HL Deb 03 February 2005 vol 669 cc396-408

1.33 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a Statement on prospects for the European Union over the next year.

"A year ago, I made a number of proposals to the House to improve the way in which the Government are held to account for the conduct of European Union business. One of these was the publication of regular White Papers on Prospects for the European Union, the first in April last year (Cmnd 6174). As with the White Papers which I published on the EU constitution negotiations, I hope honourable Members will feel that this fuller and more timely information on EU business has helped to stimulate wider debate and discussion. Such discussion shapes and strengthens the Government's position in European negotiations.

"I am. therefore, today publishing a White Paper setting out prospects for the European Union in 2005. Let me highlight three of the main areas of work which it covers: on enhancing prosperity across Europe and in this country; on working together to tackle common threats to our security; and on preparations for the United Kingdom's presidency of the EU later this year.

"In the European Union, Britain is part of the world's largest common market of 450 million consumers—giving new opportunities to our businesses, greater choice and quality to British consumers and boosting jobs and growth here and across Europe. But there is more to do to ensure that we get the maximum benefit from that market, by pursuing further liberalisation and reform.

"We will, therefore, continue negotiating a directive to liberalise services across the EU. Services account for 70 per cent of the EU's output, but at present only 20 per cent of trade. Creating a true single market in this sector would boost growth in the EU and improve the price, choice and quality of services on offer to businesses and consumers. The Government are also working for better implementation and enforcement of the Financial Services Action Plan, which offers great benefits in another sector where this country is particularly strong.

"We are also working to ensure that European Union law, so vital for the operation of the single market, is the most effective possible for business. The Government have been working closely with the Irish, Dutch and Luxembourg presidencies on regulatory reform in Europe and we have now extended that to include the Austrians and Finns, who follow us in the EU presidency next year. I also welcome the strong lead from Commission President Barroso, whose five-year plan, published on 26 January. made clear that better regulation is a priority for the new Commission. We will be working with the Commission to ensure we have better assessment of the impact of new proposals and systematic reviews of existing EU legislation.

"The White Paper also highlights the continuing negotiations on the European Union's budget. The Government are working especially with Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria and Sweden, to ensure that future EU budgets are limited to 1 per cent of Europe's economic output and that this money is spent where it most adds value. We also continue to make clear that the UK's budget abatement remains fully justified. We, like all other countries, have a veto on any changes proposed in this area.

"As well as the economic aspects of our EU membership. the White Paper also sets out many areas in which our common work in Europe makes the United Kingdom safer and more secure. It shows how we are improving co-operation between police forces and other authorities so as better to tackle international organised crime and terrorism across national borders. It highlights our work to ensure that European measures to stop asylum-shopping and to create a level playing field on asylum across the EU are properly implemented and evaluated. It describes work on concluding readmission agreements with countries outside the EU.

"The coming year will be an important one for the EU's crisis management and aid operations abroad, which themselves make a direct contribution to our own security. The largest EU military mission to date will help to build stability in Bosnia, under a British commander, Major-General David Leakey. EU police missions will continue to work in Bosnia, Macedonia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. A new European Defence Agency, under a British chief executive, Nick Witney, will increase Europe's capacity more quickly to deploy effective forces in response to international crises and ensure that they can work better together.

"The Government will continue to play a leading part, along with France and Germany, in European efforts to ensure that Iran's nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes. What we have decided to date, with Iran suspending the processes which could produce fuel for a nuclear bomb, demonstrates the value of this common approach.

"The EU is the largest provider of development assistance in the world. As well as delivering Europe's contribution to reconstruction in the areas hit by the tsunami in Asia, we will work to strengthen the EU's work to support Africa.

"As the House is aware, the United Kingdom will hold the presidency of the European Union from July. Our presidency will focus on the themes of security, stability and prosperity, both within the EU and outside. Africa and climate change, the priorities of our concurrent presidency of the G8, will be important parts of the European Union agenda. We will continue to push for economic reform and better regulation in Europe to deliver long-term improvements in growth and we will steer preparations for the next stage in the world trade negotiations.

"This White Paper makes clear the central importance for the United Kingdom of our work throughout the European Union. And it shows Britain delivering in Europe—delivering because we are engaging with our partners on issues which no country can tackle alone.

