Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)|
12 JULY 2006
Q60 Mr Cash: Can I ask one last question
on this which I started out on? Minister, it is to get to the
guts of this. There is a real problem here and I expect you really
appreciate it. We govern ourselves in this country by passing
legislation in Parliament which comes from the voters when they
choose Members of Parliament and that forms a government, and
then we have parliamentary debates and decisions on hugely important
matters to the people of this country. You know that, I know it
and we share the concern that it should be right. How on earth
would it be possible for a government to agree to transfer the
decision-making process on matters relating to this particular
issue of judicial and police co-operation with the range that
it involves? How can you possibly have a position of taking account
of views which might be expressed? Why can you not simply say,
"This is something we cannot countenance because it would
mean that decisions were taken in these vital areas which would
be governed by Qualified Majority Voting and, therefore, we know
would not necessarily conform to the views expressed in General
Mr Hoon: I am not conceding for
a moment that the Government have decided to do that.
Q61 Mr Cash: You know the point I
Mr Hoon: In the interest of academic
constitutional debate then the answer is that flows from section
2 of the European Communities Act 1972 agreed by Parliament.
Q62 Mr Cash: It does not because
actually, Minister, if you make a decision in the Council of Ministers
by Qualified Majority Voting then under that section, for which
we, as a party, would want an override, you would not, we would
say that we would disagree with the conclusion which had been
arrived at, but you would say, "We will go along with it".
My real question, however, is whether you will get to the point
of allowing the Council of Ministers to create the situation in
which we would be obliged to implement it under that section 2.
Mr Hoon: Again, I am not suggesting
that we would go along with it. What I am saying is the way in
which European Union law is implemented in this country is as
a result of the European Communities Act passed by Parliament.
Unless and until that Act is repealed, qualified or changed in
some way, that is the mechanism by which these issues are passed
into our law and has been the case since 1 January 1973.
Q63 Mr Cash: You baffle me, Minister,
because you are still not answering the simple question. I am
saying it would not get to that point if we were to exercise the
veto because at the moment it is by unanimity. What I am asking
is whether you can conceive of a situation in which your Government,
you, as Minister for Europe, and the Prime Minister could agree
to take away the sovereign right of the people in this country
to decide as to whether or not it should go to the Council of
Ministers and be decided by Qualified Majority Voting?
Mr Hoon: I had not realised you
were asking such a simple question. I have already answered that
question, and the answer is we will make a judgment in light of
all the factors which the Committee have very helpfully set out
today as to whether or not that was in the best interests of the
people of the United Kingdom. I have made clear in response to
a question from David that I can conceive of circumstances in
which there might be a strong argument on security grounds for
more effective decision-making in this area. That is a matter
which the Government have not yet decided on and have not yet
decided to take forward.
Q64 Michael Connarty: Before we move
on to the next section, can I clarify a fact with you. Is it not
a fact that if justice and home affairs matters are transferred
to Title IV the Commission will then have the sole right of initiative
in JHA European law?
Mr Hoon: We have maintained the
position where first of all that would obviously have to be decided
in the first place by unanimity. We would then have the ability
to opt-in to legislation should we choose to do so. There are
a number of safeguards available to the United Kingdom as a result
of what we have negotiated.
Michael Connarty: We will move on to
the next section. Mr Hoyle?
Mr Hoyle: Something which is dear
to your heart, Minister, is Gibraltar.
Q65 Michael Connarty: Some of us
respect the diligence with which Mr Hoyle pursues the interests
of the voters within the EU!
Mr Hoon: I have always respected
his diligence, Michael.
Q66 Mr Hoyle: We are both aware of
the ridiculous situation that Gibraltar has faced, whether it
is the European Single Sky policy, whether it is a ferry from
Algeciras to Gibraltar or whether it is a Royal Navy shipit
was a cruise ship, it is not quite the case at the moment because
they are easing the tensionthat could not sail from a Spanish
port to Gibraltar or from Gibraltar to Spain directly. This is
in the face of EU rules, it is totally in breach of all agreements,
and we all know, and I have been on the Committee, that all the
time we have draft Community legislation on aviation matters,
which continues to come before us, there is always a provision
suspending its application to Gibraltar. This is absolutely outrageous.
