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      Housing Development (Infrastructure Requirements)

Mr. Hoban accordingly presented a Bill to require local authorities and the Government to agree on the infrastructure to be provided for large scale housing developments; and to determine the allocation of costs in advance of the commencement of building work: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 12 May, and to be printed [Bill 104].

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European Affairs

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

12.42 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): The debate is about prospects for the European Council, but I begin by welcoming back to the Opposition Front Bench the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). We remember some excellent parliamentary performances from him—if I may say that, at the risk of damaging his reputation—from the Front Bench, when he was Leader of the Opposition, and some fine speeches from the Back Benches over the past four years, including a notable one on Iraq and a notable but less noticed one in our last debate, in June, on prospects for the European Council.

Having seen 10 Leaders of the Opposition during my time in this place, I am in no doubt of the truth of the old saw that it is the worst job in British politics—[Laughter.] I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman agrees. I hope that it is of some comfort to him when I say that, in my judgment, being shadow Foreign Secretary is probably one of the best jobs in British politics: many trips abroad and few decisions.

As an avid reader of the Darlington and Stockton Times, I noticed how long the right hon. Gentleman has been prepared for his role. From my researches, I saw that in the issue for December 1988 he said:

That is indeed true and only a few months later he was elected for Richmond.

Most of us remember with great affection the right hon. Gentleman's clarion call at the last election, "Two days to save the pound". I am deeply grateful to him for that call, because my electors heeded it; they voted for me and the pound has indeed been saved—[Hon. Members: "Ah."]—as long as the five tests remain unfulfilled. I am pleased to say that whatever else we are talking about tomorrow and on Friday, and perhaps Saturday and Sunday, or Monday, we are not discussing the euro at the European Council.

Tomorrow and Friday, European Heads of State and Government and Foreign Ministers meet in Brussels for the December summit. The agenda is wide, covering many aspects of the UK's presidency. I will deal briefly with these items towards the end of my speech, but the Council will be dominated by negotiations on the EU budget, so let me come to that first.

The House will recall that six months ago, five nations, including the United Kingdom, had to veto budget proposals that were put forward by the then Luxembourg presidency. We took over the presidency 10 days later and since then we have consulted widely about the changes needed to the budget. Last Monday—5 December—we formally published our own proposals.

In summary, our proposals put forward a budget set at €847 billion for the seven-year budget period of 2007–13, which is 1.03 per cent. of the national incomes of member states. That compares with the 1.06 per cent., or €870 billion, Luxembourg proposal, and the massive 1.24 per cent., or €1,025 billion, Commission proposal.
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Under our proposals, Britain's net contribution would be an estimated €58 billion over the seven years of the budget. The rebate would rise from an annual average in the current budget period of €5 billion to an annual average of €7 billion, but it would be around €1 billion less a year than its default setting so that we would make a fair contribution to the costs of enlargement. I will deal with that in more detail shortly.

Since the publication of the proposals last week, there has been an intensive round of formal and informal discussions. For the convenience of the House in the debate, I published earlier today a written ministerial statement outlining revised proposals following those discussions. Full details have been in the Vote Office since 11 am.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): I apologise in advance for the fact that I will be unable to stay to hear all my right hon. Friend's remarks, although I hope to return later. Does he accept that while the great majority of hon. Members support the Government's position that we should not give up our existing rebate until substantial changes are made to the common agricultural policy, most of us—on this side of the House, at least—would not want Britain to rip off the poorer countries that have just joined by insisting on every pound of flesh that we can get out of them as well?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend's view is implicit in the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House for enlargement over many years.

Budget negotiations have never been easy. The equivalent European Council seven years ago failed to reach an agreement. We in the UK are working extremely hard for a deal this time, but I believe that no deal is preferable to a bad one. The negotiations are especially complex this time for three reasons: the impact on the budget of the massive enlargement of the EU that took place last May; the consequences of any budget changes on the UK rebate; and the need for fundamental long-term reform of EU policies and spending priorities. Let me deal with each of those in turn.

First, I will address enlargement. Two months ago, on 3 October, the European Union took the historic decision to open negotiations for accession with its nearest and largest Muslim neighbour, Turkey. When I came to report that to the House a week later, I was struck by the way in which the decision was welcomed across the political spectrum. Such an all-party approach to Turkey's membership of the European Union represents something of a long-standing and happy paradox about Britain's relationship with Europe. While the question of our overall relationship with the European Union has often been highly divisive, both among and within parties, enlargement of the Union has always been the subject of a strong and positive consensus. We have all recognised that one of the best ways to further the security and prosperity of the United Kingdom is to ensure that there is an ever-widening circle in Europe of open democracies and thriving economies.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend is apparently considering the accession of Bulgaria to the European Union. Does he
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consider that the state of Bulgaria's judicial system, as shown in the treatment of Michael Shields, makes it an appropriate candidate for agreement to accession at this time?

Mr. Straw: Ultimately, the judgment on whether Bulgaria is fully ready for accession will take place at the end of this year or on 1 January 2007, or subsequently. It is a judgment that will have to be made by the European Union as a whole on the basis of recommendations by the Commission. The Commission has raised reservations about the quality of Bulgaria's justice system. My hon. Friend spoke powerfully during the Report stage of the European Union (Accessions) Bill of her concerns about Bulgaria's justice system, as illustrated, in her view, by the treatment of Michael Shields. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe told my hon. Friend, we are making, and will continue to make, strong representations to the Government of Bulgaria. I have done so myself, both to the Foreign Minister and to the Prime Minister, and I stand ready to do so again.

We have actively pushed enlargement since taking office in 1997. To the great credit of the Opposition, it was the previous Conservative Administration who prodded and prompted the EU to enter into association agreements with each of the eastern European applicant states to prepare them for membership. In 1995, the then Prime Minister, John Major, described enlargement as

Two years later, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, when Leader of the Opposition, promised the Government his "full support" for this "long-standing", "British objective", which has been regularly repeated from the Opposition Front Bench ever since.

More than that, the Conservative party has understood the need to back up words with action. John Major's Administration, in the early 1990s, spent hundreds of millions of pounds, quite rightly, via the know-how-fund, on the reconstruction and regeneration of eastern Europe.

When, two years ago, we debated the accession Bills which brought the 10 new states into EU membership, the then shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), was very clear on the need to invest on enlargement. He said:

He also said, quite rightly:

So I believe that there is unity across the parties about the policy of enlargement, and about the need for us to help pay for it. That means helping to build up the economic and social infrastructure of these east and central European societies, so long neglected under Soviet control. It also means constructing better roads, railways and industrial estates, regenerating run-down areas, developing the social housing stock, and so on. That sort of investment directly benefits us too.
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