European Council

– in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 20th October 2003.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary 3:30 pm, 20th October 2003

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the European Council, which the Prime Minister and I attended last Thursday and Friday—16 and 17 October. I saw the Prime Minister earlier this afternoon. I am pleased to tell the House that he is in very good form and fully recovered from yesterday. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]

At the summit in Brussels, European Union Heads of State and Government had their first substantive discussion of the draft constitutional treaty, focusing on the size of the Commission, the role of the chair of the European Council, changes in the rotating presidency and the weighting of votes after enlargement. The Prime Minister set out the United Kingdom's position in the White Paper that was published to the House on 9 September.

The Council discussed the European economy and agreed a number of measures to encourage growth. I have placed a copy of the conclusions in the Library. They stress the European Union's commitment to structural reform, flexibility of capital and labour markets, and innovation and investment in research and development. But between now and the spring Council on the European economy, work needs to begin to reform European competition policy; to make the new system of regulatory assessment work effectively; and to take forward the ideas of the recent report by a leading economist, Professor Andre Sapir, on how the EU budget can better be focused on economic reform priorities. That agenda remains a high priority for the Government. We are working closely with the Irish Government who, as the EU presidency, will chair the economic summit in the spring.

The European Council discussed defence at a Heads of State and Government dinner. The EU has mounted two European security and defence policy military operations this year, both with UK contributions. In March, an EU-led military mission took over from NATO in the stabilisation role in Macedonia and in June the EU deployed troops to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to support UN activity there. Both operations followed the approach agreed by the Prime Minister and President Chirac in launching the European security and defence policy initiative at St. Malo in 1998—that is, that the EU will act militarily only

"where the Alliance as a whole is not engaged".

In Macedonia, NATO has decided to terminate its mission and to support an EU successor force through the Berlin-plus arrangements. In the case of the DRC, the EU decided to deploy a force after consultation with NATO and once it was clear that NATO did not intend to engage militarily in that area.

It obviously makes sense for EU nations to strengthen Europe's contribution to the alliance and to enable Europe to act in circumstances where NATO does not want to. However, it would not make sense, and it is unacceptable to us, for the EU unrealistically to aspire to provide a territorial defence commitment for Europe. That must be a matter for NATO. Three years ago, at Nice, the European Council recognised, in approving the permanent arrangements for ESDP, that

"NATO remains the basis of the collective defence of its members".

The Government believe in a strong Europe and a strong NATO. Our leading role in ESDP has been based on those twin commitments, which are widely shared across the enlarging European Union and the Atlantic alliance and will be at the heart of the development of ESDP in the intergovernmental conference and beyond.

Let me turn now to Iraq. The European Council welcomed the unanimous decision of United Nations Security Council resolution 1511 on Iraq on 16 October. Its successful passage by 15 votes to nil reflects weeks of intensive negotiations, and is a great testament to the tireless work of the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell.

The resolution sets a deadline of 15 December, by when the Iraqi interim governing council should provide a timeline and a programme leading to an Iraqi constitution, and to democratic elections. We want to give control of Iraq back to its people as soon as is possible and practicable. Iraqi Ministers are already heavily involved in much of the country's day-to-day business, and they will be more involved in the weeks and months ahead.

The new resolution, 1511, confirms the United Nations' central role and encourages its member states and international bodies to support the reconstruction of Iraq. The next step will be the Madrid donors' conference, to be held at the end of this week, at which the United Kingdom will pledge a further £300 million in assistance over two years. Together with money already committed, this will bring the UK's assistance for the three years from April 2003 to £550 million. That is on top of the very substantial contribution that we are making through our commitment of British troops.

The security situation, especially in the Baghdad area, is not satisfactory, but since Saddam's downfall the coalition has made huge efforts to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure. Power generation is now exceeding pre-war averages. Last week, oil production reached 2 million barrels per day for the first time since military operations ceased. Nearly all schools and hospitals are open. Iraq has a new currency, banks have reopened and businesses are coming back to life. Security sector reform remains a key focus for the coalition, and the challenge is to put Iraqis in charge. Iraq now has 40,000 police, and this number will rise to 70,000 within a year. The first battalions of the new Iraqi army have graduated. Training for additional Iraqi military continues, and there is now an independent judiciary.

The Prime Minister asked particularly that I emphasise his personal tribute to United Kingdom servicemen and women, to other UK personnel and to other coalition partners, who are working selflessly in difficult and dangerous circumstances for the good of the Iraqi people. Much still needs to be done, but much is now being achieved.

