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Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP):
I thank the right hon. Lady for an advance copy of the statement, which suggests that on justice and home affairs the Council agreed to consider options for strengthening the framework for decision making in order to respond effectively to the current challenges in the area of freedom, security and justice. That is likely to mean a far more uniform and unified approach across Europe to sharing police information and intelligence. Given that Scotland has a separate legal system, eight separate police forces and the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency, all under the responsibility of the
Scottish Executive, how does the right hon. Lady envisage that that strengthened framework will embrace each of those in that regard?
Margaret Beckett: Of course there are different legal systems and jurisdictions throughout the EU, but when it comes to the need to share information in order to combat security risks or cross-border crime, in most jurisdictions, most police forces and other security forces are only too happy to co-operate.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the United Kingdom would never support any suggestion of a modification of our rights, particularly the right to strike for UK citizens?
Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) (Con): Given the welcome remarks of the right hon. Lady regarding enlargement, would she be good enough to elaborate on any discussions on Ukraine, given its huge geopolitical significance and the fact that so much of the energy supplies are routed through Ukraine to the rest of Europe?
Margaret Beckett: There was not detailed discussion about Ukraine, but the point was made clearly and firmly on a number of occasions, not least by some of the newer member states, that this is a country that they would also wish to see on the path ultimately to membership of the European Unionsome considerable distance away, no doubt, but that point was made.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Next year, Britain will celebrate two great acts of unionthat with Scotland and that within the European Union. May I invite my right hon. Friend to take off her sober Foreign Secretary garb and, now and then, return to Margaret the great campaigner and campaign against some of the rancid rabble on the Opposition Benches who reject both the EU and the Act of Union with Scotland?
Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman makes a habit of this. He did it the last time that I called him. I did him a favour this time and called him thinking that he had learned the lesson. He is running the risk of not being called.
Mr. Speaker: Order. I heard the remark made by the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane). He has been long enough in the House. Of course, he can raise political matters, but he is questioning a Minister on her responsibility. If he cannot learn that, I will not be long in teaching him.
May I ask the Foreign Secretary whether in the margins of the Council either she or the Prime Minister talked to their counterparts from Germany
and France, or indeed their counterparts from any NATO country, as to their willingness to deploy more troops into the Helmand province so as to reinforce British forces when under attack? If she or he did, what was the response? If they did not, perhaps they should have done.
Margaret Beckett: There are considerable and detailed ongoing discussions about the issue, as I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows. It is not just a matter of personnel, although that is an area where there is an interest, it is also a matter of equipment and the role that people can play. Those discussions continue, not only with those two colleague states but also with others.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): May I tell the Secretary of State that I am uncomfortable about the cosy consensus between the three Front-Bench spokesmen on Turkey? Indeed, I noted that the shadow Foreign Secretary said that our conditions as regards Turkey were over-harsh. There are still some people who are alarmed about the prospect of enlarging the EU to include Turkey, which would mean that we would have common borders with Iraq, Iran, Syria and a number of other friendly states, and who believe that this really is not the most sensible or strategic approach to our collective security, nor in the best interests of Turkey or the EU.
Margaret Beckett: I say to my hon. Friend, with affection as well as respect, that he is never comfortable with any cosy consensus, whatever it may be about. I take his point entirely. However, it would be a huge strategic error for the European Union not to hold out the prospect of membership to Turkey and not to take Turkey into membership. We have already talked about cross-border terrorism, people trafficking, narcotics and so on. Those are all issues where we have a lot of common interest and where Turkey can do a great deal to help and support us, as it can as a conduit for energy and on security matters. I am mindful of the fact that across the middle east people are watching to see whether the EU will stand by its word in being prepared to take in a country such as Turkey. People are also watching the process of reform that the prospect of EU membership is bringing about in Turkey, not least to see whether it is a model for them. I would be reluctant to lose any of those advantages.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): Does the Foreign Secretary agree with what Mr. Barroso said about relations with Russia this morning in Strasbourg in the equivalent debate therethat is, that the Union must avoid the twin risks of business as usual on the one hand and outright confrontation on the other, but must instead always stick to its basic principles, including those of human rights? If so, does she further agree that those principles should also apply to our relations with other countriesfor example, Saudi Arabia?
