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European Council

Volume 714: debated on Monday 2 November 2009


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I will repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

“First, Mr Speaker, I am sure the whole House will join with me in sending our condolences to the family and friends of Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid of 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment, who was killed in Afghanistan on Saturday afternoon. We owe him and every one of our Armed Forces an immeasurable debt of gratitude.

With permission, I would like to make a Statement on the European Council held in Brussels last Thursday and Friday. The Copenhagen climate change conference for which the European Council was preparing is now less than 40 days away. If carbon emissions are to be reduced and dangerous climate change averted, it is essential that we achieve an ambitious, comprehensive and binding agreement. Concluding a climate change deal will also drive investment in the low carbon economy and speed up world economic recovery. It will demonstrate that, as at the G20, the world can come together to address the great global challenges we face together.

In all this, European Union leadership is fundamental and now, as we approach Copenhagen, we need to drive forward the negotiations. Let me explain the urgency: to achieve the ambitious, effective and fair deal we need, it is not only developed countries which must act. Developing countries too must cut their emissions, reduce deforestation and be able to adapt to climate change. But to enable them to do so by December we need to make a credible offer of financial assistance now. That is why earlier this year I proposed a long-term financial agreement between developed and developing countries.

On Friday last week, the Council agreed to put on the table for Copenhagen three conditional offers. First, we agreed that Europe will contribute its fair share of the costs of mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, and we endorsed the European Commission’s view that these are expected to require—including the developing countries’ own contributions—annually by 2020 around €100 billion of private and public finance.

Secondly, we set out our offer of public finance, agreeing that the overall level of the international public support required is estimated to lie in the range of €22 billion to €50 billion per year by 2020. Thirdly, we agreed that we should start support immediately to help developing countries cut carbon emissions and adapt to climate change, contributing over the next three years our fair share of a global fast-track initiative of €5 billion to €7 billion per year.

These offers are rightly conditional on,

‘other key players making comparable efforts’,

and on developing countries coming forward with substantial commitments on emission reductions. Importantly, the Council also agreed that climate financing should,

‘not undermine or jeopardise the fight against poverty and continued progress towards the millennium development goals’.

Further, as the UK has proposed, the Council supported the establishment of a high-level body under the United Nations to provide an overview of international sources of climate financing.

The European Union has already committed to cut our emissions by 30 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020 as part of the right international agreement. Now, these financial offers yet again show the determination of the whole European Union to ensure an ambitious climate change deal in Copenhagen.

I can also report that the Council agreed that at the time of the next accession treaty, the Protocol on the Charter of Fundamental Rights will be applied to the Czech Republic. The next step is for the Czech Constitutional Court to make its ruling, which is rightly a matter for that court. I believe that we have made real progress, but it is only after we are sure that the treaty will come into force that the Council will be able to appoint its new president.

Investment across Europe is forecast to contract by 10 per cent this year with an expected loss of 8.5 million jobs, so at the European Council we had to decide, first, whether we should withdraw the fiscal stimulus now or maintain it until recovery was secured. We agreed unanimously, with no country dissenting, that

‘the supporting policies should not be withdrawn until the recovery is fully secured’.

Secondly, we had to decide whether to support public investment to maintain jobs in our economy or simply to let the recession take its course. The Council agreed unanimously to draw up a,

‘European strategy for jobs and growth [with] continued political commitment to active labour market policies’,

and we agreed to take all necessary measures to,

‘prevent high unemployment levels from becoming persistent’.

Thirdly, within our commitment to action for fiscal sustainability once the recovery is assured, we also agreed on the need for active industrial strategies to ensure,

‘investment in the industries and jobs of the future’,

including low carbon technologies, advanced manufacturing and the digital economy.

Fourthly, we stressed the importance of new measures that would ‘strengthen the internal market’ and help growth in our services as well as industries. We also affirmed the need to ‘promote increased trade’. The completion of the Doha trade round next year and progress on bilateral trade deals with India and Canada are central to this, as is the recent trade agreement with Korea, which will create up to €19 billion in new export opportunities for firms across the EU.

We also agreed on reform of our banking systems, which include putting in place new rules on capital and liquidity and bonuses. We agreed to the continuation of work to strengthen the supervisory framework in the European Union following the decisions taken at the Council in June.

