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We have had a wonderful opportunity for lively debate this year, but the leaders of the Commission and, apart from the Irish, the leaders of the Council of Europe have funked it. The people could have been consulted about the treaty that those leaders have argued would bring enormous benefits to every member state and their citizens.
The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton shimmied elegantly around the topic without mentioning that, yesterday evening, the votes of 65 Liberal Democrat peers ensured the defeat of the referendum proposal in the House of Lords. It is ironic that he has sought and attained martyrdom on the Floor of the House on the cause of having referendums on the Lisbon treaty and on Britains membership of the EU, but that when exactly the same proposal was made in the other place, all his colleagues in the House of Lords lined up with the Government to vote it down. I still have not worked out whether that is simply because he and the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) have lost all authority over their colleagues in the House of Lords, or because the Liberal Democrats wanted all along to make sure that the public did not get the say that they were promised in 2005.
Mr. Davey: For the record, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like to tell the House that the Conservative peers, Lords Heseltine, Patten, Brittan, Hurd, Howe, Tugendhat and Bowness, some of whom are former Foreign Secretaries and Cabinet Ministers, all voted with the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Government in the House of Lords against the Conservative position in the House of Commons.
Mr. Lidington: The hon. Gentleman is accurate in what he says, but he does not mention that those Conservative peers are not members of the Front-Bench team. The Liberal Democrat peers who voted in the House of Lords in the opposite direction to how his party voted in the House of Commons included his partys official spokesmen, who sit with him and his party leader in their Front-Bench meetings and are supposed to be collectively responsible for shaping Liberal Democrat policy. That is the difference between his party and mine on this issue.
Whatever view we take on Lisbon, the principle that this document misses is that if Europes political leaders continue to deny the peoples of Europe their say, they should not be surprised if the public look on what is happening in Europe with a mixture of apathy and cynicism. That is not healthy for this country or for the European Union as a whole. If we are to build the sort of European co-operation that will be in the interests of the people of every member state, the way forward is to have greater openness and genuine engagement with the public.
Mr. Jim Murphy: I am delighted to respond to the debate, which has, to quote the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), been another wonderful opportunity for a lively debate on Europe. I am glad that we have such a thing, on occasion.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) for heckling him about the constitutional nature of our Parliament being the United
Kingdom Parliament rather than the Great British Parliament, but we must remember the important role that Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland play in our proceedings.
I should also like to share in the celebration regarding the absence of the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois). Of course, it is not his absence that gives us cause to celebrate, but the reason for it: the wedding of his assistant, Adele Smith. In a unique European union all of their own, she is marrying a gentleman from France, whose name escapes me at the moment. I think that we are all delighted about that occasion.
It is interesting that, other than in the past two or three minutes of well-rehearsed jousting, few party political points and many important, specific points have been made. Between them, the hon. Members for Aylesbury and for Kingston and Surbiton have raised 40 separate questions and points. I sense that I would lose my audience, to the extent that there is one, if I were to respond in detail to all those points from the two Front Benchers, but I shall do what I can not to try the patience of the hon. Gentlemen by taking up the entire 45 minutes available.
It will be helpful if I put on the record again, almost verbatim, what I said earlier, to reaffirm the context in which the debate takes place. The annual policy strategy is not a set of formal policy proposals, but an aspirational document. That is the understanding across member states and of the Commission. The specific documents are relevant to the Commissions legal work plan, published in October, and many of the specific points raised by hon. Members today are relevant to that.
There has been a genuine observationfrustration might be too strong a word for itthat the document lacks detail, notwithstanding that we could sustain a debate on it for perhaps three and a half hours between six of us. That is a reflection on the nature of the document, but it is also a reflection on the nature of where Europe is today: on the cusp of having a new Commission and Parliament as well as new senior representatives in 2009. That will be the end of one five-year work programme and the start of another. Most of the major legislative proposals tabled in last years work programme were for introduction this year. It would be fairer to describe that programme as a six-month programme than an annual programmeperhaps an eight-month programme at its most ambitiouswith the European elections taking place halfway through the year to which it applies.
Let me address some of the points that have been raised. I hope that hon. Members will accept that it is not practical to respond to every point that has been raised. If hon. Members will allow me, I shall respond first to the points made by those who are still in their places. I think that that is the most appropriate thing to do.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) followed an excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), who is the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee. I wish to put on record again the excellent work that he and others on the Committee do. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham spoke largely, though not exclusively, about the western Balkans. Based on his visit to Kosovo, he rightly talked about his experiences there and the sense of shared frustration in many European capitals that the EU of 27 was not able unanimously to recognise the new state of Kosovo. However, the vast majority20 of the 27 countrieshave recognised it.
