[Mr. Eric Illsley in the Chair] — European Commission Annual Policy Strategy

– in Westminster Hall at 12:00 am on 2nd July 2009.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mr. Watts.)

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 2:30 pm, 2nd July 2009

It is a pleasure to sit under your chairmanship, Mr. Illsley, and to make some introductory remarks on the European Commission’s annual policy strategy for 2010. Many hon. Members—well, not all that many, as we seem to be a diminishing band; we few, we happy few—have an opportunity this afternoon to consider the document. It has been to the European Scrutiny Committee, which produced a short report on it. The Committee did not feel that it was necessary to produce a longer one, largely for the obvious reason that the Commission’s paper is in some sense an interim one. It does not advance any new strategies, for the simple reason that there will be a new Commission later in the year.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Already I have sparked the hon. Gentleman to rise to his feet.

Photo of Brooks Newmark Brooks Newmark Opposition Whip (Commons)

I was just curious to ask the Minister, given that we are talking about reports both long and short, whether he has yet had the opportunity to read the Lisbon treaty in full.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The hon. Gentleman should do his research before he asks such questions. Yes, I have read the Lisbon treaty in full. In fact, I have read it in full several times.

Photo of Brooks Newmark Brooks Newmark Opposition Whip (Commons)

As long as it is on the record.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

It has been on the record before. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has read the Lisbon treaty.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Yes, that is pretty much a statement of Tory policy.

The main thing that I can do this afternoon is to respond to any specific questions or concerns that hon. Members might have, so I will outline what we believe are some of the most important things that the European Commission and European Union will need to consider over the coming years. The most important, as I think all hon. Members would agree, is the economic situation faced by all countries in Europe. I know from my constituency that the things that people are concerned about are whether they will have jobs, homes and financial security for the future, rather than institutional matters facing the EU.

We believe, therefore, that the Commission’s first priority must be economic stimulus and ensuring that the European recovery plan, which has already been put in place, is effective and carried through, and that there are appropriate financial sector regulation and supervisions so that the kind of problem that we have seen across Europe in the past 18 months cannot happen again.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Will the Minister clarify something for me? There seems to be some confusion. The Government said that they did not wish Europe to take any more powers of regulation over the City of London, and that they would resist that. Then, seeming to have allowed Europe to take further powers, they came back and argued that it was necessary for the common good. Which of those two is the Government’s position?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

It is good to see the hon. Gentleman in his place this afternoon; it is always good to see him in his place. We have always argued that it is important to have the right level of regulation across Europe, so that people with deposits in banks in one country where the host country is different have exactly the same protection as anyone else. However, we have also said that whatever arbitration system is used should not be able to impinge on the necessary fiscal powers of the individual country. Incidentally, I think that the results of the European Council show that our position has been confirmed strongly. Another matter will arise later in the year in relation to hedge funds, and we want to ensure that we get the right proposals.

There is another issue, of course. The European Commission needs to be able to act swiftly on state aid issues when problems arise. That is another important part of the stimulus needed during the process ahead. Of course, the Lisbon strategy, which will soon be 10 years old and which we believe is an important part of ensuring that Britons have an opportunity for prosperity and enhanced future prosperity by sharing in an ever-widening market across Europe, will have to be renewed and reconsidered by the new Commission.

The second priority is strengthening the single market. In particular, we believe that it is vital that we do everything that we can to enhance the competitiveness of European economies. We all know the strength of growing economies in India, China and, for that matter, Latin America. The more that we can do to ensure that Europe adds value and has economies that work together to enhance value, the more likely we are to be able to enhance our competitiveness as well.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

The Minister stresses the importance of competitiveness. We agree. The UK maintaining its opt-out from the working time directive is a key part of that. Will he explain to the House why, in the run-up to last Christmas and the crunch vote in the European Parliament, the majority of Labour MEPs, including the MEP who is now the Labour leader in the European Parliament, voted to abolish the UK opt-out against this country’s interests?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

It is obviously for individual MEPs to make their own arguments. We believe strongly in the opt-out. We are convinced that we have argued the right case, and that we have argued successfully. The hon. Gentleman is right that competitiveness is vital for Europe, but that plays in many different ways. For instance, Europe has been able to compete more effectively around the world because it took a united position on mobile telephony. Europe enforced standards many years before the United States of America and consequently had a much more vibrant mobile telephone industry. I sometimes think that those who adopt a fundamentalist ideological position against European integration and the single market actually do down further competitiveness.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

No one on the Conservative Benches will be guilty today of any fundamentalist argument against common-sense agreements by nation states. However, the Minister mentioned that Labour MEPs were free to oppose Government policy as they saw fit. If that is a habit of theirs, is he therefore relieved that so few were returned at the European elections, and that at 16 per cent. of the vote, the public shared his doubts about the efficacy of returning Labour MEPs to the European Parliament?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Oh, tush, tush. The hon. Gentleman is trying to make partisan points, when—

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The facts of the elections are well-known. I was in Wales and was disappointed that Lisa Stevens was not elected. I know her well; she campaigns very hard and would have made an excellent MEP. However, she is not mentioned in the European Commission’s paper, which we are debating. If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will leave the matter of the election for another day.

The hon. Gentleman said something interesting. He said that he thinks that agreements among member states should be made only on the basis of common sense. That was precisely the difficulty with mobile telephony. Each member state wanted its own standards. If that had occurred, as happened in the United States of America, where each state and each company wanted a different set of standards, one would not be able to text from a mobile phone in one country to a mobile phone in another. It is precisely because the EU took a position that we were able to address the matter.

Similarly, changes were made to roaming charges this week. That would not have happened just because of the market, or because of individual member states having a go at each other.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

I am delighted by the Minister’s compliment. Does he agree that it is ridiculous that Vodafone is running a major advertising campaign saying that it has abolished all roaming charges this summer, when actually it is not to the companies’ credit at all, as they could have done so ages ago? It is one of the achievements of the European Union.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Absolutely. It is always good to have converts. We rejoice when—I have forgotten the biblical quotation, so many years ago is it. When one sinner repenteth, we rejoice.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I am sorry, I had forgotten about the hon. Gentleman. He had slipped my mind.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

I am grateful for the opportunity to remind the Minister. He is right that the paper talks about competitiveness. I want to pick him up on the point that he made about the working time directive. He said that MEPs often have their own views. The rebellion I mentioned appeared to have been led by Labour’s Chief Whip in the European Parliament. When the new European Parliament forms on 14 July, can we expect Labour’s new Chief Whip to lead rebellions regularly against Government policy? We would just like a steer.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The hon. Gentleman will doubtless make his case later, if he can catch your eye, Mr. Illsley—as I feel confident he will, given the hordes that are with us this afternoon.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

There are not hordes of Conservative Members either, to be honest. It is clear that Labour Members are happy with Government policy and the European Commission, so they do not feel the need to have a go at it.

I am sure that Mr. Francois will raise how opt-outs operate and the working time directive in his speech. I look forward to answering his points later.

