Council of Europe — Motion to Take Note

– in the House of Lords at 4:33 pm on 18th November 2010.

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Moved By Lord Howell of Guildford

That this House takes note of the work of the Council of Europe.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy) 4:54 pm, 18th November 2010

My Lords, we are now entering what I understand is to be a relatively short debate and I thought, as that is so, that it would be right to limit my opening remarks on the work and activities of the Council of Europe to a few key points and give maximum time to the discussion itself. I shall then cover as much as I can in the wind-up at the end.

I want to make one general observation, which is simply that the Government regard the Council of Europe in its work as making a major contribution to the stability and peace of Europe. We are proud of its provenance, the part played by our nation in its history and evolution and its qualities as a supremely effective international organisation.

I want to make one more preliminary observation and I do so with some hesitation. The Council of Europe is much misunderstood, although not by your Lordships, or those who are active and have played a leading part in it, of course. However, many outside the House and maybe some in another place as well confuse the Council of Europe with the Council of the European Union. I have heard comments in which some even seem to assume that the Council of Europe is part of the European Union. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I feel that I should put on the record the truth of the matter, which is that the two organisations are completely separate and serve very different purposes. The European Union is concerned with the economic and social progress of all its member states, but for over 60 years the Council of Europe has existed to promote and protect human rights, the rule of law and democracy across the whole European land.

The United Kingdom will assume the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and therefore, in effect, of the Council of Europe next November-about this time next year. It is a little too early to set out what the United Kingdom chairmanship's specific priorities and objectives will be, but I thought that it might be useful to share with your Lordships some thoughts on what, at this stage, we think the chairmanship objectives are likely to take into account. This divides into three areas.

The first area is budgetary considerations. We are looking to push down the costs of the Council of Europe, to make efficiency savings where possible and to ensure that work undertaken by the organisation is essential and relevant. Negotiations are well advanced towards agreement on a Council of Europe budget for 2011. We believe that the outcome may be a small net reduction in the total that the United Kingdom pays, relative to 2010. My honourable friend the Minister for Europe, Mr Lidington, has told the Secretary-General that the United Kingdom will be pushing for an overall reduction in the Council of Europe budget for 2012.

The second area is reform of the European Court of Human Rights, which is, of course, a central part of Council of Europe activities. The court serves a valuable purpose, but it is essential that it be reformed. It is overburdened and weighed down by a staggering backlog of over 140,000 cases. This cannot carry on. We will fully support and seek to advance the court reform process, which came out of the high-level conference at Interlaken in February 2010. We are also considering ways in which we might make the court more nimble in its operation in both the consideration and the judgment of cases brought before it.

Thirdly, the organisation and its work must continue to focus on what it does best: it must continue to protect and promote human rights, the rule of law and democracy in Europe. Therefore, the organisation's work must reflect and contribute to these areas of strength and expertise. We oppose the Council of Europe straying into other areas of work for which other international organisations are better equipped. We also intend to maintain pressure on fellow member states to sign up and adhere to legally binding conventions and agreements to further safeguard Council of Europe standards and values in their country.

Europe is a better place for the Council of Europe and its work and those who dedicate so much time and effort to it, including Members of this House. It was born of the ashes of the Second World War and the defeat of the ghastly spectre of fascism. It has grown and flourished in an ever changing Europe. It has absorbed and welcomed into its midst almost all European countries, including those that lived under communism for many decades. By and large, it has indeed realised Winston Churchill's dream.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to say those words about this apparently effective international organisation. Its work contributes greatly to the promotion of UK foreign policy objectives. A peaceful, stable Europe promotes security, international trade and safer travel abroad for all its citizens. I commend the Council of Europe and its work and I greatly look forward to your Lordships offering their views on its experience, needs and possibilities for the future. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Prescott Lord Prescott Labour 5:00 pm, 18th November 2010

My Lords, I think that the House will be grateful for this opportunity to discuss the Council of Europe. Neither House of Parliament has spent a great deal of time talking about the Council of Europe. As the noble Lord pointed out, people often get confused between the European Union and the Council of Europe. I think that Ministers must get confused, because the same Ministers sit on both councils, which creates a certain amount of difficulty and misinterpretation, to which I shall refer. I agreed with a great deal of what the Minister said.

I was first a member of the Council of Europe 35 years ago. When I went there during the past two years, I was given a report that I produced 35 years ago on multinationals. I did not dare read its conclusions. I have seen considerable changes in the Council of Europe over that time, not least its growth in size. The noble Lord referred to the countries of eastern Europe. Now, with about 23 new countries, it has grown to a size of 47-20 nations greater than are in the European Union. I make that point because we are talking about the European context. The European Union is much more limited in its coverage, and I want to come to some of its actions, institutions and the difficulties that it may create. Nevertheless, instead of me describing what it does, a very good Library document has been produced for us that explains exactly its function and role.

I want to express some of the concerns that I have found since I have gone back to the Council of Europe. Clearly, the setting of standards-democratically, socially, economically and on human rights-has been an important function of the Council of Europe, and I think that it has performed well in that. Certain concerns are beginning to develop on human rights, but the countries newly in the Council of Europe have come from the eastern European bloc. We have a job of monitoring; it is one of the important challenges that the Council of Europe has. The members of its Parliamentary Assembly appoint the judges to the European court. They are the monitoring process to see whether people are observing the obligations that they entered into when they became members of the Council of Europe.

I was given the job of being the rapporteur to observe elections in Armenia. That was quite an experience, particularly on the day when the election came. I discovered that there was a riot; 100 people were thrown into jail; 10 people were killed; people were charged with usurping the power of the state. Some things from the eastern European communist states tend to hang on. There is constant complaint about whether the media is independent or whether the electoral laws are fixed against the opposition. A number of charges are made, and we found them to be so.

I am glad to say that the Council of Europe intervened. It got an amnesty from the Government to release the people from jail. It changed the law, so that you could protest without being thrown into jail for usurping the state. It changed the electoral law. That showed that when a country wants the endorsement of the Council of Europe and has to live up to its obligations when it signed, the Council of Europe can have a tremendous influence on government policies in countries that are causing great concern. That was a success, with the Council of Europe operating in an area where 35 years ago it did not operate, but now, with 23 eastern European countries, it does.

Out of the 23 countries, about 10 have not had much monitoring; we do not need to, because they observe the democratic practices which they signed up to. The other 13, we have been monitoring for 14 years. You can imagine what countries they are. They have the same common complaint about the nature of democracy in those countries, about how they operate, and about what is the role of an opposition. The Council of Europe has had tremendous influence on that important work.

The noble Lord referred to the European Court of Human Rights. There is no doubt that its work is very important and we are the only body to appoint the judges, which is to our credit. We often find that the Government appear before the European Court of Human Rights. I have given the noble Lord early indication that on 11 January it will deal with the Max Mosley case, which has had considerable publicity here. Our courts ruled that his privacy had been interfered with, which is what the highest court in this land confirmed. It went to the courts, but the Government are now opposing any changes in our legislation when our judges have said that it is a breach of privacy. Will the Minister give our position on that? Are we continuing to oppose it? There is no doubt that the previous Government agreed to oppose it; it is not something that I lay just against this Administration. But since they are in charge, I should like to hear from the Minister the line that we are taking on that. There is the big issue now of privacy, about which we will hear more in this Chamber in the future.

I am concerned about duplication. The noble Lord referred to having too many institutions. The Council of Europe has found that the Council of Ministers of the European Union has set up another body called the Agency for Fundamental Rights. What the heck is that? There is no power. It is supposed to look for breaches of human rights, and pass them to the Council of Europe. The fear is that it is another human rights body being established within the European Union. The Ministers are providing all the money for it and telling us that we have to have cuts for human rights at the Council of Europe, but not for the European Union. The concept of disconnection, which means that European Union legislation will have primacy over any treaty obligations, is also being looked at in Europe. The court of human rights will still protect human rights, but concern and duplication has been caused. Will the Minister give us an opinion on what we feel is a lot of money going to the European Union body, which has no powers? The one that we have all signed up for, and includes more nations than the European Union, is now being restricted in its powers and operations and being challenged by this other body, which was a political deal to put some agency in Austria if we are honest about it. Basically, that is the kind of horse-trading that goes on in negotiations from time to time, but it creates a problem.

