Cardiff European Council

– in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 11th June 1998.

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[Relevant documents: Minutes of Evidence taken by the Foreign Affairs Committee on 2nd June (HC 387-ii); White Paper on Developments in the European Union July-December 1997 (Cm 3961); and Proposals for Council Decisions on the Principles, Priorities, Intermediate Objectives and Conditions contained in the Accession Partnerships (presented by the Commission)—ten unnumbered Explanatory Memoranda submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 25th February 1998 (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia) Council Number 6637/98 COM (98)53 final.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Kevin Hughes.]

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary 5:20 pm, 11th June 1998

I am pleased to announce at the outset of this debate that, today, the House of Lords has not insisted on its amendment to the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. The Bill's parliamentary stages are now complete. We hope that Royal Assent will be granted very shortly, opening the way for the United Kingdom to ratify the treaty of Amsterdam in the near future. We shall be among the first three countries in Europe to do so. Under the previous Administration, the United Kingdom was one of the last two countries to ratify the Maastricht treaty. That contrast underlines the new priority and commitment that this Administration have given to Europe, and provides an excellent basis on which, on Sunday, we can welcome to Cardiff the leaders of the 15 member states of the European Union.

The leaders' agenda will be wide ranging. On Monday, they will meet Finance Ministers to discuss economic reform. At lunchtime, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will lead a discussion on the future direction of Europe. On Monday afternoon, they will discuss progress on enlarging the European Union, and the Agenda 2000 issues, such as reforming the common agricultural policy, simplifying the structural funds and securing budget discipline.

On Tuesday morning, the leaders will debate the summit's conclusions, including proposals from Foreign Ministers on current issues in foreign policy. It is with those foreign policy issues that I wish to start my speech.

On Monday, I chaired the preparatory meeting for Cardiff of Foreign Ministers, at which our discussion on the crisis in Kosovo was the most grave and sombre of our presidency. At the start of last week, Serbian security forces mounted a major military operation, with support from the Yugoslav army. Heavy machine guns and anti-tank weapons were used against villages and towns in Kosovo, particularly along the border area with Albania. The clear objective of the offensive was to empty those towns and villages of their civilian population. It is our belief that, last week, about 50,000 people were rendered homeless. Most of them were women and children; few could ever have been members of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

Monday's meeting of Foreign Ministers strongly condemned the ratcheting up of military violence, and expressed our firm belief that these attacks are beginning to constitute a new wave of ethnic cleansing. In our statement, we specifically reaffirmed that the remit of the war crimes tribunal on Yugoslavia applies to all parts of the former Yugoslavia, including Kosovo. Those who carry out extra-judicial killings or crimes against humanitarian law should not do so in the hope that they will escape justice.

In the meantime, the urgent task is to halt the violence. At the United Nations, Britain has taken the lead in the Security Council to seek a resolution, under chapter VII, that will provide a mandate for all necessary action to halt the conflict. I am pleased to report to the House that, on Monday, the Foreign Ministers of European countries unanimously expressed their support for such a resolution. As we speak, NATO Defence Ministers are meeting to hear reports from their military advisers, who are considering all options that might be taken under that mandate.

Tomorrow, I shall host a meeting in London of the Group of Eight Foreign Ministers, which was originally called to discuss nuclear escalation in India and Pakistan. All members of the contact group on the former Yugoslavia are represented on the G8. We will, therefore, take the opportunity of our gathering tomorrow to hold a special meeting of the contact group, to send a clear signal of our resolve to Belgrade.

President Milosevic must bear personal responsibility for the crisis in Kosovo. Last week, he authorised violence on a scale that has not been seen in the former Yugoslavia since the truce in Bosnia three years ago. He should not make the heavy mistake of assuming that, this time, the international community will be as slow to react as it was in the early years of the crisis in Bosnia. Nor can he hope to find a place for his country in the modern Europe unless he starts to abide by the democratic standards of modern Europe.

In the past fortnight, President Milosevic has removed the broadcasting licences of 33 independent radio stations. At the same time, he has given separate broadcasting licences to his wife, to his son and to his daughter. No one can be fooled that that outcome reflects an impartial assessment of the respective merits of those applications.

