Scottish Parliament
European Committee
Official Report

Meeting 3, 1999

previous page contents page next page 31 August 1999

 
Col 78 agrees. It can be submitted as a holding statement to the Scottish Executive, in advance of detailed consideration of the matter, so that the Executive is aware of the tenor of our discussion today. In the meantime, we should try to carry out some of the more detailed work that members have commented upon today. If members agree, I will speak to the clerk and try to submit a statement over the next week or so, which members can consider in more detail at the next meeting.

Ms MacDonald: I am sorry to be a nuisance, but there is something that I want to get straight. At the very least, there appeared to be acquiescence around the table to the notion that a strategic plan should begin from a geographical starting point, as George Lyon said. Consideration should be given to those areas that either have not maximised on past opportunities, for whatever reason, or that were losing population for other reasons. Is that where we are starting? That is not a sectional approach—it is a geographical approach. It is about the redistribution of resources, in the widest possible sense, inside the area, which is fine with me. However, is that what we have said?

The Convener: I think that that was what we said. However, we can flag up the committee's very strong view that there needs to be geographic targeting in order to ensure that the communities of greatest need are assisted. That does not commit us to a final decision ahead of seeing the more detailed information, but at least it would flag up the issue to the Scottish Executive and, at an early date, make it aware of this committee's strong view that this point needs to be examined.

Ms MacDonald: That is one you owe me.

The Convener: If there is nothing else, I will draw this item to a close. I thank the members of other committees who have come to the meeting. Their contributions have been valuable and will be reflected in the document that we will produce. 
 
 

Documentation

The Convener: We will move on to scrutiny of European documentation. Before I go through the sift/scrutiny recommendation note page by page, do members have general comments to make on the way in which the document is presented or on how we are handling the process?

Dr Winnie Ewing: I have been looking at the various documents. One concerns additives, which is a very technical issue, and, without a lot more chemical knowledge, I could not say whether any of the document affects the area that I was elected for, or, indeed, the rest of Scotland. I see a warning light when I see spirit drinks, coming as I do from the Highlands and Islands, and—

Col 79 Ms MacDonald: When did that happen, Winnie?

Dr Ewing: When a document as technical as that is received, could we have a note stating if it will affect our industries in Scotland, or if it does not apply?

The Convener: I want to bring the clerk in, as he can answer your query.

Stephen Imrie: I advise Dr Ewing that explanatory memorandums from the lead Whitehall department usually accompany these documents. However, because of the recess, in this case the memorandum has not arrived at the same time as the document. All the documents that members receive will have an associated explanatory memorandum covering the details suggested by Dr Ewing. As I said in my comments at the start of the meeting, if members require a further Scottish dimension, they can request a supplementary Scottish explanatory memorandum, which will explain some of the policy issues from a Scottish perspective.

Ms Oldfather: I wish to raise a point for clarification. When we first discussed the sift/scrutiny process, I was under the impression that we would be working to very tight deadlines and time scales. None of the documents have a timetable attached to them. Did we just get lucky this time? Why do we have no information about when we must take decisions on some of those issues?

Stephen Imrie: We are lucky, in that Westminster is in recess. The Commons committee is not meeting during the recess; therefore, we have received no timetable information.

The Convener: Can we go through the document?

Ben Wallace: I would like some clarification. I thought that we would produce the Scottish explanatory memorandums and send them to the Westminster committee before it produced the explanatory memorandum. In other words, I thought that the Westminster committee would not send up the EM with the documents because the EM would be the final submission to the Westminster committee.

Stephen Imrie: We receive the EM from the Whitehall department, not from the Westminster scrutiny committee. The EM is a separate document, which contains the Whitehall department's further explanation of the European documents. When we receive the EC document, it would be normal for the Whitehall EM to follow within around 10 days. We can request the SEM as soon as we know that we wish to consider one of the EC documents. Again, the SEM will follow around 10 days after we receive the EC 

Col 80 document.

Ms Oldfather: May I assume, from the information contained in the sift/scrutiny recommendation note, that none of the proposals for council decisions require to be acted on before Westminster resumes at the end of October?

Stephen Imrie: Yes, that is my understanding, but because of the holiday period at Westminster it is difficult to confirm that information.

Ms Oldfather: So we will not miss any opportunities to comment?

Stephen Imrie: I have not been alerted by Westminster or by the Executive that that will happen.

The Convener: We will go through the document page by page. Are we agreed on the recommendation on page 1?

Dr Ewing: Which one?

