Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Government say that the EU leaders agreed with their saviour—always a prudent position—that every country should provide the same fiscal stimulus regardless of its situation. Why, then, does the European Commission statement, to which the communiqué refers, say:

“Those that took advantage of the good times to achieve more sustainable public finance positions and improve their competitive positions have more room for manoeuvre now. For those Member States ... which are facing significant external and internal imbalances, budgetary policy should essentially aim at correcting such imbalances”?

Is that not Eurospeak—the noble Baroness will be well versed in these matters—for, “If you’re in a hole, stop digging”? Is it not preposterous in the light of authoritative comments in Germany to say that there is a Eurochorus singing karaoke with their saviour and that the answer to a debt-fuelled recession is to double the national debt? Germany’s Social Democrat Finance Minister has called this crass and mistaken and said that Britain’s debt will now rise to a level that will take a generation to pay off. Tony Blair spent years worrying about his legacy, and so he should have because we are now living with it. Should this Prime Minister not worry about the catastrophic legacy that he is piling up of busted pensions, lost jobs, negative equity and debts piled on debts for our children and grandchildren? When will the Government act to deal with what the Governor of the Bank of England says is the single most pressing challenge: getting banks lending again? Will they now adopt the Conservative Party’s policy of a national loan guarantee scheme, so that we can get business trading and Britain out of this recession?

When the summit is over and the back slapping done, each EU leader has to go back to his or her own country and deal with what the communiqué states

15 Dec 2008 : Column 665

are very different national problems. So I again ask the noble Baroness whether she will, on behalf of the Government, accept any part in this disastrous recession and whether she will apologise to those who have lost jobs, savings and homes because of the mistakes that her Government have made and continue to make.

4.11 pm

Lord McNally: My Lords, I share in the thanks given by the Leader of the Opposition for this Statement and in the expressions of sympathy for the losses of life reported among our troops. I notice that the Canadians also suffered casualties, which is a reminder that this commitment crosses the globe.

This is a very broad-based Statement, which goes from the nitty-gritty of a European Council meeting to important meetings that the Prime Minister had over the weekend in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. We welcome the fact that he found time in a heavy schedule both to visit the troops and to have those crucial meetings. It is important that someone such as the British Prime Minister should visit India and Pakistan at this time to make sure that both of them realise that co-operation between them, even if relations are strained, must be the way ahead.

On the European summit, it is always difficult to winnow out the practical advances from the broad wishes of better things to come. I welcome the response from the Conservative Front Bench. I understood from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the Conservatives want to go faster and do more on environmental issues. That is welcome because it will be difficult to get practical advances on some of these environmental targets and, if there is a broad base of political agreement, the more likely we are to achieve them. The Americans are already showing that perhaps some of the answer to economic regeneration coincides with environmental needs. The technology that will be needed to deliver the environmental objectives offers real prospects for new industries and jobs, but we need to see some practical machinery put in place to achieve that. That is why we have been critical of the VAT cut as a misdirected use of public funds when more direct stimuli could have been used instead of that rather blunderbuss approach.

On the state of the pound and the euro, I wonder whether the Prime Minister ever revisits—I still have them stacked up in the corner of my office—the volumes of assessment that he produced 10 years ago that were the killer blow to us even going into the euro. I remember a lot of the predictions at the time from Conservatives and Eurosceptics that the euro was doomed to failure before it was even launched.

One of the things that I welcome about the Statement is the number of times—I did not have time to count them—that Europe and European co-operation are mentioned by the Prime Minister. This is a really welcome change. He spent 10 years being the Iago of this Government, whispering into the Prime Minister’s ears against European co-operation. This council shows that it is a whole lot safer inside the European club than outside, which is why I think that it is sensible in the new circumstances for the Irish to re-examine this.

15 Dec 2008 : Column 666

Keynes said that, when the circumstances changed, he changed his mind. Well, the circumstances have certainly changed and the Irish are wise to have another look.

