European Council

Part of Church Commissioners – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 18th December 2006.

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Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary 3:31 pm, 18th December 2006

First, to pick up on what the right hon. Gentleman said about Turkey, I recognise and much appreciate the common ground in the House on that issue. On the relationships between Turkey and the Republic of Cyprus, he may be aware that one of the declarations—the presidential statement that accompanied the Council conclusions—has encouraged a return to the United Nations process to begin to resolve some of the issues. I sincerely hope that that will indeed be successful.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the need for greater flexibility as the European Union becomes larger, and I agree with that, but he also spoke about what he was reluctant to call the passerelle on justice and home affairs issues. I am not aware of the statement that he quoted from a Government spokesman. I simply repeat what we have said to him before: there is flexibility on this issue in existing treaties and we do not rule out, as a matter of principle, ever exercising such flexibility. Certainly there are no proposals at present to which we are particularly attracted, but given that that flexibility is in existing treaties, it would be a mistake automatically to rule out its use. We would discuss and consider issues on their merits and make a decision on that basis. I feel confident that this will be an ongoing exchange, but I remind the right hon. Gentleman yet again that no Labour Government have given up the principle of the veto—that was done under Lady Thatcher.

On asylum, we understand the right hon. Gentleman's concern. We are anxious to preserve the right kind of flexibility on the issue, certainly in the United Kingdom, where we believe that that can be achieved. I share his view that the European Union should increasingly concentrate on areas where it adds value. He touched on the emissions trading scheme, and I hope that the House is aware that the United Kingdom is the only member state to have its proposals for the next round of the emissions trading scheme accepted. Everyone else was told that their proposals were not sufficiently stringent, so we are making progress and are heading in the right direction. I share his view that we must look at our wider policies, including the common agricultural policy, if we are to deal with global poverty, not least through trade.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman says that the constitutional treaty is dead, but in my first debate on the subject as Foreign Secretary, we had an interesting theological discussion in which my hon. Friend Chris Bryant, who happily is present this afternoon, defined the treaty, theologically and very accurately, as being in limbo, on the grounds that that was the place for the unborn. That is certainly incontestable. As to bringing things back, whether through the front or back door, there is no suggestion that we would do any such thing, but we will see what proposals are put forward.