks as a child, and one where the power and beauty of nature come
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I have been welcomed by Members on all sides with generosity and kindness, for which I thank everyone. I also extend my thanks to the staff of this Housethe Doorkeepers, the Attendants, the staff in the Black Rods Office and the Whips Office, the Library and catering staff and, indeed, the police officersall of whom have been of great assistance to a new boy finding his way, for which I am most grateful.
I was appointed Solicitor-General for Scotland in May 1997, and then Lord Advocate in February 2000a post that I held until three weeks ago. During that time, I saw enormous constitutional change in this country: the devolution of power to Scotland and Wales, the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law and changes to the composition of this Houseto name but a few. I also saw great changes in Europe. I have been very fortunate to have been at the centre of some of these events and to see how these constitutional changes work out in practice. I hope that, in some small way in the deliberations of this House, I may be able to contribute some of that experience and knowledge.
There is no question that this House is remarkably good at scrutinising EU legislation. The structure of the Select Committee, with its specialist sub-committees, combined with the knowledge and experience of those who sit on those committees, helps to produce reports of consistently high quality. It is equally true that the role of the House is not generally well known. When I read the report, I wondered what public we are talking about when we address the question. I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, referred to attentive publics, which may be a more fruitful seam to mine.
On the role of the devolved Administrations, I was pleased to note that the role of the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales in encouraging more debate on EU matters was recognised and acknowledged in the report, albeit as a footnote to paragraph 55, but it is there, nevertheless. The Scottish Parliament and Executive have responsibility for the implementation of EU obligations in the devolved areas. The scrutiny of that work falls to the European and External Relations Committee of the Scottish Parliament. I was disappointed to note that the National Assembly for Wales responded to the call for evidence, but the Scottish Parliament did not.
The recommendations do not take up that suggestion specifically, although I assume that it is covered in paragraph 148 of the report as one of the suggestions to be considered by the committee on how it can raise its profile. I heartily endorse such a suggestion: it
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I humbly suggest that one might go further and that, when sitting in Edinburgh, the committee might take the opportunity to meet Members of the Scottish Parliament, particularly members of the European and External Relations Committee. On page 27 of the minutes of evidence, during a discussion on, I think, the Puttnam commissions report, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said:
As a new boy in this place, I am not sure whether I am in a position to judge that. It is undoubtedly true, however, that both the Scottish Parliament and this House may have things to learn from each other.
This House no longer has a monopoly of interest in the scrutiny of EU legislation affecting citizens of the United Kingdom. It shares that role and interest with the devolved Administrations. I suggest that engagement with the committee in Scotland and the corresponding committee in the National Assembly for Wales might bring a number of benefits. First, it would undoubtedly bring a different perspective to the work of this House in its scrutiny of EU legislation. There is no doubt that they do it differently. I do not suggest for a moment that they do it better, but they are certainly alive to different issues from the ones considered by this House. Indeed, a founding principle of the European Uniona principle that we sometimes believe may be honoured less in practice than in speechis subsidiarity, which would certainly be reflected in that engagement.
Secondly, I am certain that the Scottish Parliament can learn from the experience of this House and the way in which it scrutinises EU legislation. This House has been at it far longer, has far more experience of it, and it has the capability of its Members.
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