HL Deb 15 December 2003 vol 655 cc960-72

3.47 p.m.

Baroness Amos

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

"With permission, Mr Speaker, before I make a Statement on the details of the IGC, I should say that the European Council also discussed Iraq. The presidency conclusions reaffirm the importance of the reconstruction of Iraq and condemn the recent terrorist attacks. These conclusions have been placed in the Library of the House.

"This gives me the opportunity to update the House briefly on the events of the past 24 hours. The celebrations on the streets of Baghdad, Basra and all over Iraq show once and for all how delighted the Iraqi people are that Saddam's rule is now history. The Iraqi people want their freedom and support the principles of justice, democracy and the rule of law, just as people do everywhere given half the chance.

"I should like to pay tribute to the American coalition forces and the intelligence services who brought about Saddam's capture. They have proved their professionalism, bravery and commitment. But let us also pay tribute to the Iraqi people who also helped capture Saddam. Thousands of Iraqis are now working in the new Iraq police and defence forces, and they are working to build a new Iraq, and we shall work with them to do so. There is still a massive amount to do, but we have achieved a lot in a short time: a political timetable taking us through to a democratic, elected government; and an Iraq where the public enjoy freedom of speech and religion, for the first time in decades.

"More than 17,000 reconstruction projects have been launched. Oil production has risen by 320,000 barrels per day, with the proceeds used for the benefit of the Iraqi people rather than stolen or squandered as they were under Saddam's rule. Iraqis now have a new currency to spend in the increasingly well stocked markets. Electricity has surpassed pre-conflict levels and clean water supplies are improving daily.

"But, as we have seen yet again today, the terrorists and Saddam's sympathisers will continue and, though small in number and in support, their terrorist tactics will still require vigilance, dedication and determination. But the hope of a new Iraq is now clear and evident to all. The final victory will be theirs—the Iraqi people's.

"I now turn to the details of the European Council and intergovernmental conference which took place in Brussels on 12th and 13th December. The negotiations which have been going on over the last 22 months have been about the effective management of the European Union after its enlargement to 25 countries next year. That enlargement is a hugely important event, not just for the countries concerned, but for the whole of Europe. The stability and prosperity of our continent stand to gain enormously from enlargement. That is why we negotiated the Nice Treaty three years ago to make enlargement possible. It is why we have been negotiating in the convention, and now the intergovernmental conference, on a draft constitutional treaty.

"A negotiation among 25 sovereign countries was bound to be complicated, particularly on the issue on which the Nice negotiation almost foundered; namely, the relative weight in voting terms which each country will have after enlargement. In the end it was on that issue that agreement proved impossible.

"But a great deal of progress has been made, and I pay an unqualified tribute to the Italian presidency, whose skill and tenacity made that progress possible. Prime Minister Berlusconi was able to sum up at the end of the meeting that, while of course, in formal terms, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, there were some 82 points where consensus was close. Those included key changes on very important issues for the United Kingdom. If that proceeds on the basis outlined by Prime Minister Berlusconi, tax, EU finance, social security and criminal law will all remain the province of the nation state—subject to decision-making by unanimity, with any further treaty change subject to approval of national parliaments.

"I should also highlight the fact that the European Council welcomed the proposals put forward by France and Germany and the United Kingdom on the future of European defence, which is limited of course to peacekeeping and humanitarian issues. Those will strengthen the European Union's collective planning capacity while in no way duplicating or conflicting with NATO, which remains the basis of Europe's territorial defence.

"The draft constitutional treaty is also close to an agreement in other ways which are important for this country. It contains a clear statement that the Union has only the powers which the nations give it. The Union acts only when objectives cannot be achieved by individual countries acting alone. There will be new powers for national parliaments to be involved in EU legislation. It will be for the Union's national leaders, in the European Council, to set the strategy of the European Union, and there will be a full-time chair of the European Council to drive forward that work. The European Commission will have all its necessary independent authority within that system.

"As I said earlier, the outstanding point of difference was over the relative weight of the votes that member states have within the EU. The Government made it clear in our White Paper, published in September, that we were content with the Nice system but were equally prepared to move to a new one, if there were a consensus for that. But this has been a particularly difficult question for Spain and Poland, and I believe it was right to take time to find a workable solution rather than to plough on in the hope of an unsatisfactory compromise. That is particularly so since the voting provisions of the Nice Treaty only take effect in a year's time and—something often not fully understood—under the convention proposal those Nice voting arrangements would anyway last until 2009. So we have time to resolve the issue.

