HL Deb 20 May 2004 vol 661 cc874-6

11.22 a.m.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will uphold in the European Union a moral vision in its internal and external policies appropriate for a reunited continent.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, the European Union has helped to create an area of peace, prosperity and shared values in Europe after centuries of conflict and instability. The recent accession of central and eastern European countries has dramatically extended this area, reuniting a continent divided by the Cold War. The Government will continue to support EU policies that promote security and prosperity throughout Europe and beyond.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. Given that, as she says, we already share democratic values as expressed in the European Convention on Human Rights and other instruments, do the Government agree that it is equally important for the European Union to promote world peace and join in the struggle to end acute and dehumanising poverty?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for his supplementary question, but I have to say that when I first saw this Question on the Order Paper, I thought that it could happily form the basis of an entire university summer school course. I am glad that we have only seven minutes in which to discuss it.

The noble Lord has quite rightly spoken of the opportunities afforded the European Union in its present form to improve the prospects for peace throughout the world. I agree with the noble Lord that the European Union has helped to tackle major international challenges. I shall refer to two of those. In the west Balkans, the promise of prospective membership combined with European Union assistance programmes has been a driver for reform in that region. The prospect of EU membership for Turkey has been key in encouraging the Turkish Government to press ahead with political and economic reforms.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right to say that this is a very deep Question. It is a little like a cross between George Bush senior with his vision thing and Charlemagne. Has the noble Baroness read the excellent speech made yesterday by Gisela Stuart MP who was on the convention throughout the discussions on the recent draft constitution? Did she see the remark that much the best thing the European Union could do for unity and moral purpose at the present time would be vastly to reduce its output of legislation and interference from the centre and not go the way of the present unfortunate draft constitution, which seems to be pushing it towards more centralism, more involvement centrally and more legislation?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I do not think that I can trump George Bush and Charlemagne. I agree with the noble Lord, as does the Prime Minister, that in today's world the European Union needs to work far more effectively to protect and enhance people's lives. That means doing less more effectively. However, I disagree with the noble Lord that the present discussions in the IGC will bring about a plethora of EU work that is not useful to the people of Europe. Moreover, he knows that the British Government will ensure that we keep control over our tax and social security systems, over the future of the UK abatement, over our own criminal justice system and over defence and foreign policy—as we said we would in our red lines.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, has the noble Baroness read the admirable Fabian Society essay by Gisela Stuart MP in which she explains clearly the value of the draft constitutional treaty, as well as some of its imperfections. The essay explains why what is needed is a strong political vision of the future of European integration. Does she agree that the views expressed by Gisela Stuart echo those of Her Majesty's Government?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, Gisela Stuart is a friend and colleague of mine. Many of her opinions on this issue are treated with great respect by the Government. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lester, is absolutely right—

Noble Lords

The noble Lord, Lord Lester.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I am sorry. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, is right. The preamble to the draft constitutional treaty emphasises the gradual development of values such as the equality of persons, of freedoms and of respect.

The Lord Bishop of Salisbury

My Lords, is the noble Baroness ready to comment on the foundation question about the nature of law in the European Community? I have in mind that one definition of the law allows you to do all that you possibly can within the framework that has been set up. Much of the way in which we engage in our debates within the European Community seem to be about that. However, there is another and perhaps more ancient tradition which says that the law is in fact a universal framework to which we all give assent and within which we may exercise our God-given rights. I sought in the replies given by the noble Baroness to some of the other questions something rather broader in scope and more universal in its comment on the underlying questions about morality, which the original Question seems to indicate.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I take note of what the right reverend Prelate has said. He will be more at home with this Question than many of us. When considering the law and the legal basis of our membership of the European Union, the word "subsidiarity" comes to mind. Subsidiarity is something on which we keep a close eye in our present discussions in the IGC.

Baroness Richardson of Calow

My Lords—

Lord Grocott

My Lords, we are into the 23rd minute. We have done well so far.

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