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9 Dec 2008 : Column 407

Speaker’s Statement

3.31 pm

Mr. Speaker: I undertook to look into the matter of the Wilson doctrine and access to the House of Commons server, which was raised by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) on 4 December. The Parliamentary Information and Communications Technology service takes the security of its systems very seriously, and is grateful for the support that the Joint Committee on Security, the Administration Committee and the Commission give in that respect. PICT would not allow any third party to access the parliamentary network without proper authority. In the Commons, such access previously required the approval of the Serjeant at Arms. Following my statement on 3 December, if PICT receives any requests to allow access in future, it will also seek confirmation that a warrant exists and that I have approved such access under the procedure laid down and the protocol issued yesterday.

With regard to the incident involving the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), no access was given to data held on the server, as PICT was not instructed to do so by the Serjeant at Arms. No access will be given unless a warrant exists and I approve such access.

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Points of Order

3.33 pm

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have informed the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government that I was going to raise this matter.

Yesterday, my local paper, the Evening Telegraph, reported a ministerial visit by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to my constituency last Friday. I received no prior notification from the right hon. Lady about that ministerial visit. As she was visiting my constituency in her role as a Minister, I and my local councillors would have appreciated the opportunity to speak with her to discuss local issues. What is more galling is that I had formally invited the Secretary of State to Wellingborough to discuss with me the overdevelopment of my area. She had not replied to my invitation.

You will appreciate, Mr. Speaker, that only a few weeks ago another Minister visited my constituency without giving me prior notice. I would appreciate your comments.

Mr. Speaker: Every hon. and right hon. Member knows of the convention that notice is given if there is a public engagement in a constituency. As for invitations, if the hon. Gentleman gave out an invitation that is not taken up, perhaps he should be a little more persuasive—but that is nothing to do with me. The point that I make is that everyone knows the conventions and I expect every hon. Member on every side of the House to respect them. It is important that they do.

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I am sure you are aware, last Wednesday I wrote to you inquiring whether the police had had access to the servers. Today, you clarified whether police were given permission to access the servers. Is there no way in which the police could have accessed the servers without the permission of PICT?

Mr. Speaker: If the hon. Gentleman reads my statement and reflects on it, he will see that no access was given, and nothing was accessed.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are about to debate European matters preparatory to the European Council meeting, which is to be held at the end of the week. Draft conclusions of that Council meeting are already in existence; I obtained a copy from the website of the Danish Parliament. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will undoubtedly refer to issues itemised in those conclusions, which have not been made available to the House, although they have been made available to other member states, where the same culture of secrecy does not prevail. Is it in order for us to proceed with a debate on those terms, given that I have the draft conclusions? I could easily circulate them, under your authority, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: I would not want the right hon. Gentleman to draw me into any arguments; I think that I have had enough for this week. There is about to be a debate, and
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if information is available to the right hon. Gentleman, he can raise the issue in the debate, so long as it is in order to do so. Of course, it is up to Ministers what information they make available.

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European Affairs

3.36 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I beg to move,

I am sure that the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) will have tempted many Members with his suggestion that the debate be abandoned, and I am sorry to see some hon. Members taking up his suggestion immediately, but I, for one, am pleased to open this traditional pre-European Council debate. The agenda for this year’s December European Council reflects the preoccupations of Europe’s citizens: the global economic crisis and the European Union’s role in addressing it; the challenge of climate change and the need for European leadership in promoting the twin goals of lower carbon emissions and increased energy security; and the modern threats to security and the role of the European Union in addressing the root causes of conflict and its symptoms.

That agenda is welcome. It reflects the Government’s belief that after years of institutional negotiation, it is time for the EU to look outward, to recognise that the major threats that its citizens face are global, and to respond to them. Let me start on the subject of the economic situation. Today perhaps more than ever, the prospects for the UK economy are affected by the policy choices being made in other countries.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): The Foreign Secretary failed to mention something in his review of the agenda, and is now going on to the subject of the UK economy. Can he tell the House a little about what might happen on 17 December to the EU opt-out on the working time directive? If that opt-out is removed, what will be the impact on British workers and the UK economy?

