HL Deb 20 November 2001 vol 628 cc1092-122

House again in Committee on Clause 1.

Lord Howell of Guildford moved Amendment No. 35: Page 1, line 12, at end insert "and the Declarations adopted by the Conference (other than Declaration 1).

The noble Lord said: We come to Amendment No. 35 which is concerned with Declaration 1 adopted by the conference. While these declarations are part of the command paper and are included in the treaty document they are not part of the treaty itself. This amendment is concerned with the first declaration which focuses on European security and defence policy. It states that, the objective for the European Union is for that policy to become operational quickly. A decision to that end will be taken by the European Council as soon as possible in 2001 and no later than at its meeting in Laeken"—

which is a few weeks ahead but still in 2001— …on the basis of the existing provisions of the Treaty on European Union. Consequently, the entry into force of the Treaty of Nice does not constitute a precondition".

Nevertheless, the declaration is included in the command paper, and I hope the Committee accepts that the issues it raises are relevant to the Bill and the treaty.

The word that catches the eye in the declaration is "quickly". The Belgian Government and many others are particularly anxious that these matters should be taken forward rapidly. Since the horrors of 11th September a great deal has been said about the need for European defence co-operation to be strengthened. That is something that we have never opposed; indeed, we have actively supported it. To me and many of my noble friends, it has long appeared vital that a much stronger contribution by the European powers to the overall defence effort of Europe within NATO is essential and that the continuing lack of compatibility and interoperability of defence capabilities in Europe is highly undesirable.

Perhaps the point at which differences between my noble friends and the government Benches arise is the precise nature of the reaction to that challenge and how it should be met. One proposition that is strongly aired with renewed vigour by Mr Geoff Hoon, Secretary of State for Defence, is that the rapid reaction force project should be pushed forward more rapidly and the whole idea given a high-level flavour. I remain confused—perhaps the noble Baroness will be able to clarify the position—as to the aim of the rapid reaction force. Is it to be an expeditionary force that can operate out of area, as the Secretary of State for Defence appeared to hint at this morning and as many others have indicated, or is it intended for more low level humanitarian peacekeeping tasks? Without intending to be derogatory, is it to be a glorified travelling policing operation? One minute one sees talk, as in the Financial Times this morning, about the need for precision guided missiles; the next minute there is talk about its capacity for law enforcement, social care, rehabilitation and so on. For those outside the process it is very hard to focus on precisely what is planned.

I have no difficulty with the objective of a stronger European end of NATO. It is only when one comes to the proposition of autonomy that all the difficulties begin. I sometimes wonder whether they are all worthwhile. I understand that originally it was to please the French at St Malo, but has it carried forward the tasks any more rapidly? Certainly, the general view is that matters are proceeding rather too slowly. Klaus Bühler of the Bundestag is quoted in this morning papers as saying, We still have not seen any progress on precision guided missiles, anti-air defence or forces protection".

I am not even clear about the numbers. I understood that 60,000 troops were to be put in the front line, but this morning it is said that so far 100,000 troops, 400 aircraft and 100 ships have been pledged by members states. Presumably, that means that those facilities have been earmarked, double-hatted or whatever is the technical phrase.

Perhaps the real signal we seek that something is happening and this is not just talk, or to do with other objectives—for example, a European identity—is extra spending. Is there to be a radically increased defence spending programme throughout the EU membership which I understand Her Majesty's Government believe is necessary? The figure of an additional 25 billion dollars over 10 years has been mentioned, but at present one sees very little sign of it. Here we have a good defence programme, although some say that it should be stronger. We are ahead of the game as compared with the rest of the European Union where defence budgets have been progressively cut. The Committee would be greatly helped if the noble Baroness could reassure it, particularly in view of reported statements by the Secretary of State for Defence as to the precise aims and goals of the new force. Are they still Petersberg tasks, or something more? Perhaps the noble Baroness will reassure us about whether the defence spending necessary to make it work will occur.

We believe that a force of some kind within the NATO framework is vital for the security of an enlarged European Union. However, we question whether the force which the declaration appears to want to become operational quickly will, as a political project, avoid duplication, division and debate and instead deliver the defence and security that Europe needs. I beg to move.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I should like to know one thing about the European defence arrangements. There must be worry in the minds of some, particularly in the Armed Forces, about where the additional troops will come from. From the figures I have seen, our troops are already fully committed in Germany, Kosovo, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Northern Ireland and Cyprus. That adds up to the 65,000 operational troops available. We shall now apparently send a force of at least 6,000—it may be 12,000; we do not know—to Afghanistan. We do not know how long they are likely to be there. It is essential to know where the troops are coming from and that when they are available they will be properly equipped and financed. As I stated in another debate, that has not been the case for quite a long time.

Those are the questions I wish to ask about the new defence arrangements. I hope that the Minister will be able to assist me.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

Perhaps I may comment on the context of the declaration. We know that there is some pressure from the Belgian presidency to make a declaration at the Laeken European Council that the rapid reaction force will have become operational. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will resist any such declaration when it comes to the European Council unless there is clear evidence of substantial pledges of further assistance from other governments including in particular the Belgian Government who have taken a large number of defence cuts.

Perhaps I may be a little mischievous. When we first debated the clause in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred to plans to develop a European army, with its own marching song. What progress has been made on the marching song? What language will it be in? What will the tune be?

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

The noble Lord will be sadly disappointed. I cannot give him any further information on the marching song. It is an interesting point. If further information is available, I assure the noble Lord that it will be his very shortly.

I am well aware that the matters relating to the European rapid reaction force have been the subject of considerable debate for quite some time. As a Minister in the Ministry of Defence and now in the Foreign Office, I have addressed them on a number of occasions. However, let us deal with their place in this discussion. The Nice conclusions make it clear that the goal for the EU is to have a rapid reaction force operational as soon as possible—that is, one which can be called upon. I stress that it is not a standing rapid reaction force. It is not a Euro-army or any of the other wrong classifications given by those who have sought to give such a complexion to what we have tried to draw up in regard to what is now necessary in Europe in terms of some sort of military capability when NATO does not wish to be engaged.

To that end, both the Swedish and the Belgian presidencies have made progress on two fronts. The first is the establishment and validation of the permanent structures and crisis management procedures. The second front is the pursuit of discussions with NATO with a view to establishing arrangements between the European Union and NATO, which is obviously an important point of liaison.

The Political and Security Committee and the EU Military Committee were established under the Swedish presidency. The process of ensuring that they function well and of testing EU crisis management procedures has continued under the Belgian presidency during the second half of this year. The EU and NATO have reached agreement on elements of their permanent relationship and working to agree what is termed as "detailed Berlin-plus arrangements" for EU access to NATO assets. Those EU/NATO agreements will also need to be validated and exercised. Thus these are matters which are being discussed regularly with NATO colleagues. We have here a dual effort seeking to ensure that no duplication of effort takes place between the two.

As the noble Lord indicated, of course we share the objective of making the EU operational for military crisis management as soon as possible. However, the "possible" is far more important than the "soon". Perhaps I may put it in this way: the issue is far too important to be rushed or tied to an artificial deadline. The goal is for the EU to be capable by 2003 of undertaking military operations across the spectrum of the Petersberg tasks. That requires efficient EU structures, effective relations with NATO—on which a great deal of time has been spent—and improved capabilities. Noble Lords will know that the capabilities conference is under way. We are pursuing those three aspects, all of which are crucial.

