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Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, will the Minister give way? I am grateful for her explanation, but can she explain whether what she has said corresponds with what the former Minister, Mr Vaz, said; namely, that the charter was no more significant than the Beano—with the strong implication that it had no legally binding consequences? Is what the noble Baroness said consistent with that?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, it is absolutely consistent. The charter remains what it is. At the moment it is a political document and no more. The noble Lord will know that even the Beano can be referred to in any court in England and Wales or elsewhere if it proves helpful to the judicial mind in determining a particular issue.

I do not claim that the working group recommendations answer every question and concern about the charter. No final decisions have been taken. That will be for the Prime Minister at the intergovernmental conference that will follow the conclusion of the convention. Departments are currently considering to what extent the changes so far proposed would resolve the legal and practical problems that we envisaged with full incorporation of the charter. I would not wish to pre-empt that process.

But we achieved major steps forward. They have come about as a result of explaining, listening, proposing and negotiating. That is the way to make progress and to have influence. Both my noble friend Lord Tomlinson and the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, are evidence of that.

The importance of being actively engaged in the convention has also been demonstrated by the UK parliamentary representative, Ms Gisela Stuart. Her

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chairmanship of the working group on the role of national parliaments generated overwhelming support for the need for national parliaments to play a bigger role in the Union. That means national parliaments getting more involved in EU decision-making processes, and at an earlier stage. It means improving national scrutiny procedures in all national parliaments, so that governments can be held to account better for the decisions they take in Brussels. And it means developing the links and networks that exist between national and European parliamentarians.

We pushed the need for subsidiarity to be monitored at a political level. We advocated that the right political level was that of national parliamentarians. I believe that we made considerable progress in the working group where UK interests were represented by my right honourable friend Peter Hain. We would have preferred the creation of an ad hoc body to monitor compliance with subsidiarity. In the end, the consensus in the working group settled on a lighter early warning mechanism. The important achievement for us, in the working group, was getting a broad consensus in support of the principle that national parliamentarians should review EU proposals and make an ex ante political judgment on whether action was being taken at the right level.

While improving enforcement of the subsidiarity principle may not be the principal topic of conversation in many homes and pubs across Britain, it is clear that crime and immigration are at the top of people's agendas. I sat on the convention working group that looked at justice and home affairs. I believe that, here again, we have secured agreement to a final report that meets many of our own ideas.

Asylum and immigration are, by definition, international. To deal with these issues effectively, we have to work and co-operate with others. That is why we have advocated a common EU asylum and immigration policy. Unfortunately, we have not made as much progress at the EU level as we would have liked. That is in part due to the decision-making process that prevails. So it is logical that we have supported a move away from unanimity in these areas. The introduction of qualified majority voting for asylum and immigration matters will enable us to make the decisions that we need to make, to ensure a fully operational and functional common EU asylum and immigration policy. That will benefit Britain, and it will benefit the British people.

Hand-in-hand with a more effective common asylum and immigration policy is the need for stronger external borders for the Union. This is inextricably linked with greater co-operation between member state police forces and judicial systems. The trafficking of humans is international. To tackle it effectively we must confront it at a European level. The same is true for drugs. But this does not mean the creation of a single legal system. I do not believe that that would be the most effective way forward. Rather, we want to see mutual recognition of each other's systems. I am happy to report that the working group's report

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recommends just that—mutual recognition forming the basis of co-operation across the Union in these areas.

I have mentioned that we support moves away from unanimity in the areas of asylum and illegal immigration. But a wholesale shift towards qualified majority voting on all issues is not the way forward. We have made very clear our view that taxation and social security, for example, must remain matters for national governments and parliaments. So, too, must foreign and defence policy. We are pleased that the external actions working group considered practical ways to improve the effectiveness of CFSP and to make the EU's external actions more coherent. This included looking at ways to improve coherence between the Commission and the Council, and at how to improve management of the EU's development programmes, with a greater focus on poverty reduction. There was also consideration of how to bolster the role of the High Representative on CFSP and to improve financing for this policy area. For the most part, the discussions went in our direction, and we were able to make clear that any move towards a single legal personality for the EU would have to respect the intergovernmental nature of CFSP.

This is a crucial time for the future of European security and defence policy. Berlin Plus is in place, and the EU is on the verge of taking on its first military operations. The EU should not be in the business of setting out a territorial defence guarantee. We need to focus our energies and resources on the ESDP challenges we face, not duplicate what NATO offers partners who wish to be part of a collective defence alliance.

