HL Deb 30 July 1998 vol 592 cc1630-8

(".—(1) When matters in relation to which the Parliament has competence are being discussed between the United Kingdom and any of the institutions of the European Union, the appropriate Scottish Ministers shall be entitled to accompany United Kingdom Government Ministers and to participate in such discussions on behalf of the Parliament.

(2) Where the matters to be discussed under subsection (1) are non-reserved matters that only affect Scotland and do not affect other parts of the United Kingdom, Scottish Ministers shall be the sole representatives of the United Kingdom.

(3) In appropriate cases, on non-reserved matters affecting both Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom, a Scottish Minister, with the agreement of a Minister of the Crown, may lead the United Kingdom delegation.").

The noble Lord said: Let me first say to the noble and learned Lord. Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, that I well understand his slip of the tongue earlier between "Steel" and "Sewel". He is not the first person to make it. He may be interested to know that a couple of weeks ago I had a telephone message after midnight from a young lady inviting me to telephone her. I did so with curiosity as she was not known to me, only to discover it was a call for the noble Lord, Lord Sewel. In the hope of getting a very good answer to this amendment I shall say nothing more.

We have debated this matter before and we should not go over the whole ground again. The reason we have tabled this amendment is to achieve a little more clarity than we have had in either House so far as to what is to happen when Ministers from the Scottish executive—or Scottish government, as I prefer to call it—are involved in discussions on European Union matters.

What we set out in our amendment is very straightforward. It is what we think the practice should be. First of all, when matters in relation to which the Scottish parliament has competence are being discussed between the UK and any of the institutions of the European Union, the appropriate Scottish Ministers should be entitled to accompany the United Kingdom Government Ministers and to participate in such discussions on behalf of the Scottish parliament. I cannot believe that that is particularly controversial.

We go on to suggest that where the matters to be discussed are non-reserved matters which only affect Scotland and not other parts of the United Kingdom, the appropriate representatives to attend such meetings are the Scottish Ministers. We had in earlier debates mention of precedents from the parliaments of Catalonia and Bavaria.

We go on to say that in appropriate cases on non-reserved matters which affect both Scotland and other parts of the UK, a Scottish Minister, with the agreement of a Minister of the Crown, may lead the UK delegation. Again, that is obvious common sense.

If I may refer to a previous debate on this matter, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and his colleagues take the view that when it comes to European discussions Scotland does better out of having a Parliamentary Under-Secretary tagging along with the UK Minister. That is a perfectly legitimate point of view. But it is not one that I or many other people share, including the President of the Scottish National Farmers' Union.

My noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie, who is, as everyone knows, a kindly and benign man, chided me for being a little rough on the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, on a previous occasion on this matter simply because the president of the Scottish NFU happens to have been adopted as the Liberal Democrat candidate for his old constituency. I make a serious point here. I hope he will not make too much of this. We should be pleased that there are people at the top of their professions and occupations in Scotland who are willing to come forward as candidates for the Scottish parliament, regardless of party. I certainly welcome that. They should not be attacked in this House or elsewhere because they happen, in order to get membership of the Scottish parliament, naturally to be affiliated to the party of their choice.

To stick with the issue under discussion, our amendment clarifies what ought to be good practice in future where delegations consisting both of UK Ministers and Scottish Ministers attend meetings of the European Union. I beg to move.

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Strange

I should like to speak to Amendment No. 269, which is similar to Amendment No. 268, although mine applies more specifically to representation at the Council of Ministers. With the enormous importance of both agriculture and fisheries to the Scottish economy, and as so many vital decisions affecting both those industries are decided at the Council of Ministers of the European Community, it is absolutely vital that Scotland and the new Scottish parliament should have a direct voice and say in anything being discussed. Therefore there should be Scottish Ministers included in any United Kingdom delegation which discusses these matters. If the matters discussed would primarily affect Scotland, the delegation should be led by Scottish Ministers. The effect of this amendment would mean that, without in any way diminishing the close union between Scotland and England, we in Scotland would still have a direct say in the European matters which closely affect us.

Last Tuesday, on Amendment No. 249A, I understood the Minister to say that the United Kingdom Ministers at the European Parliament would be responsible to the United Kingdom Parliament and would report to the United Kingdom Parliament only, not to the Scottish parliament. This hardly seems fair to the Scottish parliament, or indeed to the people of Scotland.

