Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 155)

WEDNESDAY 7 MARCH 2001

MR KEITH VAZ, MP AND MR SIMON FEATHERSTONE

  140. So those three countries have not voiced serious reservations?
  (Mr Vaz) No.

Sir John Stanley

  141. On a different issue, Minister, post-Nice. As you know, the Prime Minister stated, following his experience at the Nice summit, and I quote: "We cannot go on taking decisions like this." Can you give us what is now the British Government's present position as to how it would like to see the next IGC being conducted, how it should be prepared for, whether there should be fresh institutional arrangements, or whether it should be conducted in the same way as the previous ones have been, with the Commission basically taking the initiative, preparatory documents being put out, and then a final summit at which the deal is done? Or does the British Government want to see it played differently, and, if so, how?
  (Mr Vaz) Sir John is right. The Prime Minister, I think, was frustrated at the length of time it took to get these matters resolved, 330 hours of the time of our officials and ministers, together with five full days at Nice, and, though exhausted, at the end of this process, he played a pivotal role, along with Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, in ensuring that we got a deal out of Nice. But I think we do have to reform the way in which we operate, the reform agenda is very important, this is a Government that is pro Europe, but it is also pro reform; we want to make sure that there is greater transparency, accountability, a much more lengthy discussion pre ministerial meetings, which actually will involve the people of our countries. And one of the conclusions at Nice, as the Committee will know, is actually to consult the people of Europe about the way in which these things are done, about the future of Europe, and I think it is important that we should take on board that point.

  142. It has been suggested, as you know, Minister, that there should be some form of EU constitutional convention established, prior to the next IGC. What is the British Government's view towards that?
  (Mr Vaz) Ah; well, we would need to look at that, and we would need to look at the way in which any of these conventions are drawn together. I am not personally a great fan of the convention process, because I think it is one step removed from Members of this House; and the Prime Minister, at Warsaw, on 6 October, talked about the second chamber as a possibility of ensuring that there was a stronger link between the people of our country, Parliament and what was happening in the EU, and I think we have to look at these arrangements. But, I think, in the end, these decisions have got to be taken by the Member States, by Ministers, as Sir John will know, because he was part of this process, and, in the end, Ministers have to come before the House.

  143. So you are saying to us, at the moment, the British Government has got no specific or positive proposals, as of now, as to how the next IGC should be prepared for?
  (Mr Vaz) It is only six weeks since the last IGC; the next one is 2004, so we will be having some proposals. But anything the Committee may want to say about this issue we would be happy to look at.

Chairman

  144. Just to wind up this area, Minister. Turkey is currently, in effect, putting a veto on the use of NATO assets for EU operations until they get a certain agreement about their role. Does this mean that if they persist in that objection the French concept of an autonomous European position is more likely to grow among other European countries?
  (Mr Vaz) No, I do not think so, Mr Chairman. Turkey, as a NATO ally, is raising its concerns, and I think that the whole point of having an organisation like NATO is to deal with the concerns that have been raised by Turkey and to make progress.

  145. And they maintain those concerns currently; they are maintaining what is, in effect, a veto?
  (Mr Vaz) I would not call it a veto, I think they have raised concerns, Lord Robertson has been actively involved in trying to deal with these points, and we have, too. I think it is important that we talk with allies.

  146. But, until their objections are met, there will be no progress on the Rapid Reaction Force?
  (Mr Vaz) No, that is not true. We have made enormous progress on the Rapid Reaction Force, and, indeed, at the risk of getting Mr Maples worked up again, we have defined those areas where it will act. Turkey is a NATO ally, and therefore we have to talk to our allies, and if they have concerns we have to address those concerns. It does not stop what we are doing.

  147. Quickly, on the IGC. In the Warsaw speech, the Prime Minister put forward two areas: one, the concept of a second chamber, which appears to have received very little support from other countries; two, the idea of this charter of competences. What is the status of those, and the response from our partner countries?
  (Mr Vaz) These are excellent ideas, which we need to look at and we need to discuss. The point of the Warsaw speech was to look at the future of Europe, and these and a number of the other ideas that the Prime Minister has had, I think, will be a defining text, as far as this country is concerned. There has been support for the second chamber. What the Prime Minister was raising was whether or not a second chamber would help democratic legitimacy.

