My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on last week’s European Council and comment on today’s review by the Cabinet Secretary of the papers relating to the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, which was published at 1 pm today.
Taking the Council first, three issues were discussed: first, the continuing efforts to tackle instability in the eurozone; secondly, the role of energy and innovation in delivering a comprehensive growth strategy for the European Union; and, thirdly, the situation in Egypt.
Let me take each in turn. First, eurozone members are quite rightly looking at ways to resolve some of the underlying problems of the euro crisis, including by strengthening economic co-ordination arrangements. My job is to protect and promote Britain’s interests. As I have said before, it is in our interests that the eurozone sorts out its problems. A strong and stable eurozone is in Britain’s interests.
But in my view there are three absolute essentials for Britain. First, we should keep out of the euro. Secondly, we must make sure that we are not dragged into a new mechanism for bailing out the eurozone in future—and, as I described from the last Council, we have achieved that. Thirdly, and most complex, while we should not prevent eurozone countries from coming together to deal with the problems that they face, we must make sure that this does not compromise the single market, which is an important British success story in Europe and remains one of our key interests.
There is a danger here, which is that in developing stronger co-ordination eurozone countries start affecting things that are more properly part of the single market of all EU members. I made sure that this point was recognised at the Council and secured specific assurances to protect the single market. As the statement by eurozone countries, which we all debated, makes clear:
‘Building on the new economic governance framework, Heads of State or government will take further steps to achieve a new quality of economic policy coordination in the euro area to improve competitiveness, thereby leading to a higher degree of convergence, without undermining the single market’.
The next issue is energy policy. Extending the single market to energy has been a long-held objective of recent Governments of all parties. Achieving this could add up to 0.8 per cent of European GDP and mean another 5 million jobs across Europe by 2020. Also, if we make a 20 per cent improvement on energy efficiency by 2020, that could significantly reduce the pressure on household bills. A single market in energy is good for jobs, competition and energy security, so practical co-operation with the rest of Europe on this is firmly in our national interest.
The Council agreed that,
‘the EU needs a fully functioning, interconnected and integrated internal energy market’,
‘the internal market in energy should be completed by 2014’.
We also agreed that,
‘major efforts are needed to modernise and expand Europe’s energy infrastructure and to interconnect networks across borders’.
This is something that Britain strongly supports, not least as we plan for the North Sea offshore supergrid.
The conclusions on innovation are also completely in line with what Britain supports and has been trying to achieve. Innovation and energy policy are part of the growth strategy being developed in Europe and we will publish our own proposals before the next European Council, which will specifically be discussing that subject.
Next, let me turn to Egypt. I was determined that the Council would not produce one of its heavily caveated and unclear statements and I believe that the declaration has a number of very positive aspects. The first is that the Egyptian authorities should,
‘meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people with political reform not repression’.
Secondly, it is clear that transition is needed to broad-based democratic government. The statement is emphatic that,
‘this transition should start now’.
The European Council was clear that this has to involve the building blocks of free and open societies and democratic institutions, such as freedom of assembly, the rule of law, freedom of speech and free and fair elections.
There is a strong case—and the statement reflects this—that the EU needs to look hard at its role in the region. We have spent billions of taxpayers’ money in Egypt and neighbouring countries, with carefully crafted association agreements and action plans offering funds, access to our markets and other assistance in exchange for progress on the rule of law, democracy and human rights, but in Egypt there has been little or no progress on torture, the judiciary, democracy or ending a 30 year- old state of emergency. It is time for Europe to take a more hard-headed approach, where the conditions on which we give money are real and insisted on. I reaffirmed this message in a call with Vice-President Suleiman this afternoon and I urged him to take bold and credible steps to show that the transition that they are talking about is irreversible, urgent and real.
Finally, let me say a word about the release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, and the report that has been released today by the Cabinet Secretary. I have not altered my view, which I expressed at the time, that releasing Mr Megrahi was a very bad decision. He was convicted of the biggest mass murder in British history and in my view he should have died in jail. It was a bad decision and the previous Government should have condemned it rather than going along with it.
I commissioned this report during my visit to Washington last July. At the time, there was renewed controversy around the decision, with a congressional inquiry into it and calls for a UK inquiry, and concerns were being put forward, quite forcefully, in America that the whole release may have come about as a result of pressure by BP on the British Government to pressure the Scottish Government to make that happen.
