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Lord Moynihan: My Lords, before the Minister sits down--and I am grateful to her for responding so fully to the points that were raised--perhaps I may clarify an important issue. She stated that the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, which we are considering today, will not incorporate Article K.7 into domestic UK law. Will she therefore clarify the procedure for enabling an individual member state to ratify the treaty in a form different from that which is ratified by the 14 other member states? Can the Minister say, for instance, how the Government intend to ensure that Article K.7(6) is not incorporated into our law? If the UK ratifies a treaty in a form which is not the same as that ratified by the other member states it could be rendered invalid. I should be grateful to the Minister if she could clarify the issue.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I can do so. Article K.7 gives member states the option, by declaration, to accept the ECJ's preliminary rulings jurisdiction in the third pillar. The UK will not make such a declaration. Therefore, we shall not accept that jurisdiction. When I said that Article K.7 will not be incorporated into domestic law, it is because we shall not take up that option. I hope that that clarifies that point.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I wonder whether I could press the Minister on the three points I put to her. While, of course, the increased time for scrutiny is very welcome, and many of the other improvements which she mentioned for democratic accountability are very welcome, nevertheless would she not agree that, were a British House of Parliament not to lift the scrutiny reserve--in other words, that we were not to agree with a proposal from the European Union--and the proposal
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, this treaty provides what the Government said we should be doing in our manifesto; namely, it put us back into a leadership role in Europe. I recognise the point which the noble Lord has made about the possibility of being outvoted. On some issues there is the possibility of being outvoted. We shall deal with particular issues as we reach them in the course of our debate, as we did in Committee.
However, the safeguards which the Government have negotiated in the Amsterdam Treaty and the safeguards which this House and another place have in relation to scrutiny are very much better than they were before the negotiation of this treaty. The noble Lord nods. Therefore, I hope he will agree that this treaty improves the position over Maastricht rather than the reverse, which the noble Lord seemed to imply in his question to me.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate and longer than I thought it would be. Nevertheless, many important issues have been raised and I am obliged to all noble Lords who have taken part, including the Minister, who dealt extremely fully with the points raised and, indeed, has gone further in some cases.
As my noble friend said, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, struck at the heart of the matter. Indeed, that follows his very successful operation on 31st January 1997 when he persuaded the House to pass a Bill which would have had the effect of repealing Sections 2 and 3 of the European Communities Act. Had he done that, and had we proceeded with it in both Houses of Parliament, we should not be discussing this matter today. Therefore, my noble friend is absolutely right that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, got right down to fundamentals.
My noble friend Lord Bruce quite rightly mentioned the question of democracy. Because of the way the European Union works, democracy is undoubtedly a casualty. There can be no doubt about that, in spite of what the Minister said. Democracy is a casualty and ordinary people feel alienated by the whole issue. Indeed, my noble friend is right to warn against the creeping bureaucracy which, through the European Union and, indeed, through our own democracy, is increasingly dominating our lives.
The noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, referred to phrases in the treaties which refer to irrevocability and irreversibility. That is what worries so many people. If my noble friend would only say that in the last
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, made the very important point that we have a constitution which has not been imposed in writing on our nation. It has developed since the Magna Carta. It has developed in relation to the different needs of different ages. That is what is so good about the British constitution. It is a flexible constitution, and unlike many other constitutions, it has served this nation well. I accept that it might not serve other nations, but nevertheless it has served this nation very well indeed.
I am glad that the noble Lord raised also the question of Article K.7. While I was very interested in the Minister's reply, it may well be that we shall have to return to that matter. Indeed, an amendment has been tabled and we can explore the matter further when we reach that point.
Again, the noble Lord was quite right to say that this Bill is not a 3,000-mile service. It has constitutional magnitude. I believe that that was the phrase which he used. I wish that people would not say that this is only a small treaty. It is not. It has some extremely serious constitutional implications. That is what many of us are worried about. It is a pity that the House of Commons did not have a lot more time to debate the matter.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said that the Amsterdam Treaty is modest. I do not agree with her. It extends the competence of the institutions of the European Union. I must disagree with her that it is something like, under NATO, Polaris being provided or sold to the British Government. That did not affect sovereignty at all. I must disagree with the noble Baroness about that. Polaris was a delivery system which was sold to the British Government. We had to buy it. As far as I understand it, there was no treaty. Polaris was sold to us on conditions. Indeed, if we did not comply with those conditions, we could not have used it. But that was not a question of undermining our sovereignty. That was a condition of sale. That is completely and utterly different. We needed the technology and, therefore, we agreed to that particular condition of sale.
The Minister gave a very long winding-up speech and we shall have to study it in Hansard closely because she said some important things. She emphasised the point--and this is important because some people take a contrary view--that Parliament could still repeal the European Communities Act 1972. If that were to happen, the Government would be obliged to denounce the treaties and to negotiate their way out of them. That is an important statement. Because of the words "irreversible" and "irrevocable", many people say that that cannot be done. However, my noble friend is saying that it can be done. That is a vital statement and one which we shall keep the Government to every time we discuss the matter. That being so, I really do not see why the proposed new clause should not be accepted. All my noble friend the Minister is doing is confirming what the proposed new clause actually says. The only difference is that my new clause would put it on the face of the Bill, and that would be entirely satisfactory.
My noble friend also talked about measures in the treaty and the Government's determination to have better scrutiny. But scrutiny is not really what is important; what is important is accountability. That is what our own Parliament keeps on losing. Ministers can go abroad, meet with Ministers from other countries and, provided that they have the consent of the Commission, the European Parliament, and so on, and a vote by qualified majority--in other words, other countries qualifying our decisions--our Parliament has no accountability. They are not accountable to Parliament for that. It does not matter whether the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, considers the matter for 4 weeks, 6 weeks or not at all. Once the decision has been taken in Europe by qualified majority, or any other method, Parliament then has no role. If my noble friend would only tell me that the Government really do want better accountability and that they would be prepared to be mandated by Parliament before they went and made their decisions, that would be something. Indeed, that really would be progress. However, I fear that she is not going to tell us that today.
We have had a good debate. I am much obliged to all those who have spoken, especially my noble friend, who dealt with the matter very seriously and at proper length. I regret that the Government will not accept my amendment. I shall not insist on voting on the amendment today because I and, I believe, other noble Lords will wish to scrutinise what my noble friend and other speakers have said. Nevertheless, I have to give notice that I may wish to return to the matter on Third Reading when we may well have to seek the decision of the House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.