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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if we were to follow the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, based as it is on pessimism, there would be no hope for the European project and everything would be doomed? Is it not better, therefore, to have a sensible appraisal of where the European Union stands today, rather than follow the advice that we have heard? Is it not time to renew the idealism that marked the Europe of old when it started on its course as the European Union?
Does my noble friend agree that the negotiations on Turkey are enormously difficult? They have already met with hostility in France and Holland. How does he suggest that the arrangements outlined in the White Paper can be advanced? Finally, on the service directive and the working time directive, is it not right that we should be able to concentrate on those two issues with absolute optimism?
Lord Triesman: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for those questions. I share the view that optimism is very unlikely to create the circumstances for an effective and successful presidency. I think that, too often in this country, we set up false arguments about the nature of the European project and what can be achieved. In some ways, it probably strikes others in Europe as curious that we accuse them of setting up false dichotomiesfor example, between a totally free market and some version of a social Europeand say that those terms of debate are not realistic. We are inclined to have that debate in a rather false way ourselves and it is not helpful to frame it in those terms.
The EU agreed in December to begin talks on Turkish membership on 3 October. We intend to deliver on that commitment. We have a strong intention to launch the negotiations. Given attitudes across Europe, I do not pretend that they will be easy. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said that in his Statement, which I repeated. However, the prospect of EU membership has already brought about some fundamental transformations in Turkey which we wish to see continue in the interests of democracy and good human rights developments. But what a big prize it will be if a country with a relatively secular but Muslim population were to feel as much at home in a modern Europe as we do.
I am also optimistic on the working time directive. There is no reason why people should not have the choice to work as they choose and to engage in overtime if they so choose, so long as we can protect fundamental services, not least in medicine.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, is the Minister aware that he has now created even more confusion than existed previously over the Government's position on the constitution? He has introduced a new conceptthat the old one is no use, although the presidency statement says that countries will be encouraged to go forward in their own national ways with the ratification process, and there is no point in asking us, the British, to express our views on the constitution because it is bound to be a different one when it arrives.
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Is the Minister aware that President Chirac has the advantage of knowing the views of the French people on the constitution? How will the Prime Minister know the views of the British people on the constitution unless we have a referendum on it as it now stands? Will he divine that from a consultation on the sofa in No. 10 from which even the Cabinet let alone the British people are excluded? Or is he going to ask the British people?
Is the Minister further aware that President Chirac has promised the French people a referendum on the question of the admission of any future members to the European Union? Will the Government follow suit, or are we to conclude that France is a more democratic and open country than this one?
Lord Triesman: My Lords, I shall make no commitments to further referenda on any of the matters the noble Lord has raised. Those are not issues which I think delineate between the quality of French democracy and the United Kingdom's democracy. I have never heard it said that our Parliament is not able to consider fundamental matters and to do so in accordance with democratic practice in this country.
I turn to the point about the constitution. I hope I have cast no further confusion on it. The Government's position has been very straightforward. If there is a constitution on which a decision has to be taken, the people of the United Kingdom will vote in a referendum on that and they will determine the matter. But we are currently in a position where the specific wording has been rejected by two founder members.
I can confirm, as I am sure the House knows, that other nations have already decided that they will not have referenda on the same basis of that constitution because it would mean little. The Danes cancelled their constitutional referendum planned for 17 September; and the Portuguese and Polish governments have indicated that they will not be holding referenda which they planned for the autumn of this year. Of course the critical test is to have a referendum on a constitution which you believe will change the operational functions of the political and financial institutions of your own country. Why would we hold a referendum on something we know will have to be modified because the French and Dutch have already decided it will be?
Lord Dykes: My Lords, in recent days the Government seem to have modified their views on the common agricultural policy from saying "may be reducing generally" to "redirecting payments mainly to the new accession states". Yesterday the Prime Minister used the words "get rid" of the common agricultural policy. Which is it?
Lord Triesman: My Lords, I preface my answer by saying that we already make substantial contributions to the accession states. I made the point that we are the second largest net contributor to the budgetaside from the rebate. The common agricultural policy and a number of the other financial institutions which deal with the movement of funds from the centre to the developing areas in Europe must be overhauledroot and branch. That is absolutely plain.
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When we look at the aid questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, we see what must strike most people as an utterly bizarre phenomenonthat we are prepared to pay many hundreds of times more for the sustenance of each cow in Europe than we are prepared to do to try to sustain the life of each child in Africa. These are fundamental changes. The provisions have to be overhauled root and branch. The Prime Minister also made it clear in his statement to the European Parliament that some attention would have to be paid to the agricultural sector in Europe. How could it be otherwise? It is an important sector.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thought that the Minister described with absolute clarity the position over the constitution. I cannot imagine anything more likely to enrage the British public than spending tens of millions of pounds on a referendum on something which we are all aware is no longer on the table.
Perhaps I may turn to more specific points raised. The noble Lord may not be able to answer these questions. If not, I should be very happy to receive a letter from him. We have touched on the question of Turkey's accession. In October, will the British Government be arguing strongly for a negotiating mandate with full membership for Turkey and not about some sort of privileged relationship for Turkey with the European Union?
Secondly, paragraph 46 of the White Paper touches on the ACP countries and on the modifications announced on 22 June in relation to the sugar protocol. I am sure that the noble Lord will know from his work in the department that those modifications have caused a certain amount of consternation, not least in the Caribbean. What modifications may be made in order to allow the countries that rely on their sugar industry to adjust to the new specifications, as they were put forward on 22 June, in particular for building their capacity to find alternative markets for their products?
Lastly, I return to the question of the common agricultural policy. I think that we would all agree that spending 40 per cent of the EU budget, as put forward by the constituent countries, on an industry that supports 5 per cent of the population and 2 per cent of the production is not sustainable within the European Union and is certainly not sustainable in terms of the WTO negotiating mandate. What is the strength of the Government's commitment to ensure that, whatever else happens in these negotiations, they do not step back from forcing our European partners to confront the appalling state of the common agricultural policy and its impact on less developed countries?
Lord Triesman: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her questions and the points that are obviously intrinsic to those questions. The intention, as I understand it, is to conduct discussions with Turkey on the basis of full membership. I know that there is a good deal of work still to be done on how that negotiation will take place. As we have the presidency
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we will obviously need to listen to what partners in the EU are saying. That is where we have started from and, as I understand it, we have not moved from that.
On the second question about the sugar regime, I was able, together with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, to have a discussion two weeks ago with the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Mr Patterson, on the likely impact of the regime on Jamaica's economy. I know that this will be a problem across the Caribbean. The reality is that sugar is a large part of the economies of many places and that fundamental changes that sweep aside all the arrangements could be devastating if alternatives are not in place.
For those reasons our intention is to negotiate to ensure that the reform described in the White Paper is timelywhat we have called in this House before asymmetryand that there are acceptable transitional arrangements which allow African, Caribbean and the Pacific group of countries to adjust to the reform. We want to make sure that there is a rise in other exports; that there is a rise in tourism; and that there is diversification in those economies. We are working with them as partners to identify what those economic activities might be and how we may help them to the maximum extent.
I do not believe that we will be stepping back on the common agricultural policy. It cannot be sustained. The truth of the matter is that the common agricultural policy is among the most fundamental reforms we are asking people to discuss. In a way it has for me, and I believe for others, a slightly emblematic quality. If we cannot get reform on something so manifestly absurd, what prospects would there be for reform elsewhere? We must make that achievement.
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