Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Richard: My Lords, my noble friend tweaks me, not for the first time. In answering questions in another place this afternoon, the Prime Minister was asked a specific question. He repeated government policy in plain and unmistakeable terms and said that it had not changed.

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, will the Leader of the House acknowledge that perhaps it was a mistake, at the beginning of the presidency, to puff up the prospects in the way that was done? Will he accept that it is not possible for anyone, simply by taking the chair of the Council of Ministers for six months, to lay the foundations for a new heaven and earth, as was advertised at the beginning of the presidency? Is it not inevitable, since those were empty flourishes--the Leader of the House knows this perfectly well--that some disappointment and criticism are now inevitable, as evidenced not just in what my noble friend said, but also in the objective description reported in the Herald Tribune today?

In particular, can I press the Minister on enlargement? Is not the timetable for enlargement receding rather seriously? It is not so long since the Poles were told that they would be in by the year 2000. So much has to be done by existing methods in this round of enlargement on agriculture, on the budget and on institutions, which has not been done. Can the Leader of the House give some indication, if all goes well, of when we might expect the five candidates in what is called the first wave to achieve entry?

Lord Richard: My Lords, I do not believe that I can give a date. However, I agree with the noble Lord about the nature of the presidency of the European Union. Of course we cannot achieve a new heaven and earth in six months. That is not a contradiction; we may be able to achieve the foundation of what might in time become a new heaven and earth. One can move things along so that progress in that direction is intensified and accelerated. With respect, when one looks at the whole of the six months, certain major achievements took place in European development under the British presidency. I am not claiming that it was necessarily all due to the British presidency, but I totally disclaim the allegation that it happened despite rather than because of it.

In relation to enlargement, the UK presidency successfully implemented all elements of the remit from the Luxembourg Council. Cardiff welcomed those achievements and looks forward to further rapid progress. What happens next? Progress will inevitably continue. The EU will provide targeted aid for countries where they need it. We will regularly monitor their progress. We will continue working on the negotiations for the next stage. It is now for the applicant countries

17 Jun 1998 : Column 1595

to submit their detailed negotiating positions. That has not yet happened. The EU must then decide how to react. In our view it is vital that we maintain the momentum of this process.

Cardiff did not perpetuate the divisions that emerged at Luxembourg which, after all, established an all-inclusive process within which individual countries could advance on merit. In relation to the targets, it confirmed them and looks ahead to the first of the regular reports on each candidate's progress towards succession.

I played a minor part in the Commission at the time that Spain and Portugal were negotiating their entry. It is an extraordinarily complicated process and on this occasion it is even more complicated because of the changes that will take place in the policies and in the structures of the Union as well as in the necessary processes and adaptation that have to take place in the applicant countries. No one should underestimate the difficulties of the process. We got off to a solid start. The negotiating process started and we look forward to maintaining that momentum.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, perhaps I can ask one or two questions of my noble friend. First, I am glad that there has been no change in Her Majesty's Government's policy on the single currency. I wonder whether the Prime Minister had a few words with M. Chirac on the Frost programme when he said that the euro would topple the United States dollar as the main currency in the world. Is not that a little xenophobic? Perhaps M. Chirac should be told that that does not go down well in this country.

It has also been reported that the Prime Minister said that the United Kingdom would be prepared to relinquish further areas of policy to qualified majority voting. Is my noble friend able to give some further information about that? If that were the case, would it not further reduce the powers of Westminster, and therefore the power of the people, to whom our Prime Minister wants power returned?

With regard to financing the European Union and enlargement, the understandable desire of Germany to reduce its large net contribution was presumably discussed. This must affect enlargement, especially if existing member states which are net recipients see their largesse from the EU being severely reduced. Was that discussed and were any conclusions reached which are perhaps not in the report?

Finally, there is an item in the report about reviewing tax and benefit systems. What does that mean? Does it herald yet more power even over taxation for the institutions of the European Union?

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, perhaps I may--

Lord Richard: My Lords, I think I had better answer my noble friend Lord Stoddart before I answer his clone on the other side, if I may put it not unkindly--unless he is going to ask the same questions. I do not know what President Chirac said. I do not know whether my

17 Jun 1998 : Column 1596

right honourable friend the Prime Minister knows what President Chirac said. And I certainly do not know what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister would have said about what President Chirac was supposed to have said had the Prime Minister known about it. So I cannot answer my noble friend's first question.

The euro may well become a reserve currency. There is little doubt about that. But it is not a question of challenging or competing with the dollar. As I understand it, there was no discussion of QMV at Cardiff. Certainly, there is nothing in the conclusions. There was a general discussion of the financing of the Community in which various countries set out their positions. The communique is extremely guardedly careful about the way in which it sums up that discussion--"no decisions were taken". As far as I know, nothing was discussed at Cardiff about reviewing tax and benefit policies.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for describing me as a clone of his noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon. I at least regard that as considerably flattering. I must apologise to the House because I had forgotten that the Leader of the House takes each question in turn. I thought that he took them all in one lump.

May I press the noble Lord on the question put to him by my noble friend Lord Cranborne to which I did not detect an answer in his reply to my noble friend? He asked whether, as part of the economic reform programme which is required for successful EMU, whatever that turns out to be, tax harmonisation will be very much on the agenda. Is that so, and what is the Government's view on it?

I find it extraordinary that the Leader of the House can say that enlargement has got off to a flying start, because it clearly has not. I think the noble Lord will agree that for enlargement to take place considerable reform of the common agricultural policy is necessary. He mentioned that there would be a deadline in March 1999 for that. Perhaps I may put one very specific question to him. Does Germany support such reform of the common agricultural policy, without which enlargement will be impossible?

Finally, the noble Lord said that the Prime Minister is rejoicing in his project of making a reality of subsidiarity. Surely he must agree that the reality of subsidiarity is in the wording, and that is what makes it a fraud. If the noble Lord will refer to our debates on 21st May (at cols. 1778-1803 of Hansard) on the Third Reading of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill he will see that subsidiarity was exposed precisely as such a fraud and that it cannot possibly do the job which the Prime Minister in his charm offensive with Brussels appears to think that it can. It was a fraud when it started. To realise that one has merely to concentrate on the first 10 words which allow subsidiarity only to apply in areas which are not in the Community's exclusive competence. The Amsterdam Treaty has made that worse. It underlines the acquis communautaire and it underlines Article 6.4 of the treaty. Is it not time that the Labour Government realised that subsidiarity always was and is still a fraud?

Lord Richard: My Lords, if I may say so, that comes ill from a noble Lord who at one time was passionate

17 Jun 1998 : Column 1597

about the concept of subsidiarity. As I recall the discussions that took place over the Maastricht Treaty, in which he played a prominent part--I had a modest role in getting the Bill through the House--subsidiarity was a concept that was coming vigorously from the other side of the House. If I am wrong about what the noble Lord's views were, I apologise to him.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Yes.

Lord Richard: Very well, my Lords, I have got it wrong.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, will the noble Lord be good enough to put that in writing? If he consults Hansard for the entire process of the Maastricht debates, he will see that I never believed in subsidiarity, that I was always against it and that I divided the House against it on more than one occasion.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page