Examination of Witnesses (Questions 391
WEDNESDAY 20 MARCH 2002
WALL KCMG, LVO, MR
391. Good morning and welcome to the Committee.
Thank you for coming along this morning. We think we are undertaking
a very important piece of work to look at the future democracy
and accountability in the European Union. Do you wish to make
a statement before we start asking you questions?
(Sir Stephen Wall) I do not think so,
but may I just introduce my colleagues: Michael Roberts who is
Head of Division within the European Secretariat in the Cabinet
Office and with me has the responsibility for supervising the
work we do on scrutiny; and Philip Budden who is our expert on
European institutional issues and is part of the delegation which
Peter Hain is leading to the European Convention.
392. May I start by asking you to explain for
our interest as well as for the record what the Cabinet Office
European Secretariat does and explain its relationship with the
Foreign Office, other departments and UKREP? In particular in
what ways does the Cabinet Office's role vary between the first
pillar, European Community matters and the second and third pillars
on foreign and security policy and justice and home affairs?
(Sir Stephen Wall) The European Secretariat was set
up when we joined the European Union and its role fundamentally
has not changed since then. We are the Secretariat which services
the European Policy Sub-Committee of the Cabinet, which ever since
we joined has been chaired by the Foreign Secretary. On a day
to day basis at official level we co-ordinate the work of departments
so that there is advice going to Ministers, hopefully agreed collectively,
on European policy issues and we also have responsibility for
supervising implementation of what Ministers decide in order to
make sure that all departments in Whitehall are singing from the
same song sheet and that we have not left any bases uncovered
in terms of doing what we need to do. That means on the one hand
making sure that the UK Permanent Representation have the guidance
and instruction they need. We have a weekly meeting on a Friday
which is attended by the UK Permanent Representative. We have
ad hoc meetings going on the whole time with other Whitehall departments
which the UK Representation take part in, either in person or
by video or telephone link, where we talk about the issues coming
up in working groups or in the Committee of Permanent Representatives.
We also try to make sure that in terms of furthering the interests
of the Government we have co-ordinated the lobbying activity which
goes on with our European partners because obviously an essential
part of the business is not just negotiating in Brussels but actually
trying to influence colleagues in other EU capitals. That is a
job which is done both by the Foreign Office, through our embassies
but also directly by individual departments, people talking to
their opposite numbers from ministerial level right down through
the official chain.
393. As EU Adviser to the Prime Minister what
role will you personally play in respect of the Convention on
the Future of Europe?
(Sir Stephen Wall) My job in that sense will be twofold.
I am responsible in the role I play within No.10 for making sure
that the Prime Minister has the advice he needs when there are
issues which will come to him for decision and he clearly will
get advice from Peter Hain, advice from the Foreign Secretary
and my job will be to make sure he has that advice in timely fashion.
It is also part of my job as head of the European Secretariat
to ensure that the whole of Whitehall is effectively consulted
on issues as they arise. Our job is to ensure that happens at
official level and that advice is put in in a timely way to Ministers
and if necessary discussed by the European Policy Sub-Committee
under the Foreign Secretary's chairmanship.
394. May I ask how you see not so much the technical
debates on the Convention but how you see the Convention concluding?
Do you see it coming forward with any big idea or has the British
Government any vision which it would like to see developed during
the foreseeable future up to the next inter-governmental conference?
In other words, how do you see the European Union developing over
the next few years? Would you see the Council of Ministers getting
more assertive and clear inter-governmental co-operation becoming
the linchpin for Europe's development?
(Sir Stephen Wall) We do have an opportunity. We did
have a convention, on the Charter of Fundamental Rights, but the
Convention in this form for this purpose, that is for trying to
make recommendations about the future development of the European
Union, is something new. The Laeken Declaration which was agreed
under the Belgian presidency sets a rather big agenda for that
Convention. What we are trying to do in the Government in terms
of our position is work out how to make a European Union of 25,
27 and ultimately more countries work effectively. What we have
had in the European Union is something which has worked extremely
well. We think that the basic balance between the institutions
we have had over the years is the right one, but it is clear that
simple addition of ten more Member States in the first instance,
which we strongly welcome and think will make a big improvement
both to our stability and ultimately the collective prosperity
of the Union, nonetheless does pose problems. Six, 9, 12, even
15 people sitting round the table can negotiate. With 27 it is
very difficult to do that. At the very least new methods of working
of a kind which Jack Straw put forward in the speech he made a
couple of weeks ago, or improvements of the kind which the Prime
Minister and Chancellor Schröder put forward in their paper
for Barcelona, those kinds of things will be necessary. But we
are invited by the Laeken Declaration to look more fundamentally
than that at whether there are issues like a shift of competences,
simplification of the treaties, which can actually make the whole
process simpler to understand and simpler to implement. That is
the most important task which the Convention has and it is a very
daunting one for all the reasons we know.
395. I was very interested in your interview
with the Foreign Policy Centre newsletter and this famous quotation
which was picked up by The Times. I am sure you remember it.
(Sir Stephen Wall) How could I be allowed to forget
396. You would not expect to be allowed to forget
it this morning. "There are certain aspects of the Reformation
and anti-popery that find an echo in modern euro-scepticism".
Could you explain what you meant? Apart from your aunt's prejudice
against Catholics, which you describe in your interview, what
do you really mean by that?
(Sir Stephen Wall) The point I was seeking to make
was that there are elements of euro-scepticism which are obviously
nationalistic and the point I was making, which I thought at the
time was not a particularly original one, was that if you look
at the Reformation, the Reformation is as much about the expression
of English nationalism as about religious reform. That was really
the only point I was seeking to make.
397. You are not suggesting that Catholics should
not be euro-sceptics or that euro-sceptics are anti-Catholics,
(Sir Stephen Wall) I was not attempting to make any
suggestion about individuals and I recognise that different people
of different religious persuasions hold different views. I was
making a point about the Reformation in so far as the Reformation
itself was an act of expression of national identity as much as
about religious issues.
398. Why did you then go on to describe your
aunt's prejudices? You did not say your aunt was a nationalist.
You said that your aunt was prejudiced against Catholics and,
you added, should be euro-sceptic today.
(Sir Stephen Wall) The point I was seeking to make
was that the letter which my aunt sent to my father when he was
about to marry a Catholic, arguing that his children, that is
I and my sister, as it turned out, should not be brought up as
Catholics said "Don't forget that you come from yeoman stock
of the finest in England". The point was much more about
English national identity in her view than about her views of
the teachings of the Catholic Church. That was the point.
399. In retrospect, do you regret making that
(Sir Stephen Wall) It would be cowardly of me to recant
my heresy, if that is what it is, but I do regret one thing and
that is that I do believe that the role of a civil servant is
to be in the background not the foreground and had I thought that
my remark would put me into the foreground, then I would not have
said it, not because I cannot take the heat but simply because
I do think the role of an impartial civil servant is to be in