My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to introduce this report for debate. This is the first debate that I have led in my capacity as chairman of your Lordships' Select Committee on the European Union and it prompts my first remark. I wish to pay a very warm tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, since elevated to the post of Chairman of Committees, who, as my predecessor in the role of Principal Deputy Chairman and thus chairman of the European Union Committee, not only conceived the idea for this inquiry, but also got it off to a flying start. I am glad to see that the noble Lord is in his place and I thank him for all his work, both on this matter and more generally.
I also take this opportunity to thank the other members of the Select Committee, in particular the small group—the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, and the noble Lords, Lord Tomlinson, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Williamson of Horton—who accompanied me to Brussels where we heard the majority of the evidence. All, I am glad to see, have put down their names to speak in this debate.
Finally, I thank those noble Lords who, like the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, served on the Select Committee at the start of this inquiry but subsequently left it—the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, who, I am glad to see, is to speak, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain.
I thank too Tom Mohan, who, as Clerk, began this inquiry. Tom and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, worked together for many years on the committee and are now overseeing the passage of private legislation through your Lordships' House. I wish them well. Last, but not least, I thank Simon Burton, our new Clerk, for all the work he has done on the preparation of this report and congratulate him on his rapid grasp of the issues facing the committee.
The report is produced, as are most reports from your Lordships' committees, as the unanimous report of the Select Committee. No member of the Select Committee divided the committee on the report, or on any of its individual conclusions or phrasing. However, I should record that one noble Lord, the noble Lord, Lord Lamont of Lerwick, expressed himself unhappy with some of what we had produced. I am sorry that he is not able to take part in the debate today due to absence abroad, so we shall not be able to hear his objections.
Turning to the substance of the report, I should stress that while this is a report on the proposal for a second parliamentary chamber for Europe, I hope that noble Lords speaking today will not confine themselves to that topic alone. Indeed, the report itself is not so confined. Bearing in mind the weight of evidence received, a report on a second chamber alone could have been very short and might have consisted of only a single sentence, "This is a bad idea". I shall return to that theme in a moment, but I express my hope that the debate, like the report, will range more widely over some of the more significant issues which underlie the proposals for a second chamber.
I was grateful to receive last Friday the Government's response to our report. I shall make a number of references to that response during the course of my remarks. But in particular I welcome the Government's strong endorsement of the role of national parliaments in EU scrutiny.
As the report makes clear, the proposal for a second chamber is not new. But the idea was given impetus by the Prime Minister's speech in Warsaw on 6th October 2000 when he specifically argued for the creation of a second chamber of the European Parliament consisting of representatives of national parliaments. Their task would include reviewing the EU's work in the light of an agreed statement of principles concerning subsidiarity and providing democratic oversight of the common foreign and security policy. I note that the response implies in paragraphs 4 and 6 that the second chamber is just "one option" and that there are "several other ideas around".
The committee was very grateful to the Prime Minister for raising this matter as he did. Whatever the merits of the specific proposal, we all thought that raising a debate on these issues was timely, both in view of the apparent disconnection of the citizens of Europe from their institutions and at a time when a convention had been appointed to prepare for the next intergovernmental conference. However, we did not conclude that the second chamber idea itself was a good one. Our witnesses were almost unanimous in this. Many of the practical and political objections to the proposal are set out in Part 4 of the report and I do not intend to repeat them here. I do, however, look forward to hearing the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, set out the case for a second chamber, and the practicalities of how it might work, in more detail.
When we took evidence from Foreign Office officials to try to flesh out the Prime Minister's remarks, it was quite clear that at the time, in December 2000, the Government's thinking on a second chamber was, as admitted, at an early stage. I hope that, in his reply, the Minister will be able to enlighten us further. I also look forward with interest to hearing whether other noble Lords who are to speak support the second chamber idea in itself.
Part 5 of the committee's report is perhaps rather ambitiously headed "The real issues". In taking evidence on the second chamber proposal, it was clear to us that the proposal was intended to address genuine concerns about the European Union. We divided those concerns into three sections: areas where the oversight of European policy was thought to be weak; constitutional issues; and democracy issues. As far as areas of weak oversight were concerned, the committee accepts that there is a need to think further about how the common foreign and security policy is to be scrutinised. This forms the second pillar under the Treaty on European Union and accordingly is conducted mainly through diplomatic channels where fewer instruments are subject to parliamentary scrutiny.
Our conclusion was that a number of bodies already exist which could scrutinise the CFSP: national parliaments in the first instance, the WEU, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and NATO. We concluded that it would be for the next IGC to determine the future of these various bodies. I look forward in particular to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, on this matter. For the moment, I merely ask the Minister to confirm that the convention will be able to consider these issues because they do not appear to be covered specifically by the Laeken declaration, and further to confirm that they will come high up on the agenda for the next IGC.
Some suggested that the Commission's annual work programme should be scrutinised by a new second chamber. Our conclusion was that this task in itself would not merit the creation of a new body and that national parliaments should carry out this work. The government response, set out in paragraph 16, proposes an annual EU agenda to,
"allow all Europe's citizens to see what was being done in their name".
Would that be in addition to or as a replacement for the annual work programme of the Commission?
As far as underlying constitutional issues are concerned, we wholly support the Prime Minister in his attempt to clarify the competencies of the European Union. We accordingly support the statement of the principles of competencies and conclude that, in the absence of any such document, the proposal for a second chamber is premature. We also conclude that it would be impractical to involve a second chamber in revision of the treaties.
More generally, we concluded that,
"it clearly contributes to the lack of interest in the European Union that there is little understanding of how it really works".
Whatever one's views on the European question, we can all agree that you can neither support nor criticise the institutional arrangements with any degree of authority unless you have an understanding of what they are.
Perhaps the area where our report ranges widest from the starting point of a second chamber is in the paragraphs on democracy. We are, however, conscious that we were not able to do a thorough job on these issues as our evidence and our time were limited. We note, however, that our sister committee in the House of Commons—the European Scrutiny Committee—is conducting a full inquiry into democracy and accountability in Europe and we look forward to the results of its labours.
Careful reading of paragraph 62 of our report will reveal that we accept that the proposal that the Council, when acting as a legislature, should operate in a more transparent way is a proposal made in a genuine attempt to increase accountability.
We all agreed that achieving greater accountability would significantly help reconnection of citizens with the institutions of Europe but, having discussed this matter among ourselves—and some members of our committee have considerable experience of the European negotiation process—we agreed that governments would be unlikely to agree to such increased transparency in the near future. In this regard, I note the proposals that the Convention on the Future of Europe might hold all its meetings in public. Will the institutions of the Union follow this example?
Our conclusion on the question of the accountability of Ministers was that governments should make every effort to be accountable to national parliaments both in advance of Council meetings and in reporting back. We are currently considering how we can make a contribution in this area. I look forward to hearing more from the Minister on this point.
Our report also urges those debating the future shape of Europe—and by this we mean both the convention and governments—to take account of the case for greater accountability and transparency given the pressures of enlargement; to consider the role of the presidency of the Council of Ministers; and to look closely at the role of the General Affairs Council. I am sure that various noble Lords will pursue these matters in the debate.
I draw attention to one final section of our report. This concerns the role of COSAC. As many of your Lordships speaking today will know, COSAC is the forum in which the European scrutiny committees of national parliaments get together once in every presidency. This forum was established in 1989 and gained greater authority when the Amsterdam treaty in 1997 called for COSAC to make contributions to the institutions of the European Union.
As our report indicates, many of your Lordships who have attend COSAC have been disappointed. There is no consensus among national parliaments about its role; the agenda consists usually of broad debates; there is no permanent secretariat; and, in attempting to adopt resolutions and conclusions, the output of COSAC often degenerates to the lowest common denominator needed to secure general agreement on a text in a very limited time.
We concluded that COSAC has a value in exchanging information and providing networks. We also concluded that COSAC was,
"an opportunity missed for strengthening national parliamentary scrutiny".
We would wish to see COSAC return to its original character as a forum for the exchange of views about national parliamentary approaches to the EU, and that its debates should accordingly be less general and more focused on the scrutiny role. We will be pressing, with others, to ensure that COSAC in future primarily focuses on the techniques and practical problems of parliamentary scrutiny of EU affairs. Again, I note that the government response calls for a "more operative role" for COSAC. I wonder whether the Minister, in his reply, could tell us more about what that means.
The response also, in paragraph 10, reminds us of the Government's commitment to the six-week period for parliamentary scrutiny enshrined in the Amsterdam protocol. But will they give an undertaking to monitor how well they deliver on this and report back to us? Will they also report regularly to Parliament on cases of scrutiny override?
In conclusion, the report's overall message is of the need for co-operation between national parliaments and between national parliaments and the European Parliament in ensuring thorough scrutiny and democratic accountability.
The perceived lack of democratic legitimacy in the Union—often referred to as a democratic deficit but which some, including our committee, prefer to see in terms of a disconnection between citizens and the institutions that have been established—is a serious worry as the European Union moves forward, both given the pressures of enlargement and given the increasing tendency for issues to be taken forward outside the normal democratic processes.
We believe that national parliaments, representing as they do their citizens, have a strong role to play in ensuring that those citizens both understand and can contribute to, and feel that they have some control over, the workings of the European institutions. This report is produced in that spirit.
I look forward to the debate and, particularly, to the Minister's reply.
Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee, A Second Parliamentary Chamber for Europe: An unreal solution to some real problems (7th Report, HL Paper 48).—(Lord Brabazon of Tara.)
My Lords, I congratulate our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, on having successfully carried to a conclusion the inquiry instituted by his predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. I also express our thanks to our previous Clerk, Mr Tom Mohan, and to our present Clerk, Mr Simon Burton, who produced a first-class draft report.
This has proven to be a well worthwhile and timely inquiry, given the recent launching of the preparations for the 2004 Intergovernmental Conference. I am sure that our representatives—one of whom, the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, I am glad to see in his place—will make good use of it.
I confess that at the outset of this inquiry, in which I had the privilege of participating, I was a supporter of the idea of a second chamber for the European Parliament, but in the course of the inquiry I changed my mind. I found the arguments made against it simply more persuasive than those made for it.
That said, it is quite clear that the real problems for which I thought a second chamber might provide workable solutions remain to be resolved. The disconnection between the individual citizen and the EU's institutions is still a serious problem. At the parliamentary level, national parliamentarians, the directly elected representatives of the people, are still denied adequate input into the agenda-setting and decision-making processes in Brussels; there is no collective scrutiny by the people's elected representatives of intergovernmental co-operation in second and third pillar areas; nor do national parliaments have a collective role in scrutinising the operation of the principles of subsidiarity—and that may well be the most significant deficiency of all.
What first drew me into the corner of those advocating a second chamber was an awareness of the need to create an open political class across the Union. Larry Siedentop, the lecturer in political thought at Oxford and a fellow of Keble College, in his excellent book, Democracy in Europe, proposed two prerequisites for creating that open political class and argued that a European senate could help to meet them. The first prerequisite was, as he put it,
"to provide the nation-states of the European Union with more effective guarantees against centralization, against encroachments by a Brussels bureaucracy which threaten the dispersal of power and would make the Union less sensitive than it ought to be to the variety of attitudes and habits in Europe".
The second prerequisite which he saw a European senate helping to meet was the encouragement of greater devolution of authority and power within nation states, so that regional autonomy became the vehicle for improving the democratic credentials of national political classes and brought national governments closer to the people. To that end, Siedentop would have halve the seats in a European senate taken up by elected representatives of national regions, but on the strict condition that each region seeking to be represented satisfied certain standards of autonomy. As he put it:
"A European Senate, formally charged with both protecting national autonomy and with encouraging devolution within nation-states, could play an important part in creating the kind of political class that Europe desperately needs—one that is open, suspicious of bureaucracy, and sensitive to the claims of social variety".
I found these arguments seductive, and for me they remain so. The problem lies not with the goals that Larry Siedentop's European senate would be designed to achieve, but with the fact that the creation of a second chamber as a means of achieving those goals is, on the evidence collected in this inquiry and reflected in this report, the wrong route to the right remedies.
The objections raised to the creation of a second chamber are set out with great clarity and persuasiveness in this report, and they have just been eloquently rehearsed by our chairman, Lord Brabazon, in his excellent opening speech. There is therefore no need for me to tread again over well-covered ground. The more pressing question is how the real problems to which a second chamber is an unreal solution are going to be resolved. Here the report makes some very sensible and practical suggestions. I shall mention a few that strike me as particularly important.
The first is that the monitoring of the Union institutions' observance of the subsidiarity principle is too central to the interests of national parliaments to be left exclusively to the European Parliament. Nation states are the intended beneficiaries of subsidiarity, and therefore national parliaments should also be monitoring it. That task would be made easier and more meaningful for both the European and the national parliaments if, as our report says, a clearer set of competences were agreed for the Union's various elements. The argument that a formal defining of competences is one more step down the road to a European superstate should be treated with the contempt that it deserves.
Monitoring subsidiarity should be a crucial component of a national parliament's overall scrutiny function, and national parliamentary scrutiny of the decisions of national governments in the European context most certainly needs strengthening. By strengthening, we mean, do we not, the spreading of best practice? Given the differing roles, powers and prerogatives of individual national parliaments across the Union, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, in his evidence, that that strengthening needs to be done by the national parliaments themselves working individually and collectively. Surely the appropriate forum for collective action is COSAC—a body still in search of a meaningful role somewhere between the unacceptable aspirations to legislative authority at the one extreme and aimless, unfocused debate at the other. The time has come to take a serious look at COSAC's role.
As the report insists, effective scrutiny assumes the full discharge by Ministers of their responsibilities in respect of Council decisions. That ought to prompt us here in this Parliament to reflect seriously on whether the flow of information from government to Parliament is adequate and timely. Successive Ministers for Europe have been very accessible and mostly informative to our European Union Select Committee, and we are grateful for that. However, on whether the overall flow of information is adequate and timely, I have to say that "could do better" would be my judgment. That is not to say that one should hold the Government exclusively responsible for all shortcomings; Brussels must bear its share of the blame.
Another factor militating against effective scrutiny is the Council's glaring lack of transparency, as our report rightly notes. However, that is something that successive governments have been prepared to tolerate and even connive in, and unless and until more daylight is let in on the Council performing its legislative function, parliamentary scrutiny will never be the efficient tool of democracy that it is meant to be. That necessity has been highlighted in the report, and I particularly welcome the call on those debating the future of the Council under enlargement to take account of the case for greater accountability and transparency in its procedures. A reform of the Council's working procedures is long overdue and now a matter of urgency. The functions of the General Affairs Council should be examined at the same time.
