The Future of Europe

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Angus Robertson: I must put on record my thanks to the members of the UK parliamentary team taking part in the Convention.

I shall confine my comments to the notion of decentralisation, which seems to stop at the level of the member state. I have already mentioned that the UK team and other members of the Committee will be aware of the serious disappointment in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that those Parliaments and assemblies do not have direct representation on the UK delegation. Some members of the Committee may not understand why that is so. Consider the powers devolved, such as agriculture, fisheries, justice, environment and transport. They are all matters devolved to the Scottish Parliament, so this House has no role or say in them whatever.

The lack of such representation in the UK parliamentary delegation on the Convention therefore seems a curiosity. Plenty of interest in the subject had been articulated in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which explains the great disappointment that so little of what many people, including the Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell, had hoped would come out of the Convention is coming to pass.

It is disappointing that the so-called constitutional regions have been played down in the formation and output of the Convention's working groups, and that the claims of a grand new place for Scotland in the new EU are unlikely to be fulfilled. For the sake of scrutiny and transparency, I would like to repeat some questions that I asked earlier, to which I did not receive a direct answer. Have either of the UK's

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parliamentary representatives—full members—argued for enhanced scrutiny powers at a sub-state level during the proceedings of the Convention so far? Have either of them argued for the likes of Scotland to have direct access to the European Court of Justice?

I welcome the moves in the Convention to reform the Council. I do not agree with the right hon. Member for Wells, who claimed that there was political consensus in the UK against a constitution. I speak as a representative of the main opposition party in Scotland. We have always been in favour of a constitution. We would welcome it, whether in the form of a treaty or a full constitutional setting within the EU. We are in favour of the incorporation of the charter of fundamental rights, and we welcome the mechanism to return powers. The news today on the state of the fishing industry in Scotland, with the possibility of up to 20,000 job losses, makes that imperative.

The right hon. Member for Wells painted an interesting picture when he said that the only people not getting more powers were the electorate. So far as I can see it—so far as Scotland is concerned—the only people not getting more powers from the Convention process are those elected by the people to represent them in the key areas with shared sovereignty. He said that national parliamentarians were not even on the pitch. Those elected in Scotland who deal with matters of shared sovereignty are not even in the stadium, let alone next to the pitch.

I wish the members of the UK delegation well, but I hope that they will do their best not to forget the interests of parts of the European Union—throughout it, but including Scotland—whose Governments are closer to the people than those of the member states.

6.33 pm

Mr. Connarty: I am tempted to repeat the previous speaker's worries on Scotland, but I will make only one remark on them. As he knows, the Select Committee on European Scrutiny, on which we both serve, has made several recommendations on how the problem should be dealt with. The Leader of the House will give evidence to the Committee. We should discuss the relationship with UK Ministers rather than Convention representatives.

I endorse everything that the Chairman of that Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale, said on our disappointment about the recommendations on considering subsidiarity and the role of national Parliaments together, which we thought reasonable. That would have been a forward-looking vision, rather than the old vision of clawing back powers and rolling back the tide of the European Union that I have heard from Opposition Members in the past couple of hours. It reminded me of a film I once saw called ''Curse of the Living Dead''. I thought that we were being haunted by creatures from the abyss, rather than looking forward to the future.

In our proposal, we had reasonable expectations that a national Parliament, when it discussed subsidiarity, would be given the ability to wave a red flag. As our Chairman said, it should be able to bite as

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well as bark, though in a positive and supportive way. It could say, ''You're wasting European Union time in trying to reach a pan-European conclusion on the issue, which would be much better dealt with by a national Parliament.'' I come from a place where devolution is ongoing rather than finished, and relationships are still to be worked out between the devolved assemblies and Parliaments in the United Kingdom.

There are some legitimate concerns about the Commission's entering areas that it should not enter. It proposed a budget for Europol, for example. That was a justice and home affairs matter that it wanted to include in its budget and take away from the joint competences of the Parliaments.

I finish with a few words on the report of the European youth convention. I have spoken to some of its members, and I was impressed by the fact that they were looking to the future, not the past. That future could be frightening to some hon. Members. The report says, for example:

    ''After a single market and the euro, it will be time to create a European cultural framework.''