The European Council also discussed Iran, and again urged the Iranian Government to co-operate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Resolving the doubts surrounding Iran's nuclear programme is a matter of grave concern to the European Union and to the wider international community. Immediately after making this statement I will travel to Tehran to join my French and German counterparts, Dominique de Villepin and Joschka Fischer, for talks on that issue, at the Iranian Government's invitation. We will press on the Iranians the urgent need for compliance with all of the requirements of the resolution passed last month by the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors. This means that we shall seek full co-operation and transparency to enable the IAEA to resolve outstanding questions, and we shall press the Iranians on key issues raised by the resolution. These include early signature, ratification and implementation of an additional protocol to Iran's existing safeguards agreement, and the suspension of all enrichment and reprocessing activities.

The European Council considered the worsening situation in the middle east and condemned the intensification of suicide attacks and other violence, in particular the attack that killed three United States citizens in the Gaza strip on 15 October. The Union again called on the Palestinian Authority to do all that it could to fight against extremist violence. It also expressed particular concern over the route of the so-called "security fence." Apart from the humanitarian and economic hardship that this project is already bringing to many Palestinians, it could also make the two-state solution, which is the Security Council's policy, impossible to implement.

Let me now return to the question of the intergovernmental conference. We shall work hard to achieve a successful outcome under the Italian presidency this year, and we are very grateful to the leadership of the Italian Government in these negotiations. [Hon. Members: "Keep a straight face, Jack."] We had a very happy time in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

The draft constitutional treaty is designed to improve the way in which the European Union will work after enlargement, by reform, by clarification and by consolidation, as everyone who has bothered to read the document, rather than the transcriptions provided by Conservative central office, knows. The claims made by the Opposition and others that the treaty would undermine Britain's independence are, frankly, absurd. They are, in truth, not arguments against the draft treaty or anything in it, but as Mr. Clarke pointed out in an excellent pamphlet earlier this week, they are arguments against British membership of the European Union itself. The logic of those on the Conservative Front Bench, and of some, but by no means all, other Opposition Members, would be to take Britain out of the European Union altogether, and the British people need to know that.

The European constitutional treaty has to be based on independent sovereign nation states co-operating, not on some federal superstate—and so it will be. A constitutional treaty embodying those principles will contribute to a strong and successful European Union. That is essential for our economic prosperity and our security, and for Europe's stability. We believe that this patriotic approach is in the interests of this country, and I strongly recommend it to the House.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement, and for giving me advance sight of it. We fully understand why the Prime Minister cannot be here today, and we are delighted to hear that he is fully restored to good health again. I wish the Foreign Secretary well in his trip to Iran; it is an important trip and we hope that he succeeds in making some progress.

The summit was wide ranging, and we have heard the Foreign Secretary's report on many of the important issues, such as the reform of capital and labour markets. I regret, however, that the Lisbon agenda is apparently still regarded as "an abstract idea", and was not substantially advanced at the Council. I very much share the concern that the Foreign Secretary expressed about the situation in the middle east, and I hope that the Government will provide time for us to debate that important issue as soon as possible.

On Iraq, we welcome the new United Nations resolution, and we agree that there should now be a realistic schedule for handing over political responsibility to the Iraqis. Has the Foreign Secretary a date in mind?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, however, the real interest in this Council was in the more fundamental issues that were discussed by the Prime Minister in the margins. Those issues go to the heart of our relationship with the European Union, which is, I suspect, why the Foreign Secretary spent so little of his statement dealing with those issues, and so much of it dealing with other issues not concerning Europe.

It is time for the Government to start being honest about Europe. On Friday the Prime Minister told the media:

"take it from me, there is nothing we are going to agree here that's going to put at risk any of the key red lines".

Take it from him? Why should we take it from him? We took it from him three years ago when he told us that a constitution was not necessary. Now he tells us that it is. We took it from him when he told us that the charter of fundamental rights would not be legally binding. Now we are told that it will be. So why should we take anything from him, or from his Foreign Secretary, now?

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned European defence. In February 2001, President Bush told the press that the Prime Minister had assured him that

"the European Defence would in no way undermine NATO . . . that there would be a joint command and that planning would take place within NATO".

Yet in Berlin last month it was reported in Der Spiegel that the Prime Minister had agreed with his French and German counterparts—[Interruption.] That was supposed to be a minute of the meeting that was held; let the Foreign Secretary deny it if it was not. It said that the Prime Minister and his French and German counterparts agreed that

"the EU must be able to plan and conduct operations without the backing of NATO assets and NATO capability".

No wonder that over the weekend the United States has expressed outrage, with its NATO ambassador Burns describing this as

"one of the greatest dangers to the transatlantic relationship".

The United States obviously does not share the view of that policy set out today by the Foreign Secretary.

