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Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC):
Does the Prime Minister appreciate that one consequence of failing to set the budget is that west Wales and the valleys will lose up to £3 billion in objective 1 funding over the next seven years? If that is the case, will he give the House an unequivocal assurance that the Department of Trade and Industry will provide equal funding? Finallyin asking this question, I am hoping against hopehas he received any representations from the First Minister in Cardiff?
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The Prime Minister: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's point is right. It is important to emphasise that, for the last financial perspective, it was agreed at an equivalent time to March 2006. In other words, the fact that we have not reached an agreement now, in June 2005, does not mean that we cannot reach an agreement before the financial perspective comes into effect. The hon. Gentleman's description of the impact of not achieving a financial perspective is inaccurate. If we do not reach a proper financial perspective, the accession countries will have the real problem, which is why I am keen to resolve the situation.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the Prime Minister's statement that this country will continue to champion enlargement, but will he assure me that the accession talks with Turkey will open at the end of the year and that those talks will not be blocked by opponents from other countries? Will he also reassure me that the EU will continue to be a beacon for democracy and good governance in the countries of the former Yugoslavia, otherwise we face a resurgence of nationalism in this continent?
The Prime Minister: It is important that we keep to our obligations in respect of Turkey, which we intend to take forward in the proper way in our presidency. My hon. Friend is right to say that, if we were to block off further enlargement, it would have a damaging effect on our relations right across the world.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Will the UK Government table a paper on the budget, in a spirit helpful to our partners, pointing out that, according to the auditors, the sums lost through fraud and waste are more than twice the size of the British rebate? Would it not be productive to obtain agreement from those partners to tackle fraud and waste, in which case we would have some money to sort out whether other countries should get rebates or whether we should back certain worthy programmes?
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab):
The Prime Minister is surely right to say that there should be a period of
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reflection, but does he worry that too long a period of introspection in the European Union could lead to greater political and economic sclerosis? We must take swift action on many issues, because China and India are unlikely to hang around waiting for us to reform our economies, and security in the Maghreb must be significantly enhanced. How does the Prime Minister propose to get back on track over the next six months?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right that we need to make progress quickly, particularly on the economic reform agenda, and one way to do so is to raise the issues that he mentioned. As I shall say to the European Parliament on Thursday, economic competition cannot be considered introspectively, and we must assess the fact that major countries outside the EU are offering new and different competition.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): I congratulate the Prime Minister on treading the familiar path for British Prime Ministers from uncritical acceptance to a realistic Euroscepticism. May I invite him to take one small further step by admitting publicly that 25 free countries cannot be squeezed into a single centralised European structure? Will he instead be creative and bold by taking a lead in Europe and publishing alternative proposals for a treaty relationshiphe can call it "new Europe" if he likesthat celebrates diversity and would not only be more democratic but stop the ridiculous rows at European summits that are caused by the endless rush towards centralisation?
The Prime Minister:
I suppose that realistic Euroscepticism is better than unrealistic Euroscepticism. However, the problem with the programme that the right hon. Gentleman outlines is that we would not gain support for it in the rest of Europeit would alienate people in the rest of Europe. Furthermore, if we were to retreat to such a position and make Europe the type of area that he is thinking of, that would not be to the benefit of this country or of Europe. I caution him against thinking that the no votes in France and Holland are a vote for the type of vision that he outlinesI really do not think that they are.
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I rise to invite the House to give a Second Reading to the Violent Crime Reduction Bill. As colleagues on both sides of the House will know, the introduction of the Bill was a manifesto commitment at the general election. It reflected deep concerns that existed in many parts of the country and were in turn reflected in the election debate. I believe that the steps that we are setting out today will make a contribution towards addressing those concerns in a serious and positive way.
It will be clear to everyone that violent crime takes a wide variety of forms, ranging from common assault, often fuelled by alcohol, through to more serious crimes such as sexual assault and crimes where guns, knives and other offensive weapons are used, which can lead in extreme cases to homicide. Although the British crime survey data show considerable falls in violent crime since 1997by about 26 per cent.it remains the case that in many parts of the country there is high, and genuine, concern about the level of violent crime, and a strong desire, reflected, I am sure, by Members on both sides of the House, to take the most appropriate steps to deal with it.
The proposals in the Bill are part of our ongoing work to tackle violent crime in all forms and to make the country much safer for its law-abiding citizens. The overall objection of the legislation is to provide the police and local communities with the powers that they need in two specific areas: first, alcohol-related violence; and secondly, the use of weapons, particularly guns and knives.
I want to deal first with alcohol-related violence and disorder. It is obvious, I think, that alcohol misuse is closely linked with a wide range of crime, disorder and antisocial behaviour. It is a highly visible part of the night-time economy and, moreover, a phenomenon no longer confined to weekends. The British crime survey shows that 33 per cent. of stranger and 25 per cent. of acquaintance alcohol-related assaults happen on weekday evenings and nights. The effects are widely apparent and have an impact on large numbers of people in a variety of ways.
Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): I welcome the proposals in the Bill, but cannot the Home Secretary see the inconsistency between these measures to tackle alcohol-related crime and the expansion of the consumption of alcohol through 24-hour drinking?
It is obviously true that responsibility for ending the binge-drinking culture must ultimately lie with the individual. That is the point in relation to the hon. Gentleman's intervention. I am sure that he has many friends who, late at night after a meal or going to the cinema, might welcome the chance to have a drink afterwards with their friends in a way that is absolutely no threat to the security of the community in which they live. That is true throughout the country and it is a reasonable part of civilised life. In this country and throughout Europe, we have seen that that can happen in a proper way. The point is to distinguish between such perfectly civilised activity and the binge drinking and horizontal and vertical drinking culture that is such a serious problem. [Interruption.] I meant vertical drinking, which leads to horizontal drinking. That was the confusion in my language on which hon. Members picked up.
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