HL Deb 24 June 2002 vol 636 cc1073-87

3.52 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now 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 shall make a Statement about the European Council in Seville on 21st and 22nd June. This was the last summit of the successful and very professional Spanish Presidency.

"By 2004, the European Union will have welcomed up to 10 new member countries with more to follow. This is an historic opportunity which the Government welcome. Excellent progress on the timetable has been made under the Spanish Presidency and, at Seville, we reaffirmed our commitment to complete the negotiations by the end of the year.

"In preparing for a union of 25 member states we need to reform the way we operate. We have agreed a series of measures that will allow us to streamline the Council agenda in order to shorten Council meetings and to make sure that issues decided by specialist Councils are only, exceptionally, put before the European Council. We have set a limit on the size of delegations. And, in order to prepare meetings of the European Council, the General Affairs Council will become a General Affairs and External Relations Council, split into two separate parts with separate meetings, separate agendas and, if member states desire it, different Ministers taking part.

"We have opened up Council legislative meetings to the public.

"We have further reduced the number of specialist Councils. There were over 20 three years ago, 16 now, and we will further reduce them to nine, concentrating in one Council the whole of the European Union's agenda of competitiveness which is at the heart of the economic reform agenda. Our campaign for simpler, better regulation with proper consultation with business and industry was endorsed.

"The European Council itself will henceforth set a multi-annual strategic programme for the whole of the European Union for the following three years, with an annual work programme set by the General Affairs Council. This is a significant evolution in the role of member governments in setting the EU's agenda.

"In a letter to Prime Minister Aznar a month ago, I proposed that at Seville we should: give a remit for action to strengthen the EU's borders, including Community funding; make progress on returns to Afghanistan now that normal government is being restored; benchmark the performance of third countries and use our network of agreements to improve co-operation in handling migration issues.

"Since the Tampere summit we have, across the European Union, introduced tough penalties for people smuggling and people trafficking, and agreed visa security rules, and a Europe-wide database for identifying illegal immigrants. We are setting minimum reception conditions for asylum seekers and have established a European Refugee Fund to help countries, including our own, deal with this problem.

"At Seville, first, we decided on measures to combat illegal migration including action on visas, re-admission agreements and a repatriation programme, including early returns to Afghanistan.

"Secondly, this year we agreed to take steps to achieve co-ordinated management of external borders, including joint operations at those borders.

"Legal migration can and does bring real and substantial benefits to countries, including Britain. Our aim is not to prevent legal migration; on the contrary, subject to proper rules, we welcome it. It is to stop illegal immigration and asylum-seeking which is not genuine because that debases the system and harms the interests of the legal immigrant. And it is about ensuring that the people traffickers who trade in human misery cannot exploit weaknesses. You have only to look at the success of the joint Anglo-Italian operation in Bosnia to see what can be achieved. There, an airport was being used to transit illegal immigrants into the European Union. Unaccounted arrivals have now been cut by 90 per cent. But we are dealing here with clever, organised criminal gangs. If we shut down one route, they come looking for the next.

"So, the third element is about the integration of immigration policy into the Union's relations with third countries based on the following: all new cooperation or association agreements with third countries will have a migration clause and a commitment to re-admission; re-admission agreements with all relevant countries will be completed as soon as possible; there will be a systematic review of relations with third countries to gauge the extent of their co-operation in migration issues.

"A majority of states, including Britain, wanted to go further in hardening the language on third country returns. A minority were concerned that this looked as if we were prepared to harm our development objectives. In the end, the compromise was that, in respect of any new agreement, returns to third countries would be an integral part of the negotiation on all aspects of the agreement.

"In respect of existing agreements where there is non-co-operation, we reserved the right to adopt any measures or positions in respect of a third country we decide upon, provided they are consistent with our contractual commitments and development objectives. I have no doubt that this will now form a key part of our relations with third countries, although the test, of course, will be in the practical effect of the measures proposed.

"The World Summit on Sustainable Development meets in Johannesburg in two months' time. I have made clear for the past year my strong commitment to the aims for this summit. Many leaders, including myself, will be there. The European Council gave a strong message of support for the policies of sustainable development. We re-affirmed our commitment to breaking down trade barriers, including on agriculture. We called for initiatives at Johannesburg on water, sanitation, energy and health—all top UK priorities. I urge the House to give this programme its full support.

