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House of Commons

Wednesday 18 May 2005

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Members Sworn

The following Members took and subscribed the Oath, or made and subscribed the Affirmation required by Law:



Mr. Secretary Darling, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Margaret Beckett, Mr. Secretary Hain, Secretary Alan Johnson, Secretary Tessa Jowell and Derek Twigg, presented a Bill to make provision for a railway transport system running from Maidenhead, in the County of Berkshire, and Heathrow Airport, in the London Borough of Hillingdon, through central London to Shenfield, in the County of Essex, and Abbey Wood, in the London Borough of Greenwich; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed, pursuant to Standing Order [7 April]. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 1].

Consumer Credit

Secretary Alan Johnson, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Blunkett, Mr. Secretary Darling, Mr. Secretary Hain, Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe and Bridget Prentice, presented a Bill to amend the Consumer Credit Act 1974; to extend the ombudsman scheme under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 to cover licensees under the Consumer Credit Act 1974; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 2].

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Point of Order

11.36 am

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—a genuine point of order. You may have been made aware that yesterday in the Chamber, thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), a very serious matter was raised to which I hope you have been able to give some attention—namely, that in spite of your instructions to the contrary, the Government yesterday gave this House a flimsy four-page document summarising the merest elements of the Queen's Speech, whereas they were apparently simultaneously giving to the press 200 pages of detail that lay behind the items in the Queen's Speech.

Surely, Mr. Speaker, that is in direct contravention of your instructions, which you renewed at the beginning of this Parliament. This building is under your control; what Government Departments do is not. Surely you can now exert your influence to make sure that Members of Parliament are given the same information as members of the press.

Mr. Speaker: First, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that they are always genuine points of order; it is just that sometimes I do not agree with them.

I have noted the point that the right hon. Gentleman raised yesterday about the extensive briefing made available to the press on the legislative programme in the Queen's Speech. If there is proper information about the Government's programme available from official sources, I would expect such material to be made available to Members of this House—[Interruption.] It is all right; I have made the ruling and the Leader of the House has heard.
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Orders of the Day

Debate on the Address

[Second Day]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [17 May],

Question again proposed.

Foreign Affairs and Defence

11.49 am

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander): May I begin, on behalf of the Foreign Secretary, by extending his apologies to the House for his absence today? My right hon. Friend is in Washington for talks with senior members of the Administration and Congress.

May I also take this opportunity to extend a warm welcome to the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) to his new role as shadow Foreign Secretary, although I understand he may already have an application in for a more senior position in his party?

I want to speak today on the three priorities of the Government's foreign policy: first, maintaining and strengthening the United Kingdom's role as a leading European power, shaping the future of a reforming European Union; secondly, working to make the UK more secure by tackling threats such as terrorism and proliferation and acting to resolve conflict; and thirdly, our commitment to the long-term engagement required to build the conditions for a safer and fairer world.

Let me take those in turn, beginning with Europe. This Government came to power in 1997 determined to restore Britain to our rightful place as a leading power in a reforming European Union. Since then, the UK has led the push for early and wide enlargement of the European Union, which culminated in the historic accession of 10 new members last May. Two more, Romania and Bulgaria, are set to join in 2007. Under our presidency this October, the EU will launch accession negotiations with Turkey. That will be the fulfilment of a major and long-standing goal of the UK's foreign policy, and I know that it will be welcomed by all parties. We will continue to lead support for EU enlargement—a process that works greatly in the UK's interests by expanding the community of democratic and prosperous nations, opening up new opportunities for British business, and spreading reform across the whole European continent.

Moreover, under the new Commission of President Barroso, the EU has affirmed its commitment to making its economies more dynamic and flexible. Although there is still much more to do, the task of reforming the common agricultural policy has begun. The Government's firm
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conviction is that Britain's interest overwhelmingly lies as a strong, engaged member of the European Union. The British people have shown again at the recent election their endorsement for parties that favour such an approach and their rejection of those that want to take us out of the European Union, whether openly or by stealth, and so put the prosperity and security that we have won at risk.

The Government's approach to the negotiations on a new constitutional treaty for the European Union was consistent with our overall approach: we sought to negotiate a framework for a Europe in which the nations are strong, which works more effectively and efficiently and which can better deliver growth and reform.

In contrast, the Opposition stated on page 26 of their manifesto that they want not only a rejection of this treaty, but a renegotiation of the texts of the existing treaties. That renegotiation would require the agreement of every other of the EU's 25 member states, so I invite the shadow Foreign Secretary in his remarks today to point to one other member state that supports the Conservative party's position on renegotiation of the treaties. Even John Major, the former Prime Minister, whom the shadow Foreign Secretary served as a Foreign Office Minister, describes the policy of renegotiation as "crazy".

In truth, the Conservatives' kind of Europe is what Lord Willoughby de Broke, a former Conservative peer, described thus in a speech last June:

That is, it is very nice to have but it is simply "not on the menu".

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment as Minister for Europe and welcome the fact that he will attend Cabinet meetings to report on the activities of this important year.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the reform agenda. Will he assure us that he will continue to pursue the Lisbon agenda, which has not been pursued in the past as vigorously as the Government would have liked?

Mr. Alexander: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks. Progress on the Lisbon agenda has not been as fast as we would want. Indeed, that was reflected in the Kok report, which was published last year. Not only are the British Government determined to ensure that the pace of economic reform in Europe accelerates, but I am delighted that the new President of the European Commission shares our ambition. I am optimistic that he will continue to drive that agenda effectively in the months ahead in the European Commission.

In contrast to the Conservative party's position on Europe, the Government have delivered an effective and important agenda on the European Union constitution, which is reflected in some of the commentary that is currently available about the constitutional treaty on the other side of the channel.

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