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Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): I welcome the White Paper and the way in which the Government have allowed for debate in this House. The former members of the Foreign Affairs Committee had a meeting with Members of the European Parliament, and I welcome such initiatives for closer co-operation. I see in the White Paper a list of meetings and I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that some of them are held in Birmingham. He may recall that such meetings in our last presidency were very successful.
On a more substantive point, the White Paper refers to the continuing negotiations on the arms embargo to China. I urge my right hon. Friend to make representations to his colleagues to be cautious about lifting the embargo, because the time is not right and it would send the wrong signals.
Mr. Straw: There is obviously general approbation for that suggestion. I have a feeling that most of the locations for the meetings have now been determined, but I will raise the point with my right hon. and hon. Friends who are involved in such matters. During the last UK presidency, several meetings were held in Birmingham, including a justice and home affairs meeting.
On China, I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. The EU may well reach conclusions on strengthening the code of conduct generally, but she is right to imply that there is now wider concern about the implications for the lifting of the embargo elsewhere in Europe and that has to be taken account of in any decisions that are made.
Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): First, I wish to apologise on behalf of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), who is on a plane on his way to Washington DC to attend the parliamentary assembly meeting of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for the advance notice of the statement on the White Paper, much of which the Liberal Democrats agree with, as we did with large segments of the Prime Minister's widely reported speech to the European Parliament. However, as has been said before, in the European Union the trick is always to translate words into action. The EU has long been distinguished by a tradition of grandiloquence that is not always matched by concrete actions. To that end, I have three questions.
First, does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is essential that the Government's tone when they talk about reform of the EU is precise and does not appear hectoring or condescending? Does he agree that occasionally, especially when discussing the Government's economic record, an impression is sometimes given that we have all the answers and everybody else is in the doldrums, whenas no doubt he would wish to confirmthe superior economic performance of several other member states suggests that the reality is altogether more nuanced?
Secondly, given that support from the French Government is so essential to the success of the British presidency in securing progress on budget reform, reform of the common agricultural policy, opening enlargement talks with Turkey and progressing the services directive, what measures are being taken to ensure that Anglo-French bilateral relations are in a sufficiently healthy and robust state to deliver those items in the next six months?
Finally, given that reform of the CAP assumes a central if not totally dominant place in the ambitions of the Government in their forthcoming presidency, it is a little surprising to see that page 13 of the White Paper contains no more than five fairly short paragraphs on what that reform might involve. Given the essential need for providing further detail on what CAP reform would entail, will the Foreign Secretary give us an assurance
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that he would be prepared to come to the House at the earliest possible opportunity to explain specifically how it will be implemented in the years ahead?
Mr. Straw: First, on tone, the hon. Gentleman is right to argue that we should not, in his words, be hectoring or condescending. I do not believe that we are, nor do we insinuate that we exclusively have the answers to Europe's problems. However, we have been able to show, especially in the past eight years, that on economic and social policy we have many of the answers, butI would addso do several other countries, such as some of the Nordic countries, whose economies have outperformed the average. However, each European country has examples of very good practice in every area of policy and we need to draw on them, so we are not in the least exclusive about that.
Secondly, on bilateral relations with France, it is easy to write storiesoften with substanceabout the argument between France and the United Kingdom continuing, but underneath the headlines there is much co-operation with the Government of France, their representatives and the people of France. In my case, my relationships with the French Foreign Minister are good and also productive. On a range of dossiers, not least Iran, for example, we have to work together operationally to deliver a European foreign policy.
Finally, on reform of the CAP, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that the White Paper contains a summary only. We are talking about proposals that we would wish to see on the table in the midst of the financial perspective, and that requires consultation with colleagues and partners in the EU. The broad components of reform of the CAP are straightforward to describe. They include a reduction overall in the amount spent by the EU on agricultural support, a change in the method of support and an end to all export subsidies. There has been some progress in each of those areas under the existing financial perspective, but much greater progress has to be made on each of those, not least the issue of the elimination of export subsidies by the 2010 deadline that the EU set earlier.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and the priorities that he has set out today, as well as the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe yesterday about the enlargement process. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will know that when the Enlargement Commissioner published his report yesterday, he was lukewarm on the issue of Turkey's membership. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not just a case of opening negotiations with Turkey and supporting the negotiations beginning with Croatia, but of making the case for enlargement in the UK and throughout the EU?
I am sorry about the absence of a meeting in Leicester. We will try to repair that in our next presidencyI give that solemn pledgein 2018. It may even be later if Turkey and some Balkan countries
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become members. I am sure that my hon. Friend will still be a leading Member of Parliament, although I am not sure quite where I will be.
As for the important matter of Blackburn, we share and share alike there. Colleagues will remember that in the British presidency that began in January 1978, there was perhaps the most important meeting of the whole presidency held at the holy of holies, Ewood Park football ground, to discuss football hooliganism. It was a very successful meeting.
On Turkey, I do not think that Olli Rehn's report was lukewarm. Commissioner Rehn is continuing the excellent work of his predecessor, Günter Verheugen, but Rehn made it clear that there had been quite an argument inside the College of Commissioners, which reflected the controversial nature of Turkey's application. But, like my hon. Friend, and I believe that I speak for the whole House in saying this, we believe that Turkey's membership is of great importance not only to Turkeythe very process of membership has already led to major reforms there, and we must keep that process upbut to the European Union and the United Kingdom as a whole.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): If reforming agricultural policy means the elimination of export subsidies and the reduction of the overall costs, what did the Prime Minister mean yesterday when he spoke of getting rid of the CAP? Is it the Government's policy to renationalise agricultural policy?
Mr. Straw: The proposals for renationalisation or for co-decision are among those that have been suggested by other member states. Interestingly enough, those on co-decision were proposed by the Finns and, two days ago, in an interesting debate in the Dutch Parliament, there was support for the so-called renationalisation of CAP payments. We will listen to all the various proposals that are made. Our judgment is that what is key for the initial stagewe are talking about the forthcoming financial perspectiveis that the amount spent on the CAP is progressively reduced. If there were a renationalisationit is not one of the proposals that we make at the momentit would have to take place in the context of a European regulatory framework because, otherwise, we could find that the renationalisation led to an increase in the subsidies, as in fact it has done in respect of two states that are outside the EU but inside Europe: Switzerland and Norway.
I tell colleagues who are less well-informed than the right hon. Gentleman that renationalisation of itself will not lead to a reduction in subsidy. By the way, I tell the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) that, if he believes that getting rid of all agricultural regulation across Europe is the way to deal with the subsidisation of European farmers, he needs to think again.
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