So what is the Government's current policy? I presume that they are setting it out at the convened emergency meeting of NATO, which the Americans felt was necessary in the circumstances today. Apparently that policy is not what it was two years ago. Does the Foreign Secretary deny that structured co-operation under article 213 of the draft European constitution will undermine any UK veto over EU military planning? Is that not why the Prime Minister supported Chancellor Schroeder and President Chirac in Berlin last month?

What will be the effect of the constitution on our relationship with the EU? The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have told us time and again that it does not involve fundamental change. How does that square with Joschka Fischer's description of it as "historic" and

"the most important treaty since the formation of the EEC"?

Closer to home, the Chancellor of the Exchequer wrote in The Wall Street Journal last Thursday that the

"new constitutional debate—is Europe's most significant political change for decades."

Why are the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary so apparently out of line with their colleagues? Does the Foreign Secretary agree with his French counterpart, Mr. de Villepin, who said last night that, if Europe wants to hold its own in the world, it must have

"its own foreign policy . . . That is what the draft Constitution provides for. The appointment of a European Foreign Minister, together with the creation of a European defence policy"?

He went on to say:

"Ours must be a political Union".

Is not that, in a nutshell, what the draft constitution is about, and would it not be better if the Government came clean and began to admit it? Why do they alone pretend that this is, to quote an official this week,

"simply a consolidation of existing treaties"?

How stupid do they think the British people are? Why will they not have the courage to let the people decide?

Why will the Foreign Secretary not accept the French Prime Minister's advice that

"it will be necessary to have a referendum to ratify the European Constitution", or President Chirac's comment that a referendum

"would be the only legitimate way"?

Why will the Government not follow Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Denmark and Ireland in trusting their voters? Why are the Government so frightened of the British people? The Foreign Secretary should promise them a referendum today.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the Prime Minister and for his best wishes for my trip to Iran. I shall, of course, make my report to the House as quickly as I can. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the possibility of having a debate in Government time on the middle east. Personally, I accept that case, but he knows that it is a matter of the allocation of time and should be dealt with through the usual channels.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about a date for handing over power in Iraq. Resolution 1511 provides a clear date—15 December—by which the governing council, in consultation with the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the coalition provisional authority, should produce its own time scale for developing a draft constitution and a handover of power. We await those proposals. We felt that it was important that, rather than imposing a time scale on the most representative body in Iraq today, it would be better to encourage that body to come up with its own time scale in two months' time. It is bound to be discussed both with the Secretary-General's representative and with us before being reported to the Security Council.

The right hon. Gentleman made several points about the draft constitution. He dismissed all the other issues that were discussed as somehow "not concerning Europe". However, my statement today properly reflected the balance of discussion in the European Council between economic reform, foreign and security policy and the intergovernmental conference. I know that the right hon. Gentleman and some of his Front-Bench colleagues are absolutely obsessed with the issue of the draft constitution, but I have to say that the rest of us are not, and nor are the British people.

The simple fact remains that, however one analyses the draft constitution, it does not represent any fundamental shift in the balance of the relationship between ourselves and the EU. If anything, as the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues in the House of Lords European Scrutiny Committee pointed out, it shifts the balance back towards member states. Moreover, again on any analysis, as a former distinguished Conservative Home Secretary, Lord Howe, pointed out in a debate in the House of Lords, the treaty of Maastricht and the Single European Act of 1986 involved far more significant changes than does the proposed draft constitution.

The right hon. Gentleman professed shock and horror at the idea of the creation of a European defence policy. [Interruption.] He is muttering about the American ambassador, Mr. Nicholas Burns, who is an excellent man. I believe that I probably know more about Mr. Burns' views than does the right hon. Gentleman. I also recall in exquisite detail, as will others who were Members of Parliament in 1992, that the right hon. Gentleman made a terrific speech, banging the drum against a referendum on Maastricht and fully in favour of every last dot and comma of the treaty. The treaty states—[Interruption.] He should listen to this, because this is what he supported. It states that the Union shall aim

"to assert its identity on the international scene, in particular through the implementation of a common foreign and security policy including the eventual framing of a common defence policy, which might in time lead to a common defence".

That is what the right hon. Gentleman signed up to in 1992. I have heard him say nothing in the endless debates that we have had to resile from that. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, that policy was enthused and inspired by none other than Baroness Thatcher, who wrote a terrific, ground-breaking pamphlet for presentation to the European Council held at Fontainebleau on 25 and 26 June 1984, in which she said:

"The objective should be the progressive attainment of a common external policy."

The right hon. Gentleman is trying to create a confection about what is in this draft treaty. He claims that it will lead to the creation of a superstate and the end of civilisation as we know it, but that is exactly what Mr. Hague said, when he was the Leader of the Opposition, about Nice. In statement after statement, he claimed that Nice would lead to a superstate and that we should have a referendum. We did not have a referendum and Nice is now in force. Where is the superstate? The right hon. Member for Devizes did not even mention Nice.

