The Future of Europe

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Mr. Redwood: Can the noble Lord point to any aspect on which the EU has shown its ability to control money, spend it wisely and deliver a good result for Britain?

Lord Maclennan: I think that I could without a great deal of difficulty. The control of the structural funds, in so far as this country has been concerned with that matter, has been extremely beneficial to some of the more depressed regions. There is a need to consider what should and should not be done in Europe. That is at the heart of the Convention, which is why there is a trade-off between a proper constitutional settlement that sets out, as clearly as may be, the shared competences, and one that abandons the notion that we are on an escalator with ever-closer union as a rather frightening goal. That prospect is frightening because it is uncertain and because to do that would clearly go beyond the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality to which we are attached.

My single emphasis, which I recognise is not that of every member of the Committee, is that there is a need to empower Europe to be effective and to democratise the use of that power.

6.44 pm

Lord Tomlinson: I would like to respond briefly to points raised in the debate. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon produced an interesting list. I should like to tell him and my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly that the shorthand language of collapsing the pillar structure should not, in the context of the Convention, be regarded as synonymous with the abolition of intergovernmentalism. Any detailed examination of the totality of papers reveals that. If it were synonymous, I would share those hon. Members' concerns, but it is not.

The noble Lord Howell spoke about his fears on competences. Although the outcome of the deliberations of the working group on competences—the report—may not fully satisfy the right hon. Member for Wells, I am sure that Lord Howell would find the result profoundly more satisfactory in many respects than the present position.

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The noble Lord Howell and my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly mentioned COSAC. I am always worried when I hear talk about reforming it, especially when qualified majority voting is mentioned as a means of securing decisions. My question is, who on earth is COSAC supposed to influence in respect of decisions? Does it have a role in collective scrutiny? I believe not, so I am not worried about whether it takes decisions. It should be talking shop, so I would prefer to address its abolition rather than reform.

I say to the noble Lord Stoddart that we need to reflect more about Laeken. He spoke about enlargement, but the Laeken declaration was not about that. It was intended to ensure that those involved in the process of enlargement would also be involved in the process of deliberation on the creation of a new treaty with such major new objectives as better connecting Europe with the citizen and with member states.

I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), but I covered his main points earlier. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon spoke about subsidiarity. The key need is to respond to what he criticised—the judicial interpretation—and to make the interpretation of subsidiarity a much more political and less legal question.

Mr. Lilley: What does it mean?

Lord Tomlinson: It means exactly what it says. Words are simple in their simple meaning—[Interruption.] Members should read what it says: perhaps God alone will provide the understanding of it. It is very simple.

On the charter of fundamental rights, surely we all agree that it is crucial to avoid competing sources of jurisprudence.

In conclusion, it was interesting to hear such a diversity of parliamentary views. However, as a member of the Convention, I would welcome a more formalised structure for parliamentary views to be put to it, which would make it easier to say with clarity and certainty, ''These are the views held by national Parliaments.'' That is a deficiency at present, but the Convention itself cannot be held responsible for it.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I have already mentioned my agreement with the hon. Members for Clydesdale and for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) on the inadequacy of the proposals for empowering national Parliaments. We all need collectively to work harder to resolve that. The sheer volume of legislation presents a systemic problem for scrutiny committees. Thus far, however, the proposals do not even offset moves in the other direction—moving more competences upwards to the European Union, particularly in respect of foreign and security policy and justice and home affairs. I know from my working group that there will be proposals to transfer more powers to the Community level.

I listened with great interest to the wise words of my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon. He was partly supported by the hon. Member for Caerphilly, who expressed concerns about a

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wholesale communalisation of these sensitive areas. Doubtless, Governments will say that they have certain safeguards to preserve the intergovernmental nature of some of the policies—in other words to salvage something of the pillared structure, even if it all goes into a single format. However, that is largely wishful thinking; under the Amsterdam treaty, much of the justice and home affairs pillar, particularly asylum and immigration policy, was transferred to the first pillar. The safeguards are being eroded. There is a shared right of initiative between the Commission and member states over these matters of policy, but only for the first five years, so it is almost certain that once these decisions are taken in the first pillar under the Community pillar, all the intergovernmental safeguards will gradually be eroded.

Mr. Redwood: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: If my right hon. Friend will forgive me, I want to make a point with which I think he will agree. I very much respect what he says.

We are dealing particularly with criminal justice matters and with foreign affairs—sensitive political issues that go to the heart of what a nation state is about. We are dealing with the coercive power of the state over voters. Therefore, matters of control, of scrutiny and of accountability are very difficult to judge; we do not even get them right in our own country. The police make mistakes, judges make mistakes, courts make mistakes, but because we have a sense of ownership of our criminal justice system and we feel that we can correct it, the victims, or those who are at the receiving end of mistakes, nevertheless assent to the general structure. All that will go when it is communalised and taken up to the most remote tier of government known to us: European Government level. That is why the sense of alienation will get worse if we transfer these matters to the centre. I hesitate to disagree with my colleagues, all of whom are agreeable; I have far too many arguments with foreign members of the Convention without wishing to dispute with my hon. Friends. However, I must part company with the noble Lord Maclennan on that point.

On Lord Stoddart's point, enlargement is in trouble because Germany is no longer the economic motor of Europe or the paymaster. All previous enlargements have been paid for by German contributions. The German economic miracle is over. Germany is now the victim of the growth and stability pact—what the President of the European Commission calls ''the stupid pact''. Europe has run out of money to bankroll the system. If I understand the noble Lord's point, when bureaucrat systems get into trouble, as I think they will over enlargement or its aftermath, they usually use it as an opportunity further to centralise controls rather than to disperse them democratically.

On the five-point plan for Europe mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon, I will seek to adopt all of them.

Mr. Redwood: To strengthen my right hon. Friend's point about the Home Office pillar, does a European arrest warrant with 32 offences not completely blow

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that pillar away and make a European criminal jurisdiction?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Yes, that is right. We saw how the press treated the issue of the plane-spotters in Greece. Such things will become an almost weekly occurrence if British citizens are extradited for crimes that are not necessarily crimes in this country. That makes my point about the sense of remoteness and alienation, which will be compounded if we communalise these sensitive issues.

6.55 pm

Ms Stuart: Anyone who has listened to the debate so far will agree that the views in the House are varied, as are those of the representatives here. I hope that any Member of either House will find that at least one of us will represent their view. That is important.

I assure the right hon. Member for Wokingham that I not only occasionally scatter British leaves on the track, but I scatter them with the best native Bavarian accent, which is even more effective. Fears about the train may be unfounded. We have had much discussion about the collapsing of the pillar structure, along with demands that we speak in a language that will be understood outside the Committee. I assure hon. Members that if anybody outside listened to us they would think that there had been a small earthquake in Athens, rather than understanding the real meaning.

The real meaning is that, on occasions, the method of decision taking is intergovernmental. A clear distinction will emerge from the Convention on how decisions can be taken, and which areas will be subject to which decision-taking processes. The Convention is not full of rabid federalists. That was rather to my surprise, as I was expecting to find more. The federalists are as much in a minority as the total intergovernmentalists. The majority view is that we need to rationalise the process of decision taking. Hardly anyone suggests that areas such as defence or crime should be anything other than intergovernmental. Although that will be proposed by some, it does not reflect the main view.

I believe that the debate about large and small is phoney.

 
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Prepared 23 October 2002