At Nice it was also agreed in a non-legally binding declaration that the ESDP would become operational quickly and that the decision would be taken by the Laeken Council. We share the objective of making the EU operational for crisis management as soon as possible but, as I have said, we have to get this right. It must form the underlying bedrock of our efforts. We cannot rush towards the deadline of Laeken and we cannot commit to a decision which remains to be reached at that conference. It must be the right decision and I personally believe that it will be taken at Laeken, but of course it is for the members to decide.

The noble Lord has pointed out that it is vital for a much stronger contribution to be made to the overall NATO capability. He is entirely right to say that both interoperability and capability are important. We believe that the rapid reaction force will work better for NATO and better for fulfilling those Petersberg tasks in which NATO does not wish to become involved. The noble Lord asked what exactly are those tasks. They are expeditionary forces, out-of-area forces, low-level humanitarian forces and peacekeeping forces; namely, they provide humanitarian operations. I have cited examples such as assisting flood victims, as we were able to undertake some 18 months ago in Africa.

Other crises may arise which would be difficult to define at the moment, but they would be ones in which NATO would not wish to become involved and where the territorial integrity of the NATO signatories would not be at stake, or peace-keeping or enforcement. I am bound to say to the noble Lord that we have long lived with the definition of Petersberg tasks in relation to the WEU. Indeed, it is those Petersberg tasks that we still refer to in relation to the rapid reaction force. We have been over this ground many times. I am sure that the noble Lord will be tempted to quote many commentators from Europe and elsewhere who have cast doubts and perhaps have pointed to certain more high-flown ambitions. However, I should say to the noble Lord that what really matters is what is said by those who are taking the real decisions as regards the aims of the force, as well as what is said by our major ally in NATO, the United States.

The United States has been the principal player in NATO and NATO remains our cornerstone. I remind the noble Lord of what was said by President Bush when he and the Prime Minister met at Camp David: We support the efforts of NATO's European members and other European nations to assume greater responsibility for crisis management in Europe by strengthening NATO's capabilities and developing the ability to manage efforts where NATO as a whole chooses not to be engaged". I could not put that more plainly than the President of the United States. He seems completely to have grasped the point and has put his confidence in what we are doing in Europe.

The noble Lord asked about extra spending. The Government have put extra funding into our defence budget. We believe that that was right, given the commitments of the United Kingdom. I am sure that the noble Lord will acknowledge that the Government instituted the first increase in defence spending for some 10 years, as I recall. We have done that because it was necessary. It was not a direct response to the European rapid reaction capability. We are exhorting our European colleagues to look not necessarily and entirely at extra spending, although it would be very welcome if some of them did, but to look at spending where it is really needed. That is what the capability conference is about.

The European initiative is about the European nations improving the practicalities and the real capabilities, with better armed forces capable of quicker reaction and more effective deployment. European defence will really make NATO stronger. I am constantly disappointed that the Benches opposite do not acknowledge that what we are doing here will make NATO stronger by improving the European capability. Of course, NATO will remain essential to our collective defence and our first choice in managing crises. It is only when NATO chooses not be engaged that the European arrangements kick in.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, raised the question of additional troops. They are not additional troops, but a question of troops that can be made available. At its worst, over stretch was running at about 40 per cent of the deployment of our Armed Forces. That was reduced to under 30 per cent. I say to the noble Lord that we always have to prioritise when operating under a NATO umbrella and it is no different from having to do so when we operate under an EU umbrella.

The noble Lord told us earlier this afternoon that the Prime Minister had done magnificently in holding his corner against too much centralisation and singularisation of foreign policy in Europe. I agree that the point that he made was about foreign policy. But I believe that the same can be said about what is happening on the military front. The fact is that we have kept an absolute veto for the United Kingdom on these issues.

We turn now to the question of whether or not we are going to be rushed into any decisions. I assure the noble Lord that we are not. We would like to stick to the timetable and we believe that we shall be able to do so. But I assure the noble Lord that the Government's priority is to get this right.

Lord Howell of Guildford

I am grateful to the noble Baroness. Obviously, her assurances are reassuring and bring additional clarity to a situation which, after a few days, tends to become clouded again. I hope that this time the clouds stay away.

I confess that I will still need constant reassurance, as will members of the public, and certainly your Lordships, about the humanitarian tasks. In the noble Baroness's phrase, the "what is it all about?" question will need constant clarification, and rightly so. These are military resources backed by taxpayers' money. People have a right to know what any new forces are for. If they are for flood relief and humanitarian tasks and matters yet difficult to define, one is left wondering how flood relief will be secured by 100,000 troops, 400 aircraft and 100 ships. That sounds more like the expeditionary force of the Greeks against Troy except, presumably, they would not have had aircraft. That is a very big operation, yet the noble Baroness is describing much lower profile operations. That is not quite what the Secretary of State is reported as saying this morning. I have not checked the original text, only the newspaper reports.

All the time there is a desperate need to keep in focus and state with precision what this additional force is for and to ensure that it meets the criteria laid down by everybody, including the Prime Minister in some statements and President Bush, but not, from time to time, various other European statesmen, generals and so on, who clearly have something different in mind. So I am reassured.

As regards the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, rightly raising his eyebrow at the thought of a marching song, I freely state that I took it from a pamphlet of a very reliable and learned columnist, Mr Irwin Steltzer. But perhaps feeling that it was not enough to rely on him I did check with the authorities connected with the European Commission. Rather like the noble Baroness, I received a kind of silence, followed by a feeling that they had no record of the idea of a marching song related to the rapid reaction force—which, after all, so far has not marched anywhere—but that it rang a faint bell in relation to the Euro Brigade. Further conversation—not of the totally thorough kind which the Committee deserves—indicated to me that the Euro Brigade did and does have a marching song. So it may be that I was confusing the Euro Brigade with the RRF, which, I recognise, are two very different organisations. I apologise if there was confusion as a result of my remarks.

I have nothing more to add at this late stage. I am grateful for the further reassurances—although I should say, slightly gloomily, that I suspect that before we are through we may need still more. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Kingsland moved Amendment No. 35A: Page 1, line 12, at end insert "and the Declarations adopted by the Conference (other than Declaration 2).

The noble Lord said: We turn now from the clarity of military operations to the fog of the law. The Tampere European Council in October 1999 agreed on the establishment of Eurojust. At Nice it was agreed that the Council "shall promote co-operation through Eurojust" in three main areas: to enable Eurojust to facilitate co-ordination between the prosecuting authorities of member states; to promote support by Eurojust for criminal investigations in serious cross-border crime, particularly organised crime; and to facilitate close co-operation between Eurojust and the European judicial network, especially to facilitate extradition requests.

We on these Benches, of course, support improved co-ordination in these areas; but we oppose any move beyond that. I observe that, in the course of the proceedings of the Select Committee on European Scrutiny that led to its sixth report, the Government undertook not to accept any operational role for Eurojust in national criminal investigations or prosecutions. In this context, moreover, the report also expressed some anxiety about the content of certain draft documents. In particular, the report stated: The requirement that a prosecuting authority in a Member State should be obliged to account to Eurojust for its reasons for not complying with a request to prosecute, or for not complying with a request to co-ordinate prosecutions with those of another Member State, suggests to us that Eurojust is intended to have some influence over prosecution discretions: otherwise there would seem to be little point in asking for the reasons to be stated".

Our concern is that Eurojust may prove to be the first step towards a European Union public prosecutor. Unreassuringly, for example, Commissioner Victorino said: A provisional judicial co-operation unit, which will serve as a kind of laboratory, enabling us to conceive and simultaneously test Eurojust, will take up its work soon. We may in the longer term also agree on the concept of centralised prosecution as a further logical step along the path of co-operation and coordination within the Union, at least for a number of sectors of particular European relevance".