On party political groupings in the European Parliament and how they operate, several Conservative MEPs have been deeply critical of the leader of the Conservative party. I think it was a Conservative MEP who described the people his party has signed up with in the European Parliament as a group of fascists and ne’er-do-wells. Once upon a time, I almost swore I would never use the phrase, “We don’t need any lectures from the people opposite”. I am now forswearing my swearing.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I am afraid the hon. Gentleman’s hon. Friend beat him to it.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East does not have the power to do that.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

The Minister used the phrase “fascists and ne’er-do-wells”. Which MEP said that?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I will come back to the hon. Gentleman on that. I told him which MEP it was in the last debate we had.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

The Minister should be able to remember then.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will remember in the fullness of time, and certainly by the end of this debate.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I will not give way to the hon. Member for Rayleigh again. I will give way to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East, and he does not have the power to give way to his hon. Friend.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

On the numbers present in the Chamber, Labour Back Benchers are outnumbered by the Doorkeepers. That shows the level of interest in this important issue among Labour Members.

The Minister has made some interesting criticisms of the Conservative approach to the European Union, which hinge on our attitude to the Lisbon treaty. I wondered how long it would be until he mentioned the party groupings. Can he really stand there and say that he represents the views of the United Kingdom by denying Britain the chance for a referendum on such an important treaty?

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

Order. We are not going to turn this into a debate on the Lisbon treaty or its ratification.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

On a point of order, Mr. Illsley. I have learned in this game not to challenge the ruling of the Chairman. However, the annual policy strategy contains multiple references to Lisbon and what might happen if it comes into force. We understand your ruling that we do not want this to be a debate completely about the ratification of the Lisbon treaty. Equally, there may be some references to it because it is referred to on several occasions in the core document.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

The hon. Gentleman has answered his own point of order and has made my point. Of course there are references to the Lisbon treaty. I simply do not want this to turn into a debate completely about the Lisbon treaty. Hon. Members will have to refer to it, but not at the expense of everything else.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

That is very fair, Mr. Illsley.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I am glad that you have the hon. Gentleman’s approval for the fairness of your ruling, Mr. Illsley.

I would be happy to debate the Lisbon treaty all afternoon. However, I was trying to lay out the Government’s priorities for the Commission. I do not think that voters in this country, ordinary members of the public or people across Europe want the European Commission to be obsessed with institutional change for the next five years. They are far more interested in things that can deliver change in their own lives. One example of that, which I have already referred to, is mobile telephony and the abolition of roaming charges. One would never reach a resolution on such issues by adopting only a market-driven solution or through a policy driven by what individual states can negotiate one with another.

Another classic example that will be of vital significance to European competitiveness is the liberalisation of energy policy. It would not be possible to achieve that if it depended on a unanimous vote of every European country.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

The Minister looks at the clock as if to say that we are running out of time. With the absence of speakers on his side, we will have plenty of time to debate these issues.

My question is straightforward. Is the Minister saying that without the Lisbon treaty and further integration, agreements such as those on telephony could not have been achieved? Such agreements have been achieved without those things. He referred to the United States and said it was important that the various states are able to work together. That is our point on the Conservative Benches. We are not the united states of Europe. Every state in the United States pledges allegiance to one President and one flag. They have united rules and laws that bind them together. We are not at that stage yet. Conservative Members are trying hard to prevent this country from wandering down that road.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My point was that the regulation of key industries in the United States tends to depend on two ideas, one of which is that the market will provide, rather than any state-driven solution. That sometimes fails, as shown by the classic example of mobile telephony. The state refused to act on that in the United States, meaning that American mobile phone companies could not sell their products across the whole of the United States because people would not be able to speak from mobile phone to mobile phone. Similarly, they could not talk to other parts of the world because the state was not prepared to take on the enforced standards taken through in the European Union. That is one half of the argument.

The other half of the argument is that although change has been achieved, the changes in mobile telephony were achieved when there was a much smaller European Union with fewer members. Such changes would be more difficult to achieve today were it not for the institutional changes. The liberalisation of energy policy will be difficult to achieve without moving towards full ratification and implementation of the Lisbon treaty. If there are problems in the two remaining states and it is not fully ratified, we will have to make do with the Nice treaty and find ways to make it work.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

The Minister has slightly anticipated my question. People who support the Lisbon treaty say that it is necessary for the enlarged European Union to be able to work together, but is it not true that it has been working effectively without the Lisbon changes? The scare stories put out by those in favour of the Lisbon treaty have been proved incorrect by events.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

That may be the best confession I have ever heard from a Conservative about European policy. The hon. Gentleman has just confessed that the European Union is working effectively. I thought that his party’s argument was that Europe does not work effectively and that we should be rolling back the tide by undoing some of the institutional changes of the last 15 or 20 years and somehow repatriating powers to the member states. One difficulty with that route is that it would lead to a less competitive European Union with a wider divergence of regulation in key industries that are vital to the UK, including financial services, energy and other industries. On top of that, he must face the fact that if he wants another bout of institutional reform, he will have to get 26 member states to agree with him. That will be difficult to achieve.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again; he has been most generous.

When I said that the European Union was working effectively, I meant that it was able to do so on its own terms without the Lisbon changes. That completely demonstrates that we do not need the Lisbon treaty. We should now have a mature debate about the powers that have been assumed by the European Union that could better be exercised by nation states. Conservative Members are committed to this country’s engagement with and continued membership of the European Union, but we want to see it work, and we want it to work as close to the people as possible.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

It is all very well to say that one wants a mature debate about which powers should be returned to member states, but in order to return them and say that the European Union should no longer have any powers in particular areas, there would have to be treaty renegotiation. I understand that treaty renegotiation is the declared aim of the Conservative party, but for that to be achieved one would have to engage with all 26 other member states and gain their agreement about going down that route. I do not know of a single other Government in Europe, or for that matter, a single other party in Europe with the prospect of gaining power, who advocate that.

There is always a mature debate to be had about which powers should be where. A classic example is the debate about whether television licence fees should be considered to be state aid, as Sky once argued. It said that fee money should not be invested in BBC News online or BBC News 24, because they were in competition with Sky News. Should public service broadcasting be considered purely on a member state level? I think I know the answer to that, and the settled answer is that it should be for member states to take such decisions. That is why there has been a special provision on state aid for a long time, which makes an allowance for services of general economic interest. That is also why we had to have a special protocol on broadcasting at Amsterdam.

The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness is right that there will be constant debate about which issues should be resolved where, but I think we would function better if the treaty of Lisbon were ratified. If it is not ratified by everyone, we will have to live with the treaties as they are. We would then have to consider various aspects and how we could make them work to the best advantage of all member states.

I was looking at the clock earlier only because I am aware that a 50-minute speech by Chris Bryant is not necessarily better than a five-minute speech by Chris Bryant.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Having united the Chamber, I shall move on to the other key issues that we are keen that the Commission should take forward, although others might disagree.

The first issue is about having a strong, global EU voice. We have seen from what has happened in the past few days in relation to Iran how important it is, when an individual member state has an issue with a country such as Iran, for the whole European Union to act in concert and in union. Of course, it is right that anything that approximates foreign policy should be based on unanimity, but as the world moves forward, it will become increasingly more important to do that. As the European Union has grown, it has become more significant when the whole EU speaks as one, because there is such diversity of political opinion and political outlook.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

The Minister is new to his portfolio, but he will be well versed on the debates that took place about what to do about Bosnia and the Balkans and about the potential invasion of Iraq in the lead-up to March 2003. Those issues divided Europe hugely. A more fundamental worry is that there is discord between what NATO does and what the EU does, simply because there is Cyprus inside the EU on one side and Turkey in NATO on the other side, refusing to engage. There is no formal relationship between those two massive organisations.

