The European Parliament acquired important new powers in the Maastricht treaty, and we have heard no convincing case for extending them further in the 1996 IGC. If it is to address genuine public concerns, the European Parliament should devote more attention to tackling fraud and to holding the Commission to account. So I can answer my hon. Friend in one word: none.
I thank my hon. Friend for his clear and unequivocal reply. Will he confirm that, in the unseemly horse trading that will no doubt take place at next year's intergovernmental conference, the Government will make no concessions on the issue of co-decision making powers which would hand over more powers to the European Parliament at the expense of Ministers, including British Ministers—something that has been supported by the leader of the Labour Members of the European Parliament, Ms Pauline Green, and that other well known Labour lady, Ms Glenys Kinnock?
My hon. Friend is exactly right about the Labour party's position. That is why, as my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) said, it is no surprise that some federalists entertain fantasies about a Labour victory. Fortunately, that will never happen.
Is the Minister aware that last September, in an interesting speech at Leiden, the Prime Minister called for the House to be more involved with the European Parliament in overseeing legislation? The sort of fatuous, anti-European Parliament remarks that the Minister has just made do not contribute to resolving the difficult problem of the democratic deficit and the need to find some balance between the need to represent our constituents in the House and the role of the European Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman, with his incredible intelligence, clearly did not listen to my answer. I made no reference to national Parliaments. He is right to say that the Prime Minister said that we should pay attention to giving our national Parliaments a greater involvement in the legislation of the European Union, and we shall be doing just that.
But what do my hon. Friend and his colleagues intend to do about the fact that the European Parliament will progressively gather more powers by virtue of the legal framework that currently exists?
"Quite right," says the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane). As the unions chip away at our opt-out from the social chapter through the courts and through the European courts, will not the European Parliament gather power over those competencies? Has not my hon. Friend got either to take to the intergovernmental conference a plan completely to reform the legal structure of the EU or go for much more comprehensive opt-outs to stop the European Parliament interfering with the success achieved by the Government in industrial relations in this country?
My hon. Friend is right to say that there is a problem of creeping competence, and it applies precisely to the area that he describes—the social chapter opt-out. I shall pay much attention to that issue in the next six months.
In response to the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick), the Minister mentioned issues of public concern. Will he explain why the list of topics to be considered by the reflection group, of which he is a member, concentrates overwhelmingly on institutional issues and contains no specific mention of unemployment or issues such as the environment or the reform of the common agricultural policy? How does he intend to ensure that those matters are properly discussed? As the Minister also said that he was in favour of more openness, what specific plans does he have to inform the public and Parliament about the progress made in those discussions?
I have already answered half of those questions. If the hon. Lady had paid attention to the reports of what I said at the reflections group, she would have seen that I said that less than 50 per cent. of the people of Europe currently feel that their nation state receives a benefit from the European Union. That is precisely because individual citizens do not see themselves as gaining from the European Union. I said that that issue had to he addressed by the reflections group during its considerations in the next six months.
Mr. Robert G. Hughes:
Does my hon. Friend agree that, when one strips away the noise and bluster that we have heard from the Opposition on the issue, the simple fact is that more power for the European Parliament would mean less power for this Parliament? If that is what the Opposition believe, they should put it to the electorate, who would reject the notion.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. The Labour formula for the intergovernmental conference appears to be capitulation on qualified majority voting, collapse on co-decision and surrender on the social chapter—none of which would benefit this country.