Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



  20. But you are the Minister responsible for this matter?
  (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 same Bill.

  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 wish—I only wish—this 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 afterwards.

  Chairman: But can I move on: Mr Rowlands.

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.

Mr Maples

  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.

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