My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean.)
I oppose the proposition that Clause 3 stand part of the Bill. I do so because this is an opportunity for a debate on the increasing powers of the European Parliament. The Treaty of Nice seeks to increase a number of powers in a number of respects—for example, through co-decision and the appointment of the President of the Commission.
Section 6 of the European Assembly Elections Act 1978 states:
XNo treaty which provides for any increase in the powers of the Assembly"— it is now, of course, a parliament—
Xshall be ratified by the United Kingdom unless it has been approved by an Act of Parliament".
Hence the reason for Clause 3.
The 1978 Act was introduced in an effort to facilitate and continue the Lib-Lab pact. The Labour government were at that time under growing difficulties and the then Leader of the House, Michael Foot—who was then a eurosceptic—introduced the Bill for direct election because he wanted to keep that pact going, and with it the Labour government.
Many people, including myself, were very much opposed to giving the European Assembly, as it then was, the additional status of being directly elected. We believed that that would enhance its status and lead to an expansion of its powers and its role at the expense of national parliaments. So it has proved, as we very well know. The Assembly was promoted to a parliament and its powers have been greatly expanded—especially through co-decision—and national parliaments have become progressively less powerful and, in many respects, quite impotent.
Section 6 of the 1978 Act was included to assuage the worries of people like myself who feared that the increase of powers to the European Parliament would weaken Westminster. Unfortunately, we were right. Section 6 of the Act has not done what it was intended to do; it has not given the protection to Westminster that was claimed for it in 1978.
Westminster—especially the House of Commons under successive governments—is to blame for handing over powers which, after all, were held in trust from the people. They have been handed over to institutions not entirely elected by and responsible to the British electorate. Parliament fought a war to wrest supremacy from an English monarch, but it is now, in many respects, subordinate to and under the cosh of institutions which are not of its construction and not in keeping with its history, heritage and experience.
While it is true that the back-stop of the European Communities Act 1972 remains in place, it is becoming increasingly irrelevant as Parliament relinquishes its powers and accepts new constitutional arrangements which undermine those built up by this country over the centuries. The Prime Minister—whose knowledge of history seems to be as faulty as his spelling of Xtomorrow"—judging by his speech to the European Research Institute last Friday, is hell-bent on pushing for even greater involvement by Britain in a closely integrated European entity. This can only result in a further erosion of power and decision-making from Parliament to the institutions of the European Union.
Indeed, even as we are discussing this clause, the House of Commons is about to divest itself of the power to agree EU third pillar justice and home affairs matters through primary legislation by approving Clause 109 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill. This allows measures, under the third pillar, to be implemented by statutory instrument. Also, of course, the Government have plans to reduce the powers of this House to amend statutory instruments. Whether such plans will ever be implemented, I do not know.
As the Government admitted to the House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs, Clause 109 can be used regardless of whether or not such measures have a relevance to the fight against terrorism. In other words, it goes much wider than the terrorism Bill, as it is known. This is in spite of the fact that the House of Commons Select Committee recommended that the provision should be confined to measures combating terrorism. It is virtually certain that the Government will force this clause through on the guillotine without proper consideration and discussion. That is completely wrong.
It is wrong to misuse emergency powers in this way, especially as it is likely that, in due time, we will find that the European Parliament has gained power over our laws and justice system while Westminster has lost it and been pushed to the sidelines, yet again, in another important area of policy making.
I know that this place has a great deal of business to transact today, but I make no apology for raising this issue. It is vital and fundamental to the continued sovereignty and supremacy of the House of Commons and of Parliament. I oppose the Question, That Clause 3 shall stand part of the Bill.
I strongly support the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, but my concern extends also to terrorism. I feel a deep concern that the European Union has the power, by setting up common strategies and decisions, to move to action within that framework which requires only qualified majority voting—and we are talking about the disposal of intelligence.
I raised the matter at some length recently and do not propose to waste the Committee's time by repeating what I said then—save to say that I have still received no reply from the Minister to my earlier questions. I cannot understand how the Government can seriously consider putting it in the power of an amateur, leaky organisation like Europol to set itself up as a centre of intelligence activity over terrorism.
There are excellent bilateral arrangements in this area between Britain and many other countries. There are excellent arrangements which have worked for NATO. There is no need to give this organisation powers, as the Government are apparently prepared to do, in the way described by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, without building in any kind of restraint or brake that would allow us to change situations of that sort once we perceived—as we soon shall—the inherent dangers.
I cannot say too often that human intelligence is a very delicate thing. It simply does not work if it is put into a pool and handled by people who do not understand how to handle it and who also have no particular interest in protecting the sources. This is an extremely important issue which has been swept completely under the carpet by the Government.
With some hesitation, I have to say that I rather agree with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Park, about Europol. The whole point about Europol is that it must receive intelligence, and in many respects that has to come from the United States. We have heard in the committee of which I and the noble Baroness are members that the United States would be very reluctant to share its intelligence with Europol. I hope that my noble friend will be able to assure us that this is not on the agenda at the moment. If not, I am doubtful about the inclusion of the clause.
My understanding is that Europol does not deal with political intelligence of the highest sort. It is mainly concerned with trans-national crime. When I visited the National Criminal Intelligence Service with one of your Lordships' committees my understanding was that NCIS was strongly in favour of Europol and its development in the investigation of trans-national crime. The question of political intelligence, anti-terrorism information and matters of that sort is a rather different matter. As I understand it, not being an expert, such intelligence comes from different, more confidential channels.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, reminded us of the ditch that was dug in 1978 by a number of Labour Party Back Benchers in very different circumstances against what they saw as the erosion of the power of the national Parliament in favour of the European Parliament. As the noble Lord also explained clearly, this was seen by them—and still is seen by the noble Lord himself—as a zero sum gain: the more power the European Parliament gets, the less power national parliaments have.
That is not a view that we share on these Benches. We see the erosion of the powers of the British Parliament— but we see that happening as a result of the growth of the power of the executive, of the British Government. That is something to which my party is strongly opposed and about which it is much concerned. Speeches about maintaining the sovereignty and supremacy of this Parliament, or even White Papers that refer to maintaining the supremacy of the Commons in terms of the reform of the Lords seem to us to be a little hollow when the House of Commons has steadily lost power to the Government over the past few years.
I am not sure that the Xditch" that was dug in 1978—I am not sure whether or not it was the last ditch—was about a very different view of Europe. Simply on the question of where we are in regard to the third pillar and trans-national crime, I remind the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart that—if I remember my figures correctly—there were 25 million outward journeys from Britain to the Continent in 1978, and there are 100 million now. The level of interaction, legal and illegal, between Britain and the Continent has been transformed since then. That is one of the reasons why the British police recognise that they need to co-operate closely with their colleagues across the water. It is also one of the reasons why greater scrutiny is necessary by national parliaments and by the European Parliament.
There is not a zero sum gain between national scrutiny and European scrutiny. I hope that the majority of Members of the Committee share the objective that we should have both stronger national scrutiny and stronger European Parliament scrutiny, and greater co-operation between national parliaments and the European Parliament. We shall not, therefore, oppose the Motion that the clause stand part of the Bill.
The European Parliament is not a sovereign state. Indeed, the European Union is an alliance of independent sovereign states which have not so far expressed any intention of surrendering their individual sovereignty to a central body. However, if Clause 3 is accepted, it would set an unfortunate precedent within the European Union. It would mean that the intentions that we all supported at the time of the European Assembly Elections Act 1978 had been overcome. Therefore, I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. We should not pass Clause 3.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, should certainly not apologise for one moment for raising the issues of the powers of the European Parliament and the relationship—which is itself a matter of dispute and debate—with the powers of this Parliament and other national parliaments of member states of the European Union.
We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the aspiration that the national legislatures and the European Parliament ought to be able to get along. It is a worthy aspiration. It should have been possible, and it should still be possible, to have within the European Union a system of accountability and the calling of decision-makers to account at all levels which embraced closely and fully the powers of this House and the other place and of other national parliaments and what was then the European Assembly, which later became a parliament. It should have been possible to devise the loop containing processes throughout for such a procedure.
Unfortunately, no attempt has been made to do that. What is more vexing is that, again and again, there are fine words. We have heard some in this debate, the Nice treaty contains some, which are echoed in the Bill before the Committee, as does the clause that we are debating. But absolutely nothing has been done to meet the need that I have described. There is a reference in Declaration 23, attached to the treaty, to the role of national parliaments, and there were such references in previous treaties. There was an assize about 10 years ago in Rome, in which I was involved, when everyone talked about the role of national parliaments. But nothing was actually done. No move was made to create that loop of procedures and to bring back to national legislatures' powers that never should have been taken from them and which should have been exercised in close liaison with the European Parliament. On the contrary, the trend is all the other way.
That is why many of us feel that, as the Financial Times said this morning, the entire scene has moved on. Most of the discussions about the treaty and most of the high rhetoric that the Prime Minister utters about the dangers of isolationism and the need to be involved in Europe are all yesterday's debate. They have nothing to do with the issues that we are discussing now, which centre on how to restore to the European Union a proper pattern of accountability before legitimacy drains away altogether. That requires a far greater involvement by national Parliaments and a return of powers to them.
When people tell us about the democratic deficit, I say that the European Parliament fulfils an important and detailed role in calling to account various acts of the other European institutions. But however many powers we give it, a European Parliament is not enough. It will not fill the growing democratic deficit, of which everyone in Europe is aware. Even the European Commission, whose attitudes we discussed under an earlier amendment, recognised in its governance White Paper that democratic legitimacy was declining and was under attack. Those who wrote that White Paper went on to do exactly what some noble Lords have done this evening, wringing their hands and saying that it was all a terrible thing and how desirable it would be for us all to work together, but proposing no means of achieving that, because they would not bite the bullet and face the fact that powers had to be returned to national Parliaments.
The idea that giving more powers to the European Parliament will create a democratic balance is yet one more step along the road to top-down Europe-building, which everybody, right up to Jacques Delors, admits is at an end and will not help us to reinvigorate the European Union and create a modern, flexible Union, built from the bottom up.
The return of powers to national Parliaments and to joint groupings drawn from a reformed and open Council of Ministers, from the European Parliament, which has an important role to play, and from national Parliaments is desirable and inevitable. The Commission, which wrote the European governance White paper, and the decision-makers, with what has been described as their ill-tempered treaty-making at Nice, will have to face that fact, even though they have refused to do so until now. Any further resistance or denial will fracture the Union and undermine its legitimacy further. Indeed, I think that it is already too late.
Those of us who argue that some powers should be surrendered realise that it is a bitter pill to swallow for the Monnet-model European Union-builders and for those, particularly in the Commission, who already feel that they are overloaded with work. If they do not want to be overloaded, they should accept the need not merely for subsidiarity, but for a real return of powers to national level and a real re-involvement by national legislatures in the decision-making and legal instrument-making and implementation process.
