Mr Robin Cook (Livingston)
The European summit provides an opportunity for the nations of Europe to comment on the major issues facing Europe. Before I turn to the sore points that inflame passion in this Chamber, I shall address one of those major issues.
Hon. Members who were present six months ago, when we last debated European matters before a summit, will recall that I began by referring to events in the former Yugoslavia. Those events will be one of the international issues considered by the European summit in Dublin. They should be before that summit because of the current crisis of democratic rights in Serbia.
In the past month, President Milosevic has fallen down in three ways on his claim that Serbia aspires to being a European nation. Free elections were annulled because they were won by his opponents. The supreme court has been exposed as a puppet that rubber-stamps his decisions. The independent media have been suppressed because they suppressed his defence of the annulment of those elections.
I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will condemn those actions by President Milosevic. Far from making progress towards democracy, Serbia is sliding back into totalitarianism. If the European Union's aspirations for a common foreign and security policy mean anything, the European summit in Dublin must make a robust statement condemning those actions.
At Dayton, Milosevic gave an undertaking that he would observe democratic principles and human rights. In return, he received assurances of benefits, including trade with the European Union. This weekend he must be firmly told that the benefits of the Dayton process will come to him only if he fulfils the undertakings that he made. In his reply, will the Minister say what statement the United Kingdom would support in condemning those events in Serbia?
I have spoken for only two minutes, but that is quite long enough in bipartisan mode. Let us get down to the more enjoyable matters on which we disagree. I have to say to the Foreign Secretary that the fault line in the Chamber does not run along the table between us: it runs along the Bench behind him and his own Back Benches.
I was in wide agreement with an awful lot of what the Foreign Secretary said, until he pulled out the purple passage of his speech in which he rode off into the sunset. I particularly applaud his robust defence of why Britain's place is in Europe. I even found myself cheering him on when he batted down the Euro-sceptics on his own Back Benches. I certainly do not wish to undermine his courageous attempt to keep his party just about in touch with European reality. Therefore, rather than undermine him by agreeing with him, I felt that it might be helpful to his position in his party if I were to denounce him.
Let me begin by measuring the Foreign Secretary's policies in regard to the forthcoming summit against his performance at the last summit. Those of us who are addicted to these six-monthly debates will recall that the last speech that the Foreign Secretary made before a European summit was made before the Florence summit. The great majority of that speech was about BSE and beef. I think that my hon. Friends will have noticed that today we heard not a single word about BSE or beef. The Foreign Secretary may wish to forget about it, but, before we are swept into matters connected with the forthcoming summit, an interim assessment of how much was really achieved at Florence might be appropriate. The Prime Minister did, after all, claim that it was a triumph, and I think that the Foreign Secretary described it as a turning point.
In his statement to the House after Florence, the Prime Minister told us that by October two stages in the lifting of the beef ban would be completed, and that by November all five would be completed. I think that I carry hon. Members on both sides of the House with me when I say that it is now December: October and November have both passed. No stages in the lifting of the beef ban have been completed, to growing anger in the farming community. I understand that the good farmers of Cornwall have just petitioned the Dean of Truro to have a gargoyle of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food added to Truro cathedral as a lasting monument to his contribution to the BSE crisis.
The Foreign Secretary was unable to join us when we debated what happened to the Florence agreement a month ago, but someone has to explain what went wrong after Florence. There is some explaining to do. In last month's debate, the Minister of Agriculture told us that the ban had remained in place because of opposition
from European Governments who were "facing strong internal pressures". I remember our debate six months ago, before the Florence summit, and I remember the Foreign Secretary telling the House that any step towards lifting the ban
does not need to go before any Ministers or any Government. — [Official Report, 20 June 1996; Vol. 279, c. 1028.]
That was the agreement that he struck for Florence. How, then, can it be that we cannot get the ban lifted because of opposition from member Governments?
I do not believe for a moment that the Foreign Secretary would knowingly mislead the House. Did he therefore misunderstand the deal that he was about to sign at the Florence summit? If so, why should we feel any more confident about what he tells us that he will achieve at Dublin?
There is a wider lesson here, to inform our approach to the next summit. I know that the Conservatives like to believe that they can use Europe to demonstrate what strong men they are, but Florence demonstrated the reality—how poor they are at doing business with Europe. Standing on the sidelines, shouting through a megaphone about how much you disagree with everyone else, is not a posture of strength; on the contrary, it exposes how weak your bargaining position actually is. Yet, in truth, that is the way in which the Conservatives intend to approach tomorrow's summit.
The Foreign Secretary will go to Dublin as another incarnation of the "abominable no-man". He will go to object to a long list of measures that are before the intergovernmental conference. As he told the House, he will object to measures intended to simplify the procedures of the European Parliament—