The Convener: The one on the sift/scrutiny recommendation. The first page of that concerns the action programme to promote the integration of refugees. We are recommending that that goes to the Justice and Home Affairs Committee.

Do we also agree with the recommendation on page 2?

Dr Ewing: It would be helpful if you could mention the subject matter.

The Convener: That is on the fishing industry as affected by common fisheries policies. We recommend that that goes to the Rural Affairs Committee.

Dr Ewing: I have a question on that, which may be urgent. The proposal for a council regulation contains an alarming feature; it proposes to abolish the present advisory committee, because it does not work, and to establish a new one. It is difficult to find out who the committee members will be or how they will be chosen, but there are one or two points that we should be alerted to. The council hopes to reduce the size of the committee, while ensuring that it consults the trade organisations in the fishing industries of Europe. It goes on to say that it will give preference to European organisations. I want to be sure that our Scottish organisations will not be cut out by this additional requirement, which did not apply to the old advisory committee.

This matter is urgent; we cannot wait around to find out about it while it hardens into a nasty situation.

The Convener: We are recommending that the lead responsibility for that type of consideration should rest with the Rural Affairs Committee. Once that committee has reached a conclusion, it would 

Col 81 refer back to us. We can then make further comment, if we feel that something has been missed. In the first instance, we are suggesting that the Rural Affairs Committee should examine it from some of the perspectives that you mentioned, Dr Ewing.

Ms MacDonald: I do not want to play awkward squads, Mr Convener, but is this not a point of principle? Perhaps we should indicate to the Rural Affairs Committee whether we think the way in which the EU operates in this instance, in relation to trade associations, suits our situation.

The Convener: It is for the Rural Affairs Committee to come to its own conclusion. If we feel that it has missed some of the points that we have mentioned here, we can make a submission. We want the Rural Affairs Committee to consider it and report back to us. At that point we can decide whether these points have been covered.

11:00

Dr Ewing: There is a problem with the time we have for that process. The small print suggests that the regulation will come into force a number of days after it is published in the official journal. We need to know when that will be so that we can decide how urgent the situation is. Earlier, we said that there was not much urgency as regards these matters but this could be the exception. We do not want to find out that the Scottish Fishermen's Federation cannot go to Shetland.

The Convener: We have been told that the explanatory memorandum will be available in a few days' time and, therefore, that the Rural Affairs Committee will be able to consider it.

Dr Ewing: I want the minutes to record that I raised my concern.

The Convener: We can come back to the issue later. We will ask the Rural Affairs Committee to consider that document.

Ben Wallace: As was mentioned in our first meeting, there is some urgency in getting the matter to that committee. We believe it to be urgent but how are we to ensure that the committee decides to examine it in time?

The Convener: When we refer the document to the Rural Affairs Committee, we will ask that it be considered as a matter of urgency. If, when the explanatory memorandum comes through, we find that a deadline has to be met, we can return to the matter even if we have received nothing back from the Rural Affairs Committee. Unless we hear something to the contrary, we have to assume that the Rural Affairs Committee will examine the document and report back to us.

Ms MacDonald: I am sorry to have to pursue 

Col 82 this and I am not an expert on fisheries, as everyone will have guessed, but I think of the proposal as structural. On page 3 of the sift/scrutiny recommendation note, we read:

"Ensuring that European trade organisations are freely accessible: The Commission must ensure that it recognises only European organisations whose membership is open to all suitable national organisations."

Does that include the Shetland fishermen, or are only British organisations included? Previously, all fishing organisations had access to the European Commission. Is it in our best interests for them not to have direct access, but to be filtered through the British organisation, given that there are great differences between, for example, the Shetland fishing industry and the Cornish fishing industry?

The Convener: We will ask the Rural Affairs Committee to examine the document and, in particular, the points that you raise. At that point, if there is a need for us to comment further, we will do so.

Ms MacDonald: I am sorry if I was clumsy in expressing myself. That is what I suggest we do. We should not steer the committee but recommend that it consider my points.

Dr Sylvia Jackson: I would like to extend that recommendation to the part that covers the inclusion criteria. The document says not only that organisations be national, but that they be European trade organisations. I would like the Rural Affairs Committee to consider the whole of the paragraph at the bottom of page 3.

Dr Ewing: If there is a requirement to be a European trade organisation, you can bet your life that the Spanish fishing associations will all magically be such organisations. Excuse me for being a little cynical after 24 years in Europe.

The Convener: On page 3 of the sift document, we recommend no further action on dispute settlements that are related to the law of Ukraine.

On page 4, we recommend no further action on the issue relating to Slovenia.