Finally, before leaving the subject of Kosovo, I should emphasise that Europe condemns the use of violence for political ends by either side. The violent repression by President Milosevic has been totally counter-productive: it has strengthened the Kosovo Liberation Army. However, the Kosovo Liberation Army's activities will not liberate the people of Kosovo, but will only ensure the continuation of their suffering. Our support in Kosovo is for the elected leadership of the Kosovar people, who, to their credit, have consistently pursued a peaceful path towards their goal of autonomy.

For that reason, as we hold the presidency of the European Union, I shall this evening receive Dr. Rugova, the elected leader of the Kosovar people, to demonstrate our support for those among the Kosovars who seek a negotiated, not a violent, means of achieving their aspirations. I am confident that both sides of the House will wish me today to convey to Dr. Rugova our united respect for his support for peace, and our resolve to halt the violence.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I would not disagree with anything that the Foreign Secretary has said in the past moment or two, and I welcome his comments on his intention of receiving Mr. Rugova later today. However, the Foreign Secretary will be aware that the possibility of obtaining a resolution on suitable terms from the Security Council of the United Nations will depend on Russia's attitude. Is he able—consistent with the usual diplomatic niceties—to give us some indication of what exchanges he has had with Mr. Primakov, his opposite number in Russia? What prediction can he make about the extent to which Russia will share the sentiments that he has just expressed to the House?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

We have not, as yet, had any indication that Russia could support such a resolution. I very much hope that Russia would not choose to block such a resolution. It is worth recalling that Russia has now not vetoed a Security Council resolution for some half dozen years. I do not think that either Mr. Primakov or President Yeltsin would wish to break that very helpful moratorium on the veto by now using it to protect President Milosevic. One of the advantages of our meeting tomorrow is that Mr. Primakov will be present at the contact group, which will give us an opportunity of dialogue—in the hope that peer group pressure will get Russia to understand the strength of feeling in the rest of the international community.

Did my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) wish to intervene?

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

I had the same question, and the Foreign Secretary has given as much of a reply to it as he can.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

My hon. Friend is one of the few hon. Members who is honest enough to say that a question has been answered. I am grateful to him.

The ethnic confrontation and violence in Kosovo provide a stark contrast to the security and peace enjoyed by the peoples in the European Union. It is because all the countries of central Europe hunger for the security and stability that we enjoy that they now seek membership of the European Union.

As I look back over the months of our presidency, I believe that the achievement of greatest strategic significance was the successful launch that we gave to the enlargement process. We were able to develop a process in which all 11 countries were in the same pipeline, moving towards the same destination—the speed at which they arrive at the finish will depend entirely on the urgency with which they make the necessary reforms. We were also successful in negotiating a formula that dissuaded France from blocking the start of negotiations with Cyprus, which could have provoked Greece to block negotiations with any country.

In January, I made giving enlargement a flying start one of the objectives of our presidency—we have done that, which will be of long-term credit to Britain. Over the next decade, all the countries involved will become member states with full voting powers at the Councils of Ministers. It is important to our interests that they should remember the United Kingdom presidency as a time when we proved ourselves advocates and friends of their membership and competent managers of the process of enlargement.

It is equally important that the peoples of those countries should associate Britain with the benefits that they will enjoy as consumers as they lower the barriers to trade. When I addressed the House in the European debate in December, I mentioned the strong enthusiasm that I found in Warsaw for my insistence that membership of the European Union would require Poland to abolish the unfair, discriminatory and punitive taxes on whisky. I am delighted to report to the House that, last week, I received a message from the Foreign Minister of Poland informing me that the Cabinet had approved a reduction in the duty on whisky, to give it parity with brandy. I am confident that that news will be as welcome to drinkers of whisky in Warsaw as it will be to distillers of whisky on Speyside.

Enlargement is not the only historic step that is being taken under our presidency. Last month, the Heads of Government agreed that 11 member states could proceed to the final stage of economic and monetary union. Britain has not joined that first wave. We will judge whether we are ready to join on the basis of a hard-headed assessment of the economic interests of the British people; the Government are united in their view that the decision on the single currency must be determined on that basis.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I was hoping that I would get a Tory Euro-sceptic, but the right hon. Gentleman will do.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley Leader and Party President, Plaid Cymru

I am sorry that I cannot fit either bill. The right hon. Gentleman regards the well-being of the economy as the paramount consideration in deciding the timing for entry to the euro, but if the well-being of the economy so dictates, will the Government consider entry sooner than 12 months after the next general election—assuming that this Parliament goes to its full term—or does the well-being of the economy take second place to the commitment to wait until a referendum after the general election?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

We do not expect any tension between the two commitments. We came to our conclusion because Britain and the continent are at very different points in the economic cycle. That substantial difference will not be lessened in the short term—it will take some years for true convergence to come about. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we have no intention of joining before we are confident that it would be to the economic advantage of the British people.

