TUESDAY 5 NOVEMBER 2002
Mr Jimmy Hood, in the Chair
THE RT HON ROBIN COOK, MP, Leader of the House of Commons, examined.
(Mr Cook) It is a pleasure to be here.
(Mr Cook) Personally, I am very happy with Robin. If I have to choose between those two options, it is Leader, because that is most appropriate.
(Mr Cook) The report of your Committee was a very thoughtful result of some very serious thought on your part and had some very interesting innovations which it proposed and I welcome that. It would be fair to draw out from your report the fact that we both have a common problem which is that unfortunately, within the House, there is not the interest in European affairs that the matters really deserve. Broadly speaking, most vital departments are now spending about a fifth or a quarter of their time relating to Europe coping with the consequence of initiatives taken in Europe, trying to influence the projects that may be passing through Europe. That reflects the reality and extent to which our trade, our law enforcement services, our environment requirements now have very much a continental, not just a domestic, dimension. That is reality. I do not think in the House we have yet achieved that quantum leap, that gear shift, to recognise the extent to which what happens in Europe has such a big bearing on what happens in our domestic politics. When we debate Europe, we do tend to go for the grand theatre and the grand positions on the principles of whether we are in or out or on what structure the future architecture of Europe might have. We tend not to be so good at paying attention to the nitty gritty, the detailed issues, the way in which this affects a whole range of detailed policy considerations. I do not have an easy solution to this. In your report several times you yourselves stumble across the fact that there is no sign of a great, overwhelming interest on the part of the broad mass of the membership in taking part in those nitty gritty exchanges and the detail of European legislation. I have just carried through the experiment and innovation of creating the new Committee on the Convention on the future of Europe and it is something of an innovation in general terms under the procedure of the House because it is not set up to find a committee to hold the government to account or to listen to government ministers. In this instance, it is a committee set up to hear from the representatives of the House on that Convention. It is very much a back-bench driven committee. As you may be aware, Gisela Stewart has written to me suggesting that we reduce the quorum on that Committee on the Convention precisely because of the problems of securing attendance at that Convention. That I find very disappointing. I looked with great interest at the proposals in your report and I am sure that you will wish to explore them one by one with me. I come back to that fundamental problem: unless the members of the House themselves are exercised and interested in looking at the detail of European legislation, any mechanisms that you propose or I set up are not going to meet that problem. I do not have a simple solution as to what we do to attract that interest.
Chairman: On the Standing Committee on the Convention, the attendance of the European scrutiny members is exceptional.
(Mr Cook) That is a sign of encouragement.
(Mr Cook) Your comments on the fridge mountain are apposite, without getting into the substance of the issue. It is certainly fair to say that if there was any failure on the part of Britain to perceive the difficulties that were coming it is a failure that is shared by the Commons as well because the directive did not come out of the blue. It has been around for a long time. I understand that there was regret on the part of DEFRA that the advice they got from the Commission turned out at the end of the day not to be borne out by the interpretation of the directive, but it was there for comment, debate and exploration for several months before we ended up in the crisis. Your paper makes a number of proposals on the way in which we can widen the opportunity for debate. You have put a lot of effort and imagination into that and there are some interesting ideas there. It will only work if there is that interest in the membership of the Commons in which they want to make a success of those opportunities. If I am candid with the Committee, I spend a large amount of my waking hours and all of my Thursday mornings batting away persistent demands by members of the Commons for time to debate something about which an element of the Commons cares passionately and on which they want a debate. Typically on the Thursday business statement I will announce the business for the two weeks ahead and by the end of an hour's questioning I will have collected enough bids to fill up another two weeks of the House which I do not have time for. Therefore, realistically, until the House itself wants to have that time and that debate, there is always going to be the difficulty that other, competing issues are likely to squeeze it out of the debating time. That is not a statement that is necessarily a rational order of priorities that are put to me on Thursday mornings, or indeed that we are making the best use of the time that we have in terms of the political priorities. I would tend to share the view of the Committee that we should be giving some more priority to some of these European issues, but I can only do that if that is what the House itself is demanding and wants and will take the advantage and opportunity to do it if it gets it.
