European Council — Statement

– in the House of Lords at 6:04 pm on 19th October 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal 6:04 pm, 19th October 2015

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on last week’s European Council. The main focus of the Council was on migration, but there were also important discussions on Syria and on the UK’s renegotiation. Let me take each in turn.

The European Union is under massive pressure over the migration issue. The numbers arriving remain immense. Some countries have attempted to maintain and police external borders; others have waved migrants through. Eight thousand people are arriving in Germany every day. The Schengen zone response is to establish hotspots in the countries where most are arriving so that they can be properly processed, and then have a mechanism for distributing migrants across the EU. This is what most of the Council’s discussions and debates were about.

Of course, the UK does not take part in Schengen. We have maintained our borders while others have taken them down, and we are not participating in the quota system for migrants who have arrived in Europe. Instead, we are taking 20,000 Syrian refugees straight from the camps. We think this is the right approach.

I will turn to some of the specifics of how the EU is planning to help ease this crisis. First, on aid to the affected area, Britain was praised for its contribution to the World Food Programme, where we have provided $220 million out of the $275 million shortfall needed to close the funding gap for the rest of the year. The Commission President made a particular point that the rest of the Council members should do more and follow Britain’s lead on this point. It is still the case that the United Kingdom has spent more on aid for Syrian refugees than any other EU country—indeed, more than any other country in the world save the United States of America.

Secondly, the EU agreed in outline a new joint action plan with Turkey. This includes potential additional financial support to help with the huge volume of refugees—more than 2 million in Turkey—and assistance with strengthening its ability to prevent illegal migration to the EU. While the terms of the EU’s assistance remain to be finalised, any visa liberalisation agreed under the action plan will not, of course, apply to the UK. We will continue to make our own decisions on visas for Turkish nationals.

Thirdly, we agreed more action to stop criminal gangs putting people’s lives at risk in the Mediterranean. The EU’s naval operation is now moving to a new phase, in which we can board ships and arrest people smugglers. Britain played a leading role in securing the United Nations Security Council resolution that was required to make this possible. The Royal Navy ships HMS “Richmond” and HMS “Enterprise” will help deliver the operation.

Fourthly, obviously the most important thing is to deal with the causes of the crisis, in particular the war in Syria. The Council condemned the ongoing brutality of ISIL. When it comes to Assad, the conclusions are equally clear:

“There cannot be a lasting peace in Syria under the present leadership”.

I presented to the Council the facts about Russia’s intervention, with eight out of 10 Russian air strikes hitting non-ISIL targets. The Council expressed deep concern over Russia’s actions, especially attacks on the moderate opposition, including the Free Syrian Army. Our view remains the same: we want a Syria without ISIL or Assad.

Ahead of the Council I convened a meeting with Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande. We agreed the importance of a renewed diplomatic effort to revive the political process and to reach a lasting settlement in Syria. We agreed that, together with our US allies, we must seek to persuade Russia to target ISIL, not the moderate opposition.

The three of us also discussed the situation in Ukraine. We welcomed recent progress and agreed the need to maintain the pressure of sanctions on Russia until the Minsk agreement has been fully implemented.

Turning to the UK’s renegotiation, I have set out the four things we need to achieve. The first is on sovereignty and subsidiarity, where Britain must not be part of an “ever closer union” and where we want a greater role for national Parliaments.

Secondly, we must ensure the EU adds to our competitiveness rather than detracting from it by signing new trade deals, cutting regulation and completing the single market. We have already made considerable progress. There has been an 80% reduction in new legislative proposals under the new European Commission and we have reached important agreements on a capital markets union, liberalising services and completing the digital single market. Last week, the Commission published a new trade strategy that reflects the agenda that Britain has been championing for years, including vital trade deals with America, China and Japan, but more needs to be done in this area.

Thirdly, we need to ensure that the EU works for those outside the single currency, protects the integrity of the single market and makes sure that we face neither discrimination nor additional costs from the integration of the eurozone.

Fourthly, on social security, free movement and immigration, we need to tackle abuses of the right to free movement and deliver changes that ensure that our welfare system is not an artificial draw for people to come to Britain.

