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Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con):
How can the Foreign Secretary talk yet again about the need for
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regulatory reform while the European Commission continues to do the exact opposite? For instance, is he aware that the European Standing Committee has just debated a new EU proposal requiring employers to carry out risk assessments of, and to provide information and training on the problems associated with, exposure to outdoor light? The British Government regarded such a proposal as unnecessary, but it is subject to majority voting. How can we take the Foreign Secretary seriously? He talks about regulatory reform, but the culture of the EU continues to be one of yet more regulations, higher taxes, higher unemployment and low growth.
Mr. Straw: I am very happy to write to the right hon. Gentleman about the merits of this regulation[Interruption.] I understand from a sedentary comment that the argument in favour of it relates to skin cancer. As is often the case, we hear a parody of the purpose of such regulations. A moment ago, Opposition Front Benchers launched a ridiculous attack on women's rights, instead of understanding that half the population of Europe are women, who would perhaps like their rights to be protected.
On the wider issue raised by the right hon. Gentleman, there has been a sea change in the Commission's culture, which is reflected in its new membership and in the clear policy direction given not only by President Barroso but, for example, by Peter Mandelson. In a very good article in today's edition of the Financial Times, Peter Mandelson sets out his and the Commission's vision for ensuring that EU regulation is lighter and more effective.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): My right hon. Friend said in his statement that Africa would be an important part of the European Union's agenda. Is there not an important spillover from the public's response to the tsunami appeals and their willingness to see poverty in Africa tackled? Should we not take the highest ground possible on these matters, and is it not time for an international tax on currency speculation? Many African nations argue for the need for a form of Marshall aid. We might be able to secure a form of Straw aid, which might be more significant than that term would suggest.
Mr. Straw: I agree very much with my hon. Friend's more general statement. However, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has a number of serious reservations about the proposed Tobin tax, which I share.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP): I welcome the Foreign Secretary's statement and the publication of the White Paper. On security, is he aware that there are still some gaps in the extradition arrangements between the various European Union countries? For example, Spain refused to extradite a criminal to Dublin, and Belgium refused to extradite a particular individual to the United Kingdom. Can the Foreign Secretary assure us that in the fight against international terrorism and criminality, he will aim to tighten up such arrangements?
Yes, I can. Frankly, extradition ought to be a very straightforward issue within Europe. I understand the hon. Gentleman's frustration with the
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system, which frustrated me when I was Home Secretary. I offer my personal commitment on this issue, and that of my right hon. Friend the current Home Secretary.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): I heard Viktor Yushchenko tell the Council of Europe in Strasbourg last week that Ukraine's bid for EU membership would be decided not in Brussels but in Kiev. Does my friend agree with that, and what are the prospects of Ukraine's joining the EU?
Mr. Straw: Yes, and Mr. Yushchenko made the very important point that the EU is a union of independent nation states. So of course, the fundamental decision as to whether Ukraine is to apply for EU membership, and whether it achieves that, will be made by Ukrainians themselves in Kiev.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): Although France, Germany and the United Kingdom have been negotiating, as the Foreign Secretary said, with Iran about its development of nuclear weapons, the United States Government still think that Iran has withheld information from us and that it is heading towards developing such weapons. Given that China is supplying, for example, Silkworm missiles to Iran, does not the EU's decision to consider lifting the arms embargo send out all the wrong signals?
Mr. Straw: I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. No such decision has yet been made by the EU and if one is, it will be made only on the strictest conditions and with a very significant improvement in the current code of conductincluding, for the first time, real transparency on arms sales on the part of every single member of the EU. The hon. Gentleman says that the United States complains that Iran has withheld information; so do we. Indeed, that is the basis of the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors' original decision to declare that Iran was non-compliant with its safeguards agreement. I recently published a detailed command paper for the benefit of the House, setting out the ways in which Iran has been in breach. But I would also argue very strongly that the negotiations in which France, Germany and I are involved are the best way forward in trying to bring Iran back into compliance.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab):
May I raise with my right hon. Friend the two draft regulations proposed by the Commission on financial aid to the Turkish Cypriots and the direct trade regulation? Those two have been linked together, but the first is non-contentious, and it is agreed by everyone that the Turkish Cypriots should have €259 million of aid. The second, however, is extremely contentious, protectionist and does little to advance the interests of the Cypriots as a whole, whereas a more free trade approach would. Will my right hon. Friend consider de-linking the two, so that Turkish Cypriots can secure the financial aid quickly while we attempt to apply more sensible trading arrangements on the island, particularly the option of making green line regulation more effective?
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Mr. Straw: We want the financial aid to reach the Turkish Cypriots as quickly as possible. It is initially for the Commission to make proposals about the linkage or otherwise of the regulations, but I would add that I was present at the General Affairs Council on 26 April last year, when a package of proposals, including these regulations to benefit northern Cyprus, was unanimously agreed. That is not for a moment the same as recognising northern Cyprus as a separate state, but it will benefit the northern Cypriots and it acknowledges that they voted in substantial numbers in favour of the Annan plan. It is a matter of great regret that both the regulations have, in practice, been blocked by one member state since then.
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park) (LD): I was surprised and somewhat disappointed that, in his comments on the prospects for the European Union, the Foreign Secretary made no mention at all of the middle east peace process. Does he agree that peace in the middle east is crucial to the war on terrorism and the future prospects for peace in the world? Will he clarify what the EU is going to do this year to put pressure on Israel, in particular, to move the peace process forward?
The White Paper is available and paragraph 84 spells out the key points. My statement was a brief summary of what appears there. The EU is doing a lot in respect of the middle east. Javier Solana, the EU special representative on foreign policy, will be present at the London meeting on 1 March that we are hosting, in order better to support the Palestinians as the withdrawal from Gaza takes place. I would like to see the House have a full debate on the middle east, but the truth is that the Government of Israel have moved a long way in recent months. Some quite remarkable things are now happening in respect of better co-operation between the Israelis and Palestinians. We are supporting that process and so, too, is the EU.
Jane Griffiths (Reading, East) (Lab): I welcome the White Paper's commitment to continuing reform of the common agricultural policy. Is my right hon. Friend aware of the petition for Africa, signatures for which are being collected in large numbers by churches and individuals in my constituency and, of course, elsewhere? Does he support the aim of the petitionto divert unfair subsidies for European farmers towards poverty alleviation in Africa?
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