"The conclusions of the summit have been placed in the Library of the House. I draw the House's attention to the declaration that we issued on India/Pakistan and to the statement of the Council which takes note of a national statement by Ireland.

"Finally, we discussed the grave crisis in the Middle East. We agreed that there must be an end to the violence so that the Israelis and Palestinians can re-launch the peace process as rapidly as possible. As I have said many times, this must result in a secure Israel recognised by its Arab neighbours; and in a viable Palestinian state.

"I repeat my praise of the six months of the Spanish Presidency. On economic reform, reform of the Council and on the sensitive issues of illegal immigration and asylum, they have made substantial progress. The direction of policy is clear. It is the pace that we need to quicken. But that is a far cry from where the agenda of reform stood five years ago. For Britain, the policy of constructive engagement is right, proves itself consistently and under this government, will be maintained"

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.59 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for repeating that Statement. I begin by condemning the new bomb outrages in Spain. I hope that he will convey to the Spanish Government the sense of anger and the solidarity of this House. I welcome the declarations on the Middle East, on India and Pakistan and on sustainable development.

However, the overall truth about the Seville summit is stark. The Prime Minister said that Barcelona was a "make or break" summit and yet it failed. Before Seville the Government's spin doctors said that we had two objectives: firm action against nations failing to stop what Mr Blair called "sophisticated global people trafficking and exploitation rackets on an unprecedented scale" and resistance to any question of a European border police force. But we failed on both counts. We got what we did not want and we did not get what we wanted. Yet again, the spin was strong but the delivery was weak.

Is it not astonishing that one Minister was openly briefing against the Government's declared aim on the trade in asylum seekers? We must be entitled to expect the Government to enter a summit with a united voice, otherwise what prospect is there of any other country taking seriously our negotiating position? Against that background, was it surprising that the Prime Minister was mugged and humiliated on his asylum proposals?

Will the noble and learned Lord explain what concrete progress has been made on asylum? At the Tampere summit there was an agreement to act, but as the Prime Minister admitted last week, action did not follow as it should have done. Why should it be different now?

The Government have a new rallying call: the need for uniform asylum rules in the European Union. We have had a common approach since 1997, but it has failed. Will the noble and learned Lord tell us what new rules were agreed at Seville with this issue top of the agenda? And, following the summit, what hope is there for unanimity behind tough proposals? The communiqué says that inadequate co-operation on illegal trafficking, could hamper the establishment of closer relations between that country and the EU". How will such feather-duster language deter the ruthless criminal gangs of which the Prime Minister himself spoke before the summit?

Would it not be a better course to return to the pre-1997 situation: firm action by individual governments and concrete co-operation between nation states? Of course we welcome the bilateral approach to France over Sangatte. Will the noble and learned Lord tell us when he expects agreement on its closure? Surely closing Sangatte is treating the symptom and not the cause? Surely Seville has left tough EU action on the causes as far off as ever? Will the noble and learned Lord tell the House whether the United Kingdom Government will apply sanctions against governments that connive at human trafficking, as the Prime Minister said he wanted to?

The Statement failed to mention the plan for European border police, which was part of the summit conclusions signed by Britain. A co-ordinating body is to be set up without delay to prepare an EU force, and the Justice Commissioner said that a force will be in being in five years' time. Will the United Kingdom contribute to the cost of an EU border police? Will it contribute personnel? If so, will the force have powers to arrest British citizens? Surely this is another example of British objections being ignored? We were told—and we are still being told—that that would never happen on the road to delivery.

Will the noble and learned Lord confirm that early implementation of a European arrest warrant was discussed? Will he give an assurance that Parliament will be able to reject the arrest warrant and that, if it does so, the Government will not implement it? The power of arrest goes to the heart of personal liberty. Only our Parliament should be permitted to give that power over British citizens to a foreign jurisdiction.

I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord knows the implications of the Danish presidency's unwillingness to chair the Defence Committee. Will he confirm that the chair will instead fall to Greece for a full 12 months? If so, what are the implications for relations with Turkey, the accession of Cyprus, and, if that is not achieved, the accession of other applicants?

