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I have already mentioned the mythology of the straight banana. I shall comment on one or two of the myths in the statistics cited by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. I addressed this point on 29 June in reply to a Parliamentary Question from the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Ludgate. I repeat the point about the volume of legislation because we might as well be clear about it. It is not a massive millstone as described. I hope the House will forgive me if I repeat the essential point I made that day:
We estimate that around half of all UK legislation with an impact on business, charities and the voluntary sector stems from legislation agreed by Ministers in Brussels. Parliamentary analysis of UK statutory instruments implemented annually under the European Communities Act suggests that on average about 9 per cent
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, the noble Lord will forgive me, but the answer is that we do not believe what the Government are saying and we pray in aid what the German Government have said. We are not asking for the percentage of statutory instruments; we are asking for the percentage of overall national legislation, which we maintainand we have done the separate studies to confirm itis now much more than half of what goes through the national Parliaments.
Lord Triesman: My Lords, I understand that the noble Lord prefers the statements of the German Government to those of the Government of the United Kingdom. My own preference is that everybody studies the data and reaches an accurate result, even though that kind of more academic process may be thought rather arid.
Perhaps I may take up one or two of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, with, if I may say so, typically careful thought. First, is the reserve process the right product? He described the desirable approach to this as arms-length scepticism. Scepticism is probably a well chosen word in these circumstances. I fear that there is often criticismscepticism, if one wants to put it that waybut with too little engagement in how to deal with the consequences of that cynicism. Of course the processes could be better; they must be better. They need to be more effective and timely. On occasions people are disappointed by Europe because of the length of time the process takes, rather than the rush of things. But in any case, either way, it must not be reduced to a formality. The use of robust language does not alarm me; I quite enjoy it. But I wonder whether on occasions the shower of abuse which seems to be required to get into a newspaper adds a lot to the discussion. There needs to be a judgment about when noise obscures knowledge.
As the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, pointed out, your Lordships European Union Committee works with enormous commitment in scrutinising issues of direct and significant concern and relevance to citizens. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is so disobliging about the committee. It will not surprise him or the committee a great deal if I take the opposite view. The noble Lords, Lord Roper and Lord Bowness, have taken a different view about the importance of providing good, clear information through this structure rather than a process of advocacy, and thereby have added to the quality of the debate. Those distinctions are useful to all of us.
The Government welcome the valuable contribution that your Lordships committee makes to the debate on the EU. We must take it seriously for precisely the reason given by the noble Baroness,
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Perhaps I may join others in congratulating my noble and learned friend Lord Boyd on his maiden speech. I welcome him to the House. He adds a fine forensic mind to our debates, and I know that he will contribute on many subjects. I wish the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, a happy birthday. I hope that his barometer goes up consistently, but within the bounds of climate sustainability.
The Government attach great importance to Parliament's scrutiny work and to meeting our commitments to you. The committee report contributes important analysis and expertise in the context of the period of reflection on the future of Europe. Although many of the recommendations relate to the committees engagement with Parliament and the public, the conclusions provoked deeper thoughts about the challenges to government, Parliament and others in raising awareness of legislative issues and deepening two-way communication with citizens. During the past 15 months, the Government have worked persistently to refocus the EU to deliver the results and reforms that reflect the priorities and concerns of citizens of Europe
In his speech to the European Parliament in June 2005, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister led the call for a debate on how to ensure that Europe responds to the challenges of todays world. At the Hampton Court summit, during our presidency of the EU last year, we put issues such as energy policy and tackling organised crime at the top of the political agenda.
Subsequent European Council meetings have endorsed and taken forward that approach. Most recently, the informal European Council at Lahti on 21 October provided a welcome opportunity for EU leaders to take forward what we have described as the delivery agenda. Leaders addressed the challenges of climate change, of energy security, of improving Europes record on innovation and of addressing citizens concerns on migration. I am delighted to say that they also discussed the grave situation in Darfur and had a candid discussion over a working dinner with President Vladimir Putin.
Those issuesDarfur, human rights and the other issues that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, mentionedhave a resonance with the people of this country. As we work to deliver those priorities, it will be essential to continue and deepen the two-way discussion promoted by the European Commissions Plan D for Democracy, Dialogue and Debatelet me just call it Plan Dand other aspects of the national debates which began last year.
The Government welcome the invaluable expert contributions that Parliament offers through the scrutiny process and in other debates. We attach great importance to engaging with Parliament and the citizens whom we serve on EU issues and the future of Europe.
The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, asked about the Governments EU communications initiatives. Your Lordships asked to be kept informed about that, and I welcome this opportunity to provide that information. We stand ready to provide the House with regular updates on the Governments work in that area.
Since the period of reflection began in June 2005, my right honourable friends the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Minister for Europe and many other Ministers have made high-profile speeches to further the debate on Europe. Information has been provided to the UK public through the media and a range of publications.
