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Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, does the Minister accept the particular urgency to get this system operational given that it is the essential organisation to co-ordinate many different government departments and agencies?
Lord Burlison: My Lords, it is hoped that the system is now well on the way. As I indicated previously, a little more work needs to be done in the lead-up to some of the outlying transmitters. It is envisaged that that will be done by the end of the year. We hope that the whole system will be ready then.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Government welcome the judgment given by the honourable Mr. Justice Jowitt since he expressed "complete confidence" in the validity of the Council Regulation 2027/97. He declined to refer the question of its validity to the European Court of Justice and he dismissed IATA's request for judicial review.
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that response. How could it be that the commission could propose, and the Government agree, to a regulation which was found to be incompatible with the prior treaty commitments of member states under the Warsaw Convention? Now that the judge has concluded that the European Council regulation is held in suspense, what therefore is the status of the Air Carrier Liability Order 1998 that was pushed through both Houses despite strong and reasoned protest from all sides and when we were the only country in the whole of the European Union to make non-compliance a criminal offence, which was a real case of gold plating?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, as I indicated, our interpretation of the judgment is that the Air Carrier Liability Order remains in force. The judge did not rule otherwise. The European Union has been completely united on this matter. The regulation was passed unanimously and it is being applied in each of the member states. It is true that we have implemented it in terms of a criminal sanction and that other states have different methods. Nevertheless, we are all committed in the European Union to ensuring that this measure of consumer protection for airline passengers is achieved.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, in that case can the Minister explain to the House his concept of the judge's decision that the EU regulation should be set aside? There appears to be some conflict here. Going a little further, can the Minister tell the House how many other members of the EU have implemented the regulations and whether any of them have done so in the way which we have adopted by adjusting their own laws? Further, can he say what is going on within IATA in the Passenger Services Conference which was trying to deal with the subject of waiving carriers' rights and limited liability on a fully international basis?
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this debate might well have been held in government time. I say that not to complain, but to define what I see to be the nature of the occasion. This is essentially a parliamentary debate to match the ceremonies that many of us attended this morning and the event which is to take place from six o'clock this evening. Indeed, we might have found more time for the debate had it not been for the knowledge that many noble Lords wish to be elsewhere to continue the celebrations at the close of this debate.
At the time when we were considering what we might put on the Order Paper today, I had representations not only from my noble friend Lord Russell-Johnston whom we welcome today not only as a Member of this House, but as president of the Assembly of the Council of Europe, but also from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, who will be contributing to this debate along with representations from the Conservative and Cross-Benches. I see this as essentially a Cross-Bench occasion. Although I hesitate to use a rather ugly phrase taken from marketing, I see this debate as an opportunity to "show case" the question of the contribution of the Council of Europe over the past 50 years and perhaps, as some noble Lords may choose to do, reflect on its future. I am sure that the Minister will be glad to know that I have no questions to ask of her and no awkward statements to make, which she may feel it necessary to disown.
I am particularly pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, in his place. Noble Lords may not know that he was substituting, if I may put it that way, for Herbert Morrison, the leader of the United Kingdom delegation at the first assembly in 1949. He has been associated with the development of European policies since that time. I am also very glad to note that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, intends to contribute to this debate. Although he may not remember, exactly 50 years ago to the day on 5th May 1949, he was also speaking in this Chamber. He was not speaking then on the matter of this debate, but on civil aviation. He has taken a close interest in European affairs since that time.
This is an occasion for personal memories as well as reflecting on the purpose, role, achievements and future of the European Council. I admit to making something of a sentimental journey of my own. Just over 30 years ago when I was the Parliamentary Secretary at the Foreign Office doing the job now done by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, I suddenly found myself leading the United Kingdom delegation to the assembly of the Council of Europe. Indeed, I believe that I was the first Minister to do so since the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, in 1949. My position was anomalous. I was unpopular because the leadership of the delegation had essentially become a Back-Bench role and a rather prized one. In the aftermath of De Gaulle's second veto in December 1966, the Government, of which I was a Member, thought of ways of showing their continued European commitment. They did not wish to be seen retiring out of pique. So I was launched at Strasbourg not as a secret weapon but as perhaps a rather tiny symbol of the Government's direction and interest.
I went there convinced that there would be many opportunities to speak about a cause in which I strongly believed, but when I arrived there I found that the leading questions were where to take the French delegation to lunch; how much was to be spent on it given the tight-fisted attitude of the Treasury; what should be chosen for the menu and how long a speech I should make on the importance of Franco-British relations.
Apart from that, what I remember of that time was that I kept Robert Maxwell off the delegation. I refused to have him despite the representations of the Chief Whip. I also remember the kindness of Sir Alec Douglas-Home as he then was. He had been Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative representatives to the assembly. He was infinitely more senior than me. Those who have been junior Ministers will well remember the occasions when, arriving at a meeting perhaps looking a little less scruffy than junior Ministers do in the present Government, and accompanied by senior civil servants, the delegation being met would leap forward to shake the hansd of the civil servants while the junior Minister stood by not quite knowing how to assert his authority. My relationship was with Sir Alec Douglas-Home at that time, but he always took immense care to be many paces behind me; and if anyone looked in his direction he always pointed them sharply in mine. So I remember with great appreciation his consideration at that time. The third aspect
Others from the United Kingdom have in their way done so. I refer to my noble friend Lord Russell-Johnston, now President of the Assembly; and Sir Geoffrey de Freitas, remembered by a number of noble Lords, was the president in my time, as, briefly, was Lord Finsberg seven years ago. John Edwards, a Treasury Minister in the Attlee Government, became President of the Assembly in 1959 and died in office, but he was held in great regard by all our partners in the Council of Europe for his commitment to his purposes. Indeed--I think that it is still the case--a road in Strasbourg was named after him, the only one of which I know. He was the Labour Member for Brighouse and Spenborough and deserves a reference on this occasion.
In many different ways, UK delegates of all parties have contributed to the assembly and made a major and constructive contribution to its affairs. We have to remember in particular the contribution made by Duncan Sandys at the birth of the Council of Europe; and indeed at the Hague Congress which preceded it the year before. We remember also the contribution--it was referred to this morning--of Sir Peter Smithers formerly the Conservative Member of Parliament for Winchester who became Secretary-General of the Council.
Looking back at those times--it is worth reading about them--at The Hague Congress in 1948, to which I referred, we find that most of the arguments pre-figured discussion about European unity and Britain's part in it. At the beginning the French wanted to call the new institution the European Union. That was rejected I think largely at the United Kingdom's insistence, in favour of--I have to say that it is bland and innocuous despite its record since--the Council of Europe.