(Mr Cook) First of all, the question is once it has gone through the legal procedures of the European Union and has been legally adopted by the European Union we are bound by it. Thank you very much. I do not want to change that because I want the other 14 members to be bound by the directives that we agree to. The moment we pick and choose and opt out, believe me, others will do the same in a way that you will not then like. On the specific case of the European standing committees, the reality is that in putting a motion down before the floor of the House the government is going to put down a motion with which it agrees. If you do go down the line recommended by the Committee of taking the motion as it comes out of the Committee and putting it before the House you will then find that the consequence of that is that the government will put it much more ferociously under its European standing committees and you would then find us removing from the provision the attendance of any other members, but we would want to make sure that those standing committees operated like any other standing committee if they were going to become the rules. I am not sure that that would be a step for the better. I suppose the more general response to Mr Cash's question is that other European parliaments do not seem to have quite the same problem as we do, perhaps because they are more European in their orientations.
(Mr Cook) They do. Believe me, other European national parliaments do have European forms of scrutiny. Indeed, I think the Danish system is rather more ferocious than ours.
(Mr Cook) I think you will find that the other European national parliaments are very involved in what proceeds in the European arena and that their representatives there are very conscious of that.
(Mr Cook) First of all, it is open to members to raise questions on European directives policy to any department within the departmental question time for each of them. Secondly, let us be clear: concern with time on the floor is not the unique property of the government; it is the property of the House and I am well aware from my exchange on Thursday that the House offers very firm views on how the time should be used. At the moment, we provide just under an hour's questioning time on four out of the five week days. Those four hours are heavily subscribed by the departments. I have a number of bids at the moment for expansion of certain parts of my business statement, particularly for instance in the case of Northern Ireland where direct rules involve new questions of scrutiny; and also in relation to the office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which, as a result of the last reshuffle, has changed and contains two issues of local government and transport of very acute interest to members in the House. I cannot increase within that time envelope without reducing somebody else. At the moment, I am not overwhelmed with bids by people wanting that space to be reduced. In that context, it is not that I am necessarily resistant to it as a desirable thing in itself; I do not see the scope for a separate set of European questions. Nor am I sure that I necessarily would want to fillet out questions about the European dimension of the department from the general departmental question time because I think it is important for the House and for ministers to regard the European dimension of the work as a normal part of their work, not as a thing that is pigeon holed and separate from the rest. One thought I would leave with you is that we have proposed in the Modernisation Committee and got approval of the House last week that at Westminster Hall we should introduce a new question session on cross-cutting issues. There is a specific proposal for a question session on youth policy involving junior ministers from the Home Office, the Health Department and the Education Department and I will be discussing with the chairman of ways and means how we go about bringing that into reality. Logically one would want something like a rota on a four week cycle which, if we manage to get this off the ground, will open up the opportunities for other similar sessions in Westminster Hall. You might want to consider whether there may be scope within your own area for using that new opportunity.
(Mr Cook) It is certainly the case that constituency pressures do surface in terms of what members demand to consider on the floor of the House and the more that business is raised with members -- European directives and European legislation -- the more likely it is that members will be active in that area on the floor and want more opportunities to explore it.
(Mr Cook) We did propose in the Modernisation Committee report that we would welcome shorter debates and more of them. The key here is that I think the public out there would welcome it if we were covering a broader range of issues than we do at the present time. For instance, there are lots of lobby groups, campaigning groups, out there which have a particular issue which they are frustrated about because they cannot get heard on the floor. If we had more half day debates it might be possible for us to accommodate more of those issues. It is quite interesting that when the Opposition decides on its opposition day almost invariably these days it divides it into two half days because you can cover more subjects. I think it works well for the House. At the moment, the government has been inhibited from doing that because quite often when we might wish to offer a half day it is accompanied by a demand that there should be a full day. I would like to escape from that. Frankly, I did think it was a pity that before we rose for the summer there were a couple of occasions when we had a second reading debate which went on for a very short period of time. There was one second reading debate which lasted for 55 minutes for which a whole day had been budgeted. In that particular case it is not surprising that the debate folded relatively early and I think members were entirely proper not to believe that this required the treatment of a full day. It is unfortunate that we were pressurised to allocate a whole day of government time for that issue when we could have done something else as well.
(Mr Cook) No. What I said about that is that if you go down that road you will find that the European standing committees will be whipped with the same rigour as any other standing committee. I am not sure that personally I would welcome that as the outcome. On the question of where we stand in relation to legislation carried within Europe, the question you posed to me earlier was about what happens at the end of that process. At the end of that process, we are legally bound, as is every Member State, and we want every Member State to be legally bound to directives that we have negotiated. That is not to say that in what is quite often a long and tortuous process leading up to that there are not opportunities there for the House of Commons, as other national parliaments, to express a view to influence the negotiating position and therefore to have an impact on the final outcome. That is really where we should focus the input of the House of Commons.
