WEDNESDAY 6 MARCH 2002

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Members present:

Mr Jimmy Hood, in the Chair
Roger Casale
Mr William Cash
Mr Michael Connarty
Mr Terry Davis
Jim Dobbin
Mr Mark Hendrick
Miss Anne McIntosh
Angus Robertson
Mr Anthony Steen
Mr Bill Tynan

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Memorandum submitted by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Examination of Witnesses

THE RT HON PETER HAIN MP, Minister for Europe, MR NICK BAIRD, Head, European Union Department, and MS CATHERINE ROYLE, Convenor, European Convention Working Group, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, examined.

Chairman

  1. Minister, welcome to the Committee. It is good to have you here. Would you introduce your colleagues before we start?
  2. (Mr Hain) Thanks, Chairman. Nick Baird heads our European Union Department, Internal, and Catherine Royle is the Convenor of our European Convention Working Group, which is a support team supporting my work in the European Convention.

  3. I understand this is your first appearance before us in your role as Minister for Europe.
  4. (Mr Hain) It is.

  5. This evidence session is part of our inquiry into the governance of Europe and we will ask you one or two questions which will help us in preparing that report which we hope to do in April. How likely is it that other heads of state and government will agree to the call from Mr Blair and Mr Schröder for the Council of Ministers to meet in public when legislating?
  6. (Mr Hain) Can I say first of all, Chairman, that I am grateful that you have invited me here to discuss this. I would like to remain in close touch with you during the progress of the Convention. Obviously you are free to ask me to give evidence on any European matters at any time but I do see this as a very important Convention and an opportunity for us to keep in touch with the value from my point of view of getting your views. I think there is a growing recognition that for the Council of Ministers and the European Council itself, when legislating, to continue to do so in secret is simply indefensible. It has been said that the only other legislature in the world that meets in secret is in North Korea and I do not think that is a particularly good model for the European Union to follow. I think there is increasing support for that. For example, I was in Stockholm yesterday talking to the Swedish Foreign Minister and my opposite number, the Europe Minister, and they were both enthusiastic about this idea, as have many other people been.

  7. How would you see it working in practice? We took evidence in Brussels last week and there seemed to be support for the idea that all the Council's business could not be done necessarily in public. A lot of the negotiations and the bilateral discussions would still go on both outside the Council and in private, and it would just be the deciding on the legislation that would be in public. Is that the view of the Government?
  8. (Mr Hain) I would see a distinction being drawn between the negotiating sessions when the hard work gets done on the one hand - and there is no prospect of that being held in public and I do not think anybody would reasonably expect it to be, and if it were to be it would actually happen in the corridor outside - and the legislative role that it plays, not just as it were passing legislation but also recording votes that people were actually voting (where there are votes) and declaring their country's national positions. The great advantage of that would be that European citizens would be able to see their ministers making decisions on their behalf and therefore hold them accountable. That is the democratic accountability that would come with transparency which is a big advantage. Can I add one other advantage, that it has always seemed to me to be a problem that there is no clear identity for the European Union at the intergovernmental level in the way that it operates. For instance, this is not the case with the Security Council. At the United Nations Security Council the cameras are there so that people have an idea what it is and they can see countries declaring their positions, arguing and voting, especially when they are making international law, and performing their legislative role. That is not the case for the European Union. I think there is a big deficit there which this proposal would remedy.

  9. If much of the legislation continued to be referred upwards to the European Council, meeting in private, the impact of the Council meeting in public to legislate would be much reduced. How could this be prevented?
  10. (Mr Hain) The European Council itself would also meet in public when performing that role and that would overcome the problem. Clearly there is a lot of hard negotiating that goes on in the European Council, as in Council of Ministers meetings. Again, the negotiation would be in private but the rest of it would be in public.

  11. Is there any reason why Council documents should not be available in unexpurgated form showing which countries are taking which position?
  12. (Mr Hain) All Council documents?

  13. The minutes.
  14. (Mr Hain) That is something I would happily look at because very often what you find is that nobody will own up to having opposed a decision or having supported a decision. There is a lot of hiding behind other people.

  15. It would also be helpful to us if we are doing pre- and post-Council investigations if ministers would come to tell us one thing is agreed. It would be nice to make sure that they will have done the same thing in the Council.
  16. (Mr Hain) I will certainly look at that carefully. It is not something that I have particularly considered, but I must say that it would be hard to continue to argue that we should not do it.

    Mr Hendrick

  17. Subsidiarity at the moment seems to mean different things to different people. Therefore, I think there is a view that subsidiarity clearly needs to be more precisely defined. Has the Government come up with a more precise definition?
  18. (Mr Hain) No, we have not. The principle that decisions should be made as close to the people as possible is in the European Union treaties. We are very keen advocates of that and indeed got agreement at the Laeken European Summit in December, for the first time, to consider in the context of this European Convention and the following Intergovernmental Conference the repatriation of powers back to national parliaments and national governments. Before the traffic has all been in the other direction. I think that subsidiarity should definitely be at the heart of the European Union and perhaps when we look in the context of the Convention and the subsequent IGC at the way the treaties have been brought together in this very cumbersome fashion, a fashion that is almost unintelligible to the average person, possibly even to the average Member of Parliament and possibly even to the average Europe Minister, that there could be an advantage in simplifying it and in the course of simplification defining subsidiarity in perhaps a clearer fashion.

  19. Is the enforcement of subsidiarity a political matter or a judicial matter? In addition to that, what implications does this have for any enforcement mechanism?
  20. (Mr Hain) If you set out more detailed requirements as to how subsidiarity should be applied then that would strengthen the ability of the European Court of Justice to overturn EU legislation which failed the test. There are a number of ideas here which I think we are going to explore with an open mind. One is that you could have national parliamentarians meeting in a second chamber, which was the Prime Minister's proposal in Warsaw a couple of years ago, having as their main remit the application of subsidiarity, not a standing second chamber but one which would meet when appropriate. That would be as it were the political mechanism for enforcing subsidiarity. The alternative is that you do it legally through the European Court. I have an open mind on that and would welcome the Committee's views on that.

