"With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a Statement on the European Council that took place in Brussels on 4 and
"First, let me express what I know will be the sentiments of the entire House in sending our profound condolences to the families of the Black Watch soldiers killed by a terrorist bomb in Iraq last week, and our sympathy to those soldiers injured yesterday in another terrorist attack. We salute their dedication, professionalism and, above all, sheer and undaunted courage. They are an example to us all, and we can and should be very proud of them.
"Let us also be very clear about the fundamental importance to Britain's security in what the Black Watch and the British Armed Forces in the south of Iraq are doing.
"Defeat of terrorism in Iraq is defeat for this new and virulent form of global terrorism everywhere. A democratic Iraq is the last thing the terrorists want to see. It is precisely for that reason—because victory for the terrorists would damage security round the world, including here in Britain—that we have to hold firm, be resolute and see this through, including in Fallujah.
"The action by allied and Iraqi forces under way in Fallujah would cease now, immediately, if the terrorists and insurgents who are using Fallujah as a base for terrorism would lay down their weapons and agree to participate in the elections. Over the past few months, Prime Minister Allawi has tried to persuade them to do so. They have refused, not because they are fighting a foreign occupation—if the terrorism stopped, American, British and other troops would leave—but because they are fighting democracy, they are fighting to stop democratic elections supervised by the UN and due to take place in January.
"They know that while Fallujah remains outside the UN-endorsed government, they can use it to wreck elections. And why do the terrorists fear elections? Because they know that given the chance to vote for their government, Iraqis would reject the extremism and fanaticism the terrorists represent.
"The powerful speech made by Dr Allawi to the European Council made precisely those points. He appealed for Europe's help. Some promised support of a military nature; others promised only financial support. But all the Council agreed that it was in the interests of global security for Iraqi elections to take place.
"The Council agreed a comprehensive package of EU assistance for Iraq, including a further programme of financial and logistical support for the elections, and the financing for the UN Protection Force. This is on top of 300 million euros for humanitarian and reconstruction support from the EU over the past two years.
"Following the re-election of President Bush, the Council also agreed that a close transatlantic partnership was fundamental to building international peace, security and prosperity; and that we now need to strengthen the alliance, so that we can intensify our work together in addressing the main international threats and challenges of the moment, including regional conflicts, terrorism and WMD.
"The Council heard a presentation from the former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Wim Kok, on his mid-term review of the Lisbon strategy on European economic competitiveness. He rightly concluded that Europe has to do far more to improve its underlying economic performance if it is to respond to the challenges of Asia and the United States. And he sensibly highlights the importance of completing the single market, developing flexible labour markets and promoting sustainable growth.
"The Council adopted a new five-year work programme of measures in the area of justice and home affairs.
"There are great benefits for the United Kingdom in co-operation with our European partners on these issues. Illegal immigration affects all member states. But the opt-in protocol for Britain, negotiated in Amsterdam in 1997, remains. It is also enshrined in the new constitutional treaty. We have successfully used it over the past five years to opt into new measures on asylum and on combating illegal immigration, and to opt out of measures on legal migration, frontiers and visas. It gives us the right to decide whether to participate in each item of the EU work programme and makes a nonsense of claims that Britain has given up the right to control its own borders. If, of course, we opt in, because we want a particular measure to happen, it is in our interests that in a Europe of 25 and soon 27 or 28 countries, the use of a veto by another country cannot block the measure.
"Finally, the President-designate of the Commission, José Manuel Barroso, briefed us on his proposals for restructuring the new Commission. He has reacted decisively to resolve the dispute with the European Parliament, and I am confident that, as a result, the new Commission will be able to take office soon.
"In summary, the meeting once again underlined the importance to Britain of maintaining both a strong relationship with the United States of America and a strong place in the councils of the European Union. Both partnerships are vital to the British national interest, and it will remain the policy, of this Government at least, to nurture both".
