Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, there are a number of states which have indicated willingness to sign up to bilateral agreements and a number which have indicated unwillingness. However, I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. The fact is that the statute itself provides for that type of agreement under Article 98(2). Agreement, of course, has to be within specific circumstances. Under the article itself we are not moving outside the legislation in coming to that sort of bilateral agreement because that is the provision within the statute. Therefore, in making such agreements, it is important to ensure that the United

19 Nov 2002 : Column 253

States is still able to form part of the important international peacekeeping forces. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that I consider that an important ingredient in multilateralism in the world.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the provision was inserted into the statute at the insistence of the United States? Does she agree that over the past few years this country has built up enormous international respect, not least through its leadership in ensuring that those who commit horrific offences should be made accountable internationally? Would it not be a tragedy to squander that capital paying off the moral debts of the United States?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, my noble and learned friend puts his point in tendentious terms. However the article came to be put in the legislation, the fact is that it was agreed. Nothing that we are discussing with the United States will move outside the guiding principles agreed with EU partners and we believe that that is enormously important in securing the United States' continued agreement to continue in the important multilateral forces which I mentioned to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. We cannot keep going on the basis of deferrals, such as the one agreed in July, to protect the position of the United States. We need something far more solid than that, and we have a means of getting it.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, does the Minister share my mild surprise at the criticism of the United States implicit in the remarks heard in this Chamber? Is it not the position that the United States is by far the biggest contributor to peacekeeping, providing the most personnel in the whole world? Those personnel inevitably are more exposed than any other to possibly politically motivated or malicious prosecutions. Should we not be doing everything we possibly can to retain the peacekeeping roles of America and to ensure that America continues to safeguard the stability of the international community?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, that is precisely the point I have been making. We understand the anxieties that the United States has about the International Criminal Court. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, is right. The United States is an important part of peacekeeping forces around the world. We do not share the anxieties of the United States. We are full-blooded participants in having signed up to the International Criminal Court. The fact is that the reality of the United States, position has to be addressed. We believe that the United States is serious when it says that the absence of assurances in respect of the ICC will constrain its willingness to conduct military operations in support of foreign policy, such as the peacekeeping to which the noble

19 Nov 2002 : Column 254

Lord referred. In those circumstances it is right and prudent to go along and progress the lines I have outlined.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that any signing of a bilateral agreement by the UK would go a long way to weaken the moral strength and power of the International Criminal Court? Is it not sometimes appropriate to tell one's best friends that what they are doing is not particularly wise? Does she agree that the matter could be brought before the House of Lords again before the Government decide to sign the bilateral agreement?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as we have discussed on a number of occasions, the fact is that the United Kingdom Government often take issue with the United States Government on a whole range of matters, not just the International Criminal Court—for example, the protocols around chemical and biological warfare and the important issue of capital punishment. We have taken issue over Kyoto. It is certainly not the case that the United Kingdom always agrees with the United States. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, says that signing an agreement would weaken the International Criminal Court. I put it to the noble Baroness that we shall be far more weakened in relation to the multilateral basis on which we are trying to operate in the United Nations if we reach a position where the United States simply will not take part in peacekeeping forces. That would be a far worse position for us to be in.

Public Bills: Carry-Over

2.58 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to carry over public Bills from one parliamentary Session to another and what statutory authority this would require.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government welcome the fact that both Houses have agreed that it should be possible for public Bills to be "carried over" from one Session to the next, as is already the case with private and hybrid Bills. Both Houses are masters of their own procedures and the law and proceedings of Parliament are not, for the most part, underpinned by statute.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that Answer. However, is it not a fact that at the moment, following the decision in the other place two weeks ago, any public Bill in the Commons could be carried over for a further Session, whereas in your Lordships' Chamber that applies only to Bills that have had pre-legislative scrutiny? Is that not likely to lead to some confusion between the two Chambers? Is not the greater, more important point that, without any doubt, the power of this Chamber is seen in the other place as at its greatest in the last few

19 Nov 2002 : Column 255

days of a Session when, rather than lose a Bill, a government will accept amendments because otherwise they fear that the Bill will disappear altogether? Is not that power likely to be put at risk by the changes that have just happened in Standing Orders?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not believe that to be true. I believe that both Houses are rightly scrutinising their own procedures. Of course, the procedures in the Commons are a matter for the Commons—I take the noble Lord's point—but my experience of this place is that it tends to be increasingly mulish if it feels that a government of any complexion are not paying proper attention to the fact that we have a legitimate role of scrutiny and revision. I hope that in the next year or two we will be able to renew ourselves, as the Commons are seeking to do, moving co-operatively with the other Chamber.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that no amount of pre-legislative scrutiny or carry-over makes up for the vast number of Bills that we currently see, often ill drafted and sometimes when Ministers are making up policy on the hoof? Secondly, can the noble and learned Lord confirm that there will be no carry-over in this House unless there has been pre- legislative scrutiny, and only when it has been agreed by Peers in all parties and of none in this Chamber?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, some legislation over the past years—I do not limit it to the period since 1997—has been voluminous and ill digested. The long-term solution to that is an increasing use of pre-legislative scrutiny.

The noble Lord is right in saying that we cannot have carry-over on a Bill in this Chamber unless this Chamber agrees it. That is a useful sanction which we all agreed knowing the consequences.

Lord Roper: My Lords, will the Lord Privy Seal also agree that the carry-over of any Bill if introduced initially in this House, irrespective of where it is at the end of the Session, will have to be agreed by this House?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I thought I had said that, but, not being entirely familiar with English as a first language, I must have got it wrong.

Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, have Her Majesty's Government given any further thought to the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, that all Bills should have a 12-month life during which they have to pass, which is not tied arbitrarily to the end of a Session? Any Bill therefore not enacted within 12 months of introduction would lapse.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I remember the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, making that suggestion and I said that I would consider it with the

19 Nov 2002 : Column 256

Lord President in the other place. At present, we are moving forward in a period of change—I hope renewal—and plainly that suggestion needs to be attended to.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, can the noble and learned Lord enlighten the House and tell us what is the role of the Parliament Act should a Bill be carried over? Can it still apply?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page