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European Council, Stockholm

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:50 pm on 26th March 2001.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat 3:50 pm, 26th March 2001

My Lords, I also thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made in another place and giving this House an opportunity to ask questions about the outcome of the summit. First, from these Benches I repeat our sorrow at the unexpected and sudden death of Lord Cocks who could be regarded as a monument to freedom of expression. In this House he never spoke without believing deeply in what he said. He was never concerned to be in fashion or simply to repeat conventional opinions. We shall miss his exciting, imaginative and often quite unexpected interventions in our affairs.

I turn to the summit and ask the noble Baroness about foot and mouth disease. Is the Leader of the House able to say anything more about how far we are trying to follow the experience of other European countries which have adopted vaccination rather than slaughter as their major effort to deal with the disease? In particular, how far are we monitoring what Holland is doing, and what the Republic of Ireland plans to do, in this respect?

I turn specifically to the outcome of the Stockholm summit. I congratulate the Government on the steps forward they have taken on employment policy, particularly in relation to discrimination on the grounds of age and disability. We believe that to be a useful contribution to the work of the European Union. We also congratulate the noble Baroness on the liberalisation of financial services. In that context, can she tell the House the extent of progress in resolving the dispute with the European Parliament given that, as I understand it, the Parliament insists upon a securities committee and greater transparency and many European banks are used for money-laundering as a result of organised crime and, in some cases, the deposit of looted state funds from developing world countries? Can the noble Baroness tell us more about the attitude of Her Majesty's Government to the European Parliament's emphasis on transparency in this field?

We on these Benches believe that the proposed unified system of air traffic control is a very useful step forward. However, will safety be considered in addition to the importance of liberalisation of the market, given discussion in this country on changes in air traffic control? Can the noble Baroness also say whether intensive negotiations will start on the issue of Gibraltar airport? As I understand it, that matter is holding up any further move towards integration of air traffic control which, as the Statement says, would clearly be of immense benefit to millions of passengers within Europe.

As to energy markets, there is perhaps some ambivalence in the response of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. Clearly, the differences in energy markets stem from countries which cling to their national vetoes regardless of the greater benefit to the European Union. Perhaps I may suggest politely that one cannot really have it both ways. On the one hand, one cannot insist on the separateness of all the member states with each wielding the veto in every possible situation, and, on the other hand, condemn them because they take such a position. It seems to me that Stockholm shows the independent national positions of member states as clearly as any drive towards integration.

In that context, perhaps I may ask the Leader of the House about discussions with regard to Macedonia. Almost nothing could exemplify more clearly the necessity of the move towards a rapid reaction force and a common foreign policy within the borders of Europe. It beggars description to consider what would happen if there was no European reaction to these events, and I commend the Government on strengthening the border by placing 400 troops within the structures and enhancing our patrols.

The excellent move at the Stockholm summit to induce the legal Albanian authorities in Kosovo to condemn terrorist activity by other Albanians on the Macedonia/Kosovo border is an extremely important step forward. Can the noble Baroness say whether the legal authorities will now try to make representations to those who lead the guerrilla activities to cease them immediately? Such action endangers the whole position of the Kosovo Albanians themselves.

Finally, can the noble Baroness tell us something about the common letter, as I understand it, from Romano Prodi and Commissioner Christopher Patten with regard to consideration by the United States of withdrawing from the commitments of the Kyoto summit? Did the leaders at the Stockholm summit make it plain that they wanted to appeal to the United States to reconsider that extremely far-reaching and very disturbing decision, given the growing evidence about global warming and the extreme dangers of a leading, powerful and influential country deciding to take no further steps to try to deal with that critical position?