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Lord Norton of Louth: I hope the Minister has plenty of paper because by now I suspect that the list of questions that have been put to her is growing and she might have difficulty in coping with all them in the time available.

I wish to put two very quick and simple questions to the noble Baroness. First, it is my understanding that the Government themselves are quite clear as to the status of the charter. I was a member of the European committee which produced the report to which my noble friend referred. The noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, gave evidence to the committee and he was quite clear as to the status of the charter. If the Government are quite clear on that, why do they believe that an IGC is necessary to discuss that status?

Secondly, could the Minister explain to me the logic of drawing up a charter and deciding its status subsequent to the event?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Perhaps I may start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for his opening remarks. The noble Lord is always extremely courteous. I very much look forward to receiving the letter he has sent me. I believe that he will find that the reference to the charter is attached to the final act of the conference and not to the treaty. I do not wish to prolong our exchanges on this matter any more painfully than does the noble Lord. Perhaps we can settle between us the matter of where the provision is attached. I believe that we can sort it out. As regards the other matter, I look forward to receiving the noble Lord's letter.

The declaration on the future of Europe, which was agreed at Nice, encapsulates key commitments for which the United Kingdom Government fought very hard. Nice opens the way for enlargement with no need for further institutional change. Before the next IGC in 2004 there will be a deep and wide debate involving ordinary citizens throughout the European Union. The main agenda items for that conference should be, first, a more precise delimitation of powers between the EU and the member states reflecting the principle

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of subsidiarity; secondly, as regards the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the question of whether, and if so how, it should be incorporated into EU treaties; thirdly, simplification of the EU treaties to make them clearer and better understood without changing their meaning and, fourthly, the role of national parliaments in European architecture.

This debate reflects what I have heard noble Lords from all sides of the House, irrespective of political allegiance, say they would like to see reflected in the way we consider the future of Europe. The declaration also makes it clear that in addressing these issues there is a need to improve the democratic legitimacy and transparency of the EU and its institutions in order to bring them closer to the citizens of member states. I accept that that last point is not struck out by the amendment, but the four previous points—which are important—would be.

This is the United Kingdom's agenda. By that I do not mean that it is the agenda of Her Majesty's Government but the agenda that I hear reflected all round the Committee in the contributions made by noble Lords on the role of Parliament. Even today we have discussed the importance of making treaties more easily understood and more transparent to individuals throughout the European Union.

This is an agenda which not only this Government but successive British Governments have sought to place at the heart of the European debate. I pay tribute as much to the Conservative Party as to my own party in making that point. It is an agenda that will lead to the more efficient, more comprehensible and more accountable European Union that we want. But the amendment seeks to strike down not only the charter of rights but the whole of the agenda that so many noble Lords have said is important.

The member states are already conducting their national debates on Europe. Some have set up new structures to do so; others, like the United Kingdom, are content with their existing arrangements. We are content because our arrangements are already very effective. In the United Kingdom, Ministers have been setting out the Government's view of the way forward. The Prime Minister did so in Warsaw late last year, and many of the priorities he identified are reflected in the Nice Declaration. The Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe have each made keynote speeches on Europe in recent months. They and other government Ministers will continue to make the points about Europe.

In addition, we have encouraged parliamentary debate on the European issue. There have been several such debates here and in another place since Nice. The debate today is an important part of the overall contribution to the way that Europe should go forward.

We have encouraged the involvement not only of Parliament but of ordinary UK citizens, if I can so call them, through, for example, the activities of my right honourable friend the Minister for Europe, who is travelling round the country to make the case for Britain in Europe and to hear people's views. We have

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also encouraged involvement through the Internet, where the Government have been running a series of interactive on-line debates on the FCO website in which people can make their views known.

Lord Norton of Louth: I thank the Minister for giving way. The noble Baroness is looking at what is proposed for the next IGC and concentrating on the charter. She is making the point that this is the agenda we want to pursue. Given what her right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said in the other place, is that really the case? In terms of the future of Europe, my understanding is that the Government are approaching the next IGC as a means of looking at the future of Europe and the way it should be going. The items adumbrated here are disparate and discrete items which do not go to the nub of what is the future goal of the European Union; of what is the whole purpose of the exercise.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I am addressing the amendment. If the noble Lord looks carefully at the amendment, he will see that it is an amendment which seeks not only to strike out the charter of rights but to strike out how to establish and monitor a more precise delimitation of powers between the European Union and its member states. Yes, the amendment goes on to the charter of fundamental rights, but it seeks also to strike out the simplification of treaties and the role of national parliaments.

I am simply making the point that whereas the noble Lord, Lord Howell, concentrated his remarks on the charter of rights, the amendment addresses all four issues—and in doing so it seeks to strike them all out. I was merely making the point to the Committee that, over and over again in your Lordships' House, noble Lords have said how important are the debates on these issues. You cannot say one thing in your Lordships' House and then, when the opportunity is offered to discuss those very matters, say, "No. We are sorry, we do not want it". I am asking for consistency.

Lord Norton of Louth: Will the Minister give way again?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I have answered the point raised by the noble Lord. He may not like it, but it is the answer.

The conventions will produce options and ideas, but the final decisions will remain where they should be, with member states' governments in the international conference itself. Those decisions will be taken, as the EU Treaty rightly provides, by unanimity among member states and in accordance with their constitutional positions—which in the UK means a ratification procedure involving Parliament, as with the present treaty.

The point that has excited most interest is the charter of rights. The Government believe in human rights, that people need to know what are those rights and that EU institutions must respect them. That is what the charter of rights proclaims it is intended to

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achieve. That is a worthy aim and to answer the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch—yes, the Government support it. To answer the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, the charter is a political declaration. It cannot take precedence over our law because it is not the law. It is not in the present EU treaty. Nor is it referred to in the treaty itself.

One can quote a variety of different sources. Perhaps some people would like the charter made law. I freely concede that the Commission and some member states want to make the charter legally binding and to incorporate it into the treaty, but we have not agreed to do that. Nor can there be any change in the status of the charter unless we and all member states agree, because the treaty requires unanimity.

We have agreed that at the 2004 intergovernmental conference, consideration should be given to whether or not to incorporate the charter in the treaty and, if so, how. That is the mandate agreed by the Cologne European Council and the Treaty of Nice and we shall stick to it. I repeat the point that the charter's status cannot be changed without unanimity. The purpose of the present debate about the convention is to get the views of those in all parts of both Houses and to feed them through.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: That still leaves the question of the extent to which the charter in its present form is taken into account by the Luxembourg court when making its judgments. I believe that the Luxembourg court has said that it already takes the charter into account.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The charter is not law but courts may take a wide variety of issues into account. If the court chooses to take the charter into account inter alia, there is no reason why it should not do so. There is nothing exceptional in the charter. Why should it not be taken into account? The point is, the charter is not legally binding.

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