This is Spain's bully-boy tactics. I cannot understand why it
is allowed to continue. I know you have been in very good talks
and that we have almost reached agreement, but the question still
is why on earth is Spain allowed to abuse its position and the
UK Government are doing nothing about it to fight its corner with
Mr Hoon: Michael, Lindsay tabled
an extremely astute question the other day about relations between
the UK, Spain and Gibraltar. I hope I have set out in some considerable
detail a comprehensive answer to that question which I think was
warmly received both in Gibraltar and Spain.
Q67 Mr Hoyle: Absolutely.
Mr Hoon: I hope Lindsay will accept
that answer from me because it was so well received and provides
a platform from which a number of very practical discussions can
now be taken forward. I believe those discussions to be in the
interests of the people of Gibraltar as well as in the interests
of the people of Spain. If that progress can be continued through
the result of excellent work by officials in the Foreign Office
and co-operation with the people of Gibraltar and Spain, I do
think there is an opportunity for creating a much better situation
in Gibraltar and Spain. Therefore, if you will forgive me, Michael,
I will not follow Lindsay's rhetoric in the direction in which
he would like me to go simply because I do believe today we have
a better prospect of a sensible understanding of the situation
which I hope will make some of those criticisms redundant in the
quite near future.
Q68 Mr Hoyle: There is a change of
heart within Madrid, there is not a change of heart within the
regional governments that continue, as you well know, to block
easy access in and out of Gibraltar and have abused their position
at customs. We still come back to the fact which worries meand
we have got the Chief Minister here at 5 o'clock next door and
we will be hearing his views and how he welcomes what you have
done so farand the question still remains, if the talks
are not satisfactory, the UK Government still has, and should
do, to ensure the rights not only of the people of Gibraltar but
that the Single Sky agreement puts travellers from the UK at risk
travelling to Gibraltar. I cannot understand how we can allow
that to continue if these talks fail or something goes wrong.
What can we do to ensure that we still do not get the problem
that we have had right along and that is Spain objecting to any
agreement which includes Gibraltar?
Mr Hoon: I have been to Gibraltar
in recent weeks, therefore I was able to continue my long and
binding friendship with Peter Caruana who has done a tremendous
job on behalf of the people of Gibraltar. We have been involved
in many conversations in the course of the last few weeks. The
issue which you raised, Lindsay, is part of an issue that we are
looking to try and improve the situation. We are still slightly
short of an agreement. If you will forgive me, I do not judge,
given the importance of these discussions, that it would help
anyone for me to comment directly on the question at this point.
All I can say is there is real progress. The question which I
answered that you tabled demonstrates that progress. I hope that
when I come back, if I have the opportunity, Chairman, to do so,
I will be able to report on a very positive conclusion of the
discussion we have been having. There has been real progress and
at this stage I do not want to jeopardise that progress by responding
directly to the points which Lindsay raises.
Q69 Mr Hoyle: If it did go ahead,
would you review the situation where Gibraltar has been excluded?
Mr Hoon: I am not prepared to
contemplate failure at this stage.
Q70 Mr Hoyle: It is not a failure,
it is just a matter of would you review it?
Mr Hoon: What I am saying is I
believe we have an opportunity to change the nature of the relationship
for all time between Spain and Gibraltar. That is such a prize
that I think many things can then flow from an easier relationship
and that is so important, therefore many of the things you are
raising as practical problems I hope can be resolved in the light
of that better relationship.
Mr Hoyle: A question to Michael then.
Would you ensure if something did go wrong that we will have an
early meeting with the Minister in order to discuss Gibraltar?