I heartily endorse the report's recognition of the importance of co-operation between national parliaments, with the involvement of the European Parliament where appropriate. Europe's parliamentarians really do need to meet. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe—I am delighted to see the recently retired President of the Assembly, the noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston, in his place in the Chamber—and COSAC certainly provide opportunities, but the proceedings are not particularly focused on inter-parliamentary co-operation. Bilateral contacts are also very important indeed. However, here in our Parliament, that is left largely to all-party groups whose lack of financial resources tends to make exchange visits embarrassingly one-sided. I recognise the constraints of time-scales and diaries, as noted in the report, but it should not be beyond the wisdom and ingenuity of parliaments and governments to facilitate better the all-important contacts that are the sine qua non of good parliamentary co-operation among states.
As I said at the outset, I think that this inquiry has been very worthwhile and produced a very useful and timely report. I am happy that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was doing no more than flying a kite when he made his proposal in Warsaw. He has certainly been in interesting company. As I recall remarking in one of our early evidence sessions, when personalities as diverse as Chris Patten and Danny Cohn-Bendit are making similar noises, something must be stirring in the long grass. Well, we have cut back the grass a bit and seen what is there, but we are not terribly impressed. There is a better way, and I think that the report points us in that direction.
The Council's working practices must be reformed to make it more accountable, and scrutiny by national parliaments must be strengthened. It should not be beyond the capability of member states individually and collectively to achieve that. However, as in so many matters, it will depend on political will, and we have to hope that that political will will be there.
My Lords, I endorse the comments just made by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, on the admirable way in which the Select Committee has been chaired by two chairmen and advised by two Clerks. It has been an excellently run committee which has been involved in most intriguing issues. I hope that we have arrived at the right conclusions and recommendations. I also certainly endorse the committee's views, which I shall summarise. I agree, first, most strongly that there is a need for better parliamentary oversight.
Secondly, I agree that a second parliamentary chamber is not the answer and that it would not fill the democratic deficit which others have pointed out. I also think that a second chamber would put MPs who want to make a success of two parliamentary careers in danger of making a mess of them both. I believe that it is impossible for an MP to make a success of two parliamentary careers in two countries at the same time. I shall return to that point.
Thirdly, I think that there is an opportunity to use existing organisations to perform some of the roles that need to be performed in the newly evolving operations and manifestations of the European Union.
Is there a need for parliamentary oversight? There most certainly is, as has been identified by so many people, not least the Prime Minister. A few moments ago, the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, referred to the very wide breadth of people who recognise that need, from Mr Patten and the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, on the one side to Daniel Cohn-Bendit on the other. That deficit is widely recognised. There is a need to bring European affairs closer to the citizens of the member states. That is especially important in dealing with the problem of subsidiarity, which I do not think anyone can claim is properly covered at the moment.
A second parliamentary chamber is not a suitable vehicle if it is set up like the early version of the European Parliament in the 1970s and early 1980s. The European Parliament was made up of national parliamentarians who had a dual mandate with Westminster. They were selected on a party nomination by the Whips. I recall that at the time many MPs, when offered the possibility of being selected for the European Parliament, said that they would not touch it as they felt that it would interfere with a Westminster career. They were quite right in that.
I think of MEPs—I refer only to members of my own party—with a dual mandate in 1979 when a change of government occurred. A number of those members were not considered for ministerial office at that time as they had become somewhat semi-detached from Westminster given their other responsibilities in the European Parliament. Some of them most strongly deserved ministerial office, but, as I say, they were not considered because they had not "caught the eye" in previous years due to their frequent and necessary absences on European Parliament duties. Therefore, whatever comes out of the IGC—I, too, am extremely glad that the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, is present—I hope that above all there is no suggestion of having a body that is anything like the European Parliament before it was directly elected. That was a great mistake and it was not, frankly, in MPs' best interests to be part of it.
That situation of semi-detachment arises through the formal constitution of a major institution such as the European Parliament. Once parliamentarians attached to a vast formal institution carry out parliamentary oversight duties, more and more and more of their time is taken up there. The only practical way that Members of Parliament could be involved without falling between two stools as I have just described would be if the institution concerned was less formal than an organisation such as the European Parliament, or a second parliamentary chamber as it would inevitably soon become.
We already have a number of interparliamentary institutions run on less formal lines than, for instance, the European Parliament. I refer to the Council of Europe which, as far as the United Kingdom delegation is concerned, also includes membership of the Western European Union. I refer also to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly—I declare an interest in that I have just returned to that body and the British delegation after a gap of five years, having previously been a member for 10 years—and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly where I led the British delegation for, I believe, the first seven years of its existence. The IGC could consider whether those organisations could take on an extra duty. They could be adapted to set up working groups with an additional membership of perhaps one or more Members of the European Parliament so that the Parliament had an input. Those groups could deal with a number of issues.
The Select Committee report makes that recommendation at paragraph 45. It is suggested that those interparliamentary bodies could set up working groups. That view is endorsed by Sub-Committee C, of which I have the honour to be chairman, which last week produced its report on the European security and defence policy. Paragraph 75 mirrors the recommendation we are debating this afternoon. I hope that we shall come back to the matter of CFSP at some future time. Those existing parliamentary bodies I have mentioned could be asked to take on an additional responsibility through the working groups I have suggested to deal with such matters as CFSP and defence issues in the interim between now and 2004. It might be useful to see whether they work. My view is that they could be made to work. I refer especially to defence and similar matters where the Commission and the European Parliament have only a limited input as they are intergovernmental organisations.
I am somewhat puzzled by the response which the Government have made to the Select Committee report. I regret to say that it came into my hands when I was already in the Chamber within the past hour. On this issue I am somewhat surprised to read in the Government's response at paragraph 4:
"And thirdly, the Chamber— that is the second parliamentary chamber—
"could provide oversight of areas of EU activity, which go beyond the traditional work of the Community, such as European defence, and justice and home affairs".
The Government state strangely at paragraph 12—this is what I really cannot understand—
"parliamentary accountability for CFSP decisions is most appropriately ensured at the national level and draws to the Committee's attention its commitment to ensuring that there are therefore effective arrangements for UK national Parliamentary scrutiny. The Government notes the committee's views on the value of informal contact with other national parliamentarians. While recognising that this is of course a matter for Parliament to take forward as it sees fit, the Government notes that the short time-lines for many CFSP decisions may in practice restrict the time that is available for such contacts on individual CFSP decisions".
I am puzzled by that because the recommendation that appears in the Select Committee's report, to which I referred earlier, and in the report of Sub-Committee C comes directly from a letter that I received from the Government, which said that they believe that in the mean time—between now and 2004—it would be wiser if the three parliamentary bodies carried out those duties of parliamentary oversight. That is why I suggested—I speak as chairman of Sub-Committee C and one who felt that the Government's line was extremely sensible—that we should include the recommendation in the report.
If the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, will forgive me for saying so, I had some part to play in the fact that a similar recommendation appeared in the Select Committee's report. I am rather dumbfounded to find that in their response to the committee's report, the Government seem to be taking a totally different line. We can no doubt explore that later. I guess that the Minister will not be aware of that strange change of emphasis during the past four or five months. He may not have time to get the advice that he will need between now and his wind up to comment on that. If he cannot do so, I should be most grateful for an explanation as soon as possible.
My Lords, I greatly welcome this debate, as have the two previous speakers. I am not in any sense a European specialist. I know far less about the institutions of the European Union than do most of the speakers in this debate. However, I wanted to speak in this debate because I was a member of the Select Committee when it started working on the report, although I was rotated off it a few months later. I found the subject to be extremely interesting and I therefore followed it. When I left the committee, I had already come to the provisional conclusion that a second chamber consisting of Members of national Parliaments was not a workable solution, and I am glad that the report came to that view.
When discussing a second chamber for the European Parliament, we need to consider what its role would be. The roles of second chambers in different Parliaments in different countries and organisations throughout the world are very different. In a federal system, such as that in the USA, the second chamber usually represents the states within a federation and protects the rights of the states against the centre. That is the case in the USA, where the Senate in theory represents the member states of the Union. Indeed, until the early 20th century, Senators were elected by the state legislatures, not directly by individual voters. In the German Bundesrat, the Members are delegates of the Land governments. In the United Kingdom, the second Chamber—your Lordships' House—plays an entirely different role. We work mainly through detailed consideration and revision of legislation and through our specialist Select Committees.
In the European Union, a second chamber would certainly act as a second chamber on the federal model, representing the member states against the centre. However, that role is to a considerable extent already played by the Council. It is a legislative body; indeed, when a co-decision does not apply, it is the only legislative body. The Council is made up of Ministers who are delegates from national governments. They of course represent governments rather than national Parliaments, but all the member states of the union are democracies and all those national governments are accountable to the voters of their own states. All governments unquestionably act in what they see as their national self-interest as part of the Council. So the EU already has two chambers: it has the European Parliament, which is directly elected by the citizens of member states, and the Council, which is made up of delegates of the governments of member states. No useful purpose would be served by adding a third chamber that was made up of representatives of delegates of national Parliaments.
There are also practical difficulties. The experience of the dual mandate before 1979 was very discouraging, as the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, fully pointed out. Even a second chamber that did not expect to meet more than three or four times a year for a few days would be likely to have attendance that was irregular, and its members would give priority to national Parliaments. We know what happens in the reverse case. Three Members of your Lordships' House are Members of the European Parliament—two of them, I am glad to say, sit on these Benches—but none of them is able to be a regular attender. That is no criticism whatever of them; they certainly do attend whenever they are able to and whenever the EU is being debated. However, they are simply too busy with their job as MEPs. That is another indication of the fact that a dual mandate is not viable. A second chamber that had such limited occasion for meeting would fail to build up the cohesion and expertise that a parliamentary body needs.
I echo the words of Mr Andrew Duff, who is a Liberal Democrat MEP. In his written evidence to the Select Committee, he said, at paragraphs 9 and 11:
"The new body would be composed of national parliamentarians selected in at least 15 different ways who would be expected to devote themselves to long and difficult meetings three or four times a year regardless of the domestic agendas of their own parliaments and national electoral mandates . . . I am unable to gather why or how the government imagines this proposal could add to the efficiency, effectiveness, transparency or democratic legitimacy of the Union".
In their response, the Government hardly put forward what could be described as an enthusiastic case for a new European second chamber. If the Prime Minister had not floated the idea in Warsaw some 16 months ago, I wonder whether the response would even have been as favourable as that.
Does that mean that nothing needs to be done or that nothing can be done? There are things that need to be done, but the creation of a new second chamber is the wrong approach. I agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, which appear in paragraph 3 of his memorandum of evidence to the committee. I hope that he will excuse me if I quote his words. He said:
"I think the biggest single shortcoming of the way in which the 'European Political System' has worked has been in the failure of National Parliaments to monitor properly, and sometimes thoroughly, the actions of their own Governments in the Council of Ministers".
I entirely agree with that view.
There is a serious problem with secrecy. The functions of the Council as a legislative body should certainly be much more open. I do not suggest that detailed negotiations in the Council should be conducted in front of television cameras or recorded verbatim in the European equivalent of Hansard. However, enough should be disclosed to enable national Parliaments to scrutinise the activities of their own governments in Council meetings.
Secondly, there should be closer co-operation between national Parliaments and the institutions of the EU. There were a number of references in the evidence to COSAC, most of which were not very favourable. COSAC, of course, is a group that is made up of Members of national Parliaments, it meets twice a year to discuss EU issues and it also has a small representation from the European Parliament. I took part in one such meeting about two years ago in Lisbon. I have to say that, apart from a pleasant weekend in Lisbon, I did not get a great deal out of that meeting, partly because it was very inadequately chaired. It is a useful place for networking, but no more.
By contrast, I also attended two meetings of ad hoc inter-parliamentary conferences in Brussels for Members of the European Parliament and the national parliaments. I found those useful, in particular one that I attended on the subject of corpus juris. From that meeting I obtained a much clearer picture of the views of the other countries on the issues behind the proposals and was able to hear the views of the chairs of the two relevant European parliamentary committees. That leads me to wonder whether COSAC would do better to meet in Brussels rather than rotate around the countries of the presidency. It would enable more contact to take place with the European Parliament and with the Commission and would not restrict contact only to each other.
I also consider there to be scope for closer links between this Parliament and the United Kingdom MEPs. I believe that there should be a more structured relationship. One proposal for reform of your Lordships' House is that we should increase our scrutiny of European Union legislation. MEPs are always extremely helpful in giving evidence to the European Union Select Committee and its sub-committees when they are invited to do so. But one idea would be to have a Joint Select Committee on which MEPs would sit as members along with Members of your Lordships' House. I believe that that would present far fewer administrative difficulties than a second chamber because Select Committee meetings can be fitted in much more easily with the timetables of the European Parliament and your Lordships' House. Perhaps there could even be a tripartite Joint Committee involving the European Parliament and Members of both Houses of this Parliament.
Measures such as those would strengthen the links between Parliament and the European Parliament and could reduce the isolation which is undoubtedly felt by members of the European Parliament. It could also give Parliament a much better idea of what is happening in the institutions of the European Union.
This has been, and will continue to be, a very useful debate. I believe that the committee was correct in criticising the proposals for a second chamber. But I also believe that the Select Committee rightly recognised that serious communication problems exist and that it is essential to try to find ways to reduce those problems.
My Lords, at the outset I identify myself totally with the remarks of praise directed at the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, for his work in starting this inquiry when he was Chairman of the European Union Select Committee and for the work carried out so admirably by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, following his assumption of that responsibility. Of course, in that praise I include the two Clerks—Tom Mohan and Simon Burton—who also changed mid-stream.
Proposals for a bi-cameral European Parliament are not new. Going back into the annals of history, in 1953 the draft treaty drawn up by the Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community for a European political community encapsulated ideas of a European Parliament of two chambers. That proposal was not taken up in 1957 and was not incorporated into the Treaty of Rome, which established the original European Community institutions.
However, since then a large number of variations on the theme have been put forward from diverse sources, some of which have been quoted today. During the 1980s and 1990s, from France, Fabius, Chirac and Mitterrand all put forward different ideas for second chambers. The noble Lords, Lord Brittan and Lord Heseltine, also put forward very interesting ideas. More recently, the President of the Czech Republic, Mr Havel, entered the fray, and a diverse number of German politicians have also given different variations on the theme. We had proposals from Joschka Fischer, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, from Johannes Rau, the German President, and also from the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schro der. Therefore, the idea has been around for some time. The French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, proposed the establishment of a congress of national parliaments to monitor subsidiarity. He also proposed the holding of an annual debate on the state of the Union.
