European Communities (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 20th November 2001.

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Photo of Lord Bowness Lord Bowness Conservative 6:15 pm, 20th November 2001

I was tempted by my noble friend to rise to speak about the Committee of the Regions. I shall resist the temptation to speak at length, but implicit in my noble friend's remarks was the suggestion that the committee was a waste of time.

I had the honour to be a member of the Committee of the Regions in its first mandate. I am no longer a member, but there are two Members of your Lordships' House who are still members of the Committee—the noble Lords, Lord Tope and my noble friend Lord Hanningfield. The committee is representative of local and regional government from the member states of the European Union. The number of its members is determined according to the size of the member state.

There is obligatory consultation by the Council and Commission on proposals put forward by the Committee of the Regions. I should have thought that noble Lords would be pleased to hear that members of the Committee of the Regions always hold a local mandate within their respective member states. Many of the initiatives of the European Union are implemented by local and regional government within the European Union. I know that this may bring shock and horror to some of my noble friends, but I was a member not only of the Committee of the Regions but also of the European People's Party group on that committee, and it seemed to me that it was entirely appropriate that local members who ultimately had to implement European legislation should have the opportunity of commenting at an early stage.

In order not to take up too much of the Committee's time, I shall say only that within the first mandate when I was a member, the results of the committee's work were carefully monitored. At least two reports were produced, showing the areas in which members of the Committee of the Regions, through the opinions that they produced in open plenary session before the public, influenced proposals put forward either by the Council or the Commission. I am sure that since I have ceased to be a member, and as the committee has gone from strength to strength, its influence has grown.

That committee is certainly not a talking shop. I can assure my noble friends that its members are not paid; they are given subsistence and a daily allowance. They meet principally in Brussels, although I believe that some members of the commissions and the bureau meet elsewhere from time to time. Certainly the bureau meets once in the country that holds the presidency.

I see no reason why members of the Committee of the Regions should not be appointed on a qualified majority vote. They go forward on a slate from the member states. Local government in this country does not decide who they should be. It may forward names to the Secretary of State, but it is the Council which makes the appointment.

I regret taking up the Committee's time, but it seemed that some of the work of the Committee of the Regions was being called into question and it was suggested that it was in some way secret. I thought it appropriate that somebody who served on that committee for four years, with other Members of your Lordships' House, should make it clear that that was not the case.