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12. Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham): If he will make a statement on the agenda for the Council at Helsinki in relation to proposals to reform Community institutions. [99955]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): As I said earlier, we expect Helsinki to agree to an intergovernmental conference to prepare the European Union for the challenges of enlargement. In Britain's view, the essential reforms are to limit the growth in the number of Commissioners and to achieve a fairer weight of votes for the larger members.

We are willing to look at an extension of qualified majority voting on a case-by-case basis. Where QMV may be in Britain's interests, we will support it, but where key areas of national interest are at stake, such as treaty change, border controls, defence, taxation, social security and own resources, we will insist on retaining unanimity.

Mr. Atkinson: Will the Foreign Secretary take a firmer line on the extension of qualified majority voting? Surely the intergovernmental conference next year should concentrate on enlargement and on building a wider and more flexible Europe, and should not fiddle with details that can be left for a future occasion?

Mr. Cook: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the IGC should focus on enlargement, and that is what we will argue at Helsinki. However, at Cologne, the three issues that were identified as relevant to enlargement are the three that I set out to the House. There may well be occasions when it would be in our interest to argue for qualified majority voting--for instance, we want reform of the European Court of Justice, and I understand that the Opposition do as well. It will be more difficult to achieve that, so long as every single member state has a block on reform.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if we are to achieve enlargement of the European Union, that must be on a basis on which the institutions of the EU can work? It is therefore necessary to deal with the problem of the number of members of the Commission, and the issues of majority voting and languages. Those issues are fundamental to the efficient

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working of the EU. Is it not absurd for the Conservatives to claim that they want enlargement, but to do everything to stop the means that make it possible?

Mr. Cook: I addressed that question in the earlier intervention. The Opposition must decide whether they are in favour of enlargement, or whether they want to block the treaty.

On my hon. Friend's point, it is important that we get those changes. It is particularly important that we make sure that the Commission does not become so large that it becomes ineffective. We are therefore willing to concede Britain's second Commissioner, but only if we get adequate reweighting of the votes in the Council of Ministers. That is a fair package, which I hope that all member states will accept.

Mr. Archie Norman (Tunbridge Wells): Will the Secretary of State address himself to the matter of flexibility in the Government's position? Can he confirm to the House that the Government ruled out any discussion of flexibility on the IGC agenda? Can he also confirm that the Government are opposed to any extension of section 43 of the Amsterdam treaty covering closer co-operation? If that is the case, will he disown the Labour MEPs who voted in the European Parliament in favour of the European Parliament's own resolution on the subject and who seem to favour greater flexibility, alongside the Conservatives?

Mr. Cook: In the context of the IGC, I stated clearly to the House last week, and I repeat, that, if this IGC is to reach agreement, it will have to focus on enlargement and achieve its target of being completed in time for 2002.

On flexibility, no, we do not share the view of Opposition Members who want to achieve a pick-and- choose Europe. Such a view is not supported by the applicant countries either. One of the reasons why, at Amsterdam, we were adamant that there should be a veto on any flexibility provision was to prevent other countries forging ahead and leaving us behind. We secured that veto. I was rather surprised to note that, in the hon. Gentleman's speech earlier this week, he seemed to suggest that the Conservatives were in favour of abandoning that veto.


13. Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton): If he will make a statement on the United Kingdom's current relations with China; and what assistance his Department is giving to promote trade with China. [99956]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle): China is an important and growing presence in the world. It has the largest population and is the seventh largest economy in the world. The United Kingdom is the sixth largest investor in China and we share extensive international interests and responsibilities, especially as permanent members of the UN Security Council. It is right that we should seek

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to expand our dialogue and draw China more closely into the international political and trade mechanisms for solving problems and disputes.

Mr. O'Brien: Will my hon. Friend take it from me that the general view throughout the United Kingdom, in west Yorkshire in particular, is that stronger industrial trade links need to be developed with China, and that, through business, universities and local authorities, we could do more trade in printing, packaging, health products, engineering and other manufacturing, textiles and garments, and tourism? Will my hon. Friend take note of the views expressed by some of those who have visited China about the need to develop trade links? Such links could move the human rights programme even further forward to bring China nearer to the views of the western world. Will my hon. Friend work with the local authorities, business people and universities to improve trade links with China?

Mr. Battle: Yes, promoting trade with China is a priority and we have mutual interests in key areas of business which we can develop, including the sectors that my hon. Friend mentions, such as engineering, new technology, textiles and the utilities. We are also expanding our diplomatic presence, opening a new consulate general in Chongqing early next year in the south-west region of China. Some local authorities are already engaged there, where we will be the first serious European presence. Trade is an essential part of the process of engagement with China. Economic contact and exchange can play an important part in modernising China and bringing about an improvement in human rights.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): On page 27 of the Foreign Office's annual report on human rights, it clearly states that China's

It continues:

    "the Chinese authorities should not view the peaceful expression of political views as a threat to state security".

Why, then, was the Chinese human rights campaigner, Wei Jing Shen, who did nothing other than unfurl a pro-democracy banner outside Buckingham palace, arrested? Why, when the Minister was questioned about it, did he state in a written reply:

    "no one was arrested . . . charged or countercharged."?--[Official Report, 22 November 1999; Vol. 339, c. 378.]

Why was that, and will the Minister not now reconsider his position?

Mr. Battle: I have answered those questions in detail. My written answer of 6 December states:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), met the person in question during the state visit. We

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continue to share serious concerns about human rights and are vigorously pursuing such cases with the Chinese authorities, and we shall continue to do so. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) has spent the past 10 minutes passing notes back to the hon. Gentleman to prompt him to ask the question.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): The Minister may not be aware that granite imported from China is currently being used to refurbish the Royal Mile in Edinburgh--not that Scotland has run out of granite. How easy is it for local authorities responsible for purchasing such material to assure themselves that its cheap price is not the result of poor labour conditions in China?

Mr. Battle: There is a forum for raising precisely such questions, not least the International Labour Organisation. Some local authorities have relationships with China. Twin towns, cities and regions provide a context for such dialogue, but it is up to local authorities to negotiate their individual trade deals. I do not know anything about the particular one that the hon. Gentleman mentions. I am not sure why granite has to be taken to Scotland. However, the hon. Gentleman has made his point and we shall continue to ensure that the terms of trade are fair and just.

Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford): What interpretation does my hon. Friend put on the build-up of military forces on the Chinese mainland opposite Taiwan?

Mr. Battle: We are watching that situation with urgent concern because, in the past, there have been belligerent noises. We expressed our views in the proper way at the time, and we shall keep the situation under close observation.

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