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Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP):
I broadly welcome the statement, particularly the comments on
the services directive which, the Prime Minister suggested, would create some 600,000 jobs. However, he will be aware that there are some concerns. What discussions took place and what discussions are planned on levelling up and equalising professional qualifications, so that there can be confidence in the UK that those who provide services from the EU are suitably qualified to do so?
The Prime Minister: We discuss that regularly with our European partners, but it is important that we do not allow discussion of professional qualifications to become a way of protecting vested interests and keeping out people who come here and often perform a great service for our country. I do not oppose some harmonisation where that is sensible, but the point was made in relation to the services directive that we have to be careful not to level up in a way that keeps out people who would do a good job.
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): My right hon. Friend referred to the middle east peace process. I congratulate him and the Foreign Secretary on the part that they have played in channelling finance to the Palestinian Authority to alleviate the appalling poverty suffered by the Palestinian people. What action are the Government taking to compel the Israeli Government to pay over to the Palestinian Authority the tax revenues that they are stealing from the Authority?
The Prime Minister: I know that my right hon. Friend realises that we are working closely with the Israeli Government to try to ensure that the release of money happens. It is a difficult situation, for a reason of which my right hon. Friend is aware, that of the continued threat of terrorist activity. The most important thing that we agreed at the European Council is to ensure that we develop the right mechanism for getting money to the Palestinian side to alleviate human hardship. As my right hon. Friend knowsI am sure that he would agree with thisthe only ultimate answer to the question is to get the peace process back on track and reach a negotiated settlement.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): We are all glad that the Foreign Secretarys extraordinary attempt to block a modest opening up of the Council of Ministers to public scrutiny was itself turned down. However, are our own procedures much better? Does the right hon. Gentleman think it right that the EU Scrutiny Committee weekly meeting has to be held in private, with the public and the press excluded? Will he end this anomaly and strike a small blow for the right of the public to know in our own Parliament?
The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has heard what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and I know that there are discussions taking place about that matter.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab):
My right hon. Friend mentioned an enhancement of the role of Javier Solana, the high representative, so
that he is involved in energy negotiations with the countries outside the EU. Have there been any further discussions on the external action of the external diplomatic service?
The Prime Minister: There continue to be discussions about how we make the service more effective and ensure that we pool our resources collectively in circumstances where that is appropriate. The main thing that people were concerned about was to ensure that, in terms of foreign policy, this was very much kept as a Council matter.
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Following the Prime Ministers announcement that the Union is entering into what I think he called strategic negotiations with Russia and other energy suppliers over the long-term security of supply, would it not be reasonable for those countries to ask in return for security of demand, and how would a market economy such as ours provide such security?
The Prime Minister: I do not know that we could provide security of demand in that way. We are seeking an agreement with Russia because of the degree to which the EU is now dependent on Russian supplies of gas, which makes it important to get the right strategic partnership with Russia in relation to that. A balanced energy policy in this country is important because in the future all of us will be, to an extent, dependent on imports of gas. We need to ensure that that dependency is not so great as to put our security of supply at risk. There are a certain number of things that Europe can do collectively to influence that, but I do not anticipate making an obligation on the security of demand in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests.
Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): Would the Prime Minister confirm that we already have a constitution for the European Union? It began in 1957 and continued through the Maastricht treaty. The words that he has used refer to a consensus on the modern set of rules. Why should it be appropriate to wait until 2008 for the European Council to look again at the issues of a new constitution? In the meantime, is it not incumbent on politicians, academics, business men and others to seek a new way forward by building a new consensus that can be pushed forward to Government, and from Government to the people in a referendum?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Certain rules will be necessary if the Union is to work effectively once it is enlarged. It is already the case that a Union of 25 people sits round a table. The amount of negotiation that can take place in the room is limited for that reason. Next year, the membership will be expanded to 27 countries. In time to come, if Turkey and other Balkan countries come in, we shall have a completely different type of European Union from that which was envisaged by its founders. My hon. Friend is right in saying that it is sensible, and in a constructive way with others, to look to find a way through this so that we meet the concerns of citizens while meeting the absolute necessity for a better and more effective functioning of the Union.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): Given that the Prime Minister utterly failed to answer two simple questions put to him by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Oppositionnamely whether he would exercise the veto on something that was apparently vital to the national interest just a couple of years ago and if he would say whether the constitution is dead or notand then launched an attack on my right hon. Friend, is it the policy of Her Majestys Government that the British Conservative party should remain a member of the European Peoples party? That would seem to be rather a strong endorsement of the policy adopted by my right hon. Friend.
