European Communities (Amendment) Bill

– in the House of Lords at 3:06 pm on 22 January 2002.

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Votes in this debate

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Clause 1 [Incorporation of provisions of the Treaty of Nice]:

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 1, line 9, after "10," insert "other than Article 2, paragraph 22, revising Article 214(2) of the Treaty establishing the European Community,"

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, we turn from the excitement of designing Christmas cards to the more leaden but nevertheless important matter of European Union legislation. Amendment No. 9 covers ground which we examined during the Committee stage and involves amending Article 214, paragraph 2, of the second treaty of the European Communities, which proposes that in future there shall be qualified majority vote decisions for who should be president and members of the European Commission.

We on this side of the House are against that proposal and hoped—it was obviously a vain hope—that the Government might have stood out against it. It means a substantial step forward in the politicisation of those appointments. As I indicated in Committee, it never was the intention of the founding fathers of the European Communities—subsequently the European Union—that the Commission should be full of politicians or people who had to use political skills and arts in order to obtain their position. It was the dream of Jean Monnet, whom I had the privilege of meeting once or twice, that the commissioners and the president of the Commission should be dedicated servants of Europe and of the European aims and ambitions, but should not be high profile political figures who struggled up the political ladder in order to receive the nomination.

Therefore, I still see the proposal, which has been slipped into the Nice treaty, as going the opposite way to the intentions of those who truly had the interests of European unity at heart. It also moves the opposite way in another sense; that is, by elevating the whole business of the appointments of the servants of Europe up to presidents, elected commissioners, commissioners appointed by a majority and so forth, the status of the Commission and its president is subtly changed. We know what the present president wants because he has said it so often: he wants the Commission to become the government of Europe. I have quotations of his before me and I can confirm that he has said that several times. That is not, I understand, the policy of Her Majesty's Government and it is certainly not the wish of noble Lords on these Benches.

The Commission has had a certain role, designed by Monnet. Hitherto it has had the monopoly over the right to propose initiatives to the Council of Ministers, along with a good many other powers. Originally it was seen as the driving force or motor of European integration. I believe that that is why Monnet sought such skilled but low-profile civil servants who would use quietly that driving force to push matters forward without igniting too many political sparks and creating too many antagonisms in the member governments. That is what he saw as the way forward. But that era is probably now over. To quote Jacques Delors, the era of top-down decision making and legislation is over. Already the Commission is having to cede considerable power to the Council of Ministers and, indeed, to national agencies through soft legislation, concentration on frameworks rather than detailed regulation and so forth.

All that is to the good, but if one rose up against that and returned to the notion of presidents and commissioners appointed by QMV, one would reverse what could be quite a desirable trend, that of moving away from the elite, top-down nature of the European Union which has done so much damage and threatened its legitimacy in ways that Community officials and national governments are now seeking to try to remedy. Indeed, in a later amendment we shall consider the ways in which proposals are being put forward for a remedy and for reshaping the European Union into a more democratic form.

Part of the democratisation of the Union involves reasserting the point that the European Commission is a subordinate institution. It is not a superior institution set somewhere higher up the pyramid of the command structure of Europe; rather it is subordinate to the elected national parliaments and to the member states which have signed the treaties that brought it into being and gave it its powers. For those reasons, the European Commission is their servant. I feel that it is extremely important for us to remind ourselves, the Commissioners and the President of the Commission of that fact. Otherwise what is already evident to the Commission will become even clearer; namely, that it is losing the trust and confidence of the people and that it has become remote from the citizens. Those are words that appear in the Laeken Declaration and in the European Commissioners' own White Paper on governance. The Commissioners appear to be lofty, remote individuals who do not act in a subordinate and serving way on behalf of Europe, but rather in a more imperious and centralising way. That is extremely unhealthy and not what I believe true democrats or those with the true interests of Europe at heart would want to see.

On top of all that has come today another warning. There is talk of proposals for a full confederation between France and Germany. The matter was discussed yesterday at the Goethe Institute in Germany. The confederation would have common armies, common embassies and a common seat at the United Nations—one can rely on that. If that is to be the arrangement, then we can guess whose candidates will always be preferred and which majority will always prevail when it comes to appointing the high officials of the Commission. It needs no expertise to assess how such matters will turn out.

All this I believe to be profoundly unhealthy and not in accordance with what is now the quite desperate need for the European Union institutions to reassociate themselves with the grass roots of Europe and with its citizens in an intimate way; that is, not by inventing new institutions at the centre but rather by coming back and listening to people at the grass roots and in the national, democratically elected parliaments. That is the vital and overriding need. This proposal goes against that. Although the matter was discussed in Committee, I do not believe that it was brought to a vote or to a decision. Nevertheless, some very important matters are being brought forward here which merit further explanation from Ministers. It is in that spirit that I move the amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 3:15, 22 January 2002

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is quite right. We debated this issue at considerable length in Committee and the position of the Government was made clear at that time. Where QMV is in the interests of this country, we shall agree to it. Where it is not in Britain's interests, we shall not agree to it. It really is as simple as that.

That is how we approached the negotiations on the Nice Treaty itself. Where we felt strongly that an issue was of such fundamental importance that the decision must remain within the United Kingdom, with the Government and with Parliament, we simply said no. We did not agree to extend qualified majority voting. We stated in advance that we would not accept QMV for taxation, social security, defence, border controls, treaty changes or the Community's own resources; that is, its budget. We did not accept any extensions for those issues and thus the UK veto remains in place on all of them.

However, we do believe that it is short-sighted to oppose QMV in principle. It is important to recognise that QMV can work for this country. It built the single market on which over 3 million United Kingdom jobs and thousands of businesses depend. It is simply not true to say that Britain always loses out and that others always win with the extension of QMV. In 1999, the United Kingdom was not outvoted on any single issue, but Germany was outvoted twice, France outvoted three times and Italy eight times. I regret that I do not have the figures for 2000 and 2001—I am not leaving those to one side because they do not prove my point, it is simply that they were not available to me.

When the UK joined the then EEC a considerable number of articles in the Treaty of Rome were already subject to QMV. But as the EEC, later the European Union, has grown larger, so there has been a need to extend qualified majority voting in order to stop decision taking from coming to a grinding halt. Of course the biggest extension of all came about with Mrs Thatcher—now Lady Thatcher—in her negotiation of the Single European Act in 1986. Literally thousands of directives and regulations have been passed using the articles that were extended for QMV at that point. It allowed progress to the single European market to be accelerated and I am bound to say that I think that it was a very good thing.

The Government support QMV for appointments. We support it because we believe that it will lead to greater efficiency. It will help to secure quick decisions that lead to the appointment of the right person, irrespective of that person's nationality. The President of the Commission provides political guidance for the whole of the Commission. The Nice treaty will give the President more flexibility to organise the College of Commissioners and its work in the most effective way possible. Of course that is a vital job.

It is precisely for that reason that it would not be right for one country to be able to block appointments or, worse, hold to ransom policy decisions by insisting on having its own candidate. I cannot stress strongly enough that we want the best person for the job. We shall want to see that person appointed on the basis of merit and experience, not on nationality.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, said that he wanted to see less politicisation in appointments. I agree with him wholeheartedly on that point. What we disagree on is the best way of achieving it. However, the irony of the situation is that those very officials—one of whom the noble Lord quoted earlier in his remarks—about whom the noble Lord has such strong misgivings were, on the whole, elected unanimously. Thus unanimity really has not delivered for the noble Lord what he claims. As a result, I really cannot understand his reluctance to move away from a system that has not given him what he wants.

I urge the noble Lord to look at the other side of the argument; to look at the positive side of why QMV is, in this instance, in the United Kingdom's interest. Decisions on appointed officials will be taken more effectively and deliver for him what he wants—which is, among other things, less politicisation—and the process will be more diligent and efficient.

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour

My Lords, I am obliged to the Minister for giving way. There is a report in a newspaper today which states that, under this system, when appointments are made to Commission jobs, British officials are likely to lose out and will not be treated as well as they are treated now. Can the Minister comment on that?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I have no reason whatever to believe that British officials will lose out. The noble Lord knows as well as I do that, frankly, it is very hard in this country to have a reasoned debate through the media about what are likely to be the effects of any development in Europe. I do not know in which newspaper the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, read that, but one of the pitfalls into which many of our journalists fall very quickly is to assume that all changes away from qualified majority voting will be against this country's interest.

I was endeavouring to explain to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and others, that that is not the position of Her Majesty's Government. If we had thought that it would be detrimental to the interests of this country, it would have been included in the list of things that we were not prepared to do. That list was put into the public domain before we began the negotiations and, despite all the efforts to move around, we stuck to it and delivered what we said we would.

We should not make these appointments on the basis of "Buggins' turn", on the basis of nationality or, indeed, as may have been the case sometimes in the past, on the basis of cross-border rivalry. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, and I agree that we need the best people for the job. I believe that QMV will deliver that far more efficiently and allow such people to get on with their duties. I hope that, on reconsideration, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, will recognise that what he is trying to defend has not delivered for him what he said it could.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her reply. At the beginning of her response, she made some remarks about qualified majority voting generally. I said at an earlier stage of our proceedings that if I were pressed for a view on where we on these Benches stand on this matter, I would have to resort to Evelyn Waugh and say that we liked QMV "up to a point, Lord Copper". In other words, the case for majority voting where certain powers and competencies are in the hands of the Council of Ministers and European institutions is perfectly valid, particularly in relation to the commendable goal we have sought over the years—often with more support from this side of the House than the other—of a great single market opening out with low tariffs all around it. That would make a major contribution to the greater liberalisation of world trade and a major contribution to the prosperity of the European peoples by opening out free trade. That was something for which we were quite happy to see qualified majority voting.

If one tries to draw lines—this is notoriously difficult—as to where one begins to have proper caution and proper doubts, it is when one sees the qualified majority voting device beginning to be used and insisted on not for maintaining and developing a gigantic common market—which, as we have always recognised, requires some political machinery at the centre—but for building something else; namely, a political union. This is where one begins to wonder whether the QMV device is the right one.

Clearly, this is one of the many examples which have slipped through in the later generation of treaties—to some extent at Amsterdam and also at Nice—and no doubt there are more on the tapis for the next treaty occasion, the next IGC and so on.

Some will say that it is a very good thing that the QMV device should be used to build a political union. It was always the cry of the former German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, that there had to be political union. He said that there had to be political union otherwise the euro would not work; that you could not run a single currency without a single government authority and, therefore, political union there had to be. There might have to be temporary transitional arrangements in the mean time, a stability pact which might or might not hold together—it looks a little ropy at the moment—but political union was the ultimate aim and every energy should be strained to achieve it.

That is not, as I understand it, the policy of the United Kingdom Government. The Prime Minister has used a number of interesting phrases, particularly in later days. He began with the "heart of Europe" and all that. We have now moved away from that to being a "pivotal player" instead, which seems a rather different concept. We have also moved away from the commitment to political union. Instead, the Prime Minister has spoken about a "union of nation states", which is not all that different from the Europe des patries concept uttered by General de Gaulle two or three decades ago.

A political union is not what we want. There should be considerable additional caution when it comes to ticking the box and okaying the extension of qualified majority voting—not for bona fide regulations and rules or the removal of tariffs and barriers which open up the prosperity of the European people, but for a different project; namely, the political union aim.

Some will of course say that it was all in the original treaties and that we should not have signed up to ever closer union if we did not believe in it—but sign up we did. There are now those on all sides, including some who are quite close to the leaders of the governing party, the Labour Party, who are saying that a sensible and confident British Government should now say that the preamble to the Rome treaty should be opened up and that the phrase "ever closer union" belongs to a world of integration, hierarchies and pyramid building which is no longer consistent with the network arrangements and the looser interfaces between European nation states, which are now much more comfortable and will suit much better the proudly independent states applying to join the European Union and which will raise its total membership from 15 to 25.

It may be much wiser if we abandon the insistence on ever closer union; abandon—or reinterpret at the very least—the concept of political union; and avoid the accelerating processes which reinforce political union by majority vote. The noble Baroness said that the aim was to allow decisions to be made quickly. Perhaps this is one area where, in the name of democracy and getting it right—she is quite correct, things have not always turned out right in the past—the word "quickly" should not be in the vocabulary. Perhaps we should think about slower, more ponderous, more considered and more cautious methods for arriving at the right personnel for staffing this very important mechanism at the heart of the European Union; namely, the Commission.

The Minister teased me a little by pointing out that the unanimity system has not always produced candidates who have acquired universal acclaim. Some of the remarks circulating about previous presidents of the Commission and the present president indicate that it is not only on these Benches but rather more widely through Europe that people feel we can do better in the future.

However, I refute the Minister's proposition that the way to do better is to reinvent another system by questioning whether any system can automatically produce good candidates. The weight is against me in that the past arrangements have produced bad candidates and bad results. We have no pudding to eat by which to discover the proof of the noble Baroness's proposals, the proposals of the Nice treaty and the proposals of the Bill that QMV will miraculously produce better presidents in the future. Frankly, I am not sure whether that is where the matter of good or bad presidents lies. I believe that it lies in a better understanding by Ministers, and by those who elect them, of what we want out of Europe—which is not a central government in Brussels intervening in, to use the phrase of my noble friend Lord Hurd, the nooks and crannies of national life. If it does so, it ends up not uniting Europe, but dividing Europe.

