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11 Dec 2002 : Column 298—continued

5.46 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): I want to refer briefly to one aspect of Sir William's work that has not been mentioned. I speak on behalf of the officers of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association when I say that his contribution to our activities has been beyond measure. It has been appreciated throughout the Commonwealth.

It is fitting that Sir William should be going to a professorial career from his chair in front of your Chair, Mr. Speaker, because over the years he has given the most wonderful guidance, tutelage and advice to a succession of Clerks from around the Commonwealth, and he has made a not insignificant contribution to legislatures around that unique international institution. He will, therefore, be missed and appreciated for what he has done not only in this House, but in many far flung parts of what used to be the empire and is now the great Commonwealth of Nations; the name of William McKay will be honoured there, and we should honour him for that.

Mr. Speaker: Before I put the Question, I should like to add my own tribute to Bill McKay. As my principal adviser on procedure and privilege he has consistently offered me wise counsel, tempering his technical advice with good humour and common sense. For that I owe him a great personal debt. As chief executive of the House of Commons service, he has done much to enhance the efficiency with which we are all supported. I know that after 41 years of service to the House, Bill and his wife Margaret will take into retirement the thanks and best wish of all Members past and present.

Question put and agreed to.

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European Affairs

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Derek Twigg.]

5.48 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw) : The Danish presidency will host the European Council in Copenhagen tomorrow. It is due to run on to Friday, but I have already warned my colleagues that it could be a five-shirt summit. Today the House has its customary opportunity to debate the Government's priorities for this summit.

I hope that the EU leaders will agree at Copenhagen to issue a formal invitation to the 10 most advanced candidate countries to join the union in 2004. These are: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Their accession has been a long-standing aim of the Government's foreign policy. Three years ago my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was the first EU leader to call for this the largest expansion in the union's history, for the negotiations to be completed by the end of this year and for the accession to take place formally by 2004.

Much of the summit will be taken up with complex negotiations relating to the financial arrangements in an expanded union. Understandably, all member states and the candidate countries are looking for the most favourable terms. But I am confident that each country will keep an eye on the main prize—the unification of Europe and their place within it. The alternative—a failure of nerve to take the tough decisions necessary for enlargement—would be unforgivable. We would not just be denying future generations access to the economic benefits created by the world's largest trading bloc, but creating the conditions for future instability and even conflict in Europe.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of the current round of EU enlargement. I echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who said that we will see few more significant events in our lifetimes. For what we are contemplating is nothing less than a new Europe—a unified political and economic entity that is larger than the United States of America and Japan combined. For the peoples of the countries that we hope will come into Europe, accession will mark the end of an epic journey. For almost 50 years, Malta and Cyprus apart, they were subjugated by a system whose raison d'être was to crush the human spirit and frustrate the natural human aspirations of freedom and prosperity.

The fall of the Berlin wall not only demonstrated the bankruptcy of the Soviet approach, but showed that an all-encompassing ideology and authoritarian state control were no match for the determination of millions of Europeans to rejoin a community of values that has inspired the world since the enlightenment. The fall of the iron curtain acted as a catalyst for an initial burst of wealth creation in many parts of the continent, but the gruelling process of political and economic reform has also created some disillusionment, especially among those who expected instant transition to western levels of prosperity. Nevertheless, EU enlargement and membership enjoy high public support in all the accession countries, but there can be no further delay, and developments in recent months suggest that Europe

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is taking that message to heart. Two months ago, the people of Ireland endorsed the Nice treaty, which is crucial to an efficient accession process. At the Brussels European Council meeting in October, EU leaders agreed the broad framework of a new budgetary settlement for the new, expanded Europe.

A Europe united by a common attachment to the ideals of good governance and based on democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law advances the causes of stability throughout the continent. It also acts as a bulwark against the forces of dictatorship, ethnic division and the atavistic national rivalries that have scarred the continent in the recent as well as the more distant past.

Many of us in the House are of the immediate post-war generation. For us, Europe was divided not only to the east by the iron curtain, but to the south, with dictatorships in Portugal, Spain and Greece. It was the European Union that helped to put those nations, each with its own troubled history, irreversibly on to the path of democracy and human rights. Today, the prospect of European Union accession is acting as a stimulus for reform in the group of 10 candidate countries, and in Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey. In the Balkans, the long-term prospect of European Union entry is driving economic and political reform. Democratic, market-oriented government based on the rule of law is becoming the norm in a region that still bears the scars of dictatorship and authoritarian rule.

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent): I am not personally opposed to enlargement, but would the Secretary of State care to comment on the views of the Secretary of State for Wales, who I believe is the Government spokesperson on enlargement? He said:

Mr. Straw: Before I could comment in more detail, I would, as the Speaker says when he tells us that he is putting the Queen's Speech in the Vote Office, need to send out for the full text in the interests of greater accuracy. Meanwhile, however, I refer my hon. Friend to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 27 October 1997. [Interruption.] I know it almost by heart.

Enlargement is not just a matter of historical obligation. [Interruption.] I ask the Whip to bear in mind his obligation to his bank balance—we give him a cheque and he stays silent. [Interruption.] My Whip is always helpful and I am helpful to him.

Enlargement is also matter of enlightened national self-interest. Britain needs more partners if we are to tackle the problems that do not respect borders, such as illegal immigration, environmental degradation and cross-border crime. We need stronger links with our European trading partners if the single market is to realise its full potential. The impact of enlargement on Britain's economy is potentially enormous. Recent studies estimate that it could increase national GDP for the UK by #1.75 billion a year and create up to 300,000 jobs throughout the European Union.

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Angus Robertson (Moray): As a strong supporter of the European Union and enlargement, I am finding it very difficult to explain to my constituents and people throughout the rest of Scotland who are facing the prospect of massive closure in one of our most important industries why the fishing crisis is not on the agenda of the Copenhagen summit. The Foreign Secretary may not be aware of this point, but I have with me a letter from the Danish Prime Minister saying that the Prestige disaster is to be discussed at the meeting. That is important for the people of Spain, but the fishing crisis is a man-made disaster and why are the UK Government not pressing for it to be on the summit agenda?

Mr. Straw: Of course, we understand the great concern of fishermen in fishing communities throughout the United Kingdom and not least in Scotland. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), who speaks on fishing matters and is one of Europe's great experts in that regard, are extremely concerned to secure a fair deal that respects the needs of fishermen in the United Kingdom and, above all, ensures their long-term livelihood by further conserving fish stocks.

Fishing is not on the agenda of the European Council because it is on that of the Fisheries Council, which meets next week. That is a better forum in which the United Kingdom can settle the matter, as it can be dealt with there by qualified majority voting. The Prestige is a new issue that relates to new policy and we discussed it in the General Affairs and External Relations Council, which I attended on Monday and Tuesday. We are supporting the proposals being made by the Spanish Government about accelerating the phasing out of the single-hulled oil tankers that have caused such devastation to the northern coast of Spain and the south-west coast of France and could cause devastation here.

Alongside the enlargement process, the Convention on the Future of Europe is holding its deliberations. A key issue in the Convention is how Europe should operate and what its guiding political principles should be. Enlargement supports Britain's approach in that respect, as the 10 new member states share Britain's vision of the Union's future: a Europe of sovereign nations proud of their distinct identities, but co-operating together for the mutual good.

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