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Protection of Property (Static Devices)

Michael Fabricant presented a Bill to allow a property owner to erect static devices with warning signs for the protection of his property; and to indemnify the property owner from prosecution or liability if a person or persons committing a criminal act on his property is injured by a static protection device: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 19 July 2002, and to be printed [Bill 29].

Environmental Audit

Mr. David Chaytor, supported by Mr. Harold Best, Mrs. Helen Clark, Mr. Colin Challen, Sue Doughty, Mr. Neil Gerrard, Mr. Jon Owen Jones, Ian Lucas, Mr. Malcolm Savidge, Mr. Simon Thomas, Joan Walley and David Wright, presented a Bill to require the Comptroller and Auditor General to examine and report on the environmental impact of public expenditure, and the environmental performance of government departments and certain other public bodies against targets set by Ministers; to provide for the establishment of an environmental auditor general to carry out such functions and report thereupon to the House of Commons; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 30 November, and to be printed [Bill 30].

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Orders of the Day

European Communities (Amendment) Bill

[4th Allotted Day]

Order for Third Reading read.

3.32 pm

The Minister for Europe (Peter Hain): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Foreign Secretary is representing the United Kingdom at a meeting today in Luxembourg of the General Affairs Council, which will discuss the European Union's overall counter-terrorism policy in response to the atrocities on 11 September. In particular, EU Foreign Ministers will review progress on the package of measures called for at the emergency European Council on 21 September. They will also discuss the way forward on Afghanistan and how best to ensure a better future for the country and its people. The Foreign Secretary will then immediately travel to Turkey for further talks. The Turks are an important part of the international coalition against terrorism, and we will continue to work closely with them and all other allies in the coalition to ensure that terrorism does not prevail.

I recently made my first visit to central Europe as Minister for Europe. In Hungary and the Czech Republic, I saw countries, Governments and people determined to be a part of the EU. I have also met Ministers from Poland, Cyprus, Malta, Estonia and Slovenia; they all look to the EU as their future and they look to Britain as their champion. They want EU membership, and they want it now. They think that the EU has delayed too long. They, and all other candidates like them, want to take their place as full members of the European family, which history has long denied them. They asked me with some bemusement how those in Britain who say that they are in favour of enlargement can at the same time be against the only treaty that will deliver it on time and in good order. I put that same question to the Conservative Opposition today. By voting against the Bill, they are voting against all Britain's friends and allies in eastern, central and southern Europe who are anxiously knocking on the door to enter.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): I am grateful to the Minister. Like him, I have spoken to officials, particularly in Poland and Hungary, about their countries joining the EU. Did they ask him what arrangements the UK Government have tried to put in place to make sure that the common agricultural policy will work effectively? As he knows, agriculture is particularly important to those countries. What did they ask him and what did he reply?

Peter Hain: Perhaps I have the advantage over the hon. Lady, as I have spoken to Ministers in those countries, not simply officials—[Interruption.] Okay, and officials as well. The answer to her question is simple. Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary have all completed negotiations on a range of chapters, up to the total of 31, which is their aim for full accession. Agriculture is one of those that still have to be negotiated. There are concerns, in relation to Poland especially, about the

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reforms that will be necessary in the common agricultural policy. We will tackle that agenda and tackle it with the candidate countries, as we are doing.

Reform of the common agricultural policy must not be used as an excuse to deny enlargement. A series of vested interests need to be overcome among some of our fellow member states in order to reform the CAP. It is important that we do not allow those vested interests to triumph by blocking enlargement. We want the candidate countries in, and we want to conduct both reforms in parallel.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): I endorse the Minister's remarks. Can he confirm that in our efforts to achieve enlargement within the timetable set out, it will be necessary for all the applicant states to meet the full requirements of the acquis, and that there will be no political fudge at the last minute to achieve our political requirements of enlargement of the EU?

Peter Hain: No. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that cannot be the case under the treaty. Each of the applicants must sign off and agree the 31 chapters involved in the acquis, then they must ratify the treaty through their domestic process. There is no question of fudges. Detailed negotiations are necessary and much progress has been made. The Czech Republic, for example, has signed off 19 chapters. Cyprus is in a similar position. In the next year or so, we must redouble our efforts to make sure that the other candidates can come in, particularly those that are likely to be in the first wave. We are determined to play our part to ensure that enlargement happens on time, from 1 January 2004. Getting the Bill through the House tonight is an important part of that process. [Interruption.]

The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), whom I see sitting on the Front Bench instead of complaining from the Back Benches about European policy, says "Nonsense." Enlargement is the only show in town. If hon. Members want enlargement, and if they do not want all our friends in eastern and central Europe to be denied the opportunity of joining the European Union, they should vote for the Bill. If not, they are against those countries and their interests, and they should go out and tell them that that is their position.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): I thank the Minister for giving way. As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) cannot answer for himself, may I suggest an answer on his behalf? The Nice treaty covers many matters other than enlargement, such as the creation of a European military force outside the NATO structure. How can the Minister try to blackmail the House into saying that we must vote for the Bill, because if we vote against it for any reason whatever, we are voting against enlargement? That is, as my hon. Friend rightly said, utter nonsense.

Peter Hain: Part of my duties is to educate Opposition Members about Europe. That is hard work in several cases, and the hon. Gentleman is an example. I thought that the edict from the new leadership of the Conservative Opposition was for them to take a low profile on European matters. I thought that they had instructions not to say anything about European policies that might deflect

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attention from the domestic agenda. However, I am not surprised. Their policies are not just unmentionable; they are unspeakable as well. We must make it clear, so that the House and voters understand, that Opposition Members such as the hon. Gentleman and the entire Eurosceptic Conservative Front Bench are not so much anti-Europe as anxious to be out of Europe, as the former Chancellor, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) so eloquently said.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) is a Conservative Whip? Does his intervention indicate a new dispensation within the Opposition? Apparently, in order to get a job on the Front Bench, Opposition Members must be able to defy their leader about keeping quiet on Europe.

Peter Hain: My hon. Friend makes the point very well. I look forward to hearing many more interventions being made from the Back Benches by Front Benchers such as the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who is there at the moment. It is a new novelty in opposition.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Novelties are new.

Peter Hain: Indeed. The hon. Gentleman is very quick, and I congratulate him on that.

Let us be clear that our Government want enlargement just as much as the candidate countries, not only because we have strong ties with each of them and because it is in their interests, but because it is in Britain's interests.

Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage): The Minister is right that the practical effect of denying the Bill its Third Reading would be to ensure that Britain could not ratify the Nice treaty. Does he agree that the certain consequence would be the throwing of a major spanner into the enlargement works?

Peter Hain: I am grateful that sense has prevailed at least somewhere on the Opposition Benches. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. If we do not carry this Bill in the House and the other place, we will be unable to ratify the Nice treaty, which will fall apart. Britain would then be in a dangerous position, as it would be a champion of enlargement that could not introduce its own Bill to ratify the treaty that makes enlargement possible. I am sure that I have his support in saying that there is no alternative. If we want enlargement to occur on time and to ensure the entry on 1 January of the first wave of countries, including many of our friends, such as the Poles, Czechs, Hungarians and others, the Bill needs to pass through the House—and quickly.

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