Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Special European Council, Tampere

3.42 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I wish to repeat a Statement which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

19 Oct 1999 : Column 947

19 Oct 1999 : Column 948

    comprehensive list of the action agreed by the European Council is to be found in the Council's Conclusions, a copy of which has been placed in the Library of the House.

    “In addition to its main business, the Council discussed the situation in Pakistan, following the military takeover there. It also had a preliminary discussion of the prospects for EU enlargement, an issue which will be a major topic for the Helsinki European Council in December. It was unanimously agreed that our commitment to enlargement must proceed.

    “In the margins of the European Council I made clear to the Prime Minister of France and the President of the European Commission that France's failure to permit the sale of British beef was unacceptable, and that the French Government had to implement the EU decision.

    “The EU Scientific Committee is due to complete its review of the French Advisory Committee's report before the end of this month. If there is no new scientific evidence, the President of the Commission has agreed with me that he will insist that France implements the earlier ruling, and will take legal action if the French Government fail to do so.

    “We will pursue every available avenue to ensure that British farmers can exercise their right under European law to sell beef throughout the EU, and of course it is only because of European law that we are able to do this with the backing of the law.

    “At the Tampere Council we restated and safeguarded essential British national interests on asylum and immigration. We reached agreements with our European partners on law and order issues, which of their nature do not respect national boundaries and where international co-operation is vital. We restated the overwhelming scientific evidence on the safety of British beef and the fundamental importance of swift observance by the French Government of European Union law. In short it was, I believe, a successful Council in which we engaged constructively with our European partners in support of British national interests".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.48 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement today. What can I say other than that we welcome the progress that was apparently made at Tampere on a number of issues, for example, on co-operation against organised crime, on drug trafficking, on money laundering and on fraud? This is valuable and sensible co-operation which the whole House would support.

However, will the noble Baroness clarify the significance of the Prime Minister's agreement to measures to institute some common legal procedures across Europe? As she said, harmonisation of laws would be a bad idea. It is important that each government in Europe retain jurisdiction over their legal system. The noble Baroness will know that Italy,

19 Oct 1999 : Column 949

for example, is presently considering major constitutional reform of the system of prosecution in legal cases. That is their business and not ours. Will the noble Baroness assure the House that none of the measures that the Prime Minister has agreed will undermine any part of our own historically distinct legal system or lead to a corpus juris in Europe? That is something that we would firmly oppose.

Perhaps I may turn now to the question of beef. The noble Baroness's right honourable friend did not secure agreement to the early lifting of the ban on British beef. Can she say when she believes the ban will be lifted in every country? Was the Prime Minister's special relationship with Chancellor Schroder, a co-signatory of the declaration on the third way, of value in lifting the ban? If so, how long will the ban remain in force in Germany?

Would it not help if the Government showed some confidence in our own beef by lifting the ludicrous ban on beef on the bone, as this House has consistently demanded since last summer? Perhaps I may formally ask at this stage for an early debate in the House on the problems of the UK livestock industry.

In his Statement, the Prime Minister said that the continuing ban on our beef was unacceptable. Why is it continuing? When he imposed new burdens on British business by importing the working time directive and the social chapter, he told the nation that his positive policy would bring gains for Britain. We already know the cost to British business, but where are the gains from this policy for British farmers?

We welcome the preliminary agreement at Tampere to invite the six second-wave countries to start EU membership negotiations. Enlargement will mean major changes in the way Europe operates; that is inevitable. The issue is what those changes will be. Is it not in the interests of Britain and Europe to argue, as we do, for a flexible Europe of nation states co-operating together? A government committed to that vision would be pressing for treaty amendments at the next IGC which will allow nations greater flexibility. Is that not necessary to protect the great strengths that nation states bring to Europe while at the same time enabling a wider Europe to work?

That is the position of the Opposition, which is very different from the position of the Government. They seem to believe that they can make progress in Europe only by surrendering British self-determination to Europe step by step. Did we not see the real agenda of the Government reflected in the report of the so-called three wise men, who include a much respected member of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Simon of Highbury. The noble Lord was appointed a Minister by the Prime Minister; he is now an adviser to the Prime Minister. He became one of the three wise men with the approval of the Prime Minister. Does his report represent government policy, including as it does a recommendation that qualified majority voting should be the rule in Europe, and thus for the abolition of the national veto in key areas of policy? Were the Government aware in advance that these were likely to be the recommendations of the three wise men? Is that

19 Oct 1999 : Column 950

why it would have been difficult for the noble Lord, Lord Simon of Highbury, to continue his distinguished ministerial career because his views on Europe are not those of Her Majesty's Government--or because they are one and the same?

