§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Gillian Merron]2.30 pm
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Before I call the Minister to open the debate, may I say that the matter before us is a very important one?
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Peter Hain)
Thank you for your warm welcome, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Knowing of your strong views on Europe, I can think of nobody better to chair this sitting.
Given the importance of the ideas being considered in the Convention, it is vital that Parliament should have sufficient opportunity to debate the issues. That is why the Government have proposed today's Adjournment debate on the Convention. I welcome the interest of the Select Committee on European Scrutiny, before which I am due to appear next week. In the week after, that the Minister for Europe and I shall give evidence to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The Convention has moved into its most crucial and intense phase as we consider the draft treaty articles, which hon. Members have seen. We have made significant progress in several areas—for example, in securing a substantial role for national Parliaments in assessing whether action should be taken at European or national level, ensuring that the charter of fundamental rights does not change the competences of the EU, and resisting further moves to qualified majority voting in the social field while the provisions introduced at Nice have yet to be tested.
So far, so good. However, we have much to do to ensure that the progress that we have made is not undone in the draft articles prepared by the praesidium. There is pressure from some quarters to reopen the discussions of the working groups and the plenary response to those working groups. Some heavy lifting is also required to protect our key interests.
As hon. Members will be aware, the first set of draft constitutional treaty articles generated quite a bit of heat. So they should, because they cover key issues that go to the heart of the Convention's work. They set out the kind of European Union that we are creating—its values and objectives—and they tell us a bit about its genesis. I welcome the clear setting out of the competences of the Union and of the member states although, like many, I do not think that we are there yet. We must make it absolutely clear that the power of the Union stems from the member states, and not the other way round. I welcome the Convention president's public acceptance that that point needs to be clearly stated. A Brussels superstate is not on—full stop, end of story. The EU is and will remain a union of sovereign states.
304WH I want a scheme of competence that is clear, flexible and simple, yet which preserves accuracy and legal certainty and allows us to safeguard our national interests. Distinct arrangements must be preserved for common foreign and security policy and aspects of justice and home affairs.
The first articles contain some good suggestions, such as the idea of "supporting action", which confirms that there are certain areas in which the EU cannot harmonise legislation. However, I was not happy with the language on economic governance and common foreign and security policy. I made it crystal clear to the Convention that the EU's foreign and security policy must remain intergovernmental, and economic policy must continue to function by member states coordinating economic policy in the Council, within the framework of rules established by the EU.
As a champion of plain English, I was pleased to see the hard work that had gone into making the drafts easier to understand. However, as Baroness Scotland reminded the Convention, we must not allow plain speaking and simplicity of language to replace legal certainty. That is particularly true of a constitutional treaty, which is why I made a number of suggestions to the Convention in my many amendments. I suggested removing ambiguities and ensuring that the constitution paints a clear picture of a Union in which member states freely co-operate and integrate by agreement when it makes sense to do so in pursuit of clearly defined aims against a background of shared values.
The first draft articles also included the F-word. I made it clear at the time—and I continue to do so—that "federal" means different things to different people and different countries. It therefore seems odd to include it in a document that is designed to provide clarity.
§ Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk)
I find that odd, too, although not because many speakers in the debate will welcome the word while many others will oppose it. The inclusion of "federal" is odd because the draft articles plainly describe a unitary state. The competences in article 12 indicate that member states can act only when the Union has not exercised or ceases to exercise its competence. Is not "federal" rather an odd way of describing what is basically a unitary state?
§ Peter Hain
I do not accept that view or the assumptions behind it. We are talking not about a unitary state or about drafting a constitution for one, but about a partnership—a union of sovereign member states. That is quite a different animal. The hon. Gentleman is either being mischievous or he is under a misconception; quite conceivably, he is both.
Instead of using the suggested terminology, we propose simply to say what we mean: certain policies are co-ordinated at the European level to achieve goals that member states cannot achieve by themselves.
The second set of draft articles was rather more technical than the first, so I may lapse occasionally into euro-jargon. I am a firm advocate of simplifying the Union, so I welcome the proposal to reduce the number of instruments and terms that it will use. "Law" and "framework law" are much clearer and simpler than the plethora of terms that has built up over the years. Introducing such changes will help to make Europe 305WH easier to understand. It should also make the Union more efficient by freeing the Council and the European Parliament to focus on setting the general frameworks in primary law, while leaving the detail to those more directly involved in implementation—usually the nation states and their constituent regions.
Draft protocols have also been produced on the role of national Parliaments and the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. Some people have dismissed the protocols as being of secondary importance, but I believe that they are revolutionary and crucial.
The Laeken declaration drew attention to the need for national Parliaments to play a greater role in EU affairs. The protocols envisage a formal role for national Parliaments such as ours for the first time in the history of European co-operation at the EU level. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) has been a visible, vociferous and very effective campaigner in the convention for the greater involvement of national Parliaments.
I proposed introducing an early-warning mechanism, whereby details of new legislative proposals would be emailed out so that national Parliaments could give their view on whether the EU should take action on a particular policy. The Convention endorsed that proposal, which is reflected in the draft protocols on the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, and in the draft treaty articles. That is a significant achievement. The key to its success will be ensuring its credibility, so I very much hope that the House will firmly grasp the opportunity to become more involved in EU decision making.
§ Mr. David Drew (Stroud)
My right hon. Friend will accept that the problem is the perception rather than the reality of what is being said. Does he agree that part of the problem is the relationship that national Parliaments will have to a constitution? Will decisions gain legitimacy through a referendum, or—this is usually the British way—will Parliaments be sovereign and make decisions? Will that not at least cause confusion? Is it necessary to hold such a debate, whether though a referendum or otherwise, so that the people are taken along with what happens with the Parliaments?
§ Peter Hain
I agree that there is a need to bring along the people to which my hon. Friend referred. That is why the Minister for Europe is doing a lot of public speaking around the country, why I did the same when I was in that post, and why we are taking every opportunity to involve people in debate through websites and so on. On the question of holding a referendum rather than having national Parliaments take a decision, as my hon. Friend knows, different member states have different means of ratifying treaties. There will be a treaty at the end of process. We have not gone down the referendum route, except in the case of the original decision to join and—if we indeed decide to hold a referendum—in the case of the fundamental decision of joining the single currency. On the issue in question, we shall proceed as we have done in the past, by ratifying treaties through Parliament, because, 306WH frankly, that is the best way to ensure the detailed scrutiny and accountability necessary to secure real democratic legitimacy for the outcome.
§ Mr. Bacon
Many people think that a document that starts with the wordsreflecting the will of the peoplesshould necessarily be subject to a referendum. Will the Minister tell me what it is about something so fundamental—to use his words—as the euro that makes a referendum necessary, but what is not so fundamental about a constitution, which is plainly fundamental to anyone, that does not make a referendum necessary?
§ Peter Hain
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we should start to reject the will of the peoples. It is self-evident that a new treaty arrangement expressed in the form of a constitution should reflect the democratically expressed will of the peoples through their national Parliaments. It is the free, sovereign right of countries such as Ireland to hold a referendum. However, I still hold the view that it is better to adopt the parliamentary process.
Much in the new constitution embeds and clarifies what is in existing treaties. There are new additions, such as the national Parliament accountability, which I would expect the hon. Gentleman to welcome, and which ought to be included. The process is an exercise in clarifying and modernising European Union structures that are contained in hundreds of pages and thousands of words of tangled treaty language that is virtually incomprehensible to the average Member of Parliament, let alone to the average citizen. There is no reason why the fact that the document is labelled a constitution should trigger a referendum.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)
I want to follow up on that point. The document strengthens the powers of the centre, is developed by a Convention that is loaded in favour of the EU—even though it probably has a majority of "federasts"— and fundamentally changes the balance of power between national Parliaments and Governments and the centre. That is a major constitutional change. Surely what is proposed must be put to the people, because it can have no legitimacy unless it has the consent of the people, not only in Britain but right across Europe.
§ Peter Hain
How can something strengthen the centre if it contains a new proviso for national Parliaments to have rights over subsidiarity and proportionality? That is a decentralising measure and a major advance, which came from the Prime Minister's speech in Warsaw several years ago, when he called for national Parliaments to have a role right at the beginning for the first time—the traditional scrutiny arrangements are by and large retrospective—and for nothing to be done in relation to serious legislation unless national Parliaments are consulted as to whether it infringes subsidiarity or proportionality.
I acknowledge my hon. Friend's long and expert interest in the evolution of the European Union, but we should await the outcome. The Convention will strengthen the centre in ways with which we agree, such as creating a more active justice and home affairs policy, 307WH to give us proper protection against human trafficking, asylum seekers, terrorism and international crime. That is a common-sense approach, and the Convention will not strengthen the centre just as a matter of iron law.
Although we are gaining ground support for more vigorous enforcement of the principle of subsidiarity, I am disappointed by the lack of interest in its partner principle, proportionality, which was also introduced by the Maastricht treaty, and which provides a check on how detailed and intrusive legislation may be. I sometimes think that it is the intrusive and detailed nature of legislation, whether in the form of directives or regulations, that is the problem, particularly for businesses, rather than the principles behind the legislation itself. Both principles—subsidiarity and proportionality—are essentially political. They are certainly not technical matters on which a court should be asked to rule. Given the link between them, it seems logical to me that the early warning mechanism that we are setting up to consider subisidiarity should also decide on proportionality.
I am pleased that the draft treaty articles and draft protocols give formal recognition to the role of the regions in the European Union. In the paper that I submitted to the Convention in advance of the plenary discussion, I set out several ideas for strengthening the role of the regions and formally recognising their involvement in EU business.
§ Mr. lain Luke (Dundee, East)
I am glad that my right hon. Friend made that point. Our own example of subsidiarity, whereby this Parliament has devolved powers to Assemblies and Parliaments throughout the United Kingdom, is the proper way forward. It sets a good example to European countries, given that it keeps us within a United Kingdom but gives regional Assemblies and Parliaments a much stronger voice in deciding how to run their affairs.
§ Peter Hain
I very much endorse my hon. Friend's views. Indeed, the paper that I submitted proposed a strengthened role, in respect of influence in Brussels and consultation via Brussels, for any initiatives that must be implemented at a regional level or, in our country, at national level, such as in Scotland and Wales, in particular. That paper was drawn up in co-operation with the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive, and it puts us at the fore in strengthening the role of Europe's regions.
Very significant decisions are already made in the United Kingdom, as in many other member states, by local and regional government, but, at the moment, their voice is not effectively heard in Europe. That is a wasted opportunity because their involvement would improve the quality of the legislation produced. It would be also be a step in the right direction to involve more people in the European Union and reconnect Europe to its citizens. The idea that this is some sort of centralising constitution is confounded by the role that national Parliaments are being given for the first time, and by the enhanced role that we hope the regions of Europe will also be given.
Draft treaty articles relating to justice and home affairs in the budget were published on Monday. We are still closely examining those drafts. Taking the justice 308WH and home affairs articles first, I welcome the attempt to set out what it is, and is not, for Europe to do. It is good to see that, for the most part, the draft articles build on the significant advances that we have already achieved, for example, in relation to asylum and immigration. I am especially pleased that the draft articles confirm mutual recognition as the foundation on which justice and home affairs should be constructed. My alternate, Baroness Scotland, worked hard and expertly on the justice and home affairs working group to win agreement on that important principle.
We do not accept, however, the proposal for a European public prosecutor, who would investigate and prosecute cases of fraud against the Community budget. My concern lies with the bureaucracy and expense of creating such a post. To whom would such a figure be accountable? Member states already have national prosecutors to do that job. Those individuals are responsible to their courts and Parliaments, but that would not be the case for the European public prosecutor. In 2001, over 70 per cent. of fraud in the EU was committed in individual member states. We should be strengthening the systems that are in place in member states to prosecute criminals in their own country, not creating a new European legal bureaucracy. We are not alone in our concerns on that matter.
The draft budget articles seem to be helpful. They reflect well the Government's thinking on budgetary discipline and on sound financial management—key principles of which the UK has been a strong advocate. The present EU budgetary procedure is complex and opaque. I welcome the fact that the draft articles open the way to simplifying the annual budget process, provided that budget discipline and stability are maintained.
All the draft articles to which I have referred are in part 1 of the new treaty, which clarifies and simplifies the aims and objectives of the Union. Part 2 elaborates on those objectives and aims. We now have the results of a technical exercise by lawyers on part 2 to prepare the ground for merging the current treaties. It involves deleting those parts of the treaties that are now obsolete and amending others in the light of the consensus reached in the Convention.