The Minister talks about seeking a more unified approach to Iran, but does he see the limitation in trying to get people around the table to agree on very difficult issues? There is a danger that we will never get an agreement that matches up for all 27 nation states.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

At the weekend, we came to a very united position on the situation in Iran. In fact, in the past few years, the European Union has played a very important part in making sure that Iran does not think the issue is just about what Britain thinks or what the United States of America thinks.

We must also consider matters that might not seem so significant to us. In Honduras, at the weekend, when there was a coup, it was perhaps more immediately important to countries such as Spain that the EU took a single view. The fact that we do so means that we are able to play a much more important card.

There will be times when we do not agree.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Indeed. There are times when we do not agree, and when there are tensions in trying to achieve a joint position, but that would be true if the EU did not exist at all and we were still trying to build alliances without it. When we share a common position, it has added strength. A classic example relates to Russia and energy security, which is a vital issue for many EU countries. We get only 2 per cent. of our gas from Russia, but 47 per cent. of Europe’s gas comes from Russia, so having a strong, reliable and integrated relationship across the European Union with Russia can only be to our benefit.

We would like the EU to play a slightly different and enhanced role in relation to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq in particular. We have seen that to some degree in the past year, but because Governments across Europe change their complexion on a fairly regular basis, sometimes there is not perfect continuity of political view.

Climate change is another matter in which it is vital that the EU takes a significant role, and we hope that there will be a good outcome from the talks in December. I do not think anyone in the House disagrees about that. Just as we know that the acid rain created by the industries of one country does not necessarily land neatly on the mountain tops of that country but can spread across the whole EU, we know too that we must do all we can to come up with a positive outcome in Copenhagen. Europe has taken a significant lead on such issues, and we hope that the European Commission will also take a lead.

It is vital that the Commission should lead not only in the delivery of programmes of skills for the future, but also in trying to ensure that the Europe we build for the future is not simply trying to compete in the bargain basement. Instead, we should try to build on Europe’s strengths that add value around the world.

Finally, it is a priority and a necessity for the Government to enhance security. There are many threats to people’s security, such as international terrorism, antisocial behaviour and everything in between. Obviously, some key elements of those issues can be solved only at local level, let alone at national level. However, greater co-operation has been in our interests in other areas, such as terrorism. As we approach the anniversary of the 7 July bombings, we are painfully aware that the European arrest warrant was significant in helping us to bring to justice the perpetrators of those events. I say to those who tend to adopt a rather ideological position about such issues that that sometimes gets in the way of pragmatic common sense.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

I apologise for taking the Minister back to an earlier point, but I have been scrabbling around to get the exact name of the directive I had in mind—it is the energy performance of buildings directive. Will the Minister explain the Government’s stance on that directive? In case he is entirely blank, I shall give him a steer: I believe that it is opposed by some countries because they believe it would be too costly, although one hopes they would see it as in their long-term interest to reduce energy usage in buildings, whereas the UK Government oppose it on the ground of subsidiarity. Will he explain the Government’s view on that directive, which appears to be a plank in tackling climate change?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I am only just developing my understanding of that particular directive. I very much hope that my understanding will develop at a swift enough pace for me to respond to him, if not by the end of this page, at least by the end of the debate.

I was just about to conclude on the question of enhancing security around Europe. We are aware that there are, of course, fragile states around the world where the European Union—the European Commission—has begun to take an enhanced role. We welcome that and believe it is something we need to do more of in the future. If climate change kicks in as many scientists predict, illegal migration is likely to be a more significant problem in the future. Again, we can work on a shared co-operative basis across the European Union on that.

Finally, on organised crime, there are significant areas where we should be able to co-operate to give greater protection to the peoples of Europe. I very much look forward to listening to the many contributions of all hon. Members and to responding to them at the end of the debate.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness 3:00 pm, 2nd July 2009

It is a great pleasure to take part in the debate and to follow the Minister. I do not plan to say a great deal, but I shall start by picking up on one point he mentioned. He talked about mobile phones and the fact that the nation states sought to have their own rules and did not wish to have shared rules across the European Union, which was therefore able to use its powers to enforce its will. He may be new to his post, but I would have hoped that the Minister had a better understanding of how the European Union worked. It takes the involvement and support of member states and the Council of Ministers before any such policy can be implemented. So, it is a falsehood to suggest that the European Union brought in common rules in the face, or the teeth, of the states’ opposition.

The truth is that the nation states came together in a common-sense way for common purposes in exactly the manner that I talked about in my intervention, so that they could agree to pool sovereignty and agree common standards. By doing so, they have, indeed, allowed the benefits to flow, which the Minister rightly highlighted. I hope that those benefits will continue to flow, with a reduction in roaming costs. When you go abroad, Mr. Illsley—as I know you do when following assiduously your work for your constituency and Parliament—I am sure that you have found that the costs of keeping up with your constituency casework are outrageous and excessive.

The Minister suggested, as Government spokesmen like to, that the Conservative party was somehow out of step with the general views of people across Europe. I was surprised that he did not mention the democratic deficit and the lack of legitimacy with which the new European Parliament will start its work, which has been caused by the very low turnout of 43 per cent. I believe that Labour Members of the European Parliament received—I do not want to get the numbers wrong—just 16 per cent. of the vote, which was the lowest score in a national election by any governing party at any level at any election ever. In fact, I believe that it is the lowest figure for the Labour party since 1918.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

Does my hon. Friend agree that although Labour Members of the European Parliament received only 15 or 16 per cent. of the vote, which is extremely low, that is about 15 or 16 per cent. higher than the percentage of Labour Back Benchers who are participating in the debate?

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Perhaps it is not just that the British people have fallen out of love with Europe and the Labour party, but that the Labour party itself has fallen out of love with the whole issue. That would explain why the only Labour Member here today is the one who is forced to be by the rules of the House. Perhaps if the Minister were not forced to be here, he would be absent, too.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

He would be in Norwich, North desperately trying to hold on to a seat there. My hon. Friend, of course, makes a good point.

Another issue that I had hoped the Minister would pick up on from the European Commission strategy is how the Lisbon treaty has been treated, particularly the way in which the Irish people have been treated. In what way can it be right to ask the Irish people, who have given a clear and definitive no to the Lisbon treaty, to vote again on precisely the same wording that they voted on last time? Why are the Euro-elite, of whom the Minister makes such a natural member, always able to ignore the views of ordinary people and impose their views of what is right at a European level on the people concerned? It is a pity that the Minister did not touch on that in his remarks, but I assume that he will be speaking again—no one else is here to sum up because there is so little interest from Labour Members. I assume that the Minister will have the opportunity to come back, and perhaps he will speak on that subject—[Interruption.]The Minister said something from a sedentary position.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

With the leave of the House, I certainly hope that the Minister will be able to respond.

Lisbon and the treatment of the Irish is something that we need to hear about. It would also have been interesting to hear the Minister’s view on the prospects for Turkish entry to the EU, which is, of course, mentioned in the strategies. In so far as this Administration have changed from the previous Prime Minister’s Administration, I would like to know whether they have a different view from the one led by Tony Blair. Do the Government remain committed to Turkish membership in due course and is the Minister doing everything possible to make that happen? Will he report back to us on what progress he is making on winning support in other countries and among other parties on that?