It is a little worrying that Zimbabwe does not seem to have been given much attention. We have to put that at the top of the agenda, as the situation is so appalling. As far as Afghanistan and Pakistan are concerned, the great worry is that, although the Statement contains strong words, President Karzai’s regime has been condemned as one of the most corrupt in the world. Unless he is willing to do something about that, it will be extremely difficult—to turn full circle to the beginning of the Statement—to convince the British people that their young men and women should sacrifice their lives in defence of such a regime. Likewise, in Pakistan, there really has to be practical, on-the-ground activity. I understand it when the Pakistani losses are cited, but much more needs to be done.

This is one of those reports that one gets of business in progress on a whole range of levels. We thank the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister for updating us on that business in progress.

4.17 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I welcome the broad welcome from both Benches opposite for many aspects of the Statement. On Pakistan, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is absolutely right that we must take action against terrorism and ensure our security. That is exactly what the Prime Minister has been doing. It was one of the reasons why he went to Pakistan and India, both to express our solidarity with the people of India, but also to ensure that we are working with the Pakistan Government in making some practical demonstration of a way forward. I cited, in the Statement that I repeated, some practical aspects of that partnership.

The noble Lord mentioned the Human Rights Act. I know that the Lord Chancellor is talking about that but, as to what he is contemplating, I cannot tell the noble Lord at the moment. However, I am sure that we will come back to that in due course.

I am delighted that, on all sides of the House, there is a warm welcome for the movements on climate change. This is an historic part of the agreement in Brussels at the weekend. It bodes well for Copenhagen and demonstrates that we really are showing global leadership. I believe that it will make it much simpler for us to get a good result at Copenhagen next year. That is where we must engage in discussions with India. I do not think that climate change was part of the Prime Minister’s discussions on his very brief visit to India over the weekend. If it was, I will certainly come back to the noble Lord.

The EU’s 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 is not negotiable, and a further 10 per cent is pending a global deal next year. This is a very ambitious package but it sends the right signal to our international partners. We are, as I say, leading by example. Overall, the EU’s renewables target is 20 per cent. The UK’s share of that is 15 per cent, which is a tough target in itself.

15 Dec 2008 : Column 667

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, spoke of the much needed opportunities for employment that fighting climate change will bring. As we move forward on the climate change agenda, becoming less dependent on carbon and less addicted to oil, and embrace the low-carbon technologies, more and more jobs will be forthcoming. The agreement reached on carbon capture and storage and the fact that €9 billion, I think, will be put into the scheme represent a real move forward in job creation as well as ensuring that we will become less dependent on carbon.

I turn to the Irish and the treaty of Lisbon. Whether there will be another referendum—and I think that there will—is entirely a matter for the Irish. It is for them to decide. It is not for the other European member states to say that they must have a referendum; it is up to the Irish Government and, ultimately, the Irish people. The EU agreed a package of measures to offer Ireland the reassurance that it needs on the Lisbon treaty, and those reassurances cover taxation, defence, social issues and the size of the Commission. The Taoiseach is now content to go back to Ireland with those assurances. However, these measures do not change the Lisbon treaty, and the legal guarantees are in line with the red lines that we in the UK secured in negotiation on the treaty. We have always said that the EU must listen to the concerns of the Irish people, and that is exactly what is happening.

As for whether the number of Commissioners can be changed without reopening the treaty, yes it can. The Lisbon treaty provides for a reduction in the size of the Commission to two-thirds of the number of member states from 2014, but the same article allows the European Council by unanimity to vary the number of Commissioners. I believe that that is exactly what will be done.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked about others pulling their weight in Afghanistan. It is vital that ISAF is properly resourced. We expect others regularly to review their contributions, as we do in the UK. We welcome the increased ceiling for German troops to 4,500, which was voted through the Bundestag on 16 October, and I believe that France has also approved the continuing presence of its military contingent in Afghanistan. Much more is needed but that shows that we are moving forward.

