|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The oil companies are well placed, we believe, to cater for that part of the UK market which will continue to require protection against valve seat wear. As to concerns about the availability of lead replacement petrol, supply will remain a matter for commercial decision but there is clearly going to be a strong demand for such a product. We are confident that the oil companies will respond as they have done in other countries. We understand that they are making plans to have lead replacement petrol introduced in the UK from about the middle of 1999. But we are in something of a chicken-and-egg situation. We will not get the lead replacement petrol being introduced until there is a firm date for the ban on leaded petrol. It is in the interests of certainty to get on with the task of meeting the needs of the cars and the car-owners for this sort of petrol.
The noble Lord, Lord Montagu, and others mentioned the need for a British standard for lead replacement petrol. I think that would help to reassure motorists. But I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Monro, that officials from my department have participated in the British Standards Technical Committee meetings in order to help progress development of the new standard. The work was virtually complete when the BSI announced earlier this year that it was to halt further progress pending the resolution of a legal dispute involving a member of the technical committee. There are problems from that delay for all those involved, especially in the short term, but we are confident that the problem will be resolved in good time for the standard to be finalised and for the fuel to be widely available for the year 2000.
Turning to the position of historic and classic vehicles, which is of particular concern, the alternatives of lead replacement petrol or bottled additives will of course be suitable for use by the vast majority of these vehicles, especially bearing in mind the type of use to which they are generally put. Where these vehicles are used for such activities as classic car racing, however--circumstances in which considerable load is demanded on the engine--it is recognised that substitutes for lead are unlikely to be sufficient to meet their needs. That is why under the terms of the directive the UK has negotiated a special provision to ensure that a supply of leaded petrol is available to cater for such needs. The allowance is indefinite. It is limited to 0.5 per cent. of total sales. We would have liked more but we did not win that argument. I have noted the concerns that the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, raised. I am sorry about the officials not coming before the meeting. That was not a conspiracy; it was a matter of timing. I hope that by what I have said tonight, and the detailed information that they will be able to give the committee, we can reassure people.
I do not have time to deal with matters in great detail. The point I should like to make, very clearly, is that the key here is good communication. It is absolutely essential--and I take the responsibility of the department here--to work with all those involved--the
I am aware of the time constraints. I hope that we will be able, in the evidence to Sub-Committee B, to reassure noble Lords further. But I say once again that the steps being taken by industry, government and other organisations and the experience in other countries lead us to believe that we can address the concerns expressed today and ensure the continued operation of older vehicles following the general withdrawal of leaded petrol in the year 2000.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I think in truth that what the noble Lord has presented us with is a wrecking amendment. If passed, it would prevent the United Kingdom from taking part in any decision under the common foreign and security policy until both Houses of Parliament have passed a resolution on the CFSP. That would mean that, once the Amsterdam Treaty was enforced, we would, under domestic UK law, be prohibited from participating in the CFSP, which would then be virtually inoperable. We could not in good faith ratify the treaty subject to that constraint. So it will not come as a very great surprise that the Government cannot accept this amendment.
However, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, acknowledged in Committee, in an interdependent world it is important that we co-operate with our EC partners on foreign policy when we have common interests. That means pooling EU efforts where sensible and in line with United Kingdom national interests. Collectively we can exercise more weight on the world stage.
However, a single supra-national CFSP would not be more effective. CFSP is based on the will of member states to act together. That will cannot be artificially created through institutional mechanisms such as QMV. If member states do not hold convergent positions, we should not try to create a false consensus. Such a hollow common foreign policy would weaken, not strengthen, the weight of the EU on the world stage, since member states would be quick to undermine that policy behind the scenes. I believe that there is a large measure of agreement on that point between the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and Her Majesty's Government.
That is why the Government ensured, as we committed ourselves to do in our manifesto, that under Article J.13 no member state can be forced to act, or not to act, against its will. Member states in the Council remain in firm control of CFSP and the presidency remains in the lead in managing it.
