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Let me deal with several of the points that were raised in the debate. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) on his speech. He spoke with his usual skill and eloquence about enlargement and decision making in the European Union and the Lisbon agenda. The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) started his speech by reviewing current issues and recent speeches. I was delighted to discover that he reads the speeches made by both my right hon.
Friend the Foreign Secretary and me with such obvious interest and enthusiasm. With the Christmas recess coming up, I am sure that we can offer him some entertainment as he wiles away the hours between debates on Europe.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) asked several detailed questions about climate change. If he will allow me, I will write to him with detailed responses. However, as I made clear in my observations about the Leader of the Opposition, if the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) genuinely believes in tackling environmental problems, he must genuinely believe in engagement with the European Union, because it is only through the European Union that it will be possible for this country, working in partnership with other European countries, to develop energy policies that are in line with climate change objectives. His position simply does not make sense. No one would believe a political party that pretended that it was somehow possible to tackle such problems in splendid isolation.
Mr. Brady: I am sorry to interrupt the Minister on his birthday, and I hope that he enjoys the rest of the evening more than he enjoyed this afternoon. We have been very clear: we have no difficulty engaging with our EU partners to tackle climate change, and I referred to that in our opening speech. We are also clear aboutthe fact that we do not need additional EU competences to do that. He agreed with me on that point on 26 October when I challenged him on the subject, and the Foreign Secretary agreed with me on the subject yesterday in Foreign Office questions.
Mr. Hoon: The point that the hon. Gentleman misses about his approach is that in any international organisation such as the European Union it is simply not possible to pick and choose, although he pretends that it is. It is necessary to be engaged, to debate and discuss, and to argue ones cause. That does not mean always saying no on a range of issues, but that is the impression that he gives. I have listened to him on a number of occasions, and he speaks well, effectively and at length, but he does not say anything about the Conservative partys policy; I would be delighted to hear what it is.
Several other Conservative Members contributed to the debate. I apologise to the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) because I was not in the Chamber during his speech, but I suspect that I have heard it many times before. I am sure that he spoke with his customary style and enthusiasm on the issue of Europe. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston(Ms Stuart) asked when Kosovo would join the European Union. She is right to emphasise that there is a clear European perspective on the Balkan region, including both Kosovo and Serbia. Their European position will be a key factor in ensuring their economic development and, indeed, their shorter-term stability. Obviously, it is important to wait for the conclusion of the UN-led process to determine Kosovos final status, and we cannot speculate at this stage on its prospects for membership of the European Union, but the western Balkans are a vital part of Europe and it is important that that ambition remains open to countries in the region.
The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) spoke at length on a number of issues. He emphasised the importance of the relationship with the European Union, mentioning countries such as Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus. I hope that he accepts that one of the EUs singular achievements during the period of enlargement has been to offer a focus, goal and ambition for countries that were formerly part of the Warsaw pactand, in some cases, formerly part of the Soviet Union. Without that focus and ambition, they could easily have drifted away from democracy, the rule of law and free markets. I am sure that we will all celebrate that singular achievement of the EU next March.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) said, if I understood correctly, that Eurosceptic voices needed to be heard because there must be a better balanced and more informed debate. Having sat through most of this debate, I cannot agree that more Eurosceptic voices are needed. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) probably put things a little better, as there was rather less support for the pro-European view than the phrase a balanced debate would suggest.
After those speeches, a number of Conservative Members spoke, taking various approaches. If they will forgive me, I shall not go through each of their speeches in detail, although I listened to each and every one of them. It is an interesting characteristic that, with the singular exception of the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), they avoided saying what they believed. They criticised the European Union without saying what they would put in its place, or indicating which other countries in the European Union might share their view. At least the hon. Member for Shipley had the courage of his intellectual convictions and said that he believed that the United Kingdom should withdraw from the European Union.
Mr. Walker: For the sake of clarity, I should point out that the Minister misunderstood me. If anything comes forward from the European Union that this country does not like, we should say, No, were not implementing it because it is not in our national interest. Is that clear enough for him?
Mr. Hoon: I was speaking more about references to Britain needing a different relationship with the European Union. I made notes, and I think that that point was made by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski). The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker), in his comic-book description of the situation, talked of the need for a new relationship. I do not argue that our relationship with the European Union will remain fixed and consistent, but it is important that Opposition Members can articulate what they would like, by way of a new structure and situation. That is what the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West consistently fails to do.
