Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
MP AND MR
TUESDAY 16 JULY
20. I take that as a compliment!
(Peter Hain) It is a supreme compliment; that is why
I always try and prepare diligently for your sittings. We have
also tried to get a wide range of views through regional visits,
as I say, seminars, radio phone-ins and interviews, but the problem
is that, if you called a meeting on a wet night in Dudley on the
future of Europe, I guess the turnout would be quite low!
21. The French National Assembly held a two
day convention for civil society groups last year in preparation
for the Convention. I wonder if the Minister would say if he thinks
such an idea could work in the UK. If something similar were tried
here, would it have Government support?
(Peter Hain) I think it has been important that Parliament's
representatives on the Convention have been able to report back
to Parliament through this new mechanism. I have been discussing
with local governments regarding holding a conference with local
government representatives at some time before the end of the
year to discuss the indications of the future of Europe debate
for local authorities. Civic Society, as you know, had its own
day and a bit at the end of last month in the Convention and there
were many British representatives there. The Foreign Office is
due to open up a website which will promote interaction and debate
for members of the public. I would look at all ideas, providing
they were practical, in a sympathetic way.
22. With regard to National Parliaments, I note
that in the Laeken Declaration, rather patronisingly, it says
that a second question which also relates to democratic legitimacy
involves the role of National Parliaments. We all know that there
are a lot of people at the Convention who, quite frankly, put
much more emphasis on the European Parliament and think the National
Parliaments are really rather an irrelevant and obsolete institution.
However, those of us who know the truth know that that is exactly
the opposite way round and we have produced an excellent report,
which I hope you agree with, regarding the importance of enhancing
the role of National Parliaments. The question that I am particularly
concerned about therefore is in relation to the so-called principle
of subsidiarity and I would be grateful if you would give me one
example, even one example, of any subsidiarity that has been applied
at any point since 1992 in order to give me one indication of
one thing that has been done in that context. What role do you
think the National Parliament should have in enforcing National
Parliaments? Has the Government abandoned support for a second
chamber? Have the Government given any thought as to whether verification
of compliance with subsidiarity should take place at the beginning
or the end of the legislative process? What do you think about
our Committee's suggestion in that excellent report that National
Parliament should refer items of legislation to a subsidiarity
"watchdog" or some other body for examination of compliance
with the principle of subsidiarity? I have to say that I would
disagree with the idea that we should refer it to a watchdog simply
on the grounds that I do not believe subsidiarity is actually
prospectively going to happen as Mr Lamassoure said himself. Lastly,
do the Government have any view as to what additional mechanisms
or procedures should be adopted to enhance the role and influence
of National Parliaments at European level? In other words, in
essence, do you believe that National Parliaments are the key
to the future of democracy in the European Union as we clearly
state in our excellent report?
(Peter Hain) One proposal of which you do not agree
23. No, simply because I do not see any evidence
of subsidiarity. Let us not worry about theological discussions.
The real question is, do you really believe that National Parliaments
are the key to this because, after all, we do actually have occasions
such as this but, in addition to that, all our proceedings are
reported in Hansard and we actually have a genuine democratic
process, despite the whipping system which needs to be reformed.
Do you not agree that really we do represent an objective to which
perhaps other nations might aspire in this convention?
(Peter Hain) Yes, I do. I agree almost entirely with
what you say and I agree that the Committee's report was an excellent
report and I am not courting, as it were, sympathy by saying that.
I genuinely think that some of the ideas you presented were absolutely
in line with our own thinking and were very helpful, not least
in focusing on the importance of subsidiarity and on the fact
that national parliamentarians really are the key body to police
subsidiarity. It has not been effectively policed until now, I
agree with that. It is vital that we reconnect the European Union
institutions with the citizens of Europe and that is one crucial
way in which to do it through national parliamentarians. The idea
of a second chamber as a vehicle comprising representatives of
National Parliaments was one idea suggested by the Prime Minister
two years ago. The important principle he was saying is that national
parliamentarians should police subsidiarity, so he is in agreement
with you and happily with me on that. I think that thinking has
evolved since then and the ideas that the Committee put forward
in this respect are very close to the Government's thinking and
actually, when we have been putting that idea forward, we have
met quite a lot of support amongst other members of the working
group on subsidiarity that I sit on. The other way in which accountability
in the institutions of the citizen is best achieved is through
Member States, through the Council of Ministers, and I was interested
in the proposals you put forward on that. In respect of National
Parliaments, that is the second or first, whichever way you look
at it, form of accountability which I think it is imperative to
ensure we secure.
