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House of Lords

Wednesday, 24th November 1999.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.

Lord Balniel

The Right Honourable Robert Alexander Earl of Crawford and Balcarres, having been created Baron Balniel, of Crawford and Balcarres and Pitcorthie in the County of Fife, for life, took the oath.

European Union: Enlargement

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many more countries they wish to see joining the European Union.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, six countries are in negotiations to join the European Union. We expect the Helsinki European Council to invite a further six countries to start negotiations and to confirm Turkey's status as a candidate for EU membership. We fully support the moves towards closer integration with Europe that the EU is making with a number of other European countries. Membership of the European Union is open to all European countries which meet the EU's criteria for membership.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that Signor Prodi has recently publicly stated that he favours an extension of the membership to 27 members within the next two years? Will she also confirm that Signor Prodi has proposed, as have the three wise men advising him, that, in anticipation of the expansion, the conduct of proceedings should be changed by a major expansion of majority voting? Would not the future of the Union--which I warmly support--be more fruitful and less rancorous if there were not constant pressures to reduce the powers of member states in important and sensitive areas?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, although mention may have been made of 27 members, the current position is that successful enlargement of the European Union remains a central objective. Accession is now a definite prospect for 10 Central and Eastern European applicants, together with Malta and Cyprus. Of course it is a hope and an aspiration, but all countries which are capable of meeting the acquis should seek to join. That would increase stability and security in Europe. We are moving, carefully and prudently, to

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make sure that the reforms of the structure are appropriate to meet those needs. We hope to be able to do that by 2002.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the European stability pact, in effect, offers the long-term prospect of membership to Macedonia, Albania and the other countries of the former Yugoslavia?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can certainly confirm that that pact assists those countries and helps them to be ready for consideration. Of course, there is no guarantee for any country--the criteria which applies to one will apply to all--but it is certainly a very important step forward along what we hope will be the most appropriate road.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, my noble friend referred to the changes in the structure which will be needed. Does she agree that the changes to meet enlargement--which I strongly support--should include an increase in qualified majority voting? Otherwise, a tiny state would be able to veto very important matters. Clearly, that would not be in anyone's interests.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, clearly an extension of qualified voting may well be necessary in order to stop one small state acting to the detriment of others, as the noble Lord rightly identified. We are looking very carefully at that matter. Her Majesty's Government would wish it to be extended only to where it would be in Britain's interests to do so.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, will the Government look with favour on an application from the Ukraine, at least in the long term? Is not that country equally as suitable as Turkey as an applicant? Would that not give great encouragement to democrats within the Ukraine?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have been very clear that Britain is not excluding or including any country. The acquis remains. Countries wishing to join will have to meet the criteria. It is not appropriate at this point to consider any one particular country outside of those currently being considered. Once the position changes, we will respond accordingly.

Lord Renton: My Lords, although it would be splendid if the Community were to be enlarged, it has already 15 countries with 11 different languages and at least half a dozen different kinds of legal systems. If six more countries were to join, would it not be necessary to abandon harmonisation, which has become almost impossible already; to amend the Treaty of Rome, in order that we do not have federalism in the background; and to abandon the common currency?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says in relation to those matters. We do not wholeheartedly agree. Challenges are present for all of us in European Union enlargement. However, there are also enormous advantages in relation to peace,

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security and trade. If the enlargement takes place, we will have one of the largest trade areas in the world. That must be of great benefit to Great Britain.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if the Government persist in offering membership to countries which are considered by a larger country to be part of that country, they are in for permanent trouble?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we do not propose to offer membership to countries which are part of another country. That is an error into which we have no intention of falling.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, does the Minister agree with President Clinton, who last week said that the vision of a Europe that is undivided, democratic and at peace for the first time in its history will never be complete unless and until it embraces Turkey? Does the Minister further agree with President Clinton that European integration should move further and faster and that that integration should include Turkey?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am happy to say that in 1997 the Luxembourg European Council said that Turkey was eligible for European Union accession. Like all candidates, Turkey must meet the EU's political and economic criteria before it can join the EU. It must also meet the political criteria before any accession negotiations can start. Turkey does not yet meet those political criteria. However, there are hopes and aspirations in relation to Turkey and it is hoped that Turkey will do that which is necessary to make her able to join this family.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, what would be the Government's attitude to applications for accession from countries further afield, and in particular from Georgia or Armenia?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, as I have already said, Her Majesty's Government do not specify which countries will join, nor do they impose a limit. The criteria remain; it will be the criteria which judge which countries join and when.

Scottish Legislation and the House of Lords

2.44 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any plans to amend the Scotland Act 1998 to allow the House of Lords to participate in the passage of Scottish legislation.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have no plans to amend the Scotland Act to allow the House of Lords to participate in the passage of Scottish legislation.

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Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. Does she understand that my Question arises out of recent comments made by her political colleague, the First Minister in Scotland, who mentioned the possibility that part of the legislative function of the Scottish Parliament might be shared with your Lordships' House? Does she agree that that unfortunate comment raised a distinct impression that the First Minister and his colleagues do not feel that the devolution settlement is working satisfactorily? Will she say to her colleagues in Scotland that they should welcome rather than criticise the very effective work that is being done by the cross-party committees in the Scottish Parliament?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: No, my Lords, I will do none of those things. Nor do I accept the premise on which the Question was based. I read the published text of the John Mackintosh memorial lecture, which is the speech referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon. I did not rely only on the tabloid headlines. Having said that unicameral systems are always open to criticism, the First Minister made quite clear that in his personal view an effective committee system is the best option. He actually said:

    "I believe an effective committee system is the best way of examining legislation and testing the Executive's actions".

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, is the Minister aware that when the Scotland Bill went through this House, it was understood that a unicameral parliament would take Bills in various stages, including pre-legislative scrutiny? Is she aware that on 8th September, in closing the loophole which made possible the imprisonment of Mr Noel Ruddle and in legislating in a matter which had quite a delicate bearing on the human rights of this individual, the Parliament passed the Bill in two days without pre-legislative scrutiny--very swiftly, much to the consternation of several Members of the Scots Parliament, including an experienced legislator, Mr Dennis Canavan?

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