  148. Which countries have supported it?
  (Mr Vaz) It is not a question of countries supporting it, others have joined the debate. I myself have received, I think, 20, or so, letters from Members of the European Parliament, from organisations, from others, about the second chamber proposals, but we have not really discussed it as a Parliament, and I think it would be good to do so. I think that it would be important to look at ways in which we can strengthen the link between the people and Parliament. On the issue of competences, this is not just something that the Prime Minister has raised; of course, the Lander, in Germany, are very keen to know what can be done as far as competences are concerned. I think the people of our country also want to know, in the discussions I have had with them, they want to know about the finality of Europe. Sometimes, as I have been round the country on my roadshow, people have asked me the question, "Where will it all end?", and I think what they think is, you start at Westminster, they all understand Westminster, they understand what MPs do, and then you have Europe, and it seems so vast and so large that they do not actually know what it is all about. I think that we have a responsibility and a duty to explain to them what our vision of Europe is, and that is what the Prime Minister sought to do.

  Chairman: With respect, the US constitution did not end with the Philadelphia Convention. Dr Godman, finally, on this.

Dr Godman

  149. Just to end. There is a declaration attached to the Nice Treaty that states that the 2004 IGC should address inter alia how to establish and monitor a more precise delimitation of competences between the European Union and the Member States, reflecting the principle of subsidiarity, and so on and so forth; and you mentioned the German Lander. Is it the Prime Minister's view and the Secretary of State's view that, if there were to be a second chamber in the European Parliament, there would be representatives in that chamber from this Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Welsh Assembly?
  (Mr Vaz) I do not think that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have defined who is to be in the second chamber, but I think that this is an issue that I think ought to be discussed, and we ought, as parliamentarians, to be making a contribution to this.

  Chairman: Minister, you know that this Committee has had very strong concerns about Government policy on Gibraltar—

Mr Mackinlay

  150. Mr Chairman, one final question on the European Union, one final question, and it relates to our previous report, and it relates to a matter which I have raised with the Minister and the Prime Minister, time and time again.
  (Mr Vaz) And I have an answer.

  Mr Mackinlay: We have now had four years of a Labour Government, we have had three Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry; we had Margaret Beckett, who went to Australasia, we had Peter Mandelson, who went to South America, we have Byers, who has been to India, but not one Secretary of State, in this administration, for Trade and Industry, I know this Minister has been, I know a plethora of other Ministers, full marks to them, but what have we got to do to get a Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to go to the applicant countries of the European Union? I just find it amazing; short of setting fire to myself in Parliament Square, what more can we do to get the Prime Minister to instruct Byers to go there? I find it an amazing abdication, that the Secretary of State for Trade refuses to go to the applicant countries of the European Union: why is it, when is he going, and what is the impediment, why has this principal, keen Secretary of State not gone?

Chairman

  151. Minister, is there an answer to that?
  (Mr Vaz) It is one of the great questions that has been asked by Mr Mackinlay, and I correctly predicted that he would ask this question.

Mr Mackinlay

  152. I am going to keep on doing it.
  (Mr Vaz) And can I just, first of all, tell him that the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor, Alan Howarth, Baroness Scotland, Michael Meacher, Keith Vaz, Joyce Quin, Keith Hill, Helen Liddell and Geoff Hoon have all been to Poland. This morning, I asked my private office—

  153. That is Central Europe, it is not Poland, I never mentioned Poland, I never mentioned Poland.
  (Mr Vaz) Mr Mackinlay, wait for it, I asked my private office to telephone the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to tell him that I was appearing before this Committee and that Mr Mackinlay was bound to raise the fact that he has not been to Poland.

  Mr Mackinlay: I did not say Poland; why do you keep saying Poland? I am talking about Central Europe, the applicant countries. Chairman, it is an irritating point, because, the last meeting, if you remember, he kept saying, "Mackinlay keeps going on about Poland." Mackinlay deliberately did not say Poland; it is a serious point. I am talking about the principal applicant countries, of which Poland is one, I did not mention Poland. The abdication of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry not going relates to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia, the principal applicant countries, it is not just Poland. And I resent people making it flip that I keep going on about Poland, I do not, I am talking about our interest in the Central Europe, principal applicant countries.

Chairman

  154. Minister, the question relates not specifically to Poland but to the Central European countries as a whole. What was the response of the private office of the Secretary of State?
  (Mr Vaz) We did ask, Mr Chairman, about Poland, but tomorrow I will widen the area to give him a greater choice of countries to visit, and I am sure that the Secretary of State will look favourably on the points put forward. And, as soon as we have a date for this visit, I can assure this Committee, I will be the first to telephone Mr Mackinlay and tell him the good news.

  155. Minister, Gibraltar; the Committee has turned to the problems of Gibraltar. I understand that you have another official who will be joining you in respect of Gibraltar?
  (Mr Vaz) Indeed.

  156. Then perhaps you could effect the change?
  (Mr Vaz) We have to divide up the Foreign Office between various officials.

  Chairman: And then Mr Mackinlay will begin on Gibraltar.





 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 10 April 2001