24. The problemand that is why I produced
a sort of minority report on the Committee's recommendations having
agreed with 85/90 per cent of itis not whether or not you
think it is a good idea, the question is what you do about it
having regard to the construction of treaties and the realities
of institution arrangements. It is actually very difficult if
not impossible to achieve these principles, which we all applaud,
about subsidiarity and
(Peter Hain) No, it is.
25. If I may just finish, unless you actually
give to the National Parliaments and, let us face it, the necessity
of being able to say "no" when a matter of national
vital interest really arises because, if you do not have the ability
to say "no", then, frankly, it is all just a waste of
time and it is just a talking shop. Let us get away from the generalities
and could you be kind enough to answer that question. How do you
manage to give back, quite rightly which you endorse and the Prime
Minister appears to endorse, power to the National Parliaments
in the context of qualified majority voting without enhancing
that by the power of saying "no" when you really mean
(Peter Hain) I do think that National Parliaments
should be given the right in some formthe Committee has
put forward a very interesting proposal which we are looking at
closelyto say "no" if any bit of legislation
has integrated where it should not have done. I thought what was
encouraging about the Laeken Declaration was that, for the first
time, it considered the option of reversing the flow of decision
making to the centre and said that we could consider repatriating
powers to nation states. So, that was a major achievement. I would
see National Parliament as having solved policing powers and subsidiarity.
The real difficulty of COSAC, for example, in its present form,
which, to be perfectly frank, I suppose you could build on, is
that the European Parliament is represented there. European Parliament
is a vested interest as is the European Commission and as is the
Council of Ministers. You could have them making their representations
to any subsidiarity body of national parliamentarians, but I do
not think you can have them actually making decisions.
26. On that very theme, we note that there was
a three day study visit seminar organised by the EPP Members of
the Convention. One of the things they felt very strongly about
when they came back and they held a press conference to tell everyone
was in fact that any subsidiarity question should go to the Court
of Justice. You will have seen in our report that we take the
view that any subsidiarity question should be referred to a political
body, it is quite clearly a political matter rather than a matter
for the Court of Justice. Do the Government concur with our view
or with the view taken by the EPP?
(Peter Hain) We concur very strongly with your view.
That is the position I have argued in the subsidiarity working
group. These are not decisions that should be made by lawyers,
they are decisions that should be made by accountable elected
representatives of National Parliament.
27. You may have covered this point because
I came in after you started. You used the phrase "the British
position" in answer to a question. Is there a simple statement
about the British position or is it more complicated? If it is
simple, can you tell us. If it is complicated, perhaps not.
(Peter Hain) It depends to which issue you are referring.
The British position broadly is that we want to see a Europe more
closely connected to its citizens through National Parliaments
in respect of subsidiarity policing and governments making key
strategic decisions through the Council of Ministers reporting
back to Parliament and being more transparent in the way they
make their decisions. That is the British position. At the same
time, I want a strong Commission. I do not want a weak Commission
because a weak Commission would not have the determination to
act against France for flouting the lifting of the beef ban, for
example. In many respects, you could point to cases in recent
years where the Commission has not been as strong as it should
be in terms of enforcing the rules objectively and impartially.
So, we do not want a weak Commission but we do not want a Commission
either, together with the European Parliament, which is accreting
all the power to themselves when actually the real accountability
that I think people are looking for is their own ministers going
to make decisions, being seen to make decisions and not doing
so in secret, and then being accountable for those decisions to
their parliaments and their publics. That is our vision and that
is our position in a nutshell.
28. I am delighted to hear that there is a convergence
between the Government's view and the view of this Committee about
some of the big strategic issues relating to the future of Europe
and I am sure that is because we both want to see a Europe that
is much stronger in the future and also a stronger European Union,
that is to say an EU which is more effective in terms of its output,
more democratic in terms of input ie more accountable to the citizen.