I said that I would keep my musings short so, finally, I ask the Minister to respect the democratic right of parties within the European Parliament to group together as they see fit. I would like to put it on the record that I am absolutely delighted that the Conservative party has ceased to be a member of the Euro-federalist European People’s party grouping and that it has set up a new grouping in the European Parliament. That has happened thanks to the excellent work of many, in particular the leading work of my hon. Friend Mr. Francois. That grouping is one of moderate centre right parties, which will work to create a European Union that is more responsive to the people.

Notwithstanding the anger at that Conservative initiative felt by those who are either left behind in the EPP or have always been in the socialist or liberal blocs in the European Parliament, the new group will, in fact, give a lead to listening to and working more closely with the people. It will also aim to reduce the democratic deficit under which the European Union currently labours. The new grouping is more likely to ensure the long-term success and, indeed, unity of the European Union going forward. We need to listen to people’s voices—whether they are the voices of those who voted for the UK Independence party or, indeed, of those who voted for the more extreme parties at the recent European elections. Such people feel disaffected with how politics works and responds to their needs. The new grouping in the European Parliament, of which Conservatives are proud members, will help produce greater legitimacy for the European Union going forward.

As a parting shot, I shall just mention that I am proud that my party is part of a grouping that includes those who were involved in Solidarity and that we are fighting totalitarianism. If the Minister is happy to be a member of a grouping that contains the ex-communists—the oppressors—and he is happy to be associated with them and their fellow travellers, he is entirely wrong to take such a view. Our grouping is the one that offers hope and a positive future—not only for the people of Britain but for the European Union.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) 3:09 pm, 2nd July 2009

It is a pleasure to work under your tutelage, Mr. Illsley—I think it is the first time that I have had that honour—and it is a delight to participate in this important debate. However, I am sad to observe that so few hon. Members have made it into the Chamber. In fact, there is such a small number of hon. Members here that, if we had wanted to save the taxpayer some money, we could have conducted the debate inside the back of a taxi.

I am pleased to speak in a debate on the European Commission’s annual policy strategy, which was published on 18 February. As the Minister said, it is rather a lean document. That raises the question whether the European Commission and, indeed, the European Union will sit on their hands until the new Commission is in place and they see what happens with the Lisbon treaty.

I begged to catch your eye, Mr. Illsley, because I was curious as to whether the Minister would comment on what Germany decided to do yesterday about the Lisbon treaty. Although Germany has approved it from a court perspective, there has been a delay, which may be indefinite, in the treaty’s ratification. Conveniently, the Minister did not touch on that.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The hon. Gentleman may have noticed that Mr. Francois did not ask me about that directly at Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions, although he did ask me about it by means of a rather deft body swerve. I deftly body-swerved back to suggest that it is for German law to decide precisely how the issue is taken forward. Angela Merkel has already said that the Bundestag will meet in the summer to do whatever is necessary to change the law so that everything can be ratified.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

I think that I am right in saying that Germany is another country whose people have been denied the opportunity to vote on the treaty directly.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

It is a bit odd for British people to accuse Germany of not holding a referendum. After the second world war, it was Britain that insisted that Germany should not be allowed to hold plebiscites or referendums because of the experience of the 1930s, and that is written into Germany’s constitution.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

I am glad that the Minister has corrected me, but he will also be aware that it was written into the Japanese and German constitutions that those countries could not send armed forces abroad. Those aspects of their constitutions have now been changed because they are out of date. Is it not now wrong that the Germans do not have an opportunity to vote on something so important? Surely, we as Europeans have now been so merged and amalgamated that we should not be leaning on rules that we imposed more than half a century ago. We should have faith in the Germans’ system, and they should be allowed to have referendums.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Is my hon. Friend as appalled as I am not only that a Minister of the Crown should oppose giving people in this country a say but that he wants to extend that even to Germany, which he obviously does not consider to be a mature enough democracy to handle a referendum?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. I almost want to invite the Minister to say how many other countries he would prefer to see denied a referendum. I suspect that the list would include Ireland, although given that people there have already had one pop at it, and he did not like the result, he may encourage them to have another one.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I am actually the person in the debate who is in favour of each member state deciding for itself how to progress these issues. It is a statutory requirement in Germany that the country cannot have a referendum unless it changes its constitution, which would have to be done, as I understand it, through two separately elected mandates. In Ireland, it is a requirement that they should have a referendum—[Hon. Members: “They did.”] Indeed, but it is not for me to tell each individual country in Europe how to proceed. [Hon. Members: “You are.”] Hon. Gentlemen should keep calm. They do not have to shout at me after every sentence—they can reserve it just for occasional paragraphs.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

Such is the passion that the issue raises. The Minister underlines the gulf between the two sides of the House. It is not just the state that is important—the people need to be allowed to have a referendum. I reiterate that Ireland has had its referendum and made a decision. What does it say for democracy when Brussels decides, “We don’t particularly like that answer. Let’s invite them to have another referendum”?

The document focuses on how we progress with the Lisbon treaty intact and under the new Commission. Even though it is a lean document of only 11 pages, I was hoping that the Minister might take this opportunity to provide a written reply saying what Britain’s part would be. However, no written document has been put forward, and we have only the Minister’s words today. I would therefore like—I am sure that time will permit me—to put some questions to him.

The document is broken down into various headings, the first of which is “Economic and Social Recovery”. In the light of the financial crisis and the ongoing recession, it is of course right that much of the focus is on the economic outlook. However, I would like the Minister to update us on what is happening as regards the European economic recovery plan and meeting the commitments under the Lisbon strategy for growth and jobs and the stability and growth pact, which are the central strands in this regard. A 9 per cent. increase in appropriations is earmarked for competitiveness for growth and employment compared with 2009. Will the Minister spell out where that 9 per cent. increase will actually go?

There are also changes in the regulation of the financial services industry. How do the changes that we are trying to push forward in the UK match those that are being introduced in individual states in Europe and in the EU as a whole?

Page 9 of the report outlines some of the spending programmes. The seventh framework programme for research and technological development will see an €803 million increase, and the lifelong learning programme will see an increase of €39 million. Again, it would have been beneficial if the Minister could have spelled out a little more how that money will be spent.

Also tucked away in the document is a reference to another €66 million, which will be spent on the Galileo satellite project. I invite the Minister, who is smiling already, to intervene to let us know how many birds—how many satellites—are actually in the sky as we speak.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

That shows how distant the Minister is from the language. Birds and satellites are interrelated words in the satellite industry. If the Minister gets on top of his brief, he will realise that just one test satellite out of 24 has been put up. The programme is costing an absolute fortune and is draining resources, yet there is already a workable system up there—the global positioning system. As a result of the involvement of some our partners in the Galileo system, the Americans have made it clear that the first thing they will do in a global catastrophe is shoot the Galileo system—if it is actually operable—out of the sky. Why are we investing so much in a system that is draining resources and replicating something that works so efficiently? I invite the Minister to get to his feet to reply, although I doubt that he will, because he realises in his heart of hearts that Galileo, too, is a fundamental waste of money. I am sure that he will wait for the army of civil servants behind him to give him the line to take—[Interruption.] He has it already. How pleasant. We look forward to hearing it.