Was there any discussion of further action against the tyrannical Government in Zimbabwe; any discussion with Spain on the proposed referendum in Gibraltar; and did the French Government at last give undertakings to lift their unjustified ban on British beef?

Rarely was any EU summit more hyped, but rarely has a summit delivered less. The Government are seen as failing at home. The Seville summit is evidence that the Downing Street culture of hype and spin is increasingly failing abroad.

4.5 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I too thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. Although I hope I can do so with due moderation, I must say that the Statement on this far-reaching and important meeting bears little relationship to the presidency conclusions. It is as if out of two possible interpretations of the summit the Government have deliberately chosen the minimalist one.

That is a great shame because this House and the other place must be able to obtain answers to questions about what happened at the summit. The Statement relates in detail to only one substantial aspect of what was discussed and almost nothing else. That makes the job of this House and another place in assuring accountability to Parliament much more difficult. I hope that in future the Government will give more adequate Statements about summits of such importance.

However, I warmly congratulate the Government, and indeed the summit, on their part in a great historic achievement by any standards: by the end of this year—a much earlier date than many of us supposed—there will be an additional 10 members of the European Union. I want to place on the record that outside this country, it is widely regarded as a major achievement of this country and the other European member states. It is an astonishing achievement to have brought the whole of Europe together within the Union.

I am afraid that that is where my congratulations stop. I turn to the annex on the reorganisation of the Council meetings. It is highly significant, although it was hardly mentioned in the Statement. It will lead to the setting up of nine specialist councils. So far there has been no discussion on how those councils can be made more fully accountable, although the Statement makes it clear that most major decisions will no longer go to the four council ministers, but will be dealt with by the specialist councils.

That throws up substantial questions about how we can hold the specialist councils accountable on crucial matters. The Statement referred to making the council's procedures open. With great respect, they will be only partially open because the openness will be restricted to televising discussions on issues subject to co-decision making. Many issues not subject to co-decision making can be made accountable only to national parliaments. That is where we want the openness of the council to be established, with full media coverage of what goes on there. No one can hold accountable anyone who meets in secret. After nearly 50 years, it is high time that the Council meets for legislative purposes fully openly and attracts the media to its proceedings.

I turn to asylum and immigration, on which I part company with the Leader of the Opposition. As he will appreciate, we believe that steps forward have been taken; in particular, the decision to move towards a common definition of the minimum standards required for claiming asylum; a common standard on the reunification of families; and a common standard on the right to emigrate legally into the European Union.

However, I have two questions for the Leader of the House. First, what consideration, if any, has been given to a proper policy of legal immigration in a continent that is growing steadily older and where increasingly semi-skilled and unskilled jobs are going to people outside that continent? Will the noble and learned Lord tell us whether there is a serious approach to a legal immigration policy, which would ease some of the pressures on illegal immigrants?

Secondly, we are delighted that the presidential conclusions referred to the need to uphold international agreements, including the Geneva Convention 1951. Will the noble and learned Lord give us an assurance that the Government fully accept those conclusions? Will he recognise that as a civilised continent we need to accept that there are justified asylum seekers as well as illegal immigrants and that steps taken to stop the latter must not have repercussions to stop the former?

I turn to the European security and defence policy. Can the noble and learned Lord tell us more about the position of Cyprus? As I understand the situation, it has been impossible to proceed with that policy, even though the welcome conclusion of the summit statement made plain that—and this is important—no "binding mutual defence commitments" are imposed on any members. That puts to rest the—I think—absurd rumour about a European army.

Furthermore, what will happen if the declaration on the Middle East—yet another of those worthy declarations we hear about almost daily—is simply disregarded by the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as so many others have been?

