Clause 2 [Addition to list of treaties]:
1: Clause 2, page 1, line 12, after “excluding” insert—
“(i) Article 1, paragraph 30, inserted Article 13a TEU, paragraphs 1, 2 and 3, on the role of the High Representative in preparing the common foreign and security policy and the conduct of the common foreign and security policy, unless binding arrangements have been made for the Secretary of State to report to Parliament, at least annually following the coming into force of this Act, on his assessment of the objectives and conduct of the common European Union foreign policy in the preceding year; and(ii) ”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, although we spent quite some time looking at this Bill in some detail in Committee, it is inevitable that with such huge issues at stake and such a very wide coverage of our national life involved in a single piece of legislation, and indeed in a single treaty, many issues would remain to be covered more thoroughly and clarified. We now return to these at the Report stage, and may open up some new areas that were illuminated in Committee. The amendment is tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral, and deals with aspects of our foreign policy and the common foreign and security policy. On the face of the Bill for all to see is the Government’s attempt to exclude the common foreign and security policy from both the treaty provisions and the extension of the Community’s powers; in effect, to ring-fence foreign policy. That is the clear aim and intention of the Bill following the negotiations on the treaty itself. Perhaps I may use the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, this is to keep foreign policy “intergovernmental and non-legislative”.
We debated that at length in Committee and it will not surprise noble Lords, particularly those opposite, to learn that some of us were not at all convinced that this is a watertight situation. We have always fully accepted the case for intergovernmental co-operation and sometimes intimate dovetailing on a range of foreign policy issues. During Committee we were treated to a superb speech by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, who is in his place. With his vast experience, he described what can and has been achieved by such co-operation. But we do not welcome the intrusion of majority voting and the removal of vetoes into various aspects of the conduct of our foreign policy: nor did the Government welcome them either; they strongly resisted them.
In Committee, I mentioned 10 areas in which we doubt whether the insulation procedure is working. I will not detain your Lordships with them again, aside from the self-amending provision in the treaty, which we will debate later, and the role of the European Court of Justice, under its new name the CJEU. I want to refer in particular to the European External Action Service, which is specified in paragraph 3 of 13A of the treaty and mentioned in our amendment, because in this area there seem to be many loose ends and uncertainty and we need to clear up matters.
When the idea was first put forward, the UK Government Minister responsible said firmly:
“We believe that it remains for EU member states to organise their respective bilateral Diplomatic Services at the national level”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/1/03; col. 226W.]
Now it seems that all that has gone and in the design of the new diplomatic service, the European External Action Service, which appears to be going ahead apace, although the treaty has not yet been fully ratified, the majority of votes will be shaping a number of aspects.
I must confess that although we have all tried to carry out research into a treaty that is known to be—it is labelled as—deliberately unintelligible, it is still a little mysterious. On 26 February my right honourable friend William Hague asked the Foreign Secretary what recent discussions he had had with his EU counterparts on the European External Action Service and whether any meetings on the organisation and funding of the EEAS had taken place. The Foreign Secretary in reply said that there had been no discussions at ministerial or working level on the detailed organisation funding and functioning of the EEAS. If that was true then—I am talking about late February—it is not true now. The noble Baroness spoke about the matter at col. 494 in Committee. She did not say—I am convinced that this is because she was not aware of it, otherwise she would have told us fully in her usual manner—that COREPER was about to hold two sessions at working level to decide the structure and modus operandi of the EEAS, including such matters as the setting up of embassies worldwide.
It seems that whatever was happening in February or a few weeks ago we are now in advanced discussions about the detailed organisation and functioning of the Europe-wide diplomatic service. That is the position now, and it requires our urgent attention. It is no surprise that the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place called for regular reports to be laid before Parliament on these discussions during the current year and that Parliament should be kept fully informed, which it does not seem to have been. This is all part of what has been called the hidden wiring of the treaty, which requires us to sign up in relation to issues that remain completely undecided or even unidentified. We therefore need as a start to see those COREPER discussion outcomes and for them to be published and laid in the Libraries of both Houses. I hope that the noble Baroness will tell us that that is possible.
Why are we focusing on this particularly? Because, in the words of the Government and of all those who follow these things, this is all absolutely central to the way in which our foreign policy will be handled and shaped by the new diplomatic corps. How will it work? We do not know. We have not been told and we have had no opportunity to contribute to the shaping so far of what is a key instrument in the determination of our foreign and international policies.
I suppose that one would worry a bit less if EU foreign policy had all along been an unalloyed success. That would be a little reassuring, and in some areas it has worked extremely well. However, that would still leave many questions about how the new diplomatic corps works, especially if it develops a life of its own as an unanchored and independent institution. But the objective reality is that EU foreign policy has not always been a success; in fact in some areas it has run into the gravest difficulties or never really got off the ground at all. As the Financial Times argued only a few days ago, during your Lordships' recess period:
“The paucity of European strategic thinking is stunning”.
It went on to argue that that was especially so when it comes to the rising power of Asia, which of course is where the centre of gravity of the whole world system is now moving. I suppose that that is not surprising when there are such numerous and different member state views of what foreign policy priorities should be. But that is the position. Therefore we need to proceed with great caution and great clarity before committing ourselves to these types of projects.
I do not want to go into the EU aid record in detail now, but there are people on all sides of your Lordships' House who recognise that it has certainly not been brilliant. I am far from convinced—I know that this is more controversial—that EU foreign policy will assist our national energy security. We need co-operation but I am not persuaded by those who make the facile jump between co-operation on interconnecters, nuclear power and so on—that is all technically correct—and saying that we therefore need a common energy policy underpinned by new regulations and legal provisions. It is a jump from hope to fantasy.
Behind these doubts lies a still bigger question: is the European Union today, in modern circumstances, still the best vehicle for carrying forward the central goals of our foreign policy? What are these goals? The Foreign Office occasionally issues magnificently glossy books, or annual reports, and this year it has abandoned the previous 10 goals and has four new ones. Mr Miliband has identified them as: counterterrorism and checking WMD proliferation—obviously, we are all in favour of that; preventing and resolving conflict worldwide—well, who could argue with that?; promoting a high-growth, low-carbon global economy—trickier I should have thought, but it sounds broadly right; and to develop as effective institutions the UN and the EU.
Those are very interesting but they are stratospherically vague ambitions. Of course the UN needs reform; there are Members of your Lordships' House who know that very well. When I heard a UN official say the other day that Robert Mugabe was in good standing at the United Nations I began to worry that something really needs attention there. As for the European Union, its foreign policy is useful to us. But it is not the only network. That is where we draw a line—with those who say that it is the only game in town and the only destiny. We have to ask: what about the Commonwealth network? What about India? What about our links with Japan? What about the new centres of power? How will we develop our foreign policy with those?
We need much more than EU partners and a common foreign and security policy to fulfil and promote our contribution and our interests worldwide. We need maximum flexibility in our EU alliances and coalitions. Frankly, the Lisbon treaty gives us neither. Our foreign policy defines us as a nation and Parliament deserves and requires a proper say in that part of our international role, which is to be shaped by the EU and its agencies. This amendment makes a very modest request. That is why I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Lord has said that he is not convinced that the provisions of the treaty, in respect of foreign policy, are watertight. I suspect that whatever those provisions were, he would come to that same conclusion. He has said that there are alternative clusters or instruments of power available to us other than the European Union, and of course this is correct. But it is clear that the weight which we as a country have as a partner nation of the European Union gives us far greater clout in areas where we would be relatively weak on our own. I hope that he would follow me, for example, in respect of Iran, where a purely UK voice would be pretty ineffective and where the Commonwealth, which appears to be one of his preferred alternatives, would have no voice at all; also in the Balkans, where, apart from the faults of the 1990s, the European Union has played a particularly helpful role, in part because of the prospect of enlargement; and in a number of other areas where it is clear that the weight which we have as a member of the European Union has been one of our major instruments, our major forces for good in the world.
The amendment asks for an annual report to Parliament and I would join the noble Lord in saying that it is vital, if his aim is parliamentary accountability, that we seek in all ways to further that. Nobody can doubt that the Lisbon treaty increases parliamentary accountability. I had the privilege to follow the noble Lord in chairing the Foreign Affairs Committee in the other place. Part of the duties of the person who chaired that committee was to go every six months to the country which chaired the Union at that time and to discuss with those colleagues who chaired the sister committees in the Union. What struck me very forcefully was how jealous those other countries were of the powers which our Parliament enjoyed in respect of foreign policy. I saw that over a large number of issues. Whatever may have been the formal powers, we had far greater instruments of control in our Parliament, well beyond the ingenuity of individual Members, be it the particular Select Committees, both in this House and in the other place, or the means of questioning Ministers. Therefore, I wonder whether the report which the noble Lord is suggesting will serve any useful purpose; in short, whether it is otiose, given the large number of other means of “control” in the parliamentary sense which we now enjoy.
I am also struck by the fact that, when the common foreign and security policy was established in Maastricht, the noble Lord, who was then in Government—or certainly his party was in Government—did not take the opportunity to insert a similar clause. It is crystal clear that the powers of the Union are largely unaffected. Certainly if the noble Lord and other colleagues look through the very useful report produced by the European Union Committee of this House, they will see that the conduct and nature of foreign policy remain intergovernmental. That was the position in Maastricht and it remains the position. Given the fact that there are so many other instruments of control, my own judgment is that this amendment is unnecessary. Had it been necessary, the noble Lord and his friends would certainly have inserted a similar provision at the time when the Maastricht treaty was passing through this House and Parliament generally.
My Lords, I followed as far as I could the logic of the speech of the noble Lord in moving the amendment. I will have no difficulty in recommending that we on the Liberal Democrat Benches oppose the amendment. The noble Lord quoted the Times on the paucity of EU strategic thinking. I must say that, from what we heard in the introductory speech, the paucity of Conservative strategic thinking is also rather mind-boggling. Not even Senator McCain, in his proposals for an alliance of democracies, suggested China as a more appropriate partner for Britain and the United States than France and Germany. However, if I understood the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that is exactly what he was proposing.
The notion of the Commonwealth as a stronger institution for British foreign policy than the European Union requires, again, a good deal of careful examination. The noble Lord said that EU foreign policy has not always been successful. Actually, British foreign policy has not always been successful. American foreign policy under President Bush has not always been entirely successful. By what criterion are we judging success?
I say to our Conservative colleagues that one must be careful about one’s position on the European Union and foreign policy. I was interested to see William Hague’s letter yesterday to the leader of my party suggesting that we have some confusion, but the Conservatives are doing their best to straddle their dog-whistle movements towards the Europhobes and those within the Conservative Party who want to make the best of British membership of the European Union.
The noble Lord said in his opening statement that he is not entirely convinced of the need for a common energy policy. The Daily Mail this morning tells us that high gas prices in Britain are entirely the fault of the French and the Germans and nothing to do with anything else. I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, does not entirely agree that the problems of British gas prices are the fault of wicked French and German energy companies. There may be a case for closer European energy co-operation. I recall William Hague saying that we needed a stronger European position in our relations with Russia. That seems to be a good case for closer European co-operation in foreign policy.
The noble Lord also said:
“we do not welcome the intrusion of majority voting … into various aspects … of our foreign policy”.
In the 27-member EU—and, for that matter, the 26-member NATO—one occasionally stubs one’s toes, in terms of effective action, against one difficult member; Greece and Macedonia currently, and Cyprus is holding up the whole question of closer co-operation between the European Union and NATO. The European Union External Action Service has also been mentioned; we talked about it in Committee. Some of us pointed out that Britain currently has no resident representation in 50 member states of the United Nations and that there is a great deal to be said for shared representation in those 50 states.
We must be careful in listening to what William Hague is saying about Conservative policy. This is the man who said, on the Nice treaty, that we had 10 days to save the pound and that British democracy was under threat. I have received several letters in the past few days that said that the Lisbon treaty threatens the future of British democracy; indeed, that it would be the death of British democracy. I cite some of these letters—they must have come from some Europhobic newsletter, they are so similar—which say that it would be comparable to the Nazi takeover of Germany in 1933.
I say to our Conservative friends that we must have a constructive debate about British foreign policy. We on these Benches are entirely clear—
It is their policy, too, my Lords. The Government are a little closer to what I regard as an effective foreign policy than the Conservatives. I do not know what Conservative policy is on this. Let us talk about how we make the best of British interests shared with those of our European partners. That is what my party stands for. I am sorry that the Conservative Party has this intrinsic mistrust of our continental partners and a blind faith in following the United States; so blind that I noticed that noble Lords on the Conservative Front Bench made no effort to intervene on the fourth Oral Question today because they might perhaps have been seen to criticise American policy.
My Lords, I am continually struck that those who tell us how important this treaty is hasten to say, as soon as the consequences of a provision are pointed out, that that provision will not change anything and is not important. It is difficult to understand whether they believe that the treaty provisions are significant. I happen to think that the treaty provisions on the development of an ever more integrated foreign policy are there because the intention is to develop an ever more integrated European foreign policy, and that we should take those provisions for what they are written as being. That may be a good thing or a bad thing but we should not ignore them. Therefore, I very much support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Howell that proposes the reporting arrangements.
However, I wish to ask a question that I do not think was dealt with adequately in Committee; namely, what happens if the UK signs up to a common foreign policy in the European Union and decides at a later stage that it has a different view of foreign policy because there is a change of Government or a change of heart or perhaps because of a debate in Parliament which results in a different view being adopted? I do not understand what provision there is in the treaty to allow the UK to change its mind once it has agreed to a common EU foreign policy and subsequently to get that policy changed. I should be grateful if the Minister could explain what allows us to get a change enacted in the European Union once the Government have signed up to a foreign policy because that is a very significant consequence of this measure and another reason why it is important to have reports made to Parliament.
