European Council and Libya

– in the House of Lords at 4:23 pm on 29th March 2004.

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Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office) 4:23 pm, 29th March 2004

My Lords, with permission, 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 shall make a Statement about the European Council which I attended in Brussels on 25 and 26 March. I should like to pay tribute to the excellent organisation and chairmanship of the Irish presidency and of the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, in particular.

"We met in the aftermath of the bomb attacks in Spain. We expressed our sympathy and solidarity with the Government and people of Spain. Co-operation in the fight against terrorism in Europe was stepped up after September 11 with the establishment of joint investigation teams, the freezing of terrorists' assets, the establishment of the European arrest warrant and a number of measures of co-operation with the United States and other countries. But we recognise that not nearly enough has been done especially on implementation of agreements, the provision of information to Europol and co-operation with third countries.

"At this European Council we have set deadlines for the implementation of EU measures. We set out further measures on counter-terrorist legislation in all member states, confiscation of crime-related proceeds, creating a comprehensive database of forensic material, strengthening border controls, better intelligence sharing, transport security and a number of other matters listed in the text that we adopted at the Council. We have appointed a single person to co-ordinate the Union's work in this area and are establishing a new counter-terrorism intelligence assessment cell, so that we will have the means of assessing intelligence, combined with effective police co-operation through Europol and co-operation among prosecuting authorities via Eurojust.

"I briefed my colleagues in the European Council on my visit earlier, on 25 March, to Libya. I made clear to Colonel Gaddafi our support for Libya's decision to abandon voluntarily its WMD programmes, and our welcome for the full and transparent co-operation which Libya had subsequently given.

"Libya's actions in the past have caused grief and pain to many individuals and families, which we cannot forget. I raised Lockerbie and WPC Fletcher with Colonel Gaddafi, stressing the importance of the forthcoming visit to Libya by the Metropolitan Police team investigating WPC Fletcher's murder. We shall stay in close touch with the families in both cases. But if change in Libya is real, we should support it. It is the beginning of a process and we should take it step by step. But I believe that a Libya free of WMD and with no links to terrorism is overwhelmingly in our interest and that it is right to pursue this dialogue, and we will.

"What has happened over the last few weeks has reinforced the determination of all member Governments in Europe to equip a Union of 25 member states to be able to operate efficiently and effectively. As honourable Members will see from the conclusions, the Council took substantive decisions on growth, employment, research and development and on how to equip our citizens with the education, training and access to lifelong learning which are vital if Europe is to maintain its competitive edge.

"But it is already clear that in a Europe of 25 and then of 28, decision-making cannot remain as it is. The result would be paralysis of Europe and an inability to make progress in vital areas of co-operation that are emphatically in the British national interest. We need to be better able to set priorities, pass simpler laws, and have a completely different system for the day-to-day running of the European Union. That includes governments setting the strategic direction in the European Council with a full-time chairman of the Council, chosen by governments, to take forward their programme.

"In almost every field—job creation, sustainable development, the environment and the fight against terrorism, illegal immigration and organised crime—we need to work together as one in the European Union. That is what the constitutional treaty is about, and we shall seek to negotiate it to a successful conclusion under the Irish presidency. Britain will ensure that we keep control over our tax and social security systems, over the future of the UK abatement, over our own criminal justice system and over defence and foreign policy, as we have said we would. Provided that we do so, this treaty is right for Europe and right for Britain because, in today's world, particularly after the events of recent months, Europe needs to work more effectively to protect and enhance the lives of our people.

"The European Council gave its continued strong support to the efforts of the UN Secretary-General to bring about a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem. This is a historic opportunity to end the long division of the island and we urge all the parties to seize it.

"The European Council welcomed the recent positive political developments in Iraq and the UN Secretary-General's acceptance of the Iraqi Governing Council's invitation to help. It condemned, however, the recent terrorist attacks in Iraq, which have had as their aim maximising civilian casualties. The European Council also expressed grave concern over the situation in the Middle East.

"The European Council strongly condemned the recent ethnically motivated violence in Kosovo. All leaders locally must now take responsibility for the situation to ensure there is no repetition.

"By negotiating within the European Union we have succeeded in establishing common policies to deal with terrorism, crime and illegal immigration. We are taking forward a programme of economic reform, long overdue. We have a common European stance to deal with the challenge of climate change. Last year in the context of the WTO negotiations we achieved the biggest ever reform of the common agricultural policy; not enough but a substantial step forward. We are developing a common foreign and security policy to tackle the common global threats we face. Our security, stability and prosperity depend upon our successful membership of the European Union. Under this Government, it will not be put at risk".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative 4:31 pm, 29th March 2004

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating this important Statement. I join her in again expressing the sense of outrage that the whole House feels about the barbaric atrocity in Madrid and in associating this House with the sentiments voiced by all European leaders.