Without a doubt there is a difference between us and the Europeans on the issue of the global solution to the global problems of climate change. I am glad to say that the Council of Europe adopted its own resolution as to what it thought was a proper global solution. In this case also, we are different perhaps from the Government, although I should like to hear what the Minister has to say about that.

I was the negotiator for the European Union during the presidency at the Kyoto negotiations in 1997. It was difficult to get an agreement, but we got one, which was an important step forward. Of course, that involved only 47 nations; now something like 197 have to come to an agreement. The real difficulty is the belief that you can have a legal framework as we had at Kyoto. The agreements at Kyoto will end in 2012. At Copenhagen, there was a hope that there could be another legal agreement, which would carry on from 2012. Quite frankly, there was no chance of getting an agreement. I tried to convince my own Government-Gordon Brown, then Prime Minister, and everyone-that we would fail at Copenhagen if we tried to enforce a legal agreement. Of course, that is what they tried to do.

Now we are going from Copenhagen to Cancun, which I shall attend on behalf of the Council of Europe. I want to plead with this Government and to say that they could make a difference. In the G20 Statement, the Prime Minister made clear that he wanted to use all efforts to get an agreement. Perhaps I may say to him and to this House that if you try to enforce a legal agreement at Cancun, it will be failure. I have just returned from a week in China and a week in Japan. Japan was a strong advocate of Kyoto. I can tell you that Japan does not dare to talk about a Kyoto 2. It wants to find a means of allowing progress to continue without assuming that it is Kyoto 2.

The Americans were great advocates of a legal agreement, but there is no possibility that the President, even before the election, can get a legal agreement through Congress, so they cannot go for an agreement. I notice that it is the coalition's policy in the document to go into Europe aiming for a 30 per cent cut in emissions. There is no chance at all of getting the eastern European countries to agree to that. The legal framework is falling apart. Let us be practical, recognise that it has happened, and go for an alternative. What the Council of Europe has done in its resolutions before Copenhagen and now ready for Cancun is to appeal to nations to find a common-sense agreement. Forget the legal framework; let us hope for it in perhaps five or six years' time. If Kyoto ends in 2012, let us adopt the good old European practice of stopping the clock. Let Kyoto stay in place and continue with the Copenhagen accord. The appendices contain a voluntary statement on actions and policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If you accept the science, it is an essential thing we have to do. In the four or five years up to 2015, we can find an agreement. Of course, we have to be absolutely clear about the principles.

The Government could argue this case, and I hope that they will. That is because people are looking around for a common-sense solution, whether they are in Japan or China. Indeed, China is not going to accept a legal agreement. I hope the Government will take on board my suggestion that they should say a voluntary agreement should build on the Copenhagen accord. The appendices set out commitments to action plans towards cuts in gas emissions in the programme.

We must have central principles, the first of which is a Copenhagen voluntary framework which is embodied and continued in the Copenhagen accord, with targets and action plans as set out in the appendices. We should stop the clock on Kyoto 2012 so we have some years to build up trust in order to negotiate a new Kyoto agreement. By then it may well involve a legal framework, but not now. If we fail this time, it will be disastrous, so we must find an agreement. The second principle is that this has to be applied universally. We cannot pick out certain countries like we did with the first Kyoto agreement. Whatever the agreement is, it must be a consensus for all.

The third principle is that the targets for greenhouse gas emissions must be expressed per capita. It was a nonsense for America to come to Copenhagen and say, "Well, China produces as many greenhouse gas emissions as we do, and therefore it is a mathematical problem, not a moral one". But expressed per capita, America produces 20 tonnes of gas emissions per person. In China it is 5 tonnes and in Europe it is 10 tonnes. If this is going to be acceptable to the developing world, it has got to be fair. Consensus is necessary to bring those countries on board. So let us start from a fair and equitable basis, which is to use emissions per capita for the agreement.

The fourth principle is to add accountability and transparency. I have had some arguments with Premier Wen in China, who says that he does not like the idea of people outside China on the international stage telling him what to do. I can understand that although I am bit confused because he has just joined the IMF, but we will leave that to one side. What he can do is recognise that there could be a voluntary agreement which says, "You should have a domestic programme and develop it". America has got one, Japan has got one, so let them do it at the domestic level. But there must be a universal system for verifying what they have done or else there will be no trust. There has to be accountability and transparency in verification; that is necessary.

Finally, there has to be sufficient money to allow countries to adapt their systems to low-carbon economies. That was what was said in Copenhagen, and I think that that is what they should be committed to doing. It will take quite a lot of money, but if we are to move to low-carbon economies, whether in the rich or the developing countries, a considerable amount of money and new technologies will be needed to make the changes.

I hope that the Government will consider and then give a lead to adopting a common-sense approach in Europe. If we do that, we will reach some sort of agreement. It will not be the grand agreement we got at Kyoto, but it will be a small step for mankind. It will be a step towards progress and continuing to accept the science of how the temperature is being affected and the consequences that we are all aware of. That is what we need to do, and I am glad to say that the Council of Europe is at the forefront of arguing for a good and sensible resolution that can provide the kind of halfway house, if you like, towards an agreement. Britain could lead the way both in Europe and internationally. I know that the Prime Minister had talks in China about it. Let us find a consensus and agreement-it is possible-and I am so pleased that the Council of Europe is playing its part in this.

Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Liberal Democrat 5:14 pm, 18th November 2010

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, speaks with a great deal of authority on this subject; he has become one of its leading experts and I am sure the House is grateful to him. He has spoken against a background, I would imagine, of more or less unanimity in this Chamber about the value and worth of the Council of Europe and all that it has achieved over the years. There is, however, the special anxiety that he has expressed about dealing with climate change-one of the most serious matters facing the entire planet.

He did not say so, but I assume from his analysis that the factors behind this anxiety include fears that the international financial crisis has caused great psychological depression in many countries: the recession that people now face; the threat of unemployment in different countries and the fact that, if they adjust to climate change requirements, jobs may be lost in the immediate future through that process as well; and that the emerging countries in the third world are now coming into the first world-very rapidly in the cases of India, China and Turkey. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, and I have just visited Turkey, and what an advanced country it is now becoming in all relative terms. As the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, said, they have become tired of the finger-wagging that has always been the habit of the West vis-à-vis these countries. It appears to be beginning to decline now, psychologically and politically-at least I hope so. When I was on a recent visit to India, which has naturally friendly relations with Great Britain as the former imperial power-I am glad to say there is a great relationship-one of the first things that was spontaneously said to me was that it did not want any lectures from the West on what to do about these matters; it will deal with them urgently as well and there has to be a fair international agreement. Legal force may be possible later, as the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, implied.

He was reminiscing about his history in the Council of Europe and I began to think of our history together in the European Assembly, as it was then, but the European Parliament as it is now. We both began at more or less the same time in the early 1970s when there were 184 members and a dual mandate, in all respects, of all the members from all the different countries. It was a very different, weak body. Sometimes the Commission did not bother to turn up if it was a bad day and the Council of Ministers sometimes did not turn up either or came late. Nowadays the European Parliament has developed into a powerful and impressive institution, as has the Council Europe, which is an entirely different organisation based on totally different premises.

I refer to the words contained in one of its recent publications. It states:

"The Council of Europe occupies a unique place in the international political landscape of Europe-the guardian of human rights, a symbol of hope, with the task of cultivating a Europe where democracy and the rule of law flourish and the mistakes of previous decades cannot easily be repeated. Its work is more important today than ever, covering almost the entire continent, in 47 member states and among 800 million citizens".