However, I wonder Minister if you would go further. Do you recognise
that there is not just a convergence but a real complementarity
between, what the Government are putting forward in relation to
reform of the Council of Ministers and what this Committee is
putting forward in relation to enhancing the role of National
Parliament. If we have a European Union in the future where the
role of national governments, through the Council of Ministers,
is greater, then unless we have an enhanced role for the National
Parliaments, the so-called democratic deficit will increase. The
line of accountability for Government Ministers lies through National
Parliaments and, while nobody on this Committee, as far as I know,
is seeking to take away powers from the European Parliament, I
think we must recognise that in relation to holding individual
Government Ministers to account, it is National Parliaments that
have the primary role.
(Peter Hain) I think that is absolutely right. We
want to see a much stronger and more effective Council of Ministers
with the European Council at its head which operates more strategically
and has more of a political grip on the European Union and provides
that focus and that political direction and that is why we have
put forward a whole series of reforms. I was delighted to see
that the Committee's thinking is very much in line with ours in
terms of proper leadership, in terms of the President of the Council
and an end to the rotating presidency system and so on. However,
as you say, the other side of that coin is accountability back
through National Parliament.
Chairman: We may come back to more questions
on the Convention but I want to now come on to asylum and immigration.
29. Cross border patrol and migration of people
is really very high on the agenda. Illegal immigration and the
development of common policies and also attempts to improve the
management of borders where agreements and criteria have been
set. Can you give us some examples of the kind of measures and
positions that the Council envisages taking against countries
which do not co-operate in the joint management of migration flows.
(Peter Hain) First of all, what we did not decide
and what the British Government never intended should be the case
is that there should be sanctions applied to punish poor countries.
That story was hyped up before the Seville Council and was never
really part of our objectives. It would be pretty absurd to try
and do that. What we agreed was that the European Union should
be able to review its relationship with countries which failed
to co-operate in respecting their international obligations to
re-admit migrants who have been smuggled illegally. That is a
question of international obligations. It is really a question
of saying to countries in the process of that review, "Look,
we have a relationship as Europe with you with a lot of development
assistance and trade opportunities that benefit both Europe and
the country concerned and we expect you to, for example, pursue
standards of good governance and, in this instance, to accept
you into national obligations of accepting returns of illegal
Chairman: We will now turn to the reform of
30. At the Council, I and many others think
very disappointingly, was the agreement that Council debates would
be public but would be confined to the co-decision procedure and
indeed, even worse than that, it would only be during the initial
stage of the procedure and at the end. Quite frankly, Minister,
if you applied that to the British Parliament, which after all
is a legislative body as indeed is the Council in this context,
how on earth would you be able to justify it? I am not saying
that this is your personal responsibility because you may disagree
with it, but how on earth did it come about that the opening of
Council meetings to the public when legislating was restricted
to co-decision, and indeed the corollary to that is, what is the
justification for it now that the principle that the Council legislates
in public has indeed been conceded?
(Peter Hain) I agree with you. I think there should
be full transparency. Where the Council is legislating, where
governments are declaring national positions and when they are
speaking to those positions, not when they are negotiating . .
. The sensitivity at Seville was where we did not get completely
what we wanted but we did get, as you say, openness on dossiers
and legislation on dossiers subject to co-decision and that was
a big step forward because that has never been achieved and we
ought to welcome that, but we wanted to go the full hog, subject
to the necessary restriction of excluding the negotiations because
you simply would not get real negotiations, they would take place
in a corridor outside or, as in the United Nations Security Council,
what happens is that there is a separate room alongside where
the really hard negotiation is done in private. So, I am sure
you would accept that proviso. I do not think you can defend the
situation any more whereby the Council and the Council of Ministers
are not transparent. One of the problems of the disconnection
between the citizen and the institutions of Europe is that there
is not transparency and accountability. People do not know how
decisions are made. Issues develop into a morass of EU decision
making and the process is not
31. Could I perhaps offer a thought on that
which is that nobody expects meetings of the Cabinet to be held
in public because that is all part of the position which is adopted
before it is put into the constitutional context where accountability
applies and it is at that point that you have to have the transparency
so that those who would seek to call people to account have a
template against which to ask the right questions.