Both noble Lords mentioned the euro, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, cited a comment made by my right honourable friend Caroline Flint. The Government have always said that we are in favour of euro membership in principle. In practice, however, the determining factor underpinning any government decision on membership of the single currency is national economic interest and whether the case for joining is clear and unambiguous as set out by the five economic tests. I therefore think that we will have to have another look at this issue, with a lot more paper being produced at the relevant stage.

When it comes to the economy, the Statement makes it clear that the Government’s actions are entirely in line with those that have been accepted and adopted by the European Council this weekend, including Germany, which signed up to the package, as the UK did. Just as we have an immense fiscal stimulus, so all the European Union countries will be boosting their

15 Dec 2008 : Column 668

economies by 1.5 per cent, which is quite extraordinary. It is Europe’s way of responding to the worst financial crisis for generations. That is why we have problems in this country, as cited by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. It is not to do with mismanagement of this economy, but because the world economy is entering a major downturn in the face of the most dangerous shock in mature financial markets since the 1930s. That is why we have problems in this country and why we are working with our European partners in trying to resolve them.

The noble Lords mentioned unemployment. Clearly, unemployment is not a price worth paying; it is extremely painful for the individuals concerned, their families and communities. That is precisely why we are doing everything possible to keep people in jobs, retraining them when they lose jobs and offering them all the assistance that we can in finding new jobs.

4.26 pm

Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, will the noble Baroness assure us that, in addition to any military surge in Afghanistan, there will also be a political surge, whereby the contributors to ISAF and NATO will get together to prevail on the Karzai Government to address that Administration’s weaknesses?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the political aspects of policy on Afghanistan should always be seen to be in balance with the military aspects. When we talk of policy in Afghanistan, it is both military and civilian. We have to ensure that our European partners work together, including in their discussions with President Karzai, to ensure that the situation on the ground in respect of civilians, civil society, capacity building and corruption in that country is addressed. We will do that politically with our partners.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, whereas this summit communiqué is packed full of constructive and concrete steps on issues ranging from the Irish question to CO2 emissions, and whereas all 27 countries have agreed that this type of close co-operation is essential for us to get out of the recession, there is not a word of recognition of this by the Official Opposition, who seem to be living on a different planet from everybody else?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend’s comments. It is true that 27 countries are acting together in partnership. We know that the Administration of President-elect Obama will also be acting in the same way. That shows the isolation of the Official Opposition on this particular aspect.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, the Prime Minister’s Statement talks about building counterterrorism capacity in relation to the Indian subcontinent and about help with new laws. What does the Prime Minister have in mind? Is he talking about an international approach to dealing with terrorism? Does that mean that international communities are now prepared to deal with terrorists who commit heinous crimes and that there is no place for them to hide?

15 Dec 2008 : Column 669

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I understand that my right honourable friend was talking in terms of the bilateral relationship with India and ways in which we can work together on this issue. However, I am sure that there will be some multilateral aspects, but if I may I will seek further guidance and come back to the noble Lord in writing.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, does the noble Baroness see any inconsistency between the brave and welcome words on Afghanistan and the apparent delays in defence expenditure on armoured vehicles, especially when there are simultaneous announcements of increased domestic public expenditure?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: No, my Lords, I do not see any inconsistency. As I understand it, we have recently spent £700 million on new vehicles for our Armed Forces and are doing exactly what we should be doing. This is always a matter of contention, but in recent discussions with members of the Army, Navy and Air Force, serving soldiers have all willingly said that they are now better equipped than they ever have been.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, does the Leader of the House not agree that the Opposition’s reaction to what was decided on Ireland is rather a case of looking a gift horse in the mouth? Are not some of the assurances and clarifications offered to the Irish of considerable benefit to ourselves? Are we not happy to see the situation on tax or the non-legal interference of the charter on human rights confirmed by the whole European Council? It surely bears out precisely the point of view of those of us who supported the Lisbon treaty, which was decried during debates in this House in the summer.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Yes, my Lords, I completely agree that the discussions over the weekend have ensured that there is further clarity about these issues. There is absolutely no change; the Irish people had expressed concerns, which have been addressed by ensuring that there is clarity about these very important issues, which were of concern to people in this House when they were debated.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I noted that the Prime Minister said that the time has come for action, not words, on terrorism emanating from Pakistan. Do the Government recognise that the time has now come to end the right of UK citizens who are of Pakistani origin to hold Pakistani passports in addition to their British passports? That makes it virtually impossible to track the movements of those who may be planning to engage in terrorism,

