Thursday, 8 November 2007

Yesterday in the House of Lords

The House met at its normal Wednesday time of 3pm. Five Bills were introduced and given their first Reading. A motion was then agreed to appointing the Committee of Selection. The debate on the Address was resumed at 3.12pm and continued until the House adjourned at 10.53pm. The subject matters for the day were Foreign and European Affairs, International Development and Defence.

Baroness Taylor, appointed only a few hours before at the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence, opened the debate. Her first task was to pay tribute to her predeccesor Lord Drayson, who has taken leave of absence in order to pursue his interest in motor racing. Much of the debate centered around the EU Reform Treaty; Israel-Palestine; Energy Security and Climate Change. Afghanistan; Iraq; Darfur and defence procurement were also discussed. The topics were so wide that many other matters were raised too.

Baroness Ramsey of Cartvale made a thoughtful speech on Israel and Palestine and Lord Kerr of Kinlochard gave a reasoned speech about the EU Reform Treaty. Lord Jopling argued for greater co-operation between NATO and the EU. Lord Grenfell announced that the Lord's EU "Select Committee decided that the best service it could render the House was to conduct a rigorous and detailed impact assessment, based on the treaty text agreed at the 18 October informal summit, to be carried out through our policy-based sub-committees, of the effect of the treaty changes in their final form on the United Kingdom and on the EU as a whole. The Select Committee will assess the institutional changes with the exception of the creation of the post of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy which will be scrutinised by our Foreign Affairs, Defence and Development Policy Sub-Committee. We plan to publish the consolidated assessment in advance of any ratification Bill coming before your Lordships' House, in the event that the treaty is signed at the 13 December European Council. Our sole objective is to produce a report that can prove useful to all participants in the debate.

We shall be looking principally at the treaty itself, with the UK's opt-ins and opt-outs treated separately. With regard to the latter, we shall explain where opt-outs are possible, and what would be the implications of not opting in. We will, in particular, seek to probe in detail the effectiveness of the Government's red lines, including, of course, the provision that national security remains a matter for member states. Opt-ins in freedom, security and justice matters will be subjected to close scrutiny, as will be the United Kingdom’s position regarding the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. We shall also look closely at any provision made by the Government to implement parliamentary involvement in passerelle provisions which enable qualified majority voting to be extended without treaty amendment, a matter on which the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, has already expressed interest.

I hope that noble Lords will agree that that is precisely what our Select Committee and its sub-committees should be doing. Work is already under way, and on Thursday last we published a preliminary report setting out our work programme on the treaty and publishing some evidence already taken from our permanent representative to the EU, as well as from the head of the Commission's legal service, from the office of the EU Commission vice-president in charge of relations with national parliaments, and from one of the three MEPs who represented the European Parliament in the intergovernmental conference on the treaty.

That is just the beginning. The Select Committee and its sub-committees are now fully engaged in carrying forward this very important inquiry. We are asking interested parties within and widely outside Parliament to put their views directly to our sub-committees and to the Select Committee. On Tuesday of last week, and leading the pack, our Law and Institutions Sub-Committee—chaired, as noble Lords know, by one of our Law Lords—which will bear a heavy burden in this inquiry, published its call for evidence, seeking a broad spectrum of views on the impact of the reform treaty in the areas of freedom, security and justice."

Apart from a diversion - Baroness Walmsley spoke about children, schools and family - she won't be able to attend that part of the debate scheduled for Thursday 8th - speeches on the announced subjects continued until Lord Malloch-Brown wound up the debate.