HL Deb 01 April 1996 vol 571 cc22-37

3.53 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on the meeting of the European Council in Turin on 29th March. The Statement is as follows:

"The purpose of the meeting was to launch the Inter-Governmental Conference aimed at preparing the European Union for the next phase of enlargement. The Council conclusions, which I have placed in the Library, set out the main areas of the IGC's agenda.

"We have ensured that the conclusions do not prejudice the actual negotiations in any way; nor do they contain an exhaustive list of the issues for negotiation. We shall pursue our objectives for the development of Europe as a partnership of nations, as set out in the Government's recent White Paper.

"The negotiations themselves will now begin. They may well last for a year or longer. Foreign Ministers will meet every month. Their personal representatives will meet every week.

"I outlined to the European Council the Government's approach to the IGC. I made clear that our vision of Europe is built around the bedrock of the nation state. I also set out some of the areas where the UK will be putting forward proposals, and those where we have strong views.

"For example, I underlined the need for the principle of subsidiarity to be enshrined in the treaty; the value of a greater role for national parliaments; our desire to see Europe's common foreign and security policy work better, while preserving its basis of unanimity; the need for further progress in co-operation in justice and home affairs, without undermining its essential intergovernmental nature; our opposition to any further extension of qualified majority voting; and our insistence on reforms for the working of the European Court of Justice.

"I also made clear to the European Council my particular concern about the recent opinion of the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice on the Working Time Directive, and its implications for the IGC. I said that I was not prepared to see our Social Chapter opt-out undermined as a result of an expansive and unreasonable interpretation of the health and safety article of the treaty. I made clear that I would be looking in the IGC for changes to that article, to reflect our earlier understanding of its limited scope.

"The European Council also held a brief discussion on employment and competitiveness. This subject will rightly be high on the agenda of its meeting in Florence in June. I set out this Government's views.

"Europe has to be globally competitive. Jobs are not created by governments, still less by the European Union. They come from the decisions of businesses in the marketplace. Job creation needs less regulation, not more; lower financial and other burdens on business, not extra impositions arising from ill-conceived European directives.

"There is increasing understanding of these realities among some of our European partners. I was encouraged by the discussion. But I will continue to resist strongly any suggestion that the treaty be amended to cover employment issues. Action in those areas is overwhelmingly for individual countries, not for the EU collectively.

"All the heads of state and government in Turin were acutely conscious of the Europe-wide crisis in the beef market. This is, and was treated as, an entirely separate issue from the IGC agenda. There was no question in anyone's mind of trading help in one area against co-operation in the other.

"I told my colleagues of the impact in this country of the ban on British beef decided in Brussels last week; particularly as it was taken on the basis of considerations other than the scientific advice.

"I suggested to my colleagues that three things were now needed. First, the conditions should be created as speedily as possible to allow the ban on British beef exports to be lifted. Second, the specific problems of the UK beef market had to be addressed. I looked to the Community for sympathetic and speedy support for the measures necessary to return confidence and stability to the market. Third, it should be recognised that this was a European, not just a British, problem.

"The response of my European colleagues was, without exception, one of support. There was universal agreement that this was a Europe-wide problem, and that a European solution was required. All heads of state and government who spoke expressed readiness to see the EU bear a share of the financial burden and recalled the EU help in the swine fever epidemic a few years ago.

"This was a welcome response, in tone as well as substance. But we still have some way to go. Negotiations continue with the Commission on the measures needed to restore confidence. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture is in Luxembourg today to take this forward and to attend a meeting of European Ministers of Agriculture.

"I emphasised to my European colleagues that, with the measures we have taken, British beef is, on any normal definition of the term, safe. No one disputed this. Everyone recognised that the present crisis came not from a real health risk but from unnecessary hysteria across Europe.

"At Turin the IGC was launched with an agenda which enables us to pursue our objectives in a non-prejudicial climate. I was able to make clear to my European colleagues our strong views on certain key issues, including what is needed to tackle unemployment across Europe as well as in Britain. And we achieved a notable measure of understanding and support over the beef crisis that we and our European partners now face together.