Finally, in the report on the convention there is a government reference to the need for a full debate. There is also reference to the fact that in this country no such debate has taken place. Later this week we shall discuss the Education Bill. We must consider seriously why in our discussions on the national curriculum, on which our children are educated, there is no discussion of Europe and no consideration about how citizenship of Europe as well as the United Kingdom can be taught. If any country needs a full debate, it is this one. The polls show that most people know little about Europe. Can the Government say when that full debate will be introduced? Will they consider bringing forward the referendum on the single currency so that the debate in this country can at long last be started?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am very grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said right at the outset. We all condemn these acts of terrorism. Indeed, in Spain, I am familiar with them. I have visited the Basque Parliament in Vitoria: the courthouse next door was blown up. And when I was in Madrid, looking at questions of European expansion and the way that a second Chamber might be reformed, there were several car explosions. That is completely intolerable to any fair-minded outsider, in particular when one bears in mind the extent of autonomy granted to the Basque lands, which must be one of the most generous acceptances of autonomy in any part of Europe.

I am grateful also for the noble Lord's welcome of the statement on the Middle East and India and Pakistan. The noble Lord must not always believe stories about spin. Some of his remarks almost seem to be spin-worthy rather than based on actuality.

We have accomplished a great deal. Perhaps I may repeat one or two items to which the noble Lord referred when dealing specifically with an immigration policy. This applies to the question of the noble Baroness about the necessity of having a common approach on immigration. I agree with her entirely. The Home Secretary's recent intervention, based substantially on the work that Ms Barbara Roche and Jack Straw started to develop at the Home Office, made it plain that a good deal of controlled and legal immigration is extremely beneficial to the host economy. If one has sensible approaches and rational debate, not chauvinistic prejudice or xenophobic prejudice, it is capable of being of lasting benefit to the economy and culture of the country. The two go together.

It is interesting that now that Spain is in the European Union, the number of unlawful Spanish workers living in France—for example— its close neighbour, has declined dramatically. That is a fairly clear indication of how a reasoned approach brings benefits.

Specifically, Seville agreed that, with regard to relations with third countries, new co-operation or association agreements would have a migration clause and a commitment to re-admission. That is a common stance. It agreed that re-admission agreements with all relevant countries would be completed as soon as possible. There is to be a systematic joint review of relations with third countries to gauge the extent of their co-operation on migration issues.

The noble Lord asked for specifics. We agreed action on visas, re-admission agreements and a repatriation programme including early returns to Afghanistan. One million people have already returned to Afghanistan. We have also agreed to take steps for the co-ordinated management of external borders, including joint operation at those borders. None of those things are capable of being attended to successfully in their entirety overnight, but this is significant progress.

I cannot give a precise date for the closure of Sangatte. I can say that the Home Secretary is meeting his opposite number tomorrow.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked about the sanctions which one can apply to traffickers in human beings. The criminal law is available to deal with them. It is difficult to introduce sanctions, except in the measured way that I have suggested, subject to proof that certain countries have been encouraging, allowing or turning a blind eye to, human trafficking.

Parliament has an opportunity to discuss the arrest warrant. If my memory serves me right, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, has an oral Question tabled to be answered in the next few days.

A specific question was asked about Greece. The noble Lord is quite right: Denmark will chair, which is allowed for if one country does not wish to deal with the matter.

Cyprus and Turkey remain difficult. The hope is—it is the express policy re-affirmed in Seville—that a united Cyprus will accede to the European Union as a single state.

Zimbabwe has been discussed on a number of recent occasions. There was a clear GAC statement on 17th June, which is just a few days ago. The next GAC—22nd July—will look at the situation in greater detail. The House of Commons has an opportunity to debate Zimbabwe tomorrow—25th June.

The noble Lord asked whether there was any discussion of Gibraltar. There was not. He asked whether the French Government agreed to reconsider their views on the British beef question. Last Wednesday evening in Paris the Prime Minister raised that issue with M. Chirac, not as part of Seville, but as an urgent question.

The noble Baroness, with her sense of history and modern geopolitics, described this as an huge historic achievement. I recognise that because of time constraints the Statement simply tries to point to a few important headings, but the body of the conclusions and the annexes are capable of offering us this historic opportunity.

The noble Baroness asked me—I hope she was smiling—whether I was able to give a date for the European referendum. Since I presently wish to continue in my modest position in your Lordships' House, I am not able to give any views on that. She asked whether we should have a full debate. In my view, yes. I think that we should have full debates in this House on all matters of genuine pressing public importance. However, that is a matter for the usual channels. I have indicated my view.

