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Strategic Technologies

14. Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): If he will make a statement on the technologies which his Department has assessed as being of strategic importance to the future effectiveness of the UK's defence forces. [120555]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The Ministry of Defence has well-defined processes for identifying key technologies to support the United Kingdom's military capability. Examples of these have been enshrined in the defence technology centres, which involve collaboration with industry and will be used to bring technology forward. The MOD is continuously reviewing wider science and technology to assess the impact for defence.

Mr. Jack : May I express disappointment in the Minister's answer? He did not expressly state that the maintenance of a UK aerospace capability was central to our future defence needs. In the light of discussions said to be taking place about the future of BAE Systems and an American partner, what steps would the

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Department take, in the event of such a marriage occurring, to ensure that Britain maintained a proper military aerospace capability of its own?

Mr. Ingram: That is the third time I have been asked that question, and I have nothing further to add to what I said earlier.

Security Threats

15. Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): If he will make a statement on the armed forces' military preparedness to deal with security threats to the UK. [120556]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The involvement of the armed forces in counter-terrorism and civil protection was reviewed following the events of 11 September 2001 and enhanced as part of the development of the new chapter of the strategic defence review. Their role is to act in support of the police and other emergency services. A range of robust contingency plans for responding to a wide range of terrorist threats continues to be regularly exercised, tested, reviewed and refined in the light of changing domestic and international circumstances.

Mrs. Gillan : Reports in the press at the weekend suggest that we are not prepared to deal with the security threats. Would the Minister care to deny or confirm those reports?

Mr. Ingram: I do not know which reports the hon. Lady is referring to, but if she cares to pass me copies, I shall be able to comment on their accuracy or otherwise.

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European Council

3.31 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): With permission, Mr Speaker. I shall make a statement on the European Council, which I attended in Greece on 19 and 20 June. I should like to offer my thanks to Prime Minister Simitis and the Greek Government, who have conducted an effective presidency in a particularly difficult period.

The European Council took delivery of the draft constitutional treaty prepared by the European Convention under the expert chairmanship of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. We agreed that the draft is a good basis for starting the intergovernmental conference in October. The 10 countries joining the European Council will participate fully alongside the existing member Governments. The aim is to conclude it in time for a new treaty to be signed after 1 May next year.

The Convention sets out clearly what Europe is for, its aims and objectives, the rights of its citizens, the powers and responsibilities of its institutions and the way it takes forward its policies. It recognises expressly that what we want is a Europe of nations, not a federal superstate, and that issues to do with taxation, foreign policy, defence policy and our own British borders will remain the prerogative of our national Government and Parliament.

The draft makes clear in the very first article that the Union only has those powers that member states give it. It introduces a Chair of the European Council to prepare and follow through the European Council agenda. It will bring an end to the present system of six-monthly presidencies, which is no longer feasible in a Union of 25. It will provide a greater role for national Parliaments, which will be able to vet all new legislation and make the principle of subsidiarity work at the political level.

There are of course areas where there is continuing negotiation—for example, over enhanced co-operation, the structure of the presidency and the role of qualified majority voting—but above all the new draft treaty offers the prospect of stability in the way in which Europe works.

I should like to pay tribute to the work done by Ministers and to other hon. Members, for the contribution that they made to the work of the Convention. In addition to the Convention outcome, reflecting the work of its 200 members, Mr Giscard d'Estaing also referred to a minority report put forward in the Convention, including by the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), the representative of the Conservative party. That report would turn the existing treaties into an association of states that would replace, and dismantle, the existing European Union.

The European Council agreed a range of actions to secure our frontiers, to ensure better co-operation with third countries on migration issues and to enable us to take the action we need to deal more effectively with asylum claims. Among the issues that we discussed was one on which we have been working closely with the European Commission and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The aim is to strengthen the protection of refugees in their regions of origin so

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that, in a crisis, it is possible to offer effective and accessible sanctuary to refugees closer to their homes. To test whether such a scheme can work, we—with the support of the Commission—proposed pilot projects, which had widespread support. While the unanimity requirement in the Council prevented the idea from being specifically endorsed, that will not prevent the pilot projects from being taken forward by a number of member states and the Commission will report back on them within the year.