"The need now is to turn this support into action, particularly the lifting of the export ban on British beef and beef products. That is our immediate objective. It is important; and we are pursuing it urgently".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement that his right honourable friend the Prime Minister made in another place. I shall begin by saying a few words about beef. I do not want to spend too much time on that subject, because I believe that the rest of the report is extremely important. We welcome the support that the Prime Minister received from his colleagues in Turin; indeed, he was at one time reported as having said: I wish the Euro-sceptics back in Britain could be in this room now to see how European solidarity works in practice". I wonder whether the noble Viscount the Leader of the House could confirm whether or not his right honourable friend the Prime Minister actually uttered those words and tell us whether they remain his view.

Today is perhaps not the time to discuss the Government's responsibility for the crisis in the beef industry. However, perhaps I may be forgiven for noting in passing that the Government seemed to spend an awful lot of time this weekend trying to persuade the country that it was anyone's fault except their own. Nevertheless, we can debate that issue in more detail on April 17th when the House will consider the problem.

Can the noble Viscount tell the House, first, when the Government expect the package of measures on beef to emerge from the various discussions that are now taking place? Clearly it is in everyone's interests that that should be sooner rather than later. Secondly, can the noble Viscount say whether or not any compensation which comes from Brussels in respect of what we may have to pay to resolve the crisis in this country is to come out of Britain's budget rebate? There have been reports in the press to that effect. Therefore, a certain amount of clarity from the Government on the matter would be helpful.

I turn now to the IGC. I do not suggest that noble Lords should ignore the Statement but, as is well known, I have said on a number of occasions when dealing with such Statements that it is most important that one looks at the communiqué and not at the gloss that any national leader or national Minister puts upon what was actually agreed and the document to which the Prime Minister put his hand. I shall, therefore, concentrate on the communiqué.

Although it was clearly overshadowed by beef, I believe that it is worth while spending a moment or two on the contents of the communiqué. The communiqué expresses and welcomes the fact that the intergovernmental conference is the first step towards, creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe". Does that remain the policy of Her Majesty's Government? The communiqué also states that the Union [is] firmly committed to the full implementation of the Treaties, including … economic and monetary union". I know that the Government negotiated an opt-out, but is it their policy—and, indeed, does it remain their policy—that the Union is firmly committed to economic and monetary union?

The communiqué also sets out an agenda for the IGC and, indeed, points the direction very clearly as regards the areas in which the IGC is to work. A number of issues are, therefore, highlighted. First, how to strengthen human rights. That is firmly in the communiqué. I assume that that is to be within the framework of the existing institutions. I should like to know how the Government see a drive at the IGC in order to strengthen human rights and reinforce and buttress them. We have not heard very much about that recently, and a little clarity in that respect might be helpful.

Secondly, the communiqué calls for an examination and, strengthened control of the Union's external frontiers … [including] coherent and effective asylum, immigration and visa policies". Is that the Government's policy? Is that the direction in which we wish the IGC to go and which we hope it will eventually recommend? Then, after those words about asylum and immigration policies it says, "clearing"—that is a strange word— divergent views on jurisdictional and parliamentary control of EU decisions in the field of justice and home affairs. What on earth does that mean? I do not know, but the Prime Minister presumably does because he signed the document and pointed the IGC in that direction.

On unemployment, the communiqué calls for the completion of the single market and, the implementation of the convergence criteria", together with "supplementary coordinated action". Again, I am not quite sure what that means and I would be most grateful if the noble Viscount could tell us what the Prime Minister intended the IGC to be considering when he agreed that that is what it should consider.

On the institutions, the communiqué calls for examination of a number of things and for, simplifying legislative procedures and … widening … codecision". Are we, or are we not, in favour of that? If we are in favour of simplifying legislative procedures, how would we like to simplify them within the European Union? If we are in favour of widening codecision, how and in what areas do we propose that it should be widened? Presumably the Prime Minister has some idea of what he wants otherwise he would not have signed the communiqué pointing the IGC firmly in that direction.

