Scottish Parliament
European Committee
Official Report
Meeting 2, 1999

previous page contents page 18 August 1999

 
Col 55 consultative draft in the public domain? For correspondence purposes it would help me to know. I was especially impressed by this document and wanted to give it to Dumfries and Galloway Enterprise as a template for something that it might do in future.

The Convener: I am advised that the document has been sent to interested organisations.

David Mundell: To deal with correspondence that we get on documents such as this, it would be very helpful to know to what extent the document is in the public domain and what we can therefore do with it or say about it.

The Convener: I suggest that we get the committee clerk to speak to members who have raised issues in this discussion to ensure that we have clearly identified their points of view, which we will then try to include in a letter or report to be sent to the Rural Affairs Committee for its consideration. I also suggest that that report be sent to the Minister for Rural Affairs, just for his information.

Seminar

The Convener: I am aware that we are quickly running out of time. We had originally considered an October date for the proposed seminar, but I now think that that is completely unrealistic. I suggest that we put that back, and that we ask members whether they have any views on the document that has been circulated. Any comments or suggestions on how members think the seminar should be structured should be sent to Stephen. We will then try to revise the report, based on the comments received, and bring the revised version to a future meeting.

That is agreed.

Ms MacDonald: I think that we should give Stephen as much notice as possible. I have absolutely nothing against Bruce Millan—he is a former MP for Govan—but, to indicate that we are willing to look outwith this Scottish Parliament, we could perhaps hear from someone such as Peter Sutherland—someone who is working at the pointy end of Europe and can perhaps pass on his experience from his perspective. The Irish have been quite good at it, and the Spanish as well, Winnie.

The Convener: I am certainly quite prepared to listen to those who have not been Members of Parliament for Govan, Margo, but if you make your suggestion to Stephen we will take it into consideration.

Work Programme

The Convener: Stephen, is there anything that 

Col 56 you would like to say on the forward programmes of the European institutions?

Stephen Imrie: Only to advise the committee that this was our first attempt at trying to collect some early intelligence on provisional agendas for future Council meetings and Commission work programmes in order to give a flavour, at this stage, of the kind of things that will be discussed.

I would be the first to recognise that the document is far from complete and is of only broad use to the committee. I would certainly be happy to have any feedback from members on the kind of thing that they are looking for. It is an attempt to summarise publicly available information to give an idea of what is coming up in the future.

Ben Wallace: May I ask—Winnie may be able to answer this—how many times a committee of the European Parliament meets on a particular subject? If we are told that the agenda in December is going to be emissions, for example—how many times would it meet on that?

Dr Winnie Ewing: Most committees meet at least once a month, usually for three days. Most are public—there are only two exceptions to that, one of which is the budgetary control committee. A committee would not yet know its agenda for December, although it would know the agenda for September, and depending how it got on with its work that would settle October and so on. Usually, when a rapporteur is appointed, the first discussion is open and without any pieces of paper. The next time the committee meets there is a piece of paper and by then a date is set for amendments and there is another discussion. That is what happens in most cases, although sometimes there is urgent legislation that is short-circuited, when everybody knows that business will be dealt with more quickly. That is all disclosed in the copy agenda, which I will certainly ensure I get whether or not the committee does, because that is where the key lies.

There is another key as well, which is each committee's proposal to the budget committee—if we can get that. It sets out what each committee is really dealing with in terms of its finance. That is where you learn the number of budget lines and where you see under which headings we could winkle in something good for Scotland.

I chaired a committee once. It had a wide remit—culture, education, sport, tourism and information—and many budget lines. When we submitted the committee's demand to the budget committee in November, all the headings and what each budget line covered were explained. That is where we can see whether there is something we could apply for for the Highlands or Dumfries, for example. That is another type of document that we will not be sent, but it gives the answer to a lot of 

Col 57 the questions about where we go as a committee to try to ensure Scotland gets everything that is going—because I assure you, the Irish get everything that is going.

Ms Oldfather: I support what Winnie is saying; the earlier we get in on this the better. It is going to be quite complicated and I wonder whether there is some system that we could work out in co-operation with others, perhaps the Scottish Executive or with Westminster, to track issues. I know that individual regions with offices in Europe try to do that themselves. It is quite a big job and it may well be that we could work in co-operation with the Scottish Executive or Scotland House to put in place some sort of tracking so that we can identify when things are coming up and how to influence them. Clearly the earlier we get in on decisions, the better.

Taking Winnie's point about the rapporteur system, perhaps trying to meet rapporteurs involved in issues relating to Scotland would be useful. Looking over some of the agendas in the briefing paper, it seems to me that there are a number of issues that we would want to be involved in. Just a cursory glance reveals issues such as the knowledge economy, e-commerce and economic and monetary union.

Given Scotland's peripheral position in Europe, e-commerce, for example, is going to be vital to us and the earlier we can get in on some of these things the better. I do not think that we should underestimate the scale of the task. The first step might be to see whether we can work in co-operation with Scotland House or the Scottish Executive to have in place some kind of tracking system, or whether other proposals on how to track these issues can be presented to us.