The document also mentions the European economic recovery plan. The Minister mentioned the importance of gas and electricity interconnection projects, offshore energy projects and so forth, but he did not mention carbon capture. That term is bandied around a lot in Westminster, but I have yet to see one carbon capture project work successfully. I am not saying that carbon capture does not work—I am asking where there is a project that will work, which we could copy or use to show that the technology is successful. Another €1,250 million is being invested in carbon capture, but we have been talking about it for an awfully long time, and we have seen no benefits from it.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

In 2003, the Government said that there was an urgent need to bring forward carbon capture and storage projects. No map that I have seen of the transition to 2050 suggests that we could meet our carbon commitments without carbon capture and storage, even if it does prove simply to be an interim technology. None the less, we have seen nothing from the Government since 2003 except promises of projects that are not of a commercial scale, and even those projects are running behind schedule.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

Again, my hon. Friend makes a powerful point. I am very much for the advancement of green energy, but this is one issue on which I remain slightly sceptical. I would like to see more evidence that carbon capture works, given the sums that are being put into it.

Of course, hon. Members on both sides of the House agree about climate change and a sustainable Europe, and this is one issue on which the EU really can do well by co-ordinating activity and making sure that resources are properly used. The key focus will be the climate change conference in Copenhagen in December. Will the Minister outline what Britain’s initiatives are? What will he be taking to the table?

We are aware that there will be a revised EU emissions trading scheme, and that is much needed, considering that the first system clearly did not work efficiently. The Minister also touched on the importance of gas and electricity. One thing that could save a lot of money and provide some energy security is a common gas market. That would allow Britain and, indeed, other countries that are affected when Russia turns the taps on and off, to obtain a more stable supply. It is taking years to achieve that. Can the Minister update us on the creation of a common gas market?

The year 2010 will be an important one for the common fisheries policy, with the expected submission by the Commission of reform proposals, following the public consultation. I invite the Minister to clarify the changes that he will propose to ensure that Britain’s fish stocks will be protected as we expect, and as they are not now.

One of the final chapters in the short report concerns Europe as a world partner. The Minister touched on our role as a European member and the way in which that integrates with some of our international obligations. I intervened on him to explain the differences of opinion, and how poorly the two huge organisations, the EU and NATO, integrate in their work. I think that the Minister would acknowledge that that is a problem. Red tape prevents us from working effectively.

The report pushes for individual countries to put forward 0.7 per cent. of gross domestic product for aid programmes by 2015. I should like the Minister to consider that some of that money, although it is dealt with from a humanitarian perspective, need not necessarily be spent by the likes of the Department for International Development or other countries’ USAID equivalents. It could be spent by our armed forces. A problem in Iraq and Afghanistan has been the fact that people at the front line who need and could spend the funds, and who understand the situation at hand, are prevented from instigating humanitarian efforts because they must wait for another Department to turn up, although its representatives are not necessarily briefed on what is happening, and often fail to work in an insecure environment, and therefore cannot ensure that projects reach fruition.

We need a fundamental overhaul of the relationship between our ability to war-fight and our ability to peace-keep. I have said that in the Chamber in other debates. The European Union has a major role to play, should it wish to, in ensuring that there is better co-ordination in our stabilisation efforts. Any hon. Member who has visited Afghanistan and seen the EU effort there will have been appalled by the amount of money that is wasted because it goes through the organisations in question, with a top-down approach, and is not managed correctly. I will put my hand up to declare an interest as someone who has been in the armed forces, and I believe that they are best positioned to carry out the actions that allow us to provide stabilisation and introduce humanitarian aid, and, more importantly, get our troops and everyone home, having won hearts and minds and empowered the locals to get on with their lives.

We touched on the limitations of what the EU can do in foreign policy. I think that my hon. Friend Mr. Francois will expand a bit on the important question of why we think it would be wrong to introduce, under the Lisbon Treaty, a type of Foreign Minister. My view is that there is a threshold to collective agreements when it comes to such difficult decisions. The Minister mentioned Iran, and, yes, we have come out with a stern statement. What happens when things get a bit tougher than that? What would have happened if there had been a requirement to provide Georgia with more support than words? Would we have had agreement across the EU? I do not know; I certainly do not think so. More important, an EU Foreign Minister or President would be asked to make judgments on those issues. That is what I think is wrong, particularly when we already have NATO to make the judgments through the nation states.

I firmly support the Conservative view that we want an open and flexible Europe, the priorities of which should be to focus on the people of Europe and not the heads of state. We should focus on competitiveness, global poverty and global warming. The biggest example of why the EU fails to gain the respect that it should is the fact that for the 14th year it has failed to have its accounts signed off by the Court of Auditors. That is appalling. Any other organisation or agency would be put out of business.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman brought the matter up, because, although the issue is of course one of concern, one reason why it has been impossible to deal with it in the past is that a significant amount of the money spent by the European Union is spent in and by the member states. Because they refuse to agree—and the hon. Gentleman’s party signs up to this—on a European system for auditing, it is impossible for the accounts to be signed off fully. That is one of our problems.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

Taxpayers need to see that the money is well spent, and if the Minister can identify flaws in the system it must be improved, to give better accountability and so that we can see where the money is spent. More important is how it is spent: where it is pushed in. The costs of EU membership are heavier than they should be, and the way the money is spent could be improved. Improvements have been made; proposed new EU laws are now assessed for their impact on jobs and businesses, which did not happen before, but there is still too much red tape coming from Brussels, and too much interference in matters that should be decided by European nation states and not the EU. The working time directive was mentioned earlier, and its effect on our business and public services is potentially serious and damaging. That is why, if the Conservatives win the next election, we shall make it a priority to restore national control of social and employment legislation.

We need a Europe that works for the people, not the rulers. There are 27 nations, with a wonderful mix of culture, languages, peoples and heritage. Therefore, there will be a natural threshold for what such a large club can achieve without threatening people’s way of life by imposing a bland blueprint or one-size-fits-all stamp that gives no significance or respect to individual nation states’ way of life. Also very important is the distancing effect on the decision makers from those who elect them. I defy hon. Members to go back to their constituencies and find an average voter who can name every single MEP who got elected in the European elections. There is no proper relationship, no matter how hard MEPs work, because of the number of doorsteps that they need to cover.

The EU is growing into a bureaucratic nightmare, and we want to take back control of social and employment law, so that EU red tape no longer threatens our competitive labour market. I encourage the Minister to answer my questions if he can, and if he cannot, I invite him to write to me with the answers as soon as possible.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs) 3:28 pm, 2nd July 2009

I am very pleased to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr. Illsley, with a small but select group of MPs.

The document that we are discussing is, like many—perhaps most—European strategy documents, more of a statement of priorities than a fully worked out strategy. Some mention has been made of its length. I welcome the fact that, at just 11 pages, it is admirably brief. Considering the size of some documents that we receive from Brussels, it is a step in the right direction. I am a great believer in the idea that documents, whether from the EU or this place, are often far too long, and that brevity and clarity of purpose are not valued enough. It is right that we should have the opportunity to debate the priorities, although it is also important to know the mechanism by which the UK position is communicated back, which presumably happens through the Council of Ministers. The mechanism for such responses is not always clear.