Our unity of view on the single currency contrasts with the division among Conservative Members, who are united only in the strength of their contempt for one another's views on the matter. When the European Parliament voted last month on the single currency, half the Tory MEPs abstained and the other half voted in three different ways—a multiple split that makes the Tory MEPs much more representative of the Tory party than many of the Tory Euro-sceptics would admit.

Europe faces many other challenges as a result of the two historic changes that I have outlined. A European Union in which Finns to Italians are paid in a common currency, and whose borders stretch from Poland to Portugal and from Scotland to Cyprus, will be a Europe that gives rise to new challenges as well as to new opportunities. We must ensure that we strike the right balance between the unity and cohesion of the Union and a flexibility that can reflect the diversity of its increased number of member states. That is why it is right that a centrepiece of the Cardiff summit will be a discussion by the leaders on the future of Europe.

In his Paris speech two months ago, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out his vision for Europe. He stressed the importance of reconnecting Europe with its citizens and of striking a better balance to respect not only the advantage of Europe acting in unity, but the individual identity of each member state.

The letter from Chancellor Kohl and President Chirac, which was released earlier this week, demonstrates that those arguments are winning the debate on the future of Europe. It represents a powerful statement of the case for subsidiarity, which the two leaders demand must be "strictly respected and applied" even more rigorously, and which rightly recognises that the citizen will not accept decisions at the European level unless it is clear that …such rules cannot be adopted at a satisfactory manner at the local, regional or national level.

That statement is unequivocal. It exposes the Euro-sceptics' fears of a centralised, federalised European state for the fantasies that they are—nightmares that have something of the night about them, but nothing of reality. If the Euro-sceptics will not listen to me, perhaps they will listen to the Conservative party's nominee on the European Commission, Sir Leon Brittan, who said the other week: Europe has changed and Britain has played a big part in changing it.

There could be no better place for Britain to demonstrate the leading role that it has played in promoting subsidiarity than Cardiff.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's support. As a result of the Government's policies—which the right hon. Gentleman is also welcome to support—Cardiff will become the centre of a democratically elected assembly which will make political decisions in Wales accountable to the people of Wales. That is a visible reminder that the Government not only preach subsidiarity in Brussels, but practise it in Britain.

We also welcome the strong recognition in the letter from Chancellor Kohl and President Chirac that decisions within Europe should be open and transparent. During the UK presidency, we have made making proceedings more transparent a priority. I am pleased to tell the House that more members of the public and representatives of non-governmental organisations have attended open Council meetings during our presidency than in any previous presidency. Indeed, we had broken all previous records before our presidency reached halfway.

The more that Europe opens up its proceedings to the public, the more important it becomes that the public see that those proceedings focus on the issues that are of concern and relevance to them. When we launched the UK presidency, we stressed that its theme would be to make Europe work for the people and that we would focus on issues of popular concern, such as jobs, crime and the environment. Over the past six months, we have made solid progress on all three fronts.

On jobs, we were the first member state to produce a national action plan on employment, and Cardiff will be the first European summit at which the action plans, which have now been developed by every member state, will be reviewed. An unusual feature of the summit will be the morning discussion, with Finance Ministers, on economic reform to make Europe more competitive and to encourage employment.

We will also discuss reports from the Commission and from the business test panels on how we can encourage small and medium enterprises by reducing the complexity of European regulations. The objective is well expressed in the title of the Commission document—"Doing Less, but Doing it Better".