The legal experts group did a good job; it reflected well the recommendations from the Convention's working groups. However, it followed through on one of the recommendations from the simplification working group—a recommendation to which we raised major objections. That is the proposal to generalise qualified majority voting and co-decision across the board. I have often made it clear that the UK would be prepared to examine each area that remains outside the procedures case by case. However, we do not accept a generalisation. There are some areas, taxation for example, in which we will not accept qualified majority voting.
The Convention has still to conclude its discussions on the important area of institutional reform. I support the widely held view that we should not distort the present institutional balance. However, there is scope to improve the workings of each institution and to make processes simpler and more transparent. A full-time elected chair of the Council would enhance its stability and its ability to provide a strategic overview of EU matters. Many member states support that idea, 309WH including France, Germany, Spain and Poland. As a result of his experiences of the presidency, the Danish Prime Minister changed his mind and said that he now regards the chair as essential to ensuring the effective functioning of a Council of 25 member states. He made the point that when the EU had 15 member states he had to make two tours during his six-month presidency before each Council. That was a severe strain for a serving Prime Minister. From 1 May 2004, the Union will have 25 member states; how much more of a strain will that be for a serving Prime Minister?
Another suggestion is for the European Parliament to elect the Commission President. However, I am sceptical of that idea. My concern is that such an independent figure, who must be acceptable to the member states through the Council, will get caught up in the politics of the European Parliament. If a way can be devised to prevent that, perhaps by including a high threshold for approval so that the President is not the hostage of one party faction, I would be willing to consider the idea again.
Finally, I cannot deny that events in Iraq have highlighted the need to reform and strengthen the EU's common foreign and security policy. Reports of its demise are wrong and unhelpful. There is a future for CFSP, and we are working in the Convention to identify how we might develop a serious and credible EU global role beyond the one that it has on aid and trade. The UK, like other member states, will not accept any shift from the intergovernmental nature of the CFSP; nor is there much sense in extending QM V to foreign policy. We need greater coherence. A single figure—merging the posts of the Council's high representative for the common foreign and security policy, Javier Solana, and the external relations Commissioner, Chris Patten, and answerable to the Council but with a foot in the Commission—could help us to achieve that.
We have come a long way in the Convention; I have been sitting on it for a month—for a year, rather; I wish it had been a month. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston would agree with that last thought.
We have already come a long way in the Convention, but there remains some distance to go before we conclude our work in June. In response to requests from Convention members for more detailed discussion of the articles, the praesidium has proposed additional plenary sessions. I will attend one such meeting next Wednesday. Further discussion groups have also been set up to examine issues where the working groups were unable to reach consensus. Baroness Scotland has participated in a discussion group on the European Court of Justice, and another group has just begun considering the Union's budget procedure.
There have been calls to extend the Convention until later in the year. Some say that that would give us more time fully to consider the implications and issues involved in our proposals. I am not convinced by such arguments. Indeed, the June deadline has been a spur to progress in the Convention, so I see no sense in delaying the conclusion of the Convention beyond the June European Council, as was originally decided.
310WH An intergovernmental conference will be convened in due course to consider the Convention's recommendations and decide, by unanimity, the future shape of the European Union. The final decision will he with member Governments such as ours. The precise timing of the IGC has not yet been decided. I am relaxed about when it will begin and how long it will last, but it is important that there is sufficient breathing space between the end of the Convention and the beginning of the IGC to allow for a period of reflection, including, I hope, reflection by this House.
The IGC must debate the issues fully. I would not want it simply to rubber-stamp the Convention's work. It is also imperative that the accession countries are fully involved in the IGC. After all, the forum will decide the kind of Union to which the accession countries will be full members.
The House will appreciate that the Convention is making good progress in fulfilling its mandate from the Laeken European Council in December 2001. The British team, Government, parliamentary and European parliamentary representatives are fully engaged, proposing ideas, persuading others and listening closely. We made some promising gains in devising the new political architecture for a Europe of 25 and more states. Much remains to be done to continue to protect our national interest, but we are confident of rising to that challenge in order to deliver the Europe that British citizens want—safer, richer, stronger and more accountable to its citizens.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Before I call the next speaker, I note that some 12 hon. Members intend to seek to catch my eye, including the spokesmen for Her Majesty's Opposition and the Liberal Democrats. If hon. Members show some discipline, without doubt everyone will get in. Although I do not normally indicate how I intend to call Members, it will help the Chamber if those who were intimately involved in the Convention may make their contributions early in the debate.
§ Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)
As the Minister mentioned, the Convention has been sitting for rather over a year. The anniversary passed off quietly because it coincided with the extinction of any pretence that there is a common foreign or security policy in the European Union; the Iraq situation caused that.
Despite that rather glaring setback, the Convention is now in a state-building mode and the scale of the undertaking is now becoming clear. The end result will definitely be far beyond the treaty change system that we have seen at Maastricht, Amsterdam or Nice. A European constitution and, by extension, a constitution for this country is being written.
In fact, the Laeken declaration was fairly tentative about that undertaking. It referred to the need for simplification and said:The question ultimately arises as to whether this simplification and reorganisation might not lead in the long run to the adoption of a constitutional text in the Union. What might the basic features of such a constitution be?Despite that rather hesitant suggestion, we are now into the serious business of considering detailed draft articles. The first 16 draft articles establish the basic 311WH structure of the Union, giving it a legal personality and making it clear that it is a separate entity from member states, so the idea that it is an association or partnership of states is long past. They also signal the end of the intergovernmental pillars, which have been a feature of the Union since Maastricht. Furthermore, draft article 5 states:The Charter of Fundamental Rights shall be an integral part of the Constitution.The name of the entity is unimportant, but "the European state" would be appropriate. My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) was right, as we are witnessing the birth of a unitary state. Mr. de Villepin, who is supposed to be a great political theorist as well as French Foreign Minister, suggested that it is a federation of nation states. To me, that is a contradiction in terms. We cannot have a federation of nation states as we understand the term. We can have a federation of states like the United States, if we are to have the same status as Massachusetts or Oregon, but in a federation, by definition, powers are given up to the centre, which has powers directly applicable on the people of the constituent states. To talk about a federation of nation states is obfuscation and intellectually deceitful. If we are going to engage the public's attention and eventual consent to an outcome, we must be honest and square with them what is actually happening. I regret that the Minister has persisted with the idea of a partnership of sovereign states. We are building something entirely different.
§ Mr. Bacon
On that point, is my right hon. Friend as concerned as I am about the legal personality? He will know from the jurisprudence of the United States and its Supreme Court that once the European constitution is in place and has a legal personality, like Massachusetts, the individual states will exist because of the federal layer. A fundamental shift takes place once legal personality starts.
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
My hon. Friend is undeniably right, which is shown by the history of the United States. For example, the Bill of Rights in the US constitution originally applied only to the federal Government, but through judicial activism under John Marshall, it eventually applied to all the constituent states. That process is already under way in the European Union, and the constitution will give it a great accelerating force.
The Minister claimed that the new constitution would at least bring clarity to the powers of the European Union compared with those of the member states. I do not find that in the draft articles. It is a botched exercise, and the long list of shared competences takes us nowhere. As a member state advocate, it is of no comfort to me to know that energy, social policy, the environment and public health are shared competences. That does not define the relative powers.
The articles give the lie to the idea that the Convention is simply about clarification or codification of the existing balance of powers between the two levels. I can give a specific example. Draft article 13 says:The Union shall coordinate the economic policies of the Member States".That goes far beyond anything in existing treaties. It says not "may" but "shall" co-ordinate, which is unrecognisably different from what we have had before. 312WH It is a giant transfer of authority from member states to the new Union. I beseech the Government to be honest. If they want that to happen, they should admit and defend it. If they do not want it, they should announce now that they are against it and will veto it. Will the Minister give me that assurance?
§ Peter Hain
Surely the right hon. Gentleman must know that we tabled a strong amendment to get rid of that, and that I attacked it in very strong terms on the opening day of the plenary when it was published. We therefore agree, which he must know as an active member of the Convention.
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
We may agree, but the question is what the outcome will be. I have sat on the Convention for a year, and have learnt that minority opinions are ignored unless they are very forcefully expressed and backed up with an explicit statement, which the Government can make but I cannot, that we will accept the outcome only if the draft article is changed. That is the only language that the Convention will understand. I have served on two working groups, registered dissident opinions and been completely ignored, even when I had allies, although admittedly we were still in a minority. Everything is simply driven from the top, which is a regrettable way of working. Frankly, it is not good enough for the Government to table an amendment that was scarcely touched on in the plenary debate that I attended.
Some 1,000 amendments were tabled to the first tranche of draft articles, of which I tabled nearly 100. I signed some that were tabled by the Government. We worked on this together. We were each given two minutes to speak to our amendments—two minutes to explain why I could not accept the draft articles and why my amendments should be promoted.
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
The hon. Gentleman was in the same boat. We had four minutes between us to explain why we could not accept the powers being transferred to the centre. We are being marginalised; by the word "we", I mean me, my colleagues in the Opposition and the Government representative.
The Minister said that this is all right because it is balanced by the new great powers that national Parliaments will have. What do they amount to? They amount simply to a third of member state Parliaments being able to ask the Commission to review a proposal if they consider that it breaches a subsidiarity principle. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who I hope will contribute to the debate, has done a great job in trying to strengthen that and make it mandatory, so that the Commission has to withdraw the proposals if, say, two thirds of national Parliaments object. Again, however, that is not receiving a sympathetic hearing in the Convention.
All we are being offered is a review. Subsidiarity has been a principle since Maastricht, and has been treaty law since 1993. The subsidiarity protocol has existed since 1997. The proposals are, therefore, an admission 313WH that subsidiarity has been ignored, and we are now being asked to accept that we can simply request a review. That does not begin to offset the massive transfer to the centre that is evident in the draft articles already tabled. We have only had some of them; all the draft articles about the institutional balance and common and foreign policy are still to come.
We then had a tranche of draft articles dealing with legal instruments. Mindful of your comments about time, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I can only touch on them. They are dangerous, as they are advanced on the understanding that they are to simplify the legal instruments available to the EU. However, they do not do that. I am still greatly confused about laws and Executive actions. In particular, a new category has now been invented of non-legislative Acts. I ask the Chamber to ask itself what it understands by non-legislative Acts. It is clear from the other draft articles that that instrument will be given to unelected bodies, such as the Commission or other agencies, with powers to enact regulations that are directly binding on member states and the people in those member states; in other words, the people whom we represent. That, again, is a huge advance in the law-making powers of unelected European Union bodies. I do not see how that squares with the Laeken declaration, which asks us to democratise the Union.
The Laeken declaration, which is dated December 2001 and was solemnly agreed by the member states, asked us to bring the Union closer to its citizens. How can we achieve that by taking more laws upwards to the most remote tier of government of all, the European Union, by the widespread use of qualified majority voting and by the use of that new and peculiar category known as non-legislative Acts, which is at best obscure, and at worst highly dangerous?
The report includes a new section on justice and home affairs. I served on the working group on that area. The section provides for a common policy on immigration, asylum and borders, and approximation of criminal justice systems. To give one example, the draft article dealing with judicial and criminal procedures states that Acts, including those directly binding on the population—in other words, not requiring national Parliaments to enact them—can be brought forward to approximate the rules governing the admissibility of evidence, the definition of the rights of individuals, and the rights of victims of crime. "Approximation" is a form of harmonisation.
However, the rules referred to differ in the European Union. We have a common law tradition that differs profoundly on matters such as the right to silence or the admissibility of evidence based on hearsay or interceptor communications, but that will now be subject to approximation by qualified majority voting. Therefore, the House might pass laws connected with the rights of suspects, the right to silence being one of the examples that I gave, but those laws could now be overtaken by laws that bypass this place and are directly binding. An attempt could be made to harmonise our 314WH common law tradition, which has been built up over centuries, with the inquisitorial system that pertains on the continent.
§ Mr. Bacon
I want to ask my right hon. Friend about the working group on freedom, justice and security, of which he was a member, and particularly about the experts whom the working group consulted. Will he tell me who chose the experts who were consulted? It seems that institutions such as Europol, Eurojust and the European Commission were consulted, as were legal academics, but why were no legal practitioners consulted? Why were no experts from a common law jurisdiction consulted? What does that say about the attitude to diversity that will be necessary if the new system is to have any serious chance of working?
