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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Caroline Flint): The key public service agreement target, which was published July 2004, is to reduce adult smoking rates to 21 per cent. or less by 2010, with a baseline year of 2002, and a reduction in the prevalence of smoking among routine and manual groups to 26 per cent. or less.
Friends of mine who smoke are always telling me that the thing that would have stopped them starting in the first place, or that would certainly help them to stop now, is not being able to smoke in public places. Does the Minister agree that introducing a total
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ban on smoking would not only help those people to give up, but help to reach the Government's target for reducing smoking rates?
I am pleased to say that 28 per cent. of adults smoked in 1998 and that that figure went down to 25 per cent. in 2004, as a result of the Government investing in smoking cessation courses on the NHS and reduced tobacco advertising. Of course, we are introducing a Bill to ban smoking in public places. There are different points of view in all parties, and hon. Members will have a free vote on how wide they want the ban to be.
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The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the European Union. Earlier today, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary published a White Paper on prospects for the European Union. Copies are available in the Vote Office. He has asked me to pass on his apologies to the House for the fact that he is not present in the Chamber, as he is attending the conference on Afghanistan this afternoon.
In April 2004, the Government decided to publish the first in a series of reports intended to stimulate the closer and deeper involvement of Members of both Houses in EU affairs. Today's White Paper is the fifth such report. It looks at future challenges and provides a detailed report on our presidency, set against the objectives that we set ourselves in the White Paper, published on 30 June 2005 and relayed in a statement to the House on the same day by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.
Notwithstanding the EU's historical achievements, it has faced the pressing challenge in recent years of adapting to an increasingly globalised political and economic environment and of reconnecting as an institution to its citizens. That need was highlighted graphically last spring, when two member states rejected the constitutional treaty and the European Council failed to agree a deal for the next financial perspectivethe European budget.
So when the United Kingdom took over the reins of the presidency in July, we were faced with three tasks. The first task was to follow through on Europe's promise to open accession negotiations with Turkey, against a backdrop of growing uncertainty in some parts of the EU about that aspect of future enlargement. The second task was to agree a deal for the coming financial perspective, and the third task was to begin the process of better preparing the EU for the globalised world.
First, I turn to enlargement. On 3 October, we opened accession talks with Turkeythat decision was welcomed on, and supported by, both sides of the House. That has the potential to bring huge economic and political benefits to Turkey, Britain and the European Union, not least through the Union's relationship with the wider Islamic world. At the same time, and in a welcome sign of how far the western Balkans has come in recent years, we opened accession negotiations with Croatia, began stabilisation and association agreement negotiations with Bosnia and Serbia and Montenegro, and granted candidate status to Macedonia.
On the budget, we brokered a deal that will shift spending towards the economic development of the newer, poorer member states and also mean that similar sized economies such as France and Italy will finally be making payments roughly on a par with the United Kingdom. The Council also agreed a full, wide-ranging review covering all aspects of EU spending, including the common agricultural policy, to report in 200809.
Finally, we took practical steps to strengthen economic reform within the European Union. Along with the European Commission, we agreed better ways
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of assessing the effects of proposed regulation on business. We also reached agreement on the capital requirements directive, which will help the European banking sector to remain competitive, and agreed the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicalsREACHregulation. In two other areas directly related to the competitiveness agendathe services directive and the working time directivewe made some progress during our presidency, and we will work to ensure that that is built on over the coming months.
Alongside those practical measures, we also began a broader debate on the future of Europe. The special summit of European leaders here in the United Kingdom at Hampton Court in October has already led to detailed work on areas such as improving European universities, increasing support for research and development and establishing a common European energy policy.