(Mr Cook) I am not quite sure what the problem is that you see with the stability pact.
(Mr Cook) I am not quite sure I follow the example.
(Mr Cook) Because it is inconceivable that the British Parliament could have that power without 14 other national parliaments having that power. In those circumstances that would cumulatively have quite a significant effect on our own exports and our own trade. There would be an enormous number of gains for British business by a situation in which other countries are obliged to follow European law. I would not wish to give them the bolt hole of saying, "All they have to do is to pass a resolution through our Parliament and we have set aside our obligations to British business." You simply cannot pick and choose in this. You are either in the European Union and wanting to have the rules on trade common across the single market or you are not.
(Mr Cook) I am not sure that those two are opposing poles. After all, Parliament provides a process of scrutiny for government legislation, let alone European legislation and the European standing committee is an opportunity for any member of the House to take part in the debate on the European directives. At the point where you are debating it if you have come to the end of the road, the opportunity for further change must be very limited. Do not underrate the extent to which the knowledge a minister may have to go to a standing committee with, stand up in that standing committee and defend what that minister has done. It concentrates the mind of the minister on negotiating the directive at the time, because the minister knows that he or she will be accountable for it on a future date.
(Mr Cook) I think everybody would concede that the fridges story is not a happy story.
(Mr Cook) Nobody of any common sense could dispute that it is better if a committee is drawn from willing volunteers who have a knowledge of the subject, rather than conscripts who are there to make up the numbers. I totally agree with you on that. In fairness to my colleagues in the whips' office, I do think that they, by temperament, would wish to find colleagues who are interested in it. I am not aware, in the context of the European standing committees, of any cause celebre of a colleague who wished to be on it who was prevented from being on it. That is half the problem. Your own report does rather tellingly set out the problem of attendance at some of the European standing committees. The problem that my colleagues in the whips' office tend to find is not that they are keeping out somebody who might be knowledgeable or troublesome; they will probably find somebody who will turn up and take part in it. I regret that but that is where they are at. If there were colleagues out there who wanted to play a part, whips would jump at the chance of putting them on in the knowledge that it is somebody who will turn up.
(Mr Cook) The whips have a wonderful way of selling a proposition. I remember when I was first selected in 1974 Jimmy Hamilton, a Scottish whip, took me aside and said he had a very important role for me to play and a very prestigious committee to go on which turned out to be the committee considering the private Bill on the then proposal for a Channel tunnel. I was locked up in a committee room for three days, for two months, listening to barristers, who only had in common the fact that they were all paid five times more than me, over the different aspects of the private Bill. We had a whole session devoted to the question of when is a lagoon not a lagoon within the meaning of the Safety of Reservoirs Act. Since then, I have had a healthy sense of scepticism when approached by a whip. This place functions partly because the whips do keep the committee sessions working. Ultimately, in the long term, the future of the House of Commons is going to be much more committee based than it has been historically. We are still basically a plenary House of Commons with some committees bolted on. We are a long way away from the situation of some of the newer bodies -- for instance, the Scottish Parliament -- which are basically a committee structure with a plenary session there to take the responses of the committees.
(Mr Cook) On the issue of standing committees, we have recommended that standing committees should not meet during question time or the time that you would normally expect to have the first and therefore the major statement of the day -- namely, between 11.30 and two o'clock. We have not said that to select committees. Select committees remain free to decide themselves when they are going to sit, though in practice they would all avoid the same interval, partly because they themselves wish press attention and they cannot get press attention in competition with question time. Outwith that band of time, I am not sure I would wish to exaggerate the pull of the chamber. As Leader, I frequently drop into the chamber during a debate and I am fortunate in that I have the office probably closest to the Speaker's chair and sometimes I have to go in there. For most of the time outside that interval of question time and statements, you have a chamber which is attended by fewer than 40 people. That still leaves another 610 MPs around to staff committees. Also, if standing committees really want to meet outwith the period when the House of Commons is sitting, it is perfectly possible to have an hour and a half's sitting before 11.30. Although we have tended not to have very early starts in the Commons, which reflect ten o'clock voting or indeed midnight departures, in circumstances in which the House will be rising at seven to seven thirty with some votes, it is not unreasonable to expect some standing committees to sit at ten or even 9.30.