Time and again, we hear confection and invention from the right hon. Gentleman. He dared to quote my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but he misquoted him. In his excellent article in the The Wall Street Journal, my right hon. Friend did not say that Europe's new constitutional debate is Europe's most significant political change for decades. In fact, he said:

"The enlargement of Europe—ending centuries of European division and the catalyst for Europe's new constitutional debate—is Europe's most significant political change for decades."

That is a completely different statement, and my right hon. Friend was right in what he said. The time to be honest on Europe, to coin a phrase, is the time for the Conservative party to be honest about its policy. If it ever got a chance to lead this country, it would move inexorably towards detaching Britain from Europe and setting this country up as a free trade area—as Mr. Cash, the shadow Attorney-General, has suggested. That would not relieve us of any of the obligations of European Union membership or of paying a higher contribution than many other member states pay, but it would relieve us of any influence, thus damaging British industry, British jobs, British prosperity and British security.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, may I extend our warmest good wishes to the Prime Minister for a complete recovery?

On Iran, I hope that, whatever is said in Washington, the Foreign Secretary will continue with his policy of measured engagement with the Iranian Government, which clearly has support on both sides of the House.

In relation to the middle east, the Foreign Secretary told the House that the meeting of Heads of Government had condemned both the building of the security fence and the continued expansion of settlements, as it has done before. Does he understand, however, that when people throughout the middle east hear of such condemnation, some of them ask what the European Union is prepared to do about either the security fence or the expanding settlements?

No one can take comfort from the crossed wires in recent days over European defence. I was pleased that, in his statement, the Foreign Secretary returned to first principles, but may I suggest for his consideration some other components of such a policy? Surely, it must be right that there should always be complete transparency with NATO if Europe decides to act on its own. Should we not also have a formal right of first refusal for NATO? Should not planning for any European operation be from within NATO by officials with twin responsibilities—double-hatted, in the jargon? Must we not also go to considerable lengths to avoid the duplication and decoupling foreshadowed by Madeleine Albright several years ago? Is not there a risk that, however well intentioned alternative structures may be, once they come into existence they may engender rivalries?

In the course of the happy times that the Foreign Secretary enjoyed in Brussels, did he have discussions with Heads of Government who were intending to hold a referendum in their countries even though they were not constitutionally obliged to do so? If our Government are so confident that they will have a good case, why not put the IGC proposals to a referendum so that the Foreign Secretary and I, and many other Members, can make a reinvigorated case for Europe throughout the whole of the United Kingdom?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

On the right hon. and learned Gentleman's last point, I detect a certain amount of variation in the Liberals' approach. Sometimes they say that they are wholly in favour of a referendum; sometimes they say that they may or may not have one, depending on whether it would represent a fundamental shift in the balance of power between ourselves and the EU. With respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, it is important even for the Liberal Democrats to have a principle, and to follow it, for referendums as for other issues.

It is rather difficult to define that principle at present, given the fact that certainly neither we nor—as far as I can remember—the Liberals called for a referendum on the Single European Act. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, we do not dispute the case for a referendum in certain circumstances; indeed, we have provided for a referendum in certain circumstances, compared with the Conservative party which has always set itself against that. In our judgment, we should provide a referendum where the issue is whether to join or leave a completely new institution, or where a major constitutional issue is at stake, for example, in respect of the euro.

I am grateful for what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said about Iran. On the middle east, there is a fair amount of concern not only about the situation but also about the lack of power that the European Union or any individual actor, including the United States, has over that desperate situation, which will continue as long as the rejectionist terrorist groups continue to try to blow up the peace process. The EU is a major player in the Quartet, along with the United States, the United Nations and the Russian Federation. Back in June, there was great hope, but not at present. There are many reasons for that, but the key reason is the rejectionist terrorist groups which set about killing innocent Israelis and which, in doing so, are blowing up the whole prospect of the road map for the time being.

On defence, I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman about the need for transparency. That is why we welcome the debate that is taking place in NATO this afternoon. There is a hierarchy in military planning. It is not formally established in treaty but it has been followed and we want it to continue to be followed: NATO first, then the Berlin-plus arrangements, which are operated by EU member states or others, making use of NATO assets, and thirdly, wholly autonomous operations. It is not the case that military planning is currently done only in NATO: for some time, EU military staff based in Cortenberg have carried out strategic planning. That should continue—it is fine by us—but the issue for us is that there is no case for having operational planning and the running of operations per se in an EU headquarters, separate either from Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, SHAPE, or from national headquarters. We are pursuing that point, and nothing that we have done so far, or will do, is in any sense inconsistent with that approach.

