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5.20 pm

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): Members of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs are grateful that the business managers arranged the debate for the day after the Committee met the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. I hope that all who attended the meeting thought that it was highly productive. Consistent with our aim of providing a service to the House, we are pleased that the transcript of yesterday's proceedings is now available in the Vote Office.

I say in passing that I hope that all colleagues who serve either on Select Committees, or on outside bodies--whether the NATO parliamentary assembly, the Council of Europe or Western European Union--will be ready to feed their expertise into the House. Too often, there is a gulf between the expertise that is built up by colleagues in Select Committees, or outside and that in the Chamber, where the real debate should still take place.

The Helsinki summit, by all accounts, is capable of being one of the key summits in the history of the European Union. As always, there is some overlap from past summits and a looking forward to the future, but it is likely that key decisions will be made on enlargement, the intergovernmental conference and the European security and defence identity at the summit; at least, preparations will be made for key decisions in that area.

As the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) have said, there is a danger that the conflict with our partners on the withholding tax could seriously affect the spirit at the summit and, indeed, the time available. Ministers at ECOFIN--the Economic and Finance Council--are unlikely to reach an agreement. The battle lines have been drawn. If a compromise were easily available, it would have been found by now. If ECOFIN Ministers do not find that ready compromise, the matter will be referred to the Heads of Government.

We have made it clear that the eurobond market is a key interest. We shall not yield. I am delighted that the Government have shown that, where key UK interests are concerned, we shall stand firm, but we stand firm in the spirit of being partners. From my experience of dealing with European colleagues since the election, a sea change has come over the relationship with Europe. Until that time, there was clear isolation. Our friends in the United

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States did not value our isolation from Europe under the Conservatives. That was made crystal clear, but now we are accepted as members of the club, fighting our interests on the withholding tax, but essentially seeking to find a way through in a European spirit. I congratulate the Secretary of State on the way in which he and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have set that new tone in relations with our European partners, not European enemies.

That is why I find it so unfortunate and unhelpful when Conservative Members say that we are surrendering. Clearly, we have criticisms about the European Union and we are ready to make them, but, in the real world, there are a number of positive things that we value. We find that we can enhance our interests.

I see my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman). He will know, for example, that Scotch whisky manufacturers were unable to make any serious headway in Japan on their own through the UK Government. It was only when we were able to negotiate with Japan on an EU basis that we had sufficient clout to ensure that the British interest was protected. That is how partnership works. It enhances our reach and the projection of our interests overseas rather than hampering and confining them, as the Opposition would.

We have criticisms of the European Union, but it would be helpful if from time to time there was a scintilla of positive remarks about it from the Conservative Front Bench. I should be grateful if the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon would trawl through all the speeches made by the Leader of the Opposition since the election and try to find a single example of him saying anything positive about the European Union. The Leader of the Opposition is not living in the real world, but indulging in the worst sort of populism, pandering to the old ladies at Conservative party conferences and trying to treat us as though we were a conference. He is trying to put the frighteners on people.

Sir Teddy Taylor rose--

Mr. Anderson: I shall give way, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman could tell us whether anything positive has escaped from his lips on the European Union.

Sir Teddy Taylor: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that every previous Prime Minister, including Conservatives, has started with a positive and co-operative approach to European policy? Does he remember our previous leader, who said that he wanted to be at the heart of Europe? Their minds are changed when they find that, sadly, the European Union is not in a position to solve problems and simply creates more nightmares for its people and those who suffer from its policies. If he doubts that, will he tell me the point of spending so much money on destroying a million tonnes of food every year?

Mr. Anderson: I find no evidence of any such change in my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. It is sad that the hon. Gentleman cannot find it in himself to say anything positive. Could we just have a little word about

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something that the European Union is doing right? Is it a totally bleak, negative and black world? That shows the sort of world that the Conservatives live and thrive in.

Sir Michael Spicer rose--

Mr. Nicholls rose--

Mr. Anderson: Let me move on.

Hon. Members: Give way.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is not giving way.

Mr. Anderson: I shall talk mainly about enlargement. The intergovernmental conference is an essential prerequisite for enlargement. My right hon. Friend said yesterday that the British Government see the IGC as dealing essentially with the leftovers from Amsterdam. That is probably sensible because of the time constraint.

One of the frighteners that the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon put to us related to the Simon, Dehaene, von Weizsacker report. It was commissioned by Mr. Prodi and the Helsinki council will pave the way for an intergovernmental conference, where the Commission has a subsidiary role. The report of the three wise men--we can call them what we will--is visionary and contains some useful matters for debate, but it will not be a key part of the IGC, which will have a more limited and sensible agenda.

Dr. Godman: My hon. Friend is talking about essential prerequisites for enlargement. Does he agree that radical and comprehensive reform of the common agricultural policy is essential for the development of an enlarged community? Where does Poland stand in the scheme of things? Are we to end up with a two-class system of membership because of a failure to reform the CAP?

Mr. Anderson: Taking a positive approach, my hon. Friend has put his finger on a key matter. For some, the CAP is the ark of the covenant or the high water mark of European advance. Many vested interests are involved. Sadly, we were not in Europe when it was devised to help to shape it to our advantage, but the lines along which CAP reform will proceed were, if not set in stone, at least set down at the March summit in Berlin. That package is largely to our advantage. There is no serious prospect of radical revision before the expiry of the seven-year term of the budget agreed at the Berlin summit in March. Poland will have formidable problems of adaptation but that will be after 2006, and we will need essential derogations or major transition periods prior to that to ease Poland into the EU.

On the European security and defence identity, I was at Chatham house when Strobe Talbott made that important speech. Of course there are fears within parts of the US Administration--and properly so--as to where this process might lead. Our vision is clear and is shared by some of key players within the EU, including the Dutch and others. Clearly, we will seek so to mould the new European defence identity that it will be relevant to Europe, and not so visionary as to be unreal.

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One of the major constraints is that European countries will not be prepared to pay the sort of money on their defence budgets which will make some of the visionary schemes practicable. However, one of the lessons of Kosovo is that there are real dangers that bush fires may start in areas such as the Balkans which neighbour Europe and which vitally affect European interests in terms, for example, of refugees, but on which we can do nothing or on which we are not prepared to help because the US, for various reasons, is not prepared to commit its own resources.

What is envisaged is not less US, but more Europe. There will be a preliminary stage at which the US decides whether it wishes to be engaged or not. Thereafter, clearly the sharing of assets will enable Europe--in a limited field, and on the tasks set down at Petersberg--to carry out tasks which are very much in the interests of the EU, but which we are not now capable of doing on our own.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): France is outside the integrated military structure, and has confirmed that it will remain so since 1966. We have now agreed to set up a joint military committee and military staff with France which, as night follows day, means that that will be outside the integrated military structure. Does that give the right hon. Gentleman cause for concern?

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