The frustration that my right hon. Friend experiences helps to disprove one of the common Conservative misrepresentations of the nature of Europe. The fact is that every member state makes its own decision on foreign policy. The member states came to their own view about whether to recognise Kosovo. As he rightly said, 42 countries have so far recognised Kosovo. I had the fantastic privilege this morning of meeting the Foreign Minister of Liechtenstein, which is one of those 42 counties. We are fundamentally committed to the settlement in Kosovo based on the Ahtisaari proposals, including the territorial integrity of a united Kosovo with no partition and respect for minorities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) intervened on my right hon. Friend and talked about respect for minorities in the north, but those of us who have paid close attention to Kosovo, including my right hon. Friend, know that most of the Serbs do not live in the north. They are in enclaves throughout the country. There is a concentration of them in the north, of course, but the majority do not live there. Some 60 per cent. live in enclaves elsewhere. My right hon. Friend will know that there is an impending donors conference on Kosovo, which is of great importance. I share his observation that the more closely the EU mission can be involved, the more significant it will be in helping to rebuild Kosovo.
My right hon. Friend also made some wider reflections on the western Balkans in relation to the annual plan, and he spoke about Serbia. Although it is for the Serbian people to decide who wins Serbian elections, it was an important statement of their aspiration that they voted for the most European-inclined parties in their general election. I wish to put on record again Her Majestys Governments view on the condition of Serbian compliance with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. I was at the signing of the stabilisation agreement with other Europe and Foreign Ministers of the 27 countries of the EU and with Serbia, and there is no doubt that the condition still applies. However, the judgment was made that the date at which it will apply should be deferred until after the signing of that agreement, for reasons that my right hon. Friend is well aware of. The EU countries made that judgment together, and that was the best way to progress. Of course, it is good news that one of the indictees was arrested yesterday.
We shall continue to work to find a resolution to the issue about the name of Macedonia and its disagreement with Greece. I had the opportunity to meet the ambassador
of Macedonia last night at the reception for Her Majestys birthday. Croatia, of course, will almost certainly be the next member of the European Union. We all acknowledge that.
I visited Bosnia relatively recently. The important hurdle there has been police reform, and we must continue to show support for EU representative Lajcak. I have spoken to Republic Srpskas Prime Minister Dodik on the telephone and reaffirmed that we believe in Bosnias territorial integrity as a unitary state. It is important to put on record that we are not in the business of carving up modern countries in the Balkans on mono-ethnic lines. I look forward to following in my right hon. Friends footsteps once more when I travel to Kosovo next week, and I hope that my words about the western Balkans reassure him.
The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) made 26 or 27 separate points, and I shall try to respond to many of them, but if there are some that he thinks I have missed, we canI am absolutely certain that we willcontinue the conversation.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned energy. I have said before, and it bears repeating, that energy is an issue on which we have got out of kilter. The priority given to energy policy in the public conversation is not as it should be. It is one of the biggest strategic challenges facing Europe, but the conversation about it often relegates it to seventh, eighth, ninth or 10th in the list of priorities, or perhaps even further down. In a world of increased energy demands and curtailed energy supply, reflected by increased prices, solutions that are climate-sensitive but free from the interference of geopolitics are of fundamental strategic importance to the EU. When I was in Azerbaijan recently and met the president, that was a core component of our conversation. We mentioned the southern corridor and the Nabucco pipeline. I spoke with our ambassador in Turkmenistan this morning about natural gas supplies there. Energy is an issue of great and fundamental importance. I am not au fait with the detail of the refineries sector, but I shall look into the hon. Gentlemans fair point about it.
Energy is one of the matters that concerns politicians across the political divide. There is no party politics, which shows the importance of energy sources and supplies and the diversity, security and predictability of routes to market. It is disappointing that on occasion, Russia has used energy policy as a tool of foreign policy. That frustration is reflected in other European capitals.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned climate change, entirely properly. Europe has to show leadership up to Copenhagen and beyond on our renewables targets and the deal that we have signed up to. Of course we have to be sensitive to national pressures on occasion, such as the niche markets in German car production, but if Europe does not lead on climate change and sustainable consumption, on developing low-carbon technologies and on the type of work that the hon. Gentleman spoke aboutconsumer and climate-sensitive ways to change customer behaviourit is difficult to imagine how we can construct a global deal on climate change with the United States, Russia, China, Brazil or any other strong or emerging economy.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Governments position on Turkey. In light of the constitutional court judgment about the wearing of the hijab, it is important to put on record our view that Governments should be decided by the electorate, not by the constitutional
court. It is a bad signal for a modernising Turkey to be caught in that domestic crossroads in deciding its future. The Governments view is that Turkeys secular destiny is not in jeopardy under the governance of the AK party, but the constitutional court will come to its decisions.
