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Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I do not know how to comment on what the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, chooses to read into opinion polls. All I can say is that it is clear that the people of Britain, along with the people of other member states, want a lot from Europe. They do not simply want a free trade area; they want peace, prosperity and security. That is what this Government are trying to achieve with European developments.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords--

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Tomlinson!

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I cannot see behind me but I gather from voices around the House that my noble friend Lord Tomlinson should perhaps ask the next question.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that when the British people made a decisive decision in a referendum to maintain our membership

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of what was then the European Community, they did so on the basis of the Treaty of Rome, which envisaged ever closer union with the peoples of Europe?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I completely agree with my noble friend. That was exactly the point I was trying to make. The British people did not make a decision just to go into a free trade area, despite the propaganda we now hear from some circles in this country.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, in the light of the Minister's reply, does she agree that perhaps the major political goal in Europe in this decade is the enlargement of the European Union to contain the fragile new democracies of central and eastern Europe? Does she agree also that to achieve that aim it is essential to bring about an extension of qualified majority voting and a reform of the Commission along the lines Her Majesty's Government indicated they would support at the forthcoming Nice summit?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, the noble Baroness raised a number of points. I entirely agree with her. The Prime Minister made very clear in his speech in Warsaw that enlargement is a basic goal of this Government. We hope, and it is our intention, that the new applicants will be participants in the next IGC and that they will start to come in at the end of 2002. We hope for a significant breakthrough on that front during the Swedish presidency.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, whether or not the Prime Minister is in favour of the euro--that seems to change from day to day--will the noble Baroness encourage him to give a robust "no" to some of the less attractive, deeper integrationist proposals that are now being incorporated in the draft treaty of Nice? I refer to suggestions such as the idea that the charter of fundamental human rights should be given full legal status and that the veto should be taken away on tax policy and in many other areas as well. Will the Minister agree also that the idea of a hard-core, fast-track integration may be completely upside down? The best way to achieve the kind of European unity, stability and prosperity that we all want may be by avoiding too much integration and going on a fast- track that lies outside those ideas. Forcing people together is not the best way of binding them together. Does the noble Baroness agree with that?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I cannot answer, "Does she agree with that?", when so many points were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. However, I shall try to deal with as many as I can in the time that is acceptable to the House.

The question of enhanced or closer co-operation is not new. That was a mechanism agreed at the Amsterdam IGC and it lets a group of member states move ahead with co-operation in a specific area. I can assure the noble Lord that the Prime Minister made it clear and it is the position of our Government that enhanced co-operation has to be genuinely open to all

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member states who want to take part. It should not be used to form a hard-core or two-speed Europe and it should not undermine the single market.

We are open to looking at the question of qualified majority voting. But we made clear that the veto will be kept in all areas that we consider essential to British interests, including the area of tax.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords--

Lord Grenfell: My Lords--

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Stoddart tried to speak earlier. It may be sensible to hear his question now.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader of the House. Is my noble friend aware that I read the Prime Minister's speech on 6th October with great interest? But can she tell me how his speech squares with the speech made in the European Parliament by Mr Prodi, when he said,

    "The single market was the theme of the Eighties; the single currency was the theme of the Nineties; we must now face the difficult task of moving towards a single economy, a single political unity"?

Can my noble friend tell me how those statements square with each other? Can she say also whether, in the light of the Prime Minister's speech, he is prepared to veto the proposal which will be made at Nice for a charter of fundamental human rights and not give away any more veto powers?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, there have been many significant speeches by European leaders over the past few months. We have had speeches from President Chirac, Joschka Fischer, Mr Prodi, Chancellor Schroeder and our Prime Minister on 6th October in Warsaw. Why should they all agree? Is it not marvellous that there is this great debate going on throughout Europe about its future?

We have made it crystal clear again and again from this Dispatch Box and anywhere else that has been appropriate that the United Kingdom will not accept the charter of fundamental human rights as a legally binding text; it is not to be a legally binding document. That has been agreed and we do not need to keep making that point.

New Electricity Trading Arrangements

3.17 p.m.

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect the new electricity trading arrangements (NETA) to be introduced.

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, the new electricity trading arrangements were originally scheduled to go "live" between the end of October and

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the middle of December. That timescale was always very tight and in mid-September it became apparent to Ofgem that problems which had arisen during the testing of the central IT systems would mean that that target period could not be achieved. Ofgem is undertaking a comprehensive replanning exercise and I expect a firm implementation date to be announced shortly.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that information. Does he not agree that it is worrying that this important measure has been subject to delay? It is similar to major computer problems that occurred in other areas in recent times. For example, it was announced this morning that the Inland Revenue has lost a number of tax returns, which may or may not be to the advantage of those concerned. Can the Minister assure us that when the complex new system is introduced, there will be sufficient back-up in case it fails? Furthermore, will the Government take advantage of the interval now available to ensure that there is a supplier of last resort in case any existing supplier is unable to fulfil its obligations, such as occurred recently with the insolvency of Independent Energy?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for giving me the opportunity to talk about a subject every bit as exciting as the Dome and European political integration. The team of people working on the new electricity trading arrangements--the DTI, Ofgem, the National Grid Company and Logica--are working extremely effectively together. We should be able to produce a robust system. It is through ensuring that it is robust and that the interfaces are right that this delay has occurred.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, do the Government realise that failure to set a date for NETA is doing us immeasurable harm in the European context? Hitherto, we have enjoyed a premier position as leader in liberalising the energy markets of Europe. With every month of delay, we are rapidly losing that position. Does the Minister recognise that it will not do for him now to say nothing more than that a firm date will be announced at some time in the future? A date must be set. Does the Minister recognise what damage will occur if it is not?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, it is fair to say that the previous system was hardly a price-making mechanism; it was simply a price-taking mechanism. It was therefore subject to many problems. We are introducing the new system in order to correct the situation and to have a proper pricing mechanism. I am surprised that the noble and learned Lord, of all people, should not be interested in producing a proper market mechanism.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, as regards new power stations, how many applications, which should have been announced soon, are being delayed?

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