Twenty-second Report of the European Scrutiny Committee, Session 2005-06, HC34-xxii, paragraph 1.
Thirty-first Report of the European Scrutiny Committee, Session 2005-06, HC34- xxxi, paragraphs 1 and 30.
Thirty-second Report of the European Scrutiny Committee, Session 2005-06, HC34-xxxii, paragraphs 4 and 5.
Thirty-third Report of the European Scrutiny Committee, Session 2005-06, HC34-xxxiii, paragraph 16.
Thirty-sixth Report of the European Scrutiny Committee, Session 2005-06, HC34-xxxvi, paragraphs 11, 18 and 19.
Thirty-seventh Report of the European Scrutiny Committee, Session 2005-06, HC34-xxxvii, paragraph 49.]
I beg to move,
That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 9390/06, Commission Communication: A Citizens’ Agenda—Delivering Results for Europe: and supports the Government’s view that it welcomes the principles behind ‘A Citizens’ Agenda’ and the Commission’s commitment to taking forward the Hampton Court agenda of delivering concrete results and benefits to EU citizens.
I should like to introduce this debate on the European Commission communication, but before I do so, I thank the European Scrutiny Committee for providing the Government with such an excellent opportunity to elaborate our position on the Commission paper and the other documents tagged to this debate. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) on his election to the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee. I know from previous Committee sittings that he is an extremely effective and knowledgeable member of the Committee, and I wish him well in his new role.
As I underlined during the European Standing Committee debate on “Plan D for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate” in May, the Government attach great importance to communicating with Parliament and the citizens whom we serve on European issues. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will no doubt recognise that we all have a role in promoting awareness and engaging the wider public in the discussion of such issues. In the case of policies linked to the European Union, dispelling the plethora of myths and misconceptions, which are unfortunately too prominent in our public debate, is a particular challenge.
No matter what the document says—I agree with the Minister that it is a good document—will he undertake to the House that he will continue to go out to the public up and down the country and explain the benefits of our membership of the European Union? That approach goes over the heads of the editors of some of our tabloid newspapers, who want to rubbish everything that happens in the European Union.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention. I had a particularly useful and interesting visit to his city, Leicester, where I found a positive response from the people who had spontaneously arrived to discuss European issues. I was grateful to him and to other Leicester Members for arranging that meeting.
Bearing in mind the fact that the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) participated in the forum to investigate both sides of the argument on the European issue, we now find that a pamphlet has been published by the Paris think tank Notre Europe, financed in part by the Commission’s directorate-general for culture and education. Why should Mr. Andrew Duff and his friends, who believe that there should be a new European constitution, have their publication financed? Should not those on the Eurosceptic side who apply to the European Commission for finance to put forward the Euro-realist view—which, after all, is winning—also get money?
When I used the word “spontaneous”, I knew that I risked combustion from the Opposition Benches. Given the hon. Gentleman’s persistent interest in the subject over more years than both of us would care to remember, if he submitted a pamphlet on culture and education in the European Union to the relevant department, I am sure that it would be considered, along with others, for publication. I look forward to receiving a draft copy from him.
I think that I have dealt with the hon. Gentleman’s point.
As the Commission’s “Plan D” rightly stresses, citizens are much more interested in the practical policies affecting their daily lives than in arcane institutional questions. The Government therefore broadly welcome the ideas and proposals contained in the Commission’s “A Citizens’ Agenda”, published in May, which sets out its strategic thinking on taking forward the future of Europe debate. The Hampton Court agenda, one of the many successes of our recent EU presidency, provided the inspiration for much of the substance of the Commission’s “A Citizens’ Agenda” and the subsequent decision at the June European Council to concentrate on what was described as a Europe of results.
Given that the last opinion poll on the constitution showed that 86 per cent. of the British people would vote against it and only 14 per cent. were in favour, would not a substantial change of policy direction in Europe be necessary before the British people could even contemplate being more enthusiastic about Europe?
Obviously, the results in France and the Netherlands are what concern the European Union’s leaders. I shall not speculate on what might have happened had a referendum been held in this country. We have two results, and those are the results that concentrate the minds of European leaders, because they must be dealt with as part of the debate about the future of Europe.
I look forward to the official Opposition trying to distinguish their position from that of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). Recently, there has perhaps been a greater connection between the two than historically—we will no doubt find out whether that is still the case in a moment. This Government, however, believe in real engagement with the European Union, and in leading the way with key partners on the European agenda.
More specifically, “A Citizens’ Agenda” sets out a view of Europe’s immediate priorities. The European Union should focus on delivering results on issues that matter to citizens, and on the economic reforms needed to make the EU competitive in today’s global economy. We need to intensify our efforts to deliver practical benefits across areas as diverse as energy, EU competitiveness and the environment. Much as the Opposition would somehow like us to believe that one of their priorities is environmental protection and the fight against climate change, their approach is obviously at odds with their attitudes towards the European Union. Being pro-environment and pro-European are two sides of the same coin. No one can seriously advocate the effective protection of our environment without seriously supporting powers for the European Union to do so. That is the challenge that the Conservative party has so far avoided. It has no credible policy on either issue, and its real position is shown by its continued determination to withdraw from the biggest political grouping in the European Parliament, whose commitment to environmental protection, unlike that of Conservative MEPs, is unequivocal.
Will the Minister tell the House which new competences he would like the EU to have on environmental matters?
The issue is clear. We support the existing competences of the European Union, which the hon. Gentleman cannot say about his party, given its determination to change fundamentally the European Union without saying how it is going to do that. We know a little more clearly whom it will do it with, however—one party from the Czech Republic is on offer so far. As I have indicated, the Conservative party talks about environmental protection, but the truth is that it lacks support anywhere for achieving its aims. Perhaps the British people will therefore examine carefully its claims to want to protect our environment, and ask how it plans to do so.
I do not want to cast any aspersions on the private grief of the Conservative party. The most pro-environment policy to take forward, however, would be the complete abolition of the common agricultural policy. In our limited way, we are trying to grapple with that, and are now likely to be fined because of the problems with the Rural Payments Agency. So far, however, the vast majority of European states have made no attempt whatever to change from direct subsidy to their farmers to some form of sensible environmental policy. What are we doing to help to change their minds?
I am sorry that my hon. Friend takes that point of view, but he is not strictly accurate. The percentage of total spending by the European Union in that regard has decreased from 70 per cent. to a little more than 40 per cent., which is a significant change. Moreover, as was agreed at the end of the British presidency, there will be a further and fundamental review of how the EU spends its money, concentrating in particular on whether it has the right priorities. If my hon. Friend sets out his views with the usual clarity and force, as I anticipate that he will, they will clearly be taken into account, not only in this but other countries.
