Motion to Take Note
My Lords, today’s Motion invites us to consider the committee’s report on its work during the long 2010-12 Session of Parliament. The committee has produced regular reports on its work since 2003 but this is the first time for many years that we have invited the House to debate one. During that Session, the committee was of course under the expert chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Roper, and I am delighted to see him here today. I pay tribute to his excellent leadership. It is also gratifying to see so many other Members of the committee here. It enables me to thank them and also our excellent committee staff for their hard work.
Effective parliamentary scrutiny of EU matters must not be the preserve of a small number of specialists. We must spread it among active Members of the House. In that spirit, I feel that we are building on a strong base but we should always be ready to examine how we can do things better. I hope that today’s debate will range widely and that Members will feel free to address recent developments in the European Union. I also hope that this Committee will look forward and consider how the House as a whole and the committee appointed by the House to examine EU matters can most effectively scrutinise it. That scrutiny of the EU is one of the core activities of our House. European Union legislation affects the people, businesses and other organisations of this country in many different ways. Whatever view one may take about the desirability of this—there are differing views in your Lordships’ House and on our committees—it is nevertheless crucial for the United Kingdom Parliament to play a full and effective part in this scrutiny.
During the two-year Session in question, around 1,800 European documents were deposited in Parliament. Of these, the chairman of the committee referred over 700 either to the Select Committee or one of the then seven sub-committees for close examination. In the course of examining these 700 items, the committee sent over 1,200 letters to Ministers. The committee has produced 34 full reports, ranging from major cross-cutting issues such as the single market and the euro area crisis on the one hand to more specific policies, such as the mobility of healthcare professionals in the EU and the EU drugs strategy, and foreign policy matters such as the European Union and the situation in Sudan. The aim of all this work is for the family of House of Lords European Union committees to play their part in parliamentary scrutiny of these matters by influencing and holding to account the United Kingdom Government; influencing and scrutinising the European Commission and other institutions, such as the European Parliament; engaging with stakeholders at home and abroad; and informing the House of Lords as a whole and contributing to a wider public debate about important European Union policies.
I hope that the scrutiny process is extremely open. It certainly benefits greatly from the input of people and organisations affected by the policies that we examine. In preparing our reports on this Session, we sought out evidence from around 400 people and organisations in writing and from more than 300 witnesses in person, so in this short speech I can give only a broad overview of the Committee’s work. I hope that others, who are in good numbers here, can give further specific examples in support.
I would like, however, to draw out two examples of effective working. First, on a very specific issue: at a meeting in September the Minister for Europe explained that the committee’s 2011 report on the EU police mission in Afghanistan, which highlighted the need to focus on gender issues and human rights, to encourage the recruitment and training of female officers and to invest in literacy, had been accepted by Her Majesty’s Government and the Commission and followed up by the Afghan Government. Secondly, on the major and multifaceted policy of the multiannual financial framework, whose outcome is not yet determined, the Select Committee co-ordinated two major inquiries into that framework for 2014 to 2020. It of course sounds highly technical and even a bit rebarbative, but at heart this is about our taxpayers’ money that the European Union intends to spend over the next seven years and how it intends to fund that spending. At a time of austerity, yet in the light of the critical need to support economic growth, the next framework will be the most important of all.
The committee took advantage of the expertise residing in each sub-committee and made a comprehensive analysis of the Commission’s initial proposals. We broadly supported the United Kingdom Government’s call for much greater restraint than the Commission proposed but we also called for greater attention to the quality of spending, with proportionately more directed towards programmes that offered potential to support economic growth and less towards agricultural maintenance. We also noted that the British rebate remains justified while spending is so skewed towards agricultural support.
Our work on the MFF demonstrates some good examples of our committees engaging effectively with others. We launched the report in April 2011 with a seminar hosted by the Centre for European Policy Studies, at which my predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Roper, talked through our findings with a range of stakeholders including some from overseas. He was subsequently invited to act as a rapporteur at a mini-convention on the MFF convened by the Polish presidency, the Commission and the European Parliament last November. This demonstrates well that, although the MFF is only now making headlines in United Kingdom newspapers, the House has been involved throughout and played an important role in the debate that shaped the policies and is still being listened to.
Debates on the committee’s reports enable all Members of the House, whether or not they are members of a European Union committee, to engage with important policies. The committee helps the House as a whole to a greater understanding and engagement on European matters. Like all serious work in Parliament, it is sometimes a challenge to get our messages across through the media. However, as the report notes, in the first week of May 2012 the committee published three major reports, which were the subject of 19 articles in national and regional papers, over 20 reports in online and specialist media, and coverage in the broadcast media. More recently, the topical report on women on boards was covered in international media, including the New York Times.
A new feature is that the Lisbon treaty has given specific duties to national Parliaments particularly to examine legislative proposals for proportionality, and whether they comply with the principle of subsidiarity. If at least one-third of national Parliaments issue a reasoned opinion that a principle does not comply with subsidiarity, a yellow card is triggered, which requires the Commission to reconsider its proposal. During the 2010-12 Session, the House of Lords, acting on reports by the European Union Committee, issued two reasoned opinions, although in neither case was a yellow card triggered. However, in this September, we learn that the subsidiarity check by national Parliaments could have a definite impact on European legislation. A yellow card was then triggered on a proposal on balancing the right of free movement and a right to strike, and the Commission has now withdrawn it.
The Commission is making strides in improving its dealings with national Parliaments, and I have been impressed with Maros Sefcovic, who is the responsible commissioner. We are, however, working to improve the timeliness and level of detail that the Commission provides in response to concerns raised by national Parliaments. There is a general appetite for greater intensity of activity in that area.
At the end of this long Session, the House decided to reduce the number of EU sub-committees from seven to six. This was decided before the House appointed me to the chairmanship. Many Members of the House regret that decision. For my part, I understand the pressures on the House and on other committees, and I do not currently propose to reopen this matter, although we will of course keep it under review in the light of our workload.
Looking ahead, I would like first shamelessly to plug the Select Committee’s current inquiry into the further enlargement of the European Union. The committee is examining whether the Union should continue to expand and, if so, what principles should underpin that expansion and how they should be translated into action. What effect will the long economic crisis have on the prospects? The committee intends to publish its report before the end of the session.
I turn to the role of the Government in facilitating effective Parliamentary scrutiny of EU matters. The scrutiny reserve resolution, by which the Government undertake not to agree to proposals in the Council of Ministers unless their scrutiny by the European Union Committee has been completed is an important element of this. From July 2011 to June 2012 there were 87 overrides of scrutiny. For our part, the committee will try to avoid unnecessary overrides. But, for their part, all departments must provide us with information quickly and fully and allow us to carry out our scrutiny work effectively before proposals come up for decision within the Council. Government as a whole must be firm not to allow itself to be railroaded into premature agreement to proposals without allowing proper time for parliamentary scrutiny.
Over the summer the committee, and our counterpart committee in the Commons, became embroiled in an entirely unnecessary row with the Government about whether a report from President Van Rompuy about further economic and monetary union should be deposited in Parliament for scrutiny. It was deposited, after a short delay, and I hope that the Government have learnt their lesson and fully accept that their role is to facilitate rather than inhibit effective parliamentary scrutiny.
Scrutinising European documents provides a good starting point, but we must make sure that we do not become document-obsessed. Appointing subject-specialist sub-committees is a good way to ensure that the House acquires and makes use of the existing expertise in key European Union subjects, ensuring that it does not over-fixate on this or that document and at the same time is nimble enough to contribute to major policy debates at an early stage. Recently, the Internal Market, Infrastructure and Employment Sub-Committee investigated the issue of quotas for women on boards—I have already mentioned media coverage of that—and was able to produce a detailed report on the matter before the Commission had even managed to agree on its own proposal. In what I suspect is a record for the House, the report was debated two working days after it was published.
My priorities for the committees themselves are as follows. We must ensure that we engage as effectively as possible beyond the confines of the committees: with the broader House; with stakeholders; with the media and the general public; and with the major EU institutions such as the Commission and the European Parliament. We must doggedly pursue the major policy issues, in particular by following up our key policy reports. European policies often develop slowly, and our subject-specialist committees give us a unique ability to engage with them consistently, over a period of years. We must continue to work hard on our external communications. In recent years, we have held seminars and stakeholder events. Only last week there was a well attended seminar on the new European External Action Service. I hope that we will continue this work in future sessions.
Over the years, the House has built a strong reputation in other parts of the Union for its EU scrutiny work. Shortly after my appointment, I visited Brussels for introductory meetings and was struck by the high level of awareness of what we do. When meeting Vice-President Sefcovic I even noticed a copy of the report we are debating now on his desk. I have also represented this committee at COSAC, the conference of EU committees of national Parliaments. Our reputation there is high and, because of this, I think that there is something of an open door to advancing our levels of engagement further.
I have said that the work of the committee is transparent. However, it is not easy for people with an interest in a particular European Union policy to find all the relevant documents: the proposal itself, the United Kingdom Government’s memorandum and any comments by the scrutiny committee. I hope that we can come together to find a technical solution to permit much easier and better searching of all the material relating to EU matters, which is currently spread widely across the web.
The Session on which we are reporting finished on 1 May. Our report was published at the start of June, but we are only now debating it. Although I am of course grateful for this slot in Grand Committee, it is not quite what one would call “prime time”, particularly when there are European Statements in the Chamber itself. Reports by Select Committees sometimes have to wait longer to be debated, and we need to do some hard thinking about how this can be better organised.
We also need to think how we can encourage as many non-committee members as possible to speak in debates. We want to make sure that our work engages the interest of all Members of the House and is intelligible to them. Equally, we must work the system to facilitate and encourage participation in debates.
In conclusion, I suggest that, at a time of uncertainty and change in Europe, it is more important than ever that this House retains its ability, assisted by the European Union Committee, which now reports, to understand, examine, challenge and influence the European policies of Her Majesty’s Government and the development of European Union policy and law across the whole Union. In that spirit, I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, and indeed to precede the noble Lord, Lord Roper, the present and past chairs of the committee. As a member of the committee, I have seen how much work it does. It is a Trojan amount of work. As noble Lords have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, it sees and sifts hundreds of documents before we see them on the sub-committees. I pay tribute to each of the members, because they have done—and are doing—a fantastic job. Well deserved praise should be showered on them.
I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Boswell. I find it strange that on a subject that is so important and so central, particularly to politics in the United Kingdom at the moment, we are discussing this report in Grand Committee and not on the Floor of the House. It is even more ridiculous when we have a Statement on the European Council on the Floor of the House that no doubt all of us would like to be in on. It is really quite astonishing.
I am proud and pleased to serve on the committee. I find it fascinating to be a member of the European Union Committee of this House. I have been on committees elsewhere and I find this one of the most interesting jobs that I have undertaken—particularly Sub-Committee C, which the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, chairs with great skill. We are carrying out a huge volume of work.
The work of committees is central to this House and this part of the legislature, and sometimes it is undervalued. I was dismayed when the House agreed to cut the number of sub-committees and make the work of this committee and its sub-committees much more difficult. I am even more dismayed to have read in the Guardian on Saturday that we will have to put up with 80, or maybe 100, more Peers at a time when we are cash-limited. I do not know where the money is going to come from; we are going to be squeezed again, and no doubt the committees will be squeezed again. What committees will they serve on? It really is quite outrageous that this should be forced upon us. There seems to be an unlimited amount of money for ceremonial purposes or new security measures, but not for the central work of the legislature—the committee work that we are undertaking. Well, noble Lords did not expect me to be non-controversial!
