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The Minister for Schools and Learners (Jim Knight): We entirely reject that. We have a cross-Government strategy in respect of improving science learning in this country. It was published by the Treasury following last year’s Budget. As a result of that strategy, we are now increasing the number of specialist science teachers coming into the profession, and we are seeing improvements in the numbers taking science A-levels. At level 3 in schools we have seen, for the first time in many years, increases in the number of pupils taking physics as well as good increases in the numbers taking chemistry and biology. The results are there. We are seeing significant improvements in science learning and the latest PISA——programme for international student assessment—results show that we have the third highest achievement of any country in Europe in science learning for 15-year-olds.

T8. [174100] Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): During 2008, the Government are to make changes to key stage 3 and GCSE courses in key stage 4, and to AS levels and AS syllabuses, as well as introducing diplomas. Is it right to cut the budget by 1 per cent for efficiency savings?

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): It is very important that we deliver efficiency savings to release resources to support teachers delivering these reforms. I ask the hon. Lady to join me in congratulating the Joseph Rowntree school in her constituency, which has today benefited from the £110 million that I have allocated to support zero-carbon schools. I hope that the school spends the money well.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): The Secretary of State will be aware that a disparaging reference was made earlier to homes in which English is not spoken. It is extremely desirable that all our residents should learn to speak English, but it is worth noting that some of the best achieving children in our schools are those for whom English is not their first language, and that some of the worst achieving children are those from homes in which nothing but English is spoken.

Ed Balls: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, which is why we put in more money to help schools provide extra help for those children. When I spent a year looking into reading in a London primary school, I found that it was often the case that children could not read at home because English was not their first language, but they received extra help through the support of brothers and sisters. My hon. Friend is right that this is a priority, which is why we are investing extra money to give extra support to today’s children.

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European Council (Brussels)

3.31 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): With permission, I would like to make a statement about the European Council held in Brussels on 14 December. It focused on two major concerns: first, the reforms that Europe must make to meet and master the global challenges we face with competitiveness, employment, secure energy and climate change; and, secondly, issues of security, in particular in Kosovo, Iran and Burma, that we must confront together.

I start with the most immediate concern facing the summit: the best way to bring about a satisfactory resolution to the status of Kosovo. Kosovo is the last remaining unresolved issue from the violent break-up of the former Yugoslavia, and in the light of recent failures by the parties in the Troika process to find a negotiated way forward, the European Council accepted its responsibility for joint European action and agreed the importance of urgently moving towards a settlement. It is to the credit of all parties in the dispute that, even when faced with conflicting positions, the region remains at peace. As the European Council conclusions noted, it is essential that this commitment to peace is maintained.

The principles of our approach are, first, that Europe take seriously its special responsibility for the stability and security of the Balkans region. Indeed, it is also thanks to the sustained efforts of NATO troops and the diplomacy of the United Nations and the European Union that a safe and secure environment has been maintained. Secondly, however, we were agreed that the status quo is unsustainable and that we needed to move towards a settlement that ensures what the European Council called a “stable, democratic, multi-ethnic Kosovo committed to the rule of law, and to the protection of minorities and of cultural and religious heritage”.

Thirdly, after a detailed discussion at the Council, we were also wholly united in agreeing that European engagement should move to a new level. We agreed in principle and stated our readiness to deploy a European security and defence policy policing and rule-of-law mission to Kosovo. That will consist of a multinational mission of around 1,800 policemen and judicial officials, of whom I can confirm that the UK will contribute around 80, including its deputy head, Roy Reeve. European Foreign Ministers will confirm the detailed arrangements for this mission shortly.

Fourthly, we also reaffirmed that a stable and prosperous Serbia fully integrated into Europe is important for the stability of the region. The Council encouraged Serbia to meet the necessary conditions to allow signature of its stabilisation and association agreement with the EU and we expressed our confidence that Serbia has the capacity to make rapid progress subsequently towards candidate status. The conclusions of the meeting of European Foreign Ministers also reiterated the European Union’s support for enlargement more generally. We look forward to recognising the progress made by both Croatia and Turkey at this week’s accession conference in Brussels.

The UN Security Council will discuss the issue of Kosovo with representatives from both Belgrade and Pristina on 19 December. The aim is to give Russia an opportunity to accept a consensus on the way forward.
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If that proves impossible, we—Britain—have always been clear that the comprehensive proposal put forward by the UN special envoy, based on supervised independence for Kosovo, represents the best way forward. While we are rightly focused on the immediate priority of bringing the status process through to completion in an orderly and managed way, the European Council also agreed that it is important that we address the long-term challenge of ensuring Kosovo’s future economic and political viability. I welcome the commitment made by the European Union, to assist Kosovo’s economic and political development, for a donors conference to follow shortly after a status settlement.

The Council also discussed Iran. There was agreement on a united European approach. Again, the power we wield working together with all the European Union is greater than if we act on our own.

I have made it clear repeatedly that Iran remains in breach of its international obligations. In September, Foreign Ministers agreed that unless there were positive outcomes from Solana and the International Atomic Energy Agency’s discussions with Iran, we would seek tougher sanctions at the UN. The latest assessment is that sufficient progress has not been made.