    Roger Casale

  21. Minister, I was delighted to hear you say in response to an earlier question that Britain and Germany would lead on promoting Council meetings in public because more evidence of transparency is the way to have more accountability. It is also important to have accountability by giving European citizens much more purchase on European decision making than they have at the moment, and of course this is one of the points that are being made about subsidiarity as well. I wonder to what extent at the same time as the British Government moves to press for more openness and transparency - you have mentioned the point about a second chamber but there are other ways involving national parliaments as well - you would look to involve national parliamentarians more closely in decision making directly in the Council. We know from our own evidence that Commissioner Barnier has suggested that ministers perhaps have parliamentarians with them sitting at their side at Council meetings so that they can have an input not just from their civil service advisers but also from elected representatives. It is not something I particularly favour but it is something that is being raised. I wonder what your comments are about that. Secondly, and again you have made a point about subsidiarity, we have heard from Jonathan de Harteman and others when taking evidence that European institutions are simply too remote from the European citizen. Not only do national parliaments have a main line of accountability with governments, but we are also much closer to the citizen. There must be ways in which we in our own national parliaments in the work that we already do on European scrutiny can provide that very important link of accountability with European citizens, that is to say, the European citizens in this country, the British citizens, making a relevant link between them and European citizens in decision-making through our own parliament.
  22. (Mr Hain) I certainly have not heard the suggestion for having members of national parliaments sitting alongside ministers. It is a novel idea and I would like to reflect upon that. If you can give me any advice or wisdom that would be welcome.

    Mr Cash

  23. I would love to sit next to you.
  24. (Mr Hain) We would make a great team, Bill. Your point about the remoteness of the European citizen from the institutions is a key one which has really been disturbing me as I have come into the job. There are several things that can be done here. First of all, some good work has already been done. For example, there is a right of public access to documents which came into force in December 2001 and that builds on the work that we did in our Presidency to secure a Council register of documents. Many of these are now available to the public and are on line. The Council does hold at least two public debates per year on the work programmes of the General Affairs Council and the Economic and Financial Affairs Councils. I am not sure that they would make riveting watching for ordinary citizens but that is an advantage. One of the reasons the European Union institutions are seen as a bit remote is that the language used is very impenetrable with a kind of Euro-speak that passes over most people's heads except those involved in the tiny world of Brussels and the expertise provided through committees such as yours. I had a discussion with Jean-Luc Dehaene last week, I think it was, about the way in which the European Convention, on which I represent the Government, can link into civil society. He is establishing a web site through which people will be able to e-mail in their views on the future of Europe and how they think it should be re-designed and that will then be fed into the work of the Convention. That is an open invitation to the citizens of Europe to take part through that process in the future debate of Europe and I think that may help bring it closer. I hope that what might come out of this Convention and the subsequent IGC is a commitment to use simple language. We, for instance, have initiated a process of translating directives into plain language, not giving them the status of legal documents in the process but just simplifying them into plain language. We have boiled down in a Foreign Office leaflet all the treaties of the European Union - it has run into hundreds of pages and millions of words - into 300 words which gives people an idea of what their rights are and what the European Union is all about.

    Mr Steen

  25. As you know, the Conservative Party is a pro-European party but has certain sceptical anxieties about various aspects of various matters. I do call myself one of those who have serious reservations about various aspects of the future of the way Europe is going. One of those is the subsidiarity area. If that could be clarified and each European country knew, and the people knew, that particular areas were the domain of the national parliaments, and certainly that seems to be the view of the Spanish politicians we were speaking to and some others, there would be less scepticism about the future of Europe. I think there is a lot of confusion about this whole idea of subsidiarity. We interpret it as we wish. Some of us think it does not exist and others think it is not defined enough. I am sure that is one of the keys to the future of Europe and going forward with a much greater optimism and constructive approach. That is on the one hand. On the other hand we have now been in Europe for over 25 years and I have always marvelled at the fact that life has not changed that much and that it is still peculiarly British and we still drive on the wrong side as far as the Europeans think. Things really work roughly as they did, as far as I can remember, a quarter of a century ago. I am just therefore wondering what your view is about the extent to which subsidiarity will change things and how far you feel the national parliaments are going to give up more or whether Europe is going to define the very small amount it is going to deal with. It is this question of how big a share of the European Parliament it is going to deal with and how small a share of the national parliaments or vice versa. I have listened to what you have to say, not only here but at very many other places, and I am wondering whether you have clarified your own thinking or the Government's thinking on that area of how far the national parliaments are going to take control of the destiny of their own countries and how far that is going to make a greater clarification for the future of Europe.
  26. (Mr Hain) I will not accept your invitation to debate whether the Conservative Party is a pro-European party or not. I will take your assertion as lying on the table. I do agree with the basic points you are making. I think we need a clearer definition of subsidiarity. My own view is that the decisions should only be made at a European Union level where it is necessary to make them, and where it is not necessary to make them they should be made at the national parliamentary level. On the other hand we have seen developments recently, since September 11, where many issues have had to be dealt with on anti-terrorist measures at an EU level, which I am sure everybody would support because it defends our common security. We cannot as it were be stuck in one position on this. We have to take a practical approach. I am neither a fanatical European nor a sceptical European; I am a practical European, and I think that should govern our approach to things. I think it is worth everybody understanding your point, that we have been in the European Union for 25 years and we are still as British as we always were. The Germans are still as German as they always were, and the French are particularly still as French as they always were. That is what makes Europe such a great place: our diversity enriches us and enriches the whole of Europe. I think that this process of playing around with the European Convention and your participation in it will give greater clarity to it. Specifically on whether the European Parliament should have more powers than the national parliaments, of course the European Parliament does have quite a lot of power already under the Community policies, under the Pillar I areas. There I am using Euro jargon. It has got quite a lot of power and yet we still retain our overall power. The things that have always got to be matters for this Parliament are issues of defence, committing British soldiers to war, for example, taxation, social security and so on. Those are the key issues, along with foreign policy. We have got to have a common foreign policy but ultimately those big decisions are made at the national parliamentary level.