That is where I stand, and that is my reason for proposing the amendment. Nevertheless, we have "knocked this issue around" to a considerable extent in earlier debates as well as in this one. I do not think that there will be any agreement between us, but the matter has had a good airing. In the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 10 to 12 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 3:30, 22 January 2002

moved Amendment No. 13:

Page 1, line 12, at end insert "and the Declarations adopted by the Conference (other than Declaration 23(5))"

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, this amendment is grouped with Amendment No. 14, the logic being that both concern the same crucial declaration attached to the treaties. Both are concerned with the future shape and nature of the European Union. Therefore, they relate to fundamental matters concerning our relationship with the Union and what contribution we wish to make in the future to its changing pattern.

The European Union now faces the obvious upheaval of enlargement. It also faces many other enormous changes and forces at work. We touched on these matters in Committee. However, we did not test the feeling of your Lordships. For that reason alone, they merit further discussion. In addition, since the Committee stage an enormous amount has happened which is relevant to the future of the Union and to the proposals in Declaration 23. We certainly need to discuss these matters. There are one or two areas where this House badly needs some positive clarification of the way in which matters are going.

Looking at the overall scene, Declaration 23 is concerned with the way in which the processes of discussion of the future of the Union should now be carried through. The amendment would cut a big swathe into that declaration. It would remove from the agenda of processes four specific areas which those who drafted the Nice treaty were anxious should be discussed and analysed. The fact that I have moved the amendment does not mean that I do not want them to be discussed. It indicates our belief that, given the way in which the discussion is going, it could lead to a flawed and unsatisfactory result.

In particular, the declaration points towards further discussions on the delimitation of powers. That is a kind of jargon or code for a bigger issue which is looming. It is the question of whether there should be a constitution, possibly based on an amalgamated single treaty for the whole of the European Union, embracing—this is far from being decided—not only matters under pillar one, but those under pillar two and pillar three as well.

Behind that is the thought that, somehow, competences or responsibilities can be nicely layered, like some beautiful cake or ice cream, with certain competences sealed up for ever at supra-national (European institutional) level, and that certain competences can be permanently allotted to lower levels; namely, to nation states and even to regions. As I shall explain, I believe this to be a wholly unrealistic view of the way in which the world works. The idea that these matters are static and can be sealed for ever, locked in some constitution, is an absurdity. Nevertheless, it is a widely held aspiration.

The second item to which the declaration urges that attention should be turned is the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which I shall also discuss. The third is the simplification of treaties—which sounds excellent on the surface, but I believe that there is a great deal more behind the idea than is revealed at first glance. The fourth is a slightly condescending reference in the declaration to the role of national parliaments. Again, it is a central matter which should and does concern your Lordships very much and to which we need to give close and detailed attention even at this stage of the Bill.

The idea then expressed in the declaration, on which our amendments are focused, is that all these matters should be handled and wrapped into a process which should then come before a convention. That is to begin very soon—on 1st March, I believe, although I may have the date wrong—under a chairman who, rather to everyone's surprise, turned out to be, on the French nomination, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, a very distinguished former President of France. The work of the convention should, in turn, lead to an intergovernmental conference in 2004 which will bless a constitution and various solutions to the items that I have outlined.

My first question to the Minister is: what part are we in this Parliament—both in this House and in the other place—to be allowed to play in the convention? In my view it is unthinkable that it should not include as a delegate a Member of this House. The plan, as I understand it, is that the parliament of each member state should send two members to M. Valery Giscard d'Estaing's convention and, in addition, the European Parliament should send some 16 members.

I confess that I find the whole project extremely worrying. First, there is the obvious point of how much "say" two members from each parliament will have in the convention. There is also the question of who will write the agenda, control the minutes and all the rest. Secondly, this seems to be an upside-down process. If the future of Europe is to be discussed—and Europe's democratic existence derives from the democratic parliaments and legislatures of the member states of which it is composed—it is the European institutions that should be sending delegates, possibly two from each major European institution and two from the European Parliament and so on, to the national parliaments to involve them in our discussions on how we see the future of Europe and the relations of each member state with the European Union as a whole.

To return to my specific question, when are we to know about the arrangements for the convention? Will it include only Members of another place, or are Peers to be involved? Who will choose them? When they have been chosen, and off they go to the convention, how will they re-connect with the two Houses and tell us what is happening? Could we have a specific answer to a mild request; namely, would it be possible for the two MPs—assuming that there will be only two—to report to the European Union Select Committee of this House? That seems to be one practical way in which we could have some access to what is happening as these very important issues about the future structure and constitution of Europe are discussed at the convention.

It seems to me that if the task—I merely repeat what the endless treaties and presidency conclusions assert—is to involve national parliaments in the processes and decisions of the Union, the involvement must be a two-way matter. We must see regular and continuous reports from whomsoever "represents" our two Houses at the convention. I have to put the word "represents" in quotation marks, because no single member of a parliament can represent the whole parliament. It is essential that we have strong reassurances and clear undertakings on the way in which the events and unfolding debates at the convention are reported back, so that both Houses can be properly and genuinely involved.

That involvement must be more than just a grand seigneur concession from the centre, allowing the various parliaments humbly to send a couple of members who will be lucky if they get much of a say. We do not want any of that. We want a clear undertaking that your Lordships will be properly and continuously informed. I suspect that that is not just a party matter. The process will presumably have to be conducted through our excellent European Union Committee structure, which is widely praised and applauded for its work. That would be a good platform through which your Lordships could be kept in touch. I hope that those important questions will be specifically addressed and answered. The matter is becoming urgent, because there are only a few weeks to go before this particular show gets on the road.

Behind the whole idea of the convention are the two bigger questions of the legitimacy of the European Union—a matter that is now of great concern to the Commission, as its European governance White Paper shows—and the aim of creating the great new architecture of a constitution. The Laeken declaration, which came out a few days after the summit, recognises the point about legitimacy. It repeats what is in danger of becoming a mantra—although it should be treated as a serious set of undertakings—that it is essential that,

"the European institutions must be brought closer to its citizens".

It then goes on to make a number of proposals, many of which would have the opposite effect and take European institutions considerably further away from the citizen.

The declaration then eventually comes to a paragraph that says, in a slightly throwaway tone, that the question of democratic legitimacy also—that should read "only", but the declaration says "also"—involves the role of national parliaments. It asks, somewhat casually:

"Should they be represented in a new institution, alongside the Council and the European Parliament?"

Surely the opposite of that is needed. It goes on:

"Should they have a role in areas of European action in which the European Parliament has no competence?"

That is very nice of them. The next question is:

"Should they focus on the division of competence between Union and Member States, for example through preliminary checking of compliance with the principle of subsidiarity?"

That sounds as though national parliaments are being thrown the sop of having to try to work out whether a constitution with specific levels of competencies could operate.

I do not like the tone of that section of the Laeken declaration. It seems very condescending and sounds as though it was written by people who do not understand that their democracy, their existence and certainly their finance and their salaries come from national parliaments, not from the higher ether.

At some stage, the authors of the declaration—which I suppose was endorsed by Ministers—assert that the democracy of the European Union springs not from voting, political systems and democracy in the nation states, but,

"from the democratic values it projects, the aims it pursues and the powers and instruments it possesses".

That is a fantastical theory that democracy can be derived out of thin air. That is not true. Democracy comes from citizens and people voting and electing their representatives through their established political systems. Until that is understood, the chances of European governance being upgraded to bring it nearer to the citizens are slim.

I should like the opposite of what is proposed. It is archaic and anachronistic that we do not find ways of involving the hard-working Members of the European Parliament in our affairs by bringing them into the machinery of our two Houses. Maybe the MEPs should be involved in some of our committees. I agree with one of the more authoritative members of the new Italian Government, Mr Tremonti, who says:

"More decisions should originate in national Parliaments".

That is an important insight that is worrying the Italians very much at the moment. Mr Berlusconi's Government have been accused of being anti-European, but he has rightly insisted that, like other good Europeans, he wants European institutions to be reformed in a democratic way. That means decisions not being dumped on parliaments or agreed by treaty process and then delivered for a rubber stamp to parliaments. The decisions should originate in national parliaments.

The implications of that are very large and they will not be particularly welcomed in the Commission, because they lead us to the question whether the Commission's monopoly in the initiation of decisions should remain. In practice, it is being eroded somewhat already, as I said earlier, but it is a big question. If more decision-making originated in national parliaments, the process would be much slower. We could forget the word "quickly" that the noble Baroness used. It would probably be less efficient and there would probably be more arguments.

Photo of Lord Grenfell Lord Grenfell Labour 3:45, 22 January 2002

My Lords, I was struck by the noble Lord's remark about the Commission initiating decisions. Will he clarify that? The Commission initiates proposals, but the decisions are still left to the Council.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, that is a more precise way of putting it. The Commission initiates proposals and ideas, as well as, in some cases, decisions. The noble Lord is right to press me to use a wider definition.

The two Houses of the Westminster Parliament have the scrutiny reserve arrangements, which are more elaborate than those in some other national parliaments of member states. Some hopes and weight have been placed on those arrangements as the device by which this national Parliament can be more involved in the decision-making process and in the processes leading to the creation of full legislative instruments. The scrutiny reserve system is good, but, having had a little experience of operating it and listened to those who have had much more experience, I do not believe that it is enough. First, it has no legal force and can be over-ridden, modified or bypassed by talking about concepts of provisional agreement when scrutiny reserve is refused. That means that the arrangements can be got round.

The system is not limited to Commission proposals or decisions, but covers a variety of other EU-related ideas and initial thoughts. However, it comes too late in the process. The ideas have already been formed elsewhere. We may have to insist in the future on something different from the old Community method, which still leaves the sensation that matters are being decided at a higher level and come to the national parliaments too late down the line. Sometimes they are debated or blocked, but all too often they are pushed through.

Another thought that is growing in influence and being more widely discussed—although I was surprised when I first heard it—is that the Danish method of prior consultation should be more widely emulated. Under that system, Ministers are mandated before they go to the Council, limiting what they may negotiate there without further consultation in Copenhagen. Five or 10 years ago, people dismissed that system out of hand, saying, "It is much too slow; the Danes have it wrong. If we had it, it would slow things down. What about our beloved momentum?" Today, however, as people feel increasingly left behind by this centrally driven momentum, ever more voices are beginning to say that perhaps that type of mandating is the way to bring parliaments back in on the act and ensure that we have close and continuous debate on matters that are eventually decided in the Council of Ministers rather than being asked simply to accept matters that have been settled elsewhere on a prerogative treaty basis and given a "Lump it or leave it" choice.

All those issues need careful analysis and discussion. I do not think that they are debated enough either in the other place or among your Lordships. This Report stage at least gives us the chance to consider them in rather more detail.

As for the central idea of a constitution, as I said the obvious danger is that we set in stone a highly fluid process in a rapidly changing world. Some powers that are not with the European institutions may yet have to go to them. However, I am absolutely certain that some powers that are with the European institutions most certainly have to come back to national parliaments.

Voices are being raised not only in Britain but across Europe in favour of degrees of repatriation of power and competences. There has to be a European-level pattern of decision on many issues, such as the environment and agriculture, and there have to be national decisions as well. Those matters are being increasingly dealt with by committees and agencies that are a mix of supranational officials, European institution officials, Commission officials and national officials. They are very complex matters and will become more complex, thereby making it ever more difficult to envisage a system that cleanly cuts between the levels of competence so that one lot is dealt with always at one level and another lot at another level.

Finally, on the constitution issue, a very interesting report was organised by the European Committee of the Scottish Parliament, expressing the thoughts of our Scots friends on whether Scotland's interests were best served by working with and through the London Government, whether they should go straight to building up a much stronger regional presence in Brussels, and whether ideas such as the second chamber of a senate as suggested by the Prime Minister would be of any use to them. I am glad to say that it was a robust report and that, on the latter point, it came to the clear conclusion that such an arrangement would be absolutely useless and would not help Scotland at all. It also came to the even more encouraging conclusion that Scotland's interests were best served by working closely with the London Government on the Brussels scene and in the European Union rather than by trying to bypass the London Government.

I hope to be forgiven for going at length into these detailed matters. However, we are dealing with the entire future of the European Union, and debating a very big subject on which amendments have been grouped, including the amendment dealing with the reference to the Charter of Fundamental Rights. As I said, I think that that is the only reference in the documentation from the Nice treaty. The reference is not in the treaty—the Minister has rightly corrected me on that—but is attached to the final act of the treaty. I think that that is the right phrase. It is therefore something we are entitled to discuss.

We on this side have no love for this charter at all: we question its necessity and we question the motives behind its creation. It seems to be involved not merely with important fundamental rights, to which we all adhere, but with a whole range of detailed social interventions elevated into rights, which may be important but are clearly a matter for nation states and not for supranational institutions. The whole endeavour has been described as an attempt to lock Europe into a failing economic and social model. Are we right to worry that it is going to turn out to be something more than—in the words of the former Minister of State for Europe, Mr Vaz—"just Beano" ?