We have negotiated a pact on organised crime with all the countries that are candidates for membership of the European Union, to enable us to achieve greater co-operation in fighting the criminals who run major rackets in the drugs trade, money laundering and the sordid exploitation of the traffic in illegal immigrants.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

Before my right hon. Friend leaves the subject of crime, he will not be entirely surprised when I ask him whether there will be any discussion of the Lockerbie crime and relations with Libya, especially in the context of his meeting with Dr. Mudenge and others from Uganda, Cameroon and other African states, and of the possibility of a resolution of a crime that will be 10 years old at Christmas 1998.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the skill with which he has worked in a question which I know concerns him closely. I am happy to say that I had a very good meeting with the representatives of the Organisation of African Unity and the Arab League, at which I explained why we have full confidence in the standards of Scottish justice. I expressed regret at the fact that those two organisations did not respond positively to our invitation to them and the United Nations to send observers to study our legal system, and I repeated that offer to them.

I think that it is fair to say that Stan Mudenge and his colleagues left with the impression that they had had a fair hearing, and that I had explained exactly why we are robust in our faith in Scottish justice and why we are determined to ensure that the mass murder of 270 people is not allowed to pass without those who have been charged being brought to justice.

We have acted to implement the commitment in the Amsterdam treaty to integrate the protection of the environment across the broad range of European policies. Our presidency has witnessed the first ever joint meeting of the Transport and Environment Councils. As a result of that joint work on the environment and transport, we have been able to adopt tougher standards on vehicle emissions, which will produce cleaner air for our citizens. The decision last week to ban the drift nets that drown dolphins has been broadly welcomed by the many people in Britain who support the campaigns to protect wildlife.

As we deliver on our commitments in our presidency of the European Union, we are constantly aware that Britain is a country with major ties of history and culture, and alliances around the globe, and not only in Europe. In particular, we have forged an excellent working relationship with Washington, and an effective partnership with both the White House and the State Department.

Britain's current high standing in Washington has been of direct benefit to Europe. At last month's United States-European Union summit, we secured an agreement that will protect European companies from US sanctions and commits the United States Government to resist any legislation that will result in extra-territorial penalties on European companies that are breaking no national or international law.

We have averted what could have been division between Europe and the United States over trade, and replaced it with unity in our approach towards countries such as Iran. I believe that the successful outcome of the summit, which is good for both sides of the Atlantic, was largely due to the fact that it was Britain in its presidency that represented Europe there.

In our presidency, it has been our job to speak for all the member states. I am happy to say that that does not prevent us, and has not prevented us, from also speaking for Britain. I noticed last Sunday that the Minister for Europe in the previous Conservative Government, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis), complained that we had not given enough priority to tackling the ban on British beef. That was a compelling example of how out of touch Conservative Members can be with what is going on in Europe.

On 1 June, only a fortnight ago, the ban was lifted on exports of cattle from Northern Ireland under the certified herds scheme, and yesterday, the Commission agreed to propose to lift the ban on the export of beef under the date-based scheme for cattle born after August 1996.

We are not over the obstacle course yet: there are further hoops through which that proposal must go before it gets Council approval and comes into effect, and there appear to be elements in the Commission's proposals that we regard as unnecessary and unduly restrictive, but the fact remains that we now have in sight an end to the beef ban for the British mainland, as well as for Northern Ireland.

The fact that we have got this far is a striking illustration of how much better the Labour Government have been able to promote British interests through their constructive and positive approach to Europe. By contrast, the policy of confrontation pursued by the previous Government left Britain on the sidelines of Europe, with neither influence nor respect, and did nothing to further Britain's interests on beef or anything else.

I noticed last month that, one year on from the general election, The Times had discovered that Labour led the Conservatives as the party with the most popular policy on Europe by a margin of almost two to one. I freely admit that it was not always like this: at the previous general election, the same pollsters found the Conservatives leading on Europe by exactly the same margin.

The dramatic turnaround has happened because the public have had a year in which they have seen how much more can be delivered by a Government who have respect throughout the capitals of Europe and are taken seriously because the Europeans know that we are serious about doing business with Europe. In a spirit of fairness, I acknowledge the strong contribution made to our public support over Europe by Conservative Members, who have spent the past year unable to convince each other, never mind the public, what is the right policy for them on Europe.

The British public are much more sensible than many Conservative Members. They know that, in the modern world, we can make our way only by the health of our alliances and our trading links with the rest of the world. They know, too, that we shall not achieve security or prosperity in a global economy by being as rude as possible to our nearest neighbours.

