My Lords, the Government routinely engage with Members of the European Parliament, particularly with those Members who represent the UK regions. The Government are especially keen to work with those MEPs who recognise the need to respond to voters’ concerns and share our vision of a reformed EU, one that is about openness, competitiveness and fairness.
I thank the Minister for her reply. Perhaps I may point out that as a substitute member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, when I go to sessions, I am briefed by the ambassador. As a Member of the European Parliament for 25 years, I rarely if ever saw our ambassador. It seems that we pay very little attention to briefing our MEPs in situ on what British interests are. Perhaps I may also point out that MEPs are banned from the House of Commons and are not received in a friendly way here. Indeed, only eight of them have passes. Can we try to build a friendlier relationship between this House and our other elected representatives?
My Lords, we keep the Government’s engagement with the European Parliament under constant review and we consider all upcoming events. We engage with our MEPs in a number of ways. That may be by direct engagement with Ministers, through official engagement and, of course, through UKREP. In relation to access to Parliament, the decision not to extend pass access rights to UK MEPs was considered by the Administration Committee during the previous Parliament. As I understand it, the decision was made due to pressures on facilities and the absence of reciprocal arrangements. In March 2011, the Administration Committee decided that as these conditions had not changed, the policy of not extending access rights to MEPs should continue.
My Lords, Conservative Members of the European Parliament have recently allied themselves with the Danish People’s Party and the Finns Party, which are both by any standards extreme right-wing organisations that are shunned by mainstream centre-right parties in the European Parliament. David Cameron himself shunned them in 2009, but not in 2014. What has changed the Prime Minister’s mind and how does this new alliance strengthen Britain’s negotiating hand in Brussels?
My Lords, the noble Lord will understand that there are a number of political parties that form part of the alliances and blocs at European level. Indeed, he will also know the Conservative Party’s recent response, concerning that alliance, in relation to the parties in Germany. He will be aware that we take a very serious view of extremism, whether domestically or in relation to political parties with which we engage overseas.
My Lords, rather than co-operate more closely with comparatively powerless MEPs, should not the Government try to do so with the EU Commission? Given the current saga over Mr Juncker’s appointment as its boss, should not the Government tell the British people just how much more power the Commission has, with its monopoly to propose and execute all EU law? If the Government do not want to reveal this, could they encourage the BBC to do so? I regret to say that at the moment, in clear breach of its charter, it is adamantly refusing to do that.
The noble Lord makes the important point that the European Commission and the President of the Commission have an incredibly important role. That role has most autonomy and has the right of initiative, and the Commission itself plays a quasi-judicial role. It is important for those reasons that whoever leads the Commission is a candidate who commands respect and who understands—this was clear at the last European Parliament elections—that people need a change. All political parties in this House will agree that the process that has been adopted is not one with which any of us here agree.
This matter has been reiterated on a number of occasions. In my previous job as party chairman, I had many dealings with the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists. I think that the noble Lord will have to accept that there is change across Europe and that there are many more political parties that are aligned with the view that reform is needed, and that reform goes beyond what some of the parties within the EPP think.
My Lords, coming back to my noble friend’s previous answer, is not the real issue that, while our Prime Minister is trying to negotiate critical issues for this country in the European Union, Conservative MEPs have signed up to a group with Alternative für Deutschland, which is a major irritant to Chancellor Merkel? Is that not clearly a national own goal in terms of our own interests and our present relationships?
My Lords, in her initial Answer, the noble Baroness said that the Government are keen to talk to those MEPs who share our views on various issues, including, of course, reform of the EU. Will the noble Baroness perhaps consider that it is equally if not more important to talk to those MEPs who do not share our views on these issues, not just the converted, and to try to build those alliances, which have been perhaps rather lacking in some of the recent government activity in the EU?