"This Government has put Britain hack where we belong: not carping from the sidelines, but as a leading power in Europe. We are winning clear benefits for British consumers, for British businesses and for British families in areas which make a real difference to their lives. Through Europe we are increasing Britain's power and influence in the world.

"Our approach has helped us to deliver the European Union's greatest ever enlargement and agreement to historic membership negotiations with Turkey which will begin in October under our presidency. It has got us a European Commission which has made jobs, growth and better regulation a top priority; European defence arrangements which work with, not against NATO; and European co-operation on foreign policy which is delivering real results, as in Ukraine. And, again thanks to this Government's approach, we have delivered a constitutional treaty which every other country in Europe is calling a great British success. I look forward to debating the facts of that treaty, not the myths of the party opposite, in the months ahead.

"Ten years ago this country was isolated in Europe. Today we are where we belong: leading reform in Europe, and working together to enhance Britain's prosperity and power. That is the difference between this Government and those who want to detach us from Europe—a difference which is clear from this White Paper. We are confident about Britain's future in Europe; and we are determined to continue shaping that future in the interests of businesses and people in this country. I commend this White Paper to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

1.42 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement, particularly as this is the middle of lunch, which is not a very congenial time and may account for the slightly thin attendance of noble Lords on either side. Nevertheless, this is an important Statement, not least because of our forthcoming presidency of the European Union from July and Britain's presidency of the G8 throughout the whole year, although I think that Ministers will find that the presidential chair is not quite as marvellous a position from which to change things as some of these statements seem to indicate. Experience tells us otherwise on that point, but that remains in the future.

We all recall the similar White Paper last year, Prospects, and the need to update that halfway through the year since, as always, prospects have a maddening habit of not turning out exactly as planned. I know that was intended at the halfway stage and maybe we will have another halfway paper this year.

This year we learn that the Union has a multi-annual strategic programme as well as various action plans and our old friend the Lisbon agenda, which was going to transform everything and in relation to which the wording in this year's Prospects is identical—except for the change of date from 2002 to 2003—to last year's Prospects. If strategic programmes and Lisbon agendas could create jobs we would have a very different situation from the one that is faced now in Europe in which, for instance, Germany has to cope with 5 million unemployed.

Will the Minister concede—I am pretty sure that she will not but it is worth asking—that there is a good deal of opinion and propaganda in this document which does not exactly match the facts? For instance, the new constitution does not, as the document claims, clearly set out, the European Union's powers, rights and duties". On the contrary, it greatly blurs them with all the talk of shared competences, as many completely unbiased legal experts have pointed out.

The White Paper says nothing whatever about the higher legal order which this new constitution imposes on us. It says nothing about the further damage to our trade and investment which the constitution involves and which I think the majority of British businessmen are now rightly concerned about. It says nothing about the loss of veto under the new constitution in—I do not know how many areas, is it 51 or 63? We have a different number all the time. It says nothing about the huge opportunities for a better Europe which rejection of the constitution would open up, including opportunities for radical agricultural and fisheries reform, but much more as well.

To quote the Foreign Secretary's words, which the noble Baroness has repeated, I too look forward to debating the facts of the new constitution and not the myths of the party opposite.

The paper is robust about the budget—that is very good, although I hope that holds against the arguments and opinions of other very weighty voices in Brussels, but it is quite frank that the Lisbon agenda has been a flop. The services directive, which is mentioned in the Statement, has presumably now been sunk by the latest view taken by the French, who are determined to oppose it.

Is it not a fact that the continental economies have been brought to a standstill by the outdated European social model, which appears to be just as much behind the revamped Lisbon mark two agenda announced yesterday as it was behind mark one? The point that in this information technology age economic growth is more grassroots driven than ever before, has clearly been grasped increasingly by China and India but not it seems by the social democrats in Brussels or their Whitehall apologists. Does this paper not confirm that control over much of our asylum and immigration policies has indeed been surrendered, with more to come?

Lastly, on the foreign affairs side, the Foreign Secretary, Mr Straw, writes that, a unified Europe carries more clout in all these areas". That is probably not true in this network age, but even if it was, it would be valid only where the whole European membership was agreed—which is patently not so on the Middle East, which is the most crucial and sensitive area of foreign policy of all. As for our concerns about Zimbabwe, that gets only a flick on the wrist in this Prospects paper. On Africa, could we please make sure that European Union aid initiatives—which have rightly had a very bad press—are confined to co-ordinating rather than complicating our own on the whole rather effective aid programmes. A fifth wheel on the coach is not necessary.