We on these Benches enthusiastically support the work of the Council of Europe, based as it is on the bedrock of the four basic treaties. We need to constantly think about the treaty dealing with torture because there is far too much going on in that terrible field in the world still and the Council of Europe has a great role to play.

We have noticed the enthusiasm of the more recent members of the Council of Europe for the body and the role that they can play there. I hope, too, that the Council of Europe will play its own particular definitive role in helping towards a resolution, at long last, of the tricky Northern Cyprus/Republic of Cyprus problem. There is now a great will between Greece and Turkey, particularly, to see this problem solved and, like other bodies, the Council of Europe can make a great difference.

As my noble friend said in his opening remarks it is depressing that there is still-even among well educated politicians, including in the other place-confusion between the European Union and the Council of Europe. I was disturbed to see in recent exchanges in the Commons that some fierce, deep-seated anti-European Tory Back-Bench MPs, some of them new Members, were also getting mixed up about the Council of Europe. When someone said that it was a totally different body, they said, "Let us leave that as well as leaving the European Union". This kind of thing is a disturbing manifestation of the modern, more brutal, politics in Britain, where socioeconomic pressures cause people to go back into atavistic thinking and nationalism of one kind or another.

I am sure that my noble friend will return to some of the points made in today's brief debate. I conclude not by embarrassing him but by paying tribute to him on the way in which he has always sought to interweave into his ministerial answers a concentration, which I detect he feels personally, on human rights and its abuses in the world and the need for the international community to deal with them. That has been noticed in all parts of the House and we thank the Minister for his attitude, conduct and repeated assurances that that is a priority for the Government.

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative 5:20 pm, 18th November 2010

My Lords, this is a timely debate. Membership of the new UK Council of Europe parliamentary delegation was announced only a few days ago and, since coming to power last May, the Government are still at an early stage of forming general policies for Europe.

However, many of us will have already become much heartened by the concession that our Prime Minister has recently won. This is to downsize the EU's annual budgetary increase from 6 per cent to 2.9 per cent. That in turn serves to reduce any inconsistency between control of the EU economy and that currently deployed by and within each of the 27 member states. For our European partners and us together, it also inspires a common resolve for improved management.

Yet, although extremely important, the EU is only one of the necessary considerations. For Europe as a whole, we may well believe that the Government should focus on three separate yet related forms of security and their interaction. The first is defence and the maintenance of European peace. The second is the goal of effective political and economic delivery towards and within nation states. The third is the collective task of building up the confidence and well-being of families and communities within the Council of Europe's wider affiliation of 47 states.

Among those three aspirations, the common factor is perhaps economic stability. That is so even though military defence and economic management are always different endeavours. Nevertheless, since the formation of NATO in 1949, the two have become ever more closely connected. Nor do we have to look far to find evidence that, since then, defence policy in Europe has borne the most fruit through a strong and healthy link to democracy and economic stability. NATO could hardly have been formed without the disbursement of Marshall aid the previous year, in 1948. The Cold War would not have ended as it did in the late 1980s had not the arms race come to exert unacceptable pressure on the economies of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact states.

At that time, as a result, the Soviet bloc decided to elevate the concerns of its own economy above ideology and empire. By 2000, it appeared that the former Yugoslavia had done the same, in its case by putting economic stability before territorial acquisition and ethnic cleansing. In both examples, the change of heart had been precipitated by successful NATO containment or intervention, although it may be regretted that the international community, which through NATO in 1999 acted decisively at last, did not do so at the outset of the conflict in 1991, when it could have done, thereby saving countless lives.

If in Europe, through NATO and to good effect, military defence has facilitated economic stability, the corollary to this is that economic stability has also assisted military defence. Through the EU, its manifestation and prospect continue to inspire European peace. Not least is that so in the case of former Yugoslavia. In that part of south-east Europe, lasting peace can best be secured through eventual EU membership of the states concerned. Clearly, it will take some time for all of them to accede. However, Croatia is expected to become a full EU member quite soon. Here I declare an interest as chairman of the UK parliamentary group for that country.

In the development of peace and economic stability in Europe since 1949, what then have been the achievements of the Council of Europe? How have these enhanced or complemented the work of NATO and the EU? And, following the Lisbon treaty, what is the Council of Europe's future role?

Since 1949, the political experiment in Europe has been how to combine solidarity with national independence. From the 1990s, that formula has received greater credence. This is through subsidiarity and other safeguards. The notion seems strange, nevertheless. How can the citizen build up rights and duties within his state and within Europe at the same time? At least, how can he do so without conflicting loyalties?

Yet here already, through the European Convention on Human Rights adopted in 1950, the Council of Europe began to make sense of that apparent anomaly. The Court of Human Rights which followed in 1959 set the precedent for the European individual to be protected in his own right, irrespective of the particular state to which he belongs.

This precedent has also enabled a fresh background for European idealism. The Court of Human Rights puts state and citizen on an equal footing. Hitherto, and by contrast, a previous background had permitted the opposite extremes of harmful ideology. Such were the versions of communism or fascism prevalent in the 20th century. Those creeds either discount human rights altogether or else render them subservient to the state.

In terms of idealism, the Council of Europe has therefore produced a great victory for pragmatism and common sense. The citizen need no longer become prey to the whims of ideology; instead, his rights can be protected through the objective standards of democracy and the rule of law.

Arising from this, the Council of Europe has acted to foster legal co-operation and to safeguard the rule of law. It has done so through conventions and treaties including conventions on cybercrime, prevention of terrorism, against corruption and organised crime and trafficking in human beings, on the prevention of torture and on human rights and biomedicine. If, in the first place, state and citizen are perceived to be on an equal footing, it follows that these measures then stand to benefit each of state and citizen in its or his own right.

The same focus is shared by the various arms of the Council of Europe-its Parliamentary Assembly, Committee of Ministers, Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and Commissioner for Human Rights. The targets and beneficiaries of their combined work are individuals, families, communities, regions and states of Europe.

However, out of context, such work and its results might always be suspected to duplicate, double-handle or conflict with efforts made elsewhere, or in the first instance even to upstage or undermine the agendas of nation states or the EU. Yet with a few exceptions, this is hardly ever the case. That is so since, on the continent, the Council of Europe is the only institution that relates to 800 million people within the affiliation of 47 states.

If, then, to date the Council of Europe has already much assisted Europe, what should become its future role? One paradox is that this institution should have managed to be so effective without wielding any executive power at all. Another, to which the Minister has already referred, is that so much of its important work goes unnoticed and unrecognised. A further anomaly reflects the respective costs of the Council of Europe and the EU, since the former costs roughly in one year what the latter does in one day.

On the scope for improved co-operation between the EU and the Council of Europe, the recent Juncker report has recommended a number of expedients: EU accession to the European Convention on Human rights, a joint legal and judicial system and EU acknowledgement of the Council as an expert authority on human rights in Europe. Does my noble friend agree with these aims? If so, can he say what progress is being made to advance them?

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights was launched in 2007. Yet, while costing a great deal, it may not have added very much to existing Council of Europe delivery. In view of that, does my noble friend consider that this EU agency should now be wound down?

Until recently, the European Court of Human Rights has had pending more than 140 cases. Compliance to protocol 14 by Russia and certain other states may well cause this backlog to be eased. My noble friend also mentioned the resolve to reform the Court of Human Rights in the longer term. In the shorter term, what recommendations can he make to reduce the current burden of the court?

If the future preference of EU member states might be to get things done much less through Brussels and much more through intergovernmental channels, the Council of Europe provides an opportunity. This thought revisits expediency. The Council of Europe upholds moral principles; that is its chief function. At the same time, however, it happens to operate through an intergovernmental process as well. By contrast, the EU does not. Thus, to circumnavigate red tape and to achieve certain purposes, our Government may wish to make further use of the Council of Europe for its flexibility and expediency.

