|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and other British Ministers have had frequent discussions with the Amir and his representatives on the Amir's democratisation programme.
Huw Irranca-Davies : I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I welcome the advice and assistance that has been given by our colleagues to the Qatar Government. Does my hon. Friend agree that while it is not a matter of one-size-fits-all in terms of democracy, it is always preferential throughout the world not to have rule by tyrants? On that issue, will my hon. Friend enlighten us as to whether Saddam Husseinwe welcome the fact that he was found the other dayis now enjoying the hospitality of Qatar?
Mr. Rammell: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I share his view about the position of tyrants throughout the world. Saddam Hussein is being held under coalition authority in a US facility. I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand that I shall not comment further on where Saddam Hussein is being held for obvious security reasons. Nevertheless, I share my hon. Friend's view about tyrants. The capture of Saddam is extremely welcome. While being a cause for celebration I think that there is an important opportunity as well to reach out in reconciliation with the Iraqi people, who have suffered so much under Saddam's torture.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Does the Minister accept that Qatar, to a large extent, put itself very much on the line for us as the situation with Saudi Arabia deteriorated in the build up to the recent Gulf conflict? As somebody who has worked in that part of the world in neighbouring Bahrain, I believe that we owe it to the small Gulf states such as Qatar, which stood by
Mr. Rammell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for those comments. Like him, I regard Qatar as a firm regional friend and ally. It is important that we make that point clear. It is well worth saying that there has been significant progress within Qatar towards democratisation. It is particularly noteworthy and welcome that Qatar was the first Gulf state to give the vote to women, something we strongly support.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): As the Prime Minister made clear in his statement yesterday, the intergovernmental conference did not reach agreement at the weekend. We expect discussions on the timetable of any future negotiations to be taken forward by presidencies next year.
Mr. MacShane: I am sorry that the hon. Lady, who knows a great deal about Europe, should adopt such a negative tone. There were things in the draft constitutional treaty that we would want to supportenhanced powers for Parliament and the standing chairman of the Council of Ministers representing the nation states of Europe getting the institutional balance right. However, we could not come to an agreement at the weekend, and many of the comments made across Europe that we need a pause and time for reflection are quite right. However, the White Paper that we published on 9 September made the position perfectly clear:
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): Given that the dreams of the federalists were shattered at the weekend, and that even now they are talking of taking revenge on Poland and Spain, which could increase the acrimony, is it not time to look at an alternative vision of Europe based on independent democratic states co-
Mr. MacShane: I am grateful, as always, to my hon. Friend for his robust position on European issues. However, I cannot think of any business in my constituency that would not want to have the rules of the European Union in place to make sure that the single market works, which requires both rules and the means to enforce them. I cannot think of any tourist from my constituency who would not wish to have the E111 systems and other rights that flow from them because the European Union and enforceable rules exist. If my hon. Friend genuinely wishes to return to a Europe not of consensual states but of states bickering, conflicting and putting up barriers and frontiers to everything, that is his visionit is certainly the Opposition's visionbut it is not what the interests of the British nation demand.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): Does the Minister think that it is sustainable in the long term that Germany, the largest net contributor to the EU budget with a population of 80 million, should have only two more votes in the Council than, say, Poland, which has a population of 40 million and is likely to be a recipient of substantial EU funds?
Mr. MacShane: The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes a fair point, but the voters of Bremen, with 500,000 voters in a German Land, have exactly the same number of representatives as the voters of North Rhine-Westphalia, which has 18 million voters, in the German Bundesrat. That is common across the world. Getting the balance right is difficult, and at the weekend we found that one side took one position and another side a different one. We tried to build bridges, which is rather a good thing for Britain to do. The right hon. and learned Gentleman may be speaking simply about Germany and the idea that the bigger the population the more power a place should have, but I am not entirely sure that that position will be shared by the rest of Europe.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May I congratulate my hon. Friend and the Prime Minister on the work that they did on the negotiations? However, did the outcome of the summit last weekend result in the best possible position for our Government? If people are unhappy about the way in which matters were discussed and concluded, is it not better to have a pause so that we can effectively start again and make sure that there is even more adequate parliamentary scrutiny? We should also ensure that when we have an agreement everyone sticks to it and accepts itthat is surely the right position for our country.
