HL Deb 16 September 2003 vol 652 cc763-4

3 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress they are making towards fulfilment of their shared commitment, contained in the conclusions of the Thessaloniki European Council, that the draft European security strategy shall be "subject to public debate".

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, the draft European security strategy is a public document available on the EU's website. A copy of the draft is in the Library of the House. Public debates will be taken forward by three seminars, to be held in Rome, Paris and Stockholm in September and October. Representatives from the academic community, non-governmental organisations and other international organisations, as well as governments, have been invited to participate in the seminars.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that limited reply. I note that no seminar is planned in London. I note also that the Thessaloniki European Council communiqué committed member governments to promote a public debate. Is she aware that other national parliaments have received copies of the document from their government and have debated it? The Bundestag had a debate the other week. Why have the British Government been so hesitant to circulate the paper to any of those who might be interested? The Foreign Office very kindly sent me a letter about it in July. It said that it had attached a copy of the paper and then did not do so. That must have been an accident.

Given that the paper says a number of things that Her Majesty's Government strongly favour, and that need to be discussed by other governments who will find it rather more difficult, why are they apparently so determined not to have it discussed or to encourage their own Parliament to discuss it?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will take my response in good part. I am genuinely pleased that he has raised the issue, as it is undercooked and under-discussed. The reason that I have said that we agreed wholeheartedly with the Thessaloniki European Council's unanimous endorsement of the document is that we are extremely pleased that it is in the public domain—it is on the website and in the Library. If noble Lords wish to have a discussion in this House or in another place, it will be through the usual channels. We would appreciate any comments on the document. The Government welcome the opportunity to discuss the strategy in Parliament. My noble friend the Minister with responsibility for Europe has shared the strategy with the House of Lords European Union Committee.

Lord Jopling

My Lords, does the Minister agree that two of the most interesting and important aspects of the document are the stress made on the transatlantic partnership and on the importance of multilateral approaches to world problems? The next time that the United States, led by the Pentagon, wishes to embark on unilateral approaches to international problems. will the Government, unlike last time, bear in mind that those are two important parts of Mr Solana's document?

Baroness Crawley

Yes, my Lords, I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, that very indicative to the document is the strengthening relationship with NATO. As he will know from having studied the document, the reason that it was put forward in the first place was to try to make European Union foreign policy more coherent and more co-operative with those of our international partners.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, the noble Baroness said that certain bodies had been invited—I stress the word "invited"—to attend three meetings for public debate. Can bodies or individuals who have not been invited attend? If they cannot, surely it is not a public debate.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I take note of the noble Lord's remark about definitions of public debate. They are perhaps different in EU circles than they are nationally. However, if a member of the public wishes to read the document on the website or in the Library, and wishes to submit comments, they will be forwarded to Dr Solana. I have asked the civil servants about the matter, as I anticipated this question.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, given the recent example of public disaffection in Sweden, and the repeated examples in this country of public sourness towards the European Union and all its works, will the Government please take to heart the fact that the great British public feel cut out of these major debates? I do not wish to impugn the Minister personally, but, frankly, to be told that there are a handful of seminars around Europe and something on a website, speaks to me of the pathetic failure of this and previous governments to engage the British public, who want to be engaged, want to be informed and want to be listened to.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, if we are to break down the alienation that many people feel about Europe, we must try even harder with such public exercises.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, will the Government consider providing an explanatory memorandum on the document to the House of Lords EU Committee to encourage us to respond? Then we might discover what the British Government's response would be.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I will put the noble Lord's request to the Secretary of State.