"Above all, the negotiation was living proof that the European Union is and will remain an organisation of sovereign member states. We could not agree because agreement required unanimity. In time, an agreement will be necessary to allow enlargement to work effectively. But we now have a chance to reflect and consider before proceeding.

"In the mean time, the business of the European Union will continue under the existing treaty framework. We are in contact with the incoming Irish presidency to take forward the Lisbon economic reform agenda at the spring summit next March. Eight central European countries, and Malta and Cyprus, will accede to the European Union on 1st May.

"We shall turn our minds to the next financing framework for the European Union, to cover the period from 2007. I have today, with the President of France, the Chancellors of Germany and Austria, and the Prime Ministers of the Netherlands and Sweden, written to the President of the Commission to emphasise the need for budgetary discipline over the coming financing period.

"Ultimately, the negotiations are about the stability, security and prosperity of a Europe of nearly 500 million people, countries that are our principal allies and our major trading partners. It would be a serious mistake for any British government to absent themselves from those negotiations and to allow decisions vital to our security and prosperity to be made by others. We must continue to shape the future of Europe in ways that reflect our national interest. We can be either on the touchline shouting our criticism, or on the field as an active and successful player. I believe passionately that we must remain fully engaged. We will continue to work for the successful outcome of the negotiations".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.56 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating that Statement. I also express some regret and surprise that there were not separate Statements on Europe and, of course, the very important developments in Iraq over the past 24 hours. The Prime Minister boasted of that yesterday, and it was good news for the people of the entire world. I hope that it is not the view of No. 10 that a televised address precludes a full Statement to this House.

Perhaps the noble Baroness might consider writing to the ambassador of the United States, to congratulate President Bush on the resolute leadership that led to that success and to salute that country's military and intelligence services on their achievement. How soon does she hope that Mr Hussein's capture and co-operative stance will lead to the unmasking of weapons of mass destruction?

I shall turn to the EU conference. Does the noble Baroness share my relief that the prospect of a damaging new EU constitution has receded? Indeed, will she confirm to the House the reported sense of relief inside the Government at the result? Is it not the case that a new constitution was never really necessary for enlargement of the Union, and that its heavy and elitist emphasis on more centralisation of powers and more integration was set to take Europe in entirely the wrong direction? Does she agree with her honourable friend Gisela Stuart that it was all based on a model that was already 50 years out of date?

In the light of last week's events, is it the view of the UK Government that a new EU constitution is required—yes or no? Will we be pressing for a renewed round of negotiations? If not, why were we so keen to have the constitution in the first place?

There has been criticism of Mr Berlusconi's chairing of the summit, yet the Prime Minister described it as "heroic". Do the Government therefore reject the criticisms of Mr Berlusconi? Has the noble Baroness seen the comment by Mr Bertie Ahern that: This is a huge project, a fundamental change for the whole of Europe"? Has she also seen the statement by the President of the Czech Republic that: The attempt to impose a European constitution was a radical step on the way to creating a European superstate. Anyone who did not know that, knew nothing"? Did the UK Government know that, or did they know nothing? When the Government said that it was a tidying-up exercise, were they deceiving themselves or deceiving the British public?

Now that it is clear that the questions involved were so far-reaching as to cause a major crisis in the EU, will the Government stop prevaricating and give an unequivocal assurance that a future EU constitution will not be ratified without a referendum of the British people?

I understand that the British Government have been criticised by the French Government for not backing Germany and France. Why is that? Is it because the Prime Minister now accepts the prudent advice of Mr Brown that the Franco-German model is bad for competitiveness? Were Spain and Poland right? What is the Government's view on that? Is it our official policy now to stick with the Nice voting settlement? And what is our reaction to the threats from Chancellor Schroder to punish Poland financially? Is it not hypocrisy for France and Germany, which wrecked the EU stability pact in their own interests, overriding the worries of smaller countries, to attack others when they defend their national interests? What is our assessment of the risk of a so-called "two-speed" Europe? Do we share the views of Mr Berlusconi that it is inappropriate to form groups of countries? If so, in view of the wider uncertainties, will the UK Government now abandon their reckless dalliance with EU defence institutions that could undermine NATO?

