Council of Ministers

Oral Answers to Questions — European Community – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th November 1975.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley 12:00 am, 26th November 1975

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make representations to the Council of Ministers that its proceedings should be held in public.

Mr. Hatfersley:

No, Sir. The process of reaching agreement in the Council is by negotiation and compromise. I can see no practical way of conducting proceedings of this sort successfully in public.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in view of the important legislative nature of this body, its deliberations should be minuted and its decisions listed so that decisions are not allowed to filter through at some later stage and take us all by surprise? Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that unless there is an element of open government in this body the Minister for Overseas Development might turn round and say that it is being infiltrated by Maoists, Trotskyites and other Reds under the beds?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I propose to deal with that part of my hon. Friend's question that was intended seriously—namely, the first. I am surprised to hear that my hon. Friend thinks that legislation from the Council of Ministers filters through and takes hon. Members unawares. All legislation is available for public discussion before the Council takes a decision on it. The entire process of scrutiny, which occupies a great deal of the time and resources of the House, is intended to make all legislative proposals available to Members of Parliament before they are approved or disapproved by the Council. It is up to my hon. Friend to use his initiative to discover what is in the Scrutiny Committee and about to be discussed by the Council of Ministers and make his comments on it then.

Photo of Mr Derek Walker-Smith Mr Derek Walker-Smith , Hertfordshire East

There may be certain matters which the Council quite properly wishes to discuss in private but is it not a clear constitutional paradox that a legislative function should be exercised in private, in that the Council of Ministers is the legislative body for the Community? Is it not time, two years having elapsed since I first pressed this point on Ministers here and on the President—in—office of the Council at Strasbourg, that a little more progress was made and sympathetic consideration given to this matter?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I can only rely on my original statement, which is self-evident. If a body of nine Foreign Ministers or their deputies are trying to reach agreement by consensus, it is impossible for the processes that bring about that consensus to be in public or to be publicly recorded.

I know that I do not have to tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he has many opportunities during the scrutiny procedure to instruct, advise or influence my right hon. Friend and myself about the position that we ought to take up during that legislative process. I am sure that in the present state of the Community there are adequate safeguards of democratic rights.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

Is not my right hon. Friend being rather complacent on this issue? Will he note that the third item of today's Notices of Motions, on page 381 of the Order Paper, under the guise of a plain Statutory Instrument asks for the assent of the House to about 10 amendments to the Treaty of Rome? That is a fact in the business of the House today. Does my right hon. Friend think that this is the correct way in which amendments to the Treaty of Rome should be presented to the House? Will he reconsider what he said about things filtering down to Members of Parliament?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

For the 11 years that I have been privileged to enjoy membership of the House of Commons a variety of Statutory Instruments affecting statutes in this country have passed into law without discussion. Those matters which affect the EEC are brought to the light of day in a more formal and active way than are many of the domestic Statutory Instruments. I am sure that that is right, but it is also a fact.

Photo of Mr Julian Amery Mr Julian Amery , Brighton, Pavilion

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a strong case for saying that the Council of Ministers would be well advised to conduct its affairs in private, very much as Commonwealth Ministers used to do in the old days, but that by the same token there may gradually become a stronger case for saying that, before decisions are reached, matters should be submitted to and discussed by the European Parliament?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

The subject of the Community becoming more democratic as a result of the extension of the powers of responsibility to the European Parliament is dealt with in a later Question, but fundamentally the right hon. Gentleman is right. Europe will become wholly democratic when the European Parliament exercises proper functions, but I regard that as being some years away.