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Mr. Straw: The right hon. and learned Gentleman raises a very important issue. Our own gas supply is not nearly as vulnerable as that of Europe as a whole to just a handful of suppliers and Russian gas supplies are likely to account for only 5 per cent. of our supplies, compared with much higher dependency elsewhere in the European Union. However, I accept his overall point. Both the reliance on a few countries and the problems that arose between Russia and Ukraine and the rest of Europe are matters of concern. Energy security will dominate the G8 summit in St. Petersburg in the summer, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is very keen to secure real guarantees about energy security for the whole of Europe.
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend say more about the discussions regarding the Palestinian Legislative Council? Does he agree that Hamas, by entering into the electoral process and joining the Palestinian Legislative Council, has implicitly accepted the Oslo peace route and we need to ensure that we cautiously encourage that development?
Mr. Straw: There was not, as I recall, discussion on the Palestinian situation in the summit itself. We discussed it earlier in the week, in the General Affairs and External Relations Council on Monday. We will get a better idea of Hamas's real intentions after the Arab League summit in Khartoum. If Hamas indicates that it supports, even tacitly, the proposals of the then Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in the Beirut declaration of three years ago, which was in favour of accepting the reality of Israel, there may be a basis for moving forward, but Hamas, as well as the European Union and the international community, has to make moves.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con):
Will the Foreign Secretary give the House a modest assurance on the future of the constitution? I believe that Ministers
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agreed that they would discuss that again in mid-April, whether in its present form or whatever aftermath they are proposing. Does he agree that the only basis for a referendum on the EU constitution was that it represented a fundamental change and that if any such change, or part of such change, were proposed at a future mini-intergovernmental conference, a referendum would be appropriate?
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will recall that the earlier proposed draft directive on services was widely opposed by trade unionists across the EU and particularly strongly opposed by major trade unions in Britain. It is very pleasing that the country of origin principle has been removed, but is the new proposal any more acceptable to trade unionists? Will he consult the TUC and British trade unionists to get their view?
Mr. Straw: Yes, indeed, we shall consult British trade unionists and the European Trade Union Confederation. Speaking from memory, I think that the current proposals, which were for a country of destination rule rather than a country of origin rule, are significantly more acceptable to the trade unions. If that turns out to be inaccurateI do not think that it isI shall write to my hon. Friend.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): The Foreign Secretary, like the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said that the British economy compared favourably with economies in the eurozone. Does he accept that that is despite, not because of, his policies and those of other Governments in the past? In fact, economic and monetary union and the exchange rate mechanism must be repudiated, so will he take the opportunity expressly to repudiate those policies to ensure that we can continue to govern ourselves and, indeed, repeal European legislation, as I proposed, with the support of 45 Members of Parliament, when I suggested that we repeal future European legislation and parts of the acquis communautaire to reduce the burden on business?
Mr. Straw: I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman but, although he may not have spotted it, we did not join the euro, and I do not anticipate that we are likely to do so in the foreseeable future. [Hon. Members: "Ah!"] In this case, that is a long time. In any event, if there were a recommendation that we join, it would have to pass, first, the famous five tests announced on 27 October 1997 by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, and then a referendum. The hon. Gentleman can therefore remain calm.
On the more important point, the hon. Gentleman said that my claims about our economic progress had nothing to do with the Government. I am afraid that I disagree completelyit is to do with the Government. If, instead of advancing from the bottom of the G7 league table to second from top, we had gone the
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other way, he would say that that was all the Government's fault, so we are entitled to claim the credit when we go the right way.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): What steps does the right hon. Gentleman intend to take to encourage the Commission to use its extensive powers to challenge the rising tide of protectionism among companies and states in the European Union?
Mr. Straw: We are doing a great deal. In fairness to President Barroso, he does not need much encouragement, as the Commission has made it clear that the rising tide of protectionism is against EU policy and law, and not remotely in the interests of the European Union. We must try to ensure that there is greater political consensus to challenge the rising tide of protectionism, which masquerades as economic patriotism.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): On Belarus, may I strongly commend the Foreign Secretary's robust objections to the behaviour of the authorities in Minsk at the weekend that resulted in innocent protesters being attacked and imprisoned? I urge him to be more hawkish and vigilant in the weeks ahead, because on many occasions we have heard that the European Union objects to a breach of human rights and promises action, but action is not taken. He will therefore understand why some of us are a little cynical.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con):
The Foreign Secretary spoke proudly about the British sovereignty of Gibraltar, which is very welcome, but I am more concerned about the sovereignty of Britain. If he is winning the war against the over-centralising tendencies of the European Union, which powers are likely to be repatriated from the EU to this country? Many people
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here are sick to the back teeth of the majority of laws and rules in Britain being decided in Brussels, not Westminster.
Mr. Straw: To the extent that laws and orders are decided in Brussels, not Westminster, that is because treaties were signed, not under the present Government, but under the Government whom the hon. Gentleman himself supported until 1997. If he is proposing to the House and the country that we change those treaties, let him put that proposal to his party and the people, but I think that he will get short shrift from his Front-Bench team.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Since 1997, the British Government have been at the heart of Europe. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that, during those nine years, the other members of the EU have been thumbing their noses at the British Government, whether on budget contributions, common agricultural policy reform, energy reform or market liberalisation?
Mr. Straw: I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but the answer is no. The record also disproves his point. In that period, we have been at the heart of Europe. What is more, to take one profound change, Europe has expanded. There were 15 member states when we joined the EU. There are now 25 and soon there will be 27. That is a direct result of the policy led by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and by the Government as a whole. It would not have happened without my right hon. Friend's commitment and that alone is helping to change the whole climate and the economic policy of the EU.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary share my concern that the EU and its member states, particularly on the mainland of Europe, are not doing nearly enough to counter the vile trade of international human trafficking?
Yes, I do. That is all the more reason why EU Governments, with help from the Commission, must integrate and co-operate better in their efforts to deal with that vile trade, as the hon. Gentleman describes it.
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