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Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD):
I commend the practice of the regular publication of these White Papers. So far as the Government recognise the
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imperative need for progress on the single market and the Lisbon agreement, they will undoubtedly have our support.
On China, I part company with the Foreign Secretary. How can lifting the arms embargo, which was imposed after the events in Tiananmen square, be justified given the scope of human rights abuses in China, including the detention of thousands of political prisoners, which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office itself has described as a matter of serious concern? The Foreign Secretary visited Washington last week, and will be aware that political opposition to lifting the embargo exists across the board, and I hope that he will reconsider the position.
We have consistently supported the Foreign Secretary on Iran. What is the status of the current negotiations on a long-term agreement with Iran? When the Foreign Secretary meets the new Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, tomorrow, will he impress upon her the validity of the European Union's approach?
Finally, on the constitutional treaty, I share the Foreign Secretary's keen sense of anticipation about the forthcoming debate. Does he agree that the campaign for an affirmative vote in that referendum should begin as soon as possible?
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his opening remarks. Beginning at paragraph 39, the White Paper includes a good section on the need to reform the CAP. We want to see progress on the reform of the EU sugar regime, which, as the White Paper states, is the most archaic regime in the CAP and costs EU consumers an estimated £3.2 billion each year. The right hon. and learned Gentleman may know, and Conservative Members may not, that we have been able to secure reforms of the CAP only as a result of QMV.
On the EU arms embargo on China, neither the European Council nor the General Affairs Council has made a decision. At the December meeting of the European Councilthe summit of Heads of State, Heads of Government and Foreign Ministersgood conclusions were agreed. Among other things, the conclusions stated that if the embargo is lifted, no quantitative or qualitative increase in arms sales by any European Union country to China should occur. I will be happy to debate that matter at greater length at an appropriate moment, Mr. Speaker.
Since 1989, there has been some change for the better on human rights in China, but the change has not gone far enough by any means. We continually raise that point with China, and I raised it when I was there two weeks ago. We have set out our view of the current state of human rights in China in a comprehensive human rights report. The big difference is that since 1989, and following initiatives by my right hon. Friend the
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Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), the EU now has a comprehensive arms control regime, which it did not have before. The truth of the matter is that almost all the refusals of licences have been made under the comprehensive arms control regime code of conduct, and not under the embargo, which is narrowly focused and does not include, for example, fighter avionics, which is key high-tech equipment.
Conversely, in all but two rather trivial cases, all cases of refusal under the embargo would have been refused under the code of conduct in any event. We are seeking to strengthen the code of conduct in any agreement that is reached, so that the arrangement is more transparent and allows much better knowledge in both this House and across Europe of what other countries are doing in terms of arms sales.
On Iran, following the decisions made in the middle of November, which were endorsed by the IAEA board, three working parties are currently in discussions with the Iranians. As soon as there is anything to report, I will make it available to the House.
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and particularly his comments about the constitutional treaty. The fundamental human rights agency is a new institution that was not subject to any discussions when the constitution was debated. If the new institution will deal purely and simply with the human rights implications of Community law, it will be welcome because it will fill a gap in general human rights law in Europe. If, however, its powers are to be extended so that it seeks to take over the role currently fulfilled by the Council of Europe, it will lead to dangerous duplication and two standards of human rights in Europe.
During the UK presidency of the EU, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the statute that is currently being debated, discussed and drawn up is minimalist in its aim and ensures proper human rights within European institutions, but does not extend beyond that.
Mr. Straw: It is, of course, a new institution. I accept my hon. Friend's concerns about duplication with the Council of Europe, which has also been a concern of ours in drafting the constitution. He will be familiar with the articles that ensure that the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights and the statements in the European convention on human rights are not overturned by the charter of fundamental rights within the constitution.
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con):
I notice that the Foreign Secretary is going for "better" regulation. We all recall that his Government set up a Better Regulation Task Force when they first took
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office, but they quickly abandoned it because it was not effective. Why does he not go for less regulation instead of "better", and why does he not remove the EU's competences over regulation in this country? British businesses, particularly small ones, might then feel that something is happening.
Mr. Straw: Better regulation in many cases means less regulation, which is why I emphasised in my statement that part of the agenda that we, like other presidencies, will follow during our presidency is to ensure not only that there is real focus on new draft regulations, but a systematic process for eliminating unnecessary regulation. However, there are circumstances in which it is in the interests of British business and individuals for better regulation in a discrete area to mean new regulation. Indeed, one can think of a number of such circumstances. It is very easy for people simply to dismiss regulation, but without it, there would be no health and safety at work and we would be back to the situation that existed at the beginning of the 19th century. If that is the view
Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman may say that, but such measures depend on regulation. The single market, which is very much to the benefit of British business, depends not only on regulations but on their enforcement across Europe. Ours is the country and economy that has most benefited from access to a free market in Europe. We have to ensure that regulation is better, and in many cases that means less regulation, but in some cases it means new regulation.
Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend knows, the situation in Cyprus has stalled following the Republic's rejection of the Annan V plan. Some of us fear that, in the light of that rejection, Cyprus might try to veto certain aspects of European Union business and the negotiations with Turkey. Given that Turkey has influenced the Republic's decision to reject Annan V by, for example, stationing 35,000 troops in the norththere is also the question of property rights in that regioncould my right hon. Friend use this October's negotiations with Turkey to try to find some common ground by persuading it to remove its troops from the north and to reach some accommodation with Cyprus?
Mr. Straw: As my hon. Friend knows, this is a very sensitive issue for both the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots. There was talk before the December Council of a possible veto by Cyprus, but in the event, following some very difficult negotiations, all members of the Council unanimously agreed a date of this October for negotiations with Turkey to begin. For the future, both Cyprus and Turkey look forward to one product of Turkey's ultimate accession and membership being complete normalisation of its relations with Cyprus, including recognition of that state. But there are strong feelings on both sides about this issue, and there has to be a process that secures consent from each side. We are actively encouraging that process.
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