I move on to the very valuable reports. As the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, said, they are very well thought of. I have heard some really great comments about them. However, there are two things to express some regret about, one being that they do not get enough coverage in the media, as the noble Lord said. We need the resources and skills to enable that to be done, and we need opportunities to get more coverage. Thankfully, the situation has improved in the past 12 months but more needs to be done. We also need to push the Commission to get more responses from it more quickly. The Commission says that it likes our reports, but it is not responding to them as quickly as I and the committee would like.
I shall mention some of the reports that are worth further publicity and further noting. One is the report on Operation Atalanta, which was fantastically interesting work. We went up to Northwood and heard some very valuable evidence about what is being done to combat piracy in the Indian Ocean. That is absolutely vital work and it is life-saving—it is a life or death operation that is being undertaken. Much more attention should have been paid to that. Then there was the very important report on the multiannual financial framework. What is central and what is happening in the Chamber is the Statement on the European Council. This is central to the discussions that the Prime Minister has in Brussels—and we have been working on that.
Two other reports have been particularly valuable. One is on the equivalence of medical professional qualifications, on which the former Sub-Committee G, under the excellent chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, produced a report—and then they abolished her committee to save money, in the strange way that they have here. This was a vital report. We know that there was one example where someone purported to be a medical doctor and a death resulted because he was not qualified. In the report we suggested putting the safety of patients before the free movement of labour. The ability of people to move from one jurisdiction to the other with qualifications being automatically accepted is a vital matter.
The last of the reports that I want to mention—I am conscious that a lot of noble Lords want to speak—is the one on credit rating agencies. That was a prescient report. To be honest, it did not go as far as I would have liked because I see them as a problem as far as the economy of the world is concerned. Nevertheless, we were ahead of the game in relation to that.
As the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, said, there are two fascinating reports under way: one by the committee itself on enlargement—again, a central issue—and one by Sub-Committee C, on which I serve, on the External Action Service. We have already started work on that with a seminar that the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, mentioned and with the evidence that we have had. Each report will prove very useful.
Finally—I am watching my time—I come to a wider issue. It is really quite depressing that for short-term, party-political gain, some people, not just in the government parties but in my own party, are starting to think or even talk about a further referendum on being in or out of Europe. It is about time that those of us who believe in Europe stood up and said so, and said that we think Europe is important not just for trade in the United Kingdom and a free trade area but for the security and prosperity of the United Kingdom. Therefore, we want to make sure that that is spoken of loudly. Of course we can be sceptical about Europe. We can challenge it, rightly, but we should be right in the centre of Europe to do that challenging and questioning. I hope that Members of this Committee, who know the work of the European Union better than anyone, will join me during this debate in echoing the fact that our membership of the European Union is absolutely vital for the future prosperity of this United Kingdom.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lords, Lord Boswell and Lord Foulkes, for their very kind remarks. I wish the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, well in his time as chairman. I also thank the members of the committee and its staff for having made my time as chairman so agreeable. It has been a very pleasant job. Listening to the eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, at the end of his remarks reminded me of the speeches that he made in 1975 during the last referendum. He has been campaigning on this issue for a year or two.
I have three brief points, which overlap to some extent with the remarks of the two previous noble Lords. I begin with the reference in paragraphs 8 and 9 of the report to a decision to reduce the number of our sub-committees from seven to six. This was the most disappointing thing that occurred during my chairmanship. Although I am sure that the six sub-committees do their best to cover the substantial flow of European Union legislation—the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, made clear just how much flows in and is sifted to the sub-committees—the loss of the sub-committee so ably chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, inevitably means a reduction in the effectiveness of our scrutiny of European proposals and of the Government’s position on them. I very much hope that in due course consideration can be given to returning to seven sub-committees.
Secondly, during the discussion on the number of sub-committees at the beginning of this year, it became clear that the work of our committee is not as well understood within the House as it should be, not only among Members of the House as a whole but among members of the Liaison Committee, which made the recommendation to the House to reduce the number of committees. I am extremely glad that the present chairman of the Liaison Committee has had recent experience as chairman of one of our sub-committees and as an active member of the committee over a long period.
As has been suggested, the debate today is one way in which we try to make the work of this committee better known, but, alas, as has been said already, relatively few non-members of the committee are present. I wonder whether the committee can think of other ways of doing this, perhaps through a wider circulation of our monthly newsletter, certainly to people who have served on the committee or one of its sub-committees, whom I sometimes refer to as our alumni, or your alumni—I am sorry; I slip into “our” all too easily.
It is extremely sad that, as has been said, the committee’s work is very widely recognised in Brussels, in Whitehall, as one sees from the correspondence which we have with Ministers, who are very much aware of the questions that we ask, and, indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, said, as we find when we go to the meetings of COSAC, where other European member states’ parliamentary European committees are represented, but it is not sufficiently noticed in Westminster. We need to think about that.
The third point concerns our relations with those in this country who are affected by the matters that we are considering. The report contains two examples of seminars that were held during the two-year period. One is referred to in paragraph 47 by the sub-committee on social affairs under the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey; the second is referred to in paragraph 76, and the sub-committee on agriculture, fisheries, environment and energy had a very interesting seminar following up one of its reports.
More recently—last week—the Sub-Committee on External Affairs held a most useful seminar on the European External Action Service. I believe that this form of outreach is mutually beneficial. It is beneficial to our sub-committees to learn from those affected by European legislation in the more informal setting of a seminar rather than in more formal meetings or, indeed, in written evidence. It also enables those affected by the legislation and activities of the European Union to discover the way in which this House addresses European issues. I realise the significant additional burden that organising such seminars places on the hard-working staff of the committee, but I hope that they can be continued because I believe that they are a very useful part of the committee’s work.
In conclusion, while I do from time to time get disheartened by the state of the European Union and the relations of this country with the Union, I am always heartened when I think of the effectiveness of your Lordships’ committee. I wish it well in its future work, which I shall certainly watch with interest.
My Lords, I believe that this may be the first occasion on which the House has debated the work of its EU Select Committee over the previous three years. Whether it is or not, it is surely a debate worth having. I welcome the participation in it of our two distinguished and effective chairs during the period in question—the noble Lords, Lord Boswell and Lord Roper, who have both preceded me.
It is a debate worth having because it has been alleged frequently in the House by at least one of its Members that the work of the committee is worthless and because it is also suggested that the resources devoted to the work of the committee are excessive. I believe that neither of these criticisms is well founded, but it is right that a member of the committee, such as me, should be ready to defend that view in debate and not simply to assert it. I was a little disappointed to see that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, made only a cameo appearance some moments ago— 10 seconds, I think. He may have gone off to get a string of garlic to hang round his neck before facing such dangerous people around the Table. If he has not, I wish that he would come and substantiate some of his claims in the sort of debate that we are having.
I will focus first on the work of the Sub-Committee on Home Affairs, Health and Education, which I have the honour to chair, and to whose members both past and present—I note that at least two of them are here—I pay tribute for their hard work and effective contributions. During the period in question, the sub-committee produced two major, thematic reports: on the European Union’s internal security strategy and on the European Union’s drug strategy. A third on the general approach to mobility and migration will be published within the next month. Since it has not yet been adopted, I will make no further reference to it in this debate.
In each of those thematic reports we have addressed European Union policies that are still being formulated and shaped, and we have thus aimed to contribute to that process, not merely to commenting after the event. I believe that we have had some success. In our work on the internal security strategy, we focused mainly on counterterrorism, civil protection and cybersecurity. Our overall conclusion can be summed up in a single, very brief phrase: Britain’s internal security neither begins nor ends at the water’s edge. We strongly recommended that a cybercrime centre be established within the existing Europol agency and not as a separate free-standing agency, and it seems likely that the Commission will accept that advice when it brings forward proposals for the development of Europol early next year. During this and other work we have done, we have formed a high opinion of the work of Europol and of its use and value to this country. That view will certainly be relevant when we take up the Protocol 36 opt-out decision in the next few weeks.
On the drugs strategy, as in so many areas with which our sub-committee deals—internal security and migration are others—we found ourselves in a policy area where there are mixed competences and where the principle of subsidiarity is alive and well and is actually being applied. We did not think in any of those cases that the boundary between the European Union as such and national competences should be shifted; rather, we thought that the European Union’s input should be better focused and less broad-brush. We called for a wide and inclusive public debate on drugs. I wish I could say that that call has been heeded, but it has not. The paucity and poverty of public debate on drugs is truly shameful.
In addition to those thematic reports, the Lisbon treaty has heaped on to our plate a whole range of new responsibilities reflecting the fact that now, for the first time in the EU’s history, national Parliaments have been given a clear role in the EU’s legislative processes. Thus, we not only intervened in a yellow card subsidiarity procedure in respect of the draft seasonal workers directive but we produced opt-in reports on the passenger name recognition directive and on the proceeds of crime directive. On the first of those, our recommendation to opt in was accepted by the Government; the second has not yet been so, but I very much hope that it will be at the adoption stage. In one area—the data protection directive—I fear that the Government failed to implement their commitment under the Ashton-Lidington undertakings to provide time for a debate before the opt-in period expired. That was lamentable. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, accepted that that had been an error and the Government’s decision to opt in was in any case what the committee had recommended. Least said, soonest mended.
In conclusion, I shall turn to two matters that fall outside the purview of my sub-committee. First, there is the EU’s multiannual financial framework, which has been referred to by other speakers, on which the main committee has spent much time and effort. The European Council’s failure at the end of last week to reach agreement was regrettable but not surprising—nor was it unprecedented. The gaps between the different groups in the Council were too wide to bridge at one attempt. That was exactly what happened, too, in December 1987, but it did not prevent a satisfactory agreement being reached in February 1988. The problem is that these budgetary negotiations really are zero-sum games: one country’s gain is another’s loss and the overall common interest tends to get overlooked as the competition for resources becomes more acute.
Our committee supported the Government’s aims to achieve a real-terms freeze over the next seven years. We did not consider that a cut was either desirable or achievable. The fact that the Prime Minister was able to work together with a group of like-minded member states was admirable and greatly increases the chances of an ultimate outcome with which the UK can live, even if it may contain some difficult compromises. Failure to reach agreement in the new year, particularly if the UK were alone to be responsible for that, would not, I believe, be in this country’s interests given that in the absence of an agreed MFF the European Union would have to fall back on an annual budgetary system that could well produce higher figures and an even less desirable distribution between policies.
The second matter, to which several other noble Lords have referred, is the decision that the House took earlier this year to cut the resources allocated to EU scrutiny and to abolish one of the Select Committee’s sub-committees. To have taken that decision shortly after the Lisbon treaty had considerably increased the overall work of European scrutiny and just when national Parliaments had gained a foothold in the EU’s legislative process was, I would say if I was being polite, counterintuitive. I would call it aberrant. I trust that when these matters next come up for review—for example, at the beginning of the next Session—that lamentable decision will be reversed. Unless the Minister, in replying to the debate, is tempted to retreat into procedural obfuscation and to argue that this is a matter for the House and not for the Government, I urge him at least to make it clear that the Government want to see the work of the EU Select Committee properly resourced and up to the challenges that it faces in the years ahead.