Mr. Cash: I have battled with the Minister on the subject since 1990 or earlier, but it is quite amazing to hear him say so, as he and the Government do not have the faintest idea of what kind of Europe they want. The Prime Minister has said that we cannot implement only part of the treaty, and the Government are not even prepared to put the treaty to a vote in the House of Commons this year, as such a proposal was not included in the Queens Speech.
Mr. Hoon: The difference between our respective positions is that I have consistently supported the European Union. To change the EU, we must argue constructively and positively. I have never been entirely sure what the hon. Member forI have forgotten his wretched constituency [Interruption.]Stone believes. He referred to the time that he opposed his Front-Bench team, but in recent years the one thing on which I have congratulated him is the fact that he has steered them in the direction in which he believes.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Minister criticises Her Majestys official Opposition for not having a policy, but we have a very clear policy on the European constitution. Will he rule out in the House the Government acceding in any circumstances to that new constitution?
Mr. Hoon: The Government have a very clear policy on the European constitution and I have set out ina written ministerial statement, agreed by the Government, the basic principles that will guide renegotiation. Again, that demonstrates the difference between us. As I pointed out to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West, the Conservative idea of negotiation is to say no. That is the only policy that we have heard from them. In any negotiationI have negotiated throughout my career, both as a lawyer and as a politicianit is necessary to accept certain parts of the subject on which one is negotiating. If one does not do so, one is not negotiatingone is simply sitting in a corner, isolated, with no one taking any notice. That is pretty much what the previous Government did, and that is why they failed to deliver for Britainsomething with which the hon. Member for Stone used to agree.
On ones birthday one can reflect on such things, and the hon. Member for Stone has consistently taken that view. My hon. Friend has consistently subjected me to friendly fire for many years, but I do not accept his description of our position on the EU. It is vital, in trying to negotiate in the UKs best interests, that we accept certain aspects of the EU. I hope that he agrees that since those days in the early 1990s, to which the hon. Member for Stone referred, the Conservative party has undergone an incredible transformation. If todays debate is anything to go by, and if the Conservative Back Benchers who spoke represent their partys views, I sympathise with the Front-Bench team because they are in splendid isolation. They received very little support for their policy, as speaker after speaker stood up to say how concerned they were
about their views. [ Interruption. ] No one stood up on this side of the House, which is a sign that Government Members strongly support the policy that we are carrying out.
The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) made a thoughtful speech. One of the difficulties from which Opposition Members suffer is their characteristic view that Europe is separate from the United Kingdom. It is vital when engaging in a negotiation to define terms properly. We have a huge role to play in Europe through the Council of Ministers, our Commissioner and our Members of the European Parliament. Only if we engage through those institutions of the European Union will we be able properly to protect the interests of the United Kingdom. That is the key issueto make sure that the British Government stand up for the interests of the United Kingdom. That cannot be done
Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): I present a petition to the House on behalf of the Myelin Project, a national and international organisation supporting the needs of children with a genetic condition whereby their nervous tissue deteriorates, which often leads to an early and untimely death.
To the honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled,
The Humble Petition of Dr. Belle Humphrey, parent, and others of like disposition
That the Petitioners are parents of terminally ill children from rare hereditary and otherwise terminal (if not detected asymptomatic) Leukodystrophies; or family and friends of said children.
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House shall urge the Department of Health to introduce Universal Newborn Screening for Leukodystrophies and other like hereditary diseases.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.
Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): I present a petition to the House signed by people from north Staffordshire who want to see their local primary care trusts and the National Institute for Health and Clinical ExcellenceNICEfocus on treatment and support for those in the early stages of Alzheimers disease and dementia. It is important that doctors have the flexibility to treat people in the early stages of the disease. My constituents and their families want to acknowledge that.
Declares that the Petitioners object to the decision to deny life-changing drugs to thousands of people with Alzheimers at a saving of just £2.50 a day.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Secretary of State for Health to ensure that doctors continue prescribing treatments in the best interests of their patients.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to hold this Adjournment debate. I also thank the Minister, whom I am delighted to see. Having been in her shoes as a planning Minister in the past, I realise that there is little that she can say on the specific points that I shall raise, because after the inquiry, which is about to start, the draft plan will move to her desk or that of one of her colleagues. However, the debate is an opportunity to present some of the points that she can bear in mind when the time comes and perhaps even put to the inspector.