The Council expressed its deep condolences to the families of those killed in last week’s Taliban attack in Kabul. We reaffirmed our determination to fight terrorism in every part of the world and our resolve to see our commitments through in Afghanistan. We emphasised our,

‘confidence in the United Nations’ leadership in co-ordinating the international community’s efforts in Afghanistan’.

We welcomed EU plans to,

‘strengthen the civilian capacity of the state institutions in Afghanistan and Pakistan’,

something that has been at the heart of British efforts in recent years. The Council expressed its concern about the security situation in Pakistan and reiterated Europe’s readiness to assist further the affected population. This afternoon, I have spoken to President Karzai and discussed the importance of moving quickly to set out a unity programme for the future of Afghanistan. Afghanistan now needs new and urgent measures for tackling corruption, strengthening local government and reaching out to all parts of Afghan society, and to give the Afghan people a real stake in their future. President Karzai agreed with me that Afghanistan now needs to strengthen its army and police numbers so that over time we can reduce our troops.

Finally, on Iran, the Council expressed its,

‘continuing concern about the situation of staff members of European Union missions and European citizens in Iran who recently have been on trial’,

and called for their ‘prompt and unconditional release’. We also reaffirmed our,

‘grave concern over the development of Iran’s nuclear programme [and over Iran’s] persistent failure to meet its international obligations’.

Once again, we in Britain have shown that by acting not alone but together, by working not against our mainstream European partners but with them, and by putting Britain not on the fringes of Europe but at its heart, Britain will be stronger. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I join the Prime Minister and the Minister in mourning another death of a fine soldier in an explosion in Helmand.

I shall start where the Prime Minister’s Statement finished, on Afghanistan. I have three questions for the Minister. What did EU leaders agree as the strategic objective of the Afghan war? What further commitment of troops was made by any EU state? In view of the continuing deaths and injuries as a result of the lack of airlift capacity, did the Prime Minister ask our EU partners for any help with this problem, and, if so, what was their response?

Paragraph 42 of the presidency conclusions says:

“The European Council stresses the need for the second round of the Presidential election to be credible, inclusive, secure and reflect the will of the Afghan people”.

How can the EU, or indeed the UK Government, believe that, after a man whose win we dismissed as corrupt was returned unopposed?

Beyond the tragic news from Afghanistan, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. However, this is yet another Statement reflecting the declining UK influence in Europe that has flowed—

My Lords, I will come to the charge sheet in a moment. Our declining influence has flowed from 12 years of policies that have been commended to the House by this Government. We signed the Social Chapter for no gain in return. We gave up our budget rebate for nothing in return. We broke our promise of a referendum on the EU treaty, yet again for nothing in return.

The Prime Minister skulked on the fringes of this summit. Perhaps, before being so censorious about the policy of this party, his party might reflect on some of the defects of its own. The Financial Times reported that the Prime Minister left a meeting of his fellow socialists “in a foul mood”.

The Swedish presidency made some welcome progress in promoting action on climate change, something to which the Lisbon treaty is totally irrelevant. We welcome the commitments on carbon reductions that were repeated yet again at the summit, but where, on the 80 per cent to 95 per cent emission reduction target by 2050, did the UK Government commit us? Discussing a €100 billion annual payment to developing countries by 2020, Mr Barroso said that EU payments should be between €22 billion and €50 billion a year by that year. How much of that will be paid by the UK? What firm figure did our Prime Minister put on the table?

The Prime Minister told a press conference that he had agreed a target of 10 million new jobs in Europe by 2014. However, is the problem in Britain not that unemployment is now far higher than it was in 1997, with 5 million people on out-of-work benefits, the highest youth unemployment in Europe and the highest proportion of children growing up in homes where no one works? Is it not therefore high time that we had a Government in this country who addressed the plight of the poor that this Government’s policies have left behind? With the presidency country Sweden, France, Germany and others out of recession while the UK economy still contracts, how can a Prime Minister who boasts that Britain is leading the world out of recession hope to be taken seriously?

The Council conclusions promote a so-called “complete package” on the microsupervision of financial institutions. It is no comment on the EU but a blunt fact of international finance that nothing would give more pleasure to financial circles in Paris and Frankfurt than seeing the world’s greatest financial centre outside the US bound in red tape. Will the Minister assure the House in the most unequivocal terms that the Government reject EU microsupervision and that they will not buy credit in Brussels by selling the independence and competitiveness of the City of London? It would be a dereliction of duty if they let that happen.