As I have said before, those are the four key areas where Britain needs fundamental changes, and there is a clear process to secure them. The Referendum Bill has now passed through this House and is making its way through the other place. I have met with the other 27 leaders, the Commission President, the President of the European Parliament and the President of the European Council, and will continue to do so. Technical talks have been taking place in Brussels since July to inform our analysis of the legal options for reform. There will now be a process of negotiation with all 28 member states leading up to the December European Council. As I said last week, I will be writing to the President of the European Council in early November to set out the changes we want to see.

Throughout all this, what matters to me most is Britain’s national security and Britain’s economic security. I am interested in promoting our prosperity and our influence. We have already made some important achievements. We cut the EU budget for the first time ever. We took Britain out of the eurozone bailout mechanisms—the first ever return of powers from Brussels to Westminster—and we vetoed a new treaty that would have damaged Britain’s interests. Through our opt-out from justice and home affairs matters, we have achieved the largest repatriation of powers to Britain since we joined the EU. We have pursued a bold, pro-business agenda, cutting red tape, promoting free trade and extending the single market to new sectors.

I want Britain to have the best of both worlds. Already, we have ensured that British people can travel freely around Europe, but have at the same time maintained our own border controls. We have kept our own currency while having complete access to the single market. I believe we can succeed in this renegotiation and achieve the reform that Britain and Europe need. When we have done so, we will put the decision to the British people in the referendum that only we promised and that only this Conservative majority Government can deliver. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords 6:12 pm, 19th October 2015

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement that the Prime Minister made in the other place. I suppose that we should not be too surprised that the issue that is talked about so much outside the European Council meetings was not formally debated at this Council meeting but yet again deferred until December. I certainly understand why the Prime Minister would want that, but do the Government really understand that it is not just the British public or Conservative politicians who need clarity. Even Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has asked for greater clarity about the Prime Minister’s intentions. The problem is that it appears that the Government do not themselves know what they are proposing. That creates greater uncertainty, and when there is such uncertainty, it allows rumours and speculation to take hold.

The issue raised in the other place but not answered was on one of those rumours, concerning the protection of those working here in the UK. Both the working time directive and the social chapter have served British workers well, and I hope that the noble Baroness can confirm from the Dispatch Box that the Government also value the rights of those in employment and that the speculation that they could be undermined or scrapped is completely and totally unfounded.

Of great interest to your Lordships’ House are the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act. When the Labour Government signed up to that convention, they ensured that British citizens did not have to leave the UK to pursue their rights but could do so at in their home country within the UK legal system. It was bringing rights home. Can the noble Baroness clarify the Government’s position on this?

We support the right of national Parliaments to have a greater influence on EU legislation—and so the proposed red card mechanism. That was a commitment in our manifesto at the election and we stand by it.

We also support European co-operation on a wide range of issues. The Government have to understand that on so many issues, we need co-operate with European partners if we are to have any significant impact. I refer to issues such as crime and climate change, on which we had debates earlier in the year, corporate regulation, tax avoidance and, indeed, people trafficking. We have seen the result of that in the Mediterranean. Our acceptance and promotion of European co-operation in these areas strengthens our case for EU co-operation on refugees and Syria.

We have been clear: we do not support business as usual, we support reform. But we want to be part of that reform and have influence on it, not merely shouting from the sidelines with no credibility or influence. The noble Baroness may remember—her Chief Whip certainly will—debating the Government’s hokey-cokey of the opt-out, opt back in again to tackle the most serious and organised crime. We were disappointed that the Government’s approach was more about political management than about the important and serious issues at stake. If the Prime Minister is to have any success in his negotiations, he must be convincing that he has changed and believes in a Britain at the heart of Europe with serious influence within it.

The Leader of the House will be aware of the amendments tabled to allow 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in the EU referendum. I hope that she understands why we have tabled them. First, it concerns the future of these young people. A decision on a referendum is way beyond a decision for the next general election or council election; it is the most important of decisions, not just a one-term decision. We saw in Scotland that when young people, 16 and 17 year-olds, were engaged in the debate and decision-making about their future, they were fired up about the issue. It was the right thing to do then, and it is the right thing to do now.