My belief is that the best kind of Europe, for whose freedom and unity so many of our citizens have fought and died, comes from the grassroots and the people and is not imposed by elites. That is why we want to bring this issue of the right way forward in Europe to a referendum as soon as possible. Can the Minister therefore firmly and finally refute the story that this Government would—should they be re-elected—try to put it all off for almost another two years? That really would be a slap in the face of democracy.

1.48 p.m.

Lord Roper

My Lords, I join with the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, in thanking the Minister for repeating the Statement, even if I cannot share all the other sentiments which he expressed. It is also extremely useful that we have an opportunity to comment, if briefly, on the White Paper published this morning. I want to turn to that question of our parliamentary consideration of these matters at the end of my remarks.

The White Paper is a very valuable document. It adds to the information and transparency of the work of the European Union and sets out a large range of areas where the Union makes a substantial contribution to this country and its citizens. It is certainly a valuable contribution to the wider debate on the European Union, which is an essential precondition for the referendum on the European Union constitutional treaty, which we are told we should expect next year.

I will raise some questions on the three areas that the Statement sets out as being central to this paper. First, I address the issue of enhancing prosperity across Europe and in this country. On the issue of the Lisbon agenda, I am also concerned that when Wim Kok, the former Dutch Prime Minister, prepared his report he suggested that the ambitious Lisbon agenda had not been achieved. It is therefore important that President Barroso has set out some further actions.

I hope that the fact that there are references to the liberalisation of services in the Statement and in the White Paper will ensure that the Government, together with a number of partners in the EU, will pursue this matter. There is no doubt that there are differences of view in the European Union on this issue, and it is important that we build support to carry this into effect.

The paper also refers to the Government's use of their presidency to continue the development of a European Union medium and long-term strategy for tackling climate change. I am particularly grateful to see that another priority will be to advance our air transport White Paper commitment to include aviation in the EU emission-trading scheme. It would be useful if the Minister could tell us when that is likely to happen.

I now turn to the second part of the Statement, which refers to the work of the EU in tackling common threats to our security. I am glad to see that the way in which the EU has been able to take over responsibilities from NATO in Bosnia is referred to. But it is also important that we get more information about the role of the European Defence Agency, to which some reference is made in the paper. There are some people who want to ensure a way of having a closed European market for defence procurement. I believe that that would be a great mistake. I hope the Minister agrees that it should be an instrument enabling us to use our resources together to ensure better value for the money that European taxpayers spend on defence and so that we are able to deploy our forces more effectively together. Would the Minister agree that if that is done, we could have a win/win relationship as far as concerns the European Union and NATO? Would she also agree that we can avoid the zero sum definition of the relationship between the European Union and NATO that is sometimes suggested?

Penultimately, I come to the issue of the presidency. Would the Minister agree that, while the presidency is a period when it may be difficult to take too many initiatives because one is trying to build consensus, the concept that has been developed, of having a chain of presidencies linked together and working together, may enable the presidency to exercise more influence?

Finally, I turn to the issue that is referred to in the opening paragraph of the Statement. The Foreign Secretary refers to a number of proposals he made in his Statement last year to improve the way in which the Government are held to account for the conduct of European Union business. One of those proposals was for a new committee, involving both this House and the other end, to consider European Union matters. I do not expect the Minister to give me an answer today about what has happened to that, but I should say that some of us will be pursuing through the usual channels the way in which that committee, which we discussed and considered in the Procedure Committee, could come into effect.

1.53 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Roper, for their responses. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for his appreciation of us being here when many of our colleagues are not, and the noble Lord, Lord Roper, for his fuller appreciation of the content of the Statement.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, is right. This is an important Statement. But having listened to his colleague in another place, Mr Ancram, I point out to him that he took a rather different view from Mr Ancram, who asked my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary why he had bothered to make the Statement. I am glad to have an appreciative audience in the noble Lord, even if he is in a rather lonely position in his party.

