Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-46)

TUESDAY 25 MARCH 2003

RT HON PETER HAIN, MP AND MR NICK BAIRD

Lord Williamson of Horton

  40. Is the problem not oil and gas resources? We have had attempts by the European Union in the past to establish some role in relation to UK oil and gas resources and it has not succeeded in the past, so it is a problem, I think, which needs keeping an eye on.
  (Peter Hain) Certainly that is something where we continue to resist any attempts to do that.

Lord Neill of Bladen

  41. Can I take you back to a dialogue you were having with Lady Stern about the public's lack of information in general about the EU. I have been very struck, being a member of the Sub-Committee working on the text of this Convention when such chance has come our way and on the Charter of Rights, by the degree of public awareness about any new developments and even amongst lawyers the Charter of Rights is very little known. I wonder if the Government is concerned about this, that the pace is moving very quickly with the meeting at the end of June and the IGC in December, that the pace is quick and it seems to me that the Government ought to be concerned about bringing the public up to speed as best they can. It is difficult, I recognise that, because the topics are difficult and there are amendments coming in all the time, but I do not feel myself that any great effort is being made.
  (Peter Hain) I agree that the public should be kept informed which is why I, for example, took part in an open-and-closed debate in the House of Commons last week on the Convention where some of these issues were discussed in Government time, the second time we have done that and I hope it might be possible to do that again before we get into the end game, so I am very keen that Parliament is fully aware which is why I am at this afternoon's session and the one I am about to go to. I have noted that although Laeken wanted a simpler and clear constitution for Europe, and it is something that I support and I think the final outcome hopefully will be, it is terribly difficult to engage the wider public in a debate which becomes incredibly technical and full of Euro-jargon.

  42. Some of the language is terrible, and "legislative acts" and "non-legislative acts", as defined, are completely nonsensical, and that is the sort of problem that faces the public. It is virtually impossible.
  (Peter Hain) But then the existing treaties which successive governments have happily signed up to, endorsed by Parliament, are full of all that sort of confusion. Well, it is not confusion, but a lack of clarity and accessibility.

Lord Howell of Guildford

  43. Following Lord Neill, if, as quite a lot of people in the Convention have suggested, the new Constitution is to be the ultimate response to rights and source of legitimacy of the Union whereas hitherto that source of legitimacy was the national parliaments and the nation states, is this not in fact, when it comes to presenting it to the public, much the biggest change so far of any kind which has been put forward in all the treaties? Is this not really the big one in the way that all the previous treaties were not?
  (Peter Hain) Do you mean the principle of the new Constitution or the Charter of Rights?

  44. The principle of the new Constitution, its presentation as a source of legitimacy as opposed to the previous source of legitimacy which was the nation states and the national parliaments.
  (Peter Hain) No, I think that provided it is a clear, as we intend it to be in the new Constitution, a clear recognition of the principle that Member States are the source of all European legitimacy ultimately, then I think we can re-entrench and embed that principle in the new Constitution. The new Constitution is for the most part, although there are some important developments such as subsidiarity, for example, clarifying the existing treaties, but I do not think it poses in itself a problem, still less a threat, provided the Member States stay the masters.

Chairman

  45. To end on a slightly light-hearted note, Secretary of State, before you go, I have read that a think-tank, whose name probably usefully eludes me at the moment, has suggested that the best way to have a meaningful Common Foreign and Security Policy which really works would be to collapse the two Permanent Seats of France and Britain in the Security Council into one in the European Union. Would you care to place on record your predictable response to that suggestion?
  (Peter Hain) Yes, we will not accept that, although I am happy for France to give up its seat to the Union!

  46. Secretary of State and Mr Baird, thank you both very, very much indeed for giving us your time and answering our questions so fully in a rather time-limited meeting, but nevertheless a very, very useful one. Thank you very much.
  (Peter Hain) And I look forward to receiving your report.





 
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