Previous Section Index Home Page

3 Jun 2010 : Column 610

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I may be anticipating what the Foreign Secretary will say, but at the moment, many items are available as opt-ins, particularly on criminal law and so on. There will be many cases over the next few years in which the choice will be either to opt-in or to withdraw from a whole section of a treaty. Will those be dealt with so that the House is given a vote on whether the Government should opt in or opt out?

Mr Hague: They will certainly demand a lot of examination in the House. In the coalition agreement, we have committed to approaching further criminal justice legislation on a case-by-case basis. The UK has the right to decide whether to participate in new EU justice and home affairs measures, so we will give careful consideration to whether to opt-in to new measures in those areas while at the same time ensuring that the UK's security is maintained and our civil liberties are protected, and that the integrity of our criminal justice system is preserved.

We recognise the importance of Parliament having adequate time to scrutinise those opt-in decisions. In all but the most exceptional cases, that means that we will not opt-in to any new measure in the first eight weeks following its publication, to give Parliament time to give a considered opinion. The hon. Gentleman will know that we are looking at how to improve parliamentary scrutiny of decision-making in Europe, and the positions that this Government or any future Government take at European councils. Indeed, we would welcome his views, as a distinguished former Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, on how those procedures can be improved. I know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would welcome hearing from the hon. Gentleman.

Simon Hughes: It is important that what the Foreign Secretary has just said is given maximum publicity. One of the aspects of the disempowerment felt by the British public is the perception that European legislation has been forced on them. We should have a real debate about the merits of issues such as the working time directive, and what he has just said will be warmly welcomed not only by his party, but by mine.

Mr Hague: That is further evidence-to the deep disappointment of Opposition Members-of how well coalition government is now proceeding.

I will attend the Foreign Affairs Council on 14 June in Luxembourg. As I have long said, it is strongly my view that the nations of Europe should do more to use their collective weight in the world to advance shared values and interests. The problems have not been institutional, but political, including a lack of will and consistency. That is the spirit in which we will approach these matters.

I mentioned last week in the debate on the Queen's Speech that this Government will give greater weight to elevating our relationships with emerging powers across the world, and that policy will, I hope, be complemented by other European nations doing the same. Indeed, some of them are further ahead than us in doing this, and it will form part of our collective work in the EU. The Council's agenda will include Iran and the western Balkans. It will also be important to discuss recent
3 Jun 2010 : Column 611
developments in Gaza, how the European Union can give fresh momentum to the middle east peace process and what role we can play in helping to address the crisis in Gaza.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): I understand that my right hon. Friend has recently visited Bosnia, a part of Europe that is often overshadowed by other international events, but tensions there remain high. There are frictions over the constitution, and I wonder whether he agrees that the EU and the UN would be wrong to dismiss Bosnia. We need to invest time and energy to ensure that the cycle of violence that we have seen in the past 10 years does not restart.

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Bosnia is one of the major issues that I will discuss with the European High Representative, Baroness Ashton, this evening. I will say more on the issue in a moment.

I wish to update the House on the British nationals caught up in the incident in Gaza and improve on the information that was given yesterday. The latest information I have is that 34 British nationals were involved, not 37 as I informed the House yesterday. Two of those who were reported as missing do not appear to have been in the flotilla, and we are seeking to confirm that. Another was a duplicated name with different spellings. All the remaining 34 are now accounted for. One British national was deported directly earlier in the week, 32 have arrived in Turkey and one, who is a dual national, has been released and is in Israel with family. Of the 32 who have arrived in Turkey, one has returned to the UK and 31 remain there. We are offering assistance through our consulate general to British nationals who seek it.

