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The Prime Minister: First, I echo what my hon. Friend says about the contribution of British troops and, indeed, British aid workers and people from the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development. They are making a huge difference to the reconstruction of Iraq and work is proceeding. As he rightly says, many schools have reopened and many businesses and homes are being rebuilt. There is an atmosphere, whatever the difficulties, of real hope for the future.
My hon. Friend is also right in saying that 1483, the new United Nations resolution, calls on everyone to develop as secure a programme as possible in giving greater amounts of help. I hope very much that over the coming months we can get that help under way in Iraq. The prospects are extremely good if we can lever in the right expertise and change from the outside.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield): Does the Prime Minister think that the structure of the six-monthly European jamborees has largely outlived its usefulness? If, as reported, he came home halfway through the Council to see his children, who, frankly, could complain about that? Why does he not appoint another Minister to go to the meetings, take a few notes and report back on the personalities? He could consider the Leader of the House, who has now gone plural. As Secretary of State for Wales, he might also have time, in addition to reforming the tax system, to report back to him on European junketing.
The Prime Minister: First, I attended the whole of the European Council. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman's idea that I should not go to the European Council but instead send someone to take notes for me is slightly strange. It would mean that 24 nations in the European Council would be represented by their Head of Government or Head of State and we would have a notetaker. That would be a really good thing for Britain, wouldn't it?
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the ratchet clause in the treaty will not consistently remove from national Governments their right to veto any legislation that is not in the interests of their nation?
The Prime Minister: It is precisely because of our concerns about the so-called passerelle clause that we believe that we need fundamental change to ensure that national Parliaments cannot be bypassed in that way. Such a thing could only be agreed by unanimity in the European Council, but I think that we need further protections for national Parliaments, too.
Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): I am sure the Prime Minister will join me in welcoming the new countries into the European Unionplaces such as Malta, Cyprus, the Baltic states and Sloveniato become part of something that will now be a union of member states.
The Prime Minister: We have protected, in so far as we possibly can, the structural funds through the deal that we secured at Berlin a few years ago, and it is important that we continue to do so. However, it is also important to recognise that this country, as a major contributor to the European Union, needs an effective and efficient way of limiting the overall budget for Europe. In respect of Wales and Scotland, I believe the procedures in place offer the best protection for their interests.
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): Does my right hon. Friend agree that expansion of the EU to 25 nations provides a great opportunity for British businesses, especially those in the north-east of England which rely on 78 per cent. of their exports going to the EU? Does he also agree that future business opportunities and job creation are put at risk by those who advocate either withdrawal from the EU or associate membership of it?
The Prime Minister: What is absolutely extraordinary is any position that says that we should renegotiate our basic terms of membership of the European Union when 10 countries that are essentially supportive of the British point of view are coming into Europe and we have a better chance of winning these debates in Europe than we have probably ever had since we became members. To end up, when we are about to create literally the single biggest economic market in the world, redrawing our essential terms of membership would be an act almost of extraordinary folly for this country. The fact that the Conservative party now takes that position says a great deal about its present state.
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton): Does the Prime Minister agree that to make the European Union work, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, we will have to make changes? Increasingly, there are decisions that cannot be made by nation states alone. Was the Prime Minister aware how Thatcherite he was when welcoming the extension of qualified majority voting? In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher made it quite clear that qualified majority voting was in the national interest, as it would overcome the protectionist instinct of other member countries. Was there a chance at the summit to discuss Europe's economic problems and the reform programmes that Germany and France need to put in place because of the consequences of a single monetary zone?
The Prime Minister: There was a lot of discussion of the basic economic situation and the importance of reform programmes. As for the point that the hon. Gentleman made about QMV, of course that is right.
The Prime Minister: The shadow Leader of the House is nodding. The debate is beginning, and we will have an opportunity through the workings of the Convention to have that debate in the House. It is extraordinary that today the Conservative party is taking a more extreme position than Margaret Thatcher used to take.
Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): Did the foreign affairs discussion include the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan? Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is great concern, particularly among women, that the Constitution Commission may not be able to carry out its work effectively because of the lack of security? How will he respond to the pleas of Presidents Karzai and Musharraf and 80 non-governmental organisations working in Afghanistan for real security to be provided by the international community outside the capital of Kabul?
The Prime Minister: We want to respond positively to those claims. Obviously, I had an opportunity to discuss that with President Karzai a few weeks ago, and it is worth pointing out that when I told him that it is often said here that Afghanistan is in no better shape than it was when the Taliban were in charge, his response was that anyone who seriously believed that could not have been to the same country that he had been in. There have been huge strides forward, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right to identify the fact that the problem with security is outside Kabul, which is why we are in discussion with Germany and other countries to try to make sure that we extend the remit of the security force. We will be taking part in some of the regional teams that will try to make sure that the Afghan army is built up sufficiently so that it can operate in all areas of Afghanistan and so that its writ runs from the centre to all those areas.
The point that my hon. Friend made about the constitution is right. I believe that we can safeguard the position of women and other minorities in terms of the ethnic mix in Afghanistan[Interruption.] The different ethnic mix of minorities has to be protected too. There is also a great deal of recognition of the importance of getting the right co-operation on the drugs issue, but I am satisfied that we will be able to make progress in all those things.
The Prime Minister: I think people who are fighting for freedom everywhere deserve our support, but the exact nature of the support that we are able to give is an open and different question. However, people in whatever part of the world who are trying to achieve basic human rights and civil liberties deserve support from all of us.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): I am surprised that the Prime Minister, when referring to the middle east peace process, did not join the United States Secretary of State in denouncing the sabotaging by the Israeli Prime Minister of the peace process with a policy of targeted assassinations, which inevitably bring on Palestinian terrorist suicide bombings of innocent Israeli civilians, whose blood rests on the head of the Israeli Prime Minister as much as on their murderers. Will my right hon. Friend now make it clear that this rogue elephant Sharon must be reined in and, if he will not assist in the peace process, sanctions and an arms ban must be imposed on him?