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
I do not know who selected the witnesses, but everything else was done by the secretariat. That working group in particular was driven from the top.
On occasion, I assembled a slightly leaky little alliance of fellow-minded dissidents, which sometimes included Lady Scotland, Tim Kirkhope, an MEP who is known in our party, and the Irish Government representative, Mr. Pat Carey. In our various ways, the four of us emphasised the diversity that exists: the common law tradition and the difference in the United Kingdom between the Scottish tradition and that of England. Those representations were not taken account of at all.
More worryingly, on areas where the Committee failed to reach a united conclusion, such as on the question of the European public prosecutor, the secretariat ignored that. In the draft articles it is now proposed that there should be provision for a European public prosecutor, completely ignoring the working group's conclusions. I am pleased that the Minister said that he opposed that, but I wish that he opposed an awful lot more.
Let me give a final example from the section of the document to which I am referring. Harking back to the first few draft articles, there is an exclusive competence for the Union in future to conclude international agreements in areas affecting an internal Union Act. Everything that I have been discussing to do with justice, home affairs, asylum, immigration and extradition relates to internal Union Acts. It follows that we shall be prevented from concluding extradition treaties with, say, the United States, because that will become an exclusive competence of the Union. That is completely unacceptable. Again, it is a giant extension of the current situation, whereby the right to exclusive representation is confined to trade matters.
On a common foreign and security policy, I do not know whether to laugh or cry at the sheer pomposity of the draft article that we do have. It asserts that there is a common foreign policy and we must all sign up to it. I remind hon. Members of the phrase:Member States shall actively and unreservedly support the Union's common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity.What common foreign policy? It is absurd to erect a giant institutional structure for something that does not exist. That is starting the wrong way round. Most countries start with a people—what the Greeks called a 315WH demos. Then they have a Government, who need to be restricted by a constitution. In Europe, however, we are starting with a constitution, which then finds a Government, who then look for a people and a foreign policy.
That is not only absurd but dangerous, because it will all be judiciable. Let us say that we took a contrary view and failed to support a line that the Union had cobbled together in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity. The European Court of Justice might say that the debate that we had last night in the House of Commons was contrary to the spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity. The document goes on to say that member statesshall refrain from action contrary to the Union's interests".That is highly dangerous, and it is about time that we punctured the delusion that some technocratic class in Europe can fashion a European will and enforce it when it simply does not exist.
§ Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly)
Before the right hon. Gentleman gets carried away, he must remember that the draft proposals will be submitted to the intergovernmental conference. It will make the decision, but we are nowhere near that yet.
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
I respect the hon. Gentleman's intervention because he takes a close interest in these matters, but it is a delusion that we can retrieve everything at an intergovernmental conference. The French and German Governments regard the Convention as an intergovernmental conference. They have tabled a plan and are represented by their Foreign Ministers. No member state has challenged seriously the central architecture that I have outlined, and it is getting awfully late in the day. Doubtless we can get back some lost ground and alter some wording here and there, but we cannot retrieve everything. The essential thrust of what we are witnessing will endure through an intergovernmental conference unless the Government say no at this stage.
§ Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North)
I apologise for arriving late, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but this is an important point. Given that we shall have to be loyal to the Union's view, what would have happened if that had been the case this week? France and Germany take one view on the Iraq situation. Italy, Spain and Britain take another. Who would enforce loyalty on whom, and how would it be enforced?
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
That is a good question. There was no qualified majority for either position. However, if the French and German Governments had managed to get more member states on their side, we had been isolated with one or two smaller states and the draft article were to become part of the constitution, we would be in breach of the constitution by persisting with an action that was clearly contrary to the agreed line.
That has not happened, and the arrival of the east Europeans has completely altered the picture. When the President of France told the east Europeans that they missed an opportunity to remain silent on the matter, it created immense resentment, because the last time the Czech Republic heard such language, it was used by Mr. Brezhnev in Moscow, when the Warsaw 316WH pact was run by the Soviet Union. It was a chilling echo for the Czech Republic of what it thought it had escaped from.
There are two clear lines in which the breach is obvious. However, it has not stopped the Convention building a fantasy institutional structure with powers and a supreme court to enforce it. One can make jokes about it and try to ridicule it but it is dangerous.
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
That is true. There is no hierarchy. It will all become justiciable. Matters such as criminal justice and policing policy at present are in the third pillar and not subject to the European Court of Justice. It is clear from the draft articles that by swinging them over into the single institutional structure they will all become judiciable. It extends generally to include police co-operation and co-operation on internal security with other countries.
We have a well-known information exchange system with the United States regarding secret intelligence, which is itself no secret; it has existed since shortly after the second world war. According to the draft article, that will become subject to legislation by the new Union and will be judiciable. It will also be covered by the exclusive competence provision; in other words, only the Union will be able to make bilateral arrangements. The arrangements we have with the United States on intelligence sharing could never be conducted again, which is intolerable.
I plead with the Minister to make it clear that what is proposed is unacceptable. He said that some heavy lifting was still to be done and collectively we will help him with it; I certainly will. I want to preserve our powers of self- government and to return to the concept of a partnership of nation states. That is emphatically not the reality of what the Convention is building. It is apparently being done in the name of the peoples of Europe, which is the opening phrase in the constitution. If we are assuming the views of the peoples of Europe and saying that it reflects their will, we must ask them about it. This matter, of all things, must be subject to a referendum in as many countries as possible, and certainly in this one.
§ Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
I am grateful for this debate in Westminster Hall because, as parliamentary representatives, we give evidence to Committees in this House and in the other place but we have not had much of a chance as representatives to have a dialogue with the Government.
I stand at the moment in the middle of a horseshoe, and that is how I sometimes feel sitting in the praesidium. It brings together parliamentary representatives, Government representatives, European Parliament representatives and Commissioners, but it has nothing similar to Cabinet collective responsibility for what it generates. It simply tries to produce a working document on which the Convention can work.
317WH Over the year, which sometimes feels much longer, I have realised that there are two fundamental problems. First, mainland Europe has a tradition of building political institutions first and hoping that political action and political will follow the theoretical creation of institutions. We have never had that approach. We work from the assumption that once we have the political will to do something we say, "Fine, what institutions do we need?"
The difference is epitomised for me by the creation of the office of European public prosecutor. I have huge difficulties with it. It creates constitutional problems in this country because prosecutions are brought by the Crown in England and Wales and by the Lord Advocate in Scotland. I cannot see the point of it. Surely if the Commission is dealing with fraud, it should take its duty to do so seriously. Why create a new institution? The continental answer is to point out that the text says only that the office may be created by unanimity at a later stage. That highlights a real difference in approach to how things should be done.
Similarly, there is a real difference in approach towards making grand statements that we know cannot be delivered. Others feel that such statements should be made to highlight aspirations.
The third problem is that we are trying to create a legal entity that has never existed before. We all try to draw on our experiences of models with which we are familiar. The Union has so far worked on a basis that has not existed before. While it has a court, its powers are extremely restricted. Depending on which case people wish to make, they refer to the united states of Europe, which is not really legitimate as it is a different structure, or to the member states.
We are in a difficult position in terms of protecting the integrity of the nation state on areas such as common security policy and defence. There is not the political will, the capacity or the absence of national interest for that. One could not dream of running a common security defence policy on the basis of an initiative by the Commission based on qualified majority voting. That is cloud cuckoo land: can anyone imagine any member state sending its troops into battle on the basis of a qualified majority vote decision in Brussels? However, in some areas such as trade, Britain wants far tougher action and far more use of QMV and call-back rights to the European Parliament because we know that our commitment to internal markets and to the Lisbon agenda is much more serious. That is quite a conflict.
In my work on the Convention, I have tried to focus first and foremost on being a parliamentary representative. I pay tribute to the extraordinary input from the House of Commons and the House of Lords to our work, at both an institutional level in creating new committees and at officer level in supporting the work of representatives.
I am concerned about the myth that the Union suffers a lack of democratic accountability. It does not. It is represented by member states and their Governments. If democratically elected representatives of the Governments of the member states are not democratic, I do not know who is. There is also the directly elected European Parliament. There are two streams of democratic legitimacy.
318WH The public continues to find it difficult to work out who made what decision and when. If we want the Union to move forward and if we really want deeper integration where it is necessary and right and where it has been successful, it must also be remembered that some areas, such as defence, common security and foreign policy and significant areas of criminal law, are the rights of member states. If we want that to continue and to hold the faith of the public in our work, the Union must be anchored in national institutions. At the moment, I do not think that that is possible by institutional design.
I do not subscribe to the notion that the intergovernmental method is more democratic. Frankly, if Ministers meet behind closed doors, I do not know whether it was a Minister or a civil servant who was there, whether any votes were taken or what position my Government took. National Parliaments cannot hold Governments accountable for the decisions they have made in those circumstances.
The democratic deficit, in the way that I perceive it to exist, is the lack of ability for parliamentarians to hold the Executive to account. At European level, that means the European Parliament holding the Commission to account. At national level, it means Parliaments being able to hold their Governments to account.
My right hon. Friend the Minister was quite right to say that the mere acceptance in the Convention that national Parliaments should have a say in subsidiarity, and have an early say within the first six weeks, has been a hugely significant step forward. As I say, it needs to be strengthened in some way so that the national Parliaments are able to say no at some point.
My experience of working with 28 countries over the last year has shown me that, when dealing with national Parliaments, there are at least 56 opinions because there are representatives of both Government parties and Opposition parties. From most continental countries, there were several parties, so that meant 70, 80 or 90 different opinions. Even when the point can be reached where two thirds actually agree on anything, it is on a proposal by the Commission so outrageously unreasonable that even the Commission should realise that it would never get it through the Council of Ministers. However, the theoretical principle must be accepted.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell
After hearing the doubts, hesitations and concerns of the Conservative representative, the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), and hearing now my hon. Friend tell us of her own agonies—real agonies and problems with which she must grapple—I want to ask a simple question. Is my hon. Friend happy in her work?
§ Ms Stuart
I have for a long time given up the desire to be happy in anything that I do.
Governments represent us, and there is a real role for representation in the Council of Ministers. That is why our main interests are represented. Parliaments must also have an early say, and the early-warning mechanism will have its most significant role in alerting Parliaments to proposals. Parliaments will then be able to hold their Governments to account back home.
What I do not buy into, and I may disagree slightly with the Minister on this point, is that, although I agree with and recognise the importance of the regions, I have 319WH a real problem with proposals to give the regions more legislative rights in their relationship with Brussels. The proper flow of information is to make decisions, then have arguments back home with one's own Government. I am quite clear that even with decision making at European level, if national Parliaments do not like what is being done in their name, they must deal with their own Governments.
§ Mr. Hopkins
I am interested in my hon. Friend's comments on the regions. In some countries, there is a very strong attachment to regions; many of them were based on previous mini-states. In Britain, we do not have that—
§ Mr. Hopkins
Democracy is based upon what we perceive to be appropriate levels of government. I suggest that the levels of government to which democrats in Britain look are the nation state, national Governments and local authorities. There is no basis for regional government in Britain, unlike in other European states. It would lead to severe difficulty if the European Union moved towards an arrangement where much more power was given to regions.
§ Ms Stuart
I hope that I am not being misunderstood. Some countries are pushing for proposals to the effect that national Parliaments should not have the sole right to go to court for breaches of subsidiarity. For example, German Lander say that it should be for their Lander to do so, but that the Committee of the Regions should be given locus standi.
I have a slight problem with the role of the Committee of the Regions. Fundamentally, whatever its internal structure—whether it takes the Swedish model, according to which it cannot legislate but can raise taxes, the German Lander model or our model—delivery is up to the individual member states, not the European Union. The flow of information should go to national Parliaments, who may then decide how to deliver it sub-regionally.
§ Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda)
I urge my hon. Friend not to be too enticed by the argument made by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins). It was poppycock, not least because he seemed to be proposing that every other country in Europe has a clear understanding of regional identities. He may think, for example, that all autonomous regions in Spain date way back to the 16th century just because some of them do. In fact, many were constructs of the late 1970s. I suspect that we may be in a much more transitory stage.