Harold Macmillan referred to the assembly as a European parliament in embryo. That did not please Ernest Bevin. He hardly more than acquiesced in its establishment fearing that it would become a platform for federalists and opposition parties, to both of which he was greatly opposed.
Issues which have echoed down the years have included the following: what can Europe do for itself? What do we want the United States to do for Europe? It is a dilemma which we have seen during the troubled and tragic events in former Yugoslavia. We have considered whether new European institutions should have a defence dimension. The Council of Europe has none. All too often British governments have shown a persistent scepticism about whether Western Europe was capable of taking another step forward towards economic and political union, and a belief in standing aside until the unexpected happened. Policy has often been "better be late than bold".
We also recognised--they are real issues--the problem that being a member of the Commonwealth confronted us with in the early years; our special relationship with the United States; and arguments about Britain and the open seas. Those arguments are in the bound debates of those times, in minutes of meetings
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, for introducing the Motion, and for having the debate in his party's time. The House may wish to take note of his complaints about the lack of government time, but I cannot help noticing that there seems considerably more interest in the debate on the Council of Europe than in the following debate. I was somewhat astonished by his comments about the scruffiness of government Ministers. Looking at Members on our Front Bench and other Front Benches, it was an amazing comment.
Nevertheless, I suppose I have been chosen to follow the noble Lord because I have been asked to be the chairman of the 50th anniversary celebrations in the United Kingdom. We have organised a number of events over the past few weeks. In those events we have tried to pick up the various themes to which the noble Lord referred in his speech and to talk about the strengths of the Council of Europe.
When I came into the House from lunch at the Foreign Office and saw the list of speakers for today's debate, I was struck by the huge amount of experience of the Council of Europe among Members of this House. I refer both to noble Lords who have gained that experience through the House of Lords and to those who gained it while Members of the other place. It is an institution in which I, as a relatively new member of the Council of Europe, find a distinct parallel. Both institutions derive their authority through a moral authority rather than a literal legislative authority. As a Member of the House of Lords going to the Council of Europe, I immediately found myself at home because the debates there are in many ways of a very similar tenor to those in this House.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, spoke about the various official events which happened this morning and which are happening at the moment. In addition, there will be a reception at St. James's Palace this evening. They have attracted a huge amount of interest. Eight Foreign Ministers will have attended the events of yesterday and today, as well as 300 parliamentarians and ambassadors. It is a tribute that they all felt it important to be here in London to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Council of Europe.
The committee of which I had the privilege to be chairman arranged a number of events to celebrate the achievements of the Council of Europe. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, referred to the centrepiece of those achievements, which is the European Convention on Human Rights. We had a conference the week before last in which we talked about the incorporation and how rights are coming home to British public life. We had a huge amount of interest from the police, health authorities, local authorities and public utilities, which recognised the immense importance of the immediate application of the incorporation of the convention into British law.
The other events which my committee organised were various cultural events. The cultural role of the Council of Europe is often forgotten in terms of celebrating the diversity of culture within its member states. We took
However, perhaps the greatest success was the youth parliament which we held last Friday, to which we sent 18 youth delegates. The youth delegates turned up and were presented with a wodge of papers asking them to debate education, the importance of health, and democracy in the next century. They were not interested in that. The only thing that they wanted to debate was Kosovo. They insisted on having a debate on Kosovo in the morning. Not only that, but they went against the recommendations of the secretariat and insisted on voting on the result of the debate. It so happens that there was a substantial majority in favour of the NATO intervention in Kosovo.
However, I do not think that that is the important point. What I think is important is that all the speakers in the debate on Friday made the point that Yugoslavia is surrounded by member states of the Council of Europe and that the only future for Yugoslavia is within the family of the Council of Europe. They did everything that they could to encourage a resolution of that crisis. Indeed, two young delegates from Kosovo took part in the debate.
One of my committee's responsibilities was to publicise the role of the Council of Europe. I have to say that that was by far my most difficult role. There was not a lot of interest in the institution itself; it does not generate publicity. Therefore, everything that we did had to be in the context of achievements.
The next 50 years of the Council of Europe will be its most important. I believe that the Council of Europe must be an institution which grows in its own right and which is not just seen as a waiting room of NATO or the European Union. We can make it grow in its own right only by attaching proper importance to its achievements both today and for the next 50 years.
Lord Bowness: My Lords, I, too, add my thanks to those of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, for introducing the debate. On this 50th anniversary, amid all the very proper references to the Parliamentary Assembly, perhaps I may draw your Lordships' attention to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, referred to this morning by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and, indeed, by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe.
Set up as the Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities in 1957, it became a congress in 1994. The congress, like its predecessors, brings together local and regional authorities from all the member states. Unlike the former standing conference, the congress is organised into two chambers, one
My own involvement was as a member, and latterly, as political fortunes waxed or waned depending on your point of view in the United Kingdom, a substitute member of the United Kingdom delegation. It was an involvement which I greatly valued. The organisation of the standing conference was, in my view, preferable to that of the congress in a number of ways. However, I particularly have in mind the division into the two chambers which, in the opinion of a number of members, rather than strengthening the organisation weakened the whole.
My own role was a small one, but United Kingdom members from local government and our delegation made significant contributions to the work of the Council of Europe through the conference and the congress. The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, who is not in her place, chaired the education committee of the standing conference with great distinction and, indeed, put enormous effort into the interests of Albania at the time of that country's admission to the Council of Europe. Sir Gordon Pirie of Westminster and Mr. John Morgan of Test Valley were distinguished presidents of the standing conference.
When I joined the delegation, there were those, of course, who asked "Why do you want to do that?". It was a question which I suggest would not have been asked by anyone who was present at the time when the emerging democracies from central and eastern Europe started to join, first as observers and then as members.
The congress gave much practical help and guidance in the establishment and organisation of local democracy in those countries. The enthusiasm and pleasure which the new members brought to participation in the affairs of the congress, as they enjoyed their new-found political freedom, served as a reminder to all of us of how easy it is to take personal and political freedom for granted.
The rate of change was considerable. I recall sitting next to the mayor of a Bulgarian city just after his country's admission, who gave me his business card. It set out his business, his municipal offices and the membership of his local rotary club. It was a pen picture of what would be the norm in Western Europe but which would have been unthinkable just a few months before that meeting in his own country.
