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Ms Claire Ward accordingly presented a Bill to promote the use of accident prevention and safety measures in the home; to reduce the cost of such measures by reducing the rate of VAT levied on them; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 19 July, and to be printed [Bill 149].
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): The Spanish presidency will host the next meeting of the European Council of Heads of Government in Seville on 21 and 22 June. Today the House has its customary six-monthly opportunity to debate the Government's priorities for the summit. Five years into this Government's period of office, I believe that we have been able to re-establish the United Kingdom's influence in Europe.
Re-engagement has enabled us to set new priorities for the EU. For example, on economic reform, the so-called Lisbon agenda is now at the centre of the EU's work programme. We have strengthened European co-operation against crime and terrorism. We are at the forefront of efforts to establish a common asylum policy and in the fight against illegal immigration. With the French, we have promoted the development of a European security and defence capability for use in crisis management, and we have championed the enlargement of the European Union, which will root stability and democracy throughout our continent and should generate up to an estimated £1.75 billion per year in additional business for British companies.
All those achievements have improved the quality of life and security of British people. They demonstrate that this Government are realising the aspiration of a former Conservative Prime Minister to put Britain at the heart of Europe. [Interruption.] I am glad to hear that Conservative Front-Bench Members treat their former leaders in the way they have always donewith disdain and contempt.
Mr. Straw: I thought that someone might say that. In fact, it was not Baroness Thatcher who said that but the much more recent Conservative Prime Minister, who I thought would be regarded with some kind of affection by his party, at least for a short whilenamely Mr. Major.
At Seville, we will be seeking to secure further benefits for British and European citizens. In particular, we believe that the summit should send a signal of our determination to make progress on asylum and immigration and on the reform of the Council of the European Union, to make the whole system work better. I want to concentrate my remarks on these two important issues, as well as talking about two important foreign policy matters that will unquestionably arise at Seville.
First, the current levels of asylum and illegal immigration are Europe-wide phenomena that affect all EU nations. Britain is by no means alone in facing this problemwe rank eighth out of the 15 European Union
Austria, which does count, receives two and a half times as many asylum applications as the United Kingdom in per capita terms. Belgium and the Netherlands receive significantly more than we do. Since the collapse of the Berlin wall, and the first increase in asylum applications that came in that first tranche from the Balkans, Germany has had almost three times as many applications as the UK in the past 10 years.
At Seville, we want member states to push for the faster introduction of a common asylum policy and for tough action against illegal immigration. In preparation for this debate, I entertained myself to some lost tabletsthe Conservative party's manifesto for 2001. Those who remember the past year's events will recall that no sooner had the Conservative party lost the election than it excised its manifesto completely from its website. We now have to resort to the old-fashioned methods of paper and ink, printing and books, to find the manifesto. It is replete with claims of a pick-and-mix approach to Europe in which, apart from the single market, there were to be new treaty flexibility provisions. The Conservatives were simply going to impose those on Europethey ignored the minor difficulty of having to obtain the approbation and agreement of the other 14 member states. Under those new treaty flexibility provisions,
Thinking Opposition Members will at least agree that there is cross-party agreement about the need to take firmer action throughout Europe to deal with the problems of asylum and immigration flows that affect all countries in Europe. If we are to do that, we have to achieve a level playing fieldto use a clichéso that we end asylum shopping. We all have to accept the same principal definition in the 1951 convention, but member states operate differing interpretations of the convention and different administrative practices. The only way to deal with that is to have a common policy commonly applied across Europe. That would not and could not have been possible had the Conservatives won the last election and allowed individual member states to suit themselves as to whether they opted in or out of all legislation affecting the EU.
Mr. Straw: Not only do I remember almost every page of the 1983 manifesto, but also every page of the 1982 Labour programme which was very much longer and even more at error than the 1983 manifesto. I am surprised that I was not asked about that programme, as it illustrates the infection that had overtaken the Labour party at that time. Happily, the only way to cure such an infection is to pass it on to another party, and the Conservatives have now caught it. On page 79 of that programme, three paragraphs set out Labour's detailed commitment to establish a system of local authority licensing of horse dealers. That was in 1983, not 1883.
I mention that because it illustrates the mindset that infected the Labour party at that time[Hon. Members: "What about the answer?"] The answer is that I do not agree with what we said then[Hon. Members: "Ah."] That is the answer; I thought it would have been obvious. The important question is about whether the Conservative party subscribes to a manifesto that is only 13 months old, not about a manifesto written for an election 19 years ago.