§ Mr. Luke
I agree with the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) because the Scottish kingdom, as part of the United Kingdom, has had a traditional and historic role that is 320WH separate from that of the UK. It is re-establishing that role, and that should not be hampered. I agree with the proposal that the Scottish Parliament should be able to access European funds, because the current system whereby it has to go through the Treasury causes delays and hardship for small voluntary groups and different projects in the Scottish context.
§ Ms Stuart
I should leave it to the Secretary of State for Wales to respond to that point.
I shall continue to press for two things: first, the warning mechanism on subsidiarity and proportionality should be strengthened; secondly, there is the latest protocol on the role of national Parliaments. The current period of six weeks, during which Governments are not supposed to reach preliminary agreements, is frequently breached.. It was made clear to me in Brussels that we should forget that idea; it will be breached whatever we do, and Governments will get together and reach agreements. My view is that if the only provision is a six-week break in a process that has been going on for years, that is not a delay. It has been set out in the protocols that parliamentary scrutiny takes place during that six-week period, and that that should not be breached. Governments may have fallen into some bad habits, but it should be clearly stated that no preliminary agreements should be reached during that period. The democratic deficit is much more likely to be overcome if the constitution clearly spells out what is done on behalf of citizens at the European level.
I was fascinated by the outrage of a large number of Government representatives to the first 16 articles, even though they spelled out many things that had already been agreed. Frankly, even Governments find it difficult to see things spelled out so clearly. Are other colleagues at Westminster and the public aware of that? They may say, "So be it. Fine. We are happy with it." However, things must be spelled out to enable people to understand who does what on their behalf in the institution.
We must also define much more clearly who does what. I agree to some extent with the arguments made by my right hon. Friend the Minister and my fellow conventioneer, the right hon. Member for Wells ( Mr. Heathcoat-Amory, but one difficulty relating to competence is that we cannot provide answers until it is clearly defined in part 2. For example, public health is a shared competence in some areas, provided that it is defined in part 2 that it is limited to organ donations and blood.
The treaty negotiation is taking place in public, which has never happened before. I know that people who have negotiated treaties will say some three months before the end that nothing is agreed and we must wait until everything is agreed and we know everything. That is a normal state of affairs. Many of us have never been involved in such things. People cannot usually get all the negotiating positions on the website. That is unusual and innovative.
At this stage, we are beginning to see real tensions showing between those who wish to undermine the building blocks of the nation state and those who say firmly, "That cannot and must not be challenged, because these are our terms of engagement." We are also beginning to see some institutional tensions. For 321WH example, the European Parliament and the Commission are asking for more powers. In fact, everybody is asking for more powers without justifying how the balance of power works. I was delighted that the British Government made it clear that they feel that the current institutional balance should be maintained.
It is a bit too early to say whether all is really doom and gloom, as the right hon. Gentleman said. I agree with the Minister. For the first time in my life I am beginning to have a true understanding of the term "heavy lift".
Mr. Deputy Speaker
We have had fairly long speeches today, which were very well informed and made by hon. Members who are uniquely involved. For future speeches, when I start drumming my forefinger, I suggest that whoever has the Floor might consider bringing their remarks to an end.
§ Mr. Iain Luke (Dundee, East)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will look out for that.
I was in the Tea Room earlier and, when I got up to come to the debate, I was asked why I was there, given that Scots have a propensity to make their way home earlier than other hon. Members on a Thursday. I replied that I was off to a debate in Westminster Hall to discuss the future of Europe. My English lunch companion said, "Forget that, mate. The French have scuppered any idea of a European ideal in their actions over the Iraqi situation." I am here today to put the case for a closer union, in spite of the traditional English antagonism against foreigners in general and the perfidious French in particular.
As a Scot, I do not share the little Englander views that are often expressed in debates such as this one. I will address the matter from a much wider European perspective. Nevertheless, I believe in defending the benefits that the United Kingdom brings Scotland. I believe firmly in the UK, but I also believe in political progress and, although people may say that there will never be a united states of Europe, as a canny Scot I say, put your money on it. The process is irreversible and, during the next century, just as the German empire brought about the modern German state, I believe that the EU—formerly the common market—will bring about a federal united states of Europe. I welcome, rather than fear, that prospect. I urge all hon. Members to consider the matter optimistically.
I have made some points on behalf of Scotland, and I am sorry to see that, in spite of the carping we hear about the role of Scotland and the UK in Europe, no Scottish Nationalist Member is present to discuss that party's policy of independence. Hon. Members can perhaps gather from that the interest that the SNP takes in such issues.
§ Mr. Bacon
I have already taken up too much time in this debate, so I shall be brief.
The hon. Gentleman ought to know that the Scottish National party's spokesman was involved in a trip to Luxembourg and Strasbourg last week, during which he discussed the issues at great length. I do not know why 322WH he is not here, but it is unfair of the hon. Gentleman to suggest that the SNP does not take an interest in these issues. I have had many discussions with the hon. Member involved and I know that he does.
§ Mr. Luke
I am still sorry to see that the SNP is not present and that the only Tory representative from north of the border has not attended to put the case of the Scottish Conservatives for being a part of the UK and an active Europe.
I congratulate the Minister, who has a long-term commitment to the ideal of Europe, and all hon. Members from both sides who have been involved in the Convention and the praesidium. I am glad to see the superstructure of a European constitution emerging like a ship from the haar. It will provide a forum for a simpler, easier, construction and constitution that people can understand and identify with. We have been asking for that for some time.
I recall the mythical tale of Europa, the princess from the middle east who emerged on the back of a bull, which was Zeus in disguise. That is how Europe got its name. Europa carried the torch of civilisation from the middle east to the Mediterranean islands. The idea was that civilisation, which had its birthplace in the middle east, was being carried to Europe. Those sitting around the table in the praesidium should be inspired to introduce the rebirth of that idea. We should have an all-embracing Europe, a social Europe, and a Europe that contains a divergent form of culture—a culture that is now so common that we can no longer deny it.
Whatever emerges at the end of the process must satisfy certain criteria if it is to be commonly acceptable. It may be acceptable here and receive the approval of Parliament. but it must also be acceptable to the peoples of the UK and throughout Europe. We can have as many constitutions as we like, but unless they are commonly adopted and identified with, they will make no difference to how people view Europe in the long term.
The first thing that the new constitution should have is the ability to connect the citizens of Europe with its political processes and the political entity of the EU. Politicians get excited by politics, but many of our fellow citizens do not, so the constitution must also be able to excite the imagination and command the loyalty of the citizens of Europe. I did some work on American history for my university degree. The American constitution is revered by Americans. They use it almost as a holy text and swear allegiance to it. I hope that by the end of this process we can develop a document that at least has some credibility and excites the interest of ordinary citizens of the EU.
§ Ms Stuart
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's challenge, but I remind him that the excitement of the American constitution was not clear until a long time after it was written. Even the most famous phrase, "We the people" came about only because nobody knew whether Maryland would sign. The constitution had to 323WH be sent to the printers, so the individual states were not listed. I will probably not live long enough to know whether our text is exciting.
§ Mr. Bryant
Surely, any document would incite more excitement and pleasure than the Treaty of Rome.
§ Mr. Luke
That, I accept. However, I do not see a Thomas Jefferson on the scene to write the prose that we need to excite the people who have to accept the constitution. Remember that the American constitution was the product of many ideas that emerged from the Scottish enlightenment. Hopefully, those who are drafting the European constitution will read Hume, Smith, Robertson and the others who were so informative at that time.
§ Mr. Mitchell
It is difficult to sit here silently in the face of such disloyalty to Government policy and not intervene. My hon. Friend tells us that he is in favour of a federal Europe, which the Government oppose. He is in favour of a stronger centre, which the Government tell us will not happen. He likes the concept of citizens of Europe swearing an oath of allegiance—as happens in America—to the European constitution. Is he serious?
§ Mr. Luke
As a Scot, I have had to come to terms with living in a greater nation state—the UK. Although we have local loyalties, we often have to give those up to be active participants in a larger political body. I have a European passport. Why should we need an oath of allegiance to abide by a European constitution?
Such emotive issues aside, three criteria must be satisfied for the constitution to be workable: it has to be simple, direct and understandable. In a previous life, I was a senior lecturer in European studies and I had the privilege of taking many students to the European Parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg. The young people who visit it are excited by that multicultural and multinational institution, but if one takes them back home to teach them about the process of co-operation and the legislative processes and institutions of Europe—if one tries to teach them the incomprehensible—they are put off by the technicalities of the Union, although they are excited by the idea of it.
I have been involved in the past two European elections, and the number of people who get involved is pitiful. That is a sad indictment of a concept that was born from the bloodshed and strife of two world wars to bring about a better future for the European family. Those involved in writing the new constitution should be aware that they must come up with something with which people can identify and to which they can show loyalty. I do not believe that people will ever swear an oath of loyalty to Europe, but there should be some identification with the institution.
We need to shift the balance away from nation states and towards Europe, although that might not be too popular with some hon. Members. I accept that the 324WH President of the European Council should be elected, rather than nominated, by the member states. There should be an elected European individual who will balance the issue of nation states' rights. [Interruption.] I am sorry; I will cut my speech very short now, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
In closing, although I sometimes take a different view to that of the Government, I accept their view in this case; they are working hard to create something that we can all identify with, given the sceptical views of some hon. Members. Our long-term goal must be to remove the lukewarm attitude still often displayed in the House—and across the country—about our common European identity. I hope that we can build a closer European relationship that will, in future generations, be superseded by a commitment to an inevitable shared European future.
§ Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)
I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Luke).
This debate could not have taken place at a more crucial time. I, too, pay tribute to our Convention representatives and the working parties for the tremendous contribution that they have made, and will continue to make. I also pay tribute to the members of the Standing Committee on the Convention from both Houses, which have taken a keen interest in the subject. I shall make a few general points and then concentrate on common foreign and security policy, European security and defence policy, and defence policy generally.
It has been emphasised that the purpose of developing a European constitution is, supposedly, to further engage people in a Europe that is more open, accessible, understandable and accountable to them. There are many different proposals, and we are carefully considering how we can make the European Union far more open. To pick up on the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), I certainly favour the idea of making the Council of Ministers more open and transparent. All too often, I have to depend on the media to tell me what is going on and being debated in that institution.
On national Parliaments, we have all been guilty of not giving enough attention to the proposals that the Convention has been considering. We should consider our parliamentary procedures, too. Given the dominance of some of the proposed legislation and regulations from Europe, I am almost inclined to think that we should extend our daily Question Times specifically to concentrate on the latest trade and industry proposals from Europe and to go through the various Departments.
§ Mr. Bryant
That matter has been exercising my mind, too. Remarkably few questions are asked about European matters at Foreign and Commonwealth questions. Would my hon. Friend support the 325WH introduction of something along the lines of the new system of cross-departmental questions in Westminster Hall for European matters?
§ Rachel Squire
I would certainly welcome the idea of making cross-departmental issues that are directly related to Europe a greater part of our daily debating and questioning practices.
I want to see a greater role for national Parliaments, but creating another institution will not increase public support or openness. We must debate how to modify existing bodies such as the Conference of Community and European Affairs Committees to build greater involvement by national Parliaments.
Even those of us who consider ourselves to be both British and European react to the promotion of a federal European superstate. Therefore, I welcome the commitment by the Minister and the Government not to agree to provisions under which certain competences would be administered federally.
Nowhere is my opposition to a federal Europe stronger than on the common foreign and security policy. Recent experience with some of our closest European allies over Iraq makes us all deeply suspicious of some of the motives behind, for instance, draft article 14, which the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) quoted. There were already diverging views about EU development, particularly the common foreign and security policy and the European security and defence policy, but the profound disagreements that have developed recently have highlighted them.
It worries me that France and Germany, in particular, want to develop Europe as a rival superpower to the United States. At the same time, there are those on the other side of the Atlantic who think that the United States should divorce itself from Europe and international coalitions. I say to our European and our United States allies that those who believe that rivalry, rather than partnership, is the way to promote peace and security among nation states on our continent and, indeed, in the world are deeply mistaken. Difficult though it might be—we have all felt a degree of anger recently—I hope that the meeting of the European Council of Ministers today and tomorrow will consider issues on which we can work together.
The eighth working group considered defence. I welcome its proposals on further developing the Petersberg tasks and, in particular, on how Europe can play a greater role in post-conflict stabilisation. Paragraph 29 of its report states that operational capability in Europe under ESDP may prove to be an important element in conflict prevention and crisis. In particular, a contribution could be made to the United Nations.