I will not press the noble Baroness on the substance of the issue today, but will she think a bit further about what it really means to extend and engage that wider franchise? I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, spoke about it as being the same franchise as for a general election—“except”. One of those exceptions is that it has already changed to allow Members of your Lordships’ House to vote. I welcome that; I miss greatly not having a vote in a general election, so I welcome the fact that the law is being changed to allow me and your Lordships to vote in the referendum. But with the greatest respect to all of us here, most 16 and 17 year-olds will have to live with that decision a lot longer than we will. It will have a far greater impact on their lives. I find it difficult to accept that we in this House can have the vote but 16 and 17 year-olds cannot.

Over the weekend, I read yet again about the tragic deaths of children and their families when trying to find sanctuary. I worry that images of the distraught and the dying are becoming so regular that they no longer convey the absolute horror of the refugee crisis. There is a responsibility on all European nations to act in a co-ordinated way, first, to help the refugees but, secondly, to deal with the reasons why so many are fleeing and to try to resolve the conflict that is driving Syrians to leave their homeland.

We commend the Government on the level of aid that they have provided to refugee camps in Lebanon and elsewhere in the region. That is welcome and has been supported on all sides of your Lordships’ House. However—this is where the gap is—we must do more to aid those who have come to Europe. I understand that Turkey has now requested £2.2 billion to aid and support it in dealing with 2.5 million refugees who have come to the country. There was some information in the Statement, but can the noble Baroness tell us more about the negotiations regarding that request? What negotiations were there at the Council for all the countries of Europe to welcome their fair share of Syrian refugees?

Yvette Cooper, who is heading up Labour’s task force on refugees said:

“There is chaos at borders across Europe, people are dying and children are walking miles, sleeping in the open despite the falling temperatures. It is unbelievable we are seeing scenes like this in a continent which includes four out of the top ten richest countries in the world”.

The Minister responsible for Syrian refugees was unable to provide figures to the Home Affairs Select Committee a few days ago regarding how many Syrians were accepted under the Government’s vulnerable persons relocation scheme. The question was also asked in the other place. Can the noble Baroness update the House now on how many have been accepted? Also, European Council conclusion 2(d) states that we should be,

“providing lasting prospects and adequate procedures for refugees and their families, including through access to education and jobs, until return to their country of origin is possible”.

We have an Immigration Bill going through Parliament. To ensure that we are able to comply with those words from the European Council, can the Minister confirm that, if necessary, amendments will be made to the Immigration Bill?

If the UK played a more positive role on this front, it might create good will in Europe to make headway in the forthcoming negotiations. It is right that we take firm action against the evil trade of people smuggling and I was interested in the comments in the PM’s Statement. Can the noble Baroness provide any information about the naval operation and the Royal Navy’s role? If she does not have that information to hand today, I would be happy for her to place it in the Library. And would the Prime Minister agree that the refugee crisis will not be resolved without greater efforts from all countries, and therefore look at the UN target percentage of GDP on international development? This country has taken a lead in ensuring we meet that 0.7%. I congratulate the Government on that as well, but will the Prime Minister work with us and across the House to put pressure on other EU countries as well?

The situation in Syria, which the Statement also covered, is complex and we welcome the words of the European Council that:

“The EU is fully engaged in finding a political solution to the conflict in close cooperation with the UN and the countries of the region”.

However, the Statement also recognises,

“the risk of further military escalation”.

The humanitarian crisis has seen half the population of Syria leave their homes—millions to neighbouring countries, which have borne the greatest burden—and hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians from Syria have been killed, the vast majority at the hands of Assad’s forces. Clearly, a political solution is essential and that means the world needs an answer to ISIL’s abhorrent brutality, which also threatens us here in the UK. So we need concerted action to cut off the supply of money, arms and fighters; we need a co-ordinated plan to drive back ISIL from Iraq and from Syria. The noble Baroness will be aware that if the Government were to consider working with their allies to establish safe zones within Syria, some of the millions of displaced people could return to their homes, humanitarian aid could get in, and we could stop the killing that has gone on for far too long. When I listened to the Statement in the other place, I heard the PM’s response to the request to urgently seek a new UN Security Council resolution on a comprehensive approach including action against ISIL. I thought his response was disappointing, so can the noble Baroness say whether there have been any discussions at all with the Security Council members?

Finally, with regard to Libya, the European Council conclusions state that:

“The EU reiterates its offer of substantial political and financial support to the Government of National Accord as soon as it takes office”.