My Lords, I have a different concern. The existing EU delegations are already very generously staffed. How long will it be before the Treasury decides that we cannot afford, and do not need, our own missions? Then what will Mr Smith, who goes to prison or has lost his passport, do? Political crises blow up extremely fast and without our own missions we shall be unprepared for them. They usually happen in small, dangerous, out-of-the-way countries. Article 16 requires:
“Before undertaking any action on the international scene or entering into any commitment which could affect the Union’s interests, each Member State shall consult the others”
“that the Union is able to assert its interests and values on the international scene”.
How would that have worked in the Falklands? How would it work if we had a similar crisis? Already there are 12 different areas of foreign policy where the veto no longer operates.
The other thing that concerns me is intelligence and security relationships. They are vital to our interests. Will those EU missions which, for all sorts of reasons, we may see taking over more and more, hold not only British passports but our intelligence and security reports and records? What will that do to our essential special relationship with the Americans and, indeed, bilaterally with a number of other intelligence agencies with which we need to work on a bilateral basis and where they can trust the fact that what they tell us will be protected? We have to consider the dangers of getting rid of our own missions so that we no longer have young diplomats making relationships which become extremely valuable, and we shall also lose the confidence of the relevant countries. If they consider that we do not think it is worth having our independent representation, that will not improve our chances in trade, diplomacy, defence and culture. Incidentally, our own value to the EU will thereby be diminished.
I want to see very careful safeguards to ensure that there is no question of closing any more British missions in favour of the splendid new organisation which, incidentally, will cost us a lot of money and which already has plans for common defence relationships to be paid for from that new fund. I am concerned on the intelligence side and I cannot see the practicality of expecting an EU mission, which may be made up of any group of countries, holding, for instance, our passports, our visas and, basically, our intelligence.
My Lords, I should like to support this amendment—I am just as entitled to make a contribution as anybody from the Cross Benches.
I believe that the amendment is both necessary and timely. It is a very modest amendment. All it seeks to do is to ensure that this Parliament is given a report once a year about what is happening on the European stage in relation to foreign affairs and security. I cannot understand why the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, would oppose such an amendment. It seems to me that everyone who cares about Parliament, its powers and its influence, should be in favour of the amendment.
The amendment is also timely. I looked at euobserver.com this morning and found that the European Parliament is discussing this very matter and how it should be involved. So why should we not discuss it in this Parliament before the Bill goes through? I quote from the report of that meeting:
“The European Parliament is seeking to bolster its role in the bloc’s common foreign and security policy … with senior MEPs saying it is time for Europe to become a ‘player and not just a payer’ on the world stage”.
It goes on:
“Polish centre-right MEP and head of the foreign affairs committee, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, says that EU foreign policy is moving ‘from one era to another’ with the new Lisbon Treaty, due to kick in next year”.
The article continues:
“The fact that Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy chief, will for the first time be present at the MEPS’ annual debate on CFSP on Wednesday (4 June) is in itself a ‘turning point’, said the Pole at a briefing on Tuesday.
Euro-deputies will today debate a report that sets out principles for the EU’s foreign policy—such as respect for human rights—calls for certain issues to be prioritised and says that the CFSP budget from now until 2013 is ‘insufficient’”.
They are having a good discussion about it. The article goes on:
“‘Either we have to beef up foreign policy financially, or we have to rethink whether we really want to be a global player’, said Mr Saryusz-Wolski, who next week will travel to Paris”.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Will he tell the House which provisions in the treaty of Lisbon grant powers to the European Parliament in common foreign and security policy? If the answer is none, perhaps he could cut short his reading of its minutes.
My Lords, I will do nothing of the sort. For the first time, the European Parliament will have a role in foreign policy. That is why it is discussing what that role will be and how it will be reported to. I will not cut down my quotation from this interesting report. I thought that Members would be interested to hear about the report, bearing in mind that, as well as ourselves, the European Parliament is discussing its role in foreign policy on this very day. I am sorry if certain people are bored by what the European Parliament says; frankly I am always very interested, because it is always seeking to get greater powers.
The report goes on about “democratic oversight” of EU foreign policy:
“The report also calls for parliament to be given greater democratic oversight over the area, which to date has remained firmly the domain of member states”.
I think that many people in this place want it to remain the domain of member states. It goes on:
“It suggests that the foreign minister ‘regularly’ appear before MEPs and that the parliament be ‘fully consulted’ on who the foreign minister should be, as well as what the diplomatic service should look like”.
There we are. Finally, it says on the EU army:
“Mr Saryusz-Wolski, who believes the union will gradually develop its own army, says it is no longer enough that the bloc exercises its traditional role as a soft power”.
If the European Parliament is demanding that it should be reported to, why on earth is it wrong that an amendment should be moved in this Parliament to ensure that the House of Commons and this House should have a report on events for the past year? After all, we are partly paying for the foreign policy. This is not only a good amendment but an essential amendment to ensure that this Parliament and not the European Parliament—or perhaps as well as the European Parliament—should be fully informed of matters and developments in European foreign policy.
My Lords, I will intervene briefly to comment on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, about whether the provisions of the Lisbon treaty make a difference. I believe that the provisions of the Lisbon treaty on the common foreign and security policy stand a good chance of making a difference; they could make the European Union’s common foreign and security policy more coherent and effective by bringing together the policies and the levers to execute those policies through, for example, bringing together development policy and foreign policy.
I shall comment on a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. The proposed European External Action Service is an important component of ensuring a more coherent common foreign and security policy, not in any way as a substitute for but as a complement to our own missions and Diplomatic Service. I do not know whether discussions have been taking place, in COREPER or elsewhere, on the European External Action Service. If they have been, I hope very much that the British Government and our representatives have been closely involved in them, to ensure that the European External Action Service is shaped in such a way as to complement and not to substitute for our own Diplomatic Service and that the expertise that we have is being brought fully to bear on the formation of the External Action Service at the earliest possible stage. For those reasons, I do not support the amendment.
My Lords, I have listened most carefully to the debate and I simply cannot understand the objections that have been raised to the amendment. Why should not this Parliament have the opportunity to discuss what the high representative is up to, on the basis of a report from the Secretary of State? What harm could possibly be done by placing an obligation on the Secretary of State to make such a report? I simply do not understand any of the speeches that have been made objecting to the amendment, which seems to me very moderate. It certainly does not cut across the scheme of the Bill as a whole.
My Lords, it is a great delight to be at the beginning of Report stage. I shall follow fully the advice in the Companion, which suggests that I do not deploy arguments that I have deployed at great length in the Committee of the whole House. I shall try my best to deal with the points that noble Lords have rightly raised but not to go on at length by repeating what I hope I made clear in Committee was the Government’s position.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that this is an important area. We dealt with it extremely well in the many amendments in Committee, although I accept that it is an important issue to be returned to at Report. I will deal first with what the amendment would do in relation to a report and then come on to the nub of many of the contributions: the External Action Service. That will serve your Lordships best. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, as did other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, in the last speech before I stood up, that the amendment is simple: could there be an annual report on the objectives? I considered this carefully. On the face of it, it is a simple and straightforward amendment. However, I am not one for adding on to procedures that I believe work effectively and well in scrutiny. Some of the conversations that I have had with noble Lords over the last few days have sought the best and most effective forms of scrutiny without adding on new glossy brochures or any other kind of unnecessary report.
Currently, we deposit information in Parliament. We provide an explanatory memorandum on any European Union document that is published on the development of the common foreign and security policy, as we do for the annual report from the Council to the European Parliament on the main aspects and basic choices of the policy. Ministers and senior European Union officials appear regularly before the parliamentary committees of both your Lordships’ House and another place, at the invitation of the relevant committees. As noble Lords will be aware, the Foreign Secretary, my right honourable friend David Miliband, appears before the Foreign Affairs Committee before every European Council. His next appearance is on 11 June. The Minister for Europe gives evidence to the Lords European Union Select Committee and Sub-Committee C after the European Council. Just for completeness, I should add that since November 2007 there have been two Foreign Affairs Committee evidence sessions on Europe, eight House of Lords European Union Committee sessions, including the sub-committee, and one Commons European Scrutiny Committee evidence session.
Our scrutiny arrangements work extremely well. As I indicated, they include other figures appearing before the committees. High Representative Javier Solana is keen to work with the national parliaments and makes great efforts to accommodate parliamentary calendars. My argument against another report is that I believe that the current procedures already work effectively and should remain. The scrutiny position is clear and I do not believe that there is anything to be added by providing yet another report in this context.
The heart of much of the discussion was the role of the External Action Service. I should like to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Park, who I know could not be with us for much of our Committee debate. She raised an important issue, which is in a sense at the core of her concerns. I quote Article 4.2 of the treaty of the European Union, which will come into force as the Lisbon treaty:
“The Union shall respect the equality of Member States before the Treaties as well as their national identities, inherent in their fundamental structures, political and constitutional, inclusive of regional and local self-government. It shall respect their essential State functions, including ensuring the territorial integrity of the State, maintaining law and order and safeguarding national security. In particular, national security remains the sole responsibility of each Member State”.
In other words, it does not become part of any External Action Service. I hope that the noble Baroness will look carefully at that reference and come back to me if she has any further queries. She need have no fear of anything within the External Action Service.
When we discussed this in Committee, we talked at great length about what the role and function of the service would be. I made it clear that its purpose is to assist the high representative in carrying out the mandate that he is set by the member states. It is not about creating a new bureaucracy. People coming into the External Action Service will be drawn from the Council secretariat and the Commission services that already work on external issues with member states’ representatives, structured through secondments. These are opportunities for diplomats from individual states, but it is not about creating a consular system or a diplomatic service to rival that of individual member states. That is important.
The purpose, as I indicated in Committee, is to try to improve the coherence of the delivery on the ground so that, for example, we can bring together the support of the European Union to help areas around the world that are emerging from conflict with peacekeeping and policing missions and so on and try to deal with longer-term issues such as development. If we are to help in some of the most difficult areas of the world, we need coherence and it makes sense to try to bring this together.
Noble Lords need not fear that this takes anything away from the Diplomatic Service of this country. I know from questions that have been raised by noble Lords in the House that they are concerned about the role of embassies, but in 2007 we had more embassies open than we did in 1997. It is important to see the External Action Service not as a rival but as helping to support coherence in European Union activity in parts of the world where the European Union has a genuine and proper role to play.
There has been much speculation about what discussions have taken place and when. Of course, there was the Daily Telegraph article on that point. Nothing alleged in that article or in what has been said contradicts anything that the Foreign Secretary has already said. Noble Lords who have been involved in Europe or in any organisation of any kind will know that, when proposals are on the ground, it is common to have preliminary conversations about what the outcome might look like. Those conversations are not binding and do not have any force or weight; they are simply discussions that we would expect officials to have in all circumstances, every time one considers any form of legislation of any kind in any parliament anywhere. We ensure that discussions take place about how, if we were to do this, it would be implemented. That is completely normal, rational and to be expected. That would be the basis of any discussions that took place.
My Lords, I was trying to give the Foreign Secretary the benefit of the doubt. He said in February that no discussions at ministerial or working level on the detailed organisational funding and functioning of the External Action Service had taken place. I do not doubt his integrity and good faith in saying that. Surely the noble Baroness must confirm to us that since then such discussions have taken place. Given the vital and central role that she describes for this service in the shaping of our foreign policy, it would be interesting for Parliament to be kept fully informed about these discussions.
My Lords, if the noble Lord had not interrupted me, I would have done exactly that. I was coming on to say exactly what discussions have taken place and when. I totally accept that he was not trying to say anything about the integrity of the Foreign Secretary, but he just got in before I had a chance to say that. I shall now allay his fears by putting on the record exactly what has been discussed.
The first discussion took place on 10 April—I can give him the exact date, although I cannot give him the time, but I would if I could. That was a COREPER meeting. For noble Lords who are not familiar with that term, let me explain that COREPER is when ambassadors of all the 27 European Union countries come together for discussions. It is often a way of having preliminary conversations, particularly before Ministers come together, so that the positions of different nations can be set in place. It is quite common for COREPER to have informal discussions about issues that it sees coming and it is right to do that. They are not discussions at official level on which we would deposit information before Parliament. However, we are committed to keeping Parliament up to speed with what happens on the External Action Service. For example, if a matter were debated or discussed at any of the Council meetings, it would be included in a report given by the Foreign Secretary or by whomever or in a Prime Ministerial Statement. We intend to keep Parliament fully informed of any discussions that take place on that.
As I indicated, those discussions are clearly designed to ensure that people have a feel for what is being thought about and the views of the different nations. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Jay, said about the importance of our role in that. As I said in Committee, when I was in Brussels for a few days I talked to Robert Cooper, the director-general for external and politico-military affairs at the General Secretariat of the Council, about the External Action Service. He would endorse everything that the noble Lord said about the value and importance of the role of the UK. He would say that we have a tremendously important role to play. He was also very clear with me—I have tried to make this clear to your Lordships’ House—about the value of coherence in bringing the service together and ensuring that in some parts of the world we are able to provide the necessary support.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that the only way in which the External Action Service can be set up is through unanimity. It is true that, if the Council asks the high representative to bring forward proposals, they could be determined by QMV, but they are only proposals on a decision that has already been taken by unanimity, so if the External Action Service were determined to be brought into being, it would be because 27 nation states decided that that was what they wanted. They would then perhaps invite the high representative to go away and work up proposals within tight and clear guidelines and those proposals would come back and be determined through QMV. I hope that that allays the fears of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on that.
