HL Deb 15 November 2001 vol 628 cc691-746

4.5 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Allenby of Megiddo) in the Chair.]

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

Lord Howell of Guildford moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 9, at beginning insert "Article 1 (other than paragraph 1, subsection 1, revising Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union),".

The noble Lord said: At the outset of our Committee stage, and in moving this amendment, I hope that I shall be permitted to say a few words about our approach to this and coming amendments in the Committee stage before coming specifically to the detail of this collection of amendments and the new clause which is added to them.

We on these Benches believe that our role and proper duty is to scrutinise and, if possible, improve legislation. We believe that that applies, in particular, to this legislation because, although some days of discussion took place in Committee in another place, a number of issues were not discussed there. A number of issues have clear constitutional implications.

We are very concerned, as are other noble Lords in other parties—they have said so very eloquently; I think in particular of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, the other day—that matters are not fully debated and that they arrive on the statute book without having been fully discussed. This is a very serious question and it applies nowhere more acutely, I suspect, than to the matter of European legislation and to the consequences of changes that we make or approve through our legislation; that is, in the application of changes in the treaties to our legislative structure.

In this Bill, and in the treaties to which it relates, are issues that could change the whole face of Europe and, indeed, our own procedures inside this kingdom. We shall of course, in later amendments, discuss the whole matter of enlargement. That is certainly related to this Bill, although the nature of the relationship is a matter on which there is more than one view. We shall no doubt have healthy debates on that and on the treaty which, in the view of my noble friends on this Bench, might have made rather more progress than the present one appears to be making.

In this and other amendments we shall argue that much of the conventional thinking about the European Union and the future shape of Europe needs to be jettisoned. We believe that that jettisoning process, which might have begun at Nice, clearly has not begun in the minds of some policy makers and their supporters.

In discussions on future amendments we shall also want to know what "Plan B" is should the Nice treaty not make the progress that it needs to make in all the member states' legislatures and should there be difficulties with our Irish friends in rejigging the situation so that they can unblock their own position. There are other highly political aspects to the treaty's progress, such as the issue of Cyprus, which we shall doubtless examine before we are through.

My final preliminary point is that the treaties are horribly inaccessible. They are couched in terms that are largely unintelligible, except to the expert few. Of course, this point does not relate only to the treaty; it is widely agreed that the Bill is very unsatisfactory. Only yesterday, the Financial Times described it as "feeble"; that is the kindest word that has been used about it. The experts in the Committee—there are many—may be familiar with the fact that we are dealing with two treaties, not with one, but I suspect that that is widely unknown outside. We are dealing with the Treaty on European Union (the first block of amendments relate to it) and with the treaty establishing the European Community (later amendments relate to that separate document). No wonder people long for all the treaties to be consolidated into one document, which we could discuss and amend, and which might begin to be translatable into a language that ordinary citizens could understand. That would give them some inkling of the way in which changes in the law affect their lives.

I am grateful to Members of the Committee for letting me make those preliminary points, which relate to the amendment but also to the many other amendments that we shall discuss in coming days.

Amendments Nos. 1 to 6 relate to Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union; they do not relate to the treaty establishing the European Community. The provisions seek to upgrade—to beef up, if I may use that phrase—the article that was previously in the treaty. This time, the concern is about the misbehaviour of an EU state. Such misbehaviour involves not so much a breach of fundamental principles but the clear risk of a serious breach of fundamental principles and rights. The proposal would allow the powers that be in the EU to intervene in a state's internal affairs on the grounds of speculation; the old article did not have that speculative element. That makes some of us uneasy. I very much want the Minister to explain the justification for making the article a more speculative weapon.

I believe that that weapon has never been used, but it could be used on the basis of speculation and of a majority of four-fifths in the Council of Ministers. It might intercede in a situation and could be empowered to remove the voting powers of a member state that was deemed to have offended against fundamental principles.

I make it absolutely clear that the fundamental principles, which are set out in Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union, cannot be challenged. Those admirable principles are broad—they relate to human rights, democracy, the rule of law and other matters that we regard as natural and central to our way of life. To what extent it is good that they should be embodied in EU documentation is an important question.

We shall later debate the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, which appears not in the treaty but in a declaration that is attached to the treaty on page 78 of that document. However, I shall not now go into that or the status of the charter. The proposition that there should be a system of judgment relating to member states about whether they have conformed to broad assertions of very important and basic rights raises questions about the extent to which the rights of European citizens should be centralised. Perhaps one can distinguish between the basic rights, which are, as I said, fundamental to the way in which our free societies work, and the string of rights that we shall discuss later and which appear in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights; in many cases. they involve important social priorities, and they might be better handled at national level rather than at the supranational level or at the level of EU institutions.

Those questions are raised in this context, and we shall later have relevant debates on the charter. They are raised by the amendment by the Treaty of Nice of the previous treaty documentation and by the introduction of the speculative element, which is about whether there is a clear risk, whatever that may be; I do not know how one defines it.

This article has been given another name, which indicates its intended purpose or, at least, its inspiration; it has been called the Austrian article and it raises the Austrian question. What do we mean by that? We refer to the most unfortunate circumstances that emerged a year or so ago when, as a result of elections in Austria, which is a member state, politicians who had apparently appealed to the most undesirable and unhealthy political antecedents and traditions came to power. Many people who heard what was being said by Mr Haider were repelled.

The matter does not stop there. The situation led member states of the EU and, finally and collectively, the EU as a whole, to adopt various positions. They involved sanctions, not being on speaking terms and not appearing in the same photograph with Austrian leaders. Most Members of the Committee will agree that that led to one of the most undignified and unhappy episodes in the EU's recent history. It certainly did enormous damage to the EU's reputation and dignity. None of us wishes to see that repeated.

I suspect—the Minister may make it clear that I am wrong—that the desire to strengthen the censure provisions in Article 7 arose from the hope that there was a role for the EU in such situations and that the next time the situation arose the response would be more co-ordinated and not so undignified. It would be desirable if one could get down on paper an article and procedures about how the full force and fury of the EU could be brought to bear on an offending member state. My view and that of some of my noble friends is that that arrangement might be worse. I do not say that in a particularly challenging way; we are seeking information.

The endeavour during the early months of 2000 to put pressure on the Austrians led to unhappy results and the general withdrawal of many assertions. That was done without in any way endorsing or approving the views of the relevant individuals in Austria. There was a strong feeling that such matters were for the nation state—for Austria. If one mobilised the great institutions of the EU and the EU itself to try to stamp out, change or push a nation into another line of behaviour, the effort would end in tears—indeed, it did.

Those issues are raised by the article and our amendments to the Bill, which cannot change the treaty—that is done by Royal Prerogative. However, that is another debate for another time. We can change the way in which the provisions apply in our legislation.

The article touches on another issue that we will debate on another occasion; namely, the four-fifths voting requirement, which involves a sort of qualified majority vote arrangement. At Second Reading, the Minister asked about the attitude of noble Lords on these Benches towards QMV in general. My answer—I shall give a more detailed answer later—is to quote the words of Evelyn Waugh: Up to a point, Lord Copper".

We see the case for QMV and have previously approved it but we do not see the case for the process going on and on or for going deeper into more intrusive details in areas that are much better handled locally—nearer the citizen or the grass roots—than by centralised institutions. Generally, our view—this will be reflected in many of the amendments that we shall consider—is that centralisation is to be avoided; it inevitably stretches the threads of democracy to breaking point. In particular, many aspects of the Treaty of Nice seek to replicate the nation state at a European level; that involves "upscaling" the nation state and creating a Europe whose identity—whose rules and values—involves a false perception of where the world is going and of the way in which Europe should be organised. We do not live in that age any more, although we may have in the past. The proposition that central rules and regulations that reach right into the "nooks and crannies"—to use the famous phrase of my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell—of national life should be endorsed and enlarged with every treaty and treaty amendment does not benefit Europe. That view is misplaced, backward-looking and inappropriate for a modern Europe. I beg to move.

Lord Bruce of Donington

Shortly, I should like to speak to Amendment No. 1, but I begin by referring to more general remarks that fell from the lips of the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. He discussed the broad, general purposes of the treaty and its likely overall effect. My points are technical, and can therefore can be easily disposed of. The Bill amends an existing Act of Parliament—the European Communities Act 1972—by virtue of which, as Members of the Committee will recall, this country became adjoined to the then Common Market. That raises certain complications, such as those of interpretation.

I remind the Committee that when it comes to the amendment of treaties that affect the European Community, under the Treaty of Rome the Commission is the interpreter—not our legal brains, of which there are fortunately a plentitude in the Committee. It may therefore be appropriate to cast our eyes over the composition of the Commission and form an assessment of whether they are intellectually—I use that word deliberately—capable of interpreting treaties impartially and in accordance with the open argument that we in this country tend to have.

I now turn not to the amendment itself, but to its status. According to the Explanatory Notes, the Bill comes into operation on Royal Assent. We are also told that it is necessary for us to pass the Bill and for it to be enacted so that we can ratify the Treaty of Nice. That sounds a little peculiar to me. What happens if, after all the time that we are bound to spend on our deliberations, the treaty is never ratified? Is all our work to be completely in vain?

The Explanatory Notes state: The Treaty of Nice reforms the institutions of the European Union (the EU) to enable the EU to operate effectively". The last paragraph of page 1 states: The UK signed the Treaty of Nice on 26 February 2001 and this Bill is intended to enable the UK to ratify the Treaty. That is extraordinary, because the Bill is due to come into operation immediately it receives Royal Assent.

I ask a purely technical question. There is probably an easy answer. I am not familiar with all the items of procedure. It seems likely that at least two member states will not ratify the treaty. So the Bill may never come into operation, and the European Communities Act 1972 will remain undisturbed. There may be a way to deal with that. I may have misrepresented the position; if so, not knowingly. I should be grateful for an account from the Government—and possibly from Her Majesty's Opposition—of how they view the position. If the Irish, for example, refuse to ratify the treaty, what will happen to the Bill? What will happen to the amendments to the 1972 Act?

I turn to the amendment, which deals with the question of someone being satisfied or dissatisfied with the way in which the United Kingdom conducts its economic affairs. Under Article 7 as drafted, that is a matter not of speculation but of proof, although who is to prove that the United Kingdom has not obeyed or complied with acceptable European Community economic policies is another question. That is now to be decided on suspicion. Who will have such suspicions?

We can only speculate. Let us speculate that France, for example, has an objection. That would be a bit odd, would it not? France is well known only to obey EC regulations when it suits. It is hardly in a position to judge whether the United Kingdom has properly obeyed liquidity rules, or is in danger of adversely affecting the economies of Europe.

As I said, in practice the Commission will make the determination. What the Council of Ministers or the European Council—the status of which, by the way, is nowhere defined in the treaties—will do about that is another matter. Those questions require answers.

As for the Commission, well, well, well; oh dear, oh dear! The Commission and its directorates remain largely unchanged from the Commission that was severely castigated by the six wise men appointed by the European Parliament, who concluded that they could find no commissioner with any sense of responsibility. Those guys are still there, despite that indictment. Should we not be extremely cautious before devoting much more time and energy to considering the Bill? Would it not be better to wait for ratification of the treaty, combined with what, I take it, would be our speculative approval?

I am not sure how in parliamentary language, in this place and another place, one ranks speculative decisions. So far as my knowledge of the law is concerned—it is not all that good; I defer to lawyers in that regard—it is not a term we use. We do not arrive at speculative conclusions. Parliament deliberates; Parliament decides; and in due course the legislation is enacted; it receives Royal Assent and it comes into operation.

I suggest to the Committee that those questions may perhaps be regarded as procedural. But I regard them as a matter of detail requiring our attention. It may be that the Committee will decide that it is inappropriate for us to proceed further. It will save me a lot of time, and I am sure that it will save others a lot of time also.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Renton

The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, raised a matter of importance not merely in relation to the drafting of this Bill, but also in relation to the constitution.

As I understand it, the Treaty of Nice, like other treaties, cannot come into force until it has been ratified by each of the members which purport to be a party to it. It would help to clarify our minds if we knew to what extent the treaty has already been ratified. If it has not been ratified by all the purported signatories, then, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. said, this Bill is insignificant and it is a waste of time for us to be asked to enact it. I hope that the noble Baroness, who will no doubt reply on this matter, can clarify that point.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

I hope that it is not being suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that Britain should always be the last to ratify any treaty revising the European Union. The suggestion that we should be among the early ones is much more desirable.

Perhaps I too may make a few general points while also making the plea that we should treat the Committee stage from now on as one which addresses the amendments and does not raise general points about the European Union and Britain's membership of it. If we see the Committee process as an area in which we contribute to public education and explanation, it will be helpful to address the changes proposed in the Bill itself.

I welcome what the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said in his opening remarks regarding Conservative thinking on the future of the European Union. After all, we are going directly from this consideration of the ratification into preparations for the next intergovernmental conference, which I suspect will be a much more important revision of the treaty than the relatively modest set of changes we are currently discussing.

I particularly welcome the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that consolidation of the treaty is something that the Conservatives will accept. That is one of the major issues on the agenda for next time. I was a little surprised when I saw the amendments tabled by the Conservatives in this Chamber. They drew heavily on the amendments tabled by Bill Cash in another place, which seemed to me to be remarkably Euro-sceptic, if not in some ways Europhobic. But if we are to use them as a means of teasing out what the implications are for Britain. that is entirely as it should be.

In terms of making things clear to the public, my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury tabled an amendment for a later stage which I hope will attract Conservative support. It suggests that the Government need to put into more simple language what the constitutional and political implications of these changes are for the British public.

There is some history behind the proposals to revise Article 7. As I remember, it was in 1978 that the then British Foreign Secretary, the then David Owen, proposed that the European Council should issue a declaration on what the Community should do in case a member slides back from full democratic standards. At the time he was looking ahead to the forthcoming membership of Spain, Portugal and Greece, then applicants which had only recently returned from more proletarian military governments to democracy.

