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3 Dec 2009 : Column 1310

Mr. Harper: The Minister will know that I sat through the many days of debate in the House on the Lisbon treaty, so he will know that the Conservative party did what it said it would do. There was a vote in the House about having a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, and we all did what we said to our electorate in our manifestos that we would do- [ Interruption. ] I hear a sedentary comment from the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), who I must add, to be fair, did vote in accordance with what he promised at the general election. However, most Labour Members did not do what they said to their electorate in 2005 that they would do, and instead voted against having a referendum. We did what we said we would; it is the Labour side that broke its promise.

Chris Bryant: I will take the next intervention.

Mr. Bone: My question is ditto.

Chris Bryant: And the third question?

Dr. Murrison: My question is somewhat different. I see that the Minister has come to the end of his polemic. Will he say why he has not mentioned the European Defence Agency, European security and defence policy, or the EU external affairs set-up? Baroness Ashton is apparently heading the External Action Service, but she does not have a clue either, because she said in her speech a few days ago to the European Parliament that it would be a "huge challenge", a "one-stop shop" and a "unique selling point"-in other words, a whole load of waffle. She does not have the first idea what the organisation that she is meant to be heading is meant to be doing. This comes at a time when the EU is meant to be taking the lead in all sorts of theatres in which our troops are engaged. Perhaps the Minister would engage with those points, rather than making silly party political points.

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman might take a look in the mirror in relation to that last comment-but let me deal first with Athos and Porthos.

Mr. Bone: Who are you?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. May I remind all right hon. and hon. Members that moderation in their use of language would be preferable in this debate?

Chris Bryant: I am not sure whether the hon. Members for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) and for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) were among the people who originally intended not to vote for the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) to be the leader of the Conservative party but changed their minds when a cast-iron guarantee was offered, or whether they were always in that camp. The truth of the matter, as everybody knows, is that the guarantee was made for political purposes within the Conservative party, and that now, two years later, the party has abandoned it: it is rusting on the scrap heap.

Mr. Harper rose-

Chris Bryant: I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman again, if he does not mind. I have given way a considerable number of times, and I still have to reply to the hon.
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Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison), let alone to the hon. Member for Wellingborough's ditto. The Conservative party cannot hide from the fact that its leader went out on a limb to make a categorical statement that will bear no fruit. I shall move on to some of the other issues that the hon. Member for Forest of Dean has raised in a moment.

The hon. Member for Westbury raised a few issues that will not be under discussion next week, which is why I have not referred to them in my contribution this afternoon. On the External Action Service, a draft paper has gone around that has been available to the European Scrutiny Committee and others, but it is not until the High Representative takes up her post that she will be able to put flesh on the bones of what the treaty provides for. I believe that the EAS will be an important tool for the effective advancement of the European Union, and therefore the British interest, around the world. The EU needs to be far more effective on many issues, such as relations with China, India and the growing economies of Mexico and Brazil. It also needs to be more effective at talking about human rights in countries that are normally of specific interest to France or to us, as well as at talking in the round on behalf of all member states. So I think that once the EAS is fully developed, it will be fully in the interests of the UK.

Dr. Murrison: A little while ago, the Conservatives asked the Minister or his predecessor what the composition of the EU diplomatic corps-the EAS-would be. We wanted to know in particular which defence attach├ęs would form part of it. Of course, we were particularly interested in British co-optees. Can the Minister enlighten us about that now that the Lisbon treaty has passed into law?

Chris Bryant: I am afraid that I cannot enlighten the hon. Gentleman on that at the moment. As I said earlier, a draft paper on the EAS has gone around, but it is very sketchy. Once the High Representative is fully in post, she will present a paper to the Council and there will then be two months for the European scrutiny Committees in the Commons and the Lords to examine it. We want to ensure that the EAS is put together rationally, that it does not seek to do things that should be done by member states, and that it reduces the inefficiencies in the current system, in which the Council has a desk officer for some countries, and several different directorates in the Commission also have desk officers for individual countries.

Ms Gisela Stuart: Will my hon. Friend the Minister help me with my arithmetic? If the High Representative does not take up her post until February, even though we have known that this has been coming for years, and if the European Scrutiny Committee will have two months to consider the proposals in terms of what precisely this will all mean, I have a strange feeling that in April, or even as early as the beginning of March, MPs might have something other than scrutiny on their minds. What provisions are there to allow the House to scrutinise the proposals if that time for scrutiny falls in the period of the general election?

Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend is wrong in one regard: the High Representative is already in post. She started on 1 December, and she and her staff will already be
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working on bringing forward a new text. We would like to see that as soon as possible so that the two Committees can examine it and come up with their suggestions.

