HL Deb 18 October 2001 vol 627 cc701-3

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they recommend that Parliament should select British representatives to the proposed convention to prepare the next European Union Intergovernmental Conference.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the Government welcome the debate on the future of Europe. We argued at Nice that national Parliaments should be properly represented in the future of Europe process. I am pleased that it has now been agreed that national Parliaments will play a significant role in the convention to prepare the next intergovernmental conference in 2004. How the UK's Government and parliamentary representatives to the convention will be chosen has not yet been decided. We will wish to consider with the UK parliamentary authorities how best arrange UK parliamentary participation.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I remind her that on the previous occasion when the convention for the European Charter of Fundamental Rights was selected, most of us discovered only some time after the event the identity of our parliamentary representatives to the convention. Will the Minister ensure that there is full transparency this time on how the process takes place, who is elected and how? As the convention is likely to last for 18 months and cover a broad agenda, and in particular as the Prime Minister stressed in his Warsaw speech that national Parliaments need to be more involved in European debates, can we ensure that there are regular procedures for reporting back to national Parliaments, including this Chamber, as the convention proceeds?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to say a word or two about my late colleague Peter Shore. I hope that the House will understand, given that this is a Question on Europe and Parliament, that I feel it appropriate to say how much we on these Benches will miss our colleague after his long and distinguished career in both Houses.

Peter was an outstanding intellect. He had an extraordinary capacity for eloquent argument, as we on the Front Bench often had cause to reflect. He was passionate in his views on Europe and about the role that Parliament should play in Europe. Whatever was said publicly, he was always very considerate and enormously kind personally and we shall miss him very much.

I know that there was a good deal of unhappiness on the occasion that the noble Lord referred to. I am anxious to ensure that the views of your Lordships' House as a whole are fed into the process. I said in my Answer that we want to consult the parliamentary authorities. I also want to consult other Members of the House. To that end, I can offer an open meeting to any of your Lordships who want to come to discuss the matter at 1 p.m. on 31st October. I hope that it will be in Committee Room G, but I shall make efforts to ensure that I let the Front Benches and the Cross Benches know the exact arrangements. I hope that that will be an earnest of the Government's intention to take all views on the subject fully into account.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, I echo the words of the noble Baroness about the late Lord Shore of Stepney. He was a man of great principle and eloquence. I worked closely with him for many years in another place and he was a good friend. We deplore greatly his passing and he will be greatly missed.

Does the noble Baroness accept that it is vital for national Parliaments to be fully, continuously and regularly involved in the convention process? It must not become yet another elite exercise in which the future of Europe is decided over people's heads. She probably does not recall that I had the dubious honour of leading the delegation of the two Houses to the last so-called parliamentary assize in Rome about 10 years ago. It was a complete shambles. It did not work at all and was very badly organised. We need something much better this time.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, that was nothing if not refreshingly honest about what happened 10 years ago. I have said that we shall have a meeting to which all your Lordships may contribute. I am sure that in that meeting we will want to discuss not only the composition but also arrangements for reporting back to the House. No one can sit on these Benches as a Foreign Office Minister without being absolutely aware of the importance that your Lordships attach to regular updates on these issues. There will be important matters on the agenda in 2004 and I assure your Lordships that I shall do everything that I can to ensure that the House is kept properly informed.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I have a word to add about Lord Shore. He was a dear friend of mine for nearly 30 years. I do not think that there could have been a wider gulf between us on Europe or a closer association on almost everything else. I add my words of deep regret to his wife and family.

I have one question only. In the procedures that the Minister is considering, particularly the very welcome meeting, will she consider what steps might be taken to inform the House of the European Parliament's measures with regard to the counter-terrorist campaign? When we discuss the Home Office proposals, it will be very important to know how close together we are on issues such as the definition of terrorism and the laundering of money. It would be helpful if the Minister could say what steps might be taken to make that possible.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for their remarks about my noble friend. I call him my noble friend, but he had strong personal friendships that extended across the House. I wish to meet the noble Baroness's request that we should take all possible steps to tell the House what is being done about terrorism on a European level. The House has been remarkably united in its discussions about the importance of countering the terrorist threat. I would like that near unanimity of view to be preserved as far as possible. I am acutely aware that keeping colleagues informed and feeding back the views of the British Parliament to all forums in which we have an international voice are part of that process.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, as one who had the opportunity over many years of working very closely with Lord Shore, I add my personal tributes to him for the work that he did in the House and the leadership that he was able to give to people like me.

At the proposed conference, will it be possible to have a full and representative discussion about the role of the British Civil Service in relation to Europe, particularly of senior civil servants?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the exact nature of the discussions in preparation for the 2004 IGC will be further considered at a meeting in Laeken on 13th and 14th December. It has already been decided that there should be discussion on how to establish and monitor a more precise delimitation or division of powers between the European Union and member states, reflecting the principle of subsidiarity. I should have thought that that would provide a fairly useful opportunity to hold a discussion about the role of civil servants in a number of European states. However, I am absolutely certain that my noble friend will come to the meeting that I have suggested takes place on the 31st of this month. I am sure that we shall then be able to discuss his and other ideas more fully.

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