(Mr Cook) My mind is not closed on any issue and I am always happy to revisit questions if they offer a way forward. I am familiar with the argument that is made in your report that, if there were five committees, each member is more likely to be on a committee covering issues in which that member is interested by virtue of the badge of being on an appropriate select committee. I can see the logic of that. There is a degree of gulping among some of my colleagues, particularly those who are responsible for providing a quorum for the standing committee or finding a membership for a standing committee. In circumstances in which they find it hard to scrape together an attendance of three, they are not terribly enthusiastic with the idea of trying to scrape together an attendance of five. I understand the point you are making about interest and motivation but I suspect those who have been responsible for administering the system would wish to see some evidence of motivation before they embarked on a further commitment to have even more committees.
(Mr Cook) I think that is a very fair point. It is a matter not for me as Leader of the House or a matter for the House but a matter for the parties and possibly the parties including our own, to do more to identify a data bank of members who are interested in subsets of the European dimension.
(Mr Cook) It is in the nature of politics or most professions that you can always do more. Maybe the government should do more but I would acquit this government of any charge that it has been in any way negligent or reticent about European issues. Indeed, from the Prime Minister down, it has been a repeated message of this government that Europe is our destiny and the European dimension is very important to our political structures and our political decision making. If I am candid with the Committee, I do tend to find in the business statement that the interest of members has a tendency to track the interest of the press. I am expressing this as delicately as it is possible to do. I think there is a problem. You mentioned other actors in the political sphere. I think there is a problem here in that the British press -- and here perhaps it is different from some of the continental press -- still sees Europe as a matter of grand drama and grand conflict. It does not see Europe as an issue in which there is detailed, serious impact on our domestic affairs from European decision making, which they should pursue. Indeed, it is a well known complaint of colleagues who go to Europe that the best way you can assure total secrecy on what you are doing is to give a press conference in Brussels, because you know perfectly well that the report will definitely be getting back into the British press. We have a distinguished member of the press here. Possibly you should take evidence from him.
(Mr Cook) The Modernisation Committee produced what is a very ambitious package covering a very broad range. I have never pretended it was intended to be comprehensive. There are a number of issues that are not adequately covered in the modernisation report and we do not pretend they were. We simply got to the point where we had such an enormous amount of material and proposals that at some point we had to pull up the drawbridge and get the thing finished. That is without reaching a judgment on other proposals such as your own. Westminster Hall has proved an extremely good, successful experiment and that is why, in the changes last Tuesday, we finally put to rest the experiment and introduced the long, detailed standing orders to make Westminster Hall a permanent feature of our structures in the Commons. It is very popular with members and does attract enormous interest. Interestingly, there are more applications for adjournments for Westminster Hall than there are for adjournment debates on the floor of the House. There are ways in which one can expand that asset to the House and I have already mentioned one which we did put in the modernisation report which is to provide for a question session in Westminster Hall, distinct from the question time we have on the floor, by pursuing cross-cutting themes. I think that could be helpful. In our response to the proposal of the Committee, I would not think it would be fair to say that we were totally negative about that. On the contrary. We recognise that European matters are perfectly competent for Westminster Hall and the Liaison Committee has quite a big say in what issues are debated there by way, for instance, of reports of the select committees. Personally, I am not at all hostile to Westminster Hall having the opportunity to debate European issues. There would be two caveats I would add. The first of those is that, as always, we have to bear in mind the competing interests of different issues for debate. Secondly, there is quite a strong resistance -- and I understand why -- on the part of the Opposition for anything of a legislative character to go to Westminster Hall because they believe that Westminster Hall should retain its deliberative character rather than a legislative character and that obviously has a bearing on what European issues can be taken there.
(Mr Cook) The Modernisation Committee will continue to meet this year and indeed we are meeting in a couple of weeks' time to finalise our programme for the next session. This is a matter which we can consider in the overall totality of Westminster Hall. To summarise my position, I am perfectly sympathetic to the idea that European matters should be debated within Westminster Hall. I think I would probably take some persuading that we need a new, specific mechanism for this because the more new mechanisms we have to determine what happens in Westminster Hall the less flexibility we have over what may be debated there and the greater the pressure on the time that is available for Westminster Hall. The biggest single regret and pressure of my job is that unfortunately time is finite and we cannot please everybody.
(Mr Cook) Subject to correction, I think I am right in saying that on Thursdays Westminster Hall does coincide with the sitting hours of the House. It is not a new principle.
(Mr Cook) Indeed. We specifically recommended, from memory, in our modernisation report that Westminster Hall also should not be sitting during question time or statements so that, as on the Thursday, we meet up until 11.25 and meet thereafter again after two o'clock. I do not think with the generality of Members of Parliament that will necessarily cause too great a conflict. I cannot guarantee that there will never be an occasion when one member may find a conflicting pull on where they wish to be and what they want to contribute to, but that is not a new dilemma for Members of Parliament.