Dennis Canavan: No explanatory memorandum has been received in relation to the business on page 5, yet the recommendation is that no further action be taken. I am a wee bit concerned as the text refers to the rights of movement, residence and entry of citizens of the European Union. It also refers to expulsions from the European Union. I have a natural suspicion about matters relating to expulsion.

Ms MacDonald: That is quite understandable.

Dennis Canavan: I wonder whether you, convener, or the clerks, could elaborate on the implications of the document for people in Scotland and throughout the European Union?

Col 83 The Convener: The recommendation is down for no further action because the document is not a proposal for legislation, it is merely a Commission communication. If there is an issue that should be examined, we could consider the communication—presumably we will not be able to influence it—or we could refer the communication elsewhere.

A few of the documents are Commission communications and I am willing to listen to the views of the committee on how we approach that. Do we want to bring back that communication?

Given that we are on a learning curve, it may be that this communication in particular would allow us to consider not only the points mentioned by Dennis, but also the general implications of Commission communications. Having examined it, we might decide that there is no point considering Commission communications, but at least we will have gone through the process of learning what they are about.

Ms MacDonald: Yes.

Dennis Canavan: Could you have another look at it?

The Convener: Yes, we will put it on the agenda for the next meeting.

Dennis Canavan: Yes, because I would hate to think that our recommendation for no further action would mean that some time next year someone would find themselves expelled from Scotland, or would have their freedom of movement within the European Union restricted, because we did not raise any protest.

The Convener: We will bring it back in order to consider two issues. First, the specific issue that is mentioned in the document and, secondly, to allow us to consider the status of Commission communications and our ability to influence them.

Ms Oldfather: Some Commission communications can be very long. I do not know about the one that we are talking about, but often there is an explanatory memorandum at the beginning. If not, perhaps we could get the clerks to prepare a synopsis in order to cut down the amount of reading that we need to do.

The Convener: Okay, that is a good idea. Page 6 refers to Slovenia, again the recommendation is that no further action is needed. Page 7 is about modernising social protection and we recommend that we send the document to the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee, simply for its interest.

Ms MacDonald: Yes, although my question is why.

The Convener: Well, maybe it will learn something.

Col 84 Dr Ewing: It seems to be lots of nice words and no practical solutions to anything.

The Convener: It could be. Page 8 is about health, education and social protection in the harmonised index of consumer prices. The recommendation is that no further action is necessary.

Page 9 relates to the agreement between the European Community and the Government of Denmark and the Home Government of the Faroe Islands. Again the recommendation is that no further action is necessary.

Dr Jackson: Could we go back to page 8, briefly? We do not have a copy of that document, we have only a description. I do not know whether I am alone in this, but I found it a wee bit difficult to understand. We could have had more description, although coming back to the point made earlier, maybe it is a very technical document. However, I would like some more information in order to understand it a little better.

The Convener: It is to do with how products are treated on the index of consumer prices and with whether we think that that issue is one for this committee or for any other committee that will be examining consumer prices in the contexts of health, education or social protection. [Interruption.] Sorry—was documentation circulated on that point? It should have been, but it is not indicated on the recommendation note that it was circulated.

Ms Oldfather: At our previous meeting, I mentioned the possibility of having some information provided on the intranet, so that if there was a query we could examine it. I know that there are interim problems in doing that, but the documents came to me on Saturday. With the meeting being today, there has been very little time to request some items to determine at today's meeting whether we are happy with the recommendation for action in matters such as this. How can we deal with that administrative issue?

The Convener: One thing that we can do is start the sift process earlier. In the meantime, do you want this matter brought back or referred to another committee?

Dr Jackson: In the interim, it would be fine just to have a copy of the documentation so that we can have a look at it.

The Convener: We should bear in mind what Irene said earlier about some of the documents: about getting a synopsis rather than the full copy sometimes.

Dr Jackson: A synopsis would be fine.

The Convener: We have covered page 9 of the 

Col 85 sift/scrutiny recommendation note. Page 10 deals with

"common organisation of the markets in processed fruit and vegetable products".

Ms MacDonald: Support your local port!

The Convener: The recommendation on page 9 is for no further action.

Dr Jackson: Could we return to page 9—I am sorry to be difficult, but it is getting quite hot in this room and I am losing the place a little.

Does the description on page 9 of the note include the farmers' ferries? I am referring to the

"Protocol to enable the trade in live animals and animal products".

The Convener: That applies to Denmark and the Faroes.

Dr Jackson: I just wanted to check that they were the only places concerned.