Finally, I shall address the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell. I thought that I had answered it, so I got the officials to look up what I said. It relates to whether, if we sign up to something, we can get out of it again—if I can put it in a nutshell like that. I tried to answer that when we had our discussions in Committee on 6 May, recorded in Hansard at col. 496, but let me try again. If we agree with unanimity to take part in a measure, then we are bound in the same way as we would be in any other international agreement. Should there be a change of Government, policy or view, we would renegotiate it in the usual way that we would renegotiate in the European Union or under any other treaty. We had a long debate in Committee on that. That is the position. That is the certainty that one gives when signing up to something. It is a long tradition that Governments will renegotiate but will not walk away.
I think that I have said enough without going back into all the detail on the External Action Service and the reasons why we do not accept the amendment. I hope that the present way in which the Government keep Parliament up to date and up to speed with what is happening and our commitments to do so on the External Action Service will mean that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I think that we have learnt one or two things from this short debate. We have learnt that discussions have been going on about the shaping of this new diplomatic service. I am not sure even now that we are clear about its precise location and structure and about how the lines of authority will work, but the Minister has given her views. Some of us have perhaps learnt that, if you intervene in other people’s speeches, it tends to lengthen rather than shorten them. That is an old lesson that those of us who are long in the tooth and spent some time in the other place learnt long ago. We have learnt that the Lib-Dem Front Bench is turning its fire on the Conservative Party. That is very flattering; thank you very much. We shall answer the questions in due course and will do so politely and nicely as well.
In five years’ time.
My Lords, I fear that there is a tendency to try to move away from the middle ground of sensible discussion on how we move forward as good Europeans in the European region, the European Community and the European Union. That is one sensible discussion that this Chamber ought to be ideally suited to have. There is also the rather dottier exchange of a pendulum debate in which everybody who doubts the perfection of this treaty or the actions of Brussels is accused of being an anti-European and so on and so forth. That is a waste of time for us all and I beg that we try to concentrate on the real issue of how we fit together our foreign policy in the new world conditions. Europe has a part in that, but not the whole part.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, reminded us of old days with the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place. He did sterling work during his time. In an earlier period, I struggled to travel around the world with the committee. I remember going to some parliaments, such as the one in Copenhagen, where the parliamentarians appeared to be much more involved in the hands-on administration of policy. Indeed, they went as far as mandating Ministers before they could agree anything in the European Council or any of the other councils of Ministers. Our Parliament is wonderful, but let us not get into the mood where we think that we have nothing to learn from any other parliaments; we certainly have. All the national parliaments of the European Union have qualities and aspirations that we should learn from.
The Minister had a good deal to say on scrutiny procedures. What she said is very interesting and the scrutiny system rolls ahead. She sent round a letter showing that the Government have disregarded scrutiny reserves fewer times than in the past. That is all to the good, but having participated in this process myself in the past I know that none of us can be blind to the fact that there is enormous difficulty in scrutinising the steady flow of instruments, regulations, directives and so on. The first difficulty lies in matching the sheer volume—a lot of these things simply do not get examined because there are too many of them. Secondly, it is difficult to have the time in committees—in addition to the profound studies that the European Union Committee undertakes with excellent results—to go into the full implications, consequences, aspects and side effects of all those instruments. In fact, I would say that to cover all instruments thoroughly and completely is very nearly impossible.
That is all very interesting, but it is not quite what we are talking about. We are talking about issues where there is a transfer of powers, where previous veto provisions will not exist and where arrangements will come forward where it was not clear under the treaty that we had surrendered power but it turns out that we have. That is why Parliament as a whole, despite the excellence of its committee system, some of which has been in existence only for the past 30 years or so, needs to be apprised of changes that involve a potential or real transfer of powers.
I am not sure that I succeeded in getting that point over to the noble Baroness, because she comes back to scrutiny and arrangements with our excellent committees under their excellent Lord Chairmen and the very good committees in the Commons. That is all very valuable, but it is not the point. The point is about the powers of Parliament. There is a struggle going on today to regain for Parliament powers from the Executive that have somehow drifted away during the past 200 to 300 years. The Prime Minister articulates the feeling that Parliament should have more say; even government legislation reflects that feeling. We, too, reflect that feeling. We say that the balance of power should to some sensible degree be readjusted in favour of Parliament being fully and regularly apprised, not just learning either by reports to committees or by a side wind, that certain things have happened that affect its powers.
That is the issue before us in this amendment and in many other amendments. We in opposition—and, I hope, soon in government—believe in the parliamentary system, which is under attack today. We believe in the position of national parliaments in supporting the European system. We believe that these principles should be upheld and I would therefore like to test the opinion of the House on the amendment.
2: Clause 2, page 1, line 12, after “excluding” insert—
“(i) Article 2, paragraph 49(c), inserting new paragraphs 2 and 3 in Article 37 TEC (TFEU), on implementing and pursuing the objectives of the common agricultural policy (CAP) and common fisheries policy, unless the Secretary of State has—(a) laid a statement before Parliament, setting out his objectives for achieving as soon as possible comprehensive reform of the CAP and of the common fisheries policy, together with his assessment of the level of support for those objectives in the EU;(b) undertaken to lay a similar statement before Parliament annually; and(c) those objectives and the timetable for their intended implementation have been approved by affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament; and(ii) ”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in speaking to Amendment No. 2, I have to declare an interest: I remain actively engaged in my family’s agricultural and horticultural business. We had interesting debates on the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy in Committee. I make no apology for returning to these matters on Report. The common agricultural policy remains by far the largest single area of expenditure within the EU budget, and I see it as right, therefore, to seek to include this importance within the Bill, and in the new constitutional settlements which the treaty represents and for which the Bill provides.
This amendment would ensure that our Parliament receives an annual report on the state and development of both these policies and, through the affirmative resolution procedure, ensure that there is opportunity for both Houses of Parliament to discuss and debate on an annual basis progress and reform of these policies. It will require the Secretary of State to present his objectives for reform and to seek the support of Parliament to this end.
I know that my noble friend the Duke of Montrose will speak in detail on the common fisheries policy. But, as I pointed out in Committee, the common agricultural policy has almost iconic status in the history of the European Union. Other than the coal and steel community, it is the longest living relic of those early days and the idealism which lay behind the creation of the European Community.
Since that time, we have seen enormous structural and technical change. Whatever one’s views, the common agricultural policy has provided the countryside, as well as farmers and growers, with some economic security during this period. It has also ensured that the consumer receives good quality food at reasonable prices. All that has changed since the last harvest and, in the eyes of most commentators, changed for good. A year ago, how much mileage would there have been in seeking to develop interest in a discussion on food security? Which pundit would have predicted the violent change in food commodity prices? Things are changing fast, and the challenge to politicians and parliamentarians is to ensure that they operate within a structure that is able to change and adapt rapidly to meet these changing times.
Nothing shows the problem more than the Commission’s draft health check on the common agricultural policy, which was produced two weeks ago. We need to remember that it still needs to be approved. This will not happen until the autumn, and it may not survive unamended. This programme represents the sort of policy changes that almost all noble Lords would agree with. It reflects well the views of our own European Committee report on the future of CAP reform, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and which we are to debate tomorrow afternoon. However, we know that Europe’s common agricultural policy is too inflexible and too hidebound by national self-interest to change fast enough. It is not unreasonable to ask what the Government are doing to force the pace of change. I remind noble Lords that the Government gave up our rebate on the promised reform of the common agricultural policy. This was against a background where the House would find noble Lords in almost complete agreement over the CAP.
My Lords, none the less, there was a trade-off, which was, indeed, the incentive for the Government to surrender the rebate. Part or all of it was to seek reform of the common agricultural policy. We accept that it is part of the Government’s agenda to seek reform of the CAP. I table these amendments bearing that very much in mind.
My Lords, the noble Lord properly mentioned tomorrow afternoon’s debate. Is there anything preventing either his party, or any individual Member of this House, putting down regular Motions for debate, which will force the Government to make the appropriate statement?
My Lords, I have not reached that point in my argument. It will be possible to discuss the common agricultural policy at various points throughout any parliamentary year, subject to the permission of the usual channels. This amendment seeks to present the House with a formalised method of doing so, and demands that the Government present, in a structured form, how well they see reform of the CAP going, and how they see the future development of the CAP.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord and I shall be brief. The noble Lord gave a generalised response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, giving the impression that the entire rebate was given up, whereas it was in fact only a minor part of it. The rebate was unique and a special privilege for the agricultural community of the United Kingdom, and it has been of great benefit. However, it was never envisaged that it would last indefinitely. It was always supposed to be of limited duration.
My Lords, I hope that noble Lords will recognise that I am seeking a consensus on this issue. I do not want to be confrontational. If I am not achieving a consensus, perhaps it is because of my inability to advocate sufficiently well the point of view I am trying to express. That point of view hinges on the idea that if the Government were persuaded to surrender all or part of the rebate we will accept the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, that it was only part—they did so on the understanding that there would be reform of the common agricultural policy. This amendment seeks to monitor the status of that reform. It is a reasonable point and one on which noble Lords around the House, I believe, will agree. I suspect that there is not much division on this issue and that most noble Lords accept the premise on which we are seeking to reform the CAP, as indeed the report of the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, makes very clear.
I doubt whether there is anything other than complete agreement in this House that the common agricultural policy is over-centralised, over-bureaucratic and, above all, over-regulated. It is almost universally recognised that it is inflexible and wasteful of resources. Indeed, I doubt whether we will hear a single voice saying that the CAP is spending too little or is underregulated. Against that background, Members of the House and the Government have to acknowledge that the enemies of reform do not lie in this place, they lie in the users of the weapon of national self-interest who have become entrenched by the years of horse-trading and compromise that have characterised the way in which the policy has developed. Hence the reason for this amendment. All the great reforms in our history have been brought about by the power of Parliament. It is the people speaking through Parliament who give Government the authority to implement change. All through the Climate Change Bill Members on every Bench, Government and Opposition, recognised that. The Government acknowledged throughout the Bill both the need for regular reporting to Parliament and for harnessing Parliament’s authority to maintain the momentum for change.
If the Government are serious about CAP reform; if they wish to ensure that both the CAP and the common fisheries policy function to harness the energy of farmers, growers and fishermen to satisfy the needs of the people of Europe for good quality food at reasonable prices; and if they see that the changing conditions being reflected in commodity prices in the global economy require policies that can adapt to them, they will recognise that the power of Parliament is an ally in this matter. That is why I present this amendment in the belief that whatever our views on Europe or on the detail of reform, we can all unite to ensure our role as parliamentarians and the future role of this House. I beg to move.
My Lords, in following my noble friend on this issue, I hope that he will forgive me if I look at the whole ambit of the amendment rather than simply the fisheries policy. As we have seen at previous stages of the Bill, we are dealing with two topics that raise great concern whenever the treaty of Rome and its successors come into discussion. One of them requires a large proportion of the finances that are available to the Community, and the other remarkably little, but both can be seen as being in urgent need of reform. As my noble friend emphasised, politicians from all parties in this country have been arguing for reform for some time.
I must also declare my interest as a livestock farmer in one of the designated “less favoured areas” of the European Union and as someone has watched all the stages through which the CAP has evolved since the United Kingdom first signed up. The reforms that we are facing now appear to require consideration of reform of the CAP in a different context; that which the Government were inclined to use in the past few years. My noble friend Lord Taylor emphasised that point. It is surely still worth reminding ourselves of the aims with which the common agricultural policy was set out. There were two prime objectives: first, to secure a stable food supply for the population of Europe and, secondly, to bring the income levels of those working in the agricultural community up to the same level as industrial wages.
In many ways it exceeded its aim in both fields, although it is worth bearing in mind that at the beginning a largely peasant agriculture meant that a country like France had nearly 50 per cent of the working population engaged in food production and now has less than 10 per cent. If anything, that represents a gigantic social revolution. Even today it is affected in that country by a level of unemployment two or three times that which we have in this country.
The challenge that any review of the CAP faces in this area is to provide a sustainable and stable food supply in world terms where agriculture in this part of the world has embraced diversification into leisure, fuel production and many other fields. There is surely no doubt that Parliament should have a chance to comment on the direction in which it is felt that we should go. A different picture emerges when we come to the fishing policy, which has caused a rapid decline, particularly in our own fishing industry, but at the same time a huge decline in the resources on which the fishing industry depends. It is surely all very well to say that a requirement of a common market is that all participants should be able to exploit the resource freely or at least do so outside the six nautical mile limit, but it sounds like the proposition that we should all have a common currency but we do not consider it necessary to have a central bank to control those who wish to take more money out of the system than they should, because it suits them to do so.
Even a central bank has a little trouble in imposing discipline on the European Union at present. When it comes to fishing, the European Union is big on producing scientific papers and computer models on what it thinks the fishing industry needs, but less effective in having the resources or inclination to provide any meaningful control on the activity that occurs out at sea.
It was in that light that in Committee I moved an amendment to ask the Government to consider excluding the European Union from sole competence on the conservation of marine and biological resources, that being the most fundamental element of any common fisheries policy. There are such glaring ways in which the current fisheries policy is not working that radical changes will be required, all of which will have major consequences for our own fishing communities and on which the representatives in Parliament will be able to throw a much more realistic light.
Technology for the first time offers us the surety of knowing where our national boundaries are at sea and where fishing activities are going on in relation to those boundaries. Whatever route Europe decides to go down on the policy for fisheries management, surely the only practical way of exerting management on these activities is to allow member states to police their own waters.
That is incredibly important between the six and 12 nautical mile limits. The 12 nautical mile limit represents a source of 90 per cent of our shellfish catch, let alone anything else, but proper control could also have benefits in a wider area. I support the amendment.