The communiqué talks about "the role" and composition of the European Parliament and a, uniform procedure for its election". Are we in favour of such a Europe-wide procedure in terms of the European Parliament election? Again, I assume that the Prime Minister knew what it was that he had in mind when he signed the communiqué pointing the IGC in that direction. It would be nice if someone could let us in on the secret. There is also reference to qualified "majority voting", "the weighting of votes" and, the threshold for qualified majority decisions". The Government say that they are very much against qualified majority voting, although I have recently detected what is perhaps a slight, and to be encouraged, tendency on the part of the Prime Minister to resile somewhat from the starkness of the undertaking that he gave on the David Frost television programme in February.

I turn now to a very strange and difficult paragraph which appears on page 5 of the communiqué and which talks of introducing, rules [to enable] a certain number of Member States to develop a strengthened cooperation". What does that mean? I assume that someone on the Government's side knows what it means. However, I wonder whether that is pointing the IGC in the direction of creating a two-stage Europe; namely, one in which a number of states go in one direction and a number of other states go in another direction. If the Government consider that that is what the IGC should be spending its time doing, perhaps they had better tell us which of the two stages it wants the United Kingdom to be in.

Finally, there is a plea in the communiqué for, a greater capacity … [and coherence in] foreign policy", and the possibility of the European Union, expressing itself in a more visible and coherent way and with a more perceptible face and voice". Yet again, I assume that the Prime Minister had something in his mind when he agreed that the IGC should consider that and pointed it in that direction. If we are in favour of European foreign policy being more visible and coherent and having a more perceptible face and voice, I should be grateful to be told so today by the Government.

The points that I have made are not nit-picking points; indeed, they are fundamental points. They are points on which the British Government, through the voice and pen of the Prime Minister, have said that the intergovernmental conference (which is sitting for a year) should be beavering away to try to produce answers to such problems. I cannot believe the Government agreed that they should all go to the IGC, thinking that, perhaps, they had no view on the matter and would not take part in any discussions.

The question raised is: how much of all that is United Kingdom Government policy? How can the Prime Minister sign up in Turin to this and then pretend that it does not, and would not, involve greater integration? Of course it would. If carried into practice, it would be bound to involve greater majority voting in the Council, an enhanced role for the European Parliament, a common immigration and asylum policy and a much more co-ordinated European foreign policy.

Coupled with the agreements we made at Maastricht, this document, and the direction in which the IGC was pointed by the Prime Minister when he signed it, amounts to a significant step towards the creation of a European Union and a further curtailment of the United Kingdom's right of independent action. I am not necessarily against some of this, speaking personally, but a policy of signing up to one thing in Europe and then pretending otherwise at home is both disingenuous, and in the end it will be self-defeating. The truth is that if we believe what they say, they have agreed to virtually nothing; if we believe what they have signed up to as the agenda for the IGC, they have agreed to a lot. Just for once it would be pleasant to know the Government's true position. One can, of course, understand the limitations on governmental transparency imposed by the current situation inside the Conservative Party, but the time has surely come when this open Government should be a little more open with the country as to where they really stand.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, we on these Benches also wish to thank the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. The report, of course, is about the preparations for the beginning of the IGC, but judging from the press and judging from much comment that has been made, it is somewhat overwhelmed by the subject of beef, which is a subject on which we have perhaps heard rather a little too much over the past fortnight.

The Prime Minister must be glad to realise that the beef issue is recognised as a European issue. Perhaps he and the Government also accept that it is a good thing that it is recognised as a European issue. If we were not—I would not say at the heart of Europe—at least inside the European Union, we should have a great deal more trouble in dealing with our beef problem than we have at the present time. It is certainly welcome that our partners in the European Union are prepared to help with the financial implications. Incidentally, has anyone ever discovered how much BSE there is among our European partners? I know nothing about agriculture but I find it extremely difficult to believe that this unpleasant germ or condition—who knows what it is?—is confined to these islands. The fact that we are not told of the numbers of cases in other countries does not necessarily mean that they do not exist. Did we extract any information about the extent of the beef problem, or rather the potential for a beef problem, in these other countries, if that information were more widely available? Perhaps the noble Viscount can enlighten us about that.