My Lords, as the chairman of EU Sub-Committee B, which scrutinises proposals from the Commission in the fields of the internal market, infrastructure and employment, I am delighted to have the unusual opportunity of sharing with the Grand Committee the highlights of our work within the 2010-12 Session. Before doing so, I thank the current and past members of the committee and the clerks, policy analysts and our committee assistant, who is about to retire. Everyone has contributed unstintingly to our work in the 2010-12 Session. Of course, we are all very grateful that we operate under the guidance of the Select Committee itself. We say a big thank you to the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, who took over from the very effective noble Lord, Lord Roper. It seemed to be seamless but I am sure that it was not. At the risk of repetition, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Roper.
During the 2010-12 Session, Sub-Committee B produced two reports and undertook enhanced scrutiny on other issues of interest. The two reports were on the single market and on the Channel Tunnel. The single market report was particularly significant because it dealt with the Single Market Act I in the light of the Commission’s recent proposal for the Single Market Act II. It is gratifying to realise that our recommendation that e-procurement be introduced at EU level will be included in the Single Market Act II. We also realise that the tax harmonisation that we suggested is likely to be included likewise.
The committee’s second report was about the Channel Tunnel, and scrutinising proposed legislation and reporting on issues of significance within the EU is what we are about. However, we have also adopted in our sub-committee a consumer focus—not consumer issues per se but saying whether the consumer will either benefit or not benefit from the results in our recommendations. The second report was completed in conjunction with consideration of the interoperability of the rail network throughout Europe. Closer to home, we looked at the Channel Tunnel and found to our amazement that it is operating at about 50% of its capacity for passenger traffic and at only 10% of its capacity for freight traffic. Frankly, the idea that we as a nation cannot benefit from the huge rail markets in the rest of the single market of which we are part because of the limitations placed by the Channel Tunnel is inexcusable when you consider the huge amount of investment and all the financial problems that have been sorted out—we hope.
We took an amazing amount of evidence from a wide range of sources, including representatives from Eurostar and Eurotunnel, from government officials, as well as, of course, from Deutsche Bahn, which has been trying—without success so far, but it is almost there—to use the Channel Tunnel. As I said, the report concluded that the total potential of the tunnel is a long way off being realised.
We recommended that the Government and the Commission work harder to deliver this interoperable, effective European rail network within reasonable timescales. We were not happy with the response that we got from the Government to our report and when we had a debate on the Floor of the House, so we decided to follow up with an evidence session with the newly appointed Minister for Transport, Simon Burns MP, in which we made no secret of the lack of government engagement. This was addressed. The session revealed that some headway had been made in the direction of the committee’s conclusions. The talks with Deutsche Bahn, the potential passenger carrier, for example, have progressed greatly. This means that there is only one more safety-related issue to be agreed. It is clear, however, that much work is still to be done and the pressure still has to be kept on the Government, Eurostar and the other operators. However, I can assure noble Lords that, as we warned during the evidence session, we are keeping a close watch on progress, or the lack of it.
We also covered several items of enhanced security. It was a very interesting part of our work; indeed, all of our work has been interesting. We looked at enhanced security on matters directly relating to consumers because, as I have said, we had a focus on consumers. We undertook an in-depth look at enhanced security on roaming charges for data—not the roaming charges for mobile phones. In May this year, the European Parliament voted for further cuts to roaming charges for data. We were quite pleased about that.
We were also instrumental in holding the Government to account during the volcanic ash crisis caused by the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull—we call it “E15”, because there are 16 letters and it begins with “E”—the Icelandic volcano that caused such disruption to air travel; I apologise for my non-Icelandic pronunciation. We took evidence from Jonathan Moor, the then director of aviation at the Department for Transport, and senior government officials, clarifying, among other issues, whether there was scope for the European Aviation Safety Agency to play a role in regulating flights within such levels of ash concentration and whether the six-day ban on air travel in Europe had been excessive.
This is very much a snapshot of the diligent, concentrated work by Sub-Committee B by an enthusiastic membership. On the rare occasions when we cancelled a meeting because the scrutiny work was not urgent, and it was thought better to have a full and interesting meeting in a fortnight’s time, I have been upbraided by some members for denying them the opportunity of their Monday afternoon fix of fascinating topics.
Since it has already been mentioned, I ought to mention the report that we did on women on boards. It has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Boswell. Of course, we made history about “within two working days”. We had a debate, and were there one day before the decision came out of the Commission. One of the points that I want to make, and at this stage this is the only opportunity that I am likely to have, is that we had a time-limited debate on the Floor of the House and there were 15 speakers—in fact, there were more men than women. Other than me and the winders-up, the speakers were limited to two minutes. It was a remarkable debate because each of the Members who was limited to two minutes made a specific relevant point, not repeated by any of the others, and the whole debate was actually fizzing. We ought to think about that when it comes to the long, exhausting debates that we have on the Floor of the House and try to get our act together. That way we might engender more respect for European issues in the House as a whole.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain. I congratulate her on her work on women on boards and on her consumer focus in her committee. As a non-committee member, it is a pleasure for me to take part in this debate where we look back at the extensive and thorough scrutiny of EU legislation undertaken by the European Union Committee and its sub-committees. We thank the noble Lord, Lord Boswell of Aynho, and the former chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Roper, and indeed all the former committee members, including my non-controversial noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, for their detailed and influential work at a time of great flux for the EU.
As president of the Trading Standards Institute, I was particularly interested in the work of the sub-committee on consumer protection. Part of reinvigorating confidence among British consumers and getting us out of this recession is improving, protecting and increasing their buying activity within the EU. The committee’s report on the EU financial framework for 2014 heralded the difficult discussions in Brussels over the past few days on the future of the EU’s budget. The Prime Minister has the unenviable task of negotiating not only with the EU Commission and each of the member states but also with his out-and-proud Back Benches, whose idea of a successful relationship with Europe is spelt “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”.
In his speech to business leaders in London this week, Tony Blair will make the essential case for the EU to become more relevant, not less, as a trading bloc in an increasingly competitive world. In the UK, we should be standing up to the BRIC countries in trading terms through our membership of the EU, not throwing verbal bricks through the Commission’s windows from a position of pedantic insularity. The CBI and others in the UK’s business community do not want us to have second-class membership of the EU; they want us to travel into the next decade in business class only.
The committee’s work on the scrutiny of subsidiarity and proportionality, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, is all the more important at a time when the public’s view of the EU is so often of resentment towards perceived high-handedness from Brussels. As my taxi driver told me today, “I hate that Europe. Why should some Danish geezer sitting in Brussels tell us what a Cornish pasty should look like—or was it some Cornish geezer sitting in Brussels telling us what a Danish pastry should look like?” He has a point. There is often a case for less Europe, just as there is sometimes a case for more. That is all part of the reform agenda, which this EU Committee takes an energetic role in.
Ed Miliband spoke last week to the CBI on that very subject. Being pro-European does not mean being complacent in our European policy. As Ed Miliband said,
“there is an urgent imperative for us to reform the European Union so that it can help us compete and pay our way in the world”.
In that process of reform, we need to seek to build and rebuild alliances for a different approach. From our point of view in the Opposition, that means a more pro-growth, pro-jobs approach for all parts of Europe, including the UK.
Does anyone really think that a weaker and de-integrating Europe would bring us improved living standards in the UK in the future or that it would be anything other than a wondrous windfall for all those Asian and South American businesses that are busy plotting, as we speak, to dominate global consumer markets tomorrow, never mind the next decade? Does anyone really think that, if our Eurosceptic friends—all those people who still have trouble dealing with the tragic events of 1066—have their way, we would have anything other than a Europe that simply could not protect our future prosperity, in Birmingham as much as in Barcelona and in Manchester as much as in Milan? Do we really want Britain to be decoupled and to cast itself adrift from Europe, and to set itself up as some kind of bargain basement Atlantis, with all the economic strength of the Faroe Islands and all the political influence of Rockall?
Some may want to take risks with Britain’s prosperity, but the Opposition most emphatically do not. This EU Committee will continue to be an example to us all.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, who is the first non-member of the committee to speak in this debate, particularly to hear the robust statement of her view about the future of Britain without membership of the European Union.
I begin by thanking the two chairmen of the committee under whom I have served for many years. The noble Lord, Lord Boswell, has taken over from the noble Lord, Lord Roper, in a very strong manner. I am delighted that both of them are here today and have contributed so notably to the debate. The remarks that the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, made about this being a time of uncertainty and change are, if anything, underestimating the crisis that we face. However, he is a man of moderation, and I would not expect him to exaggerate.
The work that the committee has performed under the two chairmen seems to demonstrate that this Parliament in which we serve has the capability to open up what is actually happening in the European Union and, by the care that is taken and evidence that is submitted, adjust policy, influence government and influence the European Union itself. In all my contacts with the European Union over the past 10 years since I served on the Convention on the Future of Europe, I have been conscious that this committee is very highly respected throughout the institutions. There is one institutional question that we might consider addressing to enhance our effectiveness, which is by having a closer link with the Members of the European Parliament who are elected from this country. It would serve them well, as well as us, to have a dialogue on a more frequent basis about particular issues. We have bilateral meetings, but they are infrequent and they tend to be rather general in their thinking.
I also believe that the work that this committee does is notable for its transparency, its openness to influence from all those stakeholders who are effective and to real dialogue with Ministers. That makes the work of this committee worthy of greater notice than we are actually attracting. I think we have to put our heads together to work out how to draw the attention of the public to what we are doing and saying because the European Union has for some years been a whipping boy. Politicians have taken whatever opportunity they could to suggest that our difficulties are in some way a consequence of the European Union, and that is so far from the truth. I am a child of my generation; the Second World War is closely knitted into my very being. Those who are saying the European Union is not about the prevention of war in Europe are showing a remarkable lack of understanding of history. It is vital, in my opinion, that we reflect on the centuries of tension and military confrontations which have caused tragedy beyond measure, particularly in the 20th century.
In this debate, we are considering 34 reports which are summarised in their conclusions. I do not intend to speak about them in detail because that is not the role of this debate. It is about the nature and direction of our work, but I will mention three in particular. The justice and institutions report on the overload of the European Court of Justice was a very brave report, indicating that more money needed to be spent, even at this time of recession and tight budgets. Strong concern was expressed by the members of that committee because there was fear that the European Court of Justice, if not sustained by our membership, could go the way of the European Court of Human Rights, with great delay frustrating the delivery of justice through inadequate support and inadequate judges. The government response to our report was not as straightforward or as strong as it should have been. Subsequently, we heard from the Commission that it shared the committee’s concern and expressed support for the court’s own proposal to increase the number of judges in the General Court. That is an issue that is still alive and we will need, in my view, to return to it.
I listened with interest to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, about drugs. It is a very good point of view. This is not a matter that should be considered wholly within the ambit of the European Union’s responsibility. However, it is currently reconsidering its drugs policy. We ought to bring out the fact that there are differences of experience within the European Union in the treatment of the drugs problem, which has a massive impact on levels of crime in this country and in other European countries, and which has cross-border aspects as well. I agree with the thrust of the noble Lord’s report, which was that we must have better communication on these issues. That is very true.
