[Mr Christopher Chope in the Chair] — National Parliaments and the EU

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:45 am on 16th July 2013.

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Photo of David Lidington David Lidington The Minister for Europe 10:45 am, 16th July 2013

Well, that is something best avoided in any meeting with parliamentarians, if humanly possibly.

I will try to respond to the various points that were made, in particular by the hon. Lady. She posed a number of questions and challenges, some of which focused on how we do European business here in Westminster, and others that centred on what might be done in the broader European Union context, and how national Parliaments should fit into the legislative process and decisions taken at European level.

I shall start with the hon. Lady’s points about how we deal with European business here at Westminster. Her most important point was that it was vital to find a way to engage and involve a rather larger number of Members in European business. I have to confess that when I go in to the Chamber for a debate on Europe, or in to a Committee, I feel at times like a cut-price version of Henry V before Agincourt. It is a matter of:

“We few, we happy few” that are gathered together, and it is very familiar faces, from both sides of the House, that tend to feature. It is, however, not a Government matter, but a problem for Parliament. Parliament must take more seriously its collective responsibility as an institution to see, rightly or wrongly—individual hon. Members will have their own views on this—that we live in a world in which European Union business should be treated as mainstream political business, and not as something that can be quietly shoved off to some annexe next door and left to specialists to get on with in peace and quiet. The decisions that British Ministers of any party take in the Council of Ministers have an impact on the lives of the constituents of every Member of this House and I agree, therefore, with the thrust of what the hon. Lady said.

I disagree with the hon. Lady, however, in that I feel that the focus should not be just on the Chamber. The Chamber is clearly important, but we need to consider the role of Committees, including departmental Select Committees. In various evidence sessions with the European Scrutiny Committee over the past couple of years, I have tried to emphasise my growing belief that part of the answer lies in persuading the departmental Select Committees to give greater priority to that aspect of their work that covers European Union business. That is a matter for Select Committees, and it would be wrong for the Government to get into the business of seeking to give them instructions—the powers are already there within the terms of resolutions. It is primarily for those Committees to take ownership of those agendas and drive them forward. They can by all means invite European Commissioners to give evidence and by all means go to Brussels every now and then to take evidence and meet informally with people in the European institutions who are involved in legislation.

I look forward to the forthcoming report from the European Scrutiny Committee on the scrutiny process. I am sure that many of the matters that have been touched on this morning, such as whether we should move towards a mandate model of scrutiny along the lines of what the Scandinavian countries have, will be addressed in that report, and I obviously do not want to pre-empt the Government’s response to it. I say to Emma Reynolds that one of the characteristics of that mandate system—she rightly drew attention to some of its virtues—is that the sessions between the Minister and the committee to discuss a negotiating mandate take place in closed session. The public and press are not admitted and the report is not public, at least until after the negotiations are concluded.