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Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, following the Secretary of State's Answer to my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever, if it is safe enough for 24 officials from DfID to be in Iraq, when does she plan to visit Iraq?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I plan to visit Iraq as soon as possible. Noble Lords will know that I had planned a visit last week, but the security advice that I received in respect of a high-profile visit was to the effect that I should not go. I will go there as soon as I can; and, of course, we have kept the security of our own staff under constant review.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the apparent decision to exclude all former members of the Iraqi Ba'ath party, however junior, from working is not only causing unemployment to a very serious extent in Iraq but is excluding from the reconstruction process a number of highly qualified people who would be very ready to undertake those tasks?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the de-Ba'athification process is under constant discussion. No decisions have yet been taken. There was a concern that the first three levels should perhaps be excluded. The implications of that in terms of the administration in Iraq is being looked at. What we want to see is Iraqis

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working to reconstruct the country. They have the skills—they need the resources from us to assist them in doing that, but the skills exist within the country.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, in answer to my Question yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said that the Government were not aware of any cases of radiation sickness among civilians in Iraq. Imagine my surprise to hear on the "Today" programme this morning a report that every day five such cases involving children are being discovered in the south of Baghdad, due to people looting dangerous nuclear material. Does the Minister think that she has enough people in Iraq to know exactly what is going on? This would appear to have serious implications for our security as well as for the security of people living in Iraq.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, perhaps I have not made myself clear. The information that we have about what is going on in Iraq comes not only from DfID staff; it comes from those organisations that have a great deal of experience—far longer experience than we have—in that they have worked there for many years. We have currently given funding of some 115 million to different NGOs which are working on the ground, including UN organisations, UNICEF, MSF, the ICRC and other organisations on the ground.

As regards the issue of radiation sickness, there is a BBC report about the nuclear facility that focuses on accounts of the local population in the area having looted drums and containers from the site, emptying low-enriched uranium from them and taking the containers to use for water storage. However, the World Health Organisation has not received any report of suspected radiation sickness in the local hospitals. It did receive reports of the local population's possible exposure to risk. The World Health Organisation is examining the matter. It is best placed to look at it. When I have any further information, I shall be happy to write to the noble Lord.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am so sorry, but I am afraid that we are over time.

EU Council of Ministers: President

3.9 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What discussions they have had with the governments of the 10 European Union accession states about the proposal to create the post of a full-time President of the European Union Council of Ministers.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have held discussions with all the EU accession countries, as well

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as with existing member states, on the proposals for a full-time Council chair. The Government support these proposals, which would give the Council's work greater continuity and coherence. Heads of government of member states and accession countries will further examine these proposals, and others put forward in the draft constitutional treaty, at an intergovernmental conference later this year.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. But does she realise that, although many of these small countries, particularly the new applicants, accept the need for a longer rotation of the presidency, they regard the idea of a full-time President of the Council, elected or chosen behind closed doors—a kind of new "Mr Europe" or "Ms Europe"—as a huge mistake? Does she recall that these smaller countries used to regard Britain as their champion and friend but now one hears them saying that we are siding with the big boys in a Europe which will be less equal and less congenial to the smaller nations? Is that really what we want?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I should point out that I do not believe that concern is limited only to accession countries. The fact is that many of the small countries have concerns about this matter and we understand those concerns. But Her Majesty's Government believe that the proposals for a full-time chair are not the recipe for big state domination which some of the smaller countries fear they are. The chair is designed to add coherence and continuity and not to lock in the interests of any particular member state or states.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the larger the European Union becomes and the more countries it contains, the less well will integration work and the more hardship could arise from each country having no control over its own currency?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we are considering the possibility of a presidency. Perhaps I may try to concentrate my responses on how that presidency will operate in relation to smaller countries. The current system was created when there were only six countries in the European Community. The fact is that it is already creaking under the strain of the current number of members. Many countries believe that the current system will become unworkable with the much hoped-for expansion of the European Union. For that reason among others—coherence and continuity, which we believe are so important—we have supported these proposals.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, does the Minister accept that there is no difference in interest between accession countries and existing member countries in seeing the strategic plans of the European Union properly drawn up and carried forward from one period of six months to another and that, in any event, with the rotation that would exist between 25 member states, no country would have a day in the

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sun very frequently? Does she also accept that what is important is effectiveness in chairing the presidency and in ensuring that representation of all member countries is achieved in other ways?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree with that almost entirely. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, who, after all, has had the opportunity to consider these matters rather more closely than some of us, expresses it very well when he says that this issue is not about a day in the sun for a particular country. I stress that we are already working under a strain with 15 member states and, if we do not make some changes, we shall be under even greater pressure in trying to work effectively with an EU of 25 members.

I believe we must consider what the Council chair would do in driving forward the work, in ensuring proper preparation and continuity on the basis of the General Affairs Council, and in presenting a report to the European Parliament after each meeting of the European Council. Much in these proposals is positive. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that I believe this is a crucial point. It is an issue that will benefit all countries in the European Union and will not bring about a division between accession countries and those who are already in the Union or a division between the big and small countries.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, can the Minister explain to your Lordships how the cause of democracy will be advanced by this proposal? By "democracy", of course, I mean the interests and will of the people of Europe as opposed to their governments, bureaucracies and so on.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I did not think the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, believed that the current position was serving the purposes of democracy that well. I am interested to know that he now seems to imply that we are not doing that badly if we do not need this type of change.

However, perhaps I may take him up on the point about why this arrangement would be better. We believe it would be better because at present we are chopping and changing every six months. The fact is that the work of the European Union comes to a halt as we go through a handover period. We are going through one such period at the moment in the changeover between the Greek and Italian presidencies. The whole point of considering a President or a chair of the Council is to ensure a carrying-forward of the will of the European Union. The preparation and continuity of that work would be enormously important and I believe that, with better representation in that way, the purposes of democracy would be well served.


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