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EU: Common Foreign Policy

2.55 p.m.

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, the CFSP has made considerable progress since its launch in the Maastricht Treaty of 1993. The appointment of Javier Solana as high representative in 1999 has further assisted the process. The CFSP plays an important part in helping to bring about stability in the Balkans. However, recent developments in relation to Iraq have demonstrated the importance of Her Majesty's Government's policy, which found effect in the Amsterdam Treaty, that the CFSP must remain intergovernmental.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, I am grateful for that reply. Does the noble Baroness agree that the differing policies of France, Germany and the United Kingdom towards Iraq are in line with the national characters of those countries, as is the policy of France towards Mr Mugabe? As it is unlikely that even the European Commission will have the ability to standardise national characters, is the production of a single European foreign policy likely to prove an unproductive exercise?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, that is why in my Answer I stressed that the common foreign and security policy is and should remain intergovernmental. That is why it was designed that way in the Maastricht Treaty and that is why it stayed that way in the Amsterdam Treaty and in the Nice Treaty. In that way, as is right, we all have our say. Of course, on 17th February we managed to formulate an excellent statement at the European Council in relation to Iraq, but yes, there have been differences. Nothing in the CFSP implies that there should not be differences where they are so warranted. Where we can agree, we do, and where we do not agree we are all free to act independently. The CFSP provides for exactly that.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, notwithstanding the present concerns about the great powers of Europe being in disarray, do the Government agree that a concerted foreign policy could be greatly assisted, as has been suggested in some parts of the Convention on the Future of Europe, by the authority of Javier Solana being given greater support? His role could be linked with that of the Commissioner for External Affairs, thus enabling work to be carried out in preparation of common positions on which the governments could indicate agreement and gradually—it cannot be other than gradual—a common policy could be developed.

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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, those matters are under discussion at the convention where the noble Lord plays an important part, for which we thank him. Many proposals are being put forward, such as for a full-time president of the European Council or a European foreign minister in one single person, but there may be varying degrees of agreement or disagreement to them. However, Her Majesty's Government believe that it is important to rest on the intergovernmental nature of the common foreign and security policy. I cannot stress that too much to your Lordships.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Blaker has demonstrated that at the moment it is silly to talk of a common foreign policy in the European Union in relation to Iraq. Have the Government had any more luck in pursuing a better common foreign policy in relation to Zimbabwe? Has the noble Baroness noticed the strong, new measures proposed by the US Administration under an executive order from the President for enlarging the sanctions, tying up assets more vigorously and generally carrying forward a strong and an effective opposition to Mr Mugabe? Have the Government succeeded in putting those proposals to their partners in the European Union? Should we take the initiative in such matters rather than follow the American example?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do not think that it is right to characterise the position with Iraq as silly. Certainly different countries have different policies in relation to the matters currently being discussed in the United Nations. But it was not silly to reach the agreement that we did on 17th February. As I found when I was in the Gulf states only last Monday, it was of enormous importance when discussing those matters between the EU and the Gulf states.

I turn to the question about Zimbabwe. The United States has brought forward an interesting point. We have ourselves continued the targeting sanctions policy on Zimbabwe, which was rolled over on 18th February. It includes arms embargoes, an assets-freeze and a travel ban remaining in place. We shall keep looking for additional ways in which extra leverage can be applied.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I am impressed by the stress which the noble Baroness has placed on the intergovernmental character of the common foreign security policy. On a day when we welcome the result of the Maltese referendum for joining the European Union, is she confident that we can manage an entirely intergovernmental common foreign policy in an EU of 25? Does the noble Baroness recall that Malta on one occasion postponed the conclusion of a CSCE review conference by several days, insisting that the Maltese position on a conference on security co-operation in the Mediterranean should be accepted by all 34 other governments or the Maltese would not

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agree? Does she think that with 25 members some movement towards a more common foreign policy might be desirable and possibly efficient?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I also welcome the vote in Malta and congratulate them on their remarkably high turnout, which might be the envy of many of us. The noble Lord asked whether I am confident that the intergovernmental nature can be maintained. We are now entering a period of discussion and negotiation—as I have said to the House—on where the Government believe we should stand on the intergovernmental nature. Of course the noble Lord will also know from having read the documents emanating from the European convention that there are some who believe that there should be a further extension of qualified majority voting in a number of different areas. No doubt those matters will be discussed not only when those proposals are issued at the end of the convention consideration, but also in due course I am sure that your Lordships will very much enjoy debating them.


