Peter Hain: No, I do not; that is the simple answer. Two representatives of the House of Commons are provided for under the provisional agreement, which will be finalised at Laeken. European policy is a reserved matter for the House. I recently had the privilege of being invited to the European Committee of the Scottish Parliament and was pleased to answer its questions. I see myself working in partnership with that Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly to make sure that the vision that we project in Europe is as inclusive as possible. It would not be possible to have direct representation by all the lander, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and so on in the convention unless it was much larger than is being contemplated.
Mr. Cash: As the Minister will know, I have certain responsibilities for the interpretation of treaties and other responsibilities for legal advice to the House. In the context of the question asked by the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), the Minister is right that those matters are reserved. However, I remember crossing swords with the late Secretary of State for Scotland on the requirements of the Scotland Act 1998; although countries can aspire to the partnership described by the Minister, in practice if there is an ultra vires provision it is down to the Minister in Whitehall to override it by
Peter Hain: I will take the hon. Gentleman's word for it; his authority on those matters is unsurpassed. I am delighted that his voice has not been silenced on European matters and I hope that he will intervene throughout the rest of our debate.
Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West): Does my right hon. Friend agree that while it is important for the convention to pursue its work in Brussels, it is also sensible for its members to report regularly to their national Parliaments and, to pick up the point made by the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), liaise with regional bodies as well? Throughout the life of the convention, there should be as much consultation and involvement of people as possible; we are all worried about the gap between European institutions and the people, and that would at least be an attempt to close it.
Peter Hain: That is a positive and constructive suggestion from my right hon. Friend, a distinguished predecessor of mine. We shall certainly look at that important proposal and I hope that the House authorities and the usual channels will look at it as well.
It is important that we know what the British people think about Europe. Today, I have placed in the Library the results of an opinion poll that we commissioned from ICM, which surveyed a relatively large and authoritative sample of 2,000 people across Britain. The main findings include the fact that a majority of two to one think that our membership of the EU is a good thing for Britain. Big majorities agree that the EU promotes peace and security in Europe and is good for British jobs and trade. The poll shows that the British people's priorities for the future work of the EU are maintaining peace and security and fighting poverty, unemployment and crime. It is that same practical Europeanism that the Government are seeking to advance.
The poll confirms that many people know too little about the EU; no surprise there. But it also shows, rather more interestingly, that the more people know about the EU, the more positive they are about it; knowledge is a wonderful thing. The Government will continue to encourage that, especially among Conservative Back Benchersindeed, among Conservative Front Benchers as well. The poll confirms that, like our Labour Government, people are worried about EU red tape and bureaucracy. Like our Government, they are concerned that the UK's national identity should not be lost in the EU. The poll shows that a majority are not at present convinced that we should join the eurono surprises there eitheralthough the majority against is rather smaller than in other polls; 47 per cent. of the ECM respondents were against joining it, while 36 per cent. were in favour.
Peter Hain: My hon. Friend makes an extremely valid point. As a Welsh MP like him, I knowas do you, Madam Deputy Speaker, hailing from Walesthat our Welsh constituents are fiercely patriotic about their Welshness, but are also proud to be British. The same is true in Scotland and, indeed, France; I do not detect that the French are any less French or less proud of being French citizens as a result of being positively pro-European. The same applies to the Germans, the Spanish and the citizens of any other EU member state. They are proud to be French, Spanish or German, as we are proud to be British, and proud to be European as well. That, I think, is the point that my hon. Friend was seeking to emphasise.
The poll to which I referred confirms what we have long been saying as a Government: that what matters about the EU is what it delivers, how it makes a practical difference to the lives of its citizens, and how it helps sustain and strengthen the real, prosperous, safe Europe in which our people want to live.
The European Council at Laeken will be the last before euro notes and coins are issued on new year's day in member states that are part of the single currencya momentous step that will have an impact on us all. The change-over has been carefully prepared. We all have a strong interest in its success. A successful euro is in the interests of Britain, because so much of our trade is with countries in the euro zone.
Meanwhile we shall continue to pursue our agenda for economic reform in Europe, pioneered by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and his Spanish counterpart at the Lisbon European Council in 1999an agenda that will be given further impetus under Spanish leadership at Barcelona next year. That is yet another example of how, by building partnerships and engaging wholeheartedly with our friends in the European Union, we can deliver practical reforms and practical benefits for the British people.
The coming 12 months will provide ample further evidence of the ways in which the EU delivers what Europe's citizens want. Key decisions are due on freedom, security and justice in the European context; action against terrorism; European defence; economic reform; and enlargement. These are all issues that matter to our citizens, and they are all steps towards our goal of building our kind of Europe: a practical, people's Europe that, in a world full of challenges, is the surest way to underpin British security and British prosperity.
Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): Since our last debate on European affairs, much has changed. The continent of Europe has had to face up to the challenge of terrorism. Just as in a previous generation many millions of people recalled the moment when they heard about the death of President Kennedy, so hundreds of millions of people alive today will always have in their memories the terrible visual images of 11 September. Yet out of that unspeakable horror, countries with very different political traditions have made common cause as the evils of terrorism are recognised.
As we reflect on the past few decades, however, perhaps we find that the most astonishing political event in Europe was the collapse of the Berlin walla momentous event which gave an opportunity to millions of our fellow Europeans to breathe freely and escape a hideous totalitarianism that had gripped their lives for decades.
A number of those now democratic countries are already valuable members of NATO and, we hope, will soon be embraced politically and economically by the European family of nations. Given their history, their accession to the European Union is a moral imperative, as well as a political and economic one.
For Russia, the collapse of the old Soviet Union and its satellites has resulted in a particularly difficult period of adjustment. Old suspicions and distrust have lingered on. That is why few developments have been more welcome than Russia's positive response to the appalling events of 11 September. It has given the international coalition much-needed support in fighting the terrorist threat, and President Putin has shown himself to be a strong national leader. The House will no doubt agree that it has been important for the cause for which we are fighting that Russia has joined the battle against terrorism so wholeheartedly and helped to provide crucial logistical support.
That has been accompanied by an overdue thaw in the relations between Russia and NATO. We applaud the Prime Minister's efforts to build bridges based on the new rapprochement. We in the Opposition were pleased to see how much Lord Robertson's visit to Moscow last month accomplished. The proposal to set up a Russia-North Atlantic council has considerable potential. Both parties stand to gain far greater security by working together.
There is still, however, a small dark cloud on the horizon in the picture of eastern Europe. It is regrettable that September's elections showed that it is not for nothing that Belarus's Alexander Lukashenko is called Europe's last dictator. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe said that President Lukashenko's Government
The welcome warming of relations with Russia, especially the lessening of its concerns about NATO's post-cold war role, makes it easier to address the concerns of the Baltic states about security, by admitting them to NATO. Arising out of the experience of close co-operation over Afghanistan and our gratitude for that, Russia should no longer feel threatened by the Baltic states joining NATO. Every NATO state gains when a new member is admitted, and for the Baltic states admission would be a further sign of their acceptance and recognition by the world as full and independent parts of democratic Europe. Admission to NATO would enable