I suggest that there is an ongoing role for the Council of Europe and, I am sure, for the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities to ensure that democracy and freedom are the norm in the countries of Europe. To advance the common and shared hopes of the free nations of Europe, the Council of Europe would have to be invented if it did not exist.
As with so many European matters, the commitment of the United Kingdom to the ideals of the Council of Europe and the practical implementation of those ideals is vital. It is all very much in our interests and we should pursue it with enthusiasm and not reluctance. The work of the congress, in helping the new democracies develop free and democratic local government, will continue and ensuring the maintenance of such free and democratic local government in the member states will remain a task vital to the work of the Council of Europe into the 21st century.
Lord Tordoff: My Lords, I believe that I have the least knowledge and experience of the Council of Europe of any Member of your Lordships' House who will be contributing to today's debate. However, I wish to bring greetings from the European Select Committee of your Lordships' House to the Council of Europe on its birthday.
I am most grateful to my noble friend for introducing the debate. It comes at an appropriate moment. I believe that the Council of Europe deserves more attention from your Lordships' House than it receives. I shall return to that in a few moments.
Although its role is quite different from the European Union, it is seen as a much gentler and less threatening body. That may be good on some occasions although it may make it seem rather porridge-like on others. Nevertheless, as my noble friend pointed out, the work it has done in relation to human rights has been inestimable and something of which it can be proud and which we should support. It produces some extremely valuable reports but I fear that many of them gather dust in your Lordships' Library and are rarely brought to the Floor of the House.
One of the good things it has done is to extend the boundaries of Europe towards the true boundaries of Europe. Again, I agree with my noble friend that it was perhaps rather precipitate in inviting some countries into membership whose record on human rights is not as great as it should be. But, on balance, I believe that that has been an incentive for many of those countries to improve those human rights records.
Members of this Chamber have a very good record of attendance and contribution to the Council of Europe over many years. A goodly number of noble Lords speaking today have been or still are members. I know that my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie would have spoken had he not been fighting off the nationalist hordes in the north of this great country. I suspect that perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, is doing the same because although his name is on the list, I do not see him in his place.
I wish to mention my late lamented friend, Lord Ross of Newport, who was a member of the Council for many years, and the late lamented Lord Finsberg, whose work has already been mentioned. Those people make a contribution which is not widely recognised. I believe that there should be more praise for them. My only contact has occurred when I have had the good fortune to stand in for the noble and learned Lord the Lord
As I said, it is a pity that the work of the Council of Europe is not more widely appreciated in your Lordships' House. It has been put to me in the past by various noble Lords--the noble Lord, Lord Newall, the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede--that perhaps the European Select Committee might somehow take up a role in the direction of the Council of Europe. That would be difficult because the role of scrutiny of legislation which your Lordships undertake is rather different from what is necessary in relation to the Council of Europe. But I suggest--and I have done so to noble Lords--that perhaps the British delegation from your Lordships' House should, from time to time, table the sort of Motion we have before us today on specific subjects relating to particular reports which have been published so that this House has a proper opportunity to debate the reports and get to know better the results of the activities of the Council of Europe.
I look forward very much to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston. I congratulate him on the success he has now achieved because I know the amount of work he has contributed and the passion with which he has supported the European ideal over many years. He is a little younger than I; nevertheless, he is doing well.
We must look to the future. We must consider what will happen to the second pillar of the European Union and its relationship with the Western European Union on defence matters. We need to tackle and consider a number of problems in relation to the expansion of the European Union in conjunction with the Council of Europe. But this is a day for celebration, and it is a day to say to the Council of Europe, "Well done".
Lord Kirkhill: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, for initiating a debate which is entirely appropriate on an occasion such as this. We are in his debt for an extremely interesting trip down memory lane. But the Council of Europe is a very different body, in terms of its membership, from that to which the noble Lord made significant reference.
Perhaps I may speak on a personal note for a few moments. I have been a representative in the Parliamentary Assembly for 12 years. I was chairman of its committee on legal affairs and human rights for a four-year period between 1991 and 1995, during which period the accession of the emerging countries began. I am currently chairman of the ad hoc committee which has been created to make recommendations as to the appointment of the judges to the new full-time Court of Human Rights.
I pay tribute as others have--indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, did so just a few moments ago--to the presidency of the noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston. It is a new presidency, but it is already a distinguished presidency because those noble Lords who know him, as I do, will recognise that his is a unique personality.
Mention has been made, and properly so, of the decisive role which the European Convention on Human Rights plays in the affairs of the Council of Europe. It is, I suppose, the council's linchpin. There are, however, considerable differences between it and, for example, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The most important difference is that here the individual citizen can bring an action against his or her own country if he or she feels that one of his or her fundamental rights has been infringed, making the convention, in my view, very much more than just an empty token.
The Council of Europe has constantly striven to reunite Europe as a whole. That remained an impossible dream until the collapse of the Berlin Wall. The political transformation which occurred as a consequence of that event meant that the Council of Europe was immediately put in what might be called a test situation. The Council acted immediately to establish itself as an East-West forum for Europe and to help the central and eastern European countries along the difficult path to the rule of law. It did so by engaging in close co-operation. Nevertheless, the enlargement process is no easy road. Prospective members' respect for the rule of law, constitutional reality and understanding of democracy stood severe tests during the accession procedures. I was very much part of them, and therefore I know what was taking place.
The membership bids of the Ukraine, Russia and Croatia were, and remain, particularly controversial because of serious misgivings about the rule of law and the standard of democracy in those countries. Many of the newest members have yet to attain the high standards which the older democracies would consider to be the basic minimum. Those countries must therefore be monitored, and they are being monitored. We hope that co-operation with those emerging countries will result in their being brought to a position of true democracy. There is some way yet to go.
To highlight the difficulties is important; to point out the framework within which the Council of Europe operates is also important. Unlike the situation in the European Union, where executive decisions acquire the immediate force of law in all member states and as a
I add one caveat especially for the Minister's benefit. The creation of the new full-time court vastly increases the expenditure of the Council of Europe. It is inevitable. We now have more than 120 judges in full-time residence in Strasbourg. Zero growth is predicted in budgetary terms, not only for this year, but also for next year. It is a situation which needs to be addressed.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I offer no depth of history or, I suspect, of understanding when it comes to the Council of Europe. I offer merely the first impressions of a new boy in his first year as a member of the Council.