Yes, I think we are. We have now the words of Commissioner Vitorino that the Commission has agreed to apply the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Every proposal for legislation and every regulation submitted for adoption by the Commission will undergo prior review for compatibility with the charter. Additionally, proposals or regulations that affect fundamental rights will require a formal declaration of compatibility. That is the preliminary ruling of the European Court of Justice Advocate General. Therefore, all those assurances that the charter would not be taken too seriously and was just a shop window are turning out to be invalid. The charter is turning out to have a far more central role than the assurances we were given seemed to imply.

We on these Benches would like to think that the Giscard convention—

Noble Lords:


Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, we would like to think that the Giscard-chaired convention will lead to a more modern, less centralising view about the way in which the European Union should be shaped. Frankly, however, I doubt it. I believe that there is a flawed perception of Europe that not only has prevailed but will prevail at the convention. Regardless of any performance in front of the curtain at the convention, behind the curtain there are much more powerful plans afoot. One I mentioned earlier, for a Franco-German confederation, is apparently being openly considered.

Moreover, I have read in the newspapers, with my eyebrows raised, that our own dear Foreign and Commonwealth Office has a new plan—I hope that the Minister will tell us that it is nonsense—for forming a UK-France-Germany triumvirate to run the European Union. This seems to be missing the fundamental point about the whole problem of the European Union and European unity: the Union has to be more democratic and involve more widely all current and future members.

We are therefore left with an uneasy feeling that Declaration 23 is pointing in the wrong direction. Our amendment seeking to remove large sections of it may be criticised for not recognising the spirit of Nice, but then we never thought that the spirit of Nice was a very nice spirit. While we want to see enlargement carried forward, we do not believe that these types of ambitions, aims and conventions are a necessary part of that process. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Williamson of Horton Lord Williamson of Horton Crossbench

My Lords, I would like simply to point out, as I did when speaking to earlier amendments, that I do not think that we can correctly insert into the list of treaties and Community treaties in the European Communities Act 1972 declarations that do not have treaty force. I do not think that we can correctly do that.

As for Amendment No. 13, the question is: if there is to be another intergovernmental conference in 2004, as the heads of government have decided—they do not need any treaty authority to decide that; they can simply decide it—is it better to prepare it by means of personal representatives and Ministers, leading to a decision at heads of government level, which is how it was done in the past, or is it better to have a wider range of interests, particularly national parliaments, playing a role in the preparation? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, that it would be good to know how and when we are going to play that role, but that is our current choice. I have extensive experience of the preparation of past intergovernmental conferences. I believe that a wider basis for preparation is better than the preparation method which I personally suffered.

The second point of importance is that, if there is to be a convention, the agenda should not be restricted. The earlier part of Declaration 23 puts the process in the context of a deeper and wider debate on the future of the European Union, and the subjects themselves—which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned—are expressly stated to be inter alia. Of course, on some of those points there can be an upside—for example, on treaty simplification—but also a downside if, for example, a large number of member states wanted the European Charter of Fundamental Rights in the treaty. It is important therefore that it should be clear that when the convention states that there could be changes in the treaty, that that should also embrace the possibility of no changes in the treaty.

On balance we do not need to treat this declaration as a treaty. It is not. That would be the effect of Amendment No. 13—of carrying in a lot of declarations and taking one out. We do not need to do that and for that reason I do not support the amendment.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat 4:00, 22 January 2002

My Lords, in his interesting 26-minute speech, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, raised a wide number of issues about the future of the European Union, to which it would be impossible to respond in full. However, some important issues are raised under the amendments which, although we on these Benches do not intend to support the amendments, we should like the Minister to address.

We on these Benches do not share the level of anxiety about foreign conspiracies against the straightforward and noble English which seemed to run as a theme through the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Howell. I loved the description of "more powerful plans afoot behind the curtain". Evidently the French and the Germans are hiding behind the curtain waiting until some good honest Englishman comes out so that they can stab him in the back as he goes by, Hamlet style.

I am sure the serried ranks of Conservatives listening to the speech of the noble Lord agreed with him, but the rest of us may have been a little puzzled. I remind him that a large number of the issues he raised in relation to national parliaments were dealt with in the Committee report of your Lordships' House published over a week ago. It is possible that some Conservatives may even have read that report, since there were Conservatives on the committee. It dealt with the whole question of the role of national parliaments and a second chamber. However, we are looking forward to the preparation of the next inter-governmental conference and the subjects to be covered there—in particular the role of the convention and how this time we report back to this House on important issues. On that we should like the Minister to respond.

As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, the convention is due to start in March. There are intended to be representatives of national parliaments in attendance. No doubt greater attention will be given to first chambers than to second chambers in the appointments. But, given the work of your Lordships' House, in particular of your Lordships' European Union Committee, and given the extent to which there is a level of expertise across the different Benches in this House on European matters, it is something which this House will want to follow in detail. We should therefore like a clear indication from the Minister, following the Written Answer given to a Question from the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, that,

"your Lordships' House will be given the opportunity to debate such a Motion subject to agreement between the usual channels"—[Official Report, 17/01/02; col. WA 174.], that the time will indeed be made available, and soon, for this House to do that. In the course of such a debate, arrangements whereby your Lordships' House will be kept regularly abreast of the development of discussions in that convention—not only the EU Committee but the Chamber as a whole—should also be taken into account. Those are the matters which seem to us to be the most important to take on board at this stage.

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour

My Lords, I do not often agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, but his last point in relation to this House debating the convention and being given a progress report as to what is taking place in the convention during its period of office, is a very good one and I hope that it will be taken up by the Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, in referring to the role of national parliaments said, quite rightly, that there was an air of condescension on the part of European officials to national parliaments. That extends to all the institutions of the European Union, including the European Parliament. I remember as a member of the European Union Select Committee of this House attending a meeting of the national parliaments. It was quite clear at that meeting, at which the European Parliament was very well represented, that those representatives believed that the national parliaments were subordinate to themselves instead of the other way about. That is why many officials, including the president of the Commission and various leaders of various countries, want the parliament to be responsible for direct taxation, not only for the financing of the administration of the European Union, but also for the policies.

I happen to believe that the role of national parliaments must be maintained and indeed strengthened. If we believe national parliaments to be the bedrock of the European Union, we cannot continue to agree to Ministers being able to go to Europe without the sanction of Parliament and make agreements on high political policies. We must embark on adopting a system whereby, before Ministers go across to make important decisions, they not only carry the opinion of Parliament, but also the sanction of Parliament as well. That would restore real democracy to where it belongs; that is, with the national parliament.

Furthermore, I believe that Parliament has already ceded too much power to the European Union. At this point we ought to be negotiating for a return of powers, as was promised in the Maastricht treaty under the subsidiarity clause. I remember the debates which took place in this House in which that was always held up as the great achievement—"game set and match" was the exclamation by the then Prime Minister—whereby we were going to reclaim some of the powers we had ceded. Since then we have not regained any that I can manage to locate. This is an opportunity to negotiate some powers back to national governments and national parliaments.

With regard to the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, according to M. Chirac and Herr Schroder the plan is to impose a written constitution on the European Union. That is what they said and we can only believe that that is what they intend. People like myself are criticised because we read what such people say and we believe them. When Chirac says that the charter should be the basis of a written European constitution, then he is entitled to be believed. Since he and others are going along that road, I should like the absolute assurance—I am sure I will not get it—of the Minister this afternoon that that is a road down which the British Government will not take us. I hope that I get an answer, but I rather think that I probably shall not. They want to give the European Union a legal personality. That means that it would have the status of a single state; in other words—again, this phrase is often mentioned by people on the Continent—"a country called Europe".

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, also raised the question of representation at the convention. It is, of course, to be led by M Giscard d'Estaing, who is not a Eurosceptic, as everyone knows. He is a committed European integrationist and so are his two vice-chairmen. Before I entered the Chamber this afternoon I was told by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, that Giscard d'Estaing demanded a salary of a million pounds for chairing the convention. That report appeared in a newspaper today which I have not yet read. Just who does this chap think he is to demand such a salary? Does he think that he is David Beckham? Perhaps the noble Baroness will say whether she has heard of that great demand.

I am glad to see that two House of Commons Select Committees are now beginning to show their teeth and demand that Parliament, not government, selects the parliamentary delegates to the convention. It must surely be right that Parliament should select the parliamentary delegates to the convention—anything else is a sham. I hope that my noble friend will be able to tell us this afternoon that the Government recognise the democratic legitimacy of that and that they agree with the view expressed by the House of Commons through its Select Committees.

I believe that I raised my next point in Committee. I am really concerned about the representation of those people who simply do not want any further integration; indeed, they want to regress from further integration. It seems that they will not be represented at all. After all, in this country, they represent if not a majority, very nearly a majority. It seems to me that they will not be represented. That simply is not good enough. It is not good enough to have the convention packed with the lickspittling lackeys of European integration.

Noble Lords:


Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour

My Lords, have I said something that amuses people? That is what I think and that is what I say. There should be a strong counterweight to what is likely to be a foregone conclusion if there is not that counterweight.

The Government have no excuse for not taking that large body of British opinion into account. There are all kinds of Eurorealist organisations. Indeed, the organisation, SOS Democracy, represents Eurorealist opinion throughout Europe. I believe that those bodies ought to be consulted. There are certainly very many organisations with larger numbers of members than either political party which ought to be consulted. I wonder whether the Government might like to consult those various Eurorealist organisations instead of forever taking a one-sided view that the European Union must forever develop along the lines of a single state.

I have asked a number of questions. I should, of course, be delighted if the noble Baroness is able to answer them. I have perhaps expressed a different point of view than that which is usually expressed in this House, but I believe that Parliament must start to reassert itself. If it does not, progress towards a fully integrated European state will undermine its status and undermine democracy in this country and, I believe, in all the other countries of Europe as well.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench 4:15, 22 January 2002

My Lords, I should like to address a few words on the subject of the amendment—perhaps that is rather a change in this debate. If the amendment were carried, its effect would be exactly the opposite to that which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, wishes to achieve. By knocking out subjects to be discussed in the convention and in the future IGC, he will simply make the remit wider and not narrower. Therefore, I do not support that.

As regards the subjects that have been identified for the next convention and IGC which, of course, have now been made much more elaborate by the decisions reached at Laeken, I do not share the noble Lord's dislike of the reference to the delimitation of powers. I believe that the European Union could benefit from a clearer delimitation of powers. The argument that he used against it, which was that you could not set everything in concrete because there may need to be changes in the future of which one is not able to take account in 2004 is, of course, an argument usually used by the maximalists in the European Union to resist any delimitation of powers because they do not wish to see themselves constrained in any way.

Therefore, I believe that a situation where, for example, the provisions of subsidiarity in the Maastricht treaty were made a bit clearer and a bit easier to apply would be of benefit to all member states whether they be maximalist or minimalist as there would be less bickering about where the dividing line runs and a better chance of applying subsidiarity in a practical way. The problem with subsidiarity is that it is a wonderful principle but it is extraordinarily difficult to apply. It has not been applied properly in the European Union at any stage. Therefore, to my mind, it would be a good thing if the European Union moved towards a situation where it could apply it and even perhaps towards a situation where there was some body of a somewhat more objective kind which would adjudicate on which side of the subsidiarity line particular proposals lay. I refer to the idea that has been mentioned of France and Germany's constitutional courts. I do not want to get into the constitution point on this, but I refer to something like that that would adjudicate whether a proposal from the Commission was on the wrong side of the subsidiarity line.

I do not think that we should be afraid of that, any more than I think that the reference in the declaration which we are debating to the powers of national parliaments is something we should shy away from. I believe that national parliaments have a bigger role to play. However, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that I am not an admirer of the Folketing system. In my experience the Danish delegation in Brussels spent 99 per cent of its time negotiating the Folketing committee while all the rest of us were negotiating with each other to get the right result out of European legislation. Therefore, I do not think that that is a good system, nor do I think that it would work in either House of this Parliament.

Finally, I make a plea that we do not now start lengthy and heated debate about whether it is acceptable to use the word "constitution" as regards what will be talked about in Brussels in the convention and in the IGC. If you look at the origin of the European Union, you are bound to come to the conclusion that the treaties of Rome and Paris of 1952 and 1956 are in fact constitutional documents. They are not a constitution but they are constitutional documents and they have always been treated as such, as have the amendments to them. I was converted to the view that one should not shy away from the word "constitution" by two lectures given respectively by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, and the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. That involves a reasonably eclectic choice of views on the European Union. Both noble Lords argued—in my view persuasively—that it would be an advantage to Europe to have a constitutional document that was clear, more precise and easier to assimilate by its citizens than the present amalgam of the treaties of Paris, Rome, Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice and the Single European Act. I hope that we shall not become lost in a lengthy semantic discussion about the word "constitution"; what matters is what goes into it.

I conclude by saying that I hope that the amendment is not agreed to because it would not have its intended effect.

