Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
WEDNESDAY 7 MARCH 2001
VAZ, MP AND
20. But you are the Minister responsible for
(Mr Vaz) Indeed; but I cannot tell you whether this
Bill is ready to go before Parliament at this moment, because
we do not have the necessary time to do so. But, I can agree with
Mr Rowlands, it is going to be a very short Bill.
Sir John Stanley
21. Just on that point, Minister; surely, as
the Minister for Europe, the giving of instructions to parliamentary
counsel to draft the Bill would come to you, as Minister, for
approval? So you must know, as the Minister, whether or not you
had the normal submission from officials to give your ministerial
assent for instructions to go to counsel?
(Mr Vaz) I am quite satisfied that I and my officials
are doing everything that we possibly can to ensure that this
matter is before the House at the earliest opportunity, Sir John.
22. That does not answer the question?
(Mr Vaz) Well, that is my answer.
23. So you are refusing to say to this Committee,
in answer to a straight question, whether you have now approved
instructions going to counsel, which is a perfectly reasonable
question to ask, you are refusing to give the Committee that information?
(Mr Vaz) Sir John, I do not wish to make this sound
as if I am being aggressive, though your question is aggressive,
I am not seeking to do so. All the drafting work that is necessary,
in order to achieve our objective, is in hand. It is an internal
matter when I give instructions and what those instructions are.
24. But it is not a state secret, with respect,
Minister, that either you have given instructions to the parliamentary
counsel or you have not?
(Mr Vaz) I have given instructions for the drafting
work to be put in hand, and it is being put in hand.
Sir David Madel
25. If it is in hand, when will it be completed?
(Mr Vaz) It will be completed when the necessary work
is completed, and when it is completed, Sir David, it will be
brought before Parliament.
26. We have been down this track before, on
European Bills; there must be some idea of how long it takes learned
counsel to get the work done?
(Mr Vaz) I am the last person, in the presence of
the Chairman, to try to cost the time of learned counsel; but
I can tell you that they are aware of our intention to get this
before Parliament as soon as possible.
27. If it is not ratified until the autumn,
will our European partners be worried?
(Mr Vaz) I do not think so. I think that there is
a desire on the part of the Government to get this matter before
the House as quickly as possible; other countries, of course,
are doing whatever they have to do. It is the Chairman, rightly,
who raises the fact that after 1 May we will be in the last year
of the Parliament, and, to a large extent, as the Committee knows,
there is pressure on legislation and legislative time. But it
is our intention to do this as quickly as possible.
Sir John Stanley
28. Minister, treaty ratification legislation
is, of course, constitutional legislation, and I think I am right
in saying that this legislation is likely to be the first piece
of Government constitutional legislation that will have come before
the House since the very significant procedural changes that were
brought into effect at the beginning of the current session, where
Government Bills are guillotined at the end of the Second Reading
debate, as far as the subsequent committee stage is concerned.
Will that procedure have been applied to this constitutional Bill?
(Mr Vaz) I cannot advise you on the precise nature
of the procedure. I can assure Sir John that all the necessary
procedures that are required will be followed.
29. Again, that does not answer the question.
I have asked you a specific question. The Government have changed
the parliamentary procedures whereby Government Bills, in the
generality, and I believe there have been no exceptions, so far,
though it is open to the Government to make an exception, if it
so chooses, but, from the beginning of this session, all Government
Bills, without exception, so far as I can recall, have been automatically
guillotined, as far as the committee stage is concerned, at the
end of the Second Reading debate. And I am asking you what is,
I think, an important question, and certainly to this Committee,
this is likely to be the first constitutional Bill coming before
the House, and I am asking you, is it the Government's policy
that this Bill will be treated like any other Bill, notwithstanding
the fact this is a constitutional Bill, and will be guillotined,
as far as the committee stage is concerned, immediately after
the end of the Second Reading debate?
(Mr Vaz) All the proper procedures, Mr Chairman, will
be followed, in respect of this Bill. I cannot tell Sir John what
the legislative timetable will be, or what time is available,
and it would be wrong for me, now, to make any statements about
that. I can assure Sir John that, of course, this is an important
Bill for the Government, because we are very proud of the Nice
Treaty, we are proud of what it does, because it is to do with
enlargement and we want to make sure that the applicant countries
join as quickly as possible. We will follow all the procedures,
we will give enough time for a proper, thorough debate on these
issues, as we have always done. I cannot tell you now and deal
with any questions about the guillotine, or about how long it
is going to take to get through.
30. Accepting that the decisions on the procedural
matters may not yet have been taken, may I, on behalf of the Committee,
try to sum up the position, from that round of questioning. First,
the Bill to ratify, as Mr Rowlands has suggested, will be following
the precedent of the Maastrict and Amsterdam Bills; is that correct?
(Mr Vaz) Yes; it is obviously not going to be the
31. No; no, mutatis mutandis.
(Mr Vaz) Indeed.