And the explanatory statement in the Gebhardt report, voted in the European Parliament last November, said: Eurojust must&be so constituted that it can be regarded as a forerunner of a future European public prosecution service designed to strengthen the European Union's judicial dimension in relation to criminal law".

We need to be sure that, by inserting treaty articles in this area, the EU is not paving the way for a journey beyond co-operation, to a new form of acquis communautaire. I beg to move.

Lord Monson

If one has a de facto federal public prosecutor, as foreshadowed by the commissioner quoted by the noble Lord, will that not lead inexorably to a federal bureau of investigation—even if under another name—whose agents have the power to go anywhere, with or without the knowledge and permission of the local police, and bear firearms if they require them? Further, persons caught by such agents, prosecuted and convicted could serve their sentences in a federal penitentiary.

9.30 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

Article 31(2) lays down means by which the council shall encourage co-operation through Eurojust. However, the declaration that is the subject of the amendment merely records that member states agreed some time ago the role of Eurojust and where and when the decision to establish it was taken.

Speculation about what might happen is not as important as what the declaration says about Eurojust: A unit composed of national prosecutors, magistrates or police officers of equivalent competence detached from each member state, having the task of facilitating proper co-ordination between national prosecuting authorities and of supporting criminal investigations in organised crime cases". The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, reminded us that the decision to establish Eurojust was taken by the Tampere European Council in October 1999. The declaration makes clear that the intention was to improve co-operation between national prosecutors aiding national criminal investigations into serious organised crime. Eurojust is not a supranational European police force but an arrangement to cover intergovernmental co-operation for the good of our citizens across Europe.

We are only too painfully aware that organised crime stopped long ago respecting any kind of national boundaries. The UK Government strongly support Eurojust and the benefits it will bring to tackling organised crime effectively. Improving judicial co-operation across the EU will also help to ensure that serious organised crime is properly investigated and prosecuted.

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, that Eurojust will not mean—as he saw reported—interference by the European Union in national investigations and prosecutions. Neither will it mean an end to British legal tradition or be a body that investigates and prosecutes in its own right. Eurojust will not be a centralised European public prosecutor. It will be a means by which investigations will continue to be conducted by national authorities. Eurojust's role will be to aid cross-border investigations through co-operation between national authorities.

Eurojust is a network designed to crack down on international organised crime, to help put an end to the misery caused by traffickers in drugs and human beings, and to bring money launderers to book—something that all members of the Committee should be able to support.

Lord Kingsland

I thank the noble Baroness for her reply, which I find greatly reassuring. Last night, we debated at some length the question of the European warrant. Those who attended that debate will recall that we are about to be faced with a new regime whereby an important part of the criminal law of our country will come under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. I am much relieved to hear that that will not be the case for Eurojust. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Skelmersdale)

Is it your Lordships' pleasure that the amendment be withdrawn?

Noble Lords


The Deputy Chairman of Committees

In that case, I must put the Question, That this amendment be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion shall say, "Content"; to the contrary, "Not-Content".

Noble Lords


The Deputy Chairman of Committees

I think that the "Not-Contents" have it.

On Question, amendment negatived.

[Amendment No. 36 not moved.]

Lord Stoddart of Swindon moved Amendment No. 37: Page 1, line 12, at end insert "and the Declarations adopted by the Conference (other than Declaration 22)

The noble Lord said: I tabled this amendment because I am a little concerned that there is a change to the holding and the venues of future European Councils. It seems that, from 2002, one European Council per presidency will be held in Brussels and one in member states holding the presidency; and that when the Union reaches 18 members, all Councils will be held in Brussels.

I cannot understand the reason for this. It merely provides further evidence that the final purpose is to create a unitary state—a country called Europe. Although holding Council meetings in Brussels may be administratively expedient, the idea tends to undermine the concept of the European Union as an organisation of nation states, and gives further credence to supra-nationality by adding to the existing symbols of statehood that of a permanent capital city where the real power resides.

Peripatetic presidencies at least maintain the illusion of nationhood. I should have thought that it would have some propaganda value for the Euro-spinmasters that at least some meetings are held in the member countries—for example, in this country, in London, Cardiff or Edinburgh, or perhaps even in Belfast. I cannot quite understand why it has been necessary to alter that arrangement. I should be grateful for the Minister's comments. I beg to move.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

I have a great deal of sympathy with a part of this amendment. The declaration is nonsensical. This was not done in order to build a centralised state; it was done as a particularly "dirty deal" between the French presidency and the Belgian Prime Minister at a late stage in the early morning declarations. I strongly suspect that the Belgians will come to regret this change when the cost of holding European Councils in Brussels gets through to them. We do not support the removal of the provision, but I regret to say that it is one of the least glorious aspects of the way in which treaties and their declarations are negotiated. I would much rather that it were not there.

Lord Blackwell

Whatever the intent behind the declaration, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, that its effect would be in due course to establish a permanent centre of government for the European Union. If we are clear that it is a union of nation states and that the Council of Ministers is the primary council, which involves nations coming together to agree from time to time, an important part of that symbolism is that the nations are the hosts for those meetings and that all European Union member states have their turn at hosting them. The only symbolism and effect that can come out of having a permanent location is to strengthen the power of the central machinery. Regardless of whether the intent was to create a European government, it is de facto a move that would lead in that direction. For that reason, I support the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, in objecting to the declaration.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

The European Council—the heads of state and government of the member states—now meets often. In recent years, there have typically been two or three European Council meetings per presidency. At least one formal meeting is always held at the end of each presidency, as will be the case when the Belgian presidency hosts the Laeken European Council next month.

In recent years there has been a second formal European Council meeting in the first half of each year—for example, the meeting in Lisbon in spring 2000 to launch the new economic reform process. That was followed up by the European Council at Stockholm in March this year, under the Swedish presidency. There is also traditionally an informal European Council meeting every autumn which does not reach conclusions. Last month's meeting in Ghent is the most recent example.

In addition, the European Council has met on other occasions when circumstances have warranted it—for example, the extraordinary meeting on 21st September which decided the European Union's response to the terrorist attacks in the United States of America. All, or most, of those meetings have been held in the country holding the presidency.

However, as the European Council has grown in importance, it has brought with it increasing burdens on the host. Those burdens are not just financial and practical—although those aspects can be considerable. There are also very important security burdens. The scenes at the Gothenburg European Council in June, where the meeting was seriously disrupted by protesters, are still fresh in our minds.

The measure is not merely window dressing, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, implied. The system genuinely needs reform. That is what we agreed at Nice. We decided on two points. First, from 2002, one European Council per presidency will be held in Brussels. That will still leave presidencies free to hold a second formal meeting and an informal European Council in their own country, should they wish to do so. Secondly, once the EU enlarges to 18 members, all European Council meetings will be held in Brussels. That applies to all formal meetings. The possibility of the presidency holding informal meetings in its own country will remain.

That is a genuine and sensible reform. Once the European Council has its own permanent venue, organisation and security will become a matter of routine rather than a matter requiring months of planning and great expense by the presidency country. The Belgian authorities have long experience of handling international meetings, as all your Lordships will be well aware.

That is particularly relevant following the events of 11th September. Security is a real issue now for such meetings. This is a sensible change, designed to deliver efficiency. The amendment would overturn all that. That is why, I am sorry to say, we have to reject it.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I should like to thank the noble Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Blackwell, for their support. I must confess that I was surprised to receive support from the Liberal Front Bench—we are making progress—but I was sorry not to have received support from the Labour Front Bench as well.