(Peter Hain) I agree with you which is why I said
I agreed with you, but I would just make this distinction. You
mentioned the British Cabinet and you quite rightly said that
nobody would expect that to operate in anything other than private.
We are talking not about a Government of Europe, we are talking
about an inter-governmental process and that is a very different
32. I think we might disagree about a lot of
(Peter Hain) I do not suppose you are favouring a
Government of Europe any more than I am. We are talking about
an inter-governmental process. In that inter-governmental process
where Ministers or, in the case of the European Council, Heads
of Government arrive for a limited period, a day or a day-and-a-half,
to negotiate big issues, you have to negotiate, although there
is a lot of preparation done, and legislate and declare positions.
That is not the same as having a weekly Cabinet meeting and then
reporting to parliaments. It is a different system. I think there
have to be variations which is why it cannot be transparent 100
per cent of the time, but it should by fully transparent, as I
say, when it is legislating
33. So you are going to continue to press for
(Peter Hain) We are and I have already pressed for
it in the context of the Convention on the Future of Europe and
we are determined to press it fully and I think we will have a
lot of support in doing so.
34. What about a Hansard report in order that
we can actually read it as well as hear the reports if someone
is good enough to come along and tell us?
(Peter Hain) I do not see a problem with that in principle.
It sounds like a remarkably sensible idea, if I may say so.
35. It is concerning me that the Minister is
agreeing greatly with Mr Cash! We have talked about inter-governmental
and so on and repatriation of powers. Which powers do you think
should be repatriated?
(Peter Hain) I think what we need to do is first of
all make sure that we do not get the continued "competence
creep" that we have seen. At the moment, we will consider
powers of themselves. I think the principle of repatriated powers
is the important thing. At the present time, there are no powers
for repatriation at the top of my agenda though, if the Committee
suggested any, I would happily look at them. What I would like
us to do is not go into a straitjacket where you have a catalogue
of competences which means that you can never have flexibility.
For example, if you had asked me a year ago at a hearing like
this whether I would have agreed with a lot of justice and home
affairs measures being put effectively into the first pillar subject
to common policy and communitisation and so on, I would have said
"no", but in the aftermath of the terrorist attack and
some of the things we had to do to get a common arrest warrant
and so on, it has actually been a very sensible way to go, asylum
policy being another example. I think we have to evolve and learn
but I think we also have, in drawing up a new dispensation for
Europe's constitutional arrangements, to be very clear as to what
is a national policy and what is a European policy.
36. I agree with what you are saying, that there
needs to be some flexibility, for example to move things into
the first pillar, but that is moving things
(Peter Hain) That are already in European competence?
37. Yes, in that direction. What I am talking
about is powers and competencies which currently exist. If you
do not mind me saying, I do not think saying that we are for it
in principle and not having in mind any specific examples is a
tenable position. What powers would you like to see repatriated?
Putting forward a principle without any rationale behind that
principle or any example of where that principle would benefit
people is not a beneficial proposition. What examples could you
give the Committee?
(Peter Hain) As I say, what is important is the power
that exists there to do it rather than drawing up a list. I have
not seen a list which I would be particularly impressed by saying
what should be repatriated. I would perhaps make a related point
and that is that the European Union often legislates with a pretty
heavy hand and we are arguing that it should pursue policies with
a lighter touch. It does not always need an all-embracing directive
straitjacket or regulation straitjacket. It could be, as we have
seen on the Lisbon reform agenda, for example, co-ordination of
policy rather than legislating in a very restrictive way, and
maybe legislating on set principles and leaving it to nation states
as to how they implement those.
38. These are treaties that have been agreed
and these are powers that the European Member States have signed
up to. Are you saying now that you want to unravel that process?
(Peter Hain) You are asking me on the one hand do
I want to repatriate any of those powers.
39. Yes; that is unravelling it.
(Peter Hain) I have said that I want the power to
do so should the necessity arise, but if you are asking me do
I have in mind any specific examples, no, I do not at the present
time. What is important is to establish the principle that you
can do so if the situation changes and you decide that is where
you want to go.