Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, surely that is the whole point of a limited pre-planning exercise: to examine the implications for the National Health Service in the event that this country were to enter the euro. As I explained, if Britain were to enter, during any transition period the NHS could expect to receive euro invoices under the "no compulsion, no prohibition" rule.

Noble Lords: So what?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, noble Lords say, "So what?". If that were to occur, the NHS would have to be geared up to be able to deal with it. That is the whole point of pre-planning--to see exactly what would be involved for the National Health Service.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, whether we are in or out of the single currency, wise preparation for the euro now will mean considerable savings of pounds for the NHS, which increasingly uses the euro base and the developing single European market in medical goods and pharmaceuticals? This is a sprat to catch a very considerable mackerel.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my noble friend puts it very well. The National Health Service needs to develop the most up-to-date financial systems possible to ensure that its financial management procedures are as effective as they can be. If, as part of

29 Nov 2000 : Column 1317

that process, multi-currency systems can be developed, the NHS will incur little extra cost, its financial systems will be better, and, in the event of this country entering the euro, it would be fully prepared.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister considers it good for the health of Members of the Official Opposition to continue to worry about this issue. Is this not a typical "euro-myth" over a matter of a few hundred pounds of expenditure?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the health of the Opposition is a matter of great concern to all of us. Noble Lords are getting themselves unduly exercised in this area. Surely we want a National Health Service that is prepared for potential possible change. That is all that is happening. A very limited pre-planning exercise has taken place. I would rather have an NHS that looks to the future than one that might be caught out by change.

Lord Elton: My Lords, without "getting myself unduly exercised", may I ask the noble Lord--who has twice told us that not a penny has been diverted from patient care--where the resources have been diverted from and how many pennies they amounted to?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the great bulk of the pre-planning work has been done by serving administrative and financial officers within NHS organisations as part of their normal duties.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, may I put it to the noble Lord that he should cease to worry about the health of the Opposition--which is in a very fine state indeed? Will he please answer my question? I have in my hand a letter giving the instruction that MPs are not to be informed of these matters. If individual MPs cannot be informed, can we be told the total sum involved?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, as regards the health of the Opposition, I should have thought that the three by-elections last week told their own story. So far as concerns the advice given to the health service and the letter from Dr Liam Fox, Opposition spokesman on health in another place--and in response to the concerns of noble Lords opposite about bureaucracy in the NHS--we wanted to ensure that 500 different organisations were not unduly burdened by responding separately and individually to the honourable gentleman. As I have said to the noble Baroness, the information that Dr Fox sought has either been answered or could be answered through parliamentary Questions. Surely it is better that that is done. I have already responded by saying that the pre-planning exercise has cost very limited extra resources. To take the case of the Buckinghamshire health authority, a few weeks ago the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, not letting facts get in the way of a good story, asserted that the authority was spending £1.5 million this year on pre-planning. As the statement issued by

29 Nov 2000 : Column 1318

the Buckinghamshire health authority made clear, the amount of time and money taken up by this exercise so far has been a few days in each organisation and equates to a cost of several hundred pounds.

Community Law

2.47 p.m.

Lord Waddington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, after the adoption of the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, the European Court of Justice will take account of its provisions in interpreting and considering the scope of Community law.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, the charter will be adopted as a political declaration. It establishes no new powers for the EU or the European Court of Justice. The Union is already obliged by Article 6(2) of the Treaty on the European Union to respect fundamental rights as general principles of Community law. The ECJ is responsible for ensuring this. In interpreting Article 6(2), the Court can have regard to any material it considers relevant. This may include the charter. But that does not make this declaratory charter legally binding.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. The Minister for Europe likened the charter to the Beano comic, and both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have said--as the Minister herself has told the House--that it is a mere political declaration and will not impact on national law. However, does he agree that the Commission, in an official communication, and the vice-president of the European Court of Human Rights have stated that the charter will become mandatory through the European Court's interpretation of it and that our judges will have to apply it? Who is right? Surely it is plainly wrong to assert, as the Government have, that the charter is a mere showcase of existing rights and will not affect member states. One has only to look at Article 19, which purports to restrict the right of member states to extradite criminals.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I know that on this topic, too, noble Lords opposite have been exercised in a way similar to that just referred to by my noble friend. Perhaps I may speak plainly and assist the noble Lord in relation to the Commission's attitude to the charter. The Commission's press release of 12th September, regarding what the charter will not be, stated:

    "It will not be a vehicle to extend or reduce the powers of the Union and the Community. Changes in any powers are a matter for the Intergovernmental Conference only, not for the Convention. As the discussions within the Convention have shown, it will not require any amendments to the Member States' constitutions. It will basically group together rights already existing in different documents and in the Treaties. It will have no

29 Nov 2000 : Column 1319

    impact on forms of court action or the court structure put in place by the Treaties, as it does not provide for new channels of access to Community courts. It neither requires nor precludes the European Union's accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. This matter does not fall within the remit of the Convention".

People have been very careful which quotations from the Commission they choose to adopt. The Commission has made it absolutely clear that the charter is not a binding document; it is declaratory. The courts can take it into account, but it is not legally binding. I invite the noble Lord's attention to the end of the charter, especially Articles 52 and 53. The House will find that that puts the matter very much in its proper context.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords--

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords--

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, in any event, does my noble friend agree that it is not desirable for this House to give instructions to the European Court of Justice, any more than it would through any avenue of law enforcement in this country? Indeed, the noble Lord is a Queen's Counsel and should know much better than that.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that it is an opportunity for us to exercise not only judgment but also moderation. As has been rightly said, the matter will be capable of being taken into account by the European Court of Justice. The Court has indicated that it understands that this is a political document, which is declaratory in nature, and, therefore, will have to be approached appropriately.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords--

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Lester!

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I believe that there is probably enough time for both noble Lords to put their questions, provided that they are reasonably brief.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the Minister told us most eloquently everything that the new charter is not. We already have the European Convention on Human Rights, which our courts are seeking to assimilate, and our national rules governing people's rights. In addition, we are being threatened with a Commission document encapsulating the rights and aims of the European Union. If, on top of that, this new charter really does not add anything at all, what on earth is the point of the whole endeavour?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page