Finally, will the noble Baroness tell us whether the UK Government are 100 per cent behind Tony Blair as president of Europe? Who in Britain will have a say on Tony Blair or indeed anyone else as president—perhaps two, three or maybe even a dozen? It is unacceptable to have an unpopular, unelected president imposed on the British people under a treaty on which, thanks to the shameful betrayal of their election promises by both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, no one was allowed to vote?

Whether or not the Lisbon treaty is completed by the year end, never again will a Conservative Government allow such major transfers of power to be approved without a referendum. There are plenty of good UK candidates whom we could all advance and support; there are even some that the British people might willingly accept; but Tony Blair is not one of them. Perhaps we can content ourselves with this: ever since the Prime Minister backed Mr Blair with such fired-up enthusiasm, his campaign has hit the rocks. On this one issue, on this one occasion, we may take comfort in the hopeless lack of influence this Prime Minister now wields.

My Lords, first, I join both the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition in expressing our condolences for the family and friends of Staff Sergeant Schmid. On the matter raised on Afghanistan, I follow the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, because it must be made clear to President Karzai that he is very much on probation if we are to sustain the commitment in this country to fighting the war in Afghanistan. The messages on Pakistan and Iran were clear and understood. Sometimes I think we talk in this House of places and conflicts which Mr Gladstone would have known about and understood, but everything is not all the same.

This morning I walked across the grounds of Westminster Abbey where they were knocking in all the crosses of those who died in the two World Wars. Especially when there is a European Council so close to 11 November and Remembrance Sunday, I think that we of this generation should take some pride in the fact that we have replaced the conflict and carnage of the first 50 years of the 20th century with systems of governance built on democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. It has not all been bad news. Indeed, Europe now stands as an example to the world of how old enemies can put their enmity aside and build something better and new.

I have two small pieces of advice in the form of questions. First, would the Prime Minister be better employed using his influence to keep Europe co-ordinated in its response to global recession rather than touting Mr Tony Blair around like a political David Beckham looking for some new lucrative spot to occupy? Secondly, would the Leader of the Opposition be better employed spelling out how he intends to deal with climate change, our energy needs, agreements on trade and financial services, the fight against drug smuggling, people trafficking and organised crime? The time is perilously close to when he will have to do that, but how will he do it when he seems to be concentrating on sending billets-doux to one of the more eccentric national leaders in Europe, and making common cause with the European far right? How will the Conservatives pursue these vital British national interests from a position of splendid isolation? As the great John Junor used to write in his editorials in the Sunday Express:

“I think we should be told”.

On Copenhagen and climate change, the Leader of the House is well aware that we are signed up and enthusiastic to make progress there yet, clearly, there is a great deal of work still to be done in a perilously short time. I have only one little worry about this; the Council says, quite rightly, that there is now a real opportunity to create whole new industries and many more jobs from the challenge posed by climate change. If I might tell this story, however, last night I received a phone call from an American friend who told me that he had just been engaged by a large German company that was involved in developing wind energy technology. It wanted his advice on how best it could exploit demand in the British market for that technology.

What really worries me is: where is the evidence that Britain is investing in the industries and know-how that will create the jobs and make use of the opportunities where these commitments to climate change are concerned? Otherwise, we shall be signing up for targets, then relying on German or Danish technology while getting none of the promised job benefits. Those are my short interventions on what was also, by prime ministerial standards, a very short Statement.

My Lords, first, on Afghanistan, our priority clearly is and must be that of the whole international community—to drive forward the process of Afghanisation by working with the new Afghan Government to bolster up their security forces, to make progress on reintegration, to improve local governance, to deliver services for all Afghans and to continue to expand the economy and tackle corruption. As I said when repeating the Statement, that is exactly what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was speaking to President Karzai about earlier today. I am sure that he will continue to have conversations with President Karzai. It will be a difficult job but, together with the rest of the international community, we have to keep him on track. That is important not just for Afghans but for the whole world.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, on the Social Chapter that he ridicules, as his whole party does all the time—

I am sorry; I do this all the time. I meant to say the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. The Social Chapter has been a fundamental benefit to many working people in this country. If it were to be endangered by a future Conservative Administration, many people in this country would lose a great deal, and we have to inform them of that point. On the referendum, I am not going to go there, as we have had those arguments so many times before. However, the fact of the matter is that we almost have a treaty of Lisbon. We are not there yet but we almost are, and if it is ratified in the next few days this Government will celebrate that.

