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31 Oct 1995 : Column WA153

Written Answers

Tuesday, 31st October 1995.

Thefts from the House of Lords

Lord Newall asked the Chairman of Committees:

    What is the total number and value of thefts from the House of Lords during the summer Recess in each of 1994 and 1995; and whether any insurance payments have been received in compensation.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): During the summer Recess of 1994 there were four thefts in the House of Lords; the total value of property stolen was £1,400. During the summer Recess of 1995 there were six thefts in the House of Lords. The total value of property stolen was £5,203.83.

No insurance payments have been received, as the House of Lords does not insure its property against theft.

IGC Study Group Preparatory Meetings

Baroness Young asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the 25/26 September and 3 October meetings of the Study Group preparing for the Inter-Governmental Conference.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): The eighth and ninth meetings of the Study Group took place on 25/26 September in Brussels and on 3 October in Luxembourg. My honourable friend, the Minister of State (Mr. Davis) attended both meetings as the Foreign Secretary's representative, though he was delayed by other government business on 25 September and was represented for part of the meeting by the Head of European Union Department (Internal).

The 25/26 September meeting covered Topics 4 and 5 of the Interim Report, which deal with the European Citizenship and Justice and Home Affairs.

On citizenship, we repeated our concerns that the concept was associated in the public mind with statehood, and therefore created anxiety about the long-term evolution of the EU. Such concerns, and those related to potential duties of citizenship, did not emerge clearly enough from the Chairman's interim report. We also warned against the temptation to develop citizens' rights and non-discrimination clauses in the EU Treaty in a way which duplicated rights already protected in national law. We maintained our opposition to EC accession to the European Convention on Human Rights and to the suggestion of a Bill of Rights in the EU Treaty.

The Study Group has not yet received the study which it commissioned from the Council Secretariat into how the Treaty might be simplified without altering its substance. The representatives from the European Parliament, however, circulated a study which the EP had commissioned separately, copies of which have been placed in the Libraries of the House.

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On Justice and Home Affairs questions, my honourable friend said that the Interim Report was unbalanced in its failure to acknowledge what had been achieved so far, in a very short time, in the Third Pillar. Britain was determined to improve the operation of the Pillar, but did not believe that this would be achieved by compromising its essentially inter-governmental character.

The 3 October meeting was concerned with the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and with defence questions.

There was some discussion of creating a CFSP Secretary General to give impetus to the preparation and implementation of policy and to help with the growing external representational burden. My honourable friend said it was essential that any such figure was the servant of the Presidency and of member states. We agreed, however, that CFSP needed a strengthened capacity for policy formulation and planning.

On decision making, we continued to insist on the retention of consensus in CFSP as the basic rule. Unanimous decisions gave strength to the EU, as they engaged all member states. If CFSP ceased to be a common policy and became a majority one, it would be less effective. Would dissenters be free to pursue an independent policy? How could they be prevented from doing so?

On defence questions, my honourable friend said that the interim report was confused, and needed to be substantially revised. NATO was the essential basis of Europe's defence, and strengthening of the WEU/NATO relationship should be the first priority. The WEU/EU relationship was a subsidiary question. An essential element of the British approach was that the WEU should not be made subordinate to the EU, not least because not all member states were bound by Article 5 of the WEU Treaty.

It would be wrong for the latter to be involved in decision-making on the so-called Petersberg tasks (peacekeeping, humanitarian missions and crisis management). Some of these would carry a risk of escalation in which the absence of guarantees of mutual assistance between participating states would be a severe disadvantage. In addition, only those bound by WEU's Article V could judge whether secondary tasks could be undertaken without jeopardising their ability to fulfil their mutual defence commitments.

Baroness Young asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the 23/24 October meeting of the Study Group preparing for the Inter-Governmental Conference.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My honourable friend the Minister of State (Mr. Davis) attended the tenth meeting of the Study Group, which took place in Brussels on 23/24 October, as the Foreign Secretary's representative. The meeting revisited a number of subjects which had come up in earlier discussions.

On the European Court of Justice, my honourable friend presented some British ideas for improving the operation of the Court, and for helping to overcome

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problems which arise, especially where judgments may have disproportionate financial implications. Other members of the group had not yet examined our ideas in detail, but undertook to do so on the basis of a short paper which we had circulated to the group, and which has been placed in the Libraries of the House.

The meeting considered a paper by the Council Legal Service on options for simplifying the Treaties. My honourable friend applauded the intention of increased transparency and public comprehension, but doubted whether it would be possible to simplify the structure or wording of the Treaties very much without changing their effect. He agreed, nevertheless, that it should be possible to eliminate obsolete articles.

There was a brief discussion on the role of national parliaments. My honourable friend again commended ideas in the European Legislation Committee's 24th Report on the IGC (which had been circulated in the Group). In particular, he supported the recommendation to introduce a formal Treaty obligation that national parliaments should have adequate time to scrutinize draft proposals before these are considered by the Council.

In a discussion of other Community institutions, my honourable friend said that all of them needed to be reviewed in the light of experience of Maastricht, and in the expectation of further enlargement. In particular, he wondered whether the Economic and Social Committee was still fulfilling the purpose for which it was intended now that the Commission was systematically engaging in direct consultation with interested parties through Green and White Papers, and following the creation of the Committee of the Regions.

There was a brief discussion of ways in which fundamental rights are protected in the different member states, on the basis of a Council Legal Service paper which has been placed in the Libraries of the House, together with other Council Legal Services papers on national parliaments, Council working methods and Treaty simplification.

Blood Products: Sale

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, following recent evidence concerning exports by the National Blood Authority of blood products to Turkey for profitable resale, they will instruct the authority to offer surplus blood and products first to countries that need them but cannot afford to pay for them.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): The National Blood Service does not collect surplus blood, but collecting sufficient blood to meet domestic demand may result in a surplus of plasma-based products. Surpluses fluctuate and, as it is not possible to guarantee a consistent supply so that treatment regimes can be maintained, giving away products from time to time is unlikely to be helpful to recipient countries in the long term. Selling any surplus on a cost-recovery basis keeps down costs to the National Health Service.

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Attendance Centres: Inspections

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many attendance centres remain uninspected since the withdrawal of the Social Services Inspectorate from the task in 1992.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): The Social Services Inspectorate ceased to inspect junior attendance centres in 1992, and a team of replacement inspectors was established the following year. Of the 84 junior centres, 52 have yet to be inspected. The programme of inspections is continuing.

Attendance Centres: Rules and National Standard

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the revised Attendance Centre Rules and National Standards for Attendance Centres will become operative.

Baroness Blatch: The Attendance Centre Rules will be made shortly and the National Standard will be issued at the same time.

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