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House of Lords

Wednesday, 29th November 1995.

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

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Exeter.

European Union: Enlargement

Lord Hooson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether in the event of the European Union being expanded by the inclusion of certain eastern European countries they envisage that these countries will have full membership, including the benefits of the common agricultural policy or whether Her Majesty's Government envisage a status for these countries stopping short of full membership of the Union.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, in all previous enlargements of the European Union, new members have accepted the obligations and benefits of full membership. We expect the associated countries of central and eastern Europe to do the same on their accession. We are, however, pressing for major reform of the common agricultural policy before enlargement to the east takes place.

Lord Hooson: My Lords, is the Minister aware that all the indications are that the eastern European countries need a great deal more economic help and support before there can be any thought of them becoming full members? There is no indication from the full members of the present European Union that they are prepared to change the common agricultural policy. Therefore, was not Mr. Kinnock right when he said in a speech reported two days ago that the possibility of accession of the eastern European countries is remote?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, Mr. Kinnock made an interesting speech but it is much too early to say whether his words will become reality. However, we have read his speech with interest and we shall certainly bear his thoughts in mind.

As regards help to the countries of central and eastern Europe in preparation for membership of the European Community, no country does as much as Britain through the know-how funds in helping them to privatise, to modernise their financial systems and to bring themselves into the new century. I believe that we are doing all that we can to help. It would also be of assistance if the European funds for the PHARE programme were put to the same ends.

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I have said many times in this House that the common agricultural policy has to change for the sake not only of new members but of existing members too.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that what these countries mainly want is access to western European markets for their goods, including agricultural products, and that there seems a total determination on the part of the French and Bavarian farmers to see that no such thing happens?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, my noble friend has a point, but he knows full well that one of the reasons we were to the fore in the development of the single European market and why we have worked so hard for the completion of the Uruguay Round was exactly that: we want open trading. These countries want that open trading more than anything else and anyone who stands in the way of it will eventually impede their own economic progress.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is it not the case that the common agricultural policy can be changed only by a unanimous vote of its members and there is not the remotest chance of the Franco-German axis agreeing to any radical change in it? Indeed, the story is exactly the same as it was 20 years ago when the Government stated that they hoped to be able to use their influence to change the CAP. It cannot be done with the axis as it is.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, is not looking as far ahead as some others. There has been a distinct change in the attitude of many member states but not as much change as we would like among the French or certain of the Germans. However, the German Finance Minister agrees with us that the common agricultural policy has to be changed. It may not happen immediately but it is happening gradually.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington: My Lords, in reply to the original Question the Minister said that nothing can happen until the CAP has been changed, although she did not go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington. In view of the fact that it will take many years to change the CAP, has she any idea how long it will be before the eastern European countries are offered membership of the European Community?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, it would be a foolish woman who sought to predict, even in your Lordships' House, when that will be. We have worked towards enlargement in an important way by providing these countries with the help which will put them in a better position to take the benefits of accession when that happens. However, as regards a timetable, I can give the noble Baroness no clear indication.

Baroness Elles: My Lords, has consideration been given to linking in particular the Visegrad countries

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to, say, the CFSP? Although they would not become full members of the EC, some support for their fragile democracy might be considered to be supported by member states of the EC.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, it has not happened in quite the way that my noble friend indicated, but many of these countries are proceeding apace with their changes to become members of NATO. That is different from membership of the CFSP but, if there were accession to a single pillar rather than to the Union as a whole, no doubt it would help them.

Lord Richard: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the aggressive pessimism about the future of the common agricultural policy of my noble friend Lord Bruce is, perhaps, somewhat overdrawn? Further, would the Minister agree that, in the past 20 years, there have indeed been considerable changes in the CAP? Will the noble Baroness also confirm that the percentage of the community budget now devoted to agriculture is considerably less now than it was 20 years ago? Finally, if the Minister has not already done so, would she kindly underline the enthusiasm that Her Majesty's Government have for the expansion of the Union so as to bring in the east European countries as soon as that may be feasible and possible?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I shall leave the noble Lord, Lord Richard, to deal with his noble friend. As regards changes, I would be quite wrong to say that there have not been any; indeed, there have been. The noble Lord is absolutely right. I wish that we could, between us, manage to explain them to his noble friend from time to time as he does not seem to follow them. It is perfectly true that there is a reduction in the common agricultural policy, but it is not declining in size as fast as anyone would wish.

So far as concerns the noble Lord's fourth question, of course we wish to see accession negotiations begin as soon as possible. I believe that the noble Lord knows that the Union is committed to negotiate with Cyprus and Malta six months after the IGC ends. That will probably be the first expansion as regards the Visegrad countries--that is, if they can so prepare themselves and we can get the changes that we need not only in the CAP but also in the structural funds.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, as long transitional periods will almost certainly be needed for the eastern European countries, is it not very desirable that that process should start as soon as possible for countries which have, after all, been victims of Stalinism?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: Yes, my Lords; I thoroughly agree with the noble Lord.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Next Question!

Lord Harmar-Nicholls: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister saying that, if there are weaknesses, we have to wait until Germany changes its mind before anything can be done about it?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: No, my Lords; I am saying that we have to work even harder to change the minds of France and Germany and of those who stand in the way of change in the CAP.

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Rail Privatisation: Bidding

2.46 p.m.

Lord Haskel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why they are continuing to prevent British Rail from bidding for franchises in relation to the privatisation of the railways in view of the relevant provisions of the Railways Act 1993 that they should not be so debarred.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, the Railways Act gives the Franchising Director the discretion to decide, after consultation with the British Railways Board and the Rail Regulator, whether the board or any subsidiary of the board shall be allowed to bid for franchises. In respect of the first seven franchises, the Franchising Director has decided that the board shall not be allowed to bid. He will consult the board and the regulator each time he proposes to invite tenders.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, is he aware that some people are concerned that British Rail has not been invited to bid because the Franchising Director believes that, in doing so, he is interpreting the wishes of the Government? Will the Minister now state clearly that it is the Government's policy to enable British Rail to bid for franchises and call upon the Franchising Director to encourage it to do so?

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