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Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she realise that teachers and inspectors are becoming increasingly unhappy with the degree to which the education system, like the health system, is driven by targets and performance indicators? First, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, Mr David Bell, has been attacking targets as distorting the primary curriculum. Now we have his predecessor, Mr Mike Tomlinson, arguing that performance indicators are unnecessary because
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: Well, my Lords, once again the noble Baroness equates what we are trying to do in schools with the Soviet system, which I find rather alarming from a Liberal Democrat policy perspective. I should like to quote Mr Bell from the Times on Monday, when he said:
Referring specifically to the Question, it is very important that, as we develop the ability to be more creative and to reflect the performance of schools, we do so. However, it would be entirely wrong to see this as a mechanism to say that we should rid ourselves of such very important information for the standards-raising agenda.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I do not agree that it is Stalinist. I think it is more Maoist than Stalinist. The noble Baroness appears to be confused about government-led targets and government performance indicators and outcomes from schools. It is essential that we know how young children are progressing. It is certainly important to their parents and to the local community. It is also important to the way in which the country as a whole is progressing. However, government meddling and government performance targets on almost everything that professionals do in the health service and in education are stifling professionalism and progress.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am not sure whether being called Maoist was a compliment in the context of having been called Stalinist, but I accept that it was probably not. I am not at all confused about targets and tables. The Question referred to tables, which is where I began. If the Government are serious about what we are trying to do for our childrenand for our health serviceit is important that we are clear about how we measure our own success. It is right and proper to have targets aimed at ensuring that as many as possible of our 11 year-olds are able to access the secondary school curriculum. It is also right and proper to say that we want as many of our young people as possible to get good GCSEs at grades A to C. I shall be proud to be measured on that, because it is terribly important.
It is also important that we celebrate what our schools are able to achieve with our young people and support those schools that need additional help. One way in which parents in particular get their information is through those tables.
I accept that, as we develop the collaborative working that we want, especially around the 14 to 19 agenda, we must work out cleverer and better ways of ensuring that the tables reflect what is happening in schools. In his lecture, Mike Tomlinson was musing over the issues that need to be raised rather than making a point about what he believes should change.
Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the imposition of targets from outside a school often distorts what a school is trying to do to respond to the needs of its pupils? More than anything else, schools desperately need a period of continuity and calm to pursue the national curriculum and their own internally set examination targets without further interference from the Government.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, what the noble Baroness refers to as interference I see very much as part of the supportive mechanism that we have put in place to work with our schools. It is terribly important that we have high aspirations for every school. Noble Lords will know from their own familiarity with schools and from the work that has been done, not only by this Government, that we have achieved a step change in the ability of schools to deliver for their pupils a good, rounded curriculum that enables those young people to succeed. We should all be proud of that.
Part of looking across at the successes must be to define what we can do further. The work on key stage 3 for 11 to 14 year-olds and on the 14 to 19 strategy is all about what more we can do to support young people to be able to deliver. All these reforms are based on the best practice that we see in our schools and are generally welcomed and applauded by them.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I welcome the conversion of the Minister and the Government to league tables. Does she share my concern about the amount of time that youngsters, particularly those doing AS-levels, are spending working for examinations? Children are now being over-examined. That is distorting the curriculum in the sense that teachers have to spend all their time teaching children to pass examinations. Could we not have a little more balance in the system?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, in a sense that is a further reflection beyond where the Question takes us. I accept that, as part of the 14 to 19 strategy, it is very important to consider the collaborative models that involve schools and further education and how exactly we ensure that we have the necessary breadth of curriculum, which is why we brought in AS-levels. Noble Lords will know that Mike Tomlinson and the 14 to 19 working group are beginning to examine how we get that breadth, how we ensure that young people are examined correctly and properlythat is important, not least to your Lordshipsand how we make sure that, in doing so, we give them the rounded education that they desperately need.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, with permission, I shall make a brief statement about business next Thursday, 10th April, which is the last day before the Easter Recess. The usual channels have agreed that the House should sit at 11 o'clock on that day, with Starred Questions as first business and with no break at lunch time. As your Lordships will be aware, this has frequently been the pattern that we adopt on the last day before a Recess. It has been indicated in Forthcoming Business since last Thursday.
