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Earl Russell: My Lords, before the Minister accuses my noble friend Lord Taverne of departing from the Liberal Democrat script, will he tell the House whether he heard my noble friend in so much as a syllable suggest that Mr Hague might take the opportunity he was being given?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that is an ingenious let out for the noble Lord, Lord Taverne.

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The departure from the Liberal Democrat script comprised the suggestion that there might be some polemic gift to Mr Hague, but it certainly does not follow that he would be capable of taking it.

Lord Saatchi: My Lords, can the Minister give your Lordships' House the name of a single economist who will say that the five tests are objective? Is it not true that the tests are just a matter of opinion and that, as the Minister just said, the opinion will be the opinion of the Treasury and that, if asked to do so by Government Ministers, the Treasury would express the opinion that the earth was flat?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, has a gift for answering his own questions. Many economists take the view that these are objective tests. They are not precise tests. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, is a good example of a distinguished economist and there are many other distinguished economists on these Benches who take a comparable view. However, it is because we realise that ultimately we have to have a political as well as an economic judgment that we have continued to propose the process of assessment, decision and taking the view, first, of Parliament and the people of this country.


3 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Government of Austria have fulfilled any of the criteria laid down by the European Union for the resumption of normal relations.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, the measures taken regarding Austria are not a European Union action; they have been implemented by Austria's European Union partners on an individual, bilateral basis. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and my noble friend Lady Scotland have made clear on many occasions, we continue to expect the Austrian Government to fulfil their commitments to European values and obligations, and to combat all forms of discrimination.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. Perhaps I may ask two supplementary questions. First, can she tell the House which other nation in the world has been subjected to the kind of measures that we, with our European allies, have taken against Austria? Secondly, does she not agree that, whatever one may think of the political situation in that country, it is a classic example of the disadvantages of PR?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, the relevance of what happens with the rest of the world is not apposite; we are talking about 15 countries which are members of the European Union. There is a

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difference between how we react to something that happens with one of those governments when compared to anywhere else in the world. As to the noble Lord's second point, no, I do not agree for one minute that this has anything to do with proportional representation.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, can my noble friend give the House an assurance that the Government will maintain their present attitude towards the Austrian Government as long as a former right-hand person of Haider is their Vice-Chancellor and while they retain members of their very extremist Right-wing party in government?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: Yes, my Lords. It is worth reminding the House that we are not talking about a party with Right-wing economic theories but about a party that was led by a man who, when addressing an army war veteran meeting in Austria--which included Waffen SS--described the Waffen SS as decent men of character; and who also, in a speech to the Carinthian Parliament, praised the orderly employment polices of the Third Reich. It is important to be clear about what caused such offence to the other members of the European Union.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the Government were among the more reluctant assenters to these sanctions against Austria; after all, this is a very sharp domestic interference in the internal affairs of another state. If we are in favour of liberal democracy, we have to tolerate the choices of other democratic governments, even when they are not entirely what we would like. As to PR versus the coalition front, Austria suffered a grand coalition for too long. Jobs were divided among the Conservative and Socialist parties--and that seems a very bad thing in any democratic country. However, does the Minister accept that there has to come a point where these sanctions will be withdrawn? Does she agree that, provided the Austrian Government do not offend against any of the aspects of the Treaty of Rome--and they have not yet done so--the sanctions will, in time, have to be ended?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, the 14 European Union countries are united in their policy towards Austria. We have had, and continue to have, serious and intense discussions with the other 13 EU countries on a bilateral basis on this issue. Five months is too short a time to make a definitive judgment of the performance of the Austrian Government, but we are reflecting on a way forward.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell the House what assessment the Government have made of the impact of the policies of the 14 on public opinion in Austria? In the light of Hugo Young's column in the Guardian this morning, what proposals do the Government have for getting off the hook upon which they have impaled themselves?

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Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I have not read this morning's Guardian. I do not consider it unbriefed not to have read all the newspapers. I do not think for one minute that the Government have impaled themselves on a hook. As to the question of the impact on public opinion in Austria, as the noble Viscount knows, it is difficult to gauge public opinion anywhere. However, the fact remains that the Austrian Freedom Party is still in third place in the opinion polls. So it has not improved its position in any way, if that is the point that the noble Viscount is trying to make.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, following the intervention of my noble friend Lord Cranborne, is the noble Baroness aware that, if she had read the Guardian this morning, she would have seen that this whole saga is described as a spiralling diplomatic disaster? While we all regard the views of Mr Haider as repulsive, has not this whole saga shown up an enormous political ineptitude, and a bit of childishness to boot? Is not the sensible position for the Government now to tell their EU partners that this is leading to disaster; that the sanctions should be ended; and that Austria should be brought into the company of the EU again and dealt with as a mature nation that has done nothing wrong, and whose original repulsive leader has disappeared to Carinthia as a governor and left the party?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I do not understand how the noble Lord, Lord Howell, can say that the whole House finds the views of Mr Haider so repulsive, and then go on to think that it was--

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I said that the whole House finds Mr Haider's views repulsive. I did not say that--

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: Exactly, my Lords. His "views" instead of his "opinions" repulsive. I do not understand how anyone can say that on the one hand and then, on the other, think that it was not important for the other members of the European Union to send the strongest possible signal to Austria about what they thought. As the noble Lord knows, the use of the word "sanctions" is not correct. Diplomatic measures were taken against Austria, which were well understood by that country as signalling the disapproval of the rest of the European Union. I think that was absolutely right and proper.

Business of the House

3.7 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I make a brief business statement in regard to the Summer Recess. Your Lordships will be aware that it is not usually possible to announce the dates of the Summer Recess until a week or 10 days before the House rises. This year, because of the co-operation of the Official Opposition

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and of the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, I am able to make the announcement significantly earlier than usual.

The usual channels have agreed a programme which will allow all the necessary business to be completed by Friday, 28th July. Predicting business for a whole month ahead is difficult as there will be many uncertainties over the next month. However, I am aware that Members and staff alike--particularly those with young families--will find it helpful to have as much notice as possible of our Recess dates. Recess dates are always announced as being, "subject to the progress of business".

On this occasion, given the difficulty of predicting the progress of business so far in advance, there is a particular need for me to stress that if the programme agreed by the usual channels is not achieved and the necessary business is not completed by the end of July, it will be necessary to sit into August.

However, I am pleased to announce that, subject to business progressing as we hope it will, the House will rise for the Summer Recess on Friday, 28th July. We will sit at 11 a.m. that day. The House will return on Wednesday, 27th September.

I should like to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues in the usual channels for their constructive approach, which has made it possible to make this announcement much earlier than usual.

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