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I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the matter of European affairs.
I am sure that Mr. Heathcoat-Amory will have tempted many Members with his suggestion that the debate be abandoned, and I am sorry to see some hon. Members taking up his suggestion immediately, but I, for one, am pleased to open this traditional pre-European Council debate. The agenda for this year's December European Council reflects the preoccupations of Europe's citizens: the global economic crisis and the European Union's role in addressing it; the challenge of climate change and the need for European leadership in promoting the twin goals of lower carbon emissions and increased energy security; and the modern threats to security and the role of the European Union in addressing the root causes of conflict and its symptoms.
That agenda is welcome. It reflects the Government's belief that after years of institutional negotiation, it is time for the EU to look outward, to recognise that the major threats that its citizens face are global, and to respond to them. Let me start on the subject of the economic situation. Today perhaps more than ever, the prospects for the UK economy are affected by the policy choices being made in other countries.
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The Foreign Secretary failed to mention something in his review of the agenda, and is now going on to the subject of the UK economy. Can he tell the House a little about what might happen on
I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but the minutes of that decision have not yet been published on the Danish Parliament website. He will have to wait until the
The G20 meeting in Washington last month was an important step in securing a decisive and systematic international response to the economic crisis. Governments around the world have recognised that a globally co-ordinated stimulus, in terms of both monetary and fiscal policy, represents the best response to the current crisis. The managing director of the International Monetary Fund has said:
"If there has ever been a time in modern economic history when fiscal policy and a fiscal stimulus should be used, it's now."
President-elect Obama said on Sunday:
"We've got to make sure that the economic stimulus plan is large enough to get the economy moving."
The place where this stimulus matters most to the UK is in the rest of Europe—
Not in the middle of my sentence, but if the hon. Gentleman waits I am happy to help him.
The place where this stimulus matters most to the UK is the rest of Europe, because Europe remains our most important export market and the home for the largest portion of overseas investment in the UK. As the world's largest single market, the European Union has the potential to set the tone for the rest of the world's response. It is therefore absolutely in our interests that EU member states act together.
No, it is not for the reason given by my hon. Friend. She was not invited to the meeting, because it was a meeting with the president of the European Council—President Sarkozy of France—and the President of the European Commission. In the same way, Mrs. Merkel could have meetings with the president of the European Council—President Sarkozy—and Mr. Barroso.
The Foreign Secretary has rightly mentioned the economic climate. What effect does he believe that it will have on the principles and decisions in the Lisbon agenda? Are the Government still committed to the benchmarks that were agreed at Lisbon?
I can absolutely assure my right hon. Friend that the principles that were set out remain very important, and we want to develop them. As I shall explain, there is a particularly important discussion to be had about whether the current crisis is a reason to rein back the open markets that have been an important feature of European growth or whether the lesson is that free trade and a further renewal of the Doha trade round is in our interests and that this is precisely the time at which we should open up our economies rather than close them down.
If hon. Members will allow me to make progress, I am happy to accept their interventions in a moment.
The European Council offers an important opportunity to take forward European co-ordination on the basis of the Commission's European economic recovery plan, which was published on
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make this point, I shall give way to him afterwards.
In fact, it is plain common sense that during an economic downturn it is not just we who need economic stimulus but the rest of Europe. It is common sense to kick-start the economy through fiscal stimulus while setting out clear plans to ensure fiscal sustainability over the medium term. The European Commission therefore advocates VAT reductions and the front-loading of public expenditure; extra help for the most vulnerable and low earners; and, importantly, because we need to prepare for the upturn as well as protect ourselves in the downturn, support for small businesses, enhancing access to finance, ensuring prompt payment, and improving public procurement for small and medium-sized enterprises. Those are all sensible proposals. Far from being a spending splurge, they are the right response to the economic downturn. I promised to give way to Mr. Cash, and I shall do so.
Following on from the point made by Angus Robertson, does the Foreign Secretary agree that the real reason why Angela Merkel could not come to that meeting is that she takes a completely different view of the pre-Budget report? Indeed, she believes that it is essential that we have proper balancing of the accounts, not the kind of wild extravagance to which the Foreign Secretary referred. Will he just tell us what the Government's position is, and stop nodding his head? Will he tell us the position with regard to the statement today by the Irish Foreign Minister regarding the Irish vote and the deal that was obviously entered into by the Government to betray the British—
I shall answer the part of the question before the abuse started by giving the hon. Gentleman the figures on fiscal stimulus around Europe. He cited 1.5 per cent. of GDP stimulus in this country. The figure is 1.3 per cent. of GDP in France and more than 1 per cent. of GDP in 2009 and 2010 in Germany. The idea that the German Government are standing against the sort of stimulus that is being practised in this country is frankly nonsense.
Notwithstanding the Foreign Secretary's last comments, is it not the case that Chancellor Merkel has not signed up to the Government's borrowing binge? Is that a failure of the Prime Minister's fiscal policy or of the Foreign Secretary's diplomatic skills, or is it both?
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman formulated the question before I gave the figures in answering the hon. Member for Stone—he is an honest enough man to blush at the fact that he has been caught red-handed. The German figures for 2009 and 2010 show an increase in fiscal stimulus of 1 per cent. or so of GDP.
I am sorry, but it is true. The hon. Gentleman can say that it is not true until he is blue in the face, but the stimulus will come from a reduction in unemployment contributions—the unemployment insurance scheme—extra lending to small and medium-sized enterprises, a tax holiday on new cars, tax incentives for investment by firms and household investment in energy efficiency. There is no point in his saying that that is not true, when voluminous documents on the German Government website show how true it is.
Is the reality not that the impact of the financial crisis has changed public opinion? More than ever, the British people understand that we can start to solve the crisis only through co-operation with our European partners, which is the point that the Conservative party cannot stomach.
My hon. Friend has made a very good point. One Conservative Member of the European Parliament famously referred to the "poisonous fungus" of Euroscepticism in the Conservative party. The poisonous fungus is growing fast, because the Conservative party now opposes common-sense proposals from the rest of Europe to help to build the economic future on which we all depend.
The Foreign Secretary is discussing the economy, and I am sure that he agrees that one thing that will not help the British economy is our joining the euro. However, President Barroso has recently been making some very public statements that Britain is inching its way closer to having the euro. Will the Foreign Secretary tell us which of his colleagues is telling the President that, because it is simply unacceptable?
Exactly. We have made it plain that in principle we support entry into the euro, but that in practice the economic conditions must be met. Eight years ago, the now shadow Foreign Secretary said that there were 10 days to save the pound. Two thousand days later, the pound is alive, well and kicking. He was wrong then, and he is wrong now, in the absurd allegations that he is making.
My right hon. Friend has made an important point about the fiscal stimulus package in Germany as well as across the European Union. In January, we will see a similar fiscal stimulus package on a massive scale in the United States of America, when President-elect Obama takes over. Does he agree that the real disaster for Britain would be if we had a Government who isolated us from both our European allies and the new leadership in the United States?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point, and I differ in only one respect: she has mentioned a similar package in the United States, and all the indications from the Obama team suggest that there will be a massive stimulus on an even grander scale. When the Leader of the Opposition said on the radio that borrowing was
"going to make the recovery more difficult", he was in a minority of one compared with every other Government in the industrialised world.
Just let me make this point. The proof of how out of touch the Opposition are comes from the shadow Chancellor. One week before the Bank of England made the largest reduction in interest rates in British history, he said that Government policy
"makes it more difficult for the Bank of England to achieve a sustained reduction in interest rates."
He said that one week before the 1.5 per cent. cut in interest rates and one month before the further 1 per cent. cut in interest rates.
While my right hon. Friend is on the subject of themes raised by Labour Members, may I ask him whether he saw the interesting article in the New Statesman that reported on the conversation between the Leader of the Opposition and President-elect Obama? The Leader of the Opposition condemned Europe and the European Union and Mr. Obama said afterwards that he was a "lightweight". We do not want a lightweight Leader of the Opposition at this time of grave economic crisis.
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. I thought that he would refer to one of his own New Statesman articles, which I am delighted to commend to the House. I am happy to confirm that the report in the New Statesman, an august journal of record in many ways, did indeed use the word "lightweight"—not about the European Union, but about the Leader of the Opposition.
No. I did say that I would make progress, and I really must. The package also sends a clear signal that the European Union's response to the crisis must lie in openness, not protectionism. That point was raised by my now-departed right hon. Friend Keith Vaz. [Interruption.] Oh, there is he is; he is still here.
The clear lesson of the 1930s is that the response to the banking crisis, not the crisis itself, will determine the depth and duration of this recession. We will continue to resist pressure to raise barriers to trade and investment and vigorously promote market access for all businesses. The second main item on the Council's agenda is the climate and energy package. If we are to avoid dangerous climate change, it is vital that the European Union should work towards finalising the details of its ambitious climate leadership programme.
Let me make a bit of progress; after that, I will be happy to give way to my hon. Friend.
The aspirations that European Union leaders signed up to in March 2007—to cut carbon emissions by 20 per cent. by 2020, and by more if there was a global deal—have placed the European Union firmly at the forefront of the battle against climate change and the drive to build a low-carbon economy. We need to sustain the European Union's leadership to capitalise on President-elect Obama's promise to green the US economy and build momentum globally towards a deal at Copenhagen. It is fair to say that the difficult economic context has made that agenda more challenging; some have argued that we cannot now afford to be so ambitious. They see climate change as a second-order priority, to be deferred until the global economy gets back on track.
I will bring in the right hon. Gentleman after I have set out my argument.
The Government are clear that the argument that I have just mentioned would be the wrong response to the slowdown, because only a low-carbon recovery will be a real recovery. Oil prices may have fallen in recent months, but as and when demand picks up they will rise again. The International Energy Agency believes that oil prices will remain volatile for some time, and that by 2030 rising demand could push them to more than $200 a barrel. Unless we act decisively now, we will emerge from the credit crunch only to face a more fundamental resource crunch, which will fuel inflation and act as a brake on growth. That is why the fiscal stimulus package needs to be smart to rebuild the economy on low-carbon lines.
Is my right hon. Friend troubled by reports in the European press—not just in Germany—that some of the Heads of State and Prime Ministers are arguing that climate change has to take second place and that fighting it should not be done on the back of a risk to competitiveness? Will my right hon. Friend be careful to resist allowing climate change to take second place, as the issue is very important for the long term?
I am troubled by that, and I will do my best with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to resist those pressures. It is evident to me that unless we build a low-carbon recovery, it will not be a sustainable recovery—either in economic or financial terms. That is why we must achieve such a recovery.
Does the Foreign Secretary see the irony in the fact that, at the very time when the climate change conference is happening in Poznan in Poland, Poland is one of the countries that is reported to be dragging its feet and arguing that we do not need such deep cuts in emissions? What steps is he taking to try to convince our European partners that Europe needs to continue the leadership that it has shown on this issue if we are to ensure that we have a successful result in Copenhagen next year?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. I had a long and detailed bilateral meeting with the Polish Foreign Minister about this last month in Brussels. Poland is very dependent on coal. I therefore hope that what I am about to say about carbon capture and storage speaks directly to her point.
The Prime Minister will argue at the Council for a durable funding mechanism to encourage investment in carbon capture and storage. The 2007 agreement included a commitment to build up to 12 demonstration plants by 2015. With global emissions from coal set to increase by 73 per cent. to 2030, it is critical that we develop the technology and apply it at scale. The European Parliament has proposed that allowances from the new entrant reserve of the emissions trading scheme should be set aside to support CCS projects. We have given this proposal our full support, and it goes a long way towards meeting the Polish fear about its very unusual coal dependency and offers a way to square the circle of energy security and tackling carbon emissions.
The particular accounting standards for Northern Rock are the subject of a long and detailed debate. I am happy to write to the right hon. Gentleman about that, but I will not get into it now. I would just say that the Government have been defending the current state aid regime precisely because of the balance that it seeks to strike and the limits that it places on Governments right around Europe.
Let me make the point about the link to the economic recovery plan. The European Commission document puts on the table a €5 billion public-private European green cars initiative. It proposes to focus structural funds on new energy-efficient buildings, with an increase of up to €6 billion a year in the European Investment Bank financing for climate change, energy security and infrastructure investment. This is precisely the sort of transformational change that the European economy needs.
Could my right hon. Friend say a little more about what the European Union is doing on the other side of the equation to adapt to climate change? For example, almost every member state of the EU has a land border with another member state, as does the United Kingdom in Ireland, and there are issues to do with water flows, flooding and such like. What is the EU doing to assist with the co-ordination of adaptation policies for climate change?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is fair to say that we have only scratched the surface of this, but the European budget review from 2013 provides a major opportunity to green the European budget as regards not only the mitigation of climate change but adaptation.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of meetings that have taken place between the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and my right hon. Friend Lord Mandelson. Will he ensure that the weight of his Department is put behind those talks? It is vital to the British economy that we have some genuine partnerships that will bring this green transformation in the vehicle industry into our UK plants. In my constituency, we need to get less of the nonsense that we have had from The Times about secret meetings that did not take place and more positive action such as that coming from the SMMT.
My hon. Friend is a doughty fighter for a modern car industry, and therefore, by definition, a green car industry. The €5 billion public-private green cars initiative in the European Commission's proposals speaks directly to that.
I need to address some of the external relations issues that will be tackled this week. The modern insecurities of terrorism, the chaos in parts of Africa and the long-standing challenges of the middle east will dominate foreign policy discussion on Thursday and Friday. I attended the General Affairs and External Relations Council in Brussels yesterday in preparation. We discussed and denounced the attacks in Mumbai, and agreed that the European Union needed to enhance its relationship with Pakistan given the economic and political problems there. The potential for political co-operation, improved trade relations and development assistance with the still relatively new civilian Government in Islamabad more than merits EU attention, and I welcome the prospect of an EU-Pakistan summit next year.
Across Africa, there are deep-rooted problems in Zimbabwe, Somalia, Sudan and Congo. I hope that we can have more thoroughgoing discussion tomorrow in our debate on the Humble Address, but I welcome the additional EU sanctions on individual members of the Mugabe regime. His is a rogue Government spreading death and destruction around his country, not just a rogue state spreading disease to its neighbours. Our humanitarian aid now totals £47 million, and it is helping 3 million people, but none of us can rest until the people of Zimbabwe get the real hope that comes from a Government of their own, delivering for them. That requires the active engagement of African states and the UN, which will be our continuing focus.
Apart from the Zimbabwean diplomats and politicians with whom the European Union has dealt already this week, have the Government received any representations from the South African Government, or other Governments contiguous to Zimbabwe, on the efforts that they believe the EU can make to tackle the cholera outbreak?
There is certainly discussion about European humanitarian aid, but beyond that and the sanctions, my answer is no, not to my knowledge. That reveals the centrality of those neighbouring African states. In all of our extensive discussions, the levers are in their hands, rather than those of the European Union. We do supply humanitarian aid, however, and we have imposed sanctions on individual members of the regime. My hon. Friend will remember that we tried to get global sanctions imposed on the regime in July at the UN Security Council, but we were rebuffed by two vetoes. We warned at the time that Mugabe was playing for time, and I am sorry to say that we have been proved right.
On terrorism, I would like to ask the Foreign Secretary to consider whether the forthcoming EU summit is a good opportunity to consider whether collectively we might seek to address the motives of terrorism without condoning its methods. It seems to me that on a collective basis, it would be a good strategic opportunity to apply the lessons of Northern Ireland on an international basis.
The hon. Gentleman makes a profoundly important point, but it is not what I was actually talking about. The way in which the European Union can play its greatest role is to help the weak states—notably Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also others elsewhere—to build some sort of national capacity for good governance.
That point relates directly to the issue of Somalia, where today is a significant day. Although the problem of piracy is one of the oldest foreign policy problems in the world, today there is a very modern variant in the gulf of Aden. Yesterday, the EU launched its European security and defence policy mission, with contributions of ships and aircraft from eight EU member states, under British command. The aims and objectives of the mission are to safeguard the delivery of humanitarian supplies to Somalia and to protect other vulnerable shipping by deterring and disrupting piracy in the region. At the moment, 19 ships have been taken hostage in the bay of the gulf of Aden—testimony to the current insecurity of shipping that affects all of us through its impact on global trade. This ESDP mission is no substitute for a political and security process on the ground in Somalia, but it is vital none the less. I look forward to a wider discussion of Somalia as a whole in due course, but the mission ultimately depends on proper political progress on the ground in Somalia.
The Foreign Secretary is right to say that the ESDP mission is the first naval deployment of European forces, working together. Is that not exactly the sort of operation that people in his party and in mine foresaw, with European nations working together in a military form—or in this case a naval form—for the benefit of all our communities? It is exactly the kind of operation that the ESDP is designed for, and I hope that it will be successful.
The hon. Gentleman has long taken a principled stand in favour of the ESDP, and I applaud him for it. In Aceh, the west bank, Darfur, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Chad, the ESDP is proving its worth and I will say more about that in a moment.
In the middle east, all sides recognise that the promise a year ago of a Palestinian state in 2008 will not be delivered this year. That means more misery for Palestinians and more insecurity for Israelis. However, as well as continued suffering, in the past year there have been serious talks across the Israel/Palestine divide, a new Israel/Syria track, and progress—notably in the west bank—on economic development and security. EU Foreign Ministers will discuss on Thursday night the role of the EU in 2009. I will advocate the following points. First, we need continued clarity that security for Israel and a state for the Palestinians, based on 1967 borders, are key to a stable middle east. Secondly, there must be continued focus on all meeting their road map commitments, including practical help on the ground for humanitarian assistance, economic development, including through next week's Palestinian investment conference in London, and Palestinian security capacity. Thirdly, renewed engagement with Arab states in the region is key to a comprehensive process and a comprehensive peace. That is what I call a 23-state solution, not just a two-state solution, using the Arab peace initiative as an important building block.
Leaders' summits are also an opportunity to take a step back from the immediate problems and crises and adopt a more strategic view. On Friday, High Representative Javier Solana will report to the Council on the implementation of the 2003 European security strategy. That will show how closely the EU's security strategy is aligned with ours. Like the UK's national security strategy, it will address the wide range of security threats that we now face—from terrorism and nuclear proliferation to economic and energy insecurity.
NATO is and will remain the cornerstone of European defence. However, as the US ambassador to NATO said:
"An ESDP with only soft power is not enough...the US needs, the UK needs, NATO needs, the democratic world needs a stronger, more capable European defence capacity."
"An ESDP with only soft power is not enough...the US needs, the UK needs, NATO needs, the democratic world needs a stronger, more capable European defence capacity."
That means a more joined-up civilian-military strategic level planning structure in Brussels to ensure greater coherence between the EU institutions, civilian and military planners, and the EU and NATO. It also means measures to encourage investment in the right kind of capabilities, and a new ESDP ambition to reflect the wide range and complexity of the missions that Europe is increasingly undertaking, whether through the EU or NATO—involving not only soldiers, but policemen and judges, aid workers and customs officials.
Perhaps the Foreign Secretary could read the quote a third time because it shows the disarray in the Conservative position on defence policy, especially with respect to the new Administration in Washington. May I take him back to his point on the middle east? He did not refer to an issue that I thought he would mention—the Government's policy and what they have argued in Brussels on the trade agreements between the EU and Israel, and exports from the Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. What is the Government's position on those exports?
The Government's position is to defend the EU-Israel trade agreement of 2000, as amended in 2004, which offers preferential trade for Israeli goods. It also offers—or should offer—preferential trade for Palestinian goods. It does not offer preferential trade benefits to goods from settlements. We are defending that agreement because it is the right thing to do—in legal and political terms. I hope that hon. Members of all parties support that position.
The Foreign Secretary gave me the lead that I needed when he mentioned civilian involvement in some of the issues that he described. I want to ask him about Russia and Georgia. Will the summit take the opportunity to discuss the continuing issue there, because EU monitors are involved? If we are to make a contribution, is it not essential that those monitors have access to both sides of the de facto border? We must also realise that violence is starting again and unarmed monitors may not be the long-term solution.
On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I completely agree that there must be proper access, and not just for EU monitors, but for Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe monitors. The OSCE summit last Thursday in Helsinki, which I attended, addressed that issue directly, including with the Russian Foreign Minister. It is vital that all sides respect all aspects of the August and September agreements. The European Union has dispatched its monitors with good speed and they are ready to take their place alongside OSCE monitors. However, the OSCE monitors are not being allowed into South Ossetia and are certainly not being given the freedom of manoeuvre that they should be given.
I am grateful that the Foreign Secretary is so well briefed. On Russia, clearly the Sarkozy plan should be implemented, so why are the British Government, despite the fact that four of the six points of the plan have not been implemented in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, offering rewards without repentance and, potentially, an EU partnership deal? Why are the British Government going soft on Russia?
That really is a foolish way to describe the position. The Government are not going soft and we are not offering rewards without repentance. First, the partnership and co-operation agreement to which the hon. Gentleman refers is in our interest—it is the European Union that wants it. Secondly, the partnership and co-operation agreement has in its preamble precisely a reference— [ Interruption. ] The hon. Gentleman should listen to my answer before he starts shouting back. The preamble precisely includes a reference to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia, which means that we can properly discuss it. Thirdly, on the position of the British Council, on which he has supported the Government in the past, the culture section of the partnership and co-operation agreement allows us to raise the issue. Far from rewarding Russia, we are addressing the issues of concern that exist between us.
The Foreign Secretary referred to civilian missions, but he has not yet referred to what has happened in Kosovo. Yesterday, the European Union rule of law mission in Kosovo, or EULEX, took over responsibility for policing. However, as I understand it, that mission is status-neutral with regard to the position in Kosovo. How does he think it will be able to operate in practice, including in Mitrovica and the other Serb-populated areas of Kosovo?
