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The Lord President and everyone else will know that the House will watch these arrangements carefully and will be prepared to defend its ground. There will be arguments about efficiency, which in other circles is often promised and less often delivered when amalgamations take place. The differing character of the two Houses is precious to the Members of both Houses. I speak of the present character of this House, realising that in the next two weeks we shall be discussing the possibility of a different character for itone much closer potentially to that of the Commons. But even if the second House were to be fully elected, I believe that it would want to retain its separate identity. Indeed, I believe that it would fight to exert its independence and to gain the equality that the legitimacy of election would confer, and it would be right to do so. I do not think that that changes the point I make.
If we go on in much the same way as we do at present, the Lords will remain conscious of its position as the junior partner to the Commons, which inevitably has more resources, more political muscle and more ambition. The Lords will need to watch its position, not only when changes in scope are proposed but in normal running when there are problems about a joint department trying to serve two masters. Of course, holy writ, as well as my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, warns us about the problem of serving two masters, but it will be present sometimes.
We welcome the Bill. We are certainly content for the PICT function to be jointly controlled, as set out in the Bill. We particularly support the clauses protecting the staff during the changes, which are obviously necessary. We will watch very carefully any attempt to use the Bill in other areas.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, it is a rather good feeling to be in a situation that I am very rarely in, which is to bask briefly in the harmony and agreement that there is around the Chamber. I thank noble Lords who have spoken for their support of the Bill.
I will try to address the questions that have been asked. In so doing, I reiterate that this is about a joint department. We in the House of Lords will ensure that the needs of this House are guarded very jealously; the noble Lord, Lord Cope, is right that Members of this House will be watching very carefully what happens in the way that the service is delivered. On the issue of the wider safeguards, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, it is for another place to decide its process, as he indicated. It is important for this House that it is the House that makes the decision, on the recommendation of the House Committee.
On accountabilityreporting to the corporate officers of each House and what happens if there is a disagreementfrom time to time the two Houses have different priorities, and we have seen that in operation. That has always been the case. In certain circumstances, difficulties have been resolved by one House, for example, taking responsibility for the lions share of the funding or staff resource that is provided. That already happens with individual IT projects, where one House will have a much greater interest than the other. The principle of having a joint department, which is about the two Houses working much more closely together, is something that we will all want to see enshrined.
In terms of that being extended to other services, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is being particularly radical in raising the issue of the Refreshment Department. My experience of raising the possibility of one or two parts of our refreshment services being shared is that the idea tends to disappear into a very large black hole and never reappear. Both Houses will watch how this develops, and other possibilities for joint departments may well come up in the future. I would be a very brave woman if I were to make any suggestion about what that future might be in terms of time.
The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, asked about the director of PICT. He will be a member of the Management Boards of both Houses, which is important; and PICT activities will be included in the annual reports of both Houses. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, asked about training. Arrangements are being made for training for PICT staff about both Houses so that they appreciate and understand the different cultures of the two Houses.
I think that I have addressed all the points and questions that have been raised. Once again, I thank noble Lords for their support for this measure.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
Lord Dykes: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
House in Committee accordingly.
[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Brougham and Vaux) in the Chair.]
Clause 1 [Provision of information and statistics relating to the European Union in public buildings and on the internet]:
Lord Dykes moved Amendment No. 1:
The noble Lord said: I am grateful to the Committee for allowing me to table this amendment, which deals with a particular matter that arose in the debate on Second Reading, in which some Members understandably
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However, sometimes textual equivocations can arise because of the use of, for example, the word shall rather than may. The difficulty is that may, as colleagues here and in the other place will understand, reduces the apparent force of the exhortatory nature of the clause, and so people prefer to remain with the stronger verb.
I thought that it would therefore be sensible and politic to propose an amendment at this stage to give the Secretary of State the power to intervene. Under the amendment, those who wish to set up a European Union centre in public buildings, public libraries and municipal buildings would apply to the Secretary of State for a certificate, which would be a board or a plaque of some kind to be displayed in the building as an indication that the Government had given their approval to the creation of the unit. That is not to say that there would be any over-riding power exercised by the Secretary of State or the Government over this matter; setting up the centre for information would be an entirely free and voluntary decision of the local authorities and other entities. However, the fact that the plaque or board was on display would show the imprimatur of government encouragement at least. There would be no connection with any European Union institutions, which would reassure colleagues who would be worried about the involvement of the European Union and its institutions in matters that should remain entirely in the national ambit. I beg to move.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Despite my general support for the Bills aim of providing more information to the British public about our relationship with the European Union, I am not sure that the Secretary of State is the best person to decide where that information should be displayed, unless Amendment No. 3, which is in my name, is accepted. If it is accepted, my opposition to these amendments largely disappears, because the information put out will be balancedneither pro-European Union nor anti-European Unionand so it does not much matter where it is displayed.
