HL Deb 11 June 1996 vol 572 cc1576-7

3.13 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 20th May be approved [21st Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this order relates to the Energy Charter Treaty which was signed by the United Kingdom and 42 other parties (50 by the closing date), including the European Community and all member states, in December 1994. The order specifies the treaty as a European treaty under Section 1(3) of the European Communities Act 1972.

The concept of an energy charter—a political declaration to encourage investment and trade in energy—was conceived in 1990 as a response to the need for economic recovery in the then Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe. The charter was signed in December 1991. The treaty text, which gives legal effect to most of the provisions of the charter, was completed in summer 1994 and signed in Lisbon in December that year. I commend the order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 20th May be approved [21st Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Miller of Hendon.)

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I am most obliged to the noble Baroness for outlining the provisions of this order. Will she tell the House why it has taken 18 months for a comparatively simple treaty, as I understand it, to reach this particular stage?

In view of a certain amount of dubiety as to whether or not Ministers read treaties, will she assure the House that this treaty went before the Cabinet and was approved by a Minister who is willing to acknowledge that he or she, as the case may be, has read it?

Further, will the noble Baroness tell the House what benefits the Government anticipate as a result of entering into this particular commitment on behalf of the United Kingdom and the likely costs which may conceivably result from incorporating it into Community legislation?

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, I am unable to tell the noble Lord why this matter has taken so long to reach this stage. I must say that I thought that the first time that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, asked me a question it would be on a matter which contained the word "European". I imagine that it took a long time because it had to be given extremely careful consideration. I cannot give the noble Lord an assurance that every single word in the treaty was read by everybody because I have not asked Cabinet Ministers whether or not they have read the treaty. I can assure the noble Lord that I certainly read my briefing extremely carefully.

There will be definite advantages in due course arising from this order, not only with regard to energy but also with regard to trade generally. I am not sure about the benefits which it will bring but everybody is of the view that the provisions of the order will be extremely beneficial.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may remind her that when we discussed a treaty which was before the House for approval a few weeks ago, the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, said that she would ensure that methods by which your Lordships' House could have an opportunity to consider treaties more effectively would be looked into. It was suggested that perhaps there should be an explanatory memorandum available for us in the Printed Paper Office, or perhaps a Scrutiny Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, supported those suggestions at that time. Perhaps the noble Baroness will give me an assurance that she will remind the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, of that undertaking which was given to look at our methods of dealing with such matters.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, I can give the noble Lord that assurance. I shall certainly speak to my noble friend Lady Chalker about that. There is a document called The Energy Charter Treaty: Key Points for British Business in the Library which outlines all the benefits to be derived from this order. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, may wish to read that document.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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