Can the Minister give us any indication on the possible timescale and process for this to take place?

The Statement refers to promoting national and economic security. Will the noble Baroness agree that promoting British influence in European decision-making is also important?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made by the Prime Minister on last week’s European Council. It appears that, when we have these Statements, the agenda may be very much the same but these very serious and profound issues are no less intractable.

It is clear from the Prime Minister’s Statement that the issue of migration and refugees was what most of the Council meeting was about. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, has said, we still have regular reports on our TV screens that provide visual reminders of the suffering of—and, indeed, deaths of—many of those who are trying to escape the oppression in Syria and trying to find a better life for themselves in Europe. The issue is no less problematic now, and indeed I rather suspect that as we approach the winter months and see the effect that the winter weather will have on the refugees, there will be some even more harrowing pictures and scenes.

The Prime Minister in his Statement says that,

“the UK does not take part in Schengen … we are not participating in the quota system for migrants who have arrived in Europe”.

He says that as if, in some way or other, it was a badge of honour. I accept there is no legal obligation, as we do not take part in Schengen, for us to take refugees under the EU relocation scheme, but on these Benches we would argue that there is a strong moral obligation to play our part. I believe that would be consistent with the letter to the Prime Minister that was subscribed by a number of Bishops of the Church of England and published at the weekend, which said that it would be consistent with,

“this country’s great tradition of sanctuary and generosity of spirit”.

I hope and believe it should not be a question of either/or—of either taking part in the EU relocation scheme or doing other, very valuable work. I applaud the work that the Government have done in the support and help that they have given to those in the refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and, indeed, on their commitment to bring—perhaps we would argue for more, but nevertheless they are bringing some—more vulnerable people from there to the United Kingdom. However, it should not be an either/or; we should do that and also be willing to make a meaningful and substantial response to the human suffering that we see in our own continent.

I acknowledge what we are doing, but on a specific point I remind the noble Baroness that, when we had a Statement on this issue when we were back last month, I raised with her that there had been a report that 600 young Afghans had arrived in the United Kingdom—unaccompanied children—who were then deported after their 18th birthday because their temporary leave to remain had expired, albeit that many had by that stage established very strong roots in the communities where they were living. When my noble friend Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon pressed the Leader of the House on this matter, she said:

“I am not suggesting that there is a new set of rules, or a change to existing rules, because of this expanded refugee programme at this time”.—[Hansard, 7/9/15; cols. 1258-59.]

I would hope that, in the intervening weeks, the noble Baroness and the Government have had an opportunity to consider that. If we are taking in people—and it will often be the more vulnerable people, including children, from the refugee camps—and if many of them come and settle here and make their roots here, I am not quite sure what they feel about the thought that they could be sent home without further ado on their 18th birthday. Again, that is another moral issue to be considered.

On the question of Syria, we will certainly continue to condemn the brutality of ISIS and we support the conclusions of the European Council that there has to be a political settlement. Indeed, there needs to be much greater emphasis on the possibilities for diplomacy, including possibly looking at issues such as something similar to a treaty-based, Dayton-style regional agreement as happened in the Balkans, which would be supported by neighbouring countries as well as the major powers. Are the Government giving consideration to that and to doing more to draw Iran into the process, which I rather suspect could be a very influential player in trying to achieve the kind of political solution referred to in the Council communiqué?

We certainly welcome the EU-Turkey action plan. It is important to recognise the burden that Turkey has to bear in accommodating refugees and it would be interesting to know particularly what the Government propose to do to support that action plan. Given that it is now some considerable time since Turkey applied to join the European Union and it has been the policy of successive Governments to support that application, can the noble Baroness indicate whether it is still the policy of Her Majesty’s Government—provided, of course, that Turkey meets and signs up to European Union values, including on human rights issues—that it would be our intention to support Turkish membership of the European Union?

On the issue of renegotiation, the Prime Minister had indicated four broad heads of discussion, and I think it would be very useful at some stage to have a debate on that in your Lordships’ House so that we can probe and examine these four areas in greater detail. I certainly endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, said about encouraging and making provision for 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in any referendum, and I hope that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will not give a knee-jerk response to that. We just need to think on the fact that, in the referendum in Scotland last year, engagement among 16 and 17 year-olds was higher than engagement among 18 to 24 year-olds. Most schools did some kind of civics, encouraging young people to find out how they went about actually voting, and that may hold young people in good stead for years to come in terms of playing a part in the civic and democratic process. Therefore, in a decision which will be so fundamental to their future lives, we should give them an opportunity to have their say.

