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Central and Eastern Europe

4. Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham): What help is being provided through his Department to central and eastern European countries to fund political education. [44516]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Doug Henderson): We are committed to supporting the democratic development of the countries of central and eastern Europe. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office provides grant in aid to organisations such as the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, the British Association for Central and Eastern Europe and the Britain-Russia centre.

The Government also fund democracy-building and civic education programmes directly through a wide range of departmental programmes, including the former know-how fund political projects fund, the Europe command project budget, the human rights project fund and the east-west contacts fund.

Mrs. Lait: I thank the Minister for that information. Are funds available to help groups that wish to improve political campaigning in central and eastern European countries? Will groups such as the European Union of Women, which next week is bringing over a group of Russian women politicians, be able to receive Foreign Office funds to help them in their efforts to improve campaigning, canvassing and fundraising among the political parties in central and eastern European countries?

Mr. Henderson: Where there are meaningful projects that could be taken up, funding could be available to all political parties that wish to link up. Through the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, £411,000 was spent on central and eastern European development last year. A sum at least equivalent to that is available again this year.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (Telford): In welcoming any assistance that we can give to countries overseas in developing their democracies, does my hon. Friend agree with me that we should be a little cautious in this country--certainly the Tories should be very modest in any advice that they give to countries overseas about democracy--so long as we have a system where the second Chamber has more than 700 Members who have inherited the right to legislate?

Mr. Henderson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I think, as he does, that one must be

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extremely cautious in offering advice to colleagues in other countries. The worst thing that any of us could do would be to adopt a post-imperialist approach whereby we tell other people what is good for them. We must lay out examples of what we think we do well; it is up to others to decide whether they think they can learn from them.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton): I am rather saddened that the Minister has indulged in petty politics, which is far removed from the objectives of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, of which I am a past governor, and the educational organisation to which he referred. This country has a lot to be proud of in its democratic processes. I challenge Labour Back Benchers, if they are about to reform the House of Lords, to say which of this Chamber's powers they would be prepared to transfer to an elected upper Chamber.

These are serious questions, but the principal point is that we have to transfer the deep roots of our democracy into those countries to create stability in Europe. Does the Minister understand the imperative to enlarge the European Union to embrace those countries with new democratic principles, and is he aware of the cost that achieving that will put on the wealthier members of the EU?

Mr. Henderson: The hon. Gentleman has raised a wide agenda. I have always believed that it is important to build contacts with colleagues in those countries, not only so that they can learn the technical aspects of building a democracy and of guaranteeing human rights, but so that there can be political dialogue, understanding and the building of attitudes, which are important in issues such as enlargement of the EU. The Government strongly support that, and want proper funding to be in place to achieve it.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Will my hon. Friend consider the fact that the £3 million given to the Westminster Foundation for Democracy is insufficient? I understand that the foundation intends to reduce its operation in central Europe because of demands elsewhere, which I fully appreciate, but there is an on-going need to train politicians and local activists in central Europe: Hungary has a new Government; there are extensive regional and local government elections; and new structures are being created in Poland, which is a key player. Will my hon. Friend reflect on the fact that it would be foolhardy in the extreme for us to reduce our commitment to, and support for, democratic institutions and parties in central Europe?

Mr. Henderson: The grants that are made available to organisations such as the Westminster foundation are constantly under review. What is examined is how effective those organisations have been in disbursing moneys in a meaningful way, and we shall continue to monitor that. If a case can be made for an extension, we will, of course, consider it.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Will the Minister pay tribute to the establishment of the know-how fund by the previous Administration and acknowledge what an extraordinary success it has been? Will he accept bids for places for people from central and eastern Europe to

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attend political courses at English universities, where they would have the chance not only to receive admirable teaching, but to savour the atmosphere of a true and extremely sophisticated democracy?

Mr. Henderson: I very much support the hon. Gentleman's aim of an exchange of students between central and eastern European countries and Britain. There are not many things for which I would pay tribute to the previous Conservative Government--but setting up the know-how fund is one of them.

EU Reform

5. Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak): What recent discussions he has had with his counterparts about reform of the European Union. [44517]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Doug Henderson): We have regular discussions with our European counterparts about a wide range of issues dealing with reform of the European Union.

Mr. Levitt: I am sure that the leadership that the Government have shown to the EU during their presidency will have been noted throughout Europe and beyond, and many people in many countries will have welcomed the fact that the Labour party, rather than the Conservative party, was in a position to give such leadership. What stage has been reached on enlargement in the discussions that my hon. Friend has had, and will he comment on the preparations that the countries of central and eastern Europe--especially Poland, which we all want as a partner--are making for joining the EU?

Mr. Henderson: My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance that the Government have attached to the enlargement procedures in the European Union, which have been pushed hard for the past six months. That will be reflected in the conclusions of the Cardiff summit, which were made available only after 2.30 pm, so I was not furnished with them before I came to the House. I think that the Prime Minister will make a statement to the House later in the week, when he will clarify those conclusions.

