Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Avebury: My Lords, perhaps the Minister will permit me to put one question. Does she include among the institutions with which the Commission has contact the High Commissioner for National Minorities, whose particular expertise in the field of the Roma is unparalleled? The commissioner's report on the Roma in Europe is an extremely important source of information on that subject.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, yes. The noble Lord raised an important point about the way in which the Commission presents its progress reports. The noble Lord said that it was impossible to tell from the reports which sources had been consulted and how much weight had been given to them. We are happy to

20 Dec 2000 : Column 815

ensure that the Commission is made aware of the noble Lord's point about the transparency of the process and to encourage it to explain in as much detail as possible to interested NGOs how its assessment is produced.

I also reassure the noble Lord that if we felt that a Commission progress report did not tally with our own assessment of a country we would want to discover why. Our embassies in candidate countries follow the political and human rights situations closely. That is true of Turkey where the situation is of particular concern. A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Rea, dealt with that issue. Noble Lords will be aware that the political section of Turkey's progress report covered a range of areas in some depth. These included an account of recent political developments in Turkey, an analysis of progress in democracy and the rule of law, including the judiciary and the role of the National Security Council. Another section on human rights and the protection of minorities covered in detail vitally important areas of Turkish reform, such as the death penalty, freedom of expression, torture, prison conditions, freedom of association and assembly, religious tolerance, cultural and language rights and equal opportunities.

The report looked at these issues in the context of individual rights for all Turkish citizens and in particular examined the treatment of Turkish citizens who are members of religious or ethnic minority groups, including Kurds. I understand that, among other sources, the Commission drew upon the work of the Kurdish Human Rights Project, of which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is honorary president. In each case the Commission's report clearly highlighted various shortcomings in Turkey's legislation and practice.

The report recommended ways in which these issues could be addressed in order to bring Turkey into line with EU standards. The Government welcome the Commission's report and believes that it gives an accurate representation of Turkish efforts to align with the European Union's legislation and practice--the acquis communautaire--as well as indicating areas for future work.

The progress report is an invaluable basis for the formulation of the European Union's Accession Partnership for Turkey, the contents of which were agreed by the Council on 4th December, subject to consultation with the European Parliament. The Accession Partnership sets out clear, short and medium-term priorities for Turkish action across a broad spectrum of areas.

We look forward now to receiving Turkey's own national programme for the adoption of the acquis, which will set out how it contends to meet those priorities. I am confident that the European Union accession process remains an essential spur to reform Turkey, as it has been to all candidate countries.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, for raising the issue of Bulgaria and for her remarks about its progress in these areas. We support the work of the British Association for Central and Eastern Europe and the involvement of the noble Baroness.

20 Dec 2000 : Column 816

This year's progress report on Bulgaria points out areas that need further work, in particular strengthening the rule of law and the protection of human and minority rights, especially that of the Roma population. The report rightly recognised that Bulgaria still has much to do to integrate its Roma community. The signing of a framework agreement for the integration of the Roma community into Bulgarian society in April 1999 was a positive step welcomed in last year's progress report. Bulgaria has set up a governmental working group on the Roma issue which is preparing a draft anti-discrimination law. Bulgarian state TV is now broadcasting some programmes on minority issues. Experts on minority issues have been appointed by 24 out of the 29 regional administrations. Therefore, the Government believe that the progress report on Bulgaria gives an accurate picture. We shall continue to monitor those issues in Bulgaria and we shall continue to try to ensure that it fully meets the criteria.

The Commission and the member state's scrutiny applies equally to countries which started negotiations in 1998, as to those which started this year, such as Bulgaria, or those which have not yet started, such as Turkey. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will know that the Commission's progress report on the Czech Republic notes that, while the Czech government are making significant efforts to combat discriminatory practices especially in terms of Roma access to education, these need to be sustained over time.

The Commission also funds important projects in this area. We and our EU partners have a regular dialogue with the Czech government to review progress and spread best practice. I am pleased to tell the House that the High Commissioner's report on the situation of the Roma and the Sinti in the OSCE area issued in March 2000 was one of the sources used by the Commission in compiling its progress reports. So it is an issue which is very much to the fore.

The noble Lord, Lord Lea, asked about the involvement of social partners, including trade unions, in the accession process. The progress reports cover that in most detail in the section on Chapter 13, "Social Policy and Employment". Many candidates have set up arrangements for involving social partners in the adoption and implementation of the acquis. In some countries these arrangements work better than in others. That is reflected in the reports. The progress reports also cover trade unions in the political criteria under the section on economic and social rights.

The Government believe that bringing the countries of eastern Europe into a union of democratic states is the best way to ensure that the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law become firmly embedded, not only in their laws but in their institutions and in their cultures.

The enlargement process, the process which will lead to greater stability, security and prosperity for current members as well as for new ones, is about to enter a new phase. Earlier this month the Nice European Council agreed to inject new momentum into enlargement negotiations in the hope that the first

20 Dec 2000 : Column 817

new members would be able to participate in the European Parliament elections in 2004. That was a direct echo of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister's historic words in Warsaw in October. The Government will continue to be a champion of enlargement. We shall continue to look to the Commission's annual progress reports to provide a clear and comprehensive assessment of each country's progress towards membership. We shall not see the worth of that membership devalued by lowering the standards required of the applicants.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, it only remains for me to thank most warmly all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate today. We have reaffirmed our view that there should be no softening of the Copenhagen criteria. The Minister had the opportunity to put on record that we continue to scrutinise most carefully the performance of African countries even after they have been deemed to satisfy those criteria. We have said that there should be improved and more extensive monitoring. As my noble friend Lord Watson said, that monitoring should cover not only statutory provision but also what happens on the ground.

I hope today's debate was a useful contribution to the issue of enlargement and that our words will be reflected in the activities of the Commission. I hope that my noble friend will take back to Europe some of the important issues which have been raised in the debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Financial Statement and Budget Report

7.57 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

20 Dec 2000 : Column 818

Moved, That this House takes note with approval of the Government's assessment as set out in the Financial Statement and Budget Report 2000-01, the Economic and Fiscal Strategy Report 2000-01 and the Pre-Budget Report 2000 for the purposes of Section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993.--(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, in accepting this Motion on behalf of the Opposition, I should like to make it clear to the House that we are not approving the contents of the assessment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I wish to make it entirely clear that the wording used in the Motion does not imply approval of the content; it merely implies approval of the selection of documents which will be used for the purposes of Section 5.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I am much obliged to the Minister for that response.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Consolidated Fund Bill

Brought from the Commons, endorsed with the certificate of the Speaker that the Bill is a Money Bill, and read a first time.

Then, Standing Order 46 having been dispensed with (pursuant to Resolution of today), Bill read a second time; Committee negatived; Bill read a third time, and passed.

City of Newcastle upon Tyne Bill [H.L.]

Returned from the Commons agreed to.

        House adjourned at eight o'clock.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page