32. Secondly, that you have given instructions
to parliamentary counsel to draft the relevant Bill?
(Mr Vaz) The drafting work is in hand.
33. And, thirdly, clearly, it will go ahead
as speedily as practicable?
(Mr Vaz) Indeed; and I can give no guarantees about
the dates, or what time will be available, except to say, Mr Chairman,
as I have done, we regard this as an important Bill, and we will
make sure that it is brought before the House as quickly as possible.
Chairman: Minister, before we go into the many
details on the numbers of chapters which have been opened and
closed and the position in respect of a number of countries, and
I will be calling Mr Rowlands on that, may I
Mr Mackinlay: Before we move on, Chair, just
on a procedural point. It does seem to me that this distinguished
Committee and the Minister are falling into the chasm of talking
about this legislation ratifying a treaty, and, for me, it is
not a small point; indeed, that legislation does not do that.
I only wishI only wishthis Committee was charged
with dealing with the ratification and that Parliament was; in
fact, it is legislation consequent upon the Treaty, which is ratified
under the royal prerogative, and I think we should get our terminology
correct, as a Committee. I wish, in the business of this Parliament,
we were ratifying it; we are not. That is all I wanted to say.
It is a very important constitutional point, to anybody interested;
this Parliament does not ratify treaties, and it should.
Chairman: I would only leave the comment that,
in practical terms, if the House were not to approve that Treaty,
it would not come into effect.
Mr Mackinlay: Not so; but we will discuss it
Chairman: But can I move on: Mr Rowlands.
34. May we ask just if you could provide this
information: how many of our fellow Member States of the European
Union were required to approve this by referendum?
(Mr Vaz) I do not have the answer to that question,
but I can tell you that there is one country, I think it is Ireland,
that proposes to have a referendum, at the end of May, Mr Chairman,
I have to tell you, but I did get that information from the Member
for Stone, so we will need to check that.
35. It must be right?
(Mr Vaz) Well, it must be right, indeed; so, yes,
that is the position.
36. Perhaps Mr Featherstone can help?
(Mr Vaz) No, he does not know. I will write to you
with that information.
37. If you could write on that, we would be
grateful. Before we get into the details, just one, sort of Mount
Olympus question on the grand vision. Minister, you were at Nice,
with all the late nights of that time, you have been dealing with
your ministerial colleagues on the opening and closing of chapters.
Help us on this; that when the Committee met Mrs Michaelova, the
Foreign Minister of Bulgaria, this morning, for example, she made
clear that the aim of her country, and of a number of other applicant
countries, obviously, is to join Europe in its totality, security
structures and political structures. And we have the application
of countries to join NATO, which is one track, the European Union
is another, some countries may find it easier to be welcomed early
on into the European Union, such as the Baltics, because of the
peculiar problems there. Is there a consciousness on behalf of
the negotiators that there is both a security element, the NATO,
and the European Union, and the of the parallelism of these two
areas, of the two tracks?
(Mr Vaz) Yes. Mr Chairman, you raise a very important
point, because that is a similar message that I have heard, from
my meeting today with the Foreign Minister for Romania, who is
in London at the moment and due to meet the Foreign Secretary
tomorrow morning. Of course, it seems to be a package, to some
of the applicants, but, in fact, it is not; it is clear that the
application to join the European Union is quite separate. As far
as NATO and the security aspects are concerned, countries that
have got membership Action Plans will have to proceed and make
sure that they are dealt with. We are dealing primarily, and absolutely,
in fact, with an application to join the EU, not an application
to join NATO; that is a different issue, but it is one that some
countries, for example, you say, Bulgaria, and that is a message
that I have also got from Bulgaria, feels that that is an issue
that also needs to be followed, at the same time.
38. Are you saying that there will be no special
consideration to Lithuania and Latvia, joining them with Estonia,
because of the general Baltic problems, in respect of NATO?
(Mr Vaz) You do raise a point about when countries
are going to join and countries wanting to be grouped together,
and you raise the Baltic question. The answer must be, no, these
are negotiations that are being conducted by the European Union,
the chapters deal with these issues, and they have to proceed
to open and close the chapters, to adopt all that is required
by the acquis communitaire.
39. Can I just follow up on this, because I
think it is quite important. I just want to make sure I understand
Government policy over this. Are you saying that it is Government
policy that there could be a group of countries that accede to
the European Union but do not become members of NATO? And, similarly,
that there might be members of NATO, like, for instance, Turkey,
let us suppose that the negotiations for Turkey to accede to the
European Union in a few years' time get extremely difficult, that
Turkey might remain a member of NATO and not of the European Union?
So that there is no implied overlap, there is no implication that,
by joining the EU, you somehow acquire some kind of option on
joining NATO, they are entirely separate?
(Mr Vaz) Mr Maples is right.