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Baroness Amos: My Lords, as regards Cabinet discussions not being all they are cracked up to be, I can answer only on the basis of the Cabinet discussions in which I have been involved. I can confirm that at no stage during a Cabinet meeting have I ever felt, if I had a point to make, that there was neither the time nor the
There is no confusion across government about why we engaged in this conflict. It is absolutely clear that it was on the basis of the flouting of the authority of the UN and, in particular, the concern about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. That was absolutely consistent and clear in all the debates and discussions. If noble Lords care to look at the debates that we had during that period, they will see that consistency.
As regards where we now stand, we are absolutely clear that we need to work with the UN and the people of Iraq to rebuild Iraq as quickly as possible. We need to ensure that the people of Iraq take control of their country, in a time-scale to be set out, and have responsibility for rebuilding and reconstruction as quickly as possible.
Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, in adding my personal congratulations, does the Lord President agree that there is a world of difference between general Cabinet discussions and the discussions of a proper sub-committee, appointed and set up for that purpose and containing a number of people with direct and much more accurate knowledge of the issue than, with great respect, many members of the Cabinet would have had?
Was the ad hoc committee officially appointed? Were the names of its members officially published? Was it the same ad hoc committee that met on a regular basis to discuss these issues? Did the ministerial committee on intelligence meet at all during this period?
The members of the ad hoc group of Ministers were the Prime Minister, who chaired it, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Secretary of State for International Development, the Leader of the House of Commons, the Secretary of State for Defence and the Attorney-General. That ad hoc group of Ministers met 28 times. I take the point about having a general discussion in Cabinet as opposed to a more detailed discussion. That was the purpose of having a smaller group of Ministers meet on a regular basis.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the seriousness of the decision to go to war requires, in a constitutional democracy, that one goes through the appropriate procedures very carefully? Many of us have been rather worried by the indications in the Hutton inquiry's evidence so far that the advice of officials to Ministers was not always accepted and that a number of Ministers were left extremely unhappy with the way in which the political debate was going.
The Cabinet and its committees are supported by a substructure of official committees. Does the Minister accept that it might be helpful if there were a further inquiry into how far the political drive pushed further than the available information and advice would support?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, first, going to war is an extremely serious decision for any government and any Prime Minister to make. It is not at all an easy or straightforward decision, and it certainly was not in this case. The facts were looked at and weighed up very carefully.
On the noble Lord's second point that advice from officials was not always accepted, it is my experience that advice from officials is not always accepted. In my own case, I know that in wanting to make progress on certain issues, if I had accepted official advice, we would not be moving forward. I am sure that that has been the experience of those on the Opposition Benches who have been Ministers as well.
I accept the point about the seriousness of the decision which was taken. I am absolutely confident that the discussions undertaken at the Cabinet table and elsewhere and the information that was available to Ministers were very seriously considered. Putting our troops in a situation in which they faced the possibility of dying for this country is a very serious thing to do, and the decision was taken by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet in that full knowledge.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord McIntosh of Haringey): My Lords, since the start of the third stage of European monetary union, Portugal, Germany and France have been subject to excessive deficit procedures.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that factual answer. However, given that the Governmentor most of them, anywaywish the United Kingdom to join the euro when the time is right, what effort are they making to persuade the Commission to enforce the stability pact?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the enforcement of the stability and growth pact and of the excessive deficit procedures is a matter for ECOFIN. We do not comment on the financial situation of individual member states.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that whether we are inside or outside the euro-zoneand I would personally prefer it if we were inside there is a greater case for a more flexible approach to the rigid rules that at present exists? Will he suggest to others in the Treasury that they should be making representations along those lines?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I thought that in some sense I had already answered that point in my response to the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. Yes, we have always believed in a prudent interpretation of the stability and growth pact. We have always thought that it should take account of the economic cycle, sustainability and the important role of public investment. As I said, we are encouraged by movements within ECOFIN towards that greater flexibility which the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and I want.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, can the Minister say whether the stability and growth pact was enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty and would thus need a treaty change to alter its terms, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the stability and growth pact and the excessive deficit procedures are indeed included in the Maastricht Treaty and therefore were approved by Parliament in 1993. That agreement is fleshed out in Council regulations 1466 and 1467 of 1997, both of which were adopted by this country before the 1997 election.
Lord Newby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that in terms of increased flexibility on the stability and growth pacts, it would make sense to provide for flexibility to allow member states to deal with long-term structural problems?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Again, my Lords, I think I have already answered that question. Yes, we think that there should be a degree of flexibility to allow member states to deal with long-term structural problems. That is exactly why our definition of a prudent interpretation includes issues of the economic cycle and sustainability. I think that is what the noble Lord, Lord Newby, is advocating, and I agree with it.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is it not a fact that one of the waysin fact, the main wayof enforcing the rules of the growth and stability pact is to impose swingeing fines on those who have broken the rules? Would that not make matters worse?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Yes, my Lords, that is certainly the last stage of a series of procedures. There is a procedure which starts with an early warning and goes on to a recommendation that a particular member state is in breach of the excessive deficit procedures. If that continues, ECOFIN has the power in the last resort to impose very substantial finesthat is, a proportion of gross domestic product. That has not been necessary in the past, and I agree that it would have very serious implications for the economy of the member state concerned.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I think that was implicit in my answer. It is in the Maastricht Treaty and to change it would require a change to the Maastricht Treaty. However, that does not apply to the implementation of the Council resolutions, to which I also referred in my reply to the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby.
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