Select Committee on European Scrutiny Minutes of Evidence



Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380 - 390)

MONDAY 18 MARCH 2002

THE RT HON JIM WALLACE, QC, MSP, MR ALAN LISTER AND BARBARA DOIG

Mr David

  380. These days the process of European legislation is very complicated. We have the Council of Ministers, and we have spoken at length about that, but there is also the European Parliament which has gained increasing powers of co-decision and, therefore, the role of MEPs is far more significant than it was before. What relationship does the Scottish Executive have with Scotland's MEPs?
  (Mr Wallace) I would like to think we have a good working relationship. The briefings to MEPs are also made available to our Committee. There is an organisation—"organisation" might put it too strongly—an institution called EMILE, and do not ask me what it stands for because I will struggle to tell you, and basically the idea of EMILE, which meets twice a year at an early stage of a particular Presidency, is that it brings together the Scottish MEPs, the members of the Scottish Parliament's European Committee, Scottish members of the Committee of the Regions and Scottish Ministers. That most recently met on 14 February. It is an opportunity for an exchange of views, people are able to flag up particular issues of concern that are coming up. At the same time if Scottish MEPs write to Ministers on issues that is given proper attention, as you would expect, as if a Member of the Scottish Parliament was to write. I think what we have found in Scotland is that whilst inevitably there are party divisions this group of eight Scottish MEPs try to work co-operatively as far as they can. My observation is there is a collective approach and it is one which we try to support. Certainly in terms of giving information, if we can give information which they find helpful in their work as MEPs there is a very strong presumption that we will give it.

  381. Okay. Can I move on to the issue of the Convention and the future of Europe, something that is already looming very large. As I understand it, certainly the Scottish Executive tried to secure some form of representation on the Convention, if only observer status, but however was not successful in securing that. How would you see the Scottish Executive having any sort of influence at all over the deliberations and the conclusions of the Convention?
  (Mr Wallace) I think it is fair to say that the view taken by the Scottish Executive was what mattered more was our input, coming on to the second part of your question, than necessarily seats at the table. As an Executive we only took our seat on the Committee of the Regions as parliamentarians for the first time on the very day that it was agreeing who should become observers and we might have been pushing our luck a bit. We note that Catalonia, Bavaria, Bologna and Salzburg do not have observer status either. We think it is far more important that we identify ways of getting our view fed in. One way will be through the United Kingdom Government. Peter Hain has expressed, I think he probably expressed it when he gave evidence to the Parliament's Committee, and has made it very clear that he is receptive to involving the devolved administrations in working up what the United Kingdom position will be on a range of issues, particularly those which are of relevance to the devolved administrations. I also would point out that the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the Committee of the Regions, which is the one that I suspect will strongly influence the position taken by the formal observers of the Committee of the Regions on the Convention, that both the First Minister and Councillor Christine May are on that particular committee and, in addition, there are the European partners whom we have following on from a number of initiatives which have involved Scotland with a number of the other sub-Member State administrations, such as Catalonia, Bavaria, Bologna, where there is an opportunity for us to get our input and we would see that as another avenue for putting forward some of the views that we have been discussing.

Chairman

  382. Will the Scottish Executive be making formal representations to Peter Hain on their views on issues that they think should be considered for the Convention? I am thinking of issues like the size of the Commission, particular questions such as will the Scottish Executive express a view on the possibility of a second chamber in the European Union, issues like that? Can you tell us how you are going to make those views known to the UK Government?
  (Mr Wallace) I am not sure we have yet reached a decision whether it will be a formal submission as such and, indeed, there might well be issues which would not necessarily impinge on us as a devolved administration, but clearly on issues where we do feel there is some relevance with regard to the issues being discussed then there are mechanisms for us getting our views across. There does not necessarily need to be a formal paper that is submitted but there is a regular dialogue, there is the Joint Ministerial Committee on Europe which has accepted, and I am now going beyond confidentiality, in the context of the Convention that there is a role for the Joint Ministerial Committee on Europe both in terms of feedback and in terms of input, there is a regular meeting of officials and, of course, there is MINECOR, apart from the individual one-to-one between Ministers, myself, the First Minister and Peter Hain, and indeed I think Jack Straw has given an indication of a willingness to visit key parts of the United Kingdom as part of this debate. There are a number of avenues for getting our view across which may in many respects be more effective actually than a formal submission. As I say, we have not discounted the possibility of a formal submission and that is something which is under active consideration.

Angus Robertson

  383. Deputy First Minister, you gave a long list of ways you might be able to impact on the Convention. The one avenue that you did not mention is the fact that there are two elected Scottish representatives who are part of the Convention team, namely Sir Professor Neil McCormick MEP and Keith Brown of Clackmananshire Council. Do you not think that it might be an idea to work with elected Scottish representatives who are actually part of the Convention?
  (Mr Wallace) I do not have any hang-up at all working with both them and also Lord McLennan who is substitute for the UK parliamentary full membership on the Committee—he has already flagged up a willingness to work with us—and John Little, former Chairman of the Scottish CBI, I understand is an alternate for the European and Social Committee. I would not wish to think we would abuse the position at all but Sir John Kerr is a Scot and I am sure he will be totally neutral as the Secretary to the Convention. I have no difficulty at all in making sure that Keith Brown and Neil McCormick are involved in those particular lines we will be taking.