I do not believe that that is true and this report shows that it is not true. It was a decision taken by the Scottish Government—the wrong decision, but their decision nevertheless. But in view of the continuing speculation in the UK and the US, I thought it right that all the British government paperwork should be re-examined to assess whether more should be published and I asked the Cabinet Secretary to do just that.
That is what Sir Gus O’Donnell has now done. In order to address the concerns that were being expressed, he was asked to look at three specific areas: first, whether there was any new evidence that the British Government directly or indirectly pressured or lobbied the Scottish Government for the release of Megrahi; secondly, whether there was pressure placed on the Scottish Government by BP for the release of Mr Megrahi; and, thirdly, whether the Libyans were told that there were linkages between BP’s investment and the release of Megrahi either under the prisoner transfer agreement or on compassionate grounds.
The report and all the paperwork, running to 140 pages, have been placed in the Library of the House. All decisions on the declassification and publication of papers belonging to the previous Administration were of course taken independently by the Cabinet Secretary. Under the convention covering papers of a previous Administration, he has consulted as appropriate former Ministers and the former Prime Minister. Sir Gus was assisted by the former Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, to provide an independent validation. He saw all paperwork, redacted and unredacted. His job was to advise the Cabinet Secretary whether his report and the documents now being published are consistent with all the materials that were reviewed. He was also tasked with determining whether this is a fair and accurate account of events. This he has done. He is content on both counts.
The Cabinet Secretary concludes that it is clear from the paperwork that the former Government were clear that any decision on Mr Megrahi’s release or transfer under the prisoner transfer agreement was one for the Scottish Government alone to take. He finds that none of the materials that he reviewed contradicts anything contained in the former Foreign Secretary’s Statement to the House in October 2009. He makes the same finding with respect to the current Foreign Secretary’s letter to Senator Kerry in July last year and with regard to statements made by the former Prime Minister on this matter. He notes that it is evident that the Libyans made explicit links between progress on UK commercial interests in Libya and removal of any clause on the prisoner transfer agreement whose effect would be to exclude Megrahi from it. He notes that, after Megrahi had been diagnosed with terminal cancer in September 2008, the then Government’s policy was based on an assessment that UK interests would be damaged if Megrahi were to die in a UK jail.
The Cabinet Secretary finds—this is a key point—that,
‘policy was therefore developed that the Government should do all it could’,
while respecting devolved competences,
‘to facilitate an appeal by the Libyans to the Scottish Government for Megrahi’s transfer under the PTA or release on compassionate grounds’,
as the best outcome for managing the risks faced by the UK.
One of the Foreign Office papers released today makes it plain that,
‘facilitating direct contact between the Libyans and the Scottish Executive is a key part of our game plan on Megrahi’.
Another Foreign Office paper from January 2009 states:
‘We now need to go further and work actively but discreetly to ensure that Megrahi is transferred back to Libya under the PTA or failing that released on compassionate grounds’.
Frankly, this tells us something that was not made clear at the time. It goes further than the account that the former Prime Minister and the former Foreign Secretary gave. We were not told about facilitating an appeal, about facilitating contact or game plans. Indeed the Cabinet Secretary’s report states:
‘Policy was therefore progressively developed that HMG should do all it could, whilst respecting devolved competences, to facilitate an appeal by the Libyans to the Scottish Government for Mr Megrahi’s transfer under the PTA or release on compassionate grounds as the best outcome for managing the risks faced by the UK’.
Honourable Members will be able to study the paperwork and consider these issues for themselves. However, I do not believe that these papers justify calls for a new inquiry. What they provide is further evidence that this was a flawed decision by the Scottish Executive—which we knew already—and they point to some broader lessons from this affair. It is clear from these papers that the previous Government badly underestimated and in fact failed seriously even to consider, except as an issue to be managed, the reaction in both Britain and the United States to the release of Mr Megrahi—above all among many of the families who lost loved ones.
The key point to me that emerges from reading the paperwork is that consideration was given to the most basic question of all: was it really right for the British Government to ‘facilitate’ an appeal by the Libyans to the Scottish Government in the case of an individual who was convicted of murdering 270 people, including 43 British citizens and 190 Americans, and 19 other nationalities? That is, for me, the biggest lesson of this entire affair.
For my part, I repeat: I believe that it was profoundly wrong. The fact that 18 months later the Lockerbie bomber is today living at liberty in Tripoli only serves to underline that.
