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Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West) (LD):
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement on the significant summit of a few days ago. Does he agree, when we hear some of the sceptical sounds that are made about Europe, that after a summit that has
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welcomed the finalising of accession treaties with Romania and Bulgaria and set dates for their accession, thereby opening important accession discussions with Turkey and Croatia, it is a bit odd that all the welcome new countriesdemocracies emerging from the shadow of the cold warare queueing up to join the institution, while others would have us believe it is a manifest disgrace and disability to us all? People should reflect on that when they hear some of the nonsense that is talked about the welcome progress on the European front.
Does the Prime Minister agree that opening discussions with Turkey sends a positive signal about the European Union to the rest of the world? The European Union is open, secular and united by democracy and human rights. Given that, will the Prime Minister go a little further than he went in his statement about how heor the Foreign Secretaryviews the squaring of the circle regarding Cyprus and the legitimate, continuing interests of our country in that context? I appreciate that that is a difficult question.
Given the Home Secretary's answer to an urgent question earlier, does the Prime Minister find it difficult when attending European summits to square indefinite detention without trial at Belmarsh with the statement in the summit's conclusions:
The Prime Minister properly referred to Iraq. Will he give us some indication of the Government's current thinking on possible requirements for the deployment of more British troops in Iraq? Did he have a chance at the summit to speak to his Polish opposite number about Iraq? Poland confirmed only last week that it will pull out 1,700 troopsapproximately half its forcefrom Iraq in February. Against the electoral timetable, which we all support, that raises legitimate anxieties about what further commitment, if any, may be required from our country and armed forces.
The Prime Minister: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his general welcome for the summit. His comments about the new countries are right. The Conservatives have got themselves into a truly bizarre position: the 10 new countries that have joined the European Union all support the European constitution; Romania and Bulgaria, which will also join, support the constitution, and Turkey, which is coming in, also supports the constitution.
The Prime Minister : We have made it clear that people in this country will have a vote and the final say in a referendum. However, what is the sensible position for a Government to take? We appreciate that, in the end, the question will be put to the British people, but is it sensible for a Government who have to work in Europe and who welcome the new countries that are joining to take a position that is so at odds with every other Government in Europe?
The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) mentioned Turkey. Of course, I hope that Turkey would have made progress on
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democratic and political rights in any event, but European Union membership has played a dramatically important part in ensuring consent in countries for the big process of change. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Cyprus. Under the first EU presidency in 1998, when we dealt with Turkey and Cyprus, I personally would have found it inconceivable that we could get Turkey to support the Kofi Annan plan. The fact is that it did support that plan. Indeed, it was the Greek Cypriots who, in the end, rejected it. That will have to be resolved by negotiation, but it is a sign of just how much Turkey has changed under this magnet of EU membership.
In respect of Belmarsh, I obviously cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman, but I would just make this point. Of course it is extremely important to pay close attention to the civil liberties of our citizensindeed, this Government incorporated the human rights legislation in British lawbut I hope people also understand this from the position of decision takers, who are desperately anxious to prevent terrorist attacks in this country in circumstances where there are people who our security and police services are telling us are a direct threat to this country's security, who are free to leave this country at any time, and who do not have rights of citizenship here.
In those circumstances, we have tried to constrain how we act as much as possible to make it compatible with human rights. Of course I understand people's concernsI do not disrespect them at allbut I think that our primary responsibility has to be to protect the lives of the citizens of this country. As we have seen from 11 September, from Madrid and elsewhere, there are terrorists, I am afraid, who are prepared to cause destruction on a massive scale.
Incidentally, it is true to point out that many other European countries have very tough security legislation. It is not always the same as ours, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that it is also very tough. Just as I came into the Chamber, I heard an Opposition Member talking about a possible criminal offence in respect of the right of association. That is a very wide criminal offence to introduce. It applies in certain other European countries, but frankly it gives rise to exactly the same debate about civil liberties as we are having over Belmarsh.
Finally, in relation to Iraq and troop requirements, it is correct that some of the 11 or 12 European countries with troops in Iraq will be either reducing their capability or pulling out, mainly because they have already taken a position to end their troop deployment in Iraq at a particular time. However, at the same time we are building up the Iraq security forces. We keep the question of additional troops under review the whole time, but we have no current plans to deploy.
Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab):
I very much welcome the decision to enter into accession talks with Turkey, but does my right hon. Friend accept that the issue of Cyprus will indeed loom large as a background, and that, in this context, the way forward is to revert to consideration of the Annan plan and to recognise that the situation we find ourselves in is, as he says, that the Greek Cypriots, who voted against the Annan plan, find
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themselves with the full benefit of EU membership while the Turkish Cypriots, who voted for it, find themselves in isolationwithout direct flights, without EU aid and without direct trade?
The Prime Minister: I take the point that my hon. Friend makes. We strongly support the EU commitment to end the isolation of Turkish Cypriots. That is one of the issues that we have discussed before at the European Council. Direct flights to the north of Cyprus would of course contribute towards ending that isolation, but this is an immensely complex legal area, although we are examining the issue. We also support proposals from the European Commission for direct trade between north Cyprus and the EU and financial aid to north Cyprus. We are working to ensure that those are agreed on, so I hope we show that we are earnest and have good intentions in that regard. I hope that, over time, we will be able to see the negotiation of a satisfactory solution to Cyprus.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): The Prime Minister may have seen a recent poll which showed that 18 to 24-year-olds and 65 per cent. of the Scottish voters have said that they would like to move to associate status. In relation to the question of renegotiation, which he has just raised with the Leader of the Opposition, does he deny that it is open to Parliament to legislate inconsistently, if necessary, with the European Communities Act 1972 itself, or indeed with rulings of the Court or with treaties or other laws of the acquis communautaire?
The Prime Minister:
I will, of course, accept the verdict of the people. When the hon. Gentleman talks of associate status, he is talking of his desire to get to associate status. That is at least an honest position for the Conservative party to take, as it is the effect of what it is saying. Whatever the Front Bench wants to do to try to walk around the issue, to try to keep together the two bits of the Conservative party, the fact is that were we to renegotiate the terms of membership, there is no doubtthis is not about renegotiating the EU constitution but about renegotiating existing terms of membershipthat that would end up either with this country being utterly humiliated and having to accept that we could not do it, or, I agree, with us headed for associate status. He says that that is what people in this country would want. Well, he can adopt that position, but I am afraid that I would be prepared to challenge it. If people do think that, it is right that we should stand up and say that European Union membership, and being part of the European Union, is good for this country, our business, our trade, British jobs and British influence in the world. We will get to that debate, which we will have in the course of the referendum on the constitution, but at least he is adopting an honest position: that he sees a no vote in the constitution referendum as the first step towards associate membership, which means "out of Europe".
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