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Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in thanking the Minister for repeating the full Statement which was made in another place on the White Paper on the IGC. Like the noble Lord, I have not had much opportunity to examine the White Paper in detail. It is attractively produced and we shall wish to consider whether the policies set out in it are as attractive to us on full examination.
I was also glad to see at the beginning a robust statement from the Government that overall the United Kingdom has greatly benefited from more than 20 years of membership. I also noted the commitment to play a leading role in the Union as one of Europe's biggest and most powerful nations. However, will the Minister tell the House how that is consistent with the generally negative tone of much of the main body of the Statement? It seems to us to be full of inconsistencies.
The United Kingdom is thoroughly committed to enlargement of the European Union; it is thoroughly committed to reform of the common agricultural policy. Is it not a fact that both those aims are achievable only on the basis of some extension of qualified majority voting? Yet the Government remain stubbornly opposed to any extension. How on earth do the Government seek to justify that position? The Statement is full of ambiguous language which, as we know very well since we have all been through this over the years, is designed to fudge the gap between the Government's serious commitment to European union and their appeasement of the Euro-sceptics within their own ranks.
The truth that emerges in every sentence of the Statement is that the Government would just love it if only the European Union would decide to stand still. But the European Union will not stand still. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, said yesterday in a very interesting article in the Financial Times, the Government by their policy are deliberately excluding themselves from the inner core of the European Union that will shape developments which, as usual, we shall ultimately have to live with and adapt ourselves to, often when it is too late.
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Richard and Lord Thomson of Monifieth for their cautious welcome--not all their remarks--for the Statement. I apologise to both for the length of the Statement; but I felt it important to try to spell out, to those who may not have time for a few days to take in the whole of the White Paper, the broad outlines of what it covers. I did my very best to make sure that both noble Lords had a copy of the White Paper some one and a half hours before we began the Statement.
I agree that the detail is in the devil and perhaps I might reply right away--the devil is in the detail! It is amazing the effect that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, has upon me. The noble Lord asked for an early debate. I am sure that the usual channels heard his request, as we all did, and that it will be dealt with in the normal manner.
The reason that neither the White Paper nor my Statement covered the issues of EMU or the referendum is that these are not matters for the IGC; they are matters for the Government. So far as a referendum on a single currency is concerned, the Cabinet will decide whether to hold a referendum within weeks rather than months and the noble Lord will hear the news very soon.
The noble Lord went on to say that he thought the White Paper was predictable and padded. Or was it my Statement? It was probably both. We felt it important to put in one place all those elements of the discussions that had been going on in a rather unfocused way for far too long. That is why there may be many items which noble Lords know only too well. But at least the information is brought together in a comprehensive document in an effort to be helpful.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, also asked about openness and who would decide what was in line with the original intentions so far as the Court was concerned. I ask the noble Lord to read again paragraph 36, which states quite clearly that,
The CAP is a matter at which we have to work. It is not a matter for the IGC. The IGC would probably get itself totally tied up if it were to face that as well. It is a matter for separate negotiation.
In regard to unemployment, we are absolutely clear. I have never made any secret of the fact in this House that to gain jobs, not only in this country but in the Community as a whole, is one of the most important aspects of what we need to do in Europe. It is absolutely right that we are showing a good performance in our economy and that our unemployment has fallen. One important reason why that has happened is that we are unfettered by the social chapter, and we intend to go on being unfettered by it. It is very important that unemployment is discussed, and also the positive side of employment creation. That is obviously a very big subject for other member states. In general this will all be subject to our debate, when it is held.
To reply to the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, I understand why he believes that many changes would come about as the result of an extension of qualified majority voting. However, I do not believe it to be in the best interests of the needs of this country to go down that path. That is why I spoke as I did. We are neither junior nor reluctant in the European Union. In many of the ideas that we have put to the European Union, we may have been a single voice, but they have eventually been accepted. One example is the concept of subsidiarity, which we wish to entrench further through the work of the IGC.
I do not believe that the European Union has to stand still. It cannot stand still. It will evolve. But it should evolve as a partnership of nation states, and the United Kingdom will play its full part in shaping that evolution of the European Union.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, will my noble friend say whether it is the intention of the Government at the forthcoming meeting to secure that there are no further examples of the European Court interfering in our social security system, and in particular altering the age entitlement for social security benefits, as it recently did, at an annual cost to the British taxpayer of £40 million? Will the Government secure that that does not happen again?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. The meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference which starts on 29th March in Turin will not be just one meeting. It will continue into next year.
Regarding the judgments of the ECJ, we are certainly working out proposals for the IGC to prevent the misuse of articles in the way my noble friend described. However, this is not just a straightforward matter concerning one area of government policy; it concerns a number of areas of government policy, and we shall do that most thoroughly.
Lord Moran: My Lords, as a member of your Lordships' committee concerned with the 1996 IGC, I am glad to note that the proposals in the Statement follow very much the recommendations made by that committee. In particular, I am glad to see that two of its recommendations--that an extension of majority voting should be opposed and that the European Parliament should have no new powers at the expense of national parliaments--have been adopted in the Government's proposals.
I should like to ask the noble Baroness whether the question of the common fisheries policy will be actively pursued in the IGC. Can she give an assurance that the Government will not be satisfied with any arrangement that does not fully meet their case that quota-hopping has torpedoed the entire basis of the policy and therefore must be put right.
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, for his comments. The work of your Lordships' committee on European affairs has been most useful, not only in the preparation of the White Paper but in many aspects of the European Union. I commend to the noble Lord paragraph 65 of the White Paper. The paragraph refers to the common fisheries policy. The penultimate sentence reads:
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