I understand that Mr Prodi was the Prime Minister's own candidate for the presidency of the Commission. I hear that they are close friends; indeed, I hear that Mr Prodi was warmly welcomed at the Prime Minister's villa in Tuscany in August. Do all the propositions for European development put forward by Mr Prodi since the summer represent government policy? Perhaps the noble Baroness can tell us how many of those matters have been discussed between Mr Prodi and the Prime Minister. If not, can the noble Baroness tell the House of two proposals from Mr Prodi or the wise men with which the Government disagree? If the Leader of the House is not able to answer today, I would be grateful if she would write to me on these points.

Would it not be in the interests of this country and of Europe as a whole for the Prime Minister to put forward the alternatives to these ideas rather than welcoming them and persisting with the fraudulent insistence that the advancement of any alternative proposals means withdrawal from the European Union? After all, if that had been the case, he would have told anyone arguing for the British rebate that they wanted to withdraw; he would have told anyone arguing for opt-outs from a single currency and a social charter that they wanted to withdraw. Is the noble Baroness aware that the only senior politicians to have stood for election on a platform of withdrawal from Europe are her very own right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary?

As my right honourable friend Mr Hague has rightly summarised, the people of this country want to be in Europe but not run by Europe. That is why they and we will support positive measures for further co-operation within Europe--as at Tampere on crime--but, on the other hand, both they and we will be vigilant against the stealth tactics of giving away British self-determination on the sidelines.

I am sure that the Leader of the House will accept that these are great matters and that no public relations campaign--however glossy and whoever may be involved--will obscure the key issues which have to be determined in Europe on which there is no third way, only ultimately yes or no in a referendum. Does the noble Baroness accept that it is not harming Europe or being non-European to state what is right for Britain in Europe? Does she further accept that the most minor criticisms of the European Union are not a fundamental attack on our membership? I look forward to the noble Baroness's reply.

3.55 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I also thank the Leader of the House for her Statement, which was based upon what is unquestionably a summit of great importance and one in which large

19 Oct 1999 : Column 951

steps forward were taken in co-operation within Europe, not least against organised crime, trafficking in people and the drugs trade.

As a member of another opposition party I suspect I will not find a great deal of harmony with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, but, as he did, I start with the subject of beef. Can the Leader of the House say whether we are correct in believing that unless there was the machinery in the European Union, and if Britain was outside that machinery, there would be no way whatever in which we could directly challenge the French ban? The machinery is available to have the ban lifted. I congratulate the Prime Minister on the successful efforts he made at the summit to raise the matter.

Secondly, can the noble Baroness confirm that if this House is--as members of all parties claim it is--committed to the historic concept of enlargement, then institutional change cannot be avoided? Institutional change is an essential part of making an enlarged European Union work. I believe the wise men are to be congratulated on having grappled with some of the most difficult issues: the size of the Commission, the nature of voting and the strength or power of the European Parliament. Perhaps the noble Baroness will confirm that enlargement inevitably means substantial institutional changes if we maintain our commitment to the former Communist states of eastern and central Europe that they will soon become members of the European Union.

Thirdly, does the Leader of the House agree that the steps taken in Tampere--to establish a task force of European police chiefs; to strengthen the work of Europol; to agree to mutual recognition of the work of the courts of Europe; and for different courts to accept the admissibility of evidence which might be gathered by different police forces within Europe--are a central part of the battle against organised crime and money laundering, which is rapidly getting out of control? Does she further agree that the very pragmatic, sensible and practical British public are right to decide that they will have nothing to do with those policies which suggest that no such response is needed? In short, does she agree that the public are living in the same age as the Government? I fear that there are some who live in a different age. In that context it is not surprising that some 56 per cent of the British public regard the stand on Europe of the Leader of the Opposition as a reason for not voting for him, rather than a reason for voting for him. It simply departs from reality--and reality is harsh and choices have to be made.

Finally, I turn to the major part of the Tampere Summit's conclusions and ask the Leader of the House three questions. First, can she say something about the strengthening of civil liberties and the extension of the European charter of rights to balance, as must properly be done, the greater powers given to European police forces and courts, with which we strongly agree?