Mr. Davey: I should have thought that hon. Members on both sides would have welcomed the fact that we have a Brit as the High Representative while this new service is being constructed. Britain is often late in the day on European issues, and so is unable to shape them at the early stage-but here we have a British Commissioner who can lead the creation of the EAS. That ought to give Britain and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office clout in deciding how it is shaped. That should be welcomed.

Chris Bryant: I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman. Liberal and Labour policies on the EAS have been the same for several years; indeed, I would say that their and our argument has won the day in Europe on how the EAS should be set up so that Europe can play a more effective role on the global stage. None the less, it would be inappropriate to say that because we have a British High Representative, she will advance the British interest. [ Interruption. ] That is precisely what I said earlier.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): That is not what the Prime Minister said.

Chris Bryant: It is interesting that virtually every member of the European Parliament whom I met last week and the week before wanted to have a British person performing this role. I think that was because they thought that the British argument on advancing the role of Europe on the global stage had won the day.

Mr. Harper: The reason for my sedentary intervention was that I had listened very carefully to a point that the Minister made at the beginning of his speech, when he said that Commissioners do not represent the countries of which they are nationals, but represent the Commission. That is not the impression that the Prime Minister has been giving, as my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) has said. The Prime Minister has been going around saying that our getting a Briton to be the High Representative was in some way a triumph. If Baroness Ashton is to represent the Commission and the Council, how is that a triumph for Britain?

Chris Bryant: Much as I like the hon. Member for Forest of Dean, I do not think that he should sit there listening to Whips and articulating what they have just told him to say.

As I was saying earlier, we now know that the leader of the Conservative party signs his cheques in invisible ink. His promises are like dew that disappears the moment the sun comes out, and his cast-iron guarantee has been cast aside on the scrap heap. Of course, the Tory Front-Bench team knew that this was coming. That is why Dastardly and Muttley have been busy devising fiendishly clever wacky wheezes for the past couple of years. First off was the ruse to withdraw from the European People's Party; now the Tories find themselves shackled to a bunch of right-wing extremists with dodgy pasts. British business suffers because there is no British representation in the largest group in the European Parliament, and the Tories are completely marginalised
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in every debate in Europe. That is most cleverly symbolised by the fact that their offices are now in an annexe off the European Parliament.

The next ruse was to throw a scrap of red meat to the Euro-headbangers. The leader of the Conservative party says that he wants to repatriate powers to the UK, especially in the area of social policy- [ Interruption. ] I think that was a "Hear, hear!" over there. But he knows perfectly well that he would need 13 other countries to agree to holding an intergovernmental conference to consider amending the treaty again. If he managed that, he would need all 27 countries to agree a new deal, and if he managed that-which is almost impossible-he would need to persuade the European Parliament, because it has a new power under the Lisbon treaty to enforce a convention. Let us face it, Muttley has not got many friends in the European Parliament these days. No wonder David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, has said:

Now, the latest ruse is to introduce a new Bill that would assert Parliament's sovereignty over EU legislation. I fear that this too will be drafted in invisible ink. Parliament already is sovereign, as anybody who has studied the history of this place knows. It can repeal the European Communities Act 1972, if it wants to. It can leave the Union, but it should not.

I know that the hon. Member for Rayleigh knows all this, because he has admitted as much on television. All he could say in defence of the so-called sovereignty Bill was that it would

I can just see him busily fanning his smoke signals to Strasbourg now, but I suspect this is more of a smokescreen than a smoke signal. No wonder Roger Helmer MEP said

It is clear that December's European Council will see Europe's leaders getting on with business and tackling tough issues of importance to people across Europe. It will mark the end of the institutional introspection that has dominated the Union in the past few years, and the beginning of a new era for the EU-an era focused on taking action where co-operation between European states can deliver results, an era of renewed belief in the ability of member states acting collectively to create new opportunities for the people of Europe, and an era in which Europe has a central role in global decision making.

That is why Britain is right to position itself at the heart of European decision making. It is why we must retain and enhance our ability to influence in Europe, and why we should continue to push for Europe to strengthen its ability to influence globally. Active British engagement in Europe is good for Britain, good for Europe, and has a positive effect globally. That is why this Government are determined that the UK should be leading and shaping European policy, now and in the future.

1.12 pm

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): I shall begin by dealing with a number of specific issues of European concern. First, Iran: one of the most important matters
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facing the nations of Europe today, and one that will rightly be discussed at the European Council, is the question of our relations with Iran.