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): When the Council met, what discussions took place about the humanitarian crisis facing people who have migrated from west Africa to the Canary islands, many of whom have perished in the sea on that perilous journey, and about the increasing militarisation of the Mediterranean, which has resulted in the loss of many lives of people trying to cross from north Africa to Europe? Does she accept that we need a much more human and humanitarian approach to migration and asylum? Can she assure the House that any common asylum policy agreed will be based entirely on the 1951 Geneva convention and will not become a system of cherry-picking skilled people who happen to be asylum seekers from those who have different skills or no particular skills suited to an industrial society?
Margaret Beckett: There was a certain amountif not a massive amountof discussion about migration and asylum, which is recognised as a common problem and, in many cases, a very serious one. A common approach to asylum will be developed over a considerable period of time. I share my hon. Friends concern about the humanitarian aspects of the problem, as does everyone, but I take the viewwhich I suspect that he might, on this occasion, sharethat one of the best ways to tackle the issue is through tackling global poverty and the trade barriers that create the circumstances that drive people to consider leaving their homeland.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): The Foreign Secretary might agree that it was a very quiet summit. Why would that be so? What has happened to the rhetoric about bringing the Union closer to its citizens? Has it been abandoned in the light of the French and Dutch referendums?
Margaret Beckett: No. Indeed, the view expressed by our Prime Minister at the Hampton Court summit during the British presidencythat one of the best ways to bring Europe closer to its citizens is for Europe to devote itself to things that its citizens actually care aboutis widely welcomed and is an approach that people are increasingly trying to follow. As for why it was such a quiet Council, perhaps it was because people were leaving space for a train wreck that did not happen.
Mr. David S. Borrow (South Ribble) (Lab): It has been suggested that the question of enlargement be linked to a resolution of the difficulties over the EU constitution. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be wrong for any of the accession countries, whether Turkey, Croatia or Macedonia, to be refused membership, having reached all the criteria required of them, on the basis that the EU has been unable to resolve its constitutional difficulties?
Margaret Beckett: I can assure my hon. Friend that we have not only resisted any attempt to put in new criteria for membership but rejected, on every occasion when it has been raised, any attempt to suggest that there is an automatic link between future enlargement and institutional reform.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): In the declaration on the middle east peace process, the European Council noted the importance of a ceasefire in Gaza. Was there any discussion about reports that American Government agencies have been channelling funds to one of the parties in Gaza with the precise objective of undermining that ceasefire?
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): May I press the Foreign Secretary a little bit further on Afghanistan, which was the subject of a separate declaration of the Council? Did we know or were we warned about the withdrawal of French troops in advance, and if so what was our response?
Margaret Beckett: There was no discussion really about the future status of Kosovo, but that was partly because there had been much discussion previously about Serbia and its potential application, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), and in that context there was also much discussion about Kosovo. So the issue has been extensively aired lately and, consequently, it was not raised at the European Council.
Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): May I seek further clarification from the Minister on the question of the common asylum policy, which is to be introduced by 2010? Given that we have already lost powers to deport many criminals that we would wish to deport, is there anything in that policy, or anything that the Government would accede to, that would force us to accept people that the British Government would not wish to accept?
Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that that is a potential danger. A range of issues will have to be considered, and that is one of the reasons why we think that the timetable for this policy may be a little ambitious, although obviously we shall work on that basis. We strongly take the view that we have to maintain the flexibility for different nation states to handle this issue in a way that is best suited to their particular needs, and I can assure my hon. Friend that we are mindful of the sort of danger that he has identified.
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Does the Secretary of State endorse the comments made by Mr. Peter Mandelson this morning that the French Governments proposals for trade restrictions on countries that do not implement the Kyoto protocol are foolish and counter-productive? If she does agree with that, how do the British Government propose to reconcile global trade and environment rules?
