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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the White Paper and the Government Statement—which is rather a different tone from that of my colleague on the Conservative Front Bench. Indeed, we also welcome the different tone that the British Government are now adopting towards the future of the European Union as a whole. We welcomed the Prime Minister's speech to the European Parliament and I am aware, from the members of the European Parliament's external relations committee, who I met this morning, that it received a good welcome across the different political groups within the European Parliament.

We on these Benches hope that the Government will manage to maintain that tone throughout the presidency. I particularly like the phrase,

That is not something that some members of the current Government have found it easy to maintain throughout the past eight years. There is a tendency, not just for this Government, but for all British Governments, when addressing members of other governments within the European Union, to adopt the tone that one usually adopts on attacking the Opposition in the House of Commons—"you are wrong and we are right and we are now going to tell you why we are right". I trust that this presidency will manage to listen and to persuade rather more.

In particular, I personally welcome the presidency logo. The first occasion that the image of flying birds was used to express a diverse European Union was, as the Minister may know, in a report to the Dutch Government by Helen and William Wallace some years ago. I regret that the British Government decided that swans were more appropriate than geese. Our research into that suggested that geese share the leadership of the gaggle more effectively than swans. But, never mind—I look forward to the presidency tie.

In both the Statement and the White Paper we regret that there is insufficient reference to using the presidency as an opportunity to educate the domestic public. This Government's greatest failure over the past eight years has been their failure to make an intelligent and persuasive case for closer European co-operation at home. We very much hope that in the short six months, the second half of the year, that the British Government have, Ministers will make the case for more constructive co-operation, not only on the continent, but around Britain in different British cities.
 
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We strongly support the Government's view on future financing that the Community budget should support future issues—research and development and external relations—much more than agreements of the dim and distant past, when only President Chirac was in government.

We support the Lisbon agenda for economic reform. I was surprised to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said about that, because it is precisely an attempt not to decide everything in Brussels, but to have governments moving together without centralised regulation towards an agreed agenda for economic reform.

We also strongly support the Government's efforts to get away from the arguments that we hear too often in Paris, Luxembourg and sometimes in Brussels that the choice is between a single European social model and Anglo-Saxon, free-market capitalism. There is no single European social model. We do not recognise that the British economy represents free-market capitalism similar to that of the United States and we trust that Ministers will continue to argue that we have a diversity of socio-economic models across an EU 25 and that we all need to learn from each other.

Perhaps I may make one point regarding European security and defence policy, which is loosely and briefly covered in this paper. I am struck by the positive role that the British Government are playing in strengthening European security and defence policy and how little they tell their Parliament or domestic public about it. I met some officials from the Swedish ministry of defence last weekend, who told me how useful the British Government were being in contributing to the development of a Nordic battle group. Why do the Government not tell us that? Why do they not tell us about the useful contribution that we are making in so many ways?

Lastly, we strongly support the pursuit of enlargement with conditions as the only way forward for the western Balkans and the pursuit of negotiations with Turkey. But we also support yesterday's comments by Commissioner Olli Rehn that we must think about neighbourhood policy, how much further enlargement might go and reopen the debate about privileged partnerships with the countries of the western former Soviet Union as well as looking at how much further the Euro-Mediterranean partnership can go.

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Lord Triesman: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their immediate response to a document which we have all read over the past hours, rather than a longer period. None the less, it should be possible to deal with the substantive issues that were raised. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, will not be surprised to hear that I cannot agree with a significant proportion of his comments. Equally, my position is a good deal closer to that of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace.

Perhaps I may start by making a general point about the style of the work. It would, of course, be quite possible in any White Paper or, indeed, in any presentation that was made by the Government to pick
 
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every issue on which we had a scintilla of difference with any other member of the European Union and to present the work of the next six months as being a catalogue through with we would work and with which we would have every disagreement aired, wherever that went, and with the greatest possible vitality. I suspect that that will happen in discussions and private forums as we try to persuade people of our position. But the presidency, surely, cannot be successful if that was the approach we took as a public demeanour in respect of all of our work.