The noble Lord said that the presidential chair is not an easy chair to occupy in the European Union. He is quite right. A number of us remember that from when we last held the presidency, in 1998. It is not easy. But I remember that on that occasion my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was able to make considerable headway, for example, over Turkey's candidature for the European Union. The noble Lord will recall that at that time the Prime Minister was in a lonely position in the EU. I believe that subsequent events have shown how right he was to stick with Turkey's candidature because, in holding out that possibility for Turkey, we have seen so many economic and, particularly, human rights reforms in that country. It shows that a firmly and properly handled presidency can deliver good results.

We want to keep papers up to date. That is why my right honourable friend has published this White Paper. We want to ensure that there is a proper, full and honest debate about the constitution. which will have to be considered in due course.

Both noble Lords were very concerned about some of the issues in the economic and social reform agenda, the so-called Lisbon agenda. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, thought that we had not made a great deal of progress. The fact is that, although there has been action on the Lisbon agenda, much more needs to be done. I shall enumerate some of the things that have happened. Six million jobs have been created in the EU since 1999. The opening up of EU telecommunications has reduced the cost of telephone calls. In this country, they have been reduced by about 50 per cent. The liberalisation of EU energy markets is bringing about better pricing and efficiency. The opening up of air transport has created new and rapidly growing markets in budget airlines. We have seen a number of things that are the direct result of the Lisbon agenda.

Both noble Lords are quite right that more has to be done. The noble Lord, Lord Roper, mentioned Wim Kok's November report and the commission made clear that we have to go further, particularly in meeting the challenges of global competition and demographic change. A more business-friendly Lisbon programme was announced yesterday. It is focused on generating growth and jobs, and on improving the quality of regulation to make sure that it does not impose unnecessary red tape in the European Union. I believe that that goes to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Roper, that these are issues that are, as yet, unfinished, incomplete business.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, said that he hoped that we will be able to debate the EU Constitution but that he did not feel that the paper that Her Majesty's Government have recently published on this issue sets out the real competencies of the EU. I take issue with him over that. For example, we have tackled the issue of EU primacy. Time and again, I have heard from the Benches opposite that this is the first time that we have had EU primacy in legal matters. But we all know that EU primacy in legal matters has existed since 1972, and that is now spelled out. The issues where there has been obfuscation in the past are the issues that are being set out. What may be difficult for the party opposite is that it will have to own up to signing up to a lot of those competencies.

We have also seen that there is no loss of the veto in any of the areas where we said that we would not give the veto up. We have been as good as our word, which is why so many of our European Union partners have seen the constitution as being very British influenced. But QMV cuts both ways. There are places where we want to see the extension of QMV, because it will help in the reform that the noble Lord and many members of his party want to see in the European Union.

I shall not go into the question of what the French have said on the services directive, but I think the noble Lord will find that M. Chirac has said that he is satisfied with the commission's approach on it. I agree that that does not look altogether consonant with the remarks of some of his Ministers.

The noble Lord asked why the Government have ceded to Brussels the power to set asylum and immigration policy. It is not true that QMV means that the opt-in is meaningless. There is no question that the UK will lose control of our asylum and immigration policies. The opt-in protocol that we negotiated at Amsterdam remains.

The noble Lord also asked why the CFSP did not cover the Middle East. The CFSP, and the ESPD that flows from it, are issues that we have discussed many times in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord knows that the Middle East peace process has been discussed in the EU. Through our membership of the quartet, we have supported the peace plan and, particularly, the road map in the EU. I believe that the noble Lord has crossed the processes with the policy issue of what is happening in the Middle East, whereas the common foreign and security policy is largely a question of the processes that we need to arrive at the consensus.

We believe that the CFSP is a vital foreign policy tool for the United Kingdom. Under the guidance of Mr Solana we believe that it has scored notable successes. One of those is through the quartet mechanism which is so important in the Middle East.

The noble Lord asked about the referendum. We discussed this matter and its timing the other day. The noble Lord was kind enough to say then how pleased he was with my frankness about the necessity for secondary legislation. I remind the noble Lord that the timing is very much in the hands of both Houses. It depends on how long it takes to get through the necessary secondary legislation.

