HC Deb 08 January 2002 vol 377 cc407-10
8. Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly)

If he will make a statement on what was agreed at the Laeken summit with regard to the establishment of a convention to prepare for the next IGC. [23000]

The Minister for Europe(Peter Hain)

I refer my hon. Friend to the statement on the Laeken European Council made by the Prime Minister on 17 December.

Mr. David

I thank my right hon. Friend for his response. Given the need to reconnect the European Union with its citizens, does he agree that national Parliaments have a crucial role to play in the forthcoming convention?

Peter Hain

Yes, I do. That is why representatives from our Parliament will attend the convention. The encouraging thing from Laeken was the recognition, probably for the first time, by the European Council that member states' powers should be not be further encroached on. On the contrary: there should be an examination which could lead to restoring tasks to the Member States and to assigning new missions to the Union", or to the extension of existing powers. In other words, the European Union recognised that the process of centralisation had to be reconsidered and reversed as a result of British influence there. However, our Parliament should certainly have its voice heard at the convention.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

In view of that, will the Minister give the House an unequivocal, unconditional, unambiguous guarantee that the parliamentary representatives will be chosen by Members of Parliament, not by members of the Executive?

Peter Hain

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter, on which we have received representations from the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Leader of the Opposition. Consultations are taking place and we are sympathetic to the views expressed to us.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, within two to three years, there will be a written constitution for this country? It will be drafted in Brussels as a result of the Laeken summit. Early drafts of that constitution are already being penned by Valery Giscard d'Estaing. Does he share the feeling that it is very important that our British representatives be appointed quickly to the constitutional convention? Will he also make a point of consulting the Speaker and any other necessary authorities so that the two representatives of the British Parliament are seen to represent all parties in this House and carry the full weight of the British Parliament as well as the British Government?

Peter Hain

I well understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. We are anxious that the representatives to the convention should represent the House. There will be consultations, as there already have been. We are listening very carefully to representations made to us from the House.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

With his newly acquired Euro-enthusiasm, will the Minister tell us whether this convention will be likely to discuss the new proposal for an elected Euro-president? What particular powers would the new president of Europe have, and where precisely will his base be located? [HON. MEMBERS: "Southend.] Will he have a palace in one country or separate palaces in each member state?

Peter Hain

I think that the election of a president of the European Union, especially, as is proposed by some, by the citizens of the European Union, is frankly a barmy idea. It will be opposed by the British Government and any such suggestion that is made through the convention will not fly at the intergovernmental conference. I ask hon. Members to remember that the convention does not bind the intergovernmental conference that will probably occur early in 2004. We will have a say there and, if necessary, we will exercise a veto there.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

My right hon. Friend rightly implied that the representatives of Parliament should be seen not as placemen or placewomen, but as proper representatives. He went on to say that there had already been consultations. With whom have those consultations been held and in what circumstances?

Peter Hain

My right hon. Friend has, as he well knows, written to us.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

He has not had a reply.

Peter Hain

I know, but Christmas has intervened and we are considering the issues. No game is being played here. We are anxious that the very strong views that have been represented by my right hon. Friend and others should be taken into account. Can I say too—

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon. Members should let the Minister answer in his own way.

Peter Hain

I am grateful, Mr. Speaker. Consultations occurred when a convention was held some years ago on the charter of rights. In addition, we have had representations that we are taking very seriously indeed.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

The Minister's definition of consultations does not bode well for the consultations that are to take place at the convention. Does he agree that, if the convention is to have any value, it must encompass and consider more than one model of the future structure of Europe? Would it not be unthinkable for such a convention not to include proposals for a flexible Europe of nation states—proposals that reflect the views of the vast majority of the British people and the position of the Opposition?

While it should finally be a matter for the House to decide who the representatives are, will the Minister press the Prime Minister to respond positively to the written offer made by the Leader of the Opposition on 19 December for my party to play a full and constructive part in the convention, promoting those positive views to which I have referred—[Laughter.] I listen very carefully to the laughter and note whence it comes. Or will the convention be just another stitch-up to drive forward the European superstate regardless of the genuine views of the peoples of Europe?

Peter Hain

I thought that the right hon. Gentleman started very well. He began constructively and I hoped that he would continue in that vein. The answer is yes: the Leader of the Opposition will, of course, be fully responded to and his representations will be listened to. We will not always respond negatively to the Leader of the Opposition, although, frankly, that is very tempting. On the serious point that he made about the superstate, it is very interesting that we ensured with virtually unanimous support the insertion in the Laeken declaration of, for the first time, a rejection of the idea of a superstate by the European Council. The declaration states that what the citizens of Europe expect is more results, better responses to practical issues and not a European superstate or European institutions inveigling their way into every nook and cranny of life. It is exactly that model of the European Union—based on intergovernmentalism, supporting its citizens and reflecting their practical daily-life wishes—for which we are pressing. We are confident that it can be secured at the intergovernmental conference, not least because Britain under this Government is a leading European power, not a marginal power as it was under the previous, Conservative Government.

Andrew Mackinlay

May I take the Minister back to his statement that there had been consultation with the Leader of the Opposition? Apart from the cosy choreography that goes on between those on the two Front Benches, who else has been consulted about the arrangements for appointing Parliament's representatives to the convention? What is to be done, given that there are alternate members? Will my right hon. Friend make it abundantly clear to the people here and to the Sunday press, which has got it all wrong, that while the rubrics for choosing these people may be a matter for the Leader of the House, the question of who should represent this Parliament—as distinct from the Government's representatives—is for this House to decide, not those on the Government Front Bench?

Peter Hain

My hon. Friend is a good and fiery democrat and he is right to keep pressing that issue. His voice will be listened to—[Interruption.] It is being listened to and it has been in the past minute by my good self. His colleague, my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson), Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, has put a series of strong points to us on behalf of that Committee, as has the Leader of the Opposition, and those representations are being considered.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

While we are on the subject of constitutions and conventions in Europe, is it not premature of the European Union to be pressing ahead for a new IGC and, presumably, a new treaty when the last one has not even been ratified, by virtue of the negative vote of the Irish people democratically expressed? Or will it be a case in future of pressing ahead regardless?

Peter Hain

The answer to that question is no. There is an important initiative here. For the first time, the European Union has agreed to set up a convention and consult the people of Europe about the future. That is welcome and I would have thought that it ought to be welcome to the hon. Gentleman and all Opposition Members, as it is welcome to the Labour party. There is an enormously worrying and growing gap between the institutions and the people of the EU. It is the task of the next IGC, which will not take place for at least two years, to try to close that gap and to ensure that the leaders of the EU follow the wishes of its citizens.