That is why the Prime Minister was quite right in his comments, when he said that it would not be useful for us all to start by trading insults—I paraphrased that by showing every possible area of disagreement—but, rather, engaging in an open and frank discussion. If one thing is plain to us all, it is that an open and frank discussion is now vital across Europe, not least because the people of Europe have told us in two referenda and opinion polling that that is precisely what they demand of us—and they are entitled to have a positive response.

I turn to some of the points that the two noble Lords made. First, I entirely understand the point that aid is not the answer to growth in Africa. Critically, aid provides a stable basis whereby countries are not using the whole of their national wealth, or significant parts of it, to repay longstanding debts and to make it impossible for them to emerge into a world in which they can trade. Trade will do far more than aid, but if we cannot get off that basic platform of despair, there is no point in talking about the rest. That is why the G8 nations and the EU have come to that view, some with a good deal of persuasion.

I take the point, in part, that Europe has not delivered prosperity and that there are 20 million people unemployed, which is a devastating number of people to be without work. That is true, but as we look across the economies of the enlarged Europe, it is also true that many of those economies were scarcely economies in any realistic sense and did not operate in any realistic way. The economies of Europe before the accession countries came in began to create the kinds of wealth that will reduce unemployment and increase prosperity and there is every reason to believe that they will continue to do so. But that means being a dynamic economy, not one rooted in the past. I think the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, made that point very effectively.

I do not think that we are in an ambiguous position on the rebate. We will insist on retaining our rebate. That is just a simple matter of fact, stated as simply as that. Any discussion about the future must plainly take account of the common agricultural policy and of the other ways in which the European Union economy is, in effect, mismanaged. Those are bound to be considerations. We will retain our rebate unless there is something equivalent in worth to the British people. We are already the second largest net contributor, despite the rebate.

On better regulations, I think that they must mean reductions in regulations. I accept that point. I think the House knows that I am a temperamental deregulator. It must mean that and that is what I understand it to mean in the text.
 
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Relations with the United States are absolutely vital. Work started in the EU/US summit in Washington on 20 June this year, and we have made it clear that we want the EU and the US to work together as partners to resolve a number of global problems. We are doing so in the Middle East peace process, we are working on climate change and we are working on issues involving international terrorism. Those issues are not all driving forward at the same speed, or as fast as we want them to, but there is no question that the relationship is strong and will be stronger under our presidency.

I know that the House has ventilated the issue of a referendum on many occasions. There will be a referendum if a constitution is proposed and we have to decide on it. But it plainly will not be the constitution that was proposed. That is not conceivable. The idea of putting in front of the people of the United Kingdom a document that has already been rejected and cannot be resurrected would strike them as bizarre, not just because of the waste of money but because they would wonder what on earth they were being asked to vote on. It would make no sense.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, on the Lisbon process. I say, with respect, to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that the intention is to have a great deal of devolution. But in a single market for labour, there needs to be some degree of co-ordination. I shall choose a brief example. If qualifications are to be portable, people will want to know that someone who arrives from another country with a qualification in the area of new technology is as capable of doing the job as somebody who attained their qualification in the United Kingdom. These kinds of improvements are sensible because we all need to operate that part of the market sensibly.

On nutrition and health foods, noble Lords on the Conservative Benches have repeatedly asked the Government to ensure that good labelling tells us what we are taking and whether it is any good for us. Well, that needs some work, and that work has to be done. I have agreed with noble Lords when they have made that point.

We have discussed NATO and full commitment on a number of occasions.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, must be right. There is a persuasive case to be made for Europe and we should be out making it. We should try to get it argued in rational terms. We have certainly got to focus people on the budget of the future, rather than on that of the past. We must dissuade people from seeing social models as being identical across Europe, rather than richly textured. We must argue that. We must say positive things about the security and defence roles, and we must argue the case for enlargement so that people are not scared of those who are coming in, so long as they meet the conditions to which we are all committed.

On the other matters raised by the noble Lord, I am not sure that I am an expert. I know little about the habits of swans and geese, and I intend that that shall remain the case.
 
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12.53 pm


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