My principal impression is that the Council of Europe is an organisation of immense importance and immense worth, and one to which we should give our unrestricted and unremitting support. An organisation dedicated to the promotion of democracy, the rule of law and human rights; one which members join voluntarily and where they are willing to submit themselves to open and very courteous, but often critical, debate; one where they are prepared to subject themselves to criticism and to accept it; and an organisation in which members work towards improving things in their own countries, and towards promulgating the same values in other countries is of immense worth to us all. At a cost every year of a couple of hours or so of the war in Kosovo, we are achieving a great deal more than that war ever looks likely to achieve in the many months that it may last.
But the Council of Europe is not without its faults. The first thing that struck me about the Council was that it is suffering from a severe case of mission drift. What is an organisation whose home is in human rights, justice and the rule of law doing producing reports on European transport policy, the Russian economy, the information society and xenotransplantation? What is it doing producing the wonderful publication that I am holding, The Council of Europe with Sue and Max, and putting words into the mouth of Gus, the "know-all" hamster, who says that the Council of Europe aims,
There is another aspect of the Council that requires serious attention, and I suspect that it is a matter for those of us who are members. It should not indulge in horsetrading to produce verdicts and results. It is of immense importance that if, for instance, we are to censure Turkey for its human rights record, the Turks do not feel that we, the British, voted against them because we had done a deal with Greece that we would so vote on condition that Greece supported us in our arguments about Gibraltar. It must be an organisation in which decisions are taken on their individual merits, openly and in true individual faith.
The current election for Secretary-General is riddled with horsetrading. The word among members is all about deals being done and who is supporting what, for what benefit. That is not the way in which the organisation should be run. We should be putting a great deal of effort into making sure that that sort of spirit is not promulgated in the Council.
Lord Dahrendorf: My Lords, like others of your Lordships, I thank my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank for initiating the debate and congratulate my noble friend Lord Russell-Johnston on the distinction with which he carries out his task.
I hope it will not be felt that my comments in any way spoil the birthday party. It is often forgotten that when the European Economic Community was founded in 1957 many regarded it as being a distinctly second-best instrument to bring Europe together. It was chosen because a number of other attempts had not led far enough, if indeed anywhere. Some never progressed beyond design. A number of foreign policy schemes, promoted in particular by successive French governments, never assumed institutional form. There was the European Defence Community--ill-fated, the wrong idea at the wrong time and one that came to nothing.
Some attempts at bringing Europe together disappointed the founders. The European Coal and Steel Community was intended to build on the industries of the future, but it soon turned out to be an institution presiding over the decline of major industries of the past. Some institutions changed almost out of recognition. The Western European Union is the prime example, originally founded by the wartime allies to prevent any revival, let alone military revival, of Germany. Subsequently, it included Germany and has since turned into the institution that it is today.
Europe is nothing if it is not a liberal order in which the rule of law and democracy are respected. That is why the year 1989 was so important for the Council of Europe. To some extent the Council has used that important moment. If we look at the new members in the early years--Hungary, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Slovenia--we can see that there was a genuine attempt to include countries which subscribed to the rules for which the Council of Europe stood.
I cannot say that in more recent years that has been equally clear. We find that the extension of membership in recent years includes Albania, Moldavia, Ukraine, Russia, Croatia and, last week, Georgia. Georgia is fighting a war in Abchasia which is similar to the Kosovo war except that there are fewer journalists present. Georgia has promised to allow the Meschetes to return to their country, but it has not kept that promise. It is a country in which there is much evidence of torture of detained prisoners; a country in which there is considerable evidence of the corruption of judges; a country which is now a member of the Council of Europe.
For many years I have defended the Council of Europe precisely because I regarded it as the guardian of the rule of law. I no longer find that so easy. More recently, I have come to wonder whether we need some other instrument to ensure that membership and defence of the rule of law coincide. I have wondered whether, instead of the European Union becoming a member of the Council of Europe, we should read the convention into the treaties that bind the European Union. We need such a defence of the rule of law and we need it to be carried out by institutions which take seriously what we believe in, if and when we say it. Europe is nothing if not a liberal order.
Lord Judd: My Lords, in joining with those who have thanked the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, for initiating this debate, I am sure that I speak for all noble Lords in expressing my appreciation to my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede for the work that he has carried out to prepare for the celebrations.
So far in the debate the importance of the Council of Europe as regards human rights has rightly been stressed. That is, of course, the most important and significant contribution that the Council has made to European and world affairs. I am one of those who believes that if this Government are remembered for nothing else--I am sure that they will be remembered for many other things--they will be remembered for the way in which they have firmly incorporated all that the Council of Europe has stood for into domestic legislation and the administration of our justice system.
Perhaps I may make a few remarks as a member of the present delegation. I know that I speak for all the members of the delegation when I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston, on his election as president of the assembly. I have been impressed by the way in which he has set about his task. I have reason to know how firm he can be in the Chair, but he has also brought a great deal of imagination to the task. His incisiveness sometimes belies his rather relaxed appearance.
Looking at the success and work of the delegation, all noble Lords will want to put on record their appreciation of the leadership by my honourable friend Terry Davis in another place. He is ably and consistently supported by his wife, Anne. People often remark over coffee and drinks that we have two for the expenses of one!
The work and success of the delegation also owes a great deal to others less often seen. They should be mentioned. The mission in Strasbourg is ably led by Andrew Carter and supported by the Foreign Office team. The overseas office in Westminster and the travel office in Westminster carry out amazing feats to enable everybody to arrive wherever they should on time.
I am in my second innings in the Council of Europe. I was a member of the delegation at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s. The contrast is total. In those days we were locked into the Cold War. Now it is interesting to see the whole family of Europe represented and to see the politicians and representatives of former communist countries participating in democratic debate, strengthening the art of democratic debate and taking that back to their countries. Indeed, we also learn from them, at first hand, about their preoccupations.
However, Kosovo has underlined discussions. In the very good debates on Kosovo last week, Russian parliamentarians participated as did Albanians, Macedonians, Greeks and Turks. Representatives from Hungary and Romania were also present. It is very important, when holding a debate on a problem that faces us all in Europe, that we stand for the principles of parliamentary democracy and that parliamentarians from all those countries share their perspective on the problem.
Recently I participated in a small mission to Albania and Macedonia and it was very important for me that I was with colleagues from Spain, Turkey and Poland. Therefore, I was looking at the problem not just from the British perspective, but from the point of view of people from other parts of the continent.
With the enlargement of NATO and the enlargement of the European Union, the challenge has been to bring a wider Europe into a political assembly and a political dialogue of this kind. That cannot be overstated. The Council of Europe makes an important contribution to that.