One major point that the noble Lord’s report brought out that we should all study with care is the experience of the Portuguese Government, and how in the past decade they took a more advanced and radical view on the criminality of drugs and on the legalisation of drug taking. The evidence that was produced following a visit to Lisbon indicated that progress was being made. That seems to be an example that we in this country might want to follow. I hope that it will be considered.
The final report I will refer to is that on defence capability. Basically it indicated that the German nation was not paying enough attention to, and not participating significantly in, this sphere. That was a reasonable view. We and the Government have tended to emphasise Anglo-French co-operation in defence matters, but the German nation has the resources to make a significant contribution—not necessarily in imposing the will of the European Union on third countries outside, but in participating in what the European Union regards as in its interests.
I conclude by expressing the view that the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, was right to talk about the slow development of policy in the European Union. However, that might change if the public were more aware of how policy is being developed, if Members of Parliament and members of the Government were more open in discussing these matters, and if the media covered these things with greater attention than they do. I say this particularly in the light of the fact that we have a new director-general of the BBC, who I hope will give some consideration to this and who is also a Member of our House. These are issues of much greater importance than the daily reports of local crime that take up at least one-third of news bulletins. I am tremendously eager for what this Committee is debating to be understood, and for the Government to stop talking in general terms about the European Union and to focus more on the particularities with which this committee gets to grips.
My Lords, I, too, greatly welcome the report and the debate. I have greatly valued my participation over the past five years. Half of it was on Sub-Committee E and half on Sub-Committee C. The report shows the importance and relevance of EU committees and sub-committees and of the work that they do: the scrutiny, the reports they produce and the occasional visits abroad. In my case this involved a trip to Brussels and 24 hours with the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, in an underground conference centre in Paphos, where speeches were limited to one minute each or—the Minister may note—30 seconds for members of coalitions. The committees’ reports are, rightly, highly regarded here and in Brussels. I stress that they are widely, if not universally, respected. I, like the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, rather regret that some of those who are rather more critical of our reports are not present to take part in this debate. With some trepidation, I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, had slipped in for a moment or two just now, but he has since slipped out.
Since the period of this report, the number of sub-committees has been reduced from seven to six, as several noble Lords have mentioned. I understand the reasons for that; I also understand why some members of the committees regret it. Although I ought perhaps to duck at this point, I do not think that the reduction necessarily weakens the importance or visibility of the EU Committee or its sub-committees. Speaking as a member of Sub-Committee C on external affairs, I am secretly pleased that the oyster of foreign policy has been infiltrated by the grit of international trade.
However, I want to make one more general point. For those of us who have been involved in difficult EU negotiations over the years—in my case, under successive Prime Ministers and Governments, they included the negotiations over the single market, the Single European Act of 1986, the Maastricht treaty involving enlargement from 12 to 27, and the introduction and birth pangs of the euro—even against that background, we are in the middle of an extraordinarily difficult time, both for the EU, as the eurozone struggles to find some sort of equilibrium, and for Britain’s participation in and possibly departure from the EU.
To some extent I echo the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, in saying that the EU clearly has two huge achievements to its credit: first, the knitting together of western Europe after two world wars and, secondly, its provision of an economically liberal, democratic home for the countries of eastern Europe after the break-up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. I, for one, do not see the award of the Nobel Peace Prize as being over the top for that. Perhaps I could ask the Minister to tell us who will be representing the United Kingdom at the awards ceremony for that prize next month.
However, given that there is no political goal similar to those of the past 30 years, and with the euro in trouble and opinion here increasingly sceptical there is—to put it at its mildest—a real question about the future of the European Union. There is a real need in this country for a proper, informed and dispassionate debate about the options before us. What are the implications for Britain of a semi-detached or completely detached status from the European Union? What are the implications for British industry, agriculture, the environment, social policy, aid policy or our foreign and defence policy? What are the potential implications for Britain’s role in the world and its relation with, say, future United States Administrations?
I believe that Britain’s interests and our hard-headed national interests lie in continuing to remain in, and influence, the EU’s institutions and policies to contribute to a stable relationship between those in and those outside the euro, so that we can benefit from the single market. To avoid any misunderstanding, I see absolutely no contradiction whatever between full participation in the single market and strengthening our commercial, economic and trading relations with China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa. We really need to do both. One has only to look at the contrast between Britain’s commercial and economic relations with China and those of Germany to realise how much needs to be done. As I say, we need an informed debate about those issues.
No one has yet mentioned this today, but the Government’s work on EU competences will no doubt help in that. I hope that the EU committees can be involved in that work, but that will go only so far and will take time. Meanwhile, politics advances. An increasingly isolationist tendency here and an increasingly self-absorbed eurozone, with the non-eurozone countries deeply reluctant to follow the UK towards a semi or complete detachment, is not a happy prospect for this country. This House should be well placed to play a part in that debate, which we really need. We have the expertise from different standpoints. Both in our committee work and on the Floor of the House, there is a real need for us to try to ensure that there is a properly informed, dispassionate debate about the hugely important issues before us.
As others have said, this House will be listened to if it engages in such debates. This is perhaps a question for the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, when he ends the debate. Could the EU Committee contribute ideas for ways in which the House can play a full part in that debate? Does the Minister have thoughts about how this House can play a more effective role in such a debate? That is hugely important for us; this House has a huge role to play in that.
My Lords, I start by briefly and as simply as possible setting out my position on Europe. I am neither a Euro-enthusiast nor a Eurosceptic. I am a Euro-challenger. In fact, I believe that that should be the role of the EU Select Committee and its six sub-committees. There is much to challenge in what comes out of Brussels. In our work, it is not our function, to appear, as was the fashion in earlier years, communautaire—that is, to support the Commission in its endeavours to create an ever closer union. The path to that objective diverged long ago, first with the formal introduction of the concept of subsidiarity in the Maastricht treaty in February 1992 and, subsequently, with the introduction of a single currency for some EU members. Our task is to establish whether what the Commission proposes is sensible, practical, necessary and, I would say, above all, in the interests of the UK.
I am currently a member of both the Select Committee and EU Sub-Committee A, the economic and financial affairs sub-committee. Sub-Committee A is chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, who regrets that he is unable to be here today because he is at a conference of EU finance committee chairs. I regard it as a particular privilege to be on the Select Committee. It is my second time on it, so I have been lucky enough to serve under two remarkable previous chairmen: first, the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, who has done so much for the reputation of the House of Lords in Europe; and, secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Roper, who is one of the most fair-minded people I have ever been lucky enough to serve under. Now, I am under my old friend and colleague from more than 40 years ago, when we were both children in the Conservative Research Department, my noble friend Lord Boswell.
A central element of Sub-Committee A’s work has been its analysis of the ongoing euro crisis. The committee’s first report on the crisis, entitled, The Future of Economic Governance in the EU, was published in March 2011. We concluded that the interconnection of sovereign debt and banking sectors was one of the principal causes of the euro area crisis. We pointed to the weakening effect on public finances of transferring private debt to the public sector and argued that effective mechanisms needed to be put in place to ensure that the public sector did not carry the cost of failing banks. We highlighted the risk of a vicious circle between sovereign debt and a weakened banking sector.
However, it took a long time for this particular penny to drop in Brussels. It was the Commission, in cahoots with the ECB, which persuaded the Irish and Spanish Governments to take on to their books the debts of their banks. Their Eureka moment appears to have come only last month, when the Council conclusions announced that,
“it is imperative to break the vicious circle between banks and sovereigns”—
a bit late, my Lords. We also drew attention to the flaws in the concept and design of EMU, revealed in:
“An asymmetry between a centralised monetary policy and decentralised fiscal and supply-side policies … with a build-up of competitiveness imbalances between Member States”.
We published a follow-up report in February 2012, written in conjunction with the EU Select Committee, which noted how,
“National governments and EU institutions have … struggled to keep up with the pace of events”,
and stressed the need for “effective and proactive leadership” in meeting the massive challenges faced by the EU and the euro area in particular. Since that report was published, we have continued our analysis, most recently in the form of three follow-up evidence sessions with appropriate experts in July. We wrote to the Minister at the end of July setting out our views on such issues as the future of the euro area, the implications of fiscal and banking union for the UK, the role of the ECB and banking supervision, and the direct recapitalisation of banks. We also covered euro bonds and the compact for growth and jobs. We will continue our examination of the crisis in the new year.
EU Sub-Committee A has also reported on other highly significant legislative proposals, notably the European Commission’s proposals for a financial transaction tax. Our report, Towards a Financial Transaction Tax?, was published in March 2012. We were highly critical of the Commission’s proposals, described the proposed residence principle as “impractical and unworkable”, and concluded that there was significant risk of the relocation of financial activity outside the EU if an FTT was introduced. We also stressed that the implications for the UK of an FTT could be considerable, even if it chose to stand apart.
In October this year, 11 member states announced their intention to proceed with an FTT under the enhanced co-operation procedure. It is clear to me that the introduction of an FTT limited to some euro area countries could not only damage financial businesses in Frankfurt and Paris but have an adverse effect on banks based inside the euro area. Its effects on London remain uncertain. At present, London leads New York in being one of the three major financial centres of the world; the third is Hong Kong. I am sure that the American and Hong Kong-based banks will benefit, which must have implications, for example, for the future organisation of HSBC.
EU Sub-Committee A has scrutinised a number of other important legislative proposals, including those for deposit guarantee and investor compensation schemes, EU prudential capital requirements and on various other technical issues—I do not have time to go into them all now. The sub-committee has also assessed various bodies and organisations whose roles have become more prominent since the financial crisis erupted. Its July 2011 report, Sovereign Credit Ratings: Shooting the Messenger?, analysed the role and behaviour of these important institutions. We found that the valid charge against the rating agencies was not so much that they precipitated or exacerbated the euro area crisis but rather that, in the years leading up to it, they conspicuously failed to challenge the assumptions on which their assessments of the sustainability of sovereign debt were based. They just got it wrong. We stressed that investors should see sovereign ratings ultimately for what they are: subjective and sometimes remarkably amateur predictions that rely heavily on personal judgments made by rating agency staff who are not that wonderful. Investors should not follow those ratings blindly, but view them as options to be balanced and confirmed by other market indicators. The role of the credit rating agencies remains contentious, but they now seem to recognise the reality, as seen most recently in the decision reached by Moody’s last week to downgrade France’s credit rating.
In July 2011 we also published a report on the new European supervisory authorities: the European Banking Authority, the European Securities and Markets Authority, the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority and the European Systemic Risk Board. These bodies have responsibility for macroprudential oversight of the EU financial system. We considered their powers and their contribution to macroprudential stability, and the influence of the UK on these bodies. We continue to analyse their roles, not least in the case of the European Banking Authority in relation to the sub-committee’s current inquiry into proposals for a banking union. We shall keep a close eye on the Commission’s review of the European system of financial supervisors, which is meant to take place next year. Further, as I have mentioned, we are shortly going to produce a report on the European banking union.