We have before us a gradual strengthening of the conditions against the possibility that some member state may begin to backtrack from full democratic standards. With the prospect of enlargement moving from 15 to 25 states, that is clearly something we need to consider.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, that the Austrian experience was difficult and far from happy. The Belgian Government rather overplayed their hand. The revised wording and arrangements in that respect are therefore an improvement. We are not talking about a serious breach in itself, but about a clear risk of a serious breach. Where that question arises—none of us can predict in which potential or current member state such a situation might arise—the Council of Ministers and the European Council can discuss it. We therefore support the revision of Article 7 and give the Government our support in that respect.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

I rise to support the amendment to Article I proposed by my noble friend Lord Howell. I cannot agree with the noble Lord. Lord Wallace, that it is better to discuss a potential breach rather than an actual breach. I remember when the Austrian question arose last summer. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, who answered at that time for the Government, in reply to questions from the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said that they would act only should there be an actual breach; that the European Union would feel threatened only if there was an actual breach.

I cannot see how the idea of some sort of potential, hypothetical risk can or should entail the severe punishment they have vested on the state that commits or is in danger of committing what is called a "clear risk of a serious breach". That includes suspending its vote; suspending its veto and going ahead with all the legislation but without the participation of that member state. That member will not actually have done anything. It will simply have been determined by a majority of four-fifths that there might be a risk that it will do something.

Surely we should know what is meant by a "clear risk". It is difficult to define. Also, what is a "serious breach" as opposed to a "breach"? Where does it come in? Who will decide what is a "serious breach" and what is a "clear risk"? A state which is deemed to have come to the pass of creating a serious risk can suffer serious consequences. We heard the precedent of last summer's Austrian experience, which was not very happy.

The article as it stands could in fact be anti-enlargement. It will make it more difficult for some of the candidate states to support their proposed membership. If their electorate elects somebody who is not to the taste of the other members of the European Union, they may say, "I am terribly sorry, we are not going to allow you to participate in the decisions". That is neither democratic nor forward looking when it comes to enlargement. It supports the thinking that this treaty is not so much about enlargement as about increasing the powers of the European Union and the Commission as they now stand. I shall therefore support my noble friend if he decides to take this matter any further at any stage.

Lord Williamson of Horton

I thought that I clearly understood Article 7, but after 42 minutes I am beginning to be a little less clear. Therefore I should like to pose a number of questions to the Minister.

First, can the noble Baroness confirm that we are discussing the reference in the treaty to, liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms", and that is all; that we are not talking about economic measures or anything of that kind? That is my first point.

Secondly, it is clear that in the revised text for the first time there is the introduction of reference to a risk of a serious breach. That is an important point—I understand that—on which a number of noble Lords have commented. Thirdly, what happens if the treaty passes and there is determination of a clear risk of a serious breach? As I understand it, it is open to the Council to address appropriate recommendations to the state in question. That is what we are talking about. As I understand it—this is a question to the Minister— the further provisions regarding voting rights and so forth apply only where there has been a determination that there is a serious and persistent breach; not just a clear risk. That comes under paragraph 2. The question of voting rights does not arise. That is not relevant to the amendment, which makes possible only recommendations to a member state. That is a question for information.

Lord Biffen

We are enjoined by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, in rather magisterial fashion, to be restrained and relatively narrow in our address to the amendments. I sympathise with that aspiration. However, when we proceed with European law by treaty, one of the difficulties is that we are almost boxed into generalised discussions. The existence of prerogatives in matters which were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, deprive us of what would otherwise be the robust Committee stage that normally attends domestic legislation.

However, for what it is worth, my interpretation of the amendments coincides with that of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson. I question whether one should put at risk the utility and durability of Community law by having this kind of legislation. I question whether it is a dangerous squandering of Community authority to have it invested into those kind of aspirations, for what are they? Apart from the omission of sliced bread and motherhood, they are pretty well everything that could command general assent everywhere. We talk about the Union being founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rules of law. Those are principles which are common to the member states. Indeed, that is reasonably self-evident and does not need to be written into any law. But once it is there, if only as aspiration, it becomes a hook which will land unpleasant and, in my view, wholly avoidable situations.

Mention has been made of the election of the Freedom Party to be part of the Austrian Government. That was picked up with particular zest by the Belgians. In my judgment that was a reflection of the Belgians' domestic political situation, which is racked with ethnic politics. Therefore, the Belgians were much more conscious of how that might react within their own domestic situation than of any of the noble aspirations enshrined in what is to be Community law. Having seen that example, perhaps I may quote the words of Aneurin Bevan, "Why look in the crystal when you can read the book?" The book is there for that one particular incident. It is the crystal which looks to the future where, I am afraid, the people of Europe and of a larger Europe will not have the nice, cosy, consensual judgments which combine the European Commission and the elite that sustains the Commission. They will be running off, perhaps following green politics, or global militant politics, all of which will be much more forthright challenges to the principles of the European Union than anything essayed by Haider and his modest band of followers in Austria.

At one read, I regard the existence of Article 6.1 in the Treaty of Amsterdam, now invoked in the legislation before us, as being declaratory and not worth too much bother. However, at heart I feel that there is the implication of dangers which arise from definition and from who makes the definitions. That then becomes part of the internal struggles which characterise the institutions of the European Community. That is not the way forward with a sense of idealism for the larger Europe. That is a steadfast determined retreat backwards.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, when he says that treaties should be written in a way people can easily understand. I do not refer to people in this place and along the corridor in the House of Commons. I refer to the people of the country. It is their lives, their countries and their laws which are at stake.

I certainly agree with the noble Lord on that point. I tend to disagree with the noble Lord's comment that we should confine ourselves to the narrow amendments on the Marshalled List. Unfortunately, we cannot do that. The growth of the European Union comes about in steps. One has to "nit pick" every little part put into a treaty before one can understand it. Therefore, it is sometimes necessary to range wider than the narrow amendment under discussion.

Amendment No. 1 is an attempt to regularise procedure following the precipitate and wholly undemocratic action—let there be no mistake; it was wholly undemocratic—of the Portuguese presidency following the formation of a coalition government with the Austrian Freedom Party, which had gained 28 per cent of the popular vote. That is why this has come about. Because of that position, the EU made a great fool of itself. It is a great pity when an organisation makes a fool of itself unnecessarily and has to climb down from the position it took.

One of the worrying aspects about this matter is that the countries which are most at risk are the small countries, not the big countries. I refer to an article by Jens-Peter Bonde, a Danish MEP.

A noble Lord


Lord Stoddart of Swindon

Noble Lords may laugh, but we must be careful. We are democrats. Jens-Peter Bonde has been elected by the people of Denmark on the basis of his policies and principles and what he has told them. He represents them. Therefore, he is an important figure. The fact that he happens to take a different view from some of my noble friends is irrelevant. He is entitled to put his views.

I shall refer to one or two of his comments. First, he states that the Treaty of Nice creates a legal basis for punishing countries that might be a thorn in the flesh of 80 per cent of the EU members. That is the view of a representative of a small country, which is concerned. We should take account of that view. He goes on to state that what is new is that a majority within the EU is being given the opportunity to criticise and react before any breach of the rules has taken place. He is worried about that matter. He states that a country can be punished for the prospect that a breach of some incidentally very vague rules might occur. I reckon he has a point. People would be punished before they had committed a crime. I have always believed that a person should be punished only after he or she has committed a crime and after he or she has been tried and sentenced in a court of law.

Therefore, I believe that Jens-Peter Bonde has a point to which we should listen. But will that apply only to small countries? I believe that it already does. Take the case of Italy where a supposedly right-wing government, under Signor Berlusconi, was elected. I believe that they are governing without a coalition. That is a big country, where a right-wing government has taken over. I believe that that government is more right wing than the Haider party.

I turn to the racist remarks that Signor Berlusconi has made recently. He claimed that Western values are superior to those of Islam. If Mr Haider had said that he would have been out on his ear, but because Signor Berlusconi said it there is a strange, deep silence. No wonder Jens-Peter Bonde is concerned that it is only small nations that will be hit.

Lord Tomlinson

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. Does he agree that that great guru of Danish politics, Jens-Peter Bonde—although certainly elected to the European Parliament—because the Danish electoral system is proportional, represents a smaller number than any of the other parties—the Danish liberals, the Danish conservatives or the Danish social democrats—who clearly gained substantially more votes than the former bag-carrier to James Goldsmith, who represents rather eccentric views?

Lord Willoughby de Broke

Is that not a matter for the Danish electoral system and not for the noble Lord? If he has a problem with that, perhaps the noble Lord should discuss that with the Danes?

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I am surprised that my noble friend should take that view. In that case, at least half, and probably many more, of the Members of the House of Commons do not speak for the people they represent. Jens-Peter Bonde is entitled to his opinion. In a situation of free speech—I do not know how long that will last—he is entitled to put his point of view. Anyway, in spite of his disgraceful remark about the West and Islam, Berlusconi is still in office and the fact is that he is a right-wing party leader who leads a right-wing government.

The treaty refers to freedom and democracy, freedom of speech and so on. Under those circumstances, does this country qualify? The Government have published a Bill that will enable them to imprison people for six months without charge or without trial and they plan to amend the Human Rights Act to achieve that. Under these provisions will that be legitimate? Or are we undermining such people's human rights and amending the Human Rights Act, to which we have only just agreed, in order to achieve that? We have to ask whether that is in accordance with this particular amendment in the Nice treaty.

Also in prospect is a Bill to restrict free speech in relation to religion, not to mention attempts to restrict the rights of people to be tried by jury. Will we run foul of that provision? Will we have our rights taken away from us? What about trial by jury and our fundamental freedoms? Interfering with them could be a breach of Article 6.1. Then there is the Prime Minister's obsession with this new world order and his wish, seemingly, to impose it on everyone, whether they like it or not. Does that accord with the democratic principles espoused in Article 6.1? I think not.

What about the punishment of an erring state? There could be the suspension of certain rights. I am not sure what rights those are, or what that means. Austria was sent to Coventry, as we have just heard. Incidentally, Austria was sent to Coventry not for a persistent breach of this article, but for one particular breach, if it was a breach at all. It was sent to Coventry and its MPs were ostracised.

Instead of knuckling under, suppose Austria had said, "To hell with you; if you are going to send us to Coventry, if you are going to ostracise us, if you are going to refuse to talk to our foreign secretary and if you are going to refuse to have photographs taken with us, we will not pay you any contributions". What would happen if a country were to take that view? If it were a big country, it could say, "We have had enough of this nonsense, so we are going to leave the European Union altogether".

It is all very well to say that we shall punish people who we believe have broken certain principles and rules, but those people have powers as well. I am unsure that this provision has been thought out properly. I feel sure that those who have negotiated the provision did not understand the consequences and, therefore, the House should reject the provision.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick

I suggest that those who have mildly mocked the European Union's handling of the case of Austria have made a powerful case for these new treaty provisions. It is precisely because the European Union tried to make policy on the wing, and was not particularly successful, that its member states have collectively—all 15 governments, including the Government of Austria, have signed this treaty—decided that it was more sensible to try to codify such practices and to avoid the need to make policy on the wing in the future.

My second point is that they clearly decided—I believe that they were right to decide—that it was better to act in a deterrent manner than to be forced to take the stronger action laid down. Hence the talk and hence the possibility to issue recommendations that have no binding legal effect, but which would be a shot across the bows in a situation that appeared to deny certain basic principles of the European Union.

The third point, which in my view establishes the case for these provisions, is that at the moment the European Union is negotiating with 12 countries which want to join and a thirteenth country—Turkey—which is a candidate but which has not yet opened negotiations. In all those negotiations the European Union quite rightly is observing the Copenhagen criteria, which are precisely the criteria that are described in this provision: an absolute requirement, first, for opening negotiations and, subsequently, for joining the European Union.

Surely it is right that we should be prepared to apply the same criteria to ourselves as we apply to the new candidates. Surely it is right also for the European Union not only to bind the candidates during the period before they join the European Union but to bind all of us to observance of those standards within the European Union.

That is the purpose of the provisions and I believe that it is perfectly sensible. Given that, so far as I hear from the debate, not a single person has challenged the basic principles or suggested that they are not those which ought to underlie the EU, I do not see that there is a good case for suggesting that these treaty provisions are a mistake. I therefore believe that the amendment does not stand up.

5 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

I rise briefly to support the amendments and to touch on a couple of the generalities that have been mentioned. In fact, one matter has not been touched on, so I shall do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, in his disagreement with my noble friend's amendments said that he thought they were not just Eurosceptic but were bordering on the Europhobic. I do not know whether I have previously crossed this sword with the noble Lord, but I have certainly crossed it with his colleagues on those Front and Back Benches. The point is that I hope we shall be careful in using the word "Europhobic".

As I have had occasion to mention previously, the word "Europe" seems to have been appropriated by the Europhiles in this great debate to mean both the continent of different nations and the emerging EU megastate. We Eurorealists or Eurosceptics, which is as far as we would go, love the Europe of different nations. We love and respect their cultures and their histories and pretty well everything about them. However, we dislike the emerging European megastate. We dislike the Treaties of Rome and pretty well everything that comes out of Brussels.

Our problem is that if a Eurorealist is rude about "Europe", referring to a product of the Treaty of Brussels, he is easily cast as Europhobic, or a little Englander, or a dangerous nationalist. Therefore, I must put that point to Members of the Committee and ask them not to use the word "Europhobic" or any of the other derogatory descriptions which I fancy the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and his colleagues might be thinking of applying to, shall we say, myself. I hope that they will not use that word in these debates unless it is clear what some of us are phobic about; and that is, Brussels and the treaties; not the glorious nations and cultures of Europe.

I want to make one other generality. I am sorry that I was unable to be present at Second Reading—I was on business in the Far East—because in reading the debate I did not notice many noble Lords declaring an interest in the matter. Nowadays, with a new register on the way, we are all supposed increasingly to be declaring our interests. I am aware that among your Lordships there are several former European Union Commissioners, MEPs and so forth. Others have been associated with our glorious foreign service and the general progress of the European saga to where we stand today. I believe that in one way or another some noble Lords may even be in receipt of the occasional pension from the European Union. I hope that when noble Lords intervene, perhaps as forcefully—

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

If we are to have a disarming agreement, I shall promise not to say "Europhobic" if other noble Lords will promise not to make references to Commission officials who are pensioned off and who have a right to intervene, such as have been made on many previous occasions If we could have fewer attacks on the dreadful Commission, I promise not to use the word "Europhobic".