Photo of Lord Harrison Lord Harrison Labour

My Lords, following the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, about the relations of national parliaments to the European Parliament, I wish to lick a little bit of spittle. One wise thing that Mr Major did at the time of Maastricht was to agree with the increased intercourse that should take place with national parliaments and the European Parliament. I have to say that this national Parliament was one of the most remiss in taking up that offer. Thus it was that the European Parliament—I was a member of its economic committee for some 10 years—itself inaugurated relations with national parliaments. Once again, a conspicuous feature of those meetings—at which we discussed, among other things, the advent of the single currency—was the absence of British representation.

My final point is that all is not lost. We should renew efforts to secure better relations with the European Parliament. In the case of this national Parliament—the British national Parliament—the House of Lords, which has an extensive structure for the oversight of European legislation, should be the Chamber that promotes that relationship.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

My Lords, before the Minister replies, I want to put a question to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, whose remarks I heard with some interest. He admitted that subsidiarity was not really working as he had hoped it would. Does he envisage the convention—

Photo of Lord Williams of Elvel Lord Williams of Elvel Labour

My Lords, it would be proper if the noble Lord put his questions to the Minister rather than to another Member who has participated in the debate.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

My Lords, I am quite happy to put questions to the Minister, provided that she can answer on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. If she agrees with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, which was to the effect that subsidiarity should start to bite in the European Union in a way that is not—

Photo of Earl Russell Earl Russell Liberal Democrat

My Lords, we are on Report and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, cannot answer for himself. It is therefore unfair to ask a question of him.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

My Lords, I thought that I had made it clear that I was now asking the Minister whether she agreed with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay; namely, that subsidiarity should be made to bite in future in relation to actions associated with the Treaty of Rome. My question is very simple. As we move towards the convention, does the Minister, on behalf of the Government, see the process of integration and the acquis communautaire being reversed? Does she see Articles 2, 3 and 6.4 of the Treaty on European Union and Protocol 30 of the TEC, which applies specifically to subsidiarity, being reversed or not? If not, we shall be dealing with just another pious hope from the Europhiles, which they know perfectly well has no chance of being met in reality.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, in replying to this debate I shall address Amendments Nos. 13 and 14, on which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said that he placed so much importance. I am only sorry that his enthusiasm was not shared by his noble friends.

The declaration on the future of Europe, which was agreed at Nice, encapsulates key commitments, for which the Government fought very hard. Nice opens the way for enlargement, with no need for further institutional change. Before the next IGC in 2004 there should be a deep and wide debate involving ordinary citizens. The main agenda items for that IGC should be, first, a more precise delimitation of powers between the EU and member states, reflecting the principle of subsidiarity. The second item should involve the status of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights; that is, whether—and, if so, how—it should be incorporated into EU treaties. The third item involves simplification of EU treaties to make them clearer and better understood without changing their meaning. The fourth item involves the role of national parliaments in the European architecture.

The declaration also makes it clear that in addressing those issues there is a need to improve the democratic legitimacy and transparency of the EU and its institutions in order to bring them closer to citizens of member states. Much of this debate reflected those concerns.

I find it hard to understand how the Opposition would explain to our friends in the candidate countries why they seek to exclude from the treaty provisions that would allow candidate countries to participate in the next IGC; Amendment No. 13 would have that effect. It is absolutely right that as soon as candidate countries have signed accession agreements they should be allowed to participate in the IGC on an equal basis. It should not matter that they have formally not acceded to the European Union. That is a proper sign that we value their membership and input. Amendment No. 13 would exclude that possibility.

It is important to make it clear to all noble Lords that in this context we are discussing the United Kingdom's agenda. Successive British governments sought to place that agenda at the heart of the European debate. That agenda will lead to a more efficient, more comprehensible and—this is probably the most important point—more accountable EU, which we all want. We on this side of the House believe that the EU has been a great success but we certainly do not think that it is perfect. We are clear that the way to secure reform is to take part in debates on those issues, to put our case and to win the arguments. That is what we intend to do up to—and, indeed, at—the IGC in 2004.

I turn briefly to the way in which we expect that debate to be conducted—many noble Lords have concentrated on that—and the Government's approach to the issues. It is important to debate the issues with our partners. In December the Laeken European Council agreed to set up the convention, as we have discussed. That should be the means for taking this debate forward. The convention will bring together representatives of member states' governments, national parliamentarians, MEPs and, of course, the Commission. There would also be arrangements to allow NGOs and other representatives of civil society to make their views known. That is all to the good, too.

I remind noble Lords of the Written Answer that was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. In Answer to a Question tabled by my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen, I said:

"The other place will be given the opportunity to debate a Motion nominating members to the convention, and your Lordships' House will be given the opportunity to debate such a Motion subject to agreement between the usual channels".—[Official Report, 17/1/02; col. WA 174.]

I cannot say fairer than that. From the beginning of our discussion of this issue, which was originally prompted by an oral question from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, I have sought to gather together the views of noble Lords and I have sought to convey them to the appropriate channels elsewhere in government. The noble Lord asked me for a categorical assurance about representation from your Lordships' House. The noble Lord will know that I am not able to give him that absolute assurance, but I can tell him that I very much hope so. On behalf of noble Lords, that is the argument that I have put with every fibre that I can muster. I hope that the noble Lord has been doing so, as has, I hope, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. We all know that there will be a great deal of pressure from another place for not only the two representatives but perhaps also the two alternatives to come from another place.

I put it to the noble Lord that this is not only a matter for the Government to decide; it is a matter in which we must all bear some responsibility in putting forward to our political colleagues in another place our arguments for representation in your Lordships' House. I know that I have done my part and I hope very much that your Lordships are also putting forward those arguments with all the gusto that can be mustered.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said that no Eurosceptic will take part in the convention. I do not know who will be nominated. Each country will choose its own representative and, of course, the European Parliament will do so, too. I understand that Jens-Peter Bonde, who, I believe, is a well-known Danish Eurosceptic MEP, is likely to be part of the convention. Unless my memory deceives me, I recall the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, referring with great admiration to that Danish gentleman. I hope that, if that is the case, the noble Lord will be pleased with that outcome. However, that is a matter for others to decide. Extensive as our ties may be, I am afraid that they do not extend to choosing the Danish members.

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour 4:30, 22 January 2002

My Lords, the Minister is absolutely right. Jens-Peter Bonde is a very good friend of mine and I understand that it is possible that he will be on the convention. I do not know how big the convention will be but it will be very large, and one little tit-bit will not be enough to satisfy me or any other Eurosceptic.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord is at least able to agree with me on the likelihood of that gentleman's involvement. But we shall see. None of us knows whether that will definitely be the case.

The point is that the convention is meant to produce options and ideas. But final decisions will remain where they should be—with the member states' governments in the intergovernmental conference itself. Those decisions will be taken, as the EU treaty rightly provides, by unanimity of the member states and in accordance with their own constitutional provisions. Of course, in the United Kingdom that means ratification procedures involving Parliament, as for the Nice treaty today. That is right, too.

I now turn to the substance of what we can describe as the four Nice issues. We have not reached a final view on any of the agenda items. It would be foolish to do so now, more than two years in advance of the IGC. I do not believe that that would be sensible or right. We want to hear what the public in this country think and we want to look at the ways in which we can approach the convention. But I hope that I can outline some of the main elements of our thinking to your Lordships.

We welcome the fact that the demarcation of powers between the EU and member states is on the agenda. I believe that the overwhelming majority of your Lordships will welcome that. It has been a recurring theme in our discussions, as, indeed, it has been again today. As the Prime Minister said in Warsaw, we need to focus the EU on what matters to its citizens and stop it doing things which it does not need to do. I hope that that is music to many of your Lordships' ears. That is why the Prime Minister argued in Warsaw that it is,

"both desirable and realistic to draw up a statement of principles according to which we should decide what is best done at the European level and what should be done at national level".

In particular, we are keen that two important principles already in the EU treaties—that is, subsidiarity and proportionality—should be given greater practical effect. Subsidiarity means that the EU should act only where member states cannot achieve the objective on their own. Of course, proportionality means that when the EU does act, it should do so as lightly as possible, consistent with achieving the result.

I turn to the charter of rights. This Government believe in human rights. We believe that people need to know what their rights are and that EU institutions need to respect them. That is what the charter of rights, proclaimed at Nice, is intended to achieve. It is a worthy aim and one which we on this side support. Of course, the charter is a political declaration. We have been over that point on a number of occasions. It is not the law; it is not present in the EU treaties; nor is it referred to in the Treaty of Nice itself. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and I were able to agree our position on that point.

At this point in previous stages of the Bill the Opposition have reached for their thick, and no doubt growing, files of press criticisms labelled "Romano Prodi" and have found one saying that the charter should, indeed, be legally binding. Let me be clear about that. There is no secret that the Commission and, indeed, some member states want to make the charter legally binding and to incorporate it into the treaties. We have not agreed to that. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, that there cannot be any change in the status of the charter unless we and all other member states so agree because such a change would require unanimity. However, we have agreed that the 2004 IGC should consider whether to incorporate the charter into the treaties and, if so, how. That is the mandate agreed by the Cologne European Council and repeated in the Nice text, and that is what we shall stick to.

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness again and I am obliged to her for giving way. Does what she has just said mean that the Government remain opposed to the charter being incorporated into any treaty? Will they maintain that opposition at the 2004 conference? Can we have an absolute assurance that, although they rarely do it, the Government will, on this occasion, use the veto?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, it clearly means that that is our position in discussing the Nice treaty. The noble Lord now asks me to give an absolute undertaking for the year 2004. He is right. I shall not give such an undertaking for the straightforward reason which I hope I articulated earlier: I do not believe that at this stage it is sensible so to do. At this stage we have not finalised the agenda or heard all the arguments. I believe that it would be disingenuous to say that we agree to this being incorporated into the agenda but that we shall not even listen to what is said to us about it. Therefore, I am being absolutely straightforward with the noble Lord. He is probably not in the least bit disappointed with what I said. I assume that he is probably rather pleased that I have not been able to give him that assurance. However, I shall not do so because I do not believe that I am in a position to do so honestly.

I turn to the issue of treaty simplification. We agree with those who say that the treaties are almost impossible to read and that greater clarity is desirable. That is why we decided at Nice that the 2004 IGC should also consider how to simplify the treaties in order to make them understood. I believe that we are all aware that that will be a challenge. The treaties are complicated largely because they are agreed by unanimity, and each phrase or sentence usually represents some sort of compromise designed to safeguard the interests of one or other member state. In many cases, frankly, that has been the United Kingdom. But we are determined that we should make the effort.

We are also determined that we should not wait until 2004 to begin the process of clarifying what the treaties do and do not mean. The Government have started by making available in an easy-to-read form information on the Nice treaty in a booklet published shortly after Nice and on the rest of the EU treaties via the FCO website. We intend to build on that work.

I turn to the role of national parliaments. I believe that that is where many of your Lordships' concerns are focused. We have long believed that national parliaments should be more closely involved in monitoring and shaping EU decisions. That is why this Government introduced stronger scrutiny arrangements when we came to office in 1997. Of course, we ensured that all three pillars were brought under the scrutiny of the two committees: one in the other place; one in your Lordships' House. I believe that that has been a welcome change. That is why we sought debate in this Parliament on matters of EU importance, as we did before and after the Nice treaty. That is why the Prime Minister has proposed, as one possible solution, a second Chamber of the European Parliament made up of representatives from national legislatures.

But, of course, noble Lords opposite are right. There are several proposals on the table; for example, from France Prime Minister Jospin has proposed a congress of national parliaments, and today ideas have been put forward from Denmark on the issue of mandating. We must consider these issues on their merits. What matters to all of us is that national legislatures, with which most of our European citizens most readily identify, should continue to have an important role in EU matters as the EU enlarges its membership and develops its activities.

The noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, helpfully pointed out that it is quite clear from the declaration that the words "inter alia" are used, so other issues may be added to the four that I articulated.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, was exercised about the article in the Financial Times claiming the existence of an FCO plan for a kind of Security Council arrangement in the EU, with the UK, France and Germany as the prominent group. That is not true. It has not been proposed, and has not even been discussed within the Government. As for the other most interesting story about the £1 million to be paid for any chairman—mentioned, I believe, by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon—that sounds both silly and misguided to me, as was the article from the Financial Times. However, if I am wrong, I shall write to the noble Lord and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.

The Nice declaration does not limit what we can talk about at the IGC. Clearly, that would not be right. The world is moving very fast, and it is not possible to predict the EU's priorities in the year 2004. I am sure that the noble Lord would say, rightly, that we were being foolish were we to attempt to do so. We are looking at the proposed agenda items on that basis.

We look forward to this debate on the future of the European Union. Our aim is further to reform the Union so that we can continue to deliver what I believe most of the citizens of Britain and Europe want, and do so in ways that command their consent and support. On this side of the House we approach the debate with confidence. Since 1997, we have learnt that our approach, which is pro-Europe and pro-reform, is one that is working. The success of the Nice treaties confirm that, as does the agenda for 2004 agreed at Nice. The agenda is in the interests of Britain. We believe that it is also in the interests of Europe as a whole.

