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I think that those on both sides of the House would accept that the contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) was the most
humorous, and possibly one of the most thoughtful, particularly on the issue of Russia. A number of interventions were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson)my very good frienddespite his current physical condition. On behalf of everyone in the Government, may I say that I hope that it is nothing trivial? He informs me that he fell, but an investigation is taking place into whether he was pushed.
A number of thoughtful contributions were made by Opposition Back Benchers, and not only on the Lisbon treaty. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) was passionate, but he was, on occasion, unnecessarily and gratuitously personally offensive. That is a choice for him, because he must design his own debating style.
The right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) was fair in his point about the need to find additional ways to scrutinise European legislation. As I have said before, I had the fantastic opportunity to serve on European Standing Committees A, B and C for 18 months, and there has to be a more effective way to scrutinise. It is not for the Government to design the process, but based on my experience of scrutinising European legislation, I think that there must be a better way.
We also heard from the hon. Members for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), for Harwich (Mr. Carswell) and for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands), who spoke about a European neighbourhood policy. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham spoke about his views on Zimbabwe, which are held dearly, although occupants of all three Front Benches disagree strongly with his view on engagement with that country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda spoke with great clarity about the dynamic in Russian politics today, the fact that the democratic space there has shrunk and the opportunities for civic society and the freedom of the media have been curtailed in a way that many of us would have thought unimaginable a few years ago. We all celebrated the remarkable changes in Russia with the collapse of communism, but the trends that my hon. Friend mentioned are worrying, especially when one considers how important Russia is on issues of energy, international terrorism and non-proliferation. It is significant that we should do as much as we can in our relationship with Russia through the European Union, because 27 voicesalbeit with different accents and at times in different languagescan be much more effective than one lone voice.
Mr. Francois: The Minister will know that the Opposition have given the Government strong support in the Litvinenko case. Can he reassure the House that the Government will continue to press the Russians on that important matter?
I put on record the thanks of the Government for that strong cross-party support. It is an
important aspect of our debates that, while retaining ferocious disagreement about several issues, we are at one on the strategic issues of national interest in respect of Russia. We will of course continue to press on the matter that the hon. Gentleman raises.
Kosovo was mentioned by several right hon. and hon. Members. In the past, the international community has had good intentions on Kosovo, but that will not be enough in the next few weeks and months. When we reflect on what happened in the 1990s, we must say, Never again. In the autumn of 1993, the European Council was debating how to send aid to Bosnia, and how to distribute it for the brutal Balkan winter. By the time Europe had agreed to a package of measures, the snow had melted in Sarajevo and spring had arrived. That should never be repeated in international diplomacy.
Several other important issues are debated at European Councils and we need to work on them multilaterally and bilaterally with our European colleagues. Not least of those are the millennium development goals, climate change and our relationship with Iran, which the Foreign Secretary mentioned. However, I shall spend the limited time available to me on some of the comments on the Lisbon treaty.
As has often been the case in discussions on the issue, opposition to the treaty was fired by an anger about proposals that do not even appear in it. Perhaps that is just the nature of debate on European matters. I simply do not believe that the changes being proposed on foreign policy or the proposals for a high representative are the threat that is claimed. Those who oppose the changes paint
a picture of this foreign policy monster, this fearful creature somehow stripping away all our power in foreign policy,
as amplifying our potential influence.[ Official Report, House of Lords, 5 December 2007; Vol. 696, c. 1752.]
Those are not my words, but those of the right hon. Lord Howe, the former Conservative Foreign Secretary, speaking in another place just this week. He appreciates that the proposed changes help the United Kingdom.
Opposition Members suggested that our seat at the United Nations was in some way under threat as a consequence of the proposals in the reform treaty. It is ludicrous, and politically and intellectually incoherent, to draw that conclusion, even from the least charitable reading of the reform treaty.
