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The Earl of Dartmouth: My Lords, I must apologise for some imprecision of language on my part. There are no European parliamentary constituencies outside the United Kingdom. As a consequence of the Government's legislation, at the United Kingdom European elections in 1999 there will be no parliamentary constituencies here either. In that sense, there are no constituents. There are just a mass of party lists. Hence, there is very little connection between the electors of Europe and the members of the European Parliament.
I wish to resume my theme just for a moment. I shall not detain the House for very long. The other part of what I want to say concerns the responsibility of the European Parliament with regard to some matters that have been brought within its purview by the Treaty of Amsterdam. The veto has been extended primarily by the change in decision making, which is entirely to clarify the way in which it is done. It has also extended into certain areas, one of which is the environment. There must be a strong case for having some qualified majority votes in the area of the environment. Indeed, I found it interesting that earlier in the debate there was passionate argument about the fact that Spain could actually veto a change in the Schengen arrangements on her own because she had managed to have included a clause as regards unanimity. I understood that a number of noble Lords believed passionately in the principle of unanimity. One cannot have it working one way and not another.
In my view--and I shall conclude on this note--there are certain crucial cross-border issues which affect all member states of the European Union. The noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, understood that about the single market. Her Majesty's Government understand that about certain aspects of environmental and social policy. I do not see any great conflict between these two on issues of the kind that go well beyond the scope of any individual national parliament, including our own. It must be right and proper that there should be a straightforward, transparent and democratic decision-making structure.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, when the Minister replies can he say a word about the Conference of European Affairs Committees which is mentioned in the protocol in the treaty? During the previous parliament there was a good deal of debate about the way that representatives from these committees from the national parliaments, which included both Houses in our case, could, when meeting together, exert some kind of linkage or influence on the proceedings of the European
It was rightly pointed out--as indeed it was pointed out during debates in your Lordships' House this very Tuesday--that however much scrutiny we have and however detailed our examination of legislative proposals, directives and regulations from the Commission, possibly in this House the real problem is not at the precise legislative stage. The real problem about engaging national parliaments in the European policy-making process lies in the need for national parliaments and their representatives to be more involved in the initial processes which give birth to the Commission recommendations to the Council of Ministers and to the regulations and directives which sometimes descend on a surprised House of Commons or your Lordships' House or which, in many cases, bypass the national parliamentary procedures altogether and leap straight from the Commission into our national laws and our statute book.
That is where the "aggro", if I may use that word, arises. It is the feeling that the whole European legislative machine is rolling forward in an unaccountable way. As the noble Baroness reminds us, there is the European Parliament and it has its role to play. But the European Parliament is a curious arrangement. It does not have Ministers to hold to account. Many of the representatives in the parliament do not have constituents. When one asks whether they have constituents and ask what they are saying, they look very surprised and say that they have not arrived by that process.
So, however much one wants to see the European parliamentary system play its part, it cannot really ensure the thread of legitimacy that ought to run from the top; that is, people and voters in the nation states down to the ultimate servants of the system which are the institutions at the bottom. I know that many people like to put that triangle the other way up, but I put it with people at the top. That system cannot ensure that that thread is continuous and legitimacy is maintained. That is why some of us in the previous parliament urged that at least in some areas there was a coming together of the Conference of European Affairs Committees--whether legislative committees or foreign affairs committees was a matter for debate--or other specialist committees in transport and education which might provide a better way for national parliaments to involve themselves in the initial thinking and the initial mixing, long before the cake is baked, when the ideas are put forward which subsequently lead to legislation. It would be very good if the Minister could say more on that subject which is mentioned in detail in the Amsterdam Treaty.
Earl Russell: My Lords, perhaps I may add a short footnote to the speech of my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby. I agree with every word she said. What she really brought out is that those who criticise the Bill are making two incompatible objections. On the one hand
I say to the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, who made so notable a maiden speech yesterday, that if he follows proceedings on the European Parliamentary Elections Bill, he may find that we have a little more in common than he believes.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I wish to make a small point which is really a question of elucidation. In the protocol on the role of national parliaments, provision is made for a six-week period between eliciting the proposal and it being adopted. In that time it has to be made available to the European Parliament and the Council. That is excellent. But I cannot understand why, if we regard six weeks as appropriate in such cases, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, is suggesting, in her Amendment No. 16 on parliamentary scrutiny, only 10 working days for a national parliament. Perhaps I have misunderstood something. It seems curious. National parliaments need the time much more because they have to translate the consequences in terms of cost benefit analysis and everything else. I wonder why there are only 10 days for national parliaments whereas there is provision for six weeks for the European Parliament.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, as usual, I listened with great interest to the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. I do not know whether she was here at the time, but I invite her to recall an occasion recently when the member of the Government representing the Home Office was putting forward a Bill through this place for the regulation of the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament. He was doing his very best to prove that Members of the European Parliament are nothing like Members of Parliament as we understand them.
He made a brave point. He said that they did not have contact with constituents to the same degree that we have in elections in this country. He gave them the status of "representatives" rather than legislators. I invite the noble Baroness to consider that and to read the speeches made by the noble Lord who spoke for the Home Office.
I ask her to take into account another factor. It is becoming dangerously easy to equate an election carried out on the basis of party lists as being the same, and carrying the same democratic connotations, as the election of a Member selected by local constituents or the constituency party within the district they hope to represent. I suggest to the noble Baroness and to the House that we are in very considerable danger of equating, in almost precise, meaningful terms, an election on the basis of a party list, particularly where it
It is a long time ago, but when I first joined the Labour Party I went to the occasional summer school organised by the illustrious father of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. He was Sir George Shepherd. I was warned of the dangers of what he described as "democratic centralism". He said, "Bruce, my boy"--because I was young at the time--"that is the doctrine of the Communist Party". What does it mean? It means that the policy is determined at the top and that those below are required not to argue about it but to accept it and propound it. I begin to detect in our affairs in Europe a tendency towards that, too. I detect a tendency for similar institutions to try to pass as here credible examples of "democracies". In the UK, let alone in Europe, I detect a return to Leninism which is dictation of policy from the top with all the rest below in the party requiring to conform.
Under the party list system in the main it is the party machine that is responsible for selection. If an individual is not on the party machine approved list--there have been occasions when I have been dangerously close to going outside it--he does not stand very much chance of getting into Parliament. Yet our Parliament has always been enriched by the degree of independence among its Members.
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