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3. Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): If he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's policy on the supply of arms to Jordan. [95032]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain): We have a close and positive relationship with Jordan and admire the way in which King Abdullah has conducted the first months of his reign. Britain has long been a traditional supplier of arms and military training to the Jordanian armed forces.

Mr. Bruce: The Minister will know that the tank refurbishment facility in my constituency is currently refurbishing Challenger tanks, which were probably built in Leeds, for sale to Jordan. I do not object to that, but what assurances has he received that those tanks will not be passed to Iraq? We know that British armaments were passed to Iraq via Jordan during the Iraqi war.

Mr. Hain: Up to 288 Challenger tanks have been offered to the Jordanians, who have long been allies and a force for stability and moderation in the region. Some 14 of the tanks have been handed over by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence who is in the region at the moment. We are absolutely certain that the tanks will not be passed to the Iraqi regime--although such things occurred under the previous Conservative Government.

Middle East

4. Mr. John Grogan (Selby): If he will make a statement on the current state of the middle east peace process. [95033]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): I visited both Israel and the Palestinian Authority last week. I was encouraged by the evidence of progress in implementing the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement, such as the opening of the southern safe passage from Gaza to the west bank on which I travelled during my visit. Many serious issues remain to be resolved if both parties are to fulfil the ambitious timetable of concluding final status talks within a year, but I was impressed that this time the Israeli leadership as well as the Palestinian Authority want to make a success of the peace process.

I am pleased to report to the House that, while in Israel, I opened an educational centre named in memory of our late colleague, Derek Fatchett. All parts of the House will appreciate the warmth and affection with which he is remembered for his work to encourage both sides to come together.

Mr. Grogan: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Following the sixth anniversary of the signing of the Oslo agreement and my right hon. Friend's successful visit to Israel last week, does he agree that if the final status talks falter in the run-up to next September's deadline, Britain is uniquely placed to act as an honest

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broker in those talks? In the words of The Times editorial of last week, London could be a very effective back channel for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Mr. Cook: Both parties whom I met in the middle east recognise that Britain is a friend of the peace process and a natural voice of the peace process within the wider European Union. Both parties are anxious that the peace process should be paralleled with opening trade links with the European Union in order to secure a real economic peace dividend for the citizens of the Palestinian Authority.

We will do anything we can to assist in taking the dialogue forward. We are particularly keen to ensure that there is communication with Syria so that the Syrian and Lebanese tracks can also continue. However, I remind the House that back channels are best kept secret if they are to work.

Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire): Is it the Government's view that a successful outcome of the middle east peace process will be the creation of an independent Palestinian state?

Mr. Cook: Along with our partners in the European Union, we stand ready to consider recognising a Palestinian state. As the hon. Gentleman may be aware, the Berlin declaration made clear the Palestinian people's right to an independent state. The picture painted by both sides of the likely outcome could be recognised only as creating a Palestinian state. We will certainly ensure that the Palestinian Authority has the necessary institutions and is ready to take over and run any such entity.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West): Following his successful visit, can my right hon. Friend assure the House that, on a day when the parties are again assembling in Oslo, the plight of the Palestinian refugees who are based mainly in Lebanon will not be forgotten? Will my right hon. Friend and his colleagues do what they can to ensure that, while we do not seek a long agenda for the final status negotiations, we do not forget the role and the plight of the Palestinian refugees?

Mr. Cook: I visited one of the camps of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency while I was in Gaza. I was moved by the conditions in the camp and by the enormously strong spirit of the children and their hopes for the future. UNRWA particularly appreciates the fact that Britain has accelerated its donations this year in order to avert the financial crisis that it would otherwise have faced. My hon. Friend is right to say that the position of the refugees must be included in any final status agreement, and particular attention should be given to refugees in Lebanon who have suffered most from being the least integrated into the local economy.

EU Reform

5. Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): What discussions he has held with the President of the European Commission on proposals for reforms to EU institutions and decision-making procedures. [95034]

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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): I regularly discuss institutional reform with colleagues both in the Commission and in other member states. In all these discussions, Britain has argued that the forthcoming intergovernmental conference should be focused on the issues that must be resolved before the next enlargement can take place. Britain has a clear national interest in securing a shift in the weighting of votes in the Council of Ministers more fairly to represent population.

I called recently on Vice-President Kinnock to congratulate him on the progress that he has been making in reforming the Commission, including a code of conduct for Commissioners and the abolition of national quotas for senior Commission staff. His reforms will produce a more efficient and more accountable Commission and will no doubt be welcomed by the right hon. Gentleman and all other Members who wish the European Union to be a success.

Mr. Forth: With which of the recent pronouncements by the President of the Commission on institutional and decision-making reform does the Foreign Secretary disagree?