    Mr Cash

  27. In respect of subsidiarity, you said that it should only operate on the basis that that which was most important or necessary should be dealt with at the European level, but of course that begs the question, does it not? The fact is that it is quite clear, and I have argued this for a long time, as you know, that subsidiarity is a con trick. The big stuff is dealt with at the upper level and that is the intention, and the progress towards greater integration, deeper integration, means that more government will take place at the upper level and that is the intention. If, however, the national parliaments, who seem to be losing power inexorably under this process, were to pass, for example, standing orders which said - and in particular of course I am thinking of the United Kingdom Parliament - that where they decided that, irrespective of what the Government was doing, they wished to exercise a veto over the decisions that were being taken at the upper level, would you understand that that was something that they ought to do? Would you resist it? Or would you give it consideration? This entire process that we are going through in this Committee is about democracy and accountability, and if you look at it properly surely you would come to the conclusion that the question of how people vote in a ballot box has to be translated through general elections into decisions that are taken by those people, and if there is no power in the national parliaments to say, "We are not going to allow these decisions to be taken at the upper level", then surely it follows that there ought to be a power of veto for the national parliaments to decide exactly what they want. Why should they not do that?
  28. (Mr Hain) Can I first of all say that I think there is a presumption in some quarters that there is a kind of integrationist plot in Europe that is dragging us in with our eyes closed and is going to hoodwink us all and we are falling over and have lost our Britishness, which, it has been pointed out, has not happened in the last 25 years and is not going to happen. I do not take that view of Europe. I take a very practical view. I see it as sharing sovereignty, giving up some of our sovereignty and sharing it in order to gain greater strength. If I give particular examples, over security matters we have already gained greater strength through being in the European Union. The nations within Europe have fought each other in very warlike terms over the last couple of centuries, more than in any other part of the world. That has not happened since the European Union and its predecessors have been in existence. I think we have gained greater strength; we have gained greater strength for our economy through the increased trade that the single market brings and the jobs and prosperity that result. We have gained greater strength over our environmental standards because pollution knows no national boundaries or frontiers. Sharing sovereignty then gains us greater strength. I think we ought to look at it that way, not that we are losing our ability to be a nation state any more than by participating in NATO we are losing our ability as a nation state to defend ourselves. We are strengthening our ability to defend ourselves. Specifically on the question of the veto, this really would depend on whether we were seeking to veto something that was part of our treaty obligations. If we had agreed to a treaty which had been ratified, as they all have so far been, including the Nice Treaty only a few days ago, ratified by our national parliament, that is part of our treaty obligations. You could not veto that through this House's standing orders or in any other form because you would be in immediate breach of your treaty obligations which would land you presumably either in court or ultimately I wonder whether you would have to face expulsion.

  29. What I am asking about is the question of breaches of subsidiarity. For example, why should not the Government be more effective in preventing breaches of subsidiarity in the Council and, if they are not because they do a deal, which you admitted just now frequently takes place in corridors, the result could be (and often is) that decisions are taken which do breach the subsidiarity rule. Then there is the question of whether it should be dealt with by the court or whether it should be dealt with in the Council. I am simply suggesting that the national parliaments, where there is a breach of subsidiarity, and it is often a matter of interpretation, would then say, "So far and no further. We have decided that we did not want this to be done", and then they would say, "In that case we will pass the appropriate resolution in the House of Commons and we will overturn the decision that has been taken in its applicability to the United Kingdom." I cannot see why we should not do that.
  30. (Mr Hain) You are asking a question in the abstract and I suppose I need to reply in the abstract rather than giving a concrete example. What if another country followed your lead through its own national parliament and decided to veto something that had been agreed by everybody else and was palpably in our interests and self-evidently in the interests of Europe?

  31. This happens in qualified majority voting the whole time.
  32. (Mr Hain) No, it does not. In qualified majority voting there is a democratic decision. There are many instances of qualified majority voting, on environmental standards, on the application of the single market, where it is in our interests not to have a veto, because if we have everybody vetoing everything that did not protect their own vested interests we would never make any progress and the whole thing would grind to a halt.

    Mr Steen

  33. Can I ask one further point on that qualified majority voting? I learned recently, and tell me if I have got this wrong because you have got all the figures and information, that qualified voting in theory is a concept but in practice it hardly ever happens. Is that correct?
  34. (Mr Hain) I think that is right.

  35. Ninety-nine per cent of the decisions of the ministers are by agreement.
  36. (Mr Hain) They are. Something else that you may be interested in is that if you look at the number of times that we have been outvoted in the last few years, and I will happily provide the Committee with the exact facts which are not at my disposal now, France and Germany, for example, have been outvoted far more times than we have. We have been outvoted on only a handful of occasions, but France and Germany over the last few years have been outvoted more times. That is one of the facts of Europe as opposed to one of the myths.

    Miss McIntosh

  37. I listened very carefully to the views the Minister expressed as a pro-European realist. Would he have expressed similar views ten years ago to those which he expressed today, just out of interest? When we were taking evidence from equally distinguished witnesses last week there seemed to be quite a body of opinion that subsidiarity in practice is being applied very differently from how it is imagined it will be applied under the treaties. My concern is that we pride ourselves in this country on not having a written constitution. Is it the Minister's view that what will emerge from the European Convention will be precisely that, a written constitution, under the argument that what we are seeking is a broader, more defined definition of how subsidiarity should work in practice?
  38. (Mr Hain) To pick up some of the previous points, I do think, without repeating myself, that there is an issue here about subsidiarity which needs to be constantly scrutinised and ultimately there needs to be as it were a court of appeal. Whether that court of appeal is through national parliaments meeting in the form of a second chamber, as the Prime Minister suggested, an idea which has not won much support outside the Government, or whether it should be through court action is something for us to discuss and again I would be interested in the Committee's views, Chairman. As regards a constitution, we are opposed to the idea of a European constitution if it became a blueprint for some kind of federal superstate, so those who have that ambition - for instance, the Belgians might - we would flatly oppose. If on the other hand we were talking about simplifying into one really accessible document the tangled web of treaties that govern the European Union and which are not easily accessible, in fact are very impenetrable to the average citizen, if we were talking about assembling the existing treaties, not re-negotiating them but assembling them, in a straightforward and easily digestible form in which subsidiarity itself would be more clearly entrenched and addressed and therefore be more easily scrutinised, that is something we would be very interested in and open to, depending on what was in it and what the ultimate objective of the blueprint was.

  39. What is the difference between that and a written constitution?
  40. (Mr Hain) You mean as far as Britain is concerned or as far as Europe is concerned?

  41. In effective it would be a constitutional treaty, would it not?
  42. (Mr Hain) It would, yes. It would be a re-working of the existing treaties and any amendments that were to be agreed at the IGC into a new treaty. Yes, indeed, it would.

  43. Could I just ask your views now and your views ten years ago?
  44. (Mr Hain) I do not know that I had actually thought about European constitutional matters ten years ago unless you can dig out some paragraph in a book I wrote or whatever. I have always been pro-European. I voted, I think, along with you in the 1975 referendum to stay in the European Union. I think that is right, Bill.

    Mr Cash

  45. I voted yes in 1975. I voted no to European government at Maästricht.
  46. (Mr Hain) So did I, but that is entirely another matter.