When the Minister replies, will she give an undertaking that at some stage the Government will publish a list of those conventions of the Council of Europe which have not yet been ratified? Will she tell us for how long they have not been ratified in the United Kingdom and when we can expect them to be ratified?
I agree with all noble Lords who have spoken. If the Council of Europe had never been invented, we would need to invent it today. It is good that it is there and it is tremendously important that today we have had an opportunity to underline the importance of its contribution.
Baroness Hooper: My Lords, like many noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon, it was my privilege when I was a Minister to participate in and represent this country at meetings of the Council of Europe's Council of Ministers in the areas of education and health and particularly on the important Pompidou initiative on drug abuse.
Subsequently, I served as a member of the United Kingdom parliamentary delegation between 1992 and 1997, a time which saw the remarkable expansion of the Council of Europe from 26 countries to what it is today, a grouping of 41 countries.
That was a great and enlightening experience. Having been brought up and educated during the period when the countries of central and eastern Europe seemed so far away, so closed off to us, it came as quite a shock to realise that Prague was further west than Rome and that Warsaw as close to London as Madrid. Holding meetings for the first time in Budapest in their beautiful parliament building, which reminds us so much of this building, being of the same style and vintage, and overlooking the river--in that case the River Danube--gave us a true recognition of what it is to be European.
I served on the Committee for Education, Culture and Sport, which was then chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston, whom I look forward to hearing. He immediately follows me. I eventually became chairman of the Sub-Committee on Cultural Heritage where we blenched at the news that was coming out of the former Yugoslavia of the destruction of bridges, churches, Mostar, and the beautiful city of Dubrovnik during those early days of the disturbance and break-up of the former Yugoslavia.
My interest in heritage found a home in the European Cultural Convention which was signed in 1954 with signatories and members from countries outside and beyond even the 41 countries of the Council of Europe. The essence of that convention was to establish a framework to ensure that the diversity at the heart of Europe's cultural richness is respected as our common heritage and the basis of our unity. Many initiatives and fascinating projects have been built on that convention.
As an ongoing link with the work of the Council of Europe in this area, I have been fortunate in being asked to become president of the European Foundation for Heritage Skills, an organisation which, in its
We in the foundation hope that the networking system which we provide, which brings together all the partners concerned in cultural heritage conservation, as well as our objective to communicate and disseminate information, will assist in the renaissance of crafts throughout Europe. We also believe that that in turn can contribute both to local sustainable development and to the wider aim of increasing mutual understanding in Europe. I am happy, no longer being a member of the parliamentary delegation, to be able to carry on the work in which I was involved in this way.
As a final remark I should like to say that in this, as in other areas, it is vitally important that the Council of Europe works in conjunction with, and complementary to, other European organisations. We do not want duplication and unnecessary overlap. I always believed it to be vital that we co-ordinated as much as possible with the European Union, the relevant parliamentary committee, the OECD, UNESCO's European division and so forth. I hope that in the future development of the Council of Europe's activities that will continue to be the way forward.
Lord Russell-Johnston: My Lords, I want to make a short and I hope concise speech. On 25th January I was elected president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. I am both honoured and excited. My first predecessor was Paul Henri Spaak. To follow a man of his distinction and commitment to a united Europe is a great honour. The job offers great opportunities to do good. That is really exciting for me after a long time in politics. Perhaps I might be permitted to express a collective thank you to all members who have said nice things about me, some of them unjustified, but some of them quite well justified.
Being president even for three months has given me a much clearer and sharper understanding of the Council than I was able to gain as a member for 15 years. Some of my comments will be less emollient than those of my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. First, despite all the high formalities and recognition given by the Government to the 50th anniversary, it is a fact that British governments--this applies equally to the present Government as it did to the last--have not for a long time given any priority to the Council of Europe. They hardly ever say anything about it and certainly nothing favourable. In my opinion--I will return to this--it is not a good thing that within the Foreign Office, the Council of Europe and OSCE are handled by the same desk.
Thirdly, the political effect of the grands payeurs system is that those who pay most are against any adjustment. In that they are against the majority of the other 36 states. They are seeking, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, a zero growth budget which in reality is a minus growth budget. France leads the campaign, followed by the United Kingdom, with Germany dithering a bit and Russia naturally against because it should not be a grand payeur anyway. Italy seems to be our only friend.
What budget are we talking about? For the entirety of its programmes and activities the Council spends in British money £104 million a year, or, to put it differently, 12p per annum for each person in the Council of Europe--less than the cost of a second-class stamp. Of that the Parliamentary Assembly, which I represent and which has huge potential for finding ways of reducing tension, takes 8 per cent. Let me give an example. On 15th March I had a meeting with the presidents of the parliaments of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. They signed a common agreement. It was the first time Armenia and Azerbaijan had signed any paper about anything. It does not solve Nagorno-Karabakh but it is a step towards reducing tension.
Fourthly, the OSCE is a valuable organisation. Its budget has trebled three times in the past year. No one seems to mention that. But it does not have a developed acquis as we have. Fifthly, the Court of Human Rights is a wonderful achievement but it costs a lot of money and would consume the budget. It must therefore have a separate budget.
Sixthly and finally, there are some specific steps the Government could take if they believed in real celebration and real recognition. They could join the social fund. Britain has never been a member of the social fund. They could correct something done by the previous government and rejoin the European Youth Federation. I fail to understand also why the United Kingdom is not a member of the Venice Commission, particularly when one considers the wealth of legal and constitutional experience in this House and knowing what the commission has already done.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston. Over the years, we have from time to time disagreed at Strasbourg but we have always been reasonable friends. It is a great pleasure also to find that the noble Lord has been elected president of the Parliamentary Assembly. I might marginally have preferred someone from the Socialist group but no doubt
I hesitated to speak because of a subsequent engagement, but as I served on the Council of Europe longer than any other British parliamentarian in the past 50 years it seemed appropriate to say a few words. Few of us recall the Council of Europe in its pre-war, prefab building. I remember being there when there 16 members. When I left the Council in 1997, there were 39. That extension is significant, and it is why I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. He seems to imagine that the Council of Europe should talk only about human rights. That subject is vital, fundamental and deserves the emphasis that the Lord Chancellor placed on it this morning. However, I chaired the Environment Committee and in the 1980s the Brussels bureaucrats took an extremely unpleasant, overbearing and arrogant view in demanding that Austria--not then a member state--and Switzerland should devote far more resources to ensuring that the roads through their alpine valleys could more swiftly allow the passage of EU vehicles. Life in those alpine valleys was wretched because of road transport. Brussels seemed to ignore the fact that neither of those two countries were at that time member states and took a high-handed view. If it had not been for the Council of Europe, there would have been no international voice to balance the pressures that Brussels is able to bring to bear.