The EU constitution negotiations have fallen at the first fence. Is the Leader of the House aware that this was probably the least difficult fence to surmount? Does not the uncertainty in Europe underline the folly of the Government's ill thought-out proposals to destabilise our own domestic constitutional arrangements? When we see the shambles of last weekend we should be grateful for stability and for institutions that work well. We should not put them at risk. The weekend's breakdown confirms what many of us argued from the start; that the convention was a flawed undertaking which should never have been allowed to go forward and was bound to create more disunity than unity.

It is time for genuine good Europeans to pick up the pieces and take the EU in different directions, building a better and more flexible kind of Europe which meets the true needs of all member states, large and small, and in which Britain should take a confident lead. What we saw last weekend was a defeat for the whole new Labour strategy for Europe, which has involved tagging along with France and Germany, weakening NATO, ignoring the smaller states, yearning pointlessly for euro currency membership, signing up to layers of outdated social regulations which would paralyse growth and weakening still further the EU's democratic accountability.

There is now a new opening for Europe. Europe should have the wisdom to pause and build on what it has—not put all at risk by ill thought-out schemes to drive too far too fast.

4.2 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I, too, thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made in another place. First, on what is after all an important but complicated Statement, I want to ask about the arrest of Saddam Hussein. All of us, of course, greatly welcome this development and congratulate all those involved, including the United States troops and those from Iraq who were helpful as police and military, on bringing about that result. Does the Minister agree that the final conclusion must be a trial of Saddam Hussein that is accepted by the people of Iraq as a legitimate and proper procedure which culminates in a proper and carefully thought-through trial and sentence? In that context, does she agree that it would be sensible to look at the possibility of an internationalised trial procedure, in which a trial might take place in Iraq, but with judges brought in from other countries under UN auspices in order to give such a trial international weight and legitimacy? Is not that the conclusion for which all of us must wish, because any other kind of trial would be likely to be questioned by the international community and as such may be counter-productive?

Regarding the Statement on the constitutional settlement and the IGC, first, does the Leader of the House agree that it is in absolutely no one's interest that there should now be a breakdown? We are embarked upon a major historical effort—the attempt to integrate the whole of Europe. That is an aim and aspiration which would bring stability to countries that have been troubled by war and economic difficulties over many years. Therefore, it is in the interests of us all to find a settlement that will last.

Does the Minister also agree that there has been a real step forward on defence? We on these Benches would not for one moment agree with the Leader of the Official Opposition, because in our view it would be useful and, indeed, complementary to NATO that Europe should undertake tasks NATO would not wish to undertake itself, and in which the United States would not wish to be involved. Why is it that of the group of Petersberg tasks accepted by the EU, that of peacemaking—as distinct from peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts—has not been included in the Statement?

What is the Government's stance on the possibility of a breakdown? Do they accept the position of France and Germany with regard to weighted voting under the new two-requirement condition—that is, a majority of states and a majority of people—or do they believe that the Nice agreement, with all its difficulties and complexities, would be a better way to go?

Finally, do the Government believe that we should press for negotiations to start as soon as may be feasible under the Irish presidency to try to achieve a new settlement before the European elections? Is that not an outcome devotedly and devoutly to be wished? Does the Minister not agree that almost any other outcome will leave Europe without the unity, determination and purpose that it needs at this historic time of trying to integrate the whole of Europe, west and east?

4.6 p.m.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for their comments and I shall attempt to address the issues raised. First, in relation to Iraq, having listened carefully to the statement made yesterday by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, I was surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, claim that my right honourable friend boasted. He clearly did not. His statement was most measured and clear, and, importantly, he spoke of the implications of the event for the people of Iraq. Furthermore, we remain confident that Saddam Hussein maintained a covert WMD programme before the recent conflict and that more evidence of those programmes will be uncovered.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, welcomed the developments in Iraq—I believe that they will be widely welcomed—and asked specific questions on the next steps, in particular the trial. We have consistently taken the view that it is for the people of Iraq to decide how to bring to justice those responsible for crime, with appropriate international help. The noble Baroness will be aware that on 10th December the Governing Council established a special tribunal. Iraqi judges and prosecutors who will be involved in the special tribunal are receiving training in international human rights standards and international law. They have received assistance from a number of countries, including ours, in that regard.