On the subject of beef, it is good that there were negotiations and discussions about it, but surely the most important thing is to achieve a settlement of some kind as fast as possible. There can be no doubt whatever that there are a great many people in this country at the moment who think that they are likely to be broke by the end of next week unless the Government make a clear decision. As we are operating in what I humbly suggest is almost Cloud-cuckoo-town in regard to beef—the whole matter is in a realm of unreality—can we not just cut through it all, regardless of what comes out from Europe, and get on with it? That is what is urgently needed as regards the rural areas of this country. We need a decision to be made quickly so that people know where they stand. I hope we can be told how much help we shall receive and how quickly it will be given, but we need to come to a decision, whatever else there is to be done about the beef issue in the future.

Listening to the noble Viscount repeating the Statement I tried again to ascertain what the meeting was supposed to be about. I understand from the first page of the document that it is supposed primarily to be about enlargement. However, I see remarkably little within the Statement that tells us what will happen in relation to enlargement, and yet a great many of the issues that are raised should be very much about enlargement. The Statement refers to the problem of unemployment in the Union. The reference to enlargement is on the first page of the document if the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has overlooked it. The question of enlargement is surely at the heart of what is going on in relation to the IGC.

Unemployment is an extremely important issue in the European Union, and we all recognise that. For the Government to harp on about the effect of the social chapter really is to be straining at gnats and swallowing camels. Surely the most important issue in connection with enlargement is what its effect will be on employment in the better off countries with high standards of living inside the European Union when enlargement will bring in countries whose labour costs are so much lower. Yet, if we do not accept their goods, that makes extreme nonsense of any talk about enlargement. I am astonished that nowhere in the document is there any reference to what we will do about the problems arising from enlargement both in relation to the CAP and in relation to unemployment. To talk about the unemployment question and not to discuss it in relation to those countries with low costs which are to come into the Union seems to me to be missing the point in a most spectacular way.

The first two pages of the document are almost entirely devoted to stating that the Government are in fact Gaullists and that they believe in a union des patries, and not in any sense in a federal Europe. They use the word "federal"—as I would—in the sense in which it is understood in every country except Great Britain. Great Britain manages to create a bogey of federalism by misinterpreting the use of the word. Those of us who are strongly federal in the European sense are totally in support of subsidiarity. In fact in many ways we are more in support of subsidiarity than are Her Majesty's Government. However, that does not emerge.

The Government seem to think that they can go ahead with enlargement and yet maintain in every possible way national control over all the issues. Yet another inevitable consequence of enlargement is that we have to look at qualified majority voting. Again, in the Statement, the Government refer to qualified majority voting but they do not refer to the effect that enlargement will have on the whole question of voting. How can one possibly contemplate enlargement without saying how on earth one will make decisions when there are 17 or 25 countries who do not have the opportunity for qualified majority voting? It is "Hamlet" without the prince to have an IGC on the subject of enlargement and to leave those questions totally unanswered.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I shall try to answer both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness as succinctly as I can. However, it will be a challenge in view of the number of questions that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, asked me. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, asked me two questions about beef. The first concerned when the Government package of measures would emerge. If I may, I shall link that to my response to the entirely justified urging of the noble Baroness that speed was of the essence in the restoration of confidence in the beef market. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture is in Luxembourg today discussing this issue with the Commission with the absolute endorsement of Her Majesty's Government, aiming to agree a package of measures to help restore confidence in beef right across Europe as swiftly as possible. The Government are all too well aware—as the noble Baroness pointed out—of the large number of jobs which depend directly and indirectly on the beef industry. The number of beef products spreads almost throughout the economic endeavour in this country. So it is essential that this period of uncertainty should be brought to a close as swiftly as possible. I hope that the eradication of BSE and the market support measures which my right honourable friend has discussed, and is discussing today, will be a welcome step towards getting the EU ban lifted, which I think is a prerequisite to the restoration of confidence.