The European Union will expand, but that will be a lengthy process, during which time it is important that there is a broadly based organisation. It may be that the wise men, or whichever Ministers are disposed to say this, will suggest that the Council's role should be curtailed. As a chairman of its Environment Committee for four years and of its Natural Environment Sub-Committee for 14 years, I emphasise that the Council of Europe embraces territory from the arctic tundras of Siberia to the volcanic islands of the tropical Atlantic. It is the only organisation that can place the whole environmental scene in the proper perspective.
I do not wish to say more, and I do not have the time anyway, but two points need to be addressed. One is the budget, to which the noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston, referred. In particular, the public relations budget is absurd. It will pay for someone to get from London to Strasbourg twice a year. Whoever is to be in charge of PR can go to Strasbourg a couple of times, but then will not have a penny piece to spend. If the Council of Europe does anything or achieves anything useful, invariably the British media refer to that as a result of the work of the European Union. I am not anti-EU but it made me angry, when, for example, the EU decided to duplicate the arrangement for awards and prizes established by the Council of Europe and which was working well. I raised that matter in the Political
The Government themselves would benefit if British people were more fully aware of the Council of Europe's achievements, many of which accrue from the work of British Members of Parliament and officials. I do not know why the Government allow Brussels to take the credit when that can properly be directed at the Council of Europe.
I am delighted to see my noble friend Lord Callaghan in his place. Many of us on this side of the House owe him a debt of gratitude. When I joined the Council of Europe, no Labour MP or Peer was allowed to serve on it for more than three years, and no Labour MP or Peer got anywhere near a chairmanship of importance and significance. As soon as my noble friend became Foreign Secretary, I was able to stay on the Council of Europe and to spend the next 18 years in opposition rather more usefully than I may have done in the other place. I felt that particular tribute should be paid. Many others have received tributes, and they are deserved. I hope that over the next 50 years more British parliamentarians will take an interest in and receive useful advice as a result of the existence of the Council of Europe.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I am fortunate to speak immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath and my noble friend Lord Russell-Johnston. As an ex-leader of the British delegation, I am delighted that the abilities of our numbers have been fully recognised. I am sure that my noble friend will perform his responsibilities with great efficiency and to the delight of all. I first met the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, at the Council of Europe, became a friend and we were able to coincide to a certain extent in working together, as we do in this House, on the environment. The Council of Europe is a great place for friendships. The noble Lord, Lord Hardy, will remember, as I do, a very unusual friendship between Ray Carter and Jim Lester across the ranks of the House of Commons, when they found themselves in Strasbourg. They were given an extra fillip at the very beginning because Sir John Rodgers could not believe that any Conservative member of the delegation could possibly have a regional accent and therefore, that Jim Lester must be a member of the Labour delegation.
As well as friendship there was the opposite of friendship. It was at the Council of Europe that I first learnt the practical problems of not having proportional representation. The Council was bedevilled in those days by Labour and Conservative delegations haranguing each other across the Floor of the hemicycle, whereas none of the same inter-party disputes was seen among the delegations of other countries. That is where I learnt that proportional representation was not only theoretically right but practically right.
There were stars in every delegation and those whom their parties wished to send to exile in Strasbourg. I will not comment on any of the latter. Among the former were Peter Hardy; David Steel, who kindly handed over to me at one moment the leadership of the delegation; and members of the Conservative delegation such as Julian Critchley. I believe that it was in the Western European Union, not the Council of Europe, that Julian Critchley quoted that well-known remark about the languages in which one talks to one's wife, one's mistress, one's colleagues and one's horse--which, in the course of being translated, meant that every delegate in the WEU had been insulted by the end of the speech.
I was also very grateful to my noble friend Lord Steel for letting me have the leadership because, as everyone knows, the point about being the leader of a delegation is that you actually have a car at your disposal. Indeed, if you have a car at your disposal you become extremely popular. I managed to be very popular during my time as leader of the delegation.
I believe that my main contribution was made when it came to our turn to give a party. We received much help from the food and drink industry in this country and we managed to get all the food and drink across all the boundaries in large pantechnicons and gave a very good party. One of the highlights of the party was the French appreciation of the pate en croute anglais, which was veal and ham pie with an egg in the middle. The French really appreciated it and did not know that we could produce such delicacies.
I am afraid that I did not contribute all that much during the time I was there. I visited Delphi in order to institute a cultural centre there on behalf of the committee upon which I was serving at the time. I hope that there is a plaque somewhere in Delphi, among its great historical monuments, recording that particular fact.
Before I close, I should like to add to the comments made by those who talked about the work of the Clerks of both Houses who accompanied us. Indeed, they looked after us so well and had such important abilities to offer. I am not the kind of supporter of the European Union as most of the rest of my party are on these Benches. I see the Council of Europe as a much more worthy organisation and an organisation of which I was very pleased to be a part. I hope that it will be taken very seriously in the future.
The Earl of Dundee: My Lords, all of us will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, for introducing this debate. I should also like to mention the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill. As a long-serving member, he continues to make a very significant contribution to the work of the Council of Europe. I am particularly glad to have been a colleague of his on its Parliamentary Assembly, from which I retired this January after seven years' service.
In connection with the Council of Europe's 50th anniversary, I should like briefly to mention three themes. The first of these is evident from the period of 40 years from 1949 to 1989. It relates to the consensus
Then came the last 10 years between 1989 and 1999. In Europe, and however much latent earlier on, ethnic violence and regional instability did not become manifest until after 1989. The irony, as we are aware, has been that the lesser problem caused trouble almost as soon as the greater one appeared to have been solved. It is also inconsistent that NATO and Warsaw Pact states should have possessed the ability to bury conventional nuclear hatchets among themselves, yet, in particular the Balkans, lacked the aptitude to avert or control violence and civil war between and within minor European states. Thus the second theme relates to the wrong turning which western foreign policy took at the end of the Cold War. The mistake was to assume that political idealism no longer required to be backed by force. Although intervention came at last in 1995 and then in this year of 1999, each time it did not do so until the worst crimes and excesses of brutality and ethnic cleansing had already been perpetrated.