I recently visited the UN with other members of the Select Committee on Defence. Its representatives told us that they were very pleased with the role that we and two other of our European partners play in peacekeeping and conflict prevention, but they pleaded with us that they would like far more European countries to make a greater contribution. We could certainly work on that.
326WH I am a Member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and I resist the opinions of those who would like to see some European defence capability supplanting the role of NATO. I deeply oppose the proposal in the Convention that we should develop a European force to deal not only with Petersberg tasks but with high-intensity warfare and collective defence under article 5. It must be clearly emphasised that the commitment of armed forces to any sort of operation remains, and will always remain, the responsibility of national Parliaments.
In conclusion, whatever our strong feelings at this time, we must look beyond the immediate arguments that European nations are addressing and recognise that our long-term interests will best be served by this country remaining a key player in European development and the Convention, seeking to identify areas of common purpose not only in our continent but elsewhere in the world. I hope that, in the months ahead, European nations will be able to act for the peace and security of our own people, as well as those in the middle east and Iraq.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Again, I thank the hon. Lady for her co-operation. The Scots are certainly showing the way today.
§ 4.1 pm
§ Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)
I shall speak briefly. I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Minister for the fact that I must leave at 5 o'clock, before he winds up. I shall not focus on federalism versus sovereignty, subsidiarity, majority voting and wider constitutional issues, but on the right of children to be explicitly recognised in the new draft treaty.
In the current treaty, children are mentioned only in relation to offences against them. In formulating a constitution, it is crucial that we explicitly recognise the rights of children, so that our legislators can focus on them. It is the fourth anniversary of the Prime Minister's announcement on eliminating child poverty within a generation. Our Chancellor is working hard on that. We are all aware, from a global point of view, of the millennium goals to eradicate poverty and increase access to primary education, clean water, health care and the like.
It is worth remembering that all EU members have signed up to the UN convention on the rights of the child. It seems strange that, although our national Government and the United Nations recognise children's rights, we are not prepared to recognise and explicitly endorse the rights of children in the draft constitution. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that children's rights cannot simply be subsumed into human rights. I accept that it is a difficult argument, but children's rights are different in several ways. In particular, children are vulnerable, dependent, voiceless and not self-determining. Therefore, unlike other individuals who have rights under a constitution, children's rights need to be explicitly recognised, not overlooked, by the legislator.
If one looks at specific policies and EU directives, one can see that children's rights have been undermined in the interests of commercial considerations. I am thinking particularly of distance selling, toy advertising, 327WH television advertising and chemicals in toys. If children's rights were explicitly mentioned in the treaty, that would be much less likely to happen. Furthermore, child-specific considerations are relevant for a variety of competences. One that immediately sprang to mind when my right hon. Friend mentioned immigration and asylum was the rights of a child who has been separated from his or her parents by the asylum system. Unless we think clearly and in a focused way about the interests of children being equal throughout the world and the EU, there is a danger that children will inadvertently suffer. In so far as the EU has competences for health policies—be they on obesity, smoking or whatever—there are relationships with children. Whether we are talking about consumer affairs, advertising or social family policy, it is important that children are explicitly mentioned.
Article 3, paragraph 1, contains an explicit reference to the protection of children's rights. I fear that my right hon. Friend supports an amendment that would delete that because he believes that children's rights can be subsumed into human rights. I put it to the Chamber that that is not the case, which is certainly the view of charities that represent children in Britain—the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Save the Children, Euronet and so on—and those throughout Europe. Other rights, such as those relating to animals, are explicitly recognised in the Convention, but it has been suggested that children's rights should not be. Gender and disability rights are rightly mentioned. If we want to frame a new constitution for the future, my firm belief is that children's rights should be explicitly mentioned to ensure their consideration in our legislation.
I give my assurance to Members, particularly those on the Opposition Benches who may be worried that my suggestions would somehow introduce a new competence for the EU, that there is no suggestion of delivering a new competence. I am simply saying that children should be explicitly taken into account by legislation that is already ceded to the EU. The principal competence would remain with the member states, and the principle of subsidiarity would remain wholly supported. If we accept that children have rights and that those rights should be protected, it is important that they are not invisible to legislators because they have not been explicitly built into the new treaty. I hope that the Minister will carefully consider my points.
§ 4.7 pm
§ Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly)
I approach the debate from a pro-European perspective. I am not fixated on the idea of Europe, but European co-operation is common sense, and it is central to allowing us to tackle successfully the challenges facing us in the modern world. However, I am also someone who strongly believes in the principle of democracy, and exercising it at the most appropriate level: as close to the people as is practicable. Today's debate brings those two approaches together. The task that we have as Europeans is to create a framework for our cooperation that makes sense, while, at the same time, being inherently democratic.
For some time there has been a need for a fundamental reappraisal of the point that we have reached. No one can deny that there is a need for clarity 328WH and simplification in European treaties, and today's debate has been right to focus on issues such as how to create a text that is both sounder in legal terms and accessible to ordinary people. If we are to make Europe relevant to people, we must start using a language that people can understand. Over the years, a distinct eurojargon has developed that means little to ordinary people.
The second reason why the debate is important is because, from the treaty of Rome onwards, there has been a drift towards the European Union's gaining more and more competences. That has happened in an ad hoc way, so people understandably ask where it will end. This is an ideal opportunity to provide a clear definition of what the European Union is about—one in which people can have confidence.
Europe is on the verge of enlargement on an unprecedented scale. The treaty of Nice was necessary to make the European Union function effectively with 10 extra countries, but if we are to have a European Union of 25 or more states, it is important to have a constitution that is legally tight, that makes sense and that can take us forward together.
Giving national Parliaments a greater role is central to the process of making Europe more understandable and more acceptable. I have been encouraged by the fact that so much attention has been given to the issue. I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) in that respect. It is easy to say that we are not satisfied with how far we have got. That might be true, but let us not forget that we started from a very low base—national Parliaments were not recognised in the treaty; we have moved on significantly by taking up ideas such as the red card proposal. During the last months of the Convention, possibly when we reach the intergovernmental conference, we should have a debate that continues to focus on the role of national Parliaments.
There is much to commend articles 1 to 4. However, it is important to stress what is not in there as well as what is. Many are concerned about the phrase that there is a need to move towards an "ever closer union". That is one of the reasons why, as I said earlier, people have understandable reservations about where the European project is leading us. If we do not use that phrase, people across the continent will be reassured.
Some recommendations are very positive. I refer especially to article 2, paragraph 1, which spells out clearly that it is important to recognise national identities. Article 3 is a reformulation of article 2 of the existing European treaty, but it contains some positive statements about what the objectives of the European Union should be. I am glad that there is reference to the need to eradicate poverty and, bearing in mind what my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies) said, that there is a reference to children's rights. However, without nit-picking, I find it strange that there is a suggestion that the Union's objectives should include the discovery of space. Of course, we like to have broad perspectives and grand visions, but that is going 329WH a little too far. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston will acknowledge that there is scope for that issue to be reconsidered.
§ Mr. David
Yes, indeed. My hon. Friend makes a very good point. That is why the opening articles are so important, as they provide the kind of vision that is needed. However, the kind of references about which I spoke, whether on space or the deep sea, weaken that sense of vision.
Articles 18 to 60 are very important because they deal with the EU's competences. They are well set out. However, I find it strange that the competences are set out in such a way as to suggest exclusivity. They suggest that, if the legal advice that I have heard is correct, member states will not be able to take measures that are complementary to the stated competences. There will be exclusivity. That is a major change from the present legal position in the treaties, and it is a change that concerns me.
Another concern is the reference to a flexibility clause. There is one in the treaty, but as one of the purposes of our exercise is to set out clearly and precisely exactly what the Union's competences are, there is no need for a flexibility clause that says that it does not matter if the Council of Ministers wishes to deal with an area that is not included in the treaty because it can be dealt with through unanimity. A proper debate that reached consensus and agreement on the competences should be the end of the matter.
Three other points are important. I share some of the concerns about the proposals from the working group that has been considering justice and home affairs, particularly that for a public prosecutor. That is an extremely worrying suggestion and one that we must debate in earnest. My second point is that it is very easy for us to say that the common foreign and security policy and the European security and defence policy are off the agenda because of events in Iraq, but we should not do that. In many ways, the difficulties of the past few weeks make it more important that we think about and talk through the implications of having a common foreign and security policy.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stone)
The hon. Gentleman and I are colleagues on the European Scrutiny Committee and often joust on these matters. However, I must take him up on that point. Does he not agree that the words "single autonomous policy" in the single institutional framework on the common foreign and security policy 330WH have been shot to pieces? Does he not agree that it has to do with fundamental interests and not just with rhetorical bandyings on the side?
§ Mr. David
The hon. Gentleman has a point, but only to a certain extent. I would not defend some of the language being used. Nevertheless, the debate must be held. There is still a need to consider the issue seriously; we should not kid ourselves that a fundamental rupture has taken place over the past couple of weeks. I do not believe that that has happened. There is still a long-term communality of interest between other European countries and us, particularly on the CFSP. That is not to say, however, that we will move towards qualified majority voting on the issue. The principles of unanimity and intergovernmental co-operation are important, but let us not pretend that the division that has developed, between Britain and France for example, is more fundamental than it really is. Much still holds us together—far more than what currently divides us.
Finally, as the fundamental basis of the EU is, and should be, co-operation between independent sovereign states that want to co-operate, but which also have a mutual respect for each other, the Council of Ministers needs to be reformed. There should be far more openness and transparency, and legislation must be agreed in public. The policy of a six-month presidency must end. However, I also believe that more permanency is necessary with regard to the Chair of the Council. I recommend strongly that the proposals that seem to command a consensus are firmed up.
To date, the Convention has been a positive exercise. All too often, we have shied away from the fundamental debates about the future of Europe. Such debates as have taken place have tended to be in smoke-filled rooms, behind closed doors, and in a language that people cannot understand. We have at least moved on from that. Europe will never be the same again. We are approaching a critical time, because we have to grapple with some difficult and contentious issues. However, I am quite confident that we have made significant progress and that we shall continue to do so. That can only be good news for the people of Europe and for the EU.
§ Alan Howarth (Newport, East)
I am very glad to have the opportunity to take part in this thoughtful and expert debate. I am especially grateful for the contributions of those colleagues who have served on the Convention. My right hon. Friend the Minister made an informative speech, and the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) spoke authoritatively, albeit melancholically.
The Government allowed quite a hare to be set running at Laeken. The Foreign Secretary told us at the time, "Don't panic, it's not such a big deal to have a constitutional convention. Football clubs and even the Labour party have constitutions, so we shouldn't take excessive alarm. It's absolutely fine; this is about tidying up." We might all, indeed, agree that there is merit in clarifying the rules of engagement. It provides an opportunity for the Government to re-emphasise the principle of subsidiarity, and declare against the superstate, as my right hon. Friend the Minister has done emphatically enough this afternoon.
331WH It was also suggested that it would be useful to re-codify some principles. For example, as I understand it, we suffer from two concurrent legal bases. Legislation from 1972 to 1991 is European Community legislation, whereas that passed after 1991 is EU legislation. We would go crazy if we tried to understand such things; indeed, a certain madness does afflict some colleagues who spend too much time on those topics.
Other countries take a different view on the nature of the undertaking. The French and the Germans see it as an historic opportunity to move through ever-clo,4er union to a new entity. The phrase "ever-closer union" does not appear in the draft, because the draft takes us beyond that stage.
It was helpful to hear my right hon. Friend 1 he Minister's disavowal of the Government's acceptance of a centralising thrust of the Convention's conclusions, but I am doubtful about his interpretation of some of those conclusions as not centralising. He wants a partnership of states, but I do not think that the process is moving in that direction. I should therefore like to ask him about what is proposed and what it means, and what the Government's position is. I am not a constitutional lawyer, but, as a Member of Parliament, I have a responsibility to help to preserve our constitution and our parliamentary democracy.
Do the Government agree with the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union that article 24,creating a new category of 'regulation' and categorising some Union legislation as 'legislative acts' and some 'non-legislative acts' does not seem helpful"?The right hon. Member for Wells raised that issue. My right hon. Friend the Minister said that the drafting is now easier to understand, but I confess that I still have some difficulty with it. I should be grateful for his help, whether in his winding-up speech or perhaps, if he is willing to answer that and other questions, in a letter to every hon. Member who has participated in the debate.