Today is far too soon to identify such purposes. Be that as it may, does my noble friend agree that the next 12 months, until and in advance of the beginning of the British chairmanship of the Council of Europe in November 2011, is the right time to analyse and study a number of options? For from this institution there is a unique opportunity to improve standards, as there is to encourage best practice throughout Europe.

Meanwhile, the Council of Europe's contribution continues to be of incalculable value: to steer Europe away from misleading ideologies and, instead, towards a pragmatic idealism. Such is democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour 5:31 pm, 18th November 2010

My Lords, the Minister made a positive and welcome speech on the Council of Europe. Last year the noble Earl, my noble friend Lord Prescott and I were in Strasbourg celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Council. Over the 60 years, the Council has defended common European values, worked as a pan-European organisation and monitored member states' compliance with obligations on human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Even though the treaty was signed in London in 1949, it was not welcomed at the beginning, when Ernest Bevin, the then Foreign Secretary, said:

"I don't like it. When you open that Pandora's Box, all sorts of Trojan Horses will come out of it".

I do not believe that Trojan horses have indeed come out of it, but the statute of the Council of Europe refers, of course, to the unity of Europe but not to European Union. It has always been apart from the federalist tradition of Europe, which ultimately led to the Rome treaty and the European Union.

In 1960-61, my first job was as a foreign office adviser to the Council of Europe Assembly. At that time, there was a great deal of despondency because the Council of Europe, which was founded before the Common Market, as it then was, had been overtaken by it. I was told by our then ambassador John Peck that at the meeting of Ministers' deputies in 1959, when they were discussing how best to celebrate the 10th anniversary, Tommy Woods, the Irish Minister's deputy, had suggested 10 minutes' silence. Since that time, the Council has indeed found a role but it has not been really well recognised in the member countries.

Certainly, its low profile has led to all sorts of distortions. Members of this House may have noticed an article in the Sunday Times of 7 November, headed:

"Kennedy joins EU drinking group".

It said that Charles Kennedy, the former Liberal Democrat leader, who quit because of an alcohol problem, is to join a European Union delegation notorious for its drinking culture. Not only is that a nasty slur on a highly respected member of Parliament, it is wholly inaccurate and very much in the Sunday Times tradition of seeing the Council of Europe as another awful European Union institution.

Over the decades since 1959, in my judgment, the council has gained a new self-confidence. During the Cold War it was a bastion of democratic values; it was a model, a bulwark, against totalitarianism. After 1989 and the year of revolutions, it was a school of democracy for countries of central and eastern Europe, the former Soviet satellites. Now it has become a place of reconciliation for other conflicts, based, of course, in Strasbourg, no better symbol of reconciliation in the post-war world. Germany joined, then Austria, then the neutral Switzerland, then the newly independent Malta and Cyprus. As has been mentioned-I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, who made this point-there is a real role for Turkey. Not only is the president of the assembly currently a Turk but, from this month, Turkey holds the presidency of the Council.

The Council was involved in mediating last week in Moldova, as I learnt this morning when I was in Paris at a meeting of the Council. It has tried to moderate the Russian/Georgian confrontation, and at least there is jaw-jaw between the Russian and Georgian delegates in Strasbourg.

Over the years UK politicians have played a sterling role. I have just had a telephone message from the noble Lord, Lord Roper, who says:

"My father in law was the first British president" of the Assembly. As one looks through the roll call of British participants, one sees Winston Churchill, Jim Callaghan, Rab Butler, George Brown, Alec Douglas-Home, Roy Jenkins, my noble friend Lord Healey and so on, and of course the previous Secretary-General, Terry Davis, is British.

By far the greatest contribution of the Council, though, has been in the field of soft security generally and human rights in particular. It has been the conscience of Europe or, as the current Secretary-General, Thorbjørn Jagland, has said,

"the lighthouse of Europe, a house for early warning".

It has institutionalised human rights, including minority rights, and brought 47 European countries together in defence of the rule of law, fundamental rights and democracy.

The point in relation to the European Convention of Human Rights and the European Court has already been made, that Europe's 800 million-plus people are able to seek individual redress when states violate their basic rights. In this it is assisted by a commissioner for human rights, who will be in this Parliament next week. The problem, as the Minister pointed out, has been the tide of applications, with an enormous backlog, and the misuse by certain states. How confident is the Minister that the Interlaken agreement, with the sifting mechanism, will lead to a reduction in that backlog and allow the court to get on with its proper work?

For time reasons, I will not go through in detail the other key conventions and human rights, but they include the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. One achievement has been that since 1997 none of the Council of Europe's 47 member states has enforced the death penalty. There is the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance. There are conventions on cyberspace, on medical ethics and on social rights. The monitoring activities, including those of the Venice Commission, have been important.

I shall conclude with some observations. The Minister is well thought of in the House because of his reflective view on the future of Europe. As he knows, institutions are extremely slow to change even if the context changes. I therefore question him on how sees the developments on the European landscape.

It may be said that the European landscape is just too full of institutions, some of which may well have served their purpose. The Western European Union is coming to an end next June. How does the Minister see the possible integration of some of the work? My noble friend Lord Prescott made the point very well that the European Union is going into the field of human rights like an imperialist. Now that it has become a member of the convention, is there not an argument for aligning policies more closely? Perhaps the European Parliament should have a role with the Council of Europe in the election of judges. Perhaps the European Union should leave this field to an organisation which is of not 27 but 47 members and, therefore, rather more important in seeking to promote human rights Europe-wide.

President Medvedev floated the idea of a new security structure in Europe two years ago. At that time, in June 2008, the whole élan was overtaken by the Russian invasion of Georgia which violated the very principles that President Medvedev had enunciated. Now, perhaps, we can sit back in a more calm and reflective way and see-given that we have the OSCE, formed at a particular period of time in the Helsinki accords-whether there is still a role for national Parliaments meeting together to have some security responsibility now that the Western European Union is about to be wound up. How does the Minister see how the various European institutions can work together?

What better time to do so, when all Governments are looking at ways of cutting expenditure in the current global crisis? The Council of Europe is extraordinarily cheap and modest in its expenditure for the work that is done. The Minister will be well aware of politicians' temptation to roam and extend their remit more widely. This is currently very much the case in the European Union. How does the Minister respond to the new Secretary-General's initiatives announced following his appointment? The first stage-the internal governance of the Council-has almost been completed, and the process is now moving on to the more difficult and political stage.

Clearly, there is an area in which the Council of Europe adds value more than any other institution: human rights. How does the Minister see the relationship with the European Union after the Lisbon treaty? How does one prevent the overlap and duplication of work of several institutions? How do the Minister and the planners in the Foreign Office see the best form of European architecture, in both security and human rights, given the changes that are coming about?

I end on this note: the Council of Europe has played a key role as part of the institutional landscape of Europe after the Second World War. Rather like Voltaire's God, if it did not exist we would have to invent it. Its development was blocked prior to 1989. I recall the phrase of President Gorbachev about our "common European home". We could say at the time, "How can we possibly have a common European home when there is a wall"-the Berlin Wall-"right through the front room?". Now the Berlin Wall has gone, we can look a little more objectively at how Europe might develop. No institution or landscape is static. All are dynamic.

I shall be interested personally in how Her Majesty's Government and the Minister view the development and rationalisation of organisations and their prioritisation. Certainly, it is the wish of the new Secretary-General and Ministers not to clip the Council's wings, but to recognise the sterling work it has done, particularly on human rights, and to ensure that that area is allowed to develop. It is a good time for radical thinking about our European institutions.