It is good to voice abhorrence of terrorism. Words help. But it is also necessary to act. The noble Baroness knows that we on these Benches strongly support the stand taken by the Prime Minister against terrorism. He was right to associate himself so closely with President Bush after 11 September; right to support international action in Afghanistan; and right to take a lead in the removal of Saddam Hussein. So long as he holds firm, he can expect our support.

But when will we see similar firmness on these issues in every European capital? The Prime Minister has forged a strong alliance with Mr Berlusconi—they are clearly of a like mind on these issues. But did President Chirac and Herr Schroeder give any new commitments to join actively in the war on terrorism? And, while understanding the agony of Spain, are the Government worried over what many saw as a signal of weakness to Al'Qaeda from the new Spanish Government? Spain is now talking about removing troops from Iraq: did any other EU countries offer to send troops in their place?

We note the undertaking over closer European co-operation on security. But, given frankly varying standards of security in different member states, will the noble Baroness assure the House that no information will be shared with any other country that might jeopardise our security or that of our Armed Forces, or which might imperil the crucial security co-operation between this country and the United States?

What was the reaction in Brussels to the Prime Minster's report on his summit with Mr Gaddafi? Did the Prime Minister in his meeting with Mr Gaddafi persuade Libya to break ties with Mr Mugabe and the vicious Government of Zimbabwe? Were any concrete new steps pressed by the Prime Minister against Mugabe and his henchmen? Were any agreed? Was there a discussion of the role of Libya in the civil wars in west Africa, which are a matter of such great humanitarian concern to all in the EU?

Not long ago the House was told that the prospect of a new constitution for the EU had receded. Now it seems Paris and Berlin are back in the driving seat.

The Prime Minister himself once agreed that there was no need for a constitution. At the start of this process he said the British way for Europe was not a,

"single, legally binding document called a Constitution".

Why does he now support a constitution which would give the EU many of the attributes and trappings of statehood—a new president, a foreign minister and a new legal status—and one in which, as our EU Committee said in the conclusion of its most recent report on the future role of the European Court of Justice:

"In a number of respects the powers of the Union would be increased"?

At Question Time it appeared that the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, had not read the report. I hope that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will have an opportunity to study its conclusions in due course.

The Prime Minister once agreed that the constitution was not essential for enlargement. In December he said:

"This is not constitutionally necessary in order for enlargement to take place".

Now he says that it is essential for enlargement. What made him change his mind?

Can the noble Baroness give any indication of when the next draft of the constitution will be published, and an indication of the timings? Assuming that the constitution is signed in June, when will the Government seek to ratify it—presumably in the form of legislation? Will they hope to publish that Bill of ratification soon after the June summit?

The events preceding this summit point to the acute dangers that stalk the international scene. For us on this side of the House they underline the crucial importance of this country's links with the United States, and make all the intrigues over a new EU constitution look insular and hopelessly short of the call of the hour.

What Europe surely needs now is a unity and common resolve against real and imminent external dangers. Should not every nation of Europe first help defeat terrorism, before courting further divisions over ill conceived new treaties? I hope that the Prime Minister will continue to hold out for that common-sense order of priorities. But if he does not succeed—or if, red lines or no, he turns into an advocate of a new EU constitution—then surely the Leader of the House must agree that the Prime Minister must carry the British people with him.

Several other governments have already given their citizens a promise of a referendum. The constitution will decide how this country is governed. This is a Government who have already held 34 referendums so far, but on this historic issue the Prime Minister refuses the British people a say.

Along with many Labour Members of Parliament such as Frank Field and Gisela Stuart, I believe that any proposal for a new constitution must be put to the British people. At least seven other member states of the EU are giving their people a say; the British people must have a say too. Why did the Prime Minister not tell his colleagues in Brussels what others of them told him: that his country could not ratify a new EU constitution without a test of the settled will of the British people in a referendum?

The Prime Minister tells us to trust him. On this side of the House we say trust the people.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Leader In the House of Lords, Leader, House of Lords, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 4:37 pm, 29th March 2004

My Lords, we on these Benches congratulate the Irish presidency on finding a very effective way of taking the position forward following a change of mind by Spain and Poland. This has again opened up the possibility of reaching a constitutional agreement by June.

