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Mr. Rifkind: There is a fundamental difference: the Governor of Hong Kong has executive responsibilities, and the person we are considering is a spokesperson who does not make policy. We already have a common foreign policy in a number of areas--for instance, our attitude towards the middle east, Russia and many other parts of the world where the interests of the United Kingdom, France, Germany and other western European countries are broadly the same. Therefore, co-ordination between the various member states is often required in order to present that policy properly on a day-to-day basis.

We are open to the suggestion that an official--I stress that it would be an official and not someone with a political background--should be given the responsibility of acting as spokesperson for the European Union in areas where the national Governments have determined a common foreign policy. I believe that that is a sensible and practical improvement that is fully consistent with retaining the clear obligation on national Governments to determine policy.

In the area of defence and security, the Government are strongly committed to effective European cooperation. Our objective is to enable Europeans to shoulder their responsibilities in a way that reinforces, rather than weakens, NATO and the transatlantic link. The United Kingdom is determined that the intergovernmental conference should not put that prospect at risk. That is why we continue to argue that a Western European Union that is subordinated to the European Union, or which discriminates against non-EU allies, could not deliver the real defence options that Europe needs.

The presidency report to Dublin admits that there are divisions on the issue and proposes what it calls a "middle way" to resolve them. It says that the European Union should avail itself of the Western European Union, but in commentary it freely confesses that that covers two alternative approaches. We have made it clear that it would not be acceptable for the WEU to be subordinated

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to the European Union. It is a separate organisation, with its own treaty base and a different membership. Those facts must be respected, and it is not an area in which we should tolerate ambiguity.

Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill): Before he leaves that point, will the Foreign Secretary address the question of accountability and control over the decisions taken by Ministers of the Council on defence matters? Do the British Government believe that control will still be exercised by national Parliaments, not only in those Parliaments but through delegations to the Western European Union Assembly? Therefore, the arrangement whereby the delegations are in turn responsible to their parties in Parliament would continue.

Mr. Rifkind: I believe that defence cannot be separated from the sovereignty of an independent country. Since we joined NATO, we have been willing to have common policies regarding collective security in Europe--and both the WEU and NATO are expressions of that willingness--but we have always emphasised the ultimate sovereignty of the Crown and Parliament regarding defence matters. Therefore, I do not envisage any significant changes in the areas to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Mr. Dykes: My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the European co-ordination of foreign policy in the middle east. He has just returned from a successful visit to Israel and other countries. Will he confirm that the European Community and Union will take a much more profound interest in middle eastern matters in order to assist the peace process, notwithstanding the recent appointment of Madeleine Albright--which has caused some consternation in certain quarters--and the fact that the Americans do not seem able to do it on their own?

Mr. Rifkind: The international community must be very sensitive to the situation before it becomes involved in the complex issues of the middle east. There is a case for the western European countries and the United States working together to assist those who seek a successful outcome in the middle east peace process. However, I would have no time for any attempt by European countries to compete with the Americans in trying to influence the outcome. That would make an already incredibly difficult task even more complicated and, ultimately, would prove very divisive. Yes, the international community can help and I believe that western European countries and the United States can co-operate closely in assisting the process. That is the way in which I would take it forward.

There is a strong temptation, felt by a number of our partners and by the Labour party, to do something at the intergovernmental conference to show that Europe is active on the subject of employment. We all agree that creating jobs is one of the key challenges Europe now faces and that there is a role for Europe in creating the right conditions--for example, by completing the single market and working for further global trade liberalisation.

But what added value would there be in a new treaty chapter on employment, as suggested by several member states and supported by the Opposition? Commitments to high, or even full, employment might help the treaty drafters to feel good and compassionate, but they would

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raise expectations without delivering a single job. On the contrary, a requirement on member states to coordinate policies would risk the imposition on the United Kingdom of continental employment policies that have been manifestly less successful than our own. The Government are proud of their job creation record, and we will not put it at risk.

Like others, we have made a number of proposals in the IGC to meet particular national concerns. Following the judgment of the European Court of Justice on the working time directive, we will require treaty change to restore the position agreed at Maastricht on social policy. Others may want to concoct job-destroying social policies between themselves, but we shall not accept that they should be imposed on the United Kingdom. We have put forward proposals that would disapply the working time directive from the United Kingdom and would close off the possibility of using Community treaty articles to force social policy on the United Kingdom by the back door.

We have also made proposals to address the problem of quota hopping. The common fisheries policy established a system of national quotas to provide a secure benefit to national fishing communities. Quota hopping undermines that. A satisfactory solution in those two areas will be an indispensable part of any IGC outcome, from the United Kingdom point of view.

Mr. Gill: Does my right hon. and learned Friend appreciate that the question of quota hopping will exist only up to 2002? After 2002, when derogations concerning fishing disappear, the policy will be one of equal access to a common resource, and therefore the question of dealing with quota hoppers is purely a short-term palliative.

Mr. Rifkind: I appreciate that changes could take place in 2002. It will be for the European Union to negotiate whether alternative arrangements are appropriate, or whether they wish to confirm 2002 for the changes to which my hon. Friend refers.

There is much to be done if the IGC is to conclude by next June, but the work has been well launched, and we will continue to make a constructive contribution based on the approach set out in our IGC White Paper earlier this year: of a Union that develops as a partnership of nations, co-operating together in areas where action at a European level is needed, but proud of our cultural and political diversity and conscious of the limits of integration.

The role of the British Government in any European negotiation is to protect and to advance the British national interest. That is something that Conservatives have consistently done over the past 17 years. That approach has achieved significant benefits for the United Kingdom.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's support for independent democracies co-operating where we see cause. Does that not mean that we must say no to a European Court which regularly overrides Acts of Parliament, because an Act of Parliament is the ultimate expression of British democracy?

Mr. Rifkind: When we joined the European Union, Parliament said that it would accept the jurisdiction of the

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European Court in so far as the European Court interprets the treaty that provides for our membership. Therefore, the legal position is quite clear. If the European Court of Justice has before it matters of interpreting the treaty of Rome, which we signed and of which Parliament approved, it is able to indicate whether a member state is in breach of the treaty.

There are various ways in which the European Court has performed in recent years of which we strongly disapprove. As my right hon. Friend knows, we made a series of proposals to alter the way in which it functions, and I am pleased to say that the French Government have shown support for some of those proposals. Other Governments have also said that they are positively interested in looking at some of the ideas.

Mr. Alain Juppe, the French Prime Minister, made a powerful speech in Paris, in which he warned that the European Court was developing certain federal tendencies, and said that it was legitimate for that matter to be considered within the IGC. We welcome the fact that the French Prime Minister has acted in that way.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin: I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way and for acknowledging the federal character of European Community law. If we allow the European Community to take from us the right to mint our own coinage, so that a single currency becomes irrevocable and is imposed on this country by the decision of one Parliament--a decision that appears to be binding on its successors--have we not then crossed the threshold from being an independent sovereign state to being part of a federal Europe?

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