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Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, this is a debate on the whole of the Governments White Paper, with a view to the House giving, on Wednesday, its opinion about its future composition. It is a debate not just about arithmetic. We could do quite a lot of it by looking at the votes in the other House and at recasting them in certain ways, but I am not talking about that. I want to stress that there are many other elements in the White Paper which have not been debated but should be because they determine the nature of the House when any changes are made. I refer, for example, to the role of the statutory Appointments Commission, the method and timing of voting, which is absolutely essential to the nature of the House, and how to ensure diversity. That has not been mentioned today, but it is an objective and it would be much more difficult in a wholly elected House. All those points are of importance.
In the earlier discussions and in the White Paper, the Government expressed themselves in favour of the search for consensus. For example, the foreword to the White Paper stressed that broad agreement on some of the key issues is highly desirable. It also stated:
Indeed, the model presented in the White Paper was intended to be one around which consensus on the issue might be achieved. I strongly hope that the Government have not gone back on their commitment to seek consensus. One might get the impression that that will be very difficult to achieve following votes in the House of Commons last week and votes here this week. However, in the aftermath of the votes in the House of Commons, it would be quite wrong to forget that what we are trying to achieve is consensus. It may take time, but that is what we should be trying to do.
I shall concentrate my remarks on some key points in the White Paper which go wider than, but are directly relevant to, the all-appointed, all-elected or part-elected composition of the House. It will be no surprise that, as Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, I shall make reference to the value of the independent element in our dominantly political parliamentary system and to the generally favourable public opinion of the independent role.
The House of Commons decided last week not to have a preferential vote, but simply to vote for or against a number of Motions, giving its opinion on the composition of the House. It voted in favour of two Motions: one for a largely elected Housethe 80:20 optionand one for a fully elected House. We are quite entitled to take account of both those decisions in our debate today and tomorrow, although our decisions are for this House alone.
My first point is that there would be a substantive difference in the relations between the two Houses if we were to move from an appointed to an elected House. Although the House of Commons would retain the powers given by the Parliament Act, the public would quite soon begin to judge the prospects of new legislation by the likely reception not only in the House of Commons but also in this reformed House with its new democratic mandate. We might not be given more power, but it would obviously accrue to this House.
Then the royal commission report of 2000 and all the various bodies, government White Papers and proposals agreed that at least 20 per cent of the membership of a reformed House should be independent, non-party-political Peers, who would be appointed under a new system by a statutory Appointments Commission. I think that most of my colleagues on these Benches are strongly in favour of that, as it would be a step forward; but the definition of an independent Peer and the role of the statutory Appointments Commission are very important points for the future.
We see no reason to doubt that the Governments agreement would be reflected in any legislation that they might put forward. I note that Mr Gordon Brown voted for the 80:20 option and did not vote for the fully elected option. Wise man!
Thirdly, we have to recognise that if there is to be any elected element, almost all the most important questions are not settled by the simple vote on membership. For example, how long would the transitional period be? For practical purposes, it would obviously be very long, although some of us older folk might want to compare it with our likely lifespan, which does not seem to be totally clear.
Then there are all the elements that are the essence of a democratic system. For example, do the public vote for their Members in the second Chamber on the same day as they vote for their Members in the other House? Why not? I am in favour of that, as it would maximise the publics participation, which we should be in favour of. Should there be a list or a first-past-the-post system? Should it be done on a regional or group-of-constituencies basis? Where would the Ministers come from, if we ever did have a fully elected House? Obviously, they would come from the Members of this Housethey could not come from the Members of the House of Commons.
Finally, while ending any hereditary-basis membership of the House, how do we ensure that continued membership on a non-hereditary basis is possible for those Peers? It would be quite crazy in my viewand I am not a hereditary Peerto lose their experience and ability.
To sum up, treating with only a few major points, consensus must remain the Governments objective as they have always stated, despite the vote in the House of Commons last week. Let us see whether this can be achieved. We need some time, because we have many things to settle, to which I have referred. We should stand by the commitments that at least 20 per cent of the membership of a reformed House would be independent, non-party-political Peers, and any move to a partly elected House could be properly judged only when the essential questions of the timing, the type of election, the length of transition and all the remaining points that have hardly been debated have been looked at and agreed. The answers to those questions are the preconditions to any sensible discussion of an elected House and any argument for change.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. As she says, it was an important Council and I for once welcome the progress that was made. In particular, I welcome agreement to cut EU greenhouse gases by 20 per cent by 2020. But will she assure us that there will be parallel positive measures to increase, not damage, Europes competitiveness? Can she say whether the target is cumulative across all such gases, or applies to each individual pollutant? Are there separate targets for C02, methane and nitrous oxide? How does this target affect the CFCs that are covered by the Montreal protocol?
In this context, will the Government agree to reconsider the concept of annual emissions targets floated by the Opposition? Can she explain the Governments resistance to this? Do the Government now intend to push for the third stage of emissions trading from 2012 to 2020? What plans are there to ensure that the renewables obligation favours development of all renewable energy, not just onshore wind, which has environmental critics as well as supporters?
While welcoming the apparent unity among Council leaders, may I ask whether the noble Baroness can confirm that paragraph 33 of the conclusions allows each country to make a varying contribution? France, for example, has invested heavily in nuclear power, but nations such as Poland are hugely dependent on carbon fuels. When the communiqué speaks of agreed internal burden-sharing, can the noble Baroness explain how this will work? Could it mean the UK being made to undertake efforts beyond the EU average to enable others to fall short? Can she also confirm that the higher 30 per cent target for greenhouse gas reduction by 2020 is conditional on other major polluters agreeing similar targets? How does she assess the prospects of the US, China and India agreeing to such a target?