My hon. Friend has anticipated the exciting denouement to my speech and my paean of praise to the European Union rule of law mission, which is the largest European security and defence policy mission ever. However, I will address the issue now—and thereby take away the excitement of the conclusion to my speech—because he asks a specific question to which I want to give an answer. Just to be clear, the rule of law mission is deploying across the whole of Kosovo, with unanimous support from the UN Security Council, the Kosovo Government and Serbia. That is thoroughly welcome and will help the region's progress towards eventual membership.
My hon. Friend raised the issue of status. Status is for nations to decide. It is up to our country to decide whether to recognise Kosovo. We have done so, along with 52 other countries. UN resolution 1244 was status-neutral. If he looks at the wording of the agreement that was signed two weeks ago, he will see that it refers to the status-neutral nature of resolution 1244. However, EULEX is there to protect individual citizens, whatever their ethnic origin, and not to decide on status questions. Therefore, although the text of the agreement has been carefully gone over, it is important that confusion does not arise. I hope that my explanation today—that EULEX is there to offer individuals protection, whatever their ethnic origin, and not to decide on questions of status —is understood in the context of status-neutral UN resolution 1244, which set the stage for the political process, which eventually led to the declaration of independence by Kosovo.
Let me conclude. I will not have time today to talk about the very important eastern partnership that the EU has now developed—with countries to its east, obviously—as part of the European neighbourhood policy, but we can talk about that tomorrow if it is of interest to hon. Members.
At the summit, the UK will continue to be an advocate for a reformed European Union, honouring its origins as a grouping of nation states who choose in some areas to share power. That means that the Government of Ireland will be able to decide for themselves whether and how to follow up the decision of the Irish people in their referendum on the Lisbon treaty earlier this year. Our position on this is clear: the treaty can come into force only if backed by all 27 member states, and we do not propose to reopen this Parliament's passage of the Lisbon treaty.
The advocacy will also continue for a complete overhaul of the common agricultural policy. That is worth mentioning in the light of the recent health check, which will end half the remaining coupled payments, direct more money towards activities to address the new environmental challenges, help to level the playing field on modulation, and simplify the rules for farm payments. But it did not go far enough. In next year's budget review, we will be pushing for a complete overhaul. Direct payments should be phased out, because markets should provide farmers with their incomes, and we should instead focus subsidies on delivering the environmental benefits that markets cannot deliver.
This European Council agenda demonstrates that the EU is now a critical vehicle for the UK to pursue its international agenda for the benefit of the British people—
May I state for the record that I have not called for a withdrawal from the European Union? It is highly irresponsible of the Secretary of State to insinuate that.
Let us, for the record, be absolutely clear that what the hon. Gentleman said " Never" to was the claim that the European Union should be a critical vehicle for the UK to pursue its international agenda for the benefit of the British people. That is what he said "Never" to, and we thereby know where he is coming from and where he wants to go to.
The truth is that, to forge an effective global response to the economic downturn, to drive a successful low-carbon economy to curb climate change, and to address the security threats that we face, from Russian aggression in Georgia to piracy off the coast of Africa, we have to work with the EU and our European allies. It is only through co-operation and engagement that we maintain the level of influence that we do in Brussels.
"what we are seeing with the current British Government is one which has a voice and which is at the heart and leading edge of the debate" in Europe. He added that
"true engagement means that you have to work in the mainstream European political parties, such as the European People's party"—
That is— [ Interruption. ] The Conservative Finnish Foreign Minister is being jeered by the Conservatives. That tells us a lot about the modern Conservative party. This is how—
The hon. Gentleman says that they are a bunch of communists. That says a lot about— [ Interruption. ] What he is in fact saying— [ Interruption. ] I did hear the word "communists" correctly. I now understand that he is talking about the socialist group. What the hon. Gentleman should realise is that, in the left-of-centre parties, the Euro-communists are terribly right wing by comparison with the social democrats. His knowledge of left-of-centre politics should tell him that.
I do not want to leave the Finnish Foreign Minister yet, however. This is what he concluded:
"If you marginalise yourself, you simply do not have a voice."
We would not have a voice on the leading edge of Europe; we would be on the hard shoulder of Europe. The truth is that this Government have a vision not just for Britain in Europe, but for Europe in the world. The Conservative party offers only a path to Britain's isolation in Europe, and to a Europe with less power and influence on the world stage. The choice is simple: deal with the realities of an increasingly interdependent world or deny them. I look forward to the debate, and to the decisions in the weeks and months ahead.
There has often been a ritualistic air to our six-monthly debates on European matters, and the closing moments of the Foreign Secretary's speech were a reminder of that, although it was not so ritualistic to confirm that Euro-communism is on the right of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, which puts some of the positions and views of Labour MEPs into perspective. The Foreign Secretary quoted what the Finnish Foreign Minister said to him—
And, indeed, what he said in public a few weeks ago. However, the Finnish Foreign Minister then came round to my office and I have to tell the Foreign Secretary that the Finnish Foreign Minister and I concluded that there was plenty of scope for easy co-operation between the Finnish Government and a Conservative Government after the next general election, so the Foreign Secretary needs to be a little careful with his quotes.
I believe that the significance and seriousness of events over the past six months make our present debate a little different from usual. Since our last debate on these matters, the economic downturn has intensified, there has been war in Georgia, the situation in the Balkans has in some respects deteriorated and the Lisbon treaty has remained becalmed after Ireland's rejection. All those matters require some examination in the debate.
The Foreign Secretary raised some broader issues that I hope to turn to if I can catch your eye again tomorrow, Mr. Speaker, in the Queen's Speech debate on foreign affairs and defence. For now, let me refer to what the right hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his speech about Zimbabwe and yesterday's discussion among EU Foreign Ministers. We—and, I imagine, all quarters of the House—very much welcome the discussion and the agreement to add 11 more regime officials to the EU travel ban and assets freeze list. However, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that if the bans are to carry any weight with the regime, they must be scrupulously enforced by all countries of the EU. Banning more than 100 officials from the EU had very little point when Mugabe himself was welcomed to Lisbon last December, notwithstanding the fact that all the bans were supposed to be in place. I know that the Government felt as strongly about that as we did and the Prime Minister did not attend the summit.
The Foreign Secretary was also right to seek to take this matter back to the UN Security Council—he referred to that in passing today—and to say that African countries now have a particular responsibility to bring about positive change in Zimbabwe. We certainly welcome the robust statements of the Governments of Kenya and Botswana, urging Mugabe to go. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition spoke yesterday to Botswana's Foreign Minister, who has called for a ban on fuel supplies to the Zimbabwean army and police. We hope that the Government will lend their support to such proposals that target the regime and urge African countries to implement them.
We also hope that the Foreign Secretary will intensify the preparations, for which we have called, for the days after Mugabe, so that when a new Government are in place in Harare, arrangements will already be in place, backed by EU nations, for the massive programme of aid that will be needed, for the establishment of a contact group to provide diplomatic support and for assistance to rebuild the economy, reform the security services and so forth. We particularly hope that Ministers will raise with African nations the need to develop the capacity to deploy a humanitarian force in Zimbabwe at short notice if required—an over-the-horizon force that would be ready to make sure that the basic functions of the state could continue and that aid reached those in need.
I completely agree with the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about Zimbabwe, especially his point about post-Mugabe preparations. Does he agree with us, however, that one thing that the Government could do right now, here in the UK, is to give Zimbabwean asylum seekers, pending the decision on their cases, the right to work so that they can gain experience of employment, earn some money and engage in education and training? Will he support our call on that?
I think that the hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case about Zimbabwean asylum seekers, but I would want my home affairs colleagues to make any Conservative party commitments. The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case, as I said, but this and future Governments will have to ensure that any decisions are made in line with a robust overall asylum policy. We should have regard to what the hon. Gentleman says, but all cases have to be considered on their merits.
The severity of the economic downturn's impact on each country has depended on how well the Governments of each country have prepared for less easy times—in other words, on whether they fixed the roof while the sun was shining, which did not happen in this country.
When he was Chancellor, the Prime Minister used to enjoy lecturing other European Governments on how to run their economies, and was notorious at ECOFIN meetings for his patent lack of interest in anything that they had to say. I hope that when he goes to the summit on Thursday he will show a bit of humility and contrition. I know that there is very little chance of that: I merely express a hope that the Prime Minister will begin to show those attributes.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development predicts that Britain will experience the steepest rise in unemployment in the G7. The European Commission has said that this country will experience the deepest recession of any nation in the G7. After 16 years of global economic growth, the United Kingdom has entered the present downturn with a larger budget deficit than more than 100 other countries, including countries such as Kazakhstan and Uganda.
According to the European Commission's autumn economic forecast—the Foreign Secretary quoted a few percentages and statistics—Britain's cyclically adjusted budget balance will be minus 5 per cent. next year and minus 5.5 per cent. in 2010, compared to minus 0.3 per cent. in Germany and a surplus in Germany subsequently. That might be why Mrs. Merkel was not at the meeting yesterday.
Each European Union member state's appropriate response to the downturn is determined by its domestic situation and, of course, domestic views. The European Commission was absolutely right to emphasise that in its announcement on economic recovery, when it said
"Those that have used the good times to achieve stable public finances have most room for manoeuvre."
Such a sharply pointed reminder that Governments who failed to put public finances on a sound basis now have very little room to manoeuvre ought to have caused some pain in Downing street.
My right hon. Friend is correctly defending the German position, which is more prudent. The draft conclusions that the Government will be invited to accept include a reference to
"Restructuring of the European defence industrial and technological base around centres of European excellence, avoiding duplication".
Is not that both very anti-competitive and a threat to many successful factories in Britain?
My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that passage, which does indeed appear in the conclusions obtained by our right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory from the Danish Parliament. I obtained another version a few hours ago, although it was entirely in French. The English version had not yet reached me.
We shall want to know in much more detail exactly what that means from, among others, the Prime Minister when he returns and makes a statement to the House next Monday. The Foreign Secretary clearly did not want to include it in his analysis of the summit, but anything that was anti-competitive or constrained the country in its defence co-operation with the United States would be a very serious matter.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that the Prime Minister committed one act of great wisdom in keeping Britain out of the euro? Had we been in the euro, we would have been pinioned to an over-valuation that would have been catastrophic for our economy. The depreciation will at least deflect some demand to our home economy, and help us to recover.
The hon. Gentleman anticipates a passage a few pages later in my speech. Having not talked about the euro for many years, I have been given the opportunity to do so again today by Lord Mandelson's blundering into the matter. I shall come to the hon. Gentleman's point shortly, but first I want to finish my point about the fiscal stimulus to which the Foreign Secretary referred, when he called in aid other countries around Europe. I am surprised that he did not cite the Irish Government, who have said:
"The priority for countries like Ireland, with relatively high general government deficits, is to get our public finances back in order"
—or the German Chancellor, Mrs. Merkel, who has rightly said:
"We should not get into a race for billions."
If the Foreign Secretary will not listen to a Conservative Chancellor, he ought to listen carefully to Germany's Social Democrat Finance Minister, who has said:
"Since I've been dealing with economic stimulus packages since the end of the 1970s, they've never had the real effect that was hoped for. In the end the state was just more in debt than before."
He also said:
"Just because all the lemmings have chosen the same path, it doesn't automatically make that path the right one."
The Foreign Secretary may think that the German Government have the same view as our Government, but the German Government themselves do not think that they have the same view as the British Government, and the British Government should take careful note of that. What I have quoted represents the approach of a responsible centre-left party in a Government who are not set on doubling their national debt over the next four or five years while spending more on paying off debt than they spend on schools and transport, which is what is happening at present in the United Kingdom. Ministers might also benefit from listening to other advice that some EU Governments have been kind enough to offer. In particular, they might wish to pay attention to Madame Lagarde, the French Finance Minister, who has gently explained:
"I do not like to disagree with my friend Alistair but as far as we're concerned...we're not certain that when prices go down a VAT reduction is that effective".
The truth is that the Government are isolated in Europe, having lectured others about supposedly being isolated.
Members might have wondered why the European Commission avoided recommending specific measures on national stimulus proposals in the economic recovery plan to which the Foreign Secretary referred. One European diplomat leaked the reason. He spoke on condition of anonymity, no doubt fearing he would be arrested if he came to this country. He said:
"Several member states would have liked to openly back some concrete ideas on the preferred instruments for the national recovery packages, but they disagreed to support the idea of VAT cuts, but the UK did not want to see this measure missing on the list, so as to avoid criticism at home for taking this approach. So the conclusion was not to include any preferable measures."
The Government therefore preferred to have no list of recommended measures than one that emphasised their own minority, and isolated, position.
No, I will just finish on this matter, because Kelvin Hopkins made an important point on the euro that I want to address.
Given this dire economic background and the steady loss of the Government's credibility, a truly bizarre development has been the sight of members of the Cabinet returning to advocating—
I have taken a number of interventions, and I will give way to the hon. Gentleman later, if he behaves; that might be unlikely, but we will see how he gets on.
As I was saying, a truly bizarre development has been the sight of members of the Cabinet returning to advocating the one measure that, as the hon. Member for Luton, North said, would have made matters even worse for this country: membership of the euro. Since eurozone interest rates have been held at lower levels than those of this country for many years, it is fair to assume that if they had been applied to this country they would have made the unsustainable boom in our housing market even worse, and since those interest rates have been cut more slowly than British interest rates in recent weeks, it is also fair to assume that membership of the eurozone would now be making our dramatic bust even worse. So while the Prime Minister's claim to have abolished boom and bust is already a matter of ridicule, it is clear that a boom-boost cycle in the British economy would have been exacerbated, rather than dampened, by eurozone membership.
None of this has stopped the dear noble lord, Lord Mandelson, who seems to be taking over ever wider swathes of the Government's foreign and economic policy—the Foreign Secretary had better watch out on that score—from reminding the nation that the Government are committed to euro membership in future. Nor has it stopped some of the "people who matter", in the words of Mr. Barroso, the President of the European Commission, from telling him that Britain is warming to the euro.
What makes this even more ridiculous is that the shockingly incompetent management of the nation's finances by the current Government means that Britain will soon not be eligible to join the euro, since our Budget deficit is ballooning way beyond the Maastricht criteria and our national debt is heading for a level that, if any of the massive off-balance sheet liabilities of the Government are included, will take us outside the euro's entry criteria. Is it not a pretty damning summing up of this Government's conduct of our nation's affairs that they are reaffirming their dogmatic commitment to a policy that would have made matters worse, while bringing such ruin on this country that they would no longer meet the rules for implementing it anyway? That is now the Government's policy on the euro.
As my right hon. Friend will be aware, just as Europe was about to go into recession, the European Central Bank increased interest rates in July. What did he make of the Liberal Democrats' call for radical and immediate cuts in interest rates at the precise moment when the rate for the euro, which they want to join, was going in the opposite direction? Would that not have been truly catastrophic for the British economy?
My right hon. Friend is, of course, right to say that that would have been catastrophic. What I make of what he has described is that the Liberal Democrats have adopted two wholly inconsistent positions. I am unable to regard that as a novelty; it is a commonplace of our debates, but I am grateful to him for pointing it out. Just to move on from that—
I am glad to hear that. Would my right hon. Friend also reflect upon the fact that the figures given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the pre-Budget report statement referred only to the British position as compared with the Maastricht arrangements? If those are taken into account, the figure that was given for debt—57 per cent. of national income—is below the 60 per cent. to which my right hon. Friend has just referred. That was a deliberate misleading of the House because the Chancellor refused to comment on the figures in the pre-Budget report when I raised the matter with him.
The point I would make in relation to the one made by my hon. Friend is that the 57 per cent. of gross domestic product that our national debt is meant to represent will, of course, apply only if the Government's economic forecasts are correct. The recent record is that they are spectacularly incorrect, so the figure could be much higher. I have just made the point—I think that this is also what he is referring to—that this country has massive off-balance sheet liabilities and they take our true debt to a far higher level.
It would be helpful if, in the spirit of open government, the Foreign Secretary or the Minister for Europe cleared up some questions about the euro. Which Minister discussed Britain's membership of the euro with the President of the Commission? When did the Foreign Secretary last discuss it with him? Can the Minister for Europe tell us whether the Business Secretary was correct in saying that he has not had a conversation with Mr. Barroso about Britain's membership of the euro since 2004? Alternatively, does she share the Health Secretary's view? He said that
"it would be very unusual if"—
Lord Mandelson— wasn't talking to Barroso".
Specifically, was the Business Secretary right to say that it is still the Government's goal for Britain to join the euro? We would love to know whether the team of Foreign Office Ministers shares that opinion.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way; he is quite gracious. Since when has it been Conservative party policy not to reduce taxation? He will recall the former Conservative Government increasing VAT to 17.5 per cent. and this Government reducing VAT on domestic fuel to 5 per cent. Since when have his Opposition been against tax cuts?
I did not catch the end of the question, but I think that the hon. Gentleman was asking about tax reductions. It is our contention that if tax reductions are to be made when there is a ballooning budget deficit, they have to be paid for. That is why we have shown how all the tax reductions that we have advocated would be paid for.
I think that the hon. Gentleman has had his opportunity to ask that.
My hon. Friend Mr. Cash referred to figures in the pre-Budget report, and I wish to draw attention to a European aspect of the figures. The House will remember that at the end of 2005 the Government chose to give up £7 billion of Britain's Fontainebleau rebate in return for a commitment to review the common agricultural policy in 2008. Many of us pointed out at the time that that was a very concrete and expensive concession to make in return for a vague and almost certainly meaningless commitment. The agreement of the then Chancellor, now the Prime Minister, to that unnecessary fleecing of the British taxpayer was an early sign that his premiership would be characterised not by prudent strength in financial matters, but by dithering weakness—indeed, that has proved to be the case.
Given this background of soaring public debt in Britain, it ought to be particularly disappointing for the Government that, as we predicted and as was entirely predictable, despite the sacrifice of so much of the rebate, there is no guarantee that the current talks on the CAP health check will produce the result that all parts of this House want. Member on both sides of the House may not have noticed figures in the pre-Budget report that were buried in a very small footnote on page 210 showing that Britain's annual net contribution to the European Union will rise from £2 billion this year to £6.5 billion in 2010-11—that is precisely the moment when the Government expect belts to be tightened in British public expenditure. That is the result of their pathetically weak negotiation three years ago.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concerns about the British rebate and the fact that under this Government we have fallen behind France in terms of GDP, but will continue to pay more into EU coffers?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. It looks as if we will fall behind Italy soon, in terms of the size of the national economy, and that will be the legacy of this Government, who have broken all records in economic indebtedness and in damaging the competitiveness of this country.
The right hon. Gentleman mentions the subsidies that the transfers from the UK have given to the European Union, but he should remember that the common fisheries policy—as pointed out by Mr. Mitchell—has probably accounted for about £3 billion of unseen subsidy. Does he agree with the SNP's position that exiting the CFP is the best policy?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman is very familiar with our wish to see greater local and national control over fisheries policy, which will only ever be achieved through a change of Government here at Westminster, and we look forward to working on that in future.
I hope that Ministers will be able to tell us whether they think that the sacrificing of such a large part of our rebate represented a good deal, and why the priority of the French Government in the negotiations was to get their way, but the priority of the British Government was to climb down whenever possible. Perhaps they can tell us why British taxpayers now face a double increase in expenditure, with a lower rebate and an expensive common agricultural policy. They might tell us, too, what estimate they have now made of the effect of the pound's dramatic fall against the euro and the further effect on Britain's budget contribution to the European Union.
As a former Minister for Europe, the right hon. Gentleman may know the answers to those questions, and we look forward to hearing them.
The shadow Foreign Secretary's last point about the depreciation in the value of sterling is important, because it will alter our financial contributions to the EU. But let us be clear that it was unacceptable that some of the poorest countries that had joined the EU after escaping from communism should have to sign over disproportionately large cheques to the UK because of the way in which the rebate was organised. It was right that, as a gesture of solidarity shared by other richer countries, we should help those new member states. The Opposition and their supporting press have been foul about the Poles and the other eastern Europeans working in this country—
I do not think that we have been foul about the Poles. In fact, a party that contains my hon. Friend Daniel Kawczynski could not possibly be foul about the Poles, because we would get in a lot of trouble.
The right hon. Gentleman puts the case for giving up the rebate— [ Interruption. ] Well, he puts the case for giving up a large part of the rebate, then. Our point is simply that if the Government were going to do that, they should have driven a hard bargain, which is what previous Governments would have tried to do. To give up £7 billion of the rebate—an act that was not shared by other countries, as he suggests, because the rebate was an arrangement particular to the UK—and not receive in return concrete answers on the reform of the CAP was weak negotiation.
The same weakness has characterised the Government's approach to the European constitution and its reincarnation as the Lisbon treaty— [ Interruption. ] The Foreign Secretary mentioned that in his speech, so he cannot just roll his eyes when I mention it. It is an item for discussion at the forthcoming European Council, and, looking at the draft conclusions, it is one of the few items on which they do not yet know what they are going to say. Item 1 is the Lisbon treaty, and then there is a gap. It would be extraordinary if we did not raise that issue. What they ended up signing contained a huge number of provisions that they had vigorously opposed in the first place. What has been worse about their conduct of the negotiations on the constitution— [ Interruption. ] The Foreign Secretary is now asking the shadow Foreign Affairs team for copies of the conclusions, with which he ought to be familiar. If I were Foreign Secretary, I might have looked at them in advance rather than now.
What has been worse about the Government's conduct of the negotiations is the anti-democratic nature of the decision to break a solemn election pledge to hold a referendum in the United Kingdom. Those actions have fed cynicism about politics and the European Union and the Government have compounded that error by joining the refusal to listen to the people of Ireland, who so sensibly said no to the Lisbon treaty in their referendum last June.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fact that the Foreign Secretary did not know the contents of the draft minutes shows that in fact the results are in the hands of the bureaucracy and not in the hands of Ministers?
That is one of the many things that that might illustrate. The Foreign Secretary certainly clutched at the document with great eagerness when it was passed across the Table.