Michael Connarty: I am sure the
Minister will communicate what he hopes will be his impending
success as soon as it is in writing. Can we move on to the question
Q71 Mr Borrow: Minister, can you
say a few words about the future enlargement of the EU and the
way you see things developing? In particular, there is concern
in respect of the agreed accession of Bulgaria and Romania which
is likely to go ahead irrespective of whether or not both countries
have reached European standards on issues such as criminal justice
because decisions have already been set in train. I would like
you to comment specifically on that, but perhaps you might also
say a few words about the general position.
Mr Hoon: As far as the general
position of enlargement is concerned, the United Kingdom continues
to strongly support enlargement. We believe that it has been of
great benefit to Europe and not only to the countries that have
joined but also to existing Member States to have a larger market
in which to do business and to have countries which respect human
rights, democracy and the rule of law as members. I do not entirely
agree, David, that Bulgaria and Romania will go in irrespective
because there is a further report which we expect from the European
Commission. They produced a report in May setting out some concerns
they had about progress in a number of areas, different for each
country but roughly in the area of justice and dealing particularly
with organised crime. Obviously the Commission will be looking
at those matters again before they produce their further report
which will come to Council, I anticipate, in October. It is not
irrespective, it is a rigorous process which the Commission goes
through. The United Kingdom will obviously want to see satisfactory
answers in the further report from the European Commission in
the light of the criticisms that were made in the previous assessment.
Q72 Michael Connarty: I think the
point being made by Mr Borrow is the longest they can be prevented
from entering is 18 months because they will come in in 2008 regardless.
That is the point. It is not whether they will come in in January
of 2007, but if they still appear not to be up to the acceptable
standard they will come in in 2008.
Mr Hoon: All I am doing is emphasising
what is a rigorous process, a process I have been involved in
in different countries in various ministerial capacities and even
before that other capacities. There is a determined effort by
the European Commission to look across the range of government
activities to ensure that candidate countries satisfy the rules
and requirements of membership of the European Union. If something
was found to be seriously amiss, it is not necessarily the case,
there is still an emergency arrangement that could prevent even
2008 being the date for accession. I do not believe that will
happen. This is not a process which proceeds irrespective of what
happens as the Commission look at the various dossiers which they
have to examine. Therefore, what we will be looking for is both
a sense that the Commission have conducted that examination rigorously
and have provided proper safeguards for existing Member States
to the effect that both Bulgaria and Romania have met the standards
which are required.
Q73 Mr Borrow: One of the concerns
that some of us would have is that however rigorous the Commission
may be in terms of their processes, eventually it is a matter
for the Member States to make the decision. When the 10 came into
the EU a couple of years ago, not all of the entry criteria were
met by all 10 countries, there was a bit of horse trading that
went on in order to ensure that went through. I think certainly
my concern would be if you have got a system in place supposedly
that is independent and rigorous before a country can gain entry
then it is important that Member States, as well as the Commission,
operate that process rigorously and do not allow political horse
trading to subvert the rigorousness of that system itself.
Mr Hoon: I agree.
Q74 Mr Heathcoat-Amory Because no-one
ever dares say "no" to enlargement, the EU has invented
this new jargon about absorption capacity. I notice from the Brussels
Conclusions again that the Commission is to do a report on absorption
capacity which will take into account: " . . . the issue
of present and future perception of enlargement by citizens".
In other words, public opinion is now going to drive this. Given
that a large majority is against Turkey joining in Austria and
France, both of which have been promised referendums, is this
not another example of politicians steaming ahead with ideas and
leaving the public way behind and, therefore, there is a terrible
disillusionment in Turkey in store when they are going to be blocked
by using this absorption capacity idea? Does that worry the British
Government given the view that Turkey's accession is desirable?
Mr Hoon: The phrase "absorption
capacity" has been around for quite a number of years, I
think as long ago as 1999 it was first used in EU text, but I
would be willing to check that. It is not a new idea or a new
concept. Indeed, I am sure members of the Committee will accept
that as a matter of common sense Member States have to consider
whether it is possible for the existing members of the European
Union to absorb new Member States. That is part of a consideration
which already takes place as the various dossiers are examined.