When I visited Brussels recently with the sub-committee, I was struck by the confusion of thought that exists inside the Commission about the implications of a banking union. Not only had it set out a wholly unrealistic timetable, under which the union was to be set up and running by January 2013, but had failed to understand the crucial difference between setting the rulebook for banks and the invigilation or supervision of their behaviour and compliance with those rules. The lesson I draw from that is not that the European Commission should be expanded so that it can perform better, but that it should be less ambitious in what it seeks to do. Her Majesty’s Government have decided that we should not be part of a banking union, but that does not mean that there should not be an overall rulebook for banks throughout the EU. It should mean that the European Banking Authority, which is very properly based in London, should draw up the rules. In 2013 we also expect to receive legislative proposals arising from the Liikanen report on reforming the structure of the EU banking sector.
I have a final comment to make. We all started off by celebrating the single market when it was set up under the 1985 Luxembourg treaty and enacted in 1987. It appeared to be a logical step on the road from a free trade association to a customs union with, eventually, completely free movement of capital, people, goods and services. Necessary harmonisation for that purpose was to be supported, but now the single market is being revealed as a Trojan horse. Harmonisation is being promoted as a stepping stone to deepening, which is the prerequisite for ever closer union. Facing the tough realities of globalisation, it is being argued that there are no limits to the harmonisation that is needed in the EU.
A key area is taxation. Several years ago a senior énarque from the French Ministry of Finance complained to me that there were 30,000 French working in England because of our tax structure. “We must”, he declared, “have a level playing field”. “But at whose level?”, I asked. My clever friend merely smiled. The soldiers inside that horse are not Greeks or Germans. They are mainly French, accompanied, I suspect, by a cadre of hardened Brussels federalists. Today, French refugees are again flooding into London. I am not surprised. President Hollande is leading his countrymen towards the cliff of economic suicide. He would like to take us with him. We must not follow.
As you have heard, the Select Committee is now looking at enlargement. Widening the EU can be either an alternative to further deepening or it can attempt to build upon it. I believe that the cost of deepening, both in terms of the EU budget and the erosion of treasured cultural differences between member nations, may make further deepening politically unacceptable. I hope that our inquiry may be able to identify a looser structure as an alternative to ever closer union. It may be that the so-called variable geometry EU is a way to relieve the stresses which could fracture the whole enterprise. I, for one, would be greatly disappointed if fracture were the outcome. In one sense, the EU is like a political party—it has to agree on more than it disagrees on if it is to survive. If that means an EU of variable geometry, that may be no worse than coalition government in the UK. The cross-party approach of the Select Committee and its sub-committees can be both a guardian of half a century of achievement and a guide to the hazards ahead.
I remain astonished at the insensitivity—some would say arrogance—of the Brussels Commission in making a bid for a 6% increase in the EU budget. One consequence has already been an erosion of public support for the EU. Whether or not we like it, we must face the fact that Britain’s continued membership of the EU as at present constituted is now in doubt. The EU Select Committees have a responsibility to guide Europe’s leaders away from inappropriate and unsustainable EU Commission proposals which could undermine Britain’s role at the heart of Europe, which is where I still wish us to be.
My Lords, having heard the excellent speeches of other noble Lords, I have had to scrub out parts of my speech and modify others. As you can see from this document, I will be lucky to make any sense of it at all.
I applaud the decision to hold this debate on the report of the European Union Committee. As other noble Lords have said, it demonstrates the extraordinary range of work carried out by the committee and its sub-committees. It is a fundamental part of the contribution that the House of Lords makes to our wider political life.
If the Committee will forgive me for being slightly didactic, I have points of reflection and the Minister might want to comment on one or two of them. The first one is to underline that the environment that we have to respond to in Europe in the future will be very different from that of the past.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, I am not a member of the European Union Committee but a happy little member of Sub-Committee D. Essentially, these comments occurred to me on reading through the report. As I have mentioned, there are five of them but they are fairly short. The first is very important to me; namely, that the environment to which we have to respond in Europe in the future will be very different from that of the past.
Most reports of the EU committees have been oriented towards the European Commission but the Commission is no longer where the power is, if it ever was. For the moment, for better or for worse, power lies in the hands of three or four EU national leaders and Mr Draghi. They are pushing through very rapid changes. Even though everyone says that the European Union is moving slowly, the changes that have been introduced are very rapid in historical terms. We all know that the EU has to move fast: it is a case of either much more integration or bust. The eurozone has to become far more integrated, opening up a distance from other EU members. A tangle of complex problems and opportunities will result.
Secondly, this suggests to me that the EU Committee will have to be more proactive than in the past and less Commission driven. It should anticipate likely events in the eurozone and consider implications for a range of possible futures. One could offer many examples; for instance, it is likely that the eurozone might have its own budget. What will the implications of that be for the eurozone and for the rest of Europe? There are a whole range of other issues, such as that which Joschka Fischer famously called “finality” in a very well known speech about 15 years ago; that is, what should the outer boundaries of the EU be? It is hard for me to see that you can have a federal system, which is what is being proposed for the future of the EU, without clearer boundaries than the EU has at the moment. At least the boundaries issue will be raised again forcefully.
Thirdly, there is no mention of media strategy, although some noble Lords have commented on aspects of this. It is clear that some reports deserve wider attention in the media—by which I mean in the European media and not just the UK media—than they get. I know that individual noble Lords go out proactively and give speeches about the reports. However, it is not clear to me that there is an overall strategy. If there is such a strategy, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, or the Minister would say what it is.
Fourthly, partly in regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, said, some thought might be given to preparing a more accessible document for a wider public. The public’s perception is that the EU is an arcane bureaucracy. If one looks at this document, certainly it would tend to confirm that to the legendary taxi driver who was just mentioned. To any pro-European, it is clear that the EU provides a whole range of opportunities for British citizens, which could be brought much more clearly into the open. Why not think of having a shorter, more accessible document for public consumption?
Fifthly, I do not know whether it is legitimate for me to raise this—I will be prepared for the Minister to humiliate me—but I am not clear how noble Lords get on these committees. By that, I mean in the context of the European Union and the other sub-committees. I am not referring to the rules but to the practices. Is there a systematic and public procedure?
I have been on two EU sub-committees and I do not know how I got on them. It just seemed to eventuate. Are there more people than needed—or perhaps there are not enough—to go on these committees? It is a mystery to me how I managed to get on them, although I am very happy to be on them. Is there a place for more transparency in the ways in which noble Lords come to be members perhaps not just of the EU committees but also the other committees of the House?
My Lords, I speak today on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, who is unable to be here. Sub-Committee D, which he so ably chairs and of which I am a very happy member, was responsible for agriculture, fisheries and environment during the 2010-12 Session; since then, energy policy has been added to our portfolio of competences. In terms of our scrutiny load, it was a Session that saw two major packages of legislative proposals; the first of those was the common fisheries policy. Back in 2008, when things were in an initial phase, the sub-committee published a report on the progress of the reform and looking forward to new proposals. Many of the core messages in that report appeared in the Commission legal proposals in July 2011. Upon publication of those proposals, we reasserted our messages to the Government, the Commission and the European Parliament. After the Minister, Richard Benyon MP, managed to secure an interim deal in June 2012, we held an evidence session with him. Regrettably, we also had to haul him over the coals for over-riding parliamentary scrutiny. Otherwise, the scrutiny performance of Defra has been of a high quality in recent times, and I was pleased to be able to reinforce that message and explain a scrutiny committee’s needs to Defra staff at an internal staff training event this June.
The second major package of documents is related to reform of the common agricultural policy. In preparing for the work on the CAP reform, the committee identified an aspect that did not receive significant public policy debate but merited closer examination. This issue was innovation in EU agriculture and an inquiry was duly launched in July 2010, reporting 12 months later. It was encouraging that a number of our recommendations were reflected in the CAP legislative proposals, published in 2011, and the proposals for a new research funding instrument, known as Horizon 2020. In the UK specifically, we were pleased to note progress on farm advice, with the creation of a new Farming Advice Service, providing advice on competitiveness, nutrient management, climate change adaptation and mitigation as well as cost compliance.
The noble Lord, Lord Boswell, referred to the seminars and stakeholder events held by some of the sub-committees. On publication of the CAP and Horizon 2020 proposals, we convened an informal seminar with ministerial and senior Commission officials as well as key stakeholders. The thrust of our report was welcomed, particularly in its recognition of the need to promote the concept of innovation networks, bringing together industry researchers, administrators and the food sector.
On the broader CAP reform package, we continue to scrutinise the Government closely. As your Lordships may be aware, the Cypriot presidency hoped to achieve a partial deal later this week, although how that will work after this weekend’s failed budget negotiations is far from clear. Before the summer, we held a mini-inquiry into the sugar regime aspects of the reform, and took evidence from the then Agriculture Minister, Jim Paice. The new Defra Secretary of State has agreed to meet us soon, and we have engaged with other national Parliaments, most recently at a conference in Cyprus.
Our second major inquiry of the last Session was into the EU freshwater policy. We were aiming to make a contribution to the European Commission’s preparation of its publication 10 days ago of a blueprint for the future EU water policy. Some of our recommendations were reflected in a text, notably on an integrated local approach to water management, and on the use of European Investment Bank loans to support investment. I am delighted that we have secured a slot in the Chamber next Wednesday evening to debate our report so soon after the publication of the blueprint.
We were also pleased to secure a session devoted to our report at the European Commission green week in May. Around 60 people from around the Union came to debate our report and were extremely positive; the head of water policy in the German Administration, who gave evidence to our inquiry, reiterated her support for the report and noted that she had referred to it regularly in her work internally in Germany as well as internationally. Our thanks must go to the excellent work of the EU liaison officer in helping to secure the session at green week. On behalf of Sub-Committee D members, I take the opportunity to thank our staff for their diligence, professionalism and good humour during this Session.
In conclusion, I wish to make a few brief personal remarks. As a fairly new girl to the committee systems, it seems to me that the committee has three roles, two of which it has down to a fine art. The first is that of scrutiny, where we can look to the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, to continue the eminent traditions which have been put in place by my noble friend Lord Roper. The second is that of influencing the policy debate in the Westminster and Brussels villages. I cite the recent report on women on boards as the most recent of an excellent number of reports doing just that. Where there may be some room for further improvement—this has been referred to by a number of noble Lords—is in informing the public debate on the value, or otherwise, of the EU to the lives of British citizens.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, I accept that there is much to challenge in Europe but, at heart, I think that I am probably closer to the positions adopted by the noble Lords, Lord Jay and Lord Maclennan. I add to the list of reasons to be cheerful about Europe cited by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, that of progress on the environment. We may not be there yet but, let us be clear, we would be nowhere on this if it were not for the phenomenal contribution of the European Union to pushing forward environmental issues over the past 20 years.
I hope that of all the stakeholders we think about—national Parliaments, Ministers, civil servants—we do not forget the general public in the United Kingdom who are one of the key stakeholders. Yes, our committees must be non-party political, but that should not stop us, particularly our chairs, being hard hitting and prepared to say things simply and boldly so that the public can hear.
My Lords, I add my congratulations and thanks to the committee and its staff for the report.
I agree that the EU Committee is one of the jewels in our crown. It does an enormous amount of work and, indeed, is one of our core activities, but the point I wish to make is that this is a jewel that could perhaps shine brighter. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, hinted at this in his review of working practices and in his words today. He spoke of involving the broadest range of people in our work—I agree. The reason we do not do that is because our work is directed towards the House, the Government and EU institutions. But what about the British public? Surely we have a duty towards them, as the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, suggested just now.
