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Lord Carter: My Lords, after the Third Reading of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, my noble friend Lord Grocott will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is being made in another place on the Tokyo conference on the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

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Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Bill

Read a third time, and passed.

Convention on the Future of Europe

3.8 p.m.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean) rose to move to resolve, That in the opinion of this House, the Lord Tomlinson and the Lord Macleannan of Rogart should be appointed the alternate national parliamentary representatives to the Convention on the Future of Europe.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, during our consideration of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill we have had occasion to debate the future of Europe process on more than one occasion. At Report stage of the Bill, I promised to bring before your Lordships this Motion which seeks the agreement of your Lordships' House to nominate Members of this House as representatives from the UK Parliament to the convention. Another Motion will be debated separately in another place on two representatives from that House: one member from the Conservative Party and one from the Labour Party. Consequently, this Parliament will have representatives from both Houses and from all main parties. I believe that that outcome is a good one. I am particularly happy to have succeeded in securing representation by two Members of your Lordships' House.

The heads of government decided at the Laeken European Council that the convention should be set up to take forward the debate and to prepare a series of options for change which an intergovernmental conference in 2004 will then consider. It is a huge task and a daunting responsibility that those chosen to represent the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom Parliament will be undertaking.

Each national parliament in existing member states and candidate countries will be represented at the convention by two members and two alternate members. Your Lordships' House was ably represented at the similar Convention on the Charter of Fundamental Rights by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids. At that convention there were also, of course, two Members from another place.

At a meeting I held for your Lordships on this subject on 31st October 2001, the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, recounted to those present that membership of the convention that he attended had represented a great burden in terms of both time and commitment. The Government therefore feel that, as allowed to this and other parliaments by the Laeken declaration, it is sensible to nominate four members to share the burden of the convention we are now discussing. It will be even more wide-ranging than its predecessor and will last much longer. I hope, therefore, that all four nominees will be able to share the burden and, of course, have the chance to contribute their expertise and experience.

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Following consultations, the Government have put forward this Motion nominating as alternate members of the convention the noble Lords, Lord Maclennan of Rogart and Lord Tomlinson. Both have excellent credentials for representing this House and this Parliament in the convention. The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, is an accomplished lawyer, specialising in international law, and will, I am sure, make an effective contribution to the debate. My noble friend Lord Tomlinson was a Member of the European Parliament for 15 years. I am sure that he will be able to use his considerable experience of that institution and the European Union in general to effect.

If your Lordships are to make the most of the opportunity before us to shape the future of Europe debate, effective lines of communication between this House, its committees and the representatives of the convention will be very important. I hope that some system can be arranged for the representatives to have a continuous dialogue with your Lordships' House while they carry out their duties. I shall be happy to contribute whatever I can in my Foreign Office capacity.

The Laeken declaration states merely that members and alternate members may not attend meetings of the convention at the same time. It does not lay down how the four representatives divide the burdens and responsibilities; nor is this a matter for the Government. It is rightly a matter for each parliament to decide how the system will work for its own representatives in practice. I hope that the members themselves will be able to reach a sensible agreement on attendance at meetings and preparation of the issues under discussion in order to maximise the influence of this Parliament in the convention's deliberations.

It is true to say that never before has there been such wide consultation in the EU about its future. We have an historic chance to bring together some of the best minds in Europe to debate the issues and suggest changes to the EU that will make it more effective, more efficient and more able to deliver the real results that people expect from it. I am very happy that two such respected and well qualified Members of your Lordships' House will be able to play a part in that process. I commend the Motion on the Order Paper to the House. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That in the opinion of this House, the Lord Tomlinson and the Lord Maclennan of Rogart should be appointed the alternate national parliamentary representatives to the Convention on the Future of Europe.—(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean.)

3.15 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, this Motion was not agreed by the usual channels. I make that clear because normally these kinds of what you might call "housekeeping" Motions moved at this time of the afternoon are, after amicable discussions, agreed by the usual channels as fair and in the interests of your Lordships' House. However, this one is a diktat from

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Downing Street. It is a small example of how our current elective dictatorship treats Parliament in general and this House in particular.

As the Minister said, the Motion provides for the two noble Lords mentioned to be alternate members of the body being set up to be called the Convention on the Future of Europe, by which, of course, is actually meant the future of the EU rather than of Europe, but we shall let that pass.

Under the agreement each country is entitled to one government member of the convention, plus two full members and two alternates representing the national parliament. Downing Street has decided that the two full members from the British Parliament should both be from another place, one Labour and one Conservative, and that the alternates should both be from this House, one Labour and one Liberal Democrat. Britain will, therefore, in total be represented by three Labour Members from both Houses, one Conservative Member and one Liberal Democrat Member.

One might have thought that the obvious and fair arrangement was for one full member and one alternate member to come from each House. One might also have thought—I certainly think this—that the Cross Benches have a much better right to one representative than the Labour Party has to a third representative. In some respects I think that the Cross Benches have a better right to a representative than the Liberal Democrats. After all, more Peers sit on the Cross Benches than sit on the Liberal Democrat Benches in both Houses put together. We all, including the Government, attach great importance to the independent Members of this House, although I find as I go about my day-to-day duties that all Members of this House are pretty independent! But .when it comes to appointing representatives to this Euro discussion group, the Government ignore the Cross Benches altogether.

There are, of course, some Peers on the Cross Benches with particularly high expertise in this matter who have risen to very senior rank working on exactly these questions. I shall not mention names but noble Lords will know of whom I am thinking. They have deep knowledge and long experience of how the EU works; of the people and the groups involved; of what has been tried before and with what effect. They and other Cross-Benchers are the kind of people who could make an impact on a body like this to be composed of the best minds in Europe.

I do not blame the Front Bench opposite in this House for the way in which the decision has been arrived at. The Minister has done her best. Indeed, she told us that she was doing her best last week, just a few hours before the Motion was tabled. I am sure that this is the best she can do. However, the fact is that the name of the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, has emerged from some process within the Liberal Democrat Party that I know nothing about and the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, is to be the third Labour name. I am sure that they will be assiduous in their duties.

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Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Cope of Berkeley: Quite. The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, has been in this House only a few months. Not all noble Lords may know him as well as some of us do. Some of us have often heard him speak in another place, sometimes for a long time—well, it seemed a long time, anyway. As the Minister explained, the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, has long experience of the European Parliament. He is well known to noble Lords and often gives us his views, or, slightly more often, the views of the Labour Party. However, neither he nor the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, will be able to give the convention their views very often. All we can give them is a ticket for a back row seat at best. I understand that it may be in the public gallery. Certainly, they are likely to sit at the back with headphones on listening to the translation, but they will not have a microphone. Therefore, they will not be able to speak. If a vote is called, they will sit as still as the pictures on the wall. The EU is not driven from the back seats.

I am sorry that none of the Cross-Bench Peers with strong European experience put their name forward, although they had precious little opportunity to do so. Perhaps that shows what they think of this convention and particularly of a back row seat—and perhaps they are right. It is an unsatisfactory matter but we should not decline to appoint anyone. We shall take what is on offer and give the two noble Lords the two back row tickets. With any luck the convention will keep them amused in Brussels.

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