When the Minister discusses the need for reform of agriculture, has he noted the way in which many of the new accession states have managed to blend into existing European agricultural patterns? For example, Slovenian farmers have been claiming for many more animals than actually existed on their farms. While they are truly integrating themselves, that is not necessarily the best fashion in which to reduce the budget.
I am sure that my hon. Friend is not relying on occasional anecdotal evidence that he has drawn from odd sources around. The way in which the debate on future financing took place and concluded shows that new member states, which have the most to gain from ensuring that the European Union prioritises competitiveness, research and development and delivering both the Lisbon and Hampton Court agendas in its spending, gave strong support to the British view of future financing.
It is appropriate that this debate follows the one on the Fraud Bill, as the Commission’s accounts have yet to be signed off, and one of the paragraphs in the documentation provided as helpful background to the debate states:
“Trust in the European Union has dropped from 50 per cent. of citizens trusting the EU in Autumn 2004 to 44 per cent. in Spring 2005.”
I suspect that the Minister was able to vote in the last referendum of the British people on European Union membership in 1975. I am afraid that I am too young to have done so. One now has to be at least 49 years of age to have taken part in that referendum. Is not it time to give the British people another referendum on that matter?
If that was a none-too-subtle way of identifying my age, I confess that I did vote, and I voted on the winning side. What is important, though, is for us to have a discussion about the European Union. Do I detect from the hon. Gentleman’s views a hint that he and other members of the Conservative party would like the United Kingdom to leave the European Union? I see that there is approval for that idea on the Conservative Benches, where there is obviously a strong strain of opinion influencing the way in which Front Benchers behave.
My hon. Friends are clearly offering constructive advice and support, as they consistently do—do they not?
I was talking about the constitutional treaty. I should emphasise that there is currently no consensus on the precise way forward. Since the French and Dutch “no” votes, the Government have consistently made it clear that this is not a matter for one member state alone; it is for the 25 member states together to make decisions about the treaty’s future. The June European Council agreed that the German presidency should present a report to the European Council in 2007, based on extensive consultations with member states. As a result, I have had a number of conversations with other EU partners on finding the right way forward. It is therefore important for me to indicate to Parliament how our own thinking on the subject is developing, and I intend to take an early opportunity to set out the underlying principles of our approach.
I hope that my comments will be considered helpful. Does my right hon. Friend agree that when it comes to a European Union of 27 states, the status quo in terms of the EU’s internal arrangements is not acceptable or practical, and that certain changes will be necessary to make it work effectively? Does he agree that all parties in the House, and all parts of all parties, will have to grasp the nettle at some point?
My hon. Friend makes a good and practical point. As the European Union has enlarged, it has become necessary for its decision-making processes to be efficient and effective. It would otherwise not be possible for it to make important decisions in the interests of its people.
Surely what my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) has said about the future of a Europe with 27 members makes the case for a looser arrangement of independent democratic states, co-operating voluntarily for mutual benefit when that is appropriate, rather than a centralised European state.
I do not accept my hon. Friend’s description of the operation of the European Union. As a very distinguished former Conservative Prime Minister said when speaking of the Conservative Government’s application to join the EU in the early 1960s, what is on offer is a pooling and sharing of sovereignty. We recognise that the benefits of that pooling and sharing outweigh the loss of sovereignty in significant areas.
I know that my hon. Friend is concerned about and committed to environmental protection. His “looser arrangement” of member states would not be able to deliver the kind of environmental protection that we require in the 21st century, because we would not have the legal ability to enforce decisions of that kind in all 27 member states, or indeed among prospective members of the Union. That is the fundamental problem that the Conservative party is refusing to address, with its transparent pretence that it is concerned about our environment, when it is failing to deliver the means whereby our environment can be protected.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He has been very generous.
Things appear to have moved on since the stuff that people were trotting out 10 years ago. Is the Minister not aware of the findings of an ICM poll of 1,000 chief executives in this country? They showed that 52 per cent. think that the EU is a failing organisation, 54 per cent. think that the disadvantages of over-regulation outweigh any benefit to be had from a single market, and 60 per cent. want our arrangements with the EU to relate only to free trade. Does the Minister not agree that things have moved on considerably, and that people now think it is a bad thing to be in the EU, not a good thing?
I did see the results of that poll, and I have seen the results of a number of other polls which do not entirely bear out those results. I know that the hon. Gentleman has a particular view of the European Union, and it is not terribly surprising that he probably picked out the poll result that accorded with his own—I am tempted to say “prejudices”, but that may be a little harsh.
There is a wide range of views. The view that I think is clear is that of the Confederation of British Industry, which recognises that the United Kingdom is an integral and important part of the EU and equally recognises, as I hope the hon. Gentleman will as well, that it is in the vital interests of British business for us to continue to be a successful part of the world’s largest single market of some 460 million consumers. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I hope he can explain to British businesses that are trading successfully in that single market how they would operate if we were outside it.
Surely the Minister is not arguing that environmental protection stops just with the European Union. Surely if we are talking about environmental protection, it must apply to the whole of the European continent, so how come it stops at the borders of the EU?
I was not suggesting that for a moment, but if 27 member states can from 1 January next year agree on environmental legislation to protect the environment, that would not only represent a substantial proportion of the population and geographical area of the continent of Europe, but allow us to approach international negotiations much more effectively than would otherwise be the case. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) continues to shake his head, but he needs to reflect carefully on the views of other political parties elsewhere in the EU—with the exception of a handful of right-wing ideologues and a handful of people who appear, for the moment at any rate, to want to join the Conservatives in 2009, but even they are having considerable doubts about the right-wing drift of the hon. Gentleman’s party.
Given that we are discussing the effectiveness of the EU at environmental protection, will the Minister explain why, under current proposals for the EU carbon trading system, the Germans are allowed by the British Government to allocate more carbon to their industries than they actually produce now?
We have never suggested that the existing system provides an ideal solution. We want it improved and developed, because it suggests a way forward in reducing carbon emissions. Unfortunately, the Conservative party has rejected that system without coming forward with any alternative practical proposals, which puts it in very considerable difficulty. The Conservatives cannot say that the system that is now beginning to have some effect is not worthwhile without putting forward some practical alternatives that can be seen to deliver reductions in carbon emissions. The scheme is a start: it needs improving, but it is nevertheless in place now, so we need to develop and improve it.
I want to return to an earlier point about the effectiveness of decision making in the EU now that it comprises 27 member states and is growing. What is the British Government’s attitude to the increasing inequality between large and small states, particularly when there are now so many small ones? What does the Minister think of the nonsense of having one commissioner for every country? As the EU expands, a Commission with 30-plus commissioners simply will not be able to operate effectively. What we should be arguing for is a commission of no more than 12, for example.
My hon. Friend tempts me to begin negotiations well before they need to start. She will be aware of a provision in the Nice treaty that goes a small way to delivering what she wants, in that after 1 January next year the number of commissioners will, in the event of further enlargement, be reduced below the number of member states. However, it has to be discussed further before implementation.