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Labour, Caerphilly

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his very positive statement, but in his future negotiations with our partners in Europe will he stress the need to uphold the principle of subsidiarity? In particular, will he argue for a stronger role for national Parliaments in the European decision-making structure?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Yes. My hon. Friend may be aware that, thanks to the good work of our hon. Friend Ms Stuart in chairing the working party on national Parliaments, on page 150 of Command Paper 5897, as every hon. Member will recall, a protocol on the role of national Parliaments provides that any draft legislation—the protocol on subsidiarity and proportionality is on page 152—has to be referred to national Parliaments and that, if more than a third of the parliamentary Chambers take an opposite view to the draft legislation, it will be referred back to the Commission. We should like that provision to be strengthened, but I am very clear that this is the first time that any EU constitution has had a mechanism to deliver on subsidiarity. Again, that is contrary to the protestations of those in the Conservative party. They called for it; we have delivered it. We will try to strengthen it, but it is far, far better than what has gone before.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor Conservative, Rochford and Southend East

I very much welcome the Secretary of State's willingness to co-operate in the deputation to Iran, where I think he will find great willingness to co-operate, but does he agree that the one encouraging feature of this very worrying Convention is in title IX, where for the first time in any European treaty we have proposals for the right of voluntary withdrawal? However, it seems that that is, in fact, subject to the majority of the Ministers and the majority of the European Parliament agreeing. Is the right hon. Gentleman willing to try to establish the EU as a democratic organisation by saying that, if the majority of the people of any member state and the majority of the democratic Parliament ask to withdraw they should be allowed to do so?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

One of the good features of all this is that, for the first time, there is provision for member states to withdraw from the EU. The hon. Gentleman is a man whose integrity and honesty has always gone before him, and I assume from what he says that he is tempted to make use of that provision. That is fine; it is his democratic right to propose that we leave the EU. That is a clear position. Costs will follow from it, but he is entitled to his view. However, a credible Opposition—or the current incredible Opposition—are not entitled to say that they want to stay in the EU and to make proposals that are wholly inconsistent with that position.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

Since the level of ministerial responsibility matters nowhere on the planet more than in Tehran, may I express delight that the Foreign Secretary himself is going to Tehran at this critical moment? But would it not be wise to take with him a couple of scientists from BNFL Sellafield or Risley to consider the matter of the suspension, as he puts it in his statement,

"of all enrichment and reprocessing activities", which would cause some difficulty, because determining whether there is weapons use or legitimate civil use is a very technical matter? Will he also bear in mind what my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield said on "The World Tonight" last night about the feeling in Tehran about Argentine extradition? Might it not be wise to take some silver-tongued lawyer who could explain the difficulties?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I am not sure whether the new Member for Chesterfield is yet on the Privy Council. I assume that my hon. Friend is referring to our close friend the former Member for Chesterfield, Tony Benn.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Oh, my hon. Friend Mr. Illsley—Barnsley, my father's birthplace, is somewhere different. Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee are out in Tehran at the moment, and I look forward to seeing them tomorrow.

On the last point that my hon. Friend made, which I think was a reference to the Soleimanpour case, he will understand that I cannot get involved in discussing that because it is currently before my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary as an extradition matter.

On the wider issues, I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support for this mission, which will be my fifth trip to Tehran in the last two and a half years. Although I will not have with me nuclear scientists from the United Kingdom, we and the Iranians have access to the great expertise of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and France, Germany and ourselves, in co-operation with our other international partners, have been anxious to complement the IAEA's assessment and not to get in the way of it in any sense. I am pleased to say that as a result of our co-operation with Dr. El-Baradei of the IAEA our trip has his full support.

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury)

After statements from the Treasury that the Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot accept article I.14 of the draft treaty relating to the co-ordination of economic and employment policy, will the Foreign Secretary say what success the Prime Minister has had in negotiating its removal or amendment?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

There is no surprise in the position adopted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as it was well laid out in the White Paper that I published on 9 September. That specific issue has not yet been the subject of formal negotiation in the intergovernmental conference, either at Heads of Government level or Foreign Minister level, although the Italian presidency and the Council secretariat are well aware of our views.