As I said, Iran will be on the Foreign Affairs Council's agenda. We remain extremely concerned about Iran's nuclear programme. Iran has failed to suspend its nuclear activities in line with UN Security Council resolutions, has shown no serious intent to discuss its programme with the international community and has failed to address the outstanding concerns of the International Atomic Energy Agency. For those reasons, we are pursuing-as we speak-new sanctions, and a draft resolution is now being discussed at the UN Security Council. The EU has agreed to take measures to accompany this process and we will work hard with our EU partners to ensure that we take strong measures that have an impact on Iran's decision making. The House will be aware that on 17 May Iran, Brazil and Turkey announced that Iran had agreed a deal to supply fuel for the Tehran research reactor. While that deal, if implemented, could still help to build confidence in Iran's intentions, it cannot do so while Iran's other actions show a complete disregard for efforts to engage it in serious negotiation, such as continuing to enrich uranium up to 20% despite having no apparent civilian use for that material.

A comprehensive diplomatic offer has been made to Iran and remains on the table. The EU High Representative, Cathy Ashton, made it clear in her statement of 21 May that we stand ready to meet Iran at any time to discuss its nuclear programme. The onus is on Iran to assure the international community of its peaceful intentions and to enter into negotiations. Until it does so, we have no choice but to continue to pursue the path of sanctions. The House will need no reminding of the risks associated with nuclear proliferation in the middle east. The pressure
3 Jun 2010 : Column 612
placed on Iran must be peaceful, multilateral and legitimate, but unless it is intensified, the opportunity to change Iranian behaviour on this issue may be lost.

The Government have also made it clear that we believe that the European Union must sharpen its focus on the western Balkans-as my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) said-until all the countries of the region are irreversibly on the path to EU membership. Achieving this and helping to turn the page decisively on the painful chapters of the region's past will be a major test of what the EU can accomplish in world affairs. An EU without the western Balkans would for ever have a disenchanted and disillusioned hole near its centre. The western Balkans matter to stability and prosperity in Europe, and we cannot afford to ignore developments there, especially the current lack of progress in Bosnia, which demands sustained international attention. I yesterday attended the high-level meeting of EU and western Balkan Foreign Ministers, and set out our support for a clear strategy of firm action from European countries, as well as concrete steps by the countries of the region. We will work actively and intensively with our European partners, the High Representative and the Governments of the region to take this work forward in the coming months.

The issue brings me to enlargement more generally. In Britain, we have had a strong consensus on the principle that widening the European Union is a good thing, and I hope that that will continue. Widening of the European Union must go along with the rigorous application of the entry criteria. The Government will continue to champion the European Union's enlargement, including to the western Balkans and Turkey. We will be assiduous in working with Ankara and other member states to resolve outstanding issues.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that continuing peace and stability in the western Balkans cannot be taken for granted, and does he also agree that the constitutional changes necessary in Bosnia and Herzegovina are critically important to enable that country to progress its accession to the EU?

Mr Hague: I very much agree. It cannot be taken for granted that the problems have been solved. The 5+2 conditions necessary for the closure of the office of the High Representative have not yet been satisfied. As I have often said, I believe that European nations will have to be more forceful about this, and we will have to be prepared to push as well as pull some people in the western Balkans towards EU membership.

Michael Connarty: Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr Hague: I have given way for the last time: I owe it to the House to allow the shadow Foreign Secretary and others to speak.

We continue to support the negotiations to re-unify the island of Cyprus-I am pleased that they restarted last week. Although we do not underestimate the difficulties, it would be very greatly in the interest of both communities on the island for those talks to succeed.

The House will also want to know about the institutional aspect of the EU's external relations, the establishment of the European External Action Service. As the House
3 Jun 2010 : Column 613
will know, my party did not support the creation of the External Action Service, but it is now a fact. We warned that its creation would not necessarily lead to greater inter-institutional harmony in Brussels and that has unfortunately proved to be the case so far. It is now our task to ensure that the service is both useful to the nations of Europe and respects the role of national diplomatic services. The European Parliament has made its suggestions on how the service is to be organised, and there are discussions on the matter with the High Representative and the Spanish presidency. I hope that the European Parliament will recognise that the service will be a success only if it commands the confidence of member states. That is a crucial consideration.

