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Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, I intervene briefly on behalf of these Benches to say that we are very much in agreement with the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. Apart from the normal areas that the interim conference is expected to discuss, there was a great deal of discussion about the Middle East. It might have been unreasonable to request a further Statement today in view of the fact that we had one last week, but bearing in mind the role of the Foreign Secretary and the reports that were no doubt given at Biarritz of his experience in the matter, I should have thought that it would have been a courtesy to the House to have had a Statement. It might have been quite an effort on the part of the Government, but it was an effort that they should have made to give some report on the matter.
I am especially concerned about a view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, as regards what would have happened if the House of Commons had been sitting. Had the other place been sitting, I find it extremely difficult to believe that the Prime Minister would have chosen not to make a Statement. That Statement would then have been repeated in this Chamber. I very much hope that we are not second-class citizens in that respect and that we have not been denied a Statement today which would have been made if the other place were sitting.
The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for raising these points. As both noble Lords said, the Government have been extremely "forthcoming", which is perhaps the right word, in the past three weeks about the number of Statements that have been made to your Lordships, even though the other place has not been sitting. I believe there have been four Statements and one reply to a Private Notice Question. Therefore, the issues about the status of this House, and the importance that the Government see in reporting to Parliament through this House, have been adequately dealt with.
I turn to the point about the European Councils. As the House will be aware, it has been the practice for the heads of government to have these informal meetings as a precursor to the formal, full European Council meetings. But they do not usually result in either
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is slightly misinformed. It was always intended that we should report back to Parliament by means of a Written Answer, tabled in both Houses. Noble Lords will see from the back of the current version of the Minute that a Question to that end was tabled on Friday by my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester. That Question will be answered by the Government in written form today. If substantive issues emerge from the Middle East summit taking place at the moment, I believe that it has been made clear that a Statement will be made on that outcome.
Lord Marsh: My Lords, will the noble Baroness accept that there is a slightly wider issue here as regards some of us on these Benches? Noble Lords on the Cross Benches are now formally recognised as an element in this House, but we are unique in that we are not part of the usual channels and have no party machine. Therefore, it is important to noble Lords on these Benches--some of whom have mentioned this fact--that issues such as this should also provide us with an opportunity to participate in the discussions that others have available to them.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point, but it is not directly relevant to the issue under discussion. As he said, the Cross Benchers are not members of the usual channels and, therefore, that is a wider issue regarding the organisation of this House which he may want to raise in an appropriate and slightly different form.
Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend is aware that the anxieties expressed so far are shared on this side of the House. These matters are very serious. The agenda at Biarritz included the charter of fundamental freedoms, among other things, and we should have an interim report on the proceedings. I do not know whether my noble friend has sufficient influence with her colleagues on the issue, but perhaps she could get them to understand that it is not just a question of minor matters; indeed, the future of this country and the effectiveness of this Parliament are also involved. When heads of government meet, we expect to have a Statement thereafter.
Lord Elton: My Lords, there appeared to be a major difference of opinion on the status of some of the proceedings of the Community between our Prime Minister and the leaders of other countries. That is a matter of concern to your Lordships and to the country. Can the noble Baroness promise the House an opportunity to debate the Written Answer when it has been published?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the noble Lord is tempting me to incur the wrath of my noble friend the Chief Whip and, indeed, the usual channels in previewing any business decisions about the future of the House.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, is it not a little more serious than the noble Baroness the Leader of the House would have us believe? Surely decisions were taken at Biarritz which cannot and will not conceivably be reversed at Nice. I have with me a copy of the final press conference of the presidency of the council of Biarritz--the so-called "informal council". I regret to say that it is written only in French. I shall not trouble your Lordships with my less than first-rate French, but it says in the clearest possible terms that the chiefs of state have unanimously agreed the project of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Indeed, the President of the Council, President Chirac of France, goes further and says that,
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I could not possibly enter into the detail of that discussion, especially not in French because I suspect that my French would be less good than that of the noble Lord. However, I should point out again that this meeting was an informal council. The Government and their predecessors have taken most seriously the importance of reporting to Parliament on substantive decisions taken in the European Union, but it has not been the
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, can the noble Baroness answer my question as to whether she thinks that the decision on the Charter of Fundamental Rights will be reversed at Nice or whether it will stand as agreed in Biarritz?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, however informal the noble Baroness believes the meeting at Biarritz to have been, there are, nevertheless, considerable differences of opinion about the status of the fundamental rights charter. Although decisions were not taken at Biarritz, commitments to signing at Nice were in fact made. Therefore, it is important for the people of this country to know the exact status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the degree to which our Prime Minister is right to say that it is merely declaratory and has no other impact on the way in which our judges will determine law in this country. We also need to know whether M Chirac, or some of the other heads of state, are right in what they say. I think that the least we in this country should be offered is democratic, parliamentary discussion before any decision is taken finally at Nice.
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