Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-69)

Meg Munn MP and Ms Liz Chennells

24 NOVEMBER 2005

  Q60  Lord Harrison: Yes.

  Ms Chennells: I think if we were going to use it, if the body had been in existence, a piece of research that could have been helpful would have been to look at the current legislation domestically that existed in particularly the new Member States—but not just the new Member States, there are one or two older ones who would have difficulty—in terms of Goods and Services and Gender Equality so that we could have understood better what was the gap we were trying to meet. I recall when we met before to discuss the Goods and Services Directive you were very interested in what additional impact it would have in the UK and the conclusion we came to then was very little, in fact, because our legislation for Gender Equality and Goods and Services was pretty robust already. I think we discussed the fact that that was not the same across Europe and how important it was for all men and women across Europe that they had a shared platform of legislation to make sure that they did not experience discrimination in the fields of Goods and Services. A piece of research that actually looked at what the state of domestic legislation was across the Union and, indeed, in countries like Romania and Bulgaria which were then already on the list of countries to join would have been a useful piece of information.

  Q61  Lord Harrison: That is very useful. Who, within the Institute, would be charged with that, to take that particular example of undertaking that kind of research, or is it something that you would farm out and, arising from that, there are always worries about increased bureaucracy because you have an Institute, and is the work done there or is it done outside? How would you go about making sure the work is done effectively?

  Ms Chennells: Here I am speculating because there is not that level of detail in the proposals from the Commission. With that caveat, I think probably the European Commission itself would commission the work from the Institute. Part of its plan for the year would be to do that piece of work within its existing budget. It is anticipated that the body would have an operating budget which would give it the opportunity either to decide if it had the necessary expertise itself to use its own staff to do the research necessary or to commission the research from perhaps two or three relevant institutions in other parts of the Community. That has to be a speculative answer.

  Lord Harrison: I hope the Minister understands that we really think this is very important and the British Government should really insist that this is properly set in place and properly observed.

  Q62  Baroness Howarth of Breckland: When you were talking about consultation what became clear was that although your consultation goes back to 2001 there are people clearly in the system who did not feel consulted, never mind whether they were. One of the things you are doing is removing the forum as part of getting this wider representative management group, but where will NGOs and other groups come in and how will they feel involved and consulted? Or will this become government representatives and all the NGOs around Europe doing this work will find themselves left out in the dark?

  Meg Munn: The position is that it is up to Member States to appoint the appropriate persons to the management board and to decide whether that is a government member or from an equality body. We have obviously not got to the point of being in that position yet. In addition to that, if we looked at it from our country's perspective it would be possible for the Equal Opportunities Commission, for example, to be invited to attend ad hoc meetings of experts which the Institute might have to support its research work and to encourage that exchange of information. It is not about trying to keep people out; it is trying to have a process which enables countries to feel that they are represented, that there is a proper management structure in place so that the Institute does do what it set out to do, that the money is properly used but at the same time people are kept involved and feel that they have an input into it. It is getting that balance right and that is obviously something we want to keep an eye on once the Institute is up and running.

  Q63  Baroness Howarth of Breckland: Presumably the Institute could not meet its objectives in a country like ours—although it is very different in other countries—unless they had that network amongst the NGOs.

  Meg Munn: Precisely, and we are very conscious of that. The impression we tried to give earlier was that myself as the Deputy Minister for Women and the Women and Equality Unit officials, yes, we have formal meetings with the Equal Opportunities Commission because we are the relevant department but actually we meet them constantly in all sorts of situations because the issues that we are working on are often the issues that they are concerned about as well, so I think we would see this as being part of the overall work with the Equal Opportunities Commission and the subsequent Commission for Equality for Human Rights which we would want to keep on various agendas and various discussions.

  Ms Chennells: And, indeed, the Women's National Commission.

  Q64  Chairman: The person who gave evidence to us last week certainly felt that it would be important for the new Institute to act as a kind of central meeting place both for people and ideas and contacts and so on for the rather spread out groups which do not have a very effective network. Can I now ask you about the process, as it were? Your letters refer to differences of view between the Council and the Parliament on the budget, role and scope of the Institute. Have those differences been resolved? What do you think is the likely timetable for decision taking on this matter? Do you think the proposal as we understand it is likely to change much over that period of solving these differences of opinion and moving the thing forward to a Council decision?

  Meg Munn: The position is that the European Parliament Women's Committee have not yet produced their report on the Council decision and they have indicated that they will not publish that until March 2006. The issue which seems to be of concern is that they want to increase the budget, but it was not specified by how much, and enhance its role and scope to make it more of a political instrument. The Council has not yet been given the opportunity to consider these points and in terms of the timing and the likely negotiations that is likely to fall to the Austrian Presidency to take that forward and to try to find a compromise between the two institutes. In relation to your question, are the proposals around the Institute likely to change, well obviously part of the discussion is around role and scope but in terms of the overall position we have had a lot of discussion about that because this is coming out of a budget line and there needs to be a proper discussion about that, what are precisely the opportunity costs and if the budget for this did increase and its scope. However, as I say, that is going to fall to the Austrian Presidency.

  Q65  Chairman: Do you think they may respond in March?

  Meg Munn: The Women's Committee are producing their report and I understand that is March 2006.

  Q66  Chairman: Does the Parliament then have to debate that or give it any agreement?

  Meg Munn: Yes.

  Q67  Chairman: So that would then go to a debate and the Parliament would respond to the Commission. Is that right?

  Ms Chennells: Yes.

  Q68  Chairman: We are not in a great hurry then, are we?

  Ms Chennells: The timetable is very difficult given that the original plan was to have the body off the ground in 2007.

  Q69  Chairman: That is what I am getting at. It looks like mid-summer to me.

  Ms Chennells: It really depends on what the gap is between what the European Parliament agrees and where the Council position is. Parliament may not endorse all the recommendations of the Women's Committee.

  Chairman: No, I understand that. Obviously that is another separate internal question. I think we have got quite a lot of development process ahead of us. I hope you will both be here to see it through. Sometimes with these things people change and you have to make a new start. Anyway, thank you very much, Minister, for coming to see us today and for being so open and free with your responses. Do look at the transcript when it gets to you and if there is anything you feel you want to add then please do so; we are always happy to hear from you. Thank you very much for all your help during this period of investigation.

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