I have been impressed by the preparations that have been made by all the countries that are negotiating to join the European Union. I recently visited Poland and I was excited by the fact that people saw EU membership as a great opportunity. They were prepared to make changes to their life style and to their democracy, to make changes to guarantee human rights, and to make the big changes required in their economy, including in their steel industry. I am confident that, through dialogue with the European Union in the coming years, Poland will accede successfully.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): In his discussions on the reform of the European Union, has the Prime Minister taken into account the massive opposition to economic and monetary union shown by British public opinion? In particular, is the Minister aware of the result of the Gallup poll published today, which shows that only 33 per cent. of the British people support the abolition of

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the pound and our entry into economic and monetary union, whereas 65 per cent. oppose it and only 2 per cent. are now undecided?

Mr. Henderson: The establishment of the single currency has been one of the main issues that the European Union has considered over the past six months.

Dr. Lewis: And longer.

Mr. Henderson: Yes, and longer. There is an understanding among the leaders of Europe--I am confident that it will be reflected in the conclusions of the Cardiff summit--that a strong structure to the single currency has been established and that it will serve well the 11 countries that will join it on 1 January and those countries that may exercise an option to join it at a later stage. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made the British Government's position clear. When we have been able to assess whether convergence has taken place--after the next general election--a judgment will be made on whether it is in Britain's economic interest to join the single currency. It is against that background that the Cardiff talks have taken place in the past two days. All the leaders have been keen to assess the views of the business community and ordinary people. Contrary to the result of the poll to which the hon. Gentleman referred, I sense a growing understanding of what the euro would mean for life styles.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): Do Her Majesty's Government accept any money from the European Commission for the propagation of the view that the euro is an advantage rather than a disadvantage? If so, what opportunities will be taken to ensure that the British people understand the implications of the actions of any Government who hand over their taxation and finance powers without being clear about the political cost to their country?

Mr. Henderson: The European Commission disburses the funds that it controls for that purpose among the partner nations of the European Union. One factor that it takes into account is the view of the Government of each country. Over the next three years, we shall discuss macro-economic policy, the establishment of the euro and whether it is in Britain's interest to join. The Government want to guarantee that all those who will eventually have a say--the public will have a say through a referendum--are fully informed about what it will mean for their life styles and their workplaces.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I welcome the reform of the European Union. Do such discussions include the protection of the rights of citizenship throughout the world of citizens of the European Union? Has any approach been made to the Government of Morocco on the false allegations and extraordinary penalties imposed on European citizens, including a British citizen, Dr. Graham Hutt?

Mr. Henderson: I am not quite sure of the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. In all its dealings, the European Union seeks to ensure that international standards are upheld. That applies to the matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

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Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mon): Is the Minister aware that the reform of Community structural funds and initiatives is taking place at a time when parts of Wales, and other areas of the United Kingdom, will for the first time qualify for objective 1 status? Will he and his departmental colleagues ensure, as the reform proceeds, that none of those areas' applications will be disadvantaged?

Mr. Henderson: The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that issue and its importance to the people of Wales. Its importance was made clear to me not only in last week's debate in the House, but during my visit to Cardiff over the past two days.

There are, in fact, two issues. First, we must ask whether in the redrawing of boundaries throughout the United Kingdom, which is essentially an administrative act, a fair system is being proposed. We must also ask, when the commission reaches a conclusion, whether a fair system has been agreed--whether the system compares Wales favourably in administrative terms and how boundaries have been drawn in other European Union countries. That is the first test. The Government will want to ensure through Eurostat, the organisation that will deal with the arrangements, that a fair system has applied. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government have supported submissions from Wales for a redrawing of boundaries to allow the possibility of objective 1 status for part of the country.

The second issue is the reform of the structural funds system. It will take place and I expect that, following the conclusions at Cardiff, a timetable will be drawn up allowing it to be agreed before the European Parliament is dissolved for the elections in March or April. Within that timetable, the Government aim to ensure that a fair system of structural funds is agreed so that once funds have been allocated to help the countries of central and eastern Europe--which will need additional funding during the accession process--the rest of the cake can be disbursed fairly, which includes taking into account the requirements of Wales.

Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor): I am sorry to learn that the Foreign Secretary is sharing Council resolutions with the world before sharing them with his own Ministers. Does that mean that there will definitely not be a full-time report on the flop of this presidency, as there was a ludicrous half-time report, that shows what a wasted exercise it has been?

Can the Minister confirm the report in The Times yesterday that no Foreign Office Ministers participated a fortnight ago in discussions of a major review of European policy and the way forward at No. 10 Downing street? Is that not the final indignity for the Foreign Secretary and his team?

Mr. Henderson: It would be a bit difficult for me to be in Cardiff with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for the last hour or so of the summit's conclusions and in the House of Commons to answer questions. If the hon. Gentleman has any suggestions about how I could have achieved that, I am willing to entertain them.

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the future of the European Union is a major issue that affects all the states in Europe. The British Government treat it as a top

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priority and there have been extensive discussions among a number of Departments about some of the issues that will arise in the next six months and beyond.

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