    Mr Connarty

  47. I did not intend discussing this but I feel that there are so many things to take up. Looking at the speech made by the Foreign Secretary in The Hague on 21 February, it is quite clear in his statement that he said that action should be taken by the Community only if it could do a better job than the Member States, which we all agree is the concept behind subsidiarity. He then went on to suggest that it might be necessary to have some way of referring what appears to be a breach of that subsidiarity rule to the European Court of Justice. Clearly there is another aspect to how this might be dealt with by having a collection of European scrutiny committees from the European Union meeting together where they have the power to decide that something has been done in breach of that subsidiarity rule because of qualified majority voting and therefore it should be a matter that should only be allowed to go through at European level on a unanimity basis. Later in his speech the Foreign Secretary says: "As both I and my successor as Home Secretary, David Blunkett, have argued, asylum and immigration policy should be conducted more efficiently for all if QMV were the rule. Such a move would basically be in Britain's national interest." My sense of that is that that would not be the feeling of this Parliament or the people of the United Kingdom. That is one area quite clearly where they see unanimity as being a protection for the United Kingdom in a very volatile situation, and we have some very disturbing incidents clearly with people who are seeking asylum in this country, such as the incident that happened at the detention centre recently. There is an example where clearly there would be possibly a different view taken by the people in the country and yet we have a clear message coming out from the executive at Cabinet level of this country that they would give that over to the European Union. Where do you think the resolution of that lies? How do you stand in the debate between favouring either a constitutional court or the European Court of Justice as against a collection of the scrutiny committees of the separate parliaments having the triggering mechanism for a challenge to a breach of subsidiarity? Is it not so fundamental to this debate because people are beginning to worry that there is a European Union legislation procedure out there that has no way of being stopped by their elected parliamentarians here?
  48. (Mr Hain) As between the different options of European scrutiny committees or a court of justice deciding these matters, I think we need to argue these through and we have not taken a final position as a Government on it. We want to hear the argument and we are very interested in any thoughts this Committee has. In respect of the specific issue of asylum, why the Foreign Secretary referred to that is because of our experience of the difficulties of dealing with asylum policy, especially the problem of asylum shopping. This is effectively people crossing the European Union's boundaries somewhere, let us say in southern Europe or eastern Europe, and making their way to St Gatt in order to get through the Channel Tunnel and come here for whatever reason, and thousands of them are attempting to do so. Our thinking is this, that if we had an ability to agree at a Community level an asylum policy that prevented asylum shopping by imposing on each Member State the same obligations of accepting people across their borders and then returning them if they were not genuine political refugees, and if they were to accept the same obligations in respect of social security entitlements and so on, then you would not have a situation where Britain effectively was a soft touch, which is the predicament that both the previous government and ourselves have constantly had to face and it is very difficult. It could well be in our national interest to have that issue decided on a Community basis. It is not something we would have considered a few years ago but it is a question of what is in our national interest. If it is better to deal with this problem of asylum shopping, that everybody makes their way here because we are a magnet for them, by enforcing the same procedures on everybody else, then there could be enormous benefits to us. This is an example of the practical approach that we want to adopt.

    Mr Tynan

  49. I am sure you are not saying that we are a soft touch but we may be perceived as a soft touch, because it is important to make that distinction. How practical is it to allocate powers in each policy area between different levels of government in the EU?
  50. (Mr Hain) You have to look at each area on a case by case, practical basis. Certainly I did not say we were a soft touch. I said we were perceived, particularly by human traffickers, as a soft touch. It is organised criminal activity that is the problem. It has to be looked at in a practical fashion. There are certain fundamentals that I have referred to earlier on: taxation, income taxation, defence, especially committing our soldiers to areas of conflict, and social security matters and so on, that we would want to preserve as matters of national policy.

    Mr Hendrick

  51. The EU's legislative process combines great length with lack of time for scrutiny when it most matters. Do you see difficulty in combining adequate opportunity for scrutiny and at the same time a reasonably rapid legislative process?
  52. (Mr Hain) I know this is a point that has exercised your Committee, Chairman, and I sympathise with you. If I were a member of the Committee I would feel exactly the same way. Since the Amsterdam Treaty where protocol was agreed imposing a six-week minimum for scrutiny on the European Union institutions, we have made some progress. The problem arises at both ends. We have had a spate of recent initiatives on common foreign and security policy, and I know there have been problems with that which you have written to me about, Chairman, and I think our officials are going to meet on 18 April to seek a way forward, and we genuinely want to find a way forward. It is not in my interests as a Minister to have your Committee dissatisfied on this point. We want to be open and accessible to you, and I hope we can agree that. When things have come up quickly and something has had to be done quickly, as we have seen in a number of Third Pillar areas recently following September 11 on anti-terrorist action, that has created the most enormous difficulty for you but that has been in exceptional circumstances. It should not become the norm and as far as we are concerned will not do so. However, yesterday and the day before I visited Denmark and Sweden and they have very interesting scrutiny arrangements. They sit on Fridays, which is not going to be possible - well, certainly not desirable - for members of this House, and I guess not practical. They choose to do that. That puts them in pole position as far as scrutiny is concerned because they can have pre-scrutiny on that basis. Their scrutiny hold over the Swedish Government was explained to me in graphic terms and I am not sure that either of us would want to go down this road. My opposite number, Mr Lars Danielsen(?), explained to me how in the middle of the Nice Treaty negotiations he had an eight-hour telephone conference call in the middle of the night (although not entirely in the middle of the night because eight hours probably would have gone into dawn) with his Scrutiny Committee agreeing the approach that the Government of Sweden was taking. I am not sure that this is a road that either of us would want to go down but it does show how some countries, especially with coalition governments, where it is perhaps more difficult, deal with the matter. There are problems at both ends and we will just have to make it work as best we can.

  53. What is your view on COSAC's suggestion of a minimum of 15 days (or a week in urgent cases) between final agreement of a text in COREPER and a decision in the Council?
  54. (Mr Hain) I am a little unsighted on that suggestion. I do not know whether Nick can help me on this.

    (Mr Baird) It is certainly quite difficult in practice. If you took the terrorism agenda post-September 11, for example, where you have deadlines set by the European Council for agreement very swiftly on legislation, you were in that case having a number of things coming through where the discussion in COREPER and the discussion in Council were necessarily very close together simply to keep up with that deadline. It would be very difficult to set a hard and fast rule in that way without actually making it quite difficult for the UK in negotiating terms at a crucial stage.

    Mr Cash

  55. Chairman, that is an astonishing answer, if I may say, and we had the same when we were over in Brussels the other day from our ambassador. It is this notion that somehow or other convenience for the purposes of the bureaucrats should override the necessity in the democratic and accountable parliament for the parliamentarians to make decisions irrespective of what government may decide to do, because that is the essence of our democratic system. I have to say I am absolutely appalled to hear somebody at such a senior level in the European Department of the Foreign Office trotting out that kind of stuff. It is just not appropriate.
  56. (Mr Hain) But before we all get on our high horses on this, this difficulty has arisen in circumstances where quick decisions are needed. It is not ideal.

  57. But, Minister, -----
  58. (Mr Hain) Could I just finish? In the case, for example, of the anti-terrorist measures, we had to act quickly. It is not something -----

  59. You just shelved it all.
  60. (Mr Hain) It is not something that we want to set a norm on, but where it is absolutely imperative that the European Union acts in our own security interests and our own national interests, I would have thought we could have adopted a practical approach to this. It is not desirable; it is not something we want as a common practice and I do not think that you were suggesting that.