The issues of Turkish accession and the European budget and the debate on the future direction of Europe set the context of our Presidency, but so, too, did other international challenges. As the White Paper reflects, development was a key priority for both the EU and the G8. The European Union agreed, for the first time, a common vision and set out common objectives and principles for development work, as well as a comprehensive strategy on Africa. That will be backed up by the more and better development aid agreed by European member states last year, with aid doubled to $80 billion a year by 2010 and commitments on achieving the UN 0.7 per cent. gross national income target by 2015. The international finance facility for immunisation that we launched in September has the potential to prevent 5 million children from dying over the next 10 years. The deal on sugar reform will reduce trade distortion and, at the same time, save European Union consumers between $3.5 billion and $4 billion a year from 2010.
Another key area of work was the increasing role of the European Union outside its direct borders. During our presidency, we oversaw the launch of European security and defence policy missions, notably to monitor the Rafah border crossing and the peace agreement in Aceh in Indonesia. The EU worked closely with partners to support Israeli disengagement from Gaza and provided policing and electoral support in Iraq. The E3 continued to lead the ongoing and complex negotiations on Iran's nuclear ambitions.
During our presidency, the EU also engaged in dialogue with Russia, Ukraine, China and India and agreed a comprehensive work programme for economic co-operation with the United States of America. At the UN climate change negotiations in Montreal, against expectations, it was agreed, with European support, to begin UN talks on long-term action to address climate change and launch a process for agreeing targets beyond 2012.
We had always planned to ensure that counter-terrorism efforts would be a feature of our presidency. Those efforts inevitably gained far wider currency after the tragic events of 7 July here in London. During our presidency, the EU endorsed a new counter-terrorism strategy, agreed that phone and internet data from
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across Europe will be stored for use in criminal and terrorist investigations and set out an action plan to tackle radicalisation and the recruitment of terrorists.
We thus handed over to the Austrians a European Union that was stronger and more confident in the future than the one that we inherited back in July. Just as we inherited an agenda from the Luxembourg presidency, there are a number of areas of work that the Austrians are charged with taking forward. Over the coming year, enlargement will continue to be high on the European agenda. We are confident that Bulgaria and Romania will be ready to join in 2007, but only if they take urgent and vigorous action to address the main areas of concern recently identified by the European Commission. We will continue to provide significant bilateral assistance to help them to achieve that goal.
We expect both Turkey and Croatia to be ready to open accession negotiations on some individual chapters early in 2006. During his visit to Turkey and Cyprus last week, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary reiterated the need for Turkey to ratify and implement the protocol to the Ankara agreement. We are committed, too, to ending the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community and finding a way in which it can trade with European Union member states. I am sure that all members of the House would agree on the importance of achieving a successful and ambitious outcome to the Doha development round of world trade talks. We want to build on the frankly disappointing outcome of the Hong Kong ministerial meeting in December, and we will continue to do all that we can to enable the round to be concluded this year.
That means committing to significantly increased market access for developing countries, particularly in agriculture; substantial reductions in all trade-distorting subsidies, including the elimination of export subsidies, as agreed at Hong Kong; and effective special and differential treatment for developing countries. In the first half of this year, the European Union will take stock of the "period of reflection" agreed by the European Council last June. Among other things, that means evaluating the status of the constitutional treaty. The United Kingdom has always made it very clear that the priority in this period of reflection and, indeed, for the European Union more generally is economic reform and a determined effort to advance work that actually makes a difference to the lives of Europeans.
The focus of the spring European Council will therefore be economic. An important part of that agenda will be the work that the European Union will take forward on the six priority areas agreed at Hampton Court in October: research and development, universities, energy, demographics, security and immigration, and the common foreign and security policy. Finally, the future financial arrangements for the Union, agreed at December's Council, now have to be agreed with the European Parliament through a new inter-institutional
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agreement on budgetary discipline, which will provide the necessary formal basis for EU spending for the period 200713.
I have set out for the House the key features of the United Kingdom presidency as well as priority areas of work for the European Union over the coming six months. The fuller details in the White Paper published this morning give some sense of the depth of the business done and that which is left to do. As the White Paper makes clear, the Government are convinced that Britain's national interest is best served as a strong, active and influential member of the European Union, and I commend it to the House.
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