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18 Jun 2008 : Column 1095

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I do not think that I used the expression “unclean hands”. That will be in the official record.

A noble Lord: If you did, would you withdraw it?

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Of course, my Lords.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it would be very good for the whole House if we could conclude these debates as soon as possible.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I have about another two minutes, and I have saved your Lordships at least 12 minutes in a Division. So I do not think that I am ahead of that time yet.

I was concluding with some advice to my former friends in the Conservative Party. Throughout our proceedings they have consistently told us that they want our country to stay at the heart of the project for European integration and that they want it to apply light-touch regulation and to become a dynamic and free country in the wider and richer world beyond. In other words, they want to reform the European Union. They also say that the Lisbon treaty is legally dead because that is what EU law clearly states. As the noble Lord, Lord Neill, points out, that is clearly correct, and they are right about that.

By the same token, indeed by the same clauses in the treaties, any reform to change a single comma, let alone to repatriate even the smallest of powers, will require unanimity in the Council of 27 Ministers. If any of Brussels’ massive powers are to be repatriated—or, in Euro-speak, if the acquis communautaire is to be reversed—that could be done only on a proposal from the Commission with an agreement from COREPER and, again, unanimity in the Council. Any treaty changes also require unanimity in the Council.

I submit to my erstwhile friends that that unanimity will simply not be attainable. Many of them know that truth but dare not confess it. That is why I joined the UK Independence Party, which is the only respectable party telling the truth in this great matter—that the only way out is the door. One word of truth outweighs the whole world; the only question is when.

Finally, I would like to join with what I am sure other noble Lords are going to say—and if they do not, perhaps I may do it on their behalf—which is to thank the noble Baroness the Lord President for her extraordinarily courteous behaviour throughout our sometimes exhausting procedures and congratulate her on the great stamina she has displayed. I would also include the noble Lord, Lord Bach, in those sentiments. Like the noble Baroness the Lord President, he had to defend the indefensible. But they did it very well. I cannot, on the other hand, congratulate them or the Government on what they have done in passing this fateful Bill. I fear they have made a terrible mistake which will give rise to growing anger among our people and the peoples of other European nations, until eventually the whole project falls apart. By their fruits shall ye know them.

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The Archbishop of York: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask a question. When allegations, accusations and innuendos are made in this honourable House, does it not undermine the estimate of Parliament in the public realm? Would the noble Lord be prepared to make those allegations outside this House?

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Yes, of course, my Lords; I have done so on many occasions. I am merely repeating the opinion of a former Lord Chief Justice that noble Lords in receipt of an EU pension should declare it in your Lordships’ debates. They are not like any other pension. They are not like a pension that you keep for life. You can lose them under the treaty and under the staff guidelines. That is my answer to the most reverend Primate.

Lord McNally: My Lords, the great problem with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is that he has some charming qualities that make me think he is not such a bad chap after all, but then he makes a quite disgraceful intervention such as the one he has just made. I know what he is up to, because he has half confessed it. He is not talking to us, he is talking to Hansard. It is therefore probably just as well that people who read Hansardwill also see the rebuke of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York so that those remarks can be put into context.

I will not go through all those whom the noble Lord named. But I have known the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, since we were students together. I know that what he said is absolutely true. An iron rod of integrity has run through all his political life. That is why if the noble Lord had continued I would have divided the House on the Question that he no longer be heard. It is a pity that a debate that has ranged long and wide should have ended on that sour intervention.

8 pm

I have only three things to say. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, and I fell out only once, which is pretty good going by McNally standards over such a long process. It has been a tour de force for him, ably advised by his local solicitor.

I hope the Prime Minister occasionally reads Lords Hansard. I have been around this place in various guises for nearly 40 years and the performance of the noble Baroness the Lord President has been one of the most impressive I have seen from a Front Bench. Her command of her brief, her eye for detail and—my god—her patience have been a credit.

I conclude with something that I quoted at Second Reading: a message from the grave. I said then that I had had the honour in the 1970s to work for Jean Monnet in his old age. I had a look at his memoirs, and I think he sent us a message. Talking about the future of Europe, he said:

I emphasise this—

That is what this debate has been about. I am proud of and grateful to my own Benches—my noble friends Lord Wallace and Lord Dykes and, as I often say, that galaxy of talent behind me.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: Hear, hear!

Lord McNally: I know how to win over an audience, my Lords. This is one of my longest speeches in the last two debates. Again, however, I congratulate both Front Benches on an enriching parliamentary process and a much better way of doing it than by referendum.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I agree with one sentence only of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, when he thanked those who have taken part in the marathon undertaking of handling the Bill. I join with him, and go further, in thanking the noble Baroness the Lord President for her fantastic performance, which included a quick flight to Peru and back in the middle, as I keep reminding people. I still find that amazing, having taken two weeks to recover when I went to Peru. That has been remarkable, and the noble Baroness has covered all these vast issues. Bills such as this cover every aspect of our national life, and she has dealt with them in masterly fashion.

