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European Constitution

9. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): If he will consult people in Nottingham, North on amendment of the draft European Constitution. [123874]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): I intend to visit Nottingham later this year as part of a programme of UK visits to raise awareness of EU enlargement. This will include discussion of the draft constitution, which proposes reform and modernisation of the EU to ensure that it can continue to function effectively following enlargement.

Mr. Allen : Does my hon. Friend realise that the people of Nottingham, North—indeed, the constituents of all Members—can be involved in the consultation, as can all Members themselves, if he allows pre-legislative scrutiny of the European constitution before it goes to

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the intergovernmental conference? It is vital for Members to be involved before and not after decisions are made. I welcomed the letter I received from the Foreign Secretary saying that he would consider the matter, and hope that in tomorrow's debate he will be able to reassure us that we and our constituents can have a serious input in the IGC before everything is cut and dried.

Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend is right. I am grateful to him for his practical suggestions, as is my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. The Foreign Office has set up an interactive website,, to allow communication via e-mail.

We have had seven debates on the convention and the future constitutional treaty, and there will be another tomorrow in Government time. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will publish command papers on the subject, and I am visiting more than 100 UK towns and cities where these issues are, of course, discussed.

Conservative Front Benchers laugh. I suggest that if they occasionally listened to the voters of this country, they might learn where their disappearing support has gone.

Angus Robertson (Moray): I am sure that, as part of the consultation process, the Minister will pay close attention to the reports of the European Scrutiny Committee. May I recommend its recent report entitled "The Convention on the Future of Europe and the Role of National Parliaments"? Paragraph 55 states:

May I strongly urge the Minister and the Government to consider that concern and act on it during the intergovernmental conference?

Mr. MacShane: The hon. Gentleman is a doughty defender of the fishing interests of his constituents, but he is right to draw attention to the fact that under the constitutional treaty there is a strengthened role for national Parliaments. It is important that they should play a central part.

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Let me quote from Hansard:

That was said by Winston Churchill. In those days, the Conservative party was led by someone who believed in defending the rights of this House, not in surrendering them to the Rothermere press so that it could dictate policy.

Illegal Arms Trade

10. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South): What consultations he has had with ministerial colleagues regarding Europe-wide efforts to prevent the illegal arms trade. [123875]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary recently discussed this issue with his counterparts in the General Affairs and External Relations Council of the European Union—a discussion that led to the adoption of the basic principles for an EU strategy against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction on 16 June 2003.

Mr. Cunningham : I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Given that he has just outlined an EU strategy, what role would Interpol play in catching arms smugglers?

Mr. Rammell: The EU will work through this process in co-operation with Interpol. We have one of the toughest, most open and accountable export licensing regimes in the world, but it is critical that we transplant that on a multilateral basis, which is why we should engage through the EU.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I point out to the House that we only reached Question 10 today, and it is unfair to those who have taken the trouble to table questions that they are not being called. It would assist me in future if both questions and answers were far briefer, so that we can get further down the Order Paper.

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Points of Order

12.30 pm

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I know that you are always anxious to ensure that Ministers make their announcements first to the House. Yet on making inquiries about tomorrow's launch of the Government's national skills strategy, I discovered from the Department for Education and Skills that although the Secretary of State will indeed seek to make a statement to the House at 12.30 pm tomorrow, he intends meanwhile to visit Westminster further education college, in the company of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, for a launch breakfast.

You will know, Mr. Speaker, that I yield to no one in my support for FE colleges as a whole—and, indeed, for that college in particular—and I have absolutely no objection to the Secretary of State for Education and Skills having breakfast. But with great respect, an FE college is not the House of Commons, and I wonder whether you would care to request that the Secretary of State make his initial statement here—perhaps, for example, by seeking to intervene in today's debate at 7 pm.

Mr. Speaker: Like the hon. Gentleman, I have no objection to the Secretary of State having breakfast, but I will look into the matter and write to the hon. Gentleman.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be well aware of the contents of early-day motion 1548, concerning the Minister for Children. It has been made public that the Minister intends to address a conference this afternoon on the subject of the Green Paper on children at risk. Have you had any indication that she intends to do us the courtesy of coming to this House—as you have so often told Ministers they ought to—to present the Government's plans on this urgent matter, before presenting them elsewhere?

Mr. Speaker: I have seen the terms of the early-day motion and the hon. Lady's point of order really has nothing to do with me: the early-day motion is in perfectly good order. The hon. Lady put an urgent question to me that was rejected, and I give no reason as to why it was rejected. I have looked into the question of whether the Minister for Children will speak at the conference about the Green Paper on children's rights, and I understand that she will not; rather, she will speak in her capacity as a Minister, which she is entitled to do.

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House of Lords (Exclusion of Hereditary Peers)

12.33 pm

David Winnick (Walsall, North): I beg to move,

As we know, the Prime Minister and the then Conservative leader in the House of Lords reached a compromise whereby most of the hereditary peers would go and 92 would remain. That agreement cost the then Tory leader in the House of Lords his job; nevertheless, it formed the core of the House of Lords Act 1999, which contains the exemption that I am hoping to change.

On 11 November 1999, I went along to the House of Lords with several hon. Friends to watch an historic occasion in which more than 640 hereditary peers were to leave the House of Lords. I am glad that I went to watch those proceedings on the final part of what became the law of the land.

The purpose of the modest measure to which I am speaking today is that the remaining 92 hereditary peers should also go. It is now nearly four years since the rest went. I should point out that, had there been no change of Government in 1997, no change whatever would have taken place. The only reason for the departure of most hereditary peers is that Labour carried out its election manifesto. When I examined the Conservative manifesto for 1997, I found that, far from proposing any change to the regime of hereditary peers, it strongly opposed what it described as

Clearly, without the Labour Government, all hereditary peers would have stayed for a long time to come. Those who recall the debates on the House of Lords Bill 1999 in the House of Commons will also remember the strong opposition that came from the Conservative Benches. There was certainly no enthusiasm, to say the least, and at the end of the day the Conservatives tabled what could be described as a wrecking amendment.

I realise that the remaining 92 hereditary peers were to be kept in place until further reform of the Lords took place, but my point today is that, regardless of the various conflicting views about the composition of the House of Lords—whether it should be elected, appointed or, as I personally prefer, a combination of the two—the time has come for no hereditary peers whatever to sit in the House of Lords. I want to make it clear that I have no personal antagonism towards the remaining peers; there is no reason why I should. On some occasions, on measures such as hunting with dogs, we know that hereditary peers will vote in a certain way, but my concern today is the basic principle that, in a democracy—and certainly in the 21st century—no one should have a seat in Parliament simply because their ancestors were, for whatever reason, given a title.

I found out when some of the titles were created. Some were conferred about 60 or 70 years ago. Several were conferred in the 19th century: some peers sit in the House of Lords because their ancestors were given a title in 1801, 1815, 1821, 1869, 1828 and 1841. Yet they can be considered relatively recent. If we continue to examine the list, we find that some who sit in the House

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of Lords have titles going back to 1605, 1609, 1620, 1633 and 1660. Other titles date from the 18th century—1707, 1711, 1728. That goes back some distance, but the list goes back even further. I found that one peer sits in the House of Lords on the basis of a title created in the 16th century; six on the basis of titles created in the 15th century; and two on the basis of titles created in the 14th century. It does not even end there, because one peer's title was created in 1283—28 June 1283, to give the exact date.

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