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Reform of the EU budget has not been discussed recently at the General Affairs and External Relations Council. The Government remain committed to far-reaching reform of the EU budget, refocusing it on jobs and growth, driving the transition to a low-carbon economy, tackling climate change and ensuring security, stability and poverty reduction.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: The hon. Gentleman will know that the Lisbon treaty was sold to us on the basis that it would make matters simpler and also more efficient. Why, then, has the European Scrutiny Committee just been told of a supplementary bid for next year's budget of another £22 million to pay for additional European Council events, for the salary entitlements and travel costs of the new President of the Council, for another 50 posts and for more media coverage and medical expenses? Why have-
Chris Bryant: The right hon. former Minister for Europe knows perfectly well the process that operates-that the European Parliament makes its bid every year for its budget for next year; that is precisely the process that we are going through at the moment.
Philip Davies: Given that the accounts of the EU have not been signed off by the auditors for 15 years running, why do the Government keep giving more and more money to the EU? Surely if the Government are serious about reform of the EU budget, they should say that the EU will not get a penny more from the British Government until it gets its accounts properly audited.
Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that if we were to follow his policy, which is to get out of the EU, it would significantly harm British interests. He knows perfectly well, too, that, as the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, David Frost said only a few weeks ago: "Business", by which he meant British business,
"wants a pragmatic approach to the EU, not an ideological one"
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op):
The EU estimates its costs to the UK at £15 per person a year, while the Europhobic Daily Express assesses it as £250 per family a year and the TaxPayers Alliance-the Tory party agitators of the hon. Member for Shipley
(Philip Davies)-put it at an astonishing £2,000 per person a year. Which of these figures remotely resembles the truth?
Chris Bryant: None of those figures remotely represents the truth. The truth of the matter is that if Britain were to leave the EU, the cost in terms of jobs, the cost in terms of business opportunities and the costs in terms of trade would be phenomenal to every single family in this country.
Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): Does the Minister agree with the General Affairs Council committing resources to negotiating a new trade deal with Colombia, when the Government of Colombia are allowing the extra judicial slaughter of dozens of trade unionists?
Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there is a very serious human rights situation in Colombia. He knows, I think, that I have visited the country and I think he may be about to visit it himself. This is an issue that I raised directly with the President, Mr. Uribe. In moving forward to any trade deal with Peru and Colombia, I think it right not only to address the issue of Scotch whisky but also to ensure that there are robust and enforceable human rights clauses in place.
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): In December 2005, this Government cut Britain's originally non-negotiable EU rebate by £7 billion in return for a vague promise of a review of the EU budget that has not yet been delivered. Some four years on, can the Minister say when the European Commission's communication setting out proposals for budget reform will formally be published?
Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman is completely and utterly wrong. The main reason why we reached the negotiated settlement that we reached at the time was that not only did we believe that enlargement was right and proper for the European Union and good for British interests, but we were prepared to pay the price of that enlargement, as were several other countries. The hon. Gentleman often wants to will the ends, but never the means.
Mr. Francois: The former Prime Minister came back to the House and said that he would negotiate a deal on the basis of budget reform. We were here, and we remember it. In view of the lamentable negotiating performance by the present Government, and the French President's ability to claim just last week that the British were big losers from the recent EU summit, does the Minister now understand why people in this country no longer believe that the Government are capable of securing our financial or economic interests in the European Union?
Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman talks of influence in the European Union. What influence can you have when you have absconded from the main European groupings in the European Parliament, when you are not able to secure a single European Commissioner for your grouping, and when you are not able to secure a single vice-president in the European Parliament?
As for the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, when 12 portfolios on financial and economic issues that were important to Britain were handed out, not a single Conservative Member of Parliament was given one of those portfolios, but two were given to the Labour party. So the hon. Gentleman cannot talk about influence in Europe.
The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): The Government have no doubt about their sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. The principle of self-determination underlies that. Nevertheless, Argentina unfortunately continues to make regular representations on its supposed claim to sovereignty.
Mr. Hollobone: It is in the best interests of Britain and the Falkland Islands for there to be as much international support as possible for the present status of the islands. In that context, how many members of the United Nations-there are 192 of them-recognise the islanders' right to self-determination, and their choice that the islands should be a United Kingdom overseas territory?
Chris Bryant: That is fundamentally recognised throughout the international community. We constantly make representations to those who want to question the issue, but I have absolutely no doubt about the position in the Falkland Islands. It is good that next-of-kin visits from Argentina have been possible, and we seek good relations with Argentina, but not on the basis of discussing sovereignty.
Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): As my right hon. Friend will know, next of kin of those who died on both sides in the Falklands war have always been able to visit the graves, but there were difficulties over a larger visit following the 25th anniversary of the conflict. Is he able to update the House?
Chris Bryant: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue of next-of-kin visits. There was a substantial visit recently, and I pay tribute to all on the Falkland Islands who made it possible for that to happen with dignity and true respect for those who had died on both sides of the conflict. I know that several Members were able to play in a rugby match against members of the Argentine congress, and that the Argentine team was led by someone who had fought for the Argentines in the Falkland Islands. I believe that the respect between the two countries is intimate.
David Miliband: I refer my hon. Friend and the right hon. and learned Gentleman to the Prime Minister's statement to the House yesterday. President Karzai was inaugurated on 19 November, and we await the formation of his Cabinet. The international community needs to work with the Afghan Government to make progress on the five issues that were identified as priorities in President Karzai's inauguration speech.
Mr. Illsley: Does not the suggestion of a United States high representative or chief executive to work alongside President Karzai somewhat undermine his already fragile legitimacy? If and when that proposal becomes a reality, will the British Government support it?