    Chairman

  61. Minister, that is a message that we as a scrutiny committee have to get across to ministers and particularly to departments. All too often they can use the worst case scenario of September 11 to justify a particular action, which we would all understand and sympathise with. My experience, having been on this Committee almost 15 years, is that there is always convenience put before proper scrutiny. It should be the exception and not the rule and that is something that our Committee - and I am saying this to every minister and every department that comes before this Committee - wants to impress on all departments of government, that it should be the exception and not just a cavalier approach to lifting scrutiny reserves. We have decided as a Committee that we are going to be very keen and very strict in pursuing departments who lift scrutiny reserves to ensure that they have a very good reason for doing so. That is a concern that we have to impress on everyone.
  62. (Mr Hain) I respect that, and I listen to it and will seek to do what I can about it. I am glad you mentioned other government departments as well because of course the Cabinet Office has got responsibility for Community policy. We have responsibility for foreign security policy and the Home Office has responsibility for justice and home affairs, so we all have to do it as well as we can.

  63. It is certainly not a problem just within your own Department, Minister, I can assure you. We find the same difficulties in every department and it is a line that we are drawing in the sand.
  64. (Mr Hain) I hear it very loudly and clearly.

    Mr Hendrick

  65. Could I ask finally what justification is there for texts which have been radically amended since they were last scrutinised being put to the Council for agreement without further time for scrutiny, which links in with the previous comment, and should safeguards be put in place to stop this happening, as the Chairman pointed out, except in real emergencies?
  66. (Mr Hain) I think that wherever possible this should not happen. This is a very undesirable practice.

  67. Shall we put safeguards in there to make sure that it does not happen?
  68. (Mr Hain) Safeguards in?

  69. In procedural terms.
  70. (Mr Hain) In this House's rules or do you mean in terms of the European Union's procedural rules?

  71. This House's rules, certainly in terms of this House's relationship with Government.
  72. (Mr Hain) I know that this is a matter that my Home Office ministerial colleague had a discussion with you on in October, about provisional agreements and political agreements. I think there is something that concerned the Committee. My view is that those should be the absolute exceptions and there should be as few exceptions as possible.

  73. So you are saying no safeguards?
  74. (Mr Hain) I would like to know what safeguards actually meant in principle. I think safeguards are a good thing. I would like to know exactly what proposal you have.

  75. I will give you an example. You would perhaps come to the Committee and ask to have a particular matter dealt with as a real emergency and therefore ask this Committee to let you carry on without just going ahead, as the Chairman puts it, in a cavalier fashion.
  76. (Mr Hain) I do not think we ever go ahead in a cavalier fashion. Can I have a look at that? I am not trying to dodge the issue. I would just like to consider the practicalities of it. If I can help I will.

    Mr Connarty

  77. Having jumped in on an earlier question I did not welcome you, Peter. It is good to see you in the job. It is a breath of fresh air and it is good to see someone taking a dynamic stand on matters to do with Europe because that may bridge the gap between the public and the process because they are a bit disengaged. I am going to continue on the scrutiny reserve theme because I noted again in the speech which I referred to that was given by the Foreign Secretary that you did not in fact give any time to talking about the question of scrutiny and whether it fitted in people's perception of Europe as detached from the country. Some of your own answers and some of your own writings on this are quite lengthy but you do not give a great deal of time to looking at scrutiny as one of the problems. The word that was used in one of our evidence sessions to do with some of the departments was actually not "cavalier" but "contempt" because it was felt that the process of using provisional agreements and political agreements and all sorts of other devices basically to agree long before the scrutiny process was finished was in fact a way of treating the scrutiny process with contempt. What can be done short of legislative measures, do you think, to ensure greater respect by the Council for parliamentary scrutiny reserves? In particular, following on the point made by Mr Hendrick, is there any reason why national scrutiny reserves should not be given more force through written Council's procedures, the Council of Europe's procedures, so that except in urgent cases, which you mentioned in relation to September 11, or where parliamentary clearance had been unreasonably delayed, in other words where the fault was on our side as a parliament, decisions could not be taken until those reserves had been lifted?
  78. (Mr Hain) I would like to hear the Committee's ideas on this because there is clearly a problem here. I am very keen to bridge the gap between the citizens of Europe and the institutions of Europe and between this Parliament and the decision-making bodies of Europe, whether that is the Council or where they are acting in an executive role that is the Commission or indeed the European Parliament. I think if that is not done then the whole legitimacy of the European Union is in peril. I am with you in spirit on many of those ideas and if we think that we can better secure national parliamentary rights through changing Council procedures or through putting things in any new treaty, I would happily look at that.

  79. The second point is that the Norton Commission proposed that the only way to do this is by putting it into legislation. Would you also consider that seriously?
  80. (Mr Hain) Yes, I will.

    Mr Tynan

  81. I really think that is the crux of the matter. The problem we see is that there is a mind set among different departments that they can take a decision and say, "Okay; we can go back and say, 'Sorry; we had to take that decision'." If we put a scrutiny reserve on something it is for a very good reason and we would like departments to recognise how justified that is.
  82. (Mr Hain) I understand that and I respect that as well.

    Mr Steen: I would like to turn the question round. I have been one of the spokes who has been saying that there is no point in this Committee existing, there is no point turning up, although we enjoy having Jimmy as Chairman and having the gathering and all the services we get and the papers we get, but if the scrutiny reserve does not actually work we are just whistling in the wind and really we should disband. I think there is a much bigger problem than has been very kindly suggested. I think that if you are running a department, just as the Home Office, you have got an executive job to do and we are just sitting round here being helpful and making comments, but you have got to do a job. You are running a business, the Government business, and we get in the way. I think you are being very charitable in saying, "We will do better and look at this", but I am wondering whether this Committee does get in the way and whether the scrutiny reserve should go and whether the Committee should be disbanded and you just get on with the job.

    Chairman: This is where you need diplomacy.

    Mr Cash

  83. Perhaps some of us might dissociate ourselves from those suggestions.
  84. (Mr Hain) Or even all of it. I have got enough on my plate at the present time, Chairman, without considering any ideas to abolish the European Scrutiny Committee. Seriously, I do think the job you do is important. I am not just saying this because I am being grilled by you. I genuinely do think it is important. Where I think we might need to be a bit more creative is finding ways in which important developments in Europe can be better discussed by Parliament as a whole, because there are big issues that of course we have parliamentary debates and there are statements, people ask questions, but, to be frank, I would guess that the ordinary Member of Parliament is not that engaged in European business and is not following it very closely. I think that is worrying because it is such an important part of our lives and will remain so. If there are any innovative ideas for improving the scrutiny process, which I am genuinely up for; I do not think it is a question of getting in our way, I think it is a question of ensuring that we are an obstacle to Parliament and I think it is really important that we are an obstacle to Parliament and that other Member States have the same attitude and policies, but if there is a way of getting the big debates on Europe, such as the matter that was raised on asylum policy, and just discussing it in a practical fashion, I think it would be better for us all.