The noble Lord, Lord Roper, asked about aviation. The United Kingdom will actively pursue the inclusion of intra-EU aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme. We shall continue to explore the scope for the use of other economic instruments to tackle aviation emissions.

The noble Lord also asked a number of questions about the European security strategy. We believe that it is delivering more robust, proactive policies in many areas, enhancing our policies on tackling terrorism and WMD. As we said in the White Paper, the EU will be focusing on these areas in the coming year.

The noble Lord asked about a Joint Committee of both Houses. That proposition was put forward by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. I am glad that the noble Lord is still very interested in that proposition. I shall try to ensure that he has a more satisfactory answer on that point than I am able to give him at the moment. At a personal level, my enthusiasm for it remains unabated.

2.2 p.m.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick

My Lords, I hope that the Minister will accept my thanks for having included in the Statement the reference to the services directive, which is of great importance to the single market. Will she confirm, as I believe she hinted in her reply just now, that the legal base for that directive is one which requires qualified majority voting and therefore that neither the French President nor the French Prime Minister, if they ever get their statements into concordance, is in a position to prevent the adoption of the directive? Can the Minister look at what I believe is called "the Narrative" when it relates to the EU and G8 presidencies and summits and the relationship between developmental issues and security issues?

We had a very long and good debate last night in which the noble Baroness contributed very positively on this matter. I believe that there was unanimity that there is a very close cross-linkage. However, it was not referred to in the Statement; nor was attention drawn to the fact that the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister will be going to New York in September as the president of the EU and therefore Britain will have a major investment in obtaining a successful outcome on UN reform which we were debating. To my mind, a place in the Narrative is necessary and perhaps the noble Baroness can look at that.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. I shall take the last point first. They are distinct presidencies and obviously they have to be kept distinct for the integrity of the organisations of which the United Kingdom will be holding the presidency. The noble Lord is quite right. Yesterday evening I drew the correlation between the two and remarked that I thought one would strengthen the other.

It is my view that the last time we held both presidencies, in 1998, the way in which they reinforced each other was enormously helpful to the success of both presidencies. I am sure that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will be using all his many powers of persuasion to further our arguments over UN reform at the appropriate juncture.

The noble Lord also asked me about the services directive. Much to my embarrassment, I cannot tell the noble Lord whether it is a matter for the qualified majority vote. I will write to the noble Lord and be absolutely clear on that point. Although I believe it is, I am not entirely certain about it. I gather that I am not alone in that.

Although it is true that Mr Raffarin said that the directive was unacceptable, and that the French would use all means to oppose it, Mr Chirac told us that he was satisfied with the Commission's approach. It is a complex dossier, but the benefits to Europe as a whole are clear. Before we go further in speculating about French blocking we ought to be clearer about the French position.

Lord Dykes

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for her encouraging remarks in contrast to the rather lugubrious and reactionary offerings of the opposition Front Bench spokesman. Regarding what is termed in the trade Wim Kok Mark 2 Lisbon revised agenda, the Luxembourg presidency has suggested that each member state should submit its own reform suggestions and policies. These need to be promulgated at the ECOFIN meeting on 8 March and presumably the European Council on 22 and 23 March. Will Her Majesty's Government be making some priority suggestions in that context?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I take issue with the noble Lord. I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is ever lugubrious. He treads a rather delicate path on this matter, as no doubt he has to. As regards the Wim Kok agenda, the United Kingdom has wanted this reform agenda. We shall be working very closely with our allies to ensure that we achieve real progress. Our ambition to make Europe the most competitive knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010 underpins the community's actions and priorities over the next five years.

I can tell the noble Lord that we shall be pressing for the 2005 spring Council in March to adopt a set of clear commitments which will accelerate the reform process and boost employment and growth in Europe.

Baroness Billingham

My Lords, I also thank the Minister for the Statement. I shall focus my attention on climate change. I am delighted that the EU presidency is treating it as one of the prime issues for attention. I and other Members of this House have said that nothing is more important than the work on climate change that is taking place in the European Union.

I was very privileged to be a member of a sub-committee of the EU which produced a report very recently. The evidence and the people who gave it are relying on the EU to underpin the work to be done if we are to counter the disastrous potential effects of climate change. I should like the Minister's assurance that the European Unions emissions standards will continue to be robust and followed through by all the member states.