I listened carefully to what the Minister said. I understand her reasons but I am not at all sure that what is proposed is wise. It is necessary: the Government have said so; the EU has said so; even the Commission has said so. We must inform people about what is happening in the European Union and what it is all about so that the EU will receive more support and be better loved.

Frankly, the way to do that is not by centralisation but by decentralisation. Although the Minister may think that peripatetic meetings are unimportant, I assure her that they are not. I understood her to say that for various reasons it was better to hold them in one venue rather than in various capital cities throughout the EU. I am sorry if I misunderstood her.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

I do not wish to trespass further on the Committee's time, but my point was that, although there are important practical and cost considerations, the Government believe the security question to be far more important. I hope that the noble Lord will take that on board.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I understand that. The Minister may like to know that I have been holding counter-conferences—counter-intergovernmental conferences and what have you—in various cities, so I have observed what happens.

The Edinburgh Council was in fact a great carnival. There were flags and banquets everywhere. Edinburgh was delighted to host the European Council. I also went to Cardiff. Cardiff had never experienced anything like having all those great potentates in that great city. M Chirac told the United States that his objective was to ensure that the euro gained first place from the dollar. People thought that that was great.

I also went to Nice. I must confess that I was a little worried because Nice was a city under siege. I have never seen so many soldiers with guns; and I have never seen such a remote and unprotected organisation.

Lord Tomlinson

They heard that you were there, then.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

As a matter of fact, they did not. Unfortunately, they would not agree to see me or my delegation. I am sorry about that, but it did not happen.

Although I appreciate the new security situation—although perhaps it has always existed—it may well be that centralising the meetings in one place may worsen, not improve the security problems. As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said, it may well be that the Belgians will regret the centralising of Council meetings as Brussels becomes the hated capital of the European Union.

It would be absurd for me to press the amendment but it is a serious one. I shall certainly think about the matter between now and Report and I hope that the Minister will also think about it before Report because the European Council may very well be doing completely the wrong thing and it will regret that later. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Howell of Guildford moved Amendment No. 38: Page 1, line 12, at end insert "and the Declarations adopted by the Conference (other than Declaration 23 (5))

The noble Lord said: Our concern here is with sub-paragraph (5) of the declaration we have just discussed. That sub-paragraph concerns the status of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. It is an appropriate moment for me to seek to clarify a confusion that arose about which the noble Baroness wrote to me. She wrote to me on two matters and I replied to her today on one of them. She may wish to read my reply before she raises it again. However, I hope that we can clear up the other matter that worried her.

On Second Reading the noble Baroness said of the charter that, It was not incorporated; it was not even attached to the treaty; and it is not referred to anywhere within the treaty".—[Official Report, 1/11/01; col. 1626.]

At which point she then made a further comment not germane to that issue and I intervened and said, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. This may be a pedantic point, but the charter is referred to at page 78 of the treaty".

The noble Baroness then generously said that she would give her officials a hard time the next day if that was the case. In fact, what I said was marginally wrong. I should have used the words "attached to the treaty" and not "of the treaty". Attached to the treaty the document certainly is in the Command Paper on the Treaty of Nice, which includes the protocols with the final acts and declarations.

I apologise for having used the words "of the treaty" and not "attached to the treaty" However, I must slightly qualify my apology as, if the noble Baroness is to give her officials a hard time, she might still possibly do so for not including in her brief the point that, even though the charter is not attached to the treaty and it is not referred to anywhere within the treaty, a reference to the charter is attached to the treaty. That is a pretty fine point if I may say so. If she will accept that point in the spirit in which I make my apology I shall be content. As regards the other matter I mentioned, I hope that she will study my letter as that matter is not straightforward and no doubt we shall have to try to sort it out on another occasion.

I turn to the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. I think that most people fear—perhaps some people welcome—the fact that the charter will become mandatory law. Already there are indications of that. Voices in the world of the European Court of Justice have indicated that they would take it into account in reaching their decisions. An excellent report by the European Union sub-committee of your Lordships' House made clear that the charter has been so drafted that it could easily be adopted in legally binding form. I believe that at one stage a Minister of State in the Foreign Office said it was no more important than Beano. Assurances have been given that it is just a reassertion of rights and a shop window and so on. Nevertheless, it is absolutely clear that there is a real desire in various European institutions and perhaps also in European member states to make this a mandatory set of rights.

We believe that that is the wrong approach and we consider it to be an unconstructive approach for a number of important reasons. One is that it seems to confuse—we have touched on this in earlier debates—two sorts of rights. There are, indeed, great and important basic rights for humankind: rights to free speech, rights concerning the rule of law, freedom from arbitrary arrest, liberty under the law, the right to participate in free elections, and so on.

Those are the necessities under which free societies and free markets operate and they are incorporated in the UN and other conventions. They are incorporated in the European Convention on Human Rights. They are the territory, if I may express it in that way, of the Council of Europe, which was set up under the inspiration of British Ministers, including the late Lord Kilmuir, in the post-war period. No one could object to those rights being reasserted. Whether the European Union feels that, on top of all the other assertions of these rights, it is necessary to join in the chorus is a marginal matter; I should have thought that it was a distraction from a now unnecessary addition—a fifth wheel, if one likes, on the coach.

However, that is not where the charter stops. It then goes on to refer to a whole series of other, very important rights. However, they are rights which many of us would contend are important social priorities which should be settled—many are one group's priorities at the expense of another group—at national level through the legitimate democratic process. That is why people elect to send their Members of Parliament, in our case, to the other place and why we are mandated to seek to have a scrutinising and improving role in what comes out of the other place.

Many issues which the European Charter of Fundamental Rights proceeds to elevate to the institutional supranational level are the stuff of our normal debates. If those rights are to be challenged, as often they are, it is our democratic, political process that should challenge them. They should not be frozen into some loftier and more remote arrangements and then woven into the law of the European Union and subsequently, of course, into our own laws by the back door. I refer to the rights to education, to conduct a business and to asylum and to rights for children, for the elderly—I become more and more interested in that as times goes on—rights to worker information, to worker consultation, access to placement services, paid parental leave, environmental protection, consumer protection, the right to petition and various other rights-based issues. They are all very important.

In the pattern of our politics, and to some extent in this rights-based age in which more and more decisions are reached on the basis of claims of rights rather than through the more traditional ways of democratic politics—that is probably the fault of politicians, but it is the case—these are very much the currency of our debates and of our national politics.

I cannot see, and I do not believe that many of my noble friends can see, why there is a need to turn these issues into a gigantic new charter, carrying all the declarations of rights into the centre of the European institutions and, via that, into the heart of the affairs of the various member states. I do not believe that that adds very much to the preservation or furthering of rights, good or less good, selfish or universal.

The charter says: Nothing in [it] shall be interpreted as restricting or adversely affecting human rights and fundamental freedoms".

I believe that in adding this superfluous list, some checks, damages, adverse effects and restrictions are placed on the unfolding and unending process of establishing people's rights and preserving their freedoms. It is my belief that, by pressing the concept of rights at far too remote a level, the European Charter of Fundamental Rights is not merely adding nothing; it is damaging to the debates which in modern politics are becoming more and more dominated by rights-based issues.

Behind all of that is a different agenda which we have hardly discussed today, although it will come up increasingly in the coming weeks, and which was triggered by the Nice Council. That agenda involves the new goal of having a new European constitution. Ministers are already close to agreement on the composition of the relevant convention. We have been told—I am afraid that that is all—that the convention will be composed of representatives of national Parliaments (two representatives per country), governments of EU countries (one representative per government) and the European Parliament and the European Commission (one representative seat; I suppose that that is per country). Apparently, it has been agreed that the European Parliament will have 16 seats; that appears to involve one seat for the European Parliament and 15 for the countries. I suppose that some such arrangement is involved.

