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House of Lords

Thursday, 18th January 2001.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of St Albans): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

EU Applicant States: Bilateral Relations

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What measures they are taking to build closer bilateral relations with the European Union applicant states in the period before they become full members.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, bilateral relations with the European Union applicant states are excellent. The Prime Minister's speech in Warsaw last October has underlined the UK's position as a champion of enlargement. Ministers from a wide range of departments have had contacts with their opposite numbers from the applicant states. This has been backed by practical assistance, including the launch of bilateral action plans with seven of the applicants so far.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is she aware that there was great disappointment in the applicant states some two or three years ago that the emphasis of the Know-How Fund was directed away from the first applicants and towards countries further down the list? Does she feel that in terms of ministerial visits--and, if one may say so, prime ministerial visits--which the first group of applicants care about greatly, the United Kingdom is a little further behind our partners? Given that within the next four or five years these states will become fellow members of the European Union, does she not feel that at a ministerial level more ought to be put into building up bilateral relationships, which will stand us in very good stead when those countries join?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can reassure the noble Lord that a great deal of energy is being put into making sure that those bilateral relations are in good order. I do not agree with him that we are behind in the amount of energy being put into that regard. As a result of a step change, almost double the number of ministerial contacts with applicant states have taken place, up from 33 to 64 since the second half of 1999. So real energy is being put into this. I can reassure the noble Lord that further visits are planned for 2001, at an ever increasing pace.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Government's positive attitude towards the

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applicant states is most welcome? Can she say a little about the attitude of some of the other European Union countries towards the applicant states? There is a sense that some of the other countries are not as enthusiastic as we are.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, it would be invidious for me to make comparisons. However, the enthusiasm felt about our efforts by the applicant states is certainly reflected in their comments. I thank the noble Lord for raising this point because it is a correct one.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My Lords, given the outstanding work of the UK representative and his team at the Nice Summit, will the Minister invite the UK representative to use our outstanding influence with the applicant countries in favour of Turkey's parliamentary representation at the upcoming Swedish Summit? Although other parliamentary committees have been invited from applicant countries, surprisingly the chairman from Turkey has not been invited, which seems a pity.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, that will be given every consideration. I thank the noble Baroness for raising the point.

Lord Renton: My Lords, do the Government accept that the larger the European Union becomes, the less integrated it is likely to be; and the larger it becomes, the more likely it is to become a union of independent sovereign states?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can accept that from the noble Lord. Of course we know that the larger the Union becomes, the more important it will be to make sure that we have the mechanisms for strong and robust relationships between the different states. There is nothing to indicate that anything we are doing at the moment could possibly undermine that.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the prospect of enlargement, which is welcome, is one of the reasons why the Nice Summit was so important? Does she further agree that is why the attitude of Mr William Hague in another place was so stupid in relation to the prospect of enlargement?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I certainly endorse what my noble friend said in relation to the Nice Summit. It was very important indeed. The states seeking accession to the EU welcomed it greatly as a very important step. They have been much encouraged by the stance that Her Majesty's Government have taken in relation to those matters.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the problem about enlargement now is not the interest of the applicant states that the process should be speeded up--that is not the main obstacle--but the swollen and colossal acquis

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communautaire with which those states are being asked to burden themselves and the archaic nature of the unreformed common agricultural policy? Quite aside from what was or was not agreed at Nice, is not that where the real energies should be concentrated? Should not the Government be doing very much more to see that the acquis communautaire is reduced rather than agreeing to the abolition of still more vetoes, with still more central powers in Brussels?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I cannot agree with the noble Lord. It is extremely important that all states seeking to join the Union are treated equally, and that the acquis applies to all equally so that we do not have a two-tier situation. That feeling is strongly held by the applicant states. The acquis is important. It is a unifying criteria and should be upheld. As to the CAP, it is right to say that reform of the CAP is something to which we have all aspired for a number of years. The Government are putting a huge amount of effort and energy into delivering it.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, far from weakening European integration, enlargement will strengthen it? Nice demonstrated that the extension of qualified majority voting was necessary for enlargement--and that is deepening as well as widening.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am happy just to say "Yes".

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that part of the acquis communautaire is represented by the so-called Copenhagen criteria and that these are a crucial underpinning for the extension of democracy throughout central and eastern Europe? Does she further agree that it behoves us to be strongly in favour of these criteria and to ensure that they apply to the new countries of central and eastern Europe which wish to join the Union?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I respectfully agree with the noble Baroness, and say further that we do not get dissent from applicant states in relation to these matters. They are an important, democratic underpinning of stability for our future. The applicant states understand their importance. That is why they wish to join us on that basis.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, although I agree with the noble Baroness about the importance of enlargement, will she tell the House why, if the Government are really serious about enlargement, the applicant states were given such a small proportion of the weighted voting in the system? To take an example at random, why does a country like Romania, with a population of 20 million, have such a small proportion of the votes? The Minister referred a moment ago to equal treatment. Does she think that that was equal treatment?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the noble Lord will know that there was active negotiation in

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relation to those matters. It was of crucial importance that a proper weighting of the votes should be undertaken, which would be accepted by all, so that enlargement would take place. Those states which wish to join an enlarged Europe were very anxious for that to happen. We do not have dissent from any of them in relation to what has taken place.

Disabled People and the Armed Forces

3.9 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to ban disabled people from serving in the Armed Forces.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, there is no such ban and there is no intention to introduce such a ban. However, the Armed Forces are exempt from disability legislation. Service personnel who become disabled may be retained subject to operational effectiveness, but people with a disability which might put themselves or others at risk are not recruited. The Armed Forces have a unique role and members of them must be prepared at short notice to fight and prevail in the most demanding of circumstances.

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