Secondly, we strongly support the Prime Minister. A constitution would clarify the relationship between the member states of the Union and the Union's institutions. It would make things a great deal simpler, and go a long way in dealing with some of the murky areas of suspicion that surround the EU. It would also enable those of us who would like to see an honest and open debate to deal with the buzz of propaganda that creates an extraordinary picture in the British media of what the European Union is, and what a constitution would do. A large number of people in this country are greatly mislead by this.

We also congratulate the Prime Minister on his meeting with Colonel Gaddafi. Colonel Gaddafi may be, at best, a returned prodigal son, but the Prime Minster is surely right in saying that we need to pursue the possibility of diplomatic and peaceful methods to bring countries that are potentially very dangerous within the structure of international law.

We congratulate the Prime Minister on a courageous act, but I would like to add a word of warning. There was some discussion about possible arms deals. I hope that they will be closely limited to such brilliant deals for buying anti-mine equipment that Sir Richard Branson is now apparently developing. That is the kind of arms deal that we would like to see; as for other kinds—surely not at the present time.

I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. The most disappointing thing about it is that there is a great deal in the presidency's conclusions that the Statement does not reflect. I shall touch on two or three issues raised in the presidency conclusions, enquire whether the Leader of the House has any comment to make, and ask why they have not been touched on in the Statement, as they are of great importance.

The first issue concerns the stability pact. It is time for governments, including strongly pro-European ones, to say clearly that the rules of the EU must apply to everybody, not just some and not others depending on the size of the country concerned.

Secondly, the presidency conclusions make rather charming reference to Russia and congratulate President Putin,

"on his stated commitment to the freedom of the media".

What does that mean? Is it not right and proper that an EU profoundly committed to democratic practice and human rights should say clearly that Russia must address the issue of the increasingly narrow approach to freedom of the media, if she is to be considered a future partner of the European Union—I do not say a future member, but even a future partner?

Thirdly, I am sorry that the Statement does not reflect the reference in the presidency conclusions to the singular importance of the Kyoto agreement. There is half a sentence in the Statement; there are several paragraphs in the presidency conclusions. Again, in the interests of clarity and courage, should we not say that one reason that the Kyoto settlement is in such difficulty is the opposition, including the lobbying for further opposition, of the United States? Europeans should surely have the guts to say that to their closest ally.

Lastly, it would have been helpful if the Statement had mentioned whether there is a real chance of uniting Cyprus, with only three days left before the Secretary-General's deadline becomes real. I ask the Leader of the House to comment on that.

Let us say from these Benches loud and clear that we have been waiting for years now to campaign on the true facts of the European Union. We have campaigned for this House and this country to take rather more pride in the remarkable achievements of that Union, not least in uniting Europe for the first time in a century or more. I hope that the Government will now start campaigning firmly on the truth, the real facts about the European Union and not be endlessly put off by some of the extraordinary propaganda that passes for information in some sections of our press.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office) 4:42 pm, 29th March 2004

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for their opening comments. I shall seek to address the specific issues raised.

I agree totally with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in his support for the very strong stand that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has taken on terrorism. That is reflected in EU leaders' discussions on the counter-terrorism agenda. I am sure that the noble Lord will be pleased to know that they agreed a declaration that demonstrates a robust response by the whole EU to the Madrid attacks. The noble Lord may have read the declaration; it gives tight deadlines for the implementation of existing EU measures; identifies periods for further co-operation, for example, transport and border security; moves the European Union towards identifying and addressing those third countries failing to combat terrorism sufficiently; and agrees the appointment of a counter-terrorism co-ordinator in the Council secretariat.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, mentioned, in particular, Spain and the announcement by the new Spanish Prime Minister. The noble Lord will be aware that it was made absolutely clear that that withdrawal depends on the position of the United Nations. It would therefore be wrong for us to pre-empt Spain's decision.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, welcomed my right honourable friend's visit to Libya. Zimbabwe was discussed. It was made clear that Libya and the UK should stay in touch on the issue. My right honourable friend was very firm about the differences that we had with Zimbabwe and the need for the Libyans and Colonel Gaddafi to understand that. There has been continuing dialogue with the Libyans on the wider issue of west Africa. For example, while I was the Minister responsible for Africa, I engaged in dialogue with the then Libyan Minister for Africa, looking specifically at Libyan involvement in the continent as a whole.