Following from the first two, the third theme is how the Council of Europe should be able to progress its work in Europe, free from the inconsistencies which have obtained hitherto. For, from 1949 to 1989, the anomaly was that while NATO states practised democracy, Warsaw Pact states did not. Equally, from 1989 to 1999 the anomaly has been that the majority of Europe, including the powerful states, was at peace, whereas, confined to minor states, a small part of Europe was intent upon civil war.
The Council of Europe has already achieved a great deal. Indeed, as we have heard, 18 states have joined since 1989. Now 41 states in Europe are committed to its principles and accept its moral authority. Paradoxically, this authority is all the greater since the Council of Europe has no executive power. Nevertheless, it is unencumbered as a result by such power which otherwise would distract its purpose. Equally, while its business is addressed by European politicians, its work is not undermined by the dogmas of party politics.
The European Convention on Human Rights, the committee for the prevention of torture and the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine are, as has been said, all examples of how the Council of Europe has provided protection against exploitation. Among a great many areas of involvement for its future, perhaps three should be mentioned today: first, mending the scars of war in the former Yugoslavia. Already in Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Slovenia the Council has contributed as an arbiter and with its endeavour to
For its first 50 years the Council of Europe has been low key and disproportionately effective. It should remain so. Yet its work should be publicised much more. It addresses the priorities of life. Its continuing success will also reflect that of Europe in the next century.
Lord McNair: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Rodgers for his introduction to the debate and also to my noble friends as a whole for deciding to allocate part of our time to this important subject. Like all other noble Lords who have spoken, I share the view that the Council of Europe is an excellent and worthwhile collection of institutions and activity. I wholeheartedly support its aims and objectives.
I have never served as a member of the delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly. My reason for joining today's debate is to mention the role that my grandfather, Arnold McNair, played in the formation of the process which only came to full fruition last year. Of course, my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill has played a significant role in that respect.
Arnold McNair was actually the first president of the European Court of Human Rights. He played a significant role in the decision of the Wilson Government to accept the optional clauses of the European Convention on Human Rights. I believe that the European Convention and the European Court of Human Rights are the two most important and significant achievements of the Council of Europe.
The optional clauses refer to the right of individual petition to and compulsory jurisdiction--or the acceptance of compulsory jurisdiction--of the European Court of Human Rights. I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill for drawing my attention to an article he wrote for the summer 1998 edition of Public Law. I cannot hope to do either my noble friend or his article or, indeed, my late grandfather justice in the matter. But I felt that it would add a different historical note to today's debate.
Another player in this small drama was the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, who also attended the lecture which my noble friend delivered last year and which subsequently appeared in Public Law. The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, had several times pressed the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, about when his government would accept the optional clauses.
As my noble friend discovered when the official papers were made available for inspection in 1995, discussions between Ministers were proceeding, though rather slowly, in the direction of the acceptance of the optional clauses. The chief stumbling-block was
I do not propose to go into the details but Lord McNair made a very powerful speech on Second Reading against the War Damage Bill, and in defence of the rule of law and against retrospective legislation. He had been active behind the scenes in attempting to persuade the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Gardiner, and the Foreign Secretary, Michael Stewart, to accept the optional clauses. He was excellently placed to do so because he had a possibly unrivalled reputation as a jurist. In fact, he was the first judge at the International Court of Justice ever to vote against his own country's position in a case in which the judge's country was a party. This was the case following the nationalisation by the Persian Government of the foreign oil companies operating in that country.
I would also like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Russell-Johnston on his election as president of the Parliamentary Assembly. I wish him enormous success in what he referred to as his great opportunity to do good.
I cannot top the anecdote of my noble friend Lord Beaumont on the problems of translation. However, I conclude with one told by my father. He remembered hearing an Irish senator refer to the "Protestant work ethic." This was translated by a German Bundestag member as "the Protestant labour moral."
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord McNair. As he rightly says, the achievements of his grandfather will never be forgotten. I am quick to say that no one could be better qualified than the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, to initiate this debate. He was very close to Hugh Gaitskell. The first time I ever met him, 40 years ago or more, was when Hugh Gaitskell sent him down from the platform to find out what we delegates from the Labour Conference thought about the "fight, fight and fight again" speech.
Later, of course, after the tragic death of Hugh Gaitskell, who was potentially a great Prime Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, became acquainted with Roy Jenkins, who held exactly the opposite view on Europe. I say "the opposite view" because at the end of Hugh's life he was generally regarded as anti-Europe and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, would be able to tell us what I believe to be the truth, that, 40 years on, Hugh's mind might have developed very considerably and in fact he might have thought quite differently now.
Of course he completely over-estimated my influence. I was brushed aside and a high Treasury official summed up the general estimate in Whitehall that to tie ourselves in such a way would be to tie ourselves to a corpse. Well, the "corpse", has shown some animation since then, and I suppose that some people would say that the standard of life in those countries was rather higher than in this one. So the situation has completely changed in 50 years, but that is how things were seen in official and governmental circles in 1950.
Today, if anyone asks me whether I am in favour of joining the single currency, I say that my knowledge of this matter, however closely I try to follow these things as a Member of this House, is small compared with that of many others. I would try to consult the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and also the noble Lord, Lord Healey, who was another Chancellor of the Exchequer. I may add that I have great confidence in the judgment of the present Government. It is very difficult to know whether it is in our interest or not. I do not think that an outsider, or even a Member of this House, if not right behind the scenes, can form a worthwhile opinion without advice from those who are much better informed. I have an open mind on that question.
The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to follow the noble Earl, Lord Longford. He referred to himself as a former Minister for Germany. He was Minister for Germany, as we called it, three years before I was born. He presided over a smashed, defeated and disgraced nation. Twenty-one years later I was proud to be for six years a member of the British Army of the Rhine. I was not a member of an army of occupation. That, I believe, is due largely to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and his team, and indeed those who set up the Council of Europe and the European institutions.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, for introducing this debate. He stated that he would ask no questions, that he would not be awkward and that he would not on this occasion look to the future. Perhaps I may be permitted to ask the Minister a couple of questions, promising of course, as always, not to be awkward and to look to the future. I also commend the noble Baroness and her colleagues for their marvellous dress sense, their performance and indeed for their elegance in speech and dress.
My noble friend Lord Russell-Johnston notably asked a rhetorical question: in the light of Kosovo, has the Council of Europe failed? He reminded us that the ceremony commemorating half a century of the Council of Europe showed that there was a need for continued commitment to the principles of the Council of Europe. I hope that the people of Kosovo draw some consolation and inspiration from the point that he made.
