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Mr. Straw: I am going there next week.

Mr. Maude: That is great; I commend the new Foreign Secretary for doing it.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Denis MacShane): I am going too.

Mr. Maude: That is excellent. It is delightful that all that will be happening and that Ministers have been so swift to respond to my blandishments and encouragement to take the issue seriously. However, I also urge Ministers to ensure that that is not a one-off visit; continuing engagement in the region is crucial.

I think that the west has failed the people of the Balkans in a big way. We won the war but have not won the peace, which is very unstable indeed. As for serious discussion on a potential final settlement, there is concern that there has been only a vacuum. One does not have to say that a final settlement will be put in place next week, next month, next year or even in the next few years, but a sense of the potential final dispositions must start emerging. If such a prospect is not offered to those in the region who have a legitimate desire for self-determination, they will feel that it is legitimate to fight for it. However, it is not legitimate to fight for it, and they must be discouraged from doing so.

It is therefore important to work towards establishing some outlines of a potential final settlement. However, such a settlement will have to emerge from the international community as one will not spring up spontaneously in the Balkans. Britain should be playing a seminal and central role in that process.

Finally and briefly, I turn to Europe. Obviously, 7 June was a significant political date not only for voters in the United Kingdom but for citizens in the Irish Republic, who had the opportunity to express their views in a referendum on the treaty of Nice, which they decided pretty unequivocally to reject. I hope that that vote will give the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues pause for thought. Ireland is one of Europe's greatest success stories and one of Europe's most flourishing economies. Over time, it has also been one of the European Union's great financial beneficiaries. Yet the citizens of the Irish Republic said no to what is effectively another integrationist treaty. I hope that Ministers will take note of that judgment and not casually brush it aside.

I wonder why the Government are pressing ahead so rapidly with ratification of the Nice treaty when the Irish have made their disapproval so clear. I recollect--I was not in Parliament at the time; I was on my sabbatical--that in 1992 when the Danish people rejected the Maastricht treaty, the then Labour Front-Bench team strongly urged the then Government not to proceed precipitately with a Bill to ratify the Maastricht treaty. They said that the right thing was to delay that treaty until completion of all the renegotiations needed to secure Danish consent to it. I therefore hope that the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues will look back at what they said then. As the Foreign Secretary said today, the circumstances surrounding the two treaties are very comparable. I urge Ministers now to adopt a similar approach to the one they were recommending then.

When an electorate such as the Irish electorate express their view on the specific issue of the Nice treaty, the political elites should not casually brush it aside as if it

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does not matter. It is very important that public opinion and public support for the European Union should remain high, and it is important that Britain should be actively engaged in the European Union. It is alarming that there is evidence of some growth in antagonism in this country towards the European Union. [Interruption.] The one thing that could fuel that root-and-branch antagonism is a sense that politicians are ignoring legitimate public concerns about the direction of integration.

The Foreign Secretary laughs at that because he does not think it matters. He claims to be concerned about antagonism to the European Union, but it is precisely the idea that senior politicians regard electors' views on the issue as a matter of no concern that is fuelling that antagonism. It is a real concern. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will not simply say, "It is just Ireland and does not really matter. We are going to blast ahead and continue." That would be the worst possible signal that he could send. I hope that he will think again about the approach that the Government are taking.

It is clear both from the Prime Minister's comments at Gothenburg and from the Foreign Secretary's comments today that the Nice treaty is not essential for enlargement. However, in the weeks and months before the previous general election, the Foreign Secretary's predecessor consistently told the House that Conservative Members wanted to stop enlargement because they were against the Nice treaty. Suddenly, all that has changed. Now Ministers are saying that they really did not mean that and that the treaty is not necessary for enlargement. Today, the Foreign Secretary said that the treaty is simply desirable. We can argue about whether it is desirable. A reweighting of votes, for example, will have to happen eventually, but the Nice treaty is not essential for enlargement.