As for social policy, the working group has only just begun its work. Peter Hain is playing an active role as a member of that group. We believe strongly that the focus should be on social exclusion and the creation of the jobs that are the best weapon against such exclusion. That agenda must be preferable to the alternative, which is more regulation. That would stifle the European economy and run counter to the Lisbon economic reform agenda, of which we have been such staunch advocates.

As I noted at the beginning, the convention is now moving on to examine institutional questions. I am conscious of having taken some time to set out the Government's position on many of the issues being discussed at the convention. So, to allow your Lordships to comment on and debate the issue before us, I shall keep my comments on institutional reform brief.

Some have mischievously suggested that this Government is looking to enhance the role of the Council to the detriment of other EU institutions. That is absolutely untrue. It is the balance of power and responsibilities between the three EU institutions—the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament—which makes the Union work. The answer to making Europe more effective and efficient is not to strengthen one side of the triangle. That would weaken the institutional base of the Union. The only viable option must be to

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improve the functioning of all three institutions. That is why we are considering ways to strengthen the Commission's powers of initiative and enforcement. And that is why we are looking at how to make the European Parliament more effective and better able to hold the Commission to account.

This Government firmly believe that Britain's place is in the heart of a strong Europe. The European Union has a poor reputation in some quarters for being slow to react, or not being sufficiently open, transparent, effective or efficient. The need to reform the Union is no secret, but it is best reformed from within, from a position of strength. That is why it is vital that Britain be a committed member of the Union, actively engaged in the debate on the Union's future.

The convention offers us a timely opportunity to look at the kind of Union we want. It provides a forum for discussing openly how we can achieve the reforms we deem necessary. The convention has made more progress than most sceptics thought possible. The discussions are, for the most part, along the lines that we wish to see develop. We have not won support for all our ideas. No-one has. That is the nature of debate. But where our ideas have not taken root, we are working hard to persuade others with convincing and constructive arguments.

I look forward to hearing what noble Lords have to say today in what I am sure will be a frank, candid exchange of views. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the Convention on the Future of Europe.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)

4.25 p.m.

Lord Grenfell: My Lords, I commend to the House the Select Committee's report on the convention. However, with your Lordships' indulgence, I shall speak a little more broadly than that. I speak today in my capacity as chairman of the Select Committee on the European Union and as successor to my most able predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara. The committee had earlier indicated that it wanted to have the opportunity to hear the Government's views on these important issues. The committee and I are grateful to the Government for meeting that request with today's debate.

As chairman of the committee I feel bound to be careful in what I say because, for the most part, but not exclusively, I shall be speaking on behalf of it. We have just heard an impressive opening speech from the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, speaking in her capacity as the Government's alternate representative on the convention, a function that she is discharging with the distinction with which we always associate her. At the close of my remarks, I wish to react briefly to what she said. I trust your Lordships and, in particular, members of the committee will allow me that latitude.

I hope that this will not be the last occasion we have to debate these issues. The Select Committee's agreed view is that there should be further debates as the work

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of the convention continues all the way to the delivery of the final document to the June Council at Thessaloniki and after that as the governments prepare for the 2004 inter-governmental conference.

If the convention had turned out to be just the harmless talking shop that many had predicted at its launch, I doubt we would now be so anxious to discuss its output at regular intervals. But, since getting down to work last February, it has demonstrated that it really can deliver. Monsieur Giscard d'Estaing's much derided comparison of the convention's task with that of the Philadelphia Convention 1787 is beginning to seem a rather less fanciful exaggeration than it did a year ago.

Given the authority, expertise and political weight of the members who are hammering out the recommendations for reform, most would now agree that it will be difficult for European leaders to stray far from them when agreeing the treaty. That is why it is right that we, as a parliamentary chamber, should take the work of the convention as seriously as we do.

Your Lordships' Select Committee has already been monitoring the work of the convention. We have heard evidence twice from the UK parliamentary representatives on the convention: Gisela Stuart and David Heathcoat-Amory from another place, and the noble Lords, Lord Tomlinson and Lord MacLennan of Rogart, whom I am pleased to see in their places today. They have been doing splendid work in the convention, and we look forward to their contributions to this debate. The work of the convention was also the subject of questions that we put to Peter Hain when, as Minister for Europe, he gave evidence to us last July following the Seville European Council.