On the question of a constitution, and why now, we have made absolutely clear that the treaty is an important step forward. It spells out that the EU is a body of nation states that has only those powers that governments choose to confer on it. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is well aware that one of the reasons that it is so important is that, if we are to have an effective Union of 25, we must look at ways of streamlining the measures within the European Union so that 25 can operate effectively.

Two different House of Lords committees have reported on the issue. One committee makes absolutely clear its view that the Union's powers are not being increased, but greater powers are going to member states and their parliaments. The Government will respond to the more recent report in due course.

On the question of when another draft will be published, the noble Lord will know that the commitment made at the European Council meeting was that there should be agreement by the Council in June. The Irish have gone back to look at a timetable to achieve that.

On the question of a referendum, members of the Conservative party have voted consistently against referenda on these matters. The noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, said in a Radio 4 interview on Saturday morning,

"this is what Parliaments exist for. Why did Mrs Thatcher not have a referendum on the single European Act,"— the noble Baroness is not in her place; she was here earlier—

"far and away more significant in the surrender of British sovereignty than anything involved in the present constitution? It never occurred to her to have a referendum".

That is because, under our constitutional arrangements, Parliament makes the law. It is interesting that suddenly the Conservative party wants that to change.

In certain circumstances, Parliament has decided that particular laws should come into operation only after a referendum has been held. In practice—I repeat, in practice—they have been held where there is a wholly new constitutional structure proposed. That is not the case in this instance, and we have made that absolutely clear time and again.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked me why we would not trust the British people. We have trusted them, and they have delivered two major election victories for this Government. The noble Lord may well ask himself why he does not trust Parliament, given that it has a strong role to play in the process.

I shall now respond to the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. On Kyoto the noble Baroness is quite right: the opposition of the United States has a big role to play. We, and others, have sought to talk to our US colleagues about the importance of the Kyoto Protocol. The noble Baroness will be aware that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that, in our presidency of the G8 next year, climate change and Africa will be the two issues at the top of our agenda. We have a commitment to raise the awareness of the British people and to campaign on these issues. My right honourable friend has made that clear. He again made it clear in the way that he responded to questions on the Statement this afternoon.

As regards the prospects for a Cyprus settlement by 1 May, the noble Baroness is right. There is not a huge amount of time. However, as the European Council has concluded, this is an historic opportunity to bring about a comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus problem. Kofi Annan is in Switzerland leading the talks. The Prime Ministers of Greece and Turkey are closely involved. The results of these negotiations will be put to referenda in late April. So there is a chance for all the people of Cyprus to decide the future of their island and for a united Cyprus to join the European Union.

On the noble Baroness's final point on the stability pact, it was made clear in the conclusions of the European Council that the economic reform agenda remains a key plank. We need to inject a greater momentum into that process. But European leaders and countries remain committed to that economic reform agenda.

Photo of Lord Tomlinson Lord Tomlinson Labour 4:51 pm, 29th March 2004

My Lords, first, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

Perhaps I may begin by welcoming the appointment of Mr Gijs de Vries as the counter-terrorist co-ordinator. He has done splendid jobs as the Dutch Minister for European Affairs in the European Parliament and a representative of the Dutch Government in the convention. His appointment is widely to be welcomed, as well as the role.

On a referendum, looking closely at the words that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister used, I believe that the only circumstance in which a referendum would be justified would be if any of the areas of tax and social security systems, the future of the UK rebate, our own criminal justice system or defence and foreign policy were to be subjects over which we no longer had control. They would be significant changes. However, as the Prime Minister said, provided we safeguard those the treaty is right for Europe and right for Britain. Will my noble friend accept from me that the combined forces of herself and the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, are vastly preferable to the somewhat siren voice of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde?

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, I wish to refer to what is in the presidency conclusions but not the Statement. One matter which concerns me seriously is that this Council meeting was meant to be taking stock of the Lisbon process. The first item is the Lisbon process priorities. The language of the presidency communique is ambiguous. On the one hand it refers to the picture being mixed and states that,

"the pace of reform needs to be significantly stepped up if the 2010 targets are to be achieved".

However, it then states:

"The message from the European Council is one of determination and confidence".

If there is so much determination and confidence, can my noble friend tell the House why it has been necessary also to appoint Mr Wim Kok to carry out a study on progress? As we reach half time in the Lisbon process agenda, we do not seem to be anywhere near half way as regards the results.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I share my noble friend's welcome of the appointment of the counter-terrorist co-ordinator. Because concerns have been expressed, it is important to say that at the European Council the economic reform agenda was overshadowed by the issue of terrorism and discussions on the IGC. Because of the common goals and good co-operation which already exist between member states on these issues, we had already nearly agreed final conclusions on this matter before Friday's discussions. It would be wrong for noble Lords to go away with the idea that this was not an important part of the agenda.