The Council discussed a paper by the EU High Representative, Javier Solana, for an overall strategy in the field of foreign and security policy. He proposed a comprehensive approach to dealing with the global problems of poverty, terrorism, and weapons of mass destruction, stressing the importance of the relationship with the United States, the need to improve our military capability and the necessity, in the last resort, for pre-emptive military action. The Council endorsed a comprehensive plan for tackling the spread of weapons of mass destruction. This will be a particular theme of this week's EU-US summit as we take forward our joint work on curbing the export of WMD. The summit will also focus on the trade and economic agenda, especially the need for a successful meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Cancun, and foreign policy co-operation, notably in the middle east.

President Chirac and I had proposed, following the G8 summit, that the EU should match the US by contributing up to Euro1 billion in 2004 to the global health fund to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Although this had majority support, some member states objected and, because of the unanimity requirement, we could not secure agreement at the Council to that sum, but we did agree that the Union would determine the extent of its contribution at the pledging conference on 16 July.

There was a strong focus at the meeting on the EU's relations with the wider world. Putting our support behind the middle east peace process, we called on Hamas and other groups to declare a ceasefire and endorsed an urgent examination of the case for wider action against Hamas fundraising. We expressed serious concern at aspects of the Iranian nuclear programme and our full support for the International Atomic Energy Agency in its effort to conduct a comprehensive examination of Iran's nuclear programme. We made it clear that the way in which Iran behaves on human rights, terrorism and the middle east peace process is crucial to the future development of EU-Iran relations.

Finally, we held a positive discussion about Iraq. The European Council affirmed the European Union's readiness to take part in the reconstruction of Iraq within the framework of UN Security Council resolution 1483. We commissioned further work on the details of the help that the EU can provide.

The Council took stock of the economic situation following the spring summit on economic reform. It set a clear agenda for action in line with the objectives, which Britain and a number of other member states have been advocating.

The Council also endorsed the appointment of Jean-Claude Trichet as the next President of the European Central Bank, in accordance with the agreement reached during the last UK presidency.

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What is clear is that Europe at 25 nations will be very different from Europe at 15. In the coming years, Europe will expand still further to welcome Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and possibly others. Plainly, this means that Europe must change the way it works. There are several areas in which the Convention proposes moving to qualified majority voting, including on trade in services and in the fight against terrorism, drugs and illegal immigration. We should not, however, fear every extension of qualified majority voting as hostile to Britain. In some areas, we need QMV. The only reason we have any hope of achieving reform in, for example, the common agricultural policy is that decisions in the Agriculture Council are determined by QMV. It was thanks to QMV that we opened up energy markets. If we want to drive through economic reform, liberalise markets, and break down state subsidies, then, in a Europe of 25, QMV on such issues as trade in services and mutual recognition of qualifications is essential for the British national interest. Britain needs Europe to work and, for Europe to work, it needs to change.

That is not all that will be different in a Europe of 25 or 30. The new nations joining the EU share, in many ways, the British perspective. They are firmly in favour of the transatlantic alliance. Freed from communism, they do not fear economic reform; they welcome it. Freed from subjugation by the former Soviet Union, the central and east Europeans have no intention or desire to yield up the nationhood for which they have fought so hard. It is no surprise, therefore, that the Convention so explicitly ruled out a European federal superstate.

It is not only the new members that will sign up to that vision of Europe. Increasingly, Europe knows that the focus for its economy and for its security has to be outward, not inward. The danger for Britain is that, at the very time when Europe is moving closer to the view of Europe with which we are most comfortable, and which we can advocate so well, we should lose the chance to take our proper place in Europe by fighting battles long since over, and by turning away at the very point when Europe is turning towards us.

There are real battles, of course—for example, over tax or defence—but they are battles that we can win. At this point in time, with Europe at a crucial point of evolution, this nation, Britain, has to have the confidence to stride forward in Europe, not hang back.

The next year will determine the shape of Europe of which we are a member. There will be critical alliances to be made and choices to be faced, but I have no doubt that a Europe that now stretches from Finland and the Baltic states to the shores of the Aegean sea, Cyprus and Malta is a Europe that should have, and will have, Britain at its heart.

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