The European Council conclusions call on Iran to provide full, clear and credible answers to the IAEA, and to resolve all questions concerning its nuclear activities. We reiterated our support for a new UN resolution as soon as possible, and agreed to decide on new measures that the EU might have to take to resolve the situation at the January meeting of Foreign Ministers. Those should complement UN measures, and not substitute for them if the Security Council cannot reach agreement.

Iran has a choice: confrontation with the international community leading to a tightening of sanctions; or, if it changes its approach, a transformed relationship with the world from which all would benefit.

The EU also reaffirmed its deep concern about the unacceptable situation in Burma, and made it clear that if there is no change in the Burmese regime’s approach to political negotiations and basic political freedoms, we stand ready to review, amend and—if necessary—further reinforce restrictive measures against the Burmese Government. We also reaffirmed the important role of China, India and the Association of South East Asian Nations in actively supporting the UN’s efforts to establish an inclusive political process leading to genuine national reconciliation.

For our part we believe that the forthcoming visit of Professor Gambari, the UN envoy, is critical. It is essential that the Burmese Government meet the demands set out in the UN Security Council statement: to release all political prisoners; to create the conditions for political dialogue, including relaxation of restrictions on Aung San Suu Kyi; to allow full co-operation with Gambari; to address human rights concerns; and to begin a genuine and inclusive process of dialogue and national reconciliation with the opposition. In particular, the regime should respond to the constructive statement of Aung San Suu Kyi on 8 November and open a meaningful dialogue with the opposition and the country’s ethnic groups.

The Council also agreed that a key part of the EU’s external agenda is how we can, by working together, maximise our influence in tackling global poverty. The European Commission should report by April next
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year—halfway to the 2015 millennium goals date—on how the EU is meeting its commitments to those goals, and how we can accelerate further progress.

In addition to those issues of international security and development, the Council conclusions and the special declaration on globalisation set out the challenges that the European Union must address on globalisation. We agreed to maintain our focus on economic reform, with a renewed focus on modernising the single market so that it enhances Europe’s ability to compete in the global economy. We must have full implementation of the services directive by 2009. We must continue to work towards further liberalisation in energy, post and telecoms, where market opening could generate between €75 billion and €95 billion of extra benefits and contribute 360,000 jobs. Investment in research, innovation and education—and removing barriers to enterprise—are also essential.

We reaffirmed our commitment to free trade and openness, and the priority of securing a successful Doha world trade round, which would lead to benefits approaching $200 billion, bringing significant benefits to rich and poor countries alike. We will also propose and support better EU-USA trade links.

We agreed, too, to do more to develop mechanisms for co-operation within the EU to tackle issues such as security challenges in relation to terrorism, illegal immigration and organised crime. We renewed our commitment to the EU counter-terrorism strategy and to co-operation on counter-radicalisation work. We will work together to deliver our commitments to tackling climate change, including the target of a reduction in emissions. Building on the significant progress made in Bali last week—an agreement on which the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will report to the House tomorrow—we must help to negotiate an ambitious post-2012 international climate change agreement. We agreed that Europe must also step up funding, including funding through the World Bank, to help the developing world to shift to lower carbon growth and adapt to climate change.

It was agreed at the last Council meeting that the presidency would propose the establishment of a new reflection group. That was announced in October. At this later meeting, the Council invited Mr. Felipe Gonzalez Marquez, assisted by two vice-chairs, Mrs. Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Mr. Jorma Ollila, Chairman of Shell and Nokia, to

The remit states specifically that

The group will report back to the Council, which will decide how to follow its recommendations.

I can also tell the House that today we are publishing the European Union (Amendment) Bill, which contains the institutional changes to accommodate a Europe of 27 members, and will include the safeguards that we have negotiated to protect the British national interest. They consist of the legally binding protocol which ensures that nothing in the charter of fundamental
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rights challenges or undermines the rights already set out in UK law, and that nothing in the charter extends the ability of any court, European or national, to strike down UK law; legally binding protocols which prescribe in detail our sovereign right to opt in on individual justice and home affairs measures when we consider doing so to be in the British interest, but alternatively to remain outside if that is in our interests; a declaration that expressly states that nothing in the new treaty affects the existing powers of member states to formulate and conduct their foreign policy, and that the basis of foreign and security policy will remain intergovernmental, a matter for Governments to decide on the basis of unanimity; and an effective power of veto on any proposals for important changes on social security, so that when we—Britain—determine that any proposal would have an impact on an important aspect of our social security system, including its scope, cost or financial structure, we can insist on taking any proposal to the European Council under the unanimity provision.

With the publication of the Bill, Parliament will now have an opportunity to debate this amending treaty in detail and decide whether to implement it. We will ensure that there is sufficient time for debate on the Floor of the House, so that the Bill can be examined in the fullest detail and all points of view can be heard. That will give the House the fullest possible opportunity to consider the treaty, and the deal secured for the UK, before ratification.