Mr. MacShane: As one of my predecessors, my hon. Friend will recall that when the treaties of Amsterdam and Nice were negotiated Opposition Front Benchers said that those treaties would take us into a superstate and there should be a referendum on them. Similarly, the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) and the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) said that the treaty of Maastricht would take us towards a superstate, and Tony Benn, the former
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): While it is regrettable that certain positive elements of the draft constitution will not come to fruition, will the Minister confirm that the collapse of the intergovernmental conference agreement on the draft constitution will not hold back the accession to the European Union of Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey? Will he commit the UK Government to doing everything in their power to help speed the accession of those three countries?
Mr. MacShane: The answer is clearly yes. We got good language on Romania and Bulgaria, and we remain a firm and committed supporter of Turkish accession if the criteria are met. However, the House should have no illusions. As Europe becomes fractious, does not move forward and takes time for pause and reflection, there are huge forces in other major European countries opposed to Turkish accession and unhappy with enlargement. Those who continually decry a functioning and effective European Union based on partnership should reflect on what that will do to the hopes that we all have for the accession of the next wave of incoming countries to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): Is not the failure to reach agreement this week better than reaching the wrong agreement? Although, unfortunately, disagreements between Poland and Germany in particular, and between other countries, were the principal reason for the failure, the fact that the British Government worked so hard and achieved a great deal of progress shows that we have moved from isolation in 1997 to being central to attaining a long-term solution to such problems. Is that not a defeat for the whingers and Europhobes in the Conservative party?
Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend is right. It is difficult for the Opposition, with their continual rancid anti-Europeanism from almost every part of the Conservative Benches, to accept the fact that Britain's engagement in the European Union is good for Britain and good for Europe. The Prime Minister's role in seeking to bring different elements of the European Union together was widely recognised over the weekend. Many of the British demands were recognised and would have been in the final constitutional treaty. I am proud of the fact that we are a country engaged in Europe, at the centre of Europe, in Europe and helping to run Europe. Woe betide our nation if the policy of the Conservative party to take us to the exit door of Europe ever became reality.
Mr. MacShane: For the same reason, I imagine, as President Bush welcomed the work of the Prime Minister in securing a good deal on European defence. The notion that our country's or our allies' interests would be served by Britain isolating itself from co-operation with our main defence partners is absurda danger to the United States and the rest of Europe. The only thing that concerns everyone in Europe is the fact that there is one major opposition party in this great democracy that is out there on the far right of the anti-European wing. While the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues maintain the position that he expressed again today or the hatred towards Europe that we heard from the Front Bench yesterday, his party will remain permanently out of power.
Mr. Ancram: The Minister obviously has not been listening to the voices from his own Benches today. He has not exactly had a lot of support. The Prime Minister has accepted that the constitution is not necessary. Why, then, are the Government trying to resurrect it? Is it not clear from the reactions to Saturday's fiasco that our partners in Europe see it, in the words of the Belgian Prime Minister, as
Mr. MacShane: With your permission, Mr. Speaker, the Government set up a special Standing Committee on the Intergovernmental Conference, which has met for three very long sittings. Never before in British history has a treaty been subject to such parliamentary scrutiny while it is under negotiation. Not a single Opposition Front Bencher turned up for any of those sittings, and only three Conservative Members of Parliament out of 160-odd Members bothered to do so. It is that contempt for parliamentary scrutiny on the part of the Opposition that is our worst problem. I invite the right hon. and learned Gentleman to come to some of the meetings where Europe is discussed, as he might learn something to his advantage.