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that in June, when the Irish referendum was held, only 13 member states had ratified the Lisbon treaty but that 23 have now done so? In one of the other countries, Poland, the legislation has gone through both chambers of the Parliament and is merely awaiting the President's signature. In the Czech Republic, one chamber has passed the treaty. The Prime Minister's party in the Czech Republic, which is in favour of ratification, has just been re-elected. That is the party with which the right hon. Gentleman wishes to associate in the European Parliament.
We are not quite sure what point the hon. Gentleman is making. In the one country that had a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, it was rejected. Four countries had a referendum on the constitution, the treaty's previous incarnation, and two of those—France and the Netherlands—rejected it. We are happy to speak with so many millions of people across Europe. The fact that other countries, including Britain, went on to ratify the treaty after the Irish referendum is the very point that I am trying to make. That continuation of ratification, even though the people of a sovereign nation had rejected the Lisbon treaty, showed the anti-democratic instincts that I am attacking.
I have given way to the hon. Gentleman already, and in fairness to the rest of the House, because I have a number of issues that I wish to raise, I should proceed.
One of the reasons we oppose the Lisbon treaty is that we believe that the EU does not need more powerful institutions, but that it needs the will and capacity to take action. That is true of a number of foreign policy areas, on which I think there will be less disagreement between those on the Government and Opposition Front Benches than there has been on the topics that I have raised so far. On some issues, the EU risks sending the wrong signals not through any lack of institutions or treaties but through a lack of appetite to face up to some serious challenges. One such challenge, of course, is the Iranian nuclear programme, on which we have called for and the Government have sometimes sought more serious and wide-ranging EU-wide sanctions. Since that subject falls more properly in the debate on international affairs we shall have tomorrow, I shall return to the subject then, but a couple of other major foreign policy challenges are more closely bound up in European affairs, one of which is the western Balkans.
The Foreign Secretary and I both recently toured the Balkans, where I think we both received a warm reception from the new Government of Serbia, from President Tadic downwards. The election of a Government in Belgrade who are looking to strengthen their ties with EU nations and the EU and the arrest of Radovan Karadzic are hugely positive steps that underscore the extent to which the prospect of EU membership can help to entrench democracy and open economies in countries that have only recently had the opportunity to establish those things. Of course, we now look to Belgrade to take action to extradite the remaining war criminals.
I know that the Foreign Secretary also shares our alarm at the deadlock in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We in the Opposition have drawn attention to that, and the right hon. Gentleman and the Czech Foreign Minister have rightly drawn their colleagues' attention to it. We warmly support his action in that regard, which was consequently discussed at last month's General Affairs Council.
The deadlock in Bosnia and Herzegovina continues to concern us because, despite the signing of the stabilisation and association agreement between Bosnia and the EU, the situation remains very fragile. Given everything that has happened in Bosnia in the past, and the huge efforts eventually made to allow the people of that country to establish themselves in peace and greater prosperity, I hope that the Foreign Secretary agrees that there is an absolute need for a tough EU approach. That approach must have the carrot of eventual EU accession, as well as the stick of robust reactions to threats to Bosnia's stability and sovereignty.
That is why we were concerned when EU Defence Ministers suggested in early October that the small remaining force of international troops in Bosnia would be withdrawn imminently. It is also why we are reassured to know that the decision was taken at the UN Security Council on
We have a parallel concern about the situation in Kosovo. The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Mike Gapes, raised this matter, and the Foreign Secretary gave a helpful explanation of the position of the 2,000-strong EULEX mission. We have been worried that there is a serious danger that if the deployment of EULEX is status neutral it may not be able to implement the Ahtisaari plan on the future status of Kosovo. That would lead to de facto separation of the northern part of Kosovo under the UN, from the rest of Kosovo under the EU.
When the Minister for Europe winds up the debate, I hope that she will additionally clarify the following point: is it the case that the police, customs and courts in Serbian enclaves will be under UN jurisdiction, while EULEX will be in charge of areas with a majority Albanian population? If not, we will welcome the assurances about EULEX. Are the Government confident that the arrangements will not result in a de facto partition of Kosovo?
I think that I will get on, as I know that hon. Members, including my hon. Friend, wish to take part in the debate.
The immense subject of relations with Russia illustrates the same difficulty. I had hoped that the Foreign Secretary would say more about that, but he may address it tomorrow. The Opposition have rarely differed much with the Government in matters relating to Russia: we have stood together with them on matters such as the expulsion last year of four Russian diplomats, and we have shared their outrage at the murder of Alexander Litvinenko and the failure to bring Andrei Lugavoi to justice. We have certainly regretted with the Government Russia's rescinding of a number of international agreements on security in Europe, such as the conventional armed forces treaty. We all deplored Russia's actions in Georgia in August, while appreciating that the Georgian Government may also have made mistakes. Both the Government and Opposition have expressed support for democracy in Georgia and Ukraine and supported the ceasefire agreement sponsored by President Sarkozy, and so on.
The Foreign Secretary made a speech in Kiev earlier this year in which he said that Russia must learn that
"there can be no going back on fundamental principles of territorial integrity, democratic governance and international law" and that the west must
"raise the costs to Russia of disregarding its responsibilities".
We completely agreed with that speech, and at the same time we united with the Government in supporting trade and dialogue with Russia and in being open to better relations if they can be created in the future through what the right hon. Gentleman described as "hard-headed engagement".
Therefore, we differ with the Government not over this country's strategy towards relations with Russia but over whether that strategy was consistently pursued last month. In our view, the European Council was right to uphold the ceasefire conditions at its meeting on
I agree with much of what the right hon. Gentleman said. Handling Russia correctly is an enormous international problem, but there is another tiny, technical problem. As he knows, in the Council of Europe, Conservative MPs are in the same group as Mr. Putin's party, which, this time last year, pushed for an ex-KGB man to be made president of the Council of Europe. The Conservative party briefed in August that the right hon. Gentleman and the Leader of the Opposition would order those MPs to withdraw from that group. That has not yet happened; when will it happen?
One might regard that as a side issue, given the matters that I have just described. [Interruption.] No, and I want to put a point to the right hon. Gentleman on the issue. We have said that the arrangement cannot continue in its current form, although it is important that decisions on the issue are made in the Council of Europe, which, of course, is awaiting a report on the conflict in Georgia; it is due in January. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make the same point to his party, because on the Socialist group in the Council of Europe is Mr. Zhirinovsky's so-called Liberal Democratic party of Russia; it is nothing like as liberal or democratic as our Liberal Democrat colleagues in the Chamber. The Liberal Democratic party of Russia gives unequivocal support to the Putin Administration on a wide range of issues. Indeed, one member of the Liberal Democratic party delegation is the vice-president of the Socialist group, on which the Labour party sits. The right hon. Gentleman has asked us questions on the issue a couple of times, but I am sure that he will pursue the matter with the same vigour with his party's leaders. I look forward to him questioning the Foreign Secretary about that in future.
I really must bring my remarks to an end. There is much to be welcomed in the other steps that the EU has taken on Georgia—the humanitarian aid, the EU's participation in the donors' conference, the deployment of the monitoring mission, and the measures that the European Commission proposed in the eastern partnership, which we strongly support; we look forward to its launch under the Czech presidency. It is absolutely right for the EU to intend to extend its ties with not only Georgia and Ukraine, but Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Belarus. Of course, extending ties with the last of those countries is conditional on continued improvements in human rights and the rule of law there. However, I want to register our disappointment—a disappointment that I hope is shared by the Government—at the fact that the Commission's communication contained no explicit acceptance of any of those countries' European aspirations. It would have been a better communication if it had included that.
The Georgian crisis was a further pressing reminder that European countries have serious energy security issues to deal with. Energy security and liberalisation are linked. The more diverse the sources of supply in the European Union, and the freer the flow of energy between member states, the harder it is to disrupt any one country's energy supply. We welcome the recent European Commission proposal on the subject. We hope, too, that the Government will drive forward the earlier Lisbon reforms—an issue already raised in this debate—and help to drive forward many aspects of the single market that continue to need attention.
We hope that the Government will fight against excessive regulation from Europe, which is why we cannot understand why Labour MEPs are rebelling against their Government in trying to abolish the opt-out from the working time directive, a piece of legislation that should never have been in the EU's competence in the first place. Ending the opt-out would have a devastating effect on businesses trying to ride the recession, and particularly on the national health service.
The Foreign Secretary rightly mentioned climate change; European countries can be proud that they have taken a lead on the issue, but now is not the time to fall back. We must continue to lead by example. At this week's summit, we urge the French presidency to bring about an agreement to the package that does not compromise its effectiveness. These issues—the single market, energy liberalisation and climate change—are Europe's proper priorities, and they should be at the centre of the Heads of Government meeting on Thursday, rather than the issue of how to force the rejected and unpopular Lisbon treaty down the throats of the Irish people.
On climate change, energy and the single market, the EU has all the powers that it needs to help the peoples of Europe work together to succeed. One of the Government's greatest failures of leadership is that time and again they have let those obsessed with deeper political integration set the agenda, which is a dangerous and undemocratic distraction from so many concrete issues where the EU can make a positive and real difference to people's lives.
I want to concentrate on just three areas, beginning with the future of the Lisbon treaty. The Irish Government will no doubt introduce their own proposals in the next few days, and it is important that the UK continues to recognise that they will need to find a way to deal with that problem in their own time. That will certainly mean that, next year, it will not be not possible for the changes envisaged in the Lisbon treaty to come into effect in accordance with the original timetable, which raises questions about what will happen with regard to the future of the Commission, about the number of Commissioners, and about the size of the European Parliament.
If elections for the European Parliament are to go ahead next June, they will do so on the basis set out in the previous treaty—the Nice treaty—and not as envisaged in the Lisbon treaty. That is important, because a different number of Members are involved. There is the question, too, about the fact that the existing Nice treaty says that we should move to a situation in which the number of Commissioners is lower than the total number of states. That could give rise to a complex position on the relationship between the size of the Parliament and the size of the Commission. I hope that when the Minister for Europe responds to the debate, she will clarify the Government's attitude to those questions, because either some fancy footwork is needed or we will have to adopt procedures to reconcile the issues if the decision in Ireland is not to be made, as seems quite likely, before next June.
The second issue I should like to highlight—and I touched on this in an intervention on the Foreign Secretary—is related not just to Kosovo but to the future of the relationship between the European Union and the western Balkans as a whole. Today, one of the countries emerging from the former Yugoslavia is already within the European Union. A second country, Croatia, is in train to join the EU quite soon. A third country, Macedonia or, to use the term that appears in the documents, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia—
It is, but it is politically important. The reality is that there is no way, unless the issue of the name is resolved and unless there is flexibility or agreement between Greece and Macedonia, that that EU membership will happen. That is a fundamental difficulty.
Alongside the questions of Croatia and Macedonia, there is the question of what will happen to Serbia, on which outstanding issues relate to what is happening in Kosovo, including the unresolved question that only 52 countries recognise its independence and that five EU states to date still do not do so. We are therefore in difficulties regarding the Serbian application to join the EU. In addition, we must look at the other countries that emerged from that region. I do not want to go through each of them in turn, but there is an important associated question to consider. Albania was not part of the former Yugoslavia, but it has its own history, and there are difficulties arising from its internal political turmoil.
There will be a general election in Albania in the near future. I hope that the Albanians resolve their current internal difficulties and that the election is free, fair and subject to international standards, so that all countries in Europe can say that Albania is continuing to make good progress towards its aspiration of joining the EU. I hope that that is the case, but there are some controversial issues about electoral systems and related matters, which have led to some Albanian Members of Parliament going on hunger strike. We do not do it that way in this country—we just get involved in arguments that look a little bit facetious to the rest of the world—but perhaps the day will come when Members of Parliament in this country go on hunger strike.
The hon. Gentleman is Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, so does he agree that Greece should not be able to veto Macedonia's joining the EU unless the issue of the name is resolved?
Unfortunately for the hon. Gentleman and all of us who want to see simple solutions to such matters, EU enlargement cannot take place without the agreement of all member states, which is how it has always been. Regardless of how unreasonably or intransigently a country takes a particular view in blocking the membership of another country, that membership will not happen. Similarly, if one EU member state were to decide to block Turkey's membership for ever, Turkey's membership would not happen. That is the reality. The hon. Gentleman is younger than me, so perhaps he was not born at the time, but he knows that General de Gaulle—there is a cartoon about this in Portcullis House—vetoed British membership in the 1960s, so there is a precedent.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way—the shadow Foreign Secretary was reluctant to take my intervention, so I will make my point in a roundabout way. The Opposition say that they want to see enlargement with the likes of Serbia and Bosnia entering the EU, but whenever enlargement takes place, they call for a referendum and tell people that they would vote against the proposal. Does my hon. Friend think that position is slightly contradictory?
I do not want to explain the contradictions in the Conservative party, because it has enough problems in explaining them itself. It is vital that we enlarge the EU to include all the states in the western Balkans. We do not want to be in a position in which, by one means or another, Slovenia and Croatia are in and the other countries are out.
Reference has been made—I will therefore not go into the detail—to the current difficulties in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The solution to the difficulties there and in the whole of the former Yugoslavia lies in having the whole of that economic and political area within a common legal framework and a common means of trade and of free movement of people within the European Union.
I want to see whether I can cheer up the hon. Gentleman about Albania, about which he has rightly made some valid points. As he knows, the little-remembered organisation, the Council of Europe, also has a role. It laid down clear conditions about Albania's democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and the Albanians are conscious that they have not met those requirements yet. I am one of the members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe which monitors what goes on in Albania. We recently visited Albania, where people are conscious of the ongoing shortcomings, accept that they must do something about them and are working out ways to do so as quickly as possible.
I am grateful for that intervention, which gives me the opportunity to say that I recently met the leader of the Albanian opposition, who was on a visit here, and engaged in constructive discussions. I am sure that many people in Albania, in government and in opposition, are working together to resolve the difficulties. We need to be aware that there are still difficulties, and the hon. Gentleman has rightly pointed out that the Council of Europe, other organisations and individual Governments will work to try to assist the remarkable progress that the Albanian people have made since the regime of Enver Hoxha. We need to think back; the difference between where the country was 20 years ago and where it is today is remarkable. Sometimes, we take the changes since 1989 for granted.
When the Berlin wall came down in 1989, I was in Warsaw at a Socialist International meeting. On
The remarkable changes of less than 20 years ago are coming to a culmination. Countries that came out of the breakdown of the cold war and the ending of the bloc system—or the ending of national isolation, such as that of Albania—are coming into the democratic, pluralistic European Union. That is precious. We should work to make sure that it continues, because it provides political stability as well as economic prosperity to all the millions of people in central and eastern Europe.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that dynamic in relation to accession to the European Union may operate for Turkey and for the problem, which has seemed intractable for decades, of the division of Cyprus? Negotiations for accession to the European Union may pave the way for a just and viable solution based on UN resolutions.
I do not want to get into the subject of the negotiations on Cyprus, which is in a strange position because it is already inside the European Union but has a divide within it. We need to recognise that there are now ongoing negotiations, brokered by Alexander Downer, the former Australian Foreign Minister. In the past, the European Union played a role and Lord David Hannay, former ambassador to the United Nations, was involved in the previous negotiations—the abortive Annan plan. There is clearly now some prospect of a breakthrough, but considerable issues of detail still need to be resolved. We need to give the necessary support, and we hope that a resolution of the Cyprus problem in the next year or two will facilitate the continuation of the aspiration for Turkish membership of the European Union. There are also other issues in respect of Turkish membership, and they need to be looked at.
I turn to one final issue before I conclude: European Union expectations, and how we respond to them, in respect of the changes that have happened and will happen in the United States. President-elect Obama has been elected and there is growing recognition—all the commentators are talking about it—that in the next 20 or 30 years, the US focus will inevitably shift much more towards Asia and the Pacific. Europe will be expected to make a bigger contribution to resolving some of the issues on our periphery and in our neighbourhood.
That will place demands on us, and rather than opposing the European security and defence policy, we should be working hard to strengthen it. We will need much better co-ordination—not just having naval operations intercepting pirates off the coast of Somalia, as was mentioned, not just trying to save lives in Africa, and not just doing the good work done by European Union forces in the Lebanon conflict or in the other conflicts in the region. In time, there will be greater demands on EU countries to make a more serious contribution in other areas. That will place big demands, particularly at a time of economic crisis, on the budgets and commitments of some European Union states.
What the hon. Gentleman says is absolutely true. There will be a greater onus on European Union countries to deliver more in the realm of defence. Does he agree that other EU countries should be looking to their own defence budgets given that, as he knows, we provide a high percentage of our gross domestic product for defence, outshining several of our EU colleagues? Does he further agree that when other countries are asked to provide troops to EU missions, they should do so unconditionally and not impose conditions so that their troops do not come into any danger?
I completely agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman says. Perhaps that is a topic for tomorrow's debate rather than today's.
Five years ago, the European Union developed the European security strategy, to which the Foreign Secretary briefly referred. That is being revised and updated, and High Representative Solana has been asked to produce the new version that will be considered for adoption this week. I hope that we can recognise that the EU faces different challenges in 2008 from those that it faced in 2003, but that some of those challenges are enduring and will continue. It is important that we not only focus on the immediate, but recognise that we need a strategic view about how we as Europeans can work, as we have over the past 50 years, to maintain peace, stability and prosperity in our continent.
Sometimes, hearing the debates in this country and reading some of our newspapers, one would think that the argument is entirely about a small percentage point of spending on the common agricultural policy or rebates, but some of the issues are much more important than that. I hope that we can lift up our eyes and look at the big picture—to coin a phrase that was used by a former Prime Minister—and think about where we, as Europeans, wish to be in making our contribution to the security and prosperity of the whole world during the rest of this century.
Mr. Hague began his remarks by reminding the House that, in the past six months, the world has changed in dramatic and serious ways. He rightly talked about the changes in the economy and the changes in the security debate, particularly after the crisis in South Ossetia. He could have added the election of President-elect Barack Obama, which significantly changes the nature of the world's debate on foreign policy. Those three big forces—the economy, the security debate and President-elect Obama—push the case for greater co-operation within Europe and a strengthened European Union. The speeches of President-elect Obama show that he is absolutely clear that a strong, well co-ordinated Europe is in the interests of the United States and is what it wants to see, particularly as regards security and defence policy. The process of economic co-ordination whereby European nations can work together is incredibly important.
It is only through the European Union that Britain can exercise genuine influence as strongly as possible. I have to tell the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks that his party's position on many of these issues, including the Lisbon treaty, puts it in great difficulty in meeting the challenges ahead. When the Conservatives leave the European People's party, presumably later this year, their ability to influence the debate in Europe and engage with— [ Interruption. ] I am told that it will be next year, but it is clearly coming; I am glad that the Conservatives have confirmed that that is their intention. When that happens, their ability to influence the debate in Europe, and thus the debate in Washington, will be significantly reduced. The Conservatives must sort that out because if they do not, their position as a putative Government will be reduced.
The summit later this week will focus, quite rightly, on the financial and economic crisis; the question is how well the EU is doing now, and how well it will do in future, in responding to this urgent crisis. One thing is absolutely clear: we are much better placed than in previous serious downturns because of the single market. Indeed, we are much better placed than we were in the 1930s—parallel economic times to the ones in which we are living. If we did not have the single market, the calls for protectionism and trade barriers across Europe would be loud and potentially devastating. It is fantastic that we have that single market.
There is no room for complacency, of course. When one listens to some of the remarks of Prime Minister Berlusconi, for example, one worries slightly about the commitment of some of Europe's leaders. Nevertheless, the fact that the European Union is there and has tight rules prevents people such as the Italian Prime Minister from undermining the importance of open and free markets, which will be critical if we are to escape from the current economic downturn. I was pleased to see in the Foreign Secretary's statement on Monday, ahead of his meeting, that the Doha round will be re-engaged later this month. That is absolutely critical and backs up the importance of the single market.
That vital background notwithstanding, I do not think that Europe has necessarily covered itself in glory in the past few months. It had a shaky start once the banking collapses were well known. There was a summit on
There is no single treasury in the EU, and nor should there be—and nor will there be one before colleagues on the Conservative Benches start raising ghosts—but what the EU has done in the last two months has shown how well policy can be co-ordinated. The theory of international policy co-ordination makes absolutely clear the importance of co-ordinated fiscal policy boosts in this sort of economic climate. The multiplier effects are much greater. The Prime Minister was quite right to say that if Britain and France have fiscal stimuli and other countries do not, there is a danger that the benefits to Britain of our fiscal stimulus will be reduced because some of it will leak into extra imports. That is why the Government are right to put pressure on the Germans, the Irish and those in other member states and to argue that they should join in the policy co-ordination on fiscal stimulus. We will all benefit if they do so.
I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman. I would venture to suggest that there are two reasons for the United States being in more difficulty than the European Union. First, the degree to which the state must get involved in order to provide a stimulus is anathema to the current US Administration, and, secondly, it has a lame duck President. Everyone is wondering what President-elect Obama would do in such circumstances. Although I agree that the EU has handled the situation much better than the United States, I have described the probable reasons for that.
I think that that was supposed to be a helpful intervention, but we know what President-elect Obama wants to do. He wants to do the sort of things that Britain, France and the European Union are doing. He has said that clearly on the record.
There has been some debate in the press, and earlier in our proceedings, about the position of the Germans on the fiscal stimulus. The Foreign Secretary read out figures referring to 1 per cent. of GDP and so on. Yesterday, I was privileged to be able to speak to some German parliamentarians who gave me the true facts behind the German stimulus package and told me how they thought things were working in the Bundestag. The €50 billion stimulus package that has been put forward contained many measures that they were going to introduce any way, so it really does not amount to 1 per cent. of GDP. It was fair for the Foreign Secretary to read out those figures, but they do not quite stand up to the analysis he provided.