The British public know that, if the Conservative party had, by some miracle, remained in power at the general election, the past six months of the UK presidency would have been squandered in the sterile and hostile confrontation that marked its last years in office. By contrast, we can look back with satisfaction on six months of steady achievement.

We have given a successful launch to an historic process of enlargement that will change the face of Europe; delivered real progress on our people's agenda of jobs, the environment and the fight against crime and drugs; developed a clear sense of direction for reform of the common agricultural policy; and injected momentum into the Agenda 2000 negotiations. Furthermore, we are winning the debate in Europe on subsidiarity, with the result that at Cardiff, we can launch a discussion that will confirm Europe's future as a union of sovereign states, not as one single, centralised state.

That is a record of achievement in which the whole of Britain is welcome to share our pride, including even the Conservative party, if it chooses to come out of the bunker, blinking into the light of the modern Europe. It is against that solid record of achievement through our presidency that we go to Cardiff, confident that we have set the right agenda for a constructive exchange and that it is we, not the Conservative party, who represent Britain at Cardiff, because it is we who represent the views of the people of Britain on Europe.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State 5:48 pm, 11th June 1998

May I begin with one of the few points on which I agree with the Foreign Secretary? I welcome the fact that the European Council is taking place in Cardiff, in my native land, and I place on record the fact that it is taking place there largely because of the influence exerted by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when he was Secretary of State for Wales. Apart from that, I fear that there will not be a great deal on which I can agree with the right hon. Gentleman.

No one has ever accused the Foreign Secretary of false modesty, but the speech that we have just heard was one of insufferable complacency and self-congratulation, born more of his fantasies than of the real world. Let us now return to the real world.

A couple of weeks ago, he addressed the European Parliament. I, alas, was not present, but it was not necessary to be present to judge the impact of the speech. The very next day, Members of the European Parliament voted on a motion that congratulated the United Kingdom presidency on its achievements, a motion tabled by Labour Members of the Parliament, who form the largest group of the party of European Socialists. That party, and its allies, has an overall majority in the Parliament, so the prospects for the motion must have seemed auspicious. Yet such was the impact of the Foreign Secretary's speech that the motion was lost. The European Parliament declined to offer the UK presidency its congratulations.

The Foreign Secretary had done it again. The man who single-handedly bungled the royal visit to India, who caused grave offence during his visit to Israel and who has done more than anyone to bring the concept of ethics into disrepute had once more snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Photo of Mr Roger Casale Mr Roger Casale Labour, Wimbledon

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what sort of approval rating he might have had from the European Parliament if he had been Foreign Secretary over the past six months?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

I cannot answer that, because I have never had the great privilege of holding that office, but I can approach an answer.

The Foreign Secretary is fond of comparing the Government's attitude to and record on Europe to the attitude and record of their predecessor. An instructive comparison is, indeed, to be made. This was not the first time that the European Parliament voted on a British presidency. The European Parliament was addressed by a Foreign Secretary—Lord Hurd of Westwell—during our last presidency in 1992. Then, too, there was a vote on the UK presidency on the day after the Foreign Secretary addressed the Parliament. Once again, the motion was tabled by Labour MEPs, and it criticised the UK presidency. On that occasion, too, the motion was lost. The European Parliament took a more favourable view of that Conservative presidency than of the current Labour one. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will add that comparison to the list of which he is so proud.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is labouring his point. Perhaps he does not speak, for some reason, to Conservative Members of the European Parliament, but had he gone beyond the press reports he might have learnt that part of the reason for that vote was the view of many MEPs that the motion, a month before the end of the presidency, was premature. There was also concern about the European central bank fracas, which had nothing to do with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

I shall have a word to say about what the hon. Gentleman describes as the European central bank fracas. His view that it had nothing to do with the UK presidency is by no means shared in the European Parliament or elsewhere in the councils of Europe.

The vote of the European Parliament two weeks ago was a humiliation for the Foreign Secretary. Behind that humiliation lies another truth: the presidency has been a flop. What a contrast with the high hopes set out six months ago. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary were going to transform the continent. The Foreign Secretary told us that the presidency would provide a clear opportunity to demonstrate that Europe can deliver on the concerns of our people. The Government, he said, were to offer active leadership in the world."—[Official Report, 4 December 1997; Vol. 302, c. 521–22.]