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
I begin by sharing the noble Baroness's horror and the Prime Minister's horror and outrage at the attacks on the Black Watch. I extend the deepest sympathy of all those on this side to the families of those soldiers who have given their lives or been seriously injured.
Those who know this great regiment know that its resolve will not be dimmed at a time when US troops are launching an assault on Fallujah, which the Black Watch was deployed to facilitate. I strongly support the words of the Prime Minister on the need to confront and destroy the terrorists who are fighting the establishment of democracy in Iraq.
Like the noble Baroness, I much welcomed the presence of Prime Minister Allawi in Brussels. He is proving to be a courageous leader. So was it not disappointing that President Chirac found himself otherwise engaged when other leaders joined Dr Allawi in lunchtime discussion?
Mr Solana says that security is a problem. So can the noble Baroness tell the House what pledges were given by France and Germany at the summit to join in peacekeeping in Iraq? Did the Prime Minister have the opportunity to try to persuade them, or has he now given up?
I gather that President Chirac also visited Mr Arafat in hospital. Was he able to brief EU leaders on his condition? Has the noble Baroness any news for the House on that?
I support the reaffirmation of the EU commitment to the road map and its support for an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. The communiqué says that the EU is ready to support the Palestinian Authority in upholding law and order. Can the noble Baroness explain what that might mean in practice? Can she tell the House whether there are any circumstances in which British troops would be committed on that?
On nuclear proliferation, the communiqué talks of building confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme. Do the British Government share that apparent EU belief that Iran's nuclear programme is entirely peaceful? If not, what do they propose to do about it?
I welcome the reference in the communiqué to the deeply troubling situation in Ukraine, whose stability as a democracy is vital for Europe's future security and prosperity. Apart from calling on the Ukraine Government to assure the fair elections that they worked to pervert in the first round of voting, what will the EU do to make sure that fair elections take place?
Was there any discussion in the Council on the critical situation in Ivory Coast, where France has destroyed that country's air force and put tanks on the streets of the capital? Has there been a call for a debate in the United Nations? Have the British Government raised the crisis urgently? What will the EU do about it?
The communiqué talks about considering sanctions on the Sudan Government over Darfur. How long will it be before the EU response matches that crisis? I have noticed, yet again, that there was no mention of Zimbabwe on the communiqué. I am sure that many will share my dismay at the renewed failure of the Prime Minister to use a summit to step up pressure on the Mugabe regime. Can the noble Baroness explain the Prime Minister's uncharacteristic silence on the tragic problem facing Africa?
I turn to the institutional aspects of the summit. What progress was made in bringing the EU agenda in the British way, as the Prime Minister has boasted? There was talk in the communiqué of action on regulation. Perhaps I can repeat a question that I asked after a previous summit. How many EU regulations have been withdrawn since 2001?
It is well known that we oppose the signing by the Prime Minister of the EU constitutional treaty. We would guarantee the British people a chance to vote on it in a referendum next year. What assurances can the Labour Party give? Can the noble Baroness speculate by what date such a referendum will take place?
On the Hague programme, the communiqué states:
"This programme reflects the ambitions as expressed in the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe".
It is certainly ambitious. It reads as a text written by people who take the agreement of the British people to the treaty for granted. It also pre-empts—indeed, it makes a laughing stock of—the claims of the Prime Minister to keep control of national policy on asylum and law and order.
It commits member states to a common European asylum system, stresses the importance of the abolition of internal border controls, and calls for approximation of substantive criminal law between member states, as if our separate legal evolution meant nothing. So, who does the Prime Minister think he is kidding when he says we will retain complete control of those aspects of policy? The Prime Minister claims that we retain an opt-out power. Yet he has chosen to opt into all the major measures on asylum.
The summit takes the EU further down an integrationist road. If the British people are eventually given their chance to vote against that in a referendum, will the noble Baroness assure the House that it will be respected as the full and final answer of this country?