On action on climate change, I tell both noble Lords that the Prime Minister has been working with his colleagues over the last days and months, and it is a mark of his determination that he is one of the four Prime Ministers in the European Union who have said that they will, if necessary, go to Copenhagen. It is also a mark of how the Prime Minister is working with his colleagues in the European Union, which is precisely how the advances that were made at the European Council came about. He was not on its fringes, but in the mainstream. On the funding issues, and as an indication of the amount that the UK would contribute to the €22 billion to €50 billion range put forward at the Council, my right honourable friend the Chancellor has put forward that our share of that public finance should be in the range of £7 billion to £10 billion per year. That is what he has said and it is on record.

Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is right to be concerned about unemployment, but I respectfully point out that unemployment in the United Kingdom is still less than it is in France and is certainly a great deal less than it is in Spain. Despite the fact that there may be more unemployed people than there were in 1997—I think that is what the noble Lord said—a lot more jobs have been created, so a lot more people are working in this country than was the case in 1997.

The financial package to which the noble Lord referred will not be agreed until December. A great deal of work is still continuing. The Government are continuing to make representations and work with colleagues in the Council and the European Commission precisely to ensure that the City of London is not endangered and remains a jewel in our crown.

The treaty is not yet ratified and Tony Blair has not yet put his name forward to be president of the European Council. However, I emphasise that we need a strong European Council president. That is why, if Mr Blair put himself forward as a candidate, he would be supported.

In relation to influence, you can see the Prime Minister’s fingerprints, as it were, all over the Council’s conclusions as regards the jobs and growth strategy and what is happening in Copenhagen. He has shown real leadership at the European Council and it is a testament to him that it has got so far.

Like the noble Lord, Lord McNally, when I walk through the poppy field at Westminster Abbey it revitalises my enthusiasm for the European Union, because it is precisely the values we all share as a European Union which have ensured peace and stability in this part of western Europe for so long. I look forward to enlargement to include the Balkan countries, because I believe that until they are in the European Union there will not be true peace and stability in the whole continent.

The UK, together with France, Sweden and Denmark, is now maintaining a diplomatic push to try to ensure within the next 40 days that we get good conclusions at Copenhagen. There again it is a case of working with people, not in isolation; I must keep stressing that. I take on board the noble Lord’s point about industries and his concern that our industries are not up there, gaining all the necessary jobs and future work in new technologies and green industries. However, my noble friend Lord Mandelson has a very interventionist industrial policy and will come back to noble Lords in writing about the specifics relating to new technologies and green technologies.

My Lords, the Council’s agreements on a schedule for cuts in carbon emissions and on adaptation aid to developing countries represent substantial and encouraging progress and a very good basis for further development at Copenhagen. Is it not clear to my noble friend—it certainly is to me—that these advances owe much to the sustained commitment of our Prime Minister and the British Government, and to their firm, unwavering and effective engagement with the European Union? Does she share my view that such beneficial outcomes could never be secured by British representatives who profess complete commitment to climate security, but make that commitment impotent by Europhobia which corrodes trust and repels allies?

Yes, my Lords, I certainly agree with every point made by my noble friend. I add that one of the regrettable things about the Conservatives’ new grouping in the European Union is that so many of their allies in it seem so sceptical about climate change. We throughout this House, as a body, are not sceptical.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there are two historic commitments in this Statement that are worth spelling out? The first is what I would call the innovative way in which we will provide a financial mechanism on climate change, to which my noble friend Lord Kinnock has referred. I describe this as a carbon equalisation tax, whereby those who are using a lot more carbon will transfer some ration cards, as it were, to those who use below the average amount of carbon. This is where the European Union is showing leadership in the world, in a way that no single European country could on its own.

A second example is the new European Systemic Risk Board, where Britain is for the first time getting into a formal relationship, among other things, with the European Central Bank. The Government are helping the European Union get back on track, in a way which—now that we have shot the fox that the Conservative Party has been hanging on to—shows that this is the only Government in sight in this country who can give a credible position to Britain’s role in the world.