The High Representative has made a good start to her very challenging role. We wished her well when she embarked on the task, and we look forward to working with her closely in the future.

The last Conservative Government left a considerable legacy in the European Union: the creation of the single market; the enlargement from nine to 15 members; and the setting in train of further eastwards enlargement. I will not take away from the last Government their achievement in helping to complete that enlargement, but in other respects their legacy is to be regretted: the alienation of the British public from the EU; the failure to stand up for Britain's interests on the budget, and so on. The new Government have started as we mean to continue-with activity and energy in European affairs. We will play our role with enthusiasm, while vigorously advancing our country's interests and never taking the British people for granted.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Before I call the shadow Foreign Secretary, I say to the House that there has been some comings and goings on the numbers wishing to speak in the debate. I propose, therefore, to alter the nine-minute time limit to 10 minutes. I do not automatically expect every hon. Member to expand their speech by one minute. It is just to ease the pressures that might otherwise exist during the debate.

1.31 pm

David Miliband (South Shields) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is unusual in the House for the Foreign Secretary-at least it was under his previous roles-to lose an audience during a speech, but I will seek to address many of his points, focusing my remarks on the agenda for the European Council in two weeks. Of course, this quarter's pre-European Council debate is unusual in that it is scheduled in the middle of the Queen's Speech debates, but it comes at an important time for Europe.

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for his explanation of the Government's approach. We want the Prime Minister, when he attends the European Council, to represent the interests of the country in a strong, outward-looking European Union, supporting an agenda of economic reform and social justice at home, and hard-headed internationalism abroad. The Foreign Secretary bravely said, in the Queen's Speech debate last week, that he now favoured a policy of enlightened self-interest.
3 Jun 2010 : Column 614
We congratulate him on moving from unenlightened to enlightened self-interest-it is a step forward-but I hope that he will allow me, in the nicest possible way, to remind him of Harold Macmillan's point that a Foreign Secretary is always caught somewhere between a cliché and an indiscretion. I hope that his repetition of his commitment to enlightened self-interest will not capture him in that trap.

It is not enough to say that one is enlightened. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary need to show it, and show it quickly, on the big issues facing Europe. They must put to one side institutional squabbles and focus on the substantive issues facing the European Union: a steady process of building economic growth alongside deficit reduction; developing the EU as a low-carbon economic zone of the future able to lead the international green economy; and supporting a strong European foreign policy that uses our weight in Europe to advance British interests. The Prime Minister's press conference with Chancellor Merkel last month-his first foray into European politics as Prime Minister-was not encouraging. We are told that the Prime Minister is a fan of Disraeli, who said that

The Prime Minister's remarks in Berlin verged on both petulance and insolence.

I will focus on the Council's agenda, but first I must pick the Foreign Secretary up on one thing. These debates are not traditionally partisan affairs, and my remarks will not be dedicated in that dimension. Pre-European Council debates-not European debates in general-have generally been focused on the agenda of the European Council. The shadow Foreign Secretary said-[Hon. Members: "You're the shadow Foreign Secretary!"]I mean the Foreign Secretary. It sticks in the gullet, Mr Deputy Speaker; I am happy to admit it. However, in a few weeks, I hope I will get used to referring to the right hon. Gentleman as the Foreign Secretary.

I think I quote the Foreign Secretary correctly. He said that the United Kingdom got "nothing in return" for the 2004-05 budget deal. He also said that he was a long-standing supporter of enlargement, and he congratulated the previous Government on achieving enlargement. He knows that the budget deal agreed was necessary to make enlargement possible, and I say to him in the nicest possible way-well sort of-that he cannot keep on attacking the 2004-05 budget deal while professing his loyalty to the project of European enlargement. That project requires commitments in substance, and sometimes in budgets, as well as in words, and it simply is not good enough for him to keep on saying that we gave away the house in 2004-05 when it is not true. The EU achieved a historic agreement to expand, which he says he supports.