David Miliband: I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but the minutes of that decision have not yet been published on the Danish Parliament website. He will have to wait until the 17 December discussion in the European Parliament. However, the position of the UK Government is very clear: the Council compromise position should be defended, as that is very much in the interests of the British economy and British workers. I look forward to that happening.

The G20 meeting in Washington last month was an important step in securing a decisive and systematic international response to the economic crisis. Governments around the world have recognised that a globally co-ordinated stimulus, in terms of both monetary and fiscal policy, represents the best response to the current crisis. The managing director of the International Monetary Fund has said:

President-elect Obama said on Sunday:

The place where this stimulus matters most to the UK is in the rest of Europe—

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

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David Miliband: Not in the middle of my sentence, but if the hon. Gentleman waits I am happy to help him.

The place where this stimulus matters most to the UK is the rest of Europe, because Europe remains our most important export market and the home for the largest portion of overseas investment in the UK. As the world’s largest single market, the European Union has the potential to set the tone for the rest of the world’s response. It is therefore absolutely in our interests that EU member states act together.

Angus Robertson: The largest market in the European Union is the Federal Republic of Germany. Why was Chancellor Angela Merkel not invited to the discussions between the Prime Minister and President Sarkozy?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Is it because she is a German Tory?

David Miliband: No, it is not for the reason given by my hon. Friend. She was not invited to the meeting, because it was a meeting with the president of the European Council—President Sarkozy of France—and the President of the European Commission. In the same way, Mrs. Merkel could have meetings with the president of the European Council—President Sarkozy—and Mr. Barroso.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary has rightly mentioned the economic climate. What effect does he believe that it will have on the principles and decisions in the Lisbon agenda? Are the Government still committed to the benchmarks that were agreed at Lisbon?

David Miliband: Yes. I think that my right hon. Friend is referring to the Lisbon agenda for growth and jobs, not the Lisbon treaty.

Keith Vaz: Yes.

David Miliband: I can absolutely assure my right hon. Friend that the principles that were set out remain very important, and we want to develop them. As I shall explain, there is a particularly important discussion to be had about whether the current crisis is a reason to rein back the open markets that have been an important feature of European growth or whether the lesson is that free trade and a further renewal of the Doha trade round is in our interests and that this is precisely the time at which we should open up our economies rather than close them down.

Several hon. Members rose

David Miliband: If hon. Members will allow me to make progress, I am happy to accept their interventions in a moment.

The European Council offers an important opportunity to take forward European co-ordination on the basis of the Commission’s European economic recovery plan, which was published on 26 November. It is very much in line with the Government’s thinking, as set out in the pre-Budget report, and it will be an important tool in encouraging EU partners to take the bold action necessary to fight the downturn.

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Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con) rose—

David Miliband: If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make this point, I shall give way to him afterwards.

I am very sorry that the shadow Chancellor has denounced that package as a “concerted attempt to deliver a euro-area spending splurge”.

In fact, it is plain common sense that during an economic downturn it is not just we who need economic stimulus but the rest of Europe. It is common sense to kick-start the economy through fiscal stimulus while setting out clear plans to ensure fiscal sustainability over the medium term. The European Commission therefore advocates VAT reductions and the front-loading of public expenditure; extra help for the most vulnerable and low earners; and, importantly, because we need to prepare for the upturn as well as protect ourselves in the downturn, support for small businesses, enhancing access to finance, ensuring prompt payment, and improving public procurement for small and medium-sized enterprises. Those are all sensible proposals. Far from being a spending splurge, they are the right response to the economic downturn. I promised to give way to the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), and I shall do so.