Mr Speaker, I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement given in another place earlier today by the Prime Minister.
I start with the conclusions of the European Council on Egypt. The Egyptian people continue to show enormous courage and great steadfastness in their desire for fundamental and lasting change in their country. We support the call for a clear and transparent path towards transition as soon as possible. I also join the Government and leaders of the European Union in condemning any attacks on peaceful demonstrators and urge the authorities to allow the people of Egypt to continue to exercise their right to free and peaceful protest in their own country.
We also welcome the European Council’s condemnation of attempts to restrict the free flow of information through the blocking of e-mail and the internet, as well as the intimidation of those who are endeavouring to defend human rights and of journalists. I am sure that many of us regret the blocking of the broadcasting by Al-Jazeera and the blocking of its ability to broadcast what was going on. Many of us often disagree with Al-Jazeera; it has none the less played a significant role in opening up freedom of the press in the Middle East.
The process of transition is undoubtedly under way in Egypt. It must be guided first and foremost by the people of Egypt. We in Britain must also be prepared to stand up and speak out against any techniques that are deployed in that country which amount to the repression that has been used in recent months.
Can the Minister update the House on the Government’s views about the talks involving Vice-President Omar Suleiman and the opposition parties, and whether the Government believe that these may lay the ground for a transition? We knew at the weekend —I am sure that the Minister, as did I and many others, received reports coming directly out of Egypt—that many in the opposition parties were willing to talk, but that the Muslim Brotherhood expressed a great reticence to do so, at least initially; they have been engaged latterly. Omar Suleiman has a good reputation, not just in Egypt but throughout the region, and with many of his interlocutors in this country and, indeed, in the United States. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some reassurance that he will be able to lead these discussions in a way that leads towards a fruitful conclusion.
Can the Minister also offer us the latest thinking of the European Union and its allies on the difficult issue that may now pertain around the role of President Mubarak during this transition? I recognise that this is a very sensitive point, but we all know that opinion is enormously divided in Egypt over what should now happen to President Mubarak. This is not a straightforward point that the western powers can dictate. There is an enormously difficult point about reaching a settlement which will run in a way that will have some real resonance and lasting ability to command the central ground in Egypt.
On the nature of the transition, do the Government agree that any transition has to include not just the provision of free and fair elections, but also the building up of democratic structures? I am thinking in particular of an independent judiciary, diverse political parties, and a free press. Democracy is not just about elections—although of course elections are an essential prerequisite —but it is important that the structures of the rule of law and respect for human rights are also part of the mix of what we consider to be a democratic state.
Can the Minister also update the House on the steps the Government have taken to ensure the safety of British nationals in Egypt during the current turbulence? Is the Minister satisfied that all British nationals wishing to leave Egypt have been contacted and have been facilitated in this respect? Can I also, on behalf of the Labour Benches, thank all our staff in the embassy in Cairo—our enormously able, outstanding ambassador, Dominic Asquith, and the diplomatic team that he leads?
Perhaps I may turn to the other matters discussed in the European Council last Friday. On energy policy, we welcome the Council’s conclusions on the internal marketing of gas, electricity and the North Sea grid. We also welcome the Council’s plans for the improvement of Europe’s energy infrastructure, and the routes for energy across the globe, which in many ways were so disrupted during the dispute between Russia and Ukraine in 2008. This is a very important matter. We have touched upon it in recent debates in your Lordships’ House and I am sure that the Minister will wish to expand on his remarks on that.
May I also ask the Minister two questions about how our policy at home relates to the discussions in Europe? First, we note the Council’s conclusions on the importance of renewable energy. Will the Minister update the House on the implementation of the renewable heat incentive, which is a crucial part of Britain’s energy strategy? The incentive was due to come into force in April this year, but it has now been delayed. Is the Minister now in a position to tell us when it will be introduced, and, if he is not, perhaps he will be kind enough to write to me about that afterwards?
Secondly, on the financing of energy investment, which the Council rightly flags up as an important challenge, can I ask the Minister to update the House on the green investment bank? The Government committed themselves to build on our plans when we were in government. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government now plan it to be a fully fledged bank, as many have argued?
On the wider economy, I welcome the Council’s conclusions, but I note that the conclusions on the summit are that,
“the overall economic outlook is improving”.
