Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Simon, V.
Stone of Blackheath, L.
Strabolgi, L.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Thornton, B.
Truscott, L.
Tunnicliffe, L.
Warner, L.
Warnock, B.
Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Watson of Invergowrie, L.
Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Whitaker, B.
Whitty, L.
Wilkins, B.
Williams of Elvel, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[*See col. 1264]

Lord Tunnicliffe: I beg to move that the House be now resumed.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

23 Jun 2008 : Column 1239

European Council: 19-20 June 2008

3.49 pm

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now 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 would like to make a Statement about the European Council held in Brussels that I attended with my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary on 19 and 20 June.

“The main business of the Council on Thursday and Friday evening was to focus on the economic challenges ahead: the triple challenge of rising oil prices; rising food prices; and, because of the credit crunch, the rising cost of money; and in the wake of the US downturn, measures to keep the European economy moving forward. Important conclusions were also reached on the Irish referendum, climate change, the millennium development goals and the European response to the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe.

“On Thursday evening in the discussion on the Irish referendum vote, the Irish Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, offered to the Council meeting in October a report on the next stage for Ireland. The Council agreed that other member states should continue with their ratification process, and I was able to report for the UK that, as with 18 other countries, the Lisbon treaty had completed its parliamentary process and that the Bill had received Royal Assent on Thursday. Once we have received the judgment in an ongoing legal case, we will move to ratification.

“This time last year, the price of oil was around $65 dollars a barrel. At the previous EU Council in March, it stood at $107 dollars a barrel, and at the June Council, the oil price had risen further still to more than $135 dollars a barrel. The global challenge that we face is a rising demand for oil, particularly from China and the other emerging economies now and into the future, which has so far been only partly met by an increase in supply, driving up fuel bills for families across the whole of Europe. Governments are taking action domestically to help, but we know that these are ultimately global problems requiring global solutions. The shared European view is that we must take action to reduce our dependence on oil and to improve our energy efficiency.

“The new technology of carbon capture and storage will help us continue to use coal, oil and gas in a way that avoids harmful carbon emissions. So earlier this year we reiterated our commitment to move forward with up to 12 commercial-scale carbon capture and storage plants in place by 2015, and last week, accepting UK arguments about the importance and urgency of this, the Council called on the Commission to bring forward an incentive mechanism to achieve this goal.

“Transport will account for two-thirds of future increases in oil demand, so improving fuel efficiency and exploring alternatives to petrol and diesel is

23 Jun 2008 : Column 1240

essential. To incentivise innovation among car manufacturers, the UK will continue to push for a definitive commitment to an EU-wide car emissions target of 100 grams per kilometre by 2020, down from 160 grams, and a 40 per cent reduction on levels today, saving the typical British family around £500 a year in fuel costs.

“At Britain's urging, the Council also agreed to explore the scope to accelerate the introduction of commercially viable electric vehicles, and the infrastructure that their widespread use would require, in the European Union. Generating the electricity needed for electric cars is significantly less carbon- intensive than using oil. With almost all major car manufacturers, including UK-based ones, now close to developing commercially viable hybrid and electric vehicles, they have the potential not only to reduce our oil dependency and carbon emissions but to create thousands of jobs in Britain's automotive industry as well.

“All these measures will help to meet our overall EU target of reducing carbon emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, or by 30 per cent as part of a wider international agreement, but these decisions are made in the context of a dialogue between oil producers and consumers where both commit to greater transparency and a better balance between supply and demand.

“The Council welcomed Saudi Arabia's high-level meeting between oil producing and consuming states that I attended in Jeddah this weekend, and I am today writing to all European leaders informing them of the results of the Jeddah process, which will lead to a follow-up summit in London later this year.

“I can tell the House today that the Jeddah summit discussed measures to deliver a more sustainable global oil price, reduce the risks and uncertainties that can increase prices and ensure greater investment in new oil production, as well as in energy efficiency and alternatives to oil.

“I proposed that Britain and other oil consumers should open up our markets to new investment from oil producers in all forms of energy, including renewables and nuclear, providing oil producers with a long-term future in non-oil energy. In return, oil producers should be open to increasing funding and expertise in oil exploration and development, through co-operation with external investors and providing increased oil supply in the medium term, while growing economies adjust to a less oil-intense long-term future.