Mr. Speaker: Order. That is a matter for the Conservative party, not for [ Interruption. ] The Prime Minister raised it, but I reminded him that he should not have done so. The hon. Gentleman should not raise it either.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): As we are to have a period of reflection, will the Prime Minister continue to pursue the reform agenda in Europe, not only to make the Commission more efficient and effective but to develop the economic agenda? As he said, Bulgaria and Romania will join next year, which will obviously create even more problems in the running of the European Union. Is 1 January a firm date, or is it likely to be 2008?
The Prime Minister: There will be a report in October, and we have always supported the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to EU membership. I can assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to push hard on the reform agenda, and it will be very important to build alliances, not least with the new German Government, in doing so. The reform argument is being won in Europe today. Its pace, I agree, is a more open question, but the direction is now very clear. One of the most important things to happen in the past few years was the nomination and election of President Barroso as head of the Commission, which gives us the chance to work with the Commission. While he is strong on the Commissions rights and responsibilities, he also shares our vision of a Europe of economic reform.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): At the end of the Council meeting, the Dutch Prime Minister pronounced the constitution dead. Why was he wrong?
The Prime Minister:
If the right hon. Gentleman studies carefully what the Dutch Prime Minister said, he will see that he said the same as everyone else. In Holland, unless there is a change in the no voteI said all this last yearthe constitution cannot be proceeded with, so there will not be a situation where the constitutional treaty is implemented in its present form. The question is: how do we secure the best set of rules for the future of Europe? That is something on which we as a country should be engaged, in negotiation with our European partners. The debate about whether the constitutional treaty is dead can go on all over Europe, but it does not make the slightest difference to whether we secure a sensible outcome to the rules that will be necessary to govern a Europe of 25, then 27, then
further countries. The issue for us as a country is whether we can build sufficiently strong alliances with other like-minded countries so that the necessary changes in rules can be made to make Europe more efficient, without going down the federalist path. That cannot be done unless we build those alliances.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): May I ask the Prime Minister whether, in plenary or in the margins of the summit, the final status of Kosovo was discussed, or the ramifications of Montenegros independence, in the context of the need to rebuild the fractured countries of the western Balkans in the European Union were discussed?
The Prime Minister: That was not specifically discussed by the leaders in the European Council, but I understand that there was a brief discussion by the Foreign Ministers, and a statement or declaration appears as an annexe to the European Council conclusions. The truth is, we are trying to find a way through a very difficult issue with Serbia; it is difficult for the Kosovan people, too. I hope very much that we will be able to reach a conclusion in the next few months.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): The Council of Europe, as distinct from the European Council, is a specialist forum that promotes human rights in its 46 member countries, including Russia and Turkey. Belarus is currently suspended, because of its human rights record. Does the Prime Minister share my concern that the proposed fundamental rights agency in the European Union will duplicate the work of the Council of Europe, and will, indeed, threaten its very existence?
The Prime Minister: There are some concerns about how the agency will develop, which were expressed at the European Council. That is why the wording in the conclusions is very careful, precisely to make sure that the agency does not have the effect to which the hon. Lady draws attention. My best belief about the general sentiment in the European Council is that the agencys role should be clearly limited, to make sure that it does not conflict with the Council of Europe.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Again on the middle east peace process, did the Council discuss the killing on the Gaza beach which took the lives of five young children, among others? Is it not rather peculiar that the Israeli authorities first seemed to accept responsibility and said they were sorry, and now deny that the event ever took place, as far as they are concerned? What are the Israelis playing at? And yes, I am totally opposed to suicide bombings.
The Prime Minister:
I know no more about the matter than what is in the statement put out by the Government of Israel. Obviously, there will be a continuing debate about that, as my hon. Friend knows. Of course, everybody deeply regrets the loss of innocent lives on the Gaza beach. Unfortunately, there
are innocent lives lost on both sides in the conflict. That is why it is important that we do our utmost to reach a solution. I believe that the only sensible solution is to return to the provisions of the road map, which we carefully negotiated at international level, and make sure that they are implemented.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Whenever the right hon. Gentleman talks to his colleagues in the European Council about the European constitution, he needs to make it plain that there can be no progress without the United Kingdom approving the proposals in a referendum. He ought to remind his colleagues at the European Council that no significant diminution in the rights of nation states or any significant enhancement in the powers of the European institutions is likely to be approved by the British electorate.