I fear that for many families and young people in the United Kingdom, it really does not feel quite like that at the moment. Will the Minister tell the House whether the Prime Minister shared with the members of the Council the recent experience of the United Kingdom and whether he went so far as to warn his colleagues that cutting budget deficits too far and too fast can have damaging effects on growth and on employment? It is a serious point—it is the point of real difference between us in this House.
I turn to end with the case of Mr Megrahi. The Lockerbie bombing, as we all acknowledge, was a terrible atrocity. It destroyed hundreds of innocent lives and it scarred the lives of many families. When I was first a Minister, I remember so vividly meeting with the Lockerbie families and discussing with them what could be done to try to bring those responsible to justice. It was a humbling experience. Those families were not seeking revenge. They were seeking justice. Many of them had a breadth of vision over what they wanted to happen, which did them enormous credit and which I have always remembered.
The Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, has researched and written a serious and thorough report into the papers relating to Mr Megrahi’s release. There are three significant conclusions to Sir Gus’s report which pertain to Mr Megrahi’s case. First, the United Kingdom Government were worried about the impact on British interests of Mr Megrahi dying in jail, precisely as the former Foreign Secretary said in his Statement to the other place on 12 October 2009. Secondly, the report makes it clear that there is no evidence that,
“UK interests played a part in Mr Megrahi’s release by the Scottish Government on compassionate grounds”.
That is an enormously important point and one which I make no apology for stressing in making my reply to the Statement. Indeed, Sir Gus concludes that the former Government went to great efforts not to communicate to the Scottish Government their view. I think that that point might have been stressed a little more in the Prime Minister’s Statement. Thirdly, Mr Megrahi’s release on compassionate grounds was a decision that Scottish Ministers alone could and did make.
Those are the fundamental points, not perhaps the extraneous matters of which the Prime Minister spoke so eloquently in another place. That is because the message of today’s report is that Mr Megrahi’s release was not influenced by the then UK Government. It is a crucial point for us in this country, and I hope that when the Minister replies to the points I am making, he will acknowledge that as a central fact.
On the question of what Parliament was told, can the Minister confirm that the Cabinet Secretary concludes that,
“none of the materials that I have reviewed contradicts anything in the then Foreign Secretary’s Statement … or statements made by the former Prime Minister on this matter”?
The Statement talks about the broader issues, but I am bound to say that on this it misses the central point, the one that matters above everything else, and that is that the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 must live in the memory of this country and the United States as a dreadful atrocity. It was the duty of the Labour Government and now it is the duty of the coalition Government to take every step they can to ensure that this never happens again. That is the central point we should concentrate upon.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness and I will try to answer as many of her questions as I can, given the obvious time constraints. What she has to say is highly relevant and I hope that I can cover her remarks in detail. First, I am grateful for her support for the broad approach both of Her Majesty’s Government and of what was agreed at the European Council—that an orderly transition is the right posture and that we insist on the right of the freedom to protest. We are concerned, as we would be in any political evolution in any society—this is a global age—about anything which restricts e-mail, blocks the media or undermines the position of journalists to go freely about their tasks in a way consistent with liberty and freedom. We are at one and there is nothing to debate in that because clearly it is the right way forward.
On the new talks, the noble Baroness will appreciate that things are moving all the time and that the process, chaired by Omar Suleiman and including the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, has only just begun. She asked whether they will lay the ground for progress. I hope so, and we think that this is the right way forward, but we are watching from outside and obviously these matters must be dominated and controlled by the people of Egypt themselves as they work out their new political destiny.
I would have to give the noble Baroness the same answer to her question about the position of President Mubarak. This is a matter for the people of Egypt to sort out in ways that we hope will be consistent with the core principles that she has enunciated and I have agreed with. However, it must be for the Egyptian people to decide. There is quite a broad point to be made about the danger in the west, and perhaps with our transatlantic allies as well, of assuming that western values and templates are going to shape the pattern of events in Egypt and elsewhere in the region. That is not necessarily so. Those ideas might have been relevant during the 20th century, but in the 21st century we are dealing with a new landscape where there is both a dispersal and a new distribution in the transfer of power and influence to other forces, not least the gigantic forces of the internet, the mobile telephone, mass television and instant communications enabling protests to be e-enabled and rapidly organised. This is a different scene and it seems that not every policy maker in the west has fully understood that.
