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Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on the meeting of the European Council in Turin on 29th March. The Statement is as follows:
"We have ensured that the conclusions do not prejudice the actual negotiations in any way; nor do they contain an exhaustive list of the issues for negotiation. We shall pursue our objectives for the development of Europe as a partnership of nations, as set out in the Government's recent White Paper.
"I outlined to the European Council the Government's approach to the IGC. I made clear that our vision of Europe is built around the bedrock of the nation state. I also set out some of the areas where the UK will be putting forward proposals, and those where we have strong views.
"For example, I underlined the need for the principle of subsidiarity to be enshrined in the treaty; the value of a greater role for national parliaments; our desire to see Europe's common foreign and security policy work better, while preserving its basis of unanimity; the need for further progress in
"I also made clear to the European Council my particular concern about the recent opinion of the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice on the Working Time Directive, and its implications for the IGC. I said that I was not prepared to see our Social Chapter opt-out undermined as a result of an expansive and unreasonable interpretation of the health and safety article of the treaty. I made clear that I would be looking in the IGC for changes to that article, to reflect our earlier understanding of its limited scope.
"The European Council also held a brief discussion on employment and competitiveness. This subject will rightly be high on the agenda of its meeting in Florence in June. I set out this Government's views.
"Europe has to be globally competitive. Jobs are not created by governments, still less by the European Union. They come from the decisions of businesses in the marketplace. Job creation needs less regulation, not more; lower financial and other burdens on business, not extra impositions arising from ill-conceived European directives.
"There is increasing understanding of these realities among some of our European partners. I was encouraged by the discussion. But I will continue to resist strongly any suggestion that the treaty be amended to cover employment issues. Action in those areas is overwhelmingly for individual countries, not for the EU collectively.
"All the heads of state and government in Turin were acutely conscious of the Europe-wide crisis in the beef market. This is, and was treated as, an entirely separate issue from the IGC agenda. There was no question in anyone's mind of trading help in one area against co-operation in the other.
"I told my colleagues of the impact in this country of the ban on British beef decided in Brussels last week; particularly as it was taken on the basis of considerations other than the scientific advice.
"I suggested to my colleagues that three things were now needed. First, the conditions should be created as speedily as possible to allow the ban on British beef exports to be lifted. Second, the specific problems of the UK beef market had to be addressed. I looked to the Community for sympathetic and speedy support for the measures necessary to return confidence and stability to the market. Third, it should be recognised that this was a European, not just a British, problem.
"The response of my European colleagues was, without exception, one of support. There was universal agreement that this was a Europe-wide problem, and that a European solution was required. All heads of state and government who spoke
"This was a welcome response, in tone as well as substance. But we still have some way to go. Negotiations continue with the Commission on the measures needed to restore confidence. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture is in Luxembourg today to take this forward and to attend a meeting of European Ministers of Agriculture.
"I emphasised to my European colleagues that, with the measures we have taken, British beef is, on any normal definition of the term, safe. No one disputed this. Everyone recognised that the present crisis came not from a real health risk but from unnecessary hysteria across Europe.
"At Turin the IGC was launched with an agenda which enables us to pursue our objectives in a non-prejudicial climate. I was able to make clear to my European colleagues our strong views on certain key issues, including what is needed to tackle unemployment across Europe as well as in Britain. And we achieved a notable measure of understanding and support over the beef crisis that we and our European partners now face together.
"The need now is to turn this support into action, particularly the lifting of the export ban on British beef and beef products. That is our immediate objective. It is important; and we are pursuing it urgently".
Lord Richard: My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement that his right honourable friend the Prime Minister made in another place. I shall begin by saying a few words about beef. I do not want to spend too much time on that subject, because I believe that the rest of the report is extremely important. We welcome the support that the Prime Minister received from his colleagues in Turin; indeed, he was at one time reported as having said:
Today is perhaps not the time to discuss the Government's responsibility for the crisis in the beef industry. However, perhaps I may be forgiven for noting in passing that the Government seemed to spend an awful lot of time this weekend trying to persuade the country that it was anyone's fault except their own. Nevertheless, we can debate that issue in more detail on April 17th when the House will consider the problem.
Can the noble Viscount tell the House, first, when the Government expect the package of measures on beef to emerge from the various discussions that are now taking place? Clearly it is in everyone's interests that that
I turn now to the IGC. I do not suggest that noble Lords should ignore the Statement but, as is well known, I have said on a number of occasions when dealing with such Statements that it is most important that one looks at the communique and not at the gloss that any national leader or national Minister puts upon what was actually agreed and the document to which the Prime Minister put his hand. I shall, therefore, concentrate on the communique.
Although it was clearly overshadowed by beef, I believe that it is worth while spending a moment or two on the contents of the communique. The communique expresses and welcomes the fact that the intergovernmental conference is the first step towards,
The communique also sets out an agenda for the IGC and, indeed, points the direction very clearly as regards the areas in which the IGC is to work. A number of issues are, therefore, highlighted. First, how to strengthen human rights. That is firmly in the communique. I assume that that is to be within the framework of the existing institutions. I should like to know how the Government see a drive at the IGC in order to strengthen human rights and reinforce and buttress them. We have not heard very much about that recently, and a little clarity in that respect might be helpful.
The points that I have made are not nit-picking points; indeed, they are fundamental points. They are points on which the British Government, through the voice and pen of the Prime Minister, have said that the intergovernmental conference (which is sitting for a year) should be beavering away to try to produce answers to such problems. I cannot believe the Government agreed that they should all go to the IGC, thinking that, perhaps, they had no view on the matter and would not take part in any discussions.
The question raised is: how much of all that is United Kingdom Government policy? How can the Prime Minister sign up in Turin to this and then pretend that it does not, and would not, involve greater integration? Of course it would. If carried into practice, it would be bound to involve greater majority voting in the Council, an enhanced role for the European Parliament, a common immigration and asylum policy and a much more co-ordinated European foreign policy.
Coupled with the agreements we made at Maastricht, this document, and the direction in which the IGC was pointed by the Prime Minister when he signed it, amounts to a significant step towards the creation of a European Union and a further curtailment of the United Kingdom's right of independent action. I am not necessarily against some of this, speaking personally, but a policy of signing up to one thing in Europe and then pretending otherwise at home is both disingenuous, and in the end it will be self-defeating. The truth is that if we believe what they say, they have agreed to virtually nothing; if we believe what they have signed up to as the agenda for the IGC, they have agreed to a lot. Just for once it would be pleasant to know the Government's true position. One can, of course, understand the limitations on governmental transparency imposed by the current situation inside the Conservative Party, but the time has surely come when this open Government should be a little more open with the country as to where they really stand.
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