My Lords, I would like to cast an observation, because we are talking about the common agricultural policy. I have always thought, and increasingly thought, that that is a disaster. It is not common at all. I have never understood why everyone has said that in order for the European Community to co-operate and work together there must be a common agricultural policy. I do not see any connection between the working of the Community and having a common agricultural policy any more than a common steel or coal policy.
When one sees, as we saw some years ago, milk in the United Kingdom at 13p a litre and milk in Holland at 27p a litre, one can only say: what is common about that? There is nothing common about it. We have seen our own agriculture decimated by the common agricultural policy. We have seen our own fisheries decimated by the common agricultural policy. People have been allowed to come and fish grounds that were always ours. They have taken the fish out, but because they are not allowed to land more than so many, they have put them back into the sea, dead and useless. The argument ought to be that you should not gather out of the sea more fish than you should, not that you should not land those fish and then throw back into the sea a whole lot of fish that would have been perfectly good but are now dead.
The common agricultural policy is, as my noble friend Lord Taylor said, over-centralised, over-bureaucratised and overregulated. Anyone who has had anything to do with agriculture—I have been involved with it all my life—is horrified by what has happened over the past 15 to 20 years. Farmers do not farm their land any more as they used to. They used to farm and had the support of the Government. The only farmer now is the Government and the Government pay people to do their work: “If you plant so many metres of hedge then we will pay you so much. If you do such and such, we will pay you so much”. In other words the Government are dictating what the role of agriculture should be and it is a disaster.
Let us return to thinking about the wine lakes, butter mountains and wheat mountains, and then look at one simple statistic. I am not good on statistics but I would advise your Lordships of this. In 1960, there were 3,000 million people in the world, but it was estimated that by 2000 that would double to 6,000 million and by 2020 double again to 12,000 million. Over the lifetime of those of us who are now on this earth the population of the world will have multiplied fourfold. Think back to the time of the Greeks and the pharaohs, to the Middle Ages, the First World War and the Second World War. It has taken all that time to get to 3,000 million people, but that number will be increased fourfold in 60 years’ time. It is alarming.
Where will all the food come from? We have had set-aside policies to keep the food production down but that has gone now. But in a short while there will be a great shortage of food. We will turn round and say, “What have we done? We have not provided for the future”. It is a great pity.
I used to like the common agricultural policy when I used to go—as I was sometimes allowed to do when my noble friend Lord Walker was Minister of Agriculture—to the Council of Ministers. I would see the members from all the other countries sitting round—the Italians, the French, the Germans and the British. Thirty years before they were bombing people to pieces but now they were arguing about the price of a pat of butter. It all seemed to me to be good stuff. But that has gone out of the window. Now the European Community is trying to control us. I think that it is wrong and I just wish that the common agricultural policy did not exist.
My Lords, I listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, introducing his amendment. Perhaps I may pick up on the intervention that I made and the subsequent discussion of it.
In the discussions that took place at the European Council the United Kingdom Government clearly surrendered part of their rebate. It was not done exclusively as a trade-off—which was the rather crude description—for agricultural reform; it was also partly done within the confines of our own arguments and wishes for having a cap on the total overall budget to get the necessary resources available in the budget to allow the proper provision of cohesion funds for the new accession countries that we were so keen to see join the European Union. You cannot be in favour, as most people in this House are, of seeing the enlargement of the Union to the east and the bringing in many of those poor re-emerging democracies and then say, “But we are not prepared to pay part of the bill for the cohesion benefits that we enjoyed and we are going to deny you”. It was partly the process of this country paying the price for enlargement that every political party in this country said that they were in favour of that: perhaps not every party—I see the noble Lord, Lord Pearson—but every party of significance. The rebate was there. It was not just a crude trade-off; it had other purposes.
In saying that, we would be gravely mistaken if we allowed the assertion to be made in this House that part of the deal was for reform; where is the reform? The implication is that none has taken place. I will join with anybody in this House in wanting to see a continuation of and extension of the reform of the common agricultural policy, but to conclude from that that no reform has taken place is the mythology that we expect to see peddled by the odd couple of Back-Benchers, not by those on the Front Bench. Agricultural reform—although not enough, not fast enough, not wide enough and not deep enough—has nevertheless been significant.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, referred quite properly to the report by the sub-committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Sewel, who I hope will speak in this debate on agriculture. I hope when it comes to the debate tomorrow afternoon on the sub-committee’s report that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, will acknowledge many of the reforms in that report as going in the right direction—not there, not achieved, not fully or as far as we want, but nevertheless going in the right direction. In relation to environmental goals, cross-compliance, decoupling of payments, set-aside, market intervention, export subsidies and import tariffs, not to mention modulation and preparation for problems of climate change, this report is a good catalogue of both what is being done and what still needs to be done in order to achieve the task that we set out to achieve in the deal that was struck at the European Council.
My Lords, I do not wish to establish a dialogue on this issue but let me repeat the words I actually used. I was seeking to agree totally with what the noble Lord said about the report, acknowledging that these were just the sort of reforms on which noble Lords could agree. I said that this programme represents the sort of changes in policy with which noble Lords would almost all agree and reflects well on the policy of our own European Union Committee report. I was intending to show that already, because circumstances have changed, the need for further reform had become even greater than had been acknowledged by this report. I hope the noble Lord will accept that those were the terms in which I was presenting my argument.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, is absolutely fair in the way that he presents it. In my critical view of opposition Members, I was thinking more of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth—having made his quick intervention to score a cheap party political point, I notice that he is no longer with us—who asked about what reform had taken place. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, agrees with what I say and I agree with what he says: the process of reform is well under way. It has not got to where it needs to be, and we must ensure through our parliamentary pressure and financial constraint that the process of reform continues.
In conclusion, part of that process will also come from the financial changes that will be made following the adoption of the Lisbon treaty, when we see the abolition of the distinction between compulsory and non-compulsory expenditure in the European budget. This will mean that when the European Parliament—with its members fighting for their priorities within a capped budget, as they will be—will be standing agricultural expenditure up to examination through comparison with their more favoured projects on environmental, social, regional, and common and foreign security policy. The European Parliament will be fighting for those areas. With the abolition of the distinction between compulsory and non-compulsory expenditure, I hope that we can look forward to the European Parliament becoming a bastion in the fight for the continuation of change in the common agricultural policy.
My Lords, when I have spoken in earlier debates on the Bill, I have asked your Lordships to consider that, from time to time, we need to reform ourselves in how we practise and accomplish our mission of legislative scrutiny. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, for whom I have enormous respect and who I know is deeply interested in agriculture and the common agricultural policy, will forgive me if I make a second sally into that field.
I am at a loss to understand why we are debating this issue on this occasion. As the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has acknowledged and my noble friend Lord Tomlinson has pronounced, we have a debate on the common agricultural policy tomorrow led by my noble friend Lord Sewel, which will give noble Lords ample opportunity to express views. The consensual way in which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, presented his amendment suggests that common ground could well arise from the debate on the report of the European Union Select Committee: a proper enterprise.
However, unless I do not understand some of the subtle practices of your Lordships’ House, or how our rules govern debate, I am of the opinion that this matter is adjacent to what we are discussing today; it is not focused or relevant. Further, when from time to time I hear voices saying, as did the noble Lord, Lord Howell, in moving Amendment No. 1, that we give too little time to some of the most important issues coming before us today, for us to use up time on debates on issues that might otherwise find a place on the agenda, tomorrow afternoon in this case, curtails time in which we should be applying our minds, thoughts, voices and questions to the proper scrutiny of what is before us. I am at a loss to know why this amendment was allowed. I wonder whether others are.
My Lords, if the noble Lord reflects for a moment, we are discussing this now because we are discussing an amendment to a very important Bill. The common agricultural policy will increasingly be of interest not just to farmers but to the population as a whole. As the price of food goes up and food becomes in short supply, the policy of the European Union will be very important to everybody in this country. What they want is not just reports that circulate within Parliament and which get very little publicity, but rather they want their Parliament to discuss what our Government are achieving in Europe by way of reforming a policy which needs a lot of reform, as everybody in the House accepts. Therefore, it is absolutely right that we should discuss this and I am very surprised that the noble Lord, whom I greatly admire, does not understand that. I know that the EU Committee report on the CAP will be debated tomorrow and that will be very interesting—I have not seen it yet, but I am sure that it will be very interesting—but that has nothing to do with what we are discussing now, which is an amendment to the Bill.
My Lords, the point I go back to is that there are many other paths by which all of us collectively can express our worries about the common agricultural policy and its reform, as is exemplified by the fact that a report on the policy will be debated tomorrow. Three days have been set aside to discuss the Bill on Report and we are absorbing time which might better be used to examine the matter which is under scrutiny as we shall never have another opportunity so to examine the Bill.
My Lords, I support the amendment. My noble friend Lady Carnegy is absolutely right to say that this is a perfectly proper amendment to discuss now. Of course, we debate Select Committee reports and I have done so on many occasions. However, without being negative about those debates, they do not have the same force as debates on this Bill, which will pass into law. Our debates on reports on the common agricultural policy are just that, debates, and have had very little effect on reforming that policy.
As one of the two Back-Benchers about whom the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, spoke in such generous terms, I remind him that the reforms, such as they are, took place well before we gave away part of our rebate. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, was right to ask what we got back. There was supposed to be a reform but it turned out to be what is now called a health check.
It is called a health check; it is not a reform. The aim of the health check was simply to see whether we are still paying as much money as we were previously. We are, so that health check is fine. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said that the common agricultural policy has given consumers reasonably priced food. I am afraid I have to take issue with him on that as it is simply not the case. The common agricultural policy, even reformed, still consumes some 45 per cent of the total EU budget, so it is worth discussing that. That means that UK taxpayers are paying more than they need to for their food because they are paying for the common agricultural policy through higher taxes and they are paying higher prices in the shops because of the common agricultural policy’s protectionist policy against imports from third world or developing countries, which is an outrage.
The noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, is right to say that we need more reform and I agree with him, but perhaps he will recognise—I hope that the Minister will recognise this when he replies—that the Government’s position was enunciated by the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, only last month just before we had our Committee stage debates. The Chancellor said in terms that he would like to see the end of all common agricultural policy subsidies and the end of all protectionist tariffs against products and commodities from developing countries. That is good and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, agrees with those laudable sentiments, all of which have been supported on all sides of the House over many years. However, let us have a reality check. What has actually happened? What did the big players say about that? The German agriculture minister, Herr Seehofer, said that what the Chancellor was suggesting was absolute, complete rubbish. The French agriculture minister, Michel Barnier, far from agreeing with those sensible proposals from our Government, said no, the CAP is a good model. He went further and said that it should be exported worldwide. I wonder whether the Minister agrees with that. It really is odd that we say that we are leading reform. I have not yet read the report of the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, but I am sure that it makes all the right noises, as EU Select Committees always do. However, it does not seem to be getting the attention that it deserves in the corridors of power in Brussels.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. As chairman of the Select Committee that approved the report that will be debated tomorrow, I hesitate to intervene. However, I say the following about the practice that we follow with Select Committee reports. The Government respond to these reports, and this report is about how the CAP should be reformed. If noble Lords are interested to know what the Government’s views are, and want the answers to questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby, it might be convenient for them to listen to the Government’s response tomorrow, and to listen to the Minister winding up at the end of the debate, when many of these questions will be answered.
My Lords, I was not casting aspersions on the process. I am speaking to the amendment put down by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. It is perfectly right that I should do so.
I want to raise one further matter before I close in order to inform the House and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, who is chairman of the sub-committee on agriculture. I hope that he has seized on the recent proposal from the Commission for new pesticide regulation, which is supported by the Parliament and currently in progress in Brussels. The Pesticides Safety Directorate, which regulates the use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides in this country, has reported that the proposal is extremely damaging for agriculture, not just in this country, but throughout the European Union. The directorate says:
“If the full potential impact of the current Parliament proposals were realised, conventional commercial agriculture in the UK and much of the EC, as it is currently practised, would not be achievable, with major impacts on crop yield and food quality”.
This is a serious matter. The proposal could damage UK and European agriculture. It is losing touch with reality to consider this type of proposal at a time when the EU itself recognises that there is a world food shortage and may be reconsidering its biofuel targets. These crazed proposals are coming out of the Commission and Parliament and, if they are approved by qualified majority voting, we will not be able to do anything about it. We will be hamstringing agriculture in this country, our capacity to feed ourselves, and the capacity for Europe to feed itself and other countries. I will return to pesticide regulation later. I hope that the Minister will say something about it tonight, because it demonstrates how impotent we are in the face of proposals from Brussels.
I finish with two questions. The first is simple. Does the Minister agree that British agriculture, British taxpayers and British consumers would be better off if we were out of the common agricultural policy? That is a question he can say “yes” to very quietly and no one need notice it. Secondly, when are we going to do something about it?
My Lords, I am going to resist the temptation to give a preview of the debate that we are going to have tomorrow. I am gratified by the degree of interest, particularly on the Benches opposite, in the reform of the common agricultural policy. It is not so far reflected in the names signed up to speak tomorrow, but I am sure that will be corrected in the very near future, and I look forward to a large attendance at tomorrow’s debate.
The debate and the amendment are not on the reform of the common agricultural policy. This should be a debate on how the treaty impacts on the future of the common agricultural policy. In all fairness—many Members of your Lordships’ House know where I stand on the common agricultural policy—no one would say that either the common agricultural policy or the common fisheries policy are models of perfection. The gods did not come down and create these two wonderful policies for us; they were put together by fallible human beings, I am afraid. The fallibility has perhaps become more obvious over time. Let us recognise in passing that the common agricultural policy of today is very different from that of five, 10 or 15 years ago; it is very different indeed.