However, Chancellor Merkel is having a few problems, and it is clear that she might be changing her mind as the hours tick by. She has called a crisis meeting with the German equivalent of the CBI on Sunday, and as German output is plummeting, the cries that action be taken by the German Government are getting louder. I hope that by Thursday or Friday, Chancellor Merkel might have moved on a bit and that our Government will therefore keep the pressure on. The problem is that she is slightly trapped—as is the Finance Minister who is her Social Democrat partner—by probably the only political pledge that they gave in order to have a balanced budget. Electoral problems—internal domestic German politics, not economic rationale—are actually preventing the Germans from going for the stimulus. Let us be absolutely clear about that. We have got to persuade both the Chancellor and her colleague that it is in their political interest, and in Germany's interest, to join in with this stimulus. If that can be done, it will be far more effective.
The other issue relating to the economic crisis in Europe is the position of the euro, and the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks had some fun on that point. There are different views on that, both in this House and across Europe. Many of the smaller European countries have looked at Iceland and Denmark and said, "We're really delighted that we are in the euro." Talks with the bigger countries have also revealed that they are pleased because the euro has meant that there have not been big depreciations in the weaker economies, which would have caused problems for the German economy and the other big economies, and made their recovery much more difficult. There is a strong argument to suggest that the euro has been a good thing for those who are already in it.
The next few months and years will be a testing and interesting time because we will see whether the euro is as strong as those of us who agree with it believe it to be. There is no doubt that the test for the euro was always going to be the first major recession—and this will, I fear, be the recession of all recessions. If the euro can withstand a recession, it will show that an optimal, single currency area in Europe is completely sustainable. The pressures that exist have already been shown by what has happened in the bond market and the fact that the different yields on bonds between Germany and some of the other weaker economies have been increasing in recent weeks, particularly in Italy, Spain and Greece, which is not surprising given the problem of their debts. However, no one is talking about those countries being forced to leave the single currency, and that is a fascinating and significant fact. Who knows whether that will still be the case in a year's time, but if the euro does survive with all the current member states intact, that will—
In a second. I was waiting for the hon. Gentleman to intervene and if he lets me finish this sentence, I will bring him in. If the euro does survive this period, that will make a strong case for it, and some of the people who have been opposed to Europe will have great difficulty knocking that down.
Has it occurred to the hon. Gentleman that, over a fairly extended period, there has been a failure of the Lisbon agenda, the total failure of the stability and growth pact, higher and higher increases in employment—including in Germany, France and Spain—and massive over-regulation? The real problem that that encapsulates is not the possibility that the euro might somehow prove to be successful, but that the people in Europe will become increasingly concerned that it will implode and with it the democracy on which the whole of the European Union, through its individual member states, ultimately depends.
The hon. Gentleman did rise to the bait slightly in that intervention, and his analysis of economic matters was rather partial. I hope that he does not really want the euro to implode—well, he probably does want that to happen—because it would not be in the interest of European countries or Britain if it does. What I have been reading, both from politicians and in the opinion polls, suggests quite the reverse of what the hon. Gentleman said. People in the eurozone are drawing quite a different conclusion from him and saying, "Thank God we've got the euro."
Is the logical conclusion of the hon. Gentleman's argument that during this extremely fragile economic time we should consider joining the euro? If so, what terms does he think the UK might secure?
Let me explain for the hon. Gentleman that we do not think that Britain should join the euro in the near term. There was some inaccurate reporting—just for a change—of the Liberal Democrat position, but it has been our position for more than one Parliament that UK entry into the euro could not happen in the space of a few years. The situation would have to converge and develop over a period of time.
It will be particularly interesting to see whether this downturn changes some of the British economy's underlying characteristics, however, which might make it easier to join, particularly with respect to monetary markets and how they operate. These are interesting times. There are a lot of questions to which none of us in the House yet knows the answer. I am looking forward to having this debate in a year or two's time, when the dust has settled and when I happen to believe that the evidence will be on our side.
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that it is not entirely impossible that some existing members of the euro will not be members in two or three years' time?
I have already said that that is of course a possibility, but I do not think that it is going to happen, given the evidence that we have seen so far. However, I readily accept that these are early days.
The Government's policy is to have a referendum of the British people on the euro before we would accede to it, but they have a history of reneging on referendums. Is the Liberal Democrat policy that the people should be consulted before Britain would accede to the euro?
The other major issue at the summit is climate change, which has been a critical policy priority for the French presidency. Getting a deal on climate change is critical. I rather regret that the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks devoted only a tiny portion of his 40-minute speech to that critical issue, because in many ways the decision that will be taken this week is potentially historic. What concerns Liberal Democrats here and in Brussels is the backsliding that we have seen both from the Germans and from Poland and other countries in central and eastern Europe. We urge the Government to stand absolutely firm on the agreements that member states made only last year.
There is an historic opportunity at stake. We now have a President-elect in the United States who was elected on a ticket to take real measures to tackle climate change. Opinion in China has changed dramatically in recent years. The Chinese Government are talking about moving on climate change. It would be deeply ironic and quite disastrous if the European Union, having been the proponent of major measures, suddenly relaxed its pressure on the rest of the world on climate change. We have the discussions in Poznan—we do not quite know how they will conclude—but crucially, we have the Copenhagen summit this time next year, too. Therefore, we have to show leadership on climate change in the European Union.
As both the Prime Minister and we on the Liberal Democrat Benches have argued, the current economic circumstances present us with a massive opportunity. We should be investing in new technologies and trying to develop more green-collar jobs as a result of our current situation. The Foreign Secretary was quite right to call for a low-carbon economy as the vision for dealing with both the economic crisis and the climate change challenge.
The Foreign Secretary said a little about the parameters of a potential deal. He talked about demonstration carbon capture and storage sites, which may be allowed to be developed and paid for in Poland and elsewhere. I hope that the Minister for Europe can say a little more in her winding-up speech about the Government's thinking, without necessarily showing their hand too much, on where the compromise might be. It seems to us that we should be helping Poland and other countries that are so dependant on coal to restructure their energy generating industries. That is a sensible thing to do—it is in our interests and their interests, too. The question is whether money can be found through the auction of the permits and some of what is earmarked for Poland and other countries in a similar position. That seems to be the way forward, as well the demo sites that the Foreign Secretary mentioned. I hope that the Minister for Europe will be able to say a bit more about that critical issue. With respect to Germany, Chancellor Merkel pushed hard for progress on climate change during the German presidency of the European Union, and we should not allow her, of all people, to lead the backsliding in respect of the number of sectors that will be covered by the regulations.
I deeply regret the fact that the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks did not cover this critical issue very much in his speech. The Conservatives' position on climate change and energy policy is looking rather shaky. They objected to those parts of the Lisbon treaty. One would have thought that, even if they agreed with no other parts of the treaty, they would at least have agreed with the parts relating to climate change and energy policy. This makes their position look not only inconsistent, but frankly bizarre. It also reflects their rather chequered record on these matters in the European Parliament. Their MEPs do not always support the more progressive environmental legislation. Only the other day, a Conservative MEP, Roger Helmer, who is actually on the climate change committee of the European Parliament, said that the climate change negotiations were
"the greatest collective flight from reality that we have ever seen".
If that is the position of Conservatives elected to the European Parliament, they clearly do not want to lead on this critical issue at European level. They would be in a disastrous position, should this country ever have the madness to elect them to government.
There are one or two other people who share the views of Roger Helmer. Their position is about as isolated in the European debate as that of the Conservative party. It will interest the hon. Gentleman to know that the summit on Thursday and Friday will deal with the Lisbon treaty. As we can see—or cannot see—from the draft conclusions, it is not clear what is going to be discussed. It is not clear whether ground will be given on the issue of the Commissioner, or how the summit will deal with the other concerns of the Irish people that were clearly evident in the referendum, whether on abortion, corporation tax or Ireland's position on neutrality, or deal with other issues that have emerged in the debate. The Foreign Secretary was absolutely right, however, to say that we should leave it to the Irish Government to explain to us and to our European partners the way forward that they wish to take—
The hon. Gentleman may say that, but we all know that the only way in which the Irish could ratify the Lisbon treaty is by putting the question to the Irish people once again. It will ultimately be up to the Irish people to decide whether the Lisbon treaty is ratified.
I would be more than happy to do that— [ Interruption. ] We have discussed this many times in these debates— [ Interruption. ]
I refer the hon. Gentleman to my many answers to his colleagues over the years.
The truth is that the Tories desperately want this issue to be resolved. They want it to go away. If the Irish situation is not sorted out, and if the Lisbon treaty is neither ratified nor confined and buried, the Conservatives would have to put the issue to the people, if they were to be elected—that is a very big "if", of course—because that is their policy. If the outcome were a no vote, it would be interesting to see what the following four years of Conservative foreign policy would consist of. It would be an absolute disaster. They would have no influence in Europe, and no influence in Washington. They would have even less influence than they have now. That is the unspoken dilemma on the Conservative Front Bench. They are wishing for something that is not their policy.
The hon. Gentleman is being extraordinarily disparaging to the British people by saying that their decision in a referendum would somehow make our foreign policy inconsistent and impossible within the EU. Surely if the British people had a vote, it would give any Government of this country a huge mandate to renegotiate our position within that framework.
I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that if there were a referendum, I would argue for a yes vote, so his conclusions are bizarre.
Let me move on to discuss some of the external relations issues that will be debated at the forthcoming summit. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks rightly talked about Zimbabwe, and I agree with many of his remarks. We welcome the tighter EU sanctions announced earlier this week. I share the Foreign Secretary's concern that Russia and China might still be a block for a future resolution at the UN Security Council. I understand that Britain is keen to go to the Security Council to seek another resolution. That has certainly appeared in the press, although I see the Foreign Secretary shaking his head, so perhaps the Minister for Europe will clarify the matter later.
I hope that Britain and France would not be the only countries arguing for another UN resolution to get better international action on Zimbabwe. We should ask the EU High Representative to join us at the table to argue in favour of such a resolution, and particularly for a referral of Mugabe and a number of those in the ZANU-PF leadership to the International Criminal Court if they failed to leave office within a stated period. We must use the law as a mechanism to force Mugabe out, perhaps by telling Mugabe and his henchmen, "If you do not leave power in the next three to six months, we will harry you for the rest of your lives with a warrant to arrest and prosecute you." We all know that we cannot do that without a UN Security Council resolution, because Zimbabwe is not a signatory to the ICC treaty. It is important for us to try to persuade Russia and China to go down the legal route of trying to remove Mugabe.
I want to reiterate a point that I made earlier when I intervened on the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks—a point about the importance of giving the right to work to Zimbabwean asylum seekers. I believe it is absolutely scandalous that British politicians stand up, wring their hands about how dreadful Mugabe is and say that we are relatively powerless if South Africa and others do not act, when they themselves refuse to act for those Zimbabweans who are here and whom we know we can help today and tomorrow and until they are able to return home. Liberal Democrat Members will thus challenge both Government and Conservative Members on how serious they really are about helping Zimbabwe in the future; if they are not prepared to help even the Zimbabweans who are living here, their words are, frankly, meaningless.
Another issue that I hope the summit will deal with is whether the EU should send forces to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We have debated the matter in exchanges during Foreign and Commonwealth questions. On the last such occasion, the Foreign Secretary effectively told me, "No, that is not the right thing to do; we need a single command structure under MONUC—the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo." I was told that I was completely wrong and that the Belgians and Dutch supported his idea.
I am afraid that the Foreign Secretary is wrong. We could have an EU force in the DRC with a separate command structure that relates to MONUC, as we did in 2003 under Operation Artemis—that is perfectly feasible and he knows it. Furthermore, as I understand it, earlier this week, the Belgians, Dutch, Finns and Swedes were arguing in favour of an EU deployment. Not only that, but the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon was also asking the EU for such a deployment. The people who head the MONUC mission want EU troops now. It may be great news that the UN has sanctioned another 3,000 troops for MONUC, but we all know, despite the letters from the Prime Minister to a number of countries around the world, that those troops will take some time to arrive. Estimates vary from four to six months. During that period, the EU should send our troops to defend people in this really difficult time, as there could be a massive humanitarian crisis if we fail to act.
I call on the Government to change their mind on that. We have a chance on Thursday and Friday to change the position. If the Foreign Secretary made such a change, he would have our total support, and I hope we could then work with our EU colleagues on securing such a solution. I think that that would strengthen the work being done on a political solution for the east of Congo.
There are a number of other countries that I could rattle through, but we shall probably deal with them tomorrow. However, I want to touch on Russia, because it has formed part of the debate. I particularly want to discuss the invasion of Georgia and the South Ossetian crisis. I think that both Conservative Front Benchers and the Government got it wrong back in the summer, when they argued for early and accelerated NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine in the immediate aftermath of the crisis.
There seems to be some shaking of heads, but there are quotations that I could bandy about. For example, the Foreign Secretary told The Guardian on
"the formal process" towards NATO membership
"kicked off yesterday with the establishment of a Nato-Georgia commission".
For the first time, he said, there was a process for membership. The implication of what both he and the leader of the Conservative party were saying was that they wanted to fast-track that process, which I believe would have been a disaster then and would be a disaster now. It sends all the wrong messages. That does not mean that we should allow Russia to have a veto; the issue is whether it makes sense for Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO now, and whether we should sign a treaty with them in the context of article 5 of the North Atlantic treaty. I believe that that would be completely absurd. I really do not understand the position of either the Government or the Conservatives: I think that that position is deeply reckless.
I think that both the Government's position and—if I may speak for the Conservative Front Bench—the Conservative position are clear. It is the sovereign right of Georgia and Ukraine to decide their alliances. It is not for patronising, pro-Kremlin, wishy-washy liberals in London to say to the people of Georgia and Ukraine that they cannot join if they so choose and if they meet the criteria. Respect their sovereignty, and I will try to respect the intelligence of the Liberal Democrats.
I think that, as usual, the right hon. Gentleman has not only oversold his case but made himself look rather silly in doing so. He should know that this is not just a question of the Georgian and Ukrainian Governments joining NATO, but a question that arises for every single existing NATO member country. Strict criteria should govern which countries we give mutual defence guarantees for, and to be honest, given the rapidity with which NATO has expanded, I do not believe that some of those criteria have been applied as rigorously as they should have been in the past. It certainly does not look as though they were applied, in the heady days after the attack, by either the Foreign Secretary or the Conservative leader.
Let us bear in mind the significance of a mutual defence guarantee. It means that we would have to support our constituents' going to different parts of the world to put their lives on the line, and we should do that only if we believe that it is in the collective interests of this country, Europe and NATO. Sometimes I think that people are prepared to spread these mutual defence guarantees around like confetti, without serious strategic analysis.
I am grateful for the opportunity to give the House a rare treat,—Mr. MacShane and I agree with each other. Mr. Davey has not given an answer to the right hon. Gentleman's entirely valid point that it is entirely up to the Ukrainians and the Georgians to apply for whatever they want to apply for. The answer that we have heard is that it is our right to say no, but would the hon. Gentleman care to answer this question? Is it their independent right, without interference by anyone else, to apply?
Of course it is. I do not see how whatever I have said contradicts that. Of course those countries have the right to apply, and we have the right to reject their application or tell them that they must do a number of things before they can be considered.
Let me move from the issue of Georgia and Ukraine to that of our whole relationship with Russia. Over the years, like the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, we have agreed with the Government on many issues involving United Kingdom-Russia relations, but my analysis of recent events is slightly different from that of the Conservative party. I actually think that Russia is far weaker than many people recognise. I think that with the collapse in the oil price and their economy in tatters, the Russians are in no position to be the scary bear that some people like to depict them as. I think that this presents Britain and the European Union with a real opportunity to try to influence Russian opinion and that country's direction. I would go further: this is an historic opportunity. There have been two tendencies in Russian foreign policy over the centuries. One has sometimes been called the St. Petersburg tendency. It is a tendency to consider greater co-operation with European allies and to place Russia in the mainstream of Europe. Unfortunately, that tendency has often been overshadowed by what I call the mother Russia tendency. That is aggressive and unpleasant, and we need to stand up to it.
In diplomacy, given the historic opportunity we have with a weak Russia and a much stronger Europe, and with a new President of the United States who is progressive and rational, we should be talking to the Russians in the way that is proposed, to try to persuade them to see their historic destiny in mainstream Europe. That would change the whole dynamics of the security situation around the world.
This summit is particularly important because of the background of President-elect Obama and the impact of his relationship with our country and the EU. I am sure that this is already happening, but I hope that, certainly in some of the informal discussions, the Government will be pushing for the EU to engage actively and respond positively to some of the proposals coming from the new Obama team, whether in respect of Afghanistan and troop deployments, the European security and defence policy or burden sharing. Although it is not specifically on the agenda, I hope the Government will see this as a critical chance. We have to respond quickly to the new American Administration, both to influence them and to show them that we are interested if they want to take a more multilateral approach and engage with the EU.
This summit is critical in getting the economics right, and also in getting the climate change and security measures right. We look forward to holding the Government to account, to make sure they argue Britain's case and the case for Europe as strongly and effectively as possible.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As you will be aware, Mr. Speaker has on a number of occasions told Members how important it is that announcements are made to this House first, rather than outside it before Members are given an opportunity to hear the information in question. This afternoon, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions issued an announcement to the media that he intends to make an oral statement to the House tomorrow. He has done so before he has made that statement to the House, and he has issued to the media an excerpt from it. May I ask you a couple of questions, Madam Deputy Speaker? First, what redress do Members have in a situation where another Member apparently blatantly disregards the interests of this House? Secondly, since the Secretary of State has already issued an excerpt of that statement to the media, do you, Madam Deputy Speaker, have power to require him to come before the House tonight to make a statement at the end of business, rather than leaving that until tomorrow, after we have read about it in the newspapers?
Order. I am sure all Members present are very well aware of the Speaker's ruling that he likes Ministers initially to make statements in the House. The hon. Gentleman's remarks are on the record and will have been heard. I will make sure that they are conveyed to Mr. Speaker so that he is aware of them.
I want to talk mainly about Turkey this evening, because although I welcome Turkey's application to join the European Union and I hope that it is successful, there are certain conditions that must be met before it joins.
A few weeks ago, I was invited to give an address at the memorial service of a very notable Turkish politician who was the former Deputy Prime Minister of the country: Erdal Inonu. He was the son of a former President of Turkey, who followed Ataturk as the second President. I mention that because although it might appear from what I shall say today that I am only a critic of Turkey, I am in fact also a long-time friend of Turkey.
I chaired for three years the Inter-Parliamentary Union's committee on the human rights of parliamentarians. Before that, I served on the committee for a further three years. At almost each session of the IPU conferences—which took place twice a year—Turkey would appear before our committee as one of the countries that was oppressing its own elected politicians. We had a long-running battle with the Turks on the issue of Kurdish politicians, who were put in prison for little more than the kind of freedom of expression that all of us as elected politicians take for granted. Eventually, some of those politicians were released, only to be charged again on various counts.
A few days ago, one of those politicians, Leyla Zana—the name may be familiar to Members who follow Turkish human rights matters closely—was sentenced again to 10 years in prison by a Turkish court in Diyarbakir. The court ruled that she had violated the penal code and the anti-terror law in nine speeches, one of which was given here in the House of Commons.
Leyla Zana is accused of having supported, and spread propaganda in favour of, the PKK—the Kurdistan Workers Party. At a celebration in Diyarbakir, she stated that the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, should be regarded as one of three Kurdish leaders. That is, I think, a perfectly acceptable point of view, even though Ocalan is rightly in jail for having been involved in many of the terrorist attacks that took place in Turkey. I am pleased to hear that he is now out of solitary confinement. Leyla Zana will, of course, appeal against the verdict.
I mentioned Mr Inonu because he was the first Turkish politician to bring Leyla Zana into his party and into Parliament. That was the first instance of Kurds, mainly from the south-east of Turkey, being elected as Kurds in the Parliament. That was in 1991. Her decision at that time to take the parliamentary oath in Kurdish led to immediate calls for her arrest. She actually took the oath in Kurdish and Turkish, which is not unlike what I did when I was first admitted to this House; I took the oath in English and Welsh, and there was no threat to arrest me after doing that.
That was the first time that Kurdish had been spoken in the Turkish Parliament. Leyla Zana was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but was released in 2004 due to international pressure. She has received a lot of international prizes. She was awarded an international prize in 1994 and the Sakharov prize the following year. Despite her personal sufferings and losses during the 10 years of imprisonment—her husband and her children have had to leave Turkey and are in another country—she has continued to speak on behalf of her own people. Since her release in 2004, she has done so on every possible occasion. One such occasion was a meeting in this House of Commons. I was not present, but I am told that it was where she made one of the nine speeches for which she has been convicted again.
What Leyla Zana asks for is recognition for the Kurdish language and Kurdish identity, and freedom of expression, in addition to political and cultural rights. She seeks a non-violent and democratic solution for the Kurds living within Turkey's borders.
A few months before, I had visited south-east Turkey for the first time in seven years. On the previous occasion, I had been there with the Select Committee on International Development, when we examined the support that the British Government were providing through export credit guarantees for the Ilisu dam in Turkey, which is a highly controversial development. The dam would result in the displacement of 80,000 people, mainly Kurds. They are told that they will receive compensation, but this plan has been around for a large number of years and nobody to whom I have spoken in south-east Turkey knows what the compensation will be. Organisations such as the World Bank, the United Nations and so on no longer give support for dam developments of this kind, which displace so many people. As a result of the International Development Committee's report, the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry rightly decided to withdraw British support for export credit guarantees. Since then, several other countries have also withdrawn their support, the latest being Germany—I think that the only country providing support is Switzerland.
I had lunch with Leyla Zana, who is regarded as a terrorist. I first met her when she was serving her prison sentence in Ankara. The prison governor allowed me two and a half hours with her, during which we discussed her situation. She had been given a small patch of land to garden, but as any hon. Member who knows prisons in Turkey will be aware, that prison was not a pleasant place to be for 10 years. The prison governor himself said to me at the time, "She should not be here." It was obvious to everybody, except the Turkish Government, that she should not have been in prison.