  384. If I can go back to the line that you said a moment ago. I am a little bit confused because you said that the important thing about the Convention was not necessarily being there directly but having influence there. The reason why I am slightly confused is because the Scottish Executive signed a thing known as the Liege Resolution in November 2001 in which it is stated: "the Presidents of the Regions with legislative power will ask all Governments to include regional representatives in the national delegations at the Convention", so the Scottish Executive by signing this, I guess, was pushing to be part of the UK Member State delegation to the Convention. Can you perhaps tell the Committee what efforts the Scottish Executive made to try and gain a place directly through the UK delegation and, seeing as it did not, were you disappointed?
  (Mr Wallace) I think, as you well know, the decision was taken at Laeken that the direct representation would be one of Member States and would not extend to sub-Member States so we were not going to be there because we are not a Member State and, indeed, the Committee of the Regions has observer status and not full status. I think people would recognise that to be manageable the Convention cannot hope to have a representative from every Member State and from every sub-Member State government, but given what was agreed at Laeken we are identifying ways in which the particular issues we want to press can be carried forward. I am confident that there are a number of these avenues and we will be pursuing them vigorously.

Mr Tynan

  385. Moving away from the Convention, could I ask you do you find the Committee of the Regions a useful forum?
  (Mr Wallace) As an Executive and a Parliament we have only just very recently had representation because up until the new Committee took up office Scotland's representation was at local government level. In Scotland we have got a balance between local government and Scottish Parliament and there is one full member who is a member of the Executive and a substitute member of the Executive. I think it has certainly got the potential and it is very useful within the structures of the European Union to have a body whose primary interest is on the regions of the European Union. I think it varies from country to country what the balance is between local government and sub-Member State government. I also think that there is even greater potential for the Committee of the Regions. If you are looking at policing subsidiarity and some of the other things we have been talking about today I do think that the Committee of the Regions might well have a role to play in that and, indeed, in terms of the Liege group, which has slightly expanded now, one of the pieces of work that is currently being taken forward by that group is how the Committee of the Regions might be reformed to be more of a focal point for regional interests within the European Union.

  386. So it is too early yet to say how you could make it more effective?
  (Mr Wallace) I do not have a prescription but I think the fact that there is a body there is something that we can build on. As I say, there is work being done within the group of sub-Member States to try and look at what might be done to the Committee of the Regions.

  387. Should there be separate bodies for authorities with legislative power and those that have not?
  (Mr Wallace) I am instinctively against a plethora of new institutions. I think the reality is, of course, that bodies with legislative power will be treated differently almost by the very nature of it because if what we are talking about is implementation of legislation, earlier notice, earlier involvement, then inevitably that will apply more to the bodies with legislative power because these are the bodies which will ultimately have to carry through the decisions and by the very nature of that it will give them a status which would not be the same as for those who do not have that responsibility for actually implementing the legislation.

  388. So you do not think that we need separate bodies, you think it will happen naturally?
  (Mr Wallace) I have not got a concluded view on whether we need separate bodies. I think by the very nature of it it would happen. As I say, I am slightly worried that if you have too many bodies they often can lose their focus. It is the first time I have ever been asked the question. There is no hard and fast view on it. We want to make sure of the effectiveness of bodies with legislative power, such as ourselves, that if we have ultimately got the responsibility for implementing these we do have a better opportunity than at the moment to try to get in on the ground floor to try and shape that legislation.

Chairman

  389. Minister, would it be helpful to the Scottish Executive if the Council of Ministers met in public when legislating?
  (Mr Wallace) I think I have already said yes. We do want to see more, not just to the Scottish Executive, to the Scottish Parliament, to the Scottish people. I do think we want to see in its legislative mode the Council of Ministers far more open.

  390. Minister can I, on behalf of my colleagues, thank you very much for coming along to this evidence session this morning. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have and my colleagues have. I must congratulate you on your candour in your answers to the questions. I did note in answer to one of the technical questions that you did not have a ready answer to, you were kind enough to say you did not know. I cannot tell you how refreshing it is to have a Minister who is candid enough to say "I do not know". It has been very worthwhile and I am sure it will assist us in preparing our report that will be published in April. Thank you very much for coming along this morning.

  (Mr Wallace) I am conscious I did not say so at the beginning but I very much welcome the fact that the Committee is here meeting in Edinburgh and as I am a host, as it were, in relation to the building can I say you are very welcome indeed. I have certainly welcomed this exchange and look forward to your report.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.





 
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