The Convener: The recommendation on page 10 on Portuguese quotas is for no further action.

On page 11, the recommendation about

"food additives other than colours and sweeteners"

is that, in the first instance, we ask the

"Health Committee for their views".

Once we have heard from that committee, it is suggested that we decide whether we need to scrutinise it at a later date, because some technical issues may need to be considered.

Page 12 covers the draft model agreement to co-operate with third states. The recommendation is to ask the Justice and Home Affairs Committee for its views. Once we have its views, we can decide on our level of scrutiny.

Page 13 of the sift/scrutiny recommendation note covers a Commission working paper on

"the principle of mutual recognition in product and services markets".

The recommendation is no further action.

Cathy Jamieson: I do not think that there is enough information to gauge whether that paper is of relevance. I am not being critical—I am aware of the volume of work involved.

Ms MacDonald: Was that the point that Winnie made at the previous meeting, when she was talking about the point at which we get involved?

Dr Ewing: Are we talking about the mutual recognition of qualifications of people engaged in those industries?

Ms MacDonald: Yes.

Dr Ewing: That can be very important for our 

Col 86 people. There are problems with Scots-Italian teachers, ski instructors in France—

Ms MacDonald: That sounds good.

The Convener: We should ask for more information on that before we make a decision.

Page 14 deals with

"synthetic fibres of polyesters originating in Taiwan".

We are asking the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee for its views and, once we have heard them, we will decide on the level of scrutiny that we require. It is an important matter for the textile industry in Scotland. We are agreed on that.

If members have any comments that they think may help to improve the sift process, please speak to Stephen Imrie between meetings.

Allan Wilson: Correct me if I am wrong, convener, but I think that you have circulated the papers on those points for which some form of action is recommended and not circulated those for which none is recommended. If there was a time lag between our receiving the recommendation note—which could be circulated generally—and the meeting, we could sift it and advise you if we wanted further information on a particular item in advance of the next meeting, such as a copy of the documentation pertaining to it.

15:15

The Convener: If it was felt that it would be useful to circulate the recommendation note, we could do that.

I do not know whether the minister has arrived. If not, I suggest that we address the fourth item, on requests for further briefings, and then take a break of five minutes before we hear from the minister.

Further Briefing

The Convener: One issue that was raised with the Presiding Officer at the meeting of conveners was a concern that the clerks to the committees were being asked to produce policy papers, which to some extent is beyond their remit. There were also work load implications.

I have found the clerks of this committee very co-operative in producing a number of documents at short notice, and I do not want to abuse their willingness to help. Nevertheless, there will be issues on which we want background information, and we should consider whether it can be obtained from elsewhere, because there may be a time when we will be advised that we must be more careful about the requests that are made. Is 

Col 87 there anything that we need or would like for the next meeting?

Ben Wallace: The Amsterdam Treaty brief is useful, but the treaty heralds a big change in Europe and I would not mind a further explanation of how it dictates to some of the issues that we may be considering. Previously, I brought up how the priorities in the Highlands and Islands are partly defined by the way the Amsterdam Treaty looks at the future.

The Convener: Would it be helpful to have someone lead a discussion on that, or would you rather have the information in a document?

Ben Wallace: I would not mind someone coming from the European Commission or from the offices that it has here.

The Convener: We will look into that. As well as the document, we may have someone to take us through it and prompt some discussion on the treaty. Is there anything else?

Ms Oldfather: I mentioned previously the INTERREG programme. Will the briefing on that programme be available for the next meeting? I appreciate the clerks' work load, but it would be helpful to have that information, given the timetabling of the programme.

Stephen Imrie: The briefing is currently on my computer screen upstairs, and if I were not working here I would be working on that. I will endeavour to get the briefing to the committee before the next meeting.

The Convener: You mean that you do not get 17 weeks' holiday? We will need to see about that.

Is there anything else?

David Mundell: Following an experience I had, it might be appropriate to issue a reverse briefing to our Westminster colleagues, because a Westminster member I spoke to felt that it was inappropriate that as a member of the Scottish Parliament I should be dealing with European matters, as he understood European matters to be reserved. This is the area in which we will need to work most closely with our Westminster colleagues. It might be appropriate for us to set out that we want to do that in a positive way.

Dennis Canavan: Who are these Westminster colleagues?

David Mundell: We had a discussion about how in Europe people were accustomed to the complexities of political relationships and I think that it is something that we may have to get accustomed to.

The Convener: I will rely on Mr Mundell's good services to persuade his colleague of how wrong he is.


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Scottish Parliament 1999
Prepared 31 August 1999