    Mr Cash: I think you have raised an incredibly important point and we have debated these matters every number of years, but the question whether or not debates are taken on the floor of the House is an important part of the scrutiny process and I would just like quickly to say that under not only this Government but previous governments there have been difficulties. When this Committee has recommended that there should be a debate on the floor of the House, which is certainly consistent with the line you have just taken, and that we should have a proper, wide-ranging discussion, whether it is on fisheries or matters of very important questions of foreign policy, etc, the Leader of the House has consistently ruled that the matter should be referred to Standing Committee although this Committee has said that it should be on the floor of the House. Could you look at that please because that is a very serious breach of the principle that you have quite rightly enunciated?

    Chairman

  85. I do not know if that is within your responsibilities.
  86. (Mr Hain) I am not sure it is, Chairman.

    Chairman: You are not the Leader of the House.

    Mr Cash

  87. But you did mention the point.
  88. (Mr Hain) I am not sure that it is, Chairman, and I am grateful for your assistance in this matter.

  89. Protection.
  90. (Mr Hain) No, I do not need protection from you, Bill. I was not necessarily saying that it was debates on the floor of the House because, as we both know, through you, Chairman, when we have debates on the floor of the House, with respect to everybody, the same group of people turn up on the Conservative benches and the same group of people turn up on the Labour benches and they are a fairly small group that take an informed interest in Parliament, and I am not sure that that advances clarity to any great extent in dealing with the problem that we are discussing. We just have a problem of ensuring that the average Member of Parliament is aware of what is going on in Europe, how crucial it is, and that therefore their constituents could be aware of what is going on in Europe. That is at the heart of the gap that is opening up between the voters of Europe and the institutions of Europe, I feel, right across the European Union.

    Angus Robertson

  91. Can I add my welcome to the Minister this morning. The Minister will be aware that I have a close interest in how devolved parliaments and authorities are involved within the European Union and the process of European governance. I know the Minister gave evidence to the European Committee of the Scottish Parliament not that long ago. Can I start by asking you what the Government's view is on Mr Lamassoure's proposal in terms of partners of the Union status for sub-Member State authorities with legislative powers? Is the UK Government in favour of that?
  92. (Mr Hain) I have not studied the proposal but I guess this is one of the things that the European Convention will look at the practicalities of. Our own position is very clear. European policy is a reserved matter for this Parliament and for the UK Government. Within that context, as you know, devolved administration ministers have led for the UK one education and health councils even where British Government ministers were not present at these councils and this has been the case for two separate Scottish ministers, in fact.

  93. Three.
  94. (Mr Hain) And devolved administration ministers have spoken, where there is a minister present, but they have not led delegations and Scottish Executive officials have attended council working groups and so on. I think the best way to approach this, and I was in Northern Ireland last week discussing this with the Northern Ireland Executive and the Deputy First Minister, is to work on the basis of partnership. Yes, the concordats set out the exact relationship constitutionally and that is the law and we will abide by that, but we can nevertheless work on the basis of partnership which I sought to do when I gave evidence to the Scottish European committee to which you kindly referred, and thereby overcome perhaps some of the irritations or sensitivities that there could otherwise be on both sides.

  95. You bring up the issue of the concordats which I think is quite important. Do you not think that there is a certain irony that this morning's evidence has been about the watchwords "scrutiny", "transparency", "accountability", "subsidiarity", yet, when it comes to the interaction between the UK Government and the administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, all of the materials covering those inter-relationships are expressly confidential, the UK Government is not in favour of publishing minutes from joint ministerial committees which discuss the inter-relationship between the devolved administrations and the UK Government; yet on the other hand one is arguing for scrutiny, transparency, accountability and subsidiarity at a European level? Do you not think there is a certain inconsistency there?
  96. (Mr Hain) No, I do not, because I think the business of government can only really be conducted on the basis of privacy until there is an obligation, a necessity and a duty to report to the relevant legislature. In the case of the Scottish Executive they would report to the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish European Committee when appropriate, as indeed we do. We are committed as a government to providing devolved administrations with full and comprehensive information as soon as possible on all business within the framework of the European Union which appears to be of likely interest to them. I think that is the way it works; that is the way it is laid down in the concordat and you would have to change that - and I am not sure whether you would manage to assemble a parliamentary majority for doing so - if you were to go down that road.

  97. That was the conclusion of the European Committee's findings on the future of Europe which my party does not have a majority on but there was cross-party consensus in favour of re-working the concordat.
  98. (Mr Hain) I am just making the point that this is for our national Parliament to decide.

  99. Following up on some of the evidence that you gave to the European Committee in the Scottish Parliament, I am intrigued that when you were questioned by my colleague Margaret Macdonald on that Committee you argued very strongly and very persuasively why you should not and would not be the UK Government's representative on the Convention. I wonder what has happened to change that position and whether you have informed the European Committee of the Scottish Parliament why you have changed your mind, and, as a last point, whether the UK Government has replied to the Scottish Executive and CoSLA paper on the future of government which was brought up repeatedly by MSPs of all parties last week because there has not been a reply from the UK Government.
  100. (Mr Hain) I will certainly look at that matter of a reply. The Prime Minister changed my mind. He is quite persuasive at doing this from time to time. When I gave evidence, which I think, and you will correct me if I am wrong, was in October, we were still at the stage when the Convention had not been established. Frankly we were still in the position where we would have preferred that it had not been established and that there was just an IGC, although it looked like being established, and we thought then, and I think that is what I argued, that it would be very difficult for a minister to do it. It is very difficult because I have had to double my workload, which was heavy enough, and re-allocate some responsibilities. Since the Convention has assumed the importance that it has at the Laeken Summit and it became very evident that not only other governments, including the French, were putting their Europe Minister on it, that the Prime Minister took the view that we had to treat it with the utmost seriousness as a Government. Of course we would treat it seriously, but it was that we had to be right at the heart of the decision making and agenda setting for the Convention because otherwise there would be a danger that our argument about the European Union resting on the firm foundation of independent nation states rather than being some kind of federal superstate ambition, could have been challenged and one of my objectives in being there is to make sure that the federal superstate idea remains very deeply in the sand somewhere.