In its governance White Paper, the Commission asserts once again that it Xalone" makes legislative and policy proposals or represents the Community in international negotiations and that it retains a monopoly in the matter of initiatives and proposals to the Council of Ministers. That view is in head-on conflict with the desire that all good Europeans should have to build Europe from the bottom up and it is totally in conflict with the new latticework of international relations and dealings that is now emerging. Such a view belongs to a bygone age, as does much of the thinking behind the Nice treaty. A real reform of European governance means turning upside-down the hierarchical nature of EU decision-making and adjusting the entire structure to the more flexible methods and perspectives of the network era. We have a wide range of detailed proposals for open co-ordination between a reformed council and the member Parliaments, together with the formal methods of proceeding. I shall not detain the Committee now, but at some stage I shall put forward those proposals.
In the meantime, we can say with certainty that adding powers to the European Parliament while neglecting the other track is taking Europe the wrong way and taking our democracy the wrong way. It is wrong to proceed on one track when we should have a definite and powerful two-track strategy. That should involve strengthening national legislatures and reinforcing the opportunities for them to be involved far earlier in legislation, as well as reversing the strong trend for issues and decisions emerging from the Council of Ministers to be made into secondary rather than primary legislation, as noble Lords have mentioned this evening. There are even hints—although this goes far ahead of the present debate—that, should there be a reform of your Lordships' House, even the secondary legislation powers will be downgraded. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, was entirely right to raise these matters this evening.
It may appear that the more powers that are given to the European Parliament, the more democratic the EU becomes, but that cannot be so as long as most MEPs are elected under the closed list system, which is not truly democratic. The reasons for that take too long to go into, but most noble Lords recognise what they are. For that reason and others, I support the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon.
I too shall briefly support the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Howell on his analysis of the situation. I do not want to make the Committee more gloomy than it may already be on the subject, but it is worth putting on record the fact that the treaties that we are talking about can be amended only by unanimity. They do not contain an exit clause. Article 48 of the Treaty on European Union makes it clear that unanimity is required for any change to the Treaty of Rome. That makes amendments a little more difficult.
The Government believe strongly in the central importance of this Parliament and of this House in shaping and taking the big decisions that affect our national life. That includes decisions on Europe. That is why, in October 2000 in Warsaw, the Prime Minister proposed a second chamber of the European Parliament drawn from national legislatures. It is also why he pressed successfully for agreement last December at Nice that at the next intergovernmental conference we would consider the role of national Parliaments in the European architecture.
I was very pleased to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has some detailed proposals to put forward on the role of national Parliaments. I direct his attention to the declaration on the future of the Union. Paragraph 5 specifies that the role of national Parliaments will be looked at, while paragraph 6 addresses that issue and the need to improve and monitor democratic legitimacy and transparency in the Union and its institutions. There is not a great deal of difference between the noble Lord and the Government on the need to look carefully at the issue. The Prime Minister was seized of that argument when he pressed that case successfully at Nice.
XThe EU will go on operating through the strategic leadership of the governments, and through them, the Parliaments of the member states. Those are the institutions which our citizens already know, trust and feel comfortable with".
That remains our commitment.
The Foreign Secretary also went on to say,
XThis is not enough on its own. If we really want this European Union to work, the leadership of the member states must be combined with what the institutions of the EU bring to the table. That is the mix we have, and that is the mix we should keep."
It might be the various ways which the European Union has for coming to its decisions. I believe that it has been drawn very widely in order to allow for the broadest possible discussion, particularly of the issues of transparency and accountability, with which I know Members of the Committee are so concerned. I believe that the use of the word is the widest possible drawing of the ways in which the IGC in the year 2004 will be able to discuss issues around the democratic principles governing the European Union. I hope that has answered the point of the noble Lord, Lord Renton.
The European Parliament is one of those institutions to which I have been referring, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, would agree that it is a very important one. It is right that elected representatives at European level should have a role in the making of European legislation. This is especially so in areas which are agreed by qualified majority voting in the Council, where the European Parliament plays an important role in ensuring democratic accountability and legitimacy.
It is right, too, that the European Parliament has the ability to ensure democratic accountability at the European level by holding the Commission to account. We saw in 1999 just how effective the European Parliament can be in this respect. Its action led to the resignation of the whole of the Santer Commission over its unsatisfactory performance.
As my noble friend Lord Stoddart has said, Clause 3 of this Bill is included to meet the requirements of our own legislation, which was agreed in this Chamber. Section 6 of the European Assembly Elections Act 1978 provides that the United Kingdom cannot ratify treaties increasing the powers of the European Parliament unless they are approved by an Act of this Parliament. We believe that this is a very sensible check on the powers of the European Parliament. What we are debating here, therefore, is a standard clause that we debate when we debate European treaties, as I am sure many in this Chamber will recall.
The Treaty of Nice does indeed increase the powers of the European Parliament, but the changes are relatively minor, especially so when compared with the increases in the European Parliament's powers in relation to the Maastricht and Amsterdam treaties. They may be minor, but they are useful. The Treaty of Nice increases the powers of the European Parliament in a number of ways. For example, nine of the articles which have been moved to qualified majority voting in the Council have also been moved to a co-decision procedure. The European Parliament has also been given a limited role in the new early warning mechanism in respect of a risk of a breach by a member state of fundamental human rights—a matter which we discussed in Committee on 15th November in relation to the first group of amendments.
The Treaty of Nice also improves the standing of the European Parliament before the European Court of Justice. It does that in two areas. First, the European Parliament now has the right to challenge acts adopted by the European Community on grounds such as incompatibility with the treaty, or that they have exceeded the European Community's competence. Previously the European Parliament could only bring a challenge for the purpose of protecting its own prerogative. Secondly, the European Parliament can now obtain the opinion of the European Court of Justice as to whether an international agreement to be entered into by the Community is compatible with the European treaty.
These are desirable changes, I believe, but they are fairly modest. The most significant change agreed at Nice regarding the European Parliament is the agreement on the distribution of seats for MEPs in the European Union of up to 27 member states, as we have already discussed.
Perhaps I may also remind Members of the Committee that the Treaty of Nice makes many fewer significant additions to the European Parliament's powers than previous treaties, in particular the Maastricht Treaty, which was negotiated by the Conservative Party when they were in government. It was the Maastricht Treaty which established co-decision procedures in the first place and which made the European Parliament joint legislator with the Council in a host of key areas. I shall not go into all of those areas now, but I believe that in many ways they were quite significant ones. The Maastricht Treaty also gave the Parliament significant new powers over the Commission. As we have seen, those have been exercised—and exercised in a way which I believe that most in this Chamber felt was entirely right and proper at the time.
I turn now to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth. I agree with the noble Baroness that the sharing of intelligence is always an extremely sensitive and difficult matter. We have discussed it in this Chamber in relation, for example, to military intelligence, when I have been able to assure the noble Baroness that we only share such intelligence where we believe that it will be fully protected. The same is true of criminal intelligence. We would not share any such intelligence unless we believed that that intelligence would be properly protected, and protected in a way that we would wish to protect it in this country.
I was very taken by the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, in respect of looking at the future role of parliaments. I will not dwell on the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, in a previous amendment sought to excise that part of the protocol which meant that the IGC in the year 2004 would be considering the role of the parliaments. We will let that go. Nonetheless, I very much look forward to a point where he is able to bring forward what he has referred to as detailed proposals. I am sure that we shall enjoy debating those in the run-up to the 2004 IGC.
The Nice Treaty, however, does not extend the European Parliament's powers in a way that is exceptional, and certainly not in a way that goes beyond the Maastricht Treaty. It does not change the overall institutional balance in the European Union, where it will remain the case that the strategic decisions are taken by member states; with, moreover, the United Kingdom's position strengthened through the greater relative voting power that we secured in this treaty.
What the Nice Treaty does do is to make some very modest and sensible adjustments with respect to the European Parliament. We believe that they are right and we believe that Members of the Committee should be able to approve them.
The first question concerns her statement that the European Parliament proved its value in 1999 by holding the Commission to account, and that indeed its action resulted in the resignation of the Santer Commission. I repeat a question I put to the Government in Committee and to which I have not yet received an answer. Has anything changed as a result of the resignation of the Santer Commission? I ask that against the background of the European Court of Auditors finding that #5 billion has yet again gone walkabout—irregularities, fraud, call it what you will. I seem to remember that it was exactly the same figure which the Court of Auditors found had gone walkabout before the resignation of the Santer Commission. It is, of course, a very much lower figure than the Select Committee of this Chamber has found on numerous occasions, which is at least double that.
My second question is perhaps more important. When the Minister repeats the view of the Prime Minister that there should perhaps be a second chamber in Brussels, and so on, and the recent statement by the Foreign Secretary on events as we move towards the next IGC in 2004, can she say whether Her Majesty's Government envisage any return of powers to national parliaments as a result of this process, as we move towards 2004? If they do envisage any return of powers, do they agree that it will have to be achieved by unanimity, and could the Minister say what those powers might be?
Perhaps I can deal with the last point first. The noble Lord asks whether Her Majesty's Government envisage any return of power. I can say that Her Majesty's Government are approaching the discussions on the future of the European Union with an open-mind.
I stress that we signed up to a protocol addressing the issues which said that we recognise the need to improve and monitor the democratic legitimacy and transparency of the Union and its institutions in order to bring them closer to the citizens of member states. We should draw from that an understanding that the current position is one that can be improved upon; otherwise, why is it necessary to look at the need to improve, the need to monitor and the need to look at democratic legitimacy? We discuss those matters all the time. I draw from that that it will be an opportunity for reform. Does that mean that it will be a return of powers to this Parliament? I cannot answer that. I can say that it will be an opportunity for people to make those arguments in the run-up to the IGC in the year 2004. But any treaty changes will have to be agreed by unanimity.
The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, also asked what is so different now in the Commission? I am bound to point out that some of the Commissioners changed, and as far as I recall, some Members of the Committee were rather pleased with those changes. I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, nodding his head so vigorously.
Not only have some of the Commissioners changed, but also, as we all acknowledged, it was a wake-up call over the way in which some parts of the Commission were being run. Again, we have had the opportunity of discussing that in the past so it is unfair for the noble Lord to say, XNothing came out of that". Some things did change.
There may still be much wrong with the way in which the European Union is run. I have no difficulty in agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, that some procedures still need to be tightened up. There are not necessarily questions of corruption or fraud to be answered—we have been over this before—but there are certainly questions in relation to the way in which the Commission ought to be run; that is, that it should be run more along the lines of accountability under which our own Civil Service operates.
Those are the sorts of things for which Her Majesty's Government have been pressing. So I freely acknowledge that we would wish to see many improvements in the way the Commission is run. But we ought at least to look to the improvements that have taken place, part of which is in the recognition that there are still some parts of the Commission which need to be considerably tightened up.