The noble Lord's second question concerned compensation and whether it would come out of the rebate. It is not clear as yet what level of compensation will be payable to various interested parties. It will depend entirely on what measures emerge. It is important that when the measures emerge we should make it perfectly clear as swiftly as possible how they are to be applied and how they will operate. A broad declaration will not in itself restore confidence. What will restore confidence is the clarity with which Her Majesty's Government set out their proposals; and I hope that that will be possible in a very few days.

The question of compensation will have to be addressed at that point. However, I remind the noble Lord that measures on calves and a number of market support measures have been announced by my right honourable friend. The question of intervention is one to which the rules apply. A broadening of the rules and categories of intervention may emerge from my right honourable friend's discussions.

I turn to matters of the IGC. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, as always—he drew our attention to this fact—looked at the communiqué. I make no complaint about that. However, he forgot one thing, if I may so suggest, in his clear indication that the Government had not taken any trouble to set out their own policy. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, has not forgotten the recent White Paper which published the negotiating objectives of Her Majesty's Government in the IGC. I am sure that what was set out in the White Paper has been part of the noble Lord's daily reading. However, I remind him that among our objectives set out clearly in that document has been the further entrenchment of subsidiarity in the treaty and action to ensure that the treaty articles are not misused. Indeed, my right honourable friend made it clear in his Statement that we feel that Article 118a, on health and safety, has been misused by the Commission, an issue on which we hope to get action during the course of the IGC. We hope to achieve improvements in the quality of legislation through better consultation and the automatic withdrawal of proposals not adopted within a given period. We do not want any more powers for the European Parliament at the expense of national parliaments or governments. We believe that the foreign and defence policy must remain the responsibility of national governments and that NATO should remain the bedrock of western security.

That is all fairly well ploughed ground; I could go on. However, there are some signs that our European partners are beginning at least to move in the direction that we have set out. I draw the noble Lord's attention in particular to the French Prime Minister's recent speech in which he underlined the central role in the European Union of the nation state and the supremacy of the Council of Ministers over the Commission.

In his reference to the final document, the noble Lord asked a number of questions. I believe that an ever closer union among peoples is clearly an objective which the Government can sign up to. After all, as set out in the White Paper, we fully support a strengthened co-operation and friendship across the whole of Europe. I suggest to your Lordships that that is not the same as an ever closer federal union of states—"federal" in the sense that we understand it in this country rather than as it is understood abroad, as the noble Baroness said.

As regards the strengthening of human rights, I believe that our position is perfectly clear. The fundamental human rights are already protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. All member states and the European Union are bound to respect that convention. As your Lordships know, the ECHR is already enforceable through its commission and through the court. The Government see no need for duplication of the ECHR in the EU treaty. I believe that there has been an Advocate-General's opinion supporting that view in the past few days.

I also point out to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that unemployment, the institutions, the widening of co-decision, simplifying procedures, the extension of QMV, rules to strengthen co-operation, and so on, are already well on the agenda so far as concerns European meetings. It seems perfectly sensible that those matters should be discussed. I am sure the noble Lord will realise that the fact they are discussed does not necessarily mean that Her Majesty's Government feel able to sign up to all of them. Indeed, they may not feel able to sign up to many of them—but that could be said also of a number of our European partners. However, if some of our partners wish to see those issues on the agenda, it is much better in the tradition of representative government to discuss whether they are to be accepted or rejected rather than that they should be swept under the carpet and not explored.

Rather than weary your Lordships with a long exposition on the common foreign and security policy, perhaps I may refer the noble Lord, Lord Richard, to the speech which my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary delivered recently in Paris. It set out our views very clearly indeed. In particular, my right honourable friend made it perfectly clear that it would be sensible for us to develop a common policy; and that it would be very much better if that policy were developed by consensus rather than by majority voting in the sense that it is much easier to ensure that there are no divisive votes on anything which can be of critical importance to individual countries.

