(HANSARD) in the second session of the fifty-third parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the thirteenth day of june in the fiftieth year of the reign of




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Monday, 7th July 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.

European Constitution

Lord Blackwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will undertake to provide Parliament with an article by article analysis of the draft European Constitution, setting out where and how proposed European Union powers differ from those in existing treaties and what scope is provided for the future extension of European Union powers.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, the Government will produce two Command Papers in July on the work of the convention and a White Paper in advance of the intergovernmental conference due to begin in October.

Lord Blackwell: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. Will the Command Papers or the White Paper set out the detailed analysis that I requested in my Question? Secondly, given the complexity of the issues, will it be possible for officials to be made available to brief Members of the House on some of the issues, perhaps through the Joint Committee on the European convention?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, so far only parts 1, 2 and 4 of the convention are in draft. We hope to have part 3 later this week. The two documents on the convention will be largely factual statements of what is contained, although I understand that there will be a foreword by my right

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honourable friend the Foreign Secretary on the documents dealing with the convention. They will not contain the detailed analysis that the noble Lord is looking for. We will publish the White Paper in preparation for the IGC, as we have done for previous IGCs. I cannot be definitive about the form of that White Paper, but I take the noble Lord's point that it is important to have some documentation that describes more of the detail. I cannot tell the noble Lord whether we will do it article by article for 460 articles, but I have discussed it with my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. We are seized of the issue and we will endeavour to be helpful to Members of this House and another place.

Lord Rees-Mogg: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the eventual ratification of the treaty will require the full informed consent of the British people?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we have been over this before. If by that the noble Lord means to imply a referendum, I am sorry to have to disappoint him, as I have had to disappoint some of your Lordships on previous occasions. As your Lordships are aware, in Britain Parliament has the opportunity to scrutinise treaties before ratification. That has happened with all the European treaties since we joined the European Community and that is planned for this treaty too.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords—

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, could we hear the noble Lord, Lord Howell, first and then perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan?

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am extremely disappointed by the Minister's reply. We are dealing with extremely contentious issues. At the very least we should be talking about Green Papers and Select

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Committee inquiries rather than White Papers and Command Papers. We have learnt not to have much trust in some of the Government's publications and dossiers. These issues have two or three sides and need very thorough public debate. Is the Minister really saying that we are going straight from here to White Papers on what amounts to a new Treaty of Rome, encompassing all the previous treaty legislation for the European Union? Is she really saying that the issue can be settled by just White Papers and parliamentary debate when eight other countries are going to have referendums, the constitutional implications are clear and the outcome is highly debatable and will influence this country for years to come? Her proposals are inadequate.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I have not proposed anything except to say that there are definitely plans for two Command Papers and one White Paper. I have not ruled anything out. I specifically told the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, that Her Majesty's Government would try to be as helpful as possible on the issue and that I was discussing it with my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and my honourable friend the Minister for Europe. I understand that the Constitution Committee of your Lordships' House has already made a request similar to that made by the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell. I am sure that the European scrutiny committee will also have a view on the issue. I am happy to talk to the chairmen or to the full committees, both of which have a strong interest in this matter, to learn what they would find helpful. The specific suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, has not been ruled out. I made it clear that it was under discussion.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, we very much welcome the Government's commitment to publish their view, particularly in view of the fact that, on Friday at the last plenary session of the convention, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, felt moved to list so many objections to the draft of part 3, which was in front of the convention, that it almost called in question the Prime Minister's judgment that the convention's findings form a basis for negotiation. Can the Minister make it clear that in one or other of their publications, the Government's objections—which now look far greater in number than those of any other participant in the convention—will be made available so that we can decide whether, once again, we resemble the Scottish mother looking at her son marching with the soldiery, saying, "Look, look, they are all out of step but our Jock"?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as we know, there is a wide variety of views about the convention, not only in your Lordships' House but elsewhere. The Government's detailed position will be set out in a White Paper published in preparation for the IGC. That will explain the Government's position on the issues in relation to a constitution. I hope that your Lordships will find that helpful.

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The noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, asked for something slightly different. He wanted a comment, article by article, on the 460 articles of the convention, and he wanted explanations as to how they might be an extension of European powers. I understand the noble Lord's point; it is slightly different from the rather more strategic overview of the Government's position on different parts of the convention. As I have made clear to the House, what he has asked for has not been ruled out or agreed but is under discussion, and the Government are seeking to be helpful to your Lordships in another place.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords—

Lord Harrison: My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, I believe.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, can the Minister explain why those who wish to defend the British constitution in this House undermine it by calling for extra-parliamentary processes such as referendums?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it is up to them to defend their position. The Government have been very clear that we have great faith in parliamentary democracy in this country. It is at the heart of our system, which is not a system that has been based on referendums. I am bound to say to your Lordships that what was good enough for the other side when they were in government is good enough for this side when we are.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords—

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, we are out of time on this Question.

Constitutional Change: Civil Service Advice

2.46 p.m.

Lord Sheldon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the role of the Civil Service in advising them on their recent decisions on constitutional changes.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the Civil Service played a full part in advising the Government on the recent announcement of proposals for constitutional change, consistent with the requirements set out in the ministerial code and the Civil Service code.

Lord Sheldon: My Lords, has my noble and learned friend seen the evidence given by three former Permanent Secretaries to the Cabinet to the ably chaired Public Administration Committee in another

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place that they would have expected to give advice on major machinery of government matters? With regard to the recent changes, can he say whether the advice given by leading civil servants was inadequate, particularly with regard to the amount of time required to carry out their investigation? Was the advice mistaken, and was inadequate attention paid to that advice?

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