This has been a good and wide-ranging debate and I thank all those Members of the Committee who contributed to it. I thank the Minister for her firm and detailed reply.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I was not aware that I had mentioned co-decision. If he wishes to bring it up of course I cannot stop him. But among the many things I said, that was certainly not one of them.
It may well be that I thought the noble Lord mentioned co-decision, because I certainly wrote it down.
Let me explain that co-decision is about taking real power away from this Parliament. What happens is that Ministers go across to Europe and, by QMV and after consultation with the European Parliament, they come to decisions which are made into law whether or not this Parliament agrees. If this Parliament objects, then the reply comes that this is European law and there is nothing we can do about it. That is why many of us are concerned about the extension of co-decision. It takes away from this Parliament the opportunity to have a full discussion and full examination of what is happening in Europe, very often behind closed doors.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, also mentioned the quadrupling of the movement of people since 1973 when we entered the Common Market, as it then was. He brings that forward as a reason why we should have more co-operation. Nobody is concerned about voluntary co-operation. We are concerned about the imposition of laws upon this country without our own Parliament agreeing to them. We want co-operation, yes; but a country called Europe, no.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, said that the Conservative Party was closely examining the possibility of returning to Westminster some of the powers that we lost. I welcome that. Indeed, I shall look forward to hearing from the noble Lord and the Conservative Party what powers they intend to ensure are returned to Westminster if they are voted back into government. Most of the powers which we lost were lost under previous Conservative governments. So I am pleased that the sinners are repenting and hope that they will repent so far that virtually all the powers that we lost to the European Union are returned. Then we can get back to a real Europe of voluntary co-operation between nation states, which we lost.
The Minister mentioned the Prime Minister's Warsaw speech. In that speech he envisaged a new organisation—a senate—which would be elected by the national parliaments. But that is what we had before 1978. In 1978 it was said that that structure did not work because the members of the national parliaments did not have time to do both jobs properly. Now we have come full circle and are told that what we had before 1978 is a perfectly workable system and that it is a pity we altered it. I note the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, shaking his head. But that was the previous system and is the system the Prime Minister wants to re-impose. That is what he appeared to be saying in his speech.
The Prime Minister also referred in his Warsaw speech to a super power in Europe but not to a super state. I do not quite see how one can have a super power without also having a super state. If he is going to develop that instead of having more integration, as he appeared to be advocating last Friday, then I am pleased that he has been converted. However, we shall have to wait and see.
We have had a good debate on this subject. I believe that it is probably the first one we have had on the 1978 Act and it has been worthwhile. Having heard the debate, I do not wish to continue to oppose the Question that Clause 3 stand part of the Bill. However, after having read the excellent contributions that have been made to the debate, I may wish to return to the matter on Report.
moved Amendment No. 39:
After Clause 3, insert the following new clause—
This Act shall only come into force after the provisions of the Treaty of Nice have been approved in a referendum by the people of the United Kingdom, conducted under procedures approved by the United Kingdom Parliament."
Amendment No. 39 proposes that the treaty should be approved in a referendum before it becomes part of UK law. I raised the question of whether a referendum was appropriate on Second Reading. I do not believe that we received an adequate response from the Government. I should like to pursue the issue again tonight in the hope of receiving a better response.
So far as I can tell, the Government's argument as to why they believe that a referendum would be inappropriate is as follows. First, they say that the treaty is vital to enlargement. Secondly, they say that, nevertheless, none of the individual measures is important. The over-used example of QMV on appointments to the Court of Auditors is trotted out as an example of what I believe the Minister referred to as the modest and sensible adjustments of which the treaty is full. Therefore, a referendum is inappropriate for what is largely a technical measure in the Government's eyes. I argue that the discussion in this Chamber, including the excellent discussion we have just had, demonstrate exactly the opposite.
First, I argue that the treaty, as we discussed at earlier stages in Committee, is not essential for enlargement, at least in the early stages, as Romano Prodi has been frequently quoted as admitting. I favour enlargement as a community of nation states within a single market, but not as a political union. I believe that most of the measures needed to enlarge a single market were already enacted in treaties in the 1980s.
Secondly, even if one concedes that some measures are needed to facilitate enlargement, the truth is—as has again been demonstrated over and over again in the debate—that most of the treaty is not about enlargement. A whole Christmas tree of measures is hanging on the coat-tails of a Bill which is advanced as being about enlargement but is primarily about other matters.
Thirdly, I argue that far from being modest and sensible adjustments that do not merit significant debate, the treaty contains a number of significant measures, including the removal of 39 national vetoes which individually and collectively amount to a significant further shift towards stronger governmental and institutional power at the centre of Europe versus the nation state. This is a treaty that is primarily about deepening, not enlarging, the European Union.
Therefore, fourthly, I argue that a referendum that requires the Government to explain and get approval for those policies, as opposed to proceeding by stealth, is fully justified. The fact that the Irish people rejected the treaty in a referendum shows that, when put to a national electorate, its acceptance is not a foregone conclusion.
Let me briefly expand on one or two of those points. On Second Reading and in subsequent debate I and others highlighted many examples of transfer of power in the treaty which have nothing to do with enlargement. I mentioned Article 137, for example, which extends the powers of the European Union to intervene by QMV to impose European Union policies on the social rights of workers. I mentioned Article 144, which sets up a new committee to monitor and report on social protection policies in each country and empowers that committee to hold direct dialogue with labour and business organisations in each country. I also mentioned Article 157, which extends the power of the European Union to promote state intervention in industrial policy—which was dubbed a Xcharter for meddlers" and has now moved to QMV and co-decision making.
On Second Reading I asked why those measures were in the treaty and what intentions lay behind the new powers. I do not believe that we were given a response to those questions. Either the Government do not know why those measures are in the Bill, in which case how can they advocate them, or they will not explain what the measures will be used for for fear that we and the country will not like that. Nor can they explain why these and countless other extensions of power are part of a treaty that masquerades as a treaty primarily about enlargement.
The debate in this Chamber has raised many other fears, for example, as regards the extension of European judicial powers over our judicial system and the drive towards European authority over a common foreign and defence policy which is enabled by the treaty. Last week we discussed the charter of fundamental rights which is referenced in the presidency conclusions and the declaration on the future of the Union attached to the treaty. The Minister told us that on the one hand the charter of fundamental rights had no legal standing and then agreed that it would, of course, be taken into account by European courts as evidence of the political intent behind legislation. That, presumably, is what is intended by the presidency conclusions when they state:
XThe European Council would like to see the Charter disseminated as widely as possible amongst the Union's citizens . . . the question of the Charter's force will be considered later".
Therefore, significant issues are raised by the treaty and by some of the words and declarations around it. Even the proposals which are directly justified by reference to enlargement—for example, majority voting on senior Commission appointments; the proposal to hold all European Council meetings in the European capital of Brussels rather than in the host country; and the strengthening of the European Parliament—could equally well be seen as part of a progressive plan to turn the European Union from a coalition of nations within a free market into a single political state and government structure. They fit that pattern. Indeed, we have just discussed the future of European national parliaments. The declaration on the future of the Union states, somewhat condescendingly I feel, that,
XThe next European conference will need to address the role of national parliaments in the European architecture".
It will consider what role we might be allowed to play. If there ever was a wake-up call that our destiny was being taken out of our hands, that sentence provides it.
But there are two sides to the debate; one can view the glass through opposite angles. There are those who regard people who raise concerns about the agenda for European integration as raising needless or exaggerated fears. The Prime Minister assures us that the nation state is secure and that we just need to pool a little sovereignty. Those on the other side of the argument regard those who view these developments with equanimity as hopelessly naive, who have not learnt the lessons of history and who fail to hear or heed the rhetoric of those on the Continent who consistently call for the pace of political integration to be speeded up towards its ultimate goal. Both views are valid but a genuine debate needs to take place.
Those arguments and the treaty cannot be brushed aside as inconsequential. That is why I believe that there is a strong case for a referendum before the Bill is enacted—a referendum as provided under Part VII of the Government's own Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. We passed that Act in order to provide for referendums on issues of significance. What is the provision intended for, if not for significant constitutional developments such as intergovernmental treaties? As my noble friend Lord Pearson has commented, once these treaties are ratified, they can be changed only by unanimity. They are not measures to be entered into lightly when there are significant differences of views about the significance of the treaties themselves and their implications.
If there is a view that this treaty represents a significant shift in powers, surely that should be explained and debated in the country at large. I hope that democrats on all sides of the Committee, whether for or against the proposals in the treaty, will agree that a healthier national view of Europe would pertain if these arguments were conducted openly rather than being brushed aside. Frankly, it is an insult for the Government to describe this treaty as nothing more important than procedures for electing members of the Court of Auditors.
If, having introduced the practice of referendums to the UK in their recent legislation, the Government oppose this amendment, I fear that I and other noble Lords will conclude that they do so not on principle, but because they fear that they may fail to win the support of the British people for changes that they do not want to explain and cannot defend. The Irish electorate—probably one of the most pro-European in the European Union—has already had the chance to vote on this issue, and they rejected it. I believe that the British people deserve that opportunity too. I beg to move.
I confess to a sense of disappointment because, as some noble Lords know, my approach to the European Union is that by pooling sovereignty, in effect, we increase sovereignty. Therefore, I had hoped that the Treaty of Nice would be more ambitious than it is. In some ways it is a rather disappointing treaty to those who believe that European integration and co-operation should take a decisive rather than a timid step forward. So I am disappointed.
The fact is that the treaty is here, and it is a necessary treaty if we are not to lose the pace of enlargement. Earlier today I read the report on the institutional implications of enlargement, which was produced in 1999 by the so-called three wise men, one of whom is a Member of this House, the noble Lord, Lord Simon. They clearly had ambitions for the Treaty of Nice that would have been far more radical, and had they occurred there may have been a case for a referendum. We on these Benches were the first political party in the United Kingdom to make a case for a referendum on the European single currency, which is now the policy of Her Majesty's Government. We also argued for a referendum on the Treaty of Maastricht because we believe that that treaty made fundamental changes; for example, the introduction of the concept of European citizenship which had constitutional implications. I record with some disappointment that the Treaty of Nice does not justify that.
To talk about the Irish referendum is somewhat misleading because the Irish constitution requires referendums in the case of international treaties. We do not have that provision and so we are not bound by that. It is hard to see why that should be applied in this case.
I suspect that a call for a referendum is motivated by other matters. I remind the House of what the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, said on the previous day in Committee on this Bill: that he hates the European Union and everything that comes out of it. If one hates the European Union and everything that comes out of it, and if one sees the European Union as a glorified Gestapo—the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, referred to living under the cosh of the European institutions—nothing less than a referendum on any proposal for any increase in European co-operation would be fully justified. As that is nonsense, we should have no problem in rejecting this amendment.
I do not necessarily have to be brief. We are in Committee. There is at least five minutes before any of us expects supper.