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. I am not sure that only former Commissioners are involved because I was making the point that MEPs and people generally who have been associated with the grand strategy should declare their interest. It helps us to understand their background and where they are coming from in a debate. Of course I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that if there is a pecuniary interest it should be declared by those noble Lords concerned.

That is all I want to say about the amendment. It deals with generalities and I support it. The business of ostracising countries because there is a belief that there is a risk of something happening is dangerous and unacceptable.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, made some preliminary remarks, perhaps I may do likewise and make a couple of general points. I welcome the statement that the noble Lord made at Second Reading. He pointed out that, The Bill was approved with the usual very large majority on Third Reading in another place. It is not our custom or job to oppose it on Second Reading. It is, however, our job to seek to scrutinise, to seek to amend and to improve it as best we can … That is what we seek to do". The noble Lord made much the same point again today when he said that the Opposition sought to scrutinise and improve the Bill. However, I am bound to say that a number of the Opposition's amendments would, if approved, wreck the Bill. They would prevent UK ratification and they would stop the Nice Treaty. The effect would be to prevent enlargement in any practical sense and to deny to the United Kingdom the benefits which flow from enlargement and from the Nice Treaty.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, also told the House at Second Reading that, there is nothing whatever that is anti-European in the constructive but undeniably quizzical approach that we take"— [Official Report, 1/11/01; col. 1523.] Again I welcome that approach, but some of the opposition amendments appear to exhibit the very same "anti-European" approach which would characterise some of the submissions made by his honourable and right honourable friends in another place and which I understood the noble Lord rightly repudiated at Second Reading.

Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, that trying to censor other noble Lords' language during our deliberations on the Bill is unrealistic. If we were all to make a list of the pejorative descriptions of each other's positions, we would be here a very long time indeed.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I was not trying to censor what noble Lords are trying to say; I was merely trying to define what I hope they mean.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

In doing so, inevitably the noble Lord will excite other noble Lords to define what they think he means by some of the terms he uses. I suggest that that is not a tremendously fruitful path for us to tread.

In addressing Amendments Nos. 1 to 6, Members of the Committee may want to reflect on the fact that the European Union is founded on certain principles. We have rightly come to expect the highest standards in respect of human rights in European Union member states. If the EU is to continue to provide a model of stability, we must ensure that others continue to have faith in our commitment to individual freedoms and to fundamental rights.

The ability to suspend voting and other rights of member states which do not live up to those expectations already exists in the Treaty of Amsterdam, which passed through your Lordships' House some couple of years ago. Nice does not change those procedures for action against any member state which has persistently breached human rights. The Treaty of Nice seeks to introduce a new early warning system. It is not a speculative weapon in the sense in which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, characterised it; it is an early warning system, which we believe would be enormously helpful.

Perhaps I may try to explain a little more about why we believe that such a mechanism is desirable. It must surely make sense that the Council is able to investigate the possibility of serious infringements of human rights before they are committed the better to prevent them and not just to act after freedom has been violated. In that respect I do not believe that there is any difference in what is being said here and what my noble friend Lady Scotland of Asthal said, to which the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, referred.

The Treaty of Nice provides that this risk can be established by the Council acting with a four-fifths majority of its members. That may lead to recommendations being made to the member state concerned. The four-fifths provision is itself insurance against arbitrariness. Furthermore, prior to its decision the Council can ask for a report from independent experts, who must listen to the views of the member state concerned.

There has been a great deal said on these provisions and this particular article. It has been claimed that it might be used to suspend the voting rights of those who do not share a federalist vision. That is not so. Others have claimed that it would be used to intervene in British politics or daily life. Again, that is not so, because the article relates solely to breaches of fundamental human rights. It may only be used in that context. It says so in the treaty and the treaty is law. A four-fifths majority must be attained to establish a risk of a breach of human rights. To eatablish that a breach has taken place the unanimity of all member states, except the government of the member state in question, is still required.

So the Government believe very strongly that breaches of human rights cannot be tolerated in the EU and this clause gives the strongest possible message to existing states, applicant member states and the outside world that we really mean what we say. That is why the Government support it.

Perhaps I may pick up on a couple of the points made. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, that it is desirable that we clarify treaties. That is a point on which the noble Lord and I can agree. I point out to the Committee that this is one of the elements which will be taken up in the IGC in 2004. The simplifying of treaties inter alia is one of the issues that the Government agree should be looked at. We believe it to be an important point for the future.

I am grateful for the excerpts which the noble Lord was kind enough to read to the House. I point out to him that the government of this country are also elected: rather more importantly, they are elected by the people of this country. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, was worried about interpretation. I hope that he will be comforted by the knowledge that that is a matter for the European Court of Justice and not for the Commission and the Commissioners. Therefore, I believe that a number of the points that he made about them, interesting though they were, are not strictly relevant to this issue.

Of course, there are different ratification procedures in a number of different countries, which vary from treaty to treaty. In this particular case the noble Lord is quite right. All countries must go through the process and all must ratify. If Ireland does not do so the treaty will not come into force. It really is as simple as that.

The noble Lord, Lord Renton, asked who had ratified. Denmark, France, Portugal and Luxembourg have already ratified. All the other countries except Ireland are, as we are, in the middle of parliamentary consideration. I reiterate—

5.15 p.m.

Lord Renton

It is very good of the noble Baroness to give way. The point that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, made is a well established and fundamental one. The reason for it is this. If only a minority of the signatories to a treaty can persuade their parliaments to endorse it, the treaty must fall. If one, two, three or four countries fail to ratify out of 12 there is equally a very difficult situation because it is often the case that, unless the terms of a treaty are applicable throughout the group of countries which sign it, it will not be effective. I believe that that is true of the Treaty of Nice. If that treaty was not generally accepted within the European Community it would cause great difficulty and embarrassment.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

I believe the question as regards the Treaty of Nice is a simple one. All countries must ratify it before it can come into force. It is not a question of only a minority or just one: if any single country fails to ratify, the treaty does not come into force. Other treaties require a different number of signatories for them to come into force. But everybody must ratify the Treaty of Nice or else it does not come into force.

I hesitate to cap the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick. With his usual staggering clarity of mind he came right to the point regarding these amendments. The fact is that the Council may address the recommendations of four-fifths of the member countries as regards the state involved. That is at the stage of a clear risk of a breach. Four-fifths have to agree that there is a clear risk. They can take expert advice and they have to go to the country concerned to ask for its views. But the rights of the state under threat cannot be suspended. That can only be done by the existence of an actual breach.

Those Members of the Committee who are afraid that there is a loss of rights because four-fifths believe that there may be are not correct in that assumption. The actual breach has to be established. The measures take by other EU member states as regards Austria were taken outside the treaty and the noble Lord, Hannay of Chiswick, was quite right in saying that that did not result in a happly position. It is very much to be hoped that the provisions in this treaty will obviate that kind of eventuality.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I have listened carefully to what the Minister has said. There are two points on which I would like clarification. First, are we now to understand that this new provision has been written into the treaty because of the situation into which the EU got itself over Austria? Is it now admitting that the situation was badly handled and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, intimated, this new provision is to prevent that from happening again? The noble Lord shakes his head, but I would like to hear the ministerial reply because it appears that that is what is being said. I would like clarification.

The other point is a serious one. It has been raised not only by Denmark but by other small countries as well. What happens if one of the "big four" is thought likely to breach these principles? What will happen about them? We need an answer to that because the indications so far from the Berlusconi affair are that big countries can get away with it but small countries cannot. I am sure that the noble Baroness will understand the seriousness of these questions.

I also thank the Minister for enlightening me about measures to be taken—I hope that they will be good ones—to ensure that in future the treaties can be understood not only by us, although that is seldom the case, but the population as a whole.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

First, this step is not being taken as a direct result of what happened in relation to Austria. This is a warning mechanism which member states believe will be a very useful addition to the available tools relating to human rights. The mechanism is designed to be helpful to a country that may be thought to be in breach of human rights. It allows for such a country to be approached and to state why it does not believe that it would be in breach of human rights. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said that the example of Austria might not have happened had such a mechanism been in place. Irrespective of that, this is a useful mechanism which deserves to be supported in its own right.

My noble friend referred to the observations of a Danish parliamentarian about what would happen if one of the bigger member states of the European Union was in breach. A bigger country would be in exactly the same position as a smaller one. If it happened to be the United Kingdom—which under this Government would be very unlikely—four-fifths of our partners would be able to approach us and take expert advice. We would be able to defend whatever had given rise to the concern. There is no difference between large and small countries.

Lord Howell of Guildford

I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for clarifying a number of important issues. I was a little disappointed by her prediction that some of the future amendments would wreck the Bill or prevent enlargement. I do not believe that that is so. We shall be able to produce convincing reasons why that is incorrect, but that is for debates to come.

I do not want to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, about my views on constitutions, single consolidated treaties for Europe, and so on. If I gave the impression that I thought that that was a good idea I was wrong. I hoped I had indicated that while a good number of people were attempting that Augean task I was convinced that it would fail. It is an attempt to impose a fixed order of things and competences on a highly fluid and ever-changing situation. Before the ink dries it will have to be amended yet again, so I believe that that is a failed mission from the start.

My noble friend Lord Biffen talked of the real difficulty involved in employing narrow precision when dealing with laws under the treaties of the European Union. Therein lies the heart of the problem. These laws are binding, yet in some of the excellent consolidating volumes about the treaties and perspectives with which we have been supplied it is pointed out again and again that, the wording of these laws is more general and looser man the precision of English statutes". As a consequence, the precision comes in secondary legislation—regulations, directives and the other cascade of instruments—which is incorporated into our law. The situation probably cannot continue, but that is a matter we shall debate in future.

As to breaches of human rights, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, made clear in his intervention, the intention may be worthy and the cause good but vagueness is the enemy. In some senses the United Kingdom may be about to breach what some may call human rights—matters to do with detention without open trial—in the perfectly proper interests of national security. I only hope that the UK does not get into trouble with the European Union—certainly, the Government will encounter it from other quarters—in respect of that matter and the definitions of human rights which nowadays are as long as a piece of string. Those concerns remain in our minds. However. in view of the clear explanations that the Minister has given and the need to move on to other amendments, I do not intend to press the amendment.

Lord Bruce of Donington

Before the noble Lord sits down, can he give the Committee an indication as to whether he concurs with the extremely terse observation of the leader of the Liberal Democrats that the treaties are largely unintelligible?

Lord Howell of Guildford

I did say as much in my opening remarks. Like other noble Lords, I had enormous difficulty working out with which of the two running treaties, the TEU and TEC, we were dealing. Prompted by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and in the cause of education, at the beginning of each future debate I intend to indicate what I believe to be the treaty elements on which we are focusing and seeking to amend.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

Before the noble Lord sits down, he indicated that he was perfectly satisfied with the reply of the Minister and would withdraw the amendment. Will the noble Lord return to this matter? I am not sure that all the Members of the Committee are satisfied by the Minister's observations. The noble Lord appeared to be abandoning the point altogether. Instead, will the noble Lord say that he will consider what the Minister has said and may return to it at a later stage?

Lord Howell of Guildford

I propose to withdraw the amendment at this stage, but these are ongoing issues of great importance. I believe that I said in so many words that again and again we shall return to the question of who calls the shots on human rights in which jurisdiction. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 2 to 6 not moved.]

5.30 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford moved Amendment No. 7: Page 1, line 9, at beginning insert "Article 1 (other than paragraph 2, subsection 1, revising Article 17 of the Treaty on European Union),

The noble Lord said: As I promised, at the start I set out that the amendments in the second group focus on Articles 17 and 25 of the Treaty on European Union, not the Treaty on the European Communities—we shall plunge into that later—for some reason that is not entirely clear to me. The amendments address Articles 17 and 25 which are concerned generally with common foreign and security policy and specifically the idea of developing a common defence policy with the EU as a military power—some say superpower—in the world. It is perfectly true that they do not mention the concept of a rapid reaction force. I should like to ask the Minister whether the treaty base for that particular initiative lies in previous treaties, not this one. However, it is not entirely clear whether the treaty changes in Articles 17 and 25 were and are necessary to pave the way for the so-called rapid reaction force, but clearly they address the position of member states vis à vis NATO and the Western European Union.

These very important matters are intimately bound up with the whole debate about the development of a common defence policy on which I intend to concentrate my remarks. I intend to draw particular attention to the new clause proposed in Amendment No. 40, which is also part of this group of amendments. That requests the Government to be more forthcoming and clear in their explanations of what is happening in relation to the functions of the Western European Union and NATO and the future of those organisations as a result of the revisions to Articles 17 and 25. Those are areas of enormous controversy.

I shall deal in later amendments with the question in Article 24 of the development of foreign policy—on the hint of a greater application of qualified majority voting to the implementation of certain aspects of agreed foreign policy. The past few dramatic weeks have produced two remarkably distinct and contradictory views about how the European Union has performed in relation to the global war against terrorism.

One view is that it has been a bit of a flop; there has been a great deal of argument; and the solidarity of the European Union has not been very evident. The other view is that it has been very evident indeed; and that Europe has spoken with a single voice and done splendidly. The excellent Mr Romano Prodi this morning was reported in the papers as simultaneously holding both views.

We shall come to that matter later. I will turn instead to the implications of the amendments for future development of common defence. The amendments which the Nice treaty made to previous treaties added in Article 25 an important word. To "political committee" were added the words "and security" — Political and Security Committee. That is part of the move towards greater authority and involvement of that committee in military matters. I believe that the committee is chaired by General Hägglund. He is a Finnish gentleman. Finland is not a member of NATO. The committee is obviously a very important new mechanism on the scene.

Can the Minister bring us up to date on how that committee will work with its new and extended remit—Political and Security Committee—and how it relates to the plans for the rapid reaction force? That force will contain 60,000 operational troops. A figure of 240,000 for support troops has been mentioned. How is that getting on? How does it relate to these aspirations for common defence?

I have made it clear from these Benches before, as have many of my noble friends, that we on this side are greatly in favour of a stronger European defence contribution to global security. We expect increased defence spending—we have not seen it yet—in the member states, compatible with a far more effective European contribution within NATO. We want it to remain within the NATO structure.

