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Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): I welcome the measured approach taken by the Government in the proposals and I am convinced that my constituents also want a measured approach. We have already heard of the importance of the effect of decisions of the Assembly on England, and of course there is a closely integrated system in operation. My right hon. Friend will be aware that I have long championed the cause of Back Bench joint committees of Assembly Members and Members of Parliament. Will they continue to have what I consider an important role: ensuring that the views of parliamentarians continue to be taken into account when policy is formulated?

Mr. Hain: I welcome my hon. Friend's support for the White Paper. I know that it is a source of great frustration to Welsh journalists that there is such unity across the Labour party and, indeed, the people of Wales on these proposals. As my hon. Friend knows, during the pre-legislative scrutiny of Welsh Bills, our Select Committee has the opportunity to meet jointly with the relevant Assembly Committee and to take evidence. That is positive. We will have to consider carefully whether joint committees beyond that system would be a good idea, because it is important that the processes of the House are not reformed without a clear idea of our direction.

Jenny Willott (Cardiff, Central) (LD): How does the Secretary of State plan to consult as broadly as possible across Wales on the proposals? By consulting as many people as possible, he might get a better idea of current support for giving the Assembly greater powers, because there is some dispute about that in the House.

Mr. Hain: I welcome the hon. Lady to the House. The White Paper is published today and the closing date for consultation is 16 September. Anybody in Wales can get hold of a copy and make their views known and, of course, we will take account of that. However, we have
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a general election manifesto commitment behind the White Paper and the Bill that will follow in due course. Therefore, we have a mandate from the people to follow that policy, including—despite the bleats from the Conservatives—ending the ability of candidates to stand in both categories. We intend to take our Bill forward, but I must ask her why she is afraid of a referendum on primary powers. That does not seem to me to be a very Liberal Democrat policy.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): Will the Secretary of State confirm his answer to the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton, East (Mr. Hood)? Does the Secretary of State for Scotland really agree with the proposals that the Secretary of State for Wales has made today? Is he aware that what he has said today on behalf of the Government could have severe implications for voting systems in Scotland?

Mr. Hain: I do not accept that. I can confirm that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is behind these proposals, which are for Wales, not Scotland. The present electoral arrangements in Scotland are different from those in Wales and so are the powers and, in fact, the whole devolution settlement. Therefore, what we do in Wales does not prejudge anything that might come from the independent commission—which my right hon. Friend set up—that is considering electoral arrangements in Scotland. The point about devolution is that things can be done differently in the different nations of the UK. That has already happened in the past six years and can continue to happen in the future. I am sure that it will.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): Does the Secretary of State accept the similarity between Scotland and Wales in that both have candidates who stand for both a constituency and the list? They include the Labour Minister for Education and Young People, Peter Peacock, who was soundly beaten into third place in the SNP-held seat of Moray but elected through the list. The Secretary of State describes that as indefensible in Wales, but is that also the case in Scotland? If the Secretary of State for Scotland agrees with him, what are the plans for Scotland?

Mr. Hain: We know what the hon. Gentleman's plans for Scotland are—he would give independence to Scotland. Is he saying that Scotland should follow exactly what Wales does? If so, it is a new policy for the SNP—and a very interesting one.
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Point of Order

1.19 pm

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance on the right of Back Benchers to scrutinise the Administration thoroughly. You will be aware that regulations are being discussed in Europe that would prevent anyone from working more than 48 hours a week. However, I know that most Members of Parliament—certainly on this side of the House—work more than that. I tabled questions to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Prime Minister to ask how many hours they worked and I received replies of monumental irrelevance. Do you agree that we have a right to know how many hours Ministers are working, given the forthcoming regulations?

Mr. Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, but a European debate is of course coming before the House and there is nothing to stop him seeking to catch my eye—although I make no guarantees.

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European Affairs

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Coaker.]

1.20 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I will represent the United Kingdom at the European Council in Brussels tomorrow and on Friday. We will fortunately be joined there by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, who earlier received such a ringing endorsement in the House. Today the House has its customary opportunity to debate the Government's priorities. I shall deal first with the agenda of the European Council itself and secondly with the wider question of the European Union's future direction and priorities that has been raised by the referendums in France and the Netherlands. The two main items on the European Council's agenda are future financing—that is the EU's revenue-raising mechanism and its budget—and the constitutional treaty and the related issue of enlargement. Let me take those in turn.

The Council will discuss the EU's finances from 2007 to 2013. The European Commission first tabled proposals in July last year and the issue was subsequently discussed at the European Council last December and other meetings of EU Ministers. I attended the latest round of such talks with other EU Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg on Sunday.

The United Kingdom wants an EU budget that is better geared to meeting the challenges of this century, which means one that has a responsible level of spending and allocates money more fairly, effectively and efficiently, with a focus on helping the poorest nations and supporting good-quality research and innovation. The European Commission had proposed setting the EU's budget between 2007 and 2013 at 1.26 per cent. of European gross national income, or GNI, which would have represented a real-terms spending increase of 35 per cent., or €260 billion. Along with Germany, France, Sweden, the Netherlands and Austria, we have made it clear that such an increase is completely unacceptable and that the EU's objectives can be fully achieved within a budget that represents no more than 1 per cent. of the gross national income of its member states. As I have explained, not least to fellow Foreign Ministers, the difference between 1.26 per cent. and 1 per cent. sounds small, but as the denominator is huge, the difference is more than €200 billion, which is more than the gross national income of Poland, which is a medium-sized member state.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): Two days ago the Scottish Executive produced a paper in which they said that if the UK position were to succeed, Scotland would receive no European structural fund support, so £710 million would be lost to the Scottish economy between 2007 and 2013. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that the UK Government's position would lead to such a loss?

Mr. Straw: I cannot confirm those figures. I have not seen the paper, but I will address the hon. Gentleman's concern in a moment.
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Our clear statement of the need for budget discipline has shifted the centre of gravity of the debate. The result of that pressure was a shift from the European Commission's original 1.26 per cent. proposal to a 1.09 per cent. proposal from the Luxembourg presidency, which is less than half the Commission's proposed increase. Although that represents a significant advance, it is still not good enough.

On the spending allocations themselves, there are two key areas of concern. First is the structural and cohesion funds, which are the EU's support for the poorest regions. As the proposals now stand, the member states of the old EU-15 would get almost as much from the structural and cohesion funds as the 10 new members, plus Romania and Bulgaria, which are, on average, far poorer. As well as being unfair, that is wasteful because much of the funding represents simply recycling money between richer member states that could more efficiently pursue their own national programmes of regional aid. The structural and cohesion funds should thus be focused on the EU's poorest member states, with others doing more to finance their own regional policies. If our proposals for reform are adopted in full, the British Government have given a commitment to domestic funding for the United Kingdom's nations and regions to ensure that they do not lose out as a result.

The second question of expenditure concerns the common agricultural policy, which still accounts for far too high a proportion of the EU's expenditure. About one euro in 12 of the whole EU budget is spent on French farmers alone. As a whole, expenditure on the CAP represents more than 40 per cent. of the total EU budget, which is odd as it goes to just 5 per cent. of the population. Only further reform of European agricultural support will begin to address those imbalances.

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