Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380
MONDAY 18 MARCH 2002
WALLACE, QC, MSP, MR
380. These days the process of European legislation
is very complicated. We have the Council of Ministers, and we
have spoken at length about that, but there is also the European
Parliament which has gained increasing powers of co-decision and,
therefore, the role of MEPs is far more significant than it was
before. What relationship does the Scottish Executive have with
(Mr Wallace) I would like to think we have a good
working relationship. The briefings to MEPs are also made available
to our Committee. There is an organisation"organisation"
might put it too stronglyan institution called EMILE, and
do not ask me what it stands for because I will struggle to tell
you, and basically the idea of EMILE, which meets twice a year
at an early stage of a particular Presidency, is that it brings
together the Scottish MEPs, the members of the Scottish Parliament's
European Committee, Scottish members of the Committee of the Regions
and Scottish Ministers. That most recently met on 14 February.
It is an opportunity for an exchange of views, people are able
to flag up particular issues of concern that are coming up. At
the same time if Scottish MEPs write to Ministers on issues that
is given proper attention, as you would expect, as if a Member
of the Scottish Parliament was to write. I think what we have
found in Scotland is that whilst inevitably there are party divisions
this group of eight Scottish MEPs try to work co-operatively as
far as they can. My observation is there is a collective approach
and it is one which we try to support. Certainly in terms of giving
information, if we can give information which they find helpful
in their work as MEPs there is a very strong presumption that
we will give it.
381. Okay. Can I move on to the issue of the
Convention and the future of Europe, something that is already
looming very large. As I understand it, certainly the Scottish
Executive tried to secure some form of representation on the Convention,
if only observer status, but however was not successful in securing
that. How would you see the Scottish Executive having any sort
of influence at all over the deliberations and the conclusions
of the Convention?
(Mr Wallace) I think it is fair to say that the view
taken by the Scottish Executive was what mattered more was our
input, coming on to the second part of your question, than necessarily
seats at the table. As an Executive we only took our seat on the
Committee of the Regions as parliamentarians for the first time
on the very day that it was agreeing who should become observers
and we might have been pushing our luck a bit. We note that Catalonia,
Bavaria, Bologna and Salzburg do not have observer status either.
We think it is far more important that we identify ways of getting
our view fed in. One way will be through the United Kingdom Government.
Peter Hain has expressed, I think he probably expressed it when
he gave evidence to the Parliament's Committee, and has made it
very clear that he is receptive to involving the devolved administrations
in working up what the United Kingdom position will be on a range
of issues, particularly those which are of relevance to the devolved
administrations. I also would point out that the Constitutional
Affairs Committee of the Committee of the Regions, which is the
one that I suspect will strongly influence the position taken
by the formal observers of the Committee of the Regions on the
Convention, that both the First Minister and Councillor Christine
May are on that particular committee and, in addition, there are
the European partners whom we have following on from a number
of initiatives which have involved Scotland with a number of the
other sub-Member State administrations, such as Catalonia, Bavaria,
Bologna, where there is an opportunity for us to get our input
and we would see that as another avenue for putting forward some
of the views that we have been discussing.
382. Will the Scottish Executive be making formal
representations to Peter Hain on their views on issues that they
think should be considered for the Convention? I am thinking of
issues like the size of the Commission, particular questions such
as will the Scottish Executive express a view on the possibility
of a second chamber in the European Union, issues like that? Can
you tell us how you are going to make those views known to the
(Mr Wallace) I am not sure we have yet reached a decision
whether it will be a formal submission as such and, indeed, there
might well be issues which would not necessarily impinge on us
as a devolved administration, but clearly on issues where we do
feel there is some relevance with regard to the issues being discussed
then there are mechanisms for us getting our views across. There
does not necessarily need to be a formal paper that is submitted
but there is a regular dialogue, there is the Joint Ministerial
Committee on Europe which has accepted, and I am now going beyond
confidentiality, in the context of the Convention that there is
a role for the Joint Ministerial Committee on Europe both in terms
of feedback and in terms of input, there is a regular meeting
of officials and, of course, there is MINECOR, apart from the
individual one-to-one between Ministers, myself, the First Minister
and Peter Hain, and indeed I think Jack Straw has given an indication
of a willingness to visit key parts of the United Kingdom as part
of this debate. There are a number of avenues for getting our
view across which may in many respects be more effective actually
than a formal submission. As I say, we have not discounted the
possibility of a formal submission and that is something which
is under active consideration.
383. Deputy First Minister, you gave a long
list of ways you might be able to impact on the Convention. The
one avenue that you did not mention is the fact that there are
two elected Scottish representatives who are part of the Convention
team, namely Sir Professor Neil McCormick MEP and Keith Brown
of Clackmananshire Council. Do you not think that it might be
an idea to work with elected Scottish representatives who are
actually part of the Convention?