If we look at the conclusions that emerged from the EU Council meeting, we find that after five pages there are two lines:

“The European Council was informed about the process ahead concerning the UK plans for an (in/out) referendum. The European Council will revert to the matter in December”.

Given that the main item on migration was so important, it is perhaps not surprising that the matter is relegated to two lines, but I would be interested to know whether the Minister knows what the mood music was. How did people react to the Prime Minister when he informed the Council about the process? In particular, having had very serious discussions about migration and the EU relocation plan—and the Prime Minister no doubt made it very clear that the United Kingdom has nothing to do with it because we are not part of Schengen—how did the Council react to the Prime Minister’s request about renegotiation? It would be interesting to learn something about the mood music around that.

I shall not go through each of the four issues that the Minister mentioned, but I want to ask specifically about the question of competitiveness. When I was in Brussels with colleagues last month, we heard much about what is being done on the digital single market, capital markets union and liberalising services, which are things on which the United Kingdom quite properly and effectively is taking the lead. The Minister says that more needs to be done, and we would like to know what more the Government have in mind. The Government are playing a crucial and positive role there. Do they not have sufficient confidence in their ability to continue that leadership? If they say that more needs to be done, it would be very useful to know quite what that means.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My Lords, a huge number of issues were raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace. It is worth me saying again that this was an important Council meeting. The main focus was on migration, and rightly so. Although it is right and true that the United Kingdom is not part of the Schengen agreement and the UK is not party to many of the measures that were discussed during the Council meetings, it would be absolutely wrong to portray the United Kingdom’s role in the discussions, or its contribution to addressing this important topic of the current situation of refugees in Europe and the situation in Syria, as anything other than a big part.

It is quite notable that in the course of the discussions at the Council, and as was reflected in the outcomes from those discussions, European members recognised that this issue requires a comprehensive response that tackles the root causes, not just their consequences within our borders. Indeed, the approach that the European Union is taking is very much in line with what we have been saying would be the right and most effective way for us to provide a long-lasting and sustainable way to support people who are in such a dreadful situation right now, which is caused by the terrible events in Syria and other places in that region.

The noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord raised specific points on these issues. We believe we have a moral obligation to contribute on this matter. As the noble Baroness acknowledged, our contribution by way of aid to the refugee camps in the countries neighbouring Syria is the most significant of any country in Europe; indeed, it is second only to that of the US. That has been recognised by our fellow member states. We are proud of our aid commitment of 0.7% and put pressure on other member states to follow suit. We support the action plan being drawn up with Turkey, and we recognise how much Turkey has done to support the refugees accepted into that country. We want to ensure that by providing additional funding via the European Union, which will be within the multiannual framework provision, those refugee camps are the most appropriate place for people to receive the kind of support they need in the dreadful situation in which they find themselves. That includes education for children and the potential for people to be employed in Turkey.

Questions were asked about accepting refugees in the United Kingdom. As noble Lords know, it is United Kingdom policy to offer refuge to those who are in the camps. We think that is the right approach for us to take. Working with the UNHCR, we have started the process of identifying people who will come to the United Kingdom. We expect that by Christmas we will have welcomed 1,000 refugees to the UK as part of our overall commitment to 20,000 refugees by the end of this Parliament. It is important that we prepare a warm welcome for those refugees who come to the United Kingdom and that we provide the kind of support they so desperately need when they arrive here.

The noble Baroness asked about the Navy’s role in the Mediterranean. As I said in the Statement, we continue to play our part there. We are at the forefront in negotiating the extension of the effort to go beyond search and rescue and to be more effective in tackling those who are running these criminal gangs and routes that are causing so much distress.

On the issue of Syria, the noble Baroness asked about a Security Council resolution. It would be a good thing if we could achieve a UN resolution, but we should not allow that to get in the way of our decision to take action in Syria, because we know that Russia would potentially block such a resolution. Syria was very much discussed when the Prime Minister and other members of the Government attended the UN General Assembly meeting a few weeks ago.

