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National Parliaments (EUC Report) — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:35 pm on 15th December 2014.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 8:35 pm, 15th December 2014

With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Spicer, I was making a slightly different point, which is about the global market and global manufacturing. The fact that, for example, when the French sell an Airbus a third of the value added to that Airbus comes from British manufacturers, and that every time the Germans sell a Mercedes, it contains a large number of British components, means that markets have gone beyond the nation state but legitimacy has not. That is a fundamental, structural problem of the world in which we now live. I will not touch on the migration dimensions of that, but the security dimensions are also extremely difficult. That leaves us with a set of dilemmas which are not solvable and which we have to cope with.

A number of noble Lords made the point about the resources and time required. Resources are needed for scrutiny, as the report suggests. If we are setting up for national parliaments to be more closely in touch with each other, that requires a good deal of travel and time. One noble Lord remarked—it may have been the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood—that, in some ways, a European Parliament that was drawn directly from national parliaments was more appropriate. However, it did not work before 1979, partly because national parliamentarians are elected to serve constituents in their national parliament and the more time we expect them to spend elsewhere, the less time they will have to do their primary job. So there is a set of real problems there.

I noticed, as a member of the Government talking to newly elected MPs—there was a very large turnover in the British Parliament last time—that a great many newly elected MPs coming from outside politics had very little idea of the complexities of international negotiations in which we are engaged with other European parliaments, the contacts one needs to have with members of other national parliaments or, indeed, members of the same political family as yours in other Governments. They have learnt, but it takes time. After all, more and more of our parliamentary candidates, I saw in one newspaper at the weekend, are now being drawn from people who have established roots within their local constituency. They are not elected to Parliament because of their international experience and they are unlikely to get re-elected if they spend too much time travelling around Europe and beyond. That is one of the obstacles with which we have to deal.

The new Commission has signalled that it is open to a much more positive dialogue with national Governments. New President Juncker has stated this on a number of occasions; Vice-President Timmermans, as has been remarked, has made it very clear that this is one of his priorities. As a Minister in the Dutch Government beforehand, he was already heavily committed. Closer co-operation among national parliaments was mentioned by many noble Lords. The offices which we now have in Brussels are to be strengthened. It is a very good way of using Brussels as a means of communication that enables you to find out earlier what is going on, examine proposals at an earlier stage and talk among national parliaments about how one might use yellow cards—lowering the threshold. The green card question is a very interesting one which the Government will wish to consider. We are not yet committed. We note the proposal that the coverage of these mechanisms should be extended to cover proportionality as well.

The noble Lord, Lord Bowness, talked about first reading deals. One of the problems that the Government have in responding to that is the sheer complexity of a multilateral negotiating process, with co-decision with the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council of Ministers coming in. The points at which national parliaments insert themselves into that process and how national parliaments keep up with that process is, again, part of the problem with which we all have to deal. Over the past year, as I have struggled with the EU balance of competencies exercise—a fascinating exercise—I have changed my mind on whether it would be useful for this Chamber also to examine other international organisations through which the British Government work. Time and time again in the EU balance of competencies exercise we have had evidence which has said, “We work through the EU on this, and we also work with OECD or the World Health Organization”. Indeed, the EU operates in some respects as a regional member of the World Health Organization in specific areas. Explaining that to the national public, as far as we can, and examining how effective those other international organisations are—most of them are a great deal less effective than the European Union—is perhaps also something which this Government might be able to achieve.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, remarked that perhaps it would be easier if we explicitly had a confederal Europe rather than a federal Europe. I thought the chapter in this report on economic governance was particularly interesting and difficult because the contradictions of where we have got to with international markets come in because you need some power to decide as soon as you have an integrated single market, let alone a common currency, and when you face a global economic crisis, the legitimacy to decide above the level of the nation state is not there. So we are again stuck with the problem that it is not possible to reconcile the principles of democratic accountability and legitimacy and the need to take these decisions among a range of different actors.