However, I have one question for the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, who has introduced the Bill. At Second Reading, he said that the information would be freely available in,
Will he now, in Committee, go a little further and reveal what other public buildings the Bill has in mind? Is he thinking of schools, universities, underground stations, departments of state and so on? Does he really mean any building that is funded by the public purse? Be the answer to those questions what it may, I would have thought that the best body to sanction where the information should be displayed should be the committee recommended by Amendment No. 3. In the mean time, I look forward to the noble Lords comments.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: It may be helpful if I set out the Governments position on the amendment. In doing so, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, for giving the Committee the chance to discuss these important issues. The Government welcome the contribution that the noble Lord continues to make to the debate on EU affairs.
As I stated in the House last December, the Government wholeheartedly support many activities to ensure that factual information about the European Union is freely and widely available to the people of the UK. However, we do not support the idea that public buildings should be required to provide such information; I note the comments made by the noble Lord in relation to the word shall. Nor do we wish to support provisions that might impose extra administrative or other burdens on those providing such information.
The noble Lords amendments might reduce the number of public buildings covered by these requirements. Nevertheless, the new processes that they would establish for public organisations to apply and be selected and approved by the Secretary of State would be time-consuming and costly. The Government are already supporting the European Commissions Europe Direct initiative, which has established 25 centres around the country to act as one-stop shops for public information on the EU. Many other sources, including the Governments europe.gov.uk website and the European Unions Europa website, offer a very wide range of factual information. The Government, therefore, have reservations about these proposed provisions and, in particular, whether they would be the most effective way of furthering public access to information on EU issues.
Lord Howell of Guildford: I echo the reservations of the Minister on these amendments. I am puzzled over how they reduce, in any way, the distinctly mandatory tone of the legislation and turn it into a more permissive measure. This highlights the dangers of trying to legislate in these kinds of areas. Legislation is the law. It empowers Governments and authorities and informs the conduct and enforcement of the law in any area, and certainly in this area. Attempts to water down, which I think is what the noble Lord, in all sincerity, is trying to do, are almost certain to be hostages to fortune.
I agree with the Minister that these amendments are unnecessary. It will be no surprise to the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, to hear me say, as I shall indicate on a later amendment, that this attempt to bring legislation into this area is a sad one. It will damage, rather than reinforce, the work of European unity and effectiveness and the creation of the modern Europe that is now developing and which I greatly welcomeit may indeed yet bring extreme benefits to our people, as it has done in the past. I do not see that this amendment will help at all.
Lord Dykes: I am grateful to noble Lords and to the Minister for their contributions to this argument. I reiterate that the clause, like the Bill, is a fairly gentle, mild set of suggestions for trying to increase
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I appreciate the words of the Minister. There is a problem of ensuring that there are no extra administrative burdens or expenses. That was not envisaged. The amendments were a particular way of trying to get over the problem of the anxiety about compulsion. Of course, there would be other ways of resolving the problem. If the Bill were allowed to make progress through further stages, I would hope that we could return to these matters.
In the mean time, I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, on his very legitimate question. I thank him for his comments. In Clause 4, the definition is:
Nothing else is envisaged. Bearing in mind the comments that have been made, including those from the opposition Front Bench by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, I do not wish to press the amendment further at this stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch moved Amendment No. 3:
(5) All information provided under this section shall be provided by a committee of seven members appointed by the Privy Council, of whom
(6) The person nominated under subsection (5)(d) shall not act in any capacity as chairman or as a member of the committee unless at least five members of the committee approve his appointment.