I also strongly associate these Benches with her tribute to the Black Watch—one of the most beloved and admired of all British regiments. We hope and pray that their courage in going into the very centre of this terrible war will bring closer the prospect of a genuine and lasting democracy in Iraq.
The Statement is rather thin at a time when there are such huge issues confronting the European Union and this country, as a member of it. I shall follow what the Leader of the Opposition has said on some of the main issues that are touched on in the communiqué and, more briefly, in the Statement. It is something of a curate's egg. There are some things that we welcome and some things about which we continue to be unhappy.
First, we associate ourselves with the importance of a free, fair and open election in Iraq at the earliest feasible point. It is in that context that we are profoundly concerned about Fallujah. We are concerned not only because of what was said by the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan about the danger of an escalation of violence against civilians. There is another reason for our concern.
The Statement makes much of the victory against terrorism. We know already that Samara, which was effectively militarily reoccupied and controlled a month ago, is now the centre of a range of atrocities, even though it was supposed to have been brought within the control of the coalition forces. Many of us recognise that victory against terrorism does not happen as a result of a single battle. It requires a consistent, enduring and continuing effort to limit the influence and effects of terrorism.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, said earlier, there is a real danger that the deaths of innocent civilians will turn a section of the public against those who are attempting to support the coalition. It is disturbing that the President of the provisional Iraqi government, Sheik Ghazi Al-Yawer, who is a Sunni, has made it publicly clear that he does not see eye-to-eye with Dr Allawi, the Prime Minister. The outcome will turn on whether the Sunni people believe that there has been as much restraint on the deaths of civilians as is conceivably possible in a military situation. Perhaps the Leader of the House will say something about the rules of engagement, or at least the strategy that is in mind for Fallujah.
Secondly, I turn to an issue on which I strongly commend the Government on what they are trying to do, and which I hope will be successful. That is the recent effort made by the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, and his French and German associates to try to bring about a diplomatic solution to the extremely troubling situation in Iran. I had the pleasure of meeting one or two of the British negotiators of that discussion at the US embassy today. It seems that there is a real chance that Iran may now decide to abandon its effort to enrich uranium for what could be military purposes, provided that we can make a clear distinction between that and civilian nuclear reactors in Iran. The noble Baroness will know, as will her colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, that that will depend very much on whether we can get sufficient inspectors to ensure that there is no merging of the border between the two, which we on these Benches appreciate is not an easy border. We commend the Government's tremendous efforts with a government who are not always easy to understand, comprehend or negotiate with. Perhaps the Leader of the House can bring us up to date, in so far as it is possible while negotiations continue.
On the third issue, we on these Benches have been somewhat critical—and I think justly so—about the relative stagnation of the Middle East process. There is a prospect of something of a new beginning, and let us hope and pray that that is true. But in that context there are two questions to ask. First, will Her Majesty's Government press for careful consideration to be given to the line of a wall or fence running so deeply, as it does, into the West Bank, as to make the West Bank less and less a viable economy for a future Palestine?
Secondly, can the Minister bear in mind the prospect of trying once again to get a freeze on new settlements in the West Bank, which eat up so much land that a possibility of a viable solution becomes increasingly distant? We recognise that the Government have tried hard in that respect, but there must be more enthusiasm from the EU and the United States within the "Quad" if we are at long last to get anywhere at all in bringing some kind of momentum back to the peace process.
There are only two other points I want to make. First—and, again, there are grounds on which to commend Her Majesty's Government—we on these Benches believe that the Government were absolutely right to enter into a new system of co-operation with the rest of the European Union over the issues of asylum policy. In that context, I should mention not only the importance of preventing illegal immigration, which is very difficult to do unless one accepts a common European policy of some kind, but the importance for many of us of recognising that there are genuine asylum seekers—men and women of colossal courage—who fought for human rights and democracy all over the world. In that context, it is vital that the European Union should accept its fair proportion of genuine asylum seekers. Frankly, that is possible only if one has a common approach and does not try to split it up into a set of national bargains and see how few people one can get away with. On that, we commend the Government and believe that they are walking very much in the right direction.