Photo of Baroness Stern Baroness Stern Crossbench 5:45 pm, 18th November 2010

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for arranging this debate and for his opening remarks, which are enormously welcome. He is right that few people have the remotest idea of the work of the Council of Europe or its beneficial effects on the lives of the 800 million people in Europe. This debate gives us a rare opportunity to highlight those benefits. The work of the Council has affected not only individuals in Europe but has been substantial in strengthening the human rights framework of the whole world. I have had the privilege of many years' involvement with the Council of Europe, although my involvement has not been as long or as deep as that of other noble Lords who have spoken today. I will concentrate on the role that the Council of Europe has played in the rule of law and human rights-a role that the Minister commended so highly. I declare two interests. I chair the All-Party Group on the Abolition of the Death Penalty and I am a trustee of the International Centre for Prison Studies.

The basis of the human rights work of the Council of Europe is the European Convention on Human Rights. There is much that is overwhelmingly positive to be said about the effect of the convention and the case law of the court on making it clear what respect for the human dignity of each individual means, and how it affects the daily practice of many who work for the state-for example, police, prosecutors, prison officials and many other public servants. Out of that framework has come a body of instruments that set out in considerable detail how people should be treated when they are subject to the coercive power of the state. These are considerable achievements and I will highlight two particular developments.

In 1989, when the Soviet Union came to an end, the Council of Europe was crucial in bringing so many new countries into the framework of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. It was a remarkable time and remarkable work was done. One of the substantial achievements was to eliminate the death penalty, either by statute or by a moratorium in every country, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has mentioned. Europe, with the exception of Belarus, is now a death penalty-free zone, which is an enormous achievement.

I will say a little about the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. From now on I will refer to it as the committee for the prevention of torture, or the CPT. The Council of Europe emerged from the barbarity of the Second World War years, when torture and violent death became the fate of millions. It is clear why so many people saw it as a priority to construct a framework that prevents torture. Many years of work went into drafting the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which came into force in 1989. I was privileged to be at a meeting in Strasbourg when the draft of the document, setting out the working methods of the new convention, was being discussed with experts on torture prevention from around the world. Shortly afterwards, the text was accepted and the committee was established. It was the beginning of a new era in torture prevention. Places of detention in all member states were opened to visits from the committee, which then produced reports and recommendations for member states on action to be taken to prevent torture.

The United Kingdom played a large role in the successful implementation of this convention. From 1997 to 2009, the UK member of the committee was Dr Silvia Casale. From 2000 to 2007, she was the president of the committee. She chaired it with great distinction and during that time it developed its practice considerably. In 1998, the committee visited Russia for the first time. One should reflect for a moment on the significance of a visit in 1998, only seven years after the country came out of totalitarianism, of a group of international monitors to prisons and labour camps. These establishments had been secret; the prisoners in them were not seen as people with rights but as enemies of the state. The penalty for coming within a few metres of the perimeter wall was to be shot. Such a huge change has occurred in such a short time.

But the committee for the prevention of torture did not examine just the most recent member states; it has found something wrong with all of us. The UK Government were criticised for the way in which detainees were held in Belmarsh Prison under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. Their detention had seriously damaging effects on their mental health. The Swedish Government were criticised for the way they treated their remand prisoners and the Dutch Government for the treatment of people in their high security units. The Czech Government were criticised for allowing a vulnerable prisoner to be raped repeatedly. Today there is a report of the committee's visit to Greece, where it found cases of detainees being punched, kicked and beaten with clubs. All these reports are published by the Government concerned and are in the public domain, as should be the case in democratic societies. From these 20 years of inspections, the committee for the prevention of torture has produced a set of standards which have shaped expectations across Europe of how detainees should be treated. Furthermore, the experience of the committee has led to the establishment of a similar body under UN auspices, the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture.

I have gone into detail on this one aspect of the work of the Council of Europe to make the point that it has been tremendously effective in changing the landscape of Europe and its values, and in establishing a common European legal space, with 47 countries agreeing to and accepting, if not always implementing, the validity of certain standards for the treatment of those living within their borders. Within this framework, the Council of Europe has brought together richer and poorer states, long-term democratic states with more recent ones, countries which see themselves as mainly Christian with those which see themselves as predominantly Muslim, and a variety of legal systems. As the Minister said, this has led to a stronger, more stable and more peaceful continent.

I end by raising a point about the future of the Council of Europe. This year is the 60th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights. Obviously, times have moved on. The immensely challenging task of bringing into membership the countries that were formerly behind the Berlin Wall has been completed but Europe now faces other huge challenges, particularly intolerance, racism and the rise of political parties espousing such views. Who would have imagined, for example, a Government in the Netherlands ruling with the parliamentary support of the Freedom Party led by an MP who has called Islam a fascist religion and appeared in court last month accused of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims? The economic conditions in many member states are also worrying and can feed resentment of people from cultures other than the majority. In the Council of Europe the new secretary-general has launched a reform programme to ensure that the council remains relevant and cost-effective, and has particularly mentioned the rise of racism and discrimination in Europe as a new danger. While welcoming the Minister's preview of the priorities for when the UK takes over in a year's time, I ask him whether the Government will support the new secretary-general in his reform efforts and in his highlighting of the dangers of an increase in racist attitudes and racist politics in Europe.

Photo of Lord Sheikh Lord Sheikh Conservative 5:55 pm, 18th November 2010

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Howell for his initial remarks, which were very relevant.

Sir Winston Churchill was the first to speak about the benefits of creating a Council of Europe, so it is fitting that the Council was established by the treaty of London. The Council of Europe was founded upon the principles of upholding democracy and civil liberties. Since its creation, the Council has continued to adapt and expand as a means of tackling the common challenges facing the continent. The Council of Europe promotes and supports human rights, the rule of law and democracy. I have spoken in your Lordships' House on humanitarian issues and I appreciate the work done by the Council. It is, however, important to make sure that the expenditure of the Council is controlled and that the organisation is cost-effective.

Turkey currently holds both the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers and the presidency of the Assembly in the Council of Europe. The Turkish Government have recently ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime. It is the first international treaty of its kind relating to crimes committed using the internet and other computer networks. The treaty is comprehensive in the sense that it deals with a number of offences, including infringement of copyright and online fraud. It aims to ensure that countries that sign up to the convention implement common criminal policies in relation to cybercrime. In our debate last week on the strategic defence and security review, I made reference to the growing dangers of cybercrime.

It is encouraging that with this development Turkey has become the 43rd country to sign up to the convention. The Turkish Government have also signed into domestic law the convention's additional protocol on the transfer of sentenced persons. Turkey's ratification of this convention is an important step towards the country's ambitions of accession to the European Union, which I continue to support.

I recently attended an event to celebrate the achievements of the Turkish community in Britain where I made a speech and presented an award. This year, I visited Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, where I met government Ministers and leaders in commerce. I continue to support a peaceful solution to the tensions in Cyprus. I am pleased that leaders of the Greek and Turkish communities are today meeting the Secretary-General of the United Nations in New York to progress negotiations for a settlement.

The Turkish economy is the fastest-growing in Europe and provides a wealth of opportunities for increased trade. I should be grateful if the Minister could inform your Lordships' House of the steps that Her Majesty's Government are taking to strengthen our relationship with Turkey. Due to the economic downturn and increased migration, there have been electoral successes across Europe for political parties with extremist views. The current state of affairs is particularly worrying as support for far-right parties has increased markedly in Sweden and the Netherlands-two European countries famous for their reputation as tolerant societies. The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party now has seats in the Swedish Parliament. A greater concern is that the Dutch coalition Government are reliant on the support of the extremist politician Geert Wilders, who is facing trial on charges of inciting racial hatred.

It is with regret that I refer to the recent desecration of 37 Muslim graves at a cemetery in Strasbourg. Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. A number of other Jewish and Muslim cemeteries have been vandalised in the region this year. In response to these developments, the Council of Europe has set up a group of eminent persons which has been tasked with preparing a report on how to combat the rise of extremism and promote tolerance in Europe. The group, which is chaired by the former Foreign Minister of Germany, Joschka Fischer, will submit its report to the Council of Europe's Foreign Ministers in May.

