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5.36 pm

Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston): The European summit provides an opportunity for the nations of Europe to comment on the major issues facing Europe. Before I turn to the sore points that inflame passion in this Chamber, I shall address one of those major issues.

Hon. Members who were present six months ago, when we last debated European matters before a summit, will recall that I began by referring to events in the former Yugoslavia. Those events will be one of the international issues considered by the European summit in Dublin. They should be before that summit because of the current crisis of democratic rights in Serbia.

In the past month, President Milosevic has fallen down in three ways on his claim that Serbia aspires to being a European nation. Free elections were annulled because they were won by his opponents. The supreme court has been exposed as a puppet that rubber-stamps his decisions. The independent media have been suppressed because they suppressed his defence of the annulment of those elections.

I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will condemn those actions by President Milosevic. Far from making progress towards democracy, Serbia is sliding back into

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totalitarianism. If the European Union's aspirations for a common foreign and security policy mean anything, the European summit in Dublin must make a robust statement condemning those actions.

At Dayton, Milosevic gave an undertaking that he would observe democratic principles and human rights. In return, he received assurances of benefits, including trade with the European Union. This weekend he must be firmly told that the benefits of the Dayton process will come to him only if he fulfils the undertakings that he made. In his reply, will the Minister say what statement the United Kingdom would support in condemning those events in Serbia?

I have spoken for only two minutes, but that is quite long enough in bipartisan mode. Let us get down to the more enjoyable matters on which we disagree. I have to say to the Foreign Secretary that the fault line in the Chamber does not run along the table between us: it runs along the Bench behind him and his own Back Benches.

I was in wide agreement with an awful lot of what the Foreign Secretary said, until he pulled out the purple passage of his speech in which he rode off into the sunset. I particularly applaud his robust defence of why Britain's place is in Europe. I even found myself cheering him on when he batted down the Euro-sceptics on his own Back Benches. I certainly do not wish to undermine his courageous attempt to keep his party just about in touch with European reality. Therefore, rather than undermine him by agreeing with him, I felt that it might be helpful to his position in his party if I were to denounce him.

Let me begin by measuring the Foreign Secretary's policies in regard to the forthcoming summit against his performance at the last summit. Those of us who are addicted to these six-monthly debates will recall that the last speech that the Foreign Secretary made before a European summit was made before the Florence summit. The great majority of that speech was about BSE and beef. I think that my hon. Friends will have noticed that today we heard not a single word about BSE or beef. The Foreign Secretary may wish to forget about it, but, before we are swept into matters connected with the forthcoming summit, an interim assessment of how much was really achieved at Florence might be appropriate. The Prime Minister did, after all, claim that it was a triumph, and I think that the Foreign Secretary described it as a turning point.

In his statement to the House after Florence, the Prime Minister told us that by October two stages in the lifting of the beef ban would be completed, and that by November all five would be completed. I think that I carry hon. Members on both sides of the House with me when I say that it is now December: October and November have both passed. No stages in the lifting of the beef ban have been completed, to growing anger in the farming community. I understand that the good farmers of Cornwall have just petitioned the Dean of Truro to have a gargoyle of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food added to Truro cathedral as a lasting monument to his contribution to the BSE crisis.

The Foreign Secretary was unable to join us when we debated what happened to the Florence agreement a month ago, but someone has to explain what went wrong after Florence. There is some explaining to do. In last month's debate, the Minister of Agriculture told us that the ban had remained in place because of opposition

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from European Governments who were "facing strong internal pressures". I remember our debate six months ago, before the Florence summit, and I remember the Foreign Secretary telling the House that any step towards lifting the ban

    "does not need to go before any Ministers or any Government."--[Official Report, 20 June 1996; Vol. 279, c. 1028.]

That was the agreement that he struck for Florence. How, then, can it be that we cannot get the ban lifted because of opposition from member Governments?

I do not believe for a moment that the Foreign Secretary would knowingly mislead the House. Did he therefore misunderstand the deal that he was about to sign at the Florence summit? If so, why should we feel any more confident about what he tells us that he will achieve at Dublin?

There is a wider lesson here, to inform our approach to the next summit. I know that the Conservatives like to believe that they can use Europe to demonstrate what strong men they are, but Florence demonstrated the reality--how poor they are at doing business with Europe. Standing on the sidelines, shouting through a megaphone about how much you disagree with everyone else, is not a posture of strength; on the contrary, it exposes how weak your bargaining position actually is. Yet, in truth, that is the way in which the Conservatives intend to approach tomorrow's summit.

The Foreign Secretary will go to Dublin as another incarnation of the "abominable no-man". He will go to object to a long list of measures that are before the intergovernmental conference. As he told the House, he will object to measures intended to simplify the procedures of the European Parliament--

Mr. Redwood: Will the right hon. Gentleman explain how he would get the beef ban lifted next week, if he is not in favour of what the Government have been doing?

Mr. Cook: The right hon. Gentleman is well aware that we debated the matter a month ago. From the Dispatch Box, I recounted the way in which the Labour party would have behaved differently in relation to the BSE crisis over an entire decade--starting back in 1980, when we would not have abandoned the regulations that we left in place and which the Conservative party threw out of the window.

I was about to deal with the objections that the Foreign Secretary will raise in Dublin. One concerns measures designed to simplify procedures in the European Parliament. I must tell the Foreign Secretary that I have tried very hard to understand those procedures. There are six different ways in which the European Parliament passes legislation, and I have never yet managed to understand the distinction between them--and I am fairly confident that, if I cannot understand them, few of my constituents have a clear grasp of them.

If we wish to have a functioning democracy, its procedures must be transparent and understandable. That is why I believe that it would be right to widen the role of co-decision in the European Parliament, and in directives. I have never understood the logic of Conservative Members who complain about what they see as damaging legislation from Brussels, but then object to the European Parliament's having more powers to scrutinise such legislation. Such powers would not be at

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the expense of our Parliament; they would give it greater power of scrutiny over Brussels--not the right to initiate more legislation, but another hurdle before the passing of legislation.

Mr. Rifkind: The right hon. Gentleman does not understand what he is saying. A power of co-decision is exactly that: it means that, instead of the Council of Ministers' having the sole right to determine legislation--Ministers who are answerable to their own Parliaments and their own electorates--the European Parliament's approval would also be required. If the right hon. Gentleman, in advocating more co-decision, is not even aware of what he is recommending, he really ought to do a little more homework.

Mr. Cook: The Foreign Secretary knows perfectly well that the only proposals for co-decision making are in cases in which the Council of Ministers acts by majority voting. If Conservative Members are constantly worried about Britain's being overruled in majority voting, why do they resist a second hurdle for the European Parliament--where Britain has more representation than it has in the Council of Europe in terms of the weighting of votes--in order to test legislation? I know that Conservative Members have immense difficulty in getting representatives of their party elected to the European Parliament, but that is not an excuse for stopping those who are elected to that Parliament to represent Britain doing a proper job.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney): We have often heard references to the so-called democratic deficit in Europe, but surely this is not a simple matter of saying that what is passed by a majority in the European Parliament is legitimate just because a majority is there. Surely the fundamental distinction is that the "cracy" element of the word "democracy" implies the state, but the word "demos" implies a people. The truth is that there is no European people, in the sense that we would accept the legitimacy of majority decision making by a European Parliament.

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