When the noble Lord, Lord Watson, takes me to task for saying that I hate the European Union and everything that flows forth from Brussels, I should put those comments in the context in which I made them. I was dealing with the word XEurophobic", and how some of us are accused of it when in fact we are phobic about, or we hate the European Union and everything that comes forth from Brussels; not the continent of European nations which we love. I used the word Xhate" because the word Xphobic" has an irrational note to it, whereas the phrase Xintensely dislike" or the word Xhate" are entirely rational. That is why I used the word Xhate". However, it would not be fair to associate my remarks with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Blackwell, or the Conservative Party generally.
Having put that matter to rest, perhaps, in support of the amendment of my noble friend, I can express the hope that no noble Lord will say that the British people have already been asked about our membership of the European Union because we voted to stay in the European Common Market in 1975. There has never been a referendum in this country on our membership of the European Union. There was a referendum in 1975, but the Prime Minister of the day, Mr Harold Wilson, put a letter through every letterbox in the land saying that there was a threat to employment in Britain from the movement in the Common Market towards an economic and monetary union which could have forced us to accept fixed exchange rates for the pound and restricting industrial growth, so putting jobs at risk. He went on to say that that threat had been removed.
Of course it was not removed. As we know, it returned to bite later, and so far we are just avoiding it. But the position of the Government on our membership of the single currency is not clear at all. The Prime Minister of the day ensured every household in the land that there was no loss of sovereignty involved in voting to stay in the free trade area, the Common Market, in 1975. Since then we have seen the Single European Act 1985 that gave all our industries, all our commerce and our environment to the qualified majority vote in Brussels.
Next came Maastricht in 1992 which was called the Treaty on European Union. There can be no doubt about that. As noble Lords know, it introduced economic and monetary union and was a treaty on European union. That was its name. In 1997 we had Amsterdam with many safeguards over national sovereignty and with many matters of national sovereignty being passed to the qualified majority voting in Brussels. Now we have Nice.
It is reasonable to suggest that we should finally have a referendum on our membership of the European Union. If the amendment of my noble friend were accepted, I believe that it would require an explanation to the British people of exactly where we are. You could not have an amendment on Nice alone; you would have to tell the British people what lies behind Nice, which they have never been told. They would be voting on Nice as it is added to the Treaty on European Union and the treaty establishing the European Community, loosely known as the Treaties of Rome.
If they refuse this amendment, I do not believe that it is possible, or honourable, for the Government to say that they want a good debate on the future of the European Union and our place in it.
In light of what the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has said about there being five minutes until supper, it may be convenient for the Committee if I clarify the position. It has been agreed between the usual channels that we shall continue this debate without interruption until the Committee stage is completed; we shall then take the two orders and continue, without an adjournment during pleasure, to the Committee stage of the Human Reproductive Cloning Bill.
Of course, I accept that. I find it slightly inconvenient. This morning I took the trouble to visit the Government Whips' Office, where I was assured that we would be given the usual hour for supper. It is quite inconvenient not to have it.
When I was a Member of the European Parliament, the most dispiriting words that I ever heard when someone rose to speak were: XBrevamente", XBrievement" or XMay I speak briefly". However, I shall try to do that myself tonight. First, I ask Members opposite—especially the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell—why at the time of the Single European Act and, indeed, the Maastricht Treaty our electorate was not given the opportunity to vote in a referendum. Secondly, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, and others who support him, whether he considers that earlier this year the most important referendum of all took place; namely, a general election in which not only the party that won the election but a second major party in the United Kingdom spoke vociferously for the Nice Treaty and for the Nice Treaty being ratified under the new government. I believe that the Committee would welcome clear, unambiguous answers to those two questions.
I shall answer the noble Lord. When the Labour Government forced through the Amsterdam treaty, it was one of 177 commitments in the Labour manifesto. The Nice Treaty may have been mentioned in the Labour manifesto but, again, it was one of the best part of 200 commitments in that manifesto. Let us not forget that only 59 per cent of the population turned out to vote, and I believe that only a minority, not a majority, voted for the party opposite. Therefore, to pretend that the general election was in any way a ringing public endorsement of the Treaty of Nice or, indeed, of the Treaty of Rome is a little wide of the mark.
During recent months we have heard a great deal from Ministers about the need to reconnect—I believe that that is the word that is currently popular in relation to Europe—with voters in the European Union on European Union matters. If that is really the case, I do not understand how the Government can avoid supporting the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Blackwell or, indeed, that in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, which we shall debate later this evening. My belief is that these two amendments are complementary. They are the only amendments that we have discussed so far in our three days of the Committee stage which are intended to make the Nice Treaty more intelligible to the people of this country and to give them any chance of having a say in what the Government are doing in their name.
I agree that that is an heroic task. We have heard time and again how incomprehensible and obscure this treaty is. In that context, I was interested to see that even the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was using not an official text—I do not believe that there is an official integrated text on the Maastricht Treaty—but the very useful volume produced by the British Management Data Foundation. Without that, I do not believe we should have been able to have a Committee stage or a sensible debate about the treaty. Therefore, I believe that those responsible for that volume are due a vote of thanks from this House. There are two volumes, but I gather that the first was deemed to be too dangerous for general circulation because it analysed the treaty.
If Ministers and those inside Westminster must rely on an independent body to produce a comprehensible version of the Treaty of Nice, I believe that further clarification should be given so that people outside Westminster can understand it. Of course, my noble friend Lord Pearson is quite right. The mere mention of the Nice Treaty and the manifesto which the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, prayed in aid cannot possibly be conceived of as a ringing endorsement of everything that was contained in this volume. That really will not wash.
In our debates, the Xshorthand" reference to the Nice treaty being all about enlargement—no Nice treaty; no enlargement—has been shown to be a total sham. I believe that it has been said that approximately 5 per cent of the total number of articles in the Nice Treaty are about enlargement. The remainder are about giving away more powers to the Commission or to the corporate bureaucratic complex of the EU. As my noble friend Lord Blackwell pointed out, we are giving away more power to the Commission in 39 areas—some of them very important. The Commission may have been reformed but we do not know by how much. But, of course, the Government believe that it is a good idea to give away those powers; otherwise, presumably, they would have opposed the Nice Treaty, which gives away the powers. Everyone has admitted to and agreed that, and the Government want more of it.
However, if we do not particularly warm to the idea of the Commission being given those powers, we can at least be thankful for the existence of the President of the European Commission, Signor Prodi. He is quite clear. He has said, XWe want more tax harmonisation; that is what Europe is about. We want complete tax harmonisation. Yes, the European rapid reaction force is in fact an army. And, yes, our aim is European political union". I sometimes believe that if Mr Prodi did not exist, we should have had to invent him.
Therefore, if the Government are serious in saying that they want to get the European Union and the EU institutions closer to the people, surely my noble friend's amendment provides the opportunity for them to do just that. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips—I know that we are not debating it now but I believe that it is important to link them together—will explain what the Nice Treaty is all about. As my noble friend Lord Pearson correctly pointed out, the Nice Treaty cannot be explained in isolation. It is simply an amendment of the previous European Union treaties. Therefore, any explanation of what Nice is about must, by definition, include the Amsterdam Treaty, the Maastricht Treaty and the treaty on the Single European Act.
Therefore, after a period of debate, when that has all been clarified in the words of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, which refers to clarity, plain English and the term Ximpartial", which, I agree, is terribly important, surely we should then call a referendum in order to obtain the agreement of the British people to what this Government propose to give away in their name. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, was absolutely right when, in speaking to his own amendment earlier, he said that elected governments have only a mandate. Powers are given in trust to the elected government of the day. They are only lent; they do not belong to a government to dispose of as they will. If the Government propose to transfer ever more powers from their elected Members at Westminster, surely the voters should confirm that, indeed, they want to give those extra powers away.
Surely there must come a time when we come clean about the creeping and ever-increasing incremental constitutional changes that we have foisted on the British public through the succession of European treaties. As has been pointed out this evening, we have not had a vote on our membership of the European Union. We have had a vote on whether we want to stay in the Common Market, but that is a different matter.
We are constantly being put to the old salami-slicing technique. XWhy strain at this gnat of the Nice Treaty", we are asked, Xwhen you have swallowed the camel of previous treaties?". Of course, some of us did not want to swallow the camel of previous treaties but we were never asked. We never had a referendum. However, I believe that a moment must come when the people are asked: XDo you want to continue with this handover of powers?". I believe that that moment is now, and I support my noble friend's amendment.
There was a time when I argued very clearly against referendums. I did so because I believed in the supremacy of Parliament. I believed that we were a parliamentary democracy and that Parliament could be trusted to ensure that it did not give away its powers but would uphold our constitution under all circumstances.
That was what I believed, and I argued it from public platforms and in the House of Commons. Clearly, however, the situation has now changed because Parliament has given away to other institutions and other countries the power of supremacy—of sovereignty. The Prime Minister said that sovereignty can be pooled, but I do not believe that it can be. One either has sovereignty or one does not. Nevertheless, we have been pooling the sovereignty that belongs to the British people and giving it away to other institutions.
We have arrived at the situation in which our constitution has so altered that the basis on which laws are made and on which the Crown is advised no longer persists. As I understand it, the constitutional arrangement has always been that Her Majesty acts on the advice of her Ministers. Now, she can no longer do that because under QMV her Ministers can be outvoted by Ministers from other countries. Our constitution has been undermined even to the extent that Ministers do not give advice off their own bat; that advice has to be qualified by decisions that are taken outside our Parliament and this country.
I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that there has to be some check on what Parliament does in relation to its powers. Since we do not have a proper second chamber with the power to stop the first chamber from handing over powers, the only check is the referendum. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, who argued his case extremely well and cogently, should be supported tonight if he presses his amendment to a vote.
As has already been said, we should have had a referendum before we joined the common market. The Prime Minister, the government and Parliament of the day had no mandate; the mandate that was asked for by Mr Heath was to negotiate—no more and no less. He had no mandate to take us into the Common Market or to sign the Treaty of Rome, from which all other treaties have come. That is when we should have had a referendum. My guess is that if we had done so then, the British people would not have agreed to go into the Common Market.
We should also have had a referendum on the Single European Act and on the Maastricht Treaty, which translated that Act into tablets of stone. Those of us in this House who were interested in the matter at that time gave this House an opportunity to vote on whether to have a referendum—the other House did not have such an opportunity. Those noble Lords who were around at that time will recall that the two Front Benches had agreed to dispose of the Maastricht Treaty in about three or four days but that the Maastricht Study Group—of which I was the chairman and the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, was deputy chairman—ensured that this House discussed the treaty in 11 days rather than three or four days. I believe that noble Lords received some education during that debate. Unfortunately, the opportunity that was given to the House to have a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty was rejected.
We may have an opportunity tonight to vote on what is perhaps a less important treaty. I hope that noble Lords will correct the mistake that was made in 1992.