I had better make some progress, as other hon. Members want to take the opportunity to contribute to the debate.
The June European Council also welcomed the citizen’s agenda communication and its proposal to produce a 50th anniversary declaration. It is right that we should celebrate the anniversary of the treaty of Rome and 50 years of European achievement, including the spread of peace, security, prosperity and democracy. The Government look forward to engaging constructively on the declaration setting out Europe’s “values and ambitions” next March.
Following the successful model of an autumn informal summit a year ago at Hampton Court, the European summit at Lahti on 21 October provided a welcome opportunity for EU leaders to take forward the “delivery agenda”. Discussions at Lahti focused on tackling the twin challenges of climate change and energy security, improving Europe’s record on innovation and addressing our citizens’ concerns on migration. EU leaders also discussed the grave situation in Darfur, and had a working dinner with the Russian President Putin.
The Lahti summit provides us with a good basis for further delivering the policy agenda outlined at Hampton Court. It is central to building an EU that continues to make life better for its citizens. Our vision is of an EU with a fully liberalised energy market and a strong dialogue with key energy-producing states, leading the way globally in tackling climate change by exporting ideas such as the emissions trading scheme. Our vision is of an EU that is more prosperous, because it will attract investment and compete effectively with the new economic giants of India and China. Our vision is of an EU where businesses can work across borders without red tape and be the home of European champions; an EU that is more effective, with a powerful voice in the world, working to eliminate poverty and promote development; and an EU that has successfully enlarged to include the western Balkans and Turkey, and has supported reform in neighbouring countries to bring them closer to European standards. Above all, we want an EU that is more relevant as it continues to make life better for its citizens, and one that enables Europeans to take advantage of, rather than retreat from, a changing world. This Government are at the forefront of that European agenda.
The Commission’s commitment to delivery is entirely welcome. This Government are a long-time advocate of a modern European Union, assertive in tackling and responding to the challenges of the 21st century. We have an unequivocal and proactive engagement in the EU, working with our European partners to push for progress in those areas, such as climate change, terrorism and globalisation, in which
“by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone”.
Only by tackling those issues confidently and collectively can we build an EU that our citizens recognise as adding value to their lives. I commend the motion to the House.
I join the Minister in congratulating the European Scrutiny Committee, which has done a fantastic job in producing the reports, and its new Chairman, who will, I am sure, continue the excellent record of his predecessor in seeking to expose what is going on and ensuring proper scrutiny. Following the rejection of the constitution in two referendums, it is vital that the British Government make a clear contribution to the debate about the future of the European Union.
The constitution proposed more EU powers, more qualified majority voting, a move towards a single foreign policy and a single foreign Minister. In essence, it was the continuation of everything that has gone wrong with the EU in the past, including a burgeoning bureaucracy with decisions taken too far away from the people, a structure that—according to one of its own commissioners—has allowed the €600 billion cost of regulation to outstrip the direct benefits of the single market. No wonder that the ICM poll for Open Europe found that 52 per cent. of the 1,000 British business leaders questioned thought that the EU was going in profoundly the wrong direction.
The people of France and the Netherlands offered us an historic opportunity to turn things around. Their referendums knocked the wind out of the sails of the old-fashioned advocates of ever closer union. The chance was there for Britain to lead Europe towards a more open, flexible, deregulated and free-trading future. The tragic, or perhaps just farcical, failure of the Government to rise to that challenge is laid bare by the reports before us.
The 12-month period of reflection passed and was extended. The Austrian presidency called on members to report on their national debates so that a new plan could be synthesised, but nothing came from this directionless Government. As the Committee so scathingly observed in its 31st report
“All in all it is hard to avoid the impression that the United Kingdom has been significantly less involved, at all levels, in the process so far than have other member states, parliamentarians and citizens.”
The Minister referred to his belief that the Government are at the centre of the debate in Europe, but that certainly was not the view taken by the Committee and I do not think that any rational Member, considering what has happened in the past 18 months, could possibly share that view. Surely that was not what the Prime Minister had in mind when he stirringly told the European Parliament that the peoples of the European Union
“are wanting our leadership. It is time we gave it to them.”
Meanwhile, the German Chancellor has argued for a relaunch of the constitution and the French debate has become a significant part of their presidential election, with talk of a mini treaty and various other options. The British Government still have not said whether they support the constitution now or have some other vision. We read last week reports that the Foreign Secretary denounced the constitution as a “grandiose project” that had failed. That is welcome, but the Prime Minister’s signature remains on the constitution and motions for its implementation remain on the Order Paper. Today the Minister said that at some point in the near future he will give an outline of his views on the future of the European Union, but that will come after a protracted period in which we are meant to have been having a national debate about the issue. I think that we deserve rather more, especially as we stand just a few months away from the Berlin declaration, which is due in March next year, and the German Government’s plan to relaunch the drive for a new EU constitution. However, the British Government, after 18 months of pathetic vacillation, have failed to shape that debate at all.
Following on from my question to my right hon. Friend the Minister, would the hon. Gentleman care to explain whether his party believes that a 27-member EU will need changes to its internal management? If so, what ideas will it propose in the coming debate?
The internal management may well need changes, but it is also important that the EU seeks to do less so that it can cope with its existing agenda. A central problem is that the EU is failing to make the necessary progress in matters such as energy policy in the single market precisely because its ambitious political agenda is diverting attention from the things that matter. However, our highest priority is to remove social and employment regulation in this country from European control and bring it back under British control. That would be an important start in the process that the hon. Gentleman has in mind.
The national debate called for in the document entitled “Plan D for Democracy” was never allowed to happen in this country. The Finnish presidency has called for new powers over our police and courts. “A Citizens’ Agenda” calls for
“an initiative to improve decision taking and accountability in areas such as police and judicial co-operation and legal migration”.
What do the Government think about that? I have asked that question repeatedly, but received no clear answers.
I know what Conservative policy is in respect of bringing back the social union, but is that not hypocritical if the single market is retained? Workers can be exploited across Europe, yet they will have no protection. That is ludicrous: surely we should get rid of the single market as well.
That may be the hon. Gentleman’s policy, but it is not mine. It was rather amusing when the Minister suggested earlier that there were great differences of opinion among Opposition Members, given that he was clearly glossing over the large divergence of opinion on the Benches behind him.
The fact that the debate has not been allowed to happen means that I and many others feel left in the dark about the Government’s policy and intentions. In its 31st report, the European Scrutiny Committee says, in reference to the Minister’s explanatory memorandum, that
“it is not clear…whether the Minister supports or rejects the Commission’s proposals for using Article 42 EU to move police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters to the First Pillar, where unanimity in the Council would not apply.”
That opacity was maintained as we approached the Council meeting at which the proposals were discussed. Astonishingly, it was maintained by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan), when she appeared before the European Scrutiny Committee last week.