3.2 p.m.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 4 p.m., my noble friend Lady Symons will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement on Iraq and Israel/Palestine.

European Parliament (Representation) Bill

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That it be an instruction to the Grand Committee to which the European Parliament (Representation) Bill has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 6, Schedule, Clauses 7 to 25.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Sexual Offences Bill [HL]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Moved, That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Community Care (Delayed Discharges etc.) Bill

3.2 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Meaning of "NHS body" and "qualifying hospital patient"]:

Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 1:

    Page 1, line 10, at end insert "other than a person receiving mental health services"

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1, I make no apology for returning to an issue which we debated in Committee and which is of great importance. Whatever else the Bill does for acute and geriatric patients, it should not apply to patients receiving mental health services.

That might at first seem an odd proposition. Over-extended stays in psychiatric wards are a real concern. That is not good for anyone. A recent survey by the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health on the quality of care in acute psychiatric wards reached the disturbing conclusion that hospital care was "non-therapeutic". That verdict is reflected in patients' attitude. One will not find many mental health patients who enjoy being in hospital. For many, being an in-patient does nothing to address their underlying long-term needs. The shortage of medium-secure units and long-stay, low-secure accommodation means that patients are frequently placed in conditions with inappropriately high levels of security where the regime is fundamentally unhelpful to them.

I am therefore the first to acknowledge that psychiatric patients should be kept out of hospitals if at all possible. However, sometimes hospital admission cannot be avoided; for example, when a patient is so ill and so incapable of looking after himself that in order to avoid coming to serious harm he has to be looked after in a formal care setting. In a small minority of cases, the patient may be viewed as being a danger to other people.

Once such a patient is in hospital, his discharge requires considerable care. The potential for the person to harm himself or others is a judgment that cannot be made in a hurry. It certainly cannot be made when the patient is first admitted to hospital. Of course there must be joint working between health and social services. That kind of partnership working is becoming well established in many parts of the country. But it takes place against the backdrop of inadequate capacity in specialised community mental health services. The National Service Framework for Mental Health identified lack of capacity as the single largest cause of delayed discharge.

There are unique considerations in the field of mental health. If one creates legal duties that compel one part of the sector to penalise the other, one creates incentives and drivers that could very easily put service users at direct risk. The Minister knows that I am not at all enthusiastic about Part 1 of the Bill. As regards mental health there is an immediate concern about patient safety. I would have only slightly less difficulty

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with the notion of including psychiatric patients if there were greater capacity in hostels and supported accommodation, in rehabilitation services and in 24-hour staffed beds in inner cities. But there is a chronic lack of capacity in those areas. To require local authorities to provide care in short order to psychiatric patients is not just unfair on local authorities, it is also unfair on patients who find themselves pitched out of hospital and who cannot then access the services and support they need.

The pressure to reduce the number and length of hospital stays will mean inevitably that discharges from psychiatric wards are planned and carried out in too much of a hurry. The type of assessment required under Clause 3 is not comparable—in substance or in scale—to the comprehensive community care assessment that local authorities have to carry out for psychiatric patients under other legislation. A full-scale assessment would include provision for primary care, housing and support services of all kinds, including crisis resolution teams. That indeed should be done.

However, once the NHS knows it can free-up its blocked psychiatric beds without penalty by offloading the problem on to local government, it is bound to look for ways to achieve that. The temptation may be to use medication as a means of managing symptoms in order to achieve earlier discharge. That might not be the appropriate solution for some people. But, at the very least, if a patient is placed on medication his condition needs to stabilise before he is discharged and any side effects need to be monitored. None of that can be done in short order. Yet the Bill as it stands is an invitation to cut corners and rush matters through.

Therefore, even if there were not such a capacity problem in the areas I mentioned a moment ago, I would be firmly against extending the scope of the Bill to include mental health patients. If we recognise that well co-ordinated services are the key to helping those with mental illnesses, then the imposition of penalties and therefore tensions and barriers between different arms of those services would be taking us in precisely the wrong direction. We should decide now that for mental health patients this is simply a bridge too far in terms of the risk that it carriers. I beg to move.

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