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EU: Reform

Volume 756: debated on Monday 13 October 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made so far in their negotiations regarding reform of the European Union.

My Lords, we have made real progress, cutting the EU budget, ending the UK’s bailout obligations, cutting red tape through the Business Taskforce recommendations, agreeing three major trade agreements and launching talks with the United States. Support is growing. In June, the European Council recognised that the concept of ever closer union allows for different paths of integration and Commission President-designate Juncker agreed that reform is needed, including a strengthened role for national parliaments.

My Lords, on this, her first day answering Questions on foreign affairs from the Dispatch Box, may I wish my noble friend well in that role in the future and with these negotiations? We have been encouraged recently by the enormous number of member states that are now signed up to a much greater role for national parliaments in the EU’s policy formation, and by Jonathan Hill’s truly moving and very warm and strong words in the European Parliament confirmation hearing about the importance of Britain remaining in the European family of nations. Will my noble friend then urge all coalition colleagues now to concentrate on explaining the huge merits of our membership of the EU rather than being distracted by the dark forces that appear all too often in the British tabloid newspapers?

My Lords, I am sure that this House knows nothing of dark forces. It is full of light and enlightenment on this matter, although we may occasionally come to different conclusions. I thank my noble friend for his kind words of welcome. It is certainly a fascinating brief and I know that there are many Members of this House with the greatest expertise in it.

We agree that strengthening the role of national parliaments is a key way of addressing the EU’s democratic deficit. So, of course, we are looking at reform; we have said—the Prime Minister has said very carefully and clearly—that it is important that we remain part of the European Union, but part of a reformed European Union. The work that we have been doing has shown our determination to achieve the right result for both the UK and the rest of the European Union. My noble friend refers to the benefits. We know that at least 3.5 million jobs in the UK depend on trade with the EU. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has already spent the summer visiting other European capitals. He has had a good reception and knows that they are working towards developing our negotiations with Europe.

My Lords, from these Benches I welcome the Minister to her important new position. It is certain that she will not be short of work, as today’s Order Paper shows. However, she has the respect of the House and we look forward from this side to working with her on the difficult issues that she will have to deal with.

On this Question, why have the Government not yet published a comprehensive list of reforms that the United Kingdom is seeking, so that the general public can take part in this debate, and when do they intend to do so?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for his kind words and look forward to working with him. We may come to different conclusions, as with my noble friend Lord Dykes at times, but I know that we have putting British interests first at the core of our belief. Prosperity and security are key to what we do.

At the moment, we are deep into negotiations with Europe. As I have just mentioned, the Foreign Secretary is visiting his colleagues throughout the rest of Europe. We have already set out some of the reforms that we wish to take through. Clearly, we have already made advances on banking reform, fisheries, and certainly with regard to the budget, making sure that a £29 billion cut in the previous budget would be over a seven-year period, while also protecting British positions on other matters. As these matters develop, we announce them clearly to the British public. I suspect I will be here on a few more occasions giving more details.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on her vital new role. I think we all understand that the strategy is one of negotiations in a reformed European Union. Those are the words of the Prime Minister. I understand about the negotiations side of it, but could she say a word more about the reform strategy? It has to be fundamental. How will it be formulated, who will plan it, with whom will we work and how will it be carried forward?

I feel a debate coming on. The work that we are doing between now and the general election has been clearly set out by the Foreign Secretary. For example, we have listened carefully to voters over this year. It has been made clear that the British public feel that change is needed. We will not make any rapid response to some of the tabloid stories to which the previous questioner referred. We shall look very carefully at issues such as migration. Although we agree that free movement is an important principle for the EU, it is not a completely unqualified right. That in itself requires one particular body of people to look at it and to negotiate it. All I can say is that I know my Foreign Secretary has an even busier life than I do and will be well advised.

My Lords, I add my most sincere congratulations to the noble Baroness on her translation to the Foreign Office. Has she noticed the remarks of the Mayor of London, who wishes to include in the Government’s renegotiation strategy the imposition of numerical limits on the number of migrants from existing members of the European Union? Does she agree that such a proposal would be totally inconsistent with the founding principles of the treaty of Rome? Would she therefore agree that it should not be included in the Government’s renegotiation agenda?

My Lords, who could miss statements by the Mayor of London? As I have just made clear, free movement is not an absolute right within the European Union. The noble Lord has great experience in these matters and is aware of that. We want to make sure that we return free movement to its former position, whereby we avoid large-scale migrations in the future wherever possible. We are already discussing that with our colleagues in the rest of Europe. We want to ensure that migration is for the purpose of work and not to exploit welfare benefits. We have made a great deal of progress on that and we have done it in a non-discriminatory way. We are also finding that other countries are now beginning to look at the same kind of work, as in Germany. In that way, one can address the problem without necessarily having to go to the finality of quotas.