The amendment that was moved by my noble friend Lord Blackwell should be taken seriously. It is correct to say that there were not referenda on previous treaties but, as we move up the ladder of centralisation towards the goal of political union, it will be increasingly hard for governments—this Government or any other—to keep from people the fact that major constitutional redistributions of power are taking place. Whether we call that Xpooling of sovereignty" or Xmoving into a new kind of network" is a matter for debate. A new pattern of cards is being dealt. A strong case can be made for saying that a better and more direct means of reference to an increasingly empowered and informed public will be necessary.
The Nice Treaty has not produced vast popular excitement and debate. As my noble friends have pointed out, no one appears to be very informative about the treaty's implications. Some say that it is vastly important but Ministers say the opposite—they say that it is small but useful. It could be called the unknown treaty—it is an unexplored, unknown and unrevealed piece of treaty-making. Tucked away inside it are many important changes which will affect to a remarkable degree everyone's daily lives and the way in which law is made in this country.
Although we are passing a strong illuminating beam over the Bill, it may be too late to urge that a referendum should be included on this occasion. However, we are moving towards constitutional changes: I refer to the Laeken Council, the convention, in which no one will have much of a say, and the meeting of 2004. All of us—certainly the Government—should be prepared to consider a referendum in future.
It is a sad fact that Xreferendum" has become a dirty word in Europe-building circles. The chattering classes of Europe, if I may call them that, are terrified of referenda—they saw what went wrong in Denmark and Ireland. I heard it said in the august portals of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office only last week that, if there was a referendum today in Poland on whether that country should continue its membership of the EU, it would be lost. We are moving into an extraordinary stage in which the legitimacy of the EU and of new treaties is so weak that the people who want unity do not dare to have a referendum for fear that they will lose it. That is not a healthy position and it should be an enormous cause for concern for the Government.
We have yet to debate some very important issues. Although my noble friends have a very good case, I should not necessarily recommend that they push the amendment further; that, of course, is entirely up to them. However, the basic argument is that we have moved into an age in which such steps cannot be taken by governments without referenda or proper democratic involvement in the relevant constitutional implications; the age of not doing that has passed. The age of democracy is coming, and the Government had better prepare for it; otherwise, they will get a nasty shock.
We have had a full debate on this issue. I was looking forward to the arguments that would be adduced in support of the amendment, and I was not disappointed.
The noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, told us that Nice makes so many changes of such major constitutional significance that we have to hold a referendum on whether or not to ratify it. He was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, my noble friend Lord Stoddart and the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, except that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, wanted to have a vote on whether or not we should stay in the EU in the first place. To a certain extent the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, but not to the extent of pressing for a vote.
I was interested to see that the amendment was not tabled in the name of the Opposition Front Bench as was a similar amendment in another place. However, I regret that some Members on the Opposition Benches are still pushing heavily on this argument, particularly in the light of their own party's record on this matter. European Union treaties such, as the Treaty of Nice, are ratified by each member state in accordance with their own constitutional requirements. As the noble Lord, Lord Watson, stated, in Ireland it is not only normal practice but a constitutional requirement to hold a referendum on EU treaties before ratification. In some countries, such as Denmark, new treaties require a referendum only if they involve a transfer of sovereignty. It is significant to note that in the case of Nice, Denmark did not hold a referendum. The Danish authorities were clear that Nice did not represent a transfer of authority. That is a point on which the party opposite did not comment.
In the majority of member states the traditional constitutional process for ratifying EU treaties is by parliamentary procedure, as, indeed, it is in Britain. As has been said, Sir Edward Heath and the Conservative Party did not hold a referendum on whether or not Britain should join the European Community. We joined in 1973 when Parliament, after long and careful debate, voted in favour and passed the necessary legislation. Nor did we depart from the accepted constitutional procedures when we ratified the Treaty of Amsterdam. I remember standing for many hours in your Lordships' House—indeed, I believe we had over 50 hours in Committee—on that particular treaty to debate the issues. Many of your Lordships were present at that time.
Furthermore, when the party opposite negotiated the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty, both of which introduced far more fundamental treaties than does the Nice Treaty, the then Government saw no need to trouble the British people with a referendum on whether or not those treaties should be ratified. It is worth reflecting on the far-reaching implications of the Maastricht Treaty. As some noble Lords have made clear, it established the European Union and citizenship of the Union. It set up a pillar structure and extended QMV to nearly 30 new articles. It substantially extended the powers of the European Parliament and established arrangements for economic and monetary union and the euro. Not only is that a lengthy list; it is a weighty list which the present Government support. My point is that whatever noble Lords may think of its substance or length, I believe they will have to admit that that was a significant series of changes. However, the then Government, many of whom are on the Benches opposite, or at least represent the Benches opposite, did not think it deserving of a referendum at the time. The then Prime Minister, John Major, said,
XI am not in favour of a referendum in a parliamentary democracy. I do not propose to put one before the British people".
There are times when a referendum is appropriate; when there is important constitutional change such as there has been recently in Wales and Scotland. However, there is an obvious example of a major constitutional issue which is of such importance that the people of Britain should be given a chance to decide; that is, Britain's membership of the euro. That is an odd position for some Members of the Benches opposite to put themselves in. They oppose a referendum on an important constitutional issue such as the euro but then advocate a break with established constitutional procedure by pressing for one on this treaty.
The noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, said—we go back to the point—that the treaty is not necessary for enlargement. The Government contend that it is necessary for successful enlargement. Nice is not a legal pre-requisite for enlargement. That was a point I made both in opening and closing the Second Reading debate. Of course it is possible to proceed with enlargement, but only in theory. We need a treaty for successful enlargement. The noble Lord then went on to quote me on the charter of rights. He said that I said that it had no legal standing. I did not say that. I said that the charter of rights was not legally binding. The noble Lord is welcome to quote me but it behoves him to quote me correctly.
No, they are clearly not the same. If the noble Lord really does think that, it is no wonder we are in a muddle. I assure the noble Lord that the words Xnot legally binding" are not the same as Xhaving no legal standing". He need not take my word for that. I believe that any reputable lawyer would give a similar view.
That is, indeed, the difference between legally binding and being taken into account. We have gone over this matter several times in your Lordships' House, but by all means let us do so again.
The noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, then said that we were proceeding by stealth. I found that a remarkable charge. We published a White Paper entitled Reform for Enlargement in February 2000 before the start of the IGC. We have had regular debates in both Houses. My right honourable friends in another place have gone before all the parliamentary committees both in this House and another place. Parliament has had a detailed explanatory memorandum. There is also a published leaflet setting out all the issues. I would show one to Members of the Committee but I know that that is against the protocols of this place. However, I shall certainly give one to the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, and, indeed, one to the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, who is also keen on people having as much information as possible.
I, too, have held meetings on the 2004 IGC and on the Bill. Perhaps I may say that such meetings were noticeable for the lack of noble Lords attending. That is one of those things. One can give people information but even Members of the Committee do not attend, with the notable exception of the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke. Certainly, he was there but he will know that many of his colleagues were not.
Members of the Committee were also told that the matter was merely mentioned in the Labour Party manifesto. The treaty was published on 26th February. There was an election at the beginning of June. In our manifesto, the Labour Party said:
XIt is vital that we ratify the Treaty of Nice which is essential for enlargement; Labour in government will do so".
That is not merely a mention; it is a real commitment. The party opposite made rather a big issue of Europe during the general election. I hardly think it was a forgotten issue. The party opposite said that it would have a referendum if it won the election; it did not. This party said that it would ratify the treaty and we did, indeed, win the election.
I thank the Minister for giving way. The point we made in debate in Committee was not that the Treaty of Nice was not mentioned in the Labour Party manifesto but that it was only one of the better part of 200 commitments; that only 59 per cent of the people voted in the general election and a minority of the people supported the Labour Party. We really want to underline the fact that one cannot take the result of the general election as any sort of approval by the British people for this treaty.
In saying that, the noble Lord is flying in the teeth of every constitutional convention of this country. I was careful to write down what was said. The word used was Xmentioned". I do not think that a commitment is a mention. It was specific, clear and unequivocal. As I am sure the noble Lord noticed, the Labour Party clearly won the election as opposed to his party, which said that there would be a referendum on this issue and which did not win the election.
This is a matter which Parliament should decide. It is a matter of national importance. However, it is our convention that we decide such matters by the parliamentary democracy in which we live. I believe that in our centuries-old system people elect representatives to make this sort of decision on their behalf. We have had, rightly, the task of scrutinising this legislation closely, as, indeed, we are doing now. Our constitutional system gives Parliament the right to accept or reject the treaty in the interests of Britain. The Government believe that it is right to follow that system, just as previous governments have followed it in the past. Either we believe that the other place and your Lordships' House are competent to make decisions and to pass legislation, or we do not. The Government believe that we are. For that reason, I ask Members of the Committee to reject the amendment.
I shall be brief. I thank those Members who have taken part, but I am not satisfied or mollified by the Government's response. They have not established that the treaty contains purely technical measures for enlargement as opposed to measures about deepening the Union. They have not explained why such a treaty requires so many powers around extensions of QMV and parliamentary competency or why it contains so many measures about reinforcing central institutions. Nor have they explained why, given the significance of those changes, it is inappropriate to hold a referendum.
The Minister, together with the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, made great play of the fact that there were no referendums on Maastricht and earlier treaties. In those days, we did not have the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
Furthermore, there is the point about the Opposition not having a referendum when in government. It is purely a party political point based on the fact that the Conservative government of the time did not hold a referendum and therefore no Conservative can call for one now. That is a very weak argument on a constitutional issue of this importance. I put that to one side.
The noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, made the point that the Irish only had a referendum because it was in their constitution. Again, it is rather odd to argue that because the Irish only held a referendum because they were forced to means that because we are not forced to we should not hold one. We have a right to decide whether it is an issue that calls for a referendum under the Act that Parliament has passed for that purpose.
The Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, made the point that the Labour election manifesto contained pledges on the issue. The Minister read out the passage. Similarly, the previous Labour Party manifesto had commitments about devolution. That did not stop us from having referendums on those issues.
The Minister makes arguments about parties' past records. If the party opposite had written a manifesto with no change from any policy it has previously advocated its last manifesto would have been rather thin.
I am not satisfied with the Government's response. This is an issue of significant constitutional importance. It is one on which this House has a right, indeed an obligation, to take a view and to try to hold the Government to account. I know that there is other pressing business, but I should like to test the opinion of the Committee.
moved Amendment No. 40:
After Clause 3, insert the following new clause—
This Act shall not come into effect until Her Majesty's Government has laid before Parliament a report showing the implications for the Western European Union and the Northern Atlantic Treaty Organisation, for the future functioning of these organisations, and for the United Kingdom's role therein, of—
(b) Article 1, paragraph 5 of the Treaty of Nice, revising Article 25 of the Treaty on European Union."
moved Amendment No. 42:
After Clause 3, insert the following new clause—
Within three months of the ratification by Her Majesty's Government of the Treaty of Nice amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community, the Government shall lay before both Houses of Parliament a White Paper on the economic, political and constitutional developments arising therefrom."