She asked whether we can help with the creation of democratic structures. We do help through our programmes and those of our fellow EU members, both through the UN and directly. They assist with helping democratic patterns and attitudes to grow, but there is always a problem. Just as someone said that you cannot create a tree because it must grow, so you cannot create and build a democracy out of nothing. As the noble Baroness very acutely observed, it is about a lot more than elections, voting and ballot boxes, and it is indeed more than about concerns for human rights and the rule of law. It is about the idea of those who have power or authority using them with restraint. In the language of Edmund Burke, if I may quote him given my own party antecedents, I think he said that there is a policeman, or a policewoman I should say, in each one of us. If there is that inner restraint within individuals, there will be democracy. If that restraint is not there, democracy can become warped and produce quite the opposite result, as has certainly been the case many times in the tragic history of the 20th century.
The noble Baroness went on to ask about travel advice, so let me give her the latest information as I understand it from my brief. We are currently recommending that British nationals in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez leave by commercial means if it is safe to do so. We advise against non-essential travel to Luxor. We are keeping a close eye on the Sharm el-Sheikh situation, where the majority of British nationals are, and we continue to judge that the situation in the Red Sea resorts remains calm and peaceful. Further, as I was able to tell your Lordships the other day, we have very substantially reinforced our embassy team on the ground, and since 29 January we have helped more than 2,000 British nationals to leave Egypt. We also have a hotline for distressed nationals to call for advice and we have chartered two planes to provide additional capacity. That is the latest travel advice, and I would be happy to try to elaborate on it. However, it seems to be fairly straightforward at the moment.
I turn now to the other questions raised by the noble Baroness about Europe. She asked whether we support the need for energy infrastructure, and I can say that we most certainly do. It is fundamental that if there is going to be a competitive energy market in Europe, it must be possible for energy in the form of piped gas and interconnected electricity to move east, west, north and south in the continental European system, to part of which we are actually attached. That must be possible without regulations and controls at every border and it requires the pipeline and electricity cable infrastructure to do it. However, it is not yet in place, so we have seen the extraordinary pattern of gas shortages in one part of Europe while another part has ample supplies. It means that reliance on monopoly suppliers further east—namely, from our Russian friends—is unnecessarily great. None of that points to the kind of balance we need, so we say yes to the infrastructure.
As for the renewable energy commitments, I can give the noble Baroness some, but not all, of the information she asked for. The green investment bank allocation of £1 billion from departmental budgets and the significant asset sales are proceeding. We are pushing for the EU to demonstrate leadership in tackling international climate change, including by supporting an increase in the EU emissions reduction target from 20 per cent to 30 per cent by 2012. As we know, that has not yet been accepted by all European countries or industries, but we believe that that is the right way forward. I have a lot of other details in my brief that were covered by the Prime Minister and his colleagues at the European Council, which I shall gladly discuss with the noble Baroness at any time she wishes.
Her final remarks were on the eternal economic debate, and the pace at which one seeks to cut deficits. All I would say is that the overwhelming view of the rest of the European Council was that of support for the British strategy. The point was made again and again by a number of leading authorities throughout Europe that this is the right way forward, and the point was also made that it is the confidence of the international markets and the necessary confidence in our international credit which are the absolutely vital aims. Once those are weakened, the real job destroyer would click in. That must be the prime aim and any deviation from that would be quite disastrous, in terms of jobs and human suffering in this country and weakness in our economic recovery, as my right honourable friend the Chancellor has also made vividly clear on many occasions.
Finally, on the difficult issue of Mr Megrahi and the Cabinet Secretary’s report, the noble Baroness asked me to acknowledge certain points which I gladly do. I reiterate that the report makes absolutely clear that there was no conspiracy between BP, the British Government and Scottish Government, as some people allege. That is made absolutely clear. There is no contradiction in the report with anything said by the former Foreign Secretary or by the former Prime Minister. That is also clear.
Nevertheless, the comments remain, to which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister called attention in the other place, that the policy was being developed to,
“facilitate an appeal by the Libyans to the Scottish government for Mr Megrahi's transfer under the [prisoner transfer agreement] or for release on compassionate grounds”.
There was the paper from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office saying that,
“we now need to go further and work actively but discreetly to ensure that Megrahi is transferred back to Libya under the PTA or failing that released on compassionate grounds”.
My right honourable friend said that,
“this tells us something that was not made clear at the time”.
I think it is right for those who were involved to react and make clear their views as they wish. It seems that we now have to look back at what is for many people the most tragic and terrible situation with greatest sympathy but also look forward to better and wiser times in the hope that nothing so terrible, so appalling, will ever happen again. I hope that meets most of the noble Baroness’s questions.