Perhaps I may follow the request of the noble Lord, Lord Roper, on aviation and emissions. It is potentially so controversial. The matter has to be grasped by the EU in the short term. I ask for the Minister's assurances on both those issues.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the United Kingdom remains committed to international action to tackle climate change, including through the UN framework and the Kyoto Protocol. We are continuing to work with international partners. We are trying to work with the United States and large developing countries to point out the cost of inaction, to build on science and to highlight the opportunities. I answered the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Roper, on EU emissions trading schemes to tackle aviation emissions. We will be actively pursuing the inclusion of an intra-European Union aviation arrangement as well as the EU emissions trading scheme.

This is an enormously important issue. No doubt some of your Lordships will be present for the debate later this afternoon on science and foreign policy. I suspect that a good deal of the argument will centre on climate change. I say to the noble Baroness that my own department, the Foreign Office, has taken enormous pains over the past couple of years to ensure that we have a scientist within—embeddecl in—a number of our key embassies around the world. Much of his or her time is taken up in dealing with this important issue.

Lord Garden

My Lords, I add my words of welcome to the important White Paper. Perhaps I may press the Minister on the points made by my noble friend Lord Roper on the new European Defence Agency. The Statement refers to it, as does the White Paper. We have the new headline goal of 2010. We seem to have lost the old Helsinki headline goal of—whatever it was—2002 or 2003 that did not happen. It is important that the European Defence Agency focuses on that. Can she assure us that it will not turn into another defence procurement agency, as there are signs that it may?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I really do hope not. I think that that would be a disastrous way for the defence agency to progress. The noble Lord and I have previously had an opportunity to exchange views on the issue. I assure him that our view is that the European Defence Agency will make a major contribution to the development of real capabilities—that is what we are about—in European Union member states. The close involvement of the United Kingdom in leading work to establish the agency has, I think, been fundamental in establishing this all-important capability-based approach. So, I do agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord that we do not need another procurement agency; what we need is an agency that will be focused on capacity to deliver.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

My Lords, I, too, warmly welcome the White Paper, but principally as a means of engaging the public and Parliament in combating ignorance and meeting what I believe is the communication deficit. Does my noble friend think that discussions on the financial perspectives will be concluded under the Luxembourg presidency? I am still slightly baffled as to how the Government can marry their belief that their priorities for the EU can be met within a budget of 1 per cent.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we believe that the priorities can be met within a budget of 1 per cent. I am grateful for my noble friend's overall support for the publishing of the White Paper. I, like she, believe that this is an enormously important addition to sparing discussion on these issues and trying to deal with what my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary described this summer as the myths rather than the reality of Europe.

My noble friend is right: there is ongoing discussion within the European Union about the budget within which we will operate. I think that my right honourable friend's Statement made that clear. My noble friend will know that the Government's view is that we should ensure that the budget is settled within 1 per cent of the gross national income; but others would wish to see the budget set at 1.26 per cent, which is a considerable increase on what Her Majesty's Government have decided is appropriate.

On the timing of the political agreement, the target remains June 2005. Of course we will work very closely with our colleagues in the Luxembourg presidency to achieve as much progress as possible in the first half of this year. We recognise that there are a wide range of issues which may cause that target date to slip. But if that is the case, we will be happy to continue the negotiation under our presidency.

Lord Truscott

My Lords, my noble friend made a welcome commitment that the British presidency of the EU would focus on the themes of security, stability and prosperity, both inside the EU and beyond—themes that were also emphasised in the White Paper. Does she welcome recent opinion polls on the constitutional treaty which seem to indicate that the public is more favourably inclined towards the treaty than previously thought?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I very much welcome those opinion polls. I welcome them because I think that they are part of British people looking at what is really in this constitutional treaty. One should perhaps read beyond some of the newspaper headlines and some of the more robust criticisms—some of which is fairly colourful—that we hear from some political commentators who, themselves, seem deeply confused about what is in the treaty. This is an important treaty. I am not one of those who think that it is a trivial matter. But it is a treaty which covers a great deal of ground that has already been covered in previous treaties. As people increasingly recognise what the treaty is about and—as much—what the treaty is not about, they will find that they are more persuaded by the Government's arguments.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 2.30 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question. Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 2.16 to 2.30 p.m.]