As we saw it on these Benches, our job was to amend and improve the Bill, and give Parliament the full opportunity to adjust to the enormous changes that have clearly taken place while we have legislated. In that, we have clearly failed. We tested the view of the House on many occasions and got a number of votes—but not quite enough because there was, to my right, an army whose jovial leader, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has just said some generous things about me. I nearly always enjoyed almost everything he said; there were just one or two jarring observations, and I am still sore from being called a “barrack-room lawyer”. For the rest, he and his party have followed a consistent line; it is not one I like at all, and it has enabled the Government to win and my party to be defeated on almost every occasion.

If there is a message that we have tried to purvey at a higher level than the mere winning of amendments, it is to the Olympians—the Olympians here in this House, in Brussels and elsewhere, who talk about our European destiny, the need for more integration, and so on. These people must face the fact that the world has changed. I do not say that there is arrogance in the super-Europhile line; it is not arrogance at all. It is just that they are completely out of touch with the new realities of an empowered citizenry in an interactive age. That is the message that came bouncing back to us from Ireland, and we will hear more of it. There will presumably be more Bills and statutory orders on the way before this treaty business can be settled, either with a new treaty, which will require new legislation, or with adjustments of some kind to the present arrangement.

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Now the Bill goes on to Royal Assent and embraces a treaty which is currently, at best, in limbo and may be altogether deceased. It leaves many knowns and unknowns, and I fear that we will return to this subject often in the future. For the moment, we have done our best. We have soldiered on from all sides. All who have taken part have performed in good faith, and with a determination to put their view in a way consistent with the best and highest standards of your Lordships’ House. I thank all noble Lords.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I begin by saying that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, was inevitable. I say no more than that.

Noble Lords have conducted themselves with enormous integrity and passion. I have been deeply privileged to be part of the passage of the Bill, and to have led for the Government. I am extremely grateful to everyone who has participated, from whatever side of the argument. I am, of course, especially grateful to my happy band, sitting behind me now, which has participated and brought enormous experience, knowledge and wisdom to our discussions, not to mention the odd joke from a sedentary position from my noble friend Lord Tomlinson.

I am extremely grateful to the Liberal Democrat Party for its support for the Bill; it has a long tradition of support for Europe. I understand that noble Lords on those Benches did so in the knowledge that they were clear about their own position and about pushing the Government to ensure that we do more to promote our role and work in Europe. I take that very seriously.

We also had support from the Cross Benches, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Hannay, Lord Kerr and Lord Jay, but many others as well. I pay tribute again to the committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and the Constitution Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, for their work, which has been quite extraordinary. I thank them enormously on behalf of everyone in your Lordships’ House.

I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Bach, who sat beside me throughout this. He has handled some difficult issues and helped me consume vast amounts of Polos; that is very important. I thank the Bill team, particularly Elin, who is sitting in the Box. All noble Lords who have dealt with my office know that she has been truly magnificent, having arrived 24 hours before we began this process. I fear that, sadly, she will leave me at the end of the week to go on to greater and higher things in the Foreign Office. The Bill team has been magnificent, and has kept me on the straight and narrow.

I conclude by reading a short paragraph from an Irish document written by Jason O’Mahony, whom I have never met. It takes us right back to the beginning of Europe.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

On Question, Bill passed.

Frontex (EUC Report)

8.09 pm

Lord Jopling rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee on FRONTEX: The EU External Borders Agency (9th Report, HL Paper 60).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I now turn to the most important item on the Order Paper today. The report that is before your Lordships' House, which is the subject of this debate, was prepared following an inquiry by Sub-Committee F of the European Union Select Committee between July 2007 and February 2008. But between July and October last year the committee received written evidence and heard some of its oral evidence. During that time, the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, was chairman of the sub-committee. I pay tribute to him for his work and wisdom in guiding the sub-committee through not just the first part of the inquiry but many earlier inquiries over which he presided. I also very much wish to thank Michael Collon, our clerk, who was extraordinarily helpful, and our advisers, Anneliese Baldaccini, Dr Valsamis Mitsilegas and Major-General Adrian Freer, who helped us hugely in preparing our report.

I need hardly remind your Lordships that while Select Committee reports are addressed to the House, the majority of the committee’s conclusions and recommendations are addressed to government. The Government’s response to these recommendations is an essential part of the work of the European Union Select Committee and other Select Committees. It enables debates such as this to concentrate on those areas where differences of view between the committee and the Government are known to remain, and to seek the views of the Minister on those matters. I am sure that there will be no dissension whatever in the House on my next point. It is important that the response to these reports should be received within the statutory two months from the date of publication, as laid down in the Cabinet Office guidance. This allows the response to be considered by the Select Committee and its sub-committees, such as the one of which I have the honour to be chairman, well before a debate is arranged.

