|Back to Table of Contents
|Lords Hansard Home Page
Baroness Rawlings: I thank the noble Baroness for her answer. I support my noble friend Lord Blaker and his views. At the moment, I will not ask the view of the Committee but may return to the matter on Report.
The noble Baroness said: The Minister has explained carefully that the Government will ratify the adapted CFE Treaty only "when the time is right", and I am grateful for that. It does seem, however, rather unusual to me that your Lordships' House should be considering legislation when there is no prospect of commencement until certain states parties have complied fully with the provisions of the treaty to which the Bill relates. I accept that the Government, along with the other NATO allies, are urging Russia to resolve its problems in Georgia and Moldova.
I should be interested to know, however, why we are discussing this Bill now, before the Government are prepared to ratify the adapted treaty. Can the Minister explain to the Committee the current position in Russia with regard to these territories and whether there have been any developments since we discussed the subject last? The commitments contained in the CFE Final Act are of fundamental importance and I should be most grateful for clarification on this point. I beg to move.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The issue of when to ratify the treaty was raised at Second Reading. The amendment proposed by the noble Baroness would limit the Government's scope on when we should ratify the treaty by providing that it should not happen until such time as all states parties have complied fully with the provisions of the CFE Treaty and the CFE Final Act.
The Government believe that the amendment takes a sledge hammer to crack a nut. Everyone in NATO agreed that swift fulfilment of the outstanding Istanbul commitments on Georgia and Moldova are necessary. The noble Baroness asked: why legislate now? It is because we want to be ready to ratify as soon as we are able. The fulfilment of those outstanding commitments will create the conditions for allies and other states parties to move forward on the ratification of the adapted treaty, which I believe is one that we in your Lordships' House all broadly support.
Let me be clear. The noble Baroness is right in saying that the United Kingdom is not ready to ratify the adapted treaty. However, I repeat what the then Secretary of State said in Istanbul: that we hope to
The noble Baroness asked me to bring the Committee up to date with the state of play on the Istanbul commitment. Perhaps I may do so briefly. Russia has complied with its treaty limits on equipment in the flank; that is, in Chechnya. It has removed the treaty-limited equipment, which we discussed at Second Reading, from Moldova and Georgia. Furthermore, Russia has disbanded its base at Vaziani, Georgia.
However, although Russia has removed its TLE from the base at Abkhazia, legal transfer of the base to Georgia remains to be done, as does verification of the closure. Russia and Georgia have yet to agree a time-scale for the withdrawal of Russian stationed forces at the bases at Batumi and Akhalkalaki. Russian forces also remain in Transdniestria, Moldova, guarding the ammunition dump at Colbasna.
I hope that that briefly brings Members of the Committee up to date with the various states in all the territories where I know the noble Baroness has had concern. Perhaps I may point out to her that the principle on which Her Majesty's Government are operating is one of host nation consent. The views of Georgia and Moldova will be of key importance in deciding whether the conditions for ratification are in place.
The NATO statement was very carefully crafted. The context of this is enormously important, as I hope my remarks about Moldova and Georgia have made clear. We cannot envisage every eventuality at this stage. We cannot know how our allies and other co-signatories may wish to deal with the outstanding issues I have outlined to the Committee. However, the principles on which we are operating are clear. It would be unreasonable to put my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary into a straitjacket on this issuea straitjacket in which I hope none of the other Foreign Secretaries with whom my right honourable friend is dealing would find themselvesand to try, in a sense, to second guess the carefully crafted and negotiated wording in the NATO statement.
Were the amendment to be passed, it could potentially put the UK in the position of preventing the entry into force of the adapted CFE Treaty if we were not able to ratify at a point where negotiations led us to believe that ratification was the right position to take.
I understand the noble Baroness's misgivings. While the wording she has brought forward looks similar to the NATO wording it is not the same. The NATO wording stresses the importance of the context of the negotiations and we believe that it is enormously
Baroness Rawlings: I thank the noble Baroness for that detailed answer and congratulate her on her mastery of those very difficult names. We do not want to put the Foreign Secretary into a straitjacket or to delay ratification. However, we are still worried about the situation in Moldova and Georgia and will come back to this issue on Report. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I begin by emphasising how pleased I am that we are having this debate today. The 30th report of your Lordships' Select Committee on the European Union on The Convention on the Future of Europe provides a comprehensive, yet succinct, introduction to the work of the convention. Today's debate will provide a timely update to that report as we examine the wide range of issues that the convention has considered over the past 10 months. The number of noble Lords who are to speak today is clear evidence of your Lordships' enduring interest in all things European. I very much welcome this Parliament's commitment to follow closely the discussions in the convention.
The Secretary of State for Wales is the Government's representative on the Future of Europe Convention. I have the honour of being the Government's alternate representative on the convention. I am in very good company because the House has been well represented by my noble friend Lord Tomlinson, who participated in the complementary competencies and simplification group, and by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, who sits on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench today. It is in my capacity as alternate representative rather than as a Minister in the Lord Chancellor's Department that I address the House today.
