Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Straw: I will give way in due course, but the hon. Gentleman must allow me more than two sentences.

Tony Baldry: On this point?

Mr. Straw: Whether it is on this point or not—I am not that generous.

The main business of the Council will be a decision on opening membership negotiations with Turkey. Before I come to that, let me go through some other key issues on the agenda.

We expect some discussion at the Council of the European Union's budget for 2007–13. The budget negotiations are still at an early stage, and the Government welcome the work done so far by the Dutch presidency. The European Council will discuss a progress report and the presidency will seek to agree principles and guidelines for the continuing negotiations. For our part, we want to ensure that the money is spent effectively; that the budget is affordable; and that EU programmes are pursued only where they add value. More generally, we have made it clear that we seek an EU budget limited to 1 per cent. of Europe's gross national income, as opposed to the 1.24 per cent. that is currently proposed by the Commission. France, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Sweden share our view, and we have made our common position clear in public.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Straw: I will, but I want to get through a little bit more before I first give way to the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry).

There may also be some discussion at the Council of how the EU raises its revenue—the so-called own resources system. All member states have to agree to any changes, especially those that are net contributors, and everyone has a veto. We will oppose any attempt to reopen the discussion on the UK's budget rebate, which—as we continue to make forcibly clear—is fully justified.

The Council will also discuss a number of foreign policy issues, including EU support for the Palestinian elections in January and the situation in Ukraine. It is
15 Dec 2004 : Column 1673
worth reminding the House that this is common European foreign policy in practice. If the UK decides not to work with other countries, there is no such policy—as, for example, there was not in respect of Iraq—because the policy requires the agreement of every one of the EU's member states. That will remain emphatically the case under the new EU constitutional treaty.

However, there are clearly many issues on which 25 nations speaking as one have a great deal more influence than we would on our own. On the middle east, the EU's membership of the Quartet—which also includes the United States, Russia and the United Nations—helps us actively to support the peace process. The EU is one of the biggest donors to the Palestinian Authority.

If anyone wants a good example of a common foreign policy working in practice, it is the united EU response and consistent message about the need for a free and fair electoral process that helped to resolve the political crisis in the Ukraine. The Presidents of Poland and Lithuania and EU High Representative Javier Solana playedan important role in that by helping to facilitate talks between the parties. The second round of the presidential elections will be rerun on our Boxing day and the EU is maintaining pressure for that free and fair rerun of the election. We discussed it in detail at the Foreign Ministers Council on Monday and we will contribute observers to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe election mission.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: No, I shall give way to the hon. Member for Banbury.

Tony Baldry: Twice a year, we have an opportunity for a day of group therapy on Europe, but European competence covers many Departments. For example, it involves trade policy, migration policy and development policy. Yet junior Ministers from the other Departments do not even do us the courtesy of attending the debate. [Interruption.] I am referring to the Government. Will the Foreign Secretary give the House an undertaking to relay to other Cabinet Ministers points that are made in today's debate that specifically relate to their Departments? Otherwise, we are simply speaking to the wind and the Chamber becomes a senate of Lilliput.

Mr. Straw: There is a general problem, which affects both sides of the House, about attendance in the Chamber. It has more to do with Back-Bench than Front-Bench attendance. In my 25 years experience, Front Benchers in such debates constitute only the Whips and the Ministers who are involved.

On the second point, I take seriously what the House says about the European Union—and any other issue. We initiated and established arrangements, which meant Parliament's full and active involvement in the Convention and the intergovernmental conference.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD) indicated assent.
15 Dec 2004 : Column 1674

Mr. Straw: I am glad to have the approbation of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell). Hon. Members of all parties made suggestions and, consequently, beneficial changes were made to the Convention text, which is now a good text. I look forward to its general endorsement. On non-attendance, the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) did not turn up once to the proceedings of the Special Standing Committee that preceded the IGC. Conservatives stayed away and I regret that.

Mr. Cash rose—

Mr. Straw: On cue, here is one who turned up.

Mr. Cash: I am glad that the Foreign Secretary has given way because I am sure that he would not accuse me of not being present. On his opening remarks on budgets, does he accept the report from the university of Bonn, to which Wolfgang Munchau referred in the Financial Times the day before yesterday? The report stated that the main effect of the stability and growth pact—the Foreign Secretary knows that I vigorously opposed that even under a Conservative Government—has been to encourage countries to cheat by misreporting their deficits. Does not he regard that as a serious problem? Why do not the Government repudiate the stability and growth pact?

Mr. Straw: Assiduous though I am in reading around the subject, I have not read the report from the university of Bonn and I also omitted to read the column in the Financial Times. We have made it clear that we support amendments to the stability and growth pact—my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made that crystal clear. However, I stress that there is no ground whatever for countries that are members of the EU to fiddle their national statistics.

Mr. Bellingham: Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: No, I shall make some progress and then I shall take interventions.

I am pleased that our work on Iran has been endorsed by all sides. Our work with France, Germany and the EU in the past 14 months has secured agreement by Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities. On Monday, my French and German colleagues, EU High Representative Javier Solana and I met Dr Hassan Rouhani, Secretary General of Iran's supreme national security council, in Brussels to begin the process of negotiation on longer-term arrangements with Iran. One of the purposes of the negotiation is to provide objective guarantees that Iran's nuclear programme can be used only for peaceful purposes. That is the reality of EU common foreign policy, not the fantastical accusations that we so often hear from the Opposition. It shows how Britain benefits from the role that we play in the European Union, increasing our influence and impact in the world without in any way detracting from our independence of action. As we can have the best of both worlds—we can be independent and autonomous when we want but work with our partners when we want—I cannot for the life of me understand the logic adopted by the Opposition,
15 Dec 2004 : Column 1675
particularly the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes, who now says that the common foreign and security policy "should be abandoned". That would merely weaken Britain's influence in the world without adding to our autonomy in any way. It is even odder, given that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was an arch-proponent of Maastricht in 1992 and made lurid speeches in favour of it. He even said, as the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) will recall, that he would rather be inside a superstate.

Next Section IndexHome Page