I welcomed your earlier ruling, Mr. Illsley, that the debate should not turn into one solely about ratification of the Lisbon treaty, because I have sat through various Europe debates that have felt a bit like groundhog day. I imagined that it would come up—quite rightly, as it is mentioned in the document and is obviously an important, unresolved issue for Europe. Whether it is resolved one way or the other will probably depend on the outcome of the second Irish referendum, which is due this autumn, as the other countries that have not yet ratified it have indicated that they are waiting on the second decision of the Irish people. The Irish may well say no. That would be a shame, but ultimately, although the Lisbon treaty is a good treaty, it is not earth-shattering. In such circumstances, we would have to use the structures as they are currently formed and try to make them work better.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

I wonder what the hon. Lady’s analysis is of the treaty. Does she think that it is fundamentally the same as the European constitution, as the author of the constitution seemed to suggest?

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

There are certainly huge similarities between the two, but, in its very nature, the Lisbon treaty is not a constitution. It is an amending treaty. It does not delete and rip up all the previous treaties, which a constitution would have done, so it is different from that point of view. Also, some concessions were negotiated by the UK Government. As such, the treaty does not represent a step change, which would require a referendum.

However, I do think that it is time for the people of Britain to have their say on Europe. People discuss it, but the last time we had a referendum on Europe was decades ago. It was before I was even born, let alone able to vote in it. Most people in the country have not had that opportunity, and I would welcome such a debate. A better question to ask, given what people are actually discussing when they talk about Britain’s future in Europe, is whether we should be in Europe.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

It was mentioned in passing that the Labour party suffered its worst ever electoral result in the European elections. It was surprising, given the collapse of the ruling party’s vote, that, as an Opposition party, the Liberal Democrats saw their vote fall. Does she fear that that was because the British people felt betrayed? A promise was made in the Liberal Democrat manifesto to support a referendum on the European constitution. The Lisbon treaty is practically the same, but the Liberal Democrats have failed to honour their promise and have come up with this political fix of a debate on whether we should be in or out, for which no one is asking.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman will know, of course, that the Liberal Democrats actually gained an MEP—one that we previously would have lost—in the east midlands in the European elections. Obviously, we are pleased about that. Our vote did go down by about 1 per cent., but all the main parties saw their vote go down.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Just a little fact for the record: the Conservative party saw its share of the vote increase.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman is obviously pleased to make that correction for the record. However, European elections are based on a proportional system.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I do not want to let the Conservatives get away with that comment without referring to the fact that in the previous elections—not the last ones but the ones before, when Mr. Hague was leader of their party—they got 36 per cent. of the vote but then went on to a crashing defeat at the next general election.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

The electoral statistics are all very interesting, but two points about European elections should be borne in mind. First, the voters know that they are voting under a proportional system, not first past the post, in which there is less chance of smaller parties getting elected. In fact, smaller parties such as the Greens, the UK Independence party and, sadly, the British National party, won seats. People understand the system, as we found out in Scotland, where there are now four different voting systems. People are savvy; they understand which system they are using and whether they should support the main parties. Secondly, it is clear that all the main parties suffered because of the current scandals at Westminster. Anyone who was out knocking on doors during the European election campaign will be aware of that.

Much as I am sure that a post-mortem of the European elections would be interesting to political anoraks like us, I shall return to the issues at stake. The Lisbon treaty will change the structures in Europe for the better. Of course, by the time the annual policy strategy is in place, if it goes ahead—there may be some changes, given that it is in draft form and would need to be reviewed by the incoming Commission—the treaty will also be in place, if it is ratified.

It is important that we turn away from the institutional navel-gazing that the EU has been obsessed with in past years, whether on the constitution or even on amending treaties to deal with the number of commissioners, qualified majority voting or co-decision. Frankly, such discussions turn people off Europe.

At a time when turnout for European elections is very low—that is a great concern—there is a case to be made for the good things that Europe manages to do. Roaming charges were mentioned. This summer, that will have an impact on the everyday lives of our constituents. It is important that the case for Europe is made, that discussion is held about policy issues, and that Europe gets away from institutional nonsense and simply thinking about its own structures the whole time, and gets on with delivering for the people of this country.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport)

I know that the hon. Lady is a big enthusiast of the Lisbon treaty, but will she tell me about one action that the European Union or any of its member states have been prevented from taking in response to the global financial crisis because we have not yet ratified it?

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman slightly misrepresents my position. I think that the Lisbon treaty is a good treaty. It is good for Britain and good for the EU, in that it actually gives Britain a bigger say within the EU. I would like to think that that would mean that Europe would take better decisions, but it might be too charitable to the Government to assume that more say for the UK would always mean that.

However, I have never said that every aspect of the treaty is earth-shattering. Clearly, the EU has been able to take some action. However, in the case of competition legislation, the EU does not manage to enforce its own rules well enough, even under the current systems. The rules are interpreted differently by different countries in Europe, and that is a problem and a challenge with which Europe must deal.

I hope to focus my contribution on three parts of the strategy: economic and social recovery, climate change and a sustainable Europe, and Europe as a world partner. Clearly, as has been said, EU co-operation is needed to bring an end to the recession and to mitigate its effects on our constituents, who are currently concerned about whether they will lose their job, about indebtedness, and about the general economic outlook for the country. I welcome on page 3 of the document the intention for enhanced co-operation on

“projects to make for more investment in energy efficiency, low-carbon and renewable energy technologies, infrastructure projects and measures to combat climate change.”

That is a key point. We need to tie together the strands of climate change and economic recovery, because a green route out of the recession is crucial. President Obama in the United States is certainly pursuing one. We will need to rebuild our economy, but our new economy will have to look a bit different from the one we have had. We need to rely less on fossil fuels and ensure that we cut our carbon, but, rather than seeing those things as dreadful costs to business, and a threat, we should see them as an opportunity for Britain to lead the way in new technologies and export them to other countries.

For example, Denmark has a huge lead in the use of wind turbines. One wonders why, given the renewable resources at the UK’s disposal. I come from a part of the country that enjoys many weather events, including wind, and it is near the coast for marine energy. Why have we not managed to take more of a lead, and to reap the economic benefits of doing so? That is vital for tackling climate change, which I believe is the biggest threat that the global community faces, and for creating jobs. On the ground, in our constituencies, those are the things that people are concerned about.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

I am extremely grateful. The hon. Lady is right to highlight the importance of tackling climate change. She has not mentioned the lamentable failure of this Government to produce much in the way of renewable energy, which is why I think that only Malta and Luxembourg have a lower percentage of renewable energy than we do.

How does the hon. Lady think that we can tackle the failure to invest in renewable energy and change our energy sources, yet work with people without having what I have in my constituency? The whole of Holderness is up in arms as wind farms are imposed from above despite the opposition of local people, councillors, parishes and businesses—of everybody locally. It feels as if there is no voice for local democracy. How does she think we can best balance those two priorities?

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. In my constituency, there are currently many controversies, not about wind turbines, but about planning on a variety of issues. It is about a lack of democracy. It is frustrating when a whole community is united in a particular objective, and their rights and views seem to be trampled over. There is a balance to be had, because there is sometimes a “not in my backyard” attitude—although I am not accusing the hon. Gentleman’s constituents of that—which could mean that we never have any renewable technologies anywhere.