    Jim Dobbin

  101. I have a number of questions for you, Minister, on the reform of the Council. Following enlargement, will the increase in the size of the Council from 15 to perhaps 25 mean a qualitative change in its character, and do you think that qualitative change might make consensus much harder and might probably lead to more voting?
  102. (Mr Hain) I think that it calls into question the whole way the Council has been operating and indeed its relationship with the other European Union institutions. Effectively it was designed at a time when the European Union was six Member States. Now it is 15 and soon within a couple of years, if things go as expected, it will be 25, and I think you are right to ask whether it is workable in its present form. It is right to ask that because we doubt that even now the Council is operating as effectively as it should be in providing the necessary strategic leadership and agenda setting for the work of the European Union and driving the policy forward. We do not think it is doing its job effectively now but the Foreign Secretary put forward a series of ideas and last week the Prime Minister and Chancellor Schröder put a common letter to the Spanish Presidency putting this very clearly on the agenda. Essentially what we think is necessary is that the Council should be better led, that a Presidency system on a six monthly basis, a rotation basis, is not a sensible way to run a European Union of 15, let alone 25. We ought to look at a longer team Presidency approach going over a couple of years. It could be two and a half years so you have two for each length of term. I think that idea is meeting with wide support across the European Union. The essential principle is that governments should remain in the driving seat of policy direction and elected ministers and accountable ministers should be doing that whether at European Council level or at the different Councils of Ministers level.

  103. On the election of the Presidency I have heard a number of people concerned about that and Commissioner Patten at the conference I attended alluded to that as well. As regards the other nation states, has any other nation state come forward with an alternative model?
  104. (Mr Hain) Some nation states - a minority happily - really want the essential decision-making made by the Commission and by the European Parliament. That is not our view. In our view, the Council of Ministers is the representative of sovereign nation states, accountable to their Parliaments, which should be in the driving seat of the European Union, with of course a strong Commission enforcing the rules impartially and taking initiatives where necessary, and of course a European Parliament that is as lively and influential as it is now. We are not suggesting that there should not be any changes on the margin there but the Council of Ministers has got to assume a much more powerful role than it has now. We have put forward a whole agenda for that which I will happily go into.

  105. What is your view of the proposal for the Ministers of Europe to spend more time in Europe? I am not saying that because we want to see less of you here. So that you might be able to offer a more coherent role for the future, a more coherent role for the Council itself.
  106. (Mr Hain) It depends what is meant by that. There is one idea coming forward which I have very severe doubts about and I want to see it tested and explored which is that you have effectively a permanent Council of European Ministers there so that presumably me, or whoever is doing my job at the time, would be based in Brussels, not a prospect I find attractive and not something that I think would be easy for Ministers who are accountable to this Parliament to do. That goes for other European Ministers in my position. Some governments in the European Union have effectively senior officials described as European Ministers, so it would be easy for them to go and live in Brussels, but I am accountable to this Parliament and I have my own constituency to look after as well. I do not know that that would work in that bald form. An alternative formulation put to me recently by one government was that the General Affairs Council should be re-organised, that the Foreign Ministers should have a Foreign Ministers Council and there should be a General Affairs Council dealing with the cross-cutting business of the European Union and effectively preparing for each European Council, and that could well be inhabited by Prime Ministers' representatives who clearly were acting with the authority of the Prime Minister - it could be Europe Ministers or some other species - because that would enable the day-to-day running of the European Union to be given much more clear political and democratically accountable direction. It is not envisaged that that would be permanently sitting. It may be sitting two or three times a month as opposed to the General Affairs Council which sits about once a month at the present time.

    Mr Davis

  107. Could I ask you why you are against the idea that the President of the Commission should be elected by the European Parliament or the people of Europe?
  108. (Mr Hain) It is interesting to note when discussing this idea with those who are in favour of it, as I have done networking around in preparation for the European Convention, that neither camp agrees with each other the camp that favours the European Parliament doing this is bitterly opposed to the idea of the populous of Europe doing it. I am opposed to both because I think that if you had the Commission President elected, it gives that person an authority that could rival the authority of the Council of Ministers, first and foremost. Secondly, I think it misrepresents the role of the Commission. The role of the Commission should primarily be as an executive body, not as a politically constituted body, ensuring that the rules of the European Union and its policies develop in the interests of the whole of the European Union, not in the interests of the particular political formation that will in the case of the European Parliament have propelled that individual into power were the Parliament to elect that person. That is the argument against the European Parliament doing it. The argument against every voter in Europe doing it is again it is a wrong job to consider doing that, any more than Sir Richard Wilson should be elected by the voters of Europe. It is also a question of in a Europe of 25, let's be practical about this, the turn out for European elections was 24 per cent last time in the UK and in many other European countries pretty bad as well. I cannot imagine the residents of Latvia and Cyprus and Portugal and Scotland having collectively the faintest clue who a set of European presidential candidates might be. I therefore think the legitimacy of the whole thing, besides it being the wrong idea in principle and the wrong job to do to be elected, would collapse.

  109. I must tell you, Minister, that similar arguments were put forward against the extension of the franchise in this country. We were all told that we were not able to exercise this function and that it was for our seniors and betters to do it. You do come across in that rather patrician way. Can I come back to the other point you made. You said the Commission is not politically constituted. Do you really mean that?
  110. (Mr Hain) Clearly there are Commissioners there representing governments ---

  111. Political parties indeed. We have a Labour and Conservative Commissioner, we always have had.
  112. (Mr Hain) I will happily discuss Commission reform separately if the Chairman wants me to. We are looking to the future of Europe and I think we should be designing the future of Europe in which the Commission's role is clearly defined as having a strong role but being a role of the executive body of Europe, not the political driver of Europe.

  113. If you believe they should be political eunuchs do you think they should stop attending meetings of political groups in the European Parliament?
  114. (Mr Hain) Not necessarily.

  115. They tend to attend the meetings of their friends, do they not?
  116. (Mr Hain) Before we get on to that let's just discuss what we think the Commission should be doing as opposed to what a Council of Ministers should be doing in a Europe of 25 rather than a Europe of six. That leads us down the road of defining their roles rather differently. I am not going to put a ban on somebody attending a political meeting or not attending a political meeting. In terms of being patrician, we are trying to look at the political architecture of Europe for the foreseeable future and I do not think that electing Presidents of the Commission is where we should be at. Where we should be at is delivering the policies and benefits of the European Union membership more effectively to the citizens of Europe. I honestly do not think that electing a Commission President has anything at all to do with that.

    Chairman: We have loads of questions we would love to have had the time to ask you. There are some issues we may want to write to you for answers on. There is one, the Convention, which we would obviously want to cover for a short period before we bring this evidence session to a close. Mr Connarty?