Lord Tordoff: My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in that feeling. I was inclined to ask why. I am sure that there may be good reasons. Will people please bear in mind the life of the poor Chairman on the Woolsack when dealing with Commons amendments, quite apart from other Members of the House? There is a terrible danger that we will get ourselves into a confused state if we deal with Commons amendments in this way, based on a random method of determining numbers.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it will not be regarded as a precedent. We obviously approach these things on a case-by-case basis. I am always deeply sympathetic to the plight of the Chairman of Committees and the Deputy Chairmen, but they need not worry. This is not random; it is intellectually considered.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there are some deeply controversial amendments that need to be given full consideration. We attempted to put those on early in the business so that your Lordships could have a full opportunity to reflect, consider and vote on them if it came to that.
The European convention was set up under the Laeken declaration following Nice, with the objective to consider the options for the future development of Europe in the wake of enlargement. From the start, its scope was ambitious. The Laeken text described Europe as being at a crossroads, a defining moment in its existence. It declared:
Today I would like to raise two questions. First, do the proposals now emerging amount to a major constitutional shift in the nature of the European Union and its relationship with nation states, or are they simply a minor but helpful codifying of the existing rules and conventions that may even help to contain the power of Europe by defining its limits? Secondly, if the implications have far-reaching constitutional implications, should they be adopted by the UK without the consent of the people in a referendum?
Before I develop my response to these questions, let me address the issue that I know some will raise on timing. The proposals we have today from the convention are still draft proposals and could be significantly changed before the convention reports, or
The proposals as drafted clearly set out a constitution for a new European entity, which for the first time would have its own international legal personality, rather than simply being a set of intergovernmental treaties. In other words, it creates the concept of European rather than national sovereignty. Under the constitution, the sovereign powers of the European Union would be vested in European institutions, which are given clear legal supremacy over the laws and sovereignty of the member states. We would all, for the first time, become legally bound as direct citizens of that legal entity. We would be legal citizens not only as an honorary title, in the manner of Maastricht, but with rights and obligations direct to the European institutions rather than through our national institutions. The European institutions would claim and exercise a direct democratic mandate from its citizens through both the existing European Parliament and a proposed new congress of the peoples of Europe.
That is not just some minor tidying up of the rules, nor is it a way of limiting the power of Europe. It crosses a major divide in creating a new legal entity, which is no longer in the power of the nation states but, as I shall explain, would have the power and means to extend its scope indefinitely. That is clearly what our Prime Minister understands and intends. In his Cardiff speech, he explained his support for the transfer of sovereignty to Europe as follows:
So what are the areas of competence conferred on the European Union by the constitution, in which it would have legal supremacy? How much comfort can we take from the words also included in the draft, which propose support for the principle of subsidiarityin other words, that the Union should do only those things that member states agree it can do better than they can?
The draft constitution defines a number of different classes of competence. The first are those where the Union has exclusive competence. These are for the most part a direct translation of the existing treaty powers for EU action over trade negotiations, CAP and fisheries, and euro area monetary policy. More significant are the areas where the constitution gives the EU so-called shared competences under Article 12. These areas include transport, energy, social policy, economic and social cohesion, environment, public health, consumer protection and, significantly, the area of freedom, justice and security. In other words, this represents the collapse of the current second pillar from an intergovernmental arena to an area of EU competence.
In other words, subsidiarity is turned on its head. Instead of the Union being limited to those things that nation states cannot or choose not to do on their own, the constitution gives European institutions the right to decide where they believe that they should act in support of the Union's broad economic and social objectives. It grants the nation states only residual powers to make their own laws in those areas that the Union decides are not significant. One does not have
Furthermore, while the rules for decision making have yet to be drafted, it is unlikely that we would retain widespread powers of veto. The Treaty of Nice already provides for significant extensions of qualified majority voting to cope with enlargement. Working Group IX has addressed these issues and has recommended that QMV should be generalised to all legislative procedures that are subject to co-decision making between the Council and Parliament. In practice, that means all legislation except for a few categories specifically listed for exemption. QMV would become the norm.
