|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The Prime Minister: I sort of agree with some of that. What is important is that the deal on the common agricultural policy in particular has got to be fairer and right for the future. Incidentally, it is also a fact that no one is saying that countries cannot take a decision to support their farming industry. The question is what should Europe be doing about the amount of money that it puts into the CAP.
Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) (Lab): The Prime Minister has done a pretty good job in Europe over the past few days, but how on earth will Europe persuade the French farmers to cut half their subsidy, knowing their militancy?
The Prime Minister: We have to decide what is in the interests of everybody in Europe. As I said, it is not that countries cannot decide to support their industries and communities. That is fine. The question is what should Europe be doing. The trouble is that the CAP in its current form is a big distortion of expenditure.
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): Surely the Prime Minister is being too modest. I welcome his belated application to join the Eurosceptic club, to which most of our fellow countrymen are already subscribers. I invite him not to leave the European Union, however discredited it may become, but instead to carry through a great swathe of changes in our legislative relationships with Europe so that Britain can continue its historic role as a friendly, commercial, self-governing democracy.
"the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union is vital to our national interests, to our position in the world, to our nation's economy and . . . to the peace of Europe."[Official Report, 20 June 1996; Vol. 279, c. 1095.]
The Prime Minister: That is right, they are not my words, but in this case they are not Margaret Thatcher's words either, but the words of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis). That may be the new dispensation by which he is to be governed.
Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab):
Building on the questions asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) and my hon. Friends the Members for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) and for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), and the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition, would it not be appropriate to have a debate in our country? We welcome the Prime Minister addressing the European Parliament on Thursday, but can we have a debate that tells our people about the prosperity, jobs, trade and the human rights platform that come from the European Union? Would not that be an appropriate way to fill the political vacuum referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover?
20 Jun 2005 : Column 534
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): Central to opposition to the European Union has always been the question of democratic and accountable governance. Now that the people have come to realise that the network of treaties, institutional arrangements and European courts has denied them the opportunity to form the laws that they want, will the Prime Minister honour the pledge that he gave on the Floor of the House of Commons to have a referendum, notwithstanding what other countries did, so that we can finally drive a stake through the heart of those anti-democratic propositions?
The Prime Minister: I think that we have already gone through the position on the referendum. On his first point, the hon. Gentleman and some of his colleagues should be careful before endorsing and embracing entirely all the elements of the no votes in France and Holland. As I keep saying, many of those who voted no did so for reasons that have nothing to do with the position of British Euroscepticism.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister put my mind at rest? [Interruption.] Well, perhaps he can help me. I watched with interest the press conferences on Friday night. Toward the end of his contribution, the Prime Minister set out his vision of what Europe is about and talked about a competitive global economy. To my regret, he said nothing about environmental protection in Europe, protection of living standards and a welfare state, or the living standards of people in other parts of the world that have been damaged by the global market economy. Will he give us some idea of a vision of a more social Europe, rather than a free market Europe?
The Prime Minister: To put my hon. Friend's mind at rest might be too vaulting an ambition, but I can tell him that the social Europe in which I believe is, for example, a Europe in which we make it easier for people to transfer their skills across the EU; a Europe in which we invest in active welfare programmes, as we in this country are doing in the new deal for the unemployed; a Europe that spends more of its budget on science, research and development, so that in industries such as biotechnology, where we will face fierce competition from countries such as India and China, we can ensure that the industry grown here in the EU is strong. There is a range of social policies on which we can co-operate. However, what I do not think will bring a more competitive economy, either in this country or in Europe is, for example, supporting the provisions of the working time directive that were recently debated. That is a different vision of the European social model, not a vision that abandons that social model.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) (Con):
Is there not a danger of enormous collateral damage resulting from the row? Is not one of the areas most at risk the World Trade Organisation talks on a new trade round, which could collapse because of disputes about agriculturean issue on which Europe has to make a very large move if the talks are to progress? What will
20 Jun 2005 : Column 535
the Prime Minister do to make sure that those incredibly important talks do not become a victim of Europe's internal rows?
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that there are all sorts of risks and dangers in the debate. We have to make sure that enlargement countries understand our position, for example, and that people understand our position on the rebate, which is not that we are not prepared to discuss it or any changes to it, but that such discussions must take place in the context of a different approach by the EU. He is also right about the trade dangers. However, I think that we have reached the point where, unless we have the debate about what type of EU we want and conduct it from a pro-European perspectivethe only perspective that will carry any weight in the rest of Europewe will not get the right decisions on any of the issues, including the WTO. It is important that, at the end of the year, we have a strong European position on reform at the WTO. We will have to use every lever available to ensure that that happens, but we have passed the point where we can pretend that the debate is not needed.
Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): I commend my right hon. Friend's position on retaining the British rebate until the CAP is reformed further. In a year when Africa is top of the political agenda, the CAP in its present form is an obscenity. Will he comment on the front-page article in today's Financial Times, which says that the British presidency of the European Union will work to get a budget agreement before the end of the year?
The Prime Minister: It would be unrealistic to think that we are going to get agreement on an entire reform package over the next few months. What we can getand this is all that we have soughtis a process of reform that allows us in the coming financial perspective to reorder budget priorities. We can say that, until we get such agreement, we are not discussing or debating the rebate. That is the right way to lever in change, and our ambition to secure that process of reform is achievable.
Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): For as long as we exercise our veto on the removal of our veto, France will veto CAP reform. That is difficult enough with 15 member states, but with 25, there must be a new modus operandi or constitution. How does the Prime Minister see a way forward towards that?
The Prime Minister:
That is why the constitution, in our judgment, represents a sensible set of rules for the future, but it has been rejected in two countries, and we must take account of that. On the other hand, I do not think that we will ever reach a decision that the European Council will not take such decisions on the basis of common agreement. If we had been in a position where we had agreed this deal last Friday, I really do not think that I could have recommended it to people. It was wrong in terms of the reform package, it was wrong in terms of finances for this country, and it was wrong in terms of the refusal to link those two things together. I do not think that we had the option of agreeing a deal, and it is unfortunate that our proposals, which were reasonable, were rejected.
20 Jun 2005 : Column 536
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|