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European Council, Amsterdam

3.42 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, with the leave of the House, and with apologies to my noble friend Lord Borrie for interrupting his debate, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister about the meeting of the European Council in Amsterdam on 16th and 17th June, which he attended with my right honourable friends the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and my honourable friend the Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Council conclusions have been placed in the Library of the House. I shall also place a full copy of the text of the Amsterdam Treaty in the Library as soon as it is available. The Statement is as follows:

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    "I know that this will be welcomed by the whole House. We have ensured that we, and only we, decide border policy, and that policies on immigration, asylum and visas are made in Britain, not Brussels. Others may choose to have different arrangements, to suit their traditions and geographical position. I see no reason to prevent them doing so, although these arrangements will continue to be governed by unanimity. The United Kingdom can participate in areas of interest to us if we so choose--at our option. No opt-out. An opt-in as we choose.

    "In the justice and home affairs area, we have also agreed better arrangements for co-operation on police, crime and drugs. I attach great importance to more effective international action in these areas of direct concern to people. But co-operation will remain inter-governmental and subject to unanimity. Thanks to amendments that we secured, the European Court will also have no authority to decide cases brought in UK courts on these issues.

    "We have also ensured continued protection for our essential interests in all the areas where we sought it. We have maintained the veto--as we said we would--in foreign policy, defence, treaty change, community finances, and tax. We have prevented the extension of qualified majority voting in areas where it might cause damage. Others wanted to extend QMV in the social chapter, which would have affected our companies even if we were not party to the chapter. Because we were in it, we were able to stop this. We have agreed to qualified majority voting where it is in our national interest; for example, on research and development and on action to combat fraud and waste. We have also ruled out other potentially damaging proposals. For example, others wanted to give the European Union explicit legal personality across all the pillars. At our insistence, this was removed. Moreover, the treaty spells out that international agreements can only be concluded on the basis of unanimity following a clear Council decision. In addition, we secured a veto over flexibility arrangements which could otherwise have allowed the development of a hard core excluding us against our will.

    "Secondly, for the first time in a decade Britain is setting a positive agenda for Europe. In April in Manchester, I set out our platform for reform: completion of the single market, a new emphasis on flexible labour markets and education and skills, reform of wasteful policies in agriculture and elsewhere, enlargement and a more effective common foreign and security policy. Each of those elements was fully reflected at Amsterdam, in the IGC or the Council conclusions. In particular, we successfully

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    promoted support for a new action plan for the single market which echoes key British concerns. This should in time lead to further opening of Europe's markets to British companies. Completing the single market will be one of the top priorities for the British presidency.

    "Thirdly, jobs. We have put these at the top of Europe's agenda, where they belong. The new treaty chapter on employment recognises the importance of job creation and sets member states and the Community the task of promoting flexible labour markets, and education and skills. That is where Europe must make a difference.

    "Fourthly, the treaty makes Europe more relevant to people: it ensures greater openness; it increases powers to combat fraud and waste; it strengthens environmental protection; it creates power to act against discrimination on grounds of sex, race, religion or disability--another area where Britain has taken the lead; it gives subsidiarity--ensuring that decisions are taken at the European level only where there is real added value in doing so--real teeth through a binding protocol; and it imposes an obligation to take into account the welfare of animals.

    "Fifthly, the treaty prepares the institutions of the Union for enlargement. There was not as much progress on this as there might have been. But we have ensured that, at the time of enlargement, the Council's voting system will be changed to give Britain and other large countries more votes. Europe must now get on with making a reality of the historic opportunity of enlargement. We need to extend our stability and prosperity to the new democracies of central and eastern Europe. The European Council is committed to decisions on the opening of enlargement negotiations at its meeting in December. We shall play a leading role in those negotiations, particularly during our presidency.

    "Sixthly, while retaining our veto, we have taken steps to improve the effectiveness of foreign policy co-operation with better planning and co-ordination. That is an important British interest. But getting Europe's voice heard more clearly in the world will not be achieved through merging the European Union and Western European Union or developing an unrealistic common defence policy. We therefore resisted unacceptable proposals from others. Instead, we argued for--and won--the explicit recognition, written into the treaty for the first time, that NATO is the foundation of our and other allies' common defence.

    "The House will also be interested that the treaty contains provisions to strengthen Parliament's ability to scrutinise European legislation properly, by laying down a minimum six week period for documents to be available.