I fully support the Council of Europe in its goal to combat trafficking in human beings. The European Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, and the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, highlight the importance of a multiagency approach in the Council to ensuring the safety of victims and the prosecution of the perpetrators. I have raised the issue of human trafficking on a number of occasions in your Lordships' House: it is a subject that I feel passionately about. This abhorrent practice is equivalent to modern-day slavery. It is encouraging to see that the Council of Europe is taking action to address this important issue.

I strongly welcome the Council of Europe's campaign against domestic violence. Research suggests that between 12 and 15 per cent of European women are subjected to domestic violence every day. The topic is something on which I feel strongly, and about which I have also previously spoken in your Lordships' House. The nature of the crime suggests that the number of female victims could be higher than this statistic, as incidents of abuse are not always reported. The Council's campaign is directed at all levels of government, as it recognises the important work carried out by local and regional authorities across member states in preventing domestic violence and in offering support to victims. A British councillor has recently been elected as president of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities in the Council of Europe. The congress represents local authorities across all 47 member states, and this is the first time the presidency has been held by a Briton.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe played a vital part in contributing to peace and stability on the continent after the Second World War. The assembly was instrumental in preparing the European Convention on Human Rights, which established the European Court of Human Rights. The court has concluded that the general, automatic and indiscriminate restriction on voting by all prisoners was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. I find this decision hard to reconcile, and share the frustration of many law-abiding citizens. This ruling has several implications for our country and requires thoughtful consideration. I sincerely hope that it does not have an adverse impact on our judicial system. Perhaps it would be appropriate to look at revising the powers and activities of the court.

The Council of Europe has undoubtedly enriched the lives of many European citizens. Membership of the Council has been extended to almost every country in Europe. It serves as a constant reminder of the progress that this continent has made since the Second World War. We should continue to play a leading role in the Council in order to further our national interests. Most importantly, we should seek to create and strengthen existing relationships within the group. Europe is facing both social and economic challenges. I conclude by saying that the challenges now are less onerous than those we conquered in the past. However, we must continue to uphold our democratic and social values in all undertakings.

Photo of Lord Low of Dalston Lord Low of Dalston Crossbench 6:04 pm, 18th November 2010

My Lords, I crave the indulgence of the House in speaking for a moment in the gap to bring to your Lordships' attention a disturbing development of which I learnt only last night. I apologise to the Minister for the fact that I missed the first few minutes of his speech.

Among the many valuable things that the Council of Europe does, one of the most valuable is its support for a Conference of International Non-Governmental Organisations enjoying participatory status with the Council of Europe. This conference is one of the four pillars of the Council of Europe whose role is to strengthen respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law throughout Europe-something that has always been at the heart of British foreign policy. Council Resolution (2003)8 bestowed participatory status on selected international NGOs in recognition of the critical role that they can play in fostering dialogue between civil society and the other Council institutions, and in promoting participatory democracy and fundamental rights in member states-in forwarding the core work of the Council of Europe, in other words, to which many other noble Lords have attested.

The conference has taken a particular interest in the rights of disabled people, which is how I come to know about it. I am president of the European Blind Union, which is a member of the conference and thus has participatory status with the Council. I declare my interest accordingly.

The Council is distinct in granting participatory status to the NGO community. This has given civil society a voice and a stake in Europe-something which should be seen as being of prime importance at a time when we are all concerned about democratic deficits in Europe. However, we have just learnt that the Council is now proposing major cuts in the conference's budget, which would significantly erode its effectiveness, if not neuter it altogether. The conference's budget for 2010 is a mere 0.52 per cent of the total budget of the Council of Europe. That proposed for 2011 foresees a reduction in excess of 50 per cent but could, we are told, reach 80 per cent. Such a saving would be just a drop in the ocean so far as concerns the Council of Europe, but it would surely spell the end of the crucial work of the Conference of International NGOs in contributing to the effective implementation of Council programmes and in drawing up and implementing legal instruments which ensure the protection of human rights, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Social Charter, the convention on combating the trafficking of human beings and the proposed convention on combating violence against women.

In 2009, the Committee of Ministers declared that one of its priorities was,

"to develop, with the assistance of the Conference of International Non-Governmental Organizations, interaction with civil society, whose grassroots work we salute".

Given that the Council states that its proposals for reform are aimed at refocusing around its fundamental values of democracy, human rights, the rule of law and areas in which it enjoys a real comparative advantage in doing what others are not able to do, the effect of disablement of the Conference of International NGOs through the proposed cuts would surely be counterproductive. The Council's budget will be discussed and adopted by the Committee of Ministers next week, and I hope very much that the Minister will do whatever he can, through the Government's representation on the Council of Ministers, to see that this disastrous and self-defeating cut is significantly attenuated, if it cannot be wholly reversed.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 6:10 pm, 18th November 2010

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the debate so enthusiastically and all noble Lords who have participated. They demonstrated the considerable expertise in this House on the Council of Europe, not least through the direct experience of many of your Lordships of how the Council works, some I note going back more than 50 years, as my noble friend Lord Anderson ably demonstrated.

Without exception there has been huge appreciation of everything that the Council of Europe has achieved in the past almost 60 years but your Lordships have also asked pertinent questions about future priorities. Foremost among those are the questions raised a moment or two ago by the noble Lord, Lord Low, about the funding of the international NGOs. We all look forward to what the Minister will say about that.

I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, for her exposition on how the Council of Europe has been pivotal in establishing what she called a common European legal space in terms of its framework on issues such as torture and the conditions in which prisoners and detainees are held. I thank her most warmly for the excellent work that she has done and continues to do in this field.

I turn first to questions about the institutions and the Council of Europe itself. As I understand it, the Parliamentary Assembly includes 18 British parliamentarians and 18 substitute British parliamentarians whose advisory function is not binding on the Committee of Ministers-the ministerial council-which is, in effect, the executive body of the Council of Europe as a whole. I think that that distinction is right-the relationship between the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers is, I think, on the one hand an Assembly that makes recommendations and on the other a decision-taking body.

The Minister talked about looking at these issues when the British chairmanship begins in November next year. My question is born of genuine interest-I am not trying to put forward any particular agenda. Will the Minister say whether any thought has been given to trying to ensure that when the Committee of Ministers does not agree with the recommendations put forward by the Parliamentary Assembly there should be an obligation to explain the differences between their thinking and the thinking of the parliamentarians who are there to advise them.

The Council of Europe has a number of different bodies, some of which are well known, such as the European Court of Human Rights, while others, such as the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, are perhaps much less well known and their functions rather less obvious. That raises more tangentially the same sort of point made by my noble friend Lord Prescott. Presumably, we send representatives to all these bodies, but will the Minister say whether that is the case. I am sorry not to know, but these are pertinent questions that all lead to the same point, which is inevitably about the way in which the Minister thinks that the British chairmanship will scope its review of what the Council of Europe should do in future.

I am sure that many of us read the interesting article in today's Financial Times, entitled:

"Leaner Foreign Office sheds jobs and sites".

It went on to quote an interview with Simon Fraser, the Permanent Secretary at the FCO, about the projected 10 per cent reduction in the FCO workforce over the next few years. We discussed the resourcing of active diplomacy in the FCO in the excellent debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, last week. In terms of today's debate, I wonder how much the FCO is currently paying towards the running of the Council of Europe, both in the subvention that is made directly and in support of MPs and Members of this House who go to the meetings in Strasbourg. Can the Minister please supply the House with figures on the subvention and separately on the costs that I have mentioned? I do not expect him to do that today but I hope that he will put some figures in the Library in due course.