“I turn now to the related problem, also discussed by the Council, of high global food prices and the need to do more to combat price inflation. The prices of rice and wheat are now double what they were only a year ago. Higher food prices cause concern to many of us here at home, but in poor countries, where food often accounts for more than half a family’s spending, they can be even more devastating.

“So to tackle rising prices both here and overseas, and to help boost agricultural production, the Council agreed to implement the conclusions of the Rome

23 Jun 2008 : Column 1241

food summit earlier this month. The EU also agreed to assess the evidence on the indirect impacts of biofuels. The UK’s Gallagher review of the indirect impacts of biofuels, which is due to report shortly, will be part of this process.

“We committed to work towards a successful outcome to the Doha trade round, where eliminating trade-distorting subsidies and import restrictions could increase global GDP by as much as $300 billion a year by 2015. This is something that I have discussed with President Bush, President Lula, Chancellor Merkel, President Barroso, other world leaders and trade commissioner Peter Mandelson in recent days, and I believe that, while we are at the eleventh hour, a deal is within our grasp.

“The EU must also take tough action on elements of the common agricultural policy that raise the cost of food for consumers across Europe. Removing incentives for taking arable land out of production, for example, could reduce EU cereal prices by up to 5 per cent. The Council agreed to re-examine the issues of fair competition and sustainable agriculture.

“As part of this year of action on the millennium development goals, and ahead of the G8 in July and the United Nations meeting in September, the European Council signed up to an agenda for action that reaffirms EU aid targets and sets specific milestones to be achieved by 2010. On education, there will be increased EU investment of €4.3 billion to recruit 6 million more teachers globally. On health, there will be an extra €8 billion to help to save another 4 million children’s lives and to provide for 75 million more bed nets in Africa. I will be pushing the G8 in July to ensure we have the 120 million nets that we need so that every child and family in the world is able to sleep safely at night.

“The Commission has also agreed to establish pioneering millennium development goal contracts, linking EU spending on aid to specific outcomes by developing countries. I am pleased to announce a British contribution of £200 million to be channelled through this new mechanism.

“The Council also discussed the deteriorating political and humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe. In recent weeks, under Robert Mugabe’s increasingly desperate and criminal regime, Zimbabwe has seen at least 84 killings, 2,700 beatings, the displacement of 34,000 people and the arrest and detention of opposition leaders, including Tendai Biti and Morgan Tsvangirai.

“In the face of this unacceptable situation, the European Council reiterated its readiness to take further measures against those responsible for the violence. We will seek to impose travel and financial sanctions on those in the inner circle of the criminal cabal running the regime. The House knows that since the Council met last week the situation has deteriorated further still. As a number of African presidents and prime ministers have already stated, the regime has made it impossible to hold free and fair elections in Zimbabwe, and state-sponsored terror and intimidation have put the opposition in an untenable position.

23 Jun 2008 : Column 1242

“Our thoughts are with the people of Zimbabwe, who are facing an unprecedented level of violence and intimidation from this regime. The world is of one view; that the status quo cannot continue. The African Union commission has called for violence to end. The current Government—with no parliamentary majority, having lost the first round of the presidential elections and holding power only because of violence and intimidation—are a regime that should not be recognised by anyone. The UN Security Council will meet today, and the Foreign Secretary will make a detailed Statement in a few minutes, after discussions he, I and the Minister for Africa held with African leaders today.

“SADC and the African Union leadership should meet to discuss the emergency. We understand that there are plans for SADC to meet very soon and we support the plans for that happening quickly. We urge that SADC’s observers’ evaluations of the seriousness of the situation on the ground be made public. We urge that the UN and the African Union work together with SADC to send envoys and a mission to Zimbabwe to discuss the situation on the ground and the way forward. We believe that the UN envoy should be allowed to return. The international community must send a powerful and united message; that we will not recognise the fraudulent election rigging and the violence and intimidation of a criminal and discredited cabal, and that we are ready to offer help to the reconstruction of Zimbabwe once democracy has been restored.