During our presidency of the EU in 2005, we co-hosted a conference entitled Sharing Power in Europe with the Dutch Government, to consider how we can ensure that the EU takes action in areas where it can make a difference and add value to member state action. I had the privilege of representing the United Kingdom at that meeting. The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, played a crucial role in drawing the threads of that meeting to a successful conclusion. A similar initiative, Europe begins at Home, took place in St Poelten on 18 and 19 April under the Austrian presidency.
In April, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office launched a new website providing information on the EU and seeking input to the future of the European debate. We will continue to evaluate and develop that website to ensure that it offers useful and, I hope, engaging content to raise awareness and deepen debate on EU issues. The FCO also published a factual guide to the EU in English and Welsh. It has been distributed to libraries and other public information points.
Other departments have contributed. For example, in June, the DTI published a practical guide for business on working in the European Union, designed to help businesses to have their say in the law-making process. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has also been engaging with a wide range of civil society groups on EU issues. Earlier this month, for example, my right honourable friend the Minister for Europe met British Overseas NGOs for Developmentthe BOND networkto exchange views on the role of the EU in helping to address international development priorities.
The Government welcome the principles of improving communication on Europe in the European Commissions Plan D and White Paper on a European communications policy. The main responsibility for communication on EU issues is, as has been stated in this House, at member state and EU levels. We therefore welcome the European Commissions emphasis in Plan D and the White Paper on contributing through close co-operation with Governments and others at national and local levels. The Government submitted a response in July to the European Commissions consultation on the White Paper, and my right honourable friend the Minister for Europe sent a copy of the Governments response to the parliamentary scrutiny committees on 26 October.
The Government continue to co-operate with the European Commission and European Parliament offices in the UK. In particular, we are working closely with the European Commission to make its Europe Direct project a success. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, mentioned this in his contribution to the debate. Since June, 10 Europe Direct centres have opened in Plymouth, Eastleigh, Scotland, London, Coventry, Llangollen, Cardiff, Durham, Luton and Newtown. A further 14 will open next year. We have been working with some of the centres to increase the profile of their launches, for example through the FCOs press releases and through ministerial letters of support. We are also providing input into training events. I should add that I support the desire of my noble and learned friend Lord Boyd to involve the devolved Administrations more in this work. European commissioners, including the president of the European Commission in October, have made 48 visits to the UK this year to date. We welcome these visits. We have also worked with the European Commission on the UK-specific Eurobarometer research.
I suspect that the commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome will provide many opportunities. We are emphasising educational work. We have proposed an interactive schools event, encouraging schools across Europe to link up and talk in real time, and furthering school twinning and exchanges. I shall certainly give more thought to the idea of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, about sixth-form debates. It had slipped off my radar, too, for which I apologise. I am keen that we should have those. There is also a range of proposed cultural events to mark the anniversary. My own department is considering several of those proposals, as well as ideas from non-governmental organisations, such as conferences and debates. Belgium, at least, is planning street parties, dancing in the streets and balloons. We may not succeed in mirroring all these activities or in engendering quite the same enthusiasm, but I am determined that we do what we do effectively.
The Government are very willing to keep Parliament updated on our public communications about EU issues. In addition to the explanatory memoranda and other information provided to the EU Committee, my right honourable friend the Minister for Europe could provide updates in future post-Council evidence sessions with parliamentary scrutiny committees.
I take the point that has been made, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, about how the period of deliberation may not have led to as full a discussion as he would have wished on the future of Europe, but I believe the period has been used very effectively in some ways. It has not paused or failed to focus on the issues that I described earlier as being of concern to the peoples of Europe. The time has not been wasted in that sense. We are, however, arriving at the point at which we should hold the debate that my right honourable friend Geoff Hoon has described as necessary. It is right that the Government let Parliament know our thinking on this subject and how it is developing, and we intend to set out to Parliament at an early opportunity the underlying principles of the approach now.
The noble Lords, Lord Grenfell, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, Lord Roper, and others asked for an update on progress to establish a government website in order to make the explanatory memoranda more easily accessible to the public. The Government are committed to producing that website, which we hope to have up and running early in 2007. Our website, like that of the committee, needs to be user-friendly and to attract people rather than embody some of the problems that I have described in European communications. The initial plan is being refined. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, that as we develop the website, it may have animated partsI know that all good websites have to be video-enabled and able to use a range of mediabut I understand the point that one minute of rather dated activity does not meet the bill.
The Government welcome the contribution that the committee makes to the debate on EU affairs and policy making through its reports and debates on them. I understand that 23 reports by the European Union Committee have been debated on the Floor of the House this Session, including todays debate, and that another debate is scheduled for next Friday. All in all, that is not a disastrous record, but finding more opportunities, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, observed, is usually a matter for the usual channels. Despite that, I am keen to speak with the business managers in another place to ensure that we know their thinking on driving forward these debates. I will certainly look at the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for a review of the EU annual work programme. I am not in a position to commit them to that, but I am eager to have that discussion and to make sure that your Lordships know the outcome. I would also like to look at the very interesting presidency convention that the noble Baroness suggested. We have tried variants, but I am not sure that they have all worked. It is certainly not out of bounds to think of others.