It is a nice, cosy arrangement on which we have not really been consulted at all. Moreover, it will not work in that there has not really been a democratic exchange about how the shape of Europe should unfold; the arrangements will be more or less set on tramlines before the convention takes place. The arrangement will not be adequate in terms of parliamentary representation or involvement from this country; that would be achieved only if Ministers came back to this House and the other place regularly and continuously and told us what the debates were and how the arguments were going. However distinguished are the two Members who we send from our national Parliament, they will not be in a position to represent our concerns or views or to reflect the full span of our debate. The arrangement involves nominal not real democracy.

Just a few weeks previously, the chairman of the convention will be chosen at Laeken. Various people have demanded that they should be that chairman. That argument continues—or it may have been settled by now; I am not up to date. The Charter of Fundamental Rights is intended to give shape to the new constitution.

I believe that the concept—I am not universally supported in this—of trying to get a fixed constitution with a fixed set of barriers or lines that define competencies at the various levels of the EU, underpinned by the charter, involves a hopeless task. That is because life, conditions and issues change so fast that matters that are within the proper competence of the central European institutions one week or one month may be more appropriately dealt with by agencies or committees that are not at the institutional level. Alternatively, those matters might be dealt with in one institution rather than another, by agencies that are manned by national and institutional personnel or at the national level. The flow is ever more rapid in a network world. The chances of freezing the situation with competencies, charters and assertions of rights is forlorn and a distraction of energy from the other, more important, task that we have been discussing. I beg to move.

10 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

The discussion that the noble Lord initiated on the Charter of Fundamental Rights struck a note with me. We have to be careful before we call everything that one wants a "right". My view is that a right is very specific whereas a wish-list is quite different. I look forward to the Minister's response on that matter.

I turn to the rest of Declaration 23.5, which would be eliminated by the amendment. If the amendment were agreed to, we should lose from among the tasks that the European Council has to take on the requirement that: The process should address … how to establish and monitor more precise delimitation of powers between the European Union and the Member States, reflecting the principle of subsidiarity". I should have thought that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, would be in favour of that. We should also lose the requirement to address, a simplification of the Treaties with a view to making them clearer and better understood without changing their meaning". I should have thought that that, too, was rather desirable. We should also lose a discussion on, the role of national parliaments in the European architecture". I deplore the use of the word "architecture", at least they do not call it "choreography" which is an even more modern word for such a matter. The role of national parliaments in the European architecture may also produce some rather interesting discussions into which those who wish to do so could put their all. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Howell, can tell us what he will do about the parts of the subsection that he may like as well as the parts that he plainly does not like.

Lord Williamson of Horton

I love a good debate, but occasionally my eyes float down towards the actual text of the amendment. Perhaps I can deal with the two points. First, as regards the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, will be pleased to hear that I share the view that we should not put the Charter of Fundamental Rights into the treaty, now or later. I share his view on the substance of that point.

I believe that the amendment is rather convoluted. Its effect would be that all the declarations that do not have treaty force would be carried into the European Communities Act 1972 under the definition of treaties. Declarations do not have treaty force, so I do not believe that that could be done. That would be the effect, except for this one paragraph. The rest would go into the European Communities Act 1972, although they are not actually treaties.

We would simply have a little part left out, but the rest would remain there, including the conference in 2004. If this amendment were adopted, there would be no guidance at all for that conference. History has shown that intergovernmental conferences do far too much anyway, but this would give them the freest rein possible. It gives no indication at all about the issues that they may be asked to consider.

The consequence of the amendment itself would be to create almighty confusion in the way in which our law operates in relation to treaties and declarations and to avoid giving any substantive guidance to the intergovernmental conference in 2004. For those reasons I do not believe that the amendment makes a great deal of sense. Of course, the point that was raised in debate is a substantive one and one to which we should pay attention, not just now but in 2004.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

We should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for tabling this amendment. There may be certain matters wrong with it, but it has enabled us to discuss the issue of the charter of fundamental rights. It is most unfortunate that that should have been brought forward. I cannot believe for one moment that Her Majesty's Government are happy that the matter has been discussed. I sincerely hope that they are not happy about M. Chirac's suggestion that it should be written in treaty form, not in 2004, but before then.

I am sure that the Government will understand that the essence of this charter, the ideas behind it and its drafting are for the purpose of imposing a written constitution on the nations of Europe, including Britain. Such a written constitution runs completely contrary to our flexible constitution that gives people freedom to pursue their own affairs, constrained only by statute and the common law which can be altered to meet changing times and circumstances. That system has already been modified—I understand that—through the various EU treaties and very often, if not always, to the detriment of the British people and their constitution.

One cannot go into all the provisions of the charter. But there are some that are patently absurd. For example, Article 2 states: Everyone has the right to life". I thought that that was God's prerogative. Surely the EU will not apply the acquis communautaire to that as well? Then there is Article 48. That states: Presumption of innocence and right of defence. 1. Everyone who has been charged shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law". The EU has made that impossible because under the sex discrimination laws the burden of proof is on the employer. In other words, he is presumed guilty until he proves himself innocent. So there are a number of absurdities. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, read a few of them out. I just wanted to give those two as an example. But the whole charter is riddled with absurdities. I sincerely hope that that will never be written to in any treaty. Indeed, we do not need a charter at all. We have so many damn charters that I do not think the lawyers can keep up with them in this country or worldwide.

I turn to the discussions that will take place about the future of the European Union. It is all very well to say that there will be two representatives from each national parliament, but how will the people be represented? That is what I want to know. I feel quite sure that the two people who go from the British Parliament will be in favour of the European Union and its further development. There are at least 33 per cent of British people who would come out of the EU tomorrow. How will they be represented? There is a sceptical voice. How will that be put? It is no good people running away from that. It has been put in this House tonight as well as in the House of Commons and up and down the country in discussions, in people's homes, in pubs and in all kinds of places, and in public meetings which some of us are good enough to arrange. There has to be some other point of view put. I should like to know exactly how that will be put and by whom.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

I rise to support my noble friend Lord Howell's amendment. I ask the noble Baroness to clarify the Government's position on the charter. That is usual Euro-guff which appropriates to itself rights which, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has said, are given by God or by existing laws of the nation states. It is absolutely nothing to do with the European Union whatever whether people's "Human dignity is inviolable". Is that anything to do with the European Union? Of course it is not. Everyone has the right to life". That is nothing to do with the EU either. Everyone has the right to respect for his or her physical and mental integrity". What on earth is the European Union talking about? It goes on and on. No one should be held in slavery or servitude". Thank you very much Brussels. Then it rather pathetically states: Everyone has the right of access to a free placement service". I do not know what that means. But it surely is not a fundamental human right given by the European Union. All these rights are either given by the nation states in their own laws or are rights which are agreed by the United Nations. It is nothing to do with the European Union. But it seems to be gathering them to itself. I think the suggestion by Mr Keith Vaz was to then put them on little plastic cards on his "Your Britain, your Europe tour" with Mr Eddie Izzard. We would all get little cards saying how wonderful the European Union is because it is giving us all these rights.

Of course it is nothing to do with Europe. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, mentioned these conflicts of interest.

Article 21 refers to non-discrimination. It states: Any discrimination based on any ground of sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief … shall be prohibited". Article 23 states that, the principle of equality shall not prevent the maintenance or adoption of measures providing for specific advantages in favour of the under-represented sex". That seems to me to be giving people the right to discriminate. I look forward to the answer on that.