What is my right hon. Friend's view on the budget process? What is the Government's position on the proposal to remove the distinction between compulsory and non-compulsory expenditure? Would our discretion in those areas of public expenditure be safeguarded, and if so how? Does my right hon. Friend agree with the European Parliament's demand to have a say on both? Does he agree with its demand to have the final say in cases of conflict? If not, who do the Government think should have the final say?
A number of hon. Members have spoken about the importance of maintaining and enhancing the robe of this and other national Parliaments. I am interested to know the Government's view of the red card proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston in the Convention. Do the Government accept the concept of shared competence on, for example, health and social security matters, which I think were not previously within EU competence? I should emphasise that I am referring to a shared competence on the basis that the EU's policies and laws would have primacy.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that all member states should have the overriding duty proposed in the articles to contribute to the achievement of the Union's objectives? We have often talked in this debate about the 332WH extension envisaged in the draft articles of the powers of the European Court of Justice and the extension of qualified majority voting. It would certainly help me and perhaps other hon. Members if my right hon. Friend spelled out what extension of the jurisdiction of the ECJ would be acceptable to the Government and in what spheres an extension of QMV would be acceptable.
I am more than happy to be persuaded that my apprehensions are misplaced, but I should like to hear more of my right hon. Friend's thoughts on the proposal that the common foreign and security policy second pillar should be dissolved and carried into a new concept and definition of EU competence.
We would all agree that it is a fairly bitter irony that we are debating that issue here in this of all weeks. The Council is also to debate it, commencing this evening. This week the French, abetted by the Germans, have destroyed the functioning of the United Nations and created a gulf between Europe and America. They have split Europe and—I deeply regret having to say this—made war unavoidable. Tonight European leaders will discuss the Convention while they are openly and angrily antagonistic about foreign and security policy. The bipolar or multipolar global power structure that we hear spoken of and the notion of Europe as a major force in international affairs seem a fantasy this evening.
§ Mr. Cash
The right hon. Gentleman will accept that I am completely in favour of the Government's policy on Iraq. However, does he accept, in relation to the discussions taking place tonight, that one seminal problem is the fact that the Prime Minister has, Janus fashion, promoted a common foreign and security policy and the war against Iraq, even though the common foreign and security policy is aimed directly at undermining the war against Iraq?
§ Alan Howarth
The hon. Gentleman seeks to take us too wide of the topic of debate.
Regardless of the view that we take about these events, the principle of national self-determination in foreign and security policy is an essential characteristic of a nation state. I find it impossible to envisage qualified majority voting in this field or to envisage that our policy could be justiciable in the European Court of Justice. I am pleased that the Government reject that proposition, but do they hold that the right of initiative in common foreign and security policy should remain with the Council? Is that conceivable in the proposed new structure?
As my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) said, the United Kingdom should always work strenuously through diplomacy to achieve a shared view in the European Union. However, the UK is not going to take its marching orders from the EU, and nor will the accession states, which have been patronised by President Chirac, who called them badly brought up children, and which have made it clear that they share our analysis of the Iraq problem.
I turn to justice and home affairs. Are the Government content that that third pillar should likewise be collapsed? A country's criminal justice system also goes to the heart of its distinctive nationhood. As the right hon. Member for Wells reminded us, we have a common law tradition, and that 333WH would be superseded under the terms of the Convention as it currently stands. Abundant co-operation is needed in this field, too—for example, in dealing with terrorism and other varieties of serious and organised cross-border crime. That co-operation exists and it is improving all the time, but we cannot accept that qualified majority voting and the European Court of Justice should determine our policies in these areas.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary blew a gasket when Mr. Justice Collins ruled that it was not permissible under our law to reduce asylum seekers to destitution. That judgment was upheld in the Court of Appeal. If the Convention has its way, the Home Secretary ain't seen nothing yet. I would be interested to learn what is the Home Office's remit to my right hon. Friend the Minister as he negotiates on behalf of the Government in the Convention. And what, more precisely, is the position of the Department of Trade and Industry? I understand that for purposes of policing the internal market it is content that power should be transferred to the first pillar, but how do we define what is involved in that and keep it watertight so that other crime is dealt with on a different constitutional basis? That is a crucial question. Would we be required to join Schengen? Would Schengen continue as a protocol?
Article 5 states that the charter of fundamental rights shall be an integral part of the constitution. Many of us have vivid memories of the day when my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz)—in his former capacity as Minister for Europe—explained that that charter had no more constitutional standing than the Beano. Since then, it has been bingo for the eurocrats. Why do our apologists for EU aggrandisement always pretend that European union is not a process?
Article 13 declares that the EU shall co-ordinate the economic policies of the member states. My right hon. Friend the Minister explained that the Government are not happy with that, but that is what the article says and the Government's amendment did not prevail. I asked my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in a parliamentary question what view he took of this recommendation, and he could not bear to give me an answer. However, we know that he takes strong exception to the upbraidings by the Commission and ECOFIN of his fiscal policy. He is correct to do so because the UK's fiscal and other economic policy has been right for the UK, and it has worked a great deal better than the fiscal and economic policies of countries that have subjected themselves to the stability and growth pact. He is also correct in principle, because it is the mark of a free democracy that it determines how its taxes are spent.
Interestingly, the Chancellor has proposed that regional policy should be repatriated, which I am sure is to the great distaste of the Commission because it would take away about one third of its spending. Central bureaucracies enormously dislike radical decentralisation. I suspect that it would also be to the distaste of the accession countries.
However, the Chancellor generally knows what he is doing, and his proposal drives a stake through the heart of the euro and perhaps even enlargement. I say that because the euro is tolerable only if substantial funds are available in the central budget for transfers of spending between richer and poorer countries. Will the Minister 334WH tell us what are EU resources as a percentage of European GDP before repatriation of regional policy, and what the percentage would be afterwards? I fancy that it would be less after such a move. At the moment, it is only some 1.27 per cent. of European GDP, compared with federal spending of 25 per cent. of GDP in the United States of America and 40 per cent. of public expenditure in this country. There are proper debates to be had about the appropriate percentage, but it is unarguable that we need a substantial kitty to ease the stresses and strains caused by a single currency and single interest rate.
The draft articles contemplate that some member states will not participate in the euro, but I am unclear how the EU will co-ordinate the economic policy of those member states. The mindset and philosophy of the Convention is predicated on the assumption that participation in the currency union is the norm. The logic of its proposals will be that countries that do not join the euro will not be able to remain in the new European Union. That is crossing a rubicon that many of us have been desperate not to cross. Those who believe that it is in Britain's interest to be a part of the European Union but not the euro may find ourselves with the crunch decision that we hoped that the statesmen of Europe would have the wisdom not to force.
The Council will be busy addressing the consequences of the single interest rate, large movements of labour and capital within the eurozone and the social and political stresses arising from the rigidity of the single currency and interest rate. There will be growing pressure in the eurozone to increase its budget and, therefore, for new powers to raise tax at a European level and common policies on tax and spending. Will the Minister tell us whether the Government will accommodate those pressures? Do they want the European Union to have a power and duty to coordinate economic policy?
It is ever more evident that there are two concepts of Europe. There is the drive from the original six and the Commission towards a country called the European Union, constructed as defined in article 1 on a federal basis. It would be a new constitutional entity with a new legal personality and a Union of which its people are citizens, as advanced in article 7. The peoples of those countries essentially took that decision long ago. Prepared psychologically by their historical experience, they are at ease with the thought of a single European state, even if they continue as democratic citizens to have doubts about aspects of policy.
On the other hand, there are those who take the view that the proper European Union is an association of member states, which is enlarging, pooling sovereignty—a dubious, slippery term, but we go along with it—in different areas. Those include defined areas, notably trade and, with some reservations, agriculture and fisheries, areas in which the argument has prevailed that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. There are also some modest Community programmes in fields of joint competence such as science and culture.
The Convention conclusions reflect the first school of thought. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston offered some interesting reflections on the differences in political culture that are making it awkward to arrive at a shared vision for the processes of 335WH the Convention. The United Kingdom belongs to the latter school. Our people are not in the main xenophobic—I adore the French—and they accept the realities of power in the world, of interdependence and of the dangers of isolation. But they resent being hustled along by an elite that they suspect of dealing disingenuously with them, as every "thus far, and no further" has been overtaken in the onward march to ever-closer union and the aggrandisement of European Union powers.
The deep integration implied by these articles, the loss of self-determination in foreign and security policy, justice and home affairs and economic policy go far beyond what Britons are ready to accept. Rightly and necessarily, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister will seek to heal the new wounds of the European Union tonight at the Council and as the Iraq crisis passes its peak. But in that impulse to heal, I hope that they will not rush to anoint the draft constitution.
I accept, as my right hon. Friend said, that a June deadline for the Convention's conclusions is suitable; let us get the proposals out. However, an intergovernmental conference in the second half of 2003 is far too soon. There are vast implications in these draft articles and what we need are thoughtful, unhurried study and debates—technical and political—among the peoples of the European Union. That process cannot be completed over the summer holidays.
My right hon. Friends the Minister and the Prime Minister have discouraged expectation of a referendum. It is one thing for the Prime Minister to twit the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) about Maastricht and so on at Prime Minister's questions, but that is not a sustainable or adequate response. It would be politically dangerous for the Government. Parliament, the media and the public will not accept integration into a new written constitution of the European Union in a fit of absence of mind and t he subordination to it of the British constitution, which may be inchoate, elusive, in need of reform, changing, and organic, but which is effective, expressive of our identity and rooted deep in our history. I assure my h( in. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Luke) that the people will be excited by these proposals; they will be excited to deep anxiety by them.
The Government say that they support the process of the Convention in the interests of bringing about greater clarity. Why not test that clarity in a referendum? 1 he hon. Member for South Norfolk was right to draw attention to the opening words of article 1, which speaks of a reflection of the will of the peoples of Europe. If we are to adopt a new constitution, let us ensure that is indeed such a reflection. My right hon. Friend the Minister was the most vigorous of advocates of referendums on Scottish and Welsh devolution. In certain circumstances, there could be a referendum on the euro, which, by the way, must be a separate and different referendum. It would be inconceivable not to have a referendum if the IGC recommends changes that even approach the vastly ambitious and fundamental constitutional changes that we are examining.
336WH There is an anecdote about a tourist in Whitehall who asked a policeman which side the Foreign Office was on. The policeman replied, "It is supposed to be on our side but I sometimes wonder." I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to reassure us.
§ Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda)
I had hoped to be able to start by saying that it was a delight to have had a debate in which there were no little Englander speeches, on the basis that one Scot, three Welsh people, one South African, a German, an English person representing a Scottish constituency and an English person representing a Welsh constituency had spoken. However, there have been some little Englander comments, and there was a hefty dose of them when the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) adopted the "Dad's Army" approach to foreign policy: "We're doomed, Captain Mainwaring, we're doomed."
We have come to the point in the Convention when we are debating an unfinished product. It is a jelly that has not yet set and we have not yet decided which mould to put it into. It is important that we—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Bryant
Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I am intrigued that hon. Members have described two different versions of how Europe will progress. I spent some time last week in Spain with the all-party group on Spain. Of course, it was a unique moment because of Spain's relationship with Britain, the United States and Portugal, and the meeting in the Azores on Sunday. It was also interesting because I perceive a new divide in European understanding. One is heavily Atlanticist, and includes Britain, Spain, Portugal, to some degree Denmark, sometimes the Netherlands and most of the applicant members from eastern Europe who are coming into the EU next year.
On the other side are those who have what one might call a continentalist vision of Europe. That is based predominantly on the understanding of the Franco-German alliance, with others brought onside. I am intrigued by this partly because of my own interest in Spain, but also because in both English and Spanish, the word for the rest of Europe is the continent—el continente. I suspect that as enlargement brings new members into the EU, that understanding of what Europe is about will hold much greater sway over the minds, not only of people in the peripheral countries—I speak geographically, rather than politically—but in France, Germany, Belgium and Scandinavia.
People often ask why Aznar and Blair get on so well. The British ambassador in Spain, soon to be the British ambassador in Berlin, firmly maintains that it is because they do not speak each other's language and have to converse in French, but speaking French does not seem to have enabled the Prime Minister to get on with all world leaders. Of course, we have heard much in the last few days about the French and their slamming the door on diplomacy last week in the United Nations, and I 337WH agree with the Government about going down the United Nations route. In the end, the French made it impossible for us to secure a second resolution. They overplayed their hand.