The noble Lord said: We come now to what, I fear, may be the main bone of contention between the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, and Europhile supporters of this Bill and those of us of a more Euro-sceptic inclination. Amendment No. 3 is an attempt to bridge the ever-widening chasm between those who regard the project of European union as a good thinga project that has brought peace, prosperity and
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The amendment speaks for itself. It may not be perfect, but it is an honest attempt to see that any information put before the public should pass through both Europhile and Euro-sceptic filters, thus emerging as balanced as possible. Other noble Lords may be able to think of a better way of ensuring that only balanced and honest information about our relationship with the EU is distributed, in which case I look forward to hearing their suggestions. What is absolutely obvious is that no official information from Brussels or the Government should be distributed unless it is balanced by the Euro-sceptic view. Indeed, the committee proposed by the amendment might decide to do just that. It might decide to distribute the Brussels line on a given subject with the sceptic view alongside it. People could then ask questions, talk about it, at last have some of the national debate that the Government say they want, and make up their own minds.
I take the example of subsidiarity. In his speech at Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, said:
I am especially keen that the explanation of subsidiarity, for example, should be properly handled, as well as the emphasis that many policy areas remain the principal or sole preserve of the sovereign member states, which is as it should be.[Official Report, 15/12/06; col. 1771.]
Europhiles claim that subsidiarity ensures that the EU is given power to do things only when they can be done better by the Community acting as a whole, leaving everything else to be done by the member states. I imagine that that may be the interpretation supported by the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, but I hope that he will forgive me when I say that we Euro-sceptics regard it as entirely misleading; we would regard it as entirely misleading if that meaning of subsidiarity was to form part of the information distributed under the Bill. We maintain that subsidiarity has precisely the opposite meaning and, indeed, has had the opposite effect over the years.
We would want the people to be told that subsidiarity has always been a deception and has done nothing to stem the steady passage of powers from the member states to the European Union. We have not deviated from this view since subsidiarity was introduced during the Maastricht negotiations of 1992. We noticed then that the clause was ambiguously worded, its first sentence making it clear that it applied only to areas that had not already been passed to the control of the EU. We felt rather sorry for poor Mr Major when he claimed subsidiarity as a great victory for national sovereignty, saying that under it some 25 per cent of the already over-burdensome EU regulation would be repealed within three years. Of course, nothing of the sort has happened.
To rub in the true interpretation of the subsidiarity clause, Protocol 30 was added to the next treatythe Amsterdam treaty of 1997. This states clearly that subsidiarity means maintaining the acquis communautaireor powers acquired by the Communityin full. It goes
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The Union shall provide itself with the means necessary to obtain its objectives and carry through its policies.
As, indeed, it has, as, indeed, it is, and as, indeed, it will until the EU mega-state is complete or until we, as a country, see the lightor, perhaps, the darknessand leave the wretched thing behind us.
We would expect any information on subsidiarity to at least contain the treaty clauses and protocol on which it is based and some examples of where it has worked. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, couldif I could have his attentiongive us examples of areas of our national sovereignty that have been returned to us under it, and examples where a reasonable person might think that the EU should not have taken powers, leaving them to the national Parliament to decide instead. We feel that examples of both those should be put to the people.
Before the noble Lord gives us those examples, I remind him of the statement made last month by Mr Roman Herzog, the former German President, to the effect that 84 per cent of all German national law since 1999 has been imposed by Brussels. It may not be quite the same figure here, although it is hard to see why it should be different. Our Government refuse to answer the question of what percentage applies here, going no further than to confess that most law affecting our business now comes from Brussels, which is bad enough.
Even if we are cautious and say that some 70 per cent of all our national law is now imposed on us by the Brussels system, that should give us all pause for thought. Does that not mean that your Lordships House and the House of Commons are now 70 per cent irrelevant, if 70 per cent of our function has been usurped by Brussels? Of course, working here in these splendid surroundings, and with most Members of the other place paid rather more than they might be in real life, it is easy not to see the wood for the trees. That is where our membership of the European Union has brought us, and I would like to know what subsidiarity has done to stop it.
At Second Reading on 1 December, I briefly set down, at cols. 1778-79 of Hansard, some of the other basic reasons why we Euro-sceptics so dislike and fear the project of European union, all of which we would want to form part of the information distributed under the Bill. I will not repeat them now. We hope that this Bill would give rise to open and honest debate on the innately undemocratic system of EU lawmaking, about which most people in this country are simply not aware. We hope that national debate would also be encouraged on the question of exactly what the economic costs and benefits of our EU membership really areanother subject avoided by the Government like a frightened rabbit, perhaps because private independent studies put the cost of our membership at anywhere between 4 per cent and 10 per cent of GDP. No wonder the Government do not want to have to validate that.
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