This is a frightfully sorry mish-mash of a wish list. The European Union is trying to tell the luckless citizens that it represents that they should be grateful to the European Union for giving them those rights. It is a summary of rights that all the other member states in the European Union already have. We might divide on this amendment. We might be able to vote on it; it certainly should not be part of the treaty, but I am not clear about the technical position.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Watson of Richmond

I wonder whether half of the noble Lord's objection to these sentiments, which he may call banal but which are certainly laudable, stems from the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, earlier. He said that we hated the European Union and everything that comes out of it. As everything that is coming out of it is obviously laudable, presumably he cannot support it for that reason.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

The point is that these rights are given not by the European Union but by the nation states. The wool is being pulled over our eyes yet again.

I am so grateful for being interrupted by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, because I missed a further point, which deals with property rights. Article 17 states: No one may be deprived of his or her lawfully acquired possessions except in the public interest … The use of property may be regulated by law insofar as is necessary for the general interest". How will that be interpreted and dealt with? Someone may decide that it is in the public interest that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, be deprived of his property. Would that be right? Who will decide what is in the public or general interest? The whole charter is shot through with contradictions and flaws. Frankly, it is total rubbish and we should reject it.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

Since the noble Lord has been good enough to mention my position in this matter, perhaps I may put a few questions to the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, if she is the Minister who will reply. I was not sure whether the noble Lord would pick up this particular hot potato. I am in a muddle as to who will reply. If the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, is to reply, I am sure that the Committee will be grateful. I look forward to her reply in due course and the answers to the following questions in particular.

I concur with my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke that it would be interesting to know the Government's attitude to the charter. Why is it necessary? Is it in addition to the European Convention on Human Rights, or will it compete with it in some way? Is it envisaged that there should be some kind of union of the two charters and the jurisdictions of the Strasbourg and Luxembourg Courts? In other words, are the two charters competitive or will they come together?

If the charter is to be enacted will it take precedence over our law? The Minister may agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, that it should not become law, but if it does will it take precedence over our law, as has been suggested by people who are rather nervous of it?

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I should like to help the noble Lord and the Minister. If it becomes part of the treaty it will become justiciable in the European Court of Justice, in which case it automatically overrides British law under Sections 2 and 3 of the European Communities Act 1972.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, is an authority on these matters, but, if that is the case, I should prefer to hear it from the Minister because that will carry more authority in this Chamber.

Next, which are the precise provisions of the charter that are superior to British law as it stands? If enacted, what rights does the charter give us which we do not already have? Do we really need lectures and charters on so-called human rights from bureaucrats in Brussels and the other nations of the European Union? Is this not an area in which we lead the world?

I hope that I can give the Minister some hope by quoting an article from the proposed charter which is to be found in volume one of the brilliant analysis of the Treaty of Nice by the British Management Data Foundation. The Committee will be aware that the foundation has produced analyses of the Treaties of Nice, Amsterdam and Maastricht which are the only versions that one can understand. One cannot understand the blue document that has been produced by the Foreign Office deliberately so that one —let alone the people—is not able to understand it. One cannot see what new bits are added by the Treaty of Nice to what was there before. I commend volume one to the Committee. I have placed a number of free copies in the Library so that anyone who wants to have it can do so. One sees produced in black and white, not Technicolor—that is a step forward—the glorious Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

If true, Article 41 is a colossal step forward for humanity in these days when our democracy is clearly being strangled by bureaucracy. It gives us the right to good administration. Does the noble Baroness believe that that will happen? Article 41 provides in paragraph 1 that, Every person has the right to have his or her affairs handled impartially, fairly and within a reasonable time by the institutions and bodies of the Union". Pull the other one! It goes on to say in paragraph 2 that, This right includes: the right of every person to be heard, before any individual measure which would affect him or her adversely is taken: the right of every person to have access to his or her file, while respecting the legitimate interests of confidentiality and of professional and business secrecy"— and presumably also of the bureaucracy— the obligation of the administration to give reasons for its decisions". Paragraph 3 states: Every person has the right to have the Community make good any damage caused by its institutions or by its servants in the performance of their duties, in accordance with the general principles common to the laws of the Member States". Paragraph 4 states: Every person may write to the institutions of the Union in one of the languages of the Treaties and must have an answer in the same language". Bearing in mind the present situation in which the democracy of the United Kingdom has become entirely strangled by bureaucracy and bogged down in all manner of bureaucratic obfuscation, does the Minister believe that there is any hope in that clause? If it comes to pass it would be a glorious advance.

My final question to the Minister is perhaps the most important. Once you have a declaration of this kind attached to the treaty, whether it is on page 78 or referred to elsewhere, is not the Luxembourg Court of Justice already taking into account in its judgments the content of this charter? The Luxembourg Court has already said that it is doing so. Therefore de facto the wretched thing is already with us. Is that so or is that a gross exaggeration which the Minister would like to put to rest?

Lord Lyell

I have paid close attention to the marvellous arguments of my two noble friends. Will the Minister point me in the right direction? Paragraph 2 of Article 17 refers to industrial property rights. A quarter of a century ago, I and others were dealing with the renewal of the law of patents in your Lordships' House. Can the Minister say—it may not be today—whether industrial property rights cover what I call intellectual property rights dealing with industry products? I think in particular of the pharmaceutical industry. I presume that the reference in Article 229a might well be dealing with patents which have gone through various stages in your Lordships' House, let alone in Europe. But does the reference to industrial property rights cover intellectual property rights?

Lord Grenfell

The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, spoke of rights enshrined in the charter that he would dismiss on the grounds that perhaps they would not be fulfilled. Do the following words ring a bell: the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of justice? On those grounds, would he be ready to tear up the constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights?

Lord Monson

Perhaps I may correct the noble Lord. The actual phrasing is "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness".

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

I think that it is in order for me to answer the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. It is difficult to do so quickly within the parameters of a debate such as this. However, I go further than the noble Lord. I query whether there are any such things as human rights when you come to think of it. What there are, of course—they are enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence, the constitution of the United States, and elsewhere—are human privileges which have been acquired with great effort and great sacrifice over many years. When they are enshrined with that sacrifice and endurance in such things as the Declaration of Independence and the constitution of the United States, they have a real value. When they are simply proclaimed in this airy manner by such a body as the bureaucracy in Brussels and the European Union I fear that they will have no value. They will add nothing to the privileges which we in this country are fortunate to enjoy. I fear that they will override—I ask the Minister to confirm it—the unwritten constitution of the United Kingdom with the great privileges which we have built up with great sacrifice over many years. I fear that they are a lot of hot air and very damaging.

10.30 p.m.

Lord Blackwell

I should like to add one or two points to the debate and to express my support for the intention behind the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Howell. The issue under debate here is not so much the content of the Charter of Fundamental Rights or the nature of the charter. However as exchanges in the debate have made clear, if we were to discuss it, more issues would be raised than we could do justice to at this point in our deliberations on the Bill.

I understand that the purpose of the amendment is to establish the significance or otherwise of mentioning the charter in Declaration 23. Many noble Lords in the Chamber have far greater legal competence than I, but earlier points raised in discussion on the Bill suggested that there is a difference between the workings of legal processes on the Continent and those of the United Kingdom. Whereas in this country we are accustomed to legal processes which interpret the words of Acts of Parliament, it is traditionally more common on the Continent to interpret the intention behind legislation. I believe that we need to consider what significance may be placed on any words attached to publications from the European Union, in particular what might be used in the courts. That point returns to the final question put by my noble friend Lord Pearson.

