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Yes, we have been debating these issues for a very long time. We will continue to have to raise the British peoples awareness not only of the importance of our membership of the European Union, but of the benefits. I am heartened by the new powers for national parliaments, which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, mentioned. We have no specific initiatives in mind yet, but any suggestions or proposals from this House or another place will be very welcome.
Finally, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that looking at issues that are at the top of peoples agendas is very important, and I hope that we can now move on from the European Union looking inwardly at institutional change to our looking outwardly at the global issues that affect our world.
Lord Brittan of Spennithorne: My Lords, on any fair analysis, the treaty is very different from the constitutional treaty that was originally negotiated. It is in no sense integrationist. Does the Minister agree that the creation of the office of High Representative, in place of the two existing offices that exercise such functions, and the creation of a longer-serving President of the Council, confers no new powers on the holders of offices and so transfers no power at all from this country to the European institutions? On the other hand, on competition policy, even if the protocol that has been agreed reaffirms the legal position, does the Minister agree that the failure to include the reference to free and undistorted competition in the objectives of the European Union means that that does not have the primacy that it has had and that it should retain?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, first, I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, on his point about the High Representative and the President of the Council. No new powers are conferred on the holders of those offices; they will work at the direction of the Council of Ministers. Secondly, on competition, there is a protocol, which is legally binding and which makes it clear that the internal market includes,
and to empower the European Union to take the necessary steps to ensure this. Given the range of references to competition in the conclusions, it is clear that the primacy of competition is not being eroded. That is the Governments very strong view.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, how could any Government be taken seriously and secure the essentials of agreement if, like the Opposition, we are seen to be moving inexorably towards the scuttling of any European deal, purely for opportunistic and somewhat unrealistic reasons? Do we not have to be positive and constructive to gain any influence whatever?
Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, does the Minister accept that ifI stress ifthe Members of this House conclude that the provisions of this treaty, regardless of their merits, come within the substance of a manifesto commitment to hold a referendum, it would be wholly within the powers of the House, and wholly proper, to reject a Bill that implemented the treaty until the manifesto was honoured and the referendum held? I emphasise that I am interested not in what past Governments did to past treaties, but in how this treaty ties up with what was said in the manifesto.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, we made it absolutely clear at the time that the constitutional treaty was published that we would go out and defend what was in that treaty. The landscape then changed. We are now in a different place and I do not accept the terms laid down by the noble Viscount.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, while not expecting the noble Baroness to agree with those who regard the signing of this treaty as a terrible betrayal, particularly when there is going to be denial of a referendum, does she acknowledge that the Irish Prime Minister has said that it contains 90 per cent of the constitution that was rejected by the electors of Holland and France? Does she further agree that it will certainly turn out to be a great betrayal if the opt-out from the charter and the political declaration regarding foreign and security policy are found to be valueless in the face of the determination of the European Court to further an ever-closer union? Is not the charter already being given effect to? Does not the Government realise that the European Union some time ago issued an edict, DOC COM(2005) 172, requiring the charter to be enshrined in all European legislation? Does the noble Baroness not realise that the British Government have agreed to the setting up of an agency to monitor the operations of this charter, which the Prime Minister says that he has managed to opt out of? Has not the Prime Minister signed up to supporting actively and unreservedly in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity the common foreign and security policy? How can a non-legally binding declaration exempt us from that obligation so far as foreign policy is concerned, to which the Prime Minister has signed up?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I say to the House and to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, that I have absolutely no problem with the guaranteeing of fundamental rights, freedoms and principles for the British people. We have done that through the Human Rights Act. I hope that the noble Lord will agree that, over many years, these rights are already enshrined in British law and we should be very proud of that. Fundamental rights, freedoms and principles are guaranteed by the Governments of the member states in accordance with national law. That is what we, the British Government, have done. Successive British Governments have felt that that is important. But there was no statement of rights binding the European Union. The charter is a statement for the Union.