Although the list of shared competences covers the vast majority of domestic law making currently undertaken by national parliaments, it does exclude a few areas, notably economic policies, employment, industry, education and sport. Just to make sure these are not excluded from the EU's competence, they are caught by a further category of areas for co-ordinating or supporting action. That term leaves plenty of scope for increasing intervention.
There is, I concede, a proposed new safeguard for subsidiarity in the draft protocol that proposes that national parliaments should have the right to monitor new legislative proposals. When at least one third of national parliaments lodge a reasoned opinion that they believe the principle of subsidiarity has been breached, the Commission is required to review its proposal. However, the proposal goes on to state:
Of course, I have not yet mentioned foreign and defence policy, on which events of recent weeks have focused particular attention. There can be little doubt that the intention of those drafting this constitution is that a fully-fledged united states of Europe should progressively move towards full control of foreign and defence policy, creating a European power block that could fulfil the ambition of some to create a rival to United States, or perhaps Anglo-American, dominance. Article 10 of the draft European constitution states in Clause 4:
There are other points on which I could have dwelt, including the proposal in this draft to incorporate the Charter of Fundamental Human Rights in the constitution, which the Government assured us following the Treaty of Nice would not happen, then said that they would oppose, but now seem to have conceded. There are other noble and learned Lords in this House better qualified than me to set out the ramifications that would follow, but my understanding is that it would open up a whole new area for the Union to expand its competence through legal interpretations that could go far beyond the defined areas of legislative competence. I should welcome the Minister setting out exactly what the Government's position is on that point.
Taking all the proposals together, I find it difficult to accept the Minister's previous reassurance that this constitution is not a once in a lifetime decision. It would directly concede power and sovereignty over vast new areas of public policy and over the legal and constitutional framework that guards our civil liberties and democratic rights. It would change our status from being a sovereign nation to being a subordinate state within a greater European power. We should be open about the fact that it would, for good or bad, mark the end of Britain as an independent sovereign nation.
I shall, if I may, return briefly to one point. Some will rightly say that what is currently drafted and what I have just quoted may not survive the redrafting or be agreed by the Council of Ministers. As I said, I accept that there will almost certainly be some changes and some compromises. But what is worth focusing on is how much the Prime Minister has already agreed and welcomed in his speech last year in Cardiff to which I referred. In particular, he described the objective of his own proposals as not just rewriting the rules but:
Those are not just proposals in the draft but proposals that the Prime Minister was advocating. As we have seen, all but the last of them are part and parcel of the draft and, we must assume, will form part of a core part of the agreement that emerges. I would suggest that, on their ownwhatever else may be included and whatever other concessions the Government may claimthose proposals firmly deliver the Prime Minister's objective of a transfer of sovereignty to Europe and fully justify the label of major constitutional change.
Some in this House may welcome the proposals as building a true European state. Others may sympathise with the intent, but feel uneasy about the extent and nature of what is proposed. And others may reject them entirely as moving us further from the vision of a European alliance of free nations and taking an unacceptable step across the legal boundary that subjugates our sovereignty to a pan-European government.
What I do not accept is the argument that, like it or not, we have to go along with the best compromise that we can reach. The Government, and the people, have the opportunityperhaps the last opportunitysimply to say no, to use our national veto. The initial consequence of that would be simply to preserve the status quo. In due course, however, it would almost certainly open up a healthy discussion about alternative futures for Europeno doubt including what has previously been called "variable geometry" in which we might allow some countries to proceed on a course to closer integration in return for some looser arrangement which better served our interests, and in which I believe a number of other current and accession countries might want to join.
Whatever the outcome, and whatever view one takes about the best outcome, it is hard to believe that these are not fundamental proposals for our constitution. For that reason, whatever concessions the Government may achieve on defence or the Charter of Fundamental Human Rights, I hope that many across the House will agree that the consequences of any treaty that reflects the intent of those proposals is likely to be so far reaching that no government should commit the country without a public debate and a referendum.
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