“The Council also expressed its ongoing concern about the humanitarian situation in Burma in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, and called for a return to democracy and the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners. We made clear our continued determination to play a leading role in ensuring peace and stability in Kosovo. Our national interest remains a strong Britain in a strong European Union, and we will continue to focus on an outward-looking European agenda that tackles effectively the issues that affect us all: the global financial crisis; the rising cost of food and fuel; combating climate change; and supporting people in the poorest countries in the world. That is what the Council did at its June meeting, and that is what this Government will be doing in the run-up to the French presidency in July. I commend the Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.02 pm

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement.

When the Prime Minister arrived at the summit he was greeted as saviour of a treaty that he was ashamed to sign with others only a few months earlier. No doubt on this occasion he enjoyed being popular; but how can we possibly expect any clarity or consistency of purpose against such a background? It was clear in your Lordships’ House last week the course that the Government have set. They have ruled out declaring the Lisbon treaty dead. They have ruled out the

23 Jun 2008 : Column 1243

referendum they once promised, even now that the only people in Europe allowed to vote have rejected the treaty. The Government have lined up with those pressing for an unchanged treaty, thereby bullying and cajoling the Irish people to change their vote. They have ruled out Parliament having any lock on what may now be cooked up in the EU to get round the Irish vote. Those are four critical choices, and four wrong choices. The Government are stubbornly clinging to a European past, when what we need is to chart out a new course for a more open, less regulatory European Union.

We were told in this Chamber last Wednesday by the noble Baroness that we had to sign away our freedom of manoeuvre and ratify the treaty in order to secure more influence in last weekend’s talks. That sounded then like an insider illusion, and now it is shown to have been an insider illusion. Not a single change is signalled in 25 pages of conclusions. Instead the communiqué talks arrogantly of,

That, of course, does not include the citizens of Ireland.

So, work goes on—on the European External Action Service, on the borders agency, on a common European asylum system, and so on. But perhaps the noble Baroness can tell us the legal basis for such work. Is there one? Can she give us one feature of the Lisbon treaty that she would like to see modified in the negotiations following the Irish vote?

When will the Government and those in Brussels see that nothing divides the European elite from its people more than the repeated evidence that whenever they vote no, they are treated as having said yes? Did the Prime Minister by any chance have a bilateral discussion with the Prime Ministers of the Czech Republic and Ireland during the summit? If so, what was his message to the Czech Republic and Ireland?

Can the noble Baroness also explain a number of resolutions in the communiqué? In paragraph 10, it says:

It talks of,

In paragraph 15, it invites the Commission,

What technologies are those? Is it the taking of DNA? Is it mass fingerprinting, or iris records? Are the Government seriously proposing that UK citizens should get EU computer authorisation before being allowed to travel? If it does not mean that, what on earth does it mean? What is the large-scale IT system proposed? Perhaps it is a Euro-ID card. Should not the Government sort out the handling of top secret data on al-Qaeda before they even contemplate European-wide databases on our own citizens?

The Government invited the EU Commission, or so it appears, to work on family law and an EU proposal on inheritance and wills. The English law of property succession is substantially different from that

23 Jun 2008 : Column 1244

of most European countries. What benefit for us can come from a common approach here? Can the noble Baroness assure the House that the Government will veto any proposal—that is, if we still can—for a common EU policy on inheritance tax?

There are fine words about the troubling rise in food prices. But is not the truth that there has been a dismal failure to act on free trade or reform of the CAP, something for which the Government gave away £7 billion of British taxpayers’ money and got nothing in return? Can the noble Baroness tell the House of one reform in the CAP, however modest, that was agreed last weekend?

The EU has been one of the prime cheerleaders of the race into biofuels, an acknowledged factor leading to food price increases, disastrous rain forest destruction and food shortages. Last weekend, the summit said that there is now a need “rapidly” to reassess this. What is the UK Government’s policy on this? Should more biofuels be planted, or less? Can the noble Baroness tell us?

We welcome the fine words on the problems of rising energy prices, and indeed the Prime Minister’s efforts in Saudi Arabia, but is not the truth that the UK Government and the EU have wasted the past 10 years in ensuring future energy security? What is the Government's best forecast for the price of oil and gas six months out as a result of the weekend's initiatives? If it helps the noble Baroness—she is, I know, no great expert on this—I would settle for an answer saying whether it will be up or down. If they acted a bit faster, we would not be in the state we are in.