Therefore, when my right honourable friend the Prime Minister trod this ground in his speech in Warsaw on 6th October, he was not treading a particularly new turf; he was going over an area that had been well visited over the previous 50 years. His proposal for a second chamber for the European Parliament—it was that which led the Select Committee to decide to look at the idea in some detail—was for one made up of representatives of national parliaments, essentially with responsibility for two main tasks: first, the monitoring of the operation of the principles of subsidiarity on the basis of a statement of principles; and secondly, to provide the element of a democratic, European level of scrutiny of the common foreign and security policy.
Many people have addressed the idea of a second chamber when looking at how to remedy perceived weaknesses in relations between nation states and their parliaments and the European Union. I start by agreeing strongly with the conclusion of the European Union Select Committee. At paragraph 33 of its report, it said:
"The onus is on those who are proposing a second chamber"— when I say "second chamber", I readily accept what the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said with regard to third chambers—
"to prove its practicability, as well as its desirability, before the proposal goes forward".
In that respect, I believe that the proponents of the idea have singularly failed to create that case. They have failed to address adequately the practical problems which exist in abundance.
Some of those problems have been mentioned and I want to reiterate a few. National parliaments could not do the job effectively were a second chamber busy enough to justify its existence. But, on the other hand, were it not busy enough to justify its existence, what would be its purpose and why should either senior politicians or ambitious younger politicians choose to spend their time on it? If it were not busy enough, how would it impact upon public opinion? One objective of the second chamber is supposed to be to connect Europe better to the citizen. If it met as frequently as the Council of Europe or the Western European Union, admirable though the work that they do is, it would hardly impact dramatically upon the citizens of the 15 member states of the European Union.
There are practical problems in abundance: the location; the logistics; the languages; the size; and the cost. Also to be taken into account is how national participants in a second Chamber relate back to their national parliaments. Must they have a mandate from their national parliaments for the attitudes that they take? Are they free agents? What is the level of accountability back to them? And when should a second chamber intervene, if at all, in the legislative process, or will it deal only with non-legislative questions? Of course, that in itself would be a nonsense at a time when there is an increasing demand not only from the European Parliament but from a number of national parliamentarians that as the amount of qualified majority voting increases in Council, so there should be a parallel increase in the amount of legislation that is determined through co-decision. Therefore, there are many practical problems.
Where there are European Union activities in which democracy is not evident and accountability is insufficient—principally, as I said, in the area of common foreign and security policy—other areas also need to be addressed, such as the Commission work programme, subsidiarity, and the statement of principles. None of those justifies the somewhat ad hoc approach of proposing a change to institutional arrangements. Were such institutional changes needed, they could at any time have been on the agenda for inter-governmental conferences at Maastricht, Amsterdam or Nice. If now they are perceived to be necessary, they should be thoroughly discussed in the convention in preparation for a 2004 Intergovernmental Conference. However, in the meanwhile there are real problems which need resolution and on which I make the following observations.
The real problems which need attention include better parliamentary scrutiny of European Union decisions in all chambers of national parliaments. That includes our own. Although we produce some excellent reports, we tend to produce big reports on big issues. Yet the vast majority of European Union legislation does not get detailed scrutiny. Therefore, we have an obligation to improve parliamentary scrutiny. In doing so, we are controlling one side of the co-decision making process of the Council of Ministers—a Council of Ministers that, as other noble Lords have said, needs greater openness in its legislative role.
Inside the European Union, we also need a greater determination to pursue policies of critical mass—policies where the EU role will clearly add value—following the injunction that we have heard so many times to do less and do it better. Only by that shall we see clear impact upon the citizen.
I give the example of the great vision in 1992 of completing the European single market. Here we are a decade later still talking about completing the single market. We do not yet have it. Yet we should be encouraging European Union institutions to focus on precisely such policies and not be diverted into new initiatives and new ideas until they have attained the agenda that they have set themselves.
There are many other areas where that is true. We have created a European Bank for Reconstruction and Development when, by changing the articles of the European Investment Bank, we could have managed without creating yet another financial institution. The Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions were created, but without clearly visible benefits in connecting Europe and its decision-making processes to either the citizens or the regions.
The Court of Auditors is growing like Topsy. As a previous report from the European Union Committee said, the need for reform is clear. The European Parliament is already potentially too large with too many places of work. Policies within the European Union, such as the common agricultural policy, cry out for reform if we have enlargement, but we seem to be relying on external factors such as the World Trade Organisation to produce the major impetus of reform for us.
We can do many of those things. They will serve to connect Europe better to the citizen if we do them ourselves and now without getting embroiled in arguments for constitutional change. It is not enough to pretend that creating a further body will assist; it will not. Far from assisting, the proposals for a second chamber create an unreal expectation of the re-connection of Europe to the citizen, which will create only further disillusion with the processes.
If we want better to connect Europe to the citizen we can take certain immediate actions. We should listen to the advice of Julian Priestley, the Secretary-General of the European Parliament. We should re-think the electoral system for European Parliament elections, with proportional representation, but based on constituencies and voter choice and not further recourse to closed lists, which at best deny the citizen and at worst can appear to be somewhat Stalinist in practice. In his evidence at Question 289, Julian Priestley said:
"At least at first sight it does not appear that the way in which that electoral system was changed has actually enhanced the connection between Members and the citizens".
Finally, I believe that national parliaments do not need any new powers. They certainly do not need new institutions to hold their governments to account. What they need is a greater input of political will to do so. If my analysis were entirely Machiavellian, I would suspect that the second chamber proposals were intended to flatter national parliaments into a belief that all that is needed is for a few real parliamentarians—that is, national parliamentarians—to discuss issues and thus produce a clarity and understanding among the 400 million European citizens; and that, while believing that, they would forget their historic role and duty of controlling governments, who by their nature are happy with their performance and know that it needs no scrutiny.
My Lords, I am a member of the Select Committee on the European Union. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, who chaired the inquiry, and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, who launched it. I am glad that in the response from the Government to the report the Government have stated that they are ready to look beyond the second chamber proposal to each of the ideas for strengthening the role of national Parliaments in the context of the convention to take forward the future of Europe process. That is a step forward.
It is evident that a national parliamentary Chamber, such as this House, should give particular attention to new suggestions or proposals for improving the parliamentary scrutiny and oversight of European Union legislation and to improve the relationship between national Parliaments and the European institutions. This is truly our business. In addition, an improved role for national Parliaments is one of the four areas especially highlighted in Declaration 23 annexed to the Nice Treaty for attention and, we hope, valuable recommendations from the convention which is about to start the preparations for the 2004 inter-governmental conference.
The Select Committee has concluded that there are some real problems relating to the oversight in particular of the common foreign and security policy and to respect for subsidiarity. It also concluded that a second European parliamentary chamber was not the right solution. If it had a substantial legislative role like a senate, as suggested by a number of commentators including Mr Daniel Cohn-Bendit, it would surely run into conflict with the European Parliament. The question of relative legitimacy would arise, depending on the method used to create the second chamber. In practical terms, it would also prove very difficult for members to serve their own Parliament and a full-time European second chamber. If, on the other hand, it were restricted to one or two areas, as has also been suggested—for example, oversight of common foreign and security policy or particular attention to subsidiarity—that might be practically possible but it would run the risk of being unsuccessful because of the speed of decision making on common foreign and security policy and because subsidiarity needs to be given attention throughout the preparation and progress of legislation. It is not a one-off. To quote a phrase that is used by the French, the proposal for the second chamber would be "a bad good idea".
Although I agree with the report, I want to develop certain points that bear on the problem rather than on the suggested second chamber solution. In any event, it is wise not to look for institutional changes before the convention has done its work and made such recommendations or choices as it wishes to put before the intergovernmental conference of 2004. For a better way forward that will satisfy our citizens more about European Union policies and legislation, we must look beyond general phrases such as "better governance" or "reducing the democratic deficit"; we need to analyse more closely who does what and how things may be done better.
First, we need to distinguish, as some noble Lords have, between those European Union proposals or actions that fall within intergovernmental areas of common foreign and security policy—pillar two—and justice and home affairs—pillar three—and those European Community proposals or actions that fall within the area of Community competence. Why is such a distinction important? It is important because, to a large degree, the specific actions under the common foreign and security policy, including any defence element, and the sensitive issues of justice and home affairs, in so far as they are intergovernmental, are not scrutinised in advance nor are they decided by the European Parliament. They are decided only by the Ministers of the member states in the Council of Ministers. As the Prime Minister said in a speech, he recognises that one of the tasks for a second chamber could be to provide,
"democratic oversight at the European level of the common foreign and security policy".
It is right to ask ourselves whether we are satisfied that, on matters so sensitive to public opinion, the traditional scrutiny that we exercise over proposals in those areas and the capacity to call a national government to account in a national parliament are sufficient. I believe that they could be, but on two conditions.
First, the traditional scrutiny by national parliaments, including this House, should be particularly attentive to those areas that are not subject to decision by the European Parliament and such scrutiny should be timely. I am unsure whether the fact that much European Union business is now under pillars two and three has been fully comprehended, particularly those issues affecting immigration, asylum, judicial co-operation and the fight against crime and drugs. A recent document put to the Select Committee on the European Union showed that, in a sift of the important issues, at least half fell into those areas. A few years ago, that was never the case. In this Chamber we know how thoroughly and how quickly we had to look at the matter of the European arrest warrant. Such important issues appear quickly and they need to be dealt with speedily.
The second condition is that the legislative actions of the Council of Ministers should be more transparent. That point has been made by a number of noble Lords and I support it strongly. I recognise that many issues need to be discussed by Ministers in private and in confidence. However, I refuse to be typecast as a former bureaucrat and Eurocrat. When legislating, particularly on issues such as justice and the movement of people, I believe that the Council could be open to the public.
I turn to the democratic oversight of Community affairs. In this connection I do not believe that the phrase "democratic deficit" is apt. In recent decades, the legislative role of the European Parliament has been increased substantially with the consequence that not only does the European Parliament, jointly with the Council, control finance, but most primary legislation—certainly over 80 per cent—is subject to co-decision by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. In most cases the European Parliament can amend, improve, send back or block Community primary legislation that is presented to it.
What are the problems, if any? In my view there are three. First, at the European level, the Council of Ministers—the other half of the legislative authority—is not open to scrutiny in the same way, although individual member states can be questioned and to some degree controlled by their national parliaments.
Secondly, an important point to me is that the national parliaments can, of course, scrutinise European Commission proposals and give their views or guidance to their own governments. In this House that is the role of the Select Committee on the European Union, which carries out a fine job, but the national parliaments give little input to the European Community legislative process before formal proposals come forward. That is why I attach importance to what may be seen as rather a technical point—point 12 in the summary of the report—that there should be co-operation between national parliaments in examining the Commission's work programme.
I would like to see the European Commission required to consult all the national parliaments on its draft work programme, which would give us a chance to indicate the proposals that, from our national standpoint, we would like to see included, and those proposals to which we had some objections, whether on the ground of subsidiarity or any other ground. Significant requests and disagreements by a national parliament, if not accepted by the Commission, should be annexed to the final programme submitted to the European Parliament and Council. Thus, there would be a national parliamentary input, even before formal proposals were submitted.
I believe that that would make quite a difference to the role that we could play in influencing legislation. Almost all the Commission's proposals respond to needs or requests from the European Parliament, from the Council, from individual member states or from the many business, commercial or consumer interests with which the Commission is always in close contact. If we do not agree, it is important to establish a counterweight early in the process.
Thirdly, I stress that public dissatisfaction with the operation of subsidiarity often relates not to primary, but to secondary legislation—the "nooks and crannies", as referred to by a former Foreign Secretary. We need to pay great attention to ensuring that the European Community's primary legislation does not give too much latitude for such secondary legislation. At the moment we do not pay it much attention. Like the Select Committee, I look at this stage for practical rather than institutional solutions to these problems.
My Lords, I am the first noble Lord to speak in this debate who is not a member of the Select Committee, nor have I been a democratically elected Member of the European Parliament. Another difference is that I do not like this report at all. I am deeply disappointed in it. Although I believe that many competent people have spent time writing the report, I do not believe that they have considered this problem with sufficient imagination. They have looked for objections in every nook and cranny. My noble friend Lord Grenfell said that they had cut the long grass. In my view they have put agent orange on the grass and destroyed it. Nothing will ever grow there again.
On Europe I am a disappointed enthusiast. Once German reunification took place, the entire momentum in European Union affairs was lost. There has been a great deal of erosion and avoidance of crucial issues. IGC after IGC has failed to advance any positions or to tackle any problems. The Community is swimming along in inertia. Although many things have happened, they have happened due more to inertia than to anything else. I believe that my noble friend Lord Tomlinson described very well what was wrong, but his proposal was, "It's broke, but don't fix it". That seems to be summary a of what he said.
Perhaps I may take up one issue before I reach the major criticism of the report. I refer to scrutiny. I was briefly on Sub-Committee A of your Lordships' committee on European affairs. I very much enjoyed the process. But good as our committee is, it does not have sufficient time for scrutiny because information arrives too late and we are in a great hurry to send things back. We are really interested in the big reports which take us to Brussels or Frankfurt, which is very nice. I enjoy it myself.
Since I am on my feet I propose that we should have a separate sub-committee which carries out scrutiny and nothing else, leaving the major subjects to the other sub-committees, which can grandstand around. Some really tough people should look at scrutiny across all legislation, and the sub-committee should do only that. That is the only way in which scrutiny will be carried out, otherwise it is dealt with at the end of the interesting business in sub-committees in which I have often taken part. I do not believe that that is the way to do it. We should not congratulate ourselves that we have scrutiny: we do not have enough of it by any means.
I turn to the report itself.
My Lords, does the noble Lord suggest one committee only which does all the scrutiny or is he suggesting that each of the sub-committees covering an area should have a shadow scrutiny committee? If it is the former, I believe that that would involve far too wide an area and there would be far too much to do.
