HL Deb 08 November 1999 vol 606 cc1148-9

2.44 p.m.

Lord Moynihan

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend to publish a White Paper in advance of the forthcoming European Union Inter-Governmental Conference.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, yes.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, I welcome that extremely helpful and succinct reply from the Minister. What important assurance can she give that, at the forthcoming IGC, the Government will agree to give up our second Commissioner only if we are compensated through vote reweighting in the Council of Ministers? Does the Minster accept that, far from emerging from Amsterdam with an agreement that will give Britain greater weight in the Council of Ministers as promised by the Foreign Secretary, the Government's position resulted instead in a situation where we are legally bound to give up our second Commissioner by 2003 in a treaty which only envisages a satisfactory vote reweighting formula?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we do not accept the noble Lord's suggestion that the Government have failed in that respect. Our position remains as it was at Amsterdam. We believe that it is in the interests of a more efficient Commission that large member states should be prepared to give up their second Commissioner when the EU expands, provided that a satisfactory agreement is achieved on the reweighting of votes in the Council.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, on this tenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, may I thank the Minister for her detailed and satisfactory reply to the noble Lord's Question? Does she not agree that, if we are to achieve the great project of making the European Union correlate to the whole of Europe—eastern and central Europe as well as western Europe—changes in institutions are absolutely necessary? Will she further agree that to follow a policy of what is called "national individual flexibility" would destroy the whole spirit and nature of the European Union? Does she accept that it would be far better to emphasise the importance of subsidiarity and of the significance that national parliaments can play in scrutinising and examining European legislation?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble Baroness that participation and co-operation is a better way forward. The IGC rightly concentrates on the institutional changes necessary for enlargement, which will be a challenging position. We are going to consider the size and composition of the Commission, the weighting of votes and the possible extension of qualified majority voting. We are looking at the mechanisms which will enable us to deliver well for ourselves and for Europe.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the problems vis à vis the European Union and the British public is that very little is known by so-called ordinary citizens about Europe? Will the Government therefore contemplate publishing a summary of the White Paper referred to in the Question in plain English and to make it accessible to ordinary people, thus enabling many more to relate to and understand what is going on in Europe?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord is saying. Of course, we shall take those matters into consideration. Nevertheless, we hope that when the White Paper is issued it will be written in plain English so that we may all have the benefit of the information contained therein.