It is not the case that there is a specific agreement as to what
absorption capacity will mean, and that is precisely why there
is to be a further discussion about it in December and why a paper
will be produced by the European Commission. These are matters
which have to be discussed. In terms of public opinion, France
has decided, for the future at any rate, that the question of
membership would be subject to a referendum and, therefore, there
is a direct test of public opinion in France for that purpose.
That is not to say that every country will be expected to follow
France as an example.
Q75 Jim Dobbin: On the Turkish accession,
the Turkish issue, and the tripartite relationship between the
Greek Cypriots, the Turkish Cypriots' co-operation and Turkey
itself, where does the problem lie? Who is at fault here? What
is the relationship like?
Mr Hoon: Sorry, can you repeat
Q76 Jim Dobbin: With the possibility
of Turkey coming in as part of enlargement, these are three neighbours,
who is being obstreperous or difficult?
Mr Hoon: No-one at the moment.
Q77 Michael Connarty: Do you wish
to expand on that?
Mr Hoon: I attended the most recent
General Affairs Council Meeting where the first chapter of the
negotiations in relation to Turkey's accession was both opened
and closed and demonstrated that the process is underway. I accept
that there are some rather more difficult issues than science
and technology in our way in the future, but I think opening accession
negotiations with Turkey last September was a great success for
the European Union. I think it is wholly consistent with long-standing
British foreign policy and therefore something I have strongly
welcomed and continue to do so. I am not suggesting that there
will not be difficulties, there always are difficulties in these
discussions which we will have to overcome, but I am not yet anticipating
what they are.
Q78 Nia Griffith: There are a couple
of issues about Turkey. Obviously when we were there we were very
impressed by the economic progress and their enthusiasm, but there
still seemed to be a stubborn reluctance to recognise the need
for improvement in certain areas, obviously human rights being
the main area. How do you see negotiations proceeding? There was
a feeling that they were being picked on and that we were making
the rules up especially for them and this love of the constitution
which they copied from the Italians in 1924. How do you see progress
with dialogue going forward?
Mr Hoon: It will be the same process
that we were discussing earlier in relation to Romania or Bulgaria.
There will be a range of testsI cannot use a better wordand
respect for human rights and the rule of law will be a key aspect
of that. It is something which, as we have demonstrated very recently,
the European Union takes very seriously and will apply rigorously.
All I would say is we started this process, there are going to
be issues that we will have to discuss directly with Turkey, and
I am sure there will be areas where Turkey will find it difficult.
All candidate countries find it difficult to move their standards
to those of the European Union. Having said that, I think the
objective ultimately of Turkish accession to the European Union
is an important one strategically, economically, and I think politically.
With a country which has a large Muslim population, sees itself
as being Western and sees its institution as being secular, I
think the prospect of Turkish accession is something we should
consider very carefully. There are a number of problems that if
for whatever reason we fail ultimately I think it will make the
position very difficult for the European Union and, therefore,
is why successive governments of the United Kingdom have supported
the Turkish accession.
Q79 Mr David: Obviously Turkey's
accession, if it comes about, is ten, 15 years from now, possibly
more, and it is difficult to predict how things are going to go
exactly. Can I urge the Minister to think aloud? Bearing in mind
that the Enlargement Commissioner has speculated that there might
be a possibility at some time in the future, when it comes to
the sensitive issue of the free movement of labour, that some
sort of special arrangement could be made regarding Turkey. Is
that something which you think could be debated and discussed
at some point in the future?
Mr Hoon: First of all, I would
not want any suggestion of silence on my part to suggest that
I am agreeing to your timetable, so I do not think it is sensible
at this stage at the start of negotiations to be putting a timetable
upon them. What we have always done in relation to the process
of opening our market is look at the best interests of the British
economy at the time as well as obviously whatever legal obligations
we have. The question of accession has been separate from the
process by which we have opened up our labour market. If you invited
me to comment on it, I would say that would remain the case with
all new countries because there is a separate process to resolve
1 HC Deb, 4 July 2006, c932W Back