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the noble Lord is speaking in terms of Pakistan and potential terrorism, but whether people have dual nationality is a matter for many countries and will have to be looked at in the round. While I understand the concern expressed

15 Dec 2008 : Column 670

by the noble Lord, this is perhaps a simplistic way of looking at things. However, I will certainly take the point back.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, narratives are quite important, as are the words we use to do with terrorism in sensitive situations. A phrase such as a “chain of terror” that links the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the streets of the UK is very similar to the narrative we had after 9/11, when we heard of a “war on terror”. Such an expression, coming from powers that have a lot of imperial baggage in very sensitive areas where conflict has raged for many years, is perhaps unhelpful.

The Prime Minister says that he has offered £6 million for assistance which, according to my rather rudimentary maths, comes to something like 0.2 per cent of a counterterrorism budget of £3.5 billion for a country which has a very clear and evident problem, as we have heard from all sides of the House, and a population nearly three times that of the United Kingdom. I suggest that if we were serious about practical assistance, we might need to up that figure somewhat.

The question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is ongoing; it is not trivial. The Pakistani policy-makers have been putting it to me for about 10 years. The problem is simple: people who hold dual nationality passports leave the UK on their UK passport and enter Pakistan on their Pakistani passport, and vice versa. In that way, neither country can keep track of who went when. I have in the past put proposals to the Foreign Office regarding this particular problem with this particular country, and perhaps a few other countries where we have similar problems with security and terrorism. It cannot be beyond the wit of man to find practical ways of knowing who is coming and going, when 400,000 people a year are involved.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I will certainly look at what the noble Baroness has said in the past on that last point and come back to her. The amount announced today by the Prime Minister is only one aspect of the support being given to Pakistan. Any support we can give is better than no support at all. This money is being made available very swiftly and is the first step in a particular process. Of course, I recognise the need for sensitivity in terminology, and that the terminology of the “war on terror” was, perhaps, particularly inept. The “chain of terror”, however, perhaps looks at a real situation. I am not sure and I will have to reflect further on that, but I recognise and will take back the points made by the noble Baroness.

Lord Ryder of Wensum: My Lords, paragraph 5 on the second page of the Statement quotes directly from the communiqué:

“European action includes speeding up ... ‘a continued, general and significant reduction in administrative burdens on business’”.

This is what the last communiqué said six months ago. Can the Leader of the House remind us what administrative burdens on business have been lifted during the past six months, and what she expects to be lifted in the next six months?

15 Dec 2008 : Column 671

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, that is an excellent and important question, not only for this Chamber, but for all the businesses that have too great a regulatory burden imposed on them. I cannot do justice to the question at the Dispatch Box at this moment. I will write to the noble Lord and put a copy of that letter in the Library.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I return to my noble friend’s question about the £6 million that has been allocated to tackling the causes of radicalisation. I think that was the phrase used in the Statement. Is one of the main engines of fanaticism not the preaching of mullahs, who incite religious hatred, funded by very large sums of money from the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia? Is the £6 million not a drop in the ocean compared to this enormous flow of money from the Middle East? What are we going to do to help Pakistan to tackle that matter?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, when one puts it like that it seems a small amount. However, this is for work that we are undertaking in co-operation with the Pakistani Government, so it builds on resources that are already there. As I say, it is better to spend that money than not to spend it. It ensures that we work in partnership on these issues. It is important that neither country works in isolation. These are issues that we must resolve together. This is a tangible demonstration of our resolve to do so.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page