My Lords, the Commission, in consultation with the UK and Austrian presidencies, is taking forward specific follow-up work from Hampton Court. It is preparing a summary of its initial orientations, drawing on external expertise where appropriate for the December European Council. The final results of the Commission's work will be presented to the European Council next year. More generally, of course, the UK discusses the issues raised at Hampton Court—for example, research and development, universities, energy, security and immigration—with other member states on a regular basis.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that long list of indecisive seminars in the various ministerial councils and Commission meetings. During the presidency, what have the Government decided apart from launching talks on Turkey?
My Lords, dialogue is extremely important. It is also important that member states agree on the way forward for the European Union before it takes action. That is precisely why Hampton Court was so important. On presidency achievements, in addition to the very important agreement on Croatia and Turkey, the list is too long to mention. However, on better regulation there is growing political support for a vigorous reform programme.
My Lords, on decisions, concrete progress includes the European Commission's proposals to withdraw one-third of all pending proposals and more than 100 proposals to simplify existing EU legislation. That will affect more than 1,400 related legal acts. That, I think, is extremely important for businesses, for jobs and for the European Union as a whole.
My Lords, for once I agree with the Liberal Democrat spokesman. Has not the British presidency of the European Union been a disappointment, to put it mildly? Does the Minister agree that very little has been achieved, except for the negotiations with Turkey, that there is no progress at all on the constitution, and that the Prime Minister is right to use the word "stalled" in relation to the whole system? In the last few weeks of the presidency, can we not see some real initiatives to help to shape Europe effectively for the future instead of allowing inertia to prevail?
My Lords, inertia certainly does not prevail. We have enjoyed the presidency greatly, and I am very sorry that the noble Lord has not. On the constitution, as noble Lords have said on many occasions, it is right that discussions do not take place until the Austrian presidency, under which we shall have pause for reflection. On concrete tangible matters, apart from the better regulation programme that I mentioned earlier, there are issues such as the European security and defence policy policing missions, which are very important for ensuring the security not only of our continent but of the world. For example, the first EU mission to Aceh is extremely important.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, in the follow-up to Hampton Court, we should not limit future discussions to that agenda? An important part of the future diplomatic agenda must be the pursuit of budgetary rigour and discipline. In relation to the recently produced report of the Court of Auditors, will Her Majesty's Government give serious thought to supporting the demand of the European Parliament's budgetary control committee that each member state should give a statement of assurance on its part of the 80 per cent of the budget that is spent in member states? Then we could aggregate and see how well member states are doing spending Community money.
My Lords, the whole House knows the noble Baroness to be entirely honourable, and so I hope that she will not advance the usual untruthful justifications of peace, trade and environmental collaboration when, in view of the obvious failure and pointlessness of the Hampton Court conference, I ask her what is the point of the European Union?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for not questioning my integrity. The European Union provides peace, security and prosperity. The citizens of this country, and of the European Union as a whole, have better living standards and are more secure, thanks to the European Union. That is thanks to the past 50 years, and we look forward to the next 50 years as an integrated member of the European Union.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the attitude of the Benches opposite—being so sneeringly dismissive about what has been achieved with the accession of Turkey—is misplaced? Does she further agree that the accession of Turkey will be remembered from this presidency and that it is a shame that the House cannot acknowledge that an Islamic state joining the EU is something to be celebrated?
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that the accession of Turkey—which has been welcomed on so many occasions by the Benches opposite—is an enormous step forward. I also believe that the on-going discussions with the Balkan countries are of the utmost importance. The European Union has recently decided that Moldavia will ultimately be able to become a member of the European Union. That is a tangible achievement of the European Union.
My Lords, while trying to be as neutral as I should be in my position here, may I ask this slightly cynical question? Does the Minister not agree that the point of the European Union is that if it did not exist we would be deprived of the wonderful statements made by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch?
My Lords, I would greatly miss the statements made by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. But I would also say that, as we move towards greater globalisation, if the European Union did not exist, we would have to invent something like it because we have to work closely together with other countries to secure the competitiveness and security of our country.
My Lords, if I may return to humdrum reality, can the Minister give an assurance that, however anxious the British Government may be to secure a budgetary agreement during their presidency—which would be desirable, but is certainly not necessary—there will be no question of any sacrifice or abrogation of the United Kingdom budgetary rebate? I should like an assurance on that because, as many people have pointed out—not least the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, who had an important part in negotiating it on behalf of the Government—the resolution provides that the rebate diminishes automatically as agricultural support diminishes, so there is no need for any separate action.
My Lords, as we draw to the end of another successful British presidency, will my noble friend nevertheless redouble efforts to implement the Lisbon agenda and to complete the single European market, because that is the way that prosperity is brought to the European Union and jobs to its people?
My Lords, the Lisbon agenda is of the utmost importance, and that was the basis of the discussions at Hampton Court. The title of the meeting at Hampton Court was "European Values in a Globalised World". To pursue our values in a globalised world, we have to work on the Lisbon agenda and we have to achieve a properly integrated single market.