The Foreign Secretary was so full of the prospects for the presidency that he quoted from the European press, telling us that we should read what the European papers said about the new Labour Government. I am always keen to take the Foreign Secretary's advice, and I have been reading the foreign press. The French journalist Pierre Beglau, writing for the magazine Le Point, said: The British Presidency of the European Union is … one of the most timid and poor in recent years. The Italian newspaper Il Sole Venti Quatre Ore discovered what we have long known. There seemed, it said, to be a growing disparity between proclaimed intentions and reality.

Nowhere was that disparity more marked than in the half-term report that the Government published in March. I am not surprised that the Foreign Secretary did not refer to that half-term report. The House will understand why in a moment. The report was a British innovation. There is no tradition of half-term reports, but the Foreign Secretary was so keen to trumpet his achievements that he was determined to break new ground. The report was introduced by the Prime Minister in typical fashion. Great progress was being made, he said, on a number of policy issues. He added: Robin Cook has done a brilliant job in bringing together Ministers quickly and reaching agreement to help sort things out rapidly.

What were the 45 successes attributed to the British presidency in that report? The Secretary of State for Education and Employment had chaired a meeting about life-long learning. The need for measures to lower telephone bills was highlighted. A seminar of Government press officers was held, at which agreement was reached to disseminate more information on the EU via the internet. And what of the Foreign Secretary? Well, he was praised for "injecting new impetus" into the middle east peace process. Not a lot of people saw it that way at the time.

The whole ludicrous, self-serving exercise was viewed with incredulity by our European partners. One German diplomat said: It's funny, we always thought the British style was understated. It is little wonder that we are now told, and perhaps the Foreign Secretary will confirm it, that the Government have abandoned their intention to follow up the ludicrous half-time report with a full-time assessment of their performance. There is not going to be a full-time report. The Government have at last recognised the only appropriate verdict on their presidency—the least said, the better. That did not stop the Foreign Secretary producing a half-time report, but he is not producing a full-time report because there is very little to say.

It is little wonder that, instead of dwelling on the achievements of the UK presidency—only three weeks from its end—the Foreign Secretary chose to spend much of his time today on the problems of Kosovo. Those problems are, of course, acute, and I do not underestimate them for one moment. The whole House will want to join him in expressing our dismay at the emergence once more of violence, murder and rape in the Balkans.

However, the Foreign Secretary should have made a separate statement on Kosovo so that hon. Members could question him. I hope that he will do so next week. Meanwhile, I hope that the Minister of State will tell the House why, when we have known about that problem for so long, the military options for NATO have even now not been prepared. The Secretary of State for Defence talked on the radio this morning about the need for quick action, but it was known months ago that difficulties were likely to arise in Kosovo. Why was work not put in hand then to prepare options for action? When do the Government intend to approach the Security Council for authority to take action? What action do they have in mind? Will the Minister of State assure us that any such action will have clear objectives, and that the Foreign Secretary will return to the House to make a proper statement before action is taken?

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that the situation in Kosovo dates back at least 10 years, and that there have been growing problems? It has until now been a peaceful conflict, without the kind of military intervention that we have seen in the past few weeks. There has been no fighting or incursions in the border area. The current situation is far more serious than when the right hon. and learned Gentleman was in government.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

I thought that one of the tasks of the Foreign Office and the Foreign Secretary was to anticipate what might happen in the world. It has not taken genius to anticipate that, for a very long time, the problem in Kosovo could have burst into the kind of violence that we have seen in recent weeks. NATO should have been asked some time ago to prepare options for action. It is astonishing that we were told only a week ago that NATO might have options ready for those who need to take these most serious decisions by the end of this month. Given that the seriousness of the position in Kosovo has been known, and raised in the House, for months, it is astonishing that NATO was not asked earlier to put the work on options in hand.