Mr. Cook: It is perfectly clear that in the intergovernmental conference, the framing of the treaty and the framework of the discussions will be run by member states. Before every IGC there is a proposal by the President of the Commission, but it does not shape what comes afterwards. I look forward with interest to what Commissioner Prodi has to say, but that will not deflect me from pursuing the British national interest.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): Is it not clear that institutions devised more than 50 years ago for a small group of six countries are not working today for 15 countries and that they will certainly not work when, as we hope, the European Union is enlarged to 20? They would result only in gridlock or immobilism, which is what the enemies of Europe want. Can my right hon. Friend say, in response to the new expert report, whether he agrees that institutional reform should be a comprehensive process--not the two-stage process envisaged in the Amsterdam protocol--and that it is urgent? I hope that it can be completed by the end of the French presidency next year.

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend refers to the enlargement of the European Union. Of course, that enlargement will pose questions for the shape of institutions, but, at the same time, it is important that we secure it. That is why we wish to see the forthcoming IGC focus narrowly on those issues that it is necessary to resolve so that enlargement can proceed. Those issues were set out at Amsterdam where it was made quite clear that enlargement cannot happen without those reforms. That is why it is so odd that the Conservative party has apparently pledged itself to vetoing the IGC if it does not get its way. That would make Tory foreign policy as unpopular in central and eastern Europe as it already is in western Europe.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): The Foreign Secretary knows that there are proposals in many quarters for serious and major extensions to qualified majority

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voting as part of the institutional reform needed for enlargement of the union. Can he confirm that the Government are committed to maintaining our national veto in matters of defence, tax and border controls?

Mr. Cook: Yes.

Mr. Maples: That is what I hoped the right hon. Gentleman would say. Can he then confirm that, if the enlargement treaty that results from next year's intergovernmental conference contains provisions for qualified majority voting in any of those areas, the Government will not sign it?

Mr. Cook: We do not anticipate for one minute that we will be confronted with that. Very few other countries would support the proposal that the hon. Gentleman has put to me. On this, we are with the great mainstream in the European Union.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): You are dodging the question.

Mr. Cook: I am not dodging the question. I do not expect to come back to the House and report that we have accepted a treaty that contains those provisions, and I do not expect that other members in Europe will ask us to do so.

Mr. Forth: You are wriggling.

Mr. Cook: I am not wriggling at all. I have made it quite plain what our position is and what I expect the outcome of the treaty to be.

However, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) should consider whether he can name one other nation in Europe that supports his policy of a pick and mix Europe. He needs unanimity to get such a policy through, and he cannot find even one supporter. His policy will plainly produce a crisis in Europe. It is no wonder that, since he produced the policy, the majority of the electorate have said that they are even less likely to vote Tory than they were before.

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that, if there were no changes whatever to decision making in the European Union, for which the Conservative party appears to argue, enlargement would not take place? If that is the Conservatives' policy, they ought to front up and be honest about such an outcome. Does he also agree that if we adopted the Conservative party's pick and mix approach to which EU decisions we were prepared to agree to, we would never get the beef ban lifted?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the beef ban would not have been lifted if the decision had been based on a veto. Indeed, one reason why we did not achieve the reforms to the agricultural policy that we sought is that the Agriculture Council proceeds on qualified majority voting, and the European summit on unanimity. My hon. Friend is right to say that there will have to be significant changes to procedures and decision making in the EU, but I give the House a guarantee that

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we will never agree to anything like the wide raft of expansion of QMV to which the Conservatives agreed when they were in government.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): When considering the case for reform, will the Foreign Secretary have regard to the need to ensure the effectiveness of both the Commission and the European Court, without which the prospect of British beef being exported to France and Germany would be extremely remote? Does he for a moment consider that, in this instance, it is a matter of great regret that neither the Commission nor the Court has any jurisdiction over the United States and Canada?

Mr. Cook: The right hon. and learned Gentleman points up the plainly true lesson that we must learn from the dispute: because we are members of the EU we have remedies, which are being put into practice even now. We do not have such remedies in other states around the world, which is why we have not been able to shift America from its beef ban since 1989. The tale demonstrates the case for being inside Europe and how Britain would be damaged by the Opposition's policy of endangering Britain's membership of the EU. We are better leading in Europe than leaving Europe.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the need for change to the institutional structure in order to allow enlargement must be recognised not only by existing European Union member states and all parties of any significance in them, but by all countries that want to join? Therefore, should not people who purport to support enlargement recognise that such institutional change must be brought about?

Mr. Cook: If my hon. Friend is referring to the Opposition's purported support of enlargement, such support sits oddly with their commitment to veto an IGC that is necessary for enlargement. He is correct to say that countries that are seeking to join the EU want to join one that is efficient and forward looking and that gives them the same opportunity of open markets that we enjoy. They would view with incomprehension the Euro-sceptics in Britain who want to get off the bus at the very time that they are trying to join it.

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