Before the Summer Recess, the Select Committee produced a short report for information, which is before your Lordships today. Of course, quite a lot of water has passed under the bridge since we were taking evidence and putting together that report. Its aim was modest: to spark interest in the work of the convention and to encourage broader and more substantive debate in this House on this milestone in the development of the European Union. It made only a limited number of recommendations, which related primarily to our work here in Westminster. They were: first, that this debate should take place—and it is; secondly, that the convention website should be enhanced—it has been; thirdly, that there should be further debate once the convention has completed its work—I have reason to hope there will be; fourthly, that the national parliamentarians on the convention should operate cohesively—which they appear to be doing; and, fifthly, that Members of this House should participate in the joint Standing Committee—which your Lordships have been doing to good effect. That these few recommendations are being or have been acted on is a cause for some satisfaction. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, who chaired the inquiry. As his successor, may I be as fortunate.

Now, of course, our work goes on. The reports from each of the convention's working groups will be the subject of reports from our committee to this House in

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the coming weeks. Some are being considered by the sub-committees. Some, such as those on subsidiarity and on the role of national parliaments, will be considered by the Select Committee itself.

There is one further area in which our committee has been active in matters relating to the convention. We have recently taken a hard look at parliamentary scrutiny of European legislation and we published a report just before the Christmas Recess. Some of its proposals are addressed to the Select Committee itself, some to the House, some to the Government and some to the convention, but all are designed to strengthen and enhance the role of national parliaments in scrutinising EU legislation. The role of national parliaments has emerged as a key issue at the convention. I follow the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, in paying tribute to Gisela Stuart, who, by all accounts, has chaired Working Group 4 with consummate skill.

As a House of Parliament, we are now, as a result of the convention's work in this area, on the edge of a step change in our role in the dynamics of the European Union. That is an exciting and very challenging prospect. Of course, we can never hope—nor, indeed, should we ever expect—to be co-legislators with the European Parliament, but we have an increasingly significant role to play and one that can help address the alarming gulf of incomprehension, again referred to by the noble Baroness in her opening remarks, which still separates the citizen of the Union from the institutions and individuals who govern. To play that role is not merely a means to reassert the authority of Parliament—which is important enough—it is a fundamental constitutional and democratic obligation, which we should do our utmost to meet. Without blowing our trumpet too loudly, I have to say that I am hopeful that we will not be found wanting, not least because the range and depth of expertise reflected in the membership of your Lordships' House adds hugely to Parliament's capacity to carry out an effective job of scrutiny.

Our just-published report on scrutiny covered a number of matters not relevant to this debate, relating to how we as a House go about our work. We will have a separate debate on that report in due course. However, among the report's 68 recommendations, four important conclusions are relevant to today's debate, since they are addressed to the convention. Allow me to mention them, because, although all but one of the working groups has now reported to the plenary, there is still time and opportunity for some fine tuning.

First, greater openness in the Council, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, referred, will facilitate faster scrutiny by national parliaments. We have high hopes that that will be the case, in light of the convention's strong recommendation that the Council should act in public when it is exercising its legislative functions. I am glad that our representatives have pushed hard on that in the convention. Abolishing the six-monthly presidencies could also help by avoiding the end-of-term rush to decisions, provided that other artificial deadlines are not built in. Working Group 9's proposals on the simplification of instruments and procedures would also simplify scrutiny.

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Secondly, the convention should consider a revision of the co-decision procedure to allow greater opportunity for national parliamentary scrutiny. When conciliation is triggered, the relevant documents from the Commission, the Parliament and the Council should be made public and submitted to national parliaments, which should have four weeks to consider them before the conciliation committee can meet.

Thirdly, the convention should consider whether the European Parliament's procedures could be strengthened in three ways: by setting up an equivalent of our committees that scrutinise, or will scrutinise, statutory instruments; by reinforcing the work of their existing committees in scrutinising comitology legislation; and by considering a procedure analogous to our negative and affirmative resolution procedure.

Fourthly and finally, scrutiny of the impact of legislation would be greatly enhanced in our view if the European Parliament was obliged to produce a cost analysis of the effect of its own proposed amendments to EU law. We urge that this be introduced by treaty amendment.

In conclusion, I shall take a moment to pose a few questions arising out of the opening speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, to which perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, will be able to respond when she winds up. They relate not so much to what she said, but to some of the things that she did not say. There were a few dogs, so to speak, that did not bark in the night. I shall draw attention to one or two of them.