I do not support the treaty, I oppose it. I wish that we had had the opportunity to hold a referendum on it, as I and my party would have opposed it very vigorously. I am sure that we would have secured a very large majority against it, and it is a shame that we had to leave it to the French and the Dutch to do that job for us.
The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department was asked by the European Scrutiny Committee whether the Government supported the use of the so-called passerelle to extend EU powers over justice and home affairs. According to the uncorrected transcript, which I think is accurate, she said:
“Can I just say on your first comment, the fact that I have not ruled it out does not mean that I am ruling it in. It means that I have not done either. I would like to be clear with the Committee on that point.”
This lack of clear leadership was further shown by the Minister’s summary:
“I think the situation we are in now is that it is up to the Finns, who hold the presidency, to handle the proposal to decide where we go next.”
So here we have an area of policy in which just three years ago the Government said that they were opposed to the extension of qualified majority voting whereas now Ministers are happy to drift along with proposals from the Finns without even telling the British people where they stand.
Especially bizarrely, the Home Office says that its concerns are the same as those that arose in relation to the EU constitution, passing over the fact that the same Government signed that constitution and have yet to withdraw their support from it. Why can we not have the same honesty, clarity and leadership that has been shown by the Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell, who said:
“My vision for Europe is that instead of constantly seeking to enlarge the competence of the union that the justice and home affairs ministers concentrate on practical measures of co-operation between states to enhance security and combat terrorism.”
He is also quoted in the Irish Examiner, arguing that giving up the veto in this area
“would seriously affect the operation of Irish criminal law and give the commission the exclusive right to propose matters in this area which is now shared with member states”.
The Irish Justice Minister has been clear about where the Irish Government stand on this issue while the vagueness and lack of direction of the UK Government’s European policy has been a constant theme of all the papers before the House.
I concur with much of what my hon. Friend has said. Will he be good enough to enlighten me on one point? We are against the constitution; we voted against it in principle in the House and we are setting our face towards the idea of some form of association of nation states. However, if it were to transpire that the other member states were not prepared to accept our rejection of the constitution and our idea of movement towards a form of association of nation states, does my hon. Friend agree that it would be more than sensible for us to consider the option of withdrawal from the EU?
The crucial thing for my hon. Friend to understand, as I am sure he does—he has such a clear understanding of these matters—is that treaty changes need unanimity. Therefore, when the British people were to have the opportunity to vote against the constitution, which I am sure that they would have done convincingly, there would have been no possibility of the change proceeding.
So this vagueness and lack of direction from the Government run like a thread through all the documents before us.
I am not in a position to speak for Conservative Governments in the very distant future, but I can say that the forthcoming Conservative Government will ensure that there is a referendum if any treaty change is proposed that would transfer further powers from this country to the EU. It is our policy to bring powers closer to the people and not see them go further away. We do not believe that power should be ceded without the express support of the people in a referendum.
I shall quote further from the Committee’s excellent findings. It said:
“Although the Minister’s explanatory memorandum is significantly better in explaining the Green Paper than his departmental colleague’s in explaining the Commission’s proposals on ‘Europe in the World’…”—
so some marks go to the Minister for that—
“it is no better in explaining the Government’s view on the proposals therein. We do not consider that support for the ‘broad thrust of this Green Paper’ is adequate, and would instead like to know what the Minister thinks of the proposals, and what reply the Government plans to offer.”
On the document “Europe in the World”, the Committee has this to say:
“We are less clear than the Minister that the position taken by the Foreign Secretary on the question of ‘double-hatting’ and his are one and the same. He seems to be arguing that the Foreign Secretary was referring only to a situation where an ‘in situ’ EU Special Representative was also made head of an extant EC delegation, and that this is in some way significantly different from the possibility that he describes in a future Bosnia and Herzegovina. If there is a distinction, it is one that at present escapes us.”
The Committee goes on to say:
“The debate on ‘A Citizens’ Agenda’ will also provide the House with an opportunity to explore the Government’s thinking on this and other relevant issues, which the Minister continues to be regrettably reluctant to share with it at present.”
I was hopeful that the Minister would take this opportunity to share some of his thinking with the House, but all he has promised is an outline at some point in the future. The Committee went on to note that
“the Minister says that he hopes we find his Explanatory Memorandum ‘informative’. On the contrary, its cursory summary of the Communication is uninformative, as is his statement of the Government’s views”.
The Committee then sets out a perfect summary of the British Government’s stance on European policy, by stating:
“The Government’s general position appears to be to shelter behind the obvious absence of any consensus on the future of Europe and to say that it will inform the House of its views once there is one. This is somewhat at odds with the notion of increasing the involvement of national parliaments in decision-making.”
The last in my selection of excerpts from the Committee’s splendid report comes from the conclusion, which states:
“We consider this stance unacceptable, and ask that the Minister provides the government’s views, now, on the detailed proposals in the Communication—which ones he does not agree with, and which ones he endorses.”
I hope that the Minister is embarrassed to hear that catalogue of criticisms from a Committee of the House, and that, even at this late stage, the Government will be prepared to engage in a debate about the future of the EU.
The Commission’s initial premise in the document, “A Citizens’ Agenda” was the right one: the EU should concentrate on addressing the real expectations of the peoples of Europe. However, the document is punctuated by references to rebuilding the political project that was rejected last year in two referendums—the need to “embed” projects in a “coherent political agenda”; the “political ambition” of a new institutional settlement; the need for a political declaration as the precursor to a new treaty and the commitment to the Hague programme, extending EU powers to justice and home affairs. None of that is wanted by the British people, yet the Government have failed to set out an alternative vision. We are left completely in the dark as to their intentions, as was the EU Scrutiny Committee.
We should make it clear now that the EU needs a profound change of direction. We should be calling for the centralising projects of the constitution to be consigned to the dustbin and for an end to efforts to take justice, policing and criminal affairs away from national democracies. We should call loud and clear for a more flexible, deregulated European Union and we should start today.
I am stuck between a rock and a hard place. The rock is being damned by the Opposition’s faint praise for the work of the European Scrutiny Committee; the hard place is trying to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton, East (Mr. Hood) as Chair of the Committee.
My hon. Friend held that position from 1992, when the Committee was the European Legislation Committee, until he demitted office on 18 October 2006. He now represents Parliament on one of the NATO Committees. It is a great honour, but greatly difficult, to follow someone who outlasted 10 Europe Ministers and five Committee Clerks—quite a record. He may have been the longest serving Chair of a Select Committee. He made many friends and many important contributions to progress in Europe, especially in strengthening the role of COSAC.