After 10 years, due to international pressure, Leyla Zana was released. She still holds the same views; nothing has changed. A growing number of terrorist attacks are being carried out in south-east Turkey. The number of people who have been killed in that civil war so far is 30,000 to 45,000, including more than 20,000 Kurdish guerrillas, 5,000 Turkish soldiers and security force members and 5,000 civilians—of course, millions of people have been uprooted.
Those of us who understand the importance of culture and language really understand how the Kurds in south-east Turkey feel. I am not saying that this is the entire answer to the problem, but I believe that if the Turkish Government made more moves to meet the social and cultural needs of the Kurds in south-east Turkey, that would diffuse some of the support that many people in that region give the PKK. I spoke to a mayor of a town—I will not mention it or him by name, in case he lands up in jail—who told me that his brother was fighting in the mountains and that he was ready to send his son to fight in the mountains too. The strength of feeling had grown enormously in the six or seven years since I was last in the region.
I had various conversations with people in the Turkish Government, but the situation was difficult for Ankara—it still is—at the time I was there because the Government were focused on their own existence. They had been in trouble with the courts and there was a possibility that the Government of the ruling AK party would be dissolved. But, of course, Ankara has, for decades, denied the existence of more than 12 million ethnic Kurds and has forced them to hide their customs, language and very identity or face charges of treason. That discrimination against one fifth of the country's population was institutionalised in the 1920s, with the founding of the Turkish republic, which was committed to imposing a uniform national identity.
The persecution of the Kurds escalated dramatically in the 1980s, as the PKK gained strength. In 1991, at the height of that persecution, Leyla Zana became the first and only Kurdish woman elected to Turkey's Parliament since the foundation of the republic—I have already mentioned what she was then jailed for. She had taken the first steps on the path to Ankara central closed prison, which I can assure hon. Members is a pretty ghastly place.
As anybody who visits south-east Turkey will realise—I took our ambassador there; our ambassador was fairly new and had not been to the south-east before—to many Kurds, Leyla Zana is a modern-day Joan of Arc, a champion of human rights for her people. Her critics see her as a separatist puppet, ill-trained for a Government post and obsessed with challenging the official myth that no ethnicity except Turk exists in Turkey.
When Leyla Zana was 15, she married the former mayor of Diyarbakir, Mehdi Zana, and developed her political consciousness the hard way; he was jailed during the military rule in 1980 for the promotion of the Kurdish cause, and she and her children visited him in prison. She told a journalist:
"We were always met with brutal and inhuman pressure".
She said that the Turkish guards beat them. She said:
"They banned speaking in Kurdish. When we told them that we did not speak Turkish, they bluntly told us to look in each others' eyes, and that would suffice."
I do not know whether any hon. Members have seen Harold Pinter's "Mountain Language," but it is an exceptional play lasting only about an hour and half, and I saw it at the National Theatre. It involves only three people—a Kurdish mother, her son, who is in jail, and the jailer. The mother, who speaks Kurdish only, is unable to speak to her son throughout her visit to the jail, because Kurdish is prohibited and only Turkish is allowed. The play is stunning and once one has seen it, the message becomes clear.
From the time of those visits, Zana began to fight back. In 1984, when her children were old enough, she started school. In three years, she made progress very quickly and she then took a job with the newly established Human Rights Association in Diyarbakir. In the course of defending the rights of her imprisoned husband and other detainees, Zana herself fell victim to official brutality. She said:
"I was detained during a protest in front of Diyarbakir prison in 1988...For seven days I was interrogated under torture. I was forced to take off my clothes and was brutally beaten."
Zana subsequently ran for parliament and won a seat in 1991 on an SHP coalition ticket—the SHP is the sister party of the Labour party, it is a member of Socialist International and it was Inonu's party. After her open embrace of Kurdish rights before a national audience, an outraged military—one should never forget how strong the military are in Turkey—applied pressure to the SHP. She and the other SHP deputies were forced out of the party and founded the Democracy party.
Zana kept her seat for three years while the Ankara state security court's public prosecutor pushed the National Assembly to lift parliamentary immunity from prosecution for the Democracy party deputies. In March 1994, Parliament accepted the charge that Democracy party members were affiliated with the PKK and lifted their immunity. Authorities interrogated Zana for two weeks and charged her with affiliation to the PKK. Before the year was out, the Ankara state security court convicted Zana and the three other former Democracy party deputies that I mentioned—Hatip Dicle, Selim Sadak and Orhan Dogan—of membership of an armed gang, and sentenced each to 15 years imprisonment. The then Prime Minister, Tancu Çiller, justified the incident as the PKK's dismissal from Parliament. The Democracy party was outlawed, and other former MPs went into exile in Belgium.
Zana spent 10 years of her young life in prison, and has now been convicted for another 10 years. She spent her time in prison reading, studying, writing letters to supporters and tending to her little garden. She hardly ever sees her children, because they now live in another country. I met her daughter and asked her whether she wanted to go into politics like her mother. She shook her head violently and said, "No, I want to be an IT consultant."
In the south-east of Turkey, everybody talks about Leyla Zana. She has become a role model and a source of pride for Kurdish women. She is often credited with improving their position in the patriarchal Kurdish society. After her example, Kurdish women feel more encouraged to break with the old traditions of obeying their men and devoting their lives to housekeeping. It must be said that those traditions do pervade Kurdish culture. The most interesting point about studies of Kurdish nationalism, especially in the Ottoman empire, is that they are only about men and do not mention women at all. Under the weight of its historical traditions, Kurdish society has very paternal characteristics. It is highly probable that a foreigner browsing through those studies would gain the impression that Kurdish society is composed only of men. It is as though no Kurdish woman lived between the legendary warrior, Black Fatma, who fought in the Crimean war in the 1850s and Leyla Zana herself.
Zana has paid a high price for her place in history. Although she suffers from a blood circulation disorder—during her first period in prison she required frequent visits to the prison clinic—she told her lawyer to play down her ill-health. Whenever we met the Turkish delegations at the IPU human rights commission, they would tell me that Leyla Zana had been offered the option of leaving prison early on grounds of ill-health, but she refused it. She wanted to win her freedom on the justice of her cause.
Globally, several human rights organisations have raised the profile of all the MPs. Amnesty International named Leyla as a special focus case and members of the US Congress and of several European Parliaments nominated her for the Nobel peace prize. As I said, she won the Sakharov prize.
Turkey's internal political climate has changed significantly as fears of militant Kurdish separatism diminished after Ocalan was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. Turkey also wants to join the European Union. However, from the evidence of my visits to the south-east of Turkey over the past six years, that desire has somewhat diminished. The Turks are a proud people and they feel that they are being snubbed by the international community. Nevertheless, they have had to make changes in many of their laws to attempt to comply with European Union membership.
On paper, the reforms have been encouraging. The ban on broadcasting in Kurdish was lifted, with certain qualifications, in 2001 and 2002. Other legal changes allow for the teaching of languages, including Kurdish, but the authorities have yet to approve any courses in Kurdish. Despite recent reforms, the Turkish authorities still appear to view the legitimate requests of Kurdish citizens for linguistic and cultural rights as a danger to Turkish territorial integrity. Of course, people such as Leyla Zana continue to pay the price. She still advocates co-operation and fraternity between all of Turkey's people. She has said:
"Peace, once attained, will bring women, Kurds—and Turks as well—innumerable opportunities for developing their human capacities."
She has lived that lesson.
People living in the south-east of Turkey still have enormous problems. The mayor of Diyarbakir told me that freedom of speech was slipping away in the region, and people were not allowed to use the Kurdish language in many official situations, so a lot of resentment was building up. That fuelled support for the PKK and harmed relations with neighbouring countries, such as Iraq. When I met the deputy chair of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, he said that he understood that to defeat the PKK, the Government had to address the grievances of the Kurds in the south-east. Military means alone would not be successful. That is the clear message. If the Turks really want to solve the problems of south-east Turkey, people cannot be prosecuted for using the letter "w" in an official invitation written in both Kurdish and Turkish because it is not part of the Turkish alphabet. People should not be arrested for singing Kurdish songs or using their own language in official situations. All the groups I talked to in the south-east were strongly opposed to the building of the Ilisu dam, which was the subject of little or no consultation.
Last week, the European Council, in its report on accession, discussed enlargement and mentioned Turkey in particular. It said:
"The Council is disappointed to note that over the year just passed Turkey has made only limited progress, particularly as regards political reforms".
Substantial efforts to ensure that Turkey meets the Copenhagen criteria must be made in several fields, such as continued judicial reform; establishing an anti-corruption strategy; effective protection of citizens' rights; full implementation of a policy of zero tolerance of torture and ill-treatment; ensuring freedom of expression and religion in law and in practice for all religious communities; respect for property rights; respect for and protection of minorities; strengthening of cultural rights, women's rights, children's rights and trade union rights; and the civilian authority's control of the military.
As regards the south-east of Turkey, the Council takes note of the Turkish Government's decision to complete the south-eastern Anatolia project—the GAP—and emphasises the need to implement measures to ensure economic, social and cultural development. The Council, like us all, condemns all terrorist attacks and violence in Turkish territory in the strongest terms possible and expresses its full solidarity with the people of Turkey. The EU reiterates that it absolutely supports Turkey in its fight against terrorism, which must be conducted with due regard for human rights, fundamental freedoms and international law while preserving regional peace and security.
The European Parliament has also written a draft report on the Council's report as it affects Turkey. It contains a series of points about human rights as well as about the need for respect for and the protection of minorities. It is only a draft report, but it will be coming before the European Parliament shortly.
I strongly support Turkish membership of the EU. It would be good for Turkey and for the rest of the EU, too. However, it must meet some provisions. There must be faster movement on reform. There must be respect for the cultural and linguistic rights of Kurds—I can hardly describe the Kurds in Turkey as a minority, since they make up 12 million of the population. It is incumbent on us all to keep putting pressure on the Turkish Government to meet the criteria that the EU would wish Turkey to meet if it is to join.
I have great affection for Turkey and its people. Since they were ruled by the military, which was not all that long ago, the IPU has been quite patient with Turkey. We have congratulated them when there has been progress and we have given them a sharp kick when we think that they could be making greater progress in certain areas.
Finally, on Leyla Zana, the IPU sent people to her first trial. They said that she had a totally unfair trial and that her defence counsel was not given the proper opportunity to put the case on her behalf. When she was sentenced, there was an appeal. The same judge who made the judgment in the first case started the case off by saying, "I was the judge at her first trial, and I am not going to change my mind." Whatever new arguments there were, he had already made it clear that he would not change his mind.
If Leyla Zana comes before a court again, I shall be very concerned. As things are in Turkey, she will not get a fair trial. When she was sentenced last week, her defence counsel was not there. He had been told that the trial would start later in the day, and was then phoned about 10 minutes before the trial started to be told that it was starting. He asked for a bit more time, and I think that he was given 10 minutes. When they went back to the court, the trial had already taken place. Leyla Zana's defence counsel, once again, was unable to put the argument on her behalf. I have deep concerns about that case, and I hope that we will all lobby on behalf of all those who should be getting proper human rights in Turkey and who are not.
May I start with a provisional apology to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the House? I have an important engagement during the course of the evening. If the debate runs its course I shall, of course, be back in the Chamber for the end, but should it finish early I might have difficulty in doing so. I apologise if that turns out to be the case.
My hon. Friends on the Front Bench can relax. I do not intend on this occasion to treat the House to my views on the European Union, although some will be disappointed to hear that. I have long since learned that it is sensible to have only one rebellion at a time, and my current rebellion focuses on Heathrow airport. I shall settle for that rebellion for the time being, although there may be another occasion at some stage in the future when I can come back to the European Union.
Tonight, I want to confine my remarks to the subject of last year's war between two European nations. I have become very involved in the fall-out of that war. For my sins, if that is the right phrase, I am one of the five political group leaders in the Council of Europe, and that has taken me and my colleagues to Tbilisi twice, to South Ossetia once, to the buffer zone when the Russians were still there, to Gori, to Moscow—I have been once and I am going again—and to the United Nations in New York. The subject is clearly much on my mind.
Although the subject might not immediately appear to be so, it is of some relevance to the summit that will take place at the end of this week. The European Union, commendably and quite rightly, has civilian monitors in Georgia. Most of us would wish that they were in South Ossetia, too, but I shall come back to that. The monitors are doing the best they can and they are at risk because the violence is resuming. We need to take that risk seriously.
The dispute is far from settled, and if it were to become violent again the consequences for every member state in the European Union could easily become catastrophic. We got off lightly last time, and I do not think that we can assume that we might again. As Georgia wants to join the European Union, we have to discuss the matter. We welcome those who are able to join the European Union, but there have to be quite serious doubts about the timetable, if there ever was one, for Georgia. I hope that we will not turn our backs totally on Georgia but will discuss where we go from here. The subject is relevant to this debate, although it might not be everybody's top priority.
How should the EU and every member state respond to what happened? I am one of those who do not believe that anything will be gained at this stage by playing the blame game. The facts are still in short supply and an independent inquiry is crucial. That is why I welcome what the EU has managed to achieve. I wish the inquiry well. In due course, when we have an independent international report, considering the issue of blame might become appropriate, but for now I do not think that it is. However, from my involvement thus far, I believe that it is sensible and safe for us to draw three interim conclusions.
First, the war did not start on
When this matter is discussed at the summit, as I trust it will be, I hope that the leaders ask themselves three really straightforward questions. How can they and we help the civilian victims on both sides? What should the EU say about Russia and Georgia to the Russians and the Georgians, and what should it do? How can we reduce the risk of further and future armed conflict in our continent? That is the first group of questions.
As for the civilian victims, I have seen with my own eyes the destruction caused by both the Russians and Georgians in South Ossetia and the buffer zone. That was tragic and heartbreaking, but all I shall say is that bombs, shells and missiles do not discriminate between nationalities, or between the innocent and the guilty. They simply destroy everything and everybody. Thankfully, help has been and is still being sent: some of the internally displaced people have been rehoused, but there is still an enormous amount to be done. The onset of winter makes the crisis ever more crucial, and renders it ever more necessary that we ask what more we can do.
There are three things that the summit might like to consider. It should consider how we can give more assistance, and how we can send more to help the people in the region. I am not criticising what has happened, but there is still more to be done. We can also ensure that the aid reaches the recipients for whom it is intended, and insist that those who wish to return to their own home should be allowed to do so—unless, of course, they have been bulldozed by one side or the other.
The second and third tasks that I have set out are not going as smoothly as they ought to. We have heard about the difficulties experienced by the Red Cross in getting deliveries to certain places. I find that unacceptable, but we have also found that people's access to their homes is being forbidden. That is especially true in the Kodori gorge region, a mainly Georgian area in Abkhazia where Georgians are finding it difficult to get into their homes. Akhalgori in South Ossetia is essentially a Georgian town, but its inhabitants are finding it hard to get back home.
We cannot allow that to continue, and we have to ask what is stopping people returning. One of the most crucial elements is the demand that people who wish to go back home must give up their Georgian citizenship and accept Russian passports. Some people say that that story is right, others that it is wrong, and still others claim that it has been invented, but I should like to share with the House the proof of its authenticity.
I have in my hand a Russian passport, one of a batch of brand new passports captured from a Russian vehicle. All the passports claim to have been issued in 2004: they all have a complete name, as well as a proper photograph and seal. They are genuine Russian passports—except for the fact that none of them has been signed by the recipient. Not one of them had been asked for. I hope that the summit will say that that is unacceptable, and that we cannot tolerate people being kept out of their homes unless they do something quite unrealistic and unjustifiable.
The second question that I hope that the summit asks is a really tricky one—what do we do and say to the Russians and the Georgians? We must start with the very simple message that going to war in Europe—whatever the reasons, circumstances and justification—is totally, utterly and completely unacceptable. Two countries went to war and it does not matter who is to blame, because we have to say, "Up with that we will not put." It may be that one side or the other was provoked, but that does not matter: both sides used disproportionate force in whatever it was that they were trying to do, and neither can use the excuse, "We were provoked so we had to respond."
Both Russia and Georgia say regularly that they wish to join fully the family of democratic nation states in Europe. That is their wish, and it is mine too. I want to help both countries achieve that end, and I hope that the EU wants to help them too, but another clear message has to be sent: if Russia and Georgia want to join the Europe that we believe in—the Europe of democracy, human rights and the rule of law—those principles are not negotiable. We will not make an exception because a country is small or big: our message must be, "You are welcome into our family, but we're not going to negotiate and weaken what we believe in just to make it easier for you to join."
When these matters are discussed, we must insist that President Sarkozy's six-point plan is implemented in full by both sides. Until that happens, we will not be in a position to make progress on anything else.
As I said in an earlier intervention, I realise that the Council of Europe is one of those organisations that people sometimes forget exists, but its Parliamentary Assembly recently drew up a list of things that have to happen. When they joined the Council of Europe, both Russia and Georgia signed up to solemn commitments, one of which was not to use violence. I hope that the EU will join the Council of Europe in requiring that the list of things that the Council says has to happen must be achieved before any more progress can be made.
Although there is a list of things that we can all do, I am not overly impressed by the progress that has been made thus far. I understand that it is in the EU's interest for us to resume negotiations on a partnership and co-operation agreement with Russia, but that would send the wrong signals. It would be to say, "You can go to war with a neighbour and we'll still talk to you." I do not think that we should send that message. At last week's summit of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Finnish presidency wanted an agreed statement to be issued. The presidency said that it was better to have no statement at the end of the summit if any attempt was made to water down the wording. What happened? There was no statement.
Even the Council of Europe is not beyond criticism. The ambassadors, with the Swedish Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, had a list of things that they could do and needed to do, but they could not even bring themselves to vote on any of it. Thus far, the signals that we have sent have not been very promising, and I urge the summit to toughen up its act. As was said earlier in the debate, the Russians in particular are more willing to listen than we realise. They are more prepared to move than they might have been six or 12 months ago, and we should not miss the opportunity that we have with them.
The third question that I urge the summit to ask is, "What can we do to prevent further violent conflict?" There are three lessons that we can learn from last year's war. The first has to do with frozen conflicts—and God knows that there are enough of them in our continent—but we assume that they will stay frozen for ever at our peril. We need to revisit the whole issue, and all frozen conflicts.
The second lesson is that we ignore the warning signs at our peril, irrespective of where they come from, and however overblown they might be. The third and perhaps most urgent lesson is that we would be fools to believe that a ceasefire marks the end of hostilities. We believe that at our peril. As I said at the outset, it is perfectly possible for the war to start again. We need only look at what is happening on the ground; low-scale violence on both sides is gradually moving to worse and more violence. That is how things started last time. If we do not do something to stop that, we are running a serious risk.
There is an issue that the European Union has to rethink. Rightly and courageously, we sent civilian unarmed monitors to the region. They have not been allowed on both sides of the border, and because gunmen on both sides are staring each other in the face, those unarmed monitors are at risk as the violence ratchets up. There are EU monitors in the area, as well as the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which is finding it difficult to get into South Ossetia. The United Nations is in Abkhazia. The time has come to bring all that together, and to say that we need armed peacekeepers on both sides of the border. We ought to discuss that with the United Nations in the first instance. That is not to criticise the EU unarmed monitors, but we are putting them at risk, and I do not think that they will solve the problem in the long term.
I said at the outset that the conflict is probably not the top priority for the summit, but it has to be on the agenda. It is an EU issue, even though neither of the countries concerned is a member of the European Union. We must always bear it in mind that last August, two European countries once again went to war. Both had given solemn undertakings that they would do no such thing. Both had said, "We want to build a country with democracy, human rights and the rule of law." Both said, "We will settle disputes exclusively in a non-violent way," and both countries have broken their word. I hate to say it, but if the European Union, the OSCE and the Council of Europe do nothing on the back of that, we become a laughing stock.
However, there is a risk of doing too much. If we do too much, and the result is that we throw people out of an organisation, or they choose to walk away from us, we can no longer talk to them. Democracy, human rights and the rule of law are values and concepts. We cannot force them on people. We can only encourage and help people to develop them, and we can only do that if we keep talking.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate and to follow Mr. Wilshire, who made a very interesting and well-informed speech. It was also a pleasure to hear my right hon. Friend Ann Clwyd, who speaks with deep passion and knowledge about Turkey, Iraq, the Kurdish people and their culture. She gave us a rather pertinent reminder of what an unfree Parliament really looks like. However, rather than following those two Members in speaking about the European Union's external relations, I want to revert to a point that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made when he opened the debate—the essential link between the steps that we and other countries are taking to support economic recovery, and the steps that are essential to supporting the greening of our economies.
Europe already has the most advanced carbon trading system in the world. I think that I am right in saying that some 60 per cent. or so of the world's carbon trading takes place within the European emissions trading system. Many years ago, as Economic Secretary, I was responsible for the Treasury's contribution to the green agenda. I worked with business leaders and leaders in the City of London on the beginnings of a carbon trading system, initially within the United Kingdom, and then more broadly across the European Union.
Despite all the enormous problems that have arisen in the global financial system, and the profound mistakes, made by many, that gave rise to those difficulties, it is worth reminding ourselves that, in the City of London, there are deep-seated skills in trading issues. Those skills will stand us in good stead as we develop, both in Europe and globally, the emissions trading system that we need as a central part of our programme to tackle climate change.
We have learned important lessons from phase 1 of the emissions trading scheme. I welcome the fact that the British Government have been at the forefront of ensuring that those lessons are learned for future phases of the European emission trading scheme. Those lessons include the need to have a single, Europe-wide cap on carbon emissions, rather than national caps, which undermined the contribution that our country made to the earlier stages of the European emissions trading system. We also learned that one goal is to auction as quickly as possible all the permits within the trading system, rather than to have substantial or universal free allocations. Of course, allocations of that kind provided such windfall profits in the first phase. There is also a need to bring aviation within the scope of the trading system as quickly as possible.