I have dealt with the question of Cyprus. The noble Baroness asked about the Middle East. The policy was reiterated. The policy of Her Majesty's Government has always been safe, secure boundaries for the state of Israel upon which there can be no negotiation, deviation or backtracking. There must be recognition by all Arab countries and Israel's neighbours that Israel has a right to exist, which this country has rightly and resolutely defended since the founding of the state of Israel more than 50 years ago.

The question was asked what will happen if the statement is disregarded? I think that your Lordships already know that Secretary of State Powell is eager to have a conference on Middle East matters as soon as possible. We stand by our international agreements. We must bear in mind that some of these agreements are historically quite old. I suggest that one should look at international agreements as being the tools of human advancement and that one ought to re-scrutinise them periodically. I do not say that that was necessarily the approach of Seville. I simply point out that one needs constantly to review international agreements, some of which were effected long before the question of—for example—economic migration on the scale that we know was ever contemplated.

In summary, I suggest that this was an extremely successful conference. Spain is a significant cooperator with the United Kingdom. It is fair to say that since 1997 our modern relationships with Spain have never been stronger.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord answer one or two tiny questions? Three or four years ago, I sat on a committee chaired by Lord Middleton considering the effect on the common agricultural policy of the arrival of Poland, Romania and and other east European countries. That committee decided unanimously that without complete and radical reform of the CAP, it would be impossible for the eastern European countries to enter the European Union. One or other had to go.

To further help the noble and learned Lord to answer this question, I have a farm partner who has taken over 12,000 acres in Poland. He has raised grain production from four tonnes to eight tonnes per hectare. Poland was in serious grain surplus producing mode before that. How on earth are Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia and Hungary going to enter the European Union unless the problems of the CAP are thoroughly addressed? They were ignored at Nice; they have been ignored at Barcelona. The CAP represents 50 per cent of European Union expenditure. That is not how to run a railway, even under Stephen Byers.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the noble Earl raises perfectly legitimate questions. There is a necessity to reform the CAP. Of course, as I think that the noble Lord would agree, that obtained long before the question of the accession of Poland or Romania. Those two potential accession countries are in different categories, as the noble Lord will know. Poland is in the first wave; while Romania and Bulgaria, although I think that the noble Lord limited his remarks to Romania, aim to accede by 2007. No one pretends, and no one pretended at Seville, that those are not difficult questions but I respectfully suggest that it is of advantage to the Poles for Poland to be a member of the European Union.

To take up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, it is to the advantage of the European Union that the former eastern bloc countries which, after all, have lived in tyranny for a substantial part of the last half of the 20th century, join us. If we can assist them to do so, they will benefit and so will we.

At the risk of being tedious, I repeat a point that I have made on previous occasions. So often, we in this country overlook the extraordinary achievements in the construction over many centuries of a civilised civil society. It is humbling to visit countries in parts of Europe that have not had those benefits. We must try to be optimistic, although I recognise that many of the noble Earl's points are valid.

Baroness Ludford

My Lords, have the Government reached from their salutary experience at Seville the sensible view that using harsh and populist rhetoric along with unworkable solutions is not the way to achieve progress on asylum and immigration? The way to achieve that is through solid progress in the Council. What the Seville summit has done is to tell Ministers to make decisions, which is what they should have been doing all along. Have the Government also concluded that the way to reach those decisions in the Council, some of which have been sitting on the table for the best part of three years, is by majority voting?

Have the Government also considered whether they should re-evaluate their general opt-out from the asylum and immigration provisions of the Treaty of Amsterdam? We know that on a case-by-case basis, the Government have opted in to most of the asylum provisions—most of which, of course, have not yet been agreed. They have also opted in to the measures on illegal immigration—of which, ironically, a considerable number are already in place. But they have not opted in to any of the measures concerning legal migration, including measures that would give 1.5 million people in this country who are legal, long-term residents but not citizens greater rights to move to live in another EU country. That would fulfil the aspiration for the flexibility and mobility of workers around the EU.