Kelvin Hopkins: If all budget contributions by nations were proportionate to their living standards, it would be fair, but they are not, so it will always cause problems, especially for Britain.

David Miliband: The rebate, which now applies to four countries, not just to the United Kingdom, is there because of the pattern of spending in the EU, and it is the pattern of spending that distorts the net contributions.

3 Jun 2010 : Column 615

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): Reduce them.

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman says, from a sedentary position, that we should reduce them, but he will know that the 2004-05 budget deal agreed for the first time that British and French net contributions should be more or less equal. That had never been achieved before under any previous Government.

Michael Connarty: Is it not true that not only did it allow the accession of the A8 countries, plus Malta and Cyprus, because they had problems with the budget proposed before that, but it changed fundamentally the basis of the common agricultural policy, so that we did not continue to plough money into the agricultural surpluses, but put the money into development in the countries joining? It was a fundamental change that was necessary for Europe, and one that was beneficial in the long run to the UK.

David Miliband: My hon. Friend speaks with all the authority of a former Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee. Of course, the change was twofold: first, the shift in industrial and infrastructure support into the A8 countries and, secondly, the creation for the first time of the second pillar of the CAP-the pillar devoted not to agricultural subsidy, but to rural development. The previous Government set out a clear plan for how the CAP should be reformed, so that there was spending on rural development and rural support, notably with an environmental, green and climate change focus. The market-distorting aspects of the CAP-the so-called first pillar-were reduced. So I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention.

Mr Davidson: I am grateful to the shadow Foreign Secretary for giving way. However, does he not agree that Britain actually struck a very bad deal during the last budget negotiations? We did not get nearly as much as we ought to have, we gave up far more than we should have, and essentially the EU took advantage of us and our commitment to enlargement to strike a far better deal than we should have conceded. In fact, the deal that we conceded on enlargement was one of the things that lost us the election, not because people were hostile to enlargement, but because they were hostile to the uncontrolled immigration that resulted and to the feeling that the pervious Government were more interested in listening to Brussels than to their own people.

David Miliband: The Foreign Secretary and I jested earlier, when he said that my hon. Friend had always been a staunch supporter of the former Government, but I worry that he has been reading something left by the previous Opposition Whips Office, before the general election, setting our its view of what happened in 2004-05. I will make one important point to him: he will remember that six months before the budget deal was agreed, the then Government were denounced by the then Opposition for their failure to agree a deal. In June that year, there was a failure to agree a deal, and only under the British presidency, in December, did we get an agreement on the budget deal. So I do not accept his description.

Mr Cash: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

David Miliband: No, I will make some progress, and if I may, I will come back to the hon. Gentleman later. He made at least two interventions on the Foreign Secretary.

3 Jun 2010 : Column 616

I shall focus on the June Council agenda, which is understandably dedicated to addressing first the economic situation. The difficulties are well known, but the extent and possible permutations of the solutions are still relatively unknown, causing some instability in European and global markets. Concerns about Greece's sovereign debt have led to market concern about other southern European economies. Eurozone growth figures are due to be released tomorrow-one disadvantage of having this debate before the European Council-and they will obviously provide a useful indicator for Council action.

All that matters to Britain, as the Foreign Secretary suggested, because 55% of our exports go to the EU. We are part of the largest single market in the world, along with our European partners. Half of UK inward investment comes from the EU. Out of the euro, we should still want the euro to succeed. In the light of those problems, the European Council needs to be clear about what needs to be done. The instability in the global economy as a result of Greece's problems emphasises the need for effective and co-ordinated European action, as well as certainty for financial markets. A clear resolution framework is needed, and the eurozone countries must reach agreement between their members on the way forward.

However, this Council must be about growth, too, and it should look at the European economy as a whole. Competitive austerity, blind to the need to secure growth, will secure neither deficit reduction nor economic growth that improves living standards. In Europe and at the G20 meeting in Toronto, it is vital that the Government make that argument. As the US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said only yesterday:

Next Section Index Home Page