On all those points, the Government are doing exactly the right thing in supporting the European Commission and urging our fellow European Union member states not to backslide on the changes that need to be made to strengthen and reinforce emissions trading. There is one point on which I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe could comment. I believe that I am right in saying that the European Commission proposes that some—not all—of the revenues that will come from the auctioning of permits for emissions trading should be earmarked for investment in climate change measures, such as clean coal demonstration projects or energy efficiency projects. I also think that I am right in saying that the Government do not support the Commission in that proposal, and oppose the earmarking of part of the revenues from the auctioning of permits.
That reflects the long-standing orthodoxy of the Treasury, which has always been against the hypothecation of any tax revenues. I have said on other occasions, and argued when in government, that I think that the Treasury is wrong in its blanket opposition to hypothecation, and I urge the Government to look again at their position on that issue. It will be much easier to persuade other member states, and indeed the public more broadly, of the need to auction permits for emissions trading if the public can see that at least some of the revenue from that auction will go directly to measures that will support a more efficient, more sustainable economy.
I am listening with interest to what the right hon. Lady says about how we fund the mitigation activities that are needed if we are to tackle climate change. Given that the Stern report pointed out that 1 per cent. of gross domestic product ought to be spent on such activities, surely it makes sense to use some of the auction revenue to fund those necessary activities; otherwise, the money will have to come from somewhere else. Auction revenues may be one of the most painless places to get the money from.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that point, and for her support for my argument; I think that she is right. The action that the European Union is already taking, and will take, on climate change through a strengthened emissions trading scheme is vital in itself, as is the contribution that the largest single market in the world can make towards reducing pollution levels. It is also essential because it is by showing that kind of leadership that the European Union can exert great influence on the rest of the world. Such leadership was shown when the EU adopted before 1997 the target of cutting CO2 emissions by 15 per cent. below 1990 levels. It did so as a deliberate part of its strategy to influence the outcome of the Kyoto negotiations, and that is precisely what happened. The EU target of a 15 per cent. cut in greenhouse gas emissions affected the ultimate outcome of the Kyoto negotiations and their commitment to a 5 per cent. reduction across all Kyoto signatories.
The EU, looking ahead to next year's Copenhagen convention on climate change, has set the target of a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 20 per cent. by 2020, with a further commitment to achieving a 30 per cent. reduction if there is an agreement at Copenhagen that, critically, involves the United States, China and other major emerging countries. Again, that 20 per cent. reduction—potentially 30 per cent.—has been adopted with the double aim of greening our own economies in Europe and of influencing the scale of global ambition at the Copenhagen summit. I urge the Government if, indeed, they need any urging at all, to stick to their support for that goal of a 20 per cent.—potentially 30 per cent.—reduction, and to urge other member states and Governments to stay with that commitment.
The critical difference at Copenhagen is the presence of the new United States Administration, and I strongly support the remarks of Mr. Davey on that issue. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, President-elect Obama has already made clear the huge scale of his determination to introduce as quickly as possible in the new year an economic recovery package for the United States that will also, as he has said, enable the US to come out of recession stronger, more competitive and, above all, more sustainable. I believe that he is absolutely right in the scale and direction of his ambition. If I have one criticism of the Government's pre-Budget report it is that we have not yet done enough—and we are doing a lot—to use the fiscal stimulus that we have rightly put in place to support the economy during the downturn to make our homes, offices and, dare I say, the House energy efficient. We need to do so on an even bigger scale, and the time to do so is during the economic downturn, when unemployed people need retraining and when work to green our environment, buildings and economy is urgently needed.
I very much hope that the EU, given its determination and its track record on climate change, will work even more closely—and can do so—with a new US Administration to ensure success in Copenhagen. As we know very well from the latest international discussions on climate change under the existing Administration in Washington, the US will not act unless China and other emerging economies act and they, in turn, will not act unless the US does so. With the change of Administration in Washington, we have an opportunity globally to cut through that bind and get the global action that is desperately required. As part of that, I have no doubt that we will rapidly see the emergency of a transatlantic trading system that will build, on the US side, on the trading systems that have been put in place in California and adjoining states, and that will link with the growing European emissions trading scheme and, in turn, both will link with the clean development mechanism and the global trading that that makes possible.
May I develop a point made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and by my hon. Friends in interventions? It is a more political point about the isolation of the British Conservative party.
I did not realise that that was painful for some hon. Members to the extent that one of them cannot bear to hear again about the extent of his party's isolation in Europe. It is quite extraordinary, however, that the official Opposition still persist with their commitment to withdraw from the European People's party in the European Parliament, to withdraw from the social chapter, and to renegotiate the Lisbon treaty, even if it is ratified by every member state at the point at which the Conservatives—if indeed they do—form a Government.
The right hon. Lady has talked about the isolation of the Conservative party in Europe, but what about the isolation of the Labour party in this country? It offered the country a referendum on the constitution, and it was taken from the people. Does she not recognise that the Labour party will pay a price for that at the general election—bring it on?
That is something that we debated at considerable length in the House when we went through many days and weeks of proceedings on the Lisbon treaty. Many Members and I made a point about the significant differences between the Lisbon treaty and the constitution, but I must tell the hon. Gentleman that the position that his party persists in maintaining on the treaty, the social chapter and on the EPP in particular, make complete nonsense of its claims to have moved to the centre ground of British politics and, furthermore, to be a party committed to green policies. Both claims are completely absurd and, indeed, the isolation of any Conservative Government in the EU would make it quite impossible for them to exercise the kind of influence that they claim that they would like to have over environmental matters.
The position, however, is even worse than that. It is clear that the real view of the British Conservative party and of its leader is that the EU is some kind of historic dead end, and that the new American Administration should focus on their relationship with the United Kingdom, not on their relationship with the EU. I have no doubt whatsoever that there will be an excellent relationship between President-elect Obama's Administration, the President-elect himself and the UK, at least as long as we have a Labour Government. I have no doubt at all that the relationship between the Prime Minister and the new President will be close and highly effective but, equally, I have no doubt at all that President-elect Obama, as he made clear in his election campaign, gives a high priority, and quite rightly so, to the much larger relationship between the United States and the EU as a whole. Whether on issues of climate change or on global trade and the need both to combat protectionism and to secure the Doha development round, the relationship between the US and the EU as a whole is absolutely critical. Any future Conservative Government would therefore find themselves not simply isolated in Europe, but isolated from the United States, and they would lack real influence with both.
Issues such as climate change will be important at this European summit, and the Government, with the few caveats that I have mentioned, are in exactly the right position. I wish the Prime Minister and the Government well at the summit. It would be a disaster for the interests of our country and our people if this Government were replaced by the Conservative party.
The Foreign Secretary referred to several matters, and I will start with the Irish question. We are intimately bound up with where Europe as a whole goes, and whether that involves the European Union as devised by the Lisbon treaty or by its godfather, the constitutional treaty, is another question.
Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, we have had an intimate relationship over an extremely long period of time with the Irish. My grandmother, for example, was an Irish lady from County Cork. There are intimate family and commercial relationships that go back over many hundreds of years. One of my forebears was responsible for the petition for Ireland in the 19th century, and another was the Member for County Meath in the 1840s and 1850s, and was responsible for setting up the tenant rights association. Many hon. Members have intimate relationships with the Irish people.
The Irish people voted by a substantial majority against endorsing the Lisbon treaty. We have heard in this debate and formerly that the French and the Dutch both turned down the original constitutional treaty. Surprise, surprise, when countries of that size turn down a treaty, the treaty is abandoned and a new one is devised. In this case—I choose my words carefully—the Irish are effectively, as they were with the Nice treaty, being put through the wringer, despite the fact that the draft conclusions leave that issue blank at the moment. There has been a concerted attempt, in which this Government have joined, to their eternal shame, to bully the Irish people, but the Irish people are not prone to being bullied.
The Government of Ireland are deeply unpopular. Under their tutelage, the Irish economy is showing signs of being in desperate straits. The attempts to bribe the Irish electorate by giving them a free vote on issues relating to abortion, providing flexibility within the treaty arrangements or obtaining an extra commissioner, who would, of course, only be a minor voice in EU affairs, will get nowhere. President Clinton's comment, "It's the economy, stupid," may mean—this is quite apart from the Irish people's patriotic view, as expressed in a recent opinion poll, that they will defend their position—that the Irish people continue to vote no; we will see, but that is my judgment.
Only a couple of days ago, the Irish had yet another poll. Far from the position getting better from the Irish Government's point of view, it is getting worse—opposition is now up to 57 per cent. The Government are not on a good wicket in joining the rest of the EU to bully our friends, comrades and colleagues in the Irish Republic.
Does that not reinforce the argument as to why we should have had a referendum in this country? If the Irish no vote has opened up those aspects of the treaty that are not in Ireland's best interests and allowed it to make some advances, then people there have shown how strong they are. We did not like aspects of this particular treaty, but we have succumbed to them, and now we do not have a leg to stand on. If we had had a referendum and Britain had said no, what would the EU throw at us in order for us to say yes in a second referendum, if we were to have one?
I could not agree more. My hon. Friend, who has been a great ally in these matters over a long period, has put his finger on it. He also represents an excellent constituency, Ribble Valley, where I went to school.
I listened with dismay to the views of the Liberal Democrats, who are all over the place. Mr. Davey has said that he would be in favour of a yes vote, if there were a vote on the Lisbon treaty, but that is not the position of the party as a whole, and he would be in favour of a yes vote on the euro. [ Interruption. ] There is a disturbance on the Liberal Front Bench. [ Interruption. ] Liberal Democrat Members are all in favour; what a marvellous admission. Now we are getting down to it, and I am glad that I have been able to stir them up. Their position has been mildly, if not entirely, contradictory on almost every aspect of their approach to a referendum over the past few years.
Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman has completely misrepresented my party's position, which is that we support the Lisbon treaty. There may not be entire unanimity on that issue down to every single member of the party, but if he were to look within his own party, he would find the same thing.
As far as Conservative Members are concerned, no more than four people were prepared to vote in favour of the treaty and against a referendum. The degrees of division within our respective parties favour our side rather than the hon. Lady's.
An interesting exchange of views recently took place between the President of the Czech Republic, who is about to assume the presidency of the European Union, and the Irish Government. The Irish Government invited the President of the Czech Republic to make a state visit. The President is as honest as the day is long, and he rightly expressed his views, which are well known, about the treaty.
Absolutely. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I was recently in Prague, where I had the opportunity to visit the castle to participate in certain discussions about those questions. [ Interruption. ] That long-standing friendship goes back about 20 years.
There was a so-called diplomatic row about that exchange of views with the Irish Government. Having followed the press cuttings and the exchanges that took place, I think that the views of the President were more than justified, although he came in for a lot of criticism, which often happens when people trespass on the sacrosanct territory of the Lisbon treaty, or for that matter any other treaty, and run up against the establishment.
The Czech President is a man of great honesty and determination, and I imagine that he will not agree to approve the outcome of the current discussions in the Czech Republic until after the Irish vote. I simply want to get on to the record my serious concerns about the fact that the Irish are being bullied and that our own Government are party to that bullying. That needs to be put clearly on the record.
We have been dealing with another important matter in the past few days, and I want to make glancing reference to it. Yesterday's debate may seem to have been abortive, in the event; we shall see whether it was in due course. However, there is another aspect to the question of arrest. Without going into the details, I simply want to place it on the record that if the arrest in question had taken place under a European arrest warrant, important additional constitutional questions could have arisen.
Under the terms of the European arrest warrant, apparently the European Court of Justice would ultimately make the decision. For example, if somebody from this country happened to be abroad and offended a law of the country that they were in, and if, within the parameters of the European arrest warrant, that led to a warrant being issued against them which was exercisable in this country, we could get into equally important—I do not say more important—constitutional difficulties. As yet, the issue has not been resolved, although no doubt it will be in due course.
A European arrest warrant was not involved, but the fact is that such warrants are now part of the law of this country. I happen to think that they were a very bad idea and have argued against them on many occasions, but the fact is that they are part of the law of this land. Allowing that to happen was a great mistake, and it has meant that another constitutional issue could arise in certain circumstances. That is a possibility for the future.
I move on to the other questions. The Foreign Secretary said that the European Union was now constructed as a grouping of nation states. I wonder whether he realises what he was saying; the EU is not so much a grouping of nation states as a consolidation through the legal framework of the European Union which needs to be renegotiated into an association of nation states. I have made that case before and I do not need to make it again. I just want to put it on the record.
For the benefit of my hon. Friend Mr. Francois and his distinguished colleague the shadow Foreign Secretary, I shall repeat a point that I have made before. I shall deal with it just once, to get it out in the open: I strongly believe that we should have agreed to my amendment about the supremacy of Parliament which I tabled for the debates on the Lisbon treaty. My hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh knows that, but it does no harm in a debate such as this to say that that should have happened, without going into why. I trust that when the time comes we will make sure that it does happen. Otherwise, we will get into problems of sovereignty, of which the European arrest warrant could turn out to be an unfortunate example. We have to assert the supremacy of the United Kingdom Parliament and require the judiciary to obey our laws.
I am therefore extremely glad to have read the speech made by my hon. Friend Nick Herbert on the repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998. As I said to him, he set out the case extremely well, and it is well worth reading his speech. It left out the point that I have just made about the supremacy issue, however. Within the framework of the 1998 Act, it is open to us, in the exercise of our sovereignty here in Westminster, to override, amend or repeal the Act as and when we choose to do so. The sovereignty issue is implicit in that. We will come to the matter in due course, and I hope that it will feature in our manifesto in the run-up to the European elections. This may be the last opportunity for us to debate the issue in any detail before the manifesto is completed. I call on my party leadership to ensure that we deal with the issue emphatically and in the correct terms, as I have described them in relation to the supremacy of Parliament and the sovereignty of the House in all the matters to which I referred in that amendment.
Earlier, the hon. Gentleman seemed slightly confused about the Lib Dem position on the Lisbon treaty; I should tell him that all Liberal Democrat Members, bar two, voted for the treaty. Percentage-wise, that is not much different from the Conservative position in reverse.
I was. An hon. Friend whom I will not name—that is up to him—was the other.
On the European arrest warrant, does the hon. Gentleman not see that, if a criminal gang from one of the new member states committed offences in this country and we had difficulty in bringing its members to trial because the judicial system was not yet sufficiently robust in that new member country, the European arrest warrant would be a useful tool for the constabulary of this country?
I understand that co-operation between police forces throughout Europe and beyond is a good idea. However, we could just as well apply the hon. Gentleman's argument to the United States, Canada or Australia, in respect of which similar situations could arise. That does not mean that we would have to come within the legislative competence of the courts in those countries.
I am saying that we could and should have co-operation; it may be possible to improve extradition arrangements to make things easier, along the lines that the hon. Gentleman has suggested. I do not want to be entirely negative about his intervention. However, it is unnecessary to extrapolate an assumption that we should be party to the European arrest warrant. There are a lot of problems with that.
The hon. Gentleman may remember the costa del crime—extradition agreements sometimes work and sometimes do not. The reality is that there is a joint legislative structure in Europe; as far as I am aware, we do not have a joint legislative structure with the United States or any other countries.
No, we do not, but we certainly do with the European Union. If we had a system of co-operation, we could co-operate with Europe and countries beyond it. I shall leave the issue at that.
There have been quite a number of comments about the economic package, and I do not need to spend more than a few seconds on that. As I said in an intervention, the economic package has failed. The attitude adopted by the Conservative party leadership is right, and the German Government have clearly taken a similar line. It is a question of a stitch in time; by borrowing more, we will get into a position of facing intolerable taxation.
I am afraid that there are the issues of the private finance initiative, nuclear decommissioning, public sector pensions in relation to Network Rail and a number of other issues, and they are all relevant to the money that the Government are to borrow. On pages 91 and 98 of their own pre-Budget report, the Government clearly indicated that they would include those as contingent liabilities in their report for next year. If we add in the contingent liabilities that the Government themselves have already accepted, and include the Maastricht arrangements to which I referred in my exchange with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we see that the correct figure is not £1 trillion but £1.258 trillion. We are getting into astronomical figures of a kind that should truly concern any Member of this House. I have not heard anybody challenge those figures, although I have heard people chuckle at the idea that anybody might actually read a pre-Budget report and quote back to the Government what they have set out in it.
The figures affect the Maastricht arrangements because the level at which a country can no longer go into the euro, in terms of percentage of debt as against national income, is 60 per cent., which happens—surprise, surprise—to be a mere 3 per cent. above the 57 per cent. at which the Government have pitched their figures. That was quite a nice little coincidence. I was intrigued that almost immediately after the pre-Budget report was issued up jumped Lord Mandelson, in effect urging people—in concert with his old chum President Barroso, who certainly is not elected by us—to join the euro, and the pressure again emerged for us to do so. However, the Government will not be able to do that, on any reasonable, competent analysis of the percentage of debt as against national income, because they cannot get anywhere near what is required. A great deal of that—not all of it; I will be slightly generous—is the Government's own fault. It is unwise for Conservative Members to say that it is all the Government's fault, but I would say that it is about 75 per cent. their fault, because they induced the situation and made it worse.
Let me turn to defence. I made an interjection—I call it that rather an intervention—on the Foreign Secretary when he referred to the remarks made about European defence by the NATO ambassador. Those remarks were wrong, because historically the relationship between ourselves and the United States has been built on NATO, for very sound reasons. Yes, we can and should have co-operation between ourselves and other countries in Europe, but I am bound to ask how much that has been worth given that our young lads are being killed in the south of Afghanistan when other countries—not all of them, but some—are not committing as they should in the situation in which our boys are being put at risk. The European Union must consider this before it starts grandstanding, as Nicolas Sarkozy is prone to do, about what it will do as a European defence organisation. It is a serious matter, because every week the Prime Minister has to get up at Prime Minister's Questions and tell us about the sad circumstances in which, as a matter of patriotic duty to this country and peace in the world, our young lads are going out there to fight. It is no good telling us that that can be done under the aegis of the European Union.
I would strongly urge President-elect Barack Obama to consider the speech that he made in Berlin and subsequent remarks that have suggested, in effect—they may be misquotations; I make that point very strongly—that Britain should join up with this new European Union. I imagine that he would also mean, if he was not being misquoted, that it would be along the lines of the Lisbon treaty. I am sure that he is far too diplomatic to say anything directly, but I comment on it to this extent. Since 1947, United States policy on Europe has always been to encourage us to play a direct part in the integrated process. That has been proved to be wrong over an extended period.
There are advantages to working within a European community or alliance. Contrary to what the Prime Minister frequently suggests when I intervene on him, which is that I am seeking withdrawal, that has not been my explicit objective at any time. I have always said that we need a renegotiation. That is implicit in the fact that this is a failing system. It is undemocratic and over-regulated. The Lisbon agenda does not work. Unemployment levels are enormous. The rise of the far right in parts of Europe is extremely disturbing. It is important to deal with this situation before it becomes a crisis. The responsible approach would be for all the member states at the Council meeting that is about to take place to get together and see how they can create a new kind of Europe that would fulfil the criteria of association that I have suggested. If that is not done, I fear that the whole thing will come crashing down, and then we will get massive unemployment combined with all the circumstances that go with it, including disruption at local level that could cause no end of trouble for the people of Europe. We owe it to them to be responsible and not to allow Europe to go on turning itself into a compression chamber that will explode under the weight of the compression put into it.
Over the years, the best policy that has been adopted is the kind of relationship that existed between Churchill and Roosevelt or Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. I am not going to decry the relationships between past Labour Governments and our friends in America, but we should be very clear that our advice to the United States is that we do not want to be part of a European Union along the Lisbon treaty lines or any other lines that frustrate and undermine the sovereignty of this Parliament, which was responsible, and will continue to be responsible, for standing up for the rights and freedoms of the people of Europe, as we have done in the past and will continue to do in future.
I turn finally to the question of Georgia, Ossetia and Kosovo. I was deeply worried about the recognition of Kosovo. I know that I disagree with my Front-Bench colleagues about this. As far as I am aware, the matter has been referred to the International Court of Justice. Some of us who said that it was unwise are now being justified, because there is a serious problem about the way in which the European Union pressurised, organised and manipulated the arrangements that subsequently led to the declaration of independence. It is an internal problem as well as an external one. The same applied in relation to Ossetia and its neighbouring province. I am afraid that that, too, was precipitated by the actions in Kosovo. Although there may be blame on both sides, the reality is that one opens the Pandora's box of those sorts of countries at one's peril. This needs to be re-evaluated. We should not assume that merely because it has been done it will remain a matter of indifference to the people who live in those countries, because that is not so. As I understand it from a television programme that I saw, which seemed pretty convincing, the President of Georgia is being accused of war crimes, or at any rate the people under his direction or surveillance are being so accused, in relation to how they behaved in Georgia a few months ago.
It seems to me that all is not well in the European Union. It would be far better if we could have a proper renegotiation at this Council. I have made the case for that on many occasions. I am not expecting it to happen; I am not holding my breath. I have to say that the situation is getting more critical. The financial package, and the financial situation, is generating more difficulties, and this is the time— [ Interruption. ] I am so glad that the Minister for Europe has just come in. It is such a pleasure to see her. She very wisely stayed out during my speech. None the less, I will do my best to astonish her by saying that if I were asked, despite my deepest concerns about the sovereignty of the United Kingdom and the supremacy of this Parliament, which I thought was more important, today's debate or yesterday's debate on the question whether this House was sovereign over its internal affairs, I would say—difficult as it may be to draw a distinction—that in principle, yesterday's debate, abortive as it was, was more important than the question of the supremacy of the European Union. If we do not get the matters that we debated yesterday right, and we have not yet, we will not be able to deal later on with the question of the supremacy of the United Kingdom Parliament.
It is a real honour and privilege to have listened to the debate for the past couple of hours. It is a strange pleasure to follow on from Mr. Cash, who is such a famous Eurosceptic. It was a great pleasure to hear him speak, and surprising to hear him being as supportive of Europe as he was. It is a pleasure to take part in the debate because European issues, especially the European economic union, are of such massive importance, especially today.