With respect to Britain's efforts to get its partners in the working group on social affairs to adopt a new agenda on social policy based on measures to promote worker employability, are Her Majesty's Government satisfied that a proper balance can be ensured between full employment measures and high standards of worker protection?

Secondly, with reference to the proposal to have the European Parliament elect the Commission president, with the Council confirming that election, the Prime Minister said in his Cardiff speech:

    "We must avoid at all costs turning the election of its president into a partisan wrangle or allowing the Commission to become a prisoner of the parliamentary majority".

In light of that, would Her Majesty's Government support Signor Prodi's proposal that the president be elected by a two-thirds majority and on a secret ballot?

Thirdly, what position are the Government taking on the principle of voluntary withdrawal from the Union—the so-called exit clause? Do they see the right to withdraw as providing members with the ability to exercise some gentle—or maybe not so gentle—blackmail? Do they agree with those who propose that failure to ratify the treaty should entail withdrawal from the Union?

Fourthly, do Her Majesty's Government believe that an Article 5-type solidarity clause would undermine EU relations with NATO?

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Fifthly, with regard to Working Group 9's report on simplification of instruments and procedures, are Her Majesty's Government among those who would prefer to keep common strategies, joint actions and common positions in the foreign affairs field?

Finally, are Her Majesty's Government among those who favour an enhanced role for the Commission in defining the broad economic policy guidelines and in monitoring the growth and stability pact?

I apologise for the number of questions that I have posed, but they may be referred to by other noble Lords during the debate. I very much look forward to hearing the rest of the debate and I commend the Select Committee's report to your Lordships.

4.37 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, we all owe very warm thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and to the European Union Committee for the report, which has triggered this important debate this afternoon, and for all the other work that the committee undertakes, including the prospect of some other very important reports to come. The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, mentioned the report issued just before Christmas on the review of scrutiny proposals to give Parliament more powerful scrutiny of decisions made by European Union institutions. I hope we debate that very soon, because it is a very relevant part of the overall picture. The noble Lord is quite right about that.

While I give warm thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, for her very full and detailed coverage of what is going on in the convention, as she sees it, my thanks are marginally cooler towards the Government as a whole in relation to the opportunities that we have had and are having for looking at the crucial and fundamental decisions about our nation and our national interest that are daily being moulded and hardened by the work of the convention. I for one never had any doubts that the convention would assume this forward role. I know the convention report rightly reminds us that the decisions or proposals of the working groups, which are now all coming in, are not binding, but we all know from bitter experience that in this arena the non-binding has a habit of suddenly becoming binding, recommendations have a habit of becoming rules and draft proposals cease to be drafts and become unstoppable hurricanes of changes and we are then told that it is too late to alter anything.

Already six months have passed since the report of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, on the convention was published. We are now in January. Even in those six months, legions of concessions appear to have been made by representatives of Her Majesty's Government on issues that have become more or less settled—I believe they are much more settled than people appreciate—without any full and adequate debate here, except in the standing committee. I concede that that committee has been useful, but it is not an adequate substitute for full debate, considering the

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enormous importance of the issues. That is not a good sign, and is certainly not a matter for thanks and congratulations.

In her speech, the noble Baroness asked for candid and frank comments. Perhaps I may begin by stating the fact, which, again, does not seem to have been appreciated by large parts of the media, let alone by the parliamentary institution here, that coming towards the British Government at the speed of an express train—and, indeed, towards all of us—is a dilemma that puts even the euro currency issue in the shade; namely, whether to submit to a full-blown, written, European constitution, binding on all EU members—to quote the Prime Minister, "a proper constitution for Europe".

In what I thought was rather a confused speech at Cardiff—one that I read most carefully but could not, quite frankly, understand fully—the Prime Minister referred to this as being a simple choice. I do not believe that it is: it is an immensely complicated and very important choice, and we would like ample time to address it. However, there is now very little time left. The months have gone by and, as the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, reminded us, the working group has nearly completed its work.

Although I am not sure that this was the original intention, the convention, under Valery Giscard D'Estaing, has turned itself into a constitutional conference and final drafts are now beginning to circulate. These will be finalised by late spring, and a document will be ready for submission to the Council of Ministers. The plan is for everything to be agreed and settled before the end of the year. In fact, I have even heard talk that the intergovernmental conference of 2004 should be brought forward so that it can all be quickly signed and sealed.

