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European Council, Turin

3.53 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (

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:

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    expressed readiness to see the EU bear a share of the financial burden and recalled the EU help in the swine fever epidemic a few years ago.

    "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".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4 p.m.

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:

    "I wish the Euro-sceptics back in Britain could be in this room now to see how European solidarity works in practice".
I wonder whether the noble Viscount the Leader of the House could confirm whether or not his right honourable friend the Prime Minister actually uttered those words and tell us whether they remain his view.

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

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should be sooner rather than later. Secondly, can the noble Viscount say whether or not any compensation which comes from Brussels in respect of what we may have to pay to resolve the crisis in this country is to come out of Britain's budget rebate? There have been reports in the press to that effect. Therefore, a certain amount of clarity from the Government on the matter would be helpful.

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,

    "creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe".
Does that remain the policy of Her Majesty's Government? The communique also states that the

    "Union [is] firmly committed to the full implementation of the Treaties, including ... economic and monetary union".
I know that the Government negotiated an opt-out, but is it their policy--and, indeed, does it remain their policy--that the Union is firmly committed to economic and monetary union?

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.

Secondly, the communique calls for an examination and,

    "strengthened control of the Union's external frontiers ... [including] coherent and effective asylum, immigration and visa policies".
Is that the Government's policy? Is that the direction in which we wish the IGC to go and which we hope it will eventually recommend? Then, after those words about asylum and immigration policies it says, "clearing"--that is a strange word--

    "divergent views on jurisdictional and parliamentary control of EU decisions in the field of justice and home affairs.
What on earth does that mean? I do not know, but the Prime Minister presumably does because he signed the document and pointed the IGC in that direction.

On unemployment, the communique calls for the completion of the single market and,

    "the implementation of the convergence criteria",

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together with "supplementary coordinated action". Again, I am not quite sure what that means and I would be most grateful if the noble Viscount could tell us what the Prime Minister intended the IGC to be considering when he agreed that that is what it should consider.

On the institutions, the communique calls for examination of a number of things and for,

    "simplifying legislative procedures and ... widening ... codecision".
Are we, or are we not, in favour of that? If we are in favour of simplifying legislative procedures, how would we like to simplify them within the European Union? If we are in favour of widening codecision, how and in what areas do we propose that it should be widened? Presumably the Prime Minister has some idea of what he wants otherwise he would not have signed the communique pointing the IGC firmly in that direction.

The communique talks about "the role" and composition of the European Parliament and a,

    "uniform procedure for its election".
Are we in favour of such a Europe-wide procedure in terms of the European Parliament election? Again, I assume that the Prime Minister knew what it was that he had in mind when he signed the communique pointing the IGC in that direction. It would be nice if someone could let us in on the secret. There is also reference to qualified "majority voting", "the weighting of votes" and,

    "the threshold for qualified majority decisions".
The Government say that they are very much against qualified majority voting, although I have recently detected what is perhaps a slight, and to be encouraged, tendency on the part of the Prime Minister to resile somewhat from the starkness of the undertaking that he gave on the David Frost television programme in February.

I turn now to a very strange and difficult paragraph which appears on page 5 of the communique and which talks of introducing,

    "rules [to enable] a certain number of Member States to develop a strengthened cooperation".
What does that mean? I assume that someone on the Government's side knows what it means. However, I wonder whether that is pointing the IGC in the direction of creating a two-stage Europe; namely, one in which a number of states go in one direction and a number of other states go in another direction. If the Government consider that that is what the IGC should be spending its time doing, perhaps they had better tell us which of the two stages it wants the United Kingdom to be in.

Finally, there is a plea in the communique for,

    "a greater capacity ... [and coherence in] foreign policy",
and the possibility of the European Union,

    "expressing itself in a more visible and coherent way and with a more perceptible face and voice".
Yet again, I assume that the Prime Minister had something in his mind when he agreed that the IGC should consider that and pointed it in that direction. If we are in favour of European foreign policy being

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more visible and coherent and having a more perceptible face and voice, I should be grateful to be told so today by the Government.

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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