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House of Lords

Wednesday, 25 January 2006.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: the LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.

The Archbishop of York



John Tucker Mugabi, Lord Archbishop of York—Was (in the usual manner) introduced between the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Bishop of Oxford.

EU: Constitutions

2.41 pm

Lord Dykes asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their response to the proposals of the Austrian presidency of the European Union to open exploratory discussions on the European Union Constitution.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): My Lords, the Austrian presidency is responsible for preparing the meeting of EU heads of state and government on the period of reflection planned for the first half of 2006. The Government will participate constructively in those discussions, but it would not be sensible to pre-empt now where the discussions may end up. We need to focus on ensuring that the EU is moving in the right direction.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. It is early days, but now that the Tour de France is starting in London next year, showing once again that the British can do things as well as foreigners and sometimes better, would not the Government agree that, with the Austrians taking a spectacular lead in their own country with detailed nationwide, local, municipal, regional and county consultations with the public about what they think the Union should provide in the future—including constitutional arrangements—should not HMG do the same?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, it is important to ensure that there is a national debate. During our presidency, efforts were made to ensure that there was such a debate, including the joint hosting of the Sharing Power in Europe conference with the Dutch. Looking forward, we are committed to engaging with and informing the UK public on the future of Europe. There will be a new website on the EU; continuing engagement with stakeholders; and partnership with the Commission and the EP. We will be taking forward
 
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the Europe Direct public information centres together with the Commission, and there will be other activities, all of which will be visible from February this year.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, what need is there for the constitution when the EU has established the European Defence Agency and other agencies anyway and has decreed that the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which until the constitution is agreed has no legal basis, must be enshrined in all new legislation? After the rejection of the constitution by France and Holland, is that not a pretty deceitful and disreputable way to proceed and does it not show complete contempt for democracy?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I cannot agree with that. The reality is that this nation and other nations agreed that we would carry forward a discussion and a review through the first half of 2006 against a background that I have openly acknowledged in this House—that two founder members have voted decisively against the constitution as it was proposed. I do not think that there are developments that are outwith the constitutional provisions that have existed hitherto. There will be no covert entry into those new features of the constitution which do not have the consent of the people of this country or the people of other countries in Europe.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, does the Minister not recognise that the grandiose description of a constitution is unrealistic and has no chance whatever of getting the agreement of 25 or 27 member states? Would my noble friend agree that it would be sensible for the Government to have discussions simply on amending a treaty to make it more practical bearing in mind the current way in which the Union meets?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I have not heard an outbreak of optimism about the future of the constitution as it was proposed. I share my noble friend's view that the constitution that was proposed has no prospects. It plainly does not. But it is certainly true that, under the current constitutional arrangements in Europe, there are things that could be done, and without cherry picking. I am not opening the way to the argument for cherry picking, but there are issues about the openness and transparency with which European institutions operate, and there are questions about ensuring that subsidiarity really means something and is not just a word that is bandied around. Those are all useful things that can be done under current arrangements, and I assure my noble friend that that is precisely the area in which we can see some progress.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the Question is about proposals. I know that there was meant to be a pause for reflection since the constitution proposals collapsed last year, but should it not now be for Her Majesty's Government vigorously to put forward proposals for the future direction of Europe? After all, the Austrians have proposed that there should be a
 
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much tighter service directive, which is more protectionist; that there should be welfare harmonisation; and that the constitution should be resurrected. There is even talk of a new European tax. Is it not our turn to put forward some creative ideas and take the lead, instead of leaving others to command the situation?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, there have been proposals, at Hampton Court and elsewhere, that reflect precisely that intention—proposals that flow from the degree of flexibility that the Lisbon process was supposed to and, in part, has begun to deliver. There have been proposals on research and development, so that Europe can take its part in a fully modern economy and proposals on development of links between universities; on energy; on the demographic challenges; on global security and illegal immigration; and on aspects of defence and security within the current constitutional arrangements. That is a healthy programme that will serve this country well.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, under the Treaty of Nice does there not in any event have to be a resolution of the institutional questions by 2009? So it is proper to start at a fairly early stage on the foothills of that process.

Has my noble friend noticed the interview in yesterday's Le Monde with Chancellor Schüssel in which he said in terms that if the EU was to find a connect between itself and its citizens, there must in some cases be "more Europe", such as on energy policy but, in his own words, in other areas, the EU must return to being closer to its citizens, which is presumably a code for subsidiarity. Is that not an approach that we would favour?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, it is an approach that came through strongly in the Hampton Court discussions and the approach that we are pursuing. Only a moment ago, I gave a list of some of the areas that we believe it is worth carrying forward, but I emphasise that it is not for any one of the 25 or 27 nations simply to declare all discussions dead at the moment because it wishes to do so. We undertook to take seriously what others had to say, and that is the basis on which I hope that they will take seriously what we have to say.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, does the Minister remember that he gave me a Written Answer on 19 July claiming that none of the present EU initiatives depended on the constitution for its legality? Surely that means that the Eurocrats can just carry on with their project regardless of the French and Dutch votes, relying on ambiguous clauses in the present treaties, which is, of course, exactly what they are doing. Provided that the Luxembourg court eventually agrees with them, if it has to, which of course it will, there is nothing that our democracy can do about it.

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I remember the reply very well, and I stand by every word of it.
 
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Police: DNA Database

2.49 pm

Lord Phillips of Sudbury asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they propose to review the law entitling the police to store and use DNA samples of citizens who have no criminal record.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): No, my Lords. The Government firmly believe that the measures taken to retain the samples of persons who have been arrested for or charged with, albeit not convicted of, a recordable offence, are proportionate and justified in the interests of preventing and detecting crime. That view has been supported by a Judicial Committee of the House in the case of R v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire (ex parte S and Marper) in July 2004.


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