The Council focuses much of its efforts and discussions around an agenda which is of enormous interest generally across this Parliament but particularly in this House, such as the European Court of Human Rights and, of course, the issues of the political focus on those human rights with the accession of Europe's post-communist democracies, so ably described by the noble Lord, Lord Dykes. Moreover, there is now, of course, a well-scripted agenda around terrorism, organised crime, money laundering and, as the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, pointed out, human trafficking, as well as the environmental issues about which my noble friend Lord Prescott spoke. All these issues play to the heart of the agenda which Foreign Office Ministers have very ably laid out in the business plan that the Foreign Office has published. It is, indeed a familiar agenda to all of us.

I now raise some specific issues which, if the Minister is not able to answer now, he may be able to answer in writing later on. The first concerns the discussions in Paris on 15 November on the social charter and the relationship between poverty and human rights. What is the Government's view on the best way to mark the 20th anniversary of the European Social Charter next year? Do the Government agree with the view of the Social Affairs Committee of the Council of Europe that the year should be marked by an assertion of what it called the indivisibility of social rights and civil and political rights? If so, how does he answer the very clear and unambiguous points put just a moment or two ago by the noble Lord, Lord Low?

The Paris meeting put forward trenchant views about the relationship between poverty and the denial of human rights. Do the Government agree, for example, that bad housing, poor education and job insecurity leads directly to social exclusion and therefore undermines human rights? When we talk about human rights, the rule of law and democracy, many of your Lordships spread the definition of these concepts. How far does the Minister take the definitions of what the Council of Europe should be looking at in the future?

During the Turkish chairmanship of the Council of Europe, their priorities were reform of the Council, reform of the European Court of Human Rights, strengthening independent monitoring mechanisms and the EU's accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. Those are pretty comprehensive objectives for the Turkish chairmanship over the current year, but I was pleased to note that they were, to some extent, picked up by what the Minister said he thought the priorities would be when this country takes over the chairmanship in November next year. He specifically asked us to think about the budget and pushing down costs, saying negotiations were well advanced on that; he talked about reform of the European Court of Human Rights, another recurring theme in this debate; and he also said that the British chairmanship should focus on what the Council does best, in terms of human rights, the rule of law and democracy. These are all laudable objectives, but the whole point is how we define them.

For example, what view do Her Majesty's Government take on the paper, prepared in June this year, Democracy in Europe: Crisis and Perspectives, which stated clearly that the recent world economic crisis has accentuated what it called a crisis in democracy? In particular, the report cited what it described as,

"highly centralised executive decision-making and global negotiation mechanisms with little parliamentary control and insufficient transparency".

It went on to talk about,

"a disinterest in the current institutionalised procedures of democracy and a crisis in representation".

I could not help reflecting on that in terms of some of the constitutional issues we have recently discussed in your Lordships' House, particularly, I am bound to say, in relation to government plans for what I think is an extravagant use of Henry VIII clauses to overturn some primary legislation which has passed through both Houses in this Parliament. Is not the real test of the Council of Europe not so much what the Council of Europe has done, but what it should do now?

We all agree that it has had a hugely influential-a crucial-role in establishing democracy, the rule of law and human rights throughout Europe. The question now is: how do we define what it should do next? There is the debate about society's security versus personal freedom; women's rights versus what some people conceive to be the right way to approach medical ethics; the important questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, on domestic violence; and the vital question of the relationship between poverty and civil rights.

The British chairmanship of the Council of Europe next year is a real opportunity for the United Kingdom. It is a real opportunity for the coalition Government to shape the future functions of the Council and to press the Government's stated ambitions for security and prosperity through the spread of the values of human rights-which are, of course, the bedrock of the Council of Europe-but also to look at other questions: poverty, social inclusion and civil rights. The Europe that most of us have grown up in is so much better than the one that our parents grew up in, in the rights that we have as individuals and our place in society. Now is the opportunity to look ahead at what mechanisms we have to ensure that the Europe that our children and grandchildren grow up in is better than the one that we inhabit today.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy) 6:21 pm, 18th November 2010

My Lords, this has been an illuminating debate. I think that that is the right adjective, as it has brought out so many fascinating aspects and dimensions of the work of the Council of Europe and its various committees in ways that are not widely appreciated. I fully agree with those who made that point. I have listened to an enormous range of points and questions, some of them very big questions. I shall try to answer as many of them as I can, but I fear that I will not succeed in answering all of them. Nevertheless, I will do my best. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, for her final remarks, which seemed to me to be extremely profound and well aimed, about the role of the Council of Europe and the endless search to uphold human rights in all their aspects-women's rights, and so on-in the modern world, where these things are always in danger and one cannot rest; one has to keep eternal vigilance.

We started the debate with a splendidly wide-ranging and powerful speech by the former Deputy Prime Minister and fairly new attendant in your Lordships' House, whom we are very glad to see, the noble Lord, Lord Prescott. I start with a small question first, which is an easy one to answer. I will get on to the much bigger and immensely important issues that he also raised. He asked me about the Max Mosley case: will the UK contest the case brought to the European Court of Human Rights by Max Mosley? Answer: yes. A hearing is scheduled for January and it is inappropriate to comment further. That is about the best I can do on that. I promise to try to do rather better on the much bigger issues that the noble Lord raised.

The noble Lord then raised an issue that has been something of a theme throughout the whole debate, which is where the Council of Europe fits in with the activities of the EU in setting up the Fundamental Rights Agency. Several noble Lords asked whether it duplicates the work of the Council of Europe.

The proper answer is that the objectives of the two bodies are different. The Fundamental Rights Agency is indeed well funded. I hope that it is attending to the necessary degrees of economy and austerity that everyone else throughout Europe and everyone throughout this kingdom is attending to; none of us can stand back from that need for economy and efficiency. The FRA assists the European Union institutions in implementing EU law and the member states with fundamental rights issues arising within EU law. That is what it does; that is its remit. The Council of Europe is the primary source for and interpreter of European human rights standards. In a sense, the FRA is intended to fill a gap in monitoring fundamental rights issues arising from the implementation of community law. That is the difference of task, which is intended to avoid duplication between the agency and the Council of Europe. I suppose that the answer is that the work of the agency is intended to add to the work carried out by the Council of Europe, and we need to ensure, by monitoring these things, that it does so and complements it. I have here some examples of this complementarity, but I do not want to go into great detail at this stage because of timing factors.

The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, referred to the essential link between the need to establish durable and robust legal frameworks on a supranational scale and the central issue of climate agreements, and the work to prevent desperately destructive climate change, in which he of course has played a major role in past years. Just as he has played a major role in the Council of Europe in the past three years, he also played a major national role in our nation's affairs in his previous incarnation. He asked whether it is possible for the Council of Europe to play its part in establishing the necessary legal framework, which we hope lies ahead, for tackling the global climate issue, and which Copenhagen-possibly too boldly-tried to leap towards and failed. He also asked whether we can have high hopes of Cancun.

Cancun has to be seen as a stepping stone towards that still important objective of a global legally binding agreement, but we must be realistic. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, was utterly realistic. If we can get a balanced package as a further step, a further paving stone, towards a global agreement on carbon emissions, that will be a triumph. But the difficulties are there. On the one hand, a great nation like the People's Republic of China speaks of its ambitions for a low-carbon economy. Whole cities in China, the size of London and bigger, decide to go for low carbon-just like that. But at the same time, between now and 2035, China will triple the output of its electricity from burning coal, which is working in the opposite direction.

I hardly need to tell the noble Lord this because he knows these things. They create a conflict, a challenge, of an enormous size. I do not have an answer to his question as to whether the Council of Europe can establish or help establish a robust enough legal framework to contain these conflicting pressures. All I can say is that somewhere ahead lies this ambition. It remains the ambition of HMG, but we are realistic about how far we can advance towards that at Cancun. If we can get a balanced package, that is fine.

Turning from these very central issues on which I would be delighted to dilate at far greater length if we had the time-but they lie a little outside the immediate future for the Council of Europe-my noble friend Lord Dykes spoke eloquently about the Cyprus issue, which the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, also raised. We all hope that a proper respect for human rights and legal standards can play its part in ending the agonies of that divided island.