Some of us feel and have felt all along—I know that the noble Baroness does not agree—that this word "autonomy", which first turned up in the St Malo agreements, bedevils the argument. The Nice treaty discussions at the Nice Council seemed to make it crystal clear that the planning arrangements for the future—of which the Political and Security Committee is an element—were to be outside NATO, not within it.

All through debates on this subject we continue to have unsatisfactory replies on where and how this autonomy is to be expressed. If it is to be outside NATO, why is that so? General Sir Charles Guthrie, who was then Chief of the Defence Staff, said: I suppose it could have been done within the NATO framework, and in some ways it would have been easier".

But then the French Chief of the Defence Staff, General Kelche, in front of a Select Committee said: We must be able to act alone".

And SACEUR, that is General Ralston, said in front of members of the other place that he was, deeply worried by any kind of planning separation".

There were further worries which were articulated: that any kind of planning separation would mean problems about the use and sharing of US intelligence with non-NATO countries. These are worries which remain hanging in the air and need clarifying. That is one of the reasons why we strongly urge the Government to lay a report before both Houses of Parliament showing the implications of exactly what is going on.

Whether we like it or not, I suspect that this project will go ahead, even if there are difficulties with the Turks. I hope that those difficulties are beginning to be resolved. But the whole project really is not about defence. It is not even about the Petersberg tasks, which could or could not be done separately from the Americans, but with their help and probably with their equipment and back-up and heavy lift and so on. It is about identity. It is about a search for a European identity, because the Europe that people are searching for apparently is one that must have a force, a military expression and a flag. Even a marching song is part of the necessary equipment.

This is a snark-like hunt for a greater European weight and projection of importance which is dressed up as a security issue. It is an identity issue. It is one that does not fit in to the new international order and the network and nexus of relationships of which the world is now composed. It is a centralising, out-of-date idea. It is a Europe as an upgraded replicated nation state idea, which, as I said on an earlier amendment, does not fit into the modern world. It is also a top-down initiative of the kind with which European citizens are beginning to lose patience. From now on, whatever was achieved in the Monnet years of the first four decades of the European Union, the democratic system will want much more of a direct say in the endless initiatives that come out of the European institutions and the European system. That is in great danger of creating indigestion in a hurry, which loses all historical perspective.

One of the amendments urges that there should be a report before Parliament as per our new clause. That is the one on which I should like to focus in particular while raising the other points about the evolution of Europe as a military power. That is not what many of us, even now, hope it will be. It should have a higher or more subtle mission than that. I beg to move.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

Perhaps I may comment on one part of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Howell; that is, the PSC. Unlike him, I welcome very much the creation of a permanent committee in Brussels to advise Ministers on foreign and security matters. But there was one point raised by the noble Lord which I think is incorrect. I should like the Minister to clarify it. I do not believe that General Hägglund is the chair of the PSC. He is on the European Union military committee. The chair of the PSC may be Javier Solana, the high representative. He almost certainly would be in times of crisis. But at other times there is a chairman in office, which may be a chair from the presidency country of the time. Unlike the noble Lord, I welcome the creation of this committee. I was pleased that our Government were active in bringing it about.

Lord Tugendhat

Can I ask the noble Lord, Lord Howell, to clarify a particular point? He and I are very much in agreement about the desirability of the United Kingdom retaining the closest possible relationship with the United States. We are also very much in agreement about the desirability of maintaining the integrity and effectiveness of NATO. But he quoted a French general—I do not know what else the French general said—as saying, We must be able to act alone". An important point, on which I hope the noble Lord and I can agree, is that although we would always wish to maintain a close association with the United States, and although we recognise that effective action in many parts of the world—including areas on the periphery of Europe—is likely greatly to be facilitated by the participation of the United States, from time to time there may be occasions—one hopes not, but it is possible—when problems arise on the periphery of the European Union which we and other members of the EU must take extremely seriously and perhaps in which we may wish to intervene. However, for perfectly good reasons of its own, the United States may not wish to do so. That could be especially true in the near future as the United States continues to take on a number of responsibilities arising from the war against terrorism. But even the United States does not have unlimited resources. Situations could arise in which intervention is required but where, for its own reasons, the United States would feel unable to participate. On those occasions it would be highly desirable for the countries of the European Union—in particular ourselves, the French, the Germans, the Spanish and a few others, to have the means and the capability to take action. Furthermore, those means should be ready to hand—a fleet in being, as it were. It is necessary, therefore, to put in place a structure beforehand.

Perhaps I may make one further point. On those occasions when we and our European partners wish to take action but the United States is hesitant about doing so, it would recognise that, if Europe is going to take action, then it had better join in. Thus, on occasion, a European capability could act as a trigger for United States involvement.

The prospect of a European capability that can be utilised alone, on the one hand, need not be incompatible with the desire to maintain the closest possible relationship with the United States, along with ensuring the greatest possible effectiveness of NATO on the other.

Lord Watson of Richmond

It was very good to hear the statement of unequivocal welcome made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for any proposal to strengthen European capability. That is a positive sign. It is clear that a balance must be struck between strengthening European capability and avoiding any question mark over the role of NATO or discouraging the United States from playing its full role. Personally, I agree strongly with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat. The evidence may not be unanimous, but it is overwhelming that the United States wants to see Europe participate more actively in international events. Furthermore, the United States would be encouraged to participate more actively if Europe does so. Thus we are looking at mechanisms to achieve that end.

As regards the treaty, the revision of Article 17 is appropriate in order to clear away references to the Western European Union. The WEU was created out of an entirely different strategic situation. Noble Lords are well aware that it was born out of the inability to move ahead with the European Defence Community, itself originally formed to address the problems posed to Europe and the international community by German rearmament and so forth. The union has become irrelevant to the current situation. The European identity is now expressed in other terms.

Article 17 is important because it strikes a balance between European capacity and the essential task of keeping the United States involved. The paragraph which relates to NATO reads as follows: The policy of the Union in accordance with this Article shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States and shall respect the obligations of certain Member States, which see their common defence realised in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) under the North Atlantic Treaty and be compatible with the common security and defence policy established within that framework". That is an important balancing statement. From these Benches, we adopt the attitude that the Treaty of Nice has simplified and clarified matters and does not raise any fundamental doubts over the role of NATO or American participation, all of which we welcome. For that reason, we support the treaty as it stands and we shall not support the amendment.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Biffen

With great diligence, the noble Lord, Lord Watson, has demonstrated how Article 17 can bear the full weight of a general discussion about NATO. I shall not follow him far in that direction since I wish to welcome the remarks of my noble friend Lord Howell. He said that we regard the treaty, and the context in which it is understood, as having profound implications for NATO relationships.

The majority of the applicant countries for membership of the European Union foreseen by the Nice treaty are equally, if not more, in favour of membership of NATO. It is therefore appropriate, at least in general terms, to regard the evolving nature of NATO in that context. I am fascinated and much encouraged by the interest demonstrated on the part of the applicant countries for membership of NATO. Furthermore, I believe that that process is transforming its character.

However, NATO has maintained one essential feature; namely, the dominant role of the United States. That is a role which we would do well to reassert, even though it has often been stated in the past. I make that comment because of two immediate prospects which should detain the Committee for a moment. First, I turn to the role of Turkey. That country is just beyond the arras. It is also the country whose application for membership is anticipated, but not formally declared. Yet we cannot discuss sensibly the treaty without bearing in mind the Turkish factor. As a member of NATO, Turkey plays a crucial role as the link between the existing Europe and a wider Europe.

Secondly, what has only recently arisen is a clear indication on the part of Russia that she seeks and is achieving a measure of détente with the United States. That means that now we can anticipate the prospect of an enlarged NATO being brought within the arch of an improved Russo-American relationship. Perhaps that in itself will influence the character of an enlarged NATO.

Although my comments may not be directly identifiable with the treaty being discussed by the Committee—I apologise to the noble Lord on the Liberal Benches for having digressed so far—I believe that it is absolutely essential to assert the historic role of NATO as well as the prospective role. That will require a great deal of Euro imagination.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

The Minister and I have had one or two exchanges over common European defence. Those exchanges, alongside the reactions of various people within the EU—including the President of the Commission—make it difficult to understand exactly what is meant by a common defence. No one would disagree with the notion of defence cooperation within Europe; we have enjoyed that for a long time. NATO has been established for many years and has worked extremely well. Indeed, we may need to seek other ways of co-operating with individual states. Again, nothing is wrong with that.

However, what is perceived by many people is quite different. It is clear that Mr Prodi believes that we have embarked on building a European army. He said so during the course of an interview published on 4th February 2001 in the Independent and he has said so since then. It is probably my duty to write to Mr Prodi and to ask him exactly what he means because he is in disagreement with the noble Baroness and the Cabinet itself. I shall probably do that.

It is not only Mr Prodi but other people—perhaps more important than Mr Prodi—who hold that belief.

For example, Mr Chirac said in May 1999 that the, European Union can not fully exist until it possesses autonomous capacity for action in the area of defence". That is what Mr Chirac said, and he is the President of France. On 4th October 2001, not very long ago, he said: the EU can, on the ground, contribute to peace in the world. Today Europe has a military staff. It is giving itself a force projection capability. It is establishing its own intelligence machinery". No wonder people like me—and many people more important—wonder exactly what it is about. If it is simply defence co-operation, there is nothing wrong with it. But if the intention is to create a separate European army, there is a great deal wrong with it and a good deal that can go wrong with it. That is why people like myself and others are opposed to it.

Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness how much it will cost this country. There is a great deal of concern, particularly among military leaders, past and present, that British forces are not being given the equipment and the manpower they need to perform the tasks the Government are giving them. It is fairly clear that defence expenditure has not increased in real terms over quite a long period and that our forces are suffering because of it. We need to ensure that this new arrangement will not deplete our forces further for home defence and other tasks, and that British forces will be better equipped and financed than they have been over the past few years under governments of both political colours. It is not good enough. We need to ensure that they are much better financed than has been the case. Perhaps my noble friend—I called her "my noble friend"; my God, I must not do that—the Minister can give me some information about that.

We are worried that the European defence force will grow like Topsy, as so much has grown like Topsy within the EU over the past 25 years. We know that it now has its own Cabinet, its own Civil Service, its own Parliament, its own courts, its own flag, its own currency. All that is left now is a new army and a constitution. We appear to be seeing those here before us, or at least the nucleus of an army and the nucleus of a constitution, which we shall be discussing later.

I know that the Minister does not like me, or anyone else, saying these things, but that is how it appears to me and to many people throughout the country. I shall be very interested to hear her comments.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick

Perhaps I may say a brief word about the committee to which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred. If I understand it correctly, it is intended, effectively, to turn a committee which was based in all the capitals and met about once a fortnight into a standing committee in Brussels. In my view, that is absolutely necessary once you have a High Representative, Mr Solana, who, under the Treaty of Amsterdam, has been given wide-ranging powers and duties in the field of foreign policy and security.

The committee should be seen in a quite different way. It will be a way of giving him advice from the member states, which are his masters, and he will be able to use it at any time of the day or night, at any time of the week or month, as a sounding board for his own thoughts and for matters on which he has been working. It is a modest, sensible step forward.

Most other international organisations which have responsibilities in the field of foreign policy and security, such as NATO or the Security Council. have such committees. In the Security Council it is "the" Security Council and in NATO it is the NATO Council meeting at official level. It is only sensible that the European Union should have an institution of this kind.

Turning to the wider issue, these debates tend to confuse two issues, one of which is the issue of territorial defence. Members of NATO continue to depend, totally and solely, for their territorial defence on Article 5. That is what we will invoke if we are attacked, and we will join in if another member of NATO is attacked. That of course does not apply to the non-NATO members of the EU.

In regard to security policy, we are discussing whether the European Union should have some capability to project power as well as trade policy, aid and all the other instruments it has. I believe that it is sensible for it to do so. The tasks which have been identified for the proposed force—peacekeeping, humanitarian and so on—are admirable and do not relate to territorial defence. They do not therefore duplicate those of NATO.

In the discussion about whether or not there will be duplication and autonomy, a phrase which is embedded in all the texts for this rapid reaction capability has not yet been quoted—that is, that the force should be able to act autonomously if NATO as a whole decided that it did not wish to be involved. That, of course, is shorthand for saying, "If the United States should decide not to be involved". Autonomy is absolutely crucial.

We have to face the fact that in the future such circumstances are more rather than less likely to occur, whether we like it or not. One of the implications of the events of 11th September and the reaction of the United States is that it will expect the Europeans to handle problems in what it would regard as their own backyard more on their own—in other words, autonomously. The case for proceeding in this way is sound. The amendment would weaken that effort. We would be deluding ourselves if we believed that we will not have to find a response of this kind, on a European basis, to a significant extent in the years to come.

Lord Blackwell

The problem that many of us have with the language of these treaties is that it can evoke a "glass half full or glass half empty" approach, depending on the direction one is coming from. It is almost the nature of treaty language that, because there are compromises hammered out between governments, it may be deliberately intended to be interpreted in different ways by people who have different meanings in mind. One of the concerns that many of us have is that, in the past, we may have been culpable of believing that the interpretation that we in this country put on a set of words was the meaning agreed by everyone else, and we then learned to our cost that others had a different interpretation. That lies behind some of the questions about the language.

Under Article 25, the provisions of the committee could, as my noble friend Lord Tugendhat said, be considered merely as putting in place a fleet, ready to be used in exceptional circumstances if and when we want it to operate independently. But that wording has to be juxtaposed with the wording in Article 17 of the previous treaty referring to, the progressive framing of a common defence policy … which might lead to a common defence". As so often, one set of words points to a direction, as against a specific provision which, it could be argued, on its own might mean something much more limited. In this case, Article 25 goes on to refer to the committee exercising political control and strategic direction of crisis management operations. Can the Minister define clearly the term "crisis management operations"? How would it be interpreted? What is a "crisis management operation" and what is a "defence" operation? The meaning may appear simple in terms of shortness of intent and overall size of an operation. But it is against the broader wording of Article 17 that the precise question must be asked. We must ask the Government to attempt to define the term, or to point to the part of the treaty where that language is defined, so as to have clarity in relation to the new provisions.