    "Though not part of the IGC, we also made real progress in Amsterdam on the problem of quota hoppers--fishermen from other member states who fish against British quotas. We secured an agreement with the Commission on our two central concerns. First, that we are entitled to put into law a clear

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    economic link between boats using our quotas and Britain. Economic benefits from boats flying the British flag should go to British ports, for example through a proviso that 50 per cent. of a boat's catch should be landed locally. We will be introducing new licence conditions to reflect this with all possible speed.

    "Secondly, the Commission agreed to bring forward new tougher measures of enforcement to ensure that fishermen landing their catch abroad cannot escape controls. These measures are agreed by qualified majority voting and cannot therefore be blocked by another member state. These agreements, taken together, will mean a major disincentive to quota hoppers, present and future. And Commission agreement to the new measures means that their vulnerability to legal challenge, a perennial problem hitherto, should be greatly reduced.

    "The letters between myself and the President of the Commission setting out these agreements are in the Library. The Commission letter also confirms that important principles underlying the common fisheries policy, notably relative stability and the provisions on 12 mile limits, should remain when they are reviewed in 2002. These commitments allow us to start working with fishermen from around the country to plan a sustainable future for the industry. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be making a more detailed Statement immediately after this.

    "On economic and monetary union, the documents discussed by the House on 9th June were approved. I made clear that the entry conditions should be strictly applied and that sustainable convergence is essential if EMU is to go ahead successfully.

    "The European Council also agreed a resolution on employment with British ideas at the centre of it. We have shown that, alongside low inflation and sound public finances, Europe needs a new approach to employment and growth, based on British ideas for competitiveness, including more flexible labour markets and employability. This means creating a more skilled and adaptable workforce, better equipped to cope with economic change. It means a new emphasis on getting people off welfare and into work. It does not mean the old agenda of tax and spend--no new money from the Community budget was agreed in Amsterdam. This is the right approach, in or out of EMU.

    "The successful conclusion of the IGC enables Europe to put institutional wrangles behind it and move on to the issues which affect people's daily lives: jobs, the environment, crime. Progress in these areas will be our priority. We are determined not to let Europe get bogged down again in minutiae. If we are to build a people's Europe, we must stay focused on the people's concerns.

    "We said we would secure our frontiers; and we did. We said we would preserve NATO, not the European Union, as the cornerstone to the defence of Europe; and we did. We said we would get a new deal for our fishing communities; and we did. We said

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    we would put jobs at the top of the agenda for Europe; and we did. We said we would start to make Europe more relevant to the concerns of the peoples of Europe; and we did.

    "We made Britain's voice heard at Amsterdam, because for the first time for many years Britain spoke as a united Government with a clear direction for Europe. We have proved to the people of Britain that we can get a better deal by being constructive, and we have proved to Europe that Britain can be a leading player setting a new agenda that faces the real challenges of the new century".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.54 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, the House will be extremely grateful to the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal for repeating the Statement with his usual panache and style. Nevertheless I feel that the Statement raises more questions than it answers. However, I welcome parts of it and I draw the attention of the House to what may seem to be some of the more detailed parts: the reference to the free movement of goods and the question of legal personality in the conclusions.

I am sure the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal will be aware that the documentation is extensive and does not yet appear to be fully available. On those grounds alone, let alone the importance of the subject which today's Statement addresses, will the noble Lord undertake that there will be an opportunity to debate these matters in your Lordships' House as soon as the papers are available and we have an opportunity to study the detail? I hope that the usual channels will be able to agree a suitable length of time for such a debate and that the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal will be able to give the House an undertaking that we shall have an opportunity to debate these matters before the House rises for the Summer Recess.

Will the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal also undertake to bring any necessary legislation to this House so that the British Parliament has an opportunity to vote on it and to enact it? I seem to remember in the days when the noble Lord was speaking on occasions such as this from this Dispatch Box that he always advised me to read the Presidency conclusions rather than the Government's version of them. I always try to follow the noble Lord's advice whenever possible in spite of the inevitably rather restricted amount of time available to the Opposition for preparation for these occasions.

I was pleased to see that both in the Statement and in the Presidency conclusions the question of unemployment quite rightly takes priority. However, I have to say that particularly on page 8 the conclusions read rather like a restatement of the old corporatist line that has produced such splendidly effective results for unemployment in Germany and France. I suspect that is rather different from the claim in the Statement as regards flexible markets. When he replies will the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal confirm that flexible markets will be possible, in particular in the context of what

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seems to me to be the less than clear claims about the effects of the social chapter and its integration into the treaty?