I want to consider Europe from a much wider perspective and examine the founding principles of the European project as a whole. Sometimes we are in danger of losing sight of why Europe is so important, and I would like to speak about why Europe is so important to me from a personal perspective. I have a British mother and a German father and I moved to England when I was nine years old. I was born and brought up in Berlin—West Berlin, as it was known then—which at the time was an occupied and divided city. It was at the forefront of the cold war, and that small area represented Europe's history—both the war itself, and the post-war ideological divisions. Berlin was absolutely at the centre of that.
I remember travelling from West Berlin to West Germany by air when we could choose from only three different allied airlines or—far worse—queue for hours and hours at one of the few checkpoints so that we could go by car to West Germany, travelling on the bumpiest roads that anybody has ever been on. Because Berlin was an occupied territory, Berliners did not have West German passports; we just had Berlin identity cards. Whilst we were much freer than our East German neighbours, it did not feel like freedom. It was a small city, and we were surrounded on all sides by walls and watchtowers. We could not go very far without bumping into a brick wall—literally—or into massive fencing that had been erected, alongside huge watchtowers with Russians inside. Although it was quite exciting when we were younger, it did not feel free. I found when visiting relatives in West Germany or England that things were completely different. We could see what freedom was, and it was not what we had in Berlin.
For all those reasons, and as long as I can remember, I have been a European first and foremost. I listen in horror and despair when I hear people moaning about how much money we give to Europe. They complain about the highly skilled labour we have got from the eastern European accession states—people who are helping our local and national economies. And they complain even more now that they think everybody is going back home again. People lap up stories about straight bananas and ready salted crisps. However hilarious these stories are, most of them are completely mad and totally wrong, such as the story about renaming Waterloo station so that we do not offend the French. I read a fantastic one about circus acrobats having to wear hard hats because of some EU health and safety directive. That was reported as gospel truth, and it was absolute rubbish. Those stories are hilarious, and even though I am half-German, I find them funny, but there is a serious point to be made about why Europe is so important.
Sometimes it is hard to remember that in recent history, people in Germany, Spain, Portugal and Greece lived under dictatorships. These were actual police states and dictatorships, and they are still in living memory for some people. Now that we have a European Union, we forget that. People talk about the UK within Europe and say that it is like a dictatorship, and that we live in a police state. When I hear people come out with those lines, I want to scream and say, "You've clearly never lived in a dictatorship, you've never seen what a dictatorship is like. This is not a dictatorship."
Of the 27 EU member states, 10 are former communist countries. There were no freedoms in those countries, and I saw that directly as a child when I went to visit people in East Germany. People could not say what they thought, they had no freedom to travel and their travel was often restricted within their own borders. People often could not travel around the country in which they lived. They could not buy what they wanted, quite apart from what they needed, because things were not in the shops. People were desperate for things that we took for granted such as soap, sink plugs and oranges. People could not listen to the music that they wanted to, and they could not read books that they wanted to. Although those freedoms that were denied to people were small, taken together they were significant and important. Ask people from the countries that were former communist states what membership of the European Union means to them and what freedom means to them, and they will tell you.
It is because of Europe that the countries that were communist states are thriving parliamentary democracies. Because we are members of a European Union, we are no longer on the verge of annihilating warfare with those states. I remember clearly that those states were the enemy when I was growing up, and they are no longer. They are not just not the enemy; they are states that we welcome. We accept their culture and we are starting to learn their languages. That has got to be a better way of doing things than what we had before. That is why the European Union matters so much. It is also why Eurosceptics are wrong-headed—they lack sympathy or an understanding of what it must have been like to live in those countries.
It is important to remember that the European Economic Community was founded on the principles of communities of democracy. The EEC founders wanted to find a way of ensuring that the whole of continental Europe would never again be ravaged by the death and destruction that it experienced in the second world war. In that community of democracies, we are far less likely to declare war on a country that we want to trade with. Through trade and cultural links, this community, the European Union, brings together a collection of distinct and diverse democracies. All the democracies are completely different. They are all imperfect, but by bringing them together we understand that we can support each other and make our democracies even stronger.
That is partly why the Tories have such a problem with Europe. It works because member states believe that common endeavour strengthens everyone. I know that the UK, along with many of the other richer EU nations, has been a net financial contributor to the EU, but we should not be apologetic about that. That money has been spent to help much poorer countries in the EU—as Ireland, Portugal and Spain once were. They have become economic success stories in comparison with what they were previously. As such, formerly poor countries are in a position to buy our goods, visit our country and spend their euros. For good socialist reasons, I support that. By making Europe economically successful for every nation, we improve our own economic standing. We strengthen Europe and thereby strengthen our standing in it.
I sometimes wish that the founders of the European Economic Community were around now to see what we have achieved. They simply would not believe what we have done to the EU—I hope that the hon. Member for Stone will not intervene.
With 27 nations of all sizes, even the smallest nations have a seat at the table where all the big decisions are made about Europe. That is a wonderful fact. The size and economic strength of each country does not matter—every one has representation and a voice in Europe. Each domestic nation is represented in the European Union.
The European Union has approximately 500 million inhabitants. It is by far the world's largest economic trading area. The United States has a population of 300 million people. We are vastly bigger than even the United States and, to my mind, we are a far more civilised continent. One of the important conditions of EU membership is not having the death penalty. Any EU member state that adopts the death penalty is automatically excluded from the EU. That fact alone makes us a far more civilised union than others in the world, and I am glad to be part of it.
All citizens of the EU know that they can work and travel throughout the continent. We take that for granted now, but only by visiting a country where those freedoms are not taken for granted and movement is restricted can we genuinely understand what it means. As EU members and individuals who live in the EU, we are free to travel anywhere. Too often, we take that for granted. Freedom to travel is a basic human right, which we have because of Europe.
As citizens of Europe, we are free to work throughout the continent. Not only that, but because of the European working time directive and social chapter—again I hope that the hon. Member for Stone will not intervene—all European workers get at least four weeks' paid holiday a year. In the US, most people get only a fortnight's holiday every year.
One of the best things about our membership of the European Union is our adoption of a more European way of living. Today, we have a better appreciation of balancing work with family and social life. I believe that that is a European way of doing things, which we have adopted wholesale.
Hon. Members of all parties are beginning to recognise the importance of early intervention and improving people's life chances by giving more help to families that are struggling. I have watched with delight the Tory party's moves on that. Recognising the family as a unit and appreciating that we need to help whole families, not devise policies to punish individuals, is a much more European way of behaving. We are considering how families can spend more time together, and society is consequently far better.
We have far better maternity leave today than we had in this country previously and for the first time we have paternity leave, thus appreciating the important role that fathers play in family life, especially when children are first born. Again, those policies have come from Europe and they are wonderful.
We also have new rights to request flexible working, and even more important, part-time workers now enjoy the same rights as full-timers. That does not discriminate against people who work full time. The issue has always been about discriminating against women—far more women work part time. I therefore welcome the rights for part-time workers.
Only by existing as a bloc of states—a union—could we hope to compete against America. It is not a matter of choosing whether we look to Europe or to America, but of recognising that America is a massive superpower and that we stand a much better chance of competing with America as a bloc of united states than we do as individual countries. The EU gives us far greater economic strength.
The EU also gives us greater strength in combining a massive pool of skills. It has been fantastic to witness the sort of skills that people who have come to work in the UK have brought with them. We also go to European countries and take our skills, knowledge, language and way of doing things. That has made us stronger.
Having a united voice on foreign policy, and many of the matters that have been mentioned today, with Britain at the heart of Europe, contributing to European foreign policy, is exciting. We are taking massive strides. The aspects that the UK has identified as the most important elements of foreign policy are all on an EU-wide agenda. That is the result of Britain being at the heart of the EU—
I am not too sure of what I am being accused. The hon. Lady's excitement about Europe's development shows that she believes it to be right for the British people. However, the last time we had a vote on the matter was in 1975, when we voted to stay in the EU. If everything is as brilliantly rosy as she says, should not the British people be consulted on the next step—the Lisbon treaty? Should not they have another say? After, all it has been 33 years.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for stopping me in mid, passionate flow. I am being positive about Europe because I believe that it is a fantastically important project. I do not think that everything in Europe's garden is rosy. Some of the institutions need serious examination and many different, minor matters need considering. However, as a European project and a concept of which we are all part, we underestimate how exciting it is. We also underestimate the EU's significance not only from a cultural point of view but in terms of the freedoms that it has given us as individuals who live in it. That is why I am so enthusiastic. I appreciate that I am taking a broad-brush approach and speaking about broad principles.
I am enjoying my hon. Friend's speech, especially the passion with which she is delivering it. Does she agree that being wholeheartedly in favour of and positive about the EU means that we gain more from it than we would if we were a little more sceptical?
Obviously, I agree. However, a little scepticism does not go amiss— [Interruption.] They are not paying attention. I repeat: a little scepticism does not go amiss. It is important to be vigilant and ensure that the institutions, the Parliament, the elected and non-elected elements and the bureaucratic side of the EU work in exactly the way in which we want and need them to work; otherwise the project will fail, and I do not want that to happen. It is therefore important to keep an eye on everything we do, but in the greater scheme of things we are almost incalculably better off inside the EU as individuals and as a nation than we are outside it. To return to the idea of acting as a large group of nations, we recognise that by working co-operatively. We achieve so much more that way than we do individually, which goes back to the point that my hon. Friend Lyn Brown made.
I also acknowledge what my right hon. Friend Ms Hewitt said about the importance of Europe in tackling climate change, which is an absolute no-brainer. As individuals, and even as companies and businesses, we can do a lot to ensure that we recycle, help the environment and cut carbon emissions. We need to do that as individuals, and it is massively important that we promote it and make our children do it. However, we can do so much more if we do that within the greater area of the European Union. Not only that, but if we act under the umbrella of the European Union and ensure that all our targets to cut carbon emissions are met Europe-wide, we will achieve things that we could never achieve otherwise—certainly not as individuals and not even as a nation. Also, the power that the European Union gives us as a bloc of 27 states to argue the case with other continents and with America, China and India makes our case so much more powerful. If we set our emissions targets as part of the European Union, we will achieve so much more than we would by ourselves.
The other big point is, again, a personal issue. When I first moved to the UK from Berlin, we lived in a little place called Herne Bay in Kent, on the south coast. I remember thinking, "Wow! This is amazing! I've never seen anything like this!" and running towards the water to go for a swim and my mother saying, "No! Stop!" I looked at what was floating in the water and it was absolutely foul. From a personal perspective, the fact that our beaches are the cleanest that they have ever been is important. Again, that change was forced on us, in the teeth of much objection, by the European Union. Given the size and beauty of our coastline, that change, which has happened through our membership of the European Union, is something that we should celebrate.
We also need to recognise that, no matter how much we feel that being in the European Union is like being a member of just a bigger bloc of states, the European Union combines a respect for both the domestic sovereignty of individual member states and their culture. At the same time, however, the European Union celebrates the multiculturalism of the continent as a whole. That is a combination of our sovereignty and the culture of Britain being absolutely sacrosanct, but seen within a much bigger context. We celebrate our culture, but we can also celebrate the culture of others, in a safe and much larger environment.
I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for leaving it at that.
I have spoken about the broad principles of the European Union as a whole. One of the other important founding principles of the EU, of which the hon. Gentleman will be well aware, is the concept of subsidiarity. Subsidiarity, which was important right from the moment that the EEC was founded, is all about ensuring that the EU at no point legislates at an EU or pan-Europe level when things could be done better at the local level. Subsidiarity has meant that we have managed to push things further than even our national Parliaments. We have got much closer to what affects the individual citizen. The concept of subsidiarity, all by itself, has given individuals far more say in how their local communities are run. That is something that the EU has brought us.
It has been incredible to watch Europe evolve from what it was when I was a child to what it is today. I would not have believed even 20 years ago that one day we would have the member states that we have today or that we would make the vast expansion eastwards that we have, with all the positive things that that has brought. Fundamentally—I will finish on this point—for me, the spread of the European Union has been about watching freedom spread. As member states from eastern Europe have come in, we have seen a march of freedom, with people being allowed to speak their minds and move around for the first time in their lives. A lot of them had lived under communism all their lives. Now, for the first time, they can travel around. Seeing them here in the UK and watching them travel round Europe is absolutely wonderful. The threat of war with our European neighbours today is absolutely unthinkable, but not so many years ago it was a serious possibility.
I have one very final point. We have European elections next year, but for all the reasons that I have outlined—the freedoms that the European Union has given us—it is important that we not focus on the tiny, perhaps niggling things that we might find annoying about the European Union. It is important that we go out and promote the European project, say why it is important and make people understand that only by taking part can they have a say in it. I hope that all of us, on every side of the House—or both sides of the House, even—go out in June and campaign for the European elections, to ensure that we secure the highest turnout that we can.
I thank the House very much for listening, and wish it good luck with the rest of the debate.
I begin by paying tribute to somebody who was both a personal friend and a political mentor, not least in matters European, and who over three-plus decades contributed to debates of this type in the Chamber. I was with him as something of an understudy when we went right through the Maastricht ratification process—that night-without-end experience—and, indeed, one or two of us who remember it are still here, including you, Sir.
I refer, of course, to the late, great Lord Russell-Johnston, who passed away earlier this year. He was one of the first Members of this House nominated to the original European Assembly. It was one of the great disappointments—indeed, it was probably the greatest—of his career that he never became a directly elected Member of the then European Parliament. However, he topped off his parliamentary career in Westminster—by this time he had gone to the House of Lords as Lord Russell-Johnston of Carbost, on his native Isle of Skye—by becoming president of the Council of Europe, very much at the peak of his powers.
Whatever view one takes about the European issue—on this Russell was as constant as the northern star, and if occasionally his critics in other parties found him inflexible, I can confirm, having observed him at close quarters for more than 25 years, that he was equally inflexible with whomsoever happened to be the party leader at any given point—he was always a person of impeccable courtesy. British liberalism has lost a great champion, as has European liberalism. These debates—latterly in the House of Lords, but also in this House over so many decades—have lost a great contributor. It is only appropriate to put that on the record tonight.
I was a colleague of Russell on the Council of Europe and was with him on one of his last visits, in Yerevan in Armenia, when he was taken ill. Even through his illness, he was determined to leave the hospital, in order to get out on the streets and observe the elections. We had to use all our powers of persuasion to ensure that he did not do so. He was indeed a committed European. He was committed not only to the European Union but to the wider family of the 47 countries of the Council of Europe, and he devoted himself to his duties in the Council of Europe more single-mindedly than almost anyone else I know.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. It was nice of him, in a personal sense, and appropriate—given his own involvement in the Council of Europe—to bring that insight to the House. It certainly coincides with the experiences that those of us who saw him in other ways had of the man himself.
Today's debate, which was opened by the Foreign Secretary, immediately follows the mini-summit—if that is the right term—that began the week, with President Sarkozy, our own Prime Minister and the President of the European Commission, President Barroso. I note the level of reassurance that the Foreign Secretary sought to give the House regarding the absence of the German Chancellor. One hopes that his reassurances are correct, because it would be a disaster, at a time of international recession affecting all our individual countries as well as the European Union and the rest of the globe, if there were any dislocation in the approach being pursued by the British, the French and the European Commission, or if there were any significant difference in the approach being pursued by the German Chancellor and her grand coalition. We have to guard against that. I say that from a pro-European standpoint, given the experience of several weeks ago, when the initial, more collective European efforts were unveiled. That strategy lasted barely 48 hours after the conclusion of proceedings on the continent, and, at that point, a very different approach was unveiled in Germany. We have to guard against that.
There is a second factor that we must guard against. I welcome the Prime Minister's pivotal role—or certainly the role that his spin doctors have given him—in co-ordinating European action, given the scale and severity of the financial crisis. It was useful and good that he hosted yesterday's summit, before attending the main leaders' summit at the end of the week. However, given this country's position outside the eurozone—I shall direct the bulk of my brief remarks tonight to that subject—the co-ordination of those policies will not be reliant on one-off, headline-grabbing summit gatherings. It will involve the ongoing working of eurozone Finance Ministers.
The Prime Minister was not noted for his overwhelming public outbursts of Euro-enthusiasm during his time at No. 11 Downing street. However, given the desperately serious situation, I am encouraged that he is apparently so engaged at European level. The fact remains, however, that as long as we are not full members of the group of eurozone Finance Ministers, there will be something of the country club member status about the British role in such proceedings. That is inescapable, because that is what the Government have opted for. I am not arguing about that, because there is no need to. I had that argument with Tony Blair over successive Parliaments many years ago, and we are where we are.
The fact is that it is not sustainable or workable in the long term for Britain to play such a pivotal role at eurozone financial ministerial level when, as a result of our own decision, we are not full-scale members of the club. I am not going to recommend that we change that, because we cannot. I am not even going to suggest that it is desirable for us to do so, because it would not be. However, the Government need to be aware of that, given the status that they have opted for, and given the challenges that they have set themselves in the present context.
I congratulate the newly arrived Minister for Europe, if I may so describe her, on her appointment and wish her well. I am speaking here not so much in a party capacity; that contribution has already been made. I am speaking more on behalf of the all-party—and, indeed, non-party—European Movement, of which I serve as president at the moment. On behalf of its members in all parties in the House, as well as of its membership outside the House, I hope that the Government will continue to look favourably and constructively on its role—limited though it is and modest, but realistic, though our ambitions and aspirations are—in propagating a rational and constructive pro-European case within civic society in Britain. That role has been acknowledged by the Prime Minister from the Dispatch Box.
The European Movement sought more than mere warm words from the Minister for Europe's predecessor. I do not know whether the file on that matter has made its way to the Minister's in-tray yet. If not, I am sure that it will do so as a result of these exchanges. The European Movement is now in its 60th year, and it used to receive a subvention direct from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It feels rather sore about the fact that "common sense" prevailed during the days of Mrs. Thatcher and—as some members of the Conservative party will be pleased to hear—that subvention was cut off. The organisation has not received a penny since. Given the heightened interest in matters European, and the role that members of all parties and those outside the House are seeking to play in the movement, one would have thought that a degree of support beyond mere rhetoric and warm words from the Government at the Dispatch Box and elsewhere could be favourably considered. I am not expecting an answer from the Minister tonight, but I know that representations have been made to the FCO and the Prime Minister from a variety of quarters.
Unsurprisingly, in the context of this debate, reference has been made to the amazing effect that the reappearance of Peter Mandelson invariably seems almost instantaneously to engender in any context. Few have looked more pleased by Peter's reappearance than the Conservatives, and that was reflected in the shadow Chancellor's comments last week about Lord Mandelson being rumoured to have been the subject of the President of the European Commission's remarks about senior British politicians commenting to him favourably on the euro. Incidentally, there has never been the remotest piece of evidence to that effect. I have heard several very senior British Conservative politicians, among others, uttering precisely the same sentiments—not just recently, but over the past 12 months or so—all of whom have high-ranking pedigrees in former Tory Governments and have served in European capacities elsewhere as well. Anyway, the finger is now being pointed at Lord Mandelson, and I am never against his being blamed for things, whether he is guilty or not, because he is a master of that art himself.
The fact is that, over-hyped though some of this might have been, it none the less highlights a significant truth that needs to be addressed a bit more rationally across the party political spectrum. Like it or not—we certainly all regret the circumstances that are giving rise to this—the euro is slowly but surely beginning to become a topic of discussion and comment, if not yet of full-scale political debate, which would not have been anticipated 18 months or two years ago. I am the first to acknowledge that that is happening for all the wrong reasons. We did not want the deepening recession that seems ahead of us to be the trigger, but trigger it has, in some respects, proved to be—not least in the precipitous fall in the level of the pound. When the currency is down more than 20 per cent. since the middle of the last calendar year, it is clear that something very dramatic is taking place. Although the source of the comments to which the President of the European Commission referred has undoubtedly been over-hyped, what cannot be over-hyped are the economic realities that this country faces.
I speak as a non-economist. There are varying interpretations of Britain's current economic and financial plight, but as fairly as I can read the situation, the many who are contributing to the debate range from the gloomy at one end to the outright apocalyptic at the other. What is not in doubt, whether one's analysis is gloomy or apocalyptic, is that in coming years, according to the Government's own recent statements, our economy will not meet any of the Maastricht convergence criteria, so to argue for entry into the euro now would be absurd and premature—but that is not to say that attitudes cannot change with the passage of time.
My hope is that we can be a little more rational than we were in the past and at least acknowledge that there could be circumstances—only with the full engagement of the British public via a referendum process, so it would be a considerable number of years down the track and certainly not in the lifetime of this Parliament—in which we could revisit the euro issue.
I am listening to the right hon. Gentleman, and we have heard that suggestion, too, but for all the reasons I have given, I think it would be disastrous. Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that, as with the exchange rate mechanism, some people might be deliberately attacking the pound—there is no doubting that it happened on previous occasions—to undermine our position so that some people might have an advantage in trying to argue a way into political union? I am not alleging that, but does the right hon. Gentleman recognise it as an argument that he might have heard somewhere outside the House?
None more patient than me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I dare say that an inference can be drawn from what Mr. Cash says. I am thinking where I might hear such machinations outside this House, and I have to say that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting a level of considered conspiracy that I would usually associate only with the Liberal Democrat annual conference, where the leadership is concerned! The hon. Gentleman should take that as a compliment, because we have some of the best in the business when it comes to judging someone's motives at any given time.
Matters move on. When the euro was introduced—without, of course, British participation—one un-named Eurosceptic currency trader, to cite someone whom the hon. Member for Stone might approve of, described the euro as "a toilet currency". That rather reminded me of the Scottish politician who, when the late Donald Dewar published the original devolution proposals, described the envisaged blueprint for Scotland as "a pygmy Parliament". Times move on, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the politician who came out with that is as we speak serving as the First Minister in that so-called pygmy Parliament, as he chose to characterise it. I do not know what has happened to the Eurosceptic currency trader, but I suspect that recent events might well have flushed him away, because the euro has certainly not been flushed away.