Paragraph 34 of the conclusions calls on developing countries to reduce the emission intensity of their development. Given the noble Baronesss immense experience of international development, does she recognise the transforming effect of the arrival of electricity and clean water on the health and well-being of rural communities in Africa, Latin America and Asia? Surely we who are developed should put no obstacle in the way of that.
Do the Government accept that national energy security is a central duty, in which our record has been less than remarkable in recent years? There was much acclaim for the idea of a common energy policy for Europe. Can she explain how Commission capture of energy policy will advance Britains national energy security?
On common approaches, the conclusions also call for more action on social objectives and their harmonisation. Did the Prime Minister make it clear that we will resist any attempt to promote the harmonisation of social security provision? While I welcome the aspiration to reduce overall administrative burdens, does the noble Baroness share my disappointment at paragraph 22 of the conclusions, which, while paying lip service to deregulation, says that deregulation must respect the acquis communautaire? How can we have meaningful deregulation if we cannot question the acquis? Will the noble Baroness confirm that the Prime Minister told the Council that the UK would have no truck with any attempt to revive the EU constitutional treaty and that a referendum remains government policy before any significant EU constitutional change?
On foreign affairs, the Council was notably thin. There was useful discussion of the Middle East, but yet again it appears that no effort was made by the United Kingdom to discuss the behaviour of the Zimbabwean Government, who are now reducing the people of that tragic country to levels of suffering and degradation never before seen. It is my understanding that the Prime Minister has just one more Council in him and therefore the noble Baroness has perhaps one more chance to influence EU policy. I hope that she will ensure that an action plan to deal with the Mugabe regime will be placed at the heart of the EU agenda in June. I hope that she can give me a favourable answer.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Lord President for repeating the Statement. It is a pleasure to hear a Statement that shows the EU working as we want and hope it to. It emphasises the importance of the fact that being part of an effective European Union gives us the chance to develop our national policies on the global stage. As the Statement rightly said, we will have to win co-operation from the United States, India, China and others. It is infinitely more likely that we will be able both to defend our own interests and to promote the solutions that we favour if we can do so from the basis of a common European policy.
We welcome the emphasis in the Statement on energy and the environment, and we strongly endorse what the noble Baroness the Lord President said. On that issue, I hope that she will recognise that Europe has finally caught up with my noble friend Lord Ezra on the importance of clean-coal technologies. Indeed, I hope that if at least a dozen clean-coal plants are to be constructed by 2015, the Government will make it a priority that they be called Ezra plants in recognition of my noble friends long campaign.
On the EU lifting the burden on business, I can almost march shoulder to shoulder with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. It is a major objective. Can the noble Baroness the Lord President assure us that, along with the efforts of President Barroso, who is showing his liberal credentials in these matters, there is an equally firm directive in Whitehall to stop the old habit of gold-plating? That has often meant that Brussels gets the blame for Whitehall departments finding the opportunity to tack a few wishes of their own on to European legislation.
I share her problem. It would be a disaster for the campaign for the environment and for energy saving if we forced on to people alternatives that were not as good as what was taken away. It is important that the energy-saving light bulb is fit for purpose if it is to replace existing bulbs.
The only other thing that I have to say to the Lord President slightly jars with the closing words of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I saw President Chiracs valedictory address to the French people on television last night. In case colleagues think that I have suddenly acquired a fluency in French that did not exist before, I should say that I found a good channel on Sky that gave me a simultaneous translation. In that address, President Chirac made it clear that France would return to and support the challenge of getting a proper working rulebook for Europe, which is absolutely necessary; if it helps the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and others not to call it a constitution, so be it. I hope that the Government will not run away from that challenge and that if, at the next Council, the Germans, French and others come forward with practical solutions, the Government will embrace them.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, perhaps we should have Statements on European Councils on other days when we talk about Lords reform, so that I can bask in collective agreement from the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord McNally, given that they welcomed the Statement. I know that it will not last long.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked me a number of technical questions on the agreement. I shall try to answer them, but if I have missed anything I shall be happy to write to him. The 20 per cent target will be cumulative across greenhouse gases. The Commission has been asked to bring forward proposals to show how the burden of the target will be shared across member states. The target is an average for the European Union, which means that each member state will not necessarily make the same contribution. Of course, the United Kingdom has already made a strong contribution, and the Climate Change Bill, which will be published tomorrow, will propose a statutory aim of reducing United Kingdom CO2 emissions by 60 per cent by 2050.
Are we referring to all renewable sources of energy? My understanding is that the answer is yes. The European Union has set its own 20 per cent target in terms of giving leadership, but has said that we will move to the 30 per cent target as part of an international framework agreement post-Kyotopost-2012. The discussion on that will begin in December under the auspices of the United Nations. We are prepared to move to 30 per cent if other countries, including the United States, agree to that.
There will be a discussion of the constitutional treaty at the June Council. There is a special Council in between, at the end of March, to look at what is being called the Berlin declaration. It is intended to be a high-level, visionary text that relates to the fact that the treaty of Rome was signed 50 years ago, but it is completely independent of any further discussions on the constitution. I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that of course the European Union, particularly given its expansion, needs a proper rulebook. I can also confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that we remain committed to putting to a referendum any proposals with respect to a constitutional treaty.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, talked about Europe finally catching up with the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has done a tremendous amount of work to raise the consciousness of this House and others on this issue. I do not think that the Government will necessarily call the plants Ezra plants, but it is a very good idea.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, it will be shorter. On the issue of the regulatory burden, the EU agreement follows the domestic target that we ourselves set with respect to reducing the regulatory burden by 2010.
The Foreign Ministers who attended the Council had a separate dinner-time discussion on foreign affairs. The key areas discussed were Lebanon, Iraq and the Middle East peace process. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, knows that the European Union has a clear position on Zimbabwe, which we will continue to press.
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