Photo of Mr Alan Howarth Mr Alan Howarth Labour, Newport East

In the European Council's consideration of how to get better economic growth in Europe, was serious consideration given to reform of the stability and growth pact to get rid of the deflationary bias that has existed in European policy for many years?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

As I recall, that was not specifically on the agenda at the summit, but it is certainly under active consideration.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister

I know that the Foreign Secretary will have seen the British press this morning, but has he seen the French press? Although my translation may not be 100 per cent. accurate, is it true that Dominique de Villepin said that the constitution will lead to fundamental changes in the integrity and sovereignty of the different nation states? Will Her Majesty the Queen now become a citizen of the EU, and will we, as I presume, have a new ultimate Head of State? Surely the British people ought to have the final say on that with a referendum.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

On this wonderfully wacky story that the European Union is going to take over Her Majesty and the British monarchy, let me reassure the hon. Gentleman and other Opposition Members who are having nightmares about it that it is simply not true. Six other European member states are monarchies, and I have never heard any of them suggest that their monarchies would be affected, and nor will ours.

As for Dominique de Villepin, it is not necessary to read the French press, because he gave the Dimbleby lecture in English. I will provide the hon. Gentleman with a copy, although it was no doubt good for his French homework.

On the issue of Her Majesty being a citizen, it was Maastricht that provided for European Union citizenship for all British citizens, not the draft constitution.

Photo of Gisela Stuart Gisela Stuart Labour, Birmingham, Edgbaston

When the draft constitution was still a draft, it included a provision that would have prevented the same person from being President of the Commission and President of the Council, but that provision disappeared rather belatedly. Have there been any discussions to reinsert such a provision to prevent the merging of those two offices?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

There have not been any in the formal discussions, but I agree with my hon. Friend that it is extremely important that the two functions are separate, as they reflect the balance of power between the European Council and the European Commission. That separation and balance is one of the reasons why the EU has been as successful as it has been since its formation in 1957.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

In the course of the Council, the Prime Minister ruled out a British referendum on the EU constitution. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that referendums have legitimacy because they are a free and unconstrained expression of public opinion? If a parliamentary vote is to have similar legitimacy, it should be on the basis of a free and unwhipped vote. In the absence of that, surely only a referendum will do.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I welcome the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is shifting the Conservative party's position on this issue. I believe—I thought that this was once the Tory party's view—in the legitimacy of Parliament and the elected House of Commons. I have conceded that there are some cases where referendums are acceptable, but I do not believe—for reasons that we have explained—that one would be appropriate in this case.

As for the whipping of a vote, this is Government business and we should certainly apply a Whip on our side, but I realise that the idea of a seriously whipped vote in the Conservative party is a contradiction in terms.

Photo of Ms Jane Griffiths Ms Jane Griffiths Labour, Reading East

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and, in particular, for highlighting the groundbreaking work being done by EU-led military missions to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Does he agree that the carpers and nitpickers on the Conservative Benches damage British interests by endeavouring to sow dissension on the subject of Europe?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. The fact that the Macedonian operation is taking place in co-operation with NATO and using NATO's assets under Berlin-plus and that the operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is taking place very smoothly with British troops working in support of a French-led operation gives the lie to the nonsense and fantasies that we keep hearing from Conservative Members.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

Given that the subsidiarity and proportionality protocol to which the right hon. Gentleman has already and unsatisfactorily referred imposes no obligation whatsoever on the European Commission to withdraw inappropriate legislative proposals and that many of us are concerned that it will prove to be but a thin cover for the EU's continued legislative imperialism, what discussions has he had over the weekend with his EU counterparts about bolstering subsidiarity to give it the real teeth that the Prime Minister promised to the House as long ago as 18 June 1997, but that the Foreign Secretary admitted on 21 May this year simply has not happened?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

That part of the draft treaty was not discussed formally in the room, but it was a matter for many individual discussions in the margins of the meetings. I do not accept that the protocol on pages 150 and 152 of the draft treaty lacks real teeth, although I accept that it could do with strengthening. It is true that, if the Commission receives back a proposal because a third of the national parliamentary Chambers have said that it should go back, it could in theory send it straight back. However, it must take account of the fact that, if a third of member states' national parliamentary Chambers say that a matter is unacceptable, it is possible—depending on the size of the member states—that the proposal would fail to win a qualified majority vote, which, under these proposals, requires 50 per cent. of member states and 60 per cent. of them by population to vote for it. In any case, that would raise an amber warning.