I have been struck by the words of the presidency conclusions of the Nice IGC. After welcoming the proclamation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the conclusion goes on to state that: The European Council"— surely this must have some weight behind it if the European Council has reached a conclusion— would like to see the Charter of Fundamental Rights disseminated as widely as possible amongst the Union's citizens". It goes on to say that, the question of the Charter's force will be considered later". It is not clear to me how to interpret the fact that the European Council would like to see the charter disseminated widely, then read and adopted, without it being treated as a charter of some significance; namely, forming a part of the intention behind the law as it stands.

I note that the European Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs, Antonio Vitorino, also said recently that the drawing up of the charter is an extremely important issue for the European Union because if it was brought forward successfully, it would. mark a definitive change in the Community which will move it away from the essential raison d'être of its origins to become a full political union. Once again, statements made surrounding the declaration by those who must be regarded as having some authority in the dealings of the European Union suggest that, notwithstanding the fact that this intention is tucked away in a declaration, it is intended that it should be disseminated and noted by the people of the European Union. Given that, I endorse strongly the final question put by my noble friend Lord Pearson and would ask the Government what significance, if any, they believe should be attached to this.

Finally, I should like to return to a point covered by the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Howell. Under Declaration 23(5), it has been noted that the future conference should give consideration to the role of national parliaments in the European architecture. I may be alone on this, but I find it rather strange and worrying that we should be suggesting that a European Council of Ministers should be deliberating, and out of those deliberations presumably intending to produce, some laws or regulations which, from outside the United Kingdom, attempt to define, prescribe or redefine the role of our national Parliament. What on earth has it to do with the European Union what we choose to have as our national Parliament?

I had a naïve idea that Ministers from the United Kingdom went to these meetings as servants of the Crown and of the national Parliament. I find it very strange to see that in this declaration we are suggesting, and giving precedence perhaps to the notion, that our national Parliaments were in some way subservient to the European Union and the European Council and that they had some prerogative to decide and define what role they were going to set out for our national Parliaments.

I support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Howell on those grounds as well, leaving aside the issue that we have discussed, namely, the Charter of Fundamental Rights. I should like some assurance from the Minister that she sees things in a different light.

Lord Norton of Louth

I hope the Minister has plenty of paper because by now I suspect that the list of questions that have been put to her is growing and she might have difficulty in coping with all them in the time available.

I wish to put two very quick and simple questions to the noble Baroness. First, it is my understanding that the Government themselves are quite clear as to the status of the charter. I was a member of the European committee which produced the report to which my noble friend referred. The noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, gave evidence to the committee and he was quite clear as to the status of the charter. If the Government are quite clear on that, why do they believe that an IGC is necessary to discuss that status?

Secondly, could the Minister explain to me the logic of drawing up a charter and deciding its status subsequent to the event?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

Perhaps I may start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for his opening remarks. The noble Lord is always extremely courteous. I very much look forward to receiving the letter he has sent me. I believe that he will find that the reference to the charter is attached to the final act of the conference and not to the treaty. I do not wish to prolong our exchanges on this matter any more painfully than does the noble Lord. Perhaps we can settle between us the matter of where the provision is attached. I believe that we can sort it out. As regards the other matter, I look forward to receiving the noble Lord's letter.

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

This debate reflects what I have heard noble Lords from all sides of the House, irrespective of political allegiance, say they would like to see reflected in the way we consider the future of Europe. The declaration also makes it clear that in addressing these issues there is a need to improve the democratic legitimacy and transparency of the EU and its institutions in order to bring them closer to the citizens of member states. I accept that that last point is not struck out by the amendment, but the four previous points — which are important—would be.

This is the United Kingdom's agenda. By that I do not mean that it is the agenda of Her Majesty's Government but the agenda that I hear reflected all round the Committee in the contributions made by noble Lords on the role of Parliament. Even today we have discussed the importance of making treaties more easily understood and more transparent to individuals throughout the European Union.

This is an agenda which not only this Government but successive British Governments have sought to place at the heart of the European debate. I pay tribute as much to the Conservative Party as to my own party in making that point. It is an agenda that will lead to the more efficient, more comprehensible and more accountable European Union that we want. But the amendment seeks to strike down not only the charter of rights but the whole of the agenda that so many noble Lords have said is important.

The member states are already conducting their national debates on Europe. Some have set up new structures to do so; others, like the United Kingdom, are content with their existing arrangements. We are content because our arrangements are already very effective. In the United Kingdom, Ministers have been setting out the Government's view of the way forward. The Prime Minister did so in Warsaw late last year, and many of the priorities he identified are reflected in the Nice Declaration. The Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe have each made keynote speeches on Europe in recent months. They and other government Ministers will continue to make the points about Europe.

In addition, we have encouraged parliamentary debate on the European issue. There have been several such debates here and in another place since Nice. The debate today is an important part of the overall contribution to the way that Europe should go forward.

We have encouraged the involvement not only of Parliament but of ordinary UK citizens, if I can so call them, through, for example, the activities of my right honourable friend the Minister for Europe, who is travelling round the country to make the case for Britain in Europe and to hear people's views. We have also encouraged involvement through the Internet, where the Government have been running a series of interactive on-line debates on the FCO website in which people can make their views known.

Lord Norton of Louth

I thank the Minister for giving way. The noble Baroness is looking at what is proposed for the next IGC and concentrating on the charter. She is making the point that this is the agenda we want to pursue. Given what her right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said in the other place, is that really the case? In terms of the future of Europe, my understanding is that the Government are approaching the next IGC as a means of looking at the future of Europe and the way it should be going. The items adumbrated here are disparate and discrete items which do not go to the nub of what is the future goal of the European Union; of what is the whole purpose of the exercise.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

I am addressing the amendment. If the noble Lord looks carefully at the amendment, he will see that it is an amendment which seeks not only to strike out the charter of rights but to strike out how to establish and monitor a more precise delimitation of powers between the European Union and its member states. Yes, the amendment goes on to the charter of fundamental rights, but it seeks also to strike out the simplification of treaties and the role of national parliaments.

I am simply making the point that whereas the noble Lord, Lord Howell, concentrated his remarks on the charter of rights, the amendment addresses all four issues—and in doing so it seeks to strike them all out. I was merely making the point to the Committee that, over and over again in your Lordships' House, noble Lords have said how important are the debates on these issues. You cannot say one thing in your Lordships' House and then, when the opportunity is offered to discuss those very matters, say, "No. We are sorry, we do not want it". I am asking for consistency.

Lord Norton of Louth

Will the Minister give way again?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

I have answered the point raised by the noble Lord. He may not like it, but it is the answer.

The conventions will produce options and ideas, but the final decisions will remain where they should be, with member states' governments in the international conference itself. Those decisions will be taken, as the EU Treaty rightly provides, by unanimity among member states and in accordance with their constitutional positions—which in the UK means a ratification procedure involving Parliament, as with the present treaty.

The point that has excited most interest is the charter of rights. The Government believe in human rights, that people need to know what are those rights and that EU institutions must respect them. That is what the charter of rights proclaims it is intended to achieve. That is a worthy aim and to answer the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch—yes, the Government support it. To answer the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, the charter is a political declaration. It cannot take precedence over our law because it is not the law. It is not in the present EU treaty. Nor is it referred to in the treaty itself.

One can quote a variety of different sources. Perhaps some people would like the charter made law. I freely concede that the Commission and some member states want to make the charter legally binding and to incorporate it into the treaty, but we have not agreed to do that. Nor can there be any change in the status of the charter unless we and all member states agree, because the treaty requires unanimity.

