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Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): I warmly welcome the European Council's declaration on Belarus—in particular, the call to release those already detained—and we welcome the announcement that measures will be taken against those responsible in the regime. Can the Foreign Secretary tell us more about the measures being considered against Europe's last dictatorship? Does he agree that the free flow of information is a sure way to undermine tyranny? What more can be done to ensure that the people of Belarus are better able to learn what the outside world is really like and hear an alternative view to that of their Government?

I welcome the conclusion of talks with the Government of Gibraltar and the commitment to hold a referendum. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm whether all this means that his previous commitments to share sovereignty with Spain are now entirely null and void?

Can the Foreign Secretary tell us about some other important matters that were meant to be discussed in the margins of the Council? Will he confirm whether the Government are advocating a new round of talks between Iran, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China? What would be the conditions for such talks? What approach to aid and funding will be taken by the EU if the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority does not the meet the criteria set by the Quartet?

On economic reform and the Lisbon agenda, does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is now clear that the EU is regrettably not on course to become the world's most dynamic and competitive economy by 2010 and, since the Prime Minister started to admit mistakes over the weekend, that it was a mistake for him to describe the Lisbon agenda six years ago in the House as a

with

just as the Prime Minister now thinks that it was a mistake for him to take the concrete measure of setting a date for his own resignation, albeit without the clear deadline long favoured by the Chancellor of the Exchequer?
 
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Will the Foreign Secretary acknowledge that the EU is now locked in a pattern of relative economic decline? Can he tell us why the Italian-led joint memorandum against protectionism did not go forward, whether the Government intended to sign such a memorandum and why the British Government did not press ahead with their own version? Does he not think that Britain can give a still stronger lead on such an important issue?

Is it not alarming that the figures hidden away in annexe 1 of the Council conclusions show that we are investing a smaller share of our national wealth in research and development than the Scandinavian countries, France, Germany or Belgium and that, far from closing the gap, Britain's R and D spending is falling?

Does the Foreign Secretary agree with the Chancellor that

Can the Foreign Secretary tell us what specific EU regulations the Chancellor has pressed to be cut or blocked and what representations the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister made in that direction at the summit?

As for targets to reduce the burdens on business, which were also talked about at the summit, is not a rise in the burden of regulation on business of £50 billion since 1997 a poor way to convince our partners that the Government believe in making business more competitive?

On the services directive, will the Foreign Secretary now state a clearer view by agreeing with me that the removal of the country of origin principle was a grave mistake and that we need a strong liberalising directive with the freedom to provide cross-border services in the Commission's modified proposal? Is not a free market in services one of the things that the EU was supposed to be about?

We welcome the emphasis in the conclusions on a real, liberalised single market in energy, with better co-operation between national energy regulators. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the proposal for a European energy regulator has been rejected? Does he agree that the Commission's priority must be to ensure that the associated single market rules are enforced? On powers to negotiate energy supply agreements with third parties, although increased co-operation may bring benefits in some areas, does he agree that member states must retain the right to make their own arrangements? I welcome the insistence in the conclusions that energy mix is for member states to decide, but can he tell us how the energy policy for Europe will affect the Government's domestic energy review?

The EU constitution was also discussed at the summit. Did Ministers make it plain to our partners that it is the Government's view, as the Foreign Secretary has often tactfully expressed it to the House, that the constitution is dead, so that others are not tempted to try to revive a deeply flawed idea that has already been rejected by two of the founding member states of the EU? Will the Foreign Secretary now admit another of the Government's mistakes? Their lack of leadership at the time let others put forward a constitution that the Government did not really want. Will he accept that, if
 
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that mistake is not to be repeated, the Government must set out their view and their vision soon, and plainly, or others will again make the running?

Mr. Straw: Let me try to rattle through that long list of questions. On Belarus, the statement of conclusions spells out that the EU will consider restrictive measures against those responsible. I cannot anticipate precisely what will be decided, but there could be a range of measures, including travel bans and asset freezes. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it is a disgrace that Belarus remains a dictatorship—the last in Europe—and it cannot continue in that way.

On Gibraltar, both the joint statement between the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Peter Caruana, QC, and myself—a copy of which will be in the Library—and my written ministerial statement make it clear that sovereignty remains British as long as the people of Gibraltar wish it to do so. Should they change their minds about that, which I do not anticipate for a second, the provisions of article 10 of the treaty of Utrecht would apply.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about a new round of talks on Iran. There are in hand arrangements that we are trying to make for a meeting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany later this week. Of course, I will inform the House once those arrangements are firm.

On aid and funding to Hamas, I have nothing further to add to what we discussed in First Order questions. The Quartet statement earlier in the year set out three principles that we expect Hamas to follow. At the same time—this is an issue for the whole House—we are wrestling with the need to ensure that the people of the occupied territories are not punished, by being deprived of humanitarian aid, for a vote that they freely and fairly exercised in elections that were regarded as free and fair. That is something that we have to work through.

On economic reform, the right hon. Gentleman asked me about the comment made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the time of Lisbon. As a matter of fact, I do think that Lisbon has involved a sea change in EU thinking. It is true that the sea is very large and rather thicker than the sea that we are used to and the tanker of the EU is so big that it takes some time to turn round. However, let us take the example of better regulation. Until two or three years ago, the European Commission was simply a machine for producing more and more regulation. The right hon. Gentleman asked me about conversations that I have had with commissioners and others. I have had endless conversations. When I first got this job, I tried to have conversations about ending gold-plating in the Foreign Office and doing the same in Brussels and it was as though I had said something indecent, but these days things are changing. Under Günter Verheugen, the commissioner with responsibility for better regulation, there has been a big change. Some 68 pending items of legislation have been withdrawn. There is a rolling programme to repeal, codify, recast or modify 228 further pieces of legislation and more than 1,400 related legal acts over the next three years, and much else besides.

On science, it is important to recognise that up until about 1997—I choose that date with care—the Government's record on investment in science was
 
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lamentable, but my recollection is that scientific investment has almost doubled since then. We will see the effect of that flowing through into research and development more widely.

On services, the right hon. Gentleman asked me about the country of origin. It has been replaced by the country of destination principle. Personally, having considered the matter pretty carefully, I am not sure that the country of origin principle was worth dying in a ditch for and I think there are advantages to the country of destination principle. There are no proposals for an EU energy regulator and no changes to the treaty base.

I was very tactful when I discussed our old friend the EU constitution with EU colleagues at a dinner on Thursday night. I repeated the comment that I made in the House a few weeks ago that it was, at best, in limbo. I drew attention to the fact that, at the time at which I said that, I understood that limbo could not take place until one was dead, but was not aware that His Holiness the Pope had abolished limbo in the meanwhile.


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