The CFSP provisions of the treaty introduce practical steps to streamline decision-making and financing arrangements, to improve the quality of Council Secretariat advice, to improve external representation of the EU, and to enhance the armoury of instruments for action at member states' disposal. It is a good result for Britain and for the European Union.
I wish to cover each of these improvements in a little more detail. I turn first to decision making. In line with their negotiating aims, the Government preserved at Amsterdam the UK's ability to require unanimity in CFSP decision-making. Article J.13 preserves unanimity for all decisions on common foreign policy in the form of common strategies, or of joint actions and common positions not agreed on the basis of common strategies; and for any decision with military or defence implications.
Maastricht allowed for QMV for implementation of agreed foreign policy. Amsterdam makes that automatic. Further, and usefully, it adds the ability constructively to abstain when a member state does not want to be forced to act, but does not want to stop others from doing so. The decision on whether to abstain or not is for the individual member state, and that state alone. So constructive abstention cannot be used to make a member state act against its national interests if it is in a minority.
These two measures usefully streamline decision-making. The UK has for many years played a leading role in CFSP and will continue to do so. So QMV and constructive abstention are to our advantage. They allow more effective implementation arrangements for what we want. EU election monitoring, for example, could not be held up by bickering over precisely how many monitors to send. Less active member states could stand aside without blocking action by others.
However, if there is a real difference, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, is right: the so-called "emergency brake" provision in Article J.13(2) is an important safeguard which recognises the potential sensitivity for all member states of any such decisions by QMV. It allows any member state to require that any decision be taken by unanimity. The individual member State has independent control over whether and when to pull the emergency brake. The noble Lord asked for an assurance about whether anyone else would arbitrate. The answer to that is no.
The noble Lord invited me to say which current issues in foreign policy will be the subject of common strategies. As the noble Lord knows, the treaty does not define when a common strategy must or must not be used. Common strategies will come into being when heads of state and government recognise that there is enough common ground in their approach to a foreign policy issue to warrant agreeing a framework which can
If such an issue were referred back to the European Council, the member state which had pulled the emergency brake might well feel itself under some political pressure, but it will have used the emergency brake only to protect a key national interest. Therefore, it will no doubt stick to its position. It is for the member state alone to decide what is a key national interest.
The noble Lord invited us to consider what he referred to as a case study--that of Sierra Leone. Perhaps I may remind the noble Lord that a Customs investigation is under way into alleged breaches of UNSCR 1132. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is co-operating fully and openly. There was no ministerial prior knowledge or approval of any breach of the arms embargo. It has not been established whether UNSCR 1132 has been breached or whether the Government were in any way involved in such a breach.
I do not wish to dwell on the matter in quite the excitable way the noble Lord seemed inclined to do, but the Foreign Secretary did not disown officials. The Foreign Secretary went out of his way to make it clear, as I did yesterday in your Lordships' House, that no one should rush to judgment. I said to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, yesterday that I would write to him about the serious matters he raised in relation to Sierra Leone. It will be a sensible and considered reply. If the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, would like a copy, I shall of course be happy to send one to him. But I urge the noble Lord to be sensible and calm about this. We have to wait for the facts. Rushing to judgment, as it seemed the noble Lord was a little inclined to do, is not the sensible course of action at the moment. We know the key facts on Iraq; we do not know the key facts on Sierra Leone. If we are looking at case studies, I say to the noble Lord that a case study needs facts and I suggest that he, like the rest of us, should have the patience to wait for those facts.
Looking at one of the examples which the noble Lord wanted us to consider, the EU agreed a joint action on how to handle the transition to democracy in South Africa. Subsequently, the Council decided on the resources which should go to that end. It is quite possible that, if common strategies had existed, heads of state and government might have chosen a particular route because of all kinds of decisions likely to be taken under it, if they were relatively uncontentious.
I hope that I have managed to answer the sensible points which the noble Lord raised and that I have encouraged him to be a little more sensible about some of the other points which he seemed inclined to draw us into.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|