Heads of state and government of the 25 current and acceding member states made a commitment to take concrete steps to boost Europe's competitiveness in line with the Lisbon strategy for employment and economic reform. It was agreed to intensify measures to raise employment and growth across Europe; to deliver commitments to tackle red tape and boost enterprise and innovation; to hold a hard-hitting review of progress in meeting our strategic goal of making Europe the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world—on my noble friend's point about meeting the half-way point next year, that review will be critical—and to call on the next president of the Commission to make the competitiveness and economic reform agenda a top priority for action.

There is a recognition that we need to step up the pace. I think that the agreements made at the European Council will help that to happen.

Photo of Lord Maclennan of Rogart Lord Maclennan of Rogart Shadow Minister, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, will the Minister recognise that the description of the proposed constitutional treaty by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, as "ill conceived" could scarcely be worse chosen: that the treaty in draft has emanated from the deliberations of a convention set up by the existing and future members of the Union at a time of very great international danger; that the essential need for Europe is not only to be able to speak with one voice but also to be able to act with firm determination to curb terrorism; and that we strongly welcome the outcome of this conference which has demonstrated a willingness to reach agreement on the rules of the game and to take action in setting up Mr Gijs de Vries in his role as counter-terrorist co-ordinator?

While the views expressed about referenda differ widely, will the process not be described as more characteristic of the constitution of the Swiss confederation than of the United Kingdom's way of reaching decisions? Although there may be occasions when it is important to have referenda when considerable transfers of sovereign powers are at stake, either from Westminster to the constituent parts of the United Kingdom or from Westminster to some international organisation, this treaty in its current draft form scarcely conforms to those precedents.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I agree strongly with the noble Lord's comments about the draft treaty, the existing and future members of the convention, and the conclusions of member states with regard to acting with firm determination on issues relating to counter-terrorism.

On his second point on referenda, the noble Lord is right. Only one UK-wide referendum has ever been held. That was in 1975 on whether the UK should stay in or withdraw from the European Union. Noble Lords are aware that the present Government are committed to holding a referendum on the euro. Referenda have never been held to approve changes to the existing institutions of which we are members. That is the situation that we confront today.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept my congratulations to the Prime Minister on his visit to Tripoli in the same terms as those offered by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams? Does she not agree that one of the most interesting and encouraging aspects of the visit was the way in which it responded to Colonel Gaddafi's surrender of his nuclear, chemical and biological capabilities? In anyone's book, surely that is a step in the right direction of reinforcing collective security. It is extraordinarily unusual.

A few years ago, we could have imagined Colonel Gaddafi surrendering the two men who were indicted to stand trial, but could we seriously have supposed that he would be shipping large quantities of weapons material out to the United States? I rather doubt it. Rather than concentrating on the trivia, such as the colour of the tent and the number of camels that were galloping around, it would be useful if we, and the press, could focus on things that really matter.

On Cyprus, I, too, should like to applaud the line taken by the European Council, its support for Kofi Annan's efforts and its determination to accommodate any settlement that Kofi Annan puts forward. That is crucially important. Does the noble Baroness not agree that if, alas, it becomes necessary to move to the third stage where Kofi Annan bridges the gaps because it has not been possible to reach agreement between the two parties and Greece and Turkey, and takes them up on their commitment to put that to a referendum, it would be incomprehensible if anyone concerned, particularly the leaders of a future member state of the European Union—that applies to Turkey and Cyprus—were to do other than to campaign for a "yes" vote in the referendum?

On the constitutional agreement, since the 1970s every British Government have questioned whether to take more decisions in Brussels and whether they should be taken by a qualified majority vote, which should be decided on the criterion of whether it was in Britain's interests to do so. Despite that, is it not strange that it appears that there is a new doctrine which says that the taking of decisions in Brussels, the taking of new decisions by a qualified majority, is ipso facto a bad thing just because that change is being made, irrespective of whether it is in this country's interest or not?

I should like to echo the plea made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. The Government should now step up their explanatory statements on what is in the constitutional agreement and why it is in Britain's interests to go ahead with it as long as our vital interests are protected in the negotiations. It is rather sad to see people claiming that there has not been such a change in Britain since the 17th century. I fear that that is a commentary on the teaching of history in British schools: in this case, I assume it is the private schools rather than the public sector. It is bizarre that quite a lot that happened in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries and any understanding of the relative importance of the various treaties on which the European Union is based should be ignored.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, is right in his statement about Libya and the importance of concentrating on the things that matter. The result of UK and US engagement is that Libya, within a few weeks, has dismantled its nuclear programme, begun destroying its chemical weapons and is now working in full co-operation with the international community.