I would draw attention to what happened in 1960 in relation to central and eastern Europe. We have many visitors in our capital city today--notably, for me, the delegation led by his Excellency Mr. Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the Foreign Minister of Estonia. He has come to pay tribute to the work of the Council of Europe, not only since Estonia joined it five years ago but since its foundation in 1949.
I spoke earlier this morning with Madame Eve Sirp, the Second Secretary in the political department of the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I asked her what she thought were the highlights of the Council of Europe to the nations of the Baltic states over the last 50 years. I also asked what they expected of it. The highlights were, first, the foundation of the Council of Europe in 1949, even though they were denied, through no fault of their own, admittance as full members for 44 years.
Secondly, in 1960 the Council passed a resolution concerning the three Baltic states, which are small in geographical area and have some of the smallest populations among the free nations of Europe. That resolution expressed the hope that one day the Baltic states would become full members. It is difficult for us to realise what that resolution meant to the people of those countries. It was a signal not only to the world but to the Baltic states and to the tyranny that oppressed those people.
The third highlight was the day they joined as full members. Tributes have been offered; I offer mine to Sir Frederic Bennett, chairman between 1979 and 1987. He told me with, I think, mock humour that he brought the Baltic states in as associate members on a Friday afternoon when everyone else had gone home. Sir Frederick is a hero in central Europe, particularly in the Baltic states.
Fourthly, in 1996, for six months Estonia occupied the chairmanship of the Council. The irony is that during that period of chairmanship Estonia pushed for Georgia to be admitted. We have heard about Georgia from my noble friend Lord Dahrendorf. He has issued a caution. Georgia was, indeed, the birthplace of Stalin. One therefore had the situation where a nation that was persecuted between 1918 and 1953, primarily on the orders of Stalin, was working to admit the nation that produced that monster.
What of the future? Yes, it will help those nations to prepare for the EU, but they recognise there are no short cuts. They know that, because they have met fellow delegates such as my noble friend Lord Russell-Johnston, in the Council of Europe. They have accepted already 25 per cent of the 176 conventions and wish to go quickly to accepting all the others. But these matters take time. They wish to include--I do not like the word "integrate"--the participation of their own governments at every level the 28 per cent Russian minorities.
I started with publicity. As I walked back from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where I had taken Madame Eve Sirp, I passed through Westminster Hall. I noted the display, "Council of Europe: The democratic conscience of Europe", showing that the Council costs us £157 million or 20 pence per head. There were five soundbites: co-operation, discussion, meeting, respecting and deciding. In the light of the last 50 years and in a vision of the next 50 years, 20 pence per head is not, as the Foreign Office might say, money for old rope; it is value for money.
The Earl of Kinnoull: My Lords, as the 17th speaker in this interesting debate I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, not only on his lucid introduction but on his masterly timing. It is exactly 50 years today that the inception of the Council took place at a ceremony at St. James's Palace. It seems very appropriate that this year the Council has the luck to have a British/Scottish president. I was delighted to hear his pungent speech in the debate and I wish him every success during the next three years.
Like many others, I have served on the British delegation. I retired seven years ago. The experience left me with the very strong impression that the concept of the 1949 innovators of forging stronger links with Europe was a brilliant vision. It is a challenging role which the Council of Europe, over the past 50 years, has worked hard to achieve. I hope that in years to come it will become even more effective.
Many of us will know that the Parliamentary Assembly works hard in the plenary session debates and produces excellent committee reports. Being a member involves a great deal of travelling to interesting cities throughout Europe. I recall that there were certain hazards involved in serving on the delegation, one of which was the "Strasbourg expanding girth syndrome." I notice that my noble friend Lord Dundee, who succeeded me, did not suffer from that.
The value of the assembly is not only the unique chance it provides for parliamentarians to meet each other--today there are parliamentarians from 41 European countries--but also its remarkable influence. I recall that at the time the eastern European countries were turning from communism to Western-style economies, which was no easy task, passage through the democratic gate at Strasbourg was a tremendous achievement for them. Even more of an influence was the support, advice and encouragement which the Council gave to many of those countries. The noble
For all the good work of the assembly, it is disappointing that very few people--including the press--know anything about the Council. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby reminded us, the Council in many ways is a parallel to the House. It enjoys excellent debates; it has brilliant reports; its members are part-time and unpaid; and there is little public awareness. But there is the invisible asset of the strong value of influence. The hideous daily atrocities committed by European people upon European people in Kosovo must be very galling for the Council and for those serving in the assembly. I was delighted to hear today of the powerful debate that took place in Strasbourg last Friday. I hope it will have some influence on a very dangerous European peace situation.
A lesson for the Council today--indeed, it was in the vision of 1949--is that woven into the Council's texture over the next 50 years will be not only the Court of Human Rights and the European Court but also perhaps a European force, a successor to NATO, which will be less remote than a United Nations force.
There have been many achievements over the past 50 years. The centrepiece is the European Court of Human Rights. The entry of the eastern countries is another great achievement. Finally, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby mentioned, there is the important achievement of European cultures. It is perhaps a less glamorous achievement but it is very important. The twinning of towns and villages within Europe is very important. Many of us are aware of the benefits.
Towards the end of his speech, the president of the assembly took the Government to task over the budget, as did the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill. I am concerned that the Council should always have sufficient funds to run itself in a proper and sensible manner. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that that will be achieved. I wish the Council well during the next 50 years.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I, too, wish to add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank for what has been a crucial occasion. It would have been a great shame if, on the 50th anniversary of the Council of Europe, there had been no recognition by debate in either House of the Council's achievements and the challenges that still confront it. Perhaps we may suggest to the Government that at least occasional debates in government time on the Council of Europe would be a useful way of bringing more attention to bear on the remarkable work of this organisation. That is partly the message of this debate. I note that more than half of those who have participated have at one time or another been members of either the Council of Europe or the Parliamentary Assembly, or have in other ways played an active and important part in the Council's deliberations.
In that context, I wish to add a word about the noble Earl, Lord Longford. He is the only speaker in this debate who recalls playing an active part when the Council of Europe was first established. I echo the words of my noble friend Lord Carlisle in placing on record the deep gratitude that any European owes to the noble Earl for the sterling and brilliant work that he undertook in what was then called the British Zone of Germany, helping to make Germany one of the pillars of democracy in the modern Europe. I pay tribute to the noble Earl for what he did.
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