I now turn to the specific issues raised on the EU, in particular on the breakdown of the talks. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked whether the Government shared a sense of relief. Absolutely not. We remain of the view that it is sensible to modernise and consolidate Europe's rule books so that we, as the EU, can operate effectively and work better as a Union of 25 than a Union of 15. The constitution would be a means of creating an effective enlarged reforming Europe. That modernisation would offer clear gains for us in the UK: a president of the European Council and new rights for national parliaments. The noble Lord asked whether we share the criticisms of Prime Minister Berlusconi. We do not, and the Statement was absolutely clear on that point. I believe that the question of Germany and the threat to punish Poland would be more appropriately addressed to the Germans.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, also raised the issue of a two-speed Europe. It is essential that the Union continues to evolve in an inclusive way on the basis of equal rights and responsibilities before the law. Provisions for groups of member states to go further on certain policies have been embodied in treaties since Amsterdam. We have also been able to negotiate opt-outs where that has suited our national interests; for example, with regard to the Frontiers Protocol. However, inclusivity remains at the core of what we are about.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, also raised the matter of defence. I was pleased that she welcomed the settlement in respect of the French and that she saw it as a step forward. Three texts were agreed with France and Germany and endorsed unanimously by the European Council. They concerned mutual defence, structured co-operation based on capabilities, and planning EU-led missions. NATO remains the cornerstone of defence and, in circumstances where NATO is not engaged, it makes complete sense for Europe to have capability and power to act in the interests of Europe and the wider world.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, asked me specifically about peace-making and the Petersberg tasks. That matter appears in the revised Petersberg tasks, laid out in Article III.210.1. I hope that that reassures the noble Baroness.

The next steps will be reviewed at the March Council under the Irish presidency. Members of the Council have already said that they will talk to member states to see where we can go in terms of next steps. I believe that I have addressed all the points raised.

4.12 p.m.

Lord Tomlinson

My Lords, first, does my noble friend agree that it was always unrealistic to seek the conclusion of an intergovernmental conference during the Italian presidency less than three months after it had started? In reviewing what happened at the IGC, is not the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, exercising the greatest fantasy in talking about the British tagging along behind France and Germany and ignoring new applicants? Was not the whole history of foreign policy development in the European Union, particularly over the Iraq crisis, a demonstration of exactly the reverse of the scene put to us by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde?

I want to ask my noble friend three specific questions arising from the presidency conclusions, which, as usual, were published before the discussions started; nevertheless, they are there. Paragraph 3 refers to the European actions in respect of the growth programme and states that the stability and growth pact will be consistent with that process. Does that mean before the French and Germans massacred the stability and growth pact or the stability and growth pact as it now is, having been shot to pieces?

Later in the presidency conclusions on the subject of Iraq, on which I very much value my noble friend's Statement, it is expressed clearly that the European Council underlines the need for full implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1511. Does that include all the demands—six specifically— made of all member states of the European Union? If so, that will bring about a major improvement in the peacekeeping role in Iraq.

Finally, in relation to European security and defence policy, would my noble friend agree with me if I suggested that, rather than have 15 or 15 plus 10 member states making great declarations about the improvements that can be made, it would be helpful if some of them spent some time concentrating on their capacity to do anything? Even with the force that is mentioned for Bosnia and Herzegovina, it would be impossible for that mission to be launched without United States assistance in both physical and other assets.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, first, I thank my noble friend for his initial remarks reminding me that 1 did not address the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on Britain's role in Europe. We have been absolutely clear about wanting to be at the heart of Europe and have been entirely confident of our strategy and policy. Therefore, when the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, made his remarks, I wondered whether he was living in a parallel universe because his comments in no way reflected my reading of the role that we have played in the negotiations.

I turn to my noble friend's specific questions. With regard to Iraq, my understanding is that we are looking for full implementation of Security Council Resolution 1511. I entirely agree with my noble friend that full implementation would mean a step change in what is taking place in Iraq at present.