(Mr Cook) I am very pleased to hear of the success of the second meeting of the committee on the Convention because I was very keen that we should get there because it is innovative and breaks the mould of the traditional committee structures within the House. I think we were right to do that in the unusual and different situation in which the House itself has two representatives accountable to the House on the Convention. I would make two observations on the question of a European Grand Committee. The first is I would be slightly hesitant about going down that road while we still have the committee on the Convention because, almost by definition, virtually everybody on the committee on the Convention are the people that you would expect to play an active part on a European Grand Committee, so I think there would need to be a sequential issue there. That takes us through the next couple of years because the IGC will be some time away before we necessarily wind up. It might be logical to think of the committee on the Convention becoming something else after the Convention itself has necessarily wound up. For instance, I would want the House to be fully engaged in the IGC and the outcome of the Convention because the Convention is not an end in itself. The Convention is a preparatory phase. Whether at the end of all of that -- and one may by then be looking at the next Parliament rather than this Parliament -- you set up a European Grand Committee would have to be a judgment on whether there was sufficient interest among members to support such a European Grand Committee. That takes me back to the discussion we have had for much of the past hour, which is how do we motivate members? How do we get members interested? I suppose the judgment we have to make is I can see a case for a European Grand Committee if it provides a forum for an interest in the House, an opportunity for members to express their view and to hold ministers to account. Fine. If, however, the judgment was that it might rather reveal a lack of interest in Europe and a reluctance to attend, we might be wise not to expose ourselves to the criticism that would flow from that.
(Mr Cook) Possibly, but I would not want the participation of MEPs to be dependent on the creation of a grand committee. Indeed, I welcomed the reference in your report that, from time to time, you may want to involve MEPs in discussions about European legislation. I think that is entirely sensible because, after all, the legislative dimension of the European Parliament is a very large element of their work. I myself would be very supportive of more select committees inviting MEPs to join them from time to time to discuss matters of common interest. I think that could be extremely healthy. We in turn are willing to look at ways of making sure that it is easy for MEPs to access the premises and to attend those meetings, if invited to do so. We do need to have a sane, adult, grown up dialogue with our colleagues who are elected from Britain to represent Britain's interests in the European Parliament.
(Mr Cook) We had an extended discussion this morning about the degree of interest among members in European detailed matters. I have to be very careful that I set up structures that respond to the interests of members and release the enthusiasm of members and that we do not end up with a situation in which we set up a structure for which the whips have to dragoon members to attend by the kind of entertaining promises and tricks that we have discussed during the course of our session. There needs to be a felt need for it as well as a job to be done. Secondly, in terms of the accountability of ministers, I would very much welcome a stronger interest by the departmental select committees in the role of holding ministers to account for what they do in Europe. Indeed, I am pleased to say that in their report, in response to the modernisation proposals for select committees, the Liaison Committee has produced a template of core tasks for select committees, in the course of which it does stress the importance of the European dimension of those departments. There is absolutely no reason why departmental select committees should not hear from the departmental minister who has been to Europe about how matters are progressing there over any issue of controversy. Consistent with what I said earlier, about 20/25 per cent of all departmental work now being European driven or European directed, I think there should be more interest shown in Europe by those departmental select committees.
(Mr Cook) That is a very complex contribution with lots of thoughts I want to chase. I am not necessarily convinced that bad news does sell newspapers. In fact, it is striking that virtually all the national newspapers are facing a decline in circulation. The one exception is represented here and I think it is probably fair to say that the FT focuses less on bad news than the other press and there may be a lesson for the rest in that. On the question you raise, it is true that nitty gritty, detailed issues are never going to be matters of mass public concern but that is true of an awful lot of things we do in the Commons necessarily. We are sent here as representatives by constituents to hold the government to account, to pass legislation, and that does involve us in doing lots of things that effectively our constituents subcontract to us, quite rightly, to do. We do not necessarily have the same problem of lack of interest in some of these other areas. To some extent, the word "European" becomes a turn off even although if you say to people, "This is going to be something that will have a real effect on business in your constituency", in the same way as some piece of other secondary legislation in which members might be exercised, possibly we might get the message across. I do not disagree with your bottom line which is that the problem is that lack of interest and enthusiasm and engagement. The problem is not the absence of the structures.