Finally, it is of course true that the Lisbon process has been very slow. There are features of the European economy that we can particularly commend, especially the training of young men and women in crafts and skills, which has not been one of the great strengths of the United Kingdom. We have huge shortages of skills throughout our industry. However, against that, there is a need for the continent of Europe to understand the need for greater competition and higher levels of productivity. In that area of the Lisbon process, we need to recognise good practice throughout Europe and ensure that the rest of Europe follows that good practice wherever it has been inaugurated.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for their comments, particularly with respect to the Black Watch. Our hearts go out to all the families.
I shall go through the issues raised in order. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked about the security situation in Iraq and asked specifically what the European Union would be doing about it. The noble Lord will know that the European Union has made a commitment to provide immediate financial and personnel support to assist the election process in Iraq. In addition, a commitment was made at the weekend to deploy a planning team by the end of the month to scope out an EU police training and rule of law mission. Other commitments were made with respect to enhancing our trade and political co-operation—but the issue of police training answers the noble Lord's point about security.
The latest news on Mr Arafat is that his condition remains critical. We all agree with the statements that were made by my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and, indeed, my noble friend Lady Symons, and all wish him a speedy recovery.
The noble Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, both referred to Iran. The United Kingdom and the EU believe that it is vital that Iran takes steps to build confidence in the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme. It must comply with successive IAEA board resolutions, including putting in place full suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities. That would help to build the confidence of the international community in the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, raised the issue of Ukraine. We, together with the European Union, have called upon Ukraine to remedy the shortcomings identified by the OSCE in the first round of its presidential elections on
The noble Lord also asked about Côte d'Ivoire, which was not, I believe, discussed at the Council meeting. He will know that we are concerned about the government's breach of the ceasefire and the violence in Abidjan. We deeply regret the deaths of nine French peacekeepers and, with our UN Security Council partners, have condemned the breach of the ceasefire, calling for an immediate end to military action and a resumption of the peace process.
I pick up on the noble Lord's point on Zimbabwe—and I would have been very surprised if he had not raised that matter. We continue to be concerned about the food shortages in Zimbabwe and the way in which the government there are using food as a political tool. Of course we have kept up the pressure, with our European Union partners, the United States and others, but the noble Lord will be aware that we must be very careful about the way in which UK pressure is used in a negative way politically in Zimbabwe itself.
The noble Lord raised the issue of Sudan. The European Union continues to play a central role in the resolution of the conflict in Darfur and Sudan. The noble Lord will know that the EU presidency issued a statement on behalf of the EU condemning the forced relocations of
The noble Lord knows full well that we have made a commitment to having a referendum. There has been speculation in the press that one will take place in early 2006; indeed, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has speculated that it will take place then. That commitment remains.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, was positive about the role that the Government have played on asylum and immigration and law and order, and I thank her for her words. She is entirely right: of course we need to co-operate and, of course, the European Union has a responsibility, as does the United Kingdom, as regards its international obligations with respect to asylum seekers. But we also have a responsibility as a country to deal with the issue of failed asylum seekers—and the European Union has that responsibility, too. That is why we have made it absolutely clear that we will not lose control of our asylum and immigration policy. The opt-in protocol we negotiated at Amsterdam remains. It is not under threat. It will not be eroded. Noble Lords may wish to consider what has happened over the past five years when we have successfully used our opt-in, retaining our border controls but co-operating with our EU partners. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, it is clear that immigration and asylum demand international solutions. We, of course, want to continue to influence EU immigration and asylum work. The noble Baroness said it was important that we accepted our fair proportion. It is clear that this Government accept their responsibilities in that regard. I do not agree with the way that this was put by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, but I do not think he expected me to agree with him on those points.