I hope that I have been able to answer the majority of the questions raised. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, made a very comprehensive address on the issues involved. I hope that the noble Lord will feel that I have answered the matters raised sufficiently so as to allow him to withdraw the amendment. If we did not take this agenda forward and were to vote against it, I believe that that action would place us in real difficulty when discussing with our European colleagues those very items about which the noble Lord and so many of his colleagues have expressed concern. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, this afternoon's debate has been most interesting. We have addressed some quite fundamental issues to which we shall no doubt be turning our minds in different contexts in future weeks and months. The Minister answered many points most fully. She teased me about the apparent lack of troops behind me when I began my opening remarks. I confess that, for a moment, I felt a little like the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo waiting for the Prussian troops to arrive at the end of the day. If I spoke at length, it was because I wished to deal with a number of fundamental issues that had not been previously addressed, and may not have been properly considered in the other place. However, I also did so to give my "troops", who were otherwise engaged, time to arrive in the Chamber.

I shall deal briefly with some of the issues. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who has great experience in these matters, spoke about dividing lines and the need to circumscribe and limit the powers of the European institutions and of the Commission. I used to be of that view when I believed that Europe was working in the old way. Indeed, I confess that I once wrote a book in which I said that that would be a good idea. However, like ships passing in the night, just as the noble Lord has come to that conclusion I have moved on from it. It seems to me that the new fabric of international relations, and the new network arrangements of the much more flexible kind that are emerging, make the idea of a written constitution, as proposed, completely out of date and inappropriate for the kind of Europe that we want to see.

However, I recognise that that thought belongs to tomorrow and that, for today, the cliche is, "Let's have a constitution". That seems to be the general idea. Clearly, it will be pushed at this convention. I envisage with some foreboding the attempt being made to write all this down. I believe that it will end in tears, but that is the wisdom of the moment and everyone thinks that it is okay. I understand the distaste of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for the Folketing and seeing parliaments becoming involved in endless "negotiation" to control their Ministers, thus removing lovely quality time in which officials can get on with the wonders of negotiation. But that, again, is the pattern for tomorrow: there will be more demand than ever from parliaments and peoples who are more empowered and have greater access to more information to have a far bigger say in how these matters are decided. Negotiations will become more difficult, as will momentum, but, on the other side of the coin, there will be more democracy. It is slow; it is infuriating; it is maddening; and it does not always fit in with aims and vision. However, it is the way that the world ought to go, and I believe that it will go in that direction.

I have made it quite clear that I very much favour a stronger role for national parliaments. My reason for wanting to knock this piece out of the declaration is that we do not like the proposal that the role should be designed not by our own discussion and debate, and by our elected government, but by a superior convention that, somehow, sets out some new role for us. The question of how it is done is at issue. We do not find the tone of the suggestion in the declaration to be encouraging.

I turn to the applicant countries and the question of whether their invitation to be involved would be damaged by the amendment. I agree that it would. However, I cannot see the need for a declaration, let alone a treaty, merely to arrange that there should be an invitation for those applicant countries to be fully involved. I am totally in support of their full involvement. In fact, I believe that their involvement has not been sufficient thus far. That can be easily overcome. We do not need to make elaborate summit declarations to achieve that aim.

I turn to the two core matters under discussion. As for the convention details, the Minister very frankly and openly said that she could give no categoric assurance on how the representation will be organised. I assure the noble Baroness that we have been trying. Obviously, I cannot speak for members of other parties, but we have been trying to put forward the point of view that your Lordships' House should have a say in these matters. I believe that that was the pattern in a precious arrangement as regards the embryo of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. We know that a Member of this House was able to speak for us; namely, the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. I had hoped that that would happen again on this much bigger issue. That is why we have been trying to push that point, and we shall continue to do so.

I am quite sure that the noble Baroness is doing her utmost, but the basic problem is this: is it really right that this great national Parliament, with all its history and authority in its two Houses, should be represented just by two people attending a convention in Brussels? I believe that the inventors of this convention idea have got it wrong. This is not the way in which the future of Europe can be democratically decided. It may go ahead; indeed, it probably will. But I do not believe that it will inspire vast confidence that the future of Europe is in democratic hands. Although our two members will be chosen and will no doubt do their best, they will have an enormous uphill problem to connect with the feelings of both the other place and of this House about how the future of Europe should be organised. I am left with the feeling that that is a very unhappy position, and one that I do not think we should necessarily accept.

As for the charter details, the Minister said, again, that she could give no undertaking about what will happen in 2004. She said that the Government have not agreed that the charter should be fully embedded in the treaties. However, in a preliminary ruling,

"the Commission has agreed to apply the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Accordingly every proposal for legislation, and every regulation submitted for adoption by the Commission, will undergo prior review for compatibility with the Charter".

As we are nearing the end of the debate, I do not want to ask more questions, but a question that has not been answered and that hangs in the air is whether the Government have agreed that point. They may say that they have not agreed anything in relation to the charter, but something has happened and the Commission has taken on a role. I wonder whether the Government have objected to that. I do not know. Perhaps we shall learn about that at another time. Clearly we shall not learn about it from what we have heard this afternoon.

Although through the proposal to change this declaration we have raised many broad issues—these two particular issues merit very serious attention—I do not believe that they have received the full attention that they deserve nor have we received the full assurances that we seek. For that reason I wish to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 13) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 115; Not-Contents, 177.

Division number 1 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — European Communities (Amendment) Bill

Aye: 113 Members of the House of Lords

No: 175 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Amendments Nos. 14 to 16 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 5:02, 22 January 2002

moved Amendment No. 17:

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."

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, we can deal briefly with this matter. I should like to think that the Government will accept that the principle behind the amendment—perhaps not the precise wording—is entirely worth supporting. What concerns us all and what concerns the Commission, those who drafted the Treaty of Nice and governments throughout Europe is the gap between the activities of the European institutions—what they are up to and what their treaties mean—and what the citizens of Europe really want and expect from the European Union. There is discontinuity.

Although the European Parliament obviously has a vital role to play, particularly in relation to monitoring the Commission and other aspects of the European institutions, it is not really in the loop of accountability and connection. That is what is missing. It is therefore vitally important that there should be much better knowledge of the meaning of these treaties. Amendment No. 18, to which we shall come to in a moment, puts the case even more vividly. Amendment No. 17 makes the modest request that there should be an explanatory White Paper on the economic, political and constitutional developments arising from this particular treaty within three months of its ratification.

The word "constitutional" is important. I think that it is generally accepted that constitutional developments are now at the forefront of the European agenda. It has not been openly agreed but it is now widely recognised that the matter of the euro—we have so far avoided discussing it in these debates and perhaps that should continue—is bound up intimately with constitutional matters and is, indeed, itself a political matter. I noticed in Le Monde on New Year's Day a huge headline, saying,

"Apres l'euro, la constitution".

The two things follow as night follows day; they are linked together. So it is very important that Parliament and, through Parliament, the people are given an explanation of what constitutional developments are going on. The amendment goes some small way to meet that. I agree that White Papers are not the stuff of every bookstand and news-stand. But they can be given an additional interpretation. They can be simplified and presented to people. At present, there is widespread lack of information, combined with a healthy demand for that information which is not being satisfied, about what was agreed at Nice. What is being agreed in these treaties? What are the rulers up to when they meet and turn their ideas into often very complex language—the world of frameworks, decisions, declarations and so on?

Amendment No. 17 is an ordinary plea that our Parliament be given a better explanation of what has been going on. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative

My Lords, the Government have made this proposal necessary because they spent so much time before, during and after Nice trying to persuade people that Nice involved nothing more than minor changes which were necessary in order to allow enlargement to take place. Our debates in Parliament have been worthwhile if they have exposed what complete nonsense that was.

During our debates, we have been able to point out that, among other things, the Nice treaty proposes that qualified majority voting should take the place of unanimity in a whole range of matters which the Government have not sought to pretend have the slightest bit to do with Nice or that they are changes needed in order to make enlargement possible. Simply because of all these other matters dealt with at Nice—the replacement of unanimity by qualified majority voting in a whole range of matters, the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, and all the proposals surrounding the controversial issue of the European defence force and the rest—it is necessary to put them on paper and for the Government to explain why they are important. That would be beneficial and would help the Government to explain to the people what Nice is really all about.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, Nice is about reform for enlargement. In particular, it is about reforming the European Union's institutions for enlargement. That is what the changes under discussion will deliver.

I would just say to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, that I do not believe that anyone speaking for the Government has ever claimed that it is not an important treaty. Others may have done so. Others have said that it is a treaty which is far more far-reaching and radical than any treaty before. I am bound to say that I think that the truth lies somewhere between the two. It is not nearly as radical as some treaties, but it certainly is an important treaty. It represents, in the view of the Government, a good outcome for the United Kingdom. It will deliver a stronger Britain in a wider Europe.

Let us enumerate what has happened during the course of the treaty. We have opened the door for enlargement. We have won more relative voting power for Britain. We have delivered a more efficient Commission, securing more QMV where this is in the United Kingdom's interest and preserving our veto where we said we would. We have achieved a more effective system of justice in the EU that will help cut down delays and have secured a more flexible EU, while safeguarding the interests of all member states. That result meets all the objectives that we set ourselves at Nice. It is further evidence that the Government's policy of positive engagement in Europe is really working.

The amendment tabled by the Opposition calls for,

"a White Paper on the economic, political and constitutional developments" resulting from the Nice treaty to be published within three months of its ratification. The Government are always ready to provide information to Parliament on the European Union and, and indeed, about the Nice treaty. We have a good story to tell on both. Your Lordships can turn to our websites or to the speeches of my right honourable friends in another place. Indeed, your Lordships can turn to speeches made in your Lordships' House.

The White Paper proposed in the amendment is unnecessary. The Government have kept Parliament fully informed of the negotiations on the effect of the Nice treaty. A White Paper, Reform for Enlargement, was published in February 2000. It clearly set out the Government's position on the 2000 IGC. Parliament is debating the implications of Nice right now.

I recall other treaties. Noble Lords are now suggesting that we should publish a White Paper in the wake of Nice, but when the Conservative Party was in power, there was no White Paper to follow up what many of your Lordships would regard as a far more radical treaty—the Treaty of Maastricht.

We shall continue to keep Parliament informed of developments in the European Union as they occur. We have a good record on that. There is no evidence on which to doubt the Government's word on that. Indeed, yesterday we laid before Parliament and published our latest six-monthly report of developments in the EU. In addition, Parliament will have ample opportunity to contribute to and debate the future of Europe in the lead-up to the next IGC in 2004, as we have just discussed.

All the changes agreed at Nice will be about delivering the modernised and reformed European Union that we all want. It will be an EU better equipped to deal with enlargement. Parliament has been kept fully informed of those changes, and the electorate has supported them—as we saw in June. That is why we stand by them, and why we cannot support the amendment.

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour

My Lords, there may be one flaw in the amendment. It states:

"Within three months of the ratification by Her Majesty's Government of the Treaty of Nice amending the Treaty on European Union"— and so on—

"the Government shall lay before both Houses of Parliament".

That sounds all right, and normally I would support it. But there is a fly in the ointment, is there not? The treaty cannot come into operation until the Irish have had another referendum, because all members must ratify before the provisions can come into law. Has the noble Baroness any news as to when—if at all—another referendum will be held in the Irish Republic?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, as for the shortcomings, alleged or actual, of the amendment, that is not a matter for me—it is not my amendment, it is that of the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. As for the current position regarding Ireland, I have no further news to deliver to your Lordships beyond what I have already said about how the issue is being tackled.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 5:15, 22 January 2002

My Lords, I shall not pretend that I am anything but disappointed by the reply of the noble Baroness. The amendment represents a perfectly clear and modest request that Parliament deserves to have answered in the affirmative.

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, raised the question of the whole ratification process. The amendment mentions ratification by Her Majesty's Government, which is of course a narrower concept. In a sense, the treaty has already been signed by the Government, and in the Government's mind it is just a question of getting it through the two Houses and onto the statute book, and that will be their business done. As the noble Lord pointed out, ratification of the treaty as a whole is very much on hold. We need a White Paper not least to explain to the British public what is plan B, supposing that the Irish do not so reorganise their system that they can have another referendum that will come out a different way. Let us suppose that, maddeningly, the people continue to speak in the same tone. What happens then? Have we worked in vain? Will another treaty be designed? Will we return to our original plan, which was a treaty to deal with the mechanics of enlargement—in so far as they needed to be dealt with by a treaty—which would have long since been passed without any problems in Ireland or anywhere else? Or are we to try some new avenue?

Those are matters that deserve an answer in due course—not now, obviously. Parliament deserves an answer, which, among other things, should be included in a White Paper. However, apparently that is not to be. We feel deprived, but we have made known our views. Having done so, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 18:

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

(d) impartial."

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I should emphasise that this amendment is proposed in a purely impartial spirit as regards the content and utility of the Treaty of Nice. It is not about whether I am in favour of or against the treaty, it is to do solely with democracy and the effectiveness of democracy vis a vis the European Union. Whatever our view of the future of the Union—whether or not we want it to proceed step by step to up to ultimate unification—should not affect our desire to ensure that, so far as possible, the democratic content is maximised as we move along the road.

