HC Deb 09 July 2002 vol 388 cc727-9
2. Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth)

What steps she is taking to ensure that Scottish women's views are fully represented in the debate on the future of Europe. [65300]

5. Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North)

What steps she is taking to represent Scottish interests in connection with the Convention on the Future of Europe. [65302]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell)

The Government wish to encourage a wide-ranging debate on the future of Europe in advance of the intergovernmental conference in 2004. I will continue to contribute to that debate, as I have been doing. My Department is working with the European Commission office in Scotland on planning a conference on women and the changing European Union. I will also shortly discuss the subject of women and the EU with editors of the women's media, together with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe.

Rosemary McKenna

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and I congratulate her on her efforts to involve all civic Scotland—and women, in particular—in the debate on the future of Europe. Does she agree that Scotland has much to gain from a more transparent and efficient Europe?

Mrs. Liddell

I fully agree with my hon. Friend. This is a key time for crafting the future of Europe for the next decade and beyond. Everyone's positive involvement is to be welcomed. I pay particular tribute to the role that my hon. Friend has played, not least because of her involvement in Europe before she came to this place.

My hon. Friend is right. Women need to become involved in the debate. Dare I say it, as the head of an all-female Department, the macho posturing that surrounds the debate on Europe often puts many women off.

Mrs. Adams

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on achieving an all-women Front Bench. In fact, I know that we will have made gains when people comment on all-men Front Benches.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Scotland and the Scottish economy have much to gain from enlargement of the European Union? Does she further agree that an enlarged EU will deliver most for all the peoples of Europe when the future of Europe debate produces greater accountability in Brussels?

Mrs. Liddell

I thank my hon. Friend for her congratulations, although my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) is looking a little shamefaced in his place as a Whip.

My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) makes an important point of great significance to Scottish business. EU enlargement will mean that the Union will go from 300 million to 500 million consumers. That will offer great opportunities, but present great challenges. I encourage everyone, particularly those in the small business community, to look to the opportunities that enlargement can bring and to prepare for it. The benefits will be great for businesses, but the challenges are significant.

Angus Robertson (Moray)

On the future of Europe, is the Secretary of State aware of the apparent efforts by the Scottish Executive to seek more independent influence for Scotland, as reported in The Scotsman yesterday? Can she give the House details of how independent that representation will be, assuming that Scotland does not have the full status of a normal member state? Is she concerned that the report of the Scottish Executive's initiative was described as not even second-rate spin by the Minister for Europe in this morning's Westminster Hall debate?

Mrs. Liddell

The hon. Gentleman's questions are as predictable as the appearance of a streaker at Wimbledon, and they have exactly the same purpose.

The First Minister is very much involved in the debate on the future of Europe. Indeed, he is taking a leading role. However, he of all people knows that Scotland benefits much more from being part of the United Kingdom's representation in Europe. If the hon. Gentleman looked around, he would see that we are not just well represented by the Scottish Executive in Europe, but that a considerable number of the UK Ministers who represent us in Europe are Scottish.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham)

Will the conference of women in Scotland report to her or to the First Minister?

Mrs. Liddell

It will report to the European Commission, which is the organiser.

Mrs. Lait

I assume that it is the conference that the Secretary of State announced on 9 May that she—and not the European Union—was organising. Was she involved in the discussions between Jack McConnell and the Foreign Secretary on Scotland's voice in Europe? Why was this women's forum set up if she was not involved in the issue? Was she cut out of the loop altogether? What does it say for the future of women politicians in Scotland if Scotland Office Ministers were not involved in the discussions? [Interruption.]

Mrs. Liddell

A killer question indeed.

The First Minister, myself and Foreign Secretary take part in the debate on the future of Europe, because we recognise that it is a serious debate. We are united, and that is the big difference between us and the Opposition, who seem unable to agree on anything to do with Europe—whether it involves women, men or whatever.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)

Unlike those on the Opposition Front Bench, my right hon. Friend obviously understands Scottish politics, so will she accept that, in the convention, the question of privileged access remains to be discussed between the Scottish Executive, their civil servants and the Commission? Will she assure us that she will do whatever she can to make sure that the partnership—on which our relations with Scotland and Europe is based—will be strengthened? Will she do everything in her power to ensure that no dissatisfaction is felt by Members of the Scottish Parliament about the relationship with Europe?

Mrs. Liddell

I contacted the Deputy First Minister, who is the Minister for Europe in the Scottish Executive, and asked whether he is confident that he and his officials are getting the exchange of information that they require to process policy on Europe. He tells me that he is, but I am anxious to ensure that the very sound and stable arrangements that we have made on the joint ministerial committee on Europe are enhanced. There is little doubt among politicians who have some say in the governance of Scotland that our involvement in the European Union is significant for Scotland's future prosperity.