The debates that we are having now are practically debates of the past, because the Convention is looking to a time in the future when there will be a single European view.

The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon might be shocked by the fact that the Convention wants a charter of fundamental rights to be the first chapter of a new European constitution. The youth do not have a fear of a united European view or see it as undermining national identity. They see the two things as being fundamentally united, supportive of each other and complementary, in a way in which even I had not thought of. That is the way in which youth see things.

Mr. Maples: Does the hon. Gentleman really not see a danger in the charter of fundamental rights being justiciable as part of the treaty?

Mr. Connarty: Like everything else, the relationship between the European Union and national Parliaments must be worked out on the basis of negotiation. However, the vision of youth is that that is not a barrier but fundamental to the purpose of unity in the European Union. Their vision is different from ours, in that they are talking not about the old worry of wars to come but about a brighter future to be built together. Their view has much to recommend it.

If we think of our task not as holding on to what we do not want to lose but delivering what youth want to see delivered, we might get on a lot better. We should consider whether the European Union should be given legal personality, for example, because they see that as part of the future that they want to live in. We must not write the new constitution in such hard terms that it is incapable of further revision, because the youth want to see more on the agenda than we are currently discussing. I hope that we can deliver that for them.

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6.37 pm

Mr. Redwood: The Euro train is still rushing through the night, and is clearly going to the terminus in the Euro state. I would like to think that our representatives might cast a few of those British leaves on the line to slow it down a little and make the journey more attractive. Let me suggest, in the two minutes remaining to me, the kind of things that we should do to make the process a little more democratic, fairer and more connected to the realities of our constituents and our country.

First, member states should have the right to propose repeal of European legislation so that we can get some of it off the statute book. Secondly, we should ask for a transfer of competence over important matters such as fishing and farming. The common policies have done enormous damage in our country and it would be much better if those matters were back under British democratic control.

Thirdly, if the Community already has legal personality, it does not need a new convention or treaty to establish it. If it does not have such a legal personality, it is very undesirable that it should. We should reverse the Morton's fork that we have been given this evening—the suggestion that because it has it, it should be given it again.

My fourth point is that we should ask that legitimacy come democratically from member states. Many more things should be done by intergovernmental agreement rather than Commission decisions behind closed doors. Fifthly, we should say that when the Community legislates on behalf of the Community—which I hope that it will do less frequently than it has done—it should do so in the open, before the press and the public, and with someone present who is charged with the task of opposing the proposals democratically. At present, everything is legislated behind closed doors, with no formal opposition.

We should remind people that we need to have national power and control over the big issues, because if one does not have that one has no legitimacy, with the result that, when something goes badly wrong, it will fracture the Union.

6.39 pm

Lord Maclennan: This has been an immensely desirable debate, and I am sure that I speak for all my colleagues in saying how much we value the meetings of the Committee. Various views have been expressed that have kept us on our toes, which is essentially what the process is for.

I listened with interest to several concerns that were expressed by Lord Howell. He spoke about the growing accretion of law under the acquis communautaire. That matter needs to be addressed in ways that would be familiar in the United Kingdom Parliament. Part of the work might be dealt with by consolidation, because some of the legislation is, in a sense, overlapping and needs to be tidied up. Some of the legislation needs to be dealt with in the way that we seek to reform our domestic law: through Law Commission recommendations on areas in which

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technical changes can best be made. Those are the sort of processes that I believe could amplify the work.

The question of whether law should be repealed or simply fall into desuetude should also be faced; a lot of law has fallen effectively into desuetude, as has quite a lot of our own domestic law. Lord Howell spoke about the thrust to decentralise and he was not the only person who did. I think that that ducks the issue—one that I believe that the Convention has to face—that the effectiveness of member states has been tested and found wanting in many of the areas in which the European Union has been granted a competence. Simply redistributing powers in the relevant areas back to member states would be, in a sense, to admit defeat. I am bound to say that I do not think that that is a sensible approach. I think that the reality is that the European Union—

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Prepared 23 October 2002