19 Oct 1999 : Column 952

Secondly, does the Leader of the House accept that mutual recognition in the courts would be of great benefit to consumers in this country, especially those who wish to pursue small claims, or to pursue their rights under the procedures of consumer action, and to those seeking maintenance or pursuing divorce proceedings against someone resident in another European country? The legal process should be speeded up and made less expensive.

Thirdly, does the Leader of the House agree with indications made at the Tampere Summit that it is absolutely vital that steps should be taken to establish common minimum standards for dealing with refugees and asylum seekers, and that measures should be put in place to stop the traffic in human beings? Does she further accept that a resolution must be reached over the differences between British and European courts on the issue of non-state acts of persecution, which has been discussed extensively during consideration of the Immigration and Asylum Bill?

Finally, does the Leader of the House agree that the Tampere declaration marks a major step forward in dealing with some of those diseases that afflict the whole of Europe? In that context, may I congratulate the noble Baroness and Her Majesty's Government on their position taken in Tampere on the issues of racism and xenophobia, and on their determination that minorities and third country nationals shall be treated with fairness and justice? That is very much what we on these Benches believe to be one of the great objectives of Europe: securing the rights of all people resident in the Continent.

4.1 p.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, for their responses to the Statement and for their general recognition of the important steps forward that have been taken. I certainly endorse the final point made by the noble Baroness concerning the objectives of the summit; namely, protection of the rights of every citizen in Europe; the provision of greater safeguards for those rights; and wider opportunities for people in difficulties because their lives have been affected by different upheavals. Immigrants and asylum seekers need help to overcome their problems concerning issues of immigration and jurisdiction.

I am also grateful to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for emphasising their support for some of the points made at Tampere on questions of combating organised crime, particularly on issues of international crime such as money laundering, the drugs trade, trafficking in individuals and so forth. Those issues were very much part of the discussions and, indeed, of the presidency's conclusions. As the noble Baroness recognised in her final remarks, it is important that these matters are addressed on a pragmatic and practical basis by the members of the Union in terms of an exchange of good practice and a full understanding of the ways in which different systems work. We welcome and applaud the need for collaboration on the more effective introduction of

19 Oct 1999 : Column 953

practical proposals for dealing with international crime. That was sensibly recognised by all Ministers at the summit, and was reflected in the conclusions.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, rightly recognised that this is a different procedure from that of moving towards the harmonisation of legal systems, or indeed the organisation of a joint European corpus juris, as he mentioned in his closing remarks. The adoption of the UK language on mutual recognition is important, because that will mean more acceptance and understanding of the different standards and methods used in each other's legal systems. However, we recognise too that it is important to accept that the processes of a court in one country should be recognised and understood in another. It is well understood, for example, that within the British Isles we have two--indeed, three--systems of justice and differing legal arrangements. Between England and Scotland there is perfectly clear recognition of the significance and importance of each country's judicial systems and legal processes, without there being a common corpus juris, or indeed anything which could be described as the harmonisation of our laws.

The noble Baroness asked about the charter of rights. The point of the conclusion of the presidency and the Tampere declaration was to endorse the practical arrangements for the body established at the Cologne European Council and that fundamental rights applicable at Union level should be consolidated in a charter. As the noble Baroness may be aware, a group of some 60 people has been charged with preparing that draft before the Nice European Council in December 2000. The Tampere Council endorsed that proposal and agreed that the work should be taken forward with that end date in mind.

The noble Baroness also raised the matter of minor civil cases. I agree with her that mutual recognition of legal systems would, indeed, assist in the areas of consumer rights and small claims, as they are called in this country. They could be dealt with more effectively across the European Union. I agree that that is a way in which citizens of this country should feel a practical effect from the outcome of the Tampere Council.

I shall turn now from those practical and pragmatic conclusions, which I am sure the House will endorse for their useful contribution to facilitating the organisation of individual citizens' lives within the European Union, to a more problematic area immediately identified by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde; namely, British beef. Of course, as the noble Lord will be aware, we shall now wait until the EU scientific experts' meeting reaches its conclusions on 28th October. We are confident that the outcome of that meeting will be to endorse the position taken by the UK in assuring the European Union of the safety of British beef. We do, of course, need a swift settlement to this dispute so that British farming and the beef industry can get on with the business of building our markets abroad. As the Prime Minister said in his Statement which I have repeated, and as has been declared in all of the informal statements made after the Tampere meeting, there appears to be no new evidence for the French to present to the EU scientific

19 Oct 1999 : Column 954

experts' committee. Further, the Commission has given an undertaking that if new evidence is not produced to affect the outcome of the EU scientific committee's conclusions, the Commission will take legal action against the French. We are convinced that that will be unnecessary, because we expect the scientific conclusions to endorse our legal position.