Mr. Cash: Following on from the point made by the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), does the Foreign Secretary agree that the real reason why Angela Merkel could not come to that meeting is that she takes a completely different view of the pre-Budget report? Indeed, she believes that it is essential that we have proper balancing of the accounts, not the kind of wild extravagance to which the Foreign Secretary referred. Will he just tell us what the Government’s position is, and stop nodding his head? Will he tell us the position with regard to the statement today by the Irish Foreign Minister regarding the Irish vote and the deal that was obviously entered into by the Government to betray the British—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is an abuse of the intervention system.

David Miliband: I shall answer the part of the question before the abuse started by giving the hon. Gentleman the figures on fiscal stimulus around Europe. He cited 1.5 per cent. of GDP stimulus in this country. The figure is 1.3 per cent. of GDP in France and more than 1 per cent. of GDP in 2009 and 2010 in Germany. The idea that the German Government are standing against the sort of stimulus that is being practised in this country is frankly nonsense.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Notwithstanding the Foreign Secretary’s last comments, is it not the case that Chancellor Merkel has not signed up to the Government’s borrowing binge? Is that a failure of the Prime Minister’s fiscal policy or of the Foreign Secretary’s diplomatic skills, or is it both?

David Miliband: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman formulated the question before I gave the figures in answering the hon. Member for Stone—he is an honest enough man to blush at the fact that he has been caught red-handed. The German figures for 2009 and 2010 show an increase in fiscal stimulus of 1 per cent. or so of GDP.

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Mr. Cash: That is just not true.

David Miliband: I am sorry, but it is true. The hon. Gentleman can say that it is not true until he is blue in the face, but the stimulus will come from a reduction in unemployment contributions—the unemployment insurance scheme—extra lending to small and medium-sized enterprises, a tax holiday on new cars, tax incentives for investment by firms and household investment in energy efficiency. There is no point in his saying that that is not true, when voluminous documents on the German Government website show how true it is.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Is the reality not that the impact of the financial crisis has changed public opinion? More than ever, the British people understand that we can start to solve the crisis only through co-operation with our European partners, which is the point that the Conservative party cannot stomach.

David Miliband: My hon. Friend has made a very good point. One Conservative Member of the European Parliament famously referred to the “poisonous fungus” of Euroscepticism in the Conservative party. The poisonous fungus is growing fast, because the Conservative party now opposes common-sense proposals from the rest of Europe to help to build the economic future on which we all depend.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman and I tangled many times when I was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, so I am happy to take his intervention, but then I must make some progress.

Daniel Kawczynski: The Foreign Secretary is discussing the economy, and I am sure that he agrees that one thing that will not help the British economy is our joining the euro. However, President Barroso has recently been making some very public statements that Britain is inching its way closer to having the euro. Will the Foreign Secretary tell us which of his colleagues is telling the President that, because it is simply unacceptable?

David Miliband rose—

Mr. Chaytor: It is not true.

David Miliband: Exactly. We have made it plain that in principle we support entry into the euro, but that in practice the economic conditions must be met. Eight years ago, the now shadow Foreign Secretary said that there were 10 days to save the pound. Two thousand days later, the pound is alive, well and kicking. He was wrong then, and he is wrong now, in the absurd allegations that he is making.

Ms Patricia Hewitt (Leicester, West) (Lab): My right hon. Friend has made an important point about the fiscal stimulus package in Germany as well as across the European Union. In January, we will see a similar fiscal stimulus package on a massive scale in the United States of America, when President-elect Obama takes over. Does he agree that the real disaster for Britain would be if we had a Government who isolated us from both our European allies and the new leadership in the United States?

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David Miliband: My right hon. Friend makes an important point, and I differ in only one respect: she has mentioned a similar package in the United States, and all the indications from the Obama team suggest that there will be a massive stimulus on an even grander scale. When the Leader of the Opposition said on the radio that borrowing was

he was in a minority of one compared with every other Government in the industrialised world.

Several hon. Members rose

David Miliband: Just let me make this point. The proof of how out of touch the Opposition are comes from the shadow Chancellor. One week before the Bank of England made the largest reduction in interest rates in British history, he said that Government policy

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