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House of Lords

Thursday, 21st May 1998.

The House met at eleven of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.

Lord McColl of Dulwich: Personal Statement

Lord McColl of Dulwich: My Lords, I wish to make a personal statement. In a debate on Wednesday, 6th May on euthanasia, I ascribed the authority for a statement I made on a question of the award of costs in the Annie Lindsell case to the President of the Family Division of the High Court. I now understand that I should not have reported the terms of a conversation that I had had with the learned judge. The statement was made without his authority or knowledge. I should therefore like to apologise unreservedly for any embarrassment that I may have caused the President of the Family Division.

Estonia: EU Membership Negotiations

11.7 a.m.

The Earl of Carlisle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will press for the attachment of Estonian officials to the European Commission while the Republic of Estonia is conducting negotiations for entry into the European Union.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, we support arrangements designed to prepare officials from Estonia and other candidate countries for the realities of EU membership. We are determined to be fully involved in the European Commission's proposals for institution building through twinning between government departments in central Europe and those in member states. Attachments to the Commission would fit naturally with this process. But decisions on such attachments would be a matter for the European Commission.

The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her most helpful reply. Is she aware of the speech made by the Foreign Secretary of Estonia, Mr. Toomas Hendrik Ilves, on 31st March this year when Estonia started its negotiations for entry into the European Union? In that speech he stated that the attachment of officials to the Union would be most helpful in facilitating the negotiations. Will the noble Baroness press the Commission to ensure that the five plus one nations have exactly the same rights as those

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enjoyed by Austria, Finland and Sweden when they started negotiations some years back for entry into the European Union?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I regret that I was not aware of the specific speech to which the noble Earl refers but I think we can agree with the general terms on which he reports it to have been based. The twinning aims to strengthen the institutions and the administrative capacities of the applicants. The centrepiece of the twinning will be secondments between an applicant and a member state. We and other member states will inform the Commission by the middle of June of the expertise that we can offer and we will then firm up the arrangements with the applicants with the aim of getting the first twinning arrangements into place by October or November this year.

Lord Borrie: My Lords, if Estonia is admitted in due course, Estonian will be one of the official languages of the European Union. As only 5 million people speak Estonian--the noble Earl will correct me if I am wrong--will there not be a campaign by the Catalans, whose language is spoken by around 6 million people, who will wish the Catalan language to be an official language of the European Union as well? Is there not a danger of an extraordinary proliferation of languages as some of the smaller countries are admitted?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the question of official languages will have to be discussed during the course of the negotiations between the applicant counties, member states and the Commission.

Lord St. John of Fawsley: My Lords, will the Minister give an assurance that questions of numbers will not dominate her mind in relation to Estonia and the other Baltic states but rather their heroic tradition of suffering and their fidelity through the years to democratic ideals? Can we be assured that the Government will be supporting the application of these states for membership of the Union?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the criteria used for all the applicant countries will be the same. Those criteria will have to fulfil the requirements in relation to human rights, in relation to the economic position of the country and in relation to political institutions. The criteria will be the same for all countries. It is not a question of numbers; it is a question of fulfilling the criteria.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, on that point, Estonia has made major progress towards the integration of Russian minorities into its society. In the light of the Government's policy on human rights, do they support the amendments to Estonia's naturalisation laws? If so, does the Minister therefore foresee a smoother passage of entry for Estonia into the European Union?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I refer to the answer that I just gave on the question of

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human rights. The criteria applied in respect of human rights will be the same for all countries. As the noble Lord is aware, Estonia, along with Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Cyprus, began accession discussions at the end of March. As far as we can see, the basic criteria are already in place and we are now in negotiations with those countries.

The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that there are 1.5 million people living in Estonia of whom many speak three or four languages, including English? Is she further aware that our present excellent ambassador to Estonia, Mr. Timothy Craddock, was recently interviewed on Estonian television and spoke fluently in Estonian? Will the noble Baroness offer him her congratulations?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, not for the first time the noble Earl's intimate knowledge of Estonia considerably outdistances my own. I shall be very pleased to convey his congratulations to the ambassador.


11.13 a.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they will propose to the NATO-led Stabilisation Force in order to stop Serbs killing Albanians in the province of Kosovo.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, no role is envisaged for the Stabilisation Force, the SFOR, in Kosovo. SFOR was established in accordance with the Dayton Agreement for peace in Bosnia and Hercegovina. Its mandate does not cover action in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. Does it not immediately lead to the question as to whether the mandate should be changed to cover, if necessary, action either in Kosovo within Serbia or on the Albanian frontier between Kosovo and Albania? Is not the fact of the matter that the present measures being taken, such as sanctions, show at this stage very little sign whatever of succeeding? Indeed, Commissioner van den Broek, at a conference last week, described the sanctions as little more than an act of helplessness of last peaceful resort? Are we not really in great danger of making the same mistakes as were made in 1991 and 1992? Is not the fact of the matter that as long as Milosevic is president of the Federal Republic of Serbia, the western world can make as many declarations and pass as many sanction rules as it likes, but effectively we are whistling in the wind?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree that the situation in Kosovo is increasingly dangerous as the noble Lord and indeed I am sure the

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whole House, will be aware. A pattern of virtually unbroken, low-intensity fighting has now developed in western Kosovo and in border areas. There are growing concentrations of Serb security forces and Yugoslav army units which are very worrying. But NATO has expressed its concern at these recent events and has pledged to continue to monitor the situation very closely. I hope that that reassures the noble Lord that this is not an issue that has been placed to one side, but that it is being monitored and that NATO's concern has been expressed on that point.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, before anyone at the Ministry of Defence or anyone else takes a decision to commit British soldiers to this part of the world, first, will they make sure that they read a simple history of that area over the centuries which has been pretty bloody? Secondly, will they consult the Germans who became ensnared there between 1941 and 1945, with great casualties, and ask them why they made jolly sure that they did not get involved in that area?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure that the utmost care will be taken before there is any question of pledging British troops anywhere. We should note that the recent visit to the region by the Secretary-General underlines the importance that NATO attaches to preventing the escalation of conflict. NATO is currently considering possible further measures to promote stability and security in the region. I am sure that the whole House will be pleased to note that Mr. Milosevic met Mr. Rugova, the leader of the opposition, on 15th May. That was a very welcome first step. The meeting was made possible by sustained pressure from the European Union, the contact group and others in the international community.

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