For those reasons, I have sympathy with Amendment No. 40 in this group: given all these complexities, should we not have a clear exposition from the Government of how all these changes relate to our existing defence arrangements? The Government's interpretation would be on the record; then, in any situation where there was ambiguity or a difference of opinion, at least we should have clarity regarding what we think we have agreed to.

6 p.m.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

Perhaps I may ask the Minister a question. I apologise for not giving her notice of it. I do not expect her to give an instant response. It is simply that I did not have the opportunity to consider the issue prior to this debate.

My reference is to Article 17. We have made amendments to Articles 6 and 7—Article 6 stating that the Union is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy etc. and Article 7 dealing with serious breaches of those principles by any member state. In relation to Article 17, would it be possible for a member state to have a foreign or security policy that was considered to be in breach of the democratic policy of the majority of member states so as to give rise to action under parts 1 or 2 of Article 7?

My second question relates to the language of Article 17.1. It states: The policy of the Union in accordance with this Article shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States". The treaty is a legal document; in effect, it is law. Presumably it is written in terms of such clarity that member states can see whether they are on the wrong or right side of it. I find those words extremely difficult to interpret even in the abstract. I wonder whether they are justiciable. If they are not, in regard to some express anxieties is not the consolation that is being given unfounded? In short, can the Minister give an example where a member state would be entitled under this provision to take action in its own defence against a common policy that was in breach of the specific character of the security and defence policy?

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

One agrees with the noble Lords, Lord Watson of Richmond and Lord Hannay, that the United States would like Europe to do more about its own defence and military action in general, but, as I understand it—and this is the key point—not at the expense of NATO. Perhaps I may put one or two brief questions to the Minister.

First, has any calculation been made of the extra money that will be required to put this military ambition into operation; and how much has actually been guaranteed by the EU countries concerned?

Secondly, has the United States agreed that it will contribute all that it is assumed it will contribute, certainly in the French presidency declaration on the European security and defence policy? I refer in particular to Annex VII to the appendix to the French presidency conclusions. We see items such as guaranteed access to NATO's planning capabilities and the presumption of availability of pre-identified assets and capabilities. We also see a paragraph that says that the entire chain of command, must remain under the political control and strategic direction of the EU throughout the operation after consultation between the two organisations. In that framework the operation commander will report on the conduct of the operation to EU bodies only. NATO will be informed of developments". and so on. Those are serious questions which might decide whether this thing will ever really fly.

Leaving the French Presidency Conclusions and returning to the main article, my final question goes a little further than that of my noble friend Lord Blackwell. Article 17.2 states that the new "army", as President Prodi insists on calling it, will be involved in, tasks of combat forces in crisis management". This seems to me to be a very important matter. What does that mean?

I am aware that this phrase appeared in earlier versions of the treaty before Nice came about. But with the new autonomy and powers being granted to an EU army, that particular expression seems to assume much greater importance. To an ordinary mind, the words could surely include what one might call ordinary war. It depends on the interpretation. I do not want to be in the least facetious, but surely it could include putting down civil unrest. Can the Minister give an unequivocal assurance that that source will never, ever, be used, let us say, to disperse a crowd of several hundred UK citizens in Trafalgar Square in 10 years' time protesting about our membership of the European Union?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

There is a great deal of confusion about the issue of defence and the Nice treaty. Perhaps I may attempt to set out the position.

The arrangements for the European security and defence policy are not in the Nice treaty. A declaration attached to the treaty makes clear that the treaty does not need to come into force for the defence arrangements agreed by EU member states to become operational. The position is straightforward: the treaty is not necessary for the defence mechanisms to come into effect.

The European security and defence policy had its origins in the Maastricht treaty, which agrees, a progressive framing of common defence policy". The Maastricht treaty was introduced when the party opposite was in power. Nothing in the Nice treaty changes that. There is no specific treaty base for the rapid reaction force. The details of the terms for EDSP are not in the treaty of Nice but in the separate political conclusions, which were adopted by the European Council at Nice. It is important to get that point absolutely clear.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, asked how much this would cost and the point was taken up by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. There are no additional costs involved in so far as armed forces or equipment are concerned. We shall examine better co-ordination for the Petersberg tasks—I shall discuss that in a moment—as regards armed forces and consider ways in which their equipment may be mutually supportive. That is what both the headline goal—which the Committee has discussed—and the capability conference, which is due to take place in December this year, are all about.

The additional cost, in so far as one may be attributed to this, might arise in the political and security committee. As the Committee may recall from our previous discussions, that is a small committee; I take into account also the secretariat that supports it. However, there would be offset costs for the disbanding of the WEU. In so far as costs exist, they are not costs for armed forces or for equipment. The sole additional cost would be incurred in the drawing together of the political directing committee.

I am sure the Committee understands that the treaty removes references to the WEU as that no longer reflects reality. As I have indicated, the other new element is the reference to the new political and security committee which is being set up and to which the Council will, following Nice, be able to delegate individuals for the political direction of operations. It is important to remind ourselves that the EL only exercises high level political military control. There really is not an EU military operational structure. I know that we have been over the issue before in the Chamber but it is as well to reiterate it now. The EU political control mechanisms—that is, the political and security committee and the EU military committee—link with the operation commanders in headquarters, who are either from NATO in the form of DSACEUR and SHAPE and therefore use all NATO's military operational tools, or are from national bases such as our own PJHQ in which case national or NATO resources would be used. Therefore, there is no separate EU military operational structure. I hope that that is clear.

Having heard what some Members of the Committee have said, one might be forgiven for thinking that, somewhere hidden away in the treaty is a clause which sets up a permanent Euro army or brings under the control of foreign generals our own Armed Forces. That is not the case to any greater extent than exists already. The fact is that British servicemen and women have been under the control of overseas commanders in Kosovo, Bosnia, during the Gulf War and in East Timor and, in fact, in any UN peacekeeping operation to which we contribute troops which does not have a UK force commander. There is nothing peculiar or extraordinary in that and it constitutes no great departure from the way in which we have operated in the past.

The European security and defence policy is about improving military capabilities of the European nations to conduct certain EU-led military operations. Here we come to what have been termed the Petersberg tasks, defined as those where we would not wish necessarily always to invoke NATO and where NATO might not wish to become involved. They are humanitarian tasks such as the delivery of aid or, for example, the military operation that we undertook to deliver aid to flood torn regions of Africa in the past year or 18 months. They might also involve peacekeeping or peace enforcing—those kinds of crisis management. I stress that that would occur when NATO itself chose not to become engaged in such operations.

We believe that the ESDP can make a real difference in a practical way. EU member states have committed to overcome important shortfalls in their military capabilities. We have discussed those shortfalls on a number of occasions in this Chamber. I refer to shortfalls, for example, with regard to strategic airlift and the sheer readiness of armed forces to move into action. The capabilities improvement conference, which I mentioned a moment ago, is designed to meet some of those shortfalls. It is a critical step in that process.

6.15 p.m.

Earl Attlee

The Minister told us that we would not incur any extra cost from these arrangements but now she is telling us about improvements in capability, particularly with regard to strategic airlift. We agree that we need improvements in strategic airlift, but what do the arrangements do to overcome our shortfalls in strategic airlift?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

I did not say that no extra cost would be incurred. I said that there were minimal extra costs and that they were not necessarily associated with equipment, for example. I assure the Committee and the noble Earl, who has a particular interest in defence matters, that we would improve the United Kingdom's airlift capacity anyway. The point I am making is that we should examine European capabilities in general and try to determine the best way to co-ordinate those capabilities. We are not talking about additional costs; we are talking about deciding in Europe how our forces intermesh, both in terms of personnel and in terms of the kind of equipment they have at their disposal. Certainly, as someone who was responsible for defence procurement, I am well aware of our shortfalls. Increased airlift capacity was something the UK needed anyway.

Lord Watson of Richmond

The Minister explained the situation with absolutely admirable clarity. But does she not agree that one of the encouraging results thus far of the European defence initiative is that not only as regards the United Kingdom but also as regards other member states there appears now to be a stated willingness to review future purchase of equipment so that it meets the gaps that exist within any European defence capability? That is important because historically in Europe what we have all done is to produce the same kind of defence capability. We have replicated ourselves and that is one fundamental reason why, although within the European Union we spend around 60 per cent of what the United States spends on defence, we only get about a 15 per cent capability from that spend.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

The noble Lord has expressed the point admirably. That is, of course, the reason for going ahead with the capability conference later in the year. It is also, of course, one of the reasons we set up OCCAR; namely, to seek with like-minded EU countries better and more effective ways of defence procurement within our defence budgets.

Improved European military capabilities will also strengthen the contribution Europeans can make to NATO operations. That is an important point and one that is recognised by the United States and our other allies in NATO. NATO will remain—I echo here absolutely unequivocally the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay—the cornerstone of Europe's collective defence. NATO is, and will remain, our first choice for managing crises. There is no equivocation on those points.

It is tempting for us all to scan the newspapers to find quotes wheresoever we may in support of the view that we take. But, however hard we try, I do not think that there is any gainsaying the fact that the United States has long wanted Europe to take more responsibility and improve its capability to be a more effective set of allies within NATO. That is what we are doing now and that is why the United States so strongly supports us. I remind the Committee that President Bush said at his meeting with the Prime Minister on 23rd February this year: The United States welcomes the EU's European Security and Defence Policy intended to make Europe a stronger, more capable partner in deterring and managing crises affecting the security of the Transatlantic community". It is not just the United States who do not want that to happen at the expense of NATO; the United Kingdom and our European allies within NATO also do not want it to happen at the expense of NATO.

It is important to repeat that nothing in the Bill involves the establishment of a European army. The commitment of national resources by member states for the operations that I have described will, of course, be based on sovereign decisions. NATO will remain the crucial basis for the collective defence of its members.

I shall not go into the details of what Signor Prodi said, because I thought that he was unequivocal when the points were put to him on the "Today" programme this morning. The questioner put various words into his mouth, but he pointed out that that position was completely wrong. He went on to explain his position, which was not very different from what I have just explained.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, pointed out that General Hagglund heads the military committee, not the political and security committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Biffen, was worried about the position of Turkey. I remind him that Turkey has supported the development of the ESDP. At the December 2000 ministerial meeting, Turkey and the other allies reaffirmed NATO's readiness to support the ESDP and the EU operation.

Of course Turkey has some concerns, but the EU's openness to involve non-EU NATO members in Europe in this important step is addressing those points. We shall continue to engage Turkey, because we all understand that it is a much-valued NATO ally. It is very important that we proceed on that basis.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, raised questions about intelligence, which have been raised in your Lordships' House before. We shall not pass intelligence to the EU unless we are confident that it is as secure as with NATO. I hope that I have dealt with the other questions raised on the Petersberg tasks.

We do not believe that Amendment No. 40, tabled by the Opposition, is necessary. Few government policies have received as much attention as the ESDP. It is right that it receives such attention, but we have debated the policy a great number of times in your Lordships' House and I am sure that we shall go on so doing. Another government report to Parliament on the implications of the ESDP for NATO and the WEU would not add anything to the information that the Government have been at pains to make available to your Lordships' House already.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for setting out some comments and answers on the debate. I accept that the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, is right about General Hagglund. He is a Finn—not a NATO member country—but he is the chairman of the military committee, not the political and security committee.

I am also grateful to the Minister for her assurance that there is no European army and there will not be one. We accept that as her firm assurance, but there continue to be a great many voices around Europe of a different tone. I suspect that whatever the wishes and policy of the Government, which she has explained with her usual clarity, those other voices will continue to be heard. That is, in a way, disturbing.

To answer the question put to me by my noble friend Lord Tugendhat, with whom I have discussed these matters at length many times, there may well be occasions when the Americans do not want to get involved in a particular security or enlarged military policing project, although I think that they will be few. For once I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who speaks with such clarity on these matters. He said that after 11th September there would be more occasions when the Americans did not come along with us, but I think the opposite. It seems to me that we are now in a globalised pattern of defence and security against all forms of new threats, many of which were not foreseen. That will involve a much more intimate and continuous dialogue and involvement between the powers, both bilaterally and for those acting in regional groupings, as the EU seeks to do. It will be less, not more frequent for countries to wish to sign off or opt out.

When those occasions occur, if they do, the matter can be resolved within the present structure and framework of the ESDP, which, as the noble Baroness has just said, the Americans support and which we all think is a reasonable framework of co-operation. However, that is not the same as the rapid reaction force, which is the body of the future and whose authenticity and efficiency, as the noble Baroness rightly said, arises not out of this treaty, but, in a way, out of previous treaties. I shall deal with that in a moment.

Such a situation can invariably be dealt with by discussion if the Americans do not want to come along. Even if it could not, in practice it will be, because for the foreseeable future US equipment and intelligence will be required. The spending to replace it is not there. The programmes have not been developed. I have heard it frequently asserted by independent authorities that American equipment—which I suppose is NATO equipment—will be necessary even to conduct the most modest Petersbergtype policing tasks.

All of that reinforces the question mark that there has to be over the idea of a separate operational planning system and separate EU strategic involvement in these matters, which the noble Baroness has described. Even if the spending gets going, there will be duplication. It is already on the cards that there will be additional surveillance and satellite systems. In this very small world of intimate co-operation between London, Paris, Beijing, Tokyo, Moscow, Cairo and so on, one has to ask why such duplication is needed. We need inter-operability and compatibility, so that at least a Belgian tank can ring up a British tank and both can ring up American equipment and make contact and operate together. What is needed is already in existence—the OCCAR system of European procurement co-ordination that the noble Baroness mentioned. That is the practical way forward for us and the United States to continue to strengthen the overall punch, reach and effectiveness of a modern NATO in a transformed world.

In the words of Henry Kissinger—who is not always right on these things, but on this he is—that means that the whole spirit must be one of partnership, not rivalry. Many of us are worried that the more we hear about the scheme for a separate, autonomous force, the more it is couched in terms of challenging the American hegemony and of rivalry and competition with the United States. That is not the language of the 21st century. It is backward-looking language that will not achieve the security results that we all want.

The noble Baroness is right that the treaty basis for all this goes back to Maastricht, but since then there has been St Mato and a major development in the concept, growth and emergence of the rapid reaction force as a project. Throughout all this, one has to ask what the accountability structures are. The treaty now says goodbye to the WEU, which is to be disbanded. I do not know whether that applies to the 'WEU parliamentary assembly, but I imagine that it does. Even its best friends would admit that that organisation could provide only limited accountability. We are moving to an age when much higher standards of accountability on what governments are up to are demanded of the national legislatures of the countries involved.