We are deeply concerned about the Iranian nuclear programme. For more than a year Iran has refused to engage seriously with either the US or the International Atomic Energy Agency, despite the historic offer of engagement from President Obama. Given that the IAEA director recently said:

on Iran, we are fast approaching a point where decisions about new sanctions will have to be made. Unless Iran changes course dramatically in the coming weeks, Conservatives believe that new UN and EU sanctions should be adopted in the new year as a matter of urgency. Those sanctions should include, at the very least, a total ban on arms sales to Iran, a tough new UN inspection regime, a ban on new investment in Iranian oil and gas, and action against the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The failure to deliver on such pledges is one reason why Iran feels that it can challenge the international community with impunity, since it sees little concrete demonstration of will to prevent it from going down that path. That must change, and we need concerted EU action in that area. The Minister also realised that this is a very important topic, and I hope that when he winds up he will be able to indicate a timetable that the Government envisage for new sanctions against Iran.

Secondly, Bosnia: the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina remains of extreme concern to us. The country is not making progress. The international community seems not to have a proper strategy and the way forward remains most unclear.

On Monday, I discussed with the Minister a new stabilisation and association agreement between the EU and Montenegro. I highlighted the fact that although there is a long way to go-and progress to date is certainly imperfect-a way forward into the Euro-Atlantic world is possible to imagine. By contrast, in Bosnia and Herzegovina the road ahead is simply blocked by inaction, and in some cases by the deliberate blocking of urgent constitutional reform. It is hugely disappointing that the SAA that was agreed with Bosnia has led to few real reforms and that important conditions remain unfulfilled.

There is now a real danger that the progress made since the 1995 Dayton peace accords may be reversed. The international community-in particular, the US and EU member states-must remain vigilant. Plans to replace the office of the High Representative with an EU special representative and to downgrade EUFOR should not be implemented until Bosnia and Herzegovina can function on its own and a genuine process of constitutional reform and the allocation of state and defence property has taken place.

If agreement can be reached, Bosnia can move forward into a process that could eventually lead to EU membership. The potential gains for the Bosnian people are huge, matched only by the potential costs of failure. It is time for the Bosnian politicians to put the interests of their people above those of sectional interests and allow the state and people to progress.

Thirdly, Cyprus: we have just celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, one of the happiest moments in Europe's recent history, yet on
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the island of Cyprus there is still a divided European capital city. The Minister and I have both visited Cyprus this year, and we would both like to see a settlement achieved. The current set of talks is now over a year old, and some progress has undoubtedly been made. President Christofias and Mr. Talat are meeting regularly and have discussed a range of issues, including the most contentious. There remain reasons to be optimistic that a lasting settlement can be made, but there are some clouds on the horizon.

Public opinion on both sides shows signs of shifting away from support for reunification. Further, the April election in Cyprus's Turkish community might not produce a leader as committed to reunification as Mr. Talat. Further delay in reaching a settlement could risk missing the current opening in the clouds. We recommend that the Government use the European Council meeting as an opportunity to stress to the Cypriot Government our support for a settlement and the need for both sides to show leadership in order to reach a deal.

At the forthcoming EU summit, the Government should also continue to support the principle of Turkish membership of the EU. We should be prepared to remind our European partners how damaging it could be if Turkey ever came to believe that there was no prospect of accession to the EU. We should also be prepared to raise with Ankara the need to grasp this opportunity to achieve a lasting settlement in Cyprus, perhaps through its demonstrating some greater flexibility that could be to the ultimate benefit of both Turkish and Greek Cypriots alike.

Fourthly, the Copenhagen summit begins on Monday. It is of historic importance. It is an opportunity for the world to take bold action to deal with the real danger of climate change, and tackling climate change is rightly at the top of the EU's agenda. Any such successor deal agreed to at Copenhagen must be a rigorous one that binds the world in a common commitment to keep the rise in global temperatures to below 2┬░ C. Any such deal must find an international mechanism to help people in the world's poorest countries protect themselves against future floods and famine, and stop the destruction of the rainforest-the green lungs of the planet. We hope that, with our European partners, we shall obtain such an outcome next week.

Reference was made to a vote on climate change in the European Parliament last week. For the record, I should like to add that 13 members of the Liberal Democrats' Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group abstained on the motion, while five members of the socialist group-including a number of Polish MEPs with whom the Labour party is allied-voted against. I think that it is important to hear about the voting records of all sides in this particular debate.

Mr. Evans: Does my hon. Friend agree that if Members of the European Parliament wish to contribute to preventing climate change, the best thing for them to do is to stop the awful circus of travelling between Strasbourg and Brussels once a month? They should settle down in Brussels and stop that ludicrous waste of money and energy.

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