We have agreed that at the 2004 intergovernmental conference, consideration should be given to whether or not to incorporate the charter in the treaty and, if so, how. That is the mandate agreed by the Cologne European Council and the Treaty of Nice and we shall stick to it. I repeat the point that the charter's status cannot be changed without unanimity. The purpose of the present debate about the convention is to get the views of those in all parts of both Houses and to feed them through.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

That still leaves the question of the extent to which the charter in its present form is taken into account by the Luxembourg court when making its judgments. I believe that the Luxembourg court has said that it already takes the charter into account.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

The charter is not law but courts may take a wide variety of issues into account. If the court chooses to take the charter into account inter alia, there is no reason why it should not do so. There is nothing exceptional in the charter. Why should it not be taken into account? The point is, the charter is not legally binding.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

But the judgments of the court are legally binding. If the court takes the charter, in its present form and with its current status, into account in its judgments, the charter is already beginning to have a binding legal effect in the lawmaking procedure of the European Union.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

I cannot agree that that follows. The judgments are legally binding but the charter may be one of a huge number of things taken into account and balanced in judgment. It may not always be entirely the overriding issue. Being able to take something into account and its being legally binding are two different things—as we discussed at Second Reading.

Lord Blackwell

The charter may be one of a number of things taken into account by a court, but the question for some of us on this side of the Committee is, what additional weight is the charter given by being taken into account among many other documents? If the charter is given additional status, weight and political authority by being declared an attachment to the treaty, the weighting concerns us.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

That is a matter for the court and it will be judged on a case by case basis—as I am sure the noble Lord would realise if he were not so keen on trying to persuade us all that this is legally binding. I cannot repeat too often that it is not legally binding. It may be taken into account, inter alia, with a number of other issues, and will always be judged on a case by case basis.

I turn to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lyell. Article 229A refers to individual property rights. I believe that that means that intellectual property rights in the UK are covered. However, I need to check the point. If I may, I shall do as the noble Lord suggested and write to him on the matter.

To sum up, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, wishes to consider how the views of those who believe as he does might be taken into account in the convention. If the noble Lord can persuade the usual channels through debates such as this one that there should be some participation in the convention to reflect that, it is a matter for him to pursue. However, the noble Lord's views are given a very fair airing in this place. We are all grateful to him for keeping us up to the mark on all these issues. I did hold a meeting on this matter in this House, which was announced in Hansard before the event. Those who wished to put their views on this point had an opportunity to do so to a Minister at first hand.

The Government very much look forward to the debate about the future of the European Union. We believe that reform of the EU—so that it can continue to deliver what the citizens of Europe, and indeed of Great Britain, want— is very important. We approach the debate with a good deal of confidence. We have learnt since 1997 that our approach, which is pro-Europe and pro-reform, is one that works. The Nice treaty confirms that. So, too, does the agenda for the 2004 IGC which we agreed at Nice.

We believe that the amendment seeks to strike down not only what the noble Lord concentrated on in terms of the Charter of Fundamental Rights but a far wider debate, one to which most Members of the Committee have already signed up in the contributions that they have made elsewhere about the importance of Parliament and of treaty reform. I hope that the Committee will see fit to reject the amendment.

Lord Howell of Guildford

How I miss Lord Shore of Stepney on these occasions. There was no one better than he at eloquently exposing the vanities and conceits of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the inappropriateness of its language and ambitions. But, sadly, he is no longer with us, so we shall have to do without him.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, suggested that I had used too scattered a type of shot to aim at this particular bird, and that there was a danger of shooting down other, more precious and valued wildfowl at the same time. When I heard that, I questioned myself as to why I had sought in the amendment to remove the whole declaration rather than merely the reference to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which we have debated in considerable detail.

Then, examining the words of paragraph 5, I began to have more confidence that maybe the shot was the right one. The process with which we are dealing is identified in earlier paragraphs as the deeper and wider debate that we wanted about the future of the European Union. A whole range of issues, many of which we have discussed earlier today, will be relevant to that. Indeed, there are many more problems in relation to European governance and the entire Community method, which is now under criticism, and the relationships between European institutions which will have to be swept up in that debate. One of our main criticisms is that these are relevant issues that should have been tackled at a treaty summit such as Nice but they were not. Instead, they were replaced by many measures that we think continued the old drift in the wrong direction instead of facing the new conditions of an enlarged and different kind of Europe.

Having considered the issues, I thought that my aim had not been as wide as I had earlier feared. Putting aside for the moment the status of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, which we wanted dropped from the declaration, there are three other goals. First, how can we establish and monitor a more precise delimitation of powers between the European Union and member states? I spoke to that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, will recall.

I cast some scepticism on the general ambition of freezing for all time the line of delimitation of powers between the Union and member states because the world is not like that any more. Even now, a range of decisions and issues are handled some weeks by European institutions, other weeks by national agencies and committees and other weeks by mixed levels of officials between institutions at the European and national level. I am sure that the noble Baroness has made a study of that. Some superb studies have been produced, particularly by the European Policy Forum, showing how the pattern of decision-making ceases to conform to the hierarchical idea that competencies can be defined at one level or another. The world is no longer like that. That is yesterday's world of hierarchy and static conditions which no longer exists. I should not shed any tears if that was left out of the declaration.

We have dealt with the status of the charter. The third point is the simplification of treaties to make them clearer without changing their meaning. It is sad that the British intelligentsia has failed to engage in the debate that is happening all over Europe. People are beginning to question whether the Monnet Community method, having succeeded for 40 or 50 years, is still right and whether the preamble to the original Treaty of Rome should be frozen in time or whether the debate should be reopened and the concept of ever-closer union questioned. These questions are not raised just by Euro-sceptics or Europhobes. Highly focused people who want the Europe of the future to unite and work better are engaged in the debate. Stamping that out by putting in the phrases without changing their meaning will close off a range of lively debate that we have a duty to participate in, so I would shed no tears over that.

The final point is the role of national Parliaments in the European architecture. I share the concerns expressed by my noble friend Lord Blackwell. Can the process really do that? Will national Parliaments have a sufficient voice in the convention to have their say? That means more than just being told what their role is by some convention. We need to establish what powers should be returned to them in order that the missing democratic thread in the process of the European initiatives, which are racing forward on every front, can be restored.

The European Parliament has its part to play but, as we have argued repeatedly, that does not satisfy the democratic deficit. That requires more than just talking vaguely about the role of national Parliaments; we have to give power of initiative and of early, pre-legislative scrutiny of community instruments and initiatives back to national Parliaments, where it belongs. Until that happens, the draining away of legitimacy and democratic validation will continue.

Everyone knows that that is happening. Even the European Commission, in its governance White Paper, recognised that process. It went on to make some futile and inadequate propositions about how to stem the bleeding. It is failing and will fail because it is still talking in the language of the hierarchy and of somehow handing down by subsidiarity or by central view-making to the nation states certain decisions and views as it thinks appropriate.

We know that the subsidiarity idea was well meant but it has failed. It has been said that the only responsibility that has been subject to the subsidiarity process over the several years since Maastricht is the treatment of animals in zoos. That is the one provision or decision that has been subsidiarised. Otherwise, the process has failed to meet the growing concern about the democratic legitimacy of the Union institutions.

I shed no tears that my amendment aims a little wider than was intended and raises all sorts of fundamental issues that we should certainly discuss further. Having said that, I see that the hour is late. We have covered those matters before and will want to consider many of them again in much more detail. Against that background, and with that consideration in mind, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Lord Grocott

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.