It is astonishing that we have not had a comprehensive report—even one as comprehensive and clear as the noble Baroness's speech to the House at 6.30 on a Thursday evening. But we have no formal, clear report showing the enormous implications of what happens now that the Western European Union is disbanded and how the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation will and will not relate precisely to the new defence capabilities about which there has been so much debate.

I find that to be an amazing lacuna. In an age when more and more democratic accountability is being demanded, in these areas, above all, it appears necessary that governments should keep their legislatures and their citizens fully informed. In a moment I want to propose to the Committee that that particular matter—the lack of accountability, the lack of a report and the absence of real explanation as to how these matters are affected by the Treaty of Nice—should be put to a vote and the opinion of the House tested.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

Before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether the Minister will undertake to respond to the two questions that I raised.

Noble Lords


Lord Pearson of Rannoch

We are in Committee. I believe that it is in order for the noble Baroness to reply.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Serota)

Is the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, intending to move the amendment?

Lord Howell of Guildford

I intend to put the amendment when it has been read out.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

It has been read out.

Lord Howell of Guildford

In that case, I beg to move that Amendment No. 40—

Noble Lords

We are dealing with Amendment No. 7.

A noble Lord

The noble Lord wishes to press a vote on Amendment No. 40, but he cannot do so.

Lord Howell of Guildford

I understand that noble Lords are saying that we shall come to Amendment No. 40 later. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 7.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 8 not moved.]

Lord Howell of Guildford moved Amendment No. 9

Page 1, line 9, at beginning insert "Article 1 (other than paragraph 4, subsection 3, revising Article 24 of the Treaty on European Union),". The noble Lord said: I turn to the amendments which relate to Article 24.

Lord Williams of Elvel

Is the noble Lord withdrawing certain amendments or speaking to different amendments? Perhaps we may clarify the situation.

Lord Howell of Guildford

I am now moving Amendment No. 9, having withdrawn some of the amendments in the previous group but having expressed the wish in due course to vote on Amendment No. 40.

Lord Williams of Elvel

Has the noble Lord asked the leave of the Committee to withdraw the previous amendment?

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

Amendment No. 7 was withdrawn. Amendment No. 8 was not moved. As I understand it, the noble Lord is now moving Amendment No. 9.

Lord Howell of Guildford

That is correct. I understood that I did beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 7. If I did not, I apologise to the Committee, but that is the position.

We now turn to Amendment No. 9, which deals with the specific question of a common foreign policy. The amendments to it in the Nice treaty have the effect of extending somewhat—it is not entirely clear how far—qualified majority voting in some aspects. Furthermore, the amendment indicates that where a country opts out of a certain foreign policy implementation, the other member countries may nevertheless insist that it continues to apply provisionally.

I hope that this amendment will give us an opportunity to look at the question of the superpower concept and at the state of common foreign policy and to see how it matches up to what has been acclaimed for it in recent months and what is hoped for it in the future. As I said in an earlier debate, there is an opinion that it has worked marvellously and that in recent weeks Europe has spoken with a single voice. There is also an opinion, widely shared in the press, that the common foreign security policy was rather "pushed about" by the events of 11th September and by the Afghan war and crisis. The Financial Times' heavy headline of 6th November stated: Europe's great powers break ranks". I believe that both views are probably wrong. In my view, and in the view of many of us who are uneasy about too much being claimed for common foreign policy, there is always a danger that these arrangements will be over-institutionalised. There is a constant tendency, to which some of us object, to build up a common foreign policy in an attempt to create a single foreign policy which must somehow be coordinated in response to major foreign policy challenges.

As my noble friend Lord Hurd said in a very interesting lecture the other day, the situation offers a mixed set of instruments. We do not always have to imagine that every foreign policy pattern or situation will automatically be co-ordinated by all the member states. If one does imagine that, there is bound to be disappointment when old bilateral relationships, new bilateral relationships and particular alliances spring up to meet the new situation, as has happened in the past few weeks.

My right honourable friend in another place, Mr Ancram, spoke about layered responses to the global terrorist crisis. He emphasised the need for all types of alliance and said that it was not always possible to fit the response into the harness of a common foreign policy. In a crisis there are bound to be different needs and different types of bilateral relationship. If one waits for the slowest in the convoy, one waits in vain and probably waits too late.

I believe that the row—if that is not too strong a word—that arose after the Prime Minister, who seems to me to be performing excellently, gave a dinner party to which he did not invite all member states which felt that they had a right to be involved in a common foreign security policy is a classic example of what happens if one invests too much power in that particular concept.

In our view, the basic problem is that exaggerated expectations arise from common foreign policy. There is also a feeling that it is a hierarchy and that it must have a central point and club rules, and so on. In the real world, that is not the position. As I said in a previous debate, we live in a network world, which, I agree, is a complicated concept. However, it is one which matches far more closely the pattern of relationships within which Europe and its neighbouring countries must work.

The further danger of a single common foreign policy is the one to which I referred in a previous debate; that is, that it creates a feeling that Europe must somehow project itself and its weight in the world and that it must project its weight and purposes against something. What is the thing that it is against? It is obviously not the old collapsed and disappeared Soviet empire; it turns out to be the alleged dominance of the United States, with which, as I said earlier, we should be partners and not rivals.

The other danger to which we return again and again is that a common foreign policy must be worked out. Once it has been worked out in detail, it is set in stone and becomes, in effect, nonnegotiable. The Americans may turn up in Europe and speak to Mr Solana. However, if we negotiate very carefully a common foreign policy, then the room for unravelling that negotiation will be almost zero. Henry Kissinger said that he wanted a single voice at the end of the telephone. However, the single voice that one gets may not be one that one likes. That is why we question the proposals, which appear to bring increased use of qualified majority voting into an area in which a much lighter touch rather than the tendency towards centralisation and singularity is needed. That tendency leads to the disappointments that we saw when the doors of the dinner party the other night were closed to some people, to their intense annoyance.

Let us have common positions on foreign policy with our European neighbours at the right time, but we must be very careful about moving away from unanimity in reaching those positions and even more careful about over-institutionalising common foreign policy and about co-ordination becoming more important than the purpose of the policy. We all remember the disaster associated with the recognition of Croatia. It was recognised because it was felt more important to achieve a common policy than to work out the consequences of that premature recognition. In future, we want less of that, not more. That is why the amendment is necessary. I beg to move.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

Being able to act rapidly in the area of common foreign and security policy is, in the Government's view, vital. We need to be able to respond to new and rapidly changing events. That has been one of the strengths of the CFSP, which has proved itself to be fast-moving and adaptable.

After 11th September, there is also a greater need than ever for the EU to co-operate with third countries in the fight against terrorism and crime and in relation to the rest of the justice and home affairs agenda. It is therefore right that we should be able to get these agreements in place rapidly and working quickly—that is in the interests of safety and stability. It is also right that we should be able to conclude such agreements by qualified majority voting.

The essence of the issue is to get the policies right. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, in relation to his point about recognition, that that happened under a Conservative administration. However, the crucial point is that the government of the day should get their policies right in the first place. That is why the decision to use QMV to conclude such agreements applies only when they relate to areas in which QMV already applies for internal EU decisions. When the agreement covers an issue for which unanimity is required for internal EU decisions, that unanimity will still be required to conclude any external agreement—no more than QMV can be used for decisions with military or defence implications. That has an explicit link to Article 23(2). Proper safeguards are written into the treaty in respect of QMV and the veto.

A vote against the article is a vote against common sense. Of course we must safeguard the right to object to vital policy decisions, including those involving defence matters. We have done that; we said that that is what we intended to do before we negotiated at Nice; and it is what we did there. We should not hold up the implementation of those decisions once they have been made. QMV and the implementation of decisions will mean speedier and more effective responses. It will mean a more effective EU position when taking action on the world stage. That is why the Government support it.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford

I am grateful to the Minister for her comments. She is right to say that a limited application of QMV is involved. As I said in an earlier intervention, we on this side do not stand on principle against sensible applications of QMV, although each new application is inevitably a constraint on independence of action. However, that is natural in the interdependent world in which we live. We have some unease about the proposal and we may return to it in more detail later. However, in view of what she said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 10 not moved.]

Lord Howell of Guildford moved Amendment No. 11: Page 1, line 9, at beginning insert "Article 1 (other than paragraph 6, subsection 2, revising Article 27e of the Treaty on European Union),

The noble Lord said: This amendment relates to Article 27e of the Treaty on European Union, which is concerned with enhanced co-operation. There has been prolonged debate about that concept. In this context other words have been used, such as, "flexibility" and "advanced guard"—I am afraid that the phrase in French escapes me for the moment. The idea is that some countries can move in certain directions together. The phrase that is usually used is that they "move forward" together. However, it could be argued that countries that want to lock themselves into a more rigid pattern of co-operation may be not moving forward at all but holding themselves to a single pattern while other countries are freer to move in an agile way in a constantly changing world. The association of progress with enhanced co-operation is not automatic. The idea that more co-operation, like more integration, means moving forward may not involve the appropriate verbs and nouns for the world into which we are moving.

At Nice, it appeared that while there was agreement that ideas for enhanced co-operation would go forward, it was also assumed by some that the veto of individual countries on an enhanced co-operation project, if one can call it that, would be retained. However, the veto was not retained in the treaty; it was removed. The brake has been removed from the pattern of enhanced co-operation—from using the resources of the Community as a whole. The new developments can go forward—or in whichever direction is appropriate—against the wish of a particular country. We do not like that; we thought that the veto should have been kept. We thought that it was going to be kept, but it was not kept in the treaty.

That is why the amendment, which suggests that that aspect should not apply to the United Kingdom, is necessary. I beg to move.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

The EU has been a success for all these years because of its ability to develop and change—because of its flexibility. That flexibility is tested every time that more member states join. In an EU that stretches from Lisbon to Tallinn, it will be increasingly difficult to get agreement to move ahead in all areas with all member states.

Flexibility in the EU has been called many different things, such as "differentiated integration" and "variable geometry"; and a range of other descriptions have been used by others. In plain English, that means that EU member states do not have to do everything together. It allows smaller groups of member states to take action in certain areas that are covered by the EU treaties, but without requiring every other member state to join in.

The provisions for enhanced co-operation already exist; they were introduced in the Amsterdam Treaty. However, they have not yet been used. Nice makes them easier to use for those who want to use them, while strengthening the safeguards for those who do not. That is a sensible move and one we believe is necessary to prepare for the enlargement of the Union that we want. So we welcome it.

It is not about building some sort of two-speed Europe or a hard core of states preventing others from joining in. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in his speech in Warsaw last year that enhanced co-operation is an instrument to strengthen the Union from within, not an instrument of exclusion. The safeguards that we built it at Nice will prevent that.

The treaty makes clear that enhanced co-operation must be a last resort, not the rule. As many member states as possible will be encouraged to join in. Those wanting to join an existing enhanced co-operation later will be given every opportunity to do so. Enhanced co-operation must respect the rights of those not participating. It must not undermine the single market, constitute a barrier to trade or distort competition. Actions under enhanced co-operation will not form part of the acquis or basic rules of the EU, so neither existing nor new members will be required to take part.

It was right to strengthen those safeguards, and, as we did at Nice, to amend the procedures so that, providing the safeguards are respected, no one state can veto a proposal for enhanced co-operation. The exception—I stress this point for the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford—is common foreign and security policy. Nice introduces for the first time the possibility of enhanced co-operation in CFSP, which we support. But we have retained the veto there. The so-called emergency brake stays for CFSP and not elsewhere for the good reason that policy decisions in CFSP are taken unanimously.

As the Opposition have tabled only one amendment on the procedures for those outside CFSP enhanced co-operation to join it, I take it that they do not object to the principle of enhanced co-operation itself. I welcome that, if that is the case. Perhaps the Opposition believe, as the Government do, that enhanced co-operation is an opportunity, not a threat. In a number of scenarios, Britain may want to join actively in areas of enhanced co-operation. In the Community pillar, for example, the UK may want to join an initiative on scientific research that some other states may not want to join. The UK may want to participate in an initiative to improve transport links between the UK and neighbouring member states.

In CFSP, the United Kingdom may want to join other interested member states to implement a common EU policy—for example, in Africa, where some EU partners, like ourselves, have historic links—on managing monitors. That is an entirely understandable position. In justice and home affairs, we can imagine the UK joining a group of member states to agree tough action on an issue that directly affects only a small group of us—for example, drugs trafficking in the North Sea. All in all, the improved enhanced co-operation arrangements will be good for Britain and are a valuable feature of the treaty. We strongly support them.

Lord Watson of Richmond

Surely, in the background to the article as drafted, is a reminder of the fundamental purpose of the Treaty of Nice. The treaty is tied to the enlargement of the Community; it is the basic facilitator. It is impossible to conceive the enlarged Community without the formalisation of flexibility—we could call it the institutionalisation of pragmatism—which Article 27 is all about. The article represents a practical way forward; it makes a lot of sense. It is good for Britain and good for the Community.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

Perhaps I may ask the Minister for clarification. Article 27b states: Enhanced cooperation … shall relate to implementation of a joint action or a common position. Article 27e appears to support that. Proposed Article 24.3 states: When the agreement is envisaged in order to implement a joint action or common position, the Council shall act by a qualified majority, in accordance with Article 23(2). Does that mean that QMV can and will be used in the context of enhanced co-operation when the issue is foreign policy? I know that the article excludes military and defence policy.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

Perhaps I may ask the Minister a couple of questions. A while ago, I read a book by Sir Richard Body called Europe of Many Circles. Is enhanced co-operation in line with the thesis of that book? He proposed that instead of having a Europe with the acquis communautaire, and what have you, we should have a much looser sort of Europe where people would co-operate in the things that they believed to be right for them and which benefited their own country. Is the enhanced co-operation system progress towards that goal, or is it something quite different?