Of course it is right to say, as did the noble Baroness, that if we did not have the framework of European law, there would be no legal method of seeking redress. We would have to rely only on influence rather than on the structure of the law, which it is hoped will support what the scientific committee says and, if necessary, will be taken forward by the Commission. However, as I have said, we very much hope that it will not come to that.

On the question of enlargement, both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will be aware that there is a common understanding between our partners that the April IGC meeting is intended to be a rather limited and pragmatic approach to the practical arrangements for enlargement rather than a form of “back to first principles" pulling up of the roots such as that which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, suggested may be appropriate. I am sure that he will forgive me if I do not follow him down the road of a widespread and historical revision of European positions, on which I think he was attempting to draw me. As he said, there may be an opportunity for further discussion. There is always room for debate on such issues in your Lordships' House. However, I would be in very deep trouble with my noble friend the Chief Whip if I were to commit anyone to a date or the possibility of an immediate debate of that kind. Nevertheless, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will be well aware, that is the kind of matter which needs to be decided through the usual channels.

The noble Lord raised a question which has been much referred to in press comments; namely, the report of the so-called “wise men". It is only fair to my noble friend Lord Simon to make it clear to the House that my noble friend was acting entirely in a private capacity in his membership of that committee. Indeed, as I understand it, the report was produced only for Senor Prodi, and not for the Council of Ministers. It is not even clear that Senor Prodi himself will accept all of its findings. Of course, any discussion on its implications would have to be taken forward by the Council of Ministers. The noble Lord will be only too aware that discussions on extending the remit of the Union, enlargement and its constitutional arrangements are not the business of the Commission but rather of the Council of Ministers.

The noble Lord asked me to identify matters which were not in agreement with government policy. I ask the noble Lord to look at the issue the other way round. The report which he mentioned is absolutely not the blueprint for a federal superstate. Let us identify, for example, the points that it does not mention. It does not mention European taxes; it does not mention a European army; and it does not ask for

19 Oct 1999 : Column 955

an elected European government. It seems to me that, by omission, one could identify those things that one need not fear.

In his opening remarks the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, described those parts of the Tampere Statement which were important and influential in affecting the lives of the citizens of the European Union. I agree with him entirely that they indicated valuable and sensible co-operation. That was the Government's aim at Tampere and that is what has been achieved.

4.10 p.m.

Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, I have noted the remarks made by my noble friend and I have also read, perhaps unwisely, the presidency conclusions which were available in all 20 pages of their text. Frankly, it is difficult to reconcile the tone and content of the one statement compared with the tone and content of the other. What we have before us and what was being discussed at Tampere is a major step towards “freedom, security and justice" throughout the whole of the European Union area. “Freedom, security and justice"--I thought that I had been living all my life in an area of freedom, security and justice. Therefore, I have a somewhat lukewarm approach to that claim.

But that was not the only claim. The member states also made great steps towards a common policy on asylum and immigration and, further, they set up a new body to study a charter of rights, which will be a kind of written constitution for the whole of Europe, if and when it is completed. Now there is a great difference here, is there not? I should like my noble friend to assure me and to confirm that the provisions of the protocol to the Amsterdam Treaty that was made in the names of Britain and Ireland still stand. Perhaps I may quote the terms of it. On Title III(a) of the treaty, dealing with asylum and immigration, the protocol states:

    “None of the provisions shall be binding upon, or applicable in, the United Kingdom".

No common immigration and asylum policy for us! Does that still stand or has it been abandoned?

Secondly, can my noble friend confirm that the new proposals which she listed affecting Europol, the Eurojust unit and the European Police College are not just jumping off points for a European version of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the case of Europol and for the establishment of a European public prosecutor as part of the corpus juris plan, of which we have heard before? Finally, will my noble friend take on board the fact that from long experience what we have with our European friends is, first, the landing of a bridgehead in a new area of what were previously our

19 Oct 1999 : Column 956

own national concerns, followed by a further attack as they march out of the bridgehead to take over a still larger area of our affairs?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page