Yes, my Lords, I agree with the comments made by my noble friend and a number of my other noble friends. With the world working in blocs—with a powerful United States and a powerful China—with climate change, and with what we have gone through in the economic crisis, it is important precisely at this time that we work together as a European Union. I am very proud that that is what this Government are doing. I hope that it will not be endangered by any future Government because that would certainly not benefit the people of this country.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I am somebody who approaches Europe with a fairly open mind and wants to listen to constructive views, from wherever they come? Does she share my dismay that, having listened to what I can only describe as the diatribe from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, he was clearly talking about aspects of Europe other than that which happened in Brussels this weekend? There was no mention of most of the issues that he raised either in the communiqué or in the Brussels discussions. Does she share my concern that it is a pity that people outside this Chamber who are equally concerned about Europe do not have any constructive views from the leader of the Opposition as to what he thought of the essential issues that were discussed this weekend?

My Lords, I have an awful lot to agree with this afternoon. Yes, it is a great shame because there is much substance in the conclusions of the Council. That is the case at every Council but, globally, this Council is particularly important because it was dealing with the key issues of climate change and economic recovery. It is a great shame that Her Majesty’s Official Opposition do not have very clear plans and questions on these fundamental issues.

My Lords, we are perhaps six months from an election in which the Official Opposition hope to become the Government. It is therefore rather sad that the spokesman for the Opposition, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, could not bring himself to say anything positive—not a scintilla—about the European Union, an attitude that will not go unnoticed by centre-right Governments in Europe, particularly in France and in Germany.

Clearly, there was a welcome agreement on climate change that shows what can be done when we work together as Europeans. At long last there appears now to be closure to the institutional debate, yet the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, talked about the declining influence of this country. Does he not recall that in the years before 1997 we were surly, on the sidelines and isolated, wholly contrary to our own national interests? Is there a danger of that recurring unless the Official Opposition are willing to look objectively at how best we can pursue our national interests within the European Union? Are we going to have the latter-day Bourbons who have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing about that period, when it was so contrary to our national interest to be so isolated? Is there not a danger, if they were to be in the unwelcome position of succeeding in six months’ time, of not letting matters rest? There is also a danger of gestures for the benefit of the Europhobe Back-Benchers, which would again be wholly contrary to our national interest.

Yes, my Lords. We forget any aspect of our history at our peril. Like many noble Lords, I lived through the years when we were, in a way, outcasts in the European Union at meetings of the European Commission and at various Council meetings. We simply could not have our voice heard, because people did not respect us and because we would not listen to the arguments about the European Union. Like my noble friend I am deeply worried that, in withdrawing from the mainstream of the European right, the Conservatives would not be listened to or respected in the European Union. That would be to the detriment of all the people of this country.

My Lords, I declare an interest as someone who has served at least as long as any other Minister since 1972 on the Budget Council of the European Union. This afternoon’s exchanges have included those supporting the Front Bench opposite saying how well the Front Bench is doing and how poorly the leadership of the Opposition are doing. Why does the Leader of the House think that, at the moment, 67 per cent more people in the United Kingdom are proposing to vote for the Opposition rather than for the Government?

My Lords, I believe that we probably have six months or so before a general election, and I would not wish to prejudge the views and voices of the British people at that election. Like the noble Lord, I am acutely aware of what the polls say. Quite honestly, however, I do not think that we give enough space in this country to talking about European issues. Perhaps that is one lesson that we should all have learnt earlier.

My Lords, I do not want to get involved in the party political bickering that is going on this afternoon, but I have one question. We have heard throughout the weekend, and before the weekend, that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have been lobbying for Mr Blair to be made the president of the European Council, and they have been supporting that view by saying that what we want is a strong man who can stop the traffic in his motorcade. That puzzles me a little, because, of course, I took part in the debates on the Lisbon treaty. We had a big debate about this position, and we were assured by the Government that the position of president of the European Council was merely about presiding over the Council meetings. That was the assurance that we were given, and those of us who predicted that it would become a much bigger job than that were derided and scorned and told that we were talking nonsense. Now, which is it? Is he going to be a great man on the world stage, representing the EU? Or is he just going to be the president of the European Council who will preside over its meetings? I think we are entitled to know.

My Lords, the president of the European Council will certainly preside over meetings of the European Council, but it is also widely recognised that we need someone who is able to bring greater coherence and consistency to the actions of the EU and the European Council. I think that that is why we talk about the need for a strong man—someone who can drive forward greater progress on the global issues that we face, issues such as climate change, which we have been discussing today. No one is saying that the job will be a huge amount greater than perhaps the noble Lord was anticipating. As I say, however, I think that it is widely recognised that we need a strong man in the chair—I am sorry: a strong woman or a strong man—who is able to assist the European Union in taking forward its policies. I think that that is what the majority of people in this Chamber and the majority of people in this country would wish.