The intention of the new clause is not very different from those expressed earlier by some of my noble friends when urging that there was a case for a referendum. The basic proposition is the same in this case. The Nice Treaty is an unknown treaty. It will have constitutional effects and I do not believe that anyone can deny that. Some people may say that they are small and some may say that they are large. It will carry the principle of qualified majority voting: that is, voting by the Council of Ministers by a majority on matters which will then go straight into the laws of our land or travel through secondary legislation into our regulations. Furthermore, the present Government are contemplating downgrading the system by which secondary legislation passes through the two Houses of Parliament.
All those issues make it ever more imperative that there should be the widest possible knowledge and understanding about what is happening and what are the effects of the treaty. During the debate we heard read out the list of areas in which qualified majority voting has been extended. They cover matters which are close to the everyday lives of the citizens of the whole of Europe, certainly those of the United Kingdom. They cover the structural funds; the implementation of agreed foreign policy; trade in services and intellectual property rights; the rules relating to visas, asylum, refugees and illegal immigration; external border checks; conditions for freedom of movement of third country nationals; financial assistance to aid members in financial difficulties; trade policy; working conditions and social exclusion; support for industry; economic co-operation with third countries; procedures for allowing other states to join; and so forth. That is not the whole list.
To say that they are minor matters is to say that provided we keep them as quiet as possible, they will be seen as minor matters. However, when they are examined in the light of day they are not minor at all. The Nice Treaty, as with preceding treaties, shifts the nature of power and decisions and changes the pattern by which people's lives are governed. It is right that even if the Government will not accept the case for a referendum—I concede that previous governments did not do so—both Houses of Parliament should be kept fully and properly informed on the economic, political and constitutional developments arising from the treaties.
Broader questions are raised—we have touched on them in Committee—about how the treaties come to be made. Mr Tony Benn in the other place used to argue with great eloquence that perhaps the Royal Prerogative for treaty making is not always the correct way to proceed. I have sympathy with that argument, as I believe do other Members of the Committee. We are lucky in this case that we have to have a Bill passing through the two Houses to put into our law the consequences of the treaty to which the Government have agreed. However, perhaps in future we should re-examine and revisit that whole issue.
In the mean time, the case for a full explanation, for clarity of explanation and for continuous and effective dialogue about what is being done in the name of the people should be put before the people, before their elected assembly in the other place and before Members in this House where we have a duty to scrutinise, improve and amend. That is what we are trying to do and that is why I beg to move the amendment.
This amendment would require a report on the implications of the Treaty of Nice within three months of ratification. Her Majesty's Government do not believe that this amendment is necessary. Parliament has been kept fully informed of the negotiations on, and the effect of, the Treaty of Nice. Her Majesty's Government provided a White Paper to Parliament at the start of the negotiations which set out their position and explained all the issues. We held several debates during those negotiations. The Prime Minister, my right honourable friend the former Foreign Secretary and other Ministers reported regularly to both Houses and reported back again at the end of the negotiations.
We have had several debates since then, including the present one, in all of which the totality of the relevant economic, political and constitutional issues have been addressed. I am bound to say to the Committee that in so doing we have argued the same point over and over again in different fora. Of course we shall continue to keep Parliament informed of developments in the European Union as they occur, but we do not believe that anyone in this Chamber can point to instances where we have failed to do so. We have also produced a leaflet on the implications of the treaty.
In addition, Parliament will have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the future of Europe, which we have debated fully in this Chamber several times, in the lead-up to the next IGC. We welcome the debate but do not believe that there is a genuine need for a further report. Therefore, I ask the Committee to reject the amendment.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments. In her view the amendment is not necessary. I should point out that merely to refer to various past reports and debates does not meet the aim of this amendment which is to do with the future. When and if the Treaty of Nice is ratified—assuming that Ireland turns round and matters proceed smoothly, because there are several Xifs" in the way—thereafter we want to see that the full economic, political and constitutional effects of this measure are put before Parliament. One is really asking for assurances about the future, which we do not have, rather than a track record, which we certainly have and do not dispute.
Perhaps the noble Lord will give way. I gave the specific assurance that the Government would continue to keep Parliament informed of developments in the European Union as they occurred. I hope that the noble Lord takes that as an assurance about the future.
I take that as an assurance about the future. It is not the one that we want, which is to do with the White Paper, but at least the reportage to the two Houses will proceed as in the past. We do not believe that that is enough and that in the new age of information technology and empowerment in which we live the whole question of communicating to people what is being done in their name needs to be improved and strengthened. For that reason we shall return to this theme again and again, not just on this Bill. This particular matter may well be one that attracts our attention again at Report stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 42A:
After Clause 3, insert the following new clause—
(1) This Act shall not come into effect until Her Majesty's Government have communicated to every household in the United Kingdom the constitutional and governmental effects of the Treaty of Nice.
(2) A communication under subsection (1) shall be—
(a) in writing,
(b) in plain English,
(c) in popular form, and
I do not move this amendment in any spirit of partisanship vis a vis the European Union. The amendment is not concerned with the degree to which we in this House and the other place have debated—some may say ad nauseam—the various aspects of the Treaty of Nice. This amendment is concerned exclusively with democracy, in particular the extent to which democracy is real for the mass of so-called ordinary people of this country.
Just as the amendment is moved without any partisanship, I should at least declare that I am president of a charity called the Citizenship Foundation which, with considerable support from the Government at different times, has striven to make the mysteries of citizenship, particularly vis a vis Europe, a little more apparent to the great majority of school pupils. I believe that however well committees of this House, the Committee this evening and others have debated the matter there has been a major shortfall in the information that is made available to ordinary citizens in language that they can understand and in forms which appeal to them.
Some say that this amendment, if accepted, would help the Euro-wreckers—those who want the UK to leave the European Union, or at least oppose any further evolution of it. That is as untrue as is the claim that the amendment is of assistance to the Euro-zealots. The truth of the matter is that if democracy and freedom of information mean anything at all, ordinary people should have the opportunity to understand and form their own views about what we do in their name.
Some say that this is too late. I agree that it would have been much better had public information been widely available to ordinary citizens at all stages since the referendum in 1975. But a man does not refuse drink because he is parched. Certain it is that the people of this country are parched of impartial and accessible information in popular form. Some will say that all this is too difficult to explain. Many in this House believe that comprehension of the formidable intricacies of the treaty is beyond them, but if that is truly the case we should abandon the European Union now. I for one am unwilling to accept that the Treaty of Nice is incapable of being reduced to plain English and explained to so-called ordinary people in a way that they will understand. That is happening in jury trials of the greatest complexity every day of the week.
Some also say that people are not interested. It is true that only 23 per cent of our fellow citizens turned out at the previous Euro elections. That was a catastrophic figure, and there is no point in hiding behind it. It is also true that, in so far as polled, the level of public interest in matters European is parlous. I do not believe that that is apathy but a combination of ignorance and resentment, and we can and should do something about it.
I contacted the office of the Foreign Secretary about this matter. I am aware that the Foreign Secretary is particularly keen to enable people of this country to understand what is going on. I was grateful to receive a letter from the Minister in response to my approach. She made a number of points about the information campaign which the Government are now undertaking. She referred to the White Paper on Nice in February of last year. However estimable all 37 pages of that document may be, it cost #11.10 and took research officials in this House 20 minutes to find.
The Minister referred to the Internet site. That is no doubt an excellent tool for some of our fellow citizens, but only 40 per cent of them have access to it. I bet that only a small number of those who have access will find and use that site. What we are considering tonight is the 60 per cent or more citizens who do not have access to the Internet and would not know what a White Paper was if it was put on the kitchen table but who none the less desperately need unbiased information in plain English in a popular format about this immensely important project.
In her letter the Minister referred to the availability of leaflets. It is true that a leaflet about the changeover in currency was published recently. It is also true that a big campaign on the changeover for business, which was originally headed by the noble Lord, Lord Simon, continues. So far the Government have spent #10 million on that. As the noble Lord said in an article in the Financial Times only last week, it none the less represents a paltry attempt to explain the situation to the business community which has a self-interest in knowing about these matters and considerable levels of informational sophistication.
Finally, the Minister referred to the strenuous efforts being made by Peter Hain, and formerly by Keith Vaz, through tours, speeches and in debates on the Internet. I pay tribute to them. Long may their efforts last. However, no one should be deceived for a moment as regards what this revolution seeks to achieve; that is, to reach the tens of millions that such efforts will get nowhere near.
I should mention to the Committee that it would be ironic if we and the Government failed to achieve what is proposed in the amendment at a point when banks and other financial institutions are now required by law to inform in writing every individual customer of each change in interest rates. In that I believe we have the potential for demonstrating hypocrisy between what is being imposed on organisations and businesses and what is being done by us.
In her letter the Minister stated that she felt that delivery of information in the form of a tabloid newspaper to every household would not be well received. She thought that such a campaign would not be effective. All I can say in response is that it is about time we tried to do something. Some 26 years have passed since the referendum and we have done absolutely nothing for the ordinary people of this country. Perhaps the Minister is right and such a document would not be well received or would not be effective. However, neither of those speculations—they are no more than that—have put me off in any degree from this proposal. We must try.
Perhaps one is influenced by one's own experience, but I do not doubt that the great British public believe that we are not interested in informing them and that we are not in the least interested in learning of any views that they may hold. I maintain that if, as a society, we can utilise freesheets delivered to households every day of the week, along with immense numbers of mailshots for business purposes, and that at election time we shower the households of the country with literature, how on earth can we claim that such an information sheet would be neither effective nor well received?
Some have said that it would be biased. I think that that is nonsense. Every day of the week the Government put out information to the public in the form of White Papers, Green Papers, consultation documents and so forth. I have no trouble believing that the Government would do their best to publish unbiased information, should the amendment be accepted. Finally I was told that something else should be done because the proposal was not appropriate. However, as I see it, nothing else has been done.
I turn now to the question of cost. I have taken the trouble to inquire of the Royal Mail what it would cost to deliver a tabloid freesheet to all 24.5 million households in the kingdom. I have also learnt what it would cost to design and print such a freesheet comprising two pages in full colour. The total cost would amount to under #1.4 million. Given that the interest payable on the Dome debt exceeds that sum per diem, I do not think that we should jib at such a relatively modest sum.
I shall bring my few remarks to a close by saying that I am sorry that the amendment has been moved at this time of night when the Committee is not as full as it might have been. I believe that the issue with which we are grappling could not be of greater moment, both to us as a Committee and to our democracy. The European Union represents probably the most dramatic and ambitious exercise in democracy that we have witnessed in modern times. It is enormously important for every citizen. We have had a taste of that in the issues covered by the Nice Treaty during the course of our debates.