Returning to Europe and the process of reform and renegotiation before we approach the referendum, which we are committed to providing for the people of this country, we are very much on track for our timetable. It was always the intention that the technical discussions would start in the summer, as they did, and that there would be an update, as there was, at this Council meeting. The Prime Minister said he will set out in more detail what changes he wishes to see made in the light of the discussions he has in those areas of reform. Further detail will be discussed and detailed negotiations will proceed from that point in bilaterals with the relevant member states and in plenary in December. What is most important is that we get the substance right and that we get the right outcome for the United Kingdom. That is what the Prime Minister is focused on delivering. Indeed, that is the record we have as a party in government. The Prime Minister has a good record of achieving change in Europe on behalf of, and in the interests of, the British people. I note what the noble Baroness said about the changes that we were able to secure in the context of justice and home affairs. I would argue that they were powerful changes that were very much in the interests of the United Kingdom and show just how much influence the United Kingdom has in delivering change that is right for the UK.

With regard to remaining an influential country in the negotiations and the noble and learned Lord’s questions about mood music and so on, it should not be forgotten that a lot of what the Prime Minister is proposing by way of change in Europe is change that would benefit not just the United Kingdom but the whole of the EU. He has a great deal of support from the other member states for what he is seeking to achieve.

No doubt the issue of votes for 16 to 17 year-olds will be debated at great length when the Bill currently progressing through this House is in Committee, so I will not take up your Lordships’ time on that right now. However, I am very confident that David Cameron as Prime Minister will secure a good outcome from his negotiations in Europe and that we will achieve success on behalf of the people of this country.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour 6:40 pm, 19th October 2015

My Lords, the sea state and the weather in the Mediterranean are deteriorating rapidly. We are unwittingly going to cause the deaths of increasing numbers of men, women and children. Does the noble Baroness agree that the only way to stop the flow of people from Libya is to blockade the coast? She is well aware that international law at sea allows us to do boardings without an EU requirement to do so, and that only by blockading the coast and really getting at people smugglers can we stop them being able to advertise our ships and EU ships as part of their ticket to Europe.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

The noble Lord knows that, as I have mentioned, we have progressed from search and rescue to being able to target the smugglers who are operating these ships; we can actually go on board and tackle those on board. We are not yet at a point where we can move closer to the Libyan borders, but what will see us being able to make that kind of progress will be the unity Government in Libya that we so much want to see in place as soon as possible. Once there is stable governance in Libya, we can see the further action that the noble Lord and others would like see taken.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative

My Lords, the Syrian situation is recognised as one of the sources, although not the only one, of the migrant and refugee problem. I thought that I heard the Statement say that we want a Syria “without ISIL and without Assad”. Does the Minister agree that if that is so, those two objectives will probably have to be sought in different timeframes, and that in the mean time bargains and strategies that would not be acceptable in other circumstances may have to be sought with Russia, Iran, Turkey and even with President Assad if the global poison of ISIL, which is the source of it all, is to be tackled effectively?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

As my noble friend knows—and he is far more experienced in the matter of foreign affairs than I am—ISIL is not just in Syria. It is operating in many countries and is a serious threat that we have to see defeated. Our point is that getting rid of ISIL alone is not enough; for the sustainability of what we want to see achieved, we also need to ensure that Assad will no longer be part of Syria. This is an area that continues to be discussed, and options for progress in this area continue to be explored. We want to see Russia applying its influence over Assad; we do not want to see Russia continuing to prop up Assad by attacking only those areas where there are Syrian people.

Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru

My Lords, I express the hope that the Prime Minister comes back with a package that he can recommend wholeheartedly, get the support of every party, including his own, and get a resounding yes in the referendum when it comes. However, I draw the noble Baroness’s attention to the points made in the Caernarfon refugee committee, on which I sit and which sat last night, in which extreme surprise was expressed that so few refugees are being allowed into the United Kingdom, and that the figure of 4,000 to 5,000 a year represents no more than three families or so per constituency. Surely we can do better than this; the people want to do better than this; and if we are to build good will among those with whom we are negotiating in Europe, should we not show that we are willing to share the burden that so many of them face?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

The noble Lord makes a powerful point. I say in reply to him that we have already given refuge to 5,000 people from Syria over the past few years. We are committed to supporting more people who are based in those refugee camps, and we think that that is the right way for us to proceed. If we were to participate in the relocation scheme that the rest of Europe is following, it would not ultimately benefit people who need to be supported in places close to their home countries so that ultimately they can return. We must not forget that only about 4% of those who have had to flee are actually here in Europe; there are millions more in need of support who have not yet made it to Europe. It is important that we do a lot of things and that our effort is comprehensive, and that is what the Prime Minister is pursuing.

Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative

The Statement covers three critical issues but I shall address the overriding and urgent one that is likely to arise. If an attack develops on Aleppo, as is reported in the press, we are going to see millions more refugees added to the enormous number that are already involved. Does this not reinforce the importance not only of the visit of Chancellor Merkel to Turkey but also of the Prime Minister’s position that, whatever is done about accepting refugees into this country and other countries in Europe, the only way to save millions of people this coming winter will be the effectiveness of providing safe, secure camps and accommodation immediately in the area, saving them the need to travel and the enormous danger that will be involved? In that regard, I particularly welcome the announcement of the United Kingdom’s contribution to the World Food Programme. I trust that resources we will be available to feed the millions concerned during this coming winter.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My noble friend makes some important points. As I have already said, we have applied our effort where we think we should help people—at the point of need—in a way that means that the countries they are fleeing to are able to sustain that support. We very much support what is happening in terms of a plan with Turkey. It is also worth adding that in November there will be the Valletta summit between European and African countries to look at what more can be done to prevent more people fleeing from that part of the world. We have to try to ensure that we support people where they are most in need of that support—that is, before they make these dreadful and treacherous crossings.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

My Lords, on the renegotiation, there was one line in the Statement that was close to being amusing, which must be a first for a Statement on Europe from any leader. It said:

“I will be writing to the President of the European Council in early November to set out the changes we want to see”.

It is about two years since a referendum was promised and still, if we are to believe what we read, the heads of government of the other 27 member states are not at all clear about the terms that the Prime Minister is trying to achieve; certainly, the people in this country are not clear about them. I want to register my astonishment at that. He will answer in general terms, of course—indeed, there are general terms in the Statement itself—but negotiations are not about general terms: they are about quite specific matters, about which we still do not know.

I put it to the Leader of the House, in her role as Leader, that if the Prime Minister is saying that he is going to spell out these terms by November, and the mechanism by which he is going to do so is a letter to the President of the European Council, copied to member states and presumably to Members of both Houses of Parliament—for which we thank him very much—and of course for the British public to see, at the very least this House, and I can ask her only about this House, ought to see at long last the precise terms that are the bottom line for the Prime Minister’s negotiations, so that we can examine this crucial aspect of the Government’s European policy and question the Prime Minister precisely on the efficacy of the demands that he is making.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I consider it my aim every day to bring amusement to the noble Lord, so I am glad that I achieved that today.

The Prime Minister has been consistent throughout this process. In his Bloomberg speech he set out his vision for Europe. He has been clear about the need to make the case for reform in all the discussions he has had with his various European partners. As I have already explained, detailed technical talks have been going on about the legal implications for change in these four areas. He will set out the detail of the changes that he wants to see in November and will then proceed with his negotiations and he will achieve his best for Britain. I have every faith that he will secure an outcome that will ensure we end up with a better relationship for the UK with the European Union. We will then put that to a referendum; I am pleased that the noble Lord is now supportive of the opportunity that we are providing to the people of this country.

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Conservative

I thank the noble Baroness very much indeed for her Statement. I welcome the Government’s renegotiation agenda and look forward to an ambitious agreement succeeding in due course. When the renegotiation is completed, do the Government intend to produce a full, detailed, White Paper setting out exactly what has been achieved and the consequences therefore in the referendum of a leave or a remain vote for everybody to see, discuss and debate?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

Clearly, people will expect to see the results of the renegotiations and how the relationship with Europe has been changed and how these changes will address people’s concerns. The best thing for me to do is to quote the Chancellor, who told the other place in June that,

“the Treasury will publish assessments of the merits of membership and the risks of a lack of reform in the European Union, including the damage that that could do to Britain’s interests”.—[ Official Report , Commons, 16/6/15; col. 166.]

