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Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, the homelessness code of guidance issued by the Department of the Environment, to which local authorities must have regard, advises local authorities to consider whether young applicants may be vulnerable and at risk as a result of being homeless. Therefore the legislation provides an important safety net for those who are most vulnerable in our society and who are homeless through no fault of their own. But it does not and cannot provide a universal right to accommodation.

ECOFIN: Rules of Procedure

3.10 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington asked Her Majesty's Government:

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Henley): My Lords, the rules of procedure for the work of the Council of Ministers are set out in Council Decision 93/662/EC of 6th December 1993. According to those rules the Commission may attend and participate in Council meetings unless the Council decides otherwise. The Commission has no voting powers in the Council. Under the rules, the President of the Commission has no powers to direct individual Council members, including the President of the Council, as to what it is proper for them to discuss.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that satisfactory Answer, which is exactly in accordance with the views that I have always held upon the subject. Is the noble Lord aware that the second part of my Question arises from the fact that during the British presidency of the Council, at which the former Chancellor of the Exchequer raised the question of fraud and irregularity within the Community, the President of the Commission—whose mandate expires in seven days' time—indicated that he was not in order in raising the matter because it was a political question? In view of the utterances of the new president, who takes up his duties on 26th January, will the Minister ensure that a copy of my Question and his Answer to it are forwarded with a kindly letter to the new president, in the spirit of the utmost friendship, together with a copy of the rules of procedure of the Council?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am sure that I can leave it to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, to draft his own letter and send a copy of Hansard to the new President of the Commission. The noble Lord said that the previous President of the Commission interfered and told the then President of the Council—my right honourable friend Mr. Lamont—that he was out of order. I am not sure that that is correct. The noble Lord makes that assertion, as he made it last week when we debated the European Communities Finance Bill. If he looks at what my right honourable friend said in the debate in the other place, he ended by saying,


    "and then Mr. Delors attacked me for being political by introducing the subject of the Court of Auditors".—[Official Report, Commons, 24/11/94; col. 961.]

I am not sure that that goes as far as saying that my right honourable friend was out of order.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that it is important that the reply given to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, is well known? Though his Answer makes clear that they have no right under the procedures to assume these powers, in fact in the past they have given the impression of having these powers and to that extent have had influence outside their power of authority.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am sure that once the new President of the Commission receives the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, with a copy of

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today's Hansard, he will be in no doubt whatever about what rules apply in terms of the conduct of a Council of Ministers meeting.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that many of us believe that the President of the Commission should be a civil servant and act as such? The present President of the Commission—and the past one—is behaving like a dictatorial policy-maker in threatening the British Government that they must—his word was "must"—carry on and support further European political, economic and monetary integration. Does not the noble Lord agree that it is time that the British Government slapped the President of the Commission down and told him that policy is a matter for the Council of Ministers and, in so far as this country is concerned, for the properly elected British Government and Parliament?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I can agree more or less with most of what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, says. However, the President of the Commission has his own role to play and it would be wrong to denigrate him merely to the position of a civil servant, as the noble Lord implies. He has the power to request a meeting of the Council, as does any member state, and the Commission has the same right as member states for a submission of items for inclusion in the agenda of the Council meetings. However, as the noble Lord rightly stresses, in the end it is a matter for the Council of Ministers as the final deciding body to make the appropriate decision.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, are the Government aware that the President of the Commission and the Commission have their own rights and duties under the treaty to which the Government are an adherent? In that sense the president is not simply a civil servant. Is the Minister aware also that the president elect, in his speech yesterday, was expressing the general view of the developments ahead of the Community and at the very heart of the Community? Would it not be better for the Government to get themselves there as well?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I believe that the Government are there. But this is not the time to enjoin in the discussion into which the noble Lord wishes to draw me. In answering the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, I said that the president and the Commission had their own roles to play, as set out in the treaty. I was not seeking to denigrate that. But in the end it is the Council of Ministers who makes decisions.

Lord Mishcon: My Lords, is the Minister aware that he used the word "denigrate" when referring to a person who may be deemed to be a civil servant? Is he aware that he may have an uncomfortable time when he returns to his Ministry unless he rectifies what he said?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I shall look carefully at what I said. I am grateful to the noble Lord for drawing that point to my attention. I hope that that interpretation cannot be put on what I said and if such an interpretation

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can be placed on it by a wily lawyer like the noble Lord, I shall be the first to withdraw any intention that it should have such a meaning.

Lord Mishcon: My Lords, does not the noble Lord repeat his denigration by referring to me as a "wily lawyer"?

Lord Eatwell: My Lords, is the Minister aware that Mr. Lamont's comments in another place are a rare insight for your Lordships' House into the workings of ECOFIN? Can the Minister tell us what is the current role of ECOFIN in the so-called surveillance of British economic policy? Does that surveillance extend to any attempt to co-ordinate economic policies within the Union?

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord describes my right honourable friend's remarks on that occasion as,


    "a rare insight ... into the workings of ECOFIN".

I can only say that that point was dealt with by my right honourable friend the Chancellor when he responded to his right honourable friend Mr. Lamont by saying that things have certainly moved on rather a lot since then, particularly in relation to the attitude of ECOFIN—if I can go slightly beyond the noble Lord's question—to matters of fraud which it takes more seriously than it appeared to do at the time to which my right honourable friend Mr. Lamont was referring.

Lord Eatwell: My Lords, my question was particularly directed at the role of ECOFIN in its surveillance role in respect of British economic policy. Its role in commenting on and affecting the economic stance of the country in general was what I wanted to probe the Minister about.

Lord Henley: My Lords, if the noble Lord will bear with me, I believe that that is a different Question from the one we are debating today. I was dealing with the point he made in regard to how the workings of ECOFIN have changed since the time of Mr. Lamont.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the noble Lord wise in delegating to me personally the task of writing to the new President of the Commission? Is he aware that if I do write to the new president, particularly after his remarks yesterday which were an indirect attack upon the British Prime Minister, I shall be bound to advise him, as an aged practitioner in politics myself, that it is most unwise to kick away the ladder by which you climb?


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