HL Deb 12 July 2001 vol 626 cc1175-8

3.17 p.m.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they envisage the process of enlargement of the European Union can proceed after the rejection of the Nice Treaty in the Irish referendum.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the Nice Treaty is essential for enlargement to be a success. All member states, including Ireland, have agreed that the accession negotiations should proceed and that the Nice ratification process will continue so that the Union is in a position to welcome new member states from the end of 2002.

Member states have expressed their readiness to help the Irish Government to find a way forward, taking into account the concerns reflected by the Irish referendum result, without reopening the text of the Nice Treaty.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer and agree that enlargement of the EU is highly desirable. However, will she confirm that on 21st June, in an interview in the Irish Times, Mr Prodi said that even if Nice fell by the wayside there was no reason that enlargement should be delayed or not take place? Is not Mr Prodi right in that, while it might require dropping what in the view of some people are desirable aspects of the Nice Treaty, alterations to voting in the Council of Ministers could be made by amendment to the treaties of accession, thus amending the basic treaties? Is not Mr Prodi's first position correct?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord knows that Mr Prodi has modified his position from what was then said. The noble Lord is right and I phrased the opening Answer very carefully: I said that it was essential for enlargement to be a success. Of course one could have a succession of individual accession treaties, but the point is that the Nice Treaty does much more than address accession as an issue by itself. It creates the circumstances in which accession will be a success by the way in which it deals with some of the institutional arguments and the flexibilities which will be needed with what, after all, will be the largest number of countries joining. Therefore, it is important to remember that, in order for the process to be a success—and there is no point in doing it unless it is—the Nice Treaty must go ahead.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, on this occasion the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, raises a very serious financial matter, as opposed to the Irish question. With or without ratification, will not the Government have to consider in the IGC in 2004 whether to allow the admission of any member state without major changes in the financial provisions, such as the CAP and other matters? Is my noble friend able to give an assurance that the Government will not agree to the admission of any single member without major changes of that kind?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, noble Lords will have an opportunity fully to debate this matter when they consider the Treaty of Nice. The detailed points on the treaty that my noble friend raises, in particular the way in which the financial institutions work and the all-important issues surrounding the common agricultural policy, will be properly debated at that time. More generally, the treaty was published on 20th March this year. It was perfectly clear that the Government supported the treaty, and the British people knew that when they voted in the election. We shall go ahead on that basis.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the factors in the Irish referendum was concern about Irish neutrality and that the European Council is looking at the possibility of a protocol or declaration to deal with that issue? Further, am I right to conclude that, if a referendum is to be held, it is very useful to have a period of information and discussion prior to and not after it?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I believe we all agree that when a referendum is held on whatever subject it is wise to ensure that the issues are properly aired. A number of reasons are put forward for the result of the Irish referendum. The particular issue that is put forward depends very much on the interlocutor to whom one speaks. The Irish Government supported the position reached at Gothenburg that the text of the treaty should not be changed and made it clear to partners that they would like a period of reflection before they themselves brought forward proposals for others to consider in a way which we hope will be constructive.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, can the noble Baroness confirm that the Treaty of Nice did not mention the common agricultural policy and that the CAP is not up for discussion until 2006? Can the Minister also confirm that a committee of this House under the chairmanship of Lord Middleton went into the accession of eastern European countries and its effect on the common agricultural policy in great detail and that its members, whether xenophiles or xenophobes, came to the unanimous decision that such accession was totally impossible without a complete change of the CAP? Further, is it true that if there is a referendum which is answered in the negative, one is asked to hold another one, but if there is a referendum which is answered in the affirmative that is the end of the matter?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, if he is sufficiently interested I suggest that the noble Earl raises the last question with the Irish Government. No doubt they will be very interested in what he says and treat it appropriately. I do not believe that there is any difference between the two sides of the House on the desirability of the reform of the common agricultural policy. Many times I and other colleagues, as well as noble Lords on the other side, have stood at the Dispatch Box and referred to the desirability of reform, but whether that is absolutely fundamental to accession is a quite different question. That is a matter of judgment to which your Lordships will be able to give full vent when you have the pleasure of debating the Bill before the House.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that much of the existing difficulty about the various accession treaties, which will be exacerbated, is due to the widespread uncertainty as to the full extent of the acquis communautaire and the extent to which the Treaty of Nice is likely to affect it fundamentally, bearing in mind that a very large number of Ministers have not even read the treaty?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords will have read the treaty in detail, and a great deal more besides, by the time they come to debate it in your Lordships' House. My noble friend is quite right that there will be a very wide variety of opinions on the issue of the acquis communautaire. I am sure that my noble friend will contribute to the debate on that treaty to the fullest extent, and I hope that many other noble Lords who take such an interest in the matter will do likewise.