It must be fair to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, that a number of those areas, in particular as regards qualified majority voting, are integral to the question of enlargement. For reasons greater than the question of internal government of the European Union, I think that all noble Lords will agree that we must pursue enlargement with the utmost vigour. I am sure that the noble Baroness would agree with that. Nevertheless, unless we are able to find practical mechanics to enable enlargement to occur, that very desirable objective will be kicked further into the distance with considerable malign consequences for the future stability not only of central and eastern Europe but, I suspect, of western Europe, too. Therefore it is important that we should examine the matters to which the noble Baroness drew attention.

Finally, I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to the social chapter, to which the noble Baroness referred. It was perfectly right, in my view, for so much of the time of those who prepared for this European Council, and the conversation during the course of the European Council to concentrate on unemployment. It has become perhaps the greatest scourge for the membership of the European Union. Her Majesty's Government are clear that the way to address the scourge is broadly through the economic policies we have been endeavouring to pursue in this country for some years. It is a matter of deregulation, of supply side reforms, rather than the more prescriptive and expensive methods which have increasingly come to dominate attempted solutions by our European partners.

With the greatest diffidence, I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that the statistics are beginning to give a hint, at the least, that we may have had a point all along. Our unemployment statistics, from far too a high a peak, have fallen since 1992 by 0.75 million. In the past three years we have created over 0.5 million new jobs. Our European partners have not had the same experience: they have high non-wage employment costs which we have managed increasingly to shed. The inward investment record of this country compared with that of our partners in Europe seems to show that many investors from outside western Europe agree with us. Therefore, I hope that in the run-up to the next general election the noble Lord will consider whether he feels that it is sensible—I put the point to him in the spirit of delightful amity and partnership which I hope he will agree we have developed during the past two years—to continue to advocate adherence to the social chapter and other matters which seem to obsess his party. Perhaps he will consider whether there are any votes in it from his point of view.

4.31 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Rome Treaty was designed about 40 years ago for five nations of western Europe whose legal systems and constitutions had much in common? Even as amended, it is now quite unsuitable for an enlarged Community of 15 nations which may be further enlarged by several nations in the fairly near future. Is he aware that in the course of the IGC negotiations, attempts should therefore be made by Her Majesty's Government to persuade the other European countries to have a system based not on the Rome Treaty but on consolidation and amendment of the treaties which followed it in order to avoid the present confusion which arises in law making?

Is my noble friend aware that in the enlarged Community, with 11 different languages and a number of different constitutions, law making has become dilatory and cumbersome and the outcome is sometimes confusing? If the Community is to succeed in the years to come, as an enlarged Community of many different countries, we must get the constitutional position put right.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, everyone will sympathise with my noble friend. For that reason, we must look at streamlining the procedures and also take seriously the issue of subsidiarity which can make a great contribution towards the direction in which my noble friend wishes us to go.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords—

Lord Barnett

My Lords, I will allow the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, to speak, since he is bigger than I.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I did not mean size to count! The Minister must be aware that his statement that in a few days we hope to be able to come to an agreement and announce the action that we shall take on beef will strike despair into many hearts in this country. We have already had the Government announcing a serious danger which might arise and then a wait while disaster struck all over Europe until the committee reported. Now, apparently, we must wait until agreement is reached in Europe. Is the noble Viscount aware that intervention will be absolutely necessary? All over Britain, particularly in Scotland, fat cattle ready for market are piling up. However big the recovery is, it will not be sufficient to take the cattle off the market. Therefore, we must have intervention buying. It must come anyhow. If it is announced now at least we can start to employ slaughtermen and ancillary trades who are at present being put out of work.

Will the noble Viscount agree that a policy of selective slaughter, advocated by most people in this country who have thought about it, would speed the process which is already going on to reduce by at least half every year and eventually eliminate the big epidemic of BSE in this country? An announcement, without waiting to see what cash we shall receive, would contribute a great deal to the rest of the country having confidence in the Government.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I have already mentioned the importance of intervention, so I am happy to agree that it will play an important part in the resolution of the crisis. Intervention exists, and there is the possibility of widening the intervention categories.

