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Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) asked an important question to which the right hon. Gentleman replied inadequately. We are not giving up a single penny of the rebate in so far as it affects any spending in the 15 western European
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nations or spending on the CAP. However, we unapologetically believe that we should make a fair contribution to the costs of enlargement and investment in the structural and cohesion funds for the 10 new accession states. That has been the Conservative party's consistent position. Given that, and all the calls for spending on those eastern European states, why does not the right hon. Gentleman have the courage of his convictions and say that the Opposition should support the Government in making that fair contribution?

Mr. Hague: I have the courage of the Foreign Secretary's convictions only a few weeks ago, when the rebate was not even to be discussed unless that happened alongside genuine reform. He was absolutely right to say in his speech that there was common ground across the Floor of the House on a lot of these matters. The issue is not whether we pay our fair share to help the countries that are joining the EU, but what that contribution should be. He was also right, in his initial negotiating position—a powerful one, given the legal entitlement to the rebate—to insist on reform of the CAP so that other countries as well as ours paid their fair share to those EU entrants. Now, however, the Foreign Secretary's own concrete concessions are being given without any bankable commitment to serious CAP reform for years to come. Rarely in the field of European negotiations has so much been surrendered for so little. That is my criticism of the Government's position.

Could it be that the former ambassador to Washington is right when he refers to

Have not things come to a sorry state when the Government's position is mercilessly mocked in an e-mail from one of their own ambassadors, our ambassador to Warsaw, who said that

He characterised the Government's position by saying:

If the Government's own ambassadors do not believe in the Government's new position, who does? The ambassador even advocated setting aside the £5 billion that the Government propose to surrender from the rebate in order to create—I cannot quote every word of this in the House—a special development fund cutting out

and the amount that goes into

What is this man doing as an ambassador when he should clearly be a European Commissioner?

Will the Minister explain, when he responds to the debate, why the extra concessions on the rebate, announced on Monday last week, were not factored into
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the budget deficits for the coming years set out by the Chancellor that same afternoon? If he had been a prudent Chancellor, he would, of course, have wanted to take account of, and make provision for, money that the Foreign Secretary was proposing to give away. If not, it seems that the Foreign Secretary has removed a large slice of any remaining margin possessed by the Chancellor to meet his golden rule, even on the new fictionalised basis.

Somehow, from a position of enormous strength, strong domestic support, many potential allies and a good moral case, the Government have managed to emerge in Europe as the villain of the piece, making concessions that are paid for directly by British taxpayers while simultaneously alienating the new entrants to the EU, upsetting almost everyone else, gaining no concessions whatever from the French and failing to achieve even the slightest part of their objective. Is that not a sorry position for a Government to have reached in advance of an important summit? While there is great agreement across the House on the causes of the European crisis, this much-vaunted presidency of the EU has done almost nothing to resolve them.

1.53 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). May I congratulate him again on his appointment to the Front Bench? His speech was full of witticisms and knock-about stuff. The pantomime season really has begun, but I am not sure whether he is Cinderella or Mother Goose.

The right hon. Gentleman and I have a lot in common. It is not well known that I gave him his first job in the House, when I was chairman of the very important all-party footwear and leather industries group—probably the high point of my career. The right hon. Gentleman was a new Member and I made him my secretary because his footwear was always in a good state of repair. I am glad to see that he has done so well. We have another bit of shared history. When he was the Leader of the Opposition and I was Minister for Europe, we both took a bus tour around the United Kingdom. Mine came first—I had a customised campaign bus, in which I undertook 25 engagements in five days. The truck for his campaign to save the pound was sited in St. Albans. We did not actually meet, but I think that he abandoned his tour shortly after it began, such was the state of the Conservative party at that stage. The other thing, of course, is that we both had more hair at the time.

This is an important debate and I am glad to see that we have three heavyweights on the Front Benches talking about foreign policy. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on winning the Minister of the year award in The House Magazine last week. That award was well deserved, and I did in fact vote for him. I hope that he will remember that. These European debates, which often used to attract only the usual suspects, now gather a much larger audience. That is good, because it is important that we should have strong, vigorous debates on Europe, and it is always good to know what Conservative party policy is on Europe.
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My regret, in listening to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, was that he spent 21 minutes talking about issues that were really not the concern of the forthcoming discussions in Brussels. It is important to have this debate now because we have been calling for a debate on the UK presidency, but it is a pity that he wasted the opportunity to put forward Conservative party policy. He spent his entire speech—eloquently and wittily, as always—attacking the European Union, saying that it was not up to the job, and criticising the Government and officials. That was a waste of an opportunity.

We have a real opportunity to show leadership in Europe, but every time we discuss the European Union in the House, our debates consist of the Opposition attacking everything that the Government are proposing, and criticising Ministers for not standing up for Britain's interests. The right hon. Gentleman knows, as a former member of the Cabinet, that when British Ministers attend these summits in Brussels or wherever, they bat for Britain. They do everything that they possibly can to further Britain's interests. I am really disappointed that every speech from the Conservative Front Bench contains the criticism that we do not act in Britain's interests, because we do. That is what the right hon. Gentleman did when he was a Minister, and that is what our Ministers do when they perform their duties in Brussels.

This has been a good presidency, albeit a low-key one. I would like to have seen much more campaigning on European issues by our Foreign Secretary, because he has real style and panache and he is able to put forward the best of Europe to the British people. Inevitably, however, because of the great difficulties involved in organising a presidency over a six-month period, British Ministers have had to engage in the crucial decision-making processes.

We have had a huge success with Turkey, and it is worth reminding the House of the support that the Opposition have given to enlargement over the years. The Foreign Secretary generously paid tribute to John Major for the steps he took when he was Prime Minister. Certainly, the process was accelerated from 1997 onwards when our Prime Minister became a champion of enlargement. Through the previous Foreign Secretary, the late Robin Cook, and the present Foreign Secretary, Ministers have been fully engaged in the enlargement process. We all look forward to the day when Turkey joins the EU. It will be a different EU by then, but it will be one that truly embraces the whole of Europe. As we started the negotiations on Turkey, it was also important for us to give a green light to Croatia. The entry of the Balkans will also be crucial to the peace and stability of the European Union, and that process rightly started under our presidency.

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