Now that we are likely to remain an appointed House for the foreseeable future, surely more than ever it is incumbent on us to explain to the public who we are, what we do and why we do it. Members of this committee are in a unique position to do this. The work we do scrutinising Commission documents, studying Explanatory Memorandums and holding the Government to account draws information to our attention which puts us in a position to help the British public and British organisations participate more fully in Europe and, indeed, explain the benefits that my noble friend Lady Crawley spoke about so powerfully. May I give an example? I no longer work in business but I work with several business organisations. I am the honorary president of the Materials Knowledge Transfer Network, which is perhaps the largest network set up by the Technology Strategy Board to speed up the flow of knowledge between science, industry and the consumer. In my capacity as a co-opted member of sub-committee B, almost weekly there is an item on the agenda of interest to this network and I become aware of it because I am on Sub-Committee B. Otherwise, these matters are often very difficult to find and rarely apparent, even though they are publicly available. So, without breaching confidentiality, I raise these matters with the network. Frequently, this leads to a discussion about the role and duties of the House of Lords as well as the benefits of EU membership. In effect, it is a kind of outreach. This is why I would like to see outreach added to the duties of this committee.
My noble friend Lord Foulkes was disappointed at the media coverage that we get. Our press people do an excellent job, but should we not be reaching out ourselves? Could this not be part of the strategy that my noble friend Lord Giddens seeks? Other parts of your Lordships’ House do this. Is the Grand Committee aware that recently we had the 1,000th visit to a school by the Lord Speaker’s school outreach scheme? Last week was Parliament Week, and 42 noble Lords participated in visits and other events to tell the public about the House of Lords.
The noble Lord, Lord Jay, asked how we could stimulate and play a part in a debate on our future in Europe. I suggest that we could start with our own outreach. We could make our website a bit more friendly and responsive. It certainly explains what we do, and perhaps why we do it, but the only way to respond is through the social websites that figure at the bottom of the home page. For instance, as other noble Lords said, at the moment we are discussing EU enlargement. Could we not somehow invite views from the public on our website, and offer to discuss our report with those who are interested in it? In this way we could share our useful information to everybody’s benefit, and at the same time stimulate debate.
I will give another example. The European Investment Bank has many millions of euros available to match loans to SMEs. Among the larger member states, the lowest take-up is here in Britain. Because of our work we are aware of the scheme. Surely it would be helpful if we made others more aware by outreach or by public lecture, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Roper. We could also work more closely with other parts of your Lordships’ House. The Peers in Schools programme and the information department have far more requests for speakers and visits than they can find Peers willing to go. Could we not go and speak about the work of our committee, as well as about the work of the House as a whole? In my experience, sixth-formers are very quick to raise European matters with us. We could work with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, which has post-docs beavering away on matters of science and technology that are of interest and concern to parliamentarians. Frequently, their work has a bearing on matters being considered by our committees. Surely we could benefit by having their expert views, and by them having our views. So my response to the report on the 2010-12 work of the committee is: fine, but could we not do better by being a bit more outward-looking?
My Lords, I will focus on the work of the sub-committee formerly known as G on social policies and consumer protection, which I chaired before it was wound up. I take the opportunity to thank the sub-committee’s clerk, admin assistant and analyst, and all the sub-committee members, for their contributions to the work outlined in the report. Many noble Lords this afternoon acknowledged the effectiveness of the noble Lords, Lord Roper and Lord Boswell, as chairmen of the EU Select Committee, and I, too, express my admiration for their hard work.
During the 2010-12 Session, EU Sub-Committee G undertook the varied work that is set out in the report. As many noble Lords will be aware, EU legislation and issues are such that they invariably take several years to sort out. In the 2009-10 Session, we undertook an inquiry into the European Social Fund, identifying the types of changes that might be helpful for the period, both in the short term and in the longer term for the 2013-20 period. The proposal for the new European Social Fund, published in October 2011, was an important item of scrutiny for the sub-committee. We decided to reconvene some of the witnesses to our original inquiry, along with other stakeholders, the Government, the European Commission and the devolved Administrations, at a public seminar in December 2011 to share views on the new European Social Fund. In addition to committee members and staff, around 50 stakeholders attended. Feedback on this seminar was very positive and it gave us helpful input into our scrutiny of the European Social Fund proposals. Notable issues we pursued were simplification, local flexibility and strategic alignment with other structural funds. The latter point is one that Sub-Committee A is still following in its continued scrutiny of the structural funds proposals.
It was most encouraging to see so many stakeholders coming together and debating key issues at the invitation of the EU committee and on the basis of an EU committee report. Building on this work, we organised a more general stakeholder engagement seminar, which has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Roper. That was some months later. In fact, this was originally his brainchild. It was correctly identified that a great many stakeholders from across the range of subjects with which Sub-Committee G dealt simply do not understand the work of the EU Committee and its sub-committees. This is something that a number of noble Lords have raised this afternoon. How can they engage with what we do if they do not understand what we do? Why should they engage? What is it that we do that is important to them? Calling it a stakeholder engagement seminar makes it sound a bit more formal than it actually was. It was a very informal event. Part of its value was simply mingling with colleagues from across the range of subjects which we dealt with. We also had a very good discussion and some of those groups certainly have had more of a dialogue with the committee since then. It has also led to work improving the website to ensure that it is more accessible to those wanting to find out more about our work, although I appreciate that there is an awful lot more work to be done on that score.
During the 2010-12 Session, Sub-Committee G undertook three substantial inquiries. The first was a subject which at first glance does not sound like the kind of thing that we would be discussing in an EU committee. This was grass-roots sport and there were members of the sub-committee and elsewhere who took the view, at least initially, that it was not a suitable subject for us to look into. However, the Lisbon treaty had introduced sport as a policy area in which the European Commission could encourage member states to work more closely and we wanted to find out what this would mean for grass-roots sport in this country. This was pre-Olympics and before all of that euphoria. Above all we heard that grass-roots sport should be mainstreamed into other policy areas, such as health, education and social inclusion. We met with some previously excluded individuals who had developed core social and leadership skills through sport. One of our specific recommendations was that there should be a distinct budget to support grass-roots sport-related actions. We were therefore pleased to see the inclusion of such a budget within the new Erasmus for All programme. The budget will support actions which include exploitation of the potential of sport to foster social inclusion. An interesting benefit of pursuing this issue was that we were able to communicate with a wider range of individuals and organisations, both as witnesses and during visits, who would not normally consider themselves to have an interest in the work of the House of Lords in scrutinising EU issues.
Our second inquiry concerned the mobility of healthcare professionals in the context of the review of the professional qualifications directive published in October 2011. We considered that the current directive failed to command the confidence of patients and professionals, striking the wrong balance between encouraging mobility and ensuring patient safety, and therefore needed to be revised. We hoped that our recommended improvements to the directive would enhance rather than undermine free movement by rebuilding confidence among patients, employers and professionals.
The report was very well received among stakeholders, including the General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council. The Government also credited it with influencing their response to the Commission’s Green Paper consultation on the revision of the directive. After the Commission’s proposal for a revised directive was published in December 2011, I met with senior representatives of all the UK professionals covered by it at the beginning of this year and their views helped to inform the sub-committee’s subsequent scrutiny of that proposal. I am glad that Sub-Committee F has continued to scrutinise this important matter, most recently in its oral evidence session with the Health Minister, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, on 21 November.
Sub-Committee G’s third and last inquiry was into the modernisation of higher education in Europe, which was published last March. We considered not only the EU’s role in this area but also the ongoing Bologna process, which has seen the creation of a European higher education area, including 47 European countries. We concluded that while the EU can continue to make a positive contribution to European higher education, it must nevertheless be pragmatic and concentrate only on the areas where it can add value. In addition, we considered that the Government should place higher education at the centre of their growth agenda, domestically and across Europe, by maximising the potential of both the EU and the Bologna process. The report also considered the Erasmus programme, which we considered to be an important activity in terms of increasing students’ employability. However, the UK’s participation has been historically low compared with other large member states, and we decided that making language learning compulsory in both primary and secondary school would be one way of increasing the UK’s participation, alongside taking steps to encourage a more diverse range of participants. In this vein, we also called on the Government to support the allocation of a greater proportion of the next multiannual financial framework budget to research, innovation and education.
The day after the report was published, I also participated in an LSE workshop, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and attended by a range of academics which discussed some of the same themes as our report. Like other noble Lords, I think that we could be much more effective in obtaining press and media coverage. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, points to the need for a media strategy and I would concur with that. We should also embrace more fully the opportunities afforded by social media. Chairs of sub-committees have appeared on YouTube—to great acclaim, I understand—and written blogs. But there is more we could do with Twitter, for example, in spreading the word to a wider public about the work we do.
I know that it is very seldom that we intervene, but this is brilliant as I have just tweeted with regard to this Committee on the excellent contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Haskel. I am now about to tweet about the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Young.
I have to tell the noble Lord that I tweeted before him. We should embrace all social media and spread the word about the work we do to a wider public. I concur absolutely with the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, on engaging much more widely, whether we call it outreach, engagement, stakeholder engagement, or whatever. There are structures such as those named by the noble Lord—the Peers in Schools programme, Parliament Week and so on—which all represent opportunities for us to do so.
I now have the privilege of sitting on Sub-Committee C on External Affairs—a very different set of challenges to those posed by social policies and consumer protection. I am pleased to state that there, too, our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is also keen on new ways of communicating with different sets of stakeholders. As has already been said by the noble Lords, Lord Boswell and Lord Roper, we held a seminar last week, attended by a wide range of stakeholders with an interest in our current inquiry on the European External Action Service. I look forward to further discussions on this matter on how to make more progress in outreach, engagement, et cetera. I know that that is something that both the present chairman and the previous chairman hold close to their hearts.
I am very glad to have the opportunity of following the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, because, as others have said, it is important to pay a warm tribute to her and her committee for all the excellent and outstanding work they have done. I am a member of Sub-Committee F and already, from the work that has come through to us from her committee, it is clear that the quality and significance of that work was very great indeed. For my part, I do not just think it was a contradiction; it was absolutely ridiculous and farcical to cut the number of committees at the very time when the Government say that they want to tighten our scrutiny of Europe. It is madness; it makes no sense and needs to be reversed as soon as possible.
We are fortunate to have with us both the past chairman, to whom I have paid tribute on previous occasions, and the present chairman, with whom I have worked on a number of issues across the party divide over the years and for whom I have tremendous respect. What they do to set the context for everything we are trying to achieve is very important and we cannot underline our gratitude too often. Also—others have done this and I certainly want to do so—I pay a very warm tribute to the clerks, staff and specialist advisers at our disposal. There is no doubt whatever that the impact our reports have in Europe—sometimes more of an impact in Europe than here—is because of the expertise and professionalism that goes into them. We are very well blessed.
The other people to whom I want to pay tribute are the chairs of our sub-committees, who work immensely hard on our behalf. In our sub-committee, it is impossible to say how lucky we are to have the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, as our chair. He brings with him a huge background of commitment and experience which is almost unrivalled and helps immensely whatever we are trying to do.