My Lords, I apologise to the Minister for being a fraction late for his opening words. However, I read the whole of the Statement earlier today. I welcome the general thrust of the Statement as regards Egypt because it is a good deal firmer than anything we have previously had. I put to the noble Lord three brief questions.
First, what information have the Government received, if any, concerning the safety of Mr Wael Ghonim, a Google executive and also a leading protester? He is thought to have been arrested in Cairo. Are the Government making representations about extra-legal detentions, both of Egyptians and foreign journalists, together with allegations concerning disappearances of people in Egypt?
Secondly, would the Government favour a three-man presidential council, which would only include one military person, to supervise the transition? Finally, have the Government noted a possible serious conflict of interest over the United States’ special envoy and his business interests?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I will answer the first point in general terms. Of course we are concerned about all extra-legal detentions and even more about reports, which existed long before this revolutionary situation began, of torture and other illegal practices. Of course, we make constant representations through our posts on that. As to the specific individual to whom he referred, I will write to him about the very latest information we have on that.
Secondly, on the three-man presidential council, that is taking us deep into the kind of arrangements that it is up to the Egyptians to develop for themselves. As a student of history, the talks of three-man presidential councils coming out of revolutions has a slight tinge of 19 Brumaire 1798 and the first three consuls—of which Napoleon Bonaparte was one. We all know where that went. I think it is much better for us not to advise the Egyptians on these matters.
I shall have to ask the noble Lord to repeat the third point as I did not quite get it down.
I imagine the noble Lord is talking about Mr Frank Wisner. In the interests of diplomacy, I should be careful to avoid any specific notes except to say, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister did in another place, that the special envoy’s views on the internal matters of Egypt and the position of the President seemed to deviate slightly from those of the American Secretary of State. I think I can say no more than that on that particular issue.
My Lords, I am sure my noble friend will understand that the trauma and horror of the downing of the Pan Am flight was felt particularly strongly across the south of Scotland, where we all felt sympathy with the people in Lockerbie. For that reason, I will confine my questions to that issue.
He will recall, as he said a moment ago, that the previous Government told the public and the House of Commons that this was entirely a matter for the Scottish Government and that they were not putting pressure on them. That is true. Would he agree that Sir Gus O’Donnell has shown, as he quoted a moment ago, that policy was developed whereby the UK Government were doing everything short of telling the Scottish Government what they had to do to secure Mr Megrahi’s release and that we have to conclude that the Government were telling the truth but not the whole truth?
The other part, not mentioned in the prime ministerial Statement which the Minister repeated just now, is that Sir Gus O’Donnell’s report also tells us that the Scottish Government were raising other policy issues with the UK Government at the same time as dealing with that difficult and grubby issue. That had not come out before, either. Sir Gus’s report appears to cast some doubt on not the veracity—because lies were not told—but the straightforwardness of both the UK Government and Scottish Government at the time. In the words of the final sentence of a Scotsman leader this morning, “Something is being concealed”.
I do not want to move further than the words expressed by Sir Gus O’Donnell and the conclusions drawn by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. My right honourable friend said that the report indicates that while there is—to repeat the words of my noble friend—no doubt at all about the veracity of the statements made by senior members of the previous Government, it is clear that there was more to tell and that some pieces of the total picture were lacking. That is where my right honourable friend and the Government stand on this matter. It must be for all those who were involved at the time to establish what they believed to be the position. Indeed, some of these remarks were made with force and feeling by the people who were directly concerned when the matter was discussed in the other place earlier this afternoon. I am not going to go further than that.
My Lords, the Statement sets out a more hard-line approach in respect of assistance to Egypt. Was this co-ordinated in any way with the US? I am recalling that Condoleezza Rice said in Cairo in 2005 that the US would no longer give priority to stability over democracy. Is the implication that, had there not been a revolution in Egypt, we would still have continued to spend billions of taxpayers’ money in Egypt and neighbouring countries with no reciprocity in terms of progress on torture, the judiciary, democracy and so on? Secondly, it is of note that the Prime Minister spoke to Vice-President Suleiman. It is the Vice-President who is co-ordinating the discussions with a number of the opposition parties. Is there any implication that, as some are suggesting, the President himself is fading more into the background, leaving the lead to the Vice-President?