We need more incentives for communities in the form of benefits that will accrue. The community can see a real benefit when the money and funds for renewable energy projects are put in place. There is, perhaps, even a profit-sharing basis for that. In Shetland, for example, fabulous projects have been put in place by the oil industry. Where there is a community benefit, that can help.

We should also recognise that onshore wind is not the only answer. Offshore wind, for example, is perhaps less likely to attract criticism, and many marine renewables are on the sea bed and do not seem to have the same impact on a landscape. Those things need to be developed, because as an island with huge potential—whether in respect of the Severn barrage proposals, in the Pentland firth or elsewhere offshore—we need to ensure that we are using the resources.

Technology transfer poses a challenge. Page 4 of the document says that

“both the copyright and the trademark systems should be modernised to make them responsive to the needs of business and consumers”.

That is the sort of statement with which everybody agrees, but there is a real challenge in getting the correct balance. For example, we do not want patents on low-carbon technologies to become a barrier to transferring them to developing countries, where that technology is needed because their economies are growing. If we are effectively saying to those countries, “You can’t develop on the same trajectory of carbon emissions that we did”, it is only fair that we give them assistance to enable them to develop low-carbon economies. Equally, with that kind of technology transfer there can be a barrier to investment in new technologies. It is important that such vital measures are not prevented by technology transfer. It is difficult to get it right. The £60 billion fund to assist with technology transfer globally to developing countries, which was proposed by the Prime Minister in his recent speech, could help. A lot of environmental groups have suggested that that does not go far enough, but at least it is a step in right direction.

Mr. Ellwood mentioned carbon capture and storage. I agree that the Government have not made nearly enough progress on that vital issue, but I disagree with what he said about the feasibility of CCS. As a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, I can say that we have looked into CCS and come to the conclusion that, although there is currently no commercially viable project on the scale that would be necessary, each element of the technology has been tried and tested. It is about having the right incentives in place. If business gets a clear signal that new coal-fired power stations will not be allowed if it does not include CCS, the investment will come. The Government should have been bolder in that regard.

We can argue about whether we can achieve Britain’s cuts in carbon emissions without CCS. Some would argue that nuclear could help to fill that gap, although I am not a fan of it. However, in respect of other countries, members of the EAC met Government officials in China and heard about the number of coal-fired power stations that they are building and will continue to build. It is clear that there is no way that we, as a planet, will achieve our objectives if we do not have CCS technology. It is important that that technology can be retrofitted to existing power stations, rather than just having technology that is pre rather than post.

We have suffered a financial crisis of confidence in the banking sector, with consumers throughout the country not being sure where to put their money and unsure what was going on as everything seemed to collapse. It is important that we consider the competition issues that have been raised by the nationalisation or recapitalisation of the banks and the merger of Lloyds and HBOS, which the Government have waived competition rules to allow. There is a great danger that we set ourselves up to repeat the mistakes from which we have already suffered. The enforcement of competition rules, which are mentioned on pages 3 and 4, is important in aiding recovery.

Lloyds now boasts on its website that it has more than 50 per cent. of the UK market share of social bank accounts and Goldman Sachs says that it controls 30 per cent. of the UK banking market overall. I do not see how that can be healthy in the long term. It will be necessary to break up the banks, particularly when they are re-privatised back into the private sector. Paraphrasing Mervyn King’s recent statement, if banks are too big to fail, then they are too big. In such circumstances, the Government have to bail out the banks. The lack of competition is a problem, and it is not good for customers, either.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

The hon. Lady will have noticed, as I did, that the document specifically mentions “post” in relation to competition enforcement. What does she think the European Commission’s view will be of the Government’s retreat in the face of their funders, the unions, which provide 80 per cent. of the Labour party’s income? Back-Benchers have perhaps been driven by those unions into refusing to allow the modernisation and partial privatisation of the Post Office, which was apparently, until last week, absolutely necessary.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

There are some questions about whether that decision is politically or commercially motivated. I leave it to the Minister to tell us what the European Commission will say and what the Government will say to it.

Climate change is a real success for Europe and we should not be afraid of praising the success so far. Mr. Stuart will know, because he also sat on the EAC and we produced more than one excellent report on the European Union emissions trading scheme, that although the ETS is not perfect, it has certainly improved in its different phases and is being used as a model by other schemes around the world, notably by the Australians, who have recently, thankfully, woken up to the threat of climate change and want to take action. We have a pioneering scheme and although it has its teething problems, people are learning from it and it will be a crucial part of how we, as a planet, tackle the problem. That pioneering attitude has enabled the EU to have leadership role, which has been lacking from the United States. Even now it is more difficult for the US to lead on the issue, because of the different circumstances within that country, including the views of its population, for example, which relies on cheap petrol.

The EU has an opportunity. The regulations on lower-carbon vehicles have helped EU cars to be far ahead of their counterparts in the US. The Tata Nano is being launched in India and the company hopes to launch a similar model in Europe, but before doing so it has to make its carbon emissions much better for it to access the European market. Those regulations will encourage manufacturers from elsewhere in the world to improve their carbon standards.

Landfill tax has led to a huge increase in doorstep recycling around the UK. The Government may be tempted to take the credit for improved recycling facilities, but it is important to recognise that the EU deserves some of the credit, because the directive on landfill has played an important role. Too often Governments can take the credit for good things that the EU does and lay the blame on Europe for less popular things, but that does nothing to push the cause for working together with our European counterparts. I shall touch briefly on the common agricultural policy, because its reform is important for sustainability. The strategy notes that 2010 will be the first year of full implementation of the CAP’s health check. That is a good and welcome step forward, because subsidies coupled with what farmers produced led to food mountains, wine lakes, and excesses that were not helpful to the environment, nor ultimately to trade with the rest of the world, and caused huge problems for developing countries. That protectionism must be challenged and is being challenged, although not far enough yet. It is good to see progress on reform, but it is important that pressure is maintained to ensure that it continues.

Cuts in aid will free up money. The DEFRA summary says that around €479 million will be freed up throughout Europe from aid cuts, and that can be used to invest in renewable energy, climate change measures, biodiversity and so on. What is the corresponding figure for the UK, and how do the Government intend to use those funds?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport)

Does the hon. Lady agree that there can be no justification whatever for spending more than €1 billion a year to subsidise tobacco production in the European Union, much of which is of such low quality that it is exported to the third world?

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman makes his point well, and it seems ridiculous to subsidise such a product, especially as we all know the harm that it causes. We should encourage alternatives, rather than the status quo.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

The hon. Lady sounds insufficiently angry about the impact of the common agricultural policy, not only its impact on consumers throughout Europe but, more importantly, that it has been a fundamental blockage to the Doha trade round, which has resulted in the inhibition of trade with the third world and developing countries. I suggest that it has led to the death of many people in developing countries, not just from the obscene subsidy on tobacco, but because of its blockage of access to our markets. She should be more righteously angry and opposed to the current failure to reform it.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman asked to intervene, and then criticised me for taking his intervention. He anticipates my comments on Europe as a world partner. He rightly raised the huge problems that the CAP causes, but it is important to note that progress is under way, and that should be welcomed. The CAP is absolutely unacceptable and, sadly, the outlook is not optimistic for getting rid of the worst protectionism. The French are a stumbling block, although the Government have taken a positive line and tried to push it strongly in the EU, but obtaining agreement from other countries is not always easy.

