The Future of Europe

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Roger Casale: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way on the point of legal personality. He is arguing that the European Union should not be taking on a legal personality, but he has been saying for years that it already has a legal personality. Is it not the case that, in matters such as trade, the legal personality exists and, rightly so? However, it does not exist in respect of foreign and security policies, nor should it. Has not the right balance been struck? Does it not provide benefits? How can the hon. Gentleman say, on the one hand, that the European Union has a legal personality but, on the other hand, argue that it should not have one in the future?

Mr. Cash: I certainly do not want to enter a protracted debate on that issue, save only to say that there is a distinction under—I think—article 2(a)(i) of the European Community treaty between a legal personality that is established with respect to the European Community and the fact that, contrary to what Lord Maclennan said, there is no established legal personality with respect to the expert witnesses, whose names he will no doubt supply, and the legal personality of the European Union. An important point is buttressed by the other assertions under the system, which is that there should be a constitutional treaty or arrangement and a fusion of the pillars. Throw those into a pot and it is game, set and match—I referred to that when replying to Lord Maclennan. Such matters are serious. The Philadelphia convention of 1787 was a far more worthy body than the Convention. It did not set out with preconceptions. It led to some vigorous debates and I have no doubt that it will be seen to be more impressive in its analysis of matters than the Convention.

I was very enthusiastic about the fact that our European Scrutiny Committee produced a good

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report. However, in case anyone gets too carried away about that, I should add that I tabled 158 amendments to that report, and produced a short minority report to go with it. The principles that lay behind the report led me to do that; it was not that I disagreed with its thrust, but the fact that I had to ask, ''What are we going to do if we want the national Parliaments to be in the driving seat?'' That is directly relevant to the questions that this Convention raises.

I am grateful to the other Committee members for not taking too much umbrage at the points I was making, even though they took up much of their time. They did not take umbrage because they knew that I was trying to be practical. I have never argued for withdrawal. The Minister for Europe summed up my argument today: he said that he wanted repatriation in principle—that he did not want to get into specifics, but that he wanted it in principle. The Committee said that the words ''ever closer union'' must be taken out of the treaties: it said that we want national accountability and national democracy, and that that must be the bedrock of the EU.

However, it is no good saying that in a general way; we must show how it will be done. Therefore, we must tackle the question of the acquis communautaire—as I have so often argued. We must not respect it, as the Laeken declaration—which is the basis of this Convention—states. We must examine it, and have the political will to make the changes that are necessary to reduce the amount of power that has already been extended.

We must also be clear about the importance of political will. Ultimately, that is where this matter will be resolved. We can argue for hours in conventions and committee meetings about whether we should go this way or that, but ultimately our responsibility is to the people who have elected us to this House. They go down to their village halls to cast their votes. This is a matter of incredible importance, for which people have fought and died all over Europe, and I believe that this Convention will completely fail in its objectives if it does not muster the political will to deliver democracy at that level—at the grassroots. I fear that that is not what will happen. I urge our representatives to go back to that Convention with those thoughts in mind.

Several hon. Members rose—

The Chairman: Order. I remind the Committee that we have barely 32 minutes left for general discussion, prior to the referral to the representatives.

9.32 pm

Mr. Connarty: Thank you, Mr. Cook. I am conscious of that fact. I thank the House authorities for constructing this Committee in which we are able to hear the members of the Convention, and I welcome the fact that Members of the House of Lords were enthusiastic in their attendance.

I am not a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and it would have been beneficial to me if members of that Committee had put more questions, because then I might have got some impression of the angle at which they are coming at this Convention. I am a member of the European Scrutiny Committee,

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which has paid great attention to it; we have produced a report and interrogated Ministers—in fact, we even interrogated our parliamentary representatives on one occasion. I am particularly grateful to the substitute member, Lord Maclennan, as well as to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston and the right hon. Member for Wells, for attending.

A few things stand out from the question and answer session that should be taken on board by our representatives. First, they should not compare themselves to the 1787 convention that was referred to by the hon. Member for Stone, because the French revolution of 1789 followed two years later. That was a different period: we are not involved in such a blood-thirsty enterprise. This is a more balanced exercise, and I hope that they will respond to it in a proper spirit.

On the general question of subsidiarity, I have serious concerns. It appears as though, because Members of European Parliament may have set their face against the idea of a second chamber, they have conditioned themselves against any subsidiarity that suggests that the construct they have put together—the co-decision making of the Council and the European Parliament—would be diluted if anything were passed back down to the level at which it should properly be carried out. By that I mean the level of the nation state and, I seriously suggest, the sub-nation state if, like the Scottish Parliament, a sub-nation state body has the responsibility of legislating for European directives. That is an issue to be discussed in the context of subsidiarity.

The Scottish Parliament must draw up laws in Scotland for devolved matters covered by directives. It is an open question—and the Scrutiny Committee's report perhaps opened the door a little further so that people can see the light coming in—as to whether it might be sensible for the Scottish Executive and civil servants to have privileged access to the Commission and those who put together the directives. That way, when the Scottish Executive legislates, it will do so using full knowledge, and not knowledge filtered through the UK civil service. I am not saying that that is the conclusion that will be reached, but it is certainly one that has many strong attractions for me at the moment.

I find what has been said slightly confusing, because we do not really have a UK parliamentary delegation, in which hon. Members are out there on the floor trying to express the view of the UK Parliament. The Conservative member of the delegation, who was chosen by the Conservative party from those available to it, has been putting across a firm view about the future of the European Union that I find quite extreme.

Mr. Cash: Perhaps I ought to mention that the Conservative party did not use whipping or anything of that kind when electing my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells. He was elected in a free vote that was open to members of the parliamentary party. My right hon. Friend can speak for himself, but I should say that the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) knows the divisions in the Conservative party on the subject. He can take it that my right hon.

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Friend the Member for Wells has full authority to speak on behalf of the party, and need not have regard to the fact that he was voted in by a majority.

Mr. Connarty: That is a very interesting insight into the democratic processes of the parliamentary Conservative party. My point, as Hansard will show, is that some of the views that the right hon. Member for Wells holds strongly—and I respect him for it—were expressed in the original statement. He basically suggested not amendment or improvement, but a dismantling of the European Union as we know it. I think that that is quite an extreme view, although I may have a jaundiced view of it, having heard it repeated by the hon. Member for Stone time and again as we wandered around the accession countries.

Scrutiny and accountability must be markedly improved if we are ever to reconnect with the people who sent us here. We lose credibility over matters such as the refrigerator mountain and the directive on which I questioned the Minister today, which, if put into law, will stop people using food supplements and herbal medicines. The vast majority of people think that that is a subsidiarity matter, and an issue for the UK Parliament, but it has been directed from Europe. I see so many notes expressing worry that the praesidium might, after all talk is done, turn out a document that we will have to rubber-stamp or to which we will have to make a few minor amendments.

If the process does not come from the bottom up, and if all the civic and other groups are just window dressing, we will have a much more jaundiced view of what is going on in Europe, and the oligarchy will continue to rule, instead of the democrats telling the oligarchy that it is time to move aside and deciding the programme for the future of Europe.

The Chairman: Order. Perhaps I ought now to make a point that I was saving for the end of the sitting. I have deliberately been lenient this evening in not insisting, as I should have done, on the use of constituencies rather than names. I allowed that because it is a mixed meeting of both Commons and Lords. It is probably appropriate to say that right hon. and hon. Members of the Commons should recall that we refer to our colleagues by the name of their constituency. To help with that, we have an aide memoire that is easy to read. I call Lord Howell.

9.19 pm

 
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Prepared 16 July 2002