On the question of co-ordination with the United States, my honourable and right honourable friends, both in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and, obviously, in the Government as a whole, are in constant contact at all levels with United States officials. It would be naive, however, to stand at the Dispatch Box and pretend that these huge upheavals and events do not present to policy-makers and experts, no doubt in Washington and other capitals, something of a dilemma.
The pattern of the past produced a sort of stability, but it was the kind of stability that could be upset at every moment, as it was. The combustible materials were there; it was a question of when someone threw in a match. That is what happened in Cairo. That raises for the most balanced and clear-thinking people a dilemma as to whether the new pattern is going to improve on the old pattern or, indeed, where the new pattern will take us. We all know the adage about revolutions devouring their own children. They can turn into an opportunity to be seized for the good, as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary was rightly saying the other morning, or they can slide away in an unpredictable series of sequences, like the French Revolution, to which I referred earlier.
It is hard to answer the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, about how we and the Americans can be totally accurate in our predictions and the certainty of where to go. It is very difficult. We are monitoring and watching the situation very carefully, as are the Americans. We are reinforcing our concern in this nation and the American concern in their nation for liberty and freedom and the basic principles of civilised existence. We are hoping that these patterns will be reflected in whatever emerges in Egypt and, indeed, in other turbulent political scenes in the region. There is no guarantee or certainty, however, and this must be realistically and reasonably understood.
As for the pattern of power deployment inside Egypt and whether Omar Suleiman is now taking the reins, I do not think that I can comment beyond what we have all read in the newspapers. Mr Mubarak clearly wants to stay a few more months. He has appointed Omar Suleiman to take the lead in these negotiations. It is right that our leaders should contact him to understand as much as we can of how he sees the situation. This must be a dialogue that will, I hope, develop further in the future as we see what path these discussions take and what part the Muslim Brotherhood leadership and other political forces in Egypt play in them. This is really, for us, a matter to hope about rather than a matter in any way to interfere with. This is for Egypt to decide.
My Lords, I refer to the energy section of the Statement. I hesitate to ask my noble friend this question in light of the fact that we have shared views on energy policy over many decades. The Prime Minister’s Statement sets out that 5 million extra jobs will be created over the next nine years, by 2020, by virtue of this new energy policy. On what basis and by what calculation does the Prime Minister reach this figure, bearing in mind that even the communiqué issued by the European Council did not state how many extra jobs would be created? Can my noble friend also explain to me on what basis the Prime Minister has worked out that there will be a reduction in the pressure on household bills by virtue of the policy that he has set out this afternoon, bearing in mind that the European Council did not discuss the financial dimensions of this policy? Indeed, the European Council last weekend was not permitted to discuss the financial dimensions of this policy. Perhaps I can help him. There is a document, which was not tabled at the Council but is being circulated within the Commission, that shows that the cost of this policy over the next years is €1 trillion. I ask my noble friend: who is to pay the €1 trillion for the energy policy that the Prime Minister has set out today claiming that 5 million extra jobs will be created and that household bills for energy will go down?
I am grateful to my noble friend for a series of near-impossible questions. These estimates are inevitably estimates. They are based on what one hopes is an unfolding sequence of policy, which leads first—and one must recognise this—to the incentives for fossil-fuel energies to be replaced by more efficient use of those same energies so that eventually higher bills become lower bills, and, secondly, to the replacement of fossil fuels in a number of areas by non-fossil alternatives and renewables. At this moment, my noble friend says, “Ah, but that means all renewables are far more expensive than fossils fuels”. At this moment, pound for pound and kilowatt hour for kilowatt hour, he may be right, but how is this going to evolve in future? The world is concerned about the high-carbon situation now and its effect on climate. The world is aiming for a low-carbon, greener world, and this Government are determined to move along that path to greener, cleaner energy and greater energy efficiency. That will lead in due course not to higher bills but to lower bills. I emphasise “in due course” because in the mean time, as he probably knows from receiving his monthly or quarterly energy bills, all our energy bills are looking a bit more expensive. We have to look through the present situation to a longer term where we can see new products and new patterns developing to support a low-carbon, secure, affordable energy pattern that would benefit not merely Europe and our own country but also the developing world, which, of course, has an enormous thirst for abundant but cheap and affordable energy.
