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Mr. Alexander: Let me deal with both my hon. Friend's questions. On diplomatic representation in Podgorica, I cannot anticipate the outcome of the referendum that is scheduled to take place later this year in Serbia and Montenegro. My understanding of the constitutional provision is that Serbia and Montenegro is entitled to hold that referendum after February this year, and that it will be held a little while after that. I can assure my hon. Friend that I will take the point that he has raised to the relevant individual in the Foreign Office.
My hon. Friend also asked about Belarus. It is important to emphasise, because this bears more widely on the question of enlargement, that for certain new member states in the European Union of 25 members, Belarus is not a distant country but a near neighbour. We want to see significant change in the approach taken by the regime in Belarus to date, and we should therefore welcome the greater influence that could be brought to bear by those new member states of the European Union taking a full and active role in the development of policy towards that country.
The Minister has clearly stated that we need jobs and expansion. The agriculture and fishing industries in my part of this United Kingdom are in serious crisis. It is strange that in a White Paper that contains
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186 paragraphs, only seven refer to agriculture, and that the Minister mentioned it only once in his statement. Has he a programme to present to his colleagues in Europe in the coming days that will help us to save the agriculture and fishing industries in the parts of this United Kingdom that are so sorely pressed at the moment?
Mr. Alexander: The Government's position on the need for the fundamental reform of agricultureand in particular on the type of support provided to the agricultural sector not only in the United Kingdom but across Europewas set out in a Government paper published in December during our presidency. I appreciate the concerns about agriculture and fishing that the right hon. Gentleman has raised, and I will ensure that they are passed on to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North) (Lab): May I follow on from the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) about Iran? Does the Minister agree that the E3 grouping is crucial in this regard because of the limitations of the United Nations, not in coming to a policy position but in acting on that position and trying to broker a settlement? Does he agree that this is a key role for the European Union, and that the E3 would have no credibility without its role in the European Union? Does he also agree that the European Union needs to promote its role in dealing with such issues? Will he ask the Austrian presidency for some initiatives on this matter?
Mr. Alexander: I will certainly take note of my hon. Friend's final point. The significance of the E3 process speaks to the effective joint working between ourselves, the French and the Germans. It is no secret that there have been disagreements in the past between ourselves and one if not both of those countries on specific issues of concern in the European Union. Notwithstanding whatever challenges we may have faced bilaterally, however, I am heartened by the effective way in which we have worked directly with Berlin and Paris on this issue.
My hon. Friend's question also raises the broader issue of the effectiveness of the United Nations. We have Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, here with us in London today. I was particularly encouraged by some of the conclusions that were reached at the millennium review summit in New York in September. I had the opportunity to represent the British Government the following week at the United Nations General Assembly and to take part in meetings on behalf of the European Union during the course of that week. It was made very clear to me by the permanent representative of this Government that, had it not been for the significant steps taken by European nations in particular, prior to that summit, we would not have been able to secure the commitments either on development or on United Nations reform that many of us welcomed at the conclusion of the summit.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) (Con):
Does the Minister not realise how little time remains before the Doha development round collapses? If it is not
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completed before the expiry of fast-track authority in the United States, it will not be completed at all. Do the British Government believe that it is now time for the European Union to make a further offer on agriculture?
Mr. Alexander: First, on the timing of the fast-track procedure, although that does not expire until 2007, any practical assessment of when decisions need to be reached requires us to aim for conclusion of the round itself by the end of this calendar year. That is why I said in my statement that we are keen to ensure that we reach an ambitious and balanced outcome in 2006 to allow sufficient authority for the President to be able to use the fast-track procedure in 2007, before it expires.
On the substance of the right hon. Gentleman's point, I can assure him that we are in discussion with our other European partnersand, indeed with other countrieson how we might secure the sequenced changes to the trade rules that we were unable to secure ahead of December. The European Union has a role to play, but most observers recognise that, increasingly, Brazil and India, and certainly the United States, also have a role to play. That was, in part, the substance of the discussions that took place in the margins of the Davos conference this weekend.
Mr. Alexander: I can probably do no better than quote the Turkish Government's own assessment of the time scalethey estimate more than a decade, notwithstanding the opening of accession talks on 3 October last year. That reflects the scale of the transformation necessary to be achieved in Turkey, but we continue to believe that it will be the right choice for Turkey, for Europe and, indeed, for Britain.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): On the question of the failed free trade talks in Hong Kong, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) from the Front Bench and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), is not that failure directly attributable to the EU's failure to offer a reduced agricultural subsidy in that round? Is not that, in turn, directly attributable to the Government's failure to deal with the budget issue? How is the EU meant to offer reduced agricultural spending when it had already been agreed in the botched budget deal given by the Prime Minister? Is it not time for the Government to be more open about what this will cost? At the moment, they are refusing to answer questions that are on
It is time for the hon. Gentleman to be more accurate in his questions. The mandate from which the Trade Commissioner operates was agreed in the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council. That is a matter of record. I fully accept, and want, further progress on agriculture, and specifically on agricultural subsidies. I was heartened in December that we managed to secure agreement on agricultural export subsidies, albeit for the later date of 2013. It is a
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manifesto commitment for us that we would have liked agricultural export subsidies to be phased out by 2010. None the less, there is some progress on which we can build in the months ahead.
It also has to be acknowledged that as well as the EU making offers in relation to agriculture, which preceded the December Hong Kong talks, there is an increasing responsibility that needs to be borne by other key partners in those trade talks. This is partly, not solely, an issue of agriculture. There is also the key issue of non-agricultural market access, which is why it is important that, in the weeks to come, we should talk to other partnersprincipally Brazil and India, but also the United Statesto see whether we can secure the sequenced series of offers that would allow real progress, which eluded us all in Hong Kong.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): The European Union will have to take a decision very rapidly on whether it intends to continue its large contribution to the Palestinian Authority in terms of support. Where will that decision be taken? What will the Government's advice be?
Mr. Alexander: I have already set the position before the House. On the consequences of the decision reached by the Palestinian people, we respect a democratic decision when it is reached, but equally we are clear about the fact that Hamas now faces the primary responsibility. It is for Hamas to answer the question whether it recognises what everyone in the House would recognise, which is that people cannot simultaneously advocate and perpetrate violence while operating as a democratic Government.
The formation of a Government for the new Palestinian Authority will, I understand, take a number of weeks. This matter was discussed at the General Affairs and External Relations Councilthe meeting of Foreign Ministers from across the EUyesterday, but I am unwilling to say, and unenthusiastic about saying, anything today that would do other than place the responsibility for answering that pressing question principally on the shoulders of Hamas.
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