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman and those on the Opposition Front Bench, but my view is that the concept of federalism in Europe has been and gone. It is very striking that the concept of an ever closer Union has been dropped from this text. [Interruption.] That is true. We got it dropped, and we also got federalism dropped. It has gone.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I am making a serious point. The very fact that there are now 25 states in the Union and that eight of them are new, proud sovereign states that have been released from the yoke of Soviet imperialism means that the shift in the balance of power has been away from the small group of federalists and in favour of those who see the Union, as is very clear from this text, as an association of sovereign member states pooling their sovereignty for the benefit of their individual peoples.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge and Chryston

Were my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister able to discuss with their European colleagues their commitment to developing countries? In the light of the huge disappointment after Cancun, does the Foreign Secretary accept that the European Union is in a strong position to offer a strategy for the elimination of global poverty, and that his lead, as well as that of the Department for International Development, means that we in Britain can offer a positive contribution in that regard?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

We did indeed discuss the failure at Cancun, and the concern of the European Council is highlighted in paragraph 40 of the Council's conclusions from last Friday. We have invited the Commission both to reflect on the European Union's strategy and to explore with key WTO players the possibility of future progress, emphasising that a commitment under the Doha development agenda will be indispensable to any successful resumption of negotiations.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

Just as the right hon. Gentleman has learned over the past 20 years that total withdrawal, which he espoused in 1983, is not the right way forward, have we not also learned—if we have learned anything from the subsequent succession of EU treaties and agreements—that the vagueness of the language used in those documents can lead them to be interpreted later to mean something totally different from what we believed them to mean when they were first signed? Will the Foreign Secretary give the House an undertaking that he will ensure that Britain does not agree to a constitution that leaves vagueness within it and allows the possibility of the European Court or Commission deciding at a later stage that any clause of the constitution meant something that countered the red lines that the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister are so committed to achieving?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I take the hon. Gentleman's main point that the looser the language, the more potentially dangerous it is, but that is true of any legislation. We have been scouring the draft treaty for infelicitous language, as well as language that is clear but with which we disagree, and we shall continue to do so.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Of course. I have sought to involve Parliament in these matters—as is its right and duty—to a far greater degree than it has been involved in the past. That is why we have had six debates on the issue, and why we have established the Standing Committee on the Intergovernmental Conference, which is meeting this afternoon at 5 o'clock. I should like to present my apologies, through you, Mr. Speaker, for my inattendance, because I shall be on my way to Tehran. We want suggestions on these matters from both sides of the House.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour/Co-operative, Glasgow Pollok

During the discussions on the economic reform priorities, did the Minister have the opportunity to hear the German Government's proposals to cut pensions? Was the logical conclusion drawn that membership of the euro has enabled Germany to cut its pension system? Does he also regret the section in the third-last paragraph of his speech, in which he suggests that all those who have reservations about the creation of a European superstate are automatically in favour of withdrawal? Does he accept that that is a dishonest statement to make, and that it will not be made by him or any other Government spokesman in future?

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Order. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman is capable of making any dishonest remark in the House. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will withdraw that suggestion.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

On my hon. Friend's first point, I do not have reservations about a European superstate, a federal state—I am against one. However, I think that people should follow the consistency of their own position. My complaint about the Conservative party's position is that, on the one hand, it says that it wants to remain committed to the European Union, while, on the other—as Mr. Clarke has pointed out in an excellent pamphlet—the detailed policies that it is pursuing would take it straight down the road of associate status. The Conservatives should have the courage to spell that out. Norway is in that position, as are one or two other countries. This is not a cost-free approach. I will send my hon. Friend a copy of that pamphlet for his delectation and information.

So far as Germany is concerned, I discussed with Joschka Fischer in the margins why he was not going to be at the European Council. He was going to be in the Bundestag on Friday instead. The matter is for a sovereign nation state to decide. Most German commentators do not blame the euro for the problems facing the German economy, but instead blame far deeper structural and social problems, including a rigidity in their labour market.

Photo of Ms Annabelle Ewing Ms Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party, Perth

The Foreign Secretary will be aware of the draconian proposals on cod stocks announced in Brussels today. The proposals threaten the very existence of the Scottish fishing fleet, which the Foreign Secretary will recognise is a vital Scottish national interest. Have the UK Government now intimated to the EU their intention to resist the constitutional entrenchment of fisheries as an exclusive EU competence, or should we in Scotland accept that the UK Government's claim today that they are pursuing a patriotic approach stops short at the border?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I know that the hon. Lady's party is trying to make a great issue out of that, but it is wrong and she is wrong. Articles I.12 and I.13 of the treaty do not entrench the division between marine biological resources, which is an exclusive competence, and fisheries excluding the conservation of marine biological resources, which is a shared competence. The treaty simply repeats what has been EU law for ever and a day, and the basis on which we joined the Common Market in 1973.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the serious concerns inside the Treasury about the proposed EU constitution. A recent press report quoted an unnamed Treasury insider as suggesting that

"signing the Constitution in its current state is a non-starter. It's littered with Brussels generalities which would leave us at Brussels' mercy. Once signed it's too late."

It also suggests that the Chancellor's

"view is that it should not be signed in its current form."