The Prime Minister: Each country will look after its own interests. We look after our countrys interests [Interruption.] Yes we do, and an important way of looking after our interests is to secure the objectives that this country wants on issues such as, for example, the election of the new Commission president some time ago, the services directive and the working time directive. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friends want us to have any influence in Europe, the sensible thing is not to keep lecturing other member states the entire time about British positions with which they are extremely familiar, but to try to reach agreement on the objectives that we need and they need in order to move Europe forward.
Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): I fully agree with the idea of an extended period of reflection on the constitution, but in the view of the Belgian Prime Minister, who believes that if four fifths of member states ratified the constitution it could be referred back to the European Council for some sort of immediate action, it is possible that that period of reflection could be cut short. Could my right hon. Friend tell us whether that was discussed at this weeks summit, and whether he supports that view or whether he would vigorously oppose it if it were put forward?
The Prime Minister: With the greatest deference to the Belgian Prime Minister, whose enthusiasm for the constitutional treaty is well known, the fact remains that unless all the member states ratify it, it cannot be proceeded with.
Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): The Prime Minister mentioned the matter of influence. Does he believe that by announcing his retirement but not setting a date, he has weakened our negotiating position in the European Union?
The Prime Minister: I will tell the hon. Gentleman, if I am allowed to, what I think does weaken our position[Hon. Members: Answer the question.]. It is the decision to leave the main grouping of similar parties. That would be damaging for us and very damaging for the country. I thank the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity of repeating that.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): The Prime Minister will know that the element of energy policy that our constituents, in particular pensioners, find most troubling is their heating bills. Many businesses, too, are worried about their energy costs rising dramatically. Did my right hon. Friend have any success in trying to pursue energy liberalisation with the French and the Germans, so that we might see a fairer deal between countries around Europe?
The Prime Minister: There is a commitment to pursue energy liberalisation. The pace of it is the issue, not so much with Germany, but to an extent with France. My hon. Friend is right: this is another area in which we must work with other European countries; otherwise the security of our energy supply might be at risk and the price of our energy will rise. That is why energy policy, which we put on the agenda at Hampton Court, along with some of the other issues that I have mentioned, has come centre stage for the European Unionand rightly, too.
Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Members throughout the House will be delighted to hear that European leaders have decided that global temperatures should not rise by more than 2º C above pre-industrial levels, but the Government are failing to meet their own target of a 20 per cent. cut by 2010, and the pre-Budget reports produced by the Environment Audit Committee show the trail of inaction on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and his reluctance ever to allow policies to deliver on objectives which, I am sure, the Prime Minister shares. With the current Chancellor in place, and the possibility of his becoming Prime Minister, how will we ensure that we cut British emissions and keep to that temperature rise?
The Prime Minister: One way would be by keeping the climate change levy, which the hon. Gentleman opposes. There is a simple reason why Britains position on climate change is accepted throughout Europe: we will not only meet our Kyoto targets, but exceed them by double the original amount, and we will be one of the few European countries to do so. We have led the way on extending the European emissions trading system, which is extremely important, and we have also obtained an agreement to implement another treaty when the Kyoto treaty expires in 2012. Again, that is an area in which constructive relations with other Europeans are important.
Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): The Prime Minister will recollect telling us before May 2004 that between 8,000 and 13,000 EU accession migrants would enter the UK. He was only out by a factor of 10: more than 200,000 people have entered in that two-year period. Most of those people are decent and law-abiding, but not all of them are. Why have his Government specifically absented themselves from the EU pilot project that began this month to share across Europe information on the criminal records of EU citizens?
The Prime Minister: People from eastern Europe were entitled to come here once their countries became EU members; the question was whether they were entitled to come here and work. The best evidence suggests that large numbers of people have come from eastern Europe and worked here, and many of them have gone back. I happen to think that migration from eastern Europe has been positive rather than negative for this country. We are keen to share data with other countries, but it must be done in a way that protects our interests, which is the point that I made earlier.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The Prime Minister was keen on introducing the euro and abandoning the pound. Was that matter discussed at the European Council? If not, will he introduce the relevant proposals before his retirement?
The Prime Minister: The position on the euro is perfectly simpleit depends whether the economic tests are met, which they have not been. It is extraordinary that not one of the questions asked by Conservative Members has been positive about Europe. That is an expression of that partys deep hostility to Europe, which is completely inimical to the interests of this country.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): In his statement, the Prime Minister mentioned administrative burdens on business, but he did not mention the working time directive. Will he confirm that, whatever advice he is getting from his MEPs, he still intends to keep the UKs individual opt-out, which is essential for British industry and our future?
The Prime Minister: Yes, I can confirm that. One of the reasons why we can maintain that position is because we have the support of Germany. The hon. Gentleman should remember that that is why it is quite important to keep good relations with Germany
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