My Lords, because of the shortage of time, I shall ask two brief questions. One relates to corporation tax. It is widely reported in both the United Kingdom press and the southern Irish press today that both President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel have recommended a standard rate of corporation tax. Was that proposal to apply to eurozone countries only or to all member nations of the European Union? Was the principle of a common corporation tax agreed or opposed by the United Kingdom?
My second question relates to Egypt. If you watch Al-Jazeera television or Press TV, you will see increasingly that the European Union and the United States are coming out of this problem very badly indeed. For example, when you see that the United States provided tear gas canisters to the Egyptian police to fire on the demonstrators, that is very bad publicity. In fact, the United States seems to be in total disarray about what to do about Egypt, and the European Union is not very clear either, even in the Statement repeated this afternoon. We now know that both Germany and France have stopped all further sale of firearms to Egypt. Has the United Kingdom stopped the sale of firearms and, if not, why not?
I believe that we are no longer selling firearms or weapons of any kind to Egypt, but I would certainly have to double and treble check that in every aspect, because—who knows?—there may be some channels where that is not absolutely secure.
On the second part of the noble Lord’s question, I think that his words are a shade impetuous, if I may say so. We are watching a very rapidly changing pattern—a wind of change, as some have said, blowing through the whole of this area. None of us knows what will happen. Anyone who claimed that they knew exactly what would happen next or what pattern would be involved inside Egypt, Tunis and other areas, including Yemen, would be putting forward a false prospectus and making claims about which they could not be certain. There are doubts and debates in Washington policy circles; we can see that—it is perfectly obvious, as I have said to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. In the European Union countries there are the same concerns. We want to see a balanced democratic pattern emerge in these countries; we want to see prosperity, stability and an orderly transition. Who can lay down exactly what the path should be—which leaders should stay in authority, which should hold or surrender power or how it should be done? We pray and hope that it is done with minimum bloodshed and maximum concern for individual freedom and democracy and all the things that we value.
In the noble Lord’s first question, I think that he is referring to the much commented-on Franco-German competitiveness pact, which does not seem to be very widely supported by other EU members. Certainly, the idea of a single pattern of corporation tax or some of the other suggestions, such as harmonisation of detailed aspects of labour markets and wages, did not go down at all well at the European Council meeting.
I thank the Minister for reading out the Statement. On the Libyan aspect of the Statement, I declare an interest as having been a member of the parliamentary delegation for Libyan and Northern Ireland reconciliation, led by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, who is in his place. One thing that emerges very clearly from the Cabinet Office report today is that the Libyan Ministers to whom we spoke knew more about recent UK policy on this matter than those of us who were on that delegation. As long as the noble Lord is a Minister in the Foreign Office, will he ensure that those who go as part of future parliamentary delegations to Libya know the full background of recent UK policy to the country that we are dealing with? Otherwise, one is at a disadvantage.
One interesting thing raised by the Cabinet Secretary at the beginning of the document is the issue about anticipating American reaction. This is quite a remarkable thing; after all, it was not hard to calculate that the United States’ reaction to the release of Mr Megrahi would be hostile. There is an argument, as the Prime Minister explicitly stated, that the last Government got it wrong, but at the heart of the report we read that our embassy in Washington said that there would be a hostile US reaction. In the same part of the report, there is also a suggestion that perhaps the State Department was not making its position fully clear. Can the Minister throw some light on an absolutely remarkable piece of British history—a failure to calculate something that was so predictable, which was the United States’ reaction to this release? The evidence in the report seems conflicted to some degree. It is such a striking thing that I wonder whether the Minister has any comment on it.
To be brief, because time is out, of course I will ensure that my colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office make every effort, as they always do, to provide the best possible up-to-date briefing. Sometimes matters are moving so fast that it is hard to be absolutely up to date and sometimes when one is on a delegation in another country—and I have led many in the past, as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place—one finds the local view and perspective seemingly different, even with a conflict of facts. We will do our best.
As to the US reaction to the release of Mr Megrahi, I think that it was generally realised that this would be greeted with great concern by the United States; everyone was fully aware of that. Many people thought, probably not just as a result of that, but for other reasons, too, that it was wrong to release Megrahi—those many included my right honourable friend the Prime Minister—but we have our own views in this country. I am not saying that in this case the decision was right—I think that it was wrong—but we are entitled to develop our own world perspective and our own views on how the new landscape is changing, as well as to remain very close to our allies and friends in Washington while being in a relationship that, to quote my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, is “solid but not slavish”.