(Mr Wallace) I do not have any hang-up at all working
with both them and also Lord McLennan who is substitute for the
UK parliamentary full membership on the Committeehe has
already flagged up a willingness to work with usand John
Little, former Chairman of the Scottish CBI, I understand is an
alternate for the European and Social Committee. I would not wish
to think we would abuse the position at all but Sir John Kerr
is a Scot and I am sure he will be totally neutral as the Secretary
to the Convention. I have no difficulty at all in making sure
that Keith Brown and Neil McCormick are involved in those particular
lines we will be taking.
384. If I can go back to the line that you said
a moment ago. I am a little bit confused because you said that
the important thing about the Convention was not necessarily being
there directly but having influence there. The reason why I am
slightly confused is because the Scottish Executive signed a thing
known as the Liege Resolution in November 2001 in which it is
stated: "the Presidents of the Regions with legislative power
will ask all Governments to include regional representatives in
the national delegations at the Convention", so the Scottish
Executive by signing this, I guess, was pushing to be part of
the UK Member State delegation to the Convention. Can you perhaps
tell the Committee what efforts the Scottish Executive made to
try and gain a place directly through the UK delegation and, seeing
as it did not, were you disappointed?
(Mr Wallace) I think, as you well know, the decision
was taken at Laeken that the direct representation would be one
of Member States and would not extend to sub-Member States so
we were not going to be there because we are not a Member State
and, indeed, the Committee of the Regions has observer status
and not full status. I think people would recognise that to be
manageable the Convention cannot hope to have a representative
from every Member State and from every sub-Member State government,
but given what was agreed at Laeken we are identifying ways in
which the particular issues we want to press can be carried forward.
I am confident that there are a number of these avenues and we
will be pursuing them vigorously.
385. Moving away from the Convention, could
I ask you do you find the Committee of the Regions a useful forum?
(Mr Wallace) As an Executive and a Parliament we have
only just very recently had representation because up until the
new Committee took up office Scotland's representation was at
local government level. In Scotland we have got a balance between
local government and Scottish Parliament and there is one full
member who is a member of the Executive and a substitute member
of the Executive. I think it has certainly got the potential and
it is very useful within the structures of the European Union
to have a body whose primary interest is on the regions of the
European Union. I think it varies from country to country what
the balance is between local government and sub-Member State government.
I also think that there is even greater potential for the Committee
of the Regions. If you are looking at policing subsidiarity and
some of the other things we have been talking about today I do
think that the Committee of the Regions might well have a role
to play in that and, indeed, in terms of the Liege group, which
has slightly expanded now, one of the pieces of work that is currently
being taken forward by that group is how the Committee of the
Regions might be reformed to be more of a focal point for regional
interests within the European Union.
386. So it is too early yet to say how you could
make it more effective?
(Mr Wallace) I do not have a prescription but I think
the fact that there is a body there is something that we can build
on. As I say, there is work being done within the group of sub-Member
States to try and look at what might be done to the Committee
of the Regions.
387. Should there be separate bodies for authorities
with legislative power and those that have not?
(Mr Wallace) I am instinctively against a plethora
of new institutions. I think the reality is, of course, that bodies
with legislative power will be treated differently almost by the
very nature of it because if what we are talking about is implementation
of legislation, earlier notice, earlier involvement, then inevitably
that will apply more to the bodies with legislative power because
these are the bodies which will ultimately have to carry through
the decisions and by the very nature of that it will give them
a status which would not be the same as for those who do not have
that responsibility for actually implementing the legislation.
388. So you do not think that we need separate
bodies, you think it will happen naturally?
(Mr Wallace) I have not got a concluded view on whether
we need separate bodies. I think by the very nature of it it would
happen. As I say, I am slightly worried that if you have too many
bodies they often can lose their focus. It is the first time I
have ever been asked the question. There is no hard and fast view
on it. We want to make sure of the effectiveness of bodies with
legislative power, such as ourselves, that if we have ultimately
got the responsibility for implementing these we do have a better
opportunity than at the moment to try to get in on the ground
floor to try and shape that legislation.
389. Minister, would it be helpful to the Scottish
Executive if the Council of Ministers met in public when legislating?
(Mr Wallace) I think I have already said yes. We do
want to see more, not just to the Scottish Executive, to the Scottish
Parliament, to the Scottish people. I do think we want to see
in its legislative mode the Council of Ministers far more open.
390. Minister can I, on behalf of my colleagues,
thank you very much for coming along to this evidence session
this morning. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have and
my colleagues have. I must congratulate you on your candour in
your answers to the questions. I did note in answer to one of
the technical questions that you did not have a ready answer to,
you were kind enough to say you did not know. I cannot tell you
how refreshing it is to have a Minister who is candid enough to
say "I do not know". It has been very worthwhile and
I am sure it will assist us in preparing our report that will
be published in April. Thank you very much for coming along this
(Mr Wallace) I am conscious I did not
say so at the beginning but I very much welcome the fact that
the Committee is here meeting in Edinburgh and as I am a host,
as it were, in relation to the building can I say you are very
welcome indeed. I have certainly welcomed this exchange and look
forward to your report.
Chairman: Thank you very much.