Mr. Davidson: While my hon. Friend is on the subject of political and intellectual incoherence, may I ask him about the Liberals and their position? While I believe that the Minister is wrong, at least I recognise that he has an opinion. There are three Liberals present; how many opinions does he think that they have among them on whether there should be a referendum on the constitution?
Mr. Murphy: In the time available to me, that is not an issue in which I can get involved in great detail. The Liberal Democrats will continue to speak for themselves on the subject. Earlier, I had the opportunity to listen to the speech of their Front Bencher, the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter).
On the high representative, the point that I wish to make is that the modest changes to current procedures are a sensible improvement. A Conservative Back BencherI think that it was one of the Better Off Out gangsuggested that we would no longer be able to speak at the United Nations; our seat would be under threat. That ignores all recent history. As the Foreign Secretary said, during the German presidency of the EU, we spoke on eight separate occasions on which the EU representative also spoke. We also spoke at the UN during the Portuguese presidency. Javier Solana spoke at the UN on five separate occasions since 2002, and the UK spoke on each and every one of those occasions. It is important that there be a European Union effort, and that we exert our energy and influence on the international stage. Being able to speak at the United Nations is an important part of that, whether it be on Kosovo, Zimbabwe, Burma, the millennium development goals or other matters. The Conservative Opposition often seem to will the enda more vocal, effective European policy on foreign issuesbut strongly oppose the means.
On the points raised about the abandonment of the previous constitution, the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) rightly predicted that I would again announce this evening that the constitutional approach has been abandonedindeed, he might have written this part of my speech. All 27 member states have agreed that the constitutional approach has been abandoned, as have many others. The ODS party, in government in the Czech Republicthe lone voice that the Conservative party claim as an ally in the European Unionhas said that there is no constitution anymore. That is the Conservatives one voice of friendship in the European Union. The French Secretary of State has said so. The Conservative President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering, has said so. The Danish Prime Minister, José Manuel Barroso, Lord Brittan, the Dutch Prime Minister, the Dutch Council of State, eminent professors of European law, the Italian Interior Minister, the Portuguese Prime Minister, the chairman of BP and many others have added their voice to the clear statement by all 27 Governments that the constitutional approach has been abandoned.
On the specific deal that the UK has, all countries have moved away from the previous constitution, but the UK has moved further away than any other member state. Again, that view is supported by José Manuel Barroso, who has said:
It is clearly different, the arrangement for Britain, than the arrangement for all the other countries.
As to the balance sheet of the changes, it mainly favours Great Britain, which will enjoy a special status.
That this House has considered the matter of European Affairs.
That this House takes note with approval of the Governments assessment as set out in the Pre-Budget Report 2007 for the purposes of section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993. [ Liz Blackman .]
That the Home Information Pack (Amendment) Regulations 2007 (S.I., 2007, No. 3301), dated 22nd November 2007, be referred to a Delegated Legislation Committee. [Liz Blackman.]
That the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Agreement on Enlargement of the European Economic Area) Order 2007, which was laid before this House on 15th November, be approved.
That the draft Immigration and Nationality (Fees) (Amendment) Order 2007, which was laid before this House on 21st November, be approved.
That the draft Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses (Amendment) Regulations 2007, which were laid before this House on 28th November, be approved. [Liz Blackman.]
Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): I present a petition on behalf of more than 4,000 residents of Lower Heswall who signed it to mark their concern about the possible closure of their local post office. This is a well-used, important facility and an important element of a vibrant village community. The signatories hope that it will be allowed to continue to play its vital community role. The petition is from Mr. Brian Kewley, postmaster, and the customers of Lower Heswall post office.
that the proposal to close the Post Office will have a disproportionate impact on the community it serves due to the large proportion of elderly people who rely on the service, the nearest alternative...being up a steep hill which presents problems for many of the customers, and the extent to which other traders in the Village rely on people coming to the Post Office.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to review urgently, with the Post Office, the policy of branch closures with a view to maintaining a Post Office service in the Village of Lower Heswall.
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