When I look at our work, one of the things that frequently strikes me is the commitment and quality that goes into the preparation of the evidence that comes before us from witnesses. We ought to pay tribute to them, too, because without that evidence we would not be able to produce the thoughts that we finally produce.
It is absolutely vital—we try to do this—that in our call for evidence we go to as wide a cross-section of the community as possible: to not only the in-circle of the usual, more highly-tuned policy players but to the real practitioners out there who are often in the front line of the implications of the matters on which we are deliberating. They are often so preoccupied with their work that they do not have time to think about making recommendations on policy. We ought to assist and encourage them in that because it would make our work more relevant.
Even more important, at a time when there is no doubt that for many people in the British public Europe is remote and does not seem to be engaged with real life as people experience it, the more we can engage a wide cross-section in feeling that we really take their work as highly significant and relevant to our deliberations and want to bring it on board, the more we will be bringing home to a wider cross-section of people in our society the relevance of Europe.
Reference has been made to the opting-out debate, if we are to call it that, which lies ahead. It seems a bit of a nightmare. I am sure that we shall all do as constructive a job as we possibly can but I find it extremely distasteful to be starting this job in the context of a situation in which we say, “Of course, we will opt out of everything because we have got to demonstrate to ourselves that whatever we opted into is really of significance to Britain and then we will reapply again”. How on earth do you create an atmosphere in which there is going to be positive good will towards our reapplication if you start off by saying we reject everything and now we want to come along and do some cherry picking? If you belong, you belong, and you can constructively play your part in strengthening the wholeness of the work.
I am glad that my old, long-standing and good noble friend—I nearly said “George” but I must not do that—Lord Foulkes, as he so often does, made the point which is central to the essence of the matter. Others have referred to it but he put it bluntly. The first reality of life is that we are locked into a totally interdependent world. There is no way in which we can look to the interests of the British people—whether in finance, trade, the management of the economy, climate change, health, security, immigration, terrorism and all the rest—on our own. We simply have to work with others because these issues cross all national frontiers. In that context, Europe becomes an indispensable part of meeting that global reality of which we are a part. In so far as we repeatedly fail to bring this home to the British people, we are failing our children and grandchildren. History will judge us by the degree of success we have in contributing positively and constructively to the international institutions and their work. I am certain of that.
Of course, it is equally true that if we believe that—I believe it passionately, as noble Lords can see—then we must not allow our commitment to be abused. It is therefore tremendously important to take financial and administrative accountability, and the search for maximum possible cost-effectiveness, efficiency and the elimination of waste, as central to our purpose. We want efficiency and to be sure that every penny spent in this vital way is spent to good effect. We do that if we are seen to be members of the club, playing a central part in the evolution and strength of the whole community. If we are just regarded as the awkward squad, as rather neurotic, even insecure islanders to the north and west of Europe, how on earth will we have the influence that we want to bring to bear in a cause that matters? It is a matter of engaging, belonging and being felt to belong. Then, if we come along with tough policies on cost-effectiveness, on cutting budgets to make sure that the priorities are right and the rest, we carry some weight. At the moment, we undermine our whole role in that because of the general way in which we are seen as the negative brigade.
I conclude with one other point. If Europe is to go down the road of closer integration and tougher policies towards unity in fiscal and economic matters, I do not see how it can avoid going down an equally important road of greater co-operation on social policy. I do not see how we can have a stable Europe unless we do that. To go along with fiscal policies that are not balanced by sound, progressive social policies is playing a dangerous game in terms of future stability. I believe that in the context of our own society, but I believe it in the context of Europe, too. The whole cause matters. We make ourselves effective in getting the efficiency and financial disciplines we want in these institutions by being second to none in our commitment.
My Lords, the more than three years that I have been a member of Sub-Committee E on Justice, Institutions and, now, Consumer Protection, have been a pleasure. It has been a particular pleasure to serve under our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. He regrets that he is not here this afternoon, for a simple reason: he is in Brussels on committee work. He is grappling with the issue of the common European sales law, which we have under sceptical scrutiny at the moment. I am sure that we all agree that he is still serving our committee in that particular way.
The one major report that we have fulfilled is the one that I am glad to say that the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, referred to and gave such a ringing endorsement to our findings. That was on the workload of the Court of Justice and the General Court. We warned of the very heavy workload building up at the General Court and the potentially heavy workload that would occur as a result of the changes in jurisdiction of the Court of Justice. We saw that both courts were going to be under considerable pressures to deliver. As the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, said, our report received a somewhat lukewarm response from Ministers. They doubted our concerns and even possibly our pessimism. But figures since the production of our report have shown that in fact there are real concerns about the workload of both courts. Those concerns need to be addressed.
Indeed, quite a lot has happened since and I hope that the Minister will bring us up to date on what exactly the situation now is regarding the discussions that have gone on about the workload of the courts. It is not a matter of cost and savings but a matter of justice. Delayed justice can be as unjust as any other action and can create injustices. I hope that Ministers take seriously the issues we have raised in this respect. We have just started an inquiry on combating European fraud. This will bring within our scope and purview the controversial issue of the European public prosecutor’s office. We are in the early days but it will be interesting to see how the evidence falls.
For me, the core of our committee’s work is the scrutiny that has arisen out of the decision to scrutinise opt-ins. I find this particularly satisfying because I was on the Constitution Committee that drove this case forward some years ago. We not only recommended specific parliamentary procedures to deal with the opt-ins but, very unusually, carried our recommendations on to the Floor of the House. For those who remember those debates, we sought to amend the European Union Bill to introduce parliamentary procedures. It was as a result of that pressure that, in the end, the Ashton undertakings were delivered. I therefore have a particular concern and interest in how the experience of scrutinising opt-in issues has worked out in relation to our sub-committee.
It might be useful if I explain to the Committee the experience to date on a very important aspect of the new scrutiny procedures that we have. Since December 2009, there have been 63 proposals to opt in, of which 29 fell within our committee’s jurisdiction. Of the 29 proposals we agreed concerning 17 opt-ins, disagreed on nine and did not express a view on two. We agreed with 13 of the Government’s decisions to opt in and with four of their decisions not to opt in. Of the two occasions on which the sub-committee did not express a view, the Government opted in on one but not the other. In total, we have disagreed with nine decisions that the Government have made on both opting in and opting out. That may sound like quite a considerable disagreement but in fact the number exaggerates that disagreement.
That was, first, because one of those nine decisions was on the human trafficking directive, where we were very surprised that the Government did not opt in initially. After that, they gradually got involved in negotiations and have now opted in—so that is one less. Of the rest, six all pertained to what we on the sub-committee considered was a group of proposals and dealt with as one decision, while the Government treated it as six. It was the application of the Hague Convention on child abduction to Gabon, Seychelles, Albania, Morocco, Armenia and the Russian Federation. In fact, there have been very few disagreements between the committee and Ministers over opting in. I find that interesting, given the background.
Given the broader political background where we have had a high degree of rhetoric, including on repatriations of powers, this Government have opted into a majority of opt-ins since they have been in power. It is an interesting reflection; they have in fact shown considerable pragmatism towards opt-ins. Opting in is transferring power, particularly in the field of justice that we have been dealing with, so I shall be interested—as I am sure many of us will—to see whether this pragmatism will be carried forward into the protocol 36 issues, and how far and to what extent that is going to happen.
One thing that puzzles me is not the argument on whether one should opt out or opt in completely but what basis or evidence to date the Government have used in their provisional decisions to opt out. I tabled a Question because the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that there were three categories as regards the 130 measures: useful, not useful and defunct. Will the Minister at least intimate whether in the eyes of the Government the majority of those 130 measures fall in the last two categories of being not useful or, indeed, defunct? If the majority fall into those categories, you can see there is a possible case for saying, “Let us opt out”, but what if those cases are a minority and that leaves us with a majority where we might seek to opt back in? That is a considerable problem. The thought of doing that on such a scale would determine a lot of our thinking.
Our sub-committee, jointly with Sub-Committee F, is going to conduct inquiries and scrutiny on these matters but we expect an intimation from Ministers of where they stand on these issues and what the numbers and percentages are regarding the opt-ins and the opt-outs. Therefore, I look forward with considerable interest not only to the work we are going to do on protocol 36 but also to finding out whether the pragmatism that has been a feature of the Government’s attitude towards case-by-case studies of opt-ins to date will be carried forward into protocol 36.
On behalf of the Opposition, I thank the committee, its chairs, members and excellent staff for all their work. It represents a huge volume of activity of very high quality which has very considerable impact. The House ought to celebrate this committee as one of its finest achievements. The speech that we have just heard from my noble friend Lord Rowlands about the detailed examination that the committee has done of proposals in that sub-committee’s field is a tribute to the work of the committee.
Whatever you think of Europe, it needs scrutiny. Like my splendid noble friend Lady Crawley, I am a very strong pro-European. But just because you are pro-European does not mean that you are not critical of an awful lot that happens in the EU. I have always been pro-Europe and pro-reform in Europe. If you are of that disposition, the work of this committee is very valuable. You have only to look at the recommendations in its reports—a classic example was the report of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, on the Channel Tunnel—to get an agenda for reform that this country ought to be pushing.
I wish to comment briefly on the institutional points about the committee that have been made. First, I think it is a pity that we have seen a reduction in the number of sub-committees. I do not say that just because I was briefly a member of the one that was abolished under the excellent chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. However, if the House of Lords, as an appointed House which is full of people of political experience and specialist expertise, cannot do a committee job properly, what is the point of the place?
Secondly, I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Judd—this may be a little criticism of the EU Committee—in that I think that Europe cannot avoid the social agenda. Social sustainability is one of the real challenges facing Europe. Therefore, I think it is a pity that the axe fell on the committee that specialised in that area. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, that we should try through the usual channels to make the debates on the Floor of the House more timely.
Thirdly, I agree with many of the speakers in this debate that we should promote as much as we can the engagement of people outside in the committee’s work. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, about good regular contact with MEPs is a very good one. The point I want to press on the Committee is the need for networking with other national Parliaments in order that the subsidiarity clauses of the new Lisbon treaty can be made properly and demonstrably effective to the European public. That will work properly only if we really get engaged with the relevant bodies in other national Parliaments.
On the wider point, I think the noble Lord, Lord Jay, is right that we are on the threshold of a great national debate about Europe. Of course it has to be a dispassionate debate, though I hope some of us will be allowed a little passion as well. The purpose of any debate has to be to try to engage intelligent Eurosceptic opinion. We have to bring round to the merits of British membership of the European Union those who are critical but at the same time open to reason and persuasion. Perhaps I am being very unfair but if we succeed with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that is a very important test, given the very interesting speech he made, critical of aspects of the Union.
I will make one final point about the agenda of the committee’s work. First, I would like to think that the committee could make a real contribution to the balance of competences review and I ask the Minister how the Government think the committee might make a contribution to that. Secondly, although the focus is naturally on specific EU policies and proposals, we have to raise our sights to the very big challenges, which basically are the arguments around the European Union. Internally, the European Union has this huge economic and social challenge. At the moment the short-term requirements of austerity are not matched to the medium and long-term need to make Europe ecologically sustainable, competitive in a global world and able to cope with the demographic challenge. Frankly, it is this lack of connection between the short term and the long term that we have to think about. Externally, people are just not conscious of how rapidly the world is changing and what role Europe, acting together, can play in defending our values and interests in a world where power is dramatically shifting to Asia and other countries. So the committee should try to broaden its sights on to these big questions. But it is excellent in its work. I fully support it and I am delighted to back everything that it does.