My Lords, does my noble friend share my puzzlement at the lack of interest regarding this important Statement on the opposition Benches—with one noble, albeit eccentric, exception—particularly given that the Liberal Democrats pretend to have a huge interest in Europe and its development? Perhaps they believe that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has said everything that has to be said.

Following the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, does my noble friend not agree that we are at a crucial crossroads regarding the future of Europe? Those like the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and those on the Conservative Front Bench, who want to see an ineffective Europe playing second fiddle on the world stage, would perhaps opt for someone like a former Prime Minister of Luxembourg—or even a current Prime Minister of Luxembourg—as president of the European Council. However, those who believe that Europe must play an important part in the world, standing up and speaking with a strong voice to China, to the United States of America, to Russia, and to all the other powers in the world, think that we need someone with strength, ability and experience, regardless of whether it is a man or a woman. However, there is one ideal candidate. I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who I represented for 26 years in the other place: there is one person who, if there were to be a popular election, would actually get elected as the president of the Council of Europe. That person is Tony Blair.

My Lords, I like to think that there have not been many participants from the opposition Benches because everyone agrees that this is an excellent Statement and that the outcome of the Council was absolutely as good as it should have been. As for the president of the Council, I agree that Europe is at a crossroads—but it always seems to be at a crossroads. However, these are critical times globally, so they are critical for the European Union. We need a person of strength, ability and experience. If the treaty is ratified and if Mr Blair were to put forward his name, of course he would be an excellent candidate. But there are two ifs. Let us wait until the treaty is ratified and we have seen the list of those who have put forward their names as candidates.

My Lords, is it not rather sad that, apart from the three Front Benches and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, the only comments that we have heard on this issue from the government Back Benches have been snide remarks about the opposition parties? Is this not rather similar to what some of us knew down the corridor when new Members came into the other place parroting the latest publicity documents from their party headquarters, typified this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, who appears not to know the difference between the Council of Europe and the Council of Ministers of the European Union?

My Lords, it is not for me to comment on what happens in the other place, but I will reflect on the comments that have been made from the Benches behind me. I think that my noble friends’ concern is that the Opposition’s policy on the European Union does not do justice to the needs of the people of this country. I think that that is what they have been wishing to express.

My Lords, after listening to the contributions so far, I am beginning to wonder how many noble Lords have actually read or remembered what was in the Lisbon treaty itself. Does the Leader of the House agree that there is a danger that those who support a particular candidate might be trying to create the perception of a job to suit a person rather than looking for a person to fill the job described in the Lisbon treaty? We must be very careful about that. My own perception of the job is tending not to the minimalist view but certainly to the smaller view—which is that it is chairman of the Council. However, I would disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, when he says that that is the only function of the job. The treaty makes it perfectly clear that that man or that woman will need to drive forward the agenda. However, in driving forward the agenda the chairman can do only what the Council wants him to do. Let us not try to erect a huge, great job out of what is clearly intended in the Lisbon treaty to be a facilitating job to make sure that the agenda of the Council is properly set, that the business of the Council is properly dispatched and that what is decided is implemented. That is what it is all about.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for bringing us back to the realities of the Lisbon treaty. We are at a crossroads, as another noble friend said earlier. It is possible that the Lisbon treaty will be ratified this week. I hope that that will ensure that, for the foreseeable future, we will not be talking about all these institutional issues. When we have a president and high representative in place, and a new Commission, I hope that we can move forward and that the European Union can address itself to the issues that concern the people of this country and can be a strong force for good in the world.

My Lords, does the Leader of the House agree that, in a House that prides itself on being different from the other place—playing a different role in a different way—the regular repetition of Statements made in the other place leads to scenes that make us much more like the other place than we want to be; and that this is something that we ought to discuss in relation to how the House conducts its business?

My Lords, I have a deal of sympathy with the noble Lord when it comes to Statements. Perhaps it would be useful for the Procedure Committee, the usual channels or the most appropriate body to consider the matter in the not-too-distant future. A significant time is spent on Statements that some noble Lords might think is not always necessary. That is something that we will take forward.