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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that one of the remarkable things about the Charter of Fundamental Rights is that it will now apply, as she has said, with reservations in the United Kingdom case, to all the countries of eastern and central Europe which have now joined the community and which have lived through a long period of dictatorship under communist control? Does she agree that their own fundamental rights and liberties will now, for the first time in a long time, be protected and that we in this country should be very proud of that? Does the noble Baroness also share with me a sense of an extraordinary inconsistency on the part of the Conservative Party, which never held a referendum over Maastricht or the much more significant Single European Act, and now claims that it needs a referendum on this much less significant change?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I should clarify for the noble Baroness that the charter applies to European Union institutions rather than to individual countries. But I take the spirit of what she is referring to with respect to the issues around eastern and central Europe. I also agree entirely with the noble Baroness that there seems to be a kind of collective amnesia on the Conservative Benches this afternoon.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, will the noble Baroness clarify a couple of points? The first relates to the position on competition policy. Can she confirm that the legal force of the proposed amending treaty and the legal force of the protocol to that treaty on competition policy are identical? In the light of the somewhat alarming and misleading statements made about weakening competition policy and increasing protection, is it not extraordinarily important that the Government should make clear their continuing support for a rigorous and vigorous application by the Commission of its powers as the competition watchdog? Secondly, on the issue of the charter, can she confirm that the new provisions relating to the UK for the Charter of Fundamental Rights represent a legally more secure situation for us than that which has prevailed under the existing provisions of the Treaty of Nice?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, the important point about the charter is that it puts the position beyond doubt. That is absolutely right. Further, I can confirm that the legal force with respect to the amending treaty is identical. On the competition proposals, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, is quite right to stress the importance of the competition watchdog exercising its powers.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, did not the Government describe the previous version of the treaty as a tidying-up exercise and, in common with the Liberals, promised a referendum for the British people? Can the Minister spell out for the likes of me what
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Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is right about the importance of Governments having to carry consent. I can well remember what happened not only in Parliament but also elsewhere when there were proposals for a poll tax in this country. At the same time, Governments also have to show leadership in the international arena, and that is precisely what we are doing. I accept that we have a responsibility to ensure that the British people appreciate and understand why our membership of the European Union remains important, as well as the benefits of that membership. They also need to appreciate and understand precisely why this amending treaty is so important: it allows us to move on to the territory where, working with our European Union partners, we will be able to deal with the issues which are at the front of peoples minds rather than focusing on institutional change.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, the noble Lord asked about the difference between this treaty and the constitution. Perhaps he should be invited to have a quiet word with the noble Lord sitting not two places from him, who is a considerable expert on this. Surely there is such a fundamental difference, and I imagine that he together with others voted strongly against a referendum both on the Single European Act and Maastricht. Together they amounted to a far greater transfer of qualified majority voting. If not then, why now? Surely we should all rejoice that there is now an opportunity for the Union to move forward to those areas which we consider to be of great importance, be it Darfur, economic security or Doha. On the parliamentary aspect, noble Lords will recall the substantial and detailed provisions in the constitution relating to greater accountability for national parliaments. How much of that has been retained in this new treaty?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I could not agree more with my noble friend on the difference between the constitutional treaty and the amending treaty, and the importance of moving on to policy issues. On the question of national parliaments, for the first time, when over half the national parliaments object to a new measure on subsidiarity grounds, the measure has to be considered. That is a considerable strengthening of the role of national parliaments.
Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, as the southern Irish Prime Minister has confirmed that this treaty involves 90 per cent of the original European constitutionin which he was very much involved, and he certainly knows what he is talking aboutcan the Minister confirm that this treaty does not involve the transfer of any powers from the United Kingdom to any European Community institution?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am not entirely sure what the noble Lord is asking me, because he will know that there is a move to qualified majority voting in some areas, which is precisely why, in areas where the UK Government were concerned about UK interests, we either negotiated the opt-in, as we did in the area of justice and home affairs, or we strengthened the emergency brake procedure, as we did in the area of social security.
Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: My Lords, first, in the spirit of reshuffle bonhomie, would the noble Baroness accept our best wishes and pass them on to her colleagues on the Front Bench? More seriously, I wish the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, well as he leaves the Government.
