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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, your Lordships will be aware that Her Majesty's Government have been in the forefront in encouraging enlargement. The United Kingdom presidency in 1998 played a leading role in getting the accession process started. While we are encouraged that so many countries want to join the table, each applicant should join as and when ready. We are encouraging all participants to use due diligence and speed.

Lord St. John of Bletso: My Lords, does the Minister agree that granting a timetable would involve granting lengthy transition periods to the applicant accession countries in order for them to deal with their social and economic problems?

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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, that is right. As regards a number of those countries, 18 of the chapters have already been opened. Another 13 remain to be completed and there are some challenges ahead. We are working closely with all the applicant countries to ensure that they are able to do that as quickly as possible--but when they are ready.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, will my noble friend indicate whether, as regards timetables, any precedent was established in previous accessions? What reason would there be for departing from any such precedent now?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, on each occasion, the timetables have been reflective of the needs of the country involved. Some countries are in an advantageous position and once the chapters are open can have them closed relatively quickly. Other countries are more challenged in relation to meeting the criteria for enlargement.

The Earl of Clanwilliam: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the criteria for enlargement depend entirely on the abolition or total reform of the common agricultural policy? What is the Government's position on that point?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I cannot agree. I do of course understand that agriculture has presented complex challenges in all enlargements to date. For this enlargement in the Agenda 2000 settlement, we ringfenced money--there is 12.5 billion euros for agricultural payments to new members--and substantially increased pre-accession aid to over 500 million euros per year for agricultural reform, as well as introducing some reforms of the common agricultural policy.

We all know that this is a challenge, which is being addressed with vigour. We have in place, in the form of both Mr Prodi and Mr Kinnock, significant campaigners in relation to the reform process.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, when asked whether a further intergovernmental conference would be needed to announce the necessary reforms to the treaty as indicated in Agenda 2000, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, as the Minister responsible, told the House that he did not believe, whatever was said in Agenda 2000, that we should require a full-blown IGC to put right the failure to take new decisions on re-weighting on the size of the commission?

Can the Minister reconcile that statement with the Government's U-turn, by which they now consider that it is indeed necessary to hold a further IGC to resolve those issues?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I do not accept that there has been a U-turn. The Government have been clear as to their expectations and the IGC currently envisaged is appropriate and timely.

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Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, I welcome the earliest possible extension of membership of the European Union, and I acknowledge that there must be an IGC to examine institutional changes; but can my noble friend give me and the House an assurance that the Government have made it perfectly clear to the Commission and to others that in that IGC we shall not accept the removal of the unanimity rule on tax changes, and that we shall insist on maintaining that present status?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can. I believe that it would be safer if I were to write to my noble friend.

The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that it is of fundamental importance to have a stable and secure Europe, and that those nations which border the Russian Federation should be admitted to the European Union as quickly as possible for the sake of the stability of central and eastern Europe? Does she not further agree that, in particular, the smaller nations such as Latvia and Lithuania should be given every encouragement to begin negotiations as soon as possible? May we therefore have a timetable?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, it is certainly important that enlargement continues, as the noble Earl said, in order to bring greater security in Europe. As I said earlier, much is dependent on the readiness of each country. Your Lordships will know that this Government are encouraging and pursuing that end as effectively as anyone could.

LRT: Fare Evasion Procedures

3.23 p.m.

The Earl of Clancarty asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in the light of the recent prosecutions against Sister Virtus Okwaraoha and Philip Bussy, they will encourage London Regional Transport to review their procedures for bringing prosecutions for fare evasion against London bus passengers.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, those are operational matters for London Regional Transport. I understand that London Transport Buses reviews its procedures regularly and has recently introduced a more rigorous monitoring of reported ticket irregularities and cases which may result in legal action.

I understand also that the London Regional Passengers Committee is in discussion with London Transport on those matters, and I should be happy to consider any proposals which may emerge from that dialogue.

The Earl of Clancarty: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Bearing in mind London

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Transport Buses' statement with regard to Sister Virtus:

    "We do not question the Sister's honesty",

does the Minister not accept that it is wholly wrong and unjust to prosecute and criminalise someone who, it is clearly acknowledged by the accuser, had no intention of committing a crime? Will the Minister confirm that future prosecutions will be limited to cases where there is real suspicion of fraud, rather than unnecessarily dragging through the courts people whose only crime is that they have been tripped up by the system?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, a number of aspects of that particular case are wanting. However, in general, the policy of London Transport with regard to both buses and Tubes is to prosecute only where it believes that there was intent. That is certainly the procedure which it will adopt in future.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, as I took through a Private Bill on this issue some years ago, I am particularly keen to ask a question.

Is it not a fact that the losses due to fare evasion have grown constantly? Is it not also a fact that the proportion that people have to pay in relation to when the penalty was first introduced is now so much less in relation to a ticket that there is a much greater incentive for people to try to evade the correct payment?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I recognise the noble Baroness's experience in the genesis of this scheme. It is true that the proportions have closed somewhat. The payment of a £10 penalty is nevertheless substantially greater than that for a £1.10 or £1.40 ticket. It is also the case that the amount of revenue estimated by London Transport to be lost has grown over that period, which indicates that it has a serious problem, which is being addressed not only through the improvement of this system, but also, in the case of the Tube, by introducing automatic gating on all its stations.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I must declare an interest. I am a fare-paying passenger when I am able to do so. Is the Minister aware that numerous passengers, of whom I am one, have found it increasingly difficult to persuade conductors to accept our money, and that that difficulty is particularly acute among conductors who have been told that their services are shortly to be dispensed with? Will the Minister guarantee that such negligence of the conductor will not be taken for malice in the passenger?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, it is already part of the new procedure in relation to appeals that, if the noble Earl is unfortunate enough to be pursued with a penalty fare in those circumstances, having offered to or being unable to pay one's fare is a sufficient defence. I am

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unable to comment on the particular circumstances and on the particular bus on which the noble Earl found himself.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, will the Minister say whether he considers the intentional act of fare evasion to be the same as fraud?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, a number of noble and learned Lords have told me that it is. It is certainly intent to defraud, and in my mind that amounts to fraud in a real sense. Therefore, I believe that these systems for protecting revenue are absolutely valid.

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