I want to represent the Committee’s position, much of which has been quoted selectively. The Committee doubted that the communication provided a new vision for the future of the EU—which future would be of great importance to everyone in the UK. It doubted that the proposed agenda, which was not new, would be effective in bridging the gap between the EU and the public and found that the Government were generally unwilling to give more than, at best, a sketchy view on the proposals in any of the important communications. We found that the Government’s position seemed to be to shelter behind the obvious absence of any consensus in the EU on the future of Europe. Instead, they preferred to say, in their explanatory memorandums and in the ESC Sub-Committee debate on “Plan D for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate”, that there was no consensus on the future of Europe and that they would inform the House when one emerged.
The Committee thought that it was right to recommend the communication, along with the documents tagged to it, for debate on the Floor of the House, to give Ministers an opportunity to set out their views on it and the outcome of the discussion in the European Council. As the Minister noted, in paragraph 8 of our 38th report of 18 October, we invited him to discuss the issues in today’s debate.
When we look at the huge scope of the communications—on Europe in the world, neighbourhood policy, trade and competitiveness, development, strategic relations, political dialogue, common foreign and security policy, disaster response, crisis management and European security and defence policy—we find that there is a huge range of agendas. A question on our agenda was asked by House of Lords Sub-Committee C. We repeated it in our 38th report, but it remained unanswered. It was about
“which of the proposals in ‘Europe in the World’ could be implemented without further consideration of the Constitutional Treaty.”
Having listened to the Minister today, I am not convinced that Members serving on the European Scrutiny Committee and other hon. Members have a clearer notion of the Government’s view. I am not convinced that any of us know whether the Government take the Foreign Secretary’s view or the Minister’s view, as they seem to diverge on the double-hatting of EU officials in defence security policy. The question has not been answered, but we hoped that it would be answered before today’s debate.
We should welcome substantial elements of the European transparency initiative document, including what it says about consultation, the disciplining and registration of the lobbying process in Europe, and transparency. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson) would welcome the document, because it will introduce a binding EU-level framework on member states that will ensure a consistent approach to access and transparency with regard to all beneficiaries of EU funds. From the Committee’s point of view, when anyone asks the Commission for the facts, it either says that it does not have them to hand, or it says that it cannot give them to anyone because it must first obtain the permission of the member state that spent, or mis-spent, those EU funds. The document will be a great step forward, if it is introduced across the EU.
I thank the Minister for his considered view, which appears in the addendum to our 38th report of 18 October. It is an excellent document, and it represents progress. I would have liked him to explain further what he said in that addendum, because it gave us some heart that we would be able to engage in serious dialogue. Although it has not yet been deposited by the Government, the Commission’s 2007 legislative work programme has been introduced, and I look forward to a dialogue with the Minister, as well as the opportunity to work with our colleagues in the other place, on the programme’s details. I should be grateful if we secured a debate on the subject.
We received a disappointing result to a perfectly courteous request from the Committee for a detailed explanation of the Government’s position on the items in the document, although the items themselves are to be welcomed. I welcome the Minister’s statement that the EU is seeking no new competences; that is what everyone wanted to hear. People want a position of stability, so that we can have a genuine debate in this period of reflection, as it is called, after the constitution failed to be adopted in some countries.
May I take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment as Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, of which I, too, am a member. We may have slight differences on policy questions from time to time, but I think he will bring an enormous amount to bear on the working of the Committee, and we are very pleased to have him as our Chairman. However, may I point out to him that, in addition to what he said, we also said in our report that, on the future of Europe,
“The Government’s general position appeared to be to shelter behind the obvious absence of any consensus on the future of Europe and to say that it would inform the House of its views once there was one.
We considered this somewhat at odds with the notion of increasing the involvement of national parliaments in decision-making”.
Would the hon. Gentleman be good enough to elaborate a little on the very important comment that we made at that point?
I think that we hoped that the Minister would be involved in the dialogue and would report back to us on the Government’s view and the position taken. If there has been dialogue and the Government have not transmitted that to the House, that is disappointing. If there has not been dialogue, that is probably even more disappointing. I have always had a view of the Commission. I would say that I was a friend of the European project, but one who wishes to be critical of the process. There have been many advances in the process, but it has left the citizen behind. The citizen does not understand those advances.
If there is a dialogue, I hope that the Minister will tell us what meetings have taken place, what the conversations have been and what the Government’s position has been in those conversations. We can then assess things from our point of view as members of the Committee. Sometimes people feel that the Committee is full of Euro-anoraks, but we are just people who take the process seriously. May I put a marker down? I hope that the House will take the process of European scrutiny and European dialogue as seriously as the people who sit on our Committee, because sometimes it does not.
We must welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post as Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee. We believe that he will do an excellent job, following on from his predecessor. We look forward to working with him over the coming years.
On transparency, do we not sometimes get the feeling that Ministers would prefer to continue to negotiate in smoke-filled rooms, rather than in the open? Some of that negotiation in smoke-filled rooms led to some poor decisions in the past: for instance, Cyprus being permitted to join the Union before any resolution between the north and south, and Bulgaria and Romania being able to join with only a one-year deferment, rather than being held until such a point as they complied with the necessary EU regulation.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding me. It was a great pleasure to be nominated by all the groups on the European Scrutiny Committee. That may mean that people expect me to face three or four ways on every issue at the same time, but I am not a Minister and I do not intend to do that. I also recognise the divergent thinking that symbolises the way in which the hon. Gentleman approaches his duties. In the European Scrutiny Committee, he always tries to get off the subject and on to another, equally important, subject, but not necessarily one on the agenda.
There is a list of things that are going to happen: the 50th anniversary declaration, the Leiden summit and so on. They are all virtuous, but they are not new. They would not be seen as new by the citizen. This process of reflection and these three communications—the one that we discussed before on dialogue and the present two—are about connecting with the citizen. The game is given away by one of the Commission’s statements:
“the EU can make its external policies more coherent through stronger co-ordination between member states and the institutions”.
That is the fundamental flaw. In the Commission’s logic, if something is over the heads of the people or out of the sight of the people, that does not matter as long as the institutions advance.
We could do much better. I will offer some personal thoughts. The question should be, “Can we make things the best that they could be and can we prevent them from being the worst case that they could be?” I believe that the secret of success is the process, rather than the target solution. If the process is not secretive or directive—centralisation for the EU is obviously natural for the Commission—and if it is genuinely consultative, it will be progressive and something that we can welcome.
May I make one last suggestion to the Minister? He could campaign for not just simple language, but the end of the use of acronyms. What is the OHR in the BiH duties of the EUSR? What is the CFSP? I know what it means, but most people do not. I still do not know what the ESDP is—and I just read it out on to the record. The latest document refers to CARS 21. I always worry when the word “cars” is connected to the EU because there are hon. Members on both sides of the House who want the EU to become a car crash. I want it to be a success. I hope that the Minister will give us an indication that he has been thinking about these things and that the Government are putting forward a view in the dialogue.