As the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, rightly emphasised, such matters cannot be left to occasional debate. The contents of the new constitution in draft are truly revolutionary. According to the working group, defence and foreign policy are to be fully embraced in a single, expanded Union structure, with more QMV—that is, non-accountable decision-making—substantially extended in the CFSP area. Indeed, in contrast to what the noble Baroness said, there are proposals in that working group for QMV to be extended in CFSP issues that are in flat defiance of Article 23 of the Maastricht Treaty, which made a promise—one which, I suppose, we should not have believed—that QMV would not be extended in military or foreign policy areas.

As the noble Baroness conceded, QMV is to be extended in justice and home affairs issues, especially immigration policy. A mass of new social or positive rights are to be incorporated in the constitutional document. The Union is to have a legal personality that gives it full international status, and, in the view of many experts, that will almost certainly lead to the EU seeking a seat on the UN Security Council—which, presumably, would mean the end of the British, and French, tenure on that body.

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Confronted with that momentum, which I concede has been considerable, the British authorities have had three choices. The first was just to go along with it all and hope that no one would notice what had been traded away. The second choice was to accept the new constitution, and its enabling treaty, as "inevitable" and try to amend and improve bits of it here and there, and the third was to fight the whole prospect tooth and nail.

Without saying so explicitly—indeed, I do not believe that I heard the noble Baroness say this—the Government appear to have chosen the second route of the three. They have decided that the pass is already sold, and that the best that can be hoped for is a watered-down version. Obviously, the noble Baroness described the latter in nicer terms, but that is what the aim appears to be. There is a draft British text prepared by the eminent Cambridge academic, Professor Alan Dashwood, which has been circulated in the convention as "the British text" by Mr Peter Hain, who is Secretary of State for Wales. He is our man at the conference, or the Government's man, although some would say that his track record of diplomatic finesse has not been too dazzling in other fields. However, there he is, and, for better or worse, he is putting forward the British draft constitution.

What is the purpose of the British draft? The argument, to which the noble Baroness returned today, appears to be that if we fight hard enough we shall preserve national sovereignties in the areas of foreign policy and defence, entrench the position of nation states within the Union, and prevent still more power drifting to Brussels—halting the so-called "competence creep" that worries many of your Lordships. As I understand it, that is the government line. As the implications trickle into the public debate, I have no doubt that we shall be told that it is a very strong line, and that any opposition to it is short-sighted, silly, anti-European, and so on. Clearly, we are used to those sweeping dismissals. It will be asserted that Britain is "winning" and that our national interests are being preserved, not eroded, by the new constitution and the treaty that will embody it.

This "thus far and no further" line might be sustainable if it were true. In reality, the suggestions for compromise about which the noble Baroness talked today have already been turned down flat in the proposals of the working group. We have the proposals—indeed, I sat up all night reading every word of the decisions and recommendations of the working group—and I am afraid that defence, security, and foreign affairs are already doomed, if that is the right word, to be fully embraced in a single Union structure, as are a slew of justice and home affairs issues.

I listened with great respect to the noble Baroness's assessment of the situation based on considerable experience, but I have to say that the new charter of fundamental rights will indeed be fully embedded in the constitution. That is what the working group's proposal says, but that is not quite what I understood

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the noble Baroness to say—though she was a member of the group. It states that,

    "all members of the Group either support strongly an incorporation of the Charter in a form which would make the Charter legally binding and give it constitutional status or would not rule out giving favourable consideration to such incorporation".

That is difficult to reconcile with the Beano theory, although the noble Baroness did a heroic job in trying to put the two in the same bracket. I do not believe that it will wash, or work. The Government will need to do much more explaining before we accept the arguments that we have so far heard. The legal personality issue also appears to have been settled, so that all the British worries about losing our seat at the UN Security Council have clearly been swept aside.

Then there is the smokescreen of arguments about power between the EU institutions, which is a fascinating debate: should the Commission have more control over foreign policy, or, alternatively, should it be the Council of Ministers or its Secretariat? How many new powers will be assigned to the European Parliament? Would that solve the democratic deficit? For those of us looking out from our national parliaments, all that looks a little like rearranging the chairs. Of course, the real issue is about power and who holds it. Although there is a lot of talk about re-involving national parliaments in EU decisions, not just in the convention but in previous treaties, and although some of the ideas put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, would achieve that aim, if one looks closely at the proposals in the new constitution one sees that very few of them will do anything other than divert more power to the central institutions of the EU and weaken the ties with the democratic political systems of the member states.