Have the Government drawn those conclusions—to use majority voting and cease the generalised optout—to reinforce the construction of a common immigration and asylum system? That is the way to proceed, not creating a bit of hype occasionally at summits, which tends to unravel.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a good point about the inefficient way in which European institutions work. It is important to bear in mind that the current 20 council configurations will soon he reduced to nine: general affairs and external relations; economic and financial affairs; justice and home affairs; employment, social policy, health and consumer affairs; competitiveness; transport, telecommunications and energy; agriculture and fisheries; environment; and education, youth and culture. Some power will be devolved to those configurated bodies.

I agree that harsh and populist rhetoric from whatever quarter does not assist in resolving those problems. I repeat my agreement with my right honourable friend Mr Blunkett, who said that we need a rational and informed debate on immigration, which may well be economic migration rather than asylum seeking. I must say that Mr Letwin gave a civilised response to that; he is also eager to have that debate. The debate itself will be of benefit to the way in which we conduct political affairs in this country, and its conclusion will be of benefit to those who want to migrate and who have skills to offer this country.

Lord Lea of Crondall

My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that, far from being disappointing, the summit revealed remarkable progress on a wide range of subjects. Far from adopting a dogmatic approach, the summit showed that pragmatism has been able to secure significant progress on matters that five or 10 years ago would have been thought to be in the world of fantasy? I shall give two examples. The first, of course, is the gradual introduction of a co-ordinated and integrated management of external borders.

But on another issue frequently debated in this House, namely European security and defence policy, is there not pragmatic progress without much dispute on a police mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina—taken over from the United Nations, I think the communique states—and in Macedonia, taken over from NATO? I hope that the Official Opposition will take the opportunity to welcome that, but does not the summit represent pragmatic progress across a wide range of matters?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, my noble friend is right. In fact, wanting to know something about the topic, I read the conclusions of that document, which I commend to any of your Lordships who have not had that pleasure. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and my noble friend. The statement does not necessarily do full justice to all of the work that was done.

If one considers ESDP, the operation in Macedonia to which my noble friend referred continues. It has been enormously successful when we consider not only the alternatives but the situation that we know existed only a few years ago. I agree with my noble friend. That pragmatic, incremental approach has been extremely valuable. That continued approach is one reason why so many countries want to join the European Union. If my noble friend had asked me 15 years ago whether I could ever contemplate a time when Poland, Romania or Bulgaria might be seeking to join us, I would have thought that he had taken leave of his senses.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord accept from someone who laboured in those rather arid vineyards for some time congratulations on the procedural and administrative changes that have been made to the working of the Council? They will seriously improve the way in which it sets about its work. The reduction in specialist councils was long overdue; there were far too many of them with far too little to do. That will cut down the bureaucracy.

The decision to set out the medium-term objectives of the European Union on a systematic basis—an idea that I believe was first proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, many years ago and which has taken a long time to come to fruition—will also bring an element of clarity to the way in which the European Union goes about its work. The changes that have been introduced are extremely important.

I express some sadness at the fact that the vast majority of the British press seemed to think that they were reporting the World Cup in the Far East rather than a serious discussion of the European Union's immigration policy. To my mind, the outcome was a reasonable compromise between several conflicting objectives. It was good to see that the European Union had not totally lost sight of the fact that it must provide refuge for people from countries in which they are persecuted or are in danger of their life. We should not introduce an immigration policy that comes down on such people. At the same time, however, there are serious matters that must be dealt with, and it is hard to see how they could be dealt with effectively by individual states taking separate and different action. The remit to take things forward collectively represents the only way. I hope that the Government will not tire of pressing for early decisions on that matter.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am most grateful for the knowledge and expertise that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, brings to the debate. He will agree that arid vineyards can, sometimes, be productive; the arid vineyards of Rioja Alta produce excellent wine. The noble Lord is right that, in 2002, there is no sensible prospect of individual solutions operating other than to everyone's disadvantage in the difficult area of immigration and asylum.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, following the recent summit, will the noble and learned Lord say how any asylum seeker can be assessed as being non-genuine, unless he or she has been carefully interviewed and until such time as there is a common EU definition of who and what is a refugee?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, there is a fairly widespread understanding of what a refugee is and of what an asylum seeker with a well founded claim is. I agree that one must be careful, subtle and decent in interviewing those who may or may not be genuine; they are entitled to civilised and decent treatment and behaviour.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, there has been great emphasis on asylum and immigration. Can the Minister clarify exactly what was agreed at the summit? As I understand it, co-operation between police and immigration authorities is to be enhanced immediately. Is it also true that work is to begin immediately on the establishment of a common European Union corps of border guards, complete with their own command, uniforms and, probably, arms, and that that corps is likely to be operative in five years' time?