(Mr Cook) I have answered this question twice already and I am running out of new lines.
(Mr Cook) On those matters for which there is a requirement for unanimity, any minister casting their veto or indeed, for that matter, choosing not to exercise their veto is accountable to the House of Commons and can be held to account on the floor, in the select committees and elsewhere for the way in which the minister either exercises or fails to exercise that veto. To put it in perspective, even now, never mind what may come out of the Convention of Europe, 80 per cent of decision making within the Council of Ministers is by majority voting. That is not a statement of the balance within the Treaty where it is very different and more Treaty articles require unanimity by much higher proportions -- still a majority of them, I think. In practice, the issues that come before ministers come before ministers on articles of the Treaty which require majority voting in cases like the single market. My own broad experience is that the veto has never been as much help to Britain as it has been an obstacle to Britain, in that it becomes the basis on which we fail to get the reforms that we want. We saw this two or three times in Nice where, for instance, we sought to secure right of recognition in Germany for qualifications granted in Britain, to which Schroeder applied a veto at Nice, a clear example of the veto getting in the way. We had great difficulty and did not secure as much progress as we would have wished on a common agreement on changes to the trade articles in the Treaty because of French objection on grounds of protectionism which we do not share. On the whole therefore, I am not terribly enthusiastic about more talk of vetos as opposed to trying to find a constructive outcome which will involve compromise. At the end of the day, in my experience, Britain comes out of that well.
(Mr Cook) You would not necessarily have to take the documents out of public business but what you could do is switch off the requirement for a deferred division. The deferred division rule is one that can be put off like the light switch if you wish to and you can vote there and then. You would not have, because it comes on after ten, to defer the vote until the subsequent Wednesday, so if you did find yourself in a tight hole in which you needed a decision that day, there are ways in which you can secure that decision even if you are still debating it, in those days after ten o'clock, the next session after seven.
(Mr Cook) We were not able to reach a final view on that in our last report and we did say in our last report that we would be returning to this issue in the next session. I am very conscious that there is a very large volume of secondary legislation which requires a more systematic approach to scrutiny. The vast majority of it is pretty trivial stuff, important and valuable but not particularly contentious. Indeed, about a third of it relates to speed limits in local areas which was undergoing very exceptional problems. However, we do need some mechanism by which we can reassure ourselves that the small proportion of those which are strategic, controversial, can be adequately scrutinised and the Modernisation Committee at some point in the next year will be returning to this topic.
(Mr Cook) Obviously the more serious the issue and the more this Committee has demonstrated that it attaches seriousness to the question, the more important it is that we do not get into the position of breaching the security of the scrutiny reserve. As we say quite firmly in our response, we recognise the importance of the scrutiny reserve and we wish to observe the scrutiny reserve in all circumstances and give a full explanation in the exceptional circumstances where it cannot be done. Unfortunately, and this is the difficulty, sometimes the timetable on Europe is not in our own hands but we always seek to try and reach a decision within the scrutiny reserve.
(Mr Cook) We certainly would wish to make sure that there is proper opportunity for the House to reach a view within the time available wherever it can be done, and where it cannot be done we accept that there is an obligation on us to provide a full explanation of why.
(Mr Cook) I cannot pretend to strong feelings either way. If the Committee feels strongly on it we can revert to the previous practice but as the guy who is there every week I would not want the Committee to imagine that when I announced them there was rapt attention in the Chamber. We are all professional public speakers. We all can sense when we are carrying our audience with us and when our audience is finding better things to do. I am not sure that I can put my hand on my heart and say that from any of the ones that I have announced there was ever a Member who entered it in his diary in order to go and attend it.
(Mr Cook) There are opportunities of course for those strategic exchanges and indeed we do have in the House every six months a full day's debate on European matters, quite apart from what may be happening in other forums. I think that the strategic debates on Europe are well catered for. What we are trying to grapple with here is something which has been more difficult for the House to come to terms with, namely, the legislative impact of detail from Europe and that we do need to address. We have discussed at some length whether a new structure as a grand committee would help here. I would much rather be appointing a new structure if I felt there was a perceived demand for it rather than trying to put a structure to stimulate a demand.
(Mr Cook) I would certainly regret it if members of the Committee felt that they had been downgraded and I am conscious that there was a degree of controversy about it at the time on which there was discussion. It is plainly an issue which has been sensitive and which by its exploration has perhaps sensitised us should such an issue ever arise again.
(Mr Cook) Thank you very much, Chairman, and if I can help the Committee on a future occasion I am always available.