    Mr Connarty

  117. I think one of the efforts that has been made by the Foreign Secretary in a speech that I keep referring to in The Hague on 21 February 2002 was all about fundamental and key questions. How can we make the EU better understood is one of his first questions. How can we make it more democratically accountable and how can we make it more effective? The question that comes to my mind is how can we make it in any way connect with the people who are not, if I can put it this way, what you would call people who are obsessed with matters to do with legislative processes or government, at any level of government. There is a civil society out there - the people we claim to be speaking for every time we get up and speak in Parliament. Every time we justify our existence it is on behalf, hopefully, of the people who send us here. How can civil society in the United Kingdom be involved in the Convention's work? Some submissions we heard particularly strongly when we have taken evidence is that is what the Convention should be about, not just about governments already having in a sense their legislative agenda or executive agenda or politicians already having a preference for or against any result. How do you think we can do this? We have got four representatives from the Parliament, two from the Upper House and two from this House and yourself on behalf of the Government, but how do we make anything that happens there of any real relevance to people whom we would say we are doing this on behalf of?
  118. (Mr Hain) This is a real issue and it is one we have to try and tackle successfully. One of the Vice Presidents of the Convention Jean-Luc Dehaene explained to me last week how he was setting up a "virtual" civic forum through establishing a web site, with people able to have a dialogue through that, and that the civil forum that has been attached to the Convention would be an opportunity for NGOs and others- social partners, business and trade unions - to feed their ideas through, and I am particularly anxious on behalf of the British Government that the Convention should have an open door attitude to input from civil society. I think that is absolutely crucial.

    Mr Cash: Is it not, Minister --

    Mr Connarty

  119. Can I come back on that. One of the words I was looking for was "anoraks". If you have a Euro anorak combined with an Internet anorak what a combination that must be, that must be one of the saddest societies in the world? Would the Minister see any role, I am thinking here literally on my toes, for himself or in fact maybe this European Scrutiny Committee to somehow try and get out there among the public to link our work and his work with some kind of roving forum where people could come and give their views, not just the people who are already in a sense justifying their existence by having another role in civic society but generally trying to get below that? Have you thought about having a roving forum? Do you think we might go in partnership? I know he expressed some trepidation at the idea of Members of Parliament accompanying you to the Council of Ministers but I am sure the Chairman would be happy to have the Minister accompany us on a roving set of fora around the country on the future of Europe.
  120. (Mr Hain) I will see what invitation comes, if any, to do that. We are planning to establish our own web site on the Convention and that is being designed at the present time. I am open to ideas. I am making a practice of touring the different regions of England and the different nations of the United Kingdom to engage in a dialogue with the citizens. In fact, I was in Northern Ireland this week and I am in Yorkshire later this week. That is part of my process of dialogue.

  121. Are you getting a big audience?
  122. (Mr Hain) It depends. Usually a couple of hundred on each occasion, which is not bad. I try to talk in plain language rather than in Euro-speak. The danger - before Bill comes in and interrupts me, which I am always glad to have happen - is that as a European Minister after a few months in the job you can become a Euro anorak as well so it is something I try to guard against.

    Mr Cash: Just quickly -

    Chairman: There are others who want to come in as well. Mr Robertson?

    Angus Robertson

  123. Something we discussed at length with all of the people we took evidence from in Brussels last week was how can we as democratically elected politicians with responsibility for a constituency and constituents to be part of the on-going debate to try and funnel more than the European anoraks or the Internet fans, to try and reach out more? I was very interested that Sir John Kerr said he would be very interested in coming to Elgin and I would be delighted to invite the Minister to come to Elgin as well if he is roving around various parts of the UK. What I am interested in - and this is a genuine question which I have asked from people in Brussels, I am now asking you and I will ask anybody else - what resources are going to be provided to help foster a real debate with real people? I welcome the internet initiative, I think it is important, but much more needs to be done to connect with people on the ground. I am happy to play a role in it and I know that certainly all of the members of this Committee would be interested in doing so, but without resources and materials (and not simply a web site) that is going to be extremely hard to do. Does the UK Government see it has any role in trying to help support such an initiative?
  124. (Mr Hain) As I have explained, part of my work is to go around the country doing exactly that. I do not want to be negative about what is a good set of ideas that have been put forward, but we have got to be very hard-headed about who would turn up on a wet night to discuss the future of Europe in Neath or any of our constituencies. We have to be hard-headed about this. I do not want to put a downer on it and I will have a look at any good ideas because I genuinely do think there is a job to be done about taking the debate on.

    Chairman

  125. Can I bring this evidence session to a close by asking the last question. We also had the pleasure of taking evidence from Jean-Luc Dehaene last week in Brussels and I personally, and I am sure my colleagues were impressed with the approach he is taking as Vice President particularly in relation to one issue. It is a fear that a lot of us have expressed about the Convention itself - ie, is it going to be the chattering classes talking to the chattering classes about the chattering classes? Are the people who are being sent there being sent there just to represent their executives and although we go through a process nothing much will be done? If the Convention is going to succeed in anything then we have to say to those who are taking on this very, very important role as being members of that Convention to get rid of any perceived ideas that they have and have a genuine debate with people coming from all the diverse parts of the European Union. It is only if we have that genuine debate will the Convention in any way have the chance of being successful. These are the views of Jean-Luc Dehaene. How do you see your role as a Minister? Nobody can disagree with the ambitions of that but how do you see your role as Minister, setting by example, clearing your mind of any preconceived ideas or prejudices (that we all have) to take part in that Convention?
  126. (Mr Hain) We have already through the Foreign Secretary's speech and the things I have said signalled that we are open-minded about this and we want to test the ideas out. For example, we had this discussion about the constitution earlier on. It is not something, frankly, that has been touched with a barge pole previously. But we have got some red lines ---

    Mr Cash: Do they include the acquis communautaire?

    Chairman

  127. Order, order.
  128. (Mr Hain) We have lots of red lines which have to do with our national interests and with our vision of the European Union. On good suggestions that are practical we will enter the debate with an open mind. I think it is important we do that. I think it is also important that we find a way of engaging our Parliament in this. Subjecting myself as a Government Minister to this kind of debate would be good to do from time to time. I do not know what the Foreign Affairs Committee wants to do about it or whether there could be consideration given to ways in which it could be done jointly. It is not really a matter for me. I want to be as open and helpful as I can. Then of course the Parliament's own representatives, both in the Commons and in Lords, and how they report back - these matters have still to be decided.

  129. Minister, thank you very much. You will know that the Committee has already decided that we will take a very close interest in what is happening in the Convention.

(Mr Hain) I welcome that.

Chairman: We will be calling Ministers and those representatives who are on the Convention to have some discussion on it. Thank you very much. You have been very interesting and I am sure we will find some other interesting issues to talk about as the Convention proceeds. Thank you.