The idea that we are talking about some sort of health check is a distortion. Significant reforms are already in place, and I shall just mention two of them. First, there has been the decoupling of payments so, largely, across most agricultural regimes, you no longer have production-related payments, so you do not get the incentive to overproduce and produce in a way that the market is incapable of properly responding to. Secondly—
My Lords, my position is that there have been significant reforms in the common agricultural policy over the past five or 10 years. Decoupling is one, and the second is the scaling back of export subsidies and the distortion that export subsidies cause. The health check is about looking forward. If the noble Lord turns up tomorrow, he will be able to hear the extent to which we think that the proposals of the Commission and the views of Her Majesty’s Government are adequate in terms of addressing the future direction of the common agricultural policy. That is a debate for tomorrow, not for today.
That is why, in all honesty, this is a phoney amendment. It is quite right that the House should debate how the treaty impacts on agriculture and agricultural policy, and if Members of your Lordships’ House wish to do that, they should focus on the two areas that significantly change as a result of the treaty. They are the move to qualified majority voting on agricultural policy and the move to co-decision on agricultural policy. My belief, and the belief of the EU Committee as a whole, is that both of those developments are entirely favourable to the pursuit of greater reform of the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy. In the extent that the Lisbon treaty impacts on those two policy areas, the impact is wholly beneficial.
My Lords, I hope I will not bore your Lordships by approaching this from another point of view. I declare an interest as I have for many years been a peasant farmer in France with a numéro SIREN/SIRET. I work in conjunction with other properties in the production of wine and right across the board.
One of our heroes is my noble friend Lady Thatcher. She stood up for something when the Common Market agriculture policy was effectively an indirect subsidy of unrelated activities. Now we must accept that the whole objective of agriculture in France is to produce good quality food at reasonable prices. The expansion of the EU immediately brings in Bulgarian tomatoes. When I was advising the Bulgarian Government on tomatoes and quotas many years ago, I could not believe that Bulgarian tomatoes were among the best in Europe. I did not realise until I spent time in Eastern Europe the remarkable agricultural production that will come from there.
I must acknowledge that I have received subsidies from the Common Market agriculture policy—although trading at a loss. One of those has been for an electric fence to keep the wild boars out. Yet there were too few wild boars, so the peasants decided they would mix them with ordinary boars. Of course, a wild boar produces only three marcassins a year and a domestic one can produce 23. So now we have a surplus of wild boar which are playing havoc with vines and others, destroying large chunks of agriculture—though hunting is important in France and Spain.
When the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, speaks about qualified majority voting and joint decisions, there is not a peasant farmer in Europe who wants to see that.
My Lords, that is wonderful. He wants to be able to make his own decisions. The noble Lord has not decided whether I am supporting this amendment. I want to explain what is actually happening, if I can get the noble Lord’s attention rather than his laughter—I hope laughter will follow in a moment. Within these countries changes have already taken place. On Saturday morning I will sit with Monsieur Simon and Monsieur Costra and will present the report that the noble Lord will be debating tomorrow. Yet they are interested in treaties, not in reports of your Lordships’ House.
The report of your Lordships’ House that dealt with wine said that grapes should not be used to produce alcohol for cars. It was well received. Already, after President Sarkozy’s comments in London, moves are taking place to reduce the subsidy for the production of grapes that do not go into wine. As that report points out, more wine is now imported by the EU than exported. That is from far distant countries where they receive support for production and are allowed not to follow any rules. Even appellation contrôlée is changing now.
Where I come from, our first wine was shipped to the United Kingdom in the second century BC. Your Lordships will know that that was a quality time. Olive trees and olive oil fetch a high premium but even within those markets changes are being made that have nothing to do with the Common Market agriculture policy. They come from a move towards quality and away from mass production. The knowledge and understanding is that other countries that may have greater rainfall and better production will produce better products.
The world is not looking at what the debate is tomorrow but at what we are going to say about this treaty before us today. The agricultural costs and expenditure are among the most important of all. As your Lordships will know, in France and Italy—I can speak only for France, Italy and Spain and to a certain extent for Portugal—the rural economies are a vital part of life. Some 35 per cent of people live in rural areas there and only 8 per cent in the United Kingdom. They say to me, “You benefited extraordinarily well out of the Common Market policy because all the money that came to you went straight on to the farmers’ bottom line as profit and all your agricultural land has soared in value: why?”. As my noble friend Lord Ferrers pointed out, farming is no longer farming.
We have to look at where the production goes, to refer to my noble friend the Duke of Montrose. Where do shellfish harvested within the 12-mile limit go? They practically all leave the United Kingdom. The coquilles Saint-Jacques from the west coast of Scotland are the best in the world and command a premium price. They are biked or flown down, end up in Boulogne and overnight are transported even into the midst of Switzerland. We also have to look at fishing and at the high price of fish at the moment. The market for lobsters from Cornwall is the continent of Europe and there is now an international market in agricultural produce. We have to look at the subsidy for mass production, which I believe is going. Another very simple example is that the Spanish want to pull up their olive trees and grow more fruit trees in order to supply fruit to the United Kingdom. Vast Spanish lorries are loaded with oranges and they come here to sell us a product that we do not produce. On the other hand, the French want to buy the olive trees from Spain so that they can sell them to the rich British who buy houses in France. So a deal is being done and olive trees are moving like a commodity as gardening is becoming important.
I support the amendment because it is an amendment to a treaty. I shall support the debate tomorrow. Everything that comes from your Lordships' House goes out from here and is read. Your Lordships might like to see those who have spoken today on television tomorrow night on the BBC world channel, which may repeat it three or four times and it is then syndicated. It has shattered me how interested people are, not in the other place, but in what we say here and in our reasoned arguments. My noble friend who moved the amendment has done the right thing because we should concentrate on the treaty, not on other reports. I support the amendment and I urge your Lordships to do so because it sends the right signal.
My Lords, it is clear that all sides of the House do not think that the common agricultural policy is very good. However, there have been major changes, as the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, said. I remember the Agenda 2000 debates in the late 1990s, which came through with major changes over the past five years, but they do not go far enough. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said that we should never have had a common agricultural policy. Let us get real about this. In Europe—before we joined the European Community—as in the United Kingdom, all states subsidised agriculture at different levels. So in a single market, in a common market, those who subsidised their farming industries more, such as France, would have completely taken over and destroyed the industries of those who subsidised less, particularly the United Kingdom. That is why there had to be a common agricultural policy rather than just a single market that affects most other production and goods. I guess that many of us would hope that, at the end of the day, we could move to a point where that single market takes over from a separate common agricultural policy. Reform certainly needs to happen apace and needs to go further.
On the common fisheries policy, where there are no subsidies outside international fishing agreements, from which the UK does not benefit, we have a very bad regime which clearly has not worked well for all fishing stocks, not just our own. The question is how do we change that and is that a part of this Bill today? It could be a part of the Bill. Is the answer to have more reports, more talking, and to ask for debates that we can have any way? I do not believe that to be the case. That is a completely inadequate response to what we want. I know the fishing industry in the south-west quite well. If we said that because of the Lisbon treaty we would have more reports to Parliament from the Government, I think the fishing industry would be pretty disappointed and unimpressed by that outcome.
The strength of the Lisbon treaty has already been mentioned. As regards budgets, we have discretionary expenditure taking the role of the whole of the budget, with compulsory expenditure disappearing completely. We also have co-decision. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, mentioned in his speech that power should revert to Parliament. I believe that that is true at European level too. We should have more power in the European Parliament regarding agriculture and fisheries. Why do we discriminate in areas that the European Parliament should be able to make budgetary and legislative decisions on? That clearly does not make sense. That move in this treaty is an extremely good one.
The other good move in both these policies in terms of the Lisbon treaty is that the legislative process of the Council of Ministers is also opened up so we have more accountability in that legislative forum as well as in Parliament. Those are the big moves forward and are the areas where the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy will in practice change. Will they change by having more reports than we already have to this House and the other place? I am all for parliamentary accountability, but I believe that this House is strong enough to ensure that already. If we have a problem in that, what we need is to rebalance the power of the legislature and the Executive in this country, and that may be a stronger way forward for European accountability and our own Ministers. What are not needed are this amendment, more discussion and more paperwork.
My Lords, I have put my name to this amendment, and I shall speak to it briefly. In doing so, I shall probe the Minister on our exchange in Committee on 12 May, reported at col. 883 of Hansard. In that debate, I asked the Government whether they had made any calculation about the suffering in the developing world that has been caused by the common agricultural policy over the years. I think I pointed out that if we are to believe the Trade Justice Movement, CAFOD and Oxfam, we are looking at large numbers of people, mostly children, who have died because they cannot sell their products in their local markets, which are flooded with cheap European produce. Have the Government made any estimate of the extent of the environmental and human disaster that the common agricultural policy causes in the developing world?
Secondly, in Committee, I estimated—and I do not think the Government disagreed—that the additional cost of food to the British people is something like £1,000 a year. May we have the latest estimate of that in view of the increase in prices, particularly of milk, sugar and bread, which hit the poorest in our country hardest? Are the Government still comfortable with their estimate of £1,000 a year per family? I am taking this line because I believe that if we could reveal the true environmental catastrophe caused by these two policies, pressure for reform would grow and might become irresistible.
Turning to the common fisheries policy—this is a new question that I did not put in Committee, but we have plenty of time as there is Third Reading to come—what proportion of the fish that swam in European community waters when we joined in 1972 belonged to the United Kingdom? The Eurosceptic movement in this country uses the figure of 70 per cent, I believe with good reason, but what percentage did we have before we joined in 1972 and what percentage of the permitted catch are we now allowed to land? As an obvious corollary to those questions, how many UK fishermen were employed in 1972 before we joined the CFP and how many are employed today? To rub in the scale of the waste of the common fisheries policy, do the Government agree with the figure put forward by the Fisheries Commissioner Mr Borg, who estimates that 880,000 tonnes of dead fish are thrown back into the sea every year? If they agree that figure, they must agree that that amounts to 20,000 40-tonne lorries, full of dead fish that are thrown back into the sea every year. Or will the Government move towards the WWF figure of 2 million tonnes of dead fish that are thrown back every year that makes a nice, round figure of 50,000 articulated lorries? Can the Government confirm the scale of this disaster? Have they estimated the damage that this may be doing to the seabed? Has anyone looked at that?
In conclusion, I take up the words of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, the chairman of your Lordships’ esteemed European Union Select Committee, and also to some extent the words of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, suggests that if we want to know the Government’s position, we should come along tomorrow and listen. The Government will spell out their position and no doubt will want more reform. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, asked how we change this. I take the Minister back to our debate on 12 May, at col. 889 of Hansard, when I pressed him—somewhat persistently, but we were in Committee—on who exactly is responsible in Brussels for the continuation of this disaster.
Which countries will not change these policies? I now seek clarification from the Minister, because he would not tell me then which countries were guilty—other noble Lords implied that they were led by France—but he did tell us which countries we have vaguely on side in the reform of either the CAP or the CAP and the CFP. They are Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Estonia, Latvia, the Czech Republic and Malta. One does not have to be a great mathematician to see that that comes to eight countries. If you add us, that makes nine. That means that only one-third of the countries of the European Union are in favour of the reform of the CAP, or is it the CAP and the CFP? In Committee, did the Minister say that those countries were on our side for reform of both these policies or is it just one of them?
My conclusion is obvious. My reply to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, is: what is the point of coming along tomorrow and listening to the Government’s position on the common agricultural policy or the reform of both policies? If we are only one of nine out of 27, it does not matter what the Government’s position is. As usual, all this is decided in Brussels. The only solution is and will remain—at least until 2013, when the French have blocked the policies as they are and beyond—that we get out of the European Union. The only way in which we will reform these policies is via the door. I support the amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I am certainly not going to take sides as to whether this debate should have taken place today or should take place tomorrow. I shall say only that those who insist, as the amendment does, that there should be some kind of extra report to Parliament might like to bear in mind that we are having a full debate today and a full debate tomorrow in one of the Houses of Parliament. We welcome—I hope that I am not giving too much away—the report on the future of the common agricultural policy by a sub-committee of the European Union Committee, about which we have heard so much in this debate and which is chaired by my noble friend Lord Sewel. As the Government have already indicated, we share the key planks of the committee’s conclusions on the direction of future policy, because frankly it resonates very closely with the Government’s own vision for the CAP, which was published in 2005. I do not intend to go on at length about our vision for the CAP, because that is something best covered tomorrow, but the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, who moved the amendment, is entitled to an answer to some of the points he made during this debate. I hope that noble Lords will bear with me.
The vision for EU agriculture envisages an industry that is fundamentally sustainable and integral to the European economy. It has to be internationally competitive, without reliance on subsidy or protection. It should be rewarded by the markets for its outputs—not least, for safe and good quality food—and by the taxpayer only for producing benefits for society that the market itself cannot deliver. It needs, obviously, to be both environmentally sensitive, maintaining and enhancing the landscape and wildlife while tackling pollution, and socially responsive to the needs of rural communities—we heard about those from the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon—while producing high levels of animal health and welfare. Yet it must not, lastly, distort international trade and the world economy.
We are looking, then, at a farming industry which, by 2020, is: profitable in the marketplace, while it continues to produce the majority of the food we consume; making a positive net environmental contribution, particularly regarding climate change, yet wider than that; and managing the landscape and the natural assets underlying it. Further reform of the CAP is a key element in achieving both what we want in this country and our European vision for agriculture. Despite recent improvements, it is our view that the policy still distorts global markets, weighs farmers down with regulation and acts as a disincentive for them to improve their competitiveness.