It is surely no secret that the British public are more ignorant of and confused by the European Union than they are of any other great political project during the lifetime of anyone in this Chamber. That it is a great project, I am sure that we all agree. Some may wish that it was less great; some may wish that it was greater. But that it is of the most profound importance to every man, woman and child in these islands, there can be no doubt.

I do not want to enlarge more than a little on the degree of ignorance, non-involvement, non-engagement and disconnection that exists. We need only consider a single statistic—the electoral turnout at the last European election—to have put before us a measure of the apathy, alienation, confusion and lack of relatedness of the public towards the Parliament of Europe and Europe itself. Only slightly more than 23 per cent of our fellow citizens exercised their precious vote—a far lower figure than in any other election in our history; far lower than the turnout in any comparable European state.

If we add to that the knowledge that roughly one-third of voters aged 30 and under were not registered to cast their vote at that time, and pursue an analysis of whom among that 23 per cent turned out by age profile, we end up with the statistic that only about one in 10 of voters aged under 25 voted in that election. Given that the younger generation are supposed to be the standard bearers for the future of this country, and given that I have heard a great many assertions that the young are much more in favour of that project than are the old, that should give us all immense pause.

I want to say one other thing about democratic engagement, which relates to social exclusion. I give the Government great credit for their attempts to grapple with social exclusion. Your Lordships may remember that soon as the Labour Party was elected to power in 1997, the Prime Minister immediately set up 18 teams—I think it was 18—to engage different aspects of social exclusion. All those efforts came down to one overriding principle, which was set out clearly in the report of policy action team 10: the motive force of self-help. That team said, on behalf of all the other teams, that the most important element in raising communities out of exclusion was self-help. It is manifestly apparent that self-help is the most important element of a vibrant democracy. Self-help starts with voting.

The sense of being excluded from the European Union— partly because it is so complex, partly because it is so distant and untouchable—and its aspirations is felt by far more of our fellow citizens than just those whom we normally think of as socially excluded. If we are concerned about the quality of our democracy—as we are, for we had a great debate for two days last week about how democracy would be best served by the reform of the House—and about the malaise that is apparent in our democracy, the first thing that we must do is to reach out—I repeat—reach out to those who feel themselves to be excluded from the political process.

We may say that they should not feel excluded. We may say that there is information available on the Internet. We may say, as the Government have said about the Bill, that a White Paper was published last spring, at a cost of £11.50. We may say that it is on the Internet and that anyone with a bit of gumption and effort can have access to the Internet. We may say that a leaflet has been published—as it has—and that they can get hold of it in their public library. I have the leaflet here. Any noble Lords who have seen it may agree with me that it is about as unenticing to the sort of people about whom I am concerned as it could conceivably be. There are no headings and no illustrations. It is in small type. It is dense and abstract.

All the arguments have a certain currency, but a limited one. The facts are the facts. I do not accuse the Government of wilful indifference to the third—or even half—of the populace that feels totally cut adrift from Europe and its institutions and development. I do, however, accuse them of lack of imagination. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, wrote to me on 17th December. He said:

"It is simplistic . . . to say that only a certain percentage of households are connected to the internet".

It is not simplistic; it is a fact. It is simplistic to assume that those who do not have access to it will get access to it for the purposes of reading a relatively indigestible White Paper—indigestible to the sort of people about whom I am concerned. If they read anything, such people will read a red-top tabloid newspaper.

We often hear those who support the European Union most strongly parade the argument that the whole project has been derailed because the tabloids have misrepresented the European Union again and again, giving partial and wrong facts and stupid examples of the malfunctioning of the Union. I have sympathety with that argument, to a degree, but that stops at the point at which one realises that we—in any government—have done absolutely nothing to inform people and get round the back of the rubbish that is sometimes published about the Union. If we were really concerned about it, we would have been informing the public in a popular, plain English way from the beginning. The only time that we really connected with the public was in the referendum of 1975—nearly 27 years ago.

To those who say of the amendment that we should have had this for Maastricht, I say that I agree. I also agree with those who say that this is not the most important treaty on Europe that there has ever been. However, we must make an urgent start. I would have preferred it if we had had a series of popular, plain English information communications decades back. We did not, so let us start. There is no advantage to anyone in the House or beyond in leaving the British public—in particular, the bottom third or so, in socio-economic terms—completely out of the debate.

Sometimes, in politics, we need to make gestures. It is not enough to say, "It's on the Internet; go and get it" or "Go to the library and read it". It is just like election time. I do not think that Jack Straw or the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean—were she allowed to fight an election—would be content to say to the electors of wherever that the information was on the Internet or that they should go to the public library. We all endlessly stuff leaflets through people's door at election time to show people that we care about their vote. It is the only way of imparting information that carries the message that we want people to read it, and we care about that because we want them to vote for us. I have exactly the same sense about the EU and the state of Parliament in our country today.

There are people who think that the European Union and the Government do not care a toss about them and that the elite in this country has no interest in what they think—or, indeed, whether they think. We must show them that that is untrue. The only way in which we can do that is by putting through every door in the land a popular, plain English tabloid-type leaflet, illustrated, written and set out in a way that will be accessible and appealing.

Jack Straw wrote to me, saying that the Government's costings said that it would take £5 million to print all the leaflets and get them into every house. I have done a costing with the Royal Mail and with a newspaper; it was £1.5 million. Be that as it may, it is tempting to say that we should bear the cost of engaging the public wholeheartedly in this great project, even if it were £50 million or £500 million or—dare I say it?—£5 billion. The costs of the present situation will be incalculable further down the road—they may be incalculable already. It might cost £5 million. That is the cost of a few smart bombs rained on Afghanistan. It is the cost of six MEPs. Against the background of what we are discussing, it is of no great account.

I was struck by what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, said in Committee. He likened the European Union to the building of a great cathedral. For too many of our countrymen, the great edifice of the European Union is reminiscent of an underground bunker. I want to engage people's hearts and minds. Democracy grows from the ground up. Unless we engage hearts, as well as minds, it will be useless. I do not want that. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bruce of Donington Lord Bruce of Donington Labour

My Lords, before my noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean responds to the debate on this important matter, will she allow her mind to brood over the undoubted fact that the treaties themselves are largely unintelligible? That has been admitted on all sides. It seems odd that we shall, no doubt, again discuss Nice and any measures that are in force or will be brought into force. We shall probably discuss the degree of real scrutiny of proposed European legislation which comes to this House and to another place. We shall discuss all those issues and I have no doubt that the Government will give us the benefit of their latest knowledge.

However, the unassailable fact which underlies the whole concept of explanation and the validity of communication between the Government and the people—many Members are extremely friendly to the present Administration and the whole concept of Europe, as has been explained to us—is that the documents on which everything stands—the treaties from the Treaty of Rome onwards and the amendments which have been made—are admitted to be largely unintelligible. Until that fact is dealt with, there can be no thorough discussion either of the Treaty of Rome or any of those that have been past since.

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative 5:30, 22 January 2002

My Lords, I have great sympathy for much of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. He will agree with me that, even allowing for the problems which are bound to arise when one is legislating for a number of countries using different languages, the language used by the Commission and in European legislation is often almost entirely incomprehensible. The exercise which the noble Lord proposes would be useful if it only compelled officials to try to write in words which ordinary people can understand.

Luckily for the purposes of this debate, a classic example of that occurred in the past few days. When we previously debated the Bill, we discussed the funding of European parties. I drew attention to Article 191, which refers to the funding of European political parties, and to the power which was to be granted to make regulations governing the funding of such parties. I drew the attention of the House to Declaration 11 on Article 191 of the treaty establishing the European Community. That declaration reads:

"The Conference recalls that the provisions of Article 191 do not imply any transfer of powers to the European Community and do not affect the application of the relevant national constitutional rules".

I begged to question what on earth that meant.

Obviously, the first part of the declaration was absolute rubbish. How could one have any funding of European political parties unless there had been a transfer of powers to the European Community? Unless someone had given the EC the power to use our taxpayers' money to fund political parties, why on earth was it doing so in the first place?

Secondly, I questioned what on earth the words,

"do not affect the application of the relevant national constitutional rules", could possible mean. Quite clearly, national constitutional rules could not have any bearing on the funding of a party which was not a national party but which was a European-wide political party. Therefore, it was as plain as a pikestaff to me that that was typical European gobbledegook and that Declaration 11 was sheer nonsense.

Today I received a courteous letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, for which I am grateful. However, lo and behold, she states that the wording which I quoted, and which I have quoted again today, was proposed by the United Kingdom. The Government are responsible for that wording. According to the noble Baroness, the purpose of the wording is to make it plain that Article 191,

"does not in any way affect the right of member states to regulate national political parties in accordance with their own constitutional rules".

Whatever that declaration said, it certainly did not say that. If the English language means anything at all, whatever that declaration means, it cannot possibly mean that.

If our officials are dishing out that kind of rubbish to be included in declarations which are then incorporated in the annexes to treaties, we really are in a mess. I therefore hope that the fact we have spotted some of the nonsense which our officials are feeding out to the Government will be a stern lesson for them. I repeat that Declaration 11 does not mean what the noble Baroness says it means and it is complete nonsense in the context of Article 191.

Let us learn a few lessons from that. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, is on to a rather good thing. I do not want to see too much money spent on it, but I think it would be good if for once officials were required to explain in plain English, rather than European nonsense, what some of the measures to which we are supposed to subscribe really amount to.

Photo of Lord Maclennan of Rogart Lord Maclennan of Rogart Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, helpfully reminded us that the sin of obscurity in legislative documents is one of which we in this country are as guilty as are the drafters of legislative instruments in Brussels or other capitals. I am grateful to my noble friend for introducing the amendment. It is important that the communications of the EU should be resoundingly clear when they are intended to set out fundamental changes in the balance of authority between nation states and the EU.

With the benefit of historical hindsight, it may be true that early EU documents were not designed with that in mind partly because they were the instruments of those who were playing a game of grandmother's footsteps. They were slowly, but none the less surely, developing institutions the full significance of which they understood well but which they were not ready to trumpet in every quarter.

Therefore, what my noble friend says is particularly timely, not so much in the context of the Treaty of Nice, which he admitted is not the right document with which to start the process, because of its textual obscurity, its legislation by reference and the relatively minor changes that it makes compared with some of the previous international agreements—the Treaty of Maastricht, the Single European Act and so forth—but, as we embark on the preparations for the 2004 IGC, it is certainly right and timely to have the necessity of clarity of communication with the citizens of Europe very much in mind.

It is not necessary to rest the case for that on the somewhat equivocal evidence of poor turnout at European elections. The turn-out at all elections has been declining notably, not, I think, because people have not been able to comprehend the issues at stake, but perhaps because they do not see any great issues of principle dividing those on either side of the argument. Alternatively, perhaps they are simply content or, perhaps, the sheer complexity of the issues that face modern governments and their electorates make it difficult to come down firmly and clearly on one side or the other.

Personally, I think that it is wrong not to exercise the democratic right to vote and thus to choose that which has been so hard fought for. Indeed, the other day perhaps I was guilty of a slight indiscretion in criticising a speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, in the debate on the future of the House of Lords for not having attached sufficient importance to the right to vote. However, I believe that my noble friend is right to say that citizenship and the casting of the vote should be encouraged by the comprehensibility of the documents we put before the public.

I do not think that it is quite fair to suggest that either this or the previous government have not taken some steps in the right direction. We have seen the domestic innovation of the publication of Explanatory Notes to accompany legislation, although I have to say that, not infrequently, the Explanatory Notes are as incomprehensible as the Bills themselves. Nevertheless, it has been an encouraging attempt. We have also seen leaflets produced. The leaflet flourished by my noble friend is a somewhat paltry affair, but then some might criticise the document itself as being somewhat paltry.

However, although it would be possible to say a good deal more about the Treaty of Nice than has been attempted in the leaflet, and although it would probably be easier to describe many of the underlying principles—as has been done in several speeches made during the course of our debates on the Bill—which the treaty seeks to incorporate, the detail of the legislation does not lend itself easily to a pamphlet which would be readily understood by the general public. That is not to adopt an exclusive attitude; rather it is a comment on how the document was drafted and, indeed, on how so many of our international agreements are drafted nowadays.

Returning to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, I fear that it forms a part of what might be described as the "British legislative disease", which we are exporting to Europe, rather than importing European gobbledegook into our own way of doing things. So far as concerns constitutional documents, I would prefer to travel much further down that road and incorporate the kind of language used in the Code Napoleon, because its meaning is a great deal clearer. The great constitutional documents of the 18th century, such as the Declaration of the Rights of Man, as well as the more modern European Convention on Human Rights, are pellucidly clear to the lay person and thus highly suitable for circulation as aspirational documents. They encourage the highest expectations and the best urges of those seeking to explain and elevate our democracy. But a document such as that before us, one that requires the experts to undertake a good deal of digging in order to be precisely sure of the meaning, is very unsuited to the kind of treatment that my noble friend wishes to initiate.