I have asked the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal the following question before and I hope he will forgive me for asking it again. Whatever is introduced into the QMV provisions of the social chapter, will the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal please confirm that the only way--short of extraordinary negotiating skill, which may be even beyond the capacities of the present Prime Minister under certain circumstances--in which the Government can pick and choose which elements of the social chapter they wish to apply is to maintain our opt out and to put those provisions in parallel through the British Parliament? If that is not so, I should be extremely interested to hear it. If it is so, I wonder how the noble Lord reconciles that with the claim in the Statement that he has just read.

I move on to the question of enlargement. Is the noble Lord aware that the Labour Party manifesto stated that the enlargement of the Community would be a high priority? The Statement stated that there was not as much progress as there might have been. All I can say to that is, indeed. Where, for instance, is the agreement on the institutional reform that points towards future enlargement? What new practical measures will be taken to bring in new members as a result of this treaty? Is it not a fact that this treaty does nothing to build a wider Europe, only--as is all too predictable to some of us--a deeper, more bureaucratic Europe which therefore will be less competitive, unlike, I fear, what the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, said before we began these exchanges, and therefore one that is less likely to create jobs which, quite rightly, the Government regard as the highest priority for all Europeans at the moment?

Can the noble Lord clarify precisely what has been said on a question of flexibility? Is he aware that if flexibility can be agreed by QMV it could constitute a major step towards a deeper integration in Europe--something of which I understand the Prime Minister is no longer in favour? Therefore in what areas has the Prime Minister agreed to allow new flexibility? Might this not be a veto bypass to allow greater centralisation even if Britain wanted to stop it?

Did the Prime Minister raise the issue of the beef ban during the talks? Is it not the truth that no progress whatever has been made towards lifting the ban, whether in other forums which have been more properly used for that debate or in this forum in view of the lack of progress in other forums? In that context, what is the Government's attitude towards importing European beef which appears now not to be subject to the same stringent controls as British beef?

What exactly has the Prime Minister agreed on defence? Can the noble Lord confirm that the draft treaty talks of,

    "the objective of the gradual integration of the WEU into the European Union"?
Is he aware that on defence a Dutch presidency spokesman has said that this is,

    "the first time Britain has conceded the principle of integrating defence in the European Union"?

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I hope that when the noble Lord answers these questions he will be able to deny that claim from his Dutch colleague.

There is deep suspicion in all parts of the country, despite the glorious honeymoon being enjoyed by the party opposite, that the United Kingdom has entered these negotiations, in particular on the social chapter, perfectly prepared to give ground in exchange for dubious returns. It seems to me that in agreeing to the provisions of the social chapter, to a new employment chapter, and on surrendering our veto in a number of areas, the innocence of the Government in the shark-infested waters of European negotiation is becoming all too obvious.

Will the noble Lord also tell the House what benefits were secured for this country's national interest as a result of what has happened? Will he confirm that as a result of the agreements made today there will indeed be more qualified majority voting? Will there be more powers for the European Parliament and more influence for the European Union and its institutions over foreign and employment policy? It looks as though that is so. That is fine so long as the objectives that are being peddled are consistent with the competitiveness and employment objectives that we all wish to see achieved.

Will the noble Lord confirm that the remit of the European Court of Justice and the Commission has not been extended to cover asylum and immigration? Is it true that the Council of Ministers will consider at a later date extending QMV to this area? As regards the European Court of Justice, will the noble Lord tell us what, if anything, has been done to limit the damaging effect of the retrospective application of ECJ judgments?

On common foreign and security policy, the noble Lord read from the Statement that we have maintained our veto. Can he confirm that the decisions of the Council on common foreign and security policy would indeed be by majority vote? I refer to the decisions on the implementation of the policy with,

    "a possibility for a member state to take a position of constructive abstention or only in the case of important reasons for national policy to block a vote".
Can the noble Lord tell the House who will decide those important reasons of national policy? What guarantees do we have that a national judgment will be recognised and respected? Indeed, how does that square with the claim that the Government have maintained the veto which is, after all, a bald assertion which appears not to be qualified half enough in the Statement?

All in all, at the risk of perhaps sounding a little churlish--I welcome some of what is in the Statement--there is increasingly apparent a gap between the Government's rhetoric about flexible markets and what they are prepared to sign up to but, more importantly, to resist in Europe. It seems to me that the Government are caught between a desire to be loved in Europe at almost any cost and their gradually dawning realisation that what I can only describe as Tory policies deliver jobs. I hope that a debate can help us to clarify where

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the Government really stand and that the Lord Privy Seal will enable us to have that opportunity at an early date.

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