My Lords, it is the former and not the latter. My experience was that business was done after the witnesses had gone. We then had about five minutes left to carry out scrutiny. I am sure that we did our best. But very often things would arrive late and we had to send them back. We sent rude letters to Ministers and so forth. I would like one sub-committee only for scrutiny across everything. Of course, there will be a lot of work, but such work is not done as well now as I would like. Noble Lords may disagree, but that is my view. One needs an overall picture from one sub-committee which can look across different areas. It would be similar to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. It has to look at what is going on and who is taking what powers from national parliaments. Good as the sub-committees are—and I do not deny their significant contribution—scrutiny is a very important matter and cannot be left as the last item of business on sub-committee agendas.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for giving way. He has raised an extremely important point. The present structure under which we carry out scrutiny is specifically designed so that items for scrutiny, having been sifted, are sent to those committees which are specialists in a particular subject. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that if we were to organise matters in such a way that only one committee dealt with all matters, it would have to be very large indeed with a very wide representation of experience and expertise.
My Lords, that may be so, but I am not entirely convinced. We have many versatile people in this House. People with experience of the European Parliament can speak on many subjects. That is what parliamentarians are for: they are generalists. Even if we need a committee of 10 or l2, or whatever the figure, we should really explore this topic because by not paying attention to scrutiny we are omitting something.
I do not want to be unfair to my noble friend, of whom I am very fond. The sort of objection he raised characterises the entire report. As soon as someone says something, the response is, "It can't be done, dear boy: far too many people would be required which would be very expensive and time-consuming. There are also not enough people to do what you want. If they were good enough they will not have the time to do what is required and therefore it cannot be done".
Reading Part 4 of the report I was reminded of many dictators in the past who pointed out why one cannot have democracy or, if one does, it cannot be any good. All those arguments are rehearsed in the report. We are told that parliamentarians cannot be in two places at once. The venues will be some distance apart. The existence of the Channel is very interesting. It makes us believe that Europe is a vast country. In India people travel to more than one legislative body. Indeed, on mainland Europe people frequently have dual and triple mandates and manage perfectly well. The Reverend Ian Paisley is a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Westminster Parliament and the European Parliament. I believe that he thrives on it. The idea that people with two jobs will not be able to carry them out effectively is superficially accepted.
The other part of the argument is that if one has senior people—I refer to paragraph 30 of the report—who carry real political weight, whatever that is, there will not be sufficient for them to do. For the chaps in the lower divisions there is far too much to do, but for the real, high-class people there is not enough,, therefore, we cannot do this or that.
Another problem is a practical one. At what stage would one deal with the legislation? I believe that there is a failure of imagination. The committee accepted that the present way of doing things is entirely proper and will never change, therefore if a second chamber is introduced nothing will be changed. Everything will carry on as usual and the committee will barge around. If we do not like the way things are done let us change them and introduce a proper role for a second chamber. Whether one calls it a democratic deficit or a lack of legitimacy, it is a very serious problem for the European Union which will get worse with enlargement. Indeed, because of the way in which enlargement discussions are taking place, many governments have not told their people what is about to happen through enlargement. When people find out there will be riots on the streets particularly, for example, when they realise what it will do to the labour markets of Europe. I have said this before in this Chamber. There will be riots because people have not been told what fantastic economic consequences will result from enlargement.
I strongly believe that if directly elected national parliamentarians were selected for a small delegation to constitute a second chamber, with perhaps no more than 10 from each parliament and perhaps even fewer after enlargement, that body would be able to reflect the citizens' concerns, not those of the governments. The Council represents only the governments and everyone regards governments with suspicion. They will always take away one's civil liberties and rights. National parliamentarians should be trusted. They should look at what is taking place in their name which at the moment neither the European Parliament nor the Council is able to do.
I believe that I have taken up too much time. I am very disappointed by the report because it freezes things as they are now. It tries to find every objection possible to a second chamber and concludes that nothing can be done to solve this very serious problem. Perhaps the Government will ignore it.
My Lords, I rise with trepidation following the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, having been suitably admonished. I considered throwing away my speech and saying something entirely different, but I shall not. As a member of the committee, and unlike the noble Lord, Lord Desai, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, our chairman; my noble friend Lord Tordoff, who started us off on our report; and our excellent clerks, Tom Mohan and Simon Burton, who helped us through our many deliberations and the work we did.
I must confess that at the outset of our inquiry into the proposals by the Prime Minister and others to set up a second chamber of the European Parliament, I was pretty sceptical about why it was felt to be necessary. Throughout our scrutiny sessions, that scepticism was reinforced by most of our witnesses.
What was the purpose of a second chamber? The Prime Minister seemed to indicate that he wished for a simpler and more accessible way of determining what the EU should be doing at its level of competence and how we could better scrutinise national governance in EU matters. I have no doubt that his motives for wanting us to explore that are entirely laudable, but as our report indicates, this is not perhaps the best way to achieve his aims.
The role of a second chamber would appear to be not dissimilar to the old European parliamentary way of doing things—holding a dual mandate—and, as we have heard from other noble Lords, having national parliamentarians also dealing with the thorny subjects of competence, subsidiarity and proportionality in the EU Parliament and attempting to translate that into policy at home.
A number of graphic descriptions were given to us about the lack of accountability of MEPs to their national parliaments and the enormous time constraints there would be on members. As the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, MEP—who I am delighted to see in his place today; I hope he will forgive me for quoting him—advised us in his evidence at page 93, paragraph 299 when addressing the idea of a second chamber or senate:
"if it is going to do anything useful—and if it does not do anything useful there cannot be a great deal of point in having it—a considerable amount of time has got to be devoted by its Members to the task in hand and I question whether it is really possible to give the appropriate commitment at a national parliamentary level and at this Senate level".
As we have already heard, that was a recurring theme throughout our examination of witnesses. How could we get busy members of a national parliament to participate in this work? When would they attend meetings? How would they balance the competing political and domestic challenges at home with those expected of them in Europe? That was graphically highlighted to us by the evidence given by my noble friend Lord Russell-Johnston, who I am sorry is not in his place, when comparing similar work done by members who attend Council of Europe meetings. In his evidence, at page 34, he said:
"About a third of the membership of the Council of Europe Assembly changes every year. That does not mean to say that the whole lot is changed after three years, of course; it is simply that there is a turnover due in part to elections but also due to a reluctance to stay too long".
"Many of them go to the Council of Europe but then keep it a deadly secret that they have actually been there; they do not make any kind of song and dance about it".
I simply ask: would a second chamber be any different?
Having looked at the possible difficulties arising from a dual mandate, we then come to the problem of deciding just when this body of politicians might meet. Our report asks at which stage in the legislative process a second chamber might look at proposed European legislation, if that is to be one of its functions.
If it is proposed that one of its functions is to check for subsidiarity, at which point in the life cycle of the second chamber would that be achieved? It is suggested the chamber meet infrequently, but if that is the case, how can it meaningfully undertake proper scrutiny of complex policy? Done too early, without proper and thorough consideration, it would be pointless, and doing it at a later stage in the legislative cycle would run the risk of straying into the territory occupied by the Council of Ministers. I cannot imagine that the Council would be too happy with that.
We then come to the problem of costs. A second chamber would need the formal setting up of a secretariat, and possibly research facilities, which would require a significant amount of money. There are a number of European forums where participants meet to discuss common areas of interest. I question the need to add an additional body to an already extensive list.
I was keen to know whether interest was being shown in other member states about the desirability of having a second chamber. Mr Crossick from the European Policy Centre told me in his evidence, at page 42:
"I think that the Second Chamber, as constituted by the Council legislatively, is not being pushed to any great extent. The idea of national parliamentarians making it up is of course being pushed in the United Kingdom and finds favour in Denmark but I have to say that at this stage of the debate it has not really been the central feature".
He continues on page 43,
"I do not believe that the idea of having a Second Chamber of national parliamentarians essentially to cover subsidiarity, which is the only really firm proposal, has been given a lot of attention".
Other evidence came from Commissioner Michael Barnier. I asked him about whether the applicant countries were taking an interest in a second chamber. Again, the reply, at page 48, mirrored that of Mr Crossick:
"I see no special concerns amongst them about the existence or otherwise of a second chamber".
Nor do I. But I would prefer now to try and be rather more positive.
I have been fortunate enough to represent the European Sub-Committee F, which I have the honour to chair, at one or two meetings and presented our work on JHA issues to colleagues from both member and applicant states. I have presented some of the work done by the European committees of this House. That work has been well received. I have also attended one meeting of COSAC. We have heard a variety of comments about the usefulness of COSAC, most of which, as your Lordships will have seen, were not complimentary—at least about its business, if not its venues, as my noble friend Lord Goodhart pointed out. However, with a bit of tweaking and a good dose of common sense from all participants, it could be made to work better and would be a more acceptable model to me than a proposed second chamber.
It would certainly need restructuring, as it is an intolerable burden for whichever country holds the responsibility at any one time. That certainly needs looking at. More importantly, its work needs focusing, as we have heard. That focus should be firmly on the scrutiny role of national parliaments. It was set up originally as a forum for exchanging views about national parliamentary approaches to EU issues and should, in my view, restrict its work to overcoming some of the practical problems of parliamentary scrutiny of those issues. Of course there will be major political themes we would want also to discuss, but that can be as an addition to the real work of scrutiny, which should be better defined and attempted by all participant member states.
We learnt too of other co-operation between parliaments where views can be readily exchanged. I mention the forthcoming convention to prepare for the 2004 Intergovernmental Conference. There is also the Council of Europe; the Committee of the Regions; exchanges between officials; links between political parties; our MEPs; and our national office in Brussels, which links to the European Parliament—we heard great praise for its work. I mention also the organisations referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Jopling and Lord Tomlinson. So, there is already a plethora of contacts and exchanges of views and ideas.
The intergovernmental conference will be addressing many of the concerns about the so-called democratic deficit, and the work done between now and 2004 will be instrumental in moving towards greater clarity and the simplification of processes in the European Union. I wish the convention well. It has a great deal of work to do, but we must let our representatives to the convention help mould the European Union to make it more easily understood, more transparent and less bureaucratic. A second chamber at this stage would be unhelpful, unwieldy and downright unnecessary.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, his predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and the committee generally on its report.
I take a somewhat different view of it from that of my noble friend Lord Desai. Indeed, I found his contribution somewhat incomprehensible. If I may be kind, he said that he disagreed with the report, so I expected to hear him spell out in detail why he disagreed with it and why he wanted a second chamber, but he made only one brief reference to it. He said that in practice there is a lot wrong elsewhere, and I would agree with much of that. Of course, there is a need for Select Committees to do this, that and all kinds of things in this place and another. But my noble friend did not spell out why a second chamber in the European Parliament would be wrong, as the committee has done so forcefully and fully.
I do not know who thought of the title:
"an unreal solution to some real problems", but it is right that there are real problems.
However, I hope that the committee will forgive a non-member for making a brief contribution. I shall be brief, because my noble friend Lord Tomlinson spelt out comprehensively the case for the report and why there is no need for a second chamber in the European Parliament. I say that as someone who is strongly pro-European Union, as some of my colleagues know. The important thing is to get the existing Chamber in the European Parliament right. We talk about transparency and accountability, with which I strongly agree, but the reason why the media do not cover what happens in the European Parliament is that much of it is not madly interesting to them. If a television company sought to televise the European Parliament, I fear that it would not have huge audience figures, so I hope that my old friends in the BBC do not have it in mind to do so at present.
There is a case for greater accountability and transparency and it is plain that the issue of a second chamber is being taken seriously by some important people. It is therefore vital that we should spell out why we disagree so strongly with those important people. That starts with the Prime Minister. We see from part of the transcript of his Warsaw speech on page 1 of the evidence that he flew a kite, which is all that I hope it was, as my noble friend Lord Grenfell said. No doubt my noble friend Lord Grocott, who will be replying to the debate, will confirm that the Prime Minster did not agree with the proposal, but was only flying a kite. I hope that that is the case and that he is not in favour of a second chamber in the European Parliament.
We heard that the French started the debate way back in 1953. They wanted a second chamber in the European Parliament and under their strong leadership, all agreed that there should be a second chamber. There are even some who think like that in your Lordships' House. They tend to sit on the other side and we do not see them too often, but I should like to hear their views. I am thinking of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, whose views on Europe I agree with strongly, as well the noble Lords, Lord Patten and Lord Brittan. They are all sensible noble Lords. I say that because they agree with me on European matters.
There is a danger that such proposals will be taken seriously by the convention. The arguments for a second chamber include the so-called democratic deficit, foreign and security matters, justice and home affairs. I assume that Members in the present Chamber of the European Parliament are discussing those issues now. I hope that they are doing so. We do not hear about their discussions, of course. Perhaps some of them do not take those issues as seriously as my noble friend Lord Desai, or as seriously as anyone in this House or in another place, but they are important issues.
My noble friend—if I may call him that—Lord Williamson of Horton, who is usually experienced in European Union matters, and who is much respected both over there and over here, made some good points that we might consider, but not because there is a need for a second chamber in the European Parliament. The case against that was very well made by the committee and my noble friend Lord Tomlinson, so I shall not repeat the arguments.
En passant I must say that the committee, in paragraph 83, was very kind to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. It lauded him, although I cannot think why. I should not have thought that that was required on what he said about the need for a second chamber. No doubt someone who sits on the Select Committee—perhaps the chairman—will say why the committee thought fit to laud my right honourable friend on that issue. It may be possible to laud him on lots of other issues, although I cannot think of any for the minute.
I should have thought that our experience with our second Chamber, with all the discussions on its powers and composition, would be enough to turn anyone off from talking about second chambers. That is for only one country, let alone 15. The case for a second chamber has not been made. However, as I said, I am worried that important people are taking the matter seriously. When that happens, there is a great danger that they will want to do something about it. I hope that the committee and my noble friend Lord Grocott, who knows how fond I am of him, will tell the Prime Minister and the Government that we do not like the idea at all, even if we exclude my noble friend Lord Desai, which is not too difficult.
That brings me to the preparations for the 2004 Intergovernmental Conference. I hope that maximum pressure will be put on the Government to make it clear that this House and the other place—I hope—are strongly opposed to even the remotest possibility of a second chamber in the European Parliament. The Chairman of the Select Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, when opening the debate, suggested that we might take our discussions a little wider. Perhaps I could do that on one issue: I hope that the convention will discuss seriously the abolition of the Strasbourg Parliament—I hope that my noble friend Lord Grocott might even agree with that proposal. I cannot think of anyone who supports the idea of Members of the European Parliament traipsing backwards and forwards between Brussels and Strasbourg on a regular monthly basis. It gives the few Euro-sceptics around a marvellous opportunity to criticise the system. I hope that strong support will be given in the convention to do just that. If it upsets the French, they might forget about the issue of a second chamber.