As a result, we call for an end to market support and direct payment elements of the common agricultural policy by 2015-20 because they damage developing countries—the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, just asked me a question about that. Those elements are also expensive and wasteful, delivering poor value for money, and restrict the ability of EU farmers to respond to market signals and become truly competitive. We believe that farmers can do just that, certainly in this country. That would represent a further evolution of the common agricultural policy that we now have. Price support would gradually diminish, as would other direct support to farmers, while agricultural markets would progressively open up. There would also be a central role—rather than some peripheral one—for rural development measures, including those targeted on protection and enhancement of the rural environment.
The reform is, of course, being pursued and the health check was referred to. That promises worthwhile adjustments to certain CAP mechanisms but will not, in itself, reduce overall CAP spending. The health check, however, has the potential to deliver beneficial changes which signal the ongoing nature of reform in that direction of market liberalisation and, at the same time, in the delivery of public benefits. A review is scheduled of the major CAP reforms of 2003, about which I will have something slightly more controversial, perhaps, to say in a moment or two. The legislative proposals published by the European Commission on 20 May, since our Committee debates, launches six months of negotiations with the intention of concluding the deal by the end of this calendar year.
Our ambitions for this health check—a process, remember, which is starting and not yet finished—are first, to remove the production-linked farm payments that remained after those important 2003 reforms and to avoid the reintroduction of new distortions; secondly, to further shift the balance away from farm subsidies toward measures that protect and enhance our environment; thirdly, to simplify the bureaucracy associated with the CAP, including particularly the single payment scheme; fourthly, to simplify the system of cross-compliance; and, lastly, setting a clear timetable for phasing out price support and market controls.
We also want to phase out the milk quota system, which provides a smooth transition for dairy farmers and gives them the certainty that they need to plan their business and we want to put measures in place to capture the key environmental benefits provided by set aside. Many noble Lords will have read the comments of the agricultural commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel who was clear that the health check proposals,
“will move us further along the road of competitive and sustainable farming that can respond to demand and be part of the solution to the broader challenges that the world faces”.
The Government will launch a full 12-week public consultation on the health check within the next couple of weeks. The health check proposals will be subject to the usual domestic parliamentary scrutiny procedures. An Explanatory Memorandum and impact assessment are being prepared. I am advised that they will be laid before both Houses within two weeks. Perhaps I may remind noble Lords—if they need reminding, because it has been advertised enough—about tomorrow’s debate, which needs more speakers.
In the longer-term, the EU budget will look at all EU spending post-2013 and is likely to result in a high-level Commission White Paper in 2009 before the Commission change-over, which will inform the negotiations for the next financial perspective which should begin in 2010-11. Due to its size the CAP will rightly be perhaps the key focus for the budget review.
Perhaps I may gently chide the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. He is such a charming speaker and so popular in the House that one can occasionally excuse him for indulging in a bit of party politics. The fact that he mentioned the word “consensus” on a number of occasions does not mean that he was not making what I thought were some rather unwarranted attacks on the Government and their reform agenda. He asked whether the Government are serious about CAP reform and about our forcing the pace of change. I gently remind him that when his party was in power the CAP was rampant; precious little reform took place. The enthusiasm that there appeared to be from the then Government for CAP reform was rather like their lack of enthusiasm for the national minimum wage.
Politically, one can understand precisely why that was the position, but it was not in the national interest. If the Conservatives are now absolutely on board for CAP reform and they mean it, they should welcome, as I hope that they do, the very major reform that this Government largely negotiated in 2003, which is the basis of any further reform that may occur. Those 2003 reforms moved this issue on, which is an achievement of this Government.
My Lords, I do not think that anything I have said can really be considered to be championing the common agricultural policy. We think that it needs fundamental reform. I strongly recommend the noble Earl and other noble Lords to read the letter written by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 13 May to his colleagues in Europe to see his proposals. Of course, we accept the need for a common agricultural framework. I also think that the Official Opposition accept the need for that. But the fact is that the common agricultural policy needs enormous and fundamental reform, which is the expression that the Chancellor used in that important letter.
The Government are committed to CAP reform.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned the very good letter sent by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the Commission regarding reform of the CAP. From reports I have heard, it was not very well received. Perhaps he can bring us up to date today on what has happened to that letter and what response, if any, has been received.
My Lords, I have already considered that. There have been various comments made by various people both at home and abroad to the Chancellor’s letter. I do not have them all here today. I have to move on.
The common fisheries policy was debated at length in Committee and I am grateful to noble Lords who have raised it today. We want to see the principles governing the future management of EU fisheries, a more stable regulatory framework and a more regional approach to decision-making. In Committee, the noble Duke praised the work and the setting up of those regional area committees, and better stakeholder involvement. No one would say that the common fisheries policy is working as we want it to. There were reforms in 2002. We strongly believe that if it were to be scrapped it would need to be replaced by something similar. But a lot of work needs to go on and a lot of reform needs to take place. We are grateful for the contribution made by the noble Earl in this debate. He referred particularly to discards, which we debated last time and no doubt we will debate many times. We are determined to make sure that the discard numbers come down, although it will be a difficult and complicated thing to do.
Reform is the order of the day for the common fisheries policy. It is being pursued in that field and in the common agricultural policy. The Government are keeping Parliament updated principally through the provision of Explanatory Memoranda on legislative proposals, but also via regular debates in the House on fisheries issues and ministerial Statements on the prospects for and outcome of agriculture and fisheries councils. Ministers have given evidence before parliamentary committees on some of the more detailed aspects of the reform programme. My noble friend Lord Sewel’s European Committee is conducting an inquiry into common fisheries policy reform and, as I understand it, intends to produce a report before the summer. That will be an important report, which will offer a further opportunity for a debate on the Floor of this House.
On the basis of these existing opportunities that apply in both Houses of Parliament, there is no need for a further report. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, knows that very well and that this proposal for a further report is merely a peg on which to hang this debate.
My Lords, on Report I believe that I am able to press the noble Lord on unanswered questions. I know that we are in a hurry, so I will note that seven of my questions were not answered; but there is one that he should answer. If we are looking for reform and if in Committee he said that only seven other countries support us in the reform of the common fisheries and common agricultural policies, can he tell us how many countries support us and, therefore, how possible is reform within the European Union?
My Lords, I do not want to be rude to the noble Lord, but it is an absurd question. It depends on what you are talking about and which measures you mean. The noble Lord has asked some sensible questions today; I will write him a letter, which he will receive before Third Reading.
My Lords, until the last few phrases of the Minister’s summing up, I felt that I was going to be in a position to welcome his contribution to this debate. Indeed, I particularly acknowledge that the whole House is grateful for the way in which he has declared the Government’s commitment to, in his phrase, “enormous and fundamental reform” of the common agricultural policy. That has been the driver behind many of the contributions to this debate. Frankly, there have been moments when I have felt like a hapless shepherd in “One Man and his Dog”, watching the sheep scampering all over the place and trying to get them into the shedding ring, or whatever it was called in those days. I will call it the “Contents Lobby” for today. That is a measure of the power of this subject matter and the enormous interest in this aspect of government policy and this area of our nation’s politics. I make no apology for occasionally reverting to being a party politician. I, after all, represent the Opposition, not the Government.
I have been seeking, as I hope noble Lords will understand, consensus on this issue. The consensus that exists in this debate, I believe, is that if we are going to harness the power of Parliament in order to make sure that reform continues apace, the Government—whatever Government are in office, because Governments come and go—should have the power of Parliament, and be accountable to Parliament, in driving home change and reform in this area. That is what this amendment is about. In many ways, all the precursors to tomorrow’s activity were relevant only in so far as they provided the evidence of a need for change and the reason why we need, within Parliament, a mechanism for change. That is the purpose of this amendment. From what people have said during this debate, I believe that there is consensus that the role of Parliament in these matters can and should be important. That is why, I am afraid, I cannot accept that Parliament has no formal role. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
3: Clause 2, page 1, line 12, after “excluding” insert—
“(i) Article 2, paragraph 65, relating to border checks, asylum and immigration; and(ii) ”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said of a previous appearance of mine on another Bill that I was making my cameo appearance. I just want to say that this is my cameo appearance on this Bill. Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 5 tabled in my name are based on those that were tabled in Committee but were withdrawn because of lack of time. Amendment No. 3 is a probing amendment to discuss the issues of borders, asylum and immigration. There is not a huge amount in the Bill on these matters; indeed, there are only two small clauses, but they cover an extremely important area. Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 focus more specifically on the two areas where we feel that the Government have failed to provide clarity or sufficient reassurances on the future development of European Union policy in these areas.
Regardless of the differing opinions that noble Lords will have on the benefit of the changes, I am sure that no one will disagree with me when I say that the changes that the treaty of Lisbon will make to the implementation of the UK’s asylum and immigration policy are both fundamental and wide-ranging. The UK will no longer have a veto over the new treaty objectives to develop a common European asylum system and a common European immigration policy. Moreover, the European Court of Justice has extended its remit extensively, especially over asylum cases. These changes will have a very real effect not only on the procedures that will govern proposals at the EU level but also on how our national asylum and immigration policy will have to be implemented from day to day. Many of these changes relate to issues that, as with so many of the concerns that noble Lords have raised today and in Committee, the Government themselves raised while the constitution was being drawn up. I do not have much hope of receiving a meaningful response as to why the Government have changed their tune in these areas, but I feel that a few questions should be raised anyway.
One of the concerns was around the status of third-country nationals seeking asylum. The Government sought to resist the new uniform status that will be valid throughout the Union. It was considered by Peter Hain to be a “fundamentally important amendment”, as the provision would go against the United Kingdom’s previous understanding about how the European asylum system would operate. Therefore, it was at government level that the concern was raised.
There were other concerns, too—on asylum burden sharing, on the end of the veto on legal migration and on the possibility of EU interference in asylum seekers’ access to labour markets and social security. On all these, the Government failed to have their own amendments accepted, yet they now refuse to acknowledge that our continuing concerns have any foundation. The Government claim that the red lines will hold by means of the opt-out possibility. However, as my noble friends have made clear, what safeguards remain are not easy or often even desirable to implement. There are already clear indications that in the future the United Kingdom will be forced to make some unpalatable decisions as a result of the loss of our national veto.
For example, the Government wish to remain part of the Dublin II agreement, which brings with it benefits such as the ability to deport 100 asylum claimants a month back to the country from which they first entered the European Union. However, last November, Commissioner Franco Frattini made clear his intention to update the agreement to include burden sharing, which we understand the Government do not wish to participate in. Can the Minister give us any indication of whether the Government will opt out of this agreement entirely, or will they reluctantly submit to the EU deciding the UK’s involvement in interstate transfers of immigrants and financial support? Similarly, will the Government opt out of the reception conditions directive, which sets minimum standards on the treatment of asylum seekers, or will they accept the Commission’s plans to insist that asylum seekers have the right to work?
Finally, I would like to probe the extended remit of the European Court of Justice. Geoffrey Hoon identified that weakening the safeguards around a claimant’s right to appeal, in his words,
“might be an opportunity of further complicating our existing asylum and immigration process”.
What steps do the Government plan to take to prevent this from happening? I beg to move.
My Lords, I oppose the amendments. Two of the main benefits and advantages of the Lisbon treaty are, first, to give a much clearer presentation of the scope of the competence of the EU on borders, immigration and asylum matters, which are explained in a much more straightforward way than in the existing treaties, and, secondly, to move to qualified majority voting and—I declare an interest as a Member of the European Parliament—to codecision with the European Parliament.
Amendment No. 3, which is a blanket amendment to exclude the area, is completely unwise. Surely it is useful and valuable to have provision to strengthen the common EU borders through integrated border management and a common visa policy. I am in the odd position as a British MEP of negotiating Schengen biometric visa arrangements, which we are not opting in to. That is a peculiarity of the European Parliament.
It is sensible to have a common asylum policy where we avoid both forum shopping by asylum seekers and pass the parcel where people are shipped around because we have provisions about where the asylum application should be made. The noble Baroness referred to this point in relation to the so-called Dublin regulation, through which, if someone makes an asylum application in a country that is not the first EU country that they visited, they can be returned to that first country. A common asylum policy is sensible in order to have rational management of asylum flows.
The UK has opted in to all asylum legislation and measures, as well as those on combating illegal immigration. It has not opted in to anything on legal migration. It would be sensible for the EU to move towards including the UK, but that raises the question of borders, Schengen and so on. I am not prejudging that question, but at least it is sensible for the Schengen zone to have a coherent policy on both legal and illegal migration in the round.
If we are to have an area of free movement within the Schengen zone, of course we have to have common external borders. That is surely even in our interests. There are some measures that the UK has opted in to and will opt in to in the future; for instance, we opt in to part of the Schengen information system. It is entirely in our interests that the countries that are getting on with this as a normal part of their business should do so in an efficient and sensible way. When and if we decide that it is sensible for the UK to opt in, we will hope to opt in to rational arrangements. For example, I am sure that there will have to be some kind of arrangement for an exchange of visa data between the UK and the Schengen zone, which has set up the so-called visa information system. I declare an interest as the rapporteur on that. It will be in both parties’ interest to have some kind of pipeline between UKvisas and the Schengen VIS to exchange information, not least on undesirable people.
When and if we decide that we want to opt in to some of the measures, it makes sense that those measures should be good. Of course, the UK wanted to opt in to FRONTEX, the external borders agency, but we were not allowed to. The UK could not opt in because, under the existing protocols, there is a sort of lockout rule where we can be excluded if we have not taken part in the underlying Schengen-building arrangements. There is a downside; on a similar basis last December the European Court of Justice said that we could not opt in to the regulation on common standards for biometric features in passports. As I have said before in this House, when the Government say that the EU requires us to have biometric features in passports, that is not true. We are not legally bound because we were not allowed to opt in to the regulations. This has been an autonomous UK decision. I make no value judgment on that; it is the situation.