My other question concerns something that is not clear to me; perhaps I am not reading the treaty properly. Once enhanced co-operation is made, does it become part of the acquis communautaire, or can people resign from it? In other words, can they cooperate for so long and then say, "We have had enough of this. It has suited our purpose; we would like to resign from this piece of enhanced co-operation"? Or, once they have made the agreement, is it for all time? I should be interested to know the answer.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

As I understand it, enhanced co-operation does not become part of the acquis. I hope that my noble friend will forgive me, but it is difficult for me to tell him whether or not I agree with something in a book that I have not read. Perhaps I can study what he has said, and if there is anything I can usefully add, I shall write to him. I am bound to say that there are quite a few books that I have not read; although I have read one or two. I cannot comment on whether I agree with the central thesis of something that I have not had the opportunity to study.

On the question that the noble Baroness raises, where we require unanimity in setting a policy, we would have a veto. Her question relates to CFSP policies. As I understand it—I shall write to her if I am wrong—where we require unanimity in setting the policy, we would be able to exercise a veto.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

May I suggest to the Minister that she read Mr Solano's paper on common strategies, which sets out the intention?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

As always, the noble Baroness is a font of good advice. I shall take her advice and write to her accordingly.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

Will the Minister clarify that the flexibility that has been sewn into the treaty with these clauses is yet again a one-way flexibility? In other words, as I understand it, if eight or more countries wish to follow the path of enhanced cooperation, they may do so. I think that I am right in saying—perhaps the Minister will confirm this—that the rest of us have to pay for it, apart from any defence implications of the enhanced co-operation.

Did the United Kingdom get anything back for the concession of allowing those eight or more member states to move towards enhanced co-operation? Did we, for instance, ask for our fish back from the common fisheries policy? Did we say to the others, "Well, you can have your enhanced co-operation if you want, but we want our fish back."? Or did we just let them have it, agree to pay for it and get nothing back in return?

Above all, is the Minister really saying that those eight can move forward to their enhanced cooperation but we cannot move backwards at all? That is a slightly rhetorical question—I imagine that is the way because it always is with the European Union—but perhaps the Minister would be good enough to confirm it.

7 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

I am afraid that the noble Lord and I start from such a fundamentally different premise in how we regard these issues that I am unable to answer the question of what price we made the other member states pay for something that we wanted.

The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, should not be under any illusion. The United Kingdom Government support enhanced co-operation. We do not support it in a half-hearted way; we do not support it in such a way as to believe that it should not be done or that somebody had better give us something back for it. That is not the nature of the United Kingdom's attitude to these issues. The premise of the noble Lord's argument in asking what we got for it, therefore, is fundamentally flawed.

However, any use of enhanced co-operation has to satisfy a series of conditions. It must be a last resort. It must involve at least eight member states. It must respect the acquis. It must not damage the single market. It must be open to all member states, including those who want to join later. Some of those conditions were, of course, in the Amsterdam treaty, but some are new provisions. We believe them to be important safeguards and that they should be supported.

I am sorry not to be able to tell the noble Lord that all sorts of splendid things came in as a rebalancing for what he clearly believes to be a deficit to the United Kingdom. No such deficit is recognised by the UK Government.

Lord Biffen

In order to spare the noble Baroness further reading, I can assure her that all the conditions she attached to enhanced co-operation would make it wholly unacceptable to Sir Richard Body.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

So the noble Baroness is saying that this is yet again one-way traffic; nothing came back our way. There is no provision in the treaty to recover any of the powers we have given to the European Union. I believe that is what the noble Baroness is saying, but I should like it on the record.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

I am not saying that. I do not accept the premise of the noble Lord's argument. The noble Lord should not try to put words into my mouth, tempting though that may be. I am tempted sometimes to do it but I try very hard to restrain myself. The fact is that this was something the United Kingdom Government wanted and supported. There was no question of there being a price to pay.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I am still a little worried about this. The enhanced co-operation must involve at least eight member states. My noble friend said that countries which decide that they no longer want to be part of the enhanced co-operation can resign from it. If eight countries are involved in a measure of enhanced co-operation and one resigns, that will leave only seven. Does that mean that the whole of the enhanced co-operation falls?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

The safeguards state that there should be at least eight member states. That is what is in the provisions. It follows, therefore, that there must be at least eight member states.

Lord Howell of Guildford

This debate has taken a rather unsatisfactory turn. I was of the clear impression that before the Nice treaty the Government were not loud in their view that they were going to say goodbye to the veto in this area and embrace qualified majority voting in relation to Article 27e and all sorts of procedural questions as in Article 23, subparagraph (3), which was also referred to in Article 27e. The noble Baroness now says that that was something they were always prepared to put aside because they see benefits for the United Kingdom in enhanced co-operation by qualified majority voting.

It may mean that I am approaching this matter from a different angle to the noble Baroness, but I am not sure that I do see such benefits and I am not sure that other Members of the Committee do either. We favour enhanced co-operation when it is flexible and is applied lightly in relation to specific issues. Indeed, the pattern of the future European Union will move further and further away from the heavy hand of uniformity and standardisation. That is inevitable and is thoroughly beneficial for the diversity of Europe which my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke was praising earlier.

But when enhanced co-operation is achieved by majority, leaving others behind, it is a much heavier concept. It implies integration and commitments in areas which may be extremely damaging to the diversity and flexibility of Europe as a whole.

I was unimpressed by the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and not at all happy that I should simply withdraw the amendment and nod through support for this proposition. Throwing away this veto is throwing away something which could have been used. Other countries bargain briskly and we can bargain in a friendly way; in a pro-European way; in a communautaire way. But this is something that should have been done less casually and with more focus on the flexibility we need for the kind of Europe that I believe the Prime Minister favoured in part of his Warsaw speech—some of it mentioned "superpowers", with which we do not agree. It is something most of us favour.

An increasing number of advocates of European Unity in applicant states undoubtedly favour a more flexible pattern for the Europe they long to join. I recently spent a weekend in Budapest with leaders from three of the major applicant states and I have to tell the noble Baroness that their constant emphasis was on flexibility and not on more qualified majority voting or abandonment of the right, in the last resort—one never wants to see it used—to say no to a specific endeavour by another group of eight states.

This is not a happy proposition and not one that I can recommend the Committee to support. Therefore I commend Amendment No. 11.

7.7 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 11) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 58; Not-Contents, 121.

Division No. 1
Astor, V. Lucas, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Marlesford, L.
Attlee, E. Miller of Hendon, B.
Biffen, L. Monro of Langholm, L.
Blackwell, L. Monson, L.
Blatch, B. Montrose, D.
Boardman, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Bridgeman, V. Noakes, B.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Northesk, E.
Chadlington, L. Norton of Louth, L.
Colwyn, L. Onslow, E.
Cope of Berkeley, L. [Teller] Park of Monmouth, B.
Craigavon, V. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Dixon-Smith, L. Peel, E.
Erroll, E. Renton, L.
Forsyth of Drumlean, L. Roberts of Conwy, L.
Glentoran, L. Rotherwick, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Seccombe, B. [Teller]
Hanham.B. Selsdon, L.
Henley, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Hogg, B. Stewartby, L.
Howe, E. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Howell of Guildford, L. Strathclyde, L.
Jopling, L. Trefgarne, L.
Kelvedon, L. Vivian, L.
King of Bridgwater, L. Wilcox, B.
Knight of Collingtree, B. Willoughby de Broke, L.
Liverpool, E. Windlesham, L.
Acton, L. Dahrendorf, L.
Addington, L. David, B.
Amos, B. Davies of Coity, L.
Andrews, B. Davies of Oldham, L.
Ashton of Upholland, B. Dormand of Easington, L.
Barker, B. Dubs, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Elder, L.
Billingham, B. Evans of Parkside, L.
Blackstone, B. Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Borrie, L. Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Bradshaw, L. Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Brennan, L. Filkin, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. Fyfe of Fairfield, L.
Brookman, L. Gale, B.
Burlison, L. Geraint, L.
Campbell-Savours, L. Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Carter, L. [Teller] Gladwin of Clee, L.
Castle of Blackburn, B. Goldsmith, L.
Chan,L. Goudie, B.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. Gould of Potternewton, B.
Clinton-Davis, L. Grabiner, L.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Crawley, B. Greaves, L.
Grocott, L. Northover, B.
Hamwee, B. Pendry, L.
Hannay of Chiswick, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Harris of Haringey, L. Radice, L.
Harris of Richmond, B. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Harrison, L. Razzall, L.
Hayman, B. Rendell of Babergh, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Rooker, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Roper, L.
Hooson, L. Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Howarth of Breckland, B. Scotland of Asthal, B.
Howells of St. Davids, B. Scott of Needham Market, B.
Howie of Troon, L. Serota, B.
Hoyle, L. Sharman, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L. Sheldon, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L. Simon, V.
Irvine of Lairg, L. (Lord Chancellor) Smith of Clifton, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Janner of Braunstone, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. Temple-Morris, L.
Judd, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Kirkhill, L. Tomlinson, L.
Laird, L. Tugendhat, L.
Layard, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Lipsey, L. Uddin, B.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L. Wallace of Saltaire, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Walpole, L.
[Teller] Warner, L.
McIntosh of Hudnall, B. Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
MacKenzie of Culkein, L. Watson of Richmond, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L. Whitaker, B.
Maclennan of Rogart, L. Whitty, L.
Maddock, B. Wilkins, B.
Mallalieu, B. Williams of Crosby, B.
Massey of Darwen, B. Williams of Elvel, L.
Milner of Leeds, L. Williams of Mostyn, L. (Lord
Mitchell, L. Privy Seal)
Newby, L. Williamson of Horton, L.
Nicol, B. Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

7.17 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 12 to 14 not moved.]

Lord Howell of Guildford moved Amendment No. 15: Page 1, line 9, after "10," insert "other than Article 2, paragraph 9, subsection 1, revising Article 137 of the Treaty establishing the European Community,

The noble Lord said: We now turn away from the Treaty on European Union to deal with the treaty establishing the European Communities. For those who, like me, sometimes feel bewildered by the colossal volume of paper and the need to find one's way around between the different treaties, the excellent publication, The Treaty of Nice in perspective, Volume 2, guides us to the appropriate article; that is Article 137 of the treaties establishing the European Communities.

This is an area in which the phrase "Community activism" comes to mind. A long list of the involvements with which the Community institutions want to go ahead already existed in the previous treaties. The phrase used is: the Community shall support and complement the activities of the Member States in the following fields". However, there have been additions to the long list. I pause for a moment on the word "complement". Co-ordination is immensely valuable. That applies, for instance, in a field which is not covered by the amendment, but which is important; that is, overseas aid. Everyone wants co-ordination and concertation. That makes enormous sense in the modern world.

Then comes the thought that there should be complementary activity over and above the coordination of member states' activities; a new layer of operations and programmes and, inevitably, transfer of resources, which adds to the complexity of the European effort without necessarily improving it. Indeed, in some areas we have sad evidence, which we shall come to when we debate matters such as the audit procedures of the European Union, that these additional and complementary layers of activity breed a great deal of expenditure and not, alas, effective results. Remote and ineffectual are the adjectives that come to mind. I believe that originally they were applied to dons, but often they are applied to some of these programmes that merely add to the existing efforts of the member states.

It would tire noble Lords for me to go over the matters covered by previous treaties, but they are there. Let us look at the additions to Article 137 that the Nice Treaty introduces and that this legislation introduces into our law. Paragraph (j) is an admirable aim, the combating of social exclusion". We all want to combat social exclusion, but our success in many areas is limited. In our own country, let alone in the wider world, there are still areas of intolerable poverty and deprivation and conditions that should not exist in the 21st century. We are all guilty and the finger of shame should point at us all.

I would not recommend some of the policies of recent years aimed at combating social exclusion but I believe that some of the policies that were tried in the 1970s and 1980s should have been pushed to a more successful conclusion. Either way, one has to decide whether such matters are best handled and complemented at a national level or at a European institution level. On these Benches the instinct is for the former. We believe that such matters are best handled at a national level.

That kind of language will be familiar to your Lordships in relation to the old argument about subsidiarity. There was to be a system by which someone—it turned out to be the European institutions themselves, in particular the Commission—was to decide whether such matters were best handled at a national level or at a Community level. Needless to say, in almost every case, except for one or two very small ones, the decision was taken that such matters were best handled at a Community level.

The subsidiarity saga has not really taken off and has not worked well at all in this area or in any other. We now see that this intimate aspect of policy, where policy effects must be geared sensitively to the social conditions, to the working conditions, to the life conditions and to the family conditions of individual citizens in individual communities and parishes, is a matter that the great community of 15 nations will support and complement. I wonder whether the philosophy behind that is at all modern.

It appears to me that it is a pattern that belongs to the world of yesterday, the world of centralisation, where big is better, a world in which Aristotle warned that there must be a limit to the size of a state and to the size of human organisations. I believe that that is true. I wonder whether attempting to grapple with social exclusion at the level of the European Community is a sensible addition to the agenda with which the senior officials of the European Community should be concerned; for example, the making of Europe-wide rules and regulations where they have value to add rather than in areas where they just add more organisation and more cost.

Another point on the list is the modernisation of social protection systems without prejudice to point (c), which is, social security and social protection of workers". That was there already. Again, this marks a substantial advance into detailed national and domestic concerns. Even if noble Lords do not like the word "national", there are concerns that are best administered on the shop floor or in the home or the workplace, but here they are added to the list. Other aspects of Article 137 make us feel that the activism, the desire to become involved, has become more important than the achievement of effective results.

Those are my main points in relation to this article, but there are others that noble Lords may want to develop. This is a good and a worrying example, not of building a great common market, not even of building European unity, but of taking to the centre activities, energies, involvement and resources that should be administered through the nation or member states. Instead, of co-ordinating and making rules and regulations, this is the genesis or the seed of programmes that will not be effective. They will probably stand in the way of the dedicated work that is being carried out in nation states to overcome the social exclusion of which there is still too much in our land. I beg to move.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

I rise to support the amendment. Article 137 has nothing to do with enlargement; most of the treaty has nothing to do with enlargement. It is contrary to what has been repeatedly stated elsewhere that it will help businesses. It will not help the applicant countries. As my noble friend said, this is a centralising part of the treaty: working conditions, social security, social protection, protection of workers, information and consultation of workers. No one has anything against the consultation of workers, but surely that is a matter for subsidiarity and a matter for the firms involved, and certainly not for the Council of Ministers or the Commission.