Photo of Dr Alan Williams Dr Alan Williams Labour, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman contrast the situation in Kosovo and the meetings and preparations involved with those made by his Government two years ago, when there was civil war in Bosnia? For years, while tens of thousands of people were being killed, his Government remained inactive on the sidelines.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

I do not recall the Labour party when in opposition calling for military action in Bosnia at an earlier date than that at which it occurred. I do not think that there was much dispute between the parties then about what should be done.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I understand that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was busy running the Home Office and was not present in foreign affairs debates, but I assure him that, for two years, we persisted in demanding more robust action in Bosnia. Preparations on the options available for NATO have been made for some time. We have no intention of publicly announcing in advance what those options might be to prepare President Milosevic, but we have been preparing them. That is in stark contrast to the way in which the previous Government spent years before they finally geared themselves up to intervening in Bosnia.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

I do not think that we want to turn this into a debate on Bosnia, although I am happy to do so. I am talking about Kosovo, which is a serious problem. It was mentioned by the Foreign Secretary in this debate. It is astonishing that we were told at the end of last week that NATO might have its options on military action ready by the end of this month. Given the time that we have had to anticipate the difficulties that have arisen in Kosovo, that is an extraordinary state of affairs, and those who are responsible for it have a good deal to explain.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman on the elegance of his language, but we should not allow our admiration for that to conceal the fact that he has not shared with the House his proposals on Kosovo.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

I would dearly like to see the NATO options, as I am sure would the hon. and learned Gentleman. Alas, I have not seen them. Clearly, several steps could be taken. I hope that we will have a proper opportunity to discuss the matter and that the Foreign Secretary will come to the House to make a statement on it. We can then have an informed discussion. I hope that we will be told a little more about how he intends to proceed.

Let consider how the achievements of the presidency match up to its promises and examine the key areas, the themes set out by the Prime Minister six months ago. First, there is economic reform. Has a single job been created as a result of action taken by the UK presidency? Has even one of the 18 million people unemployed across the European Union benefited from the rhetoric of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary? Unemployment in the UK is 6.4 per cent. That is still too high, but in Germany it stands at 11.4 per cent., in Belgium and France at 11.9 per cent., in Italy at 12 per cent. and in Spain at 19.6 per cent.

Even the Minister without Portfolio, speaking in Florence on one of his many forays into the Foreign Secretary's territory, recognised that job creation is the most difficult of all the issues that Europe faces. How can Labour speak with any authority on the subject when it embraces the job-destroying social chapter of the Maastricht treaty and when one of its close socialist allies in France sees the answer to the crippling unemployment from which it suffers in a 35-hour week?

What of the cost and waste of the Common Agricultural Policy which continue to grow year by year? Those were the words used by the Prime Minister when he launched the UK presidency in December. Not a word passed the Foreign Secretary's lips this evening about the CAP. There is no progress to report on the CAP, but the Foreign Secretary promised that its reform would be one of the key themes of the presidency. He said: We need a reformed CAP which gives a better deal all round—fair prices for consumers, flexibility for farmers, protection for the environment. We all agree, but the CAP collapsed after the first meeting and member states have so far failed to find a common position to negotiate. Even the Foreign Secretary could not bring himself to claim that as one of the achievements of his presidency. CAP reform is buried in the small print of the half-term report.

What of enlargement? Labour's general election manifesto called it "a high priority". The Foreign Secretary said that getting it off to a good start was the step that will have the biggest impact on the shape of the European Union into the next century. I agree. We regard enlargement of the European Union as the historic mission of our generation, but what evidence is there of progress?

The Prime Minister of Finland said that enlargement is looking more problematic than it did a year ago. The truth is that we are going backwards, not forwards, in terms of progress on enlargement. Relations between the European Union and Turkey are at an all-time low. The Foreign Secretary completely failed in his efforts to persuade Turkey to attend the annual European Union-Turkey association meeting, yet he says that he is not disappointed. One shudders to imagine what would have to happen before he confessed himself discouraged.

The Cardiff summit will not be first European Union summit over which the Prime Minister has presided. He presided over the summit on economic and monetary union at the beginning of May, to which the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) referred. The Prime Minister's performance there did not receive rave notices. The Prime Minister of Luxembourg concluded that the summit proceedings were "absolutely shameful". The Italian Prime Minister, an ally in the Party of European Socialists, said that the Prime Minister was ill prepared for the negotiations".

The Austrian Chancellor, another ally in the Party of European Socialists, said that there were people much more experienced than he who said they had never seen anything like it. He added: We have now learnt how not to organise a summit. That is the reality of the performance of the UK presidency, not the fantasy world into which the Foreign Secretary took us in his speech.

Nowhere has the gap between the Government's rhetoric and reality been greater than in the humiliation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer over the Euro X committee only a few days ago.

