Biarritz Summit

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:06 pm on 16th October 2000.

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Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative 3:06 pm, 16th October 2000

My Lords, I rise to ask the noble Baroness the Leader of the House a question of which I have given notice. I regret to have to do so because it shows a certain breakdown in the usual channels. However, it is on a matter that needs a wider airing in the Chamber; therefore, I crave the indulgence of the House.

As is now widely known, a summit of the European Union took place this weekend in Biarritz. It is normal at this time in the afternoon on the first sitting day after such a summit for the Government Chief Whip to rise and announce a Statement. On this occasion the Government Chief Whip has stayed firmly in his seat.

That is no surprise. Late on Friday afternoon, when we suggested that there would be a Statement today, the Government told us that there would not be. This morning we were told that the Government had had second thoughts: there would be a Statement to Parliament but it would be a written, not an oral, Statement. The Government have, therefore, accepted that Parliament should be informed about what happened in Biarritz. But what is not acceptable is that they have offered a Statement in a manner that allows for no debate and no response either from the Opposition or from the many Back-Benchers represented here this afternoon. There is no opportunity for a wider debate between now and the end of the Session because the Government's programme is so packed.

On examining recent precedents I discovered that, following interim European Council meetings over the past 18 months, there was a Statement: in March 1999, in October 1999 and in March this year. On all those occasions the Government said that the events of the summit had been a resounding success for the United Kingdom. Are we to believe that on this occasion the summit has not been a triumphant success for the United Kingdom? Does that explain the lack of a Statement on this occasion; or is it because the other place is not currently sitting? If that is the reason, is it not a disgrace that the Government cannot be bothered to come and give an oral Statement to the House of Parliament that is sitting?

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House has, since this House returned at the end of September, behaved in an exemplary fashion as regards Statements. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, made a Statement on the Dome; the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, made a Statement on the fuel crisis; and the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, has kept us regularly informed on international events. But on this crucial matter of national interest the Government seem to be rather coy. This weekend vital matters were raised on QMV, on the charter of fundamental rights and no doubt on the Middle East.

Will the noble Baroness tell us why no oral Statement has been offered this afternoon? Is this a change of policy; or is it another example of sidelining Parliament in general and this House in particular? Will she say whether the House will have an opportunity to discuss these matters before the Nice summit later this year?