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House of Lords

Tuesday, 3rd March 1998.

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

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield.

Lord Dunleath--Sat first in Parliament after the death of his father.

Lord Hives--Sat first in Parliament after the death of his uncle.

Lord Bolton--Took the Oath.

European Union: Accession Process

The Earl of Carlisle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What measures are being undertaken to help the applicant nations of central and eastern Europe, in particular Latvia and Lithuania, which are not in the first wave of accession negotiations, to prepare for entry to the European Union at the earliest opportunity.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Luxembourg European Council took the necessary decisions to ensure that the enlargement process was all-inclusive. As part of that, the accession process will begin on 30th March with all 10 central European applicants.

The Luxembourg European Council also decided on measures to reinforce the applicants' preparations for accession. An enhanced pre-accession strategy, centring on accession partnerships and increased pre-accession aid, accompanied by an analytical study of the EU acquis, will help Latvia and Lithuania fulfil the Copenhagen criteria and come into line with EU legislation. The London European Conference on 12th March is another important element on inter-governmental co-operation within that process.

The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful Answer. Is he aware that the right honourable Member for Livingston in another place presided over the European Union Association in Brussels on 23rd February? What, if anything, was achieved at that meeting? Will Her Majesty's Government utilise the association to ensure that the nations not in the first wave have a good opportunity of joining the EU before the end of this decade?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am aware of the meeting. It is part of the ongoing process of engaging the civic society in the applicant countries. The Luxembourg summit also ensured that aid would be geared to those countries in the greatest need. In most cases, those not in the first wave entering formal negotiations will receive benefit from that decision.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the great bars to entry to

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the EU of Latvia and Lithuania and many other countries is the continued operation of the absurd common agricultural policy? If we want those countries to join the European Union, would it not be as well to get rid of that ridiculous policy as soon as possible?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, it is part of the Government's intent drastically to reform the CAP. That requires detailed negotiations with existing members and further discussion of how the policy would apply to potential new candidates joining the European Union. In that context, it is a problem if it remains unreformed.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, despite the Luxembourg European Council, mentioned by the Minister, and in the light of the recent failure of the Amsterdam conference to prepare satisfactorily for enlargement of the EU, do the Government agree with Commission proposals under Agenda 2000 to hold another IGC? What effect would that have on the likely timetable of future EU enlargement to enable the smooth admission of eastern European countries, in particular Lithuania and Bulgaria?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Amsterdam Treaty achieved a fair amount in preparation for enlargement. However, a number of institutional issues were left over which must be addressed. The Government believe that that will not involve a major inter-governmental conference the size of Amsterdam. We believe that those institutional issues can be resolved in time and in parallel with the probably long and difficult negotiations for accession, even of the first countries to join.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Government intend to reform the CAP and not abolish it?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Lord will find that I did not repeat precisely the words of my noble friend Lord Stoddart. We intend to reform the CAP, but we require agreement to do so. The imperative for reform is clear in the enlargement context and in other areas.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, will the Minister seek to dispel the note of optimism in the Question, which presupposes that the European Union in its present form will be in existence when the countries concerned will be joining? Will the Minister induce his noble friends to take a closer look at the implications of the Amsterdam and Maastricht treaties, which by this time they might have had the opportunity to examine?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I never wish to discourage optimism; indeed, I have for some time been attempting to dispel the pessimism of my noble friend Lord Bruce about such matters, but without any success whatever. I suspect that these issues will be returned to in our debates in Committee on Amsterdam, which will take place in a few days' time.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the larger the Community becomes the less possible it

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is to harmonise the laws of all the countries involved? Therefore, has not the time come for a complete revision of the Rome Treaty, the original proposals of which may have suited the first six countries but are now utterly impossible to implement?

Lord Whitty: No, my Lords; I do not accept that view. Indeed, one of the great economic and social benefits of enlargement will be the creation of a single market spanning the whole of Europe. Those regulations have already been adopted to a large extent in those countries which are seeking membership. The fulfilment of the single market across eastern and western Europe will be the greatest achievement of the European Union, and the greatest guarantee of prosperity both east and west.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, in that case, can the Minister expand on the answer that he gave to his noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon in which he referred to detailed discussions with existing members? Can the noble Lord tell the House exactly how many votes are required to carry reform of the common agricultural policy, and how many votes the Government are, at present, confident of securing towards that noble aim?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, there is already a proposition on the table from the Commission for partial reform of the CAP, which we strongly support. That is the first step. There appears to be majority support for that position. However, the more radical reform that we would like to see will require some persuasion. We do not require unanimity but we do require a qualified majority in most aspects of the agricultural policy.

Lord Monson: My Lords, given that the lavish transfer payments enjoyed by the Republic of Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal will not be available to the Baltic States, or other applicant countries, because the money simply is not there, is the Minister certain that it is in the genuine interests of Latvia, Lithuania, and so on, to join an organisation so bureaucratic, over-regulated and interfering as the EU? Would they not be much better off with a genuine advantageous free trade agreement instead?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, without accepting for one moment the description of the EU advanced by the noble Lord, I can tell the House that I believe this to be a matter for the peoples of those countries to assess. As I understand it, the overwhelming view in those countries is that they wish to join the European Union. Therefore, we should help to develop their prosperity and their civic institutions to that end.

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Far Eastern Economic Problems: Student Support

2.48 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether recent financial difficulties in certain Far Eastern countries may reduce the number of students from those countries who undertake further education in the UK, and whether this may in turn cause financial difficulties for some UK universities and other higher education establishments.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, it is difficult to predict exactly what the impact of the various currency collapses in South-East Asia will be on the numbers of students coming to the UK, though there is clearly cause for concern. The Government applaud the substantial efforts made by higher education institutions to alleviate the hardship of many of the students affected, enabling them to continue to study here. The Higher Education Funding Council for England is looking at the potential effects on individual universities and higher education colleges and will offer advice to any who might need it.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for that reply. However, is she aware that I have received some information from the Council of Vice-Chancellors and Principals which indicates that, if there were a total withdrawal of those students, the amount of money lost would be as high as £300 million? Further, another £300 million could be lost that these students normally spend while they are over here. These are serious figures. Will the Minister do her best to make sure that the Government keep this situation under review and take any action that may be required?

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