I wish to start by making a brief comment on yesterday’s announcement by the Home Secretary on the limitations on migration from Bulgaria and Romania, given that it has a link with the debate. Liberal Democrat Members were disappointed that such an important announcement was made by way of written statement, rather than oral statement, because it meant that Opposition Members did not have the opportunity to raise questions and concerns about the practicality of the proposals.
The enforcement of the scheme will ask an awful lot of the immigration and nationality directorate, which the Home Secretary has already described as “not fit for purpose”. Those of us who represent constituencies in which there are many asylum seekers will know that the IND struggles enough as it is without having an additional burden placed on it. However, it is right to have transitional arrangements, given the especially high number of immigrants who came here from Poland and the other accession countries. We have real worries about the implications for the black economy and gangmasters, so it was disappointing that we were not able to raise them in the House yesterday.
“A Citizens’ Agenda” aims to answer questions on the future of Europe. Although there is significant disagreement between Members on both sides of the House—and in the parties represented on both sides of the House—the document raises interesting ideas, although there could be some question about whether it reaches a conclusion. Part of the answer about the future of Europe is an examination of how Europe can become more effective at delivering the priorities of the citizens of Europe, such as prosperity, solidarity and peace. If the EU is to be genuinely connected with the people living in it, it needs to work on the issues that are at the top of those people’s agenda.
Too many people, including many hon. Members, regard EU institutions as remote and completely unconnected to daily life. The institutions sometimes do not help themselves because even when they are working on matters of prime importance, they are not necessarily good at getting that message across, linking with people and consulting.
Several elements of the constitutional treaty were designed to solve that problem. Many of them, especially those dealing with openness, transparency and accountability, were entirely sensible and could have made a difference. They could have improved people’s perceptions of the EU and their trust in its institutions. However, the resounding defeats in France and the Netherlands showed that we still need to connect with people so that they understand and feel part of the structure that is being created.
May I seek clarification on whether the Liberal Democrats are united on this matter? Do the Liberal Democrat Members in the Chamber agree with the statement made by the Liberal Democrat MEP and leader of the group in the European Parliament, Andrew Duff, in which he proposed:
“Those EU countries which reject the EU Constitution should be demoted to the status of ‘associate member’”?
Is that the Liberal Democrats’ position?
The gentleman who was quoted is the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament, not some Back Bencher, so his views are important. May I ask the hon. Lady about Liberal Democrat policy in the House? Do the Liberal Democrats still support the European constitutional treaty? I thought they did.
It has been made clear that the constitutional treaty in its present form is dead in the water. The Liberal Democrats support reform of the European Union. I shall explain some of the issues that have arisen from that debate.
The Liberal Democrats are a pro-European party but we are not entirely uncritical. As we have heard from Members on both sides of the House, there are fundamental problems with aspects of the EU and there is a need for reform. The document speaks of increasing the openness and accountability of European institutions and minimising bureaucracy, both of which are key. The starting point could be examining the transparency of the Council of Ministers, because there is a lack of transparency and openness about the decisions made in that institution.
“A Citizens’ Agenda” calls for the greater involvement of national Parliaments in decision making and policy development in the EU, which we welcome. Any extra democracy and openness can only be a good thing. We would also like to see national Parliaments more involved in decisions about subsidiarity, another topic covered in the document. We need to ensure that decisions are made at the most appropriate level, rather than power being sucked up to the European Commission or the EU institutions. If we are to reconnect European citizens with the institutions in Brussels, they need much more clarity about where decision making lies, and they must be certain that that is the most sensible and appropriate place for a decision to be taken.
That is part of a much larger debate that needs to take place. Each area of policy needs to be considered individually, so I would not prioritise any particular one. Policy should be taken as a whole so that the entire system makes sense and so that people can understand where power lies and where decisions will be made.
No. We have had enough debate on the matter.
“A Citizens’ Agenda” speaks of deeper economic integration and the building of the single market, to which other hon. Members have referred. The main tool for that is the stimulation of growth through the single market and competition policy. There are clearly issues of concern in this area, but removing the final barriers to trade, work and travel is critical to the future of Europe. That ties in with enlargement.
We would welcome an informed debate on enlargement. There are many anecdotes going around that are not necessarily true, and there are issues that are not being discussed but need to be discussed, so that people understand what they are letting themselves in for and what sort of Europe we shall have. We therefore welcome the Commission’s report on the EU’s enlargement strategy, which is due later this year, and hope it will be a key part of that process.
The EU could do more to concentrate on the areas where it could achieve most. We welcome the idea that every EU citizen should enjoy full access to their fundamental rights, but I am less convinced about the idea of an entitlement card. It needs to be explored, but it has the hallmark of a meaningless gimmick, though the principles behind it are to be welcomed.
We would like to see a more effective common European asylum system and greater police and judicial co-operation. With a common threat of terrorism against all western European countries, co-operation and co-ordination across borders becomes more essential every day. With that goes the need for the EU to safeguard the rights of individuals affected by cross-border law enforcement. I am sure I am not the only Member present who has constituents who have become mired in the morass of international legal co-operation. Trying to help them has given me a new understanding—or, rather, a new appreciation of my lack of understanding—of the present system. Further work is needed to clarify that.
In preparing for enlargement, the EU must move ahead with plans for closer co-operation to guard the external borders of Europe—both to share costs more fairly and to ensure uniformly high standards—because if it does not that could be a weakness for European countries in the future.
That links in with the need for a strong European neighbourhood policy. The first steps that have been taken have been a good attempt, and they have made progress in stabilising neighbouring countries, but we must go beyond what is currently being done. There are also doubts about the commitment of some member states to that. It needs to be tackled by all member states together.
We welcome the sentiments in “A Citizens’ Agenda”. However, alongside the European Scrutiny Committee’s concerns, which have been eloquently explained, we worry that it might just be another set of vague, high-falutin’ platitudes about Europe’s values and ambitions, and that it will not do anything in the long run to re-engage with the public and help change people’s perceptions of the EU.
We believe that what is needed to achieve real change are concrete reforms to make the EU more efficient, more democratic, more transparent and more accountable. They would include increasing oversight of the unelected Commission, a charter of fundamental rights to protect people against EU laws that infringe their basic rights, strengthening the powers of the elected European Parliament compared with the secretive Council of Ministers, and more open and democratic decision making. Therefore, although, overall, positive messages come out of this, real reform is needed and we wait to see what concrete proposals come out of the process.
The title “citizens’ agenda” highlights the problem that we face, because we in this country are not citizens—actually, we are subjects.
Therefore, we have a difficulty, and I want to talk today about the relationship between those who govern and those who are governed, because that lies at the heart of the problems that we have in respect of all the debates about the European Union. There is an implied consent, and when that implied consent no longer exists, two things happen: first, people withdraw into the private sphere, which means that they no longer go out and vote; and, secondly, they no longer care, and when they no longer care they get to the second stage—they openly revolt. In the EU, the implied consent is being withdrawn. One reason for that is that implied consent usually exists only because those who are being governed know that, every so often, they can kick out those who govern them, and that cleansing process reinvigorates the implied consent. But at the European level that simply never happens.