Enlargement should proceed. I hope that the Foreign Secretary and the Government will make it absolutely clear that enlargement will proceed even if there is a continuing problem with Irish ratification of the Nice treaty--there may well be; no one should assume that that electorate will return to the issue and everything will be fine--or a problem with implementation of the treaty. Enlargement should, if anything, be accelerated. Our view is that the Nice treaty will hold back enlargement. We rather agree with the current Prime Minister's comments, made back in 1995, that reform of the common agricultural policy is essential for enlargement to happen. That reform has not happened and is the biggest roadblock to enlargement. It needs to be dealt with now.

We look forward to engaging with the new Minister for Europe on all the European issues. He has, with his customary forthrightness, been very open about his views, and that is a good thing. I do not want to discourage him by dwelling on some of his previous comments because I think it is important that politicians should be able to say what they think without there being lots of gloating afterwards and comments such as, "Look at what you said then. Isn't it inconsistent with what you stand for now?" Nevertheless, I hope that he continues to take the view that the European Union should be democratised and decentralised, as that is precisely our view.

The constant process of centralisation in treaties such as the Nice treaty is harming the European Union. By extending qualified majority voting, such treaties are taking ever more decisions to the centre. No other international organisation believes that more

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centralisation is the answer. Indeed, all other such organisations are talking about creating multi-centred institutions and decentralisation, creating modern network organisations. The European Union is the only institution whose political leaders still seem to believe that centralisation is the answer. Therefore, as I said, I hope that the new Minister for Europe will continue to be forthright in making the case for decentralising the European Union. We think that that is the right way to go.

Again, I wish the Foreign Secretary and his new team well. They have a very important role, and the eyes of the country will be upon them. We believe that there is the possibility for Britain again to count for something in the world, by standing up for the important values of decency, the rule of law, an open economy and democracy. There is no point prating about human rights unless we are serious about the rule of law, because that is what protects those rights. This country and this Government can stand up for that, but they need to do so in a confident way, not fearful that Britain does not count for enough and must take shelter in an ever more centralised European Union. We hope that the Foreign Secretary will share our confidence that Britain really can count for something in the world.

10.50 am

Ann Taylor (Dewsbury): I do not want to follow the shadow Foreign Secretary on his world tour, but the point in his speech that I will remember is his claim that the Conservative Government of the 1990s had an ethical foreign policy. If he maintains that claim, he will merely prove that the Conservative party has learned nothing from the past and has a very long way to go before it begins its recovery.

I do not normally take part in foreign affairs debates--or in any debates, as I have been silent for the past three years. This is not an area in which I specialise, and although foreign affairs may be the focus of this debate, it can encompass the Queen's Speech as a whole, so my comments will be wide ranging--as, I suspect, will be those of some of my colleagues.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his new appointment as Foreign Secretary. He and I have worked closely together over the years. One bonus of his transferring to his new post is that he will no longer be knocking at the door of business managers and asking for legislation almost every other week--and usually getting it, I might add, but, as he would be quick to point out, usually delivering his side of the bargain as well. I am sure that he will enjoy his new role and that we can have every confidence in him.

I was glad that my right hon. Friend emphasised the relevance of foreign affairs to ordinary people. Many people, and especially younger people, realise that many of the problems that we face have to be tackled internationally. Many people are extremely worried about President Bush's recent statements on the environment, and other issues include drugs and international crime. My right hon. Friend was right to draw our attention to the fact that many people are directly affected by such issues and are entitled to be concerned about them.

I share my right hon. Friend's attitude towards Europe, probably going back to the 1970s, but also in its development, shall we say. I accept his definition of himself as a practical European, and would also apply it

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to myself, not least because many of my constituents know that their jobs depend on our membership of the European Community. They are not short-sighted on these issues and do not take an isolationist approach.

My constituents and, I am sure, those of other hon. Members are concerned about international development. While the general election was rather low key, it was striking that those who raised issues did so in a serious way, and the Labour Government's action on third world debt earned us a great deal of recognition and support, because many people in this country can think beyond these shores and consider other people. I hope that we can maintain our record on that.

There are one or two other issues that I hope my right hon. Friend will consider in his period in office, which I hope will be a long one.

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