I shall return to the point where I began my remarks. If we are serious about making our democracy vibrant, if we are truly concerned about the fact that, at the last election, only 59 per cent of our fellow citizens bothered to exercise their precious right to vote, and if we are in any way influenced by poll after poll reflecting the level of disaffection felt by the public at large, then it is not sufficient for us to rest on the traditional methods of imparting information. We need to change to using means of communication that we may have some hope will be acceptable to those who most need us to reach out to them. An element of psychology comes into this: the public want to feel that we are reaching out and making a special effort to communicate with them; that is, that we care about them, that we want them to understand and that we do want to hear from them.
For all those reasons, so briefly and inadequately put, I hope very much that the Government will feel able to respond positively to the amendment. I beg to move.
Some 40 years ago, when I was the Swiss correspondent on the Financial Times, Sir Edward Heath and the late Reggie Maudling arrived in Geneva to tell their EFTA colleagues that we would negotiate to join the European Economic Community. Ten years later, between 1971 and 1973, I was a private sector resident in Brussels when, under Sir Edward's government, the treaty was being successfully negotiated and signed. In the mid-1980s, I had the experience of serving for four years as the British Minister on the Budget Council of the European Union, probably the longest period of service since 1972. Those three lepers' squints at what now is the European Union were as nothing to the experience of debating these matters in your Lordships' Committee.
I have long regarded the European Union as a cathedral. The swiftest record for the construction of a European cathedral was 40 years for Durham; the longest was over a millennium for Prague. It looks like the European Union will come in somewhere between those two figures. Because a cathedral is—as the good book puts it—a house with many mansions, the condition of the construction process is that of a series of building sites. From time to time, the language which floats upwards from those building sites is that which emanates from any building site in the land.
A little after that metaphor had first occurred to me, I discovered that it had earlier struck that great man, Charles de Gaulle. I was proud to serve as an infantryman in the army of a man who, in his post-war memoirs, said memorably—I give the English translation—
XI invited M. Herriot to join me in rebuilding France. He said that he preferred to rebuild the Radical Party".
The next thing I have to say might have caused me to be cashiered from the general's army. Ever since that summer 40 years ago in Switzerland, I have always regretted the fact that Europe has primarily, and perhaps inevitably, advanced through its elites rather than through its peoples. I suspect that de Gaulle would have remarked that the French people trusted him; no doubt they did. However, the subsequent seeming enthusiasm of the French people for the direction in which Europe was going struck me as being at odds with their reputation for individualism. As a result I was in no way surprised that the French vote in the referendum on Maastricht was so close and that perhaps the French elite had rather unwisely taken the French people for granted.
For myself, I believe that the cathedral will be built more securely and nobly if the peoples of Europe genuinely are carried along in the process and retain the periodic right to say, XWait a minute". Of course a cathedral cannot be built by referring every separate construction issue to the diocesan electoral register. But, when people are consulted and kept fully informed, they have a much better chance of reaching a good decision. For the reason that my noble friend Lord Howell adduced on the last new clause but one, I regard the current new clause as a classic milestone in the process and I have no hesitation in supporting the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, whom I congratulate most warmly on bringing it forward in an admirable speech.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, should indeed be congratulated on bringing this issue before the Committee. He is absolutely right, there are so many people who say, XI do not know anything about the Common Market. No one explains it to me. No one tells me what it is all about". When you say, XRead the newspapers, from the Sun to The Times to the Telegraph", they say, XI want something that is unbiased". The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, proposes that the Government should send out a leaflet in popular form, in writing, in plain English and impartial. That is exactly what people want and that is what they should have.
There is however a difficulty about impartiality. I am not sure that I trust the Government to be impartial. I shall tell the noble Lord why I do not trust the Government to be impartial. I keep lots of little pamphlets and books, and I have kept one entitled Britain's New Deal in Europe. It was issued to every household during the 1975 referendum by Her Majesty's Government. It was said to be—or was supposed to be—impartial. Anyone reading it would not agree that it was impartial.
If there is to be a pamphlet or leaflet such as the one proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips—and I shall support his amendment if he puts it to a vote today—I should like him to think between now and Report stage about how we can have someone other than the Government draft an impartial leaflet. The Electoral Commission or other commissions could draft it so that it was truly impartial. If the Government said, XLord Stoddart, will you come along and help us to draft it?", then of course it would be impartial—I accept that—but they are unlikely to do so.
Before Report stage, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, will think about an amendment so that someone other than the Government drafts the information for the general public.
I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. It seeks that every household in the United Kingdom shall be informed about the constitutional and governmental effects of the Treaty of Nice. Presumably the noble Lord means they should be not only informed about the Treaty of Nice but about how the Treaty of Nice amends all the other European treaties. If so, the communication will describe the new deal that we have in Europe now. It will tell the citizens of this country—in plain language and impartially—where we have got to in Europe; where we stand in Europe; what we have given away; where we are going; whether we want to go any further.
The Treaty of Nice does not mean anything unless it is referred back to the other treaties it amends. I do not know whether the noble Lord will press this amendment to a vote today, but, if he does not, it may be sensible to make an alteration to the amendment to make clear that the people of this country need to be informed about the whole European picture. If he does press it to a vote, I shall certainly support him. It will give me enormous pleasure to see the Government Benches filing into the voting Lobbies to support more obfuscation in Europe.
We on these Benches have considerable sympathy with both the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and the arguments he brought forward on earlier amendments. As I think everyone recognises, regardless of party, the European Union has become an immensely complicated structure, well beyond the capacity of any single human mind to grasp in all its ramifications. Indeed, it is more than a cathedral, as my noble friend Lord Brooke so adequately put it.
The European Union needs not only to be explained more simply but to be simpler. If it was simpler it would be stronger; if it was stronger it would no longer be suffering from a haemorrhage of democratic trust and faith and might even give the policy makers in Europe the realisation that they should take things at a more careful pace. They have spent 40 years achieving amazing results; now they want to rush ahead in the next five years to give us an army, money, a constitution, a single judicial area, vast enlargement and so on. They have many admirable objectives, but everyone knows that there has already been created enormous bureaucratic and legislative indigestion.
The need now is for a simpler Europe explained in simpler ways. Whether a genius can be found to utter the impartial phrases that would put the matter seriously before people, and whether we would be able to get away from the polarised nonsense that seems to affect a number of the speeches of the noble Baroness's Cabinet colleagues who have simply not grasped what the real debate on Europe is about, I do not know. It would be a high hope.
However, this has the makings of being a very sensible amendment. I do not know whether the noble Lord will seek to press it further today but, whether he does or not, it should be supported by those who want to see a more sensible Europe than the one we have today.
We are all agreed about the need for information on the Treaty of Nice and the associated issues. That is why the Government published the White Paper, Reform for Enlargement, in February 2000, before the start of the IGC which led to the Nice Treaty. That White Paper set out in clear and simple English the issues involved and what the Government's approach was intended to be.
At least two noble Lords have pointed out that there are one or two problems with the noble Lord's amendment. He exhorts us to publish such a document in plain English and popular form and to be impartial. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, pointed out in his inimical way, what I think of as being impartial and what he thinks of as being impartial are likely to be two rather different things.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said that he supported the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, but then went on to say that he did not really if it was going to be written by the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Brooke, said that he supported the amendment, but he did not really because it was going to concern only the Treaty of Nice. The amendment is as it is written down, not as noble Lords would like it to be written down.
The Government have regularly held debates on the issues involved. They have provided information to Parliament and to the public on the outcome of Nice. Parliament has received a detailed explanatory memorandum to accompany its consideration of the Bill, which has spelt out the issues; and the British public have been able to secure a host of information on Nice and the EU through the Foreign Office website, www.fco.gov.UK/EU/Nice, which provides information on enlargement of the EU, the latest FCO press statements on the EU and the issues surrounding Britain's membership inter alia.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, exhorted us Xnot to rest on tradition". I do not think of using websites or the series of debates held by my right honourable friend Mr Hain and his predecessor as resting on tradition. It is traditional to send out a leaflet on an unsolicited basis to every household in the country. That is the traditional way of doing things. The Government have tried to be much more innovative about the way in which we have approached this issue.
We have, indeed, published a short leaflet for the general public which sets out the issues. I believe that it does so in a clear and impartial way and in a way that is referred to in the referendum. But I am willing to bet that quite a few Members of the Committee would not think that it was clear and impartial, given some of the remarks that have been made.
I believe that due credit should be given to my right honourable friend the Minister for Europe, who has undertaken a major tour of British towns and cities. He has set out the issues relating to EU membership very much in the broader sense mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, and not just in respect of Nice. He has been talking to businesses, in open fora, on local media and, importantly, to students and in schools.
I am bound to say to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, that I rather doubt whether young people at school are going to fall upon a leaflet that comes through their front door in anything like the way in which they will respond to something on a website or which is being debated in their schools. That is the way to get people to debate these issues, rather than just by putting something through a letterbox on to a doormat, which goes straight into a waste-paper basket. It is the attempt to provoke debate, in the way the Government have undertaken to do, that will see this issue through.
I am obliged to the Minister for giving way. She mentioned that the Minister for Europe has been to schools and colleges to put the Government's point of view. But this is a highly political matter. It is incumbent on the educational establishments to see that there is political balance. Does the Minister for Europe remind schools that they should insist on political balance? And how is that achieved?
Will my noble friend give way? I really must stop calling her Xmy noble friend". She is Xthe Minister" to me these days. Is she aware that it is not a question of my forcing myself on schools. The difficulty that some of us find is in obtaining entry to schools. They resist us on the basis that this is a political matter. When we say, XBut you've just had Mr Hain to speak", they say, XAh, he's a Minister. That's different". In our book, it is not different. He is putting one point of view, and we want to be able to put another point of view.
If the Minister wants to help, she will persuade the Secretary of State for Education to remind educational establishments that they should produce balance and ensure that a point of view other than that of the Government on European issues is put to schools.
I meant that the Minister for Europe was not forcing himself on schools. The point that I made was not that the noble Lord was not forcing himself on schools—I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has attempted to force himself on schools or not. My point was that my right honourable friend does not force himself on schools; he goes at people's invitation. I am sure that invitations will be forthcoming where that is appropriate.
I remind the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who asked us to consider the importance of having treaties that are more easily understood, that one of the issues that I hope we shall debate in the run-up to the IGC in 2004 is the simplification of treaties,
Xwith a view to making them clearer and better understood without changing their meaning".
That was one of the issues that the noble Lord would have excised from the Bill had he had the good fortune to persuade the Committee to do so.
It is the view of Her Majesty's Government that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, has underestimated the cost of his amendment. We believe that the cost would be in the region of #5 million—which I had understood to be the noble Lord's original calculation; perhaps that was not so. No one grudges that amount of expenditure. But if we are to spend #5 million, we should like to do so in a way that would be focused on really provoking an argument in the way that I believe the noble Lord genuinely wishes to see and in the way that Her Majesty's Government genuinely wish to see. We do not think that the traditional method of the leaflet through the door will really provoke what the noble Lord believes is the case. Therefore, we ask the Committee to reject the amendment.