The Scottish Nationalists have always made a point of direct representation in the European Parliament at ministerial level. If we have this already written into the Bill it would destroy much of the force of their argument.

The Earl of Balfour

I wish to raise one point that I feel the Government should bear in mind. It concerns the extremely valuable whisky industry in Scotland. It is through European directives that Scottish whisky cannot be sold less than 40 per cent. by volume—if it is below that level it is almost impossible to analyse its origin—and it must also be kept for at least three years. Such provisions have helped that valuable industry tremendously. Therefore, I hope that the Government will look sympathetically on these amendments.

Lord Hylton

The analogy of Northern Ireland may be relevant here. The Committee will be aware that the ban on the export of beef from Northern Ireland has recently been lifted, which is a great step forward. That came about because the Minister responsible for agriculture in Northern Ireland and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the United Kingdom were both members of the same party and of the same government. In Scotland, when agriculture is devolved, that may no longer be the case. They may be of different political complexions. We need to have on the face of the Bill something very similar to one or other or both of the amendments.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

We have already debated this matter very fully and it was discussed during proceedings on the Government of Wales Bill. I am a little concerned about the noble Lord's amendment. I understand what he is trying to do and I believe that his objective is wholly laudable and desirable.

Subsection (1) of the amendment provides that the appropriate Scottish Ministers should be entitled to accompany the United Kingdom delegation. That is fine. I should like to see that entitlement there and the entitlement to participate. Subsection (2) is slightly more confusing. It is suggested that, on items that are non-reserved matters, it would be possible for Scottish Ministers to be the sole representatives. They might be non-reserved matters, but the relationship with the European Union is a reserved matter. It appears to me that a decision could be taken that was out of kilter with that which the United Kingdom Government wanted. I am not sure what would happen if that occurred. Likewise, under subsection (3), if a Scottish Minister was leading, which would in many ways be desirable, what would happen if the decision taken was contrary to that which the United Kingdom Government wanted?

During proceedings on the Government of Wales Bill the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, replied that the Minister could always resign. I did not think that that was convincing. I do not see why a Minister should resign for doing something wrong in the eyes of the United Kingdom Government when he is answerable to the Scottish parliament. That is a rather confused line of thought. If the Minister could clarify his views on subsection (2) and (3) and say that he is satisfied and will accept the amendment, no one will be happier than me. But I do not quite understand how it would be possible.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

This is the third time during the Committee stage that we have returned to this general subject. The exchange that we had on Tuesday has greatly helped me to understand exactly how the Government see negotiations on important European matters. I suspect that the Government will reject the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, and indeed the amendment of my noble friend Lady Strange, because they are incompatible with the overriding principle that negotiations with the European Union are reserved matters.

There is only one way—we should not beat about the bush—ofor Scotland to have a direct say in the meetings of the Council of Ministers; and that is to be a separate member state of the European Union. There is no way round that problem. That applies especially on reserved matters, but more particularly on almost all matters. There is just no way round that. Member states are the ones who sit at Council of Ministers' meetings and member states cast the votes. The Minister from the United Kingdom casts 10 votes. The only way for a Scottish representative to be there as of right is if he is there from an independent Scotland casting the princely sum of probably three votes. That itself is something which everyone in Scotland ought to bear in mind when it comes to thinking that Scotland might possibly be better off around the Council of Ministers' table if it was independent.

I have to say to the Committee—all my noble friends who have been in similar positions at Council of Ministers' meetings will know this—that the score sheet we draw up has two leagues in it: the league of the voters with 10 votes and the league of the voters with three votes. The people who carry the clout are the people in the league with 10 votes. That is where Scotland is at the moment, as a member of the United Kingdom; and that is where I at least firmly want Scotland to stay.

I believe that a great deal of what we see in the amendments carries the danger of crossing over the boundary between a devolved situation and an independent situation.

Lord Kirkhill

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I wish only to put to him this hypothetical question. Would he be confident in expressing the view which he has just expressed to a Danish representative, a Norwegian representative, a Swedish representative and so on?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

If the noble Lord is asking about the number of votes, I certainly would. I can remember the fisheries Minister of the Republic of Ireland occasionally asking me how we were going to vote on fisheries matters, in which we had something of a common interest with regard to the west coast of Scotland and Ireland, because it really did not matter much how he was going to vote if we were not going to vote in the same way.