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor cannot speak for himself—he has other happy family events on at the moment—but is my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary not worried about the Treasury's concerns?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Far from being concerned about what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor says, I agree with him, as I agree with all my Cabinet colleagues, all of whom came together to set out the clear policy statement in the White Paper published on 9 September. I reassure my hon. Friend that the draft constitutional treaty is a starting basis for negotiations; it will not be where the negotiations finish. The draft treaty before the IGC will be put to the national Parliaments of member states, not the draft conventional treaty from the Convention.

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor Conservative, Esher and Walton

The Foreign Secretary will have picked up from the two acerbic comments that we just heard from two of his Back Benchers that the debate on the constitutional treaty will be lively. Those of us who firmly believe in the primacy of the House of Commons believe that this is where we should discuss it.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for endorsing a pamphlet by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke, which I published as chairman of the Tory Europe Network. It is excellent and I agree with it.

On defence, structured co-operation clearly needs to be properly financed. It cannot duplicate NATO resources because, frankly, the European powers by themselves do not have them. Will the Foreign Secretary tell the US ambassador that the US Government's behaviour was one way to undermine NATO when they effectively dismissed triggering article 5 in support of the United States after the events of 9/11? On top of the coalition of the willing, that led to the fragmentation policy pursued by the US against European NATO allies. That simply cannot be allowed to happen if NATO is to hold together and the European powers are to be cohesive with the Americans.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I will decline the hon. Gentleman's specific invitation. There has been considerable tension in some aspects of the transatlantic relationship over the past three years, not so much for us as for other EU member states. I think that there is now a sense that both sides of the debate wish to come together, as was reflected in the position on Iraq that was finally adopted in the Security Council.

As for structured co-operation, which is raised by article I.40.6 of the draft constitution, we accept that that needs to be amended, as does article I.40.7, which currently provides for a defence guarantee among the European Union.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

If Europe does not ratify the treaty that emerges from the draft, presumably we will fall back on Nice and the preceding treaties, together with the process of enlargement having taken place. With the greatest respect to my right hon. Friend, it seems to me that that would be a lawyers' paradise. How does he think that that would impact on the cost base of the enlarged European Union?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

My hon. Friend is right to say that unless and until any draft treaty is ratified by all 25 member states, Nice and the predecessor treaties will apply. They will in any case apply for a period preceding ratification, which will be a long and complex process. That is not the end of the world. This emphasises my point about the treaty, which is that it, too, is not the end of the world. We happen to think that it is an improvement on the existing four overlaying and slightly incoherent treaties.

I cannot give my hon. Friend a precise idea of the cost, but I can say that this area of law will continue to be complicated and will provide an honest living for some of my friends who are still practising law for some time to come.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

On the subject of economic structural reform, when will the Government introduce the higher taxes on home ownership in Britain that they think are necessary to prepare the way for the euro?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

The right hon. Gentleman obviously missed an excellent interview on this morning's "Today" programme with one of the Treasury Ministers—

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend Ruth Kelly, made an emphatic denial on behalf of the Chancellor.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

The Foreign Secretary has been instrumental in binding together the European Union around a shared foreign policy on Iran, which is obviously paying significant dividends at this critical point. Does not that show that, often, the only way in which Britain can pursue its national interest on the world stage is by bringing the whole of the EU together around a shared foreign policy? Does my right hon. Friend still hope to see significant changes to article I.40, so that there is less ambiguity about the relationship with NATO?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

We want changes in article I.40, not least in respect of I.40.7 and I.40.6, and the articles in part III that it triggers, as I have already explained. My response to my hon. Friend's first point is straightforward: of course we can do things by ourselves, but working in alliance with the United States and with our European partners—not seeing those as alternatives, but with the alliance with the United States complementing and strengthening our alliance with our European partners—we can do so much more good in the world and be so much more effective in pursuing our British foreign policy.

Photo of Hugh Robertson Hugh Robertson Opposition Whip (Commons)

In purely practical terms, what difference would the European security and defence policy, once implemented, have made to operations in Afghanistan or Iraq?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

In Afghanistan, it might have made a difference, because some of the arrangements might have been operated under ESDP arrangements. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the International Security and Assistance Force is now under NATO command. It is not impossible to foresee circumstances in which part of the NATO command in a large country is made subject to sub-arrangements of an ESDP type.

On Iraq, Europe was split. Europe is an association of sovereign nation states, each of which sets its own foreign policy. Sometimes there is a split, and that will continue even if every last word of the current draft is passed, because it is an intergovernmental matter. However, where we can do so it surely makes sense for Europe to work together on defence, as we are doing in the Balkans and in the Congo and as we may do in future. It is the responsibility of European member states to recognise the phenomenal humiliation of what happened in the Balkans in the mid-1990s, for example. We should have faced up to our responsibilities then and we should do so in future. Orders of the Day