Under the Lisbon treaty, the UK position has become more flexible as regards our wide freedom to opt in or to stay out of EU proposals on justice and home affairs, including borders, immigration and asylum, although there are of course repercussions. If the UK declines to participate in an amending measure, we could be ejected from the original measure if that becomes inoperable. There are swings and roundabouts in the set-up. I speculate that an example could be an amended Schengen information system. If the Schengen information system is taken to a different technical level, we could find that we cannot operate one system when the rest are operating a more advanced system. Therefore, the system could become inoperable and there would be difficulties. In its impact report, the EU Committee also mentioned an amended European arrest warrant, but that is not borders and immigration.
I might have my personal views about the extent of the opt-out. I am not entirely sure that the wide extent of the opt-out is completely in the UK’s interests; it might lead to our being isolated in some areas. However, it exists; that is a fact. We have complete freedom to opt out. It is also a difficulty that the Lisbon treaty does not make it any easier for the UK to opt in to measures that the UK does want, such as FRONTEX and the biometric passports, if we have not opted in to the measures that have built up to that point. The Council of Ministers—the other member states—can refuse our request to participate, just as now. However, that is where we are.
Therefore, whatever develops in borders, immigration and asylum, we will have a considerable interest in opting in to a lot of it. The Minister can correct me if I am wrong, but I would certainly expect the UK to continue to opt in to the asylum legislation. It does not make sense to have 27 different asylum systems. It does not make sense for the UK to be excluded from this, not least because we benefit from it. As the noble Baroness said, we benefit from the Dublin regulation. It is operating and starting to work. We can politely direct people to the country of first visit, where they should make their asylum claim.
I hope that we do not see a trend develop, of which there have been some signs in the area of civil law, whereby the UK opts in after the negotiations are concluded. Tactically that might be regarded as a clever idea, because it means that the UK is not committed sooner than the point at which it wants to opt in, but I think that it weakens our influence. The Minister and I have seen each other in the corridors of Brussels, although I do not really do civil law.
I believe that it is in the UK’s interests that common policies are developed in the EU, specifically in the Schengen zone, on good border management, integrated border management and common asylum and immigration policies. Regardless of whether we opt in to a large number of these policies, we want to live next door to a Schengen zone that is well managed in terms of immigration and combating illegal immigration, with a well managed asylum policy that is fair and respects the refugee convention. It is not at all in our interests to live next door to a chaotic situation.
I hope that we will be able to opt in to a considerable amount in this area. I hope that we might be able to opt in to FRONTEX in some way in order to contribute to the EU as a whole, ensuring that it has well managed external borders and free movement inside. Although we maintain our border controls, British citizens largely benefit from those arrangements when they travel round the EU or go to live in another EU member state. There are all kinds of ways in which we benefit from common, rational EU/Schengen borders, visas and asylum policies. We have the freedom to decide to opt in or out.
I do not think that these amendments are useful and I do not see why they are necessary, because we have this freedom of the opt-out. With respect, those are my reasons for opposing the amendments.
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness a question before she sits down. She explained very well and thoroughly her objections to Amendment No. 3 and I accept what she says; I do not necessarily agree with her but she explained logically her reasons for opposing Amendment No. 3. However, I do not think that she explained why she objects to Amendments Nos. 4 and 5. Amendment No. 4 would simply provide for extra safeguards against a move that might constitute a threat to the security of the United Kingdom and its citizens, while Amendment No. 5 would simply require the Secretary of State to explain why the Government have capitulated over a policy to which they formerly objected quite strongly.
My Lords, Amendment No. 5, as I understand it—I may have misread it—is not about immigration but about asylum and having a common asylum policy. I think that I explained why I thought that it was a good idea to have a common EU asylum policy and the fact that the UK has opted in to all the measures. The Government have taken a hard-headed look at it and seen that it is a good idea. I think that it is Article 63 and not 63a. Article 63 is asylum policy, not immigration. I do not know whether there is a misunderstanding but I think that I have explained my view on a common asylum policy.
On Amendment No. 4, I think that the best thing that the UK Government could do is to take an active role. Even if we do not opt in, there are many ways in which the UK Government can contribute to the development of rational and firm external borders in the EU. It is a bit regrettable that the European Court of Justice ruled against our membership of FRONTEX and I hope that the other member states will acknowledge that the UK has a contribution to make in this area. I do not think that this approach will be terribly helpful, as it is rather passive. I want to see us contribute actively even if we ultimately do not opt in.
We have not opted in to Schengen and for the time being we maintain our own border controls, but the best thing that we can do as a country and a Government is to participate as much as possible—as we are doing with the Schengen information system, which is to do with the security of the United Kingdom as much as the security of the Schengen zone. I think that this rather static approach is not as good as a dynamic one in which the UK Government take a full, strong role in policy discussions in Brussels, as they largely already do, even if they do not opt in to legal measures. That is a much better approach than the one in Amendment No. 4.
My Lords, in two or three sentences, I would just like to say that the exposition by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, is one of the most impressive I have heard in the House for some time. It is extraordinarily difficult to give a clear exposition of policy on Schengen, of trying to negotiate within it while not being part of it and all the rest of it. If people want a clear exposition of that and the British dilemma, they could do no better than to look at Hansard and read the noble Baroness's speech. She has removed the legs on which these amendments are standing. The reasons why the amendments should not be supported are clear.
My Lords, praise indeed for the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and I welcome her cameo performance. She is looking extremely healthy after a well deserved rest, and I know how hard she works. It is very nice to see her in her place, dealing with issues that she has taken a great deal of care over since taking on this portfolio. I am pleased to be discussing this with her again as we have had the privilege of working together many times. I was rude in making a slight joke to her about opt-ins and civil justice. I do not disagree with what she was saying about the principle of not opting in at the end. As I said in Committee, it is a dangerous strategy not to opt in, but as I was the Minister who did not opt in, I felt I should make myself known. There were particular reasons for that, which I will not bore the House with now, but I completely endorse the principle of opting in on time or deciding not to opt in at all.
I begin with what the Lisbon treaty seeks to do. The first and most important thing is that nothing in this treaty affects the retention of our frontier controls. I would argue that FRONTEX, with the control across the European Union, adds an extra degree of security for our borders, but we are very clear that the control of our borders rests with this country. The opt-in which we currently have for asylum and immigration is retained and extended to cover the whole of justice and home affairs. That means that we have the right to choose across the board whether we participate in the measures around justice and home affairs. We do not opt in to measures that are inconsistent with our policies, particularly on border control, or against our national interests. That remains the same under the new treaty. But as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, said—and I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, agrees with her from her speech and from the work that she does—there is an important aspect of co-operation across the European Union that is in our interest and to the benefit of the United Kingdom. Most of the transit routes to the UK for illegal migration and people traffic lie through the territory of EU member states. Having stronger external borders and higher standards on issuing visas reduces the risk of illegal immigration into EU territory. As well as strengthening its external border, the European Union works with the source and transit countries to try and tackle the root causes of migration and stem the flow of illegal migration into the European Union territory. On that there is no disagreement. These are important ways of co-operating.
Specifically on Amendment No. 3, co-operation across the European Union is not new. It has been around since Maastricht and it has helped the UK to tackle illegal immigration more effectively. We share a common interest and work with our EU partners on immigration and asylum policy. We retain the right to opt in to measures within three months of publication, including amending measures, and we can ask to opt in at the end of the negotiations on those measures should they change sufficiently to become part of the UK’s interests. I have already indicated the dangers of going down that road, but it does exist for us and we should recognise it.
In relation to Article 77 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, which is about the border controls aspect, stronger external borders and higher standards will enable us to tackle more effectively illegal immigration into the territory. In Article 78 of the same treaty on asylum, we have been active participants in the work towards a common European asylum system, which benefits the UK by setting minimum European Union standards in relation to the treatment of those who seek asylum. That has the effect of helping to reduce the pull factor to the United Kingdom and it also helps to ensure that the European Union is a safe haven for those who are genuinely fleeing torture and persecution.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, referred to the issues around Dublin and the benefits that we have had of the regulations on Eurodac. Those are cornerstones of that common European asylum system. They allow us better to identify and return failed asylum seekers—asylum shoppers, as they are known—or those who have been proved to have transited through other member states and moved around the European Union making multiple asylum claims. Once identified, they are transferred back to the member state where they first sought asylum. That has brought massive benefits to the UK. As the noble Baroness said, a number have been returned. Since 2004, more than 6,000 failed asylum seekers have been returned to other member states—100 a month. It is a funny terminology, but that makes us a net beneficiary of this system. We do not have to consider the claims because they are dealt with elsewhere, so there are huge financial savings. We reckon that this saves the UK about £8 million a year, mainly because we are not detaining people. So financially and in many other ways, participation is in our national interest and therefore to be welcomed.
We have not opted in to directives on legal migration, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, said, because they are not consistent with our immigration control policies and could put pressure on our border controls. European Union measures on legal migration concern the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals and the definition of their rights of movement and residence. They do not concern the number of third-country nationals to be admitted. For the sake of clarity, Article 79(5) of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union says:
“This Article shall not affect the right of Member States to determine volumes of admission of third-country nationals coming from third countries to their territory in order to seek work, whether employed or self-employed”.
Article 80 of the new treaty is about the fair sharing of responsibility between member states and policies that relate to border checks, asylum and immigration. It relates to the existing articles of the EC treaty and is about measures to promote a balanced effort between member states in receiving and bearing the consequences of receiving refugees and displaced persons.
Amendment No. 4 is about the effectiveness of the external border controls of other member states and we would argue that there are rigorous procedures in place in the form of the Schengen evaluation process that assesses the security of the external borders of EU member states. I am one of the few people I know who have been to Schengen. I have even heard the Schengen anthem which was played in my presence. Schengen is a very small village that happens to border three countries and the original process took its name because of that. Sadly I even remember when I went to Schengen. It was 2 June 2005. Noble Lords should not read anything into that about joining Schengen. I just happened to be there. We attend meetings of the Schengen evaluation working group and we get its report. Those reports are important because they underpin the efforts we are making to strengthen our external borders. The Schengen states do a thorough evaluation of the countries which apply to join the system, such as Bulgaria and Romania, before deciding whether to lift border controls. We cannot prevent the rest of the European Union lifting their internal border controls.
My Lords, I simply ask for information. I recall visiting NCIS some years ago and meeting a number of British police officers who had taken part in inspecting external border controls in other states. Do the British participate in these external border inspections?
My Lords, indeed they do. That is an important aspect of the way in which the UK Government make sure that we are involved appropriately, without giving up our own border control, which is of enormous importance. We are not seeking to do anything, nor would we, that would in any way impact on our right to maintain our own frontier controls and security. We recognise the enormous benefits in participating as we do and supporting colleagues in the European Union who have, through their border controls, made it more difficult for people to enter illegally, and easier for us to collaborate and co-operate to try to deal with concerns that the Government have and that noble Lords quite rightly raise.
On Amendment No. 5, we do not oppose any of the measures in the new Article 78. During the convention on the new constitution, we proposed alternative language. We did not oppose the article we see reflected in this treaty but wanted to propose a simplified article on asylum, focusing more strongly on the purpose of asylum co-operation. However, we accepted the outcome of the negotiations as part of the overall package; there was nothing of substance within that. This is about emphasis or, indeed, language. That package includes the opt-in, of course, which has operated for nearly nine years in this area. As I have already said, for all JHA measures, we will have the right to decide whether we wish to participate.
That sets out the essence of where we are. To recap, there is a long history of collaboration, co-operation and, appropriately, clear retention and control of our own borders and security. There is also collaboration on asylum which works effectively, particularly because of Dublin and Eurodac, and which has enabled us to return people. In so doing, we have the common standards that prevent the pull to the UK and ensure that people are treated appropriately.
On the comments of my right honourable friend Geoff Hoon on the European Court of Justice, and the long negotiations to which I was party on whether there could be references from courts lower than the House of Lords in identifying what the ECJ could interpret for us, two things have changed to make us comfortable with it. First, there is an expedited procedure. Our concern was that cases would be sent off to the European Court of Justice and could take a considerable amount of time, which was not appropriate for those seeking to sort out their status as quickly as possible. The expedited process will enable us to do that quickly, and that major concern has therefore disappeared. Secondly, we have had discussions with the senior judiciary to ensure that cases of merit go to the European Court of Justice, and any that are not do not do so. The process will not therefore become a way of slowing down cases by sending them off to Europe. I do not suggest that that could have happened, but that was our concern. We are now comfortable that that will not happen, and therefore have no concerns about it.
Finally, noble Lords have expressed concerns about social security issues for those who come here. Of course, we have a separate break on social security issues. That means that any member state worried about the impact on social security can take that decision to the European Council, where it is made by unanimity. I hope that I have answered in as much detail as I can all the points raised in the three amendments, and that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am not going to press this amendment to a Division, which is just as well. Listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, I can see that we would be in the usual position where she would not support anything I have proposed. That has been pretty well the position throughout discussions on this legislation.
As I said, this is by and large a probing amendment. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of borders and asylum is security. We discussed this at length during the passage of the UK Borders Bill when our own border agency was set up. It was clear then that the security of our borders was extremely important. We want to be absolutely sure that we are not blown off that course in any way.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, referred to FRONTEX. My understanding was that one of the problems of being excluded from it was that it now does not have access to our intelligence, and vice versa. There are problems of a lack of co-operation. We do not disagree about co-operation, but we still have anxieties about the amount of co-operation and force that will come about.
