HL Deb 19 June 2002 vol 636 cc731-3
Lord Wallace of Saltaire

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When, and how, they intend to report to the House on developments in the Convention on the Future of Europe which is now preparing for the intergovernmental conference proposed for 2003–04.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the Government will inform Parliament whenever there are significant developments to report on the Future of Europe Convention. My right honourable friend the Minister for Europe appeared before your Lordships' European Union Select Committee on 30th April and answered questions about the convention. He has undertaken to report further to the committee on 9th July after the Seville European Council meeting.

The Government also welcome the recent agreement to establish a Standing Committee where the parliamentary representatives to the convention will report developments back to Parliament.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her confirmation of the development of a Standing Committee. Does the noble Baroness recognise that the Laeken declaration committed us to making sure that this time there is a process, of which the convention is intended to be a part, which will contribute to, more democracy and transparency in the European Union … in order for the debate to be broadly based and involve all citizens"? Does she further recognise that the Government have made a great point in the preparation for the convention of involving national Parliaments more fully in the process? Does she accept that in recent months Ministers have made more speeches on this subject in other countries than in Britain? That seems rather odd. Furthermore, ideas have been floated within the Government, as I understand it, in papers circulated within the convention which have not yet been reported to this Parliament. Would it be better not to wait until significant developments have taken place but to involve the British Parliament and, through us, a wider public, as this process proceeds?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am hound to say to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that that is exactly what is happening. We do not necessarily fulfil the mandate of inclusivity and democracy by more ministerial speeches, but by giving Parliament the opportunity to be included in the process. That is exactly what the arrangements for the Standing Committee will allow.

Next Monday, your Lordships will have the opportunity, as I understand it, to vote on whether or not your Lordships are content with those arrangements. But it will be possible for all Members of your Lordships' House to participate in the Standing Committee. Those with varied views in the House will have the opportunity not only to hear the parliamentary report back but to contribute to the debate. That is in addition to involving a wider public through the civic forum contacts and other means.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords., the 30th April meeting of the European Union Committee was with the delegates to the convention and not with the Minister, Mr Hain. Surely, the broader question is that huge issues are being shaped at this convention, including the idea of a basic treaty to underpin the existing Rome treaties; the idea of a president of the Council; the incorporation of a new system of human rights legislation to rival the existing one: and other major issues which affect the future of our democracy. Should not your Lordships with their vast experience in European affairs have a constant and interactive input and not just an occasional commentary once every two months?

There should be adequate opportunity for full involvement in the unfolding work of this commission. The European Union Committee does excellent work, but its occasional hearings and reports do not provide us with enough frequency in the matter. The Minister must address that point seriously.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, there were two meetings, one on 16th April and one on 30th April. I am sorry if I transposed the interlocutors. I hope that the measures put before Parliament will afford a real opportunity for what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, described as constant interactivity.

I have made clear to the House that we are willing to consider other means of having further discussions and to draw upon what is, I freely acknowledge, the considerable wisdom that this House can bring to bear on these issues. A number of working groups have been set up with British participants. Your Lordships will be interested to know that, for example, my noble friend Lady Scotland will participate in a working group on the Charter of Fundamental Rights; the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, on one dealing with the EU legal personality; and my noble friend Lord Tomlinson on one relating to complementary competencies. Many opportunities are available for noble Lords to bring to bear their considerable wisdom on this issue.

Lord Judd

My Lords, following the question of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, with its reference to human rights, does my noble friend agree that implications will emerge from this convention for other European institutions, such as the Council of Europe? Will the Government take an early opportunity to give some guidance on how they see the future interrelationship between any changes in the European Union, its structure and its proceedings, with the continuing role of the Council of Europe?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, that is an important point. I take delivery of it from my noble friend Lord Judd. I shall certainly draw it to the attention of my right honourable friend the Minister for Europe and to my noble friend Lady Scotland in her important role on these issues.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, can the Minister enlighten the House as to what the Government see as the point of the European Union? If she cannot do so in the time available, can she say whether this convention is likely to recommend any repatriation of powers to the nation states? And if not, why not?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, one of the points is the considerable pleasure it gives your Lordships to hear the views of the noble Lord on these issues. He quite rightly never fails to avail himself of the opportunity. I remind him that he now has a further opportunity to enlighten Members of another place on these issues. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to take those future opportunities. He will have noted, as other noble Lords will have noted, that one of the issues to be considered by the convention is what powers may be repatriated to home Parliaments. I am sure that the noble Lord will have his usual robust views on that subject.

Earl Russell

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we regularly hear from the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and others both the demand that the European Union be made more democratically accountable and the demand that it be less federal? Does she further agree that those demands are mutually exclusive? Will she endeavour to discover which of them they really mean?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, that is indeed an interesting point. I am not entirely sure that those demands are necessarily mutually exclusive. It is possible to be more democratic and less federal but, if I may say so, that is a much wider question than the Question on the Order Paper and would take us a considerable time to debate.

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