We all know that we cannot make the world a less dangerous place by engaging only with friends. We have to engage with countries where there are differences. Sometimes that is difficult. But it was absolutely right for my right honourable friend the Prime Minister to visit. We still have a long way to go on certain issues, but we are moving in the right direction.

Having been the special representative, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, knows a great deal more about Cyprus than I do. On the back of the work that is being done by Kofi Annan, it is absolutely right that both sides will need to work with their citizens to campaign for a positive outcome to these negotiations. We all hope to see that, although the timescale is somewhat short.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, made a plea echoing that made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, for us to continue to campaign on this issue with respect to the EU constitution and stressed the importance to Britain's interests of doing so. I entirely agree with the noble Lord. We shall continue to do that.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, are we to understand from the noble Baroness's reply to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde and from a reply from the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, earlier today that Ministers have not yet read the very good and important report from our European Union Committee, entitled, The Future Role of the European Court of Justice? The report states:

"In a number of respects the powers of the Union would be increased".

That is about the draft constitution. It also pointed out that a new legal order would be created and that the ECJ would become the supreme arbiter of this country's powers.

Those are fundamental changes that totally refute what Ministers have been asserting. Indeed, they call in question what Ministers have been inaccurately quoting from a previous very good EU Committee report. If there is to be a serious debate, it is very important that accurate and not misleading statements are made by Ministers. Therefore, perhaps I may ask the Minister to read the report carefully before she or her ministerial friends repeat the utterly misleading quotations that we heard today, which were taken inaccurately from previous House of Lords European Union Committee reports. They bring into disrepute our hard work and excellent reports, which should be treated with more seriousness than appears to be the case.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is wrong. I made it absolutely clear that there were two reports. In my response to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I made it clear that the Government would respond in due course to the report, which I have in front of me and which I have seen, on the ECJ. We have seen the report, which raises issues of primacy, the CFSP, the ECJ jurisdiction and access to justice. The report does not come down definitively on some of those issues.

On primacy, the report asks for more clarity on the impact of Article 10(1).

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that not only does the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrat Party want a referendum on the very important matter of the constitution but a growing number of Labour Members of Parliament are also in favour of a referendum, as are more than 80 per cent of the people of this country, according to various opinion polls?

At Question Time today, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, stated that ratification of the European constitution would be the same as for all previous treaties. In other words, Parliament will not be able to make any amendments to the constitution. Does the Minister not agree that in this case that would be a constitutional outrage? Parliament will not be able to amend the provisions of a new constitution that the noble Baroness has just outlined as having serious implications for this country. Parliament—the House of Commons and this House—will not be able to amend the provisions as they would any other Bill that came before this House.

I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to deny that that is the way the Government will behave over this very important constitutional change to the way in which this country will be governed.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, will not be surprised to know that I do not agree with him. This is not a constitutional outrage. We have made it clear that a treaty that increases the EU's accountability, strengthens the role of parliaments in European business, while preserving unanimity in key areas of policy, would be in this country's interests. The ratification process will be the same as for all previous treaties, as my noble friend Lady Symons set out this afternoon.

Photo of Earl Russell Earl Russell Liberal Democrat

My Lords, since the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has introduced the teaching of history, I draw the noble Baroness's attention to the fact that this is the 400th anniversary of the union of England and Scotland. That, like the EU, was a union of two sovereign states under a common authority. The King believed, I quote the Lord Privy Seal, that, "this meant that decision-making could not continue as it had been".

That view did not find favour in the English House of Commons, where one particularly prominent Member said that this called for a special consultation of the people. That does not necessarily mean a referendum, but it means something remarkably like it. The result was that nothing was decided. If we look at the case of McCormick v Lord Advocate in 1953, a lot of the key questions were not decided in 1707 either. The relations between England and Scotland were not put on a settled legal basis until the parliamentary Session 1998–99. That caused a great deal of grief to all parties. Let us not make the same mistake twice.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to listen to the noble Earl and to receive a lesson in history, as we have this afternoon. We are absolutely clear that if a Union of 25 is to operate effectively, we need to bring about some change. That is what this process is about. It is an important process, which will make the European Union more efficient and effective working as a Union of 25 rather than 15.