On Iraq, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, raised concerns about Fallujah and the importance of having free, fair and open elections. That is absolutely the point. That is what we want to achieve and it is absolutely what the Iraqi Interim Government want to achieve. Prime Minister Allawi's statements on that make that absolutely clear. My noble friend Lady Symons repeated some of his words today. I, too, repeat them. Prime Minister Allawi said:
"I have reached a conviction that we have no other option but to take necessary measures to protect the Iraqi people from these killers and to liberate the Fallujans so that they will go back, back to their homes and lead a normal life . . . There is a division between the Iraqi people and the terrorists, we are after terrorists we are not after anybody else and all the Iraqi people including people in Fallujah . . . want us to go ahead and finish the terrorists and have the rule of law prevail in Fallujah and this is what we intend to do".
The commitment to having elections in January remains.
Of course, the security situation remains a matter of grave concern because if the security situation is not controlled it raises questions about the extent to which elections can be held across the entire country. That is why Prime Minister Allawi, we, the Americans and others take this so seriously.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, congratulated the Government on what they are trying to do in Iran. I am afraid that at this point in time I cannot add to that. However, if I have further information I shall, of course, write to the noble Baroness. The noble Baroness pressed very hard on the Middle East peace process. That is something that she has raised many times at the Dispatch Box. The noble Baroness will know that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said that now that the US elections have concluded this is something he will take up as a matter of urgency. It will be a key element of the agenda later this week. We have made our views absolutely clear with respect to the barrier and the road map. We have said that the construction of the barrier on occupied land and Israeli settlement activity risk jeopardising the two state solution. The barrier, settlement construction and road building are effectively carving up the West Bank. As we have said repeatedly, building a barrier on occupied land is unlawful.
We are also concerned about continuing settlement activity in the West Bank and Israeli plans to expand settlements further. We have repeatedly pressed Israel to freeze settlement construction and we will continue to do that. With respect to the road map, this remains the best way forward in the peace process. I do not think that anyone is under any illusions about the effort needed by the parties to implement it but the obligations are fair on both sides.
Finally, I turn to the Lisbon process. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, pressed the issue of regulations in relation to that. The noble Lord will know that there have been a number of initiatives focused on making business more effective. We recognise that we need effective and efficient regulation to make the markets work properly. We are leading the regulatory reform effort.
On the wider questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, of course there are problems with respect to moving to higher productivity and greater competitiveness. These have been identified in Wim Kok's report but our commitment to the Lisbon process remains very strong.
My Lords, is it not fair to say there is a danger that some of the comments about the EU not doing enough in many parts of the world such as Darfur result in some people wanting to have it both ways? One minute we are asked to believe that the EU is getting ideas above its station but right through this Statement there has been example after example of where the EU needs to do more.
My Lords, sometimes there is a contradiction in the way that we talk about the European Union and what it can do. My noble friend is quite right. There are any number of areas where we look for greater EU action while at the same time we often hear complaints, particularly from the Conservative opposition, about the extent of EU activity. It is my view that we have the balance about right. It is important that where we can get added value from EU countries operating together we should push for that while at the same time recognising that there are different national characteristics.
My Lords, in pursuing the road map and a true peace between Israel and Palestine, on which the Prime Minister and the whole Government should be commended and supported—we understand that the Prime Minister will be raising this matter in Washington—will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House also emphasise the need to raise one very important item with the Israeli Government and the Israeli authorities which is frequently overlooked; namely, the detention of Palestinians? The number now is apparently in excess of 7,000 Palestinian detainees held in various kinds of Israeli camps, prisons, detention centres and so on. Very little information comes out about that but apparently very harsh conditions prevail in many of those instances. Surely that must be a legitimate matter which puts Guantanamo Bay in a slightly miniature context in comparison with 7,000 plus Palestinian detainees held by Israel, some of them for a long time now, with no prospect of their release. That must be one of the important negotiating aspects of the road map.