The subsidiarity "concession" from the group very ably chaired by Gisela Stuart MP has been trumpeted as a great concession to national parliaments. As the detail shows, however, the concession is a mouse. All it allows is that, if a substantial number of national parliaments think that the Commission is intruding on national grounds, they can send it back and leave the Commission free to decide whether to push ahead as before, to amend it grudgingly, or whatever. So the ball is simply tossed back into the Commission's court; there is no real transfer of real power.

The scrutiny proposals which we are developing here and which the European Union Committee has already put into its report, which we shall debate, will help greatly, but they will not reverse that. The reality is that putting the charter at the centre of the proposed constitution does mean downgrading democratic political debate and handing over more power, not only to EU institutions, but to the courts that underpin a new constitutional order and the new European kritarchy—which is rule by judges and courts—and their decisions over larger parts of people's lives. If that is the way we are going, we should be able to choose and know that that is what is intended.

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Communitising defence and foreign policy means more stultifying central bureaucracy at the very moment in history when more flexibility and national manoeuvrability are essential.

As for writing it all down in a new "simplified" constitutional treaty, not only does that go flatly against the British "unwritten" tradition—perhaps that does not matter anymore; that can be brushed aside—it actually defies what Sidney Low, in that wonderful book The Governance of England, called,

    "the very essence of the English system of government"—

namely, that it is,

    "in a constant state of development".

The new, simplified constitution is trying to put an almost pre-Copernican fixity in place of the evolution on which our constitutional arrangements have always depended.

Finally, and over and above even that, the whole project for a new European constitution is full of dangers which we should recognise and not brush aside for Europe itself. First, it is odd, I think, that there is an attempt to draft a new constitution just when 10 new members, and very independent members too, are about to join; it seems to be slightly a matter of the cart before the horse. However, it is also a deadly assault on the diversity, vitality and independence that gives Europe its strength and feeling of common cause in the network age. I think that the new applicant states are just beginning to realise, if they have not already done so, that this danger is coming.

The Prime Minister calls for Europe to become "a superpower", and he was at it again the other day in Cardiff. I think that we on this side ask when will he understand that strong nations are essential to human progress? When will he and the Government grasp that strong and independent nations are essential not only to the protection and care of ordinary people and the maintenance of law and order, but to the functioning and growth of prosperity and markets? Why does he believe that the world will be a safer place with two ambitious super-blocs projecting their "rightful" place on the world stage and inevitably rivalling each other? That is not my belief at all. Why does the Prime Minister believe that the rise of Europe as a military force will bring it closer to the people? How is that going to help us in our defences against globally organised terrorism?

It may be that, as the excellent report suggests, the aim of the convention is to restore public confidence in the European Union. In reality, however, the convention proposals—which are now rapidly becoming not proposals but hard decisions—amount in the deepest and truest sense to an anti-European endeavour. I am deeply convinced of that. I think that genuinely good Europeans should not be compromising with this, but challenging the flawed thinking underlying large parts of the proposals. At the very least, the British public should be guaranteed a referendum on the great new constitutional treaty which now looms—that is, if anyone has bothered to inform

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them about what is truly involved, and how both their own and Europe's wider interests are at this very moment being submissively and incompetently traded away.

4.55 p.m.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I must admit at the beginning, and I am sure that your Lordships will understand, that in speaking from these Benches in this debate on the future of Europe, I feel a poignant sense of loss. We are bereft by the death of Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. Just before Christmas, when he was plainly not well, Roy questioned me about the progress of the convention. He spoke with spirited insight and amused personal characterisations. Once again, however, I heard in his voice that determined magnanimity which for over four decades has been the best of Britain's contribution to the building of the European Union.

Perhaps in retrospect Roy Jenkins' constancy might seem to some inevitable, but, in truth, the choices which his European commitments summoned up were made with courage and small regard for personal political advancement. Of his formative work as President of the European Commission I shall later have more to say which is directly relevant to the decisions of the convention which lie ahead. In sum, however, Roy Jenkins' stance in Parliament and in the country made possible the broad-based acceptance of what the Prime Minister has acknowledged—that Britain's place should lie at the heart of Europe.

It has been for me a privilege to represent this House and this Parliament as an alternate member of the convention, and I thank noble Lords for the assistance and understanding with which they have provided me in that task. The convention works formally and informally through the interaction of its individual members, but not as a constituent assembly representative of the groups of which it is composed. There, I believe, lies its strength. It is this which has fostered the palpable sense of individual obligation to contribute to a successful outcome.