I hope that he is not successful in persuading the House that this is the right time to embark on such an exercise. I do not doubt that a right time will come—I do not advocate the doctrine of "un-right time". Rather I would advocate that the next major European constitutional agreement should very much reflect the kind of thinking expressed by my noble friend and that those who share his view will strongly support the proposal that our citizens should be given every opportunity by their national government to follow and understand the constitutional documents being adopted by the European Union on their behalf.

Photo of Lord Bell Lord Bell Conservative 5:45, 22 January 2002

My Lords, I should like to say a few words in support of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. I do not speak from the high ground of a discussion about democracy or the need to include excluded people or, for that matter, in order to discuss the merits and demerits of the Nice treaty, but rather purely from the communications perspective.

It is quite obvious that the Government do wish to communicate with people about the Treaty of Nice because they have set up a website and published a leaflet. I would argue that that is not a particularly competent way to communicate and not really in line either with the Government's well-earned reputation for being able to communicate effectively with the public—which they have done so successfully since they first came to power—or in the context of many other of their activities.

Last year the Government spent some £146 million on publicising various aspects of their policies: advertising careers in nursing and the police, promoting the take-up and use of working families' tax credit and campaigning against benefit fraud. Why not spend a mere £1.5 million on communicating with the public about the Treaty of Nice which, if it results in a "stronger Britain" taking its place in a "wider Europe"—as the Government state in their leaflet—strikes me as something well worth communicating to a much wider audience than simply those who have access to the Internet and those who are so minded to contact the FCO and request a copy of the leaflet. It is a fact about the Internet that it is not accessible to almost 50 per cent of the population, in particular if one includes not only those who cannot gain access, but also those who simply will not seek access or do not have the faintest idea of what to do when they do access it.

The leaflet lists five key benefits that will result from the enlargement of Europe, including increased trade, more jobs and greater co-operation, all of which seem to me to be extremely compelling. I do not think that the Government need fear spelling out in plain language those benefits in a simple leaflet to be dropped through the letter-box of every household in Britain. I shall give one or two reasons why I believe that the Government should adopt the amendment.

First, it is rather a good idea. I was very heartened when the noble Baroness, in summing up on a previous debate, made three points of particular relevance in the context of this amendment, one of which was that the Prime Minister wants it to be made clear that Europe is all about things that matter to UK citizens. If that is the case then it is perfectly reasonable to present the Treaty of Nice in a leaflet explaining that it will touch on those issues that matter to UK citizens.

Secondly, at one point the noble Baroness said that the Government already have in place the website and the leaflet, and that they would be willing to do more. I would be delighted if that "do more" included the adoption of the idea of putting out a well-written, easy-to-consume leaflet about the Treaty of Nice that argued the case for it and against it impartially, thus allowing the people to take a view. After all, if the Treaty of Nice is a force for good, then more knowledge and information about it would enhance the good things it will do for British citizens. If, on the other hand, in their opinion it turns out to be a force for bad, then it would enable British citizens to make clear their concerns about it. The Government would then be able to address those concerns. I see nothing lost by following that route.

Furthermore, it is a very low-cost idea. I spent some 40 years in the communications industry, much of that time in advertising. These days advertising is no longer regarded as the ultimate method of communication. The media have fragmented and the commission system is abolished, so no longer is there any reason why advertising agencies should propose very large advertising budgets. It does not increase their incomes. Media fragmentation has resulted in the development of direct marketing, which is, basically, what is being proposed here. A leaflet dropped through the letter-box of each household is a direct marketing approach. It is cost-effective and efficient; it can be measured; and it is modern. I know that the Government like to do things that are modern.

I believe that the Government could easily accept this amendment and I urge them to do so.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, he said that he saw no reason why the leaflet should not include government statements on why the European Union provides so many advantages for Britain. Does he classify that as being impartial?

Photo of Lord Bell Lord Bell Conservative

My Lords, it depends on how it is expressed. The art of communication in the industry I come from is about information and persuasion. It is virtually impossible to give information without it having some persuasive effect, particularly if the information is seen by the recipient as a benefit. I do not think that the leaflet should be turned into propaganda and it is perfectly possible for the Government to have people from either side put their arguments in it. But, setting aside the issue of whether or not the Government coat it in persuasion, the mere issue of what the Treaty will do for people's lives in Britain is sufficiently important that I would run that risk.

Photo of Lord Molyneaux of Killead Lord Molyneaux of Killead Crossbench

My Lords, I, too, have a good deal of sympathy with the amendment because, on occasions such as this, I have been convinced that international draftsmen are not so much confused as seeking refuge in complexity.

Photo of Lord Weatherill Lord Weatherill Crossbench

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, is chairman of the Citizenship Foundation. My interest in the amendment arises from my role as the founder president of the Institute for Citizenship. Like the Citizenship Foundation, we seek to preach and teach good citizenship and an understanding of parliamentary government, both in our own Parliament and in Europe. Prior to the previous European elections, the Institute for Citizenship endeavoured to explain and encourage an interest in the elections to the European Parliament—particularly among young people—under the slogan, "Get the vote out". I fear that we were not successful because, as the House knows, the turn-out was as low as 23 per cent—a catastrophic figure which should worry us all.

In analysing this after the election, the most frequently reiterated phrase was, "We didn't know enough about it". In the new year, just before the House resumed, I attended a civic service in my former constituency of Croydon. I asked one of my former constituents, "Who is our Euro MP?", to which he replied, "Well, you are, mate, aren't you?". I never met anyone in Croydon who knew who was our European Member of Parliament—thanks to the list system, I gather that there are six of them—but, in the old days, when we had James Moorhouse, at least we knew who he was and what he was up to. Today, I fear, people know nothing or very little about the European Parliament, which is increasingly impacting upon our affairs.

I have added my name to the amendment because it is important that the people of this country understand what is being done here in Westminster in their name. Thanks to the 30-year rule, we now know that, in the 1975 referendum, we who were active in seeking a "yes" vote leading into the European Economic Community were not told at the time that we had signed away our fishing rights, worth billions of pounds, which has virtually killed our fishing fleets. Any further intrusion of this kind must be clearly spelt out. I urge your Lordships to look at this in the Library, as I have done, and in the Daily Telegraph of last week.

We are not now concerned with the EEC but with the European Union. It is crucially important that the people of our country are kept fully informed and made fully aware of the impact of the Bill on our national affairs. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, calculated that the leaflet would cost £1.5 million. He mentioned that Jack Straw thought that this was an under-estimate and calculated that it would cost £5 million. Five million pounds is a paltry sum in economic terms. In my view, it would be money very well spent if, as other noble Lords have said, the leaflet spelt out clearly and in plain English the impact of the Nice treaty and the Bill on our future.

There is a feeling that we are signing away our freedoms and, notably, our sovereignty. The leaflet suggested by the noble Lord would protect the Government if it all went wrong and, importantly, it would spell out to the electorate the impact of the Nice treaty prior to a referendum on our entry into the euro, if and when it comes.

It is far easier to lose our freedoms than it is to regain them. The greatest enemy of freedom is apathy. We should do all we can to ensure that the electorate of our country know what is being done on their behalf. It is in that spirit that I warmly support the amendment.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, with one proviso—that it might perhaps go a little further. It states that the proposed communication, which I support, should be in writing, in plain English, in popular form and impartial. It should also contain the proviso that it should be truthful or accurate.

I say that because of what happened the last time a British government consulted the British people in a referendum. As the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, reminded us, that was in 1975, when the people voted on whether or not we should stay in what was then the European Common Market. It is worth remembering what happened then, much of which was encapsulated in a Radio 4 programme on 3rd February 2000 at eight o'clock. That programme, which was entitled, "Document: A letter to The Times", is well worth listening to again, or perhaps noble Lords should at least look at the transcript. In that programme, the BBC confessed that in the 1975 referendum it was heavily biased in favour of a "yes" vote before and during the campaign, and even, amazingly, that the "yes" campaign was generously funded by the CIA.

Worse than that, the leaflet that the then government put through every letterbox in the land has turned out to be inaccurate. In the letter from the Labour government headed by Mr Wilson

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative

My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will give way. Is not it also worth reminding noble Lords that, in 1975, those members of the Labour government who were recommending a "yes" vote in the referendum said, in commending the union, that the public would be glad to hear that the threat of monetary union had been removed?

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. I was about to quote from the pamphlet in question. Mr Wilson assured the public that the threat of economic and monetary union,

"could have forced us to accept fixed exchange rates for the pound, restricting industrial growth and so putting jobs at risk".

And then the immortal words,

"This threat has been removed".

It is for that reason that I support the amendment. I hope that the pamphlet will be accurate and truthful, and that its impartiality will be judged by more than the government of the day.

Photo of Lord Acton Lord Acton Labour 6:00, 22 January 2002

My Lords, I am sorry. I do not mean to persecute him, but, before he sits down, did the noble Lord say that the "yes" vote in 1975 was partially funded by the CIA? Did I hear him correctly? If so, is it the case that on the previous Report day he said that it was the Soviet Union and today is saying that the last vote on Europe was funded by the CIA. I am becoming very confused.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

My Lords, my good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Acton, heard me entirely correctly. The information was contained in the BBC Radio 4 programme broadcast on 3rd February 2000, which went out at eight o'clock. It was entitled "Document: A letter to The Times". Indeed, all the supporting written evidence is to be found at Georgetown University, in Washington. The noble Lord goes to the United States often, so he can go and read it for himself. Or he can simply read the transcript of the programme to which I have referred. It confirms beyond peradventure that the CIA gave massive funding to the "yes" campaign in this country in 1975.

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative

My Lords, I strongly support the amendment, for the reasons in particular given by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. I assume, indeed I hope, that such a provision would come into force before the decision on the euro. It is my belief that most people in this country still see that as merely a financial decision. It is vitally important that there should be some way—as is offered by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips—of explaining to people that we are looking at constitutional change; that it will be irrevocable; and that it will affect every aspect of their lives.

That is still not being brought home to the public. They are still thinking in terms of the euro, and in terms of money and markets. All those are important. But most important of all is that we should continue, through Parliament, to make our own decisions. Those decisions will be taken away from us if we are not very careful. Therefore, I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, for the particular reasons that he gave. I must apologise for not having been present earlier: no doubt these points have been made already. But perhaps the House will not mind my repeating them briefly. This is a constitutional issue, and that is what matters.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Liberal Democrat

My Lords, my noble friend is known for his complete devotion to participatory democracy. I share his view. I agree with him that citizens deserve better information about Europe. But why should we leave it at Europe? If asked, quite a number of people, for example, would not be able to describe how the Stock Exchange works—although it probably affects them in their daily lives as much as many other matters. There is a huge range of matters about which people do not know a great deal. There is a vast amount of knowledge; we cannot all know all of it.

It would be useful if citizens were given greater information about this important subject. However, to achieve that, much more is needed than a simple leaflet about a treaty. We need a press which takes a responsible attitude towards this subject—which, until recently, the press has not. I have detected a slightly more responsible attitude recently, but stories about fishermen with hairnets and all the other rubbish in years gone by did not help.

We also need a willingness on the part of government to unleash the European movement from its shackles. We must suppose that we are in the run-up to a referendum, but so far the European movement has been told not to utter so much as a whisper.

The main reason why I have doubts about the effect of the proposed new clause is the use of the word "impartial". The noble Lord referred to leaflets that are put through doors at election time. I may claim to have written as many such leaflets as most other Members of this House. I have stood for election six times, and I have always written my own election literature. Although I say it myself, occasionally I produced a rather good leaflet—simple and easy to read, illustrated, in large print, and taking up two sides of an A4 sheet of paper. But it was not, nor was it intended to be, impartial. The minute you start putting out a leaflet which says, "Some people may think this. Some people may think that. The Government think this", the leaflet will not be short. It will not be plain; it will not be simple; and it will not be popular.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, I am glad to be associated with this amendment, which the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, moved with great eloquence. In putting forward such views, he speaks for those far beyond his own party.

As for the cost of the proposal—referred to by my noble friend Lord Waddington—if it reached the stratospheric sums mentioned, I should have to disengage my support. Together with other noble Lords, I believe that this would be quite a cheap exercise. The actual sum would be minuscule compared with the amount that the Government spend on advertising almost every week, let alone the amount that the European Union spends on promoting its views—sometimes dedicated in a particular direction. So I do not believe that the cost problem is a deterrent.

Why do I believe that it would be right for the Government to accept the amendment? I accept the point that the impartiality criterion is a difficult one. I have it from my noble friend Lord Bell—who is an expert sans pareil in handling information and in persuading people—that separating information from persuasion is always very difficult, although it can be done.

If those who draft the treaties and documents are serious, and if the Commission is serious, about bringing Europe nearer to the citizen, the thirst for information about what is implied in this treaty, and in others, must be met. That thirst is very great; it is much greater than it was even a few years ago. Thanks to the information revolution, people have far better access to information. The movement is afoot in Europe for a less centralised and less remote pattern of European institutions which no longer try to conduct our affairs from the top down.