Lord Kirkhill

Norway has gained much of what it wanted by its voting and by its discussions within the groups.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

What Norway has gained has been because it is outside the European Union and not inside it. The noble Lord is in danger of putting forward an argument which one or two of his noble friends who are not present and one or two of my noble friends are always advancing. I urge the noble Lord to sit back for a moment or else the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, will come into the Chamber and haunt him.

Lord Kirkhill

I quite understand the position of Norway. As the noble Lord will know, I am, and have been for 12 years, a member of the Council of Europe. I am perfectly aware of that reality. I cited Norway not because it is outwith the European Union but because it has determined negotiators standing for it. If I had wanted to, I could have said the same for Denmark and I could have said the same for countries that are within the European Union.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I know from having been there that the Council of Ministers is always mindful about the position of the smaller states. All I am saying is that when it comes to a vote, as it does occasionally and as it will increasingly do as decisions are taken by majority voting, the point I have made is true. Ten votes are a lot more than three. If one is looking for a majority, one is looking for the people who are casting the 10 votes to get that majority. Those with three votes may be helpful, but unless one has those with 10 votes one does not get the majority. My essential point is this. We have to be clear that if people want Scotland to have a direct say they want an independent Scotland. There is no half-way house.

With regard to subsection (2) of the amendment, on matters which are solely Scottish and solely devolved, then, as I have explained to your Lordships before, I can see that the United Kingdom delegation could easily be led by a Scottish Minister. In the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, which I have quoted to your Lordships on a number of occasions, he gave two examples: one was of Bavaria leading for Germany on a cultural matter and the other was of Catalonia leading for Spain on language matters. As I have said before, although these matters may be very important, they do not fall into the same category of importance as matters affecting the common fisheries policy, the common agricultural policy or economic and trade policy. It is those matters which concern me.

On the third suggestion, I do not think that it is possible for a Scottish Minister to lead a UK delegation when matters which affect parts of the United Kingdom, other than Scotland, are involved. That is for a number of reasons. It is partly, as I said at the beginning, because that Minister is not a UK Minister. It is also partly because he is not answerable to anybody in the rest of the UK. We established quite late on Tuesday—this has helped me greatly and I continue to read it in Hansard because it continues to help me—that the overarching point is that negotiations with the European Union are reserved matters. Even if the negotiations relate to devolved matters, they are still reserved. Although the Scottish parliament and the Scottish government—I am like the noble Lord, Lord Steel, in believing that that is what we should call it because, frankly, that is what it will be called—may be involved at quite a high level in discussions with the UK on the policies to be pursued, the ultimate responsibility will rest with the UK Ministers who will have to decide what is to happen in the midst of the negotiations.

As I have explained to the Committee previously, these matters often have to be decided as compromises, late at night. Frankly, at that stage, the UK Government Minister will have to make difficult decisions on behalf of the United Kingdom. If my reading of the White Paper is correct, the Scottish Minister will jolly well have to go along with that because he is part and parcel of the collective responsibility, although, ironically, he is not part and parcel of the same government. The Minister made that absolutely clear. I shall quote what he said so that over the long Recess he and his officials can make absolutely sure that this is what was meant and that this is what the position will be. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, said:

It is the responsibility of Scottish Ministers to report to the Scottish parliament and of UK Ministers to answer to the UK Parliament for the conduct of EU negotiations even when they affect devolved matters. If the Fisheries Council were deciding questions of TACs and quotas"— I notice that Hansard reported that as "tax" rather than as "TACs"— many of us have been involved in long nights of macho negotiations on quotas—it would be perfectly proper for a Westminster MP to ask the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food a question on TACs and quotas, perhaps on how they affected Scottish interests. Similarly, a question on dairy quotas and the Agriculture Council could quite properly be asked of the Minister by a Scottish Member of Parliament at Westminster".—[Official Report, 28/7/98; col. 1434.] Later at col. 1438, the noble Lord said:

It starts from the basis that the conduct of foreign relations, including EU negotiations, is a reserved matter. That is the starting-off point. UK Ministers, therefore, can properly be made accountable to the Westminster Parliament for that, even when the content affects devolved matters. They are answerable to all Members of the Westminster Parliament". If that remains the stated position, I at least am almost content with the long debates that we have had. I rather regret that Ministers from the Welsh Office were not able to say the same things. As my noble friend Lord Sanderson said on an earlier occasion, it will mean that organisations which want to lobby on European Union matters will not go to Edinburgh to lobby; they will come to London. Particularly with regard to the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy, the NFU and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation will be coming here to lobby their Members of Parliament at the other end of this building. They will come here to lobby Ministers in this Parliament because they will be conducting the negotiations. If the Minister can confirm that I am almost—or even fully—right in my interpretation of the position, I at least will think that I have gained quite a lot from this Committee stage.