It is worth calling to mind the historical context in which the convention was set up. By a progression which was far from pre-ordained, from the Single European Act through the treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice, the member countries have constructed a Union with large proclaimed ambitions and increasingly diverse and complex constitutional means of achieving them. The Union has embraced provisions on citizenship, on the creation of an area of justice, freedom and security, and to develop a common security and defence policy. To the grandeur of these policy aims has been added, at Copenhagen, the welcome prospective physical enlargement of the Union to embrace most of the countries of the continent of Europe. The decision of the European Council at Laeken to have recourse to a convention, including representatives from candidate countries, was therefore a wise recognition of the urgent need for European constitutional reform.

Why a convention? I think that the limited achievements of the Nice Council and the positive precedent of the Convention on the Charter of Rights,

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ably served by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, pointed to the possibilities inherent in widening the debate beyond the confines of the Council. It provided the opportunity for a deliberative process, openly conducted, whereunder all the decision-making arrangements of the Union could be considered together. Changes required by enlargement could be considered. Account could be taken of the dissatisfaction of many of Europe's citizens with the opacity and unresponsiveness of many of its processes. Judgments could be openly arrived at as to how best to advance the efficiency, effectiveness and democratic accountability of the workings of the Union. After nine months of working—and for myself and most members of the convention it has been a near full-time commitment—it is possible to take stock.

As has been indicated by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, reports have been delivered from 10 working groups which have been debated and broadly approved by plenary sessions. Among the remarkable record of consensus achieved it can be noted that the convention is likely to draft a constitution for the Union, the skeleton of which is in place. A single legal personality will be ascribed to the Union, with provisions for securing for the Union a unified voice in external representation. The Charter of Rights will be embodied in the constitution, albeit subject to proper indications clarifying which matters will be justiciable and which declaratory of principles to be taken into account in interpretation. Provision is likely to be made to enable the Union to subscribe to the European Convention on Human Rights. Proposals have been made radically to simplify and reduce in number the instruments and procedures by which the Union legislates. My colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, has effectively deployed his experience in the process of reforming the Union's budgetary procedure. As the Group on Simplification, to which I belong, put it:

    "citizens must be able to understand the system so that they can identify its problems, criticise it and ultimately control it".

A common general legal framework for provisions relating to justice, home affairs and internal security is likely to be proposed, with the proper distinction drawn between legislative and operational tasks, to untangle the maze of decision-making in this sphere which has baffled effective operation to date.

From the consideration of the Union's competences, and of what are likely to be known in future as its capacity to introduce "supporting measures", it is clear that enlarging the scope of the Union's powers is not backed by the convention—something which I think is particularly important to draw to the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Howell. There is no desire to enlarge the competences of the European Union manifested in our deliberations. The whole thrust of the convention has been to enhance the efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of the Union's exercise of its existing powers. That has led to sensible recommendations for early warning of legislative initiatives to give national parliaments the opportunity to challenge proposals against the requirements of subsidiarity and proportionality. The work of national parliaments in scrutinising their own

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governments and through them the work of the Council will be constitutionally fortified and the decision-making of the Council sitting in legislative capacity will almost certainly be made more fully open. So far, so good. But the convention has reached a turning point, to which the noble Baroness alluded. In the months left to it, it must flesh out the draft constitution.

The convention has been successfully led to this point by its president, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, ably assisted by the Secretary General, Sir John Kerr. Habits of agreement have been acquired. Now these habits must be applied to even more testing issues. What is to be the future of the four principal institutions of the Union? The convention must now consider what to recommend to the Council and to the peoples of Europe who in many cases will finally decide in national referenda. Already the Benelux countries have tabled a well considered paper. The Foreign Ministers of France and Germany, M. de Villepin and Joschka Fischer, both members of the convention, are expected shortly to follow suit. For Britain the Prime Minister has set out in his important Cardiff speech a most welcome commitment to ensuring a constructive outcome to the process.

The convention did not start with a blank sheet. In many respects the Union has been a success. Although there is room for consolidation, simplification and reform of the institutions, there is no case for jettisoning the acquis communautaire. Today Europe is enjoying internal peace and prosperity. To that achievement the Union may be able to add a safeguarded environment, of particular importance following enlargement.

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