We have heard fragments of what Kenneth Clarke has said. If I may say so, he has had considerably more experience in government than some of those who have spoken for the Conservatives today. It is worth mentioning all his comments. He said that some of the Euro-sceptics would,
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his best wishes and I will certainly pass them on to my colleagues who were not here to hear him. I entirely agree with the noble Lord regarding the comments on a referendum. We all know that this debate and argument are about going back over old ground and we have moved to a situation in which a group of people on the Benches opposite oppose even our membership of the European Union, will not acknowledge the benefits of it, and will not recognise that if you have a Union of 27, together with an enlargement agenda, you must look at practical ways of making that Union work effectively. We think we have done that and that we can now move on to talking about some of the big issues that face us in our ever-changing world.
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, would my noble friend agree that the logical reason why the Conservative Party is demanding a referendum, as opposed to relying on parliamentary democracy, is that a referendum would open the door to an alarmist campaign to vote no, run by that notable John Bull, Mr Rupert Murdoch?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, there has always been a great deal of alarmism around issues relating to our membership of the European Union. We all have a responsibility to deal with the facts, rather than with the myths. Perhaps it is about time that we began to address these myths in a responsible way, rather than to feed that alarmist agenda.
Surely, the point embodied in those words has been of great importance to this country since we joined the Common Market. Am I right in thinking that they were removed on the urging of President Sarkozy of France, because they would oblige him to have a referendum? If they are so important, surely they oblige us to have a referendum.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, competition policy is a strength of the European Union. It ensures a level playing field for business and protection for consumers from price fixing and market rigging. We continue to support the rigorous application of competition policy in an independent manner. The treaty will provide legal certainty on EU powers to continue to regulate cartels, mergers and anti-trust violations, which I have mentioned before. There is language within the communiqué on the need to ensure that competition within the European Union is not distorted. Competition policy continues to be important.
Lord Grenfell: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison. I am delighted that the Minister welcomes, as do the Government, the new powers conferred on national parliaments to check what the Commission is doing in relation to subsidiarity, but does she recall that the President of the Commission last year, with the full agreement of the Commission, conferred on the national parliaments the right to expect the Commission to respond to comments made by national parliaments on any document whether or not it referred to subsidiarity? That is a very important step forward. Does she agree that it would be a great pity if in the IGC that fact was lost and the assumption was made that national parliaments can only comment on matters relating to subsidiarity?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. I sincerely hope that that point will be made not only by this House but by other parliaments during the consultation process between now and the end of the IGC period in December.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we are now called upon to consider the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill for a third time and amendments to extend the new offence to deaths in custody in all circumstances. I again express my gratitude to noble Lords who have taken the time and care to spend some time with me to discuss the issues that remain of concern in your Lordships House. I am extremely grateful to all those who have done so and I hope that they will agree that I have reflected on their concerns with great care.
The other place has sent to us again an amendment tabled by the Government that proposes instead a power to extend the new offence to deaths in custody in due course. The difference between the two proposals represents the nub of the issue for this House: whether the Bill should be amended now, at this stage, or whether this is an issue for the future. The Government have come a considerable distance on the issue. The draft Bill and the consultation paper in 2005, as noble Lords who have been involved in the Bill from the beginning will be aware, proposed taking the significant step of applying the new offence to Crown bodies. But, in doing so, they pointed out that this step raised questions about the circumstances in which public authorities should be held to account under the criminal law for decisions of public policy or matters that are uniquely the responsibility of the state, such as holding prisoners in custody.
We have also rehearsed and discussed the other forms of accountability for functions of this kind. These recognise the special responsibility of the state in these cases but also the need to treat them in a manner suiting their importance, their sensitivity and their connection with public policyhence the role of Parliament, other public forums and specific independent investigatory bodies. The draft Bill made it clear that those were matters where the offence should not apply. That is a position that the other place has supported, and so has this House, with the exception of custody. The Bill accordingly exempts death connected with the exercise of a number of public responsibilities. The Government believed, and believe, that it is appropriate for the management of prisoners in custody also to fall on that side of the line.
We have sought to find a positive way through in direct response to the concerns that others have raised about deaths in custody. That is included in the Bill, explicitly opening the door for the offence to apply to such deaths. From a position of considering that such matters should be entirely excluded from the new offence, that represents considerable movement on our part, but we are not persuaded at this stage that we can go further.
Applying the new offence to government departments, as I have indicated, is a bold step, and it brings with it considerable uncertainties. By their very nature, these are bodies with considerable public responsibilities,
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