I thank the noble Lord for his six-minute speech. I am conscious that we are past 7.30 pm and I will attempt to be shorter than is usual in a wind-up speech and I will promise to write to noble Lords if I do not cover everything. I should start with a number of regrets. I share the Committee’s regret that the House took a decision to reduce the resources available to the committee. I recognise that this is an issue for the whole House in terms of how many committees the Lords should have and what resources are available. That is part of the wider debate about the future of this Chamber which we tackled and failed to come to a conclusion on earlier this year.
The Government value the work of this committee enormously. I value the work of this committee enormously. I feel that I almost came in at the beginning of it. Michael Wheeler-Booth, the first Clerk of the committee, used to enjoy telling the story of how a young woman who was one of the few experts on the EU outside the Government at the time came to give evidence to one of the first sessions and he gave her a double gin and tonic to stiffen her nerves. That young woman, my wife, was also educating me about the European Union at the time.
When I was chair of one of the sub-committees I was conscious of the very high reputation that our reports have in Brussels. I met last Thursday with a Polish Minister who, in almost his first remark, said how glad he was to be in the House of Lords and how much the Polish Government valued the reports of this committee, so we are maintaining the standard and the reputation.
We are all conscious that the weight of work and the number of Commission proposals and communications —and therefore of Explanatory Memorandums— continues to grow. This committee struggles very well to strike the balance, to which the noble Lord, Lord Boswell referred, of detailed scrutiny and capturing wider issues at an early enough stage to influence the debate. A number of excellent examples of that have been mentioned today
Let me say a little about the Government’s current approach to the European Union and therefore to the role of this committee. Her Majesty’s Government are strongly committed to continued membership of the EU, as my noble friend Lady Warsi repeated in the Chamber today, and to active engagement in the development of European Union policies. This is not from any commitment to a European ideal, let alone, as some Eurosceptic conspiracists claim, to the creation of a European superstate: it is, clearly, that the coalition Government believe that continued membership remains in the UK’s national interest. That is our belief and that is how we have to defend the European Union. As the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, remarked, it matters not whether we are pro or against: we have to look at the hard evidence and see where Britain’s interests lie.
The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, attacked the European project—the belief in an ever closer union through which power would progressively be transferred from national Governments to Brussels. That is now over, although there are still some within the Commission who cling to that ideal. Generational change has swept away some of the old disillusion with the European state and enthusiasm for Europe instead, but our interests remain engaged with our neighbours across a range of shared concerns.
Of course, the current crisis in the eurozone is forcing changes in the EU’s priorities and structures, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, remarked. The Foreign Secretary, in his speech in Berlin, and the Deputy Prime Minister, in his speech at Chatham House, in the past few weeks have both addressed this broader issue. As the Foreign Secretary said during his recent speech in Berlin, the EU will be stronger if it made more sense to people by acting only where there was clear justification for action at the European level, which is one of the themes that we all need to discuss. The catholic principle of subsidiarity, which to me is similar to the liberal principle, is that decisions should be taken as close to those they affect as possible; that the most democratic politics is local politics. I say in mild criticism that I am not ever sure that grass-roots sport is an appropriate area in which the European Union should interfere.
One should always ask the hard question of whether or not such matters are dealt with by the federal Governments in Australia, Canada and the United States, and if they are not, we should look carefully before we transfer competence, authority, cost and benefit to the far weaker and less democratically accepted institutions of the EU. That is what we are trying to do in the balance of competences exercise. I encourage this committee, as the whole Government wish to encourage it, to get as actively engaged in the balance of competences exercise as possible over the next two years. I speak with some passion on this because I have now been nominated as one of the three Ministers who will play a role in scrutinising this review within government and we are looking for engaged and expert partners on the outside. We will be briefing the committee throughout as fully as possible and I hope that it will respond to calls for evidence. This will help to inform an evidence-based debate within the UK, which is what we now need.
I hope that, as the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, has said, we are opening up again a wider, rational debate about whether Britain should stay in the EU. I stress “rational” debate, because when I saw the 10-page spread in the Daily Mail last week about common purpose and the conspiracy in the Leveson inquiry, I rapidly went on to Google to see what was behind it and found myself discovering the wider shores of Euroscepticism. One of the articles even told me that Francis Maude is not really a Conservative but is part of the socialist conspiracy to establish a European superstate. This is the world of alternative reality and irrational belief. Mainstream arguments are the ones that we have to address, with, as the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, said, the rational Eurosceptics—and there are many. That is what the balance of competences exercise in Britain, but engaging others, wishes to do. We already have some interest from Berlin in contributing to that exercise. Chancellor Merkel has said that less in some areas is a good thing for the European Union, and the leader of my party, the Deputy Prime Minister, when he was an MEP used to talk about the European Union doing less better, which is an entirely sensible approach.
The balance of competences review is very important to us in promoting a debate and therefore, I hope, to your Lordships as a committee. Similarly, the whole question of the JHA opt-in, the Protocol 36 debate, is one in which we hope that the committee will remain actively engaged. The Government have not reached a settled view on the final decision to opt in or opt out. Noble Lords will remember the exact words used in the Statement given to Parliament, which were that the Government’s “current thinking” was to opt out, which meant that a final decision had not yet been taken. It very much depends on active debate in detail on the various proposals made, consultation with other Governments, consideration of national interests and so on. In terms therefore of engagement with Parliament, we are committed to a vote in Parliament when the Division comes up and we wish therefore to maintain active discussion on all these matters—I hope perhaps on the Floor of the Chamber as well as in Grand Committee.
A number of noble Lords, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Roper, talked about co-operation with other national Parliaments. Again, Her Majesty's Government would encourage your Lordships to develop those links as far as we can. I am a member of a European affairs sub-committee of the Cabinet which is about to go to Berlin in early January for its second meeting there and its third meeting overall with our German counterparts. Germany is clearly one of the most important partners that we have to deal with in the world and the most important partner in the European Union. We hope that your committee will perhaps develop a similar bilateral relationship with your German counterpart but also pursue further the ways in which COSAC, COFADS and the various other conferences of your EU Committee chairs can help you to plug into other national debates.
A better awareness of the complexities of national history was what the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, talked about, which of course fits in with another issue that we were discussing last week: the 100th anniversary of World War I. I remind your Lordships of the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian succession. I trust that the House will plug into all those matters. If I may rapidly put in a plug: I am interested in discovering what your fathers, grandfathers and great uncles did in the First World War. I have so far discovered in this House one whose grandfather fought for the Germans at Tannenberg, another whose father fought for the Austrians at Caporetto and a third whose father was rescued from a torpedoed troop ship by a Japanese destroyer. There must be a lot that will demonstrate to us the complexity of our relations with our European partners in our modern world.
I strongly sympathise with those who have said that the third task of this committee, which is outreach and engagement with wider public needs, as the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said, needs to be thought about further. That perhaps means asking for more time in the Chamber and paying more attention to making sure that reports are fully covered in the media and get on to the “Today” programme, as I know you have succeeded in doing, rather more often.
The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, asked about the mysterious process by which Peers are selected and invited to join committees. That sounds like a subject worthy of in-depth sociological analysis, but perhaps if he were to ask his good Whips they would tell him a little better.
The noble Lord, Lord Jay, asked about representation at the EU peace prize. That has not yet been decided although some interesting and rather imaginative ideas are currently floating around Whitehall.
We need a wider debate in the United Kingdom and across the EU, as the EU now struggles to adapt to the current crisis in the eurozone, to deal with the challenge of further enlargement. We all recognise that enlargement is getting more and more difficult and, with each extra applicant country, there is a lot to contribute. Perhaps the committee would like to invite evidence from Norway and Switzerland. The chairman of the recent massive Norwegian study on the advantages or disadvantages of Norway’s current relationship with the EU—
I am rather astonished to hear the Minister say that we should go and get evidence from Norway. We have; we do it all the time. There is a disconnect between people in government who are in ministries in positions of power and those who work on the sub-committees. There is a lot of discomfort, too, about the response, both in the Chamber and from the Government, to the very difficult reports on which we have spent hours and weeks collecting evidence. The Government’s response to reports is pathetic and the Minister ought to look at that.
Just to enlighten the noble Lord, as he has effectively asked a question, the call for evidence does address the Irish dimension. It will, of course, be a matter for the Irish Government to decide whether or not to offer evidence. I do not think that we should go around telling other Governments what they should do. It has been made clear to them that evidence would be extremely welcome.
I thank the noble Lord very much for that. I happen to know that there are those within the Irish Government who are enthusiastic about coming to give evidence, and I look forward to them accepting the invitation that has been made.
The wider issue we all face is the gap between globalisation—internationalisation—and publics who regret the extent to which power is slipping away from local control. Last summer I read an excellent book by Dani Rodrik, the Turkish economist who is now at Harvard, on the limits of globalisation in which he talks about the underlying contradiction between popular desire for stability, local control and understanding what has happened, and the driving forces of a global economy—the global social elite, immigration, et cetera—that appear to be taking power away from the local level and sweeping away autonomy, identity, sovereignty and democratic accountability. That is the tension that we all face. In the United States the American Tea Party takes it out on international law, international organisations and the federal Government. In Britain, by and large, our often disturbed and discontented public take it out on the European Union. Part of what we have to do is address that contradiction to see how far we can persuade our public that some of the regulation that now appears to them to be imposed from the European Union is unavoidable, desirable and necessary, and to persuade the European Union in return that it should not attempt to regulate everything in sight or expand its competences too far.
My Lords, very briefly in view of the hour, I thank all those who have participated in the debate, including the Minister for his closing comments, and also those Peers who are not members of our committee but have managed to sit in and imbibe some of the interest in what we are doing.
It seems that there are five potential pitfalls, which I will list briefly. First, there is the danger of excessive expectation and that we should think that somehow a single report we make will change the map irredeemably in Europe. It does not usually work like that in a community of 27. Secondly, there is what one might call a kind of arrogant assertion of power. We are not running British foreign policy and should not seek to do so. Thirdly, we should be alert to any producer capture by HMG or anybody else. We retain our independence and will express our views as appropriate. Fourthly, there is the possibility that we will disappear down a mire of detail, though I see no sign of that happening. The detail deployed in this debate has been impressive and very much to the point.
Finally in the dangers is the question of resourcing, which cuts across three areas. First, there is the suggestion the Minister made about international collaboration. We have to find the resources if we are to do that. Secondly, there is what we might be able to contribute to the balance of competences review. Thirdly, there was the universal call across the debate for greater attention to our outreach and publicity. A lot of that can be done electronically and relatively thriftily and economically, but it cannot be done for nothing. However, I take that as the single strongest message that we should be doing it.
In conclusion, we should carry on doing what we have to do but ever more thoroughly and do it further back upstream and further down into implementation. Secondly, we should pay particular attention to making sure that all our stakeholders—of all walks of life, home and abroad, government and otherwise—know what we are doing and feel able to be part of our processes.
Committee adjourned at 8.02 pm.