Most, if not all, of the functions suggested for a second chamber could and should be performed very well by the present Chamber. The idea of having members from 15 national Parliaments, with all the time that they do not have available, travelling to debate big issues is so nonsensical that I am astonished that those who advise our right honourable friend the Prime Minister were not aware of that. However, they were not, so the kite-flying can perhaps stop here.
I do not propose to go on for much longer. I hope that my noble friend Lord Grocott can confirm that this House's views will be put clearly to the Prime Minister—it is possible that he will not read this debate—as to why we do not want a second chamber in the European Parliament. I am in favour of a second chamber here, but I hope that, as a Chamber, we agree that we do not want a second chamber in the European Parliament. That is not only my view, but—I hope—the view of the whole House, apart from one of my noble friends.
My Lords, I begin like all other noble Lords by declaring that I too believe this to be a good report, not merely for all the good reasons already alluded to, but also because its conclusions are very much in line with the evidence which I gave to the committee.
I thank those noble Lords who referred to the evidence which I gave to the committee. I confess it is gratifying to hear oneself quoted, though I began to become paranoid when I realised that it came from no one on the Benches on which I sit. However, having heard my noble constituent, the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, I am glad to say that the way in which he referred to a number of my noble friends put it into perspective. It just shows how sensibly they approach this issue.
What is interesting about my evidence is not that it is "my" evidence, but that the evidence I gave is more or less the same as the evidence that was given by my colleagues in the European Parliament from different political parties; in other words, the thrust of our evidence went in the same direction. Against that background it is hardly surprising that last week, in Strasbourg, we voted for the Napolitano report—the European Parliament's response to the kind of subjects we are considering today. The conclusions in that report are similar to the conclusions reached by your Lordships' Select Committee.
If we look back over the past 18 months or so, we have seen articulated in a number of different places concern that political decision-making in the European Union is somehow moving away from the citizen and causing political alienation. We saw it in the Prime Minister's speech, which the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, has been lauding. We saw it in the remarks of Chancellor Shro der of Germany, in the European Parliament, here, and in the French Senate. Of course, there is a real problem that we need to address. I believe, like other speakers, that a second chamber of national parliamentarians is not the answer, for the kind of reasons that have been given.
Having heard the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, I was minded to turn to the response of the Government to this report. Paragraph 5 says simply this on the general issue:
"We do not underestimate the complexity of the practical arrangements of meshing national Parliaments into European structures".
"We judge that there are options that would allow this".
That is enormously Delphic; it really means that they do not know how they would proceed. Apart from any other consideration, that is a very important aspect of the debate.
If we look back over the past 20 or 30 years or so at what has been going on in the world, it is not surprising to see that a lot of important decision-making is moving away from the floor of national parliaments. After all, with increased mobility of goods, people and services, an increasingly commercially inter-dependent world is being created in which matters cannot be regulated within one single jurisdiction. Against that background, collectively, democratic politicians must find a way of working on the wider canvas. It may be that eventually we will move into a world that is globally based under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation or its successor. It may be—I hope not and do not myself expect it—that we shall merge into a federal homogenous European superstate. I do not believe that that will happen. But it could, I suppose. What I hope will happen in the immediate future is that we see a Europe which evolves but which is firmly built around a European nation state. That is my preferred option. Or it is possible that the whole thing completely collapses—it is more likely that pigs will fly—and we all go back to the world of the 1950s with classical inter-governmental diplomacy.
Regardless of what happens, politicians in democratic countries must find ways of taking collective decisions. That will mean an increasing political importance for scrutiny and accountability. One of the problems we face in that regard is that once governments get into the habit of not being accountable and not being properly scrutinised, it is rather like secret drinking—it becomes addictive and spills out into all sorts of other areas. On most occasions when Ministers return from the Council of Ministers having completed some important deal or conducted some important business, no significant account is given by them of what happened. We have seen that in other areas. From time to time—rightly—the Government are criticised for not giving policy decisions first to Parliament. The problem then is that when politicians and Parliament complain, the general response is that nothing much happens and the public say, "So what?".
As well as being important in their own right, the specifics we are discussing today are part of a wider, important political issue, which is a problem for Parliament in general and our specific Parliament in particular. Unlike many previous speakers, I have not had the privilege of sitting in the other place. But as an outsider it seems to me that in recent years the House of Commons has more or less become the electoral college for the election of the Prime Minister. Thereafter it is in thrall to the Whips. So it operates much more as an arm of government than as a counterbalance in a system of checks and balances. Of course, as we have been told frequently in the context of House of Lords reform, we are subordinated to the other place.
In that set of circumstances, and in a political culture where both chambers ascribe greater primacy to legislation than to scrutiny—after all, this debate was only tabled at this prime time because the Government's legislative programme was sufficiently sparse to enable it to happen—legislation will increasingly be of the kind we see now in areas where European directives are the umbrella under which it takes place. We are finding in Parliament that the terms of reference for the legislation that we are dealing with are not set by us. At the same time, scrutiny has somehow been downgraded. It seems to have less political sex appeal. What is important is that right across the waterfront, not only in the area of European activity, it needs to be accorded greater importance and—if I can put it this way—given a dose of political Viagra.
This part of the debate is difficult in the wider political debate domestically. I do not see any great evidence that the public care particularly about these matters. Many people in the wider world probably prefer announcements to be made on television and the Minister or the person responsible to be interviewed by a professional inquisitor. If we compare that with announcements in Parliament and an ensuing debate, many people would consider the television announcement much more user friendly and more relevant to their circumstances.
Again, as I mentioned before, the other political problem we face is that when Parliament tries to pull up governments that are not giving a proper account of what they are doing, there is a certain amount of noise and things then seem to go on much as they did before. The effect is damaging to Parliament.
Another problem is the fact that operating within a system of more than one country, as we are in the European Union, if alienation takes root in one part of the system, that alienation, like cancer, can creep right across the whole body politic. So where we find difficulties in one member state, we find it causes uncertainty and disaffection in others. A problem clearly exists. We have seen concern articulated throughout the European Union about the underlying reasons why we are speaking today.
At the same time, we cannot expect other member states to do these things exactly as we do. They, after all, have different traditions and ways of doing things which are just as dear to them as our ways in this country are to us. It was a point that one of my Spanish European People's Party/European Democrat colleagues made very forcefully in a pre-meeting in the European Parliament about the Napolitano report. He said that it is very important that no one tells parliaments what to do; the solution to this must be based on parliaments among themselves agreeing on the way forward. If someone outside our Parliament tried to dictate to us how to scrutinise European business, we would not take it very well.
Against that background it is suggested, both by the Select Committee's report and by the Napolitano committee in the European Parliament, that COSAC could provide a suitable framework for taking these matters forward. Equally, the forthcoming convention in Laeken provides an opportunity for that. There has been considerable criticism articulated about the Laeken convention and its processes. Possibly its strongest attribute is that it is not its alternative, which is to go back to agenda setting for the IGC in the smoke-filled rooms of Council meetings of one form or another.
If we can open up the process of agenda setting for the IGC, parliamentarians are likely to become much more interested in and excited by the kind of issues that we are talking about today. Perhaps—politically far more important—it means that they are much more likely to be taken seriously in the ensuing IGC because they have been put on the agenda and the public and the parliaments of the various member states will actually want to see something done.
In conclusion, the report touches on some extremely important issues at the heart of the relationship between the European Union and the democratic process. That in itself is very significant. But it is also an important case study of a wider malaise that exists between governors and the governed which for both of our sakes we need to remedy.
My Lords, in an important part of her speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, alluded to what she called, and what has become known as, the democratic deficit. She placed some emphasis on it. She sought to highlight something that all of us really know: that the ordinary people in Europe, and more particularly in the United Kingdom, are not particularly enamoured of politics or politicians. In fact they have become disillusioned by them.
We all know in our hearts that things are not really well in our country; that the gap between the rich and the poor is still much too large; and that there is still much poverty and suffering for us to attend to. Her Majesty's Government are doing their part—not perhaps as much as one would like, but nevertheless it is an endeavour. But there is profound unease with the political process generally.
The report of the Select Committee dealt with many of those issues. More particularly, my noble friend Lord Tomlinson—who I thank—put his finger on the matter. He questioned one of the commissioners who gave evidence before the committee. The words burnt into my mind and will remain there. On 15th October 2001 at page 47 of the evidence, he said:
"Do you believe that I am being excessively cynical if I put to you the idea that national parliaments have already got all the powers that they need, the only thing they have not got is the political will to use them in relation to their governments, and, therefore, this whole idea is being government driven, it certainly is not being citizen driven? . . . it has been largely government driven to give national parliaments another role to divert them from the powers and responsibilities that they have already got for better controlling national governments, something which they seem singularly to be failing to do".
That is exactly so.
The democratic deficit to which the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, referred is due precisely to the inability of Parliament—both Houses—to make the Government accountable to Parliament and to the people. That it has not done.
In this connection, as perhaps might be expected of me, I want to draw the European Commission into the matter because its policies are very largely committed to those that are put forward by the European Union. That process I shall presently describe. So far as concerns the European Union and the Commission, the democratic deficit is not due to governments at all. It is not due even to the policies that they are following out in their own countries. In the Commission's view—one finds abundant justification for it—there are some institutional defects. The moment that transparency is queried in any way—the process of communication between government and people—the Commission's immediate instinct is that there must be some other institutional problem: "We must create another organisation; we must create another committee; we must create another focus group. It is the institutions that are wrong, not the governments".
That way of looking at the ills of our country and of Europe is exactly the wrong way to go about the matter. We are the second Chamber here. Together with Members that are found in another place we constitute Members of the British Parliament. We should know quite well that our main difficulty is to get governments to operate in accordance with Parliament and Parliament's wishes. In that we have singularly failed.
So far as concerns Europe, perhaps I may give your Lordships a practical example. Every week or 10 days the Vote Office issues to those members who are interested in Europe a list of documents and papers to which it is inviting the attention of Members of Parliament. I have one in front of me. It is dated 1st February. So it is up-to-date. I have been through it very carefully. Apart from drawing attention to the Official Journal and various other records of parliamentary proceedings, it lists no fewer than 64 separate items of legislation—proposals, draft proposals or draft decisions—all for consideration by Members of Parliament. It is a long document. Some of the papers referred to are quite short, but some are of great importance. I defy any Member of the House to apply for all of them and be able to read them in under a week, let alone to understand them. They comprise the agenda for the European Parliament, for all the use that that may be.
Your Lordships may note that there have been some improvements; there certainly have. There was a time when the first business of the European Parliament, when it met in one of its two meeting places—or should that be three?—was to call a meeting of the College of Questors, which met before everyone else in the presence, if necessary, of parliamentary chiefs to decide whether their standard of pay and allowances for the next session was adequate. That was prime business.
But how much detailed legislation that affects the individual in the street, shop or place of work is considered there? How much of it hits the headlines? How much of it appears to be of any consequence to warrant mentioning? Of course, that suits those who want to concentrate on the necessity of reforming European—and even domestic—political institutions and claim that that will solve the trouble. But in the meantime, regulations that go over the heads or under the heels of Select Committees are going straight onto the British statute book on the mere initial of a senior civil servant, without our even knowing about it. That is happening now.
So the fault lies with us. The solution does not lie in agreeing to new institutions, by whatever grandiose name they are called, that meet in the hotels of Brussels one night and possibly devote a couple of hours to discussing incomprehensible business the next, leading to the provision of extra secretarial services, food, entertainment and everything else. That is not the way to improve our position.
Surprisingly enough, although much has been said by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, I am glad to be able to draw attention to the often forgotten Foreign Office. In reinforcement of some of the arguments raised this afternoon, I shall cite one or two apposite quotations from the response of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to the suggestion of a second parliamentary chamber. I refer to document E/01-02/55 from Session 2001-02. What did the Foreign Office say? I trust that when my noble friend Lord Grocott replies he will do nothing to disturb the obvious amity that exists between the Foreign Office and the Prime Minister.
The Foreign Office says:
"Our conclusion overall is that the dual mandate involving national parliamentarians in a second chamber that was busy enough to justify its existence would play so onerous a burden on an individual parliamentarian that, in reality, it would not be possible to do both jobs effectively".
The document continues, at paragraph 5:
"The main home of the national parliamentarians would continue to be in their capital. It is vital, if their role is to inject a greater sense of public priorities, that they remain fully engaged in national politics".
Paragraph 9 states:
"We wholeheartedly endorse the evidence that national parliaments must take their duty of scrutiny seriously and must insist on the full discharge by Ministers of their responsibilities in respect of Council decisions. This will involve an adequate and timely flow of information from governments to parliaments".
The fault lies with us.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Is he aware that the passages that he is reading are not the views of the Foreign Office but the conclusions in the report on which the Government are commenting by way of reply?
My Lords, I am prepared to let the House judge when noble Lords have read the document. I do not propose to try to deceive the House in this matter.
The fault lies with us. We must make governments responsible to Parliament. We must have open transparency with them. We must insist on the matters that really need attention in our country being attended to, rather than obscured by a flood of directives and semi-directives emanating from the European Commission—and, indeed, to some extent originating within our own country.
My Lords, I warmly welcome the report. The modest input that I can make is as a practitioner rather than as a constitutional thinker. My focus in the European Parliament is the justice and home affairs committee, rather than that on constitutional affairs. Any contribution to the bigger question of how to improve the effectiveness and legitimacy of the European Union is highly welcome. But I share the view of those who believe that the "national Euro-MPs" proposal is a diversion from, not an advance towards, that goal. The practical difficulties are immense and would end up making it more difficult to understand who does what.
Clearly, the overall conclusion of the report is absolutely right. We need co-operation between all of Europe's parliaments and parliamentarians. That means co-operation among national parliaments and between them and the European Parliament. As part of that, there must be close liaison between the national parliaments and the MEPs from the same country. Hence I hide my embarrassment at criticising a type of dual mandate while being an MEP and a Member of this House by saying that my participation in this debate is the practical expression of the desire to co-operate.
I must admit that, unlike my MEP colleague, Andrew Duff, I have not had much contact with the UK Office of the European Parliament in Brussels. Even if I had, I might still not have been aware of the inquiry on the EU democracy and accountability being carried out in the other place, as even Mr Duff says that he learnt of it only by accident, and he is our party's EU constitutional expert. Information flows could be improved.
In the United Kingdom, I rely to a considerable extent on the reports of this House's Select Committee on the European Union. Recently, I was rapporteur—draftsman—of a report approved just last week in the European Parliament on the integration of long-term resident immigrants, so-called third country nationals. I found the report of the sub-committee chaired by my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond most helpful. As an aside, I must say that I share their view that the UK's opt-out from that directive is regrettable. It would be a good investment to find the budget to send copies of those reports to all MEPs, not just British ones. It would be good public relations and would not be seen as national presumption.