The importance of Turkeys accession to the EU is that although it must resolve the situation at its domestic crossroads and be a constitutionally guaranteed secularised state, it is also at an international crossroads in its relationships with the middle east, the Islamic world and across the globe. It will be another strategic addition to the EU as an organisation. Turkey is an addition economically, culturally and in all sorts of different ways. The issue of admitting Turkey would be a remarkable opportunity for the European Union to expand its reach and influence beyond its current borders.
A number of other issues were raised about energy efficiency by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton. Energy efficiency is important, which is why the proposals in the European Union 2020 strategy are about standard labelling of appliances; minimum equal standards for buildings; vehicle efficiency standards, and much more.
I would like to turn briefly to some of the questions raised by the hon. Member for Aylesbury; we look forward in the future to having the opportunity perhaps to hear from him again in European debates. He raised a number of points, including points about Doha; better regulation; economic migration; justice and home affairs; the energy market; agency workers; the European institute of technology; communications, and much else besides. I hope that he will accept that I am not attempting to avoid answering any question if I do not go into all of those points in great detail; it is my style to try to answer questions, but he would not thank me for doing so in great detail.
Regarding Doha, quite simply it is the Governments single greatest trade policy priority. We want to see a deal and the Secretary-General of the World Trade Organisation thinks that there still can be a deal, but time is against us. There is a need to come to at least a preliminary deal on agricultural products. So we are working from the Prime Minister down within Government to get a deal on Doha.
On the issue of better regulation, the fact is that the Commission is making progress on better regulation from a relatively slow start. Mr. Bayley, you will be aware that I was previously the Minister responsible for better regulation in the Cabinet Office; I must curtail my own remarks here to just a few sentences, although having done that job for a year I could offer more than a few. As I say, the fact is that the Commission has made improvements from a slow start, but it has to go further: it has to have better and wider consultations; it has to involve small businesses in particular in consultations; in its impact assessments, it has to see how much more it could do to give a monetarised value of the likely impact of measures, and it should revisit its impact assessments to see how effective they were in predicting the actual cost of regulation.
So there is much more that still can be done about better regulation. However, this Commission, under President Barroso, has made real progress and there is a
real appetite in member states to see further progress being made and the United Kingdom Government are at the cutting edge of that ambition.
Regarding the issue of justice and home affairs, our view is that there is now a genuine respect in the European Union for what one would call the common law tradition. The United Kingdom, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta primarily form what is called the common law club, but there is a real respect and sensitivity to the common law tradition and that is important.
In respect of economic migrants, countries already have flexibility. The United Kingdom, of course, chose one route in terms of openness of Labour markets on economic migrants. At that time, Sweden, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom took one view and 22 other member statesI think that was the totaltook a different view.
On agency workers, we think that our approach is right. The deal that we have come to with the CBI and TUC, which is now being agreed in Europe, is the right approach for the United Kingdom. It reflects the nature of the structure of the UK economy and the relative importance of temporary employment in the UK, notwithstanding the fact that the UK has a much lower level of temporary employment than many other EU member states that have signed up to a different version of a deal on agency workers.
Regarding regulation of the financial markets, I apologise again to the hon. Member for Aylesbury for my earlier intervention from a sedentary position; I was aiming to be helpful, rather than to show poor manners, by saying that what we are talking about is transparency. Transparency is really what we are talking about, both in global markets and in European markets, and we would do nothing that would jeopardise the competitive advantage of the City of London. We are not interested in doing thatit is not a conversation that we will get involved inbut it is important that we have transparency.
Finally, a small number of technical points were raised and I will just address one. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton asked about shared partnerships; I am surprised that he is uncharacteristically under-briefed, as I read out my brief to him. Shared partnerships is about the single market review and about using a wider range of policy tools; it is a non-legislative approach to modernise the single market, based on consultation with business and member states, and it is also about improving administrative capacity and co-operation, and building on synergies and taking, as I say, a non-legislative approach where that is possible. I am delighted to remind the hon. Gentleman that that is the working definition of shared partnerships.
With that, I would like to thank hon. Members for their participation in todays debate. We have had a thoughtful debate, free from the usual, tiresome rehearsal of clichés and point-scoring. As a consequence, we have had a relatively much more informed debate and I thank all hon. Members for that and also, of course, you yourself, Mr. Bayley, for presiding over our proceedings today.