The architecture of the European Union was originally designed, more than half a century ago, for the six founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community. With successive rounds of enlargement that structure is creaking, despite various efforts to cover the cracks. The next wave of enlargement will see 10 new members join the Union on 1st May 2004. We hope that others will follow before the decade is out. The enlargement will stretch
Heads of state and government explicitly recognised this situation a little more than a year ago, in December 2001, at the Laeken European Council. They also acknowledged the growing sense of disengagement and disillusionment among citizensnot only in the United Kingdom but across all member states. This was evident in the falling levels of participation in elections for the European Parliament and manifested itself in disappointing results in referendums on the Union in a number of member states.
It was therefore recognised that another intergovernmental conference would be needed. To prepare the way, leaders agreed to establish a convention to provide for dialogue and consultation with a wider group of interlocutors than ever before. The convention's task would be to design a new political architecture for the future of the Union.
The convention began its work in February last year. It is a unique creature. For the first time ever, it offers a forum within which people from diverse backgrounds can debate options and proposals for making the Union more effective and more efficient. There is also a civic forum, which gives civil society an opportunity to present ideas to the convention.
The convention started with a listening phase, followed swiftly by more detailed consideration of issues in 11 working groups, all of which have reported save for the final group on social issues, which is due to report back to the plenary in early February.
With the new year comes a shift of emphasis in the convention. Discussions are set to focus on institutional issues. Considerable work will need to be done if meat is to be put on the bones of the skeleton draft constitutional treaty that the convention's chairman, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, presented to members at the plenary session in October 2002.
It is increasingly clear that a key result of the convention will be the drafting of a new constitutional treaty for the European Union. This will be a major achievement. The Government have made clear their position on the idea of a constitution for Europe. For anyone who has not yet done so, I thoroughly recommend that they read my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary's illuminating article in the Economist in October last year and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister's speech in Cardiff at the end of November.
The Government support the idea of a constitution for the European Union. A constitution would help all of us to understand better what the European Union does and how it does it. It would result in a more effectively organised Union that would be better able to deliver practical benefits to Europe's citizens. It would also help to dispel some of the mystery that surrounds Brussels and allow all of us to grasp better the opportunities and practical benefits that the Union can offer. That in turn would help to strengthen the Union and make it more responsive to people's needs.
But we do not support a constitution at any price. Whatever text is agreed must improve on the status quo. For us, that means a text that is clear and concise; a text that sets out what the EU is, what it does, and who does it. That means clarity on where power and responsibility lie. We must define more clearly those areas where the Union has exclusive power; we must know where powers are shared between the EU and member states; and we must understand when national policies hold sway.
That does not mean that we need a fixed list of responsibilities, which some people refer to as a "catalogue of competencies". That would limit the flexibility that has served the Union so well in responding to the varying demands of its members and adapting to global changes. Rather, we believe that clarity can be achieved by a simple statement of principle that establishes clear lines between what the Union does and where member states' responsibilities lie.
The draft constitutional treaty that Valery Giscard d'Estaing presented to the convention in October provides a good basis for achieving our aims for a more succinct and easier to understand text. There are many positive things about the skeleton. For example, it is based on an assumption of the EU as a union of sovereign states. This reflects the status quo. It does not lead us down the route of a federal superstate. It incorporates the ideawhich we fully endorseof having a full-time, elected president (or chair) of the European Council to guide that institution in its strategic overview and implementation of the Union's activities. And it includes the proposalwhich we have strongly supportedfor the creation of a new mechanism to enable national parliamentarians to monitor and enforce compliance with the principle of subsidiarity.
But Valery Giscard d'Estaing's text is not yet ideal. There are things in it we do not like. As the discussions on an EU constitution progress over the coming weeks and months, we shall be working hardengaging other members of the conventionto ensure that the final draft meets our ideas for what a constitution of the EU should be. That means a text that is clear, that is concise, and that clarifies what the EU is, what it does, and how it does it.
This Government's approach to the convention has not been a traditional one. In some ways this has caused surprise. We have not hung back, warily following a path that we have let others carve. We have been fully engaged and constructive, talking to other representatives at the convention and building alliances with like-minded individuals and member states. We have been prepared to listen and have encouraged others to think imaginatively when sketching out a future design for the Union. We have rather taken aback many of our interlocutors with this novel British approach. But I believe that we are having an impact and making progress across the whole range of issues discussed at the convention.
Take the charter of fundamental rights, for example. This is an area of interest for many of your Lordships, and I welcome this opportunity to say a few words about where we stand. I was the United Kingdom's representative on the working group that looked at the charter. I must confess that it was not the easiest task I have ever undertaken. But we have made progress.
There was no desire within the group to open up the text of the substantive charter articles themselves to renegotiation. I am glad about that, for it would have been to open Pandora's Box. Our proposalwhich I am glad to say was taken up by the groupwas that we should focus instead on the charter's general provisions: the so-called horizontal articles.
The idea was that we could strengthen the rules for interpreting the charter so as to overcome the lack of legal clarity and security which some of us saw in the broad drafting of the substantive articles themselves. I am very pleased to be able to report that, in the end, we achieved consensus within the group on a series of amendments to the charter's horizontal articles to help make the charter as a whole more suitable for legal status. We also agreedthis is an important pointthat the commentary, the detailed legal clarifications of each and every individual article, should be further supplemented and published with the charter to ensure that lawyers and all of us better understand what is intended by the drafters.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page