We could and should pursue various imaginative ideas for co-operation between institutions, for instance involving UK MEPs in the work of the Select Committee on the European Union. We should also have links between specialist committees, for example between my own European Parliament committee on justice and home affairs and the Home Affairs Select Committee in the other place. I also recall a useful meeting of chairmen and representatives of the justice and home affairs committees of the national parliaments that took place a year ago in Stockholm under the Swedish presidency. My noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond was there, and I was there from the European Parliament's equivalent committee.
We could do more on an individual and party level to liaise within our parties between colleagues in Brussels and Westminster, not least on joint policy positions. One problem that I find is that we in the European Parliament deal with matters that Members at Westminster—certainly those in the other place—have not begun to think about. I find myself making policy for the party, but I am nervous that either it will feel constrained by it or that it will not feel constrained by it and disown it. We must network, pursue dialogue and share best practice. We must help each other to call the executive to account. I read that COSAC has a permissive role in examining third pillar matters—that is, justice and home affairs—and is permitted to address contributions to the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission. I have never seen such reports, and I would find them useful.
Dialogue and co-operation are one thing, but a new institution is another matter entirely and risks setting up rivalry and competition between national parliaments and the European Parliament, when we should be recognising our complementary roles and establishing a co-operative partnership. We should not argue the toss over who is the more democratically legitimate—"My democratic legitimacy is greater than yours". It is a question of horses for courses, and we should respect each other's roles.
I find it peculiar that a remedy for the lack of formal monitoring of the respect for subsidiarity should itself breach subsidiarity because national parliamentarians in a second or third chamber would be acting as an EU-level body. The idea that national parliaments should monitor the observance of subsidiarity cannot be seen as entirely free from the temptations of self-interest.
There is something of an agenda—not least, perhaps, from our own Government—that is not always pure. Sometimes, internal political struggles are behind the motivation. I recall that, in 1994, a group of Labour MEPs—now, we would call them old Labour MEPs—took a full-page advertisement in the Guardian to decry Mr Blair's campaign to abolish Clause IV of the Labour Party constitution. It would be unfortunate if memory of that political dispute were to colour any present views within the Government of the worth of the European Parliament, just as it would be unfortunate if the drive for elected mayors at local level were driven by the need to sort out problems where a particular party had run a one-party state.
As an MEP, I find it a bit rich for national governments—including the present Government and their Conservative predecessors—who have condemned us in the European Parliament to an expensive and ridiculous travelling circus between Brussels and Strasbourg to turn round and belittle our work. I estimate that we are one third less efficient than we could be if we had one place of business. I welcome what the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, said on the matter.
The report says:
"At the root of all the proposals for a second chamber there seems to lie a perception that there is a problem with the democratic legitimacy of the EU and its institutions".
We must be careful to distinguish political legitimacy from democratic legitimacy; the two get confused. We should not forget that the problems of alienation are not unique to EU politics, politicians or institutions. The turn-out in general elections, for instance, is going down, and the turn-out in local elections is often terrible. In the London Borough of Southwark, 10 days ago, there was a turnout of 11 per cent for a referendum on an elected mayor. We should be aware that the reasons for indifference, cynicism or anger affect all of us in politics and are not unique to the European Union.
It is true that, to a considerable degree in this country, the EU lacks the popular legitimacy that my party and I would like it to have. That is a political problem, however, and not especially one of institutional architecture. There is not the acceptance of the scope of the EU's responsibilities that there is of the scope of the work of a local council or the Westminster Parliament. However, how many people could describe the way in which things are done at Westminster? In this Chamber, for example, we call the Chamber along the way "the other place", rather than "the Commons", as most normal people call it. We have jargon that matches any Euro-jargon.
The problem that people do not connect with the European Union or the European Parliament is not necessarily that the European Parliament is not legitimate but that we are not acknowledged on the radar in the same way. I agree with—I think—the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, who talked about the problem of being seen to be doing the right value- added things at EU-level. That, of course, is where the question of a constitution comes in.
We must not infer from the problem of popular political legitimacy that there is a problem of democratic legitimacy with the EU institutions or the European Parliament alone that will be solved by having a second chamber of national parliamentarians. Of course, there is a democratic problem, but that is chiefly about secrecy and the way in which national government representatives meet in the Council, especially in the second and third pillars. It has been said, rightly, that the proposal is not for a second chamber, but for a third chamber, so that the spotlight rightly falls on the way in which the Council lives up to the criteria of accountability and transparency proper to a second chamber representing the states or senate. It falls lamentably short.
I agree that the major need is to strengthen national parliamentary scrutiny and control. In addition, national parliaments should monitor the implementation of EU legislation in national law, to prevent the well known habit of gold plating EU directives. The Environment Minister, Mr Meacher, recently tried in the other place to blame the Commission for the UK Government's being caught on the hop about fridge mountains. The Westminster Parliament should be well enough briefed to challenge him on the truth.
Like others, I hope that the present convention will make some proposals on the particular problem of the common foreign and security policy and how to get democratic oversight of it. There is a worrying gap. On justice and home affairs, we fall between Community competence and the inter-governmental third pillar. On the first, which includes asylum and immigration, I hope that in 2004 we will get co-decision with the Council. On police and judicial co-operation on matters such as European arrest warrants, which remain inter-governmental, we need tighter co-operation with national parliaments.
Finally, my party and my group in the European Parliament fully support the present convention to draft proposals for treaty reform. The convention model is an excellent one for constitutional matters and to shape debate on the future of the European Union by co-operation between all Europe's parliaments. But let us not be diverted and allow national governments to divide and rule parliamentarians through rivalry between ourselves when we should be joining together.
My Lords, in Warsaw the Prime Minister captured Europe's attention. That was extremely important. Rarely does Britain capture Europe's attention by being on the front foot about any issues. So even if now we gloss what the Prime Minister said by saying that it was a good wheeze, I think that it was more than a wheeze because, as was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Desai, in the past we have left it to the rest of Europe to be the architects and visionaries. Sometimes I think that we do not see the point of the rhetorical level of discussion about Europe and that we prefer to leave it to the French to be those with the vision.
It is odd that we always assume that the French are the Cartesians, whereas in fact it is far more par for the course that noble Lords like my noble friend Lord Tomlinson are the Cartesians, while the French are the Romantics. The Prime Minister redressed that balance to some extent. I very much welcome that development because it means that, over the next three years, we shall become known for having good and positive ideas to put on the agenda.
This debate has come soon after our debates on Nice. Earlier I wondered why some of the contributions sounded so familiar. Of course to a certain extent many of us are making the same speeches as we made about Nice, and why not? Generally they were pretty good speeches. But it was interesting to note that this report has slightly shifted the furniture around on some of the questions raised by Nice. My noble friend Lord Williamson of Horton said that we must be careful not to introduce new bodies which might fall between two stools by being either too early in the process or too late. Happily it is the case that the convention is a new body which is coming into being early. It is an accident of history that here we have a new institution. It is a new chamber because, as Shakespeare would have said, a rose would smell as sweet by any other name. Thus the convention is a chamber—it has people in it so it is a chamber—and it is not the first chamber. Therefore it is the second chamber.
We could carry on playing games like that, but on a rather more serious note, I suggest that if this report had been written six months previously it would have been couched in the following terms: the convention has a positive job to do, but by the time it has done its job, it may well be that the convention—I refer to the input to the convention rather than its output—will have an ongoing role. It would not be the first time that pragmatism had triumphed in that way and it is in that spirit that I wish my noble friend Lord Tomlinson well in his role serving on the convention. Then we shall be able to blame him.
The European Charter of Fundamental Rights was a good illustration of how pragmatism produced a result which surprised us. Wearing a different hat at the time, the Attorney-General made the point that there was nothing much to it, but I do not know whether an intergovernmental conference would have produced as powerful a result as that particular meeting. I suspect that the same may be true of the convention. In that respect, why do we not talk up the convention as meeting many of the agenda items that the committee prefers? Here I would say that my mindset is similar to that of my noble friend Lord Desai, but some people may abjure such ideas of vision and would prefer simply to get on with the points on the agenda one by one—and, lo and behold, we shall have the same result.
Many people create new institutions while their rhetoric declares that they are not doing so. All those serving on Sub-Committee A were rather struck by a speech made last summer by Chris Patten. I think I have it right. He said that, first, the Balkans should be an initiative-free zone. That is why he would take the initiative to revitalise the aid process to the Balkans. We all do that, do we not?
I always enjoy listening to the speeches of my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington, so long as I have a chance to speak after him. He waved around a piece of yellow paper, saying that those were the documents coming out of the European Parliament. I have news for my noble friend. I do not know whether he has ever been a member of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments—for my sins I am a member of that committee—but if he had been he would know that each week a stack of papers around three to four inches high is placed before it. Occasionally we change a semi-colon. What about the mote in our own eye? I do not speak generally here but rather when we have to deal with European legislation. We are not very good at it. I believe that there was something in the interchange between my noble friend Lord Desai and the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, on that point.
My noble friend Lord Grenfell raised the same issues by remarking that there is no point in thinking about the institutions without thinking about the infrastructure that is needed to make them work. That is a big question. There are all the problems of language and so forth associated with the convention. Thus we have to think about the institutional architecture as well as about the more practical points, such as how people are to be in two places at once.
I am not so convinced about the democratic deficit argument per se. I think that a noble Baroness on the Liberal Democrat Benches made the distinction along the lines that there may not be a democratic deficit, but rather there may be a political deficit. Someone once remarked that they are not talking about this in the Dog and Duck in Hebden Bridge. Of course there are two answers to that. You must be pretty mad to be seen talking about this subject in the Dog and Duck in Hebden Bridge.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that information. I am a Lancastrian and so I can only attempt the correct pronunciation. I should say that Hebden Bridge is on the wrong side of the Pennines and ought to be in Lancashire.
Parliamentary democracy experiences a deficit only if people think that they are being taken for a ride. In what sense do people think that they are being taken for a ride about Europe? I am a heretic in the sense that I think that the euro will bring us much closer to the idea of Europe than any other change we can make in this country. So it is not the fact that things take place a long way away in Brussels or Frankfurt that creates the democratic deficit. Perhaps it is the fact that we are very poor at communication. For that reason, among others, I support the Prime Minister's initiative.
Even more recently than in the debates on Nice, we had an interesting discussion in this Chamber when we agreed the appointments to the convention. It brought out an interesting point which I believe that the Front Benches on all sides got away with by not quite answering; that is, is it Parliament that is appointing these people, or is it the Government? I think that I have this right: because only the member states are the component parts of the European Union then it must be the governments appointing the Parliament's representatives. However, it is a bit bizarre.
The question has not gone away forever. Without it being that the "Chief Whip" equals "Parliament"—I refer to the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats; there is an argument about the Cross-Benchers—how can it be that we make a big thing about parliamentary accountability and Europe being a deficit, that everything is done by the Council of Ministers, when we do not mind eliding the two when it comes to appointments at Westminster?
We have enough blue sky thinking to be going on with. If we want some more, we shall have to give the job to my noble friend Lord Birt. That might complete the picture.
A new element referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson—it is a new one on me—is that half of the business transacted is now under pillars two and three. I do not know how he calculated that, but if half the business is under pillars two and three, then, prima facie, we need a new way of looking at it. That makes a strong case for a new development of the convention, if only because of the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, about what that has got to do with the price of tomatoes. We do not yet know how this body would look at pillars two and three if they are not to be looked at in a parliamentary sense. That is a very good question for the convention.
Another very good question for the convention is which parts of the Council of Ministers need to be more transparent. I strongly support the idea of all papers being published, provided that they are published and circulated a week in advance, including the minutes of the meetings of the Council of Ministers. Some may be driven into the corridors, but it would be an enormous step forward for transparency.
There is a connection between this debate and the debate about civil society. For many years I was doing this kind of work in the TUC. There is no doubt that many bodies—from architects through to the BMA, industry federations and so on all round Europe—now provide the secure underpinning of Europe at industrial and social levels. Many hundreds of thousands of people now know a lot about Europe and they should have a proper relationship with these debates in the convention. ECOSOC, the Economic and Social Committee, for example, has observer rights and a speaking role in the convention.
Parliamentarians should try to avoid a dichotomy between the primacy of parliamentary democracy and any other kind of involvement. After all, industry has to implement and live with the famous working time directive. We could have told them—we did tell them—that it would have been much better in Brussels if it had been done through the social dialogue procedure. This produces shorter, simpler documents such as those for part-time workers, fixed-term contracts, maternity rights, parental leave and the European works councils, which were all produced through negotiation. They are much simpler documents and easier for employers to understand because they sign agreements in the same way as everyone else. These are relevant in order to understand the variety of processes involved.
The report from the Committee is a good stimulus for debate. Looking back in 10 years' time, people will say that, far from damning the Warsaw speech with faint praise, we saw it as an opportunity and we seized it with both hands.
My Lords, when this aspect of scrutiny was first proposed, I was a little sceptical. I felt that if we had asked the then Clerk to the House of Lords European Union Committee and his counterpart in the scrutiny committee in another place to go away for a weekend and write something, the two of them would know so much about the matter that they could have produced a first-class report not entirely different from the one we are now debating.
However, what we would have lacked—which I appreciate as a member of the working group which produced the report—was the learning process through which many of us went. I was not of a settled mind as to what I thought about the second chamber proposal when we started; by the time we had ended, like the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, I had decided that clearly it was, at the very best, a bad good idea. I was persuaded, in part, by the discussions we heard on the whole question of a dual mandate and how difficult it is to manage different heavy commitments at once.
I remind the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who rejected this, that there is a very strong sentiment in France at the present moment to get rid of the doctrine of the dual mandate on the grounds that it leads to corruption, inadequate attention to business and a whole host of other issues. It was possible, to some extent, before 1979 to manage a European parliament on that basis because, pre-1979, the European Community's agenda was very limited. Since 1992—certainly since the second and third pillars got under way—the sheer weight of EU business is such that, without question, being involved at that level is now a full-time job. So the dual mandate argument seems to be conclusive.
Let me raise one or two wider questions about the outcome of this debate: first, the wider context of Her Majesty's Government's approach to the 2004 Intergovernmental Conference and the preparatory convention. A very strong lesson is fairly heavily stated in paragraph 33. Although it does not say that the onus is on the Prime Minister, it does say:
"The onus is on those who are proposing a second chamber to prove its practicability, as well as its desirability, before the proposal goes forward".