The Convener: We need to consider how we influence a number of things, at Westminster and in Europe. Some of it will evolve. Maureen mentioned MEPs. We certainly want to meet them and set up a liaison mechanism. It might be useful to get Dermot Scott, who is the European Parliament's representative in Edinburgh, to give us a presentation and to discuss with him and others from various institutions how we might use some of their facilities. There are a number of different ways we will look at that.

Ms Oldfather: I understand that the European Parliament's independent inquiry into the European Commission is due to report in September. I think we would want to see that report at an early stage.

Bruce Crawford: It is inevitable that we will stray into matters of influence and early warning systems. As you said, Hugh, we will discuss that at a later date. When we discuss it, we should consider how we can influence committees of 

Col 58

experts and the possibility of getting middle-ranking civil servants into Europe to influence the people who draft legislation.

Further Briefing

The Convener: Briefing documents on a number of subjects have been issued to the committee. Are there any other topics on which members would like briefing documents? They need not be related to our agenda.

Ben Wallace: A document on relations with Westminster would be useful.

The Convener: That might not be a bad idea, as we will come back to the subject in a later discussion.

David Mundell: I would like to see a note of the European Scrutiny Committee's membership.

Cathy Jamieson: In the briefing papers that we have before us today there is information about the trans-European network, transport policy and the proposals that are likely to come up. I would like to be kept up to date with developments as they arise. It would be also helpful to have information about the Scottish MEPs and the committees they sit on.

Dr Winnie Ewing: I know that it is early days, Mr Henry, but do you have an idea of when we will start specialising and dividing up the subjects? There will be an enormous amount of legislation to scrutinise.

The Convener: We can consider that.

Ms Oldfather: When Jim Millard was here I raised a point about Community initiatives, which might come into our discussion on structural funds. Because Scotland does not have the same opportunities for cross-border projects as it does for transnational ones it is important that, on the INTERREG initiative, we maintain a strong lobby for trans-national projects.

The Convener: Do you want a briefing paper on the subject?

Ms Oldfather: Yes.

Dennis Canavan: After this morning's very good presentation, I think that we should have a more detailed briefing on the British Government's submission on objective 2 status. We will need to move quickly on that matter if we are to have any input as the submission will be made next month, I believe.

The Convener: I appreciate your sentiments and I agree that we need to be able to exert some influence, but we are trying to consider briefings that the Scottish Parliament can provide. You are asking for information from the British Government, which is a different matter. I agree 

Col 59 that we need the information that you mention. One way to get it would be to talk to Jack McConnell; the other way would be to talk to the Secretary of State for Scotland. I do not know whether our committee staff would be able to produce that kind of information as a Scottish Parliament briefing.

Dennis Canavan: We have to be very well briefed if we are going to put hard, relevant questions and points of view to Jack McConnell and John Reid when they appear before us. After all, they are not coming here simply for a chat.

The Convener: That is right, but you asked for a briefing on the UK's decisions about the matter and, at this stage, we do not know what those decisions will be.

Dennis Canavan: We could have a briefing about the thinking that is going on behind the scenes on the criteria on which such decisions will be made. Perhaps we could also have a list of points to raise when the ministers come before us, which I hope will be soon.

The Convener: We have already agreed that we will ask the minister to come to the next meeting. I think that we can agree to a Scottish Parliament briefing on some of the key issues and questions for Scotland and we can ask the staff to elicit some information about the UK Government's current thinking on the matter. However, I hesitate to consider their chances of success—I think that you have had more experience of trying to obtain such information than many of us, Dennis.

We will produce a briefing note outlining the key points of the structural funds debate and we will also get as much available information as we can from the UK Government, but I will not promise to deliver what the staff cannot access.

Ms MacDonald: I am sorry to take up more time, but I want to emphasise Dennis's comments. We have a time difficulty; if we do not manage to intervene before the decisions on the map are made, we have to take what is handed down to us.

The Convener: We have already agreed to invite Jack McConnell to our next meeting. At this stage in the agenda, we are talking about general background briefing notes that are not necessarily for discussion. You have already received some briefing notes that have not appeared on the agenda, which were to inform you and to help you to appreciate some of the wider issues. We have already agreed our tactics concerning structural funds. If we can produce a briefing note that gives a Scottish Parliament perspective on some of the main issues, we will do that. However, the briefing note as envisaged in the agenda is not the only way to obtain information that we need and that matter will hopefully be dealt with when the 

Col 60 minister comes before us. We will ask whether we can be supplied with the key questions and information that Dennis spoke about, so that we can have a more focused debate with the minister.

Dennis Canavan: I am not just thinking of Jack McConnell but, more important, of John Reid, if the UK Government puts forward the proposals to the EC.

The Convener: At the moment I think it is appropriate for us to ask the Scottish Parliament's Minister for Finance to come before us. We spoke about a meeting on 31 August, which is only two weeks away and I would certainly be keen to see Jack McConnell within the next fortnight, if we can do that.