Margaret Beckett: There is already a mechanism for taking into account environmental issues and concerns alongside the work of the World Trade Organisation with the multilateral environment agreements, so this is not a new issue. I was not familiar with the fact that the French Government have made such a proposal and would wish to study exactly what has been said, but certainly I take the view that we should be easing trade restrictions rather than tightening them.
Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): While I agree with the former Foreign Secretary that the constitutional treaty is probably dead, does the present Foreign Secretary agree with me that, nevertheless, treaty changes are needed in the foreseeable future so that the European Union continues to function effectively?
Margaret Beckett: Certainly, there are some issues that will have to be considered because the Union has already made a decision that we shall look again at, for example, the numbers in the Commission once Romania and Bulgaria join the European Union. As to whether changes are needed, that is obviously exactly the kind of issue on which the Germans will be taking soundings in the early part of their presidency to see whether there is a process that they can recommend as to how we might consider these matters in the future.
Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): The German Government have said that central Asia will be one of their priorities for their presidency starting on 1 January and their G8 presidency. I ask the right hon. Lady to ensure that there is no relaxation of Britains position on civil and human rights in central Asia during the German presidency. What effort is she making, perhaps with the Minister for Europe, to persuade others, including the German Government, to keep up pressure on the Uzbek and Turkmen regimes in particular, and to maintain the EU sanctions regime against Uzbekistan?
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that Chancellor Merkel has suggested not just that a revised version of the constitution be driven forward, but that she wishes to use the German presidency to drive all member states to join the eurozone. Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to Mrs. Merkel that we have no intention of joining the eurozone, and that if the Germans want to reduce their unemployment they would do well to withdraw from the eurozone and reduce their interest rates?
Margaret Beckett: I shall not venture to advise Chancellor Merkel on the policy that the German Government should pursue. Although she has made it clear that she would prefer to be able to move forward on the constitutional treaty, she has also made it clear that the main thrust of the German presidencys approach will be to establish whether there is a consensus and, if so, what it is, and that she is under no illusions that decisions can be made under the German presidency.
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): The French are alleged to have withdrawn their special forces from Helmand province. Given the pressure that our forces are under, that seems completely at variance with the statement made by the Defence Secretary after the Riga summit. If, as the Foreign Secretary indicated, she has not familiarised herself with that position, when will she do so, and when will she make representations to the French?
Margaret Beckett: Let me gently point out to the hon. Gentleman that I am the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, not the Secretary of State for Defence. To some extent, this is a question for my right hon. Friend.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): In relation to Turkeys application to join the EU, will my right hon. Friend say what discussions took place about the continuing involvement of the military in Turkish politics and about Turkeys human rights record, particularly with reference to the enclave people of the Karpas, who continue to suffer appalling oppression.
Margaret Beckett: People are mindful that those are among the reforms and changes that we would wish to see in Turkey. My hon. Friend will know, I am sure, that Turkey has made some progress in the right direction on such issues, but there is a general view that much more progress would be desirable, which is another reason for Turkey to maintain its move towards the standards required for EU membership.
Mr. David Gauke (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): The Foreign Secretary referred to EU policy towards Africa. I am sure that she will agree that removing trade barriers is one of the most important things that the EU can do. What progress was made, if any, to ensure that the EU takes a more flexible approach to the Doha World Trade Organisation negotiations?
Margaret Beckett: There was not much discussion of the Doha round at the European Council. As the hon. Gentleman will know, Pascal Lamy has recently taken steps to reactivate those talks. I strongly share the view expressed that it is important that the talks have a successful outcome and that the EU should play whatever role is necessary to help to secure that.
Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): Given that the problems with the Doha round have been due, to a considerable extent, to the EUs inflexibility on modifying the common agricultural policyand particularly the stance taken by the President of Francenow that the Foreign Secretary has announced that the next EU-Africa summit will be in the latter half of next year, after the next French presidential elections, can she reassure me that the UK Government will press colleagues in the EU for further changes to the CAP, so that progress can be made at the EU-Africa summit to facilitate the Doha round?
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