My Lords, there is a list of issues that we raise on a regular basis with the Israeli Government, including the detention of Palestinians. This is an issue that my noble friend Lady Symons has herself raised with representatives of the Israeli Government.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that in pursuing this matter of the Middle East and trying to get a peace process under way on the basis of the road map, one of the most important things is for the President of the United States and the European Union leaders in backing such a thing to ensure that a process once started is not derailed by acts of violence against it? Hitherto, again and again, such acts have been taken as an excuse to stop the process in its tracks. This time surely, if we are not to enter into another period of frustration, it really is important to have a process that can be sustained through such acts of violence because the people who perpetrate the acts of violence have no interest in the peace process at all; indeed, they want to kill it.
Further, does the noble Baroness agree that welcome though the signals are that perhaps the Iranians are not proceeding with their enrichment activities, it is only part of the problem? If we are to prevent real damage to the non-proliferation system, we will have to work for a wider system that means that countries with civil nuclear energy are assured supplies of low-enriched uranium and the ability to reprocess their spent fuel without constructing the plants themselves, whose proliferation risks are so great. It really is necessary for the International Atomic Energy Agency to be given encouragement to try to put together a broader scheme that will mean that we do not have to address the issues one by one.
My Lords, I absolutely agree with the noble Lord's points about needing a process and then not allowing it to be derailed by acts of violence against it. That is precisely the point of having the road map, as he will be aware. He is quite right that we would leave the process in the hands of terrorists if we were not absolutely clear about what we were trying to achieve and the benchmarks along the way. On Iran and the wider question of the IAEA, the noble Lord will know that we are in active negotiations. They will be extremely sensitive over the next few days, so I do not want to comment on them in any detail. However, I entirely take his point about encouraging some kind of broader scheme. I am sure that we can take that forward.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, repeated Mr Allawi's statement on Fallujah earlier today. Although we recognise that it regrets the need to take the action that will be embarked on there, we still believe that taking that action in the holy month of Ramadan in a primarily Sunni town will send a very poor signal to the Muslim world, particularly if casualties are inflicted in large numbers. Will the noble Baroness exercise what political leverage we have with the Allawi government to suggest that one more round of trying to reach a negotiated settlement might be the way forward?
My Lords, it is very important that we take on board what the people on the ground think. Prime Minister Allawi is the interim leader in Iraq. We really must recognise that. It is clear that the interim Iraqi Government have made every effort at negotiations in Fallujah. Regardless of what we think about what is going on in Iraq and our positions on whether there should have been a war, we should recognise that. The interim Iraqi Government continue to talk to Sunni leaders from the region. Prime Minister Allawi has made it absolutely clear that any military action in Fallujah is taking place purely to create the conditions for free and fair elections for the Iraqi people. The top priority must be that all Iraqi people be allowed a say in how they are governed and whom they are governed by. Terrorists and insurgents cannot be given the power to stop that process.
My Lords, although I welcome the Prime Minister's tribute to the Black Watch, will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House confirm whether the press reports that its commander has expressed reservations about its deployment are accurate? Will she indicate whether the Black Watch will be home by Christmas, as the Prime Minister has promised? If so, will it come back as a secure regiment, with no question of its being disbanded or amalgamated into another force?
My Lords, I thought that I had made it clear that Côte d'Ivoire was not discussed at the Council meeting; I made clear our support for UN and French action in Côte d'Ivoire. Further measures are being considered by the UN, but it is a very difficult and sensitive time in Côte d'Ivoire.
My Lords, will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House answer the third question asked by my noble friend Lord Forsyth? When the Black Watch returns by Christmas, will it return as a secure regiment, or will it be amalgamated into a larger regiment? We need to know, as it is unfair for it to fight in that dangerous place so gallantly without knowing the answer. I hope that she can reassure us.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, knows that I am not obliged to answer more than two follow-up questions, and I answered two. On the noble Baroness's question on the longer-term future of the Black Watch, she will know that there are ongoing discussions on the configuration of our defence forces. That has been said a number of times from this Dispatch Box, and I repeat it again.