Dennis Canavan: And what about John Reid? Westminster is not sitting at the moment. If he is sitting around doing nothing, perhaps we could get him more quickly.

The Convener: As you know, there are issues of protocol. We cannot demand the secretary of state to come before us; we can ask whether he is available. We have a different relationship with the Minister for Finance. Before we meet the secretary of state, we have to ensure that the Scottish Executive has signed up to our agenda. There is no point bringing John Reid into a debate between the committee and the Minister for Finance when we have not formulated a point of view. We have already said that we will write to John Reid about some of our general concerns. At the next meeting, we need to talk to the minister and clarify our own views; then we can ask for a meeting with the Secretary of State if that would be helpful. We need to get the sequence of events sorted out.

Ben Wallace: It is important for John Reid to meet us, because the European dimension is decided at Westminster—at Cabinet level—and John Reid is the man at Westminster. Although Jack McConnell can put his imprint on the Scottish Executive, the redrawing of the map will be done at Westminster and John Reid is the man there.

The Convener: The problem is that if we do not agree with the Scottish Executive, we could find that the members of the Scottish Executive pay no heed to what we say because we spoke to John Reid before we spoke to them. We need to sign the Scottish Executive up to our priorities and then meet John Reid together—I hope with the committee and the Scottish Executive in tandem. From the Scottish Parliament's point of view, we need to get our act together and our views clarified. We have said that we will send John Reid a holding letter that expresses our concern. The appropriate way forward is to give the minister his place and then to seek a meeting—if appropriate—with the Secretary of State.

Dennis Canavan: With respect, Mr Henry, it 

Col 61 would be most appropriate for us to meet the secretary of state because the UK Government will make the submission to the European Commission. I would suggest that this committee instructs the clerk to try to arrange meetings with Jack McConnell and with John Reid. It may very well be that we want to have the meeting with Jack McConnell before that with John Reid, but we are running out of time. If we are to have any influence whatsoever in the drawing up of the objective 2 map we must move very quickly indeed. We were told this morning that the proposal by the UK Government will probably be finalised next month. Next month begins in 13 days.

The Convener: I have no problem with asking for a meeting with John Reid. It is up to him to say whether he is available to meet us. He may want to meet representatives of the committee or he may agree to meet the whole committee. I do not know what his timetable is, but I am more than happy to ask that this committee has a meeting of some form with John Reid. That was always in my thoughts or I would not have suggested that we write to him. Before we do that, however, we need to have Jack McConnell before this committee.

You are absolutely right to say that there must be contact between the Secretary of State for Scotland and this committee in some shape or form.

Dr Sylvia Jackson: I propose that we try to meet Jack McConnell on 24 August as there are such pressures on time.

The Convener: We can check our diaries. We should agree to meet on 31 August and, if possible, as a committee to meet Mr McConnell a week earlier than that. I do not want to start making arrangements that will mean that half of this committee cannot attend, because it is so important that as many members as possible are present. If it is humanly possible, Sylvia, we will try to meet Mr McConnell next week. Failing that, do we agree to meet on 31 August? We must still agree on that and after that it will be appropriate to contact the minister.

Dr Jackson: Whether we meet on 24 August or 31 August, are we now moving to afternoon slots?

The Convener: No. On those dates we can still meet in the morning. There is a separate issue about timing that I want to come to. Would members prefer to have our next meeting in the morning or the afternoon?

It seems that members would prefer the afternoon.

We are agreed that we will seek a meeting with John Reid and that we invite Jack McConnell to the next meeting of this committee, which will be on either 24 or 31 August.

Col 62 At the end of this meeting, would members give the clerk an indication of whether they will be available on 24 August, as I would not want to go into a meeting such as that with only half the committee.

13:00

A couple of members raised the general issue of whether meetings will be held in the morning or the afternoon. Some have raised the issue of the day on which we meet. Sir David Steel has asked for a meeting with all the Scottish Parliament's committee conveners to discuss areas of common interest and to try to resolve demarcation issues, and so on. Ahead of that meeting a timetable has been produced that suggests times for particular committee meetings. One of our difficulties is that if we decide unilaterally to meet in the morning, and the clerks have put out a timetable that suggests that our meetings will be in the afternoon, that will have a knock-on effect on other meetings. I do not know whether we can, at this stage, get some of those other meetings shifted. I think the meeting with Sir David is next week and I will raise that.

Do members have a general preference for morning or afternoon meetings? There is an even split, so we will clearly not satisfy everyone. Similarly, we will not be able satisfy everyone regarding the day of the week on which we meet. I will try to establish with the other conveners whether there is any flexibility. Each committee determining its own meeting times would create anarchy, because we are often dependent on the same staff and facilities. The decision may be out of our hands, but I will do what I can.

Is there anything—other than the issues that we have identified through this meeting—which members would like to be considered at the next meeting?

As there is not, I thank members for their attendance at what has been a good and fruitful discussion.

Meeting closed at 13:01.


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Scottish Parliament 1999
Prepared 18 August 1999