The European elections are like a phantom pregnancy. They go through all the stages and get bigger and bigger, but in the end they do not deliver anything. That is because we do not vote for a Government and we fight those elections on national labels. What does it mean to vote for the Conservatives, when they then sit with the European People’s party? Well, even they do not know about that.
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend about people becoming alienated when they are ignored. Does she agree that citizens’ sense of being ignored—when they need jobs and their welfare state is under threat, and so forth—is a factor in the rise of the extreme right in parts of Germany and elsewhere in Europe, and that that presents a very dangerous possibility for the future of Europe?
Yes, extremists, whether from the right or the left, appear to be offering certainties, and people want certainties. That is worrying.
But I want to look at our own house, before we criticise the rest of Europe. There are two options. We can either draw more of the decision making up into Brussels, which clearly has not worked, or we can draw it down to member states, which is what I think we need to do. In that regard, we should start at home. Let me give an example of what I mean. Early in October, I turned the radio on and tuned into the “Today” programme, hoping to have my daily rant at John Humphrys. Our Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was talking about age discrimination legislation. I thought that it was very good legislation, and that I would have enjoyed, and have felt proud as a Labour MP, and campaigning and saying, “This is what we have done.”
But what happened? That is the first I had heard of that legislation, so I sent an e-mail to the Library, asking whether the House of Commons had ever debated that it. The Library wrote back saying that the legislation was statutory instrument 2006/2408. It could find no debates on it in the Commons, but there was a debate in the Lords, on 30 March. Of course, the Lords cannot amend statutory instruments. I read the relevant Lords Hansard and discovered that they did indeed debate it—from 4.22 to 4.54 pm, which is a grand total of 32 minutes. I did a little more reading, and I was given the website link for the relevant research paper. This morning, I asked for a hard copy of it. It has not been printed yet.
Since 1997, there have been nine attempts to introduce anti-age discrimination legislation—via ten-minute Bills and amendments to existing legislation, for example— so this issue has exercised the House. That is good, but I would have liked to know about it. There is another reason the House should debate such legislation at length. When Ministers stand at the Dispatch Box and explain their understanding of such legislation, courts then refer to such statements in interpreting that legislation.
There was another element of that “Today” programme that really upset me. When the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was asked whether the new anti-age discrimination legislation would be incompatible with certain UK legislation, he said that it had yet to be tested in the courts. I do not have a problem with legislation being tested in the courts, but we need to give courts guidance on how we regard it. When such legislation affects all our constituents—indeed, this legislation will have ramifications that we have not even dreamt of yet—we need to be much more realistic about how we deal with and debate it in this House.
I have three suggestions. First, we should have a proper Europe Minister. By that I mean a Minister who is in the Cabinet, who has regular—[Interruption.] The current Minister for Europe is a perfect candidate and I would propose him for that role. Indeed, I want to enhance his role. In addition to being in the Cabinet, he should have regular question sessions at the Dispatch Box as the Minister for Europe, during which he explains all the decisions taken at European level that impact on domestic legislation, and how matters will be co-ordinated across Whitehall. That role is currently fulfilled by our permanent representative in Brussels, but I would like it to be fulfilled by someone of Cabinet rank who is regularly answerable to this House. Indeed, in terms of its political significance, that role is almost one for the Deputy Prime Minister.
Is there not a great danger in describing the post of which my hon. Friend approves as the Minister for Europe? Just as the Minister with responsibility for European agriculture matters ends up representing agriculture in government, so the Minister for Europe ought to be called the Minister for Britain. The mechanism ought not to be simply a transmission belt.
I am sure that, whatever the title of the position, the House would soon knock whoever holds it into shape. I would also move that role out of the Foreign Office, because this is a domestic issue.
My second suggestion is that MEPs should debate with Members of Parliament issues on which they have a vote; for example, rapporteurs should debate significant legislation with MPs. We should not go to Brussels—they should come here. A debate in this House on the service directive would have been extremely helpful, and I, for one, would love to see more of Mr. Andrew Duff, so that he can explain the Liberals’ position in this Chamber. For once, that would flush out the hypocrisy of the Liberals, who are the most fierce integrationists in Brussels, but who say that they want to withdraw from the fisheries policy when they fight general elections. We would have a bit of fun, particularly when we heard what the European People’s party had to say.
Thirdly, whatever the nature of the debate on the future of Europe, we must at some stage openly acknowledge that there is a big divide between countries that are members of the single currency and those that are not. The latter will require far deeper political integration to create an effective single currency—there is absolutely no way round that. If we go on pretending that that is not the situation, we will not even begin to have an honest debate.
It is great to have a debate on the citizens’ agenda, but we need to start to examine the failures of this House to bring it closer to its people and to have a bit more openness about problems that are staring us in the face while we go on pretending that they do not exist.
We have been debating something that does not exist, as there is no citizens’ agenda in Europe. The public—the voters—of Europe have always been treated as political adolescents to be patronised and then ignored by the political class who drive the project forward. Europe’s political elite—they are often very candid about this, at least on the continent—see themselves as having a vanguard role in building an integrated, centralised Europe around which the public must coalesce. If we add to that the fact that all multinational bureaucracies have an instinct to expand and never to reform themselves, we have a recipe for what we do indeed have—a remote, centralised, often corrupt and certainly wasteful form of government from which the public feel completely alienated. There is now a lot of evidence for that, including a succession of no votes, not only on the European constitution but in Sweden and Denmark and an initial no vote in Ireland on the Nice treaty. Moreover, the turnout in European parliamentary elections has, on average, fallen in every single election since 1979, despite the fact that the Parliament has more and more power. The stronger it gets, the fewer people vote for it.
I think that what I have said so far is uncontroversial. It has been a general theme of this debate that something needs to be done to re-engage the public; so it is that we have in the documents before the House something called plan D. I do not know what happened to plans A, B and C, but perhaps I had something to with the latter, along with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart). She and I had the honour of representing this House in the Convention on the Future of Europe, which was an attempt to tackle these issues of alienation. We were instructed to simplify the treaties and to create a Europe closer to its citizens. Of course, that instruction was ignored; instead, the Convention wrote itself a constitution, which was all about giving more powers to the very European Union institutions that had created the problem in the first place. Put simply, the constitution failed. However, although it was turned down by the voters of France and Holland, the Prime Minister, bizarrely, not only signed but still supports it. Presumably, therefore, the Government’s formal position is that that discredited document should be brought into effect in its entirety.
