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Stockton: National Parliaments and the European Parliament

Mr President, in our debate yesterday and during all of our debates, the words that we have heard most frequently have been "subsidiarity" and "flexibility". In third place has been the word "cooperation", especially from my distinguished colleague, Mr Kirkhope, who used it no less than 11 times in his striking speech to the Convention yesterday and whose alternate I am today.

The traditions, the histories, the electoral systems and constitutional powers of the national parliaments of the Member States are as varied as the architectures of their buildings. One could indulge in some rather fancy analogies but I will resist the temptation. However, they all have three things in common: they are representative, democratically elected and hold the executive to account to a greater or lesser degree. These three foundations are the bedrock on which our democratic freedoms are built.

Alone among the institutions of the European Union, the European Parliaments has any claim to such foundations but it has only limited power to hold the executive to account and will remain that way until co-decision becomes the rule. So, in my view, until such time as my Parliament, if I may be so bold as to call it that, is granted such power - if ever - it will remain the national parliaments that protect our democratic freedoms. I would be concerned if that were to change.

I am also concerned that this Convention, in a genuine desire to improve and simplify the institutions and workings of the Union, will try to force the many and variously shaped pegs of our parliamentary democratic traditions into one round integrationist whole. Thus losing, I believe, the support and confidence of our citizens.

Nevertheless, our national parliaments and their distinguished representatives here should not be complacent. They should ask themselves whether their institution really fulfils the roles that it is meant to. Is it truly representative? How far do party considerations affect the democratic will of the people? Above all, does it hold the executive genuinely to account?

Nearly all of us in this room have had first-hand experience of our national parliaments, but can we honestly say that our parliament is perfect? If it was, I daresay that we, as politicians, would be less happy with it. It is right that we have spoken of subsidiarity and flexibility so often. In this Convention, while we consider the relationship of the European institutions to our national parliaments, I trust that these words will not sound hollow to the very people we stand to represent.

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