Foolishly, I do not have the figures. I shall endeavour to obtain them and let Members of the Committee know as soon as I can.
Perhaps I can help the Minister. When she wrote to me, she said that the website receives 10,000 hits a month. At that reckoning, it would take 27 years for half the population to make a hit on the aforesaid website.
I must be honest and say that I am disappointed with the Minister's response. Indeed, I wonder whether she was latching on to the purport of my attempt to justify the amendment; namely, to make the point that it is the bottom two-thirds of the population of this country who are out in the cold as regards Europe. They are citizens like the top third, like the brightest and the best. They have as much right to understand what is going on in their name as do those of us in this Chamber.
Although the Minister said that my view was the traditional one, she did not respond to my point that no single attempt has been made by any government since 1975 to communicate information to the public of this country by any means of a mass nature. That is to say, no leaflet, no brochure, no tabloid has been put through the doors of the people of this country over that long period.
When I referred to Xtraditional", I did not mean in terms of modern means of communication. My reference was to the fact that the same old dialogue was going on between government and the elite, and between the students, the cognoscenti. Trying to pretend that a few visits by the industrious Mr Hain to a handful of schools remotely comes near to what I am talking about in the amendment makes me deeply disappointed. It is a particular disappointment because democracy should be a bottom-up process, not a top-down one. Europe has become a top-down project. Unless we change that radically and do so soon, all of us who harbour hopes for Europe's future will be disappointed.
At this time of night I do not propose to divide the Committee, although I may wish to come back to the subject on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 42B:
After Clause 3, insert the following new clause—
This Act shall not come into force until both Houses of Parliament have agreed a resolution on a report from Her Majesty's Government on the status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union."
The subject of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights was covered in an amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford last week. On that occasion I put two questions to the Minister about the status of the charter. I later intervened during her response to put a question about her comments on the debate on the future of Europe.
In her response to my noble friend's amendment, the Minister made no attempt to answer the two questions that I had put in the discussion on the amendment. She also failed to answer points that I made in my intervention, instead repeating a point that had already been made, and refused to give way when I sought to pursue it.
The Minister's actions as well as her response to my noble friend suggest some reluctance by the Government to address directly important questions about the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. The charter is referred to in Declaration 23 on the future of the Union. It is one of four topics to be considered, inter alia, as part of the debate about the future of Europe, leading up to the Intergovernmental Conference in 2004.
I shall begin with a general point that I put to the Minister in my intervention last week and then move on to specific points. The Government wish the debate on the future of Europe to be precisely that: a look at where the Union is going. The Foreign Secretary made that clear on the Second Reading of the Bill in the other place. He said:
XWe have to ask what exactly is the European Union for? What precise purpose does it serve?".—[Official Report, Commons, 4/7/01; col. 272.]
For those who want the debate to focus on those fundamental questions, Declaration 23 is a disappointment. It lists topics that are essentially disparate and discrete. If we debate each of those topics, particularly if we debate them as discrete items, we shall miss the wider picture and I fear that the IGC in 2004 may prove to be a lost opportunity. As the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, whom I am delighted to see in his place, said on Second Reading:
XWe may have years of discussion on institutional changes without any sense of where the European Union is supposed to move or what its next major themes in substance will be".—[Official Report, 1/11/01; col. 1592.]
I cannot improve on that.
On the specific points in support of the new clause, the charter is one of the four subjects adumbrated in the declaration. Why is it there? Why is the status of the charter deemed so important that it is one of only four subjects to be explicitly identified in the declaration? The Government have said since the charter was drawn up that they are clear about its status: it is a political document drawing together existing rights. When he was Minister for Europe, Keith Vaz described it in his evidence to the European Union Committee as,
Xa showcase of existing rights".
The noble Baroness repeated that point last week. She said :
Xit is a political declaration. It cannot take precedence over our law because it is not the law".—[Official Report, 20/11/01; col. 1118.]
She has said again this evening that the courts could take account of it, as they could take account of other things.
Why is there a need to debate the status of the charter if the Government are clear as to that status? The noble Baroness made it clear last week that there can be no change in the status of the charter unless all member states agree. If the Government believe that it should remain a political declaration and have the power to prevent it from being anything else, why are we having this debate?
Given that the Government have agreed that the charter should be such a prominent part of the debate on the future of Europe, the presumption must be that they are prepared to contemplate departing from their present position. In that case, we need to hear more from the Government.
The new clause is a way of ensuring that we have a clearer statement of the Government's views. The Government have said that they welcome the debate on the future of Europe. A report from the Government on the status of the charter will be an enormous benefit in informing that debate, at least helping us understand why we are having a debate about the status of the charter. If the charter can already influence the courts and the Government wish it to retain the status of a political declaration, what purpose is served by incorporating the charter in the treaty?
Last week I also asked the Minister what was the logic of drawing up a charter and deciding its status after the event. Should that not have been decided before, not after, the charter was drawn up? That point was well recognised by the European Union Committee of your Lordships' House in its report on the charter published in May last year. The report said in paragraph 122:
XThere is something quite odd in drafting a document before a decision has been taken as to its ultimate status and legal effect. This might well be said to be putting the cart before the horse".
Indeed, as the European Union Committee concluded, it may also be the wrong horse. The view of the committee was that accession by the Union to the ECHR should be on the agenda of the IGC.
The position we are in is therefore profoundly unsatisfactory. The new clause will impose a useful discipline on government. It will allow us to move forward with a little greater confidence than is possible at present. Rather than giving the seal of approval to the Nice Treaty and then moving on to the debate on the future of Europe, I think that we should link the two. We should not allow this measure to take effect until we are somewhat clearer as to where we are going beyond it.
The modest provision of this new clause ensures that we are at least clearer about what is intended as far as the Charter of Fundamental Rights is concerned. I should prefer clarification of far more before we give approval to this Bill. I think that this clause is the minimum that we should demand as we engage in the debate on the future of Europe.
I end with two quick points. First, this is not a novel proposal. There is a precedent for requiring a parliamentary resolution before treaty ratification can proceed. Secondly, it is not a device to delay the Bill. There is no reason why the Government should not move quickly to produce a report. If the Government are clear on the status of the charter, they should not fear this clause; they should welcome it.
I believe that we debated this question fully on 20th November. Indeed, I can think of few issues where a relatively straightforward matter has been discussed so clearly.
On 20th November, the noble Lord, Lord Norton, put two questions to me. He said:
XFirst, it is my understanding that the Government themselves are quite clear as to the status of the charter ... If the Government are quite clear on that, why do they believe that an IGC is necessary to discuss that status?
Secondly, could the Minister explain to me the logic of drawing up a charter and deciding its status subsequent to the event?".—[Official Report, 20/11/01; col. 1115.]
The noble Lord did get an answer there and then, because I told the Chamber a few minutes later in the same debate (at col. 1118) that,
Xthe charter is a political declaration. It cannot take precedence over our law because it is not the law. It is not in the present EU treaty. Nor is it referred to in the treaty itself.
One can quote a variety of different sources. Perhaps some people would like the charter made law. I freely concede that the Commission and some member states want to make the charter legally binding and to incorporate it into the treaty, but we have not agreed to do that. Nor can there be any change in the status of the charter unless we and all member states agree, because the treaty requires unanimity.
We have agreed that at the 2004 intergovernmental conference, consideration should be given to whether or not to incorporate the charter in the treaty and, if so, how. That is the mandate agreed by the Cologne European Council ... and we shall stick to it".
The noble Lord says that he would like further elucidation, so let me try to help him further. His first question was: if the Government are clear on the status of the charter—and we are, it is a political declaration—why have an IGC to debate it in 2004? The answer is simple. As I said, some member states want to make the charter legally binding. They did not succeed at Nice. Our view, that it should be a political declaration, was the view that prevailed. We are happy to have that discussion, but only on the basis that it does not prejudge the outcome. The mandate we agreed certainly does not prejudge the outcome.
The Nice text stipulates that we will consider only, Xwhether, and if so how, the charter should be integrated into the treaty". Moreover, at Nice we wanted to add our own points to the 2004 agenda on better demarcation of competencies between the EU and its member states, on simplifying the treaties and on the role of national parliaments. We got that into the Nice declaration on the future of Europe, not least because we were prepared in exchange to agree on another discussion of the charter in 2004.
The second question posed by the noble Lord was: why draw up the charter first and decide its status only afterwards? The answer to this is equally simple—because that is what the EU leaders decided upon. They agreed at the Cologne European Council in 1999 to draw up a charter to make fundamental rights more visible to EU citizens. Everyone agreed to that—and why not? There was no consensus, however, on the final status of the charter. It was also agreed at Cologne that, once the text had been drawn up, it should be considered whether, and if so how, the charter should be integrated into the EU treaties. There was no agreement at Nice to do that, so the charter remains a political declaration outside the EU treaties. It remains so, unless and until there is unanimity to integrate it into the EU treaties.
I do hope that the noble Lord can now agree that that is an unambiguous answer to his points. I believe that it was made before, but I hope that that answer has elucidated the position to his satisfaction.
The noble Baroness will not be surprised to hear that the answer to that question is no. I commend her on her reading skills; she repeated her earlier points quite clearly. But she did not address the nub of my point.
The noble Baroness did not address the fact that she is saying: we are quite clear as to the status; it is a political declaration; none the less other states do not agree and therefore we shall continue the discussion. Presumably that means that what happens to the charter is to be open to discussion; that is the whole point of the debate. That is not foreclosing it. The Government are going along with, or giving in to, those who did not get their way at Nice and who want to push the issue further. In other words, the matter is still up for discussion. We still do not know what the outcome will be. In that sense we are none the wiser.
In that respect there has been an absence of leadership. The same applies in relation to the noble Baroness's answer to my other point: why was this drawn up without any consideration as to its status or legal effect? The response was that that was what the others decided. Why let them decide? Why let them dictate the situation.
I did not say that that was what the others decided. I said that that was what the EU decided. I also said that it was a matter of making the charter with more fundamental rights more visible to the EU citizens. There was a purpose in it. Making those fundamental rights more visible to EU citizens is surely a purpose that was fulfilled.
The purpose was simply one of transparency. We now have the charter. Why are we debating this therefore in the context of the future of Europe? That should have been that. It was transparency. Of course, in practice, as the report from the European Union Committee made clear, it is not as simple as that because there is the relationship to the European Convention on Human Rights. The situation therefore is more complex than the noble Baroness indicates.
So the noble Baroness did not get to the nub of my point. I am reluctant to pursue this until she does. I am conscious of the hour and even more conscious that I have to get back to Hull this evening because I have students to teach. So we may have to return to this matter, by which time I hope the noble Baroness's answer may have gone up from a 2.2 to a 2.1. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.