I very much endorse my right hon. Friend’s comments and those of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mr. Stuart). I should point out that next week we vote on changing the Standing Orders that deal with questions of how the House handles this business. Is it not extremely important that we emphasise in that debate, by amendments or otherwise, the supremacy of this Parliament over the European Communities Act 1972 to allow ourselves to veto legislation when we know that it will do a great deal of harm to the people of this country and the people of Europe?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The House has a crucial contribution to make to openness and transparency. A notable feature of the wonderful plan D is that it advances the proposition that people should be better informed about decisions that are made on their behalf but does not tackle the problem of the vast number of committees in Europe that are submerged from public view. When Lord Kinnock was vice-president of the Commission, he told an Austrian newspaper three years ago that
“the citizens do not know that there is a secret governing system in Europe… We have more than 300 formations in which officials from the member states meet and pass decisions. That is the largest source of bureaucracy and the black hole in European democracy”.
At the same time, Professor Larsson, an academic from Sweden, noted the existence of 1,352 other committees under the Commission that meet in private.
However, plan D tackles none of that. The submerged part of the iceberg will therefore remain hidden from public view and parliamentary scrutiny. Let me give the House another relevant example. I am interested in trade reform and fulfilling all the promises that we made last year in the public debate and lobbies about making poverty history. We need to reform our trade procedures, tariffs and quota systems for the benefit of not only those whom we represent but the poorest people in the poorest countries.
I naturally turned to the European Union debate on the subject because it takes the lead on trade policy. It transpires that most of the decisions originate in a committee called the “article 133 committee”. I asked to see the minutes of the discussions on those crucial subjects in the first half of the year. On 15 occasions, I was told that I could not access the minutes. They were blocked—indeed, censored—by something called the “general secretariat”. The one set of minutes that I obtained was of a meeting that officials from this country attended on 17 February. The decisions and the discussions are interesting, but, in 16 places, the word, “deleted” appears. In other words, the especially interesting part of the discussion has simply been erased from the record. As an elected person, trying to do my best for my constituents in delivering the agenda on trade reform, I not only have no influence on the discussions but cannot find out what is being discussed. However, none of that is the subject of plan D. The much-heralded initiative on openness and transparency does not tackle the issue.
It is easy to make points about the number of committees. I daresay that, if one added up all the UK Government committees or those of any other member state, one would probably find that there were more than those at European level. However, I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman wants to withdraw from the British state in the way in which he apparently wants to withdraw from the European Union. Would not he do better to turn his attention to devising constructive reform rather than advocating withdrawal from the European Union?
I have a constructive suggestion—opening up all the secret committees to public scrutiny.
The Government are guilty of secrecy in the House. I serve on the European Scrutiny Committee, along with the distinguished new Chairman, who contributed earlier. Our deliberations take place in private. The public are not allowed even into those. In the previous Parliament, we passed a motion to open up the Committee to public scrutiny so that the press and the public can see what we do on their behalf. That sat in the in-tray of the then Leader of the House and he did nothing to change Standing Orders. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) is right—not only the European Union but the British Government have a conspiracy against the public. That makes any initiative about openness and transparency a sham.
The documents also refer to the allied question of over-regulation and discuss the need to reduce the burdens and intrusions suffered by businesses and the public. I have counted last year’s directives, regulations and binding decisions, of which there are 2,900. That adds to the acquis communautaire in the European Union, which already runs to more than 100,000 pages. The European Scrutiny Committee grapples with the issue as best it can, but we cannot stop those regulations, and, increasingly, the Government cannot stop them, too, because more and more of them are decided by majority voting. Again, the analysis is correct, but the policy is lacking.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Jenny Willott) referred to one of the specifics in plan D, the entitlement card. Who will pay for the entitlement card? What will be on it? Will it include a chip containing all 100,000 pages of the acquis communautaire to let us know what we are entitled to in the European Union? Is that really the way to close the gap between the public and the politicians in Europe? It has also been suggested that a corps of European good will ambassadors will go around telling us about plan D. Have they arrived here yet—I have not met them? Who will pay for them? I am willing to meet them, because I am a man of good will.
There is a serious problem, and it cannot be solved by reviving a discredited European constitution. If we are to create a people’s Europe rather than a politician’s Europe, if we want a democratic Europe rather than a bureaucratic state and if we want an open Europe rather than a closed shop, we need the fundamental, thoroughgoing reform of the entire way in which the European Union is structured, financed and run. Such a project is entirely lacking in the documents, and it was not even attempted in the Convention on the Future of Europe. In a notably weak contribution this afternoon, the Minister gave no hint of any Government ambition in that direction. It will therefore fall to this party, when in government, to take forward that task not only on behalf of the people of this country, but on behalf of the people of Europe, who are struggling to create a different Europe that yearns to be free.
I want to make a few brief points in the last few minutes of the debate.
I did not altogether agree with the contribution by the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). If we are to engage the citizens of Europe within the European Union, we need a clear, understandable way of making decisions. The existing European Union decision-making process is confused. Power lies in the Council of Ministers, but Ministers tend to say, “It was not us, guv’. It was those nasty Commissioners in Brussels who made the decision.” Citizens do not know who to blame when incorrect decisions are taken and who to get at when the decision-making process is taking place. The existing arrangements for decision making are inadequate for a European Union of 27 member states. Somehow or other, the process must be improved and made not only more transparent, but more efficient.
Key issues for the citizens of Europe include the Hague agenda, which concerns migration, terrorism and crime. The Conservative party has said that it wants nothing to do with that agenda, but the citizens of Europe know that it matters and that there must be a European solution. The Hague agenda has been launched, but it is now in the quagmire because the decision-making process in the European Union cannot take it much further. We need to do something to enable decisions to be made. I accept that the different legal systems and legal traditions mean that that is not easy to do, but the European Union needs to deliver that agenda.
On energy policy, individual European Union states are making bilateral deals to ensure their energy supplies for the future. Yet the citizens of Europe know that there ought to be a European Union-wide energy policy to ensure that all the peoples of the Union have adequate and affordable energy supplies.
In relation to the development of a single market, I was struck this week by the tension between a national state approach and a European approach. The European civil aviation industry is dominated by Airbus, an international consortium. As a result of the decision by BAE Systems to sell its 20 per cent. stake to the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, however, it is now dominated by the French and Germans. From a company point of view, I have no doubt that the aerospace industry in Broughton and Bristol would flourish in a European single market, because it would be competitive with anywhere else in Europe. Airbus, however, is influenced by national considerations from the French and German Governments. That is a key tension. Unless we tackle those sorts of issues, the European Union will not be in a position to compete with the US or the emerging economies of China and India. If we do not recognise that industries need to be European Union-wide to benefit from the single market, we will come out on the wrong side of the globalisation argument.
It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 16.
That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 9390/06, Commission Communication: A Citizens’ Agenda—Delivering Results for Europe: and supports the Government’s view that it welcomes the principles behind ‘A Citizens’ Agenda’ and the Commission’s commitment to taking forward the Hampton Court agenda of delivering concrete results and benefits to EU citizens.