With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, that means, "Do not start floating visions if there is nothing substantive behind them".
I prefer plans to visions. It is part of the French style in the European Union to love to float visions without having thought through what they mean. They then often get very irritated with the British and the Germans two or three years later when they have worked out what it might mean in practice—whereupon the French discover that they do not like the practice.
There are many temptations for local leaders to launch initiatives because they then become the "Blair proposals", the "Schro der plan", or whatever. I recall well the preparations for the Warsaw speech as I know some of the officials who were consulted. Some of us said at the time that the Prime Minister should not be allowed to float a proposal without knowing what it might mean if people took it up. I remember particularly the Labour MP who enthusiastically told me, "The Prime Minister is determined to say something about reconnecting Europe to the citizen". So he did—but it did not mean anything. As the report shows, the kite has been flown, leaving a handful of officials within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to hold the rope.
During the session in which we took evidence, we saw how difficult it was for these Foreign Office officials to continue to hold on to the rope when the wind blew against them very strongly. There are a number of lessons there for the Government. Please can Ministers attempt to hold down those in the Government who get enthusiastic about floating off half-thought-through grand ideas? There are also lessons for managing the convention.
This is a useful report which, I have no doubt, will be read by other governments in other parliaments. I suggest, with apologies to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, that there may well be other topics and other issues at which it will be useful for the EU Committee also to look. For instance, what is the substance behind some of the proposals for the reform of the Council, on which again some half-thought-through ideas are floating around? There is the whole problem of the rotating presidency, which clearly does not work any longer but which is extremely delicate because the smaller countries cling to its importance. A range of ideas are being put forward on that but no one has really pinned them down. As to the question of the reform of the Commission, so far the Commission has got about half-way through what needs to be done. It has not addressed the most difficult question of all, which is that it would be helpful to have a smaller college of commissioners. It would be helpful for the EU Committee to consider whether or not it wishes to tackle some of these issues.
It would certainly be helpful for the Government themselves to produce an early Green Paper to help focus our national debate and to connect that to the progress of the convention. It is vital not to leave the convention to hold its intricate discussions elsewhere, largely unnoticed in Westminster or the British press. This Parliament needs to play an active role, and this Government need to assist this Parliament in playing an active role.
There is of course the problem of how we do connect the European citizen to this remote process in Brussels and occasionally in Strasbourg: European policy-making seems obscure and remote, and most national parliaments are only partially involved. That tends to be labelled as part of the problem of "the democratic deficit", which is very ill-defined. We should recognise that it is probably not possible to solve that problem entirely. All politics is local but, increasingly, much government has to be multinational. It is extremely difficult to bridge that gap. The gap is not very well bridged even in the United States, a highly federal state in which turn-out for national, federal elections—particularly at mid-term, when there is not a presidential candidate to vote for—is, sadly, remarkably low. So there is no magic formula for resolving all this.
There are ways of narrowing the gap, such as by providing greater authority for the European Parliament, and certainly by means of a European Parliament that is settled in Brussels. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will work extremely hard not only to get rid of the nonsense about Strasbourg which some other noble Lords have mentioned, but also to ensure greater openness for Council decision-taking, which has also been mentioned, and greater involvement of national parliaments, to which I shall return. We also need to pay greater attention to the issues of subsidiarity and proportionality. Those have to be issues with which national parliaments are primarily concerned, because it is national parliaments that are concerned to resist this drift towards the centre, which is unavoidable in the way in which the European Union operates.
The question is how best do we involve national parliaments more closely? These proposals for a second chamber carry within them several mistaken ideas. One is that what we need is more bodies at the EU level. It seems to me that that is the last thing that we need. I am half persuaded that the Committee of the Regions is a useful idea, and I pay tribute to the excellent work that several Members of this Chamber have put in on that committee. I am much less convinced that the Economic and Social Committee still does any useful activity. I apologise to any Members of this House who happen to be active members of that committee. We do not need more bodies. We need, if possible, a less obscure and clearer policy-making process at the EU level.
Another argument is that we need senior politicians to get together on a regular basis. Again with apologies to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, that argument does not fit with the fact that senior politicians have to be provided with an incentive to get together. If we want to have a second chamber, how shall we persuade leaders of the opposition to go on a regular basis to wherever it may be held?
There is also the Gaullist idea which is very clearly behind many of the French proposals in this direction that only national assemblies can represent the nations and peoples of Europe. The idea comes from all that old republican and French revolutionary rhetoric in which—as I have heard on occasion when attending COSAC—the European Parliament is artificial and a congress of national parliaments would be real. As the United Kingdom is itself a multinational state, we have some difficulty in saying that the UK Parliament is the only body that can represent the nations of the United Kingdom. COSAC itself, as an expression of the French desire in this regard, works extremely badly. From my own experience, I have to say that the quality of the food and the surroundings was superb, but that the quality of the debate was in inverse proportion to that.
Our objective of better, fuller and more effective scrutiny is a highly desirable one, but it is not entirely easy. One of the things that I learned while chairing one of the sub-committees of your Lordships' EU Committee was that different parliaments behave entirely differently about scrutiny but still think that they are doing it. The House of Commons scrutiny committee looks at absolutely everything and sometimes spends 10 minutes on each. We select and deal in depth with a small number of things and leave the others behind. The Danish and Finnish Parliaments think that scrutiny entails getting the Minister in for an hour on the Friday before the Council meeting and throwing questions at him. They are different sorts of scrutiny—beforehand, afterwards—but none of them is perfect.
As we have learned in this House, there are many difficulties with scrutiny: governments change their minds, proposals evolve, and Ministers think it advantageous to decide quickly. Twice while I was chair of Sub-Committee F the Government co-operated in over-riding the scrutiny reserve because Ministers thought that it was useful to have a decision, particularly on anti-discrimination in the European Union. Ministers like to propose new initiatives at all levels of government, and British Ministers are certainly no better than any others in their longing to have an initiative of which they can speak.
I therefore agree in particular with the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, that the proper focus should be on how best to improve the engagement of national parliaments. The report clearly sets out a number of proposals. It stresses that we should make better use of offices of national parliaments in Brussels, establish better links among national committees, and establish better links between the national parliaments and the European Parliament both in Brussels and in national capitals. We all need to explore that a great deal further.
This Parliament has not yet quite got over the initial disdain for the European Parliament. We should involve Members of the European Parliament much more in our activities. I like the idea that my noble colleague Lord Goodhart suggested of a tripartite committee. That would clearly require more funding. I suggest that more funding be made available for greater party links between national parliamentarians and their equivalent in other countries.
Yes, we can reform COSAC. Perhaps reforming COSAC is the way forward. I wish that this Parliament would take a more active role in that. The French Senate's report on a second chamber effectively presented the idea that COSAC should meet four times annually rather than twice. Perhaps we should say that it should meet at least twice in Brussels rather than in national capitals and that it should focus more explicitly on how we conduct scrutiny and also outline some of the problems of scrutiny. I could be much more sceptical about an annual congress of parliaments, but I shall leave that issue to the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, who went through the assizes and came out scarred from the experience.
There is a particular problem about the scrutiny of the common foreign and security policy and the third pillar of justice and home affairs. That also needs to be a matter of co-operation between national parliaments and the European Parliament and should not prompt a move towards the creation of further ad hoc assemblies or whatever.
This should all feed into the stumbling debate about British constitutional reform as well as about European constitutional change. There is a Scottish dimension to much of this—on fisheries, for example, in which Scottish interests are much stronger than English ones, and on oil. The Scottish Parliament is already beginning to develop its own forms of European scrutiny, about which we ourselves should be rather more informed.
The links between the two chambers here ought to be improved. Ministers might usefully agree regularly to meet a Joint Committee, perhaps before Council meetings, as a way of improving scrutiny. All of that needs also to feed into the Laeken convention, which this Parliament needs to follow, and to do so throughout the life of that convention.
Meanwhile, this report and debate is a first, very useful and constructive contribution to the convention. I hope that this Chamber will provide many others.
My Lords, although I too was not a member of this very distinguished committee, I have to say that—unlike the noble Lord, Lord Desai—I think that it has produced a most excellent report. I agree with nearly all of it, with the possible exception of one or two conclusions, to which I shall return. I know that it is the custom to praise all such reports as they are published, and that your Lordships are always very polite to each other, but in this case I really think that this is one of the highest-class efforts that we have debated in recent times. I think that the title alone will qualify it for report of the year or report of the month, if there are such competitions. For a start—this does not apply to every report—it begins, in part one, sentence one and paragraph one, with precisely the right question, which is,
"Why would the European Union need another parliamentary Chamber?"
A flood of answers are unleashed by that—I do not talk just of the committee but of the general view. At the head of those answers is the phrase "democratic deficit", to which the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, referred, or, as it is put in the report much better and more accurately, the disconnection that makes so much of the institutional activity of the European Union seem alien, obscure, remote and distant—all words that have been used this afternoon. From that there flows another set of answers in the conventional line of argument: that it is a matter of subsidiarity not working and we must make it work in some way, or that it is a matter of more scrutiny of second and third pillar decisions, which are not scrutinised enough, and we must somehow crank up the scrutiny machine to be more effective in dealing with them.
It is sometimes assumed that when we have tackled those two matters we have solved the repair problems and everything will be all right. I do not believe that. That is a wrong analysis of the problem of disconnection, which is rightly identified. It comes about only—and one gets into that way of thinking only—if one starts from a certain mindset based on a flawed perception of the way that Europe and the world now work. If one assumes that the European Union institutions are somehow the top of the tree, on high, above the nation states and nearer the sun as it were, and one is told that they are out of touch, one worries about how to rearrange the furniture at those lofty levels. That results in talk about strengthening the authority of the European Parliament, as the recent Laeken declaration did, or worries about adding a new chamber—the idea that the report rightly shoots down—or about how all the power that is said to have accumulated in those higher authorities should be delegated and decentralised or tested by the process of subsidiarity. Even the people I respect most profoundly can easily assume that up there are the institutions and down here are the nation states, with the grassroots below them and so on.
Commissioner Patten speaks beautifully on many of these matters and I admire a great deal of what he says. However, he is quoted in the report as saying that the problem is deciding what is "left to the nations", as if it is a matter of crumbs and leftovers for the nations after it has been decided what should be done by the EU institutions. I am closer to the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, on that matter. I believe that first of all the nation states and the national parliaments should decide how they will organise their own affairs, working together or separately, and then we should decide what would have its value added to by being left to the European Union institutions. That is the right way to go about it. If one does not understand that, of course one comes out in favour of some kind of second chamber at the centre. That is why Commissioner Patten is in favour, along with many other people whom I also respect, including my noble friends Lord Heseltine and Lord Brittan, Joschka Fischer, M Jospin and Mr Danny Cohn-Bendit, as the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, mentioned. They are all listed in the report as people who say that the answer is to do something at the centre. I believe that all those viewpoints are flawed. The report helps to penetrate and illuminate that flaw effectively.
Making the centre of the European Union stronger does not make it less remote or less alien. I believe strongly that at this stage in their search for greater connection people do not want grander bodies, diets and lofty senates to be constructed, nor do they want people to talk about the need for destiny—a dreadful word—and other visions. Nor do they want—I noted the remarks of Mr Prodi at the weekend in this regard—the creation of a supra-national democracy. People want something much more down to earth—that there should be a much closer involvement in the decisions of Europe by the elected national parliaments. That point has rightly been made by many noble Lords this afternoon. I repeat that the European Union is not above the nation states. The nation states gave birth to the treaties that created the Union and the servants of those institutions should watch their language and be careful. The other day Mr Solbes worried about the German stability pact and the Portuguese budget. Perhaps he is right to worry and to advise. However, it is not appropriate for him to warn. He is a servant, not a master, of the nation states and that fact should be reflected in what these people say.
The report successfully shoots down the second chamber idea conclusively. It is obviously not practical. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, mentioned that I was scarred by the attempt some years ago to have an assize of all national parliaments in Rome. That was a complete failure for all kinds of obvious reasons. The scheme is constitutionally inept because, as the report argues, as have many others, if the new body was powerless it would be useless and would not attract the best minds, but if it was powerful it would be thoroughly confusing and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, said, would merely compete in a most damaging way with the existing structures. The constitutional aspect seems to rest not just on the reasonable belief that the principles on which it is decided who should do what can be clarified—as paragraph 48 of the report states—but on the idea that the actual competences can also be clarified. I may disagree slightly with the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, here. It seems to me that the report is much more cautious as regards trying to define actual competences and freeze them, let alone building some great constitutional structure thereafter which enshrines them for ever. One has to be extremely careful to proceed along those lines. Certainly, to set up a second chamber that would adjudicate on those competences seems to be a nightmare proposition. Finally, as the report states, it does not solve the democracy and disconnection problem. In short, to borrow a word from Mr Robin Cook, it is frankly a "shallow" idea. I share the surprise of others that it was ever seriously even floated.
As your Lordships have rightly divined, and as my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth indicated in his evidence to the committee, the problem is not to do with rearranging institutional structures; it is, of course, to do with the exclusion of elected parliaments from decision-making and the way in which we can overcome that. I believe that COSAC might help a little in that regard. I hope that it has improved since the days when I served on it. It was never a very cutting edge body. All this debate really means is that we have to find ways of strengthening our national parliaments—not strengthening the centre; that is too strong already—so that they are in the accountability loop in a way that sometimes we feel we are not.
Then one comes to the practical issues of what we do about it all. The consensus on what is wrong has been wide indeed in this excellent debate. Can we strengthen the scrutiny process? I believe that the answer is "yes". In a moment I shall trot out a list of proposals for how we can do that, some of which overlap with what has already been said by the noble Lords, Lord Tomlinson, Lord Williamson, Lord Barnett, Lord Desai, Lord Inglewood, and many others. There is a deeper question behind that: even in improving scrutiny, are we really thinking creatively or are we merely rearranging the furniture and dancing to the tune of an outmoded structure and system, which may have done well for Europe in the 20th century but which is utterly inappropriate for the modalities of Europe in the 21st century? Are we really just going to go along the kind of line that I suspect will come out of the convention, which already seems to be causing a good deal of grumbling? I wish the noble Lords, Lord Tomlinson and Lord Maclennan, well but it seems that even in Germany people are pointing out that it does not sound a very democratic body if it has a 12-person presidium that meets 10 times a month and a plenary group of 105 members that meets once a month. The noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, who I know is agile, will have to do a lot of running to catch up with what is going on in the top 12.