The points that my noble friend Lord Harrison made about dialogue are also important. It obviously is not for me to make commitments on behalf of other Ministers about coming back after the reports of committees or other major debates have taken place, but I try to follow exactly the practice that has been advocated in relation to my responsibilities in Africa or Latin America, not least because I find it hugely beneficial and I learn a lot. It is well worth meeting with parliamentarians and, in the cases that I have mentioned, with NGOs who are often very much better communicators than many of the rest of us, which is of great value.
I thank your Lordships for the opportunity to have what I believe is a very constructive debate. As the European Commission recognised in its evaluation of Plan D in May, Plan D is part of what must be a long-term exercise. Setting up a constructive dialogue will never be achieved just from one day to the next. The Government value highly the scrutiny role of the committee. The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, also made the point that the committees function should be specific and not confused with other roles, and I agree. We therefore share the committees hope
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Lord Grenfell: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, without exception: a very fruitful three hours or more has been given to this topic. I very much appreciate noble Lords welcoming, on the whole, the report. I also thank the Minister for the extremely positive and helpful replies that he has given on a number of issues that were raised when I addressed the House at the beginning of this debate. I thank him very much for that.
Perhaps I may also say how impressive, constructive and helpful was the maiden speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd of Duncansby. He raised the matter of the Select Committee meeting in other parts of the United Kingdomhe mentioned Edinburgh specifically. We are due in the next couple of months to host the annual meeting of the chairs of the European committees of both Westminster Houses, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and, who knows, even possibly the Northern Ireland Assembly. That would be a good moment for us to take up the point the noble Lord has made.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, for the many excellent proposals she made. We shall certainly be discussing them in the future. On one point, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, mentioned, we are already ahead of her: we do indeed invite the ambassador of the incoming presidency to come before the Select Committee at the beginning of the presidency to lay before us the priorities of his governments presidency. We had the ambassador of Finland just before the summer Recess and we will be inviting the ambassador of Germany to come at the beginning of the German presidency.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, for his many excellent proposals, particularly in relation to post-publication activities, a point also taken up by the noble Lord, Lord Roper. The idea of seminars certainly appeals.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who asked whether copies of our reports automatically go to other parliaments. Yes, indeed they doand they are much appreciated, too. They go to key officials in Brussels as well. As to the website, I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that we are aware of the shortcomings. But real progress is being made now and we look forward to considerable improvements in it in the months to come.
The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, asked about the trend in scrutiny overrides. The best I can say to him at this stage is that he should look at our annual report when it comes out very shortly and I think he will be pleasantly surprisedwell, I will be pleasantly surprised; it may not be quite so pleasant for him. But the figures will be in there in detail and he will be able to see them when they are published in our annual report.
The noble Lord raised the issue of what impact the Select Committee has on legislation and, if I interpret him rightly, he takes a slightly negative view of our ability to influence government. All I can say is that he should take a look at the exchanges of letters between the Select Committee and departmental Ministers. If he agrees with the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Ludgate, that we are merely a rubber stamp, he should ask some of those departmental Ministers whether they think we are a rubber stampsome of them might wish we were. I can assure the noble Lord, as has already been mentioned by others, that the amount of work that goes into making sure that our views are fully communicated to the Government, and that we get responses from them, is at the very core of our work.
I should also mention the fact that because we nowadays go as far upstream as possible and look at Green Papers very carefully, that has become a stage in the legislative procedure where we really can have a big impact. Let me give one good examplealthough it is some time agowhen I was chairing Sub-Committee A. We received the Green Paper on Mario Montes merger regulation reforms and we were able to complete a full inquiry into that while it was at the Green Paper stage, including extensive talks with the Commission and the commissioner. We were able to get our full report on that on to the desk of the Government before they went to negotiate in the Council. The Government were kind enough to write to us and say that this had been extremely useful in helping them to make up their minds about how they were going to react in the Council. That is just one example of the way in which we can have an impact.
Finally, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who wondered why it was that we had even mentioned the work of the Commission and Plan D. We did so, first, because it is the Commission that is doing something and it is we who are calling on it to do more because we cannot do it ourselves. Secondly, I should point out that only one of the conclusions in the report addressed what the Commission was doingwe welcomed the commitment made by President Barroso to make commissioners talk to parliaments and other fora to explain what it is that the Commission is doing. That was a good commitment on his part and we want to hold him to it. That is why we put it in the report.
I think I have covered all the points that I can but, of course, as I said in the concluding remarks of my address, we are always ready to answer questions and listen to concerns. This has been a very good debate and one that will be extraordinarily helpful to the work of the Select Committee.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is very rare that you find something which is capable of making a really significant contribution, particularly to successful rehabilitation, and when you do find it you want to go for it. I have to admit that in all the years I have been looking at prisons and the treatment of offenders, I have never found anything so capable of doing so much for so many people at so little cost as the work that speech and language therapists carry out.
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