Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement on the Barcelona economic summit and for giving me early sight of it.

We on the Conservative Benches deplore and condemn, as he would, the violence that we yet again saw on the streets of the city while Ministers were discussing their various points. There were, however, some good points to come out of Barcelona, and I want to start with them. On overseas aid, we say unequivocally that we welcome the goal of increasing the average EU contribution to 0.39 per cent. by 2006, and we look forward to the Economic and Finance Council's report on debt relief for the least developed countries. However, I suspect that we will still need to see greater speed in the delivery.

Out of the 30-odd pages of the presidency's conclusions, only about four short paragraphs can possibly give the Prime Minister cause for any significant claims to progress. Those are only aspirational anyway. For anyone reading it, 99 per cent. of the document is simply Euro-waffle. For example,

What on earth does that mean? Does the introduction of the coins demonstrate "political will"? What of the euro's decline in value against the dollar and the pound?

What about the serious crisis in pensions? In Europe that has been going on for years. Governments have been warned about it. The document states that

That is meaningless. There is a crisis, and that is the best that Ministers can do. Let us hope that what is proposed is more coherent than paragraph 32, which calls for—this is the ridiculous bit—"early retirement incentives" and in the next breath states that they want an

Wonderful muddle and contradiction.

At Lisbon two years ago, did not the Prime Minister describe that summit as a "sea change"? After Barcelona, it is difficult to find out from the Prime Minister's words whether he sees the tide as coming in or going out. In October last year, did he not refer to Barcelona as

Yet yesterday those two high-flying aspirations had been reduced to—I quote his own words—"limited but solid achievements".

18 Mar 2002 : Column 24

The Prime Minister said a moment ago that the EU was getting more like this Government in Britain. Well, there is another 10-year plan that they seem to have copied.

Did not the Prime Minister fail to get any action to enforce the lifting of the illegal French ban on British beef, which is costing our farmers so dear? Some £200-million worth of exports would be a shot in the arm for the beleaguered agricultural sector. I seem to recall the Prime Minister, when he was in opposition, criticising my predecessor for failing to get any movement on that, yet it is five years later and there is still no movement from the Prime Minister.

Did the Prime Minister get firm action on asylum seekers, who are costing the rail freight companies £500,000 a week? There was nothing in that regard.

Was not the Prime Minister pushed into accepting UK involvement in further military operations in Macedonia—both militarily risky and essentially a political gesture on our part—knowing full well that the Ministry of Defence has said that it is against it?

Did the Prime Minister really sign up to the dishonourable concept of the EU effectively offering 30 million pieces of silver to bribe the Gibraltarians, to try and get them off our hands?

What of Zimbabwe? No words on decisive action; just more delay and more talking. Once again, under the Prime Minister's leadership, the wrong message was sent to Mugabe.

Would the Prime Minister tell the House how a strongly worded statement on the US steel tariffs sits with the refusal of the French to open up their energy markets? We have a French state-owned subsidised energy sector buying up British utilities while refusing to open up to free and fair competition. Where was the make or break there?

In Lisbon the aim was "a fully liberalised and competitive telecoms market by the end of the next year." That was 2001. Two years later in Barcelona, we are told that "further progress is needed." A telephone call in Europe costs three times as much as in the United States. Where was the make or break there?

Lisbon was about making Europe more competitive. Since then, Europe has gone backwards. Hourly labour costs in the EU have risen—risen—by 3.5 per cent. between 2000 and the autumn of 2001. The working time directive, the European works councils directive and so on have all reduced market flexibility. Where was the make or break there? The Prime Minister went to Barcelona to urge the need for less red tape on industry, yet in Britain alone more than 5,000 more regulations have been imposed on industry in the past year. Where is the make or break there?

Was not the Prime Minister isolated in his support for America in dealing with the potentially lethal problems of countries possessing weapons of mass destruction—Saddam Hussein and Iraq? Where was the make or break there? Absolutely nothing. The Prime Minister claims to be at the centre of European decision making. After the last summit, he said:

Let us look at the facts. On asylum, he has lost the bilateral agreement with France that Germany and Denmark retain. On Zimbabwe, the Commission,

18 Mar 2002 : Column 25

the Belgians and the French have all rolled out the red carpet for Mugabe. Where was the Prime Minister's influence? Is that what he calls having influence in Europe? I doubt it. At Nice he gave up the veto in more than 30 areas. What influence did he gain in Barcelona from any one of those? None.

Once again, Barcelona failed to address the future of the common agricultural and fisheries policies. Without this sweeping reform, all talk of economic reform founders at the first hurdle.

The Prime Minister came back with so little from Barcelona that half his statement was taken up in talking about what Britain had been doing in the past three to four years—there was nothing about the EU. The truth is that Barcelona was, once again, all about fine words from the Prime Minister and no action. After claiming for five years to be at the centre of Europe, is it not an indictment of him that such an important summit can have achieved so little and at such great cost?

The Prime Minister: That response was certainly as anticipated and expected. I should like to deal with some of the points that the right hon. Member raised. He said that we had to speed up our delivery on overseas aid. I might point out to him that it was this Government who increased overseas aid after years of the Conservative party refusing to increase overseas aid. As for his strictures on Europe not going further on pensions, the reason is that we do not want Europe to run all the pensions systems of various countries. I am not sure whether he is saying that he does want Europe to do that.

The right hon. Gentleman made the extraordinary remark—extraordinary for reasons that I will explain—that nothing whatever had been achieved at the summit: no dates, no timetables. In fact, as I pointed out, 25 measures on financial services have been agreed and another seven were agreed at the summit, with dates attached. In respect of energy, the right hon. Gentleman said that nothing was agreed. In fact, it was agreed that 60 per cent. of the energy market—the non-domestic market—would be liberalised by 2004. The right hon. Gentleman accused us of giving away the veto on directives, but it is only because we have qualified majority voting on the directive to open up the domestic market that we agreed and were able to agree at Barcelona that by the end of this year there will be agreement on opening up that market too. As ever, with the greatest respect to the Conservative party, it has to be negative about everything to do with Europe.

The right hon. Gentleman also made the extraordinary statement that we should not be in Macedonia—that we should have nothing to do with it. I cannot believe—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman will have to be a little less excitable and listen for a moment. I know that he does not believe that we should be in Afghanistan. [Interruption.] I think that the right hon. Gentleman should calm himself for a moment. He does not believe that we should be in Afghanistan; he does not believe that we should be in Sierra Leone; and he certainly does not believe that we should be in Europe, after the statement we have just heard. Then he said that we should not be in Macedonia, when it is as a result of our action there that we have managed to prevent civil war.

The right hon. Gentleman then said, in another extraordinary aside, that nothing was achieved in Barcelona and that it was a total failure and disaster.

18 Mar 2002 : Column 26

Why does he have to say that? Because, for the Conservative party, it is necessary always to be totally negative about Europe. There was one name that he did not mention in his response—one little thing that he did not get round to talking about: the position of Margaret Thatcher on Europe. The Conservative party has worked out its new policy on Europe, which is to be silent about it. Why does it want to be silent? Because it has moved further and further against Europe with every change that it has made. Just a few weeks ago, the shadow Foreign Secretary said again that he wanted to renegotiate the treaties.

Next Section

IndexHome Page