I ask that question because Antonio Vitorino, the justice commissioner, said that co-operation would start with co-ordination but evolve in the medium term—four to five years—into a fully fledged European guard force. How does that square with what Mr Straw said? He said: Such is the opposition to the principle of a European border force that it will not feature, except as an acknowledgement that discussion took place". Is that the policy of the British Government? Will it be adhered to in spite of the fact that the Italian plan for a fully integrated border police force was, apparently, warmly welcomed by national leaders except—I hope—Mr Blair?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, no member state is calling for the EU to move immediately to a European Union border police force and nor does the declaration made at Seville. Seville did call for an immediate increase in joint operations, more co-operation between national immigration liaison officers and more common risk assessment and training. The Commission was also called on to produce a study on burden sharing. Those are all rational, sensible moves and are fully supported by the United Kingdom. Indeed, we called for them before Seville.

The example of Sangatte demonstrates that it is in all our interests to strengthen external borders. There is no question of the United Kingdom's abandoning or weakening its national border controls. In the longer term, we have nothing against a European border police force, if it is capable of being effective in protecting the external border.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, referred to the Italian study. Even that study does not call for an immediate move to European border police; it calls for groups or—not my word—nodes of national immigration officials to consider different aspects of strengthening the external border, which would cover airport security and other joint operations, with a central secretariat to co-ordinate the work in Rome. Some think that such ideas are unduly bureaucratic, but it is important that national immigration officers work together.

There are other ideas. The Austrians, the Belgians and the Finnish are making proposals relating to contact points, the extension of immigration liaison officer networks, technical support, rapid responsibility and joint operations. The Commission is proposing joint operations, risk assessments and training and the pooling of surveillance equipment.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord always presents himself as a person of great optimism, but does not he become a little depressed, at times, at the way in which agreements with other European countries are broken with impunity? Has France made the slightest attempt to implement the spirit of the Dublin convention, which assumed that people arriving in a Community country and appearing to be asylum seekers would have their application processed and would be granted asylum or returned to the country from which they had come or their country of origin?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I prefer to view life optimistically. Sometimes, as the noble Lord knows, optimism is justified. To his astonishment and mine, we came to an agreement on a possible way forward for working practices in the House. If he had been a pessimist or I an inveterate grouch, neither of us would have spoken to each other, but all ended in harmony, light and a decent lunch.

The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, and the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, have both said that Dublin should be revisited, and I am sure that that is right. We do not have perfect co-operation with France on every conceivable aspect, but, by and large, France is a good partner in Europe.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will my noble and learned friend take note of the obvious support in the House for the insistence of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, that there should be a full debate on the matters discussed today? Will the Minister be certain to emphasise, in preparing the Government's part in that debate, the fact that hundreds upon hundreds of European regulations emanating from Brussels already go through for execution without the slightest intervention of either House of Parliament? The power of Parliament to express a view or take any effective action about the proposals is being progressively diminished. That matter should be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, this chimes, I believe, with what I was gently putting to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, has not been alone. In one way or another, most of your Lordships have criticised the fact that there is an increasing body of Europe-derived legislation which has insufficient scrutiny. But that is precisely one of the recommendations to be found in that excellent document relating to the Leader's Group on working practices, where we suggest that your Lordships do just that. I was very heartened by the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, said that his committee was happy to review the question with a view to producing more effective scrutiny. That is true of all secondary legislation, but not least European-derived legislation. I am happy to endorse my noble friend's stance.

As regards a full debate, I believe that I have made my own view clear. Subject to the agreement of the usual channels, this is the sort of debate we ought to be having—informed, constructive, rational and lacking in populist rhetoric.