The demand for plain English is admirable and right. We should resist "Euro-babble" wherever it occurs. There are inherent difficulties in the complex relations between nations being put together by treaties. This is an argument for fewer treaties and less activism by the central European institutions, so that what they do, and the responsibilities that they assume, can be explained in simpler words—in any language, but obviously in our native language, English, with which we are particularly concerned.

I hope that the amendment will be supported by all parties. I waited, breathless, to hear whether the Front Bench colleagues of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, were going to support it. In the end, I think I detected that discretion was to be the better part of valour, and that we should have wait another day for their support. I hope I am wrong. This is an excellent cause for all parties that believe in democracy, liberty and freedom. They should recognise its value and support it.

As my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth rightly said, this is a constitutional matter—purveying to people what is being done to their constitution—not ours, but theirs—in their name. It is not only a financial matter. That should be understood before any referendum on the euro is called. I believe that it is increasingly being understood. The constitutional issues have now come to the centre of the debate.

The amendment does not affect the treaty. Those who are terrified of touching the treaty in any of its sacred aspects can be reassured. It merely brings a small ray, a beam, of common sense into this area, where there is so much babble about closeness to citizens and more democracy, and so little action. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, will press his amendment to a decision. I certainly support it.

Photo of Lady Saltoun of Abernethy Lady Saltoun of Abernethy Crossbench

My Lords, might I ask what is probably a very stupid question? If the amendment is accepted, and if every household in the country receives a lovely communication through the door—clear, impartial, and written in beautiful English which everyone can understand—what happens if they decide on the basis of that information that they do not like the treaty? What can they do about it? I understand that there is not to be a referendum on the treaty. Will there be an election before the treaty comes into force? What can people do about it if they do not like it?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, to answer the last point raised by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, first, there has been an election since the treaty was published. We stated categorically in our election manifesto that we would ratify the treaty if we were elected. The British people have had their chance and we all know what they said clearly in June.

Let us come back to the point of the amendment. I think that we all agree on the need for information about the Treaty of Nice and about the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union, although I must point out that the amendment is about only the constitutional and governmental effects of the Treaty of Nice, not the entire panoply of difficulties that some of your Lordships have expressed relating to some of the deeper constitutional issues, which are not solely to do with the Treaty of Nice. We can agree that it is important that we communicate to the public on the issue.

The Government have been doing that since before the Treaty of Nice was negotiated. We published a White Paper in February 2000 before the start of the IGC that led to Nice. That White Paper set out in clear and simple English the issues involved and the Government's approach. That document was and still is available on the Foreign Office website. In addition, we have regularly held debates on the issues in this House and in another place and we have provided further 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, spelling out the issues. That is also available on the Foreign Office website.

The British public have also been able to secure a host of information on Nice and on the EU from the Foreign Office through our website, through our publications, through the media and through other organisations that many people use to secure information. Some of your Lordships also referred to the short booklet that the Government have published for the general public spelling out the issues. We believe that it spelt them out in the clear and impartial way referred to in the amendment. As we have already discussed, what some regard as impartial may not be altogether consistent with what others regard as impartial, but it is certainly the Government's view that the booklet is impartial. We send it out to anyone who writes to us about Nice.

All the necessary information has been made available. Mailing it to every household could be done only at disproportionate cost. It was not done for any of the previous treaties. I am sure that all your Lordships, who are tremendously knowledgeable about Europe, agree that some of those treaties were a great deal more radical than this treaty, including those negotiated by Conservative governments. I do not understand why it is suddenly so important to do that for the Treaty of Nice, which makes changes that are much less fundamental than those in some previous treaties.

Some of your Lordships have alluded to the considerable handicap that this country has, which most of our partners in the European Union do not have. It is one reason why the British public remain among the least informed on European issues. The problem is that it is very difficult to provide objective information on Europe via the media. Europe is an emotive issue in this country and a sensible debate through the media—a debate that does not include many raised voices—is almost impossible in this country. That is one reason why we target the public directly. We have already heard categoric statements from some of your Lordships repeating what has been put forward in the press recently relating to moves made in the Foreign Office for some sort of security council arrangements in the EU. That is plain nonsense, but some will believe what is put in the press. I did not hear the programme to which the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, referred earlier, but the funding in 1975 was voted for by Parliament. As far as I know, it was split equally. I do not know whether the noble Lord believes that the CIA was funding in addition to that or whether he believes that the CIA was funding both sides. One should not always believe everything that one hears a journalist say.

Let us leave that on one side and come back to the point of the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said that it was not enough to have information on the Internet. Of course it is not enough in itself, although more than 55 per cent of the UK is in touch with the Internet. We have the highest Internet usage of any country in Europe. Thanks to this Government's policies, that figure is much higher for children and young people.

The information is made available on the Internet not just for those who access it directly. Your Lordships will know that media organisations and other so-called multipliers of information and news use the Internet as one of their primary sources. We are taking approximately 10,000 hits a month on the FCO website. Noble Lords may say that that is not very many. It may not be—although it is one of the highest usages of any official information in Whitehall—but those multipliers have to be brought into the equation. We believe that it is right for the Government to make such heavy investment in the Internet and in the ways we have published information.

That is just one part of our strategy of raising awareness about the EU. We also work in partnership with organisations, think tanks, private companies, institutions and others to spread information. We undertake research to show where the need for information is greatest and to develop the strategies that we believe are needed. I hope that your Lordships will be able to agree that that is a far more sophisticated and cost-effective way of providing information than simply sending out an unsolicited mailshot.

I have a great deal of sympathy for what my noble friend Lord Bruce said about the treaties being incomprehensible. That is why we are so supportive of what the convention is trying to do and of the aims of the IGC in 2004. However, I am bound to say that my noble friend's point would not be met by the amendment, which is closely focused on Nice alone, not what has gone on before. He will be much better helped by the proposals that the Government are supporting on the IGC. Of course there are problems with the criss-crossing of the references between various treaties, conventions and declarations. That is why we have said that a simplification of the treaties is very important, with a view to making them clearer and better understood, without changing their meaning.

The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, referred to the letter that I sent him. As with many issues, I believe that these matters require careful reading. Sometimes documents have to be read two or three times to understand exactly what is meant. I am not at all unhappy that it was a British draft that went forward to make it absolutely clear that there should not be leaking of money from European sources into national political parties. His main point was that the provision was not clear and the words were gobbledegook. A lot of such provisions are very difficult to understand. That is why we need to look clearly at the treaties. I have great sympathy with the noble Lord. Noble Lords will be able to judge for themselves about the gobbledegook from the letter that has gone into the Library of the House.

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative

My Lords, the noble Baroness must concede that the letter does not say what she says that it ought to have said. What would have been wrong if the declaration had said that the provision of Article 191 does not affect in any way the right of member states to regulate their own political parties? That—rather than what it says—is apparently what it means.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the declaration says that it does not affect the application of the relevant national constitutional rules. I agree that that is not as clear as what the noble Lord just said, but it is perfectly clear to those who understand the ways in which such conventions and treaties work. I am far more of a novice, I am sure, than the noble Lord, but even I understand that that is what it is trying to say. I also think that it says it, although perhaps not as articulately as he has just done. I also suggest to him that it is not quite as much of a minefield as he suggests. However, your Lordships can judge for yourselves as the letter is in the Library.

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, was quite right that the earlier treaties were written by those who did not have the same sensitivity to the importance of public understanding of what the government do. That is absolutely true. These are enormously complex issues in which we are constantly making cross-referrals. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, is a past master at that. He is extraordinarily nimble in nipping about the various treaties, making cross-references. That is why it is so important for us to take these issues forward in the IGC.

Let us talk about cost. When the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, originally raised the issue with us, he estimated that the cost would be about £5 million. I should say that the Foreign Office has great experience of tendering for leaflets. Additionally, we checked with our FCO print suppliers, who are employed on a value-for-money basis, and they agreed with the noble Lord that the cost would be about £5 million. The noble Lord has now reduced his estimate, and told us the basis on which he did so. I am bound to tell him, however, that government tendering is always very difficult; we have, for example, to take competitive bids. In relation to this specific proposal, we have also considered value for money. On that basis, we agree with his original estimate.

However trivial the noble Lord may think such a sum, in Foreign Office terms, it is a great deal of money: it is 20 times our annual budget for public diplomacy on the European Union; in other words, 20 times what we have in the kitty for informing the public on these issues. We have £250,000, with which we manage to fund a huge range of projects—targeting those who know the least about the EU, giving them information, and trying to stimulate debate. I think that that is far more effective than sending out an essentially unsolicited mailshot on just the Nice treaty—which, as we all know following the deliberations on this Bill, contains technical amendments and would mean virtually nothing to the vast majority of the public.

The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said that that would be "reaching out". I truly do not believe that blowing £5 million on such a leaflet would be reaching out as he seemed to suggest. It would also entail our cancelling all our current work in providing information on the EU.

What are we doing? I was asked to give some examples of what more we could do. The noble Lord, Lord Bell, said that he was encouraged by my earlier comment that we could be doing more. We are, first, funding a series of visits to all regions of the United Kingdom to talk about Europe directly to people in companies and organisations and to hear what concerns them. I myself was doing that only two Fridays ago.

Secondly, we are funding an information campaign to give people the facts that they need on introduction in the euro-zone of euro notes and coins.

Thirdly, we are funding academics to examine the issues surrounding the future of Europe and to give us their insights—of course on an impartial basis—by means of discussion in seminars and papers which are distributed.

Fourthly, we make grants to organisations to bring together the public and opinion formers in open debates on Europe.

Fifthly, we are in partnership with the Post Office to make available information on Europe in Britain's post offices.

Sixthly, we give money to an organisation running a European youth parliament which publicises the EU among young people from diverse backgrounds—thereby dealing with the inclusion point—and in their educational institutions. Our research shows that young people are one of the least educated groups on Europe.

Seventhly, we run various projects to raise awareness of the EU among women—which is another group that the surveys tell us are less informed on Europe than we should like.

I think that that is real reaching out, trying to see where the need is and focusing on that real need. I believe that that is a far more genuine and—to use the term used by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips—"imaginative" reaching out than the mailshot which he tried to persuade us would be so much more imaginative.

I have gone through that long list because it is important that your Lordships do not think that we are sitting on our laurels and doing nothing about the issue; we are doing a great deal. I have described just a small sample of the work that the Government are doing to raise awareness on Europe. Crucially, if your Lordships were to be successful on the issue and the Government proceeded on that basis, it would be possible to proceed on none of what I have just enumerated.

I am proud of our record on genuinely reaching out to those whom we need to get more in tune with events in Europe and inform better. I think that we are taking the right action, which is far better than seeing all the money thrown away for the sake of a narrowly cast, ill-targeted and unsolicited mailshot, which I honestly do not believe will go much further than most people's dustbins.

The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, argued that we provide information in general elections. Of course we do, but general elections are times of high political drama. During general elections, there is an active curiosity about policies and candidates. I therefore believe that the amendment raises a genuinely separate issue. Moreover, as we have discussed, such issues are very often much more complicated than the types of reason why people vote in general elections.

I hope that I have persuaded your Lordships that the Government are not against informing the people of Britain about the Nice treaty or about our policies on Europe. Indeed, we are doing much more than any previous government to raise awareness on Europe. I think that that is the right approach.

I remind some noble Lords opposite that, earlier this year, when I circulated an unsolicited document on the changeover to euro notes and coins, some of your Lordships came to me to object that it was unsolicited and that I should not have had the temerity to send it. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, is asking us to do that on a grand scale. It is very interesting indeed that the Conservative Party has embraced the proposal quite so enthusiastically. I think that a far better strategy is that which I have outlined to your Lordships. I hope that your Lordships will be able to support the Government and reject the amendment.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all who have taken part in this mini-debate, which has been very interesting and illuminating. It would be wrong, having proceeded for an hour and 10 minutes, for me to do more than touch on a very few points.

I cannot help but resist the principal point made by the Minister, that all the Foreign Office's other initiatives would cease if the proposal were adopted. That is a question of the Government getting their finances in order. They have spent £66 million so far on informing business about entry to the euro; to spend £5 million—if that is what the sum is, although I believe it to be a great deal less—on informing the public about the Nice treaty seems to be a very proportionate amount.

Noble Lords have made various positive points, although there have been some negative ones. Some noble Lords have said that implementing such a proposal is impossible; some have said that it is not the right time; some said that we should have done it earlier; and some said that one cannot be impartial. I think that those are all defeatist arguments, and that if we believed them we should pack up and go home. Whatever else one may say and whatever arguments may be adduced, I do not think that any person in this Chamber would deny that we have a massive problem of public ignorance about the European Union and resentment about the fact that they are ignored and overlooked in relation to it.

It is a massive problem, and nothing that the Minister said came anywhere near to dealing with it. With 10,000 hits a month on the Foreign Office's website, it would take almost 500 years for the whole population to obtain information from the wretched thing. We also know that it would be out of date every year. The website is a pathetic justification of inaction and goes nowhere near dealing with the scale of the problem that we have in this country.

Therefore, encouraged as I am by those who have supported the amendment, I should like to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 18) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 89; Not-Contents, 164.

Division number 2 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — European Communities (Amendment) Bill

Aye: 87 Members of the House of Lords

No: 162 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.