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am very glad to hear that the Minister believes the Prime Minister will achieve the best for Britain. I wish I shared her confidence. Can she elaborate further on how the Prime Minister hopes to achieve reforms that benefit Europe as well as Britain? Could I add to the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and request that when the Prime Minister writes to the President of the European Council that a Statement is made in this place and in the other place to give Members the opportunity to discuss what the Prime Minister is requesting before he goes to the European Council in December, rather than being presented with a fait accompli?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has a record on achieving change in Europe and that is why I have every confidence in him being successful. As I have already rattled through in repeating this Statement, he has succeeded in cutting the European Union budget—I would argue that that was to the benefit of everybody in Europe and not just the people of the United Kingdom. He has made other changes which have been first in terms of the way in which a Prime Minister has dealt with Europe. As far as the way in which he will see changes in the terms of his renegotiations, one of the areas in which he wants to ensure that he sees change is for Europe to support all of us who are members to create more jobs and growth. If that is not of benefit to the whole of Europe, then I do not know what is.

Photo of The Bishop of Southwark The Bishop of Southwark Bishop

My Lords, we wish to thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for her Statement in which she repeated the Prime Minister’s Statement in another place on the European Council. I gather that in response to a point made about the Bishops’ recent letter, he said that he would like to see the Bishops make a very clear statement on the commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid. I speak only as the duty Bishop but Bishops always try to make very clear statements whenever they speak. We thank and endorse and congratulate the Government on maintaining this policy of delivering 0.7%; it is something from which many of the poorest countries in the world benefit.

The Bishops’ letter was also clear about two other points. While we wish to thank the Government for the initiative they are taking on refugees, we are asking for a much more generous response. I echo remarks that have been made in your Lordships’ House that a commitment over the remaining years of this Parliament to a number nearer 50,000 refugees would be appropriate. Secondly there are many people in this country, including the churches, who are willing to work in close partnership with the Government in welcoming refugees.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his clarity and I certainly endorse his remark that the Bishops in your Lordships’ House are always clear in their contributions. I also thank him for what he has said about Britain’s commitment to the figure of 0.7% for international aid. On what we are doing in support of the refugee crisis, I know that he and his colleagues think that the UK should do more and accept more than we have said we will. However we have made a clear commitment and we are getting on with putting that in place. I am very grateful to him and his colleagues for the support they are giving us in making the necessary arrangements to receive people who need this support and give them the warmest of welcomes. We are grateful to the church for everything that it does and its support for some of the measures that we are able to introduce, such as establishing a register of homes and places offered by individuals who want to make a contribution.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench

My Lords, is the noble Baroness not underestimating public opinion on the issue of refugees? We have heard about the Bishops’ statement. There has also been a strong statement from lawyers and judges, some of whom are sitting on these Benches. I think the Prime Minister was brushing off this issue earlier on and the Government are diverting attention to Syria very skilfully. The fact is that we have a commitment within Europe and we should be looking at that much more firmly.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I do not agree with the noble Earl. What the British public look for from us, as the Government, is to provide a compassionate response that reflects their desire for their country to show some real compassion and care. However they want to see that happen in a well-ordered way and ensure that it is not just compassion but something that delivers real support to people in a way that means they feel some positive benefit. I think that that is what we are doing. The Prime Minister talks of using our head and our heart and that is what we are doing as a Government.

Photo of Lord Tomlinson Lord Tomlinson Labour

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement in this House. Has she noticed that two pages out of the five and a half pages that she read out stated concerns about renegotiation? Can she confirm that much of the content of those two pages is aspirational and relates to issues that were not raised at the Council meeting? Can she confirm that what was raised at that meeting was that little summary bit under “Other items”—the two lines that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, read out? As we are writing to the President of the Council, will the noble Baroness spell out quite explicitly that we will all receive not only a copy of the letter that is sent to the President of the Council but of any annexe appended to that letter which enumerates the demands that we are making so that we receive from the Prime Minister exactly what the President of the Council does?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

The Prime Minister made a Statement after the European Council, which I repeated. Our renegotiation is something of great interest and importance to the Members of the other place, so it would be proper for him to remind them of exactly what he is seeking. However, as he has made clear today and continues to make clear, we are now moving into the stage at which in very short order he will lay out in detail what changes he would like to see brought forward in light of the reform discussions he has had.