Perhaps I can draw the Committees' attention to paragraph 2(b) of Article 137, which states: Such directives shall avoid imposing administrative, financial and legal constraints in a way which would hold back the creation and development of small and medium-sized undertakings". As we know, small and medium-sized undertakings create the most employment and they are the engine of commercial success. It appears to me that what is stated here is the direct opposite of what happens. A recent example was the European Parliament amending a proposal that affected businesses of 50 employees or more. Such businesses had to have employee consultation on all kinds of matters that could have been commercially sensitive and that has been changed to businesses employing 20 or more people. That will affect a whole raft of businesses. They will have to operate like ICI or Marconi, with a single department to deal with co-operation and information with the employees. That really is not suitable for small firms with 20 employees.

The rhetoric is that those directives will not affect the creation and the development of the small and medium-sized undertakings, but I am afraid that they will. To say that they do not is rubbish. The way in which this article is phrased directly affects small and medium-sized enterprises to their extreme detriment. Many of the provisions are anti-business and anti-enterprise.

The applicant countries will ask, "Why is this provision here? Why are we being challenged like this? Why is it becoming more difficult, rather than easier for us to join in the joys of the single market?". There is a whole raft of measures, one of which has 12 subheadings and so on. It does not appear to be helpful to enlargement and it is certainly not helpful in making small and medium-sized enterprises more competitive, which is part of the objective.

I hope that my noble friend will decide to divide on the amendment but if he does not perhaps he will return to it at a later stage. I support his amendment.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Biffen

The noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, made a powerful argument about some of the detailed implications of the provision. I want to consider it in the broader sense in which it was introduced by my noble friend on the Front Bench. Particular emphasis was placed on the general terms of social exclusion. Most of us who have been in politics have lived with social exclusion. We know of the tremendous challenges it lays down and that often the fashions of one decade are replaced by subsequent experiences. It is not an easy subject but, none the less, it is a challenging and continuing one.

What worries me about such legislation is that it contains no implication of the policies which might be designed to counter social exclusion. It merely places social exclusion on the statute book. I believe other circumstances are to be prayed in aid; for instance, the circumstances of the Community budget. As a result of enlargement—and, after all, all these topics should be considered in that context—we shall see an increasing demand in both regional and social expenditure upon the budget. I believe that with economies so disparate within the disciplines of the single currency, there will be great demands within the various countries as they encounter some of the disadvantages within those disciplines.

Therefore, in this debate we have the opportunity to place on record—or not to do so—the general term "social exclusion" which will be prayed in aid by all those who want to drive the enlarged European Union into a greater and greater spending authority; and by implication, although concealed by the methods of tax raising, a tax-raising authority.

I believe that that is precisely the wrong way in which we should be seeking to direct an enlarged European Union. It should be an argument for decentralisation and disaggregation of government involvement rather than its accentuation.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I shall speak first to Amendment No. 15 and then to my Amendment No. 17. I support the amendment. Bearing in mind the differences in working practices, in history and in many other areas, I find it difficult to understand how 27 countries will be able to harmonise their social provision. In any event, I do not believe that it is desirable. The nation states, whether Britain, France or whichever, which have been built up over a long period of time have arrangements which suit them and one way or the other they have a form of government which gives them the consent of the people for what they are doing or intend to do. My fear is that what we have here is "entryism"; that although there are provisions which give protection to the nation states to do what they want in basic terms, eventually that will grow and grow and the powers will be further increased to the detriment of the power of the nation states.

Let us take as an example our own country. We now have a Labour Government with a huge majority. They are able in social provision to do virtually what they like. I believe that that is the proper way forward. The Government have been elected with a good majority on a manifesto which made it clear to the people of this country what they wanted to do, what they intended to do and the limits of what they would do if they were entrusted with that term of office.

That is the way it should be. That is the way politics and the provision of social and other services works in this country. I do not want it altered. There is a danger—and people must be warned of it—that provisions of this kind will prevent elected governments and parliaments in this country from doing what they and their electors want to do. That is what concerns me.

There are safeguards in place but eventually they may well be removed. We would then find ourselves either making more social provision than we thought we could afford or less provision than we could afford because we were constrained by other countries whose leaders and parliaments derived no power from our people and were not responsible to them in any way.

It is increasingly becoming the case that wherever there is qualified majority voting, the parliaments and electorates of the nations are being sidelined. Decisions are being taken not by Parliament by majority but by a majority of people who have not been elected by the British people and who are not responsible to them. The Bill is a further step towards that undesirable position.

I now turn to Amendment No. 17, which deals with the setting up of a social protection committee. It reminds me of the French Revolution. It is yet another Euro-quango which is being set up with the aim of promoting co-operation between member states. Its remit is wide, so let us look at it: The Council, after consulting the European Parliament, shall establish a Social Protection Committee with advisory status to promote cooperation on social protection policies between Member States and with the Commission. The task of the Commission shall be: to monitor the social situation and development of social protection policies in the Member States of the Community; to promote exchanges of information, experience and good practice between member states with the Commission; without prejudice to Article 207, to prepare reports, formulate opinions or undertake other work within its fields of competence, at the request of either the Council or the Commission or on its own initiative". It then states: In fulfilling its mandate, the Committee shall establish appropriate contacts with management and labour", In the first instance, the membership of the committee will be about 56, with 10 new members. I have no doubt that when the protection committee gets going it will range further and wider than envisaged in that article. It will drive towards the harmonisation of social systems and social provision. As I explained previously, that may not always suit us. Whatever party is in power, it may be detrimental to the policies that it wants to pursue. The provision could therefore lead to more financial resources —and it is true that it could lead to less.

Ten countries from the east are joining and many of them are poor and have a low standard of living. There could be a call for a large amount of extra finance. As we know, Mr Prodi and the European Parliament want direct taxation at the behest of the Parliament and the Commission. We really have to look ahead to discover what this social protection committee wants to do. As I say, there is already a call for an EU-wide tax. I have no doubt that the committee will do its best to promote that because it will enable it to do what it wishes.

There is one final point I wish to make as regards the contacts between management and unions. What will they be about? Will they be on the basis of negotiation? I am glad that we have now introduced a minimum wage. Will that be one of the kinds of things that will be discussed by the social protection committee? If so, I believe that that would be bad. My background is in the trade union movement and I believe that the right people to negotiate wages, conditions, salaries and the minimum wage are the trade unions as they represent the working people of this country. I do not want to see the intrusion of government of any sort into the area of collective bargaining.

I hope that Members of the Committee will understand the dangers that these two particular provisions present because increasingly and when each new treaty is signed, there is a passing of power from this Parliament or other such institutions to the institutions of the Community, which are less democratic, which are secretive and which could do much harm. I implore Members of the Committee to be very careful about what they are doing.

Lord Harrison

I rise briefly to challenge some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke. I agree with him that small businesses are at the heart of Europe and the single market. However, I wholly disagree with him that the implementation of the Treaty of Nice will be bad for business in Europe and the United Kingdom and in particular for small businesses. That is what he says in this amendment. I believe that if he reads what the treaty provides, albeit in a very modest way, he will see that the extension of qualified majority voting will actually help small businesses, especially as regards red tape by challenging it, and in the furtherance of research and development. So I hope that he will read again the Treaty of Nice and what is proposed because I believe that he will find that small businesses and business as a whole will be helped by the implementation of the treaty.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

I am grateful to the noble Lord for reminding me to look back at the treaty. I wonder where he gets his information, because all the small businesses I have been involved with, whether in my own personal experience or through the Federation of Small Businesses, do nothing but complain about the increasing amount of red tape from Europe. The European Parliament has just compounded that felony quite recently, as I explained in my recent comments and at Second Reading. Therefore, I do not know how the noble Lord can possibly say that the European Union is making life easier for small businesses when it is perfectly plain that it is not—and that it is doing the opposite.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Harrison

Perhaps I may quickly trespass on the time of the Committee in two specific ways. First, the ambition of the single market is to introduce one set of regulations, replacing the 15 different sets which exist now. Secondly and specifically, in this treaty there are references to small businesses where the use of qualified majority voting will promote programmes in favour of helping small businesses. I encourage the noble Lord to look at that and to gain sustenance from seeing it in practice.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

Does the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, agree that the harmonisation to which he refers and which is to take place throughout the European Union is harmonisation which will increase regulation in our economy up to the level of that in, shall we say, the German and other economies and thus lose us the competitive edge which we have enjoyed for so long—although it is being rapidly diminished by clauses such as this one in the Treaty of Rome?

Is the noble Lord aware that at a convention the Federation of Small Businesses has just voted to leave the European Union altogether, largely on the point of the massive over-regulation which is strangling the small businesses? I cannot see how the noble Lord can maintain his hypothesis.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

I support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. I ask the Minister to explain why this social protection committee is necessary at all. What is it going to do? The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, is quite right. Once the committee has been established, it will want to work. It will have minutes, a budget, and it will want to be paid. It will be busy.

It is to monitor the social situation and the development of a social protection policy. It is to promote the exchange of information, experience and good practice. But there are plenty of bodies already in existence which do that. Why do we need another massive committee with 58 members? Why do we need it to prepare reports, formulate opinions and undertake other work within its field of competence? Surely there are enough committees in the European Union already and at national level to do these things without establishing another body. Another enormous committee would simply add to the bureaucracy that we have just been talking about. It is to do a job which is not necessary. Can the noble Lord explain why anyone believes that a social protection committee is remotely necessary for enlargement, for example?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, should begin by thinking that these provisions are remote and ineffectual. I remind him that when Hilaire Belloc used that phrase in defence of G K Chesterton he was attacking G G Coulson who was a far more distinguished historian and philospher than G K Chesterton; I am not saying that he was a better poet or novelist. The noble Lord should beware whom he attacks; but it was a splendid piece of invective.

Even those who support Articles 137 and 144 will be somewhat disappointed if they take too seriously what has been said in this debate. Article 137 makes very few changes of substance. Almost all of it is a reordering of the Amsterdam Treaty. For example, voting by unanimity was retained in the following key areas: social security, the social protection of workers, the protection of workers where their employment contracts are terminated, representation and collective defence of the interests of workers and employers, and with regard to conditions of employment for third country nationals legally residing in the Community.

One new provision is the addition of a reference to the modernisation of social protection systems which can take place by QMV. But action in that area is limited to the adoption of measures designed to encourage co-operation between member states, and it does not include legislation. Indeed, I say to the noble Lords, Lord Stoddart and Lord Willoughby de Broke, that if they read Article 137(2)(a) they will see that the measures specifically exclude any harmonisation of the laws and regulations of the member states.

The action plans, which are along the same lines as the social exclusion action plans, add impetus to member states' moves to combat social exclusion. Pay, the right of association—apparently this is the concern of my noble friend Lord Stoddart—and the right to strike and impose lockouts continue to be excluded from the provisions of Article 137.

Article 137(4) is amended to make clear that any proposals agreed must not affect the rights of member states to define the fundamental principles of their social security systems and must not significantly affect the financial equilibrium of national systems, which is an important and welcome clarification.

Amendment No. 17 tabled by my noble friend Lord Stoddart refers to the social protection committee which he fears will grow and spread its tentacles all over the European Union. I have to tell my noble friend that it already exists. It was set up to undertake work in two areas identified by the European Council in Lisbon. That committee has existed since December last year and is run on the basis of Article 202. All that happens now is that it is given more specific existence. My noble friend has correctly quoted the three main tasks: monitoring social protection policies in member states and the Union; facilitating exchanges of information and good practice; and preparing an annual report on social protection which highlights key policy developments.

I do not believe that either my noble friend Lord Stoddart or the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby, understands that the establishment of a committee is a move away from a too prescriptive legislative agenda to a useful mechanism to facilitate exchange of information, experience and good practice; in other words, it is in the reverse direction from that which the speakers to this amendment appear to believe it is going.

We support greater exchange of information to learn from each other and ensure that we do more to help people into work and, at the same time, provide greater security for those in work. If social policy in the sense of Articles 137 and 144 is an illegitimate subject for the Treaty of Nice, which appears to be suggested, it has been an illegitimate subject for a very long time. We profoundly disagree that these matters should be excluded from the treaty.

Lord Howell of Guildford

One can hardly disagree with much of the aims and policy objectives which the noble Lord has just outlined. It is sensible that these policies should be pursued within nation states and that all kinds of co-ordination should take place. What is left hanging in the air—the case has not been made for it—is why it is necessary to put Article 137 into a treaty, let alone that it should be upgraded under the Treaty of Nice, if it is all so delicate that it hardly touches anything or intrudes into any national policies. This is to misuse international treaties and the legislation which flows from them in far too heavy-handed a way. A tolerant Union which binds Europe together is not made of this material. One cannot bind people together by forcing them together. One cannot bind Europe together by constant activism and intrusion, however light it is supposed to be, into these matters. That is my view on Amendment No. 15 to revise Article 137.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, will speak to his amendment in a moment. However, I have some sympathy with him and my noble friends who have questioned the need for yet another committee. Not only are committees very often fateful affairs, particularly at international and supranational level, but this matter completely fails to understand the way in which the Union is evolving. The Union is now moving in the direction of agencies and soft legislation through national parliaments. The old pattern of a hierarchy of committees at the centre handing down the law has vanished. That pattern belongs to yesterday's Europe, not the systems that are now evolving—whether or not we like them—and certainly not the flexible Europe on which comment has been made in earlier amendments.

As far as concerns Amendment No. 15, I am left very uneasy about the implications and thinking behind it as outlined by the Minister. However, it is an hour when no doubt other things are in the Committee's mind. I shall return to these issues later, but for the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 16 not moved.]

Lord Stoddart of Swindon had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 17: Page 1, line 9, after "10," insert "other than Article 2, paragraph 11,

The noble Lord said: I should like to say a few words in reply to the Minister. I understand what the Minister has said and I shall consider it. If it is true that we are moving away from formality I am very happy. However, it remains my impression that we are moving away from informality to formality. I give notice that I may bring this matter before your Lordships again at Report stage, but I shall not move Amendment No. 17.

[Amendment No. 17 not moved.]

Lord Grocott

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before 8.57 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.