However, it would be wrong of us at this point to write off the French as allies. They are probably among our most important allies; they certainly are historically. The Portuguese may be our oldest allies, but the French are among our most important. Ten per cent. of British exports go to France—
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am fascinated by the history that we are getting from the hon. Gentleman, but could he relate his remarks to the Convention on the Future of Europe?
§ Mr. Bryant
I am very grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although you are perhaps being slightly unfair to me. British and French relations are vital to achieving a successful outcome in the Convention.
§ Mr. Bryant
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I note that he has not been here for the whole of the debate and he has criticised others for discourtesy.
§ Mr. Cash
There are matters relating to the war with Iraq in which I have been involved in my other capacity. Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that whereas Clausewitz said that war was the continuation of diplomacy by other means, the French have turned that on its head and for them diplomacy is now war by any other means?
§ Mr. Bryant
I obviously cannot comment on that. I would be straying a long way from the Convention.
§ Mr. Bryant
I note that one of the proposals that came from Mr. Giscard d'Estaing early on in the process of the Convention was that the constitution should have a clear statement of a religious intent. I am glad to see that so far there is no reference to God in the preamble or in the articles, and I do not believe that that will change.
§ Mr. Bryant
God moves in mysterious ways her wonders to perform. God is not referred to in the articles and I hope that he or she will not appear in the eventual preamble, because to state that Europe is a wholly Christian entity would be wrong. Spain has a long history of an Islamic presence, and the Moorish aspects of its culture are important to it. Moreover, such a statement would not take account of the present multiracial, multi-ethnic and multi-religious constitution of Europe. I hope that that issue will not arise again.
338WH The Convention will bring us real gains. I have mentioned before, and other hon. Members said earlier, how important it is that France and Germany have finally proposed what we proposed two years ago—that the presidency of the Council should be fixed rather than rotating every six months. I would prefer that presidency to be for five years rather than for two and a half, but that is still to be decided.
As one who used to work in Brussels for the BBC and who regularly tried to work his way through the labyrinthine processes of the presidency, I cannot stress too much how important it is for the work of the presidency and the Council of Ministers to be open and transparent.
We should also put an end to this stop-go business. The copyright directive took years to make its passage through the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament, partly because different presidencies gave it different levels of priority. That meant that many people in different European industries were unable to make secure investments for the future because they were not sure how the copyright directive, which would affect them directly, would come out.
The continuity of priorities is as important as the continuity of personalities. However, we should not be naï about that. Some people have suggested that the President of the European Council would be someone that George Bush could suddenly telephone about any matter of import in Europe. I do not believe that that will happen. There might be benefits in terms of the President of the Council being able to tour the member states and garner their opinions on a regular basis in the way that a sitting Head of Government or Head of State could not do, but it is unlikely that that person will stride the world stage.
§ Mr. Bryant
I agree. One of the difficulties at the moment is for the President of the Council, who is Greek, not to speak with two heads. The same will apply to the Italians, although perhaps it will be easier for Mr. Berlusconi.
It is also important for us to move towards a system in which there is robust approval for the President of the Commission by the European Parliament. If that person does not command the approval of at least 70 to 75 per cent. of the MEPs, we will not be moving forward in a way that provides clarity for the Union.
I would also like to raise the issue of how the whole Commission is appointed, and whether the European Parliament's role in that will be to vote for, to approve, or only to be able to vote out the Commission. It should be possible for the European Parliament to veto individual members of the Commission.
The second real gain that I hope will result from the Convention is tidier treaties. My daily work used to involve trawling through different elements of the treaties and trying to remember whether clause 76, as it was commonly known in Brussels, had become clause 95 or 93, so I am aware that the documents have become 339WH difficult to handle. Also, the Brussels and Strasbourg machinery has been taken over by its own jargon—a jargon that is not just in one language, but in many. M y right hon. Friend the Minister was right to say that if we can move towards documents that use plain language, we will have done an enormous service to the Union. I note with interest that most of the negotiations that have taken place in recent months involving applicant members for next year's enlargement were conducted in English. I suspect that English will be the language of Europe in future.
I support the clearer delineation of competences. The Nice European Council called on the Convention to consider how to establish and monitor a more precise delineation of powers between the European Union arid member states that reflects the principle of subsidiarity. I think that all hon. Members would agree that that is suitable. I also support the idea of having three types of competence in the articles—exclusive and shared competences, and those in which member states might support the action of the Commission, or the other way around.
However, there is still more work to be done. In particular, although article 12 on shared competences would provide us with some significant gains—for example, in terms of French energy policy and its liberalisation—it is less clear than it could be. There are some issues, such as public service broadcasting, that should be wholly the responsibility of the member state and should not be interfered with by the Commission. The Commission has a tendency towards competency creep, and we must go some way to make sure that that is prevented in the articles and in the final format.
I also hope that there will be better relations with national Parliaments. Since becoming a Member of Parliament less than two years ago, I have been surprised at how spartan the scrutiny of European legislation is, not only in its final form, but in its developing form. The European Scrutiny Committee does a good but inevitably limited job, because it is just one Committee and there is a significant quantity of material that needs to be scrutinised.
§ Mr. Luke
Does my hon. Friend accept that sterling work is done by many members of European Standing Committees, including the members of European Standing Committee C on which I sit, on issues relating to trade and the environment? Quite a bit of scrutiny goes on outside the European Scrutiny Committee.
§ Mr. Bryant
My hon. Friend makes a good point, but I still think that we need to go considerably further. So many issues are the subject of ferocious battles in I he European Parliament and the Commission, with Ministers representing British interests, but many of us have little idea of what is going on in those debates. We need to find better ways in this House, and in the House of Lords, to provide adequate scrutiny.
I said earlier that there were, perhaps, two broad views of Europe: the Atlanticist and the continentalist. However, the main battle has tended to be between 340WH those who have been referred to as federasts and those thought of as adamantly supporting the sole and exclusive rights of member states. Sometimes, that second form turns into a belief in an atomised Europe, which cannot possibly be in the interests of the people of Europe. However, as an ardent supporter of a move towards greater integration with Europe, I hold that it is right to remove from the new treaty the concept of ever closer union, because such a concept is circular by its very nature. I would prefer something more akin to the Latin tag, semper reformanda. The European Union will always need to reform itself, but that does not necessarily mean that we have to achieve ever closer union.
Finally, my view is perfectly expressed by the following:where it can be clearly shown that we can achieve together what we cannot so effectively achieve separately we have no hesitation in stating that the EU and its institutions must have the competence and the effectiveness to act for and on behalf of the citizens of the Member States.I quote from "The Future of the EU: a Positive Conservative Approach", a memorandum to which Lord Brittan, Lord Howe, Lord Heseltine and John Major, among others, put their names.
§ 5 pm
§ Mr David Chidgey (Eastleigh)
I shall try to keep my remarks within the 10-minute time limit that we discussed, so that the Minister will have time to answer the questions that I want to put to him.
The debate has been robust and generally healthy. It comes at a seminal moment in the development of the European Union. We are all aware that the recent schisms among some nation states on Iraq could be seized on to support an isolationist stance. Others, who I believe are in the majority, take a more considered view that the Convention provides an opportunity to address the issues that divide the nation states, no more so than in recent weeks, and to strengthen, not weaken, the common aims and interests that unite us.
The reports that have been published have shown that the Convention is making steady progress on the difficult task of framing a constitution for the new Europe. I want to pay tribute to our fellow parliamentarians from all parties who have served on the Convention. It is a long and painstaking task to negotiate each amendment and article, to find common ground that recognises the diverse views and aspirations of nation states, and to secure a consensus that strengthens the fundamental principles of the EU while rigorously protecting the interests of the nation states.
The end product will be a document that each nation can claim as its own, which will clarify the roles of the member states in relation to the EU and the role of the EU in relation to the peoples of Europe. Clarity must lie at the heart of the Convention. There must be clarity in the legitimate competences of the EU and in those competences that are, and must remain, the prerogative of the nation state.
There is no doubt that clarity is in short supply in the EU. Its institutions and procedures are often opaque, and its legitimacy is questioned as a result. The EU must be made more transparent if it is to be made more democratic. That is why the work of the Convention is 341WH so important in redefining the collective articles of the EU and the treaty obligations that have flowed from them. It must be clear to jurists, politicians and, most importantly, to the peoples of Europe what the EU is for, and what it is not for.
There are also practical reasons why the workings of the EU must be improved and simplified as a matter of urgency. Enlargement will be upon us in a matter of months. The functions and goals of an enlarged EU of 25 countries will be very different from those of an EU of 15 members. Reform is imperative. The candidate countries rightly have a role on the Convention. When the outcomes of the Convention are debated at the next IGC, whenever that may be, those countries should also have the right to participate fully in that IGC. Some candidate countries clearly fear that an early IGC will undermine their position. The Minister referred to that in his opening remarks about the timing of the IGC. When he makes his winding-up speech, will he assure us that the Government will be more specific about when they want the IGC to take place?
A constitution for Europe would be welcome in order to realise the aims of clarity and legality and to strengthen democratic accountability. I notice that the Government have now accepted the need for a constitution, and I welcome their conversion. However, it remains an irony that they support a constitution for the EU but oppose one for the UK. If it is believed that a constitution could improve the democratic accountability of the EU, surely it could do the same for Britain.
The constitution currently under discussion draws together many elements of the existing legal framework of the EU. The Convention proposes that the charter of fundamental rights should be incorporated in the constitution—a proposal that Liberal Democrats support. I understand that the Government have some reservations about that proposal, although they appear to have accepted the incorporation of the charter in principle. Perhaps the Minister could outline the Government's position on that for us today.
The Government also believe that the constitution should attribute to member states the right to confer powers on the Union, while most other members of the Convention accept that, once a constitution exists, it, not the member states, should be the ultimate repository of rights. The charter of fundamental rights surely echoes that view. How does the Government's acceptance of the charter, in principle, square with their position on the constitution as a whole?
The articles to the Convention so far published set down the basic principles of the Union's role, the limits to its powers and the powers of member states. However, the detail has been reserved, in large part, for part 2 of the constitution. The contributions that we have heard today have been illuminating, in some ways entertaining, and, some would say, depressing. Nevertheless, I believe that the House is much better informed as a result of the debate.
Not unexpectedly, given the present climate, articles on the sensitive issues of the common foreign and security policy and the European defence policy have been postponed. Similarly, the reform of the European 342WH institutions has been left for a later date. Rather than postpone the discussion of foreign policy because of recent events, a strong case can be made that recent events make the issue of European co-operation more, not less, pressing. The divisions that have characterised the debate over Iraq within the EU, which have been misread my many and consequently mishandled, have highlighted the need for a mechanism that would assist in identifying unified positions in the European Union, when they can be established. Frankly, with four European countries currently on the Security Council, we could have done better in this current crisis in the United Nations.
There is a strong demand in Europe for the EU to play a larger role on the world stage. It already does in many areas, such as trade, the provision of humanitarian aid and the promotion of human rights. I agree with the majority on the Convention who would like the abolition of the post of Commissioner for external relations and the creation of a new agency for foreign and security policy, headed by a high commissioner who would chair the External Relations Council of member states. With oversight of aid policy and a more robust administration, he or she would be able to represent the EU on the world stage much more effectively.
The Government have tabled many amendments to the articles already published, but they have not outlined their vision for the future of Europe, in either a policy document or a White Paper. Those wider issues have not yet been discussed in the Convention, but they represent some of the fundamental issues with which it is concerned.
In my closing remarks, I shall outline some of the elements of the Liberal Democrat view on the future of European institutions, which we expect to be covered in the subsequent articles of the Convention. I invite the Minister, in his response, to share with us the Government's thinking on these key issues. The task of simplifying the European Union and making it more democratic and easier to understand would be served if the Commission had an elected head—a figurehead for Europe who had a direct relationship with the electorate of the Union. The MEPs should elect the President of the Commission, who would then choose his cabinet of Commissioners from a pool of nominations from the member states on the Council. How do the Government propose to reform the process of selecting Commissioners? The Minister mentioned the possibility of having a full-time elected chair. Will he clarify his views on the presidency? We believe that the presidency of the Council should remain with the member states; not with another elected individual. The legitimacy of an elected individual depends on the width of his electoral base. A President elected by the member states would not command any further legitimacy, but would further centralise that authority. A rotating presidency remains the best way of sharing authority and legitimacy within the Council.