As I am sure the Minister knows, Surrey county council is a Conservative council. It is a good performing council in many respects, but it has spectacularly failed to cover itself in glory on one aspect of this matter. Some time back, Surrey entered into a private finance initiative agreement with an organisation called Surrey Waste Management, a derivative of SITA. The contract has a number of interesting points, but there are two that I shall mention.
First, I find it intriguing that the waste management contract contains a requirement for two incinerator sites. That is written in black and white. I find this extraordinary because it immediately inhibits the flexibility of either side to react to changing circumstances. I have in mind the recent success of Surrey district councils in increasing recycling, thereby reducing demand. I foresee the ghastly possibility of Surrey having two huge incinerators without the sources of waste to fill them, and the company looking for waste from elsewhere to be trucked in.
Secondly, it is of some concern to me that in the contract the costs related to any application by the contractor to build an incinerator or two are to be borne by the local authority, rather than by the contractor. I have a little bit of experience of local government and contracts with the private sector, and that seems to me a weeny bit strange, to put it mildly. To my mind, it instantly means that the council has an incentive to look for an easy and cheap route for progressing any application. As the Minister will be aware, in situations where a local authority is in effect the applicant, or has a particular interest in the progress of an application, there must be a so-called glass wall between the planning department and the rest of the council, particularly the service department. On reading an interview with Surreys head of planning in a recent edition of Planning, I was disturbed to find that the glass wall seems to have cracked or even crumbled.
Surrey county councils first attempt at a waste plan was to insist on the contractor coming forward with suitable sites, instead of the council naming them. Clearly, thoughthe council did not seem to understand thisif one leaves the decision on sites to a private contractor, the economic issues tend to predominate. Two sites were proposed where proprietary access was simple. One of them was a little place called Capel in my constituency. At the time, I put it to the chief executive
of the Environment Agency, Lady Young, who was appearing before the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government, that the Capel site had been chosen for economic expediency, rather than taking into account environmental issues. She agreed.
The application for an incinerator at Capel was approvedjust. A furious but knowledgeable local group took the decision to judicial review. In November 2002, Mr. Justice Sullivan, who is very well versed in planning, quashed the application. In doing so, it would not be unfair to say that he was fairly damning of the council and its approach. One of the key decisions from the judicial review was that the application for an incinerator was premature. The council was directed to go back to the drawing board and to come forward with a new plan that actually named sites. It went through that procedure and came up with several sites, including Capel. All bar Capel were in the green belt, but many were already used in some way for waste. The council chose to put Capel at the head of its list merely because it is not in the green belt, ignoring the fact that it is right alongside an area of outstanding natural beauty. Other key issues, particularly that of proximity, appear to have been ignored. I found that surprising, because in quashing the previous application the court found that the council had erred in its failure to apply that principle. At a recent public meeting, the executive member responsible was questioned on the proximity principle. He brushed it to one side and said that it no longer applied because European Union legislation had superseded it. In fact, as the Minister will know, it has been strengthened by the EU regulation.
I do not expect the Minister to know much of Surrey. The western and northern portions are urbanSpelthorne, Guildford and Woking run down the western side. The eastern side, particularly the south-eastern side, is very rural, with farmers making livings and belonging to the National Farmers Union. The most eastern and southerly point includes Capel. Bearing in mind the proximity principle, one would have expected Surrey county council to have found sites in the west, but in its wisdom its prime site was as far away as possible from the source of the waste produced in Surrey, while still being just within Surrey. If one asks why, one must conclude that there are some attractions to choosing that site from the councils point of view, especially if one is an executive member in a hurry to get an incinerator through the planning procedure, get it built and into action.
The site is owned either by Surrey or SITA, the contractor. It is rural and fairly sparsely populated, hence the protests. The site is not in the green belt, especially if one ignores the adjacent area of outstanding natural beauty and the nearby site of special scientific interest. I believe that Surrey has again chosen, through its executive member, to accept commercial expediency over the environmental issues.
The site is licensed for landfill. It was originally used for mining clay for bricks. Planning permission was given for the mining hole to be used for waste filling, but the site had to be restored to agricultural land by December 2004. There was a recent application by the contractor to extend that to 2008. Surrey county councils planning committee rejected that but took no enforcement action.
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