One is reminded of the leader of the Conservative party during the general election of 2001, when I was leader of my party, too. That former leader spoke, of course, as shadow Foreign Secretary this afternoon. However, the recurrent and repeated slogan of Mr. Hague, as each day passed during the 2001 general election, was that there were only x number of days left to save the pound. Here we are at the end of 2008, and although I have been on a different side of the argument from the right hon. Gentleman since 2001, the pound is still very much with us.
The shadow Foreign Secretary rather reminded me at the time of the 40 or so days of the 2001 campaign—and he certainly has in the eight or so years since—of one of the fanatical groups that go up to the top of mountains to say that the world is coming to an end at a certain time one afternoon, only to have to go back down the mountain rather shame-facedly when, funnily enough, the sun keeps rising in the east and setting in the west. The right hon. Gentleman no longer speaks about saving the pound, because it has not gone away, but his comments and predictions today should be taken in that context—his track record is not at all persuasive.
The euro, then, is still with us and I think it can be judged to have been a success. The verdict may be mixed overall, but it remains a success. It has certainly not been the terrible failure that was predicted, any more than those who predicted the end of the pound have proved to be correct. If we recall some of the arguments against joining the euro at the time, we can see that some of the arguments have moved on. Time does not allow me to get into a great debate to disprove some of the arguments, but we were told, for example, about the housing market and mortgage finance and how different they were from the rest of Europe's. Well, how dramatically different is all that now and how much more different will it become in the period ahead, as we know from the scale and speed of recent events in that sector.
We were also told about the funded nature of British pensions in comparison with continental Europe, but where lies that argument today? Suddenly, there has been a gross realisation within British society of the vast underfunding in our pensions sector. Great emphasis was understandably laid on the importance of the financial services industry. I agree: that is a correct and valid point, but everybody is now singing from the same hymn sheet to the effect that the financial services sector will have to change its ways and conduct itself and its business quite differently from what would have been assumed to be the case only a few years ago.
Then there was the UK's dependence on oil. Oil production peaked in 1999 and it has almost halved since then. Once again, those economic calculations have moved on.
Not one of those—still less taken together, or even if we added more still—makes a case for membership of the euro. That is not my argument. What they do make a case for, however, is to keep it under consistent rolling review and to prepare better for a more informed public discussion and debate as and when it becomes appropriate to do so—probably a few years hence.
There are reasons why it makes no sense to join the euro quickly—obviously, in a recession, it would be ludicrous to start pegging our currency to fixed rates or targets at a time of uncertainty in the currency markets. Moreover, there is that great court of opinion out there that is still to be won over. We know that public opinion is deeply sceptical and cynical about any such move, which presents a huge job to those of a pro-European intent of whatever political persuasion even to get the facts of the case across. That is why joining the euro cannot be a policy, but it should remain a strategy and it should remain a legitimate aspiration for better times, years down the line, whatever Government are in power, underpinned by a confident vote from the British public as a whole.
The more we can move the debate in that direction, the better it will be. It is sad that it has taken such calamitous circumstances for the debate to begin to make its way back to the desired level, but, for all the reasons I have given, it has done so. It now behoves the House and all other participants to contribute in a constructive and informing manner for the benefit of those who will be most affected by it, and, at the end of the day, those are our fellow citizens.
I am delighted to follow Mr. Kennedy, particularly given his stirring tribute to Russell Johnston. May I add to something that I said in an intervention on the right hon. Gentleman? I consider Russell Johnston to have been a good European in both the European Union and the Council of Europe style, but I also remember his ending a five-day mission to Palestine and immediately travelling to Strasbourg in order to be present for the tail end of the Council of Europe's session there. I also remember returning from Armenia with him in the vehicle that picked us up from the airport. I asked "Shall we drop you off at Dolphin square?" He replied "No, no—take me to Parliament." I think that, above all, he was a workaholic. It was impossible to hold him down: he always knew that there was something that he wanted to do. Irrespective of his age and irrespective of his health, he always wanted to be working, and that is exactly what he did until the very end.
It is a delight for me to take part in today's debate. I want to deal with a number of issues, fairly briefly. One is, of course, the Lisbon treaty. I have to say that no one was more delighted than me when the Irish voted no. I always think that, irrespective of whether one is pro or anti-European, it is good to see an institution that seems to be going at a fair speed being given a kick now and again. I tend to think, "Hold it back and let people reflect". That, basically, is what the Irish said to the European Union, but now the European Union has asked the Irish to reflect. It has gone the other way, although it should not have done so.
When the French and the Dutch people voted no, it was clearly Europe's problem, but when the Irish voted no, it was the Irish people's problem. I do not think that that is right. Natascha Engel spoke in glowing terms about everything European. She used the words "freedom" and "democracy" many times. I began to ask myself, "What about the freedoms of the Irish people? What about the democracy of the people of Ireland? Should they not be allowed to have their say?" Surely their voice is as important as that of any other country.
What we know is that there must be unanimity among the 27 countries. I was a bit miffed when I heard people in the European Union ask, "How dare a small number of people from one country hold back the project?" Actually, that is exactly how the project was constructed. It was constructed to allow someone to say, "Think again" or "We are not happy about the way in which this is going", so that the project could be stopped in its tracks and we could be given an opportunity to have another look at it. I think that Europe should have considered what needed to be done next to make itself more popular in the eyes of the people.
The hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire said that, in her eyes, everything was wonderful, and that those of us who did not quite see it her way had got it wrong. My response is that Europe has a sales pitch to deliver that it is not delivering. It should not bully people into liking it, because that does not happen. It should achieve its aim by actions, and by ensuring that through the very way in which its institutions grow up, they can be respected and liked. Then people will follow in its wake.
What people do not want are remote politicians, unelected Commissioners, and a President whom, if he were to walk into the Chamber now, hardly anyone would recognise—politicians, that is, never mind people in the rest of the country. European politicians must start to connect with the people. During the June elections next year, we shall all be out delivering leaflets and knocking on doors, but I think we shall all be a bit surprised if the turnout is more than 40 per cent. There was a very high turnout in the United States, where a candidate really did spark excitement. I am not talking about Mr. McCain; I am talking about President-elect Obama, who excited the American people to the extent that a swathe of them turned out to vote who did not usually do so.
I believe that what has focused resentment in this country and made it concrete is the fact that people here were promised a vote on the constitution, which was taken away from them just as Tony Blair was leaving No. 10. His parting shot to the British people was, "You are not having that vote". I think that that was dishonest. As we know from listening to them, the vast majority of European Union leaders talk with pride about the fact that the vast majority of the constitution is contained in the Lisbon treaty. They are not afraid to tell the people that, because they think that that is what the people want to hear.
I have heard Hans-Gert Pöttering speak at the Council of Europe. I have heard him say "The flag is not there and the anthem is not there"—speaking with tears in his eyes, believing that such symbols are important—"but the vast majority of what we wanted in the constitution is still there." He has no doubt that people will see that as a stepping stone towards eventually having the flag as the adopted flag of the European Union, and having the anthem as the adopted anthem.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it looked highly probable when the present Prime Minister became Prime Minister that he was doing something which he knew the outgoing Prime Minister wanted and which was part of a deal—that there would not be an election and there would not be any trouble if he went down the route of endorsing the Lisbon treaty?
I think that some deal must have been concocted. If the current Prime Minister had wanted to do a couple of things that would have been hugely popular, the first thing he would have said following Tony Blair's departure from No. 10 would have been, "Actually, we are going to give the people of Britain a vote on the Lisbon treaty because that is what we promised them." The second would have been, "I think we will have a general election while we are at it." I think the Minister for Europe knows that I would not like to predict the outcome of at least one of those two actions had the Prime Minister had the guts to take them. Just as a dog is for life and not for Christmas, a promise on a referendum is for life and not just for the duration of the election campaign. The British people rightly feel let down.
I want to say something about Somalia, because it was mentioned by the Foreign Secretary. I returned recently from leading a delegation of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association to Kenya, one of whose neighbouring countries is Somalia. The current piracy is having a huge impact on traffic through the gulf of Aden and on Kenya itself, given the unsettled nature of Somalia and Somaliland and everything that is going on there. I feel sorry for Kenya in many ways. Its other neighbours are Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda. Uganda is relatively stable, but Congo is next to it, and the whole region of east Africa is very troubled. The one thing that it needs is trade.
The gulf of Aden is used as a transportation bloc, and as a path for cargo and cruise ships. It is important for us to be able to guarantee the safety of all those ships. I read the other day that a pirate ship came alongside an American cruiser and opened fire on it. What is going on is amazing. I am therefore delighted that Britain, with its expertise in naval matters, is taking part in the EU operation in the region, but a number of questions need to be addressed. How many other countries can we persuade to play a role in the region, as that is vital? Also, when pirate ships are seized and the people on board them are arrested, under whose authority will they be tried? Where will these people end up? This is a new type of operation for the EU to be undertaking, and it needs to answer those questions. This point might be raised at the summit.
The recession is hitting everybody. As far as Kenya and the developing world are concerned, I hope that the Prime Minister will be able to negotiate from the other EU leaders a continuation of support from both individual EU countries and the EU as an institution. The one thing the Prime Minister has shown himself to be sincere about is his devout support for the developing world in Africa, both in terms of tackling HIV/AIDS and in supporting the rescue of the people who live in awful slum conditions in which they do not have proper sanitation, access to clean water or even good education, and where they need proper drugs. He wishes to see that change, and I hope he will work with fellow European leaders to ensure that progress is made towards achieving that and that, during this economic downturn, countries will not peel off from contributing to that and will not cut their aid budgets. If they do so, the most severely hit will be the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.
I hope one of the first visits the Prime Minister will make post-
The euro has been mentioned several times this evening. We have a promise on the table that we will have a referendum on whether to join it. It is hard to imagine that that promise will be taken away but, having said that, it is hard to imagine that a device could have been so swiftly devised to remove the promise of the last referendum from the British people. It is now winter, and I feel as if I am skating on thin ice; I might be putting too much trust in the Government when they have let us down once already. If the condition of the pound worsens, might they say, "I'm sorry, but the conditions are so bad we don't have time for a referendum; we're just going to have to join the euro"?
We know that European leaders are talking about this. Peter Mandelson, who is now based up the road, revels in the fact that he causes unease and disquiet wherever he walks—or floats, or whatever he does. The fact is that he is not alone in talking about the euro. Again, I recently heard Hans-Gert Pöttering talking about this; he looked at a British table among many other tables of representatives from other EU countries and said how much he looked forward to the time when Britain could play its full role as a proper European country, intimating to us that we are not good or full Europeans because we are not in the euro. If we consider the financial contribution of the British people and taxpayers to this project, it will be seen that we are very good Europeans indeed. Perhaps the other nations might wish to mark themselves on that scale. If the EU is looking for money, it had better start looking to the other 26 member states to increase the amounts they are putting in, because I think we are doing very well indeed.
President Barroso has also said that the strength of the euro might be a marker that the British are looking more seriously at joining that currency. I do not remember him saying that when the pound was doing very well against all the other currencies. I feel very sad for the many British people who made travel plans months back to go Christmas shopping in the USA or to go to one of the fantastic winter fairs that take place across Europe, such as in Strasbourg and Berlin. They did so when the pound was a lot stronger than it is now. It is now a lot weaker, but the fact is that the pound and the euro will go up and down in value, as will the dollar. We just have to accept that that is the way of things, and that the British people do not seem at present to be showing any great strength of opinion one way or the other as to whether to give all this up and throw themselves in with the euro.
I do not want to say too much more about Russia and Georgia because I thought that my hon. Friend Mr. Wilshire covered that comprehensively and expertly, particularly in his new role as leader of European Democrat Group in the Council of Europe. I should emphasise the fact that I am talking about the EDG, because there is also a European People's Party in the Council of Europe. Funnily enough, the Conservatives are not members of that particular grouping and we do not seem to be suffering because of it—we have our own very good European Democratic Group.
The other thing that amuses me is that the vast majority of people—this probably applies to those arguing for and against on this particular issue—have not got the faintest idea in which groupings our Members of the European Parliament happen to be. Most people would be hard pressed to name many MEPs, let alone to know to which grouping they belong. I do not think that people will be kept awake at night worrying about the groupings in which we happen to be.
If the Minister answers only one point that I make tonight, I would like it to be one that relates to climate change, which has been mentioned time and again. I was recently with MEPs and members of the Council of Europe at a conference that examined climate change. It sticks in the throat a little when MEPs talk about saving the planet and doing what we can to reduce our carbon emissions, given that once a month they are happy to get into their cars and planes to go from Brussels to Strasbourg for the session that takes place once a month. It costs more than £100 million for this huge circus, because they have to take all the paperwork and all the researchers with them. We all know that it is a farce. Although I do not want to put words in her mouth, that might be one of the points that the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire was making when she said that certain things within the institution were not quite right.
I raise this matter whenever I possibly can with the European Parliament. Although it voted to continue this absurd arrangement, I am told that the Parliament does not have the final decision and that, in fact, this is a decision for the Council of Ministers. If that is the case, will the Minister for Europe ensure that this issue is raised at every opportunity to ensure that the circus is stopped, that the £100 million is saved and that, more importantly, it acts as an indicator to the rest of the European Union and the rest of the world that we take climate change seriously and are doing something to cut carbon emissions?
I am very sympathetic to the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about the ridiculous decamping of MEPs to Strasbourg every four weeks; my only point of disagreement with him is on his comment that MEPs are perfectly happy to do that. I know that the European Parliament has had a vote on this, but the MEPs to whom I have spoken think the situation is just as ridiculous as we do and wish it would end because of the environmental aspects, as well as the waste of money and time.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that almost historic contribution; an agreement between the Liberal Democrats and me.
If people were asked privately, the vast majority would probably say that there was no sense in this arrangement. I know that the Strasbourg authorities love the fact that it continues, and for obvious reasons; they bend over backwards to say that it must continue. If I remember rightly, the issue was raised in the treaty of Edinburgh; John Major was Prime Minister and the French were threatening to boycott everything if we pulled out of Strasbourg. Just as support is provided to ease the pain if an industry whose time has come is no longer in a location—the industry in this case is bureaucracy—I am sure that something could be done to ensure that Strasbourg is awarded one of the agencies. I am sure that the Council of Europe would love to expand into some of the properties that are available in the city, because it is always stretched for property. I am sure that something could be done to ensure that the loss of this arrangement did not affect Strasbourg too much, but I do not believe that this absurdity should continue simply in order to placate the Strasbourg authorities.
I pay tribute to my friend Ann Clwyd for what she said about Turkey. We know that Croatia is soon to join the European Union and we all cheer about that. I also look forward to the day when Turkey becomes a full member of the European Union, because I have no hang-ups about that happening when the Turks fulfil all the criteria. The other members of the European Union must be honest about their position. The right hon. Lady talked about Turkey's problems with human rights, and we know that those have been, and continue to be, severe. She mentioned the Member of Parliament, Leyla Zana, who has had a torrid time—and that is probably a great example of English understatement from this Welshman—because she has fought for democracy. Turkey has to learn that it must not only get its house in order financially, but get its human rights into shape.
The leaders of France, Germany, Greece and others also have to learn that they have a responsibility to Turkey. We set the criteria and once they are met, with independent verification, Turkey must be allowed in. We cannot continue to erect new barriers to Turkey joining the European Union.
As a member of the Council of Europe, I like to think that it is a bigger family than the EU. We have some of the more troublesome—perhaps I should say, younger and fledgling—countries in the Council of Europe, and they look to us. That is one reason why I was so disturbed when Russia invaded Georgia, and I am also concerned about what Russia is doing on other fronts. As a member of the Council of Europe, I observed Russian parliamentary and presidential elections and I was disturbed to find that emergency legislation was pushed through the Duma at breakneck speed to increase the presidential term to six years and the parliamentary term to five years. Most countries are going the other way. I am told, "Don't worry, the Finnish presidency is the same length", but while I do not wish to denigrate Finland, I would have thought that Russia should be comparing itself to the US, which has a four-year presidential term. Indeed, the US Congress is elected on a two-year rolling programme, which is too short for my liking. Imagine what it would be like here if we had elections every two years—it would be impossible.
It was not good to have two Council of Europe countries at war. We need a better understanding of the international institutions that can be used to sort out the problems that exist. Other Council of Europe member states, such as Ukraine and the Balkan states, which were mentioned earlier, are looking to join the European Union at some stage. Sometimes people point to Eurosceptics like me and say, "Ah, you don't want all these people coming from Europe and taking all our jobs." But nobody speaks more highly than I do of the people who have come from other European Union countries to work here legitimately. They all seem to be very hard workers with good skills, and I have no problem with them.
The funny thing is that the two countries that had derogations to prevent such workers coming were France and Germany. We did not have a derogation—we said, "Come in" from day one. That was a bit of a mistake, and we should have specified the skills that we needed, but the fact is we are where we are. At some stage, the Balkan countries want to join the European Union, and they may be looking at what happened with the Czechs and the Poles. In the eyes of the French and the Germans, those countries have not been wholly communautaire—in other words, they have not taken everything spoon-fed. Instead they have questioned things, and it is probably healthy for democracy in Europe that the Czechs and the Poles should question how we are developing. Those two countries are actually very good friends to the UK, and we are delighted that they are full members of the European Union.
At some stage, I hope that countries such as Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Serbia will have the opportunity to join the European Union. We will then be talking about expansion to include other countries, such as Georgia and Ukraine. Russia has tried to block Georgia and Ukraine from becoming members of NATO, and has done so in the most cack-handed fashion, and I hope that nothing similar will happen when the other countries apply to become members of the EU. However, we are not even at that stage yet. A number of countries in the EU would prefer it to go deeper rather than wider.
We will have several problems in trying to get some of the other Balkan states into the European Union, but that will not be because they are not ready. We could argue that some of them are as ready as Bulgaria and Romania were when they entered the EU—some would say that we should have waited a bit longer in those cases, but the fact is they are members. If we are seen as fortress Europe—if we let in 27 or 28 countries, but not Turkey, and are then not interested in the Balkan states because our members would prefer the union to go deeper—to where will the other countries look? The only way in which we can try to raise their economies, to improve their human rights records, to follow the rule of law and to improve the strength of their democracies is by saying, "Come and join us." Once they have reached those targets and raised their democracies to a certain level, the doors should be wide open.
Although expansion of the EU will not be at the top of the agenda at the summit, I hope that the Government will take the opportunity to raise the issue of what will happen in the future to the countries that want to join the EU. I know that it will not happen tomorrow—it might be several years down the line before those countries might be able to join—but we need to look for another stepping stone that they can use to allow them to tick several more boxes on the way. That would at least give them some hope.
Nothing could be crueller than for us to say that as we are now 27 or 28 countries, that we want to go deeper and that we are not really interested in what is happening on our doorstep. If Russia and Georgia were to kick off in the same way as my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne was talking about, that will leave misery and huge problems in its wake, which will suck us in. We can hardly talk about carrying out operations in Africa and Somalia while turning our backs on what is happening on our doorsteps. We need to get that right. We need to get strategies together and to talk to other European Union leaders, including President Sarkozy, who has been an amazing president of the European Council for the past six months. I hope that when it comes to
I am not totally opposed to Europe. I like the European Union countries and I like visiting them, too, but I am British first. I believe in the sovereignty of our Parliament and that is why people elected me. I want Europe to develop in the interests of all the people of Europe, and that is another reason why I think that it is right from time to time to consult the British people on how they wish to be governed.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Mr. Evans, and I pay tribute to him for his wide-ranging speech. When my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague spoke on behalf of the Opposition at the beginning of the debate, he was concerned that the debate was developing in a ritualistic form in its early stages. The speech given by my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley, however, was wide-ranging and covered many areas of concern in relation to Europe.
I support my hon. Friend's comments about Turkey and its progress towards accession into the EU. It is important that the goalposts that have been set are not moved during the accession negotiations. One of those goalposts has to do with Cyprus, and the need to move to reunification of that island. In an animated speech, Natascha Engel recounted her childhood memories of Berlin. She talked about a divided city, a city of walls where there was a lack of freedom of movement and travel, and sadly, that reminded me of the situation in Cyprus. The island is one of the EU's member states, but many of the concerns facing Greek and Turkish Cypriots closely resemble those that she described.
The question of Cyprus is relevant to this debate because the EU's General Affairs and External Relations Council made particular reference to the island only yesterday, and also because of the concerns about Turkey's accession to Europe. The Council expressed regret at Turkey's failure to implement the additional protocol to the Ankara agreement—one of the goalposts that have been set in place. It called on Ankara to take urgent measures in that direction and to normalise its relationship with the Republic of Cyprus.
One of the blockages in the accession negotiations is the full implementation of the customs union agreement with the EU. If that legal agreement were implemented, it would allow Cypriot ships to use Turkish ports and fly the Cyprus flag. That element of the customs union agreement will be reviewed in the summer. The legal agreement needs to be looked at separately from the issues relating to Cyprus, but it is a key stepping stone in the process of Turkish accession to the EU.
The Council also noted the importance of getting a just solution to the Cyprus problem on the basis of relevant UN Security Council resolutions. That is of great interest to the House and to the Government. I know that the Minister for Europe went to Cyprus shortly after her appointment, and no doubt she will be able to give the House the benefit of her experience when she responds to the debate.
The Government are a guarantor power for Cyprus and so clearly have an interest in what happens with the island. Another reason for their interest is that there is a widespread diaspora of Cypriots in this country. Many of them, both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, landed in my constituency and have stayed there. Beyond that, the British Government have a strategic interest in Cyprus as a result of its location, and because we have sovereign bases there.
Cyprus is also visited very often, indeed predominantly, by British citizens, many of whom choose to stay in the country. In addition, Britain's commercial interests in the island are very much to the fore. As an