Finally, although I know that we are awaiting another Statement after this one, I must comment on the shocking situation in Zimbabwe. It shames our Government, shames the EU and shames the dismally weak leadership given by the UN bureaucracy, even before the red-carpet treatment lately given to Mugabe at a UN conference in Rome. It also tarnishes the name of President Mbeki of South Africa, who has walked by on the other side and watched tyranny thrive.

At long last—but when it is far too late, with Mugabe reducing his country to a desert of hopelessness, starvation and torture—we see this subject placed on the agenda for the EU summit. Time and again, we have demanded at this Dispatch Box action on Zimbabwe. Time and again, the noble Baroness and her predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, have said that any action would be counterproductive and that there has to be an African solution. Is it not now obvious that wringing our hands in that way has been a political and humanitarian disaster? I welcome the belated words in this Statement but they cannot bring back homes for the exiled, food for the starving, dignity for the beaten or fathers to the orphaned.

The bureaucratic pap of last weekend’s presidency conclusions is dismally behind the game. It is long on regrets and loud on calls but silent on action. Pathetically, 250 fine words boil down to the EU saying it,

I bet that that had Mugabe and his thugs shivering in their palaces. Can the noble Baroness tell us one concrete EU step against Mugabe that was agreed at

23 Jun 2008 : Column 1245

the summit? When will the Government apologise to this House, which has been so tireless in its efforts in the cause of Zimbabwe’s suffering people, for the failure of the UK and the failure of the EU to act earlier and far more firmly than it has done to date? We await the next Statement and hope that it will answer some of those questions.

4.11 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I think that our responsibility today is to discuss what happened at the European Council at the weekend, not to carry on debates that we have had at considerable length over recent weeks.

On the loss of the Lisbon treaty—if it is lost, though we are still a long way from that—we on these Benches hold to our position that it would remove a number of useful improvements to the European Union’s current structures, certainly in foreign policy; in a number of issues in justice and home affairs, such as migration and crime; and in parliamentary scrutiny. Can the Leader of the House say how far some of the discussions we have had on improving national parliamentary scrutiny could, at least as far as the UK Parliament is concerned, be put into operation by this Parliament because they are valuable in their own right? It would be a gesture of confidence in strengthening the role of national Parliaments if the British Government were willing to put into effect some of those improvements in parliamentary scrutiny and to work more closely with other national Parliaments, even while we are waiting to see what may or may not happen with the current amending treaty.

We also recognise that the European Council had to discuss a number of urgent policy issues, whatever the institutional setback. I note with interest that those on the Conservative Benches alternate between discussing how appalling the European Union is and complaining that it has not been effective enough on a range of subjects. On the subject of future oil and energy prices, I read the Financial Times every day and note the range of predictions. Of course, we all expect the British Prime Minister to be far more of a guru than bankers and others who predict prices, and I look forward to hearing what the Government will say.

The Statement said a certain amount about climate change and foreign policy. I was rather puzzled that it did not refer to the eastern neighbourhood policy, on which there is a great deal of work to be done, or to relations with the Mediterranean countries, on which the French have put up some rather badly thought-through proposals. There are real issues at stake with the Mediterranean countries.

I was also disappointed that the Statement does not stress the important work that the European Union is attempting to undertake on migration policy and border management, where there clearly are active British interests at stake since so many migrants who enter the European Union are trying to get to the United Kingdom. The idea of a closer dialogue with sending and transit states is therefore actively in Britain’s interest. As for the issue of family breakdown, divorce law and inheritance law, I am conscious that a number of people, including

23 Jun 2008 : Column 1246

Lady Meyer, have actively argued that in a world where cross-border marriage and cross-border living are increasingly common, we need more active European negotiations on access to children, divorce law and the like.

We welcome the comments on Doha. One of the things that we on these Benches would like from Her Majesty’s Government from now on is more straight-talking, not only to the British public but to some of the member states, about where interests lie in closer European co-operation. The remarks of President Sarkozy on the Doha round and the role of Commissioner Mandelson were extremely unhelpful. They played to populist French politics rather than constructive European co-operation. The recent remarks of the German Foreign Minister on why we need the European army and why he also wants to cut German defence spending also show the huge gap between the illusions in the debates of other nations as well as our own.

We on these Benches want a Government who not only play an active and constructive role in Europe but explain to their own domestic public the role that they are playing in Europe and to other member Governments the objectives that they think should be European priorities.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page