HC Deb 07 February 1996 vol 271 cc316-7
5. Mr. Whittingdale

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the accountability of European Community institutions to national Parliaments; and if he will make a statement. [12347]

Mr. David Davis

Within the Council of Ministers, which is the primary decision-making institution in the European Union, national Ministers are accountable to their respective national Parliaments.

Mr. Whittingdale

Does my hon. Friend accept that the existing accountability of European institutions is inadequate and does he agree that that problem is best addressed by enhancing the scrutiny role of national Parliaments rather than by giving any more powers to the European Parliament?

Mr. Davis

I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend. We must look as a priority at means of improving the democratic accountability of the European Community. The primary focus of democratic legitimacy in the Union is national Parliaments, not the European Parliament. Let me quote the German Federal constitutional court on that point, because it was pretty informative. It said: The European Union…is a union of democratic states. Where it assumes sovereign tasks…it is first and foremost for the national peoples of the Member States democratically to legitimise this via their national parliaments. We are actively considering options for enhancing the role of national Parliaments.

Mr. Spearing

The Minister mentioned the importance of national Parliaments and Ministers, but does he agree that accountability of Ministers to the House was not strengthened when, against the unanimous view of the Select Committee on European Legislation, the Government supported automatic referral of any EC document to a Committee Upstairs? Does he further agree that that would not have been so bad but for the fact that several requests from that Select Committee for debates on the Floor of the House have been declined by Her Majesty's Government? Would it not be more in keeping with the protocol to the treaty, which the Government have supported and signed, if the Government were to pay more attention to the views of the Select Committee, which comprises hon. Members of all views, and if their actions became more consistent with their words?

Mr. Davis

As someone who has appeared before the Select Committee, I think that, from time to time, its scrutiny is pretty ferocious. With regard to paying attention to the Select Committee's views, the hon. Gentleman will remember that I and the Government generally have supported, for example, its recommendation that we incorporate declaration 13 into the treaty, or make it legally binding. That will add enormously to the scrutiny capacity of the House.

Mr. Garnier

Does my hon. Friend accept that the institutions of the European Union would receive greater sympathy, not only in the House but in the country more widely, if they did less but did it better?

Mr. Davis

My hon. and learned Friend quotes almost exactly the motto of the current President of the Commission, Mr. Santer, and we agree with him entirely. The Union does much better, in the eyes of the people of Europe, when it does not meddle in the nooks and crannies of the nation states; when it pays proper respect to the sovereignty of those nation states; and when it carries out legislation to a better quality than has been the case.

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