European Affairs

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 2:04 pm on 3rd June 2010.

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Photo of Robert Walter Robert Walter Conservative, North Dorset 2:04 pm, 3rd June 2010

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and I shall come on to the role of European scrutiny committees in that respect. He may know that his colleagues in the French Parliament have already suggested that something similar to COSAC-the Conference of European Affairs Committees-of which the hon. Gentleman has been a member, should be involved in the process.

The Assembly of the WEU has brought together members of national Parliaments from across the European Union and also involved the non-European Union NATO members. Two years ago, the Assembly formally changed its charter to make all 27 national Parliaments and the now five non-EU members of NATO members of its Assembly. The WEU has been providing parliamentary oversight of European security and defence policy as well as wider European defence issues and, more particularly, the use of taxpayers' money on European collective defence procurement.

As I said, in a written statement on 30 March, the former Foreign Secretary announced that the UK was intending to give 12 months' notice that it wanted to withdraw from the organisation. The following day, all the other signatory states to treaty announced that they would do likewise on the basis of what can only be described as a cost-cutting exercise. We all want to save money, of course, but there is a danger when it comes to democracy of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

As seen in the Government's statement, the statement of the WEU Permanent Council-the ambassadors in Brussels-and the recent motion in the French Parliament, to which I referred in my response to the intervention, and at the recent meeting of EU Speakers and at the EU Foreign Affairs Council in April, scrutiny is a role for national Parliaments and not for the European Parliament. They all made that clear.

The European Parliament, however, is ready, willing and able to step into the gap. In a resolution passed back in March, it claimed that the Assembly of the WEU-the European security and defence Assembly-had misappropriated its role in acting on behalf of national Parliaments, and that the European Parliament was the only competent body. That flies in the face of the Lisbon treaty, which states that this area of policy is intergovernmental and should remain so, and that there will be no further competences for the European Parliament.

It is national Parliaments and national Governments who authorise the use of our armed forces, whether it takes place on a European Union mission or on any other type of collective mission. It is national Parliaments and national Governments who pay for those deployments. It is national Parliaments and national Governments who pay for the equipment used by those armed forces, and it is national Parliaments and national Governments who decide on the terms of engagement.

The House of Commons Library contains an excellent research paper, which is currently sitting in the international affairs section, entitled "Parliamentary approval for deploying the armed forces: an introduction to the Issues". Nowhere does that document, which makes very good reading, mention that the European Parliament has any armed forces whatsoever to deploy, or that it should in any way be involved in decisions about the deployment of our armed forces.

The decision made by the last Government-who have now been joined by other Governments-to abolish the Western European Union and wind up the treaty of Brussels abolishes parliamentary democracy, and nothing has been provided to replace that parliamentary democracy and oversight. Those Governments have provided no mechanism to implement all the rhetoric that they have produced in the Foreign Affairs Council and in their own statements by creating a new structure that would bring together national Parliaments to perform that role.

There are a number of options on the table. The simplest is for the current Assembly to transfer itself in order to become a European Union body. Plenty of precedents are provided by previous structures. The Foreign Affairs Council, which will meet in a week or so and which the Foreign Secretary will attend, may have an opportunity to move the discussion forward. What is proposed is a steering group that could draw up plans over the next six months or so, so that before the end of the life of the WEU and its Assembly we would have a structure that could exercise parliamentary democracy on behalf of all our national Parliaments and Governments.

I believe there is a real danger that if there is inactivity-if we all say that that is a good idea, but do nothing about it-the European Parliament will move into the void immediately. It has the money, the resources and the time to act in that way. We must now look to that Foreign Affairs Council meeting, and hopefully even the European Council meeting, to put some meat on the bones of the declaration of the last Foreign Affairs Council and start to create the structures that can take this form of parliamentary democracy forward. Otherwise, I fear that there will be another centralising drift in the European Union, which none of us wants.

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