Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




  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 present.

  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.

Mr Maples

  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 an election?
  (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 of Treaties.

Mr Rowlands

  11. We do not ratify treaties, we have to do, presumably, what we have done on—may 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 that way.

  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.

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