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Mr. Straw: Yes, I will do so. I made that point in my statement earlier today.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): May I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that we are listening to a Foreign Secretary and a Government in denial? What he must do to live up to his assurances is demand the sacking of Javier Solana, who is a Foreign Minister in all but name, dismantle the European Defence Agency, which was a central provision of the constitution, and
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turn back the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice, which is implementing the charter of fundamental rights through European Community law. Otherwise, he is co-operating with our European partners in implementing this constitution by stealth, against the wishes of the French and Dutch people who have voted against it.

Mr. Straw: I am more than grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has asked me, as he has exposed his overwhelming hostility not to the constitutional treaty but to the institution of the European Union itself. He says that we should sack Javier Solana. Javier Solana, the high representative of the European Union, was appointed not under the constitutional treaty but under the treaty of Maastricht, recommended by the Conservative party when it was in power. The Defence Agency, again, is not in the constitutional treaty, but was established under the existing treaty base of Maastricht. All that he has done is expose his unremitting hostility to the EU, which Labour Members, and apparently many Conservative Members, do not share.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Does the Foreign Secretary acknowledge that a large number of people voted no in the French referendum because they did not want to see free market, global economics imposed on their country or others in Europe, which would lead to yet higher rates of unemployment and further attacks on the welfare state throughout the continent? Does he accept that if he is to propose any new constitution, it must meet those real, legitimate concerns and promote something called a social Europe rather than a market Europe?

Mr. Straw: I am happy to engage in an ideological debate with my hon. Friend about this matter, but I happen to believe that the way that we achieve a social Europe is by harnessing the forces of the market so that they work in people's interests, not against them. I do not happen to believe, however, that a social Europe and social welfare is antithetical to a market economy—it depends how the two are harnessed in the interests of each. As for the reasons why people in France and the Netherlands voted no, they are many and various. In France, however, what is clear is that many people voted no because they believed that we had won too much in the achievement of the constitutional treaty—a point made persistently by Laurent Fabius, one of the leaders of the no campaign.

Mr. Speaker: Order. We now move on to the main business.
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Orders of the Day

Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill

[Relevant documents: The Fifth Report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Session 2004–05, HC 408—I, on the Government's Rural Strategy and the draft Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill, and the Government Response thereto, Cm 6574.]

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker: I should inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. After the statement that we have just had, my point of order may seem rather small beer, but it is right to draw to your attention that item No. 2 on the Order Paper today—the programme motion to the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill—is not debatable. In the first Second Reading debate in this Parliament, the Government have fallen into their bad old ways. Is there any way that we can protect the ability of the House to scrutinise legislation? Not only are debates on legislation curtailed but we may not even debate whether they should be curtailed.

Under item No. 2, the Bill will complete its proceedings within a little over four weeks. One may say that that is just bad luck, but we were elected here not to watch legislation go through like sausages through a machine, but to scrutinise it. After the farce at the end of the previous Parliament, when a huge number of Government Bills were rammed through this place without proper debate, we should not allow the Government to start the new Parliament in that way.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let me answer the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier). The hon. Lady may not wish to raise her point of order after I have done so.

We are about to have a Second Reading debate. The programme motion can be referred to during that debate. While it is not debatable, it can be mentioned and debated during the Second Reading debate.

Mrs. Dunwoody: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House should be given the right to look again at the question of programming Bills automatically. Has the issue been raised with you by the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House? The Government told us that they would not continue in the same programming manner. We should have the chance at least to debate procedure at the beginning of this Parliament.

Mr. Speaker: We are not going on to a procedural debate. We are going on to a Second Reading debate.
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4.27 pm

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill lays the foundations for a more holistic and, we believe, more effective approach both to the natural environment and to rural communities. I want to say at the outset how grateful I am to all who have engaged in the extensive pre-legislative scrutiny, debate and dialogue that has helped to shape our approach to this legislation. I am grateful not least to Lord Haskins, who undertook much public consultation and dialogue before producing the report on which we have drawn in framing the Bill and to our own former Select Committee.

I thank the Select Committee and our colleagues for undertaking pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill in draft so quickly in the previous Session. That enabled us to secure the Bill as the first Second Reading of this Parliament. Given that, and subject to the will and decision of Parliament, I now hope to secure Royal Assent for the Bill next year. As a result, I can announce that I have brought forward the potential vesting date for the formal establishment of natural England and the commission for rural communities to October 2006, three months ahead of the commitment that I made in "The Rural Strategy 2004".

The context of this legislation is the vision of rural England set out less than a year ago in the Government's rural strategy—a vision of a better quality of life for all, with particular emphasis on improving the quality of life of the most disadvantaged, and a vision that has at its heart the pursuit of sustainable development, so that social, economic and environmental issues are all taken into account in shaping policy.

Economic prosperity underpins the provision of good public services and other social and environmental benefits. Equally, a healthy environment and a just society are essential for economic success and enjoyment of our natural environment can make a huge contribution to people's health and happiness.

The Bill will create simpler, stronger organisational structures and transform the way in which we deliver rural and environmental services. It will establish natural England, a new agency to act as an independent and powerful guardian of our natural heritage that will be responsible for conserving and enhancing England's rich and diverse natural environment for the benefit of this and future generations.

For people in rural areas, the Bill will establish the    commission for rural communities—a strong independent rural advocate, adviser and watchdog with a duty to ensure that the Government's policies make a real difference to people in rural areas, especially in tackling the pockets of social disadvantage and economic under-performance whose existence has long been recognised but whose problems have not always been addressed.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): One such area of social disadvantage is the villages in rural communities such as mine that have no connection to the gas network. Believe it or not, I have villages that are only half a mile from the gas network but not yet connected. Will my right hon. Friend look at
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what might be done to ensure that there is an initiative—supported, probably, by more money from some of the gas companies that made profits during the spike last October—to ensure that some of those rural villages in my constituency are linked to the gas network?

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