On the issue of European security and defence policy, again, my noble friend is right. We need to consider the issue of capacity but we must also be clear about what is appropriate in relation to certain incidents. A number of different models have been used: NATO; Berlin Plus; the UK operating on its own, as it did in Sierra Leone; and a French-led European initiative in the DRC. Therefore, the issue is one of capacity, but it is also one of choosing the appropriate method.

On the issue of economic growth, we continue in support of European action for growth. It remains a realistic policy, and it is important that the EU presses ahead with its agenda of economic reform to enhance growth and job creation.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick

My Lords, will the noble Baroness draw some comfort and inspiration from the fact that 15 years ago a European Council broke down in irretrievable confusion in Copenhagen, leaving the European Union with a shortage of funds? On that occasion, a somewhat gloomy assessment from President Mitterrand was corrected by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. I rather had the feeling that, on this occasion, her corrections might go along her own Front Bench. However, two months later in Brussels, under the chairmanship of Chancellor Kohl, the Council came to an entirely satisfactory set of agreements, which were extremely beneficial to this country. Therefore, perhaps drawing some inspiration from that would be a good thing.

Will the noble Baroness also commit the Government very firmly to supporting whatever the Irish presidency does to try to put this show on the road again? It will need help. I agree entirely with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that the sooner it is done, the better. If it can be done in the early months of next year, I hope that the British Government will do everything to help that.

Finally, can the Government help to achieve a settlement by showing how exaggerated are the accounts of the differences between the two formulas for voting, which have divided Europe in such a dramatic way? Perhaps they could publish some examples, using the qualified majority votes of recent years, to show whether the different systems would have made any difference at all. My own belief is that there is very little to choose between them, apart from the symbolic, which of course has become greatly exaggerated.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. It is always helpful to have a good, long memory. I take comfort and inspiration from the comments of the noble Lord. Of course we shall support the Irish presidency, as I said in my response to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. The Irish have said that they will take soundings and report to the March European Council meeting on whether it is possible to restart negotiations. As yet, they are not in a position to say how that will work out. We would all like to see a conclusion to this matter.

On QMV and the different systems, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, makes a good suggestion about considering the decisions that have been taken recently and whether a different system would have made any difference. I know that the noble Lord is aware that issues of symbolism can be very important in the context of international negotiation.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, will the noble Baroness review her response to my noble friend Lady Williams in relation to the method of trying Saddam? I believe that I am right in saying that in East Timor and in Sierra Leone there was a joint bench comprised of local and international judges. While I entirely accept the thrust of her remarks in terms of ensuring that the Iraqis feel that it is their trial and presumably—although one should not say so—their conviction, the whole process needs to be of a calibre and a quality that is warranted.

Turning to the major part of the Statement which concerns the European Council deliberations, I adopt the phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who said that there is now a need to get the show on the road. That is true, but I suggest that an essential part of getting the show on the road is to get the British public and the public in other member states interested in what is going on, in having a modicum of understanding of what is going on, and in feeling to some extent, however vestigially, that it is their show. At present one thing that one can say with certainty is that the British public and, I suspect, the public of most if not all member states feel further and further away from everything that is being done in their name in Europe.

I was surprised that in the Statement the word "democracy" in whatever form one chooses is not mentioned a single time. The beginning of the Statement states: The negotiations which have been going on over the last 22 months have been about the effective management of the European Union". I believe that that is the view of many people but it sounds more like a multi-national company than anything to do with democracy. Towards the end of the Statement it states: these negotiations are about the stability, security and prosperity of a Europe of nearly 500 million people". There is no mention of democracy. I put it to the noble Baroness that without real, rather than theoretical or constitutional, democratic underpinning, we shall go nowhere with constitutional amendments, however long or short or however broad or narrow they are. I ask the Government to start to take seriously—frankly thus far they have not—the need for the British public to be brought in on this great project. It should be a great project and I want to see it as a great project that has a long-term future. Unless we do that it will not have a long-term future.

