Friday, July 20, 2007

We shall soon be losing this

Her Majesty's Government is once again showing itself determined to deal with the really important constitutional issue: the destruction of the House of Lords as an independent and constitutionally functional body.

It behoves us all to support this excellent institution as long as it is possible and to pay some attention to what their noble lordships manage to achieve without getting paid for it, unlike their colleagues in the Lower House.

Today, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to call attention to several Written Questions put to HMG by several peers, some hereditary, others not so.

First off, there is a Question by Lord Pearson of Rannoch, who is a life peer, so HMG will have to introduce some other piece of legislation to get rid of him. He asked HMG
Whether there is any conflict between the aims announced in their Green Paper, The Governance of Britain (Cm 7170), and the United Kingdom's continued membership of the European Union, bearing in mind the quantity of British law which now originates in Brussels.
Well, what could be the response to that, one wonders. A good deal of waffle, as it happens and a curious non-sequitur:
The Government's Green Paper, The Governance of Britain, is the first step in a national debate on further constitutional reform. It sets out the ways in which we can reinvigorate our democracy and make both the executive and Parliament more accountable to the people.

These proposals do not present any conflict with the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union.
Oh well, that's all right then. After all, one would not like to think that any discussion about making the executive and Parliament (which, actually, includes the executive) more accountable to the people, raised any questions as to how legislation was carried out in this country.

Then there is a Question from Lord Blackwell, who is also a life peer and who usually behaves himself but you can never tell with these peers. He asked HMG
What are the significant provisions of the draft constitution for Europe that they do not now expect to be included in the proposed European Union reform treaty based on the mandate of the current inter-governmental conference.
Replying for the government, Lord Malloch-Brown, so far as we know, still Vice-President of the Soros Hedge Fund, wrote the following:
The treaty establishing a constitution for Europe, on which the Government proposed a referendum, is now defunct. The mandate for a reform treaty agreed by the European Council states clearly:

“The constitutional concept, which consisted in repealing all existing Treaties and replacing them by a single text called ‘Constitution’, is abandoned”.

As my right honourable friend the then Prime Minister (Tony Blair) set out in his Statement in another place on 25 June, the reform treaty will differ fundamentally from the constitutional treaty in both form and substance. Among other things, we have ensured that there is nothing in the mandate for the reform treaty which will require us to change our existing labour and social legislation. Our common law system and our police and judicial processes will be protected. Our independent foreign and defence policy will be maintained. Our tax and social security system will be protected.
Gosh, how they love to go on about that concept that was abandoned in favour of a new concept. It was not the concept that Lord Blackwell was enquiring about but significant provisions. Which ones will not be included?

Far it be from me to accuse a Minister of the Crown of telling porky-pies but, sadly, that is precisely what Lord Malloch-Brown was doing. I don't suppose he even noticed the difference, having run interference for ex-SecGen Kofi Annan (father of Kojo).

The only reason matters to do with labour and social legislation are not in the text of the new treaty is because they are in the text of the existing Consolidated Treaties, both of those having become EU competences some time ago.

A good deal of the legal and judicial system has been signed away under the European Convention of Human Rights and we do not know what the status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights (a. k. a. the Beano) will be. Then there are those pesky agreements known as Tampere I and Tampere II, which enabled the Commission to dismiss Michael Howard's election promises that he would tighten up asylum laws and border control.

Foreign and security policy? Well, actually, there is quite a lot of it in the new mandate and, in any case, it is there in the Consolidated Treaties, not to mention such minor details as the St Malo Agreement.

Taxation system safeguarded? Well, give or take VAT and the probable encroachment on corporation tax.

Three Questions from Lord Inglewood, who is a hereditary peer, deal with the question of veto and extent of legislation that is coming out of Brussels. Lord Malloch-Brown, for it is he again, made it clear that the veto is never exercised since if there is a feeling that one Minister might do so, the matter is withdrawn. This is known as consensus.

There was one really interesting Question:
How many directives or regulations since the general election of 1997 determined by (a) qualified majority voting, and (b) unanimity have gone onto the European statute book.
To which Lord Malloch-Brown replied with the time-honoured formula:
The information as requested by the noble Lord is not held centrally by the Government. To collate this would incur disproportionate cost.
Oh really? Does the Noble Minister mean that UKREP, the United Kingdom Permanent Representation to the European Union, does not keep track of the legislation that is put on the European statute book? Why not, precisely? That's one of its jobs.

Has the Commission ceased to keep a list of European legislation that has been put on the statute book?

Do the telephones in Whitehall no longer operate? There is, I ought to point out to Lord Malloch-Brown, an excellent internal phone system, that includes the Commission and the European Parliament, as well as the UKREP offices. Easy enough to pick up the receiver and ask for the information.

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