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Information Technology

22. Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): What plans he has made to reform the Government's information technology procurement policy. [16804]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office (Mr. Jim Murphy): IT will help the Government drive to modernise public services and extend choice. Responsibility for IT procurement rests with the Office of Government Commerce. In its report on improving IT procurement, the National Audit Office recognised the positive impact of the work of the OGC.

Chris Bryant: I recognise that IT procurement is not entirely my hon. Friend's responsibility, but may I urge him to interfere a little in some of the other Departments? The Government are probably the biggest commissioner of IT in the country, yet all too often we end up buying American products off the shelf. We could build an innovative and imaginative UK IT industry if we were able to invest more sensibly and
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creatively. Will he look at ways in which the Government can intervene to produce a more effective market in our own country?

Mr. Murphy: I am always happy to intervene rather than interfere. My hon. Friend rightly notes that the OGC is responsible for IT procurement. Over the summer I met small businesses throughout the UK that are at the cutting edge of IT innovation and are willing to work with the Government. We have a lot more to do on that agenda. One of the things that we shall be doing is launching a web-based portal—[Hon. Members: "Oh."]—to enable innovation by those who want to work with the Government. I will ensure that my hon. Friend, who is genuinely interested in the matter, unlike those on the Opposition Benches who want to stop the world and get off, receives details about that.

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): Given the weakness in procurement policy alluded to by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), and given the parlous management of so many Government IT projects, will the Minister have a word with his colleagues in the Home Office and ensure that the greatest IT white elephant of all—the proposed Identity Cards Bill—is put in the dustbin of history, where it belongs?

Mr. Murphy: No.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): When considering future Government procurements, will my hon. Friend continue the work that he has started by meeting end-users of Government services and ensuring that their views as consumers are taken into account in the design of services?

Mr. Murphy: I am delighted to do that. I met constituents of my hon. Friend in Ellesmere Port during the parliamentary recess, and it was clear from listening to them and others that IT can help in the modernisation of government and can help public servants to do their job better. It can help in the modernisation and extension of choice in public services to all our customers.

Civil Service Bill

23. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): If he will introduce a Civil Service Bill. [16805]

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Hutton): We published a draft Bill for consultation and we are currently considering the responses. We will make a statement on the outcome of the consultation exercise in due course.

John Bercow: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that informative reply. Given the rapid growth in the number, cost and powers of special advisers, is not it now imperative that such a Bill should spell out the distinctive but necessarily separate roles of special advisers and civil servants, making it clear that the former have no power whatever to instruct the latter?

Mr. Hutton: It is certainly the case that the civil service faces a number of substantial challenges in leading the
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professional delivery of services across a range of Departments. I accept that. I do not think that the biggest challenge facing the civil service and its professionalism and independence is the role of special advisers. I do not accept that. I understand the hon. Gentleman's specific interest in the draft Civil Service Bill. It is unfortunate that of all the organisations that responded during the consultation period on the draft Bill neither Conservative nor Liberal Democrat Front Benchers found time to do so.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I remind the Minister that we are in Parliament to debate these matters, and he might recall that my noble Friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill introduced a Bill in the other place to do exactly what we want of a civil service Act.

Would the Minister like to comment on the Order in Council that was published in the summer, giving additional powers to independent advisers, and the response of Sir Alistair Graham, the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, who said:

Does the Minister believe that that is an acceptable way of doing business, or does it not underline the fact that we need a civil service Bill and that we need it with some urgency?

Mr. Hutton: No, I do not accept the criticism that was made of the procedures that we followed. Neither is it true to say that the changes were made secretively; they were not. They were a response to requests from the committee. I think that we have dealt with the matter entirely honourably and perfectly sensibly.

Better Regulation

24. Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the better regulation agenda in the European Union. [16807]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office (Mr. Jim Murphy): We are working with the Commission and member states to ensure that the impact of new legislative proposals is fully assessed and to simplify existing legislation. The Commission's recent announcement that it will withdraw 68 regulatory proposals is welcome evidence that progress is being made.

Anne Snelgrove: Many small firms in my constituency complain about the volume of regulation coming from the EU. How does the Minister intend to lighten the burden of regulation for those small companies?

Mr. Murphy: Throughout the summer, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and I met small businesses around the country and we made it clear that we had an ambitious agenda to ensure that the EU regulates in a more sensible, targeted manner that is proportionate. We will ensure that there is a reduction in the duplication of regulations on small and medium-sized enterprises in my hon. Friend's constituency and elsewhere.

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EU Accession (Turkey and Croatia)

3.31 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the European Union's decisions of Monday last to open negotiations for full membership with Turkey and Croatia.

Turkey is part of Europe. It was a founder member of the Council of Europe in the 1940s, and was invited by the United Kingdom, France and others to join NATO as early as 1952. The prospect of European Union membership was first offered to Turkey some 42 years ago. That promise was repeated by the Union in ever more concrete terms in 1999 and in 2002. In December last year, and again in June this year, a specific start date of Monday last—3 October—was set.

By that date, Turkey was required to, and indeed had, introduce a further six laws, and it had signed the protocol to the Ankara agreement. In addition, the Turkish Government had actively co-operated to encourage a yes vote from the Turkish Cypriots for the Annan plan to reunify Cyprus. So, over this summer, there was understandable bitterness and apprehension in Turkey as further obstacles appeared to be put in its way, and as some in Europe argued that Turkey should settle for less than full membership.