In addition, I can tell the House that we have built into the legislation further safeguards to ensure that there is proper parliamentary oversight and accountability. So that no Government can agree without Parliament's approval to any changes in European rules that could in any way alter the constitutional balance of power between Britain and the European Union, there is a provision in the Bill that any proposal to activate the mechanisms in the treaty which provide for further moves to qualified majority voting but which require unanimity—the so-called passerelles—will have to be subject to a prior vote by the House. In the event of a negative vote, the Government would refuse to allow the use of the passerelle. The Bill also includes a statutory obligation that any future amendments to the treaty, including amendments that provided for any increase in the EU's competence, would have to be ratified through an Act of Parliament; so Parliament would have absolute security that no future change could be made against its wishes.

I said in October that we would oppose any further institutional change in the relationship between the EU and its member states, not just for this Parliament but for the next, and I stand by that commitment. This is now also the settled consensus of the EU. All 27 member states agreed at the Council—and it was expressly set out in the conclusions—that this amending treaty provides the Union with a stable and lasting institutional framework, and that it completes the process of institutional reform for the foreseeable future. The conclusions of the Council state specifically that the amending treaty

Let me conclude with the discussion on the most immediate of economic issues discussed: concerns about the economic consequences of the global financial turbulence that started in America in August. The Government's first priority in the coming weeks is to
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ensure the stability of the economy and to have the strength to take the difficult long-term decisions necessary. The Council agreed that the whole of the EU must now turn its attention to both the immediate measures necessary and the long-term strengthening of international capacity to secure greater financial stability. The announcement earlier this week by central banks in the major financial centres that they will provide liquidity to ease tension in the financial markets must now be built upon.

As we agreed, supervisory authorities in different countries need to co-operate effectively across borders in exchanging information and in the management of contagion. The European Council conclusions emphasised that macro-economic fundamentals in the EU are strong and that sustained economic growth is expected, but we concluded that continued monitoring of financial markets and the economy is crucial, as uncertainties remain. The Council underlined the importance of work being taken forward both within the EU and with our international partners to improve transparency for investors, markets and regulators; to improve valuation standards; to improve the prudential framework, risk management and supervision in the financial sector; and to review the functioning of markets, including the role of credit rating agencies.

The European Council will discuss these issues at its spring 2008 meeting on the basis of a progress report from the Council of Finance Ministers and the financial stability forum. As agreed by Chancellor Merkel, President Sarkozy and I in October, the progress report should examine whether regulatory or other action is necessary. I have invited Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy to London so that we can discuss the proposals in the paper we agreed and issued a few weeks ago—measures important to strengthening the international community's role in addressing financial turbulence, showing the importance we attach to taking the long-term decisions to ensure in testing times the stability of the economy.

The conclusions of the Council state specifically that in the institutional framework we expect no change “for the foreseeable future”. The protections that have been agreed in the amending treaty defend the British national interest. In the Bill introduced today, we are legislating for new protections and new procedures to lock in our protection of these interests. Europe is now moving to a new agenda, one that focuses on the changes needed to meet the challenges of the global era. I commend the statement to the House.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement on the European Council in Brussels. I note that he could not bring himself to mention his visit to Lisbon.

I am delighted that the Government have finally adopted our position of saying that Europe should focus on the real issues and not on institutional reform. However, the whole country will ask how he can possibly say that, having just signed up to an all-encompassing constitution that transfers powers from Westminster to Brussels and when he will not even put the constitution, with its massive institutional changes, to the British people in a referendum.

Before turning to the constitution, let me ask about those areas where decisive action is needed: the Balkans, Iran and Darfur. On Burma, I very much agree with what the Prime Minister said. On the Balkans, clear
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signals are needed. Kosovo should not be left in limbo, no other border should be reopened and military reserves should be deployed to demonstrate Europe’s resolve. In terms of sending out these clear signals, does the Prime Minister agree that if Serbia wants to join the EU, she should co-operate fully with the war crimes tribunal, which means arresting Mladic and Karadzic and getting them to The Hague?

On Iran, what is needed is a combination of engagement and sanctions. We have consistently argued that although the United States needs to do more in terms of engagement, Europe needs to do much more in terms of sanctions. What progress was made in Brussels in persuading other European countries that new export credits should be banned and that access for certain Iranian banks to the European financial system should be restricted?

On Darfur, which I do not think he mentioned, the Prime Minister said three months ago that more than 20,000 troops and police were necessary. I agree. Today there are still fewer than 10,000. When will that shortfall be made up?

Turning to the constitution, I have to say to the Prime Minister that the key issue is the referendum. Is it not the case that he simply will not restore trust in politics unless he keeps his promise to hold one? Labour Members of Parliament—staggeringly few of them are here today—put that commitment to a referendum in their election addresses, trade unionists voted for it in the TUC, and every opinion poll shows that it is what people want. This issue is not going to go away. In trying to justify breaking his promise, the Prime Minister says that this treaty is not the constitution, but does he not understand that that simply will not wash? The German Chancellor, the Irish Prime Minister and the Spanish Foreign Minister all completely undermine what the Prime Minister says by saying that the treaty is pretty much the same as the constitution, and the author of the constitution, Giscard d’Estaing, said last month that the constitution’s

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