The French and German proposal calls for an elected president for the Commission and the Council, creating a double-headed structure. The Government's initial reaction to that idea was scathing. What is their current position and what is their alternative? Our final proposal is that the Minister should gain a mandate from and report back to Parliament before and after 343WH attending European Council meetings. Although that is a domestic matter, I should appreciate the Minister's views.
The hon. Members who serve on the Convention are steadfastly addressing a very difficult task. They have raised important points to which I hope the Minister will respond. Their success will bring clarity and certainty to the competencies of the European Union and to those of the member states, to the ultimate and overarching benefit of the peoples of Europe. We recognise and endorse the value of their work.
§ Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)
I apologise for the absence of the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring). I know that he has spoken to the Minister before the debate, and I appreciate that I shall provide a poor substitute for his natural eloquence and knowledge of the subject. I shall also make a mess of the statistics given by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant): he might be happy to know that I am half Scottish and half Cornish, was born in Wales and sit for an English seat. [Interruption.] Nobody could ever describe me as a little Englander.
I am grateful to the Minister for calling this second debate and for coming to the Chamber as the Government's representative on the Convention. Although the world's attention is, naturally, focused elsewhere today, the outcome of the Convention has not diminished in importance. Any constitutional treaty emerging from the Convention is meant to provide the EU's framework for the next 50 years.
I have been impressed by the quality of the speeches this afternoon, and many interesting points have been made. I hope that hon. Members will not mind if I do not single any of them out, because time is short. However, I want to pay tribute to the work done by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) over the past year. His diligence and expert advice enlighten the debate at every stage. As my colleagues have often said, the Convention was set a vital task. The Laeken declaration rightly stated that the European Union must become closer to its citizens.
The European Union faces a crisis of democratic accountability and connection with its peoples. That was shown by the turnout for European elections, which fell below an average of 50 per cent. across Europe. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, the process is moving the EU further from its citizens. We want to solve this grave predicament for the EU. We want a European Union fit for the 21st century, with a membership of 25 or more, and able to deliver its core task—the job that its peoples want it to do and that it was set up to do—of helping to provide prosperity and stability in Europe. Sadly, I am not confident that the Convention is meeting that challenge.
My fears are shared by our representatives in the European Parliament and now, it seems, by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart). I am pleased that she has spoken today because she, too, has worked hard and with sincere intent in her role in the Convention. I was fascinated to read the interview with her in The Independent last week. She has started to understand what we have been saying for a long time, 344WH which is that the Convention was always likely—not certain, but likely—to try to build a Europe better suited to some of its elites than to its people. I remember her telling my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) of the words of Eli Weisel:It is not because I cannot explain that you do not understand—it is because you do not understand that I cannot explain.I hope that there is beginning to be a meeting of minds. Conservative Members have warned for a long time that a huge gap is developing between the people who make the decisions and the electorate. We have said that there is too little will to strengthen national Parliaments at the Convention. We have noted that a gap is opening up between reality and the grand aspirations of the integrationists at the Convention. We have repeatedly argued that there is no European demos—no feeling of common European nationhood. Above all, we have said again and again that Europe can no longer be built from the top down; it must work from the bottom up.
It is clearer than ever that the aspiration to introduce a common foreign and security policy does not correspond with the behaviour of European nations, or how they want to behave. It is no surprise—indeed, it is good sense—that the Convention has postponed discussion of the place of the CFSP in any new treaty until the situation has settled down. Moreover, recent events have shown that, despite the over-warm words of the Secretary of State for Wales, the Government's policy is a messy muddle on this issue above all others.
In his speech in Cardiff in December, the Prime Minister called for a unified European foreign policy, but the Government were confused even then. The Prime Minister outlined his plans in Cardiff, but he willed the end without willing the means. Now, we see that he does not care for the reality of policy either; indeed, he and President Chirac have made it unworkable. We can only speculate about how a real CFSP would stand now. Would it be for war or against war? Would it be stuck at the lowest common denominator, leaving us unable to do anything'? Today's European Council meeting will be interesting, but we can only imagine the chaos that would ensue if it actually had to determine a unified European foreign policy. It would he a farce—and a tragic one at that.
Despite the Minister's opening remarks, the Government's whole policy has been characterised by a drift towards integration, with no real vision of the kind of Europe that they want. There is one honourable exception, and we all agree on the desirability of enlargement. However, that stands out because there is little else. The Government have been so poor at producing ideas that they have had to borrow them from others. They learned from the Conservative party the importance of giving the principle of subsidiarity real teeth. They picked up the idea of a president of the European Council from the French. They drafted in a distinguished expert—Professor Dashwood—to write a European constitution, but they have been unable to make up their mind whether it represented their thinking. Other ideas have been so ill thought through that they have had to be dropped. A second chamber for the European Parliament, which garnered minimal support across Europe, is my favourite. The Lords report described it asan unreal solution to a real problem".345WH Time is limited, so I will concentrate on a few points. First, I agree with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston that national Parliaments are far too weak. The consensus in the Convention appears unable to recognise that, for all their faults, national Parliaments are the political bodies that the peoples of Europe understand best and to which they feel closest. National Parliaments must have real power over European legislation. It is pleasing that they may be able to warn of breaches of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, but will the Minister go further than he has done today and agree that that is grossly inadequate? They must be allowed to halt legislation that breaches those principles; after all, only they have a real interest in seeing them enforced. It is not unreasonable to expect institutions to enforce principles only when they have an interest in doing so. I hope that the Government will adopt our proposals on the issue as their policy.
I want briefly to mention the draft constitution's proposals on delegated legislation. Like others, I believe that they envisage too little oversight by democratic bodies. As matters stand, they represent too large an extension of Executive power. There is no legislative control, particularly by national Parliaments.
I welcome the Minister's e-mail early-warning initiative on draft legislation, but I remain unconvinced that we shall be offered the necessary protection, which would be afforded by strengthened powers of scrutiny.
I also look forward to hearing from the Minister about where the Government stands on the charter of fundamental rights. Their position seems to shift like the sands of the desert. Does the Minister agree that if the charter were incorporated into a treaty, it would be hard, no matter what the restrictions, to prevent a trickle-down effect?
I remember the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) saying that the charter would be no more use in court than a copy of the Beano. The Government said that they would not accept its incorporation into treaties, but now we are told that its incorporation is acceptable provided that there are horizontal restrictions. With such a history, is the Government's position really credible? I would be interested to hear in due course the legal basis for that, providing of course that, as last weekend, the advice from the Attorney-General or the Lord Chancellor is published.
It should come as no surprise that the draft constitution is so ambitious. That is the nature of constitutions; they are not like golf club rules, they redistribute the balance of power. Whatever the content, any constitution would represent one of the greatest changes in the balance of power that our country has ever experienced. I find it disappointing and incredible that the Government who set up referendums for a Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, London and, I believe, even Hartlepool refuse to allow the British people a say on a European constitution.
All true democrats, whatever their persuasion, cannot agree with the Government's incoherent stance on the matter. I believe that the Government will end up agreeing with us on this point, and the Minister might as well do so now while he can make the move gracefully.
346WH The Minister said that he was relaxed about when the IGC starts and how long it lasts. I hope that he will find time in his winding-up speech to explore that timetable in more detail for us.
We believe that the British people want a decentralised Europe doing less, but doing it better. We know that co-operation is essential in many areas, but harmonisation is unnecessary. The Convention's document must not be a constitution for a federal European state. The Secretary of State has tabled many amendments of his own to the draft constitution, and in the past he has seemed surprised at its integrationist nature. I do not know why, but I welcome his words:A Brussels superstate is not on.I hope that he will now embrace the suggestions of my party and, indeed, those of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston and devote all his energies to fighting for a Europe of nations, not a nation of Europe.
§ Peter Hain
I apologise in advance for not taking any interventions in order to respond to colleagues in the short time available. I welcome the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) to the position. In the contrast between her elegant response and that of the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey), we saw the two opposite poles of European policy, neither of which works. There was a federalist blueprint from the Liberal Democrats, which would be rejected in Eastleigh just as much as it would in the rest of the United Kingdom, and, I am afraid, there was the same old dreary Euroscepticism from the Conservatives.
However, I am delighted to see my old friend the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) here. Does he have his leader's permission to be here? I do not want to shop him, but I thought that the new leader of the Conservative party, when he took over 18 months ago, said that mouths should be zipped up on Europe, especially the hon. Gentleman's, so I was delighted to see him in his usual good form.
The right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) is doing a very diligent job in the Convention. However, he is being completely ignored, not because he is not diligent or expert but because he is back in the old handbag-waving stance that the Conservatives took under both Margaret Thatcher and John Major, which leads to Britain's position being completely ignored. His apoplectic tone—
§ Peter Hain
The constitution is a first draft. There are items in it that the right hon. Member for Wells does not like and that I do not like, and we are seeking to amend them. The Conservatives have an inferiority complex on this matter. They always expect to lose in Europe, whereas what we have shown since 1 May 1997 is that we consistently win the argument.
347WH I was asked about legal personality. Under the present treaty structure, the European communities have a legal personality that was endorsed by previous Conservative Governments, but the European Union does not. There would be advantages to having a single legal personality for the European Union's international profile, such as ease of understanding by EU citizens. However, we would never accept that, unless it was clear that common foreign and security policy remained intergovernmental and that member states retained their rights to representation on international bodies.
I do not agree that the UK is being marginalised in the Convention—we are quite influential. On the difficulties over Iraq, intelligence sharing with the United States of America would not be blocked by a European common foreign and security policy. My hon. Friends the Members for Caerphilly (Mr. David) and for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) made the point that although we have a large and serious difference of opinion with France over Iraq, we are co-operating closely with the French on the Convention. We share a similar vision of the institutional architecture of the new Europe—that it should based on the nation state, rather than on Brussels. Together, we have drawn up a common defence and security policy, and co-operated to take that forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) is doing a great job on the Convention. She is highly regarded for her diligence, and seems to live in Brussels as a representative of this Parliament. I applaud her. I agree with her that the European Council needs to be more accountable and that Council of Ministers meetings need to more transparent so that Europe's citizens can see proceedings, which would ideally be televised, of their heads of Government and Ministers in sectoral councils taking decisions on their behalf. My hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda and for Eastleigh made the same point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Luke) made an eloquent speech that stressed his commitment to the European Union ideal. I agree that the concept behind the new European constitution is to create greater clarity and simplicity to allow citizens 10 understand how Europe works. My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire) gave a well-informed speech about where the issue of Europe had reached. I agree that the accountability of Europe to the House is not adequate. I was intrigued by her suggestion of extending departmental questions 10 include a European slot. That is not official Government policy, and I am here to represent the Government. 348WH However, I proposed that idea when I was a shadow Whip for European affairs in 1996. We need a radical consideration of how the House of Commons could better scrutinise decisions and ensure that the European Union is held accountable for them. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda also made important points on that subject.
I shall address the points raised my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies) on children's rights. I fully share his concerns. He referred to my amendment to article 3.4. The reason for the amendment is that children's rights per se should not be a specific objective of the European Union. Human rights include children's rights, and the charter includes a specific provision for children's rights. The problem is that lawyers believe that including children's rights in the UK would lead to the extension of EU competence into family law. We do not want to encourage that, and I am not sure that my hon. Friend would not want to either.
My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly brought his expertise and experience to the debate. He was right to say that when considering a proposal for an early-warning mechanism for national Parliaments—a new extension—we must not forget the point from which we started. Currently, there is no effective national Parliament re-involvement until the end of the process, so that is a radical change, and it was strongly resisted by the Commission and European parliamentarians. The fact that it has now been broadly endorsed is important.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Alan Howarth) asked several telling questions. I shall write to him about article 24, and send him a paper that I submitted on the difference between compulsory and non-compulsory budgets. As for shared competences and their extension, there may be a case for extending shared competence on tackling bioterrorism in the area of public health. That makes a lot of sense given the problems that we face. On extensions to qualified majority voting, justice and home affairs issues could be considered on a case-by-case basis in relation, for example, to the battle against terrorism.
Finally, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda: I should like there to be a five-year, full-time President and an end to the rotating presidency. He also made some good points about the European Commission President.
§ It being half-past Five o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the sitting lapsed, without Question put.