I ask the noble Baroness to cast her mind back to earlier today when the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that 600,000 brochures had been printed to help the public to engage more effectively in the consultation on the renewal of the BBC Charter. I see no reason at all— perhaps the noble Baroness will respond to this point— why every single household in the land should not have a well prepared, understandable, accessible explanation of just where we are on those constitutional negotiations. The Banham Local Government Commission, for example, put 12 million brochures through the doors of the county and metropolitan areas that were affected. I would be grateful if the noble Baroness would address her mind to that.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, has raised two main points, one with respect to communication and issues concerning the IGC and recent events and the other in relation to Iraq. On Iraq and the method of trial, as I said in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, we have constantly and consistently taken the view that it is for the Iraqi people to decide how to bring to justice those responsible for such crimes. As I understand it, an international court is usually established only if a country is unable or unwilling to prosecute those suspected of such crimes. In this case the governing council has made it clear that it is for the Iraqi people to try Saddam Hussein and others. We know that the knowledge and expertise that is required exists in Iraq. There will be international help for Iraqi judges and prosecutors, who will receive training to international human rights and international law standards.

On communication and ensuring that the British public understand what is going on, I could not agree more with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. We are committed to consulting the public. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is operating an online consultation on the draft constitutional treaty and my honourable friends Denis MacShane and Graham Allen launched that on 19th August. It will run until the end of the IGC. It provides an opportunity for the public to feed thoughts into the Government directly. So far there have been over 95,000 "readings". We have sought a wide range of views on the future of Europe through ministerial regional visits, seminars, radio phone-ins and interviews. I entirely accept that we need to do that consistently and that we need to ensure that the public are brought on board. That is why we have gone down the road of phone-ins, using the web and so on. It is important that the public feel engaged in this process.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords—

Lord Jopling

My Lords—

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, there are five minutes left. We have not heard from Back-Benchers on this side for a while.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that yesterday was an immense occasion—the arrest of Saddam Hussein. I am sure that all who saw the pictures on the television screen and realised that it really was Saddam Hussein who had been arrested will feel that the whole world should rejoice in and congratulate all those who took part in the arrest.

With regard to the trial, which is becoming more and more of a real issue, does my noble friend accept that while there may be different methods of undertaking the trial, the suggestion, which I am sure was inadvertent—I took this from hearing the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on the radio—that Saddam cannot receive a fair trial in Iraq will do immense damage in the future? Does she commend the view that if there is to be international acceptance of the result of the trial, which may be very difficult to achieve, the further away from Iraq that the trial takes place the less likely it is that it will be accepted internationally; and the closer to Iraq that it takes place the more possibility there is of international acceptance.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I thank my noble friend. It is very important that we remember that the Iraqi people have made it absolutely clear that they have a central role to play. The governing council established a special tribunal before the arrest of Saddam Hussein. It is important that not only the international community but also the people of Iraq feel that his trial is fair. That is why those who will be involved in the special tribunal will receive training from international human rights lawyers and others, so that it is internationally accepted.

Lord Jopling

My Lords, I am afraid that I was unaware that my old friend the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson—not entirely surprisingly—had resigned the Labour Whip. Does the Minister agree that one of the most hopeful statements in the Council's conclusions published yesterday was that part on the declaration on transatlantic relations? I am anticipating our debate later today. The most important words are in the first paragraph: The transatlantic relationship is irreplaceable. The EU remains fully committed to a constructive, balanced and forward-looking partnership with our transatlantic partners". Is the Minister confident that those are not just words and that she sees some prospect of that view being reciprocated in the United States; that there are moves back to a multilateral approach to world problems in the United States; and that from both sides we shall not be subjected any more to the kind of tit-for-tat situations which have arisen—for instance, on the European side for countries seeking to set up independent command structures within the ESDP and, on the other side, the rather petty United States announcement that countries which opposed the war in Iraq will not be allowed to take any part in any of the contracts? Can she give us an assurance that the Government are hopeful that those fine words in the conclusions are likely to be put into effect?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, is asking me to do the impossible. I know that the noble Lord understands that international relationships are dynamic. The fact that that statement exists in the declaration on transatlantic relationships is very important indeed, because that statement is at the heart of the relationship between the European Union and the United States.

We have always made it clear that we do not see it as an either/or relationship but as a both/and relationship. Having said that, that does not mean that differences will not emerge within the European Union. We have seen those recently with respect to Iraq and, most recently, this weekend on the voting system issue. It is most important and fundamental that there is a commitment on both sides to make that relationship work. I can assure the noble Lord that we shall work to ensure that that fundamental principle remains.