My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Howell, will be pleased to know that former President Giscard d'Estaing has already started to change his mind substantially in the direction of democracy.
My Lords, I am glad to hear that. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, played his part in achieving that mind change.
I shall quickly explain a few ideas about how to beef up scrutiny. Such work is of course excellent and wonderful, but we could do much better. First, we should make the whole business mandatory and legal, which it currently is not—governments often override it. Secondly, we should seek to develop television coverage of the sittings of committees of this House. That is done with the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in the House of Commons. Thirdly, we should require Ministers to discuss ideas for possible EC legislation with the committees before they become Commission initiatives or proposals. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, developed that idea—he was absolutely right. We need what we might call a Second Reading debate on EU possibilities that the UK Government were minded to propose or support.
Fourthly, we should support the requirement that Commission and Directorate staffs should be obliged—I stress that—to appear before national parliamentary committees. That would be hard work and involve a busy life, but that is the price of democracy. Fifthly, we should have tighter mandating of Ministers, as is done in Denmark. They would have to consult parliamentary committees, or at least their chairmen, before conceding in "negotiations". Sixthly, we should have Joint Committee meetings between our two Houses of Parliament on big EU issues. They should have lots of television coverage and key witnesses should be available. Seventhly, we should require all EC instruments to be encased in debatable statutory instruments and, more so than is currently the case, in primary legislation, especially in relation to pillars two and three. Eighthly, we should require MEPs to attend committees more often, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, suggested, especially in relation to pillar one issues. In that regard, the European Parliament may already have amended certain developments and issues through co-decision-making, and we do not hear about them until it is too late. Finally, there is a case for having a Minister for EU affairs not only here in London but also in Brussels, who would return one day a week to report to a Joint Committee of both Houses and every three weeks to attend Foreign Office Question Time.
Those are the detailed, practical points. It could be argued that all of those points involve, as I said earlier, simply rearranging the deckchairs. It could be argued that the much deeper issue is whether that is any longer the right relationship between Brussels and national Parliaments, including ours. It could be argued that the Commission's monopoly on initiatives, which was built into the original treaties, is simply out of date and that our parliamentary committees should have the power to make proposals to the executive for onward transmission to the Council. It could also be argued that the doctrine of subsidiarity—which frankly is currently extremely feeble—should be given real substance by committing national Parliaments to debate not merely the case against new EU powers and competences, but also the reclamation of existing powers across a wide field. Again, I do not want to put words into the mouth of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, but some of the ways in which he suggested that the Commission's agenda should be shaped by national parliaments seemed to be entirely appropriate.
That would require the amendment of treaties, of course, but that has been proposed by all sides. It would also require the amendment of the mantra of ever-closer union in the preamble to the Rome treaty and a step-change in the attitudes and public language of commissioners and officials—they are the servants of national legislatures, which brought them into being. National parliaments need reminding of that, too. Moreover, if the House of Lords and the House of Commons worked together and were adequately staffed, they could make huge inroads in terms of resisting the present unhealthily deferential or resigned attitudes towards the dominance of EU decisions and the EU law machine. That would be done in the cause of a stronger and more flexible union. That, more than anything else, would help to restore the present disconnection between EU affairs, national parliaments and politics at the grass roots. It would certainly do very much better than a second Chamber.
My Lords, before the noble Lord concludes, I add as a point of information that there is already provision for the televising of committees of this House. Indeed, when I was chair of a sub-committee of the European Union Committee, on several occasions Ministers attended and the proceedings were transmitted on television.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in welcoming the report and the diligence that members of the committee showed. Obviously I do not agree with all of its conclusions. As noble Lords made clear, there is no doubting the fact that tremendous work went into it. Although it was my duty to read the report, it was not an onerous duty; I enjoyed doing so.
It was not a surprise that many noble Lords were critical of the idea of a second chamber. I knew that the report was unanimous and a little research showed me that seven speakers today were members of the committee. I did a little arithmetic and worked out that a fair few noble Lords would be critical of the idea of a second chamber.
We should allow ourselves a certain amount of gentle self-deprecating humour at the notion of the second Chamber of this Parliament coming out pretty conclusively against the idea of a second chamber, not least because of the tremendous problems about the relationship between the two chambers, about which would deal with finance, and about sundry other matters. We have had a constructive debate, although my political antennae detected that not all noble Lords were 100 per cent behind the Government's position.
The idea of creating a second chamber of the European Parliament is not new, as my noble friend Lord Tomlinson and the report pointed out. Thoughts of having a second chamber for a European Parliament were first tabled as early as 1953 by the Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community. The idea has been proposed on various occasions throughout the decades since then and in a number of different countries. As my noble friend Lord Tomlinson elegantly put it, it is an idea that has been knocking around for some time—rather like the two of us.
One of the most recent contributions to that debate was made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. I was pleased by that, not least because of his general warmth, but because, as my noble friend Lord Lea of Crondall put it, it is up to people to raise such issues and debates. Why do we always leave it to other countries in the EU to raise such discussions? I remind the House of my right honourable friend's comments. He said:
"I . . . believe that the time has now come to involve representatives of national parliaments more . . . by creating a second chamber of the European Parliament".
He went on to highlight an important objective for the Government. He said that such a chamber would, among other things, enable us to,
"do what we need to do at a European level but also . . . devolve power downwards".
He was talking about subsidiarity.
The Prime Minister's proposal, as set out in Warsaw, was a broad proposition; it was in no way—my noble friend Lord Barnett will be pleased to hear this—a blue-print. As the Select Committee report suggested, it has certainly initiated a debate, not least in this House. We should not be having this interesting debate were it not for the fact that the proposal is on the table.
The matter has certainly evoked different responses from different sides of the European debate. I noted the comments in paragraph 39 of the report that some critics of the second chamber proposal have voiced the suspicion that this is an attempt by the Government to "disable" the EU. Other concerns, coming from the opposite side of the European debate, were that a second chamber was a step too far towards a federalist model for Europe. I am not sure what one should say when one is in the middle of such a discussion; if one's position is being attacked by both wings of the debate, perhaps it has one or two components that are well worth considering.
One or two noble Lords stressed the fact that despite differing conclusions, there is considerable agreement among many noble Lords. There is, I believe, consensus—the noble Lord, Lord Howell, made this point—on some of the problems. For example, paragraph 20 of the report provides a very useful summary of the problems that a second chamber would need to address. They include the widespread dissatisfaction with current institutional structures in the EU and a lack of connection with EU affairs among the electorate. It also sets out the basic thinking of what a second chamber might look like, with members being drawn from national parliamentarians, whose role might be to monitor subsidiarity and the common foreign and security policy. That point was discussed by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson.
The guiding principle underpinning the Government's proposal for a second chamber is the need to strengthen the links between national parliaments and parliamentarians, and thereby citizens, to the decision-making process of the European Union. The Government are firmly wedded to that.
No one can doubt the paramount need to make the European Union relevant and of interest to the people of the EU. One has only to look at the very disappointing figures for electoral turn-out at the last European elections in June 1999 when voter turn-out in the UK fell below 25 per cent for the first time. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, was concerned about low turn-out figures in elections generally. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, expressed concern that many members of the public are not interested in governments being scrutinised by parliaments; he suggested that they are more interested in the way that governments are scrutinised by television interviewers. I agree with him that that matter needs to be addressed by all parliamentarians who are concerned about parliament.
If we are to develop a European Union in which the people of Europe feel directly involved—we must certainly do that—we cannot simply dismiss out of hand the idea of a second chamber. Therefore, although overall the Select Committee's report does not come down in favour of a second chamber, I was pleased to see in paragraph 48 a clear acceptance of that key principle; that is, the importance of addressing the problems associated with a gap between the institutions of the European Union and its citizens—a point emphasised strongly by my noble friend Lord Grenfell.
I was also very pleased to see the Select Committee's recognition of the Prime Minister's efforts to tackle that issue. I noticed that my noble friend Lord Barnett complained of the report being excessively kind to the Prime Minister. I can only say to him that, when he was a very distinguished and popular member of the Labour Cabinet in the other place between 1974 and 1979, my recollection is that he was always excessively kind to Prime Ministers. I hope that the position has not changed now that he is on the Back Benches.
No doubt we are all too keenly aware that these days speculation on European Union matters can quickly turn any sensible and coherent proposal into an extravagant flight of fancy. Therefore, although these are early stages—as I said, this is not a blueprint—I want to spell out what, in our view, a second chamber would not be.
The Government do not envisage a second chamber being a permanent institution based in Brussels. I believe that, to some extent, many of the problems of dual mandate mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and others, stem from the idea of such a chamber being what we generally recognise chambers to be. But we envisage it meeting perhaps three or four times a year. It need not be large or expensive. Of course, today's technology allows conversations and debates to take place without people being physically in the same place at the same time. A second chamber would not be a rival to the European Parliament, which would remain the key legislative and budgetary partner to the Council; rather, it would complement the European Parliament. It would not enter into the detail of legislation or have a right of veto.
Many very interesting contributions were made in relation to the question of dual mandate—that is, whether or not parliamentarians could serve two chambers and work at two locations. I found that particularly interesting coming from the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. He gave us insights, which we do not often receive, into the role of a Chief Whip. I should like him to develop that further when he has the opportunity.
The noble Lord rightly pointed out—I am sure that great difficulties are involved—the danger that exists for anyone who serves in the European Parliament of being detached from the national parliament. I do not doubt for a moment that there are tremendous pressures on MPs. I say gently and sincerely to the noble Lord that on a number of occasions when he was in the other place he chaired committees on reform of the procedures of the other place—perhaps one day he will work on the procedures in this House—and at the same time was an effective Member of Parliament. I view that as carrying out two jobs; MPs and Members of this House frequently find themselves being asked to do two jobs.
A number of noble Lords were concerned about that point, including the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond. But my noble friend Lord Desai came nobly and effectively to the rescue by pointing out that some countries are a little larger than the United Kingdom; that it is possible to travel and thus to represent larger areas. Perhaps the House will allow me to mention briefly an anecdote which is burned on my memory. I once attended a conference of parliamentarians in Ottawa. As we were about to depart, I discovered that the Canadian Member of the Parliament from Ottawa, who represented a constituency on the west coast of Canada, would take longer to get home to his constituency than I would to my constituency in Telford. Of course problems arise in very large countries, but the problem of people sitting simultaneously in two parliamentary bodies should not be insuperable.
We cannot ignore the fact that the European Union plays an ever-more integral part in our daily lives. Decisions taken every day in Brussels have an impact on our lives here. Therefore, it is vital—this came home time and again in the contributions to the debate—that national parliamentarians become more involved in the decisions taken in Brussels. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, made that point strongly.
My Lords, I hesitate to intervene at this stage. However, by describing the burdensome nature and daily work of the European Union, is the Minister not underlining how impossible is the suggestion that a second chamber might reconnect to the public by meeting four times a year, particularly if it is to be excluded from careful consideration of legislative proposals? Would there not be a risk of the second chamber being as disconnected from the actuality of what is happening as the public?
My Lords, I do not deny for a moment that there are difficulties, but I believe—I say this with no disrespect to either MEPs or former MEPs here—that people in the United Kingdom look first and foremost for the redress of grievances and problems to their constituency Members of Parliament. There is an additional and important link from the people to Europe, and that is the problem which the proposal for a second chamber attempts to solve. However, I do not deny that considerable problems are associated with it. Therefore, although we fully acknowledge the points made in the Select Committee report about the practical difficulties of introducing greater involvement by national parliamentarians in EU affairs, we judge that there are practical options for dealing with it.
I make no apology for noting that the Government are still listening to contributions. Although I cannot say to my noble friend Lord Barnett that I shall be rushing round with details of such debate, I can assure him that the matter will be looked at most carefully. We acknowledge that a second chamber could take many different forms, and many contributions have been made from many different sources.
Skipping through a number of issues that have already been raised, I turn now to the "Future of Europe" Convention, which has been mentioned by several noble Lords. My noble friend Lord Bruce expressed concern about the democratic deficit in Europe. I am sure that that is the type of issue that the convention will address.
As the House knows, the report of the "Future of Europe" Convention was agreed by the Heads of State and Government Meeting at Laeken in December 2001 and is to be ready in good time for the next IGC. The House will already be aware that the task of the "Future of Europe" Convention, as set out in the Laeken Declaration was to,
"consider the key issues arising for the Union's future development and to try to identify the various possible responses".
A number of noble Lords who have contributed today have made recommendations about the type of issue that the convention should consider. This House will be ably represented. I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Tomlinson contributed to the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, is also present. I am sure that Members of this House will not be shy in putting their views to the two members; and neither will those members be less than diligent in reporting back to us about the work they are doing in whatever form that is considered appropriate.
As the House will know, in December 2001 the European Council appointed Valéry Giscard d'Estaing to be chairman of the "Future of Europe" Convention. The first meeting is due to take place in Brussels on 28th February. We expect the discussions to continue until the spring or summer of 2003. The gap between the end of the convention and the beginning of the IGC in 2004 is important so that, above all, national parliaments are able to offer a view on the various options raised at the conclusions of the convention—whatever form they may take.
In conclusion, I reiterate the importance the Government attach to strengthening the role of national parliaments in the European Union process. This belief underpins our thinking about the possible second chamber. We greatly welcome, therefore, the contribution of the report made by the European Union Committee of this House and the opportunity the report has given us today to have this useful and informed debate, the contents of which will be noted carefully by the Government.
My Lords, we have had a good and full debate on the report. Noble Lords will be relieved to know that I do not intend to summarise the debate or any of the speeches made. I Thank all noble Lords who have taken part. It is interesting that noble Lords are divided almost evenly between those who are members of the committee and those who are not. However, with the honourable exception of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and, of course, the Minister, the conclusions reached were more or less unanimous.
I thank the Minister for his response. He gave many reasons why a second chamber would not do. He left me rather lost as to what it might do, other than being a virtual second chamber where people would not have even to meet together. However, that issue is for another day.
I hope that the debate has been useful, particularly given that the convention is taking place in a fortnight's time. We were pleased to have the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson. The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, has been present for a considerable part of the debate. I hope that they will find the debate useful in their deliberations in the convention.
Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, said, I hope that the Prime Minister may find the time to read this debate, although I am somewhat on the noble Lord's side on that. However, if he does not find the time, I hope that the Minister for Europe, Mr Peter Hain—he is the Government's representative at the convention—will do so and that he will find some of the contributions made today useful. I commend the Motion.