The result was that, nine days ago, the European Union stood at a crossroads. It had to decide whether it would honour its commitment to Turkey and begin accession negotiations, or whether it would turn its back on the Union's nearest and largest Muslim neighbour. In the event, and after 36 hours of almost continuous negotiations, I am pleased to say that agreement was reached in Luxembourg to enable negotiations to begin. Happily, by sticking to what I described as "presidency time"—UK time—we were able to do so just within the 3 October deadline.

The negotiations, which had begun many weeks earlier, were at times difficult and complex. I am indebted to many Heads of Government and Foreign Ministers for the political courage that they showed. I also want to express my gratitude to EU Commissioner Olli Rehn and to High Representative Javier Solana and their staff; and not least to Sir John Grant, UK Permanent Representative to the European Union, to Sir Peter Westmacott, the British ambassador to Turkey, and to Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff in Brussels, Ankara, London and many other posts for their sterling efforts to secure this profoundly important result. I am also grateful to the House for the consistent, all-party support that Turkey's membership of the EU has for so long received.

There is no doubt that Turkey and Europe as a whole will benefit from this decision in equal measure. For Turkey, it represents another significant step on its long journey to becoming a fully European nation. The process will strengthen the wide-ranging reform programme that has been pushed through in recent years and will give renewed impetus to further improvements to the rule of law, respect for human rights and democratic institutions.

For the European Union, the decision means that a close partner will be brought even closer. Turkey has long been key to the security of Europe as a whole.
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Turkey's economy is one of the fastest growing in Europe and it is already a major market for European Union exporters. Turkey plays a vital role in the fight against international terrorism, cross-border crime and drug trafficking. By standing by our promise to Turkey, we will make the European Union stronger, safer and more competitive.

The decision made on 3 October was, however, even more significant than that. For more than 1,000 years, the boundaries between Europe and Asia have principally been decided through bloodshed and conflict. By welcoming Turkey, with its large Muslim population, we are embarking on a new era in which it is manifest that the European Union and Europe is not just an exclusive Christian club, at best cold to its neighbours, at worst actively hostile. Instead, we are able to show that what binds this modern Europe together is a set of fundamental rights and freedoms combined with a common purpose, regardless of race or religion. That is a powerful message not only to the people of other faiths who live in neighbouring countries, but to the millions who already live within the borders of the European Union.

I do not underestimate the challenges ahead, some of which are for Turkey. Turkey, like all candidate countries, has to align its legislation with that of the European Union—an enormous task that is broken down into 35 separate chapters covering issues from justice and home affairs through to economic policy and the environment.

Some of the challenges are for Turkey's neighbours—Greece and Cyprus—as much as they are for Turkey. The accession process holds out the clearest prospect of a satisfactory resolution to a host of historical regional issues, including disputes over rights in the Aegean and the reunification of Cyprus. Achieving those aims will require a positive approach by all concerned and a readiness to compromise. I have already spoken, since the decision on 3 October, to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan about the circumstances in which he would deem it appropriate to restart his good offices mission in respect of Cyprus under Security Council resolution 1250. I have also spoken to enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn about other measures that are needed, specifically the Union's commitments to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots.

Some of the challenges ahead are for Europe as a whole, including continuing in good faith to help Turkey prepare for full membership of the European Union. Equally, the process means setting out clearly to our own peoples why having Turkey as a member of the European Union will bring direct benefit to all of them. We have to show that the greatest threat to our European culture and heritage comes not from opening our doors to a vibrant, secular nation such as Turkey, but from closing in on ourselves and allowing Europe to stagnate in the face of global competition.

At its meeting last December, the European Council decided that accession negotiations for Croatia should begin on 17 March. Croatia has made remarkable progress in recent years and has been able to satisfy the EU Commission that it has met all the so-called Copenhagen criteria relating to human rights, democracy and the rule of law, which are a prerequisite to the beginning of formal negotiations.
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There was one issue still unresolved concerning the Croatian fugitive suspected of war crimes, Ante Gotovina. The Council thus made the start date dependent on Croatia fully co-operating with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague. In the event, it took until last Monday before the chief prosecutor of the tribunal, Carla del Ponte, was able to say that such full co-operation had been forthcoming. The Union acted immediately in response by opening negotiations, and I am very grateful to the Croatian Prime Minister, Ivo Sanader, and his Government for that significant improvement in co-operation, which I hope will lead to the early arrest of Gotovina.

When the prospect of membership was first held out to Turkey, the body that became the European Union had just six members. Since then, the EU has acted as a powerful magnet for countries that see the benefits of membership from the outside and want to come into the fold. Each successive wave of enlargement has strengthened and broadened the Union. Each wave has also demonstrated how the EU can be a great and powerful force for good in helping to spread good governance and human rights.

Former dictatorships in the west of Europe and former Soviet satellite states in the east have been transformed by the prospect, and then the fact, of membership of the European Union, creating an ever wider community of stable, prosperous democracies. I have no doubt that the same force for good will now benefit the people of Turkey, Croatia and all the citizens of Europe. I know that the House will support every effort to achieve that result.

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