The noble Lord, Lord Dykes, also made some kind remarks about the theme which my colleagues have tried to bring into dissertations on foreign policy about the importance of human rights and responsibilities on the one hand, and economic growth and prosperity and expansion of our trade and our interests worldwide on the other. Of course, the two are two sides of the same coin. That is what we believe in Europe, where, without the work and underpinnings of the Council of Europe and the commitment to human rights, the economies of the Europe of trade and the Europe of industry and expansion would not really exist. The same applies to the Commonwealth of 54 nations, where it is being increasingly realised that the commitment to the core principles of human rights, rule of law and good governance are the other side of the coin of high investment and expanding trade. They all go together and if you try to separate them, disaster follows.

My noble friend Lord Dundee spoke comprehensively about the work of the Council of Europe and asked about its future role and activities on the Junker report, which proposed a joint Council of Europe/European Union legal and judicial system. The question is whether it did that. My briefing says, and I think this is right, that it did not call for a joint EU/CoE legal system but for a European judicial area, which means a Europe of common legal standards. That is relevant to the profound comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, which I shall come to in a moment. My noble friend also asked about the immediate priorities in the future work of the council. The working group of the Council of Europe on reform of the European Court of Human Rights is very important and has been mentioned by several noble Lords. That is an area where we need to make a real effort when we reach the point which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, reminded us, lies ahead-that of the chairmanship of the Council of Europe beginning this time next year.

The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, returned to the theme of what the different bodies as between the EU and the Council of Europe do, and even hinted at whether there might be a case for bringing the two together. I think the answer to that is no. They are separate organisations with entirely separate missions. The Council of Europe performs a unique role in the promotion and protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, whereas membership of the EU is crucially dependent on meeting very precise economic criteria which not all states in the wider Europe are able or willing to meet. I do not see integration lying ahead either as one of the objectives or as one of the possibilities. However, he was right that a tidying-up is always required. The WEU is coming to the end of its active life and the whole European structure, including that of the European Union, is one that I have always viewed as a constantly evolving element. I have heard the phrase "a Europe of constant struggle". None of us should ever be too ready to say, as some have been in the past, that we have reached the final pattern for Europe, that everything is fine and we have a settlement and order that will not change. Of course it will change because events will arise and the patterns of our institutions will have to adapt at the European level, as they have to at the national level, if we are to make sense of the future and manage it for ourselves and our children.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, rightly reminded us that what the Council of Europe did was help to bring all those satellite countries into democracy in the most effective way. She also mentioned the pressure to get rid of the death penalty throughout Europe except for Belarus, which I totally welcome, and the valuable work done on torture prevention. The really glittering point of history is the one we all lived through, which as a younger man, frankly, I never thought I would see in my lifetime. It was when all these nations, one after the other, emerged like figures in the Beethoven opera from their caves and caverns of imprisonment into freedom. It was an amazing time in all our lives, and bliss it was in that moment to be alive.

The noble Baroness asked whether we will support the Secretary-General in his tasks ahead. I want to say a bit more about this before I sit down, but the answer is most certainly yes. My noble friend Lord Sheikh returned to the Cyprus issue among many of the profound observations he made on the work of various committees. I have said a word about that already, and I am always willing to discuss it further with him and other colleagues.

The noble Lord, Lord Low, talked about the question of apparently cutting the budget of the Conference of INGOs, and rightly argued that of course it is the NGOs that create the substratum of civil society which actually glues our nations and societies, as well as the world, together. I do not want to bring in the Commonwealth too often, but it is an amazing amalgamation of non-governmental, civil society organisations that create an extraordinary network across the world, just as the non-governmental organisations of Europe create a network that is not necessarily visible to Governments or the focus of public debate, but is invaluable none the less. He was obviously concerned that if the budget was cut, that would undermine the work of NGOs particularly concerned with the rights and status of disabled people. I will ask my ministerial colleague to look into the matter, and I am advised that the Secretary-General is reviewing these issues, although final decisions have not been made. It is an important issue and I am glad that he raised it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, asked a whole range of further questions in the time available, which allowed no time at all to get every one of them down on paper. She asked whether the Committee of Ministers-which, in effect, is the key committee of the Council of Europe-explains its decisions. I hope it does, I believe it does, it should do-and it should certainly be urged to do so. She touched on the slightly broader issue of the finances of the Foreign Office and mentioned a report in the Financial Times this morning. As I understand it, the real hit for the Foreign Office was when the foreign exchange deal was undermined and the Treasury pulled off a fast one, if I may put it like that, in persuading the Foreign and Commonwealth Office-I am afraid this was under the previous Government-to abandon its foreign exchange protection. That swiped 20 to 25 per cent straight off the Foreign Office budget-and that is what led to the first talk about pulling in horns and a 10 per cent reduction in personnel. We have had to adjust to that, as the Permanent Under-Secretary, a brilliant new addition to our team in the Foreign Office, rightly was trying to explain in the Financial Times this morning.

As to the Comprehensive Spending Review, as I told the House on Thursday, its impact in addition to that nasty blow has been fairly limited, amounting to a flat cash settlement over the next four years, or a 2.5 per cent cut in real terms over four years. This has, in turn, been offset by moving the budget of the BBC World Service to the BBC proper, and some funds of a development nature have been made available, not from DfID but via the Treasury, which has certainly helped our budget. We believe we can deliver a highly efficient, leaner but very effective, foreign policy administration, a policy leading for all departments, with the still very considerable resources that we have at our disposal.

The noble Baroness asked about the figures for the Council of Europe's budget. The immediate figure I have is that our contribution is €24.8 million for its running costs. A more general question was about where we stand on the purposes and activities of the Council of Europe. I said at the beginning, and I say again, that we believe very strongly that it should stick to its lathe, where it has brilliant mastery of its craftsman-like skills in promoting human rights, democracy and the values which bind our societies together.

The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, is right that the United Kingdom chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers beginning next year will present us with many challenges and opportunities. There will be a major opportunity for us to place our mark on the work and future direction of the organisation and I hope that we can do so. In my opening comments I said that the Council of Europe and its work are often misunderstood and several of your Lordships echoed that point. I hope-perhaps it is too ambitious a hope-that this debate has served a little to put to rest all this confusion about the work of the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights on the one hand and the EU on the other; they are different organisations.

The Council of Europe, of course, cannot work in isolation; it must work alongside all the other international organisations in Europe. However, we remain vigilant that the Council of Europe sticks to what it does best-and does very well indeed-including the prevention of unnecessary overlap and duplication with the work and activities of other international organisations, and ensuring that work is carried out efficiently without wasting resources.

I said that I would come back to the work of the Secretary-General, who faces a delicate task. The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, asked whether we will support him. Yes, we will. Genuine reform will involve some difficult decisions on programmes and organisational structures and we will continue to support him fully in his efforts to reform the Council of Europe. A well run, well structured Council of Europe will offer maximum efficiency at minimum cost, and that will be to the advantage of the whole organisation, whose credibility rises along with its efficiency. Indeed, the opposite can be said: its credibility is damaged-as with all organisations-if it is seen to be inefficient. It will also be to the advantage of the foreign policy interests of this country to have the organisation working efficiently and effectively, as it will be to the interests of the UK taxpayer, who has the right to demand optimum value for money, particularly at the present time.

The debate has provided a fruitful exchange. Many of those working for the Council of Europe have been able to explain more of what they have done and what they believe should be done in the future. To them we are extremely grateful. We are also extremely grateful to the whole delegation, both your Lordships and those in the other place. The Council of Europe-unsung, in many ways, but quietly carrying forward and upholding the tenets, standards and requirements of a civilised society-is a fine institution. We support it and we want its work to prosper in the future.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 6.40 pm.