Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
WEDNESDAY 7 MARCH 2001
VAZ, MP AND
1. Minister, may I welcome you again to the
Committee, on behalf of colleagues. I welcome, with you, too,
Mr Simon Featherstone, who is Head of the European Union Department
External; and I thought Mr James Bevan was attending?
(Mr Vaz) He was; but, Chairman, I think
that we can deal with the points that you make without him being
2. I am obliged. Minister, I would like to begin
in this way. We know that, last week, on 26 February, the Government
signed the Treaty; we now start on the process of ratification.
Can you indicate to the Committee in what way the Government proposes
to ratify this Treaty, presumably primary legislation will be
needed; what sort of timetable does the Government have in mind?
(Mr Vaz) Mr Chairman, obviously, we wish to ratify
Nice as quickly as possible, the difficulty is finding the necessary
slots and the necessary parliamentary time to do so, but it is
in the mind of the Foreign Secretary that this should be done
as soon as possible. I cannot give you a date today. We are seeking
the time we need, but we wish to ratify as soon as possible.
3. But if there were to be an election on May
3, Parliament would take some time to re-establish itself, then,
presumably, there would be a recess, beginning some time towards
July. Would it be the hope, if the present administration remains,
of completing that process before the summer recess?
(Mr Vaz) It is difficult for me to give you a date,
because there are lots of `ifs' in that, and neither I nor you,
obviously, know the date of the general election, though we can
try to guess it; but it is our view that this should be done as
quickly as possible. Clearly, we are very proud of Nice, it is
a great achievement for the European Union. As someone who spent
five days watching the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary
at work, we want to make sure that the good work that was done
there is translated into ratification; and all I can tell you,
Chairman, is that we will regard this as a priority, we want to
get it over with as quickly as possible.
4. Do I understand, from that, that, firstly,
if there were to be a May election, this Treaty will not have
been ratified in time for that?
(Mr Vaz) It depends on the timescale of when there
is an election; there is a big `if', Mr Maples.
5. I said, if there is a May election?
(Mr Vaz) But we hope to get the parliamentary time
available as quickly as possible.
6. So there is a possibility that, if there
were a May election, this Treaty would have gone through Parliament
and been ratified before that election?
(Mr Vaz) It depends very much on getting the slots
that are necessary to take it before Parliament.
7. Are you seeking these slots, before such
(Mr Vaz) We are actively seeking to make sure that
there is time made available for this to happen.
8. But, in answer to the Chairman, you said,
also, assuming the Government were re-elected at the general election,
I understood you to be saying, you were not even guaranteeing
that it would have been ratified by the summer recess. So, on
the one hand, you are saying you are seeking time in March, this
month, and, on the other hand, you are saying you cannot guarantee
that the Treaty would have been ratified by the end of July?
(Mr Vaz) Well, because you are asking me to put a
date on it now, so I made it clear to you, Mr Maples, I cannot
give you a date, all I can tell you is the intention of the Government
and the Foreign Secretary, who signed the Nice Treaty, as the
Chairman said, on 26 February; we want to get it done, and we
want to get it done as quickly as possible. I cannot give you
a date, it is important, obviously, that we do it quickly.
9. I was not asking for a day, I was asking
for a month, or even a season?
(Mr Vaz) No, I am giving you the intention. Well,
can anyone predict anything that is going to happen in the next
few weeks; no.
10. (- Inaudible -), you cannot?
(Mr Vaz) I am not the Leader of the House of Commons,
and therefore I cannot tell you; but, of course, we want this
done as quickly as possible.
Mr Maples: It sounds very vague, does it not?
Chairman: Mr Rowlands; as a veteran of a number
11. We do not ratify treaties, we have to do,
presumably, what we have done onmay I seek confirmation
from you, Minister, that what needs to happen is another European
Community Bill, or European Union Bill, of the kind that we had
for Maastricht and Amsterdam?
(Mr Vaz) We will need to put it before the House in
12. In the form, a very similar Bill, these
sort of two or three-clause type Bill, is it?
(Mr Vaz) We will need to put it through the Commons
in that way.
13. What is the necessity of a time; is there
anything that could not happen in the next six months, if the
Bill was not passed?
(Mr Vaz) We are keen to ratify it.
14. I know you are keen to, but I am just saying,
what is the necessity?
(Mr Vaz) The necessity is to fulfil our obligations,
and we are not going to stop doing all the things that we are
doing, if that is what you mean, the negotiations will continue
for accession; but clearly we want a ratification because it is
important and it is necessary for us to do so.
15. I can see it is important symbolically,
but if, in fact, it was not passed by the summer there would be
nothing in the substance of the Nice Treaty that Government would
require for legislation?
(Mr Vaz) Ratification is required, so, in itself,
that is self-evident, it is a self-evident truth that we need
to ratify; but it does not prevent Ministers, the Prime Minister,
the negotiations, the opening and closing of chapters, no, it
does not, but we need to make sure that that ratification happens.
Because what will happen post-ratification, of course, is that
the concluding parts of the negotiations will happen, and you
cannot admit until this process is completed.
16. But, just going back to it, the kind of
Bill that you are bringing before the House is identical to that
of Amsterdam and Maastrict, is it?
(Mr Vaz) If you want to know whether it is going to
have one, two or three clauses, the answer is, I cannot tell you
a precise figure today.
17. You have not got a draft Bill?
(Mr Vaz) Of course, we are looking at this matter,
of course, we wish to make sure that it comes before the House,
it would be quite wrong to mislead the Committee on this point.
I think, what the Committee needs to do is to wait until the Bill
is in that position.
Mr Rowlands: I do not want you to mislead us,
but I just want to know, if you are keen to bring it forward,
and you are anxious to report it, I would have thought you would
have a draft Bill ready for
18. Is the Bill before the Parliamentary draftsmen
at the moment?
(Mr Vaz) I can assure you, Mr Rowlands, that we are
doing everything that we can to expedite this process.
19. Is the Bill before the Parliamentary draftsmen
at the moment?
(Mr Vaz) I cannot tell you that, Mr Chairman, because
I do not know.