Photo of Dr Alan Williams Dr Alan Williams Labour, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman concede that, at the end of the day, a successful euro will be launched on 1 January next year with 11 member countries? One shudders to think what would have happened if the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) had been president at the Brussels summit.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

I do not agree. The truth is that the Prime Minister went to that summit pledged to ensure that there was no fudge and no fiddle. What happened was fudge and fiddle on a grand scale. It was fudge and fiddle not only in allowing member states that did not begin to comply with the criteria set out at Maastricht to join the single currency but in what was described by the hon. Member for Swansea, East as the fracas over the presidency of the central bank. To claim that summit as a success is to fly in the face of the facts, and it will convince no one.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow

The right hon. and learned Gentleman and his party have made much about the convergence of Belgium and Italy on the key criteria. I think that that is a fig leaf for attacking the single currency in principle. Had the Conservative party won the general election, and had you been in power at the summit, would you—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must try to use the correct parliamentary language.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow

My apologies, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Had the Conservative party been in government at that summit and succeeded in negotiating the exclusion of Belgium and Italy, would the right hon. and learned Gentleman have been satisfied to proceed with the single currency on the basis of nine nations?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

Of course. It has never been the view of my party that, if other member states wish to proceed with the single currency in accordance with the criteria set out in the Maastricht treaty, they should not do so. Of course they are perfectly entitled to do so. All that we would have insisted on would have been a firm application of the Maastricht criteria. They were set out in that treaty and they should have been observed. The Prime Minister said that he would ensure that they were observed, yet he did not. That is not likely to be conducive to the success of the single currency.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I would not dream of pressing the right hon. and learned Gentleman to tell us the circumstances in which he would join. My question is much more modest. He chides the Government for having taken too long at that particular summit meeting. Will he give the House some estimate of how long the meeting would have been had he been chairing it and telling a number of those countries that qualified that they could not take part?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

The Foreign Secretary is entirely wrong. I never mentioned the length of the meeting. The criticisms of the way in which the meeting was conducted go far deeper than its length. That is made perfectly clear in the quotations that I have cited. The right hon. Gentleman does not need to take it from me. If the Austrian Chancellor says that this was an example of how a summit should not be run, he should be listened to with some respect.

I understand why that little flurry of interventions was designed to divert the attention of the House from the Euro X committee. It was the committee over which the Prime Minister fought such a public battle last year. As usual, he claimed a great victory. He said that he had got exactly what he wanted, that we would not be excluded from the committee's meetings and that all his aims had been achieved. What happened? When the Chancellor of the Exchequer turned up to chair the meeting, he was allowed to stay for an hour and then he was asked to leave. He was not even invited to dinner. Officials of the European Commission referred to him as a "gatecrasher".

That humiliation is the reality behind all the Government's claims to be leading in Europe. That is the reward for all those sacrifices of our sovereignty at Amsterdam. That is the background against which the Cardiff summit will take place.

In the past couple of days, we have witnessed an attempt by Chancellor Kohl and President Chirac to hijack the agenda for the summit. We have seen the patronising text of their letter to the boy Blair. We have seen how, under cover of lip service to subsidiarity, they make calls for further moves towards political union.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman recall that, regularly over the past 10 years, the Christian Democrat leaders in Germany and the Socialist or Gaullist leaders in France have issued joint communiques prior to virtually every European summit, whether it was held in this or in another country? For example, President Mitterrand issued joint communiques with Chancellor Kohl. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that that is a regular occurrence?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

It is a regular occurrence, but if the hon. Gentleman looks back under previous documents of this kind, he will find that the tone is somewhat different. I want to draw attention to the way in which in this document, under cover of lip service to subsidiarity, those leaders make calls for further moves towards political union.

May we have an assurance from the Minister of State when he winds up the debate that any such calls at Cardiff for further political integration and union will be resisted? May we have an assurance that one last attempt will be made to achieve the goals of the presidency with which, as I said when we last debated these issues six months ago, we substantially agree? May we have an assurance that, this time, the Prime Minister will make a real effort to rescue the United Kingdom presidency from the ignominy into which it has fallen?

The Cardiff summit should be the crowning glory of the UK presidency. Instead, it is likely to be its farewell whimper. I hope that my forebodings are misplaced. I suspect that they will be amply justified.