In this case the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, as chairman of the European Union Select Committee, sent the report we are debating to Mr Liam Byrne MP, the Home Office Minister responsible for borders and immigration, on 5 March, which was the date we published our report. He reminded Mr Byrne at that time that the response was due by 5 May. Despite repeated further reminders, we did not receive the response until last Friday, 13 June. There has been no opportunity to discuss it within the sub-committee. We met only this morning and we had a very full

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agenda. There was no way that we could possibly discuss this report, which was received, as I say, only last Friday. I hope that the Minister—I am glad to see the Chief Whip is present—will make known to ministerial colleagues how much the whole committee regrets this. I shall return to Mr Byrne’s attitude but I leave it aside for the minute.

Frontex, which is the European borders agency, is now nearly a year older than when we started our inquiry, but it is still a relatively new agency which has been operational for barely three years. Many of our witnesses agreed that this was a good time for us to conduct our inquiry and give our views on the direction in which we felt it should develop. The regulation setting up Frontex is a measure which builds on the Schengen acquis. The United Kingdom, of course, is not part of Schengen, nor I believe is it likely to be in the foreseeable future. The position with regard to our exclusion from Schengen is one which the committee fully supports, but the consequence is that the United Kingdom cannot participate fully in the activities of Frontex. Nevertheless, the Government have always given Frontex their full support—we commend them for that—and have taken part in its activities to the fullest possible extent. The committee welcomed this, and we hope that it will continue.

It is no part of the duties of Frontex to take over the duties of member states to protect their own external borders, nor should it be. Its task is to co-ordinate member states’ efforts in doing so. We believe that Frontex is doing a good job. Its work is, of course, focused on the external borders of the Schengen states which are particularly sensitive to illegal immigration; that is, the eastern land borders of the European Union, and the Mediterranean maritime borders. Protecting them raises very different problems.

When we started this inquiry I was totally unaware of the huge distances which these frontiers cover. Until the enlargement of the European Union in 2004, the eastern land border was just 4,000 kilometres long. After the 2004 enlargement, this increased to 6,000 kilometres, and the recent addition of Bulgaria and Romania makes a land border currently 8,000 kilometres long—that is 5,000 miles—stretching from the border between Finland and Russia in the north down to the Black Sea and round into the western Balkans. When the committee visited the headquarters of Frontex in Warsaw, we took the opportunity to spend a day at the border between Poland and Ukraine. The border post we saw seemed to us to be well equipped, and we were told that other posts were equally well equipped, but, of course, there are huge spaces in between these border posts which are patrolled barely, if at all. It is not so much that some of these frontiers are leaking sieves; they are more a gaping hole in many cases.

Frontex can help by organising exercises concentrating larger resources from a number of member states on relatively small parts of the border which are most at risk. The main successes of Frontex so far are, however, on the southern maritime borders of the European Union: that is, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic coasts of Spain and Portugal. These borders are more than 34,000 kilometres long if one includes the 3,000 Greek islands, and are particularly vulnerable to illegal

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immigrants from west and north Africa. However, they are rather easier to police than the land borders, and exercises co-ordinated by Frontex have been conspicuously successful in deterring and detecting illegal immigration.

We have listed all these exercises in the appendix to our report. The United Kingdom has taken part in a great many of them yet is under no obligation to take part in them since we are not a Frontex state. We can take part in them only by invitation. The United Kingdom has great experience in guarding its maritime borders. The committee was very glad that the Government put this expertise at the disposal of other member states.

It is particularly the smaller states which benefit from this. One of the smallest, Malta, is in the front line for immigrants crossing the Mediterranean from north Africa. We received very impressive evidence on behalf of the Maltese armed forces. I cannot emphasise how much we were impressed by the quality of the evidence we were given by one particular individual from Malta, which clarified many details of past events and persuaded us that the larger member states ought to do more to assist Malta and other vulnerable, small states.

Our report did not specifically recommend the redeployment of asylum seekers, believing that this ought to be done during the review of Dublin 2—the regulation determining which state is responsible for the processing of asylum applications. The Government tell us they are opposed to physical burden-sharing, believing that it would merely attract more asylum seekers. However, we recommended that Malta and other small states bearing a disproportionate burden should receive increased financial assistance. The Government have accepted this to a limited extent, but the committee feels it would be good to go further. A contribution from the European Refugee Fund is all very well but we would like to see the Government actively supporting Malta when it seeks financial assistance for the protection of its borders.

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