The noble Lord was extremely clear. I agree that it is important now to restore confidence in the consumption of beef. In Turin, my right honourable friend and his colleagues agreed that it is not only a matter for this country. I understand that the scare is beginning to have an effect on continental European beef markets as well as ours. The problem must be tackled on a European basis. That is why the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, was right when she emphasised that it was essential for Europe to move fast. That is what I hope my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture will have begun to secure today. The noble Lord is right; today will not be too soon.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that I agree with the Prime Minister that British beef is safe? It is probably safer than most of the beef now being imported. On the other hand, presumably the Government should ask themselves why, in that case, they plan to burn it. After all, it is someone's fault that that may happen; it could be the fault of the Opposition, the Cross Benches, I do not know. But apparently that is what will happen.

We are told that Ministers at the conference were in agreement with, an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe". We are told, "We welcome it". Is it just the Prime Minister or the whole of the Cabinet who welcome it? In the next paragraph, we are told: In a Union firmly committed to the full implementation of the Treaties, including provisions on economic and monetary union, the Conference will provide the opportunity for dealing more effectively with the internal and external challenges of the coming years". I am glad to hear it. But is the noble Viscount aware that, when the Reflection Group considered the matter for many months, it submitted and recommended an agenda which did not include anything to do with economic and monetary union? Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether it is now thought or intended that the IGC will consider the whole issue of economic and monetary union?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, the question of economic and monetary union is not on the agenda of the IGC. Nevertheless, the presidency conclusions from which the noble Lord quotes make clear at the top of page 3: The Heads of State or Government consider that the Conference should, in the light of the Reflection Group's Report and without prejudice to other questions which might be raised during the Conference, mainly focus its work on the areas described hereafter". It is open to consensus among the negotiators to broaden the matters under discussion. Nevertheless, matters of economic and monetary union are not for this discussion, as the noble Lord well knows.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords—

Viscount Cranborne

With regard to beef, it is important that your Lordships should be given the opportunity to express—the nods of approval, particularly from my noble friend Lord Ferrers, underline the importance that your Lordships attach to this matter—the fact that British beef is safe. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, emphasised that fact. My right honourable friend made it clear at Turin that the over-hasty European reaction in imposing a ban, which was not supported by scientific evidence, as was admitted, had merely succeeded in deepening the crisis. I wish that more people would follow the excellent example not only of the customers of Sainsbury's over the weekend but also of your Lordships' House. I am reliably informed by my noble friend Lord Lindsay that one evening last week when, as a result of undertaking his ministerial duties, he came into the Barry Room rather late and quite rightly demanded beef, he was told that unfortunately it had run out.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. When I rose to speak, I thought that he had finished speaking.

The abrogation of the Rome Treaty was mentioned a moment ago by my noble friend. Can the noble Viscount confirm that that was never on the table or discussed at the conference? Can he also confirm that if that were to happen, the whole substructure of the jurisprudence of the Court would collapse and one would have to create some new fundamental treaty? Does he agree that the problems that this country faces are not with the decisions of the Court on the Rome Treaty as such but on the implementing regulations and, therefore, there would be no useful purpose to be served, irrespective of enlargement or not, in abrogating, as has been suggested, the Rome Treaty?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I can reassure my noble friend. There is no question of abrogating the Rome Treaty. It is perfectly clear that, if certain measures are agreed as a result of negotiations during the course of the IGC, treaty amendment may be necessary. But that is rather different from wholesale abrogation.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I gathered the impression that the Statement made in another place is somewhat softer and limper than the conclusions reached in the Government's White Paper. But I prefer to leave an assessment in greater detail for the debate which is to take place on the 15th of this month. It will also be necessary to assess the Statement in conjunction with the conclusions of the Italian presidency on 29th March. Those conclusions, for some reason, were not available until comparatively recently to me as a Member of your Lordships' House. However, they were available to the Conservative Party house magazine—the Daily Telegraph—in time for a detailed editorial to appear on the conclusions reached by the presidency. Incidentally, it was able to quote copiously from them. For the avoidance of doubt, I checked the quotations in the editorial in today's Daily Telegraph with the statements made by the presidency. They coincide. I do not like an embargo being imposed upon us that is not imposed upon other people in relation to these matters. After all, we have a fairly considerable interest in them. I should be glad if the noble Viscount would cause investigations to be made.