I am grateful to the Minister for her typically clear reply. She probably did not answer whether the Government had any intention of opting out of the reception conditions directive, but perhaps she could let me have that in writing; that would be helpful. With all the other aspects we have discussed, we will remain sceptical as to whether, if push comes to shove, the lines will hold. That is the great danger that we see which the Minister is trying to be reassuring about, saying that we have everything stacked up to ensure that we can manage our own affairs. Our concern is that we have not, and that there would be occasions when the Government would now find it difficult, under the circumstances brought about through this legislation, to hold the line. If that was the case, we would probably have to come back to it again. For tonight, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 4 to 11 not moved.]
12: Clause 2, page 1, line 12, after “excluding” insert—
“(i) any provision that gives Her Majesty’s Government authority to agree to pay, or to pay, any financial penalty imposed as a result of a decision by Her Majesty’s Government not to opt in, or to opt out of, any provision, unless the Secretary of State has given a binding undertaking to Parliament that he will make no such payment unless he has laid a statement before Parliament setting out a schedule of such penalty or penalties and payment has been approved by an affirmative resolution of the House of Commons; and(ii) ”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, of course we need to make progress, but we now come to an amendment about which I feel very strongly. Both I and my noble friend Lord Kingsland have raised this point before in various discussions on the Bill. I am afraid the matter is just too important for us to let it lie.
I am certain that most fair-minded people will share our first-level concern about the possibility that financial penalties may be imposed on the UK for future breaches of European correctness. More significantly, however, this real and present financial concern is also inextricably linked with deeper and wider doubts about how effective our notional opt-outs are really going to be in future.
I recall a number of unedifying tussles when I was a Secretary of State, most notably over proposed limits to the working week. Our European partners tried a series of different means to achieve the same ends, repeatedly finding one avenue blocked and immediately seeking out another. It was therefore with great sympathy that I read the proceedings of the European Scrutiny Committee in another place. It has played devil's advocate repeatedly by highlighting the uncertain nature of our supposed right to opt in or out and subsequent doubts about our ability to safeguard our national interests post-Lisbon.
This provision effectively guarantees that financial penalties will in future be levied on the UK if our refusal to opt in to an amended measure makes the existing measure inoperable, as a consequence of which the whole package has to be discarded. Ministers will no doubt cling, as the Minister clung last time, to the assertion that the provisions allow only for necessary and unavoidable financial consequences to be charged to the UK, in what they apparently consider to be the most unlikely event of the provisions being implemented. I ask again: how can the Government be confident about this? They are making what I suppose has come to be regarded as the classic ministerial error.
Around the year 375 AD, Flavius Renatus first coined the immortal phrase, “Si vis pacem, para bellum”. The Minister will not, of course, need me to explain that this means if you want peace, prepare for war. Although the contemporary parallel under the amended treaty of Rome is happily less bellicose, the principle is the same.
As a Minister, I learnt that the best approach to European and all other international treaties and agreements is to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Ministers cling to the optimistic hope but neglect the second half of that formulation—the preparation for unwelcome eventualities—at their and our peril. Where is this infallible crystal ball that gives the Minister such certainty and privileged knowledge about what will happen in the future? For the rest of us, alas, the intentions of our European partners are shrouded in mystery and we therefore seek to reserve our position. Of course, much of this will be contingent on the decision on whether an existing measure is operable or inoperable, and on what the necessary and unavoidable financial consequences may be, but both these decisions will be made by qualified majority voting so we will have no veto whatever over what our European partners decide to do, or over what they might decide we should do.
On the previous occasion I was unable to persuade the Minister, even when I quoted the very emphatic words of the chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee in another place, Michael Connarty. Noble Lords may recall that I quoted his phrase:
“These are bullying clauses and I am shocked that you try to defend them”.—[Official Report, 14/5/08; col. 1053.]
I have reread the full transcript, which contained an interesting exchange between the chairman and the Foreign Secretary. That gives me great confidence in the ability of the Select Committee system to test Ministers. After he said, “These are bullying clauses”, Michael Connarty went on to say,
“I say that in the spirit of comradeship … I know what is happening out there, we have just been through it—a lot of nations are unhappy with the UK, they say, contaminating the process because we have opt-outs and Protocols, and these appear to me and appear to all sensible people who see it as additional clauses put in to make sure the UK does not either opt in and still have the freedom of not having the European Court of Justice—”.
At this point the Foreign Secretary could contain himself no longer and interjected:
“Can I just pick up one thing you said?”
The chairman of the Select Committee, may he ever more be praised, said, “Let me finish”. He went on:
“Or on the other hand to cajole us or pressurise us to opting in. On those terms I do not think anyone with a bit of principle would sign up to them”.
I dare say that the Minister will not be persuaded by me and her colleague, the Foreign Secretary, was not persuaded by a Labour Member in another place. However, I would like to hear her at least attempt to explain in clearer terms exactly why these provisions were allowed to remain in.
On the previous occasion we debated this in Committee, I asked the Minister to give examples of situations where these provisions could come into effect. I was minded to take the amendment to a vote but she got up, looked me straight in the eye and said, with regard to examples, that,
“if I find any then I will certainly send them to the noble Lord. He would expect me to say that, and I would do so”.
At that point I said:
“That is all I needed to hear and … I beg leave to withdraw the amendment”.—[Official Report, 14/5/08; col. 1055.]
A week went by after that and nothing came in the post. Indeed, my birthday was a week later but nothing arrived. My wedding anniversary was a week later still and there was not even a card, not even a billet-doux. Since then I have heard nothing at all so I await with anticipation what the Minister will say tonight. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am beginning to think of the opt-in, opt-out area as rather like the Schleswig-Holstein dispute. Very few people understand it and I am not at all sure that I am one of them. Clearly, it was deliberately designed to be a very obscure area. That is one of the reasons my party is sceptical about the extent of opting-in and opting-out. Indeed, as my question in the middle of the Minister’s previous speech suggested, there are areas where we appear to have opted out but where we are nevertheless taking an active part. I have sometimes wondered very unworthily in the past few years whether this is designed to obscure from the Daily Mail, the Telegraph or the British public how deeply involved we are in all this.
This is a worst-case amendment, as I think the noble Lord recognises. It is a belt-and-braces measure to address the difficulty of dealing with those foreigners across the channel and the possibility that they might somehow outwit the British on occasions, or perhaps that the present Government or any future Government might fall over their feet so badly in trying to do the delicate dance they do between opt-ins and opt-outs and when they are half opting in and when half opting out that they might end up facing this penalty.
My position and that of my party group is that we are participating in an ongoing system. We hope that we are negotiating in good faith. We do not expect our partners in the European Union to double cross us and we should not operate on the basis that we expect that. We want to see the whole justice and home affairs area work more effectively. We want to see the United Kingdom participate in that as constructively and as fully as possible. On that basis we do not support the amendment.
My Lords, I am terribly sorry that I missed the birthday and wedding anniversary of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, but I am sure that I shall find another reason to celebrate with him. I still have the image before me of the unedifying tussles that he mentioned, which must have been a sight to see. I seek to defend myself a little against the accusation that he made as regards not providing examples. I gave two examples on the previous occasion and said that I would come back to him if I could find any more. I have not found any more. The examples that I gave were the best available. I hope that reassures him as it means there are not loads of examples of how the UK might find itself in that position.
I reiterate what I said in the previous debate. The phrase “financial penalty” does not appear anywhere in the treaty. It is not a concept at all. The treaty says that if the UK were to come out of something and that rendered it inoperable—“inoperable” is the first of three words which should reassure the noble Lord because they are clear and precise—it is reasonable that the UK should bear the costs of such action, should there be any. The qualified majority vote would be the process by which a decision on whether a measure was inoperable would be reached. For obvious reasons of collaboration across the European Union it is important that if we have created a situation in which a measure is inoperable, that decision should be reached in an appropriate manner. I believe that is the appropriate way to reach it.
Then a second decision would have to be reached to say that the measure had become inoperable and whether any financial consequences arose from that. However, they would have to be direct financial consequences necessarily and unavoidably incurred as a result of our withdrawal from the measure. The two examples I gave concerned where a software program could no longer be used because the UK’s withdrawal from it meant that it had to be completely rewritten, or if we withdrew from an agency where we had staff we should bear the costs of repatriating them, make any redundancy payments and so on because it was because of us that they were having to be removed from the agency.
They are the only two examples that I can think of and the only two examples that make sense to me. There may be other circumstances, but I hope that the noble Lord will be reassured by the fact that there were not lots of circumstances where I could see inoperability applying and financial consequences unavoidably occurring as a direct result of what the UK had done. Those words reassure me. I am not an optimist or a pessimist, but a realist. If you look at what has been agreed and test those words against our understanding of what it would mean; if you look long and hard at what the consequences could be and think of examples where it might apply; then you have reached a realistic assessment of what we believe to be the case. Our Committee in your Lordships’ House recognised that this was a strict threshold. I do not know what else I can add; nor should I take your Lordships’ time in seeking to flower this any further. The wording is clear. It sets out the conditions that would have to be met and that could be tested in court if need be. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I put to the Minister an extension of her examples of an IT package or the costs of our staff having to come home. As I said in opening, my worry is that, because we refuse to opt in to an amended measure, it might become inoperable and, as a consequence, the whole package would have to be discarded. In those circumstances, my fear is that there would be an argument that the costs of all the other participants should be billed to the United Kingdom, because it was our action that caused the whole package to be discarded. The Minister has not dealt with that. She referred merely to the cost of bringing home our own staff. I wonder about the costs of all the other nations that are then unable to take forward the package because we have caused the whole operation to be discontinued.
My Lords, if I could think of a realistic example, I would be more inclined to consider it. However, I cannot think of anything that operates across the European Union, either in an agency or in a programme, where our removal from it would result in all the other 26 nations failing to function at all. I can see that we might have to rewrite a software program or bring our people back because we have left an agency in which the other 26 countries were operating. However, with the best will in the world, I cannot think of an example in which, because the UK is not there, all the other 26 nations find themselves incapable of continuing with it. I hesitate to say this to the noble Lord, but I do not think that his proposition bears much scrutiny.
My Lords, I respond first to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who used emotive language about “foreigners across the channel” and “not expecting our partners to double cross”. I do not want to share too much private information, but when I was in government, I found that it was my own side that caused me the greatest concern. I am reminded of Winston Churchill showing around the House of Commons a keen young Member of Parliament on his side, who exclaimed excitedly, “It is marvellous that we’re facing the enemy and staring them straight in the eye”. Winston Churchill allegedly said, “No, that is the Opposition. The enemy is behind you”.
My Lords, I have many friends in the European Union, but I would not expect them to draw back if I had sabotaged or caused the collapse of a particular programme. That is what I am referring to. As the noble Lord knows, I am a strong European. I came in because of the vision of Europe as a peaceful and prosperous method of ensuring the continuity of the European ideal. I am not talking about “double- cross” or “foreigners across the Channel”. I am talking about people who might have a claim against us, because we had originally thought we might participate and then decided for various reasons not to. I recall that the biggest problem that I had was often with the Treasury, which, after I agreed to take forward a reform, would suddenly remove the funding. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that we go quite a long way in a particular direction, only to find that we do not have the funding or the support of some of our colleagues.
I hope that I have reassured the noble Lord that I am looking at the worst-case scenario—this is what he acknowledged I was doing. He called it a belt and braces amendment. Belts and braces can be very useful, although perhaps only when one is a little larger than he and I are. I say to the Minister that I would love her—here I must not be quoted out of context—to go away and think through the sort of consequence that I am talking about, where the software system, as a result of our refusal to participate, is thrown into jeopardy. It may be that it was our own system that we were going to take through into the scheme. I would be reassured if she would think this through and reassure me, perhaps at Third Reading—
My Lords, as Leader of the House, I am very clear that we should use Third Reading for the purposes detailed in the Companion. I have nothing further to say to the noble Lord on this. If he disagrees with me, he will decide whether to seek the opinion of the House. However, I thought long and hard about all the other possible scenarios and came up with none that I felt was of any merit. The noble Lord gave an extreme example that I do not believe exists in real life. The language of the treaty is clear. The noble Lord must decide. We have debated this twice and if he wishes to test the opinion of the House, that is for him. However, I do not believe that it is an appropriate matter to bring back at Third Reading.
My Lords, that was more said apropos the Companion than to take forward the discussion. I remind the Minister that this amendment would not operate until Her Majesty’s Government had decided to pay a penalty. The amendment merely says that, before paying any penalty, there should be an opportunity for Parliament to see what the agreed penalty is and why it should be paid. That is the purpose of the amendment and all that I am constantly seeking are ways of discovering whether this has been tested by the Minister’s colleagues in government to see what possible scenarios there could be where Her Majesty’s Government would have to pay.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, because I sat down too early and did not get to the nub of the amendment. Of course, were we to be at the point where there was any suggestion that the inoperability of a programme led to financial consequences, that would, first, be part of any discussion that we would have with the Select Committee and, secondly, we would make sure that Parliament was informed. That would be the natural course of events. There is no need for an amendment telling us to do that because, as part of the general scrutiny by Parliament, in your Lordships’ House and another place, that information would be made available. I have no difficulty with that so the amendment is unnecessary. I was merely saying that I have nothing to add and that I do not want to waste your Lordships’ time.
My Lords, that has been a most valuable undertaking by the Minister. I am grateful to her for going as far as she has, which is, I am sure, well beyond what her brief instructed her to say. In view of the fact that she has been so helpful, I have no alternative but to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.