Examination of Witness (Questions 76 -
TUESDAY 3 JULY 2001
76. Thank you very much indeed for coming to
speak to us this afternoon on our enquiry into the possibility
of a Second Chamber. I know you have a very long service record
in this field, having been a Member of the United Kingdom delegation
of the European Parliament for quite a number of years in the
1970s when, indeed, of course it was set up in a way which could
be perhaps a model for a Second Chamber. Also you have been a
representative on the Council of Europe from 1984, I believe,
and President of the Parliamentary Assembly for the last couple
of years or so. We are also very grateful to you for producing
your memorandum. I wonder whether you would like to start off
by saying anything and we will then go into questions and answers,
if that is all right.
(Lord Russell-Johnston) Thank you very
much indeed, Lord Chairman. I do not want to say very much. Really,
I want, first of all, to thank you for the opportunity. Secondly,
really to apologise for the paper, which is not as coherent and
ordered as I would wish; I wish it was better. However, it does
not, as I am sure you appreciate, make a case. The object of coming
here is not to make a case. I heard that this enquiry had been
instituted and I felt, therefore, that it was important to have
some input from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
so that if you did end up arguing for the Second Chamber for the
European Unionand you will note that I did not advocate
that in the paperyou would at least consider the experience
of the Council of Europe and the Assembly which, sadly, I find
going around, and I have now visited 41 of the 43 countries, vast
ignoranceI am not suggesting that this is shared by your
Lordshipsof the Council of Europe in even the most unexpected
places. That was why I asked if I could have your permission to
present a paper to you. It is not official either in the sense
that we do not have an official view, the Assembly, although obviously
I am aware of the various currents and the Political Committee
of the Assembly is currently in the process of producing a report
on the same ground that you are traversing but I do not think
that will be completed until after you complete your report and
consequently cannot be taken into account. Again, I would thank
you very much for this opportunity.
77. Thank you very much indeed. Perhaps I might
kick off with a question. You say in your memorandum that the
European Parliament and its election by direct universal suffrage
contribute to its "alienation" from the people of Europe.
Could the European Parliament be reformed, short of creating a
Second Chamber, in a way that might solve that particular problem
of alienation? I find that quite difficult to envisage because,
after all, it is election by universal suffrage and I am not quite
sure how you could get closer to the people perhaps. Maybe you
would like to expand on that a bit?
A. If I may start my evidence with a stunning
statement: I must say I do not know, I do not know. I doubt if
the European Parliament can be reformed. I do not actually think
it requires to be reformed. I think in the form that it existsand
you referred to the fact that I was there in the happy days when
you did not have to be elected to it, so I remember about it,
I remember how it functionedI do not really see that any
change in the structure would make any difference. The alienationperhaps
that is even too strong a wordthe growth of disinterest
is for other reasons. Well, not the structure but the function.
The fact that many people think it is so far away, it is not relevant.
There is practically no reporting of the European Parliament in
the media at all. There is no way in which people can find out
about it, however good or bad. If it does anything stupid it certainly
attracts attention but normal reporting, as you know in the print
media, this Parliament gets very little real straightforward coverage
now compared with what it did in the past, certainly the European
Parliament does not. I find it very difficult to decide about
why this is happening. The classical argument is that, as I have
just said, the European Parliament does not seem to be relevant
to people where they live and consequently it is not important.
Then you look at some of the local government turnout results
and you find that very often they are calamitous. They are the
people who are closest to the electorate so that does not seem
to answer it either. Unfortunately in the United Kingdom I gather
that the last election was the lowest turnout since 1885 so that
is not very good for us either.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. Lord Williamson.
Lord Williamson of Horton
78. Could I just follow up this point, Lord
Russell-Johnston. It seems to me that the European Parliament
obviously has democratic legitimacy, it has the same democratic
legitimacy as the House of Commons. It is universally elected
and we cannot query that but I do agree with you that there is
an element of disinterest. You used the phrase and I agree with
that. Do you really think that by creating another chamber which
is, as it were, slightly less democratically legitimate because
it is not universally elected but by an indirect means, you would
actually achieve anything to reduce the disinterest? I am grateful
for your comments, I think they are very good about how things
might be arranged but do you really think another chamber is going
to arouse any more interest?
A. Would a second chamber arouse more interest?
A. That is a very difficult question to answer.
Again, I am tempted to say I do not know but that becomes boring
after a while.