There are just three matters of comparatively topical interest on which I should like to touch. From the Statement made in another place, I am not at all sure about the financial impact on the United Kingdom of any arrangements under consideration for aid to be given by the European Community to the United Kingdom. I noticed the observations made by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place. The right honourable Member for Kingston-Upon-Thames indicated that we should, after all, only be getting back some of our own money. I draw attention to the fact that at the moment we contribute some £2½ billion net to the Community. Although any contribution from our own money would be extremely welcome, we should not welcome the occasion, proposed by the European Parliament itself, to revise or abolish the existing arrangements relating to the United Kingdom's rebate.

Other matters dealt with in the Statement relate to the beef issue upon which I am no expert other than as a very avid consumer of the product. What bothers me a little—my understanding of the position may be wrong—is that the European Community arrogated to itself the right to instruct us not to send our beef to countries outside the European Union; in other words, there was an embargo against our exporting to anyone at all, let alone to the European Community. I should be glad to be corrected on that point. If it were true that the Community sought to ban British exports from here to, say, the United States or any other country outside the Community, I should strongly dissent. I shall be glad if the noble Viscount will say whether or not that is true. If it is true, it should be resisted.

Finally, in the communiqué there is inserted—according to the Daily Telegraph—at the express behest of the French Government, the suggestion that the IGC could also address the question of the compatibility between competition and the principles of universal access to essential services in the citizens' interest. I shall be glad if the noble Viscount can elucidate exactly what is meant by that suggestion in the presidency conclusions because many might think that it is in contradiction of Articles 85 and 86 of the Treaty of Rome.

I hope that the noble Viscount will be able to give some enlightenment on those matters.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, first, I shall certainly investigate the noble Lord's complaint about the availability of the conclusions to a certain newspaper before either he or I had seen them. Perhaps I may write to him. It is perfectly clear that draft conclusions have been floating about the European ether for some weeks if not months. I am not entirely clear whether, in fact, a certain newspaper had access to a final version of the conclusions before the noble Lord or I saw them.

So far as the legality of the European ban on British beef exports is concerned, I am advised that there is a reasonable legal basis for what the Commission has done. However, as your Lordships will be aware, different lawyers often have different views on these matters. Her Majesty's Government are examining the true worth of that legal basis with some expedition. I do not want to raise the hopes of the noble Lord too high because the advice we received comes from eminent sources.

In relation to the access to universal services, it is no secret that there are some countries among our European partners who feel that there should be a social and national element involved in the provision of services from utilities. It is perfectly clear from the record of Her Majesty's Government in that respect that the standard of services provided by utilities and, indeed, the price of those services in the first instant has gone up and in the second has gone down as a result of the policies we pursued which have had rather more of a commercial edge. It seems to us that—how can I put it without offending the noble Lord too much?—the rather more socialist traditions of some partners is not always in the best interests of the consumer, which is what we are pursuing.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, perhaps I can draw out my noble friend on one matter which he mentioned; that is, enlargement. That is generally regarded to be a good thing. My noble friend referred to practical mechanics being necessary. Do the Government accept that for enlargement, reform of the common agricultural policy will be necessary? If so, are they mindful of the fact that of the 87 votes which exist in the Council, only 26 constitute a blocking minority? Further, in relation to the mechanics of the treaty, the communiqué says that, the implementation of the convergence criteria for the achievement of the economic and monetary union [is necessary]. However, supplementary coordinated action is necessary". Does my noble friend agree that if the convergence criteria slip, that will give Her Majesty's Government the opportunity to use Article N of the treaty and prevent any further monetary union unless we get back most of the things that we want from our European partners?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am conscious that our time is up. However, we feel strongly that CAP reform should lie high on the agenda, not only for reasons allied to our hope for enlargement of the Community, but also for reasons of good sense in relation to the administration of the CAP. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture issued a glossy document some months ago which set out some of our initial thoughts on the subject.

With regard to the second point of my noble friend, he is pursuing a matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I refer him to the answer I gave.