Lord Sewel

Before I come to deal with the amendments, perhaps I may point out that during our discussion on Clause 35 on Tuesday night I referred to the Treaty of Amsterdam as having inserted the provision which allows Ministers from regional or devolved governments to represent their member states in EU Councils. As I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, may have been aware, I should have attributed that provision to the Maastricht Treaty. I apologise for any misunderstanding caused. Clearly, confusing Maastricht and Amsterdam is a bit of double Dutch!

Noble Lords


Lord Sewel

Well, it is 25 minutes to five o'clock!

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, quoted back at me what I said on Tuesday night. Ninety per cent. of his interpretation of those remarks is absolutely right. I repeat that the essential point is that negotiations with the European Union, including negotiations at the Council of Ministers, are reserved because foreign affairs are reserved and EU negotiations are a foreign affairs matter. I believe that that puts it as clearly and as simply as I can.

There is an important difference between that clear statement and, to pick up the words of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, what we want to see in terms of "good practice". I believe that those were the noble Lord's words. That is a different matter. I think that we can get there. Indeed, we are trying to indicate how we can adopt the good practice which will ensure that a Scottish voice is built into the development of UK policy at Council meetings and that, where appropriate, that Scottish voice is able to speak and to represent the agreed UK line.

I have said on a number of occasions that the Government fully intend that Scottish Ministers should play as full a role as possible in developing UK positions on EU matters and, where appropriate, in presenting them to the Council. However, we believe that that is best left to administrative arrangements between Her Majesty's Government and the Scottish executive. That flows from the very position that I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, was outlining when he quoted what I said on Tuesday. That is why the administrative arrangements are best dealt with through a concordat. That gives a flexibility of approach. I believe that it is the best and most sensible way of dealing with what is by its nature a relatively unpredictable business and one which is basically not open to be defined through statute. I hope that the noble Lord will recognise that within the framework within which we have to operate, which flows from the fact that the UK is the member state, we are absolutely intent on ensuring that there will be a Scottish voice and a Scottish presence in the development of the UK line and, where appropriate, a Scottish presence and a Scottish voice in the presentation of the UK line. That deals with subsection (1).

Subsection (2) seeks to provide that where matters affect only Scotland, Scottish Ministers should be the sole representatives of the United Kingdom. That is a difficult idea in any case because very few international or European matters could be said to affect only Scotland. Even if not directly, then at least indirectly, there are likely to be UK implications. That is a very difficult line to draw.

Subsection (3) seeks to provide that in appropriate cases on non-reserved matters affecting Scotland the Scottish Minister may lead the UK delegation. This is where I part company from the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and his interpretation. It is the Government's intention that that could happen with the agreement of the UK Minister. It is because the Scottish Minister would be a minister of the Crown—that is, "minister" with a lower case "m" and "Crown" with a capital "C" rather than "minister" with a capital "M"!—that it would be perfectly possible for the Scottish Minister with the agreement of the UK Minister to speak on any matter. The same sort of argument applies virtually directly to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Strange. On that basis and with that explanation, I hope that the amendments will not be pressed.

Lord Steel of Aikwood

The Committee has had a very useful short debate that has clarified the Government's intentions. There is nothing in my amendment that detracts from the fact that the UK has responsibility in relation to the European Union. Perhaps I may give a specific example that eases the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. If a UK Minister said to a Scottish Minister that a particular matter affected mainly Scotland, that he had other things to do and that the Scottish Minister should take over the delegation because the line had been agreed upon, and something went wrong, the UK Minister would still be accountable to the Westminster Parliament for what he had done. I see no difficulty in this matter at all—even if the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, were himself that Scottish Minister.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

The consequences of that would be that the UK Minister would not let it happen again.

Lord Steel of Aikwood

I accept that that may be so. The Committee has reached an astonishingly amicable agreement as to what should happen. In that spirit I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 269 not moved.]

Lord Selkirk of Douglas moved Amendment No. 270:

After Clause 54, insert the following new clause—