David Miliband: I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is referring to the international civilian leadership or the idea that there should be a reformed administrative structure inside President Karzai's office. The discussion that I have heard in the past is of Afghans filling those roles, rather than Americans or others. I will certainly follow up the report my hon. Friend is concerned about, but the idea that Afghanistan should be run by the Afghans, and the sooner the better, has always been at the heart of our approach.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Notwithstanding the increasing attention being given by both President Obama and the Prime Minister to an exit strategy for NATO forces, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that, even when NATO ground forces are completely withdrawn, it will continue to be necessary to provide NATO air support to the Afghan Government, probably for the foreseeable future? Is it not the case that just as it was a combination of NATO air power and Afghan ground forces that drove the Taliban out in the first place, so it will be that same combination that will keep them out of power in the future?
David Miliband: The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes an important point. At present, in most parts of the country the Afghan forces are being trained by international forces, and international forces are having to undertake leadership in combat operations. We very much hope that, in line with President Karzai's commitment, within five years all provinces in the country will follow Kabul in having Afghan security leadership. However, that will not mean the end of international support for the Afghan forces and of air support of the kind the right hon. and learned Gentleman describes, and the so-called overwatch role that was developed for the circumstances of Iraq will remain an issue beyond that date. It is important, however, to signal the current priority, which is to transfer the leadership of combat operations to the Afghan forces.
Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West) (Lab): My right hon. Friend referred to international civilian leadership and the importance of strengthening that if we are to succeed in our overall goals, and the Prime Minister said yesterday that that would be a major topic at the London conference. Will the Government consider strengthening it through the important means of co-ordinating its efforts, and perhaps even, temporarily, through the integration of its efforts with those of General McChrystal on the military front?
David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an important point. As he knows, civilian-military co-ordination is essential in provincial reconstruction teams around Afghanistan. In Helmand province, where most of the British forces are, there is a combined military and civilian team, being led, as it happens, by an official from the Department for International Development, previously an official from the Foreign Office. That sort of integration of, and co-operation between, the military and civilian sides of the effort is essential, and I hope we see it being replicated at national level. The two roles of the head of the United Nations and the NATO representative in ISAF will be critical to achieving that.
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): The Prime Minister talked yesterday about political reforms to produce governors appointed on merit and free from corruption. Is it envisaged that the process to achieve that will involve removing existing governors, and is it also envisaged that the new governors will ever acquire any political legitimacy of their own, other than being appointees of President Karzai?
David Miliband: In my experience of travelling to Afghanistan and talking to people there and of studying the situation in that country, the credibility of the governors at provincial and district level comes from the work they do and the way they do it. Those governors who have shown themselves to be dedicated to the interests of the people of their province have won widespread support, significantly through community councils, but also through other ways of engaging with the local population. In this case, therefore, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The governors who perform well, gain confidence; those who turn out to be placemen, or to be in it for their own interests, quickly lose the confidence of both Afghans and the international community.
Mr. Davey: I hope some of the governors currently in post will be removed during that political reform process, but how does the Foreign Secretary see the much needed process of reconciliation and reintegration working at district and local level? Will it be organised by these new governors, and will the ISAF coalition fund such Afghan-led reconciliation work at the local level?
David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We talk about reintegration at local level. Reintegration is for the middle and high-level commanders, and at the local level it will need to be Afghan-led and internationally supported. There will be different ways of arranging it in different parts of the country-sometimes at district level, at other times, where a larger reintegration needs to be achieved, at provincial level. One important point worth making to the House is that the reintegration effort only succeeds when the other side of the coin is a military and security effort, first because those in the insurgency need to know the risk that is carried by continuing the insurgency, but also because they need to know they will be properly protected if they come within the constitutional set-up.
Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East) (Lab):
We have been in Afghanistan long enough to know where every poppy field is, so can my right hon. Friend tell me
when we will put an end to the vile trade in heroin, which does so much damage in Afghanistan and on the streets of Britain?
David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an important point. He will be pleased, as I am, that the past two years' poppy crop has been significantly down; I stand to be corrected, but I believe that there has been a 30 per cent. fall and then a 22 per cent. fall, and that the number of poppy-free districts has increased to 21. He will be as concerned as I am at the high level of poppy production that remains. Our experience is that there are two key factors to turning this round, the first of which is security-because poppy production is the product of insecurity-and the second of which is a decent economic price for licit production, notably of wheat.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Ivan Lewis): The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran remains the most immediate proliferation threat to the middle east. Iran needs to co-operate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency and comply with five United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for it to suspend its enrichment programme.
Mr. Jones: Iran's announcement that it intends to build another 10 uranium enrichment plants may or may not be mere posturing, but in any event, it amounts to provocative defiance of the will of the international community, as expressed in the IAEA resolution. At what point does the Minister consider that economic sanctions against Iran will become inevitable?
Mr. Lewis: First, we should not be distracted by the announcement made this week. The issue is that after six years of engagement and five UN Security Council resolutions Iran has still refused to comply with its responsibilities under international law. What has been agreed by the international community is that there will be a meeting of officials of the E3 plus 3 this month, an assessment will be made of the engagement strategy so far, and at that time an appropriate judgment will be made about the next stage. What is clear is that the international community will not tolerate Iran developing nuclear weapons. Not only is that a threat to the stability of the middle east, but it would also trigger an arms race in that region, which would have no limit.
Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): But what representations has my hon. Friend made to the newly appointed European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to ensure that, as is crucial, a single voice comes out of the European Union against the Iranian uranium enrichment policy?
My hon. Friend is right to make the point that we need the EU speaking with one clear, loud voice and making it clear to Iran that we stand together on
this issue. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will meet the new High Representative this week to that end.
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