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3.56 pm

Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, this is a debate on the whole of the Government’s 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 House—the 80:20 option—and 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.

Secondly, the Labour Party manifesto of 1997, which is of course engraved on my heart, said:

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.

The most recent statement is in the White Paper that we are debating today, which says in paragraph 6.20:

We see no reason to doubt that the Government’s 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 public’s 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 House—they 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 view—and I am not a hereditary Peer—to lose their experience and ability.

To sum up, treating with only a few major points, consensus must remain the Government’s 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.

European Council: 8-9 March 2007

4.03 pm

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, I would like to repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a Statement about the European Council that took place in Brussels on 8-9 March. “There were three main agenda items for this summit. First, the Council agreed to cut the administrative burden arising from EU legislation by 25 per cent by the year 2012. This has long been a key British objective. It was a major part of the UK presidency of the EU in 2005 and it mirrors our own government decision taken last year. This EU decision makes another clear break with traditional European policy on regulation. It is hugely to be welcomed. It follows up a recent Commission decision to withdraw 78 pieces of legislation, the first time the EU has done this. I congratulate the Commission, and especially President Barroso and Commissioner Verheugen, on their determination. It has full British support. “Secondly, the Council agreed on an action plan to liberalise the energy market. The centrepiece is to free up the distribution of energy across the European Union, to create a genuinely competitive, interconnected and Europe-wide internal energy market. This will bring major benefits for EU consumers, improve security of supply and strengthen European competitiveness. The European Council decided in particular that supply and production activities should be separated from network distribution to allow competition on networks, as already happens in the UK. “Again, ever since the Hampton Court Summit of October 2005, energy liberalisation and security of supply has been a key UK objective for the European market. It is true that we still need to do more, especially in respect of the vertically integrated energy companies. But none the less, for the first time, this will mean that, at the distribution level at least, British companies can compete on equal terms with French or German companies, in particular in France and Germany and not just here in the UK. This will bring reduced costs to business and to customers and again has our full support.“Thirdly, and most importantly, the European Council committed itself for the first time to a binding Europe-wide environment target: a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared with 1990. Moreover, the European Union undertook to go further and achieve a 30 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020 if this was part of a wider international agreement. Until last week no group of countries had committed itself to such deep reductions. This is a landmark decision. It will mean changes in all member states' domestic policies. “The Council also agreed on a binding commitment that renewable energy will comprise 20 per cent of overall EU energy consumption by 2020. The agreement allows, however, for differentiated national targets within this overall EU objective. In particular, it recognises that for some member states, nuclear energy will play a significant role in achieving overall climate change targets. “The Council, in addition, agreed a 20 per cent increase in energy efficiency, again by 2020. It also recognised the importance of clean-coal technologies. We welcomed the Commission’s undertaking to support, by 2015, the construction and operation of up to a dozen commercial scale clean-coal demonstration plants, with a view to all new coal-fired power stations being fitted with carbon capture and storage technology by 2020. This technology has to be a crucial element in the overall response to the climate change challenge, and it is important that we signal that to investors now. Clean coal can be part of the future. “All these targets impel us towards a far more ambitious European Emissions Trading Scheme. The Commission President is currently negotiating country-by-country caps on emissions for 2008-12. Britain, as he has acknowledged, has helped by setting ambitious caps for ourselves. The Commission has proposed that, after 2011, aviation should also be within the ETS. We want to make the ETS more transparent and we want it extended after 2012 to 2020 and beyond. All these proposals are set out in our recent paper to our European colleagues and we are actively building the alliances in Europe to get it done. “Of course, these European commitments have to be part of wider international action. As the Stern review demonstrated, without concerted international action there will be disastrous consequences for global economic development. The European Council reaffirmed the importance of agreeing a long-term framework to address climate change. It set out a coherent and united vision for how such a wider international agreement would work. It paves the way for further action on climate change at the G8 Summit in Germany in June. “This is, in the end, the crucial prize. It is important that we take action here in Britain, as tomorrow's Climate Change Bill will show. It is then critical that the European Union shows leadership. At this summit, it has done so in a remarkable and groundbreaking way. For those who doubt the relevance of the European Union to today’s world, last week’s Council and its historic agreement on climate change is the best riposte. It shows Europe following the concerns of its people and giving real leadership to the world.“But ultimately only an agreement that is global and includes America, China and India will halt the damage of rising greenhouse gas emissions. Everything else is justified in its own right, but it is, most of all, a means to that end. The G8+5 dialogue, which was started at Gleneagles in the UK presidency in 2005 and which has all the main countries within it, is the forum in which new principles for an international framework can be agreed. The summit in Germany this June will be the time to agree those principles, including a stabilisation goal, a route to a truly global carbon market, support for new technology, adaptation measures, and action on deforestation. This is the next stage of the journey to effective, multilateral global action on what is the single biggest long-term threat to our world.“Let me conclude by paying tribute to the leadership of Chancellor Merkel at the EU summit. It was a bold agenda and she carried it superbly. Unsurprisingly, since these were all fundamental British objectives, we were able to give that leadership full and active support. Once again, it shows the significance of strong, constructive and positive engagement in Europe”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.11 pm

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, Europe’s 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 Government’s 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 Baroness’s 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 Britain’s 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.

4.16 pm

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 friend’s 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.

On energy, the media were attracted by the light bulb proposal, but one thing worries me about that. I notice that Mrs Merkel was quoted in the press as saying:

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 Chirac’s 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.

4.21 pm

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-Kyoto—post-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.

On harmonisation of social security and such areas, the United Kingdom position has always been clear—that it is important for us to maintain our system.

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.

The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, does not appear to be in his place, so our discussion this afternoon will not be remotely the same.

Lord McNally: It will be shorter, my Lords.

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.

On energy-saving light bulbs, we all want to ensure that we have them, but we all recognise that we must be able to see and read—and I am particularly conscious of that as I become older.

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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