European Council

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:22 pm on 21st June 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) 4:22 pm, 21st June 2004

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for their comments. I agree with the principles so clearly set out by the noble Baroness. I thank her for recognising that the Prime Minister and the whole team in Brussels at the weekend did extraordinarily well and came back with a package which is good not only for Britain but for Europe as a whole.

I also agree with her that we should be celebrating an enlarged Europe, recognising the fact that only 60 years ago we were a continent mired in conflict. It is a remarkable achievement. Using that experience and knowledge in the peace and security agenda, which has become so important in the way the EU is working across many parts of the world, is a great testament to that achievement.

I also agree with the noble Baroness's comments on human rights and their centrality as regards membership of the Union.

I felt that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was dealt a poor hand in terms of the comments he made. With respect to Britain's relationship to the United States and the European Union, yes, we want to see a Britain which is leading and strong in Europe and we want to see strong ties with our United States allies. The noble Lord clearly fears that his party could never deliver that leadership. It clearly has to follow where we lead.

On the referendum, the Prime Minister has made our position absolutely clear. A process must be gone through. The treaty needs to be formalised into a legal text, but it is not clear when that text will emerge. There will then be the parliamentary process of ratifying the document, followed by a referendum.

I cannot understand why, when all of us in this House talk about the importance of putting Parliament first and the importance of parliamentary debate, the noble Lord is now afraid of parliamentary debate. Perhaps he is afraid that it will inform the British public and begin to deal with the web of tissues and lies referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, so enabling them to make an informed decision in the referendum.

On a referendum on the euro, the noble Lord is well aware that the position on that has not changed. We have said—and the position remains the same—that when the economic conditions are right we will put that to the British people in a referendum.

On withdrawing from Europe, it is clear that the noble Lord's party wants to renegotiate existing membership. Not a single country in the European Union wants to do that and the leader of his party has been challenged on that many times. The noble Lord may have failed to notice that all countries must agree to get together to renegotiate a treaty. The noble Lord's party has absolutely no allies on that.

I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is afraid of the word "constitution". It has come to my attention that even Kent County Council, that Tory heartland, has a constitution. The United Nations has a constitution. What is the problem with the European Union recognising that it needs to look at its procedures and the way it works, to consolidate its treaties and bring that together in one document which is being called a "constitution"?

For the very first time, national Parliaments will have a role in Commission legislation. It is absolutely clear from the document that the issues of defence, foreign policy and social security will have to be agreed by unanimity. There has been an extension of qualified majority voting in some areas—in fact, in a number of technical areas. The noble Lord raised the question of bureaucracy. I should have thought that he would welcome the development in that respect.

With regard to the amendment to the constitution, the noble Lord will know that we submitted a number of amendments to the treaty when it was in draft form. The draft treaty has changed substantially over the past year. This was a process of negotiation, and we have come out of the negotiations with all the things that we said were important to us.

With respect to the noble Lord's question about Zimbabwe, it is not our job to bring down Mugabe; it is for the people of Zimbabwe to do that. But we must recognise the humanitarian crisis in that country and deal with it.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that he will engage in discussions with colleagues in the European Union about who is the best person to be President of the Commission. He has made it clear that he has never entered into that discussion publicly and does not intend to do so now.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked me where the constitution lays out the areas in which the Union can act and those in which member states can act. I suggest that the noble Lord looks at the headlines in Part I, Articles 11 to 16 and the detail in Part III. Paragraph 11.6 in Part III makes it clear that the scope for exercising the Union's competences shall be determined by the provision specific to each area in Part III. The noble Lord may wish to look at those sections, where it will be absolutely clear where the Union acts and where nation states act.