A matter on which I have campaigned, as you will be aware, Mr. Illsley, because you also have a great interest in it, is excessive packaging. I note that the section on climate change and sustainable Europe does not mention packaging, which is a significant omission. The UK’s legislation on reducing packaging waste is based on the snappily titled directive on packaging and packaging waste 94/62/EC. The Minister for Energy and Climate Change, Joan Ruddock conceded in April 2008 that the directive’s essential requirements do not work, and said that they must be reformed at EU level.

I have pursued the matter and have discovered that a review of the regulations was announced in September 2007. In December 2008, it had still not started, and the EU Article 21 Committee said that it expected that it would take between nine and 10 months, so it might finally be ready in the autumn, and I hope that it will recommend some strengthening of the essential requirements regulation. That is an example of the EU when it is not at its best. It announced a review, but it took more than two years for any results to be available. Sometimes, European business moves at snail’s pace; a bit more proactivity and dynamism would be welcome. I am keen to see the result of the review, and may seek opportunities to raise it with the Minister or his colleagues in Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions.

The Minister mentioned the Copenhagen negotiations in December, and I agree that they are vital in tackling climate change. It is essential that the EU takes a leading role, and it has tried to do so. Working through the EU and explicit diplomacy on climate change is one of the four objectives of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and it is welcome that that is written into the FCO’s objectives and not hived off to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, or the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. World diplomacy is vital, because in many countries there is not the same acceptance or understanding of, or belief in the scientific evidence for climate change, and it is not such a priority because developing countries must deal with a whole host of other issues. We know that if climate change continues on the current trajectory in the long term, its perils will be felt most strongly in developing countries, so it is vital to do all we can as a world community to mitigate it.

Adaptation should not be forgotten. We have already had a temperature rise of 0.6°, and scientists predict that it will rise by at least 2° even if we manage to curb emissions rigorously now. That will not be 2° across the planet; it will be higher in some areas, and lower in others. Adaptation measures will be necessary, and we have seen the disruptive effect of just a few days of hot weather in the UK. We see similar disruption when there is flooding, and the effects in other countries will be so much worse.

Turning to Europe as a world partner and the point that was raised in an intervention, I was intrigued to read on page 7:

“The Commission will also pay particular attention to preventing and addressing unfair trade-distorting actions and protectionism in third countries.”

That is hugely ironic, because, as was mentioned, the CAP continues to epitomise those unfair trade-distorting actions and protectionism which the Commission is now saying it is against. I hope that those words can be used to encourage our European partners to move further along the route of getting rid of protectionism, because that is vital.

My first Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall was on trade with developing countries in the months after the Make Poverty History march and campaign. A huge number of my constituents were motivated to write to me about it, and I would have thought that all hon. Members would agree that urgent action is needed. Some of that is about money, but some is just about dropping barriers. There has been stagnation in the Doha round, and that beggars belief, because we are not talking just about money, companies, trade and so on; we are talking about people’s lives and livelihoods, and whether they have the basics of life that we take for granted. It is vital that our words are made to have real meaning, and that they are not glossed over in statements and policy papers that do not have any teeth.

I welcome the statement on page 6 of the strategy document that accession negotiations with Croatia and Turkey will continue. That is important. Despite recent setbacks in the border dispute with Slovenia, Croatia is well on its way to membership, and I hope that the issues can be resolved.

Turkey’s accession may be further off, but it would be a positive move to include Turkey in Europe. Some human rights issues are outstanding, but it is important to recognise the incentive that EU membership and the accession process can provide. Many countries have been and are keen to join the EU, and that carrot is a great motivator for them to improve their record on human rights and corruption. We perhaps were not firm enough with some eastern European countries about securing action on corruption and so on before they acceded to the EU. That means that some opportunities are lost, because the pre-accession period is the time when the EU’s influence is probably greatest in encouraging reform. We do not want to repeat those mistakes, but we do want to continue with those proceedings.

I noted the very diplomatic wording on Kosovo:

“The Commission will also prepare measures to support Kosovo’s political and socio-economic development and to help it progress, as part of the region, towards the EU.”

In fact, there is a host of diplomatic difficulties stemming from the fact that some EU states have recognised Kosovo as an independent state and others still have not done so. Last year, I had the opportunity to visit Pristina and Mitrovica and meet various Kosovan and Serb politicians. It was clear to me that huge difficulties remained in that region, even though there is peace. EU membership is perhaps one way out of the problems. The different Balkan states being EU members and then having relationships under the larger EU umbrella is potentially hugely beneficial. Although there are diplomatic difficulties at the moment, I hope that that objective will be pursued.

The Commission wants bilateral relations to be deepened with Israel, Moldova, Morocco and Ukraine. That is certainly interesting, but there are areas of concern. Greater co-operation with the EU could be used as an incentive for Israel to fulfil its responsibilities to uphold human rights. I argue that we should not upgrade relations with Israel until it agrees to suspend settlement expansion and shows real commitment to the peace process. We have seen some moves in that direction, albeit small ones, recently. Obviously the situation is very sensitive, but although in terms of overall diplomacy and influence the US has a far greater role to play than the EU, the EU should use the tools that it has at its disposal to pursue that agenda. That is my representation to the Minister on Israel.

The issue of Morocco is not touched on often. There is a strong trading relationship between Morocco and the EU, but Morocco is not co-operating with UN negotiations on the future of Western Sahara. It has not agreed to a referendum on independence for the Western Sahrawis. The Amnesty International report in 2009 entitled “The State of the World’s Human Rights” said on Morocco:

“The rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly continued to be restricted. Criticism of the monarchy or views contradicting the official position on other politically sensitive issues were penalized...Allegations of torture were not investigated, and victims of past human rights violations were not granted effective access to justice.”

Slightly worryingly, it also said that

“the issue of impunity for torturers was not raised” when the EU and Morocco agreed in October 2008 the road map to closer co-operation. I urge the Minister to use what influence he might have in his discussions with EU counterparts on further relations with Morocco to ensure that those issues are not left on the sidelines but are highlighted.

It is vital that Britain continues to engage in Europe, and this policy strategy lays out a set of priorities that are well thought out, although there are the issues that I have raised. I hope that whoever wins the next general election, the Government will continue to engage in Europe, so that we have a full role in reviewing the strategy, because it is important for many of the global challenges that we are working hand in hand with our EU partners.

My other plea is for us to focus on making things happen. The case for Europe is made best when Europe delivers for people, rather than when we get lost in institutional minutiae. Europe should focus on job creation, investing in a lower-carbon world, trade liberalisation and human rights, and prove just how relevant it is to the people of Europe.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe) 4:04 pm, 2nd July 2009

It is a pleasure to follow Jo Swinson and to speak under your chairmanship, Mr. Illsley.

In summing up the debate from the Opposition Front Bench, I note in passing that five Conservative Members have participated in one way or another, one Liberal Democrat Member and, aside from you, Mr. Illsley, as the neutral Chairman, one Labour Member—the Minister himself. I am somewhat surprised, given his popularity among Labour Back Benchers, that none of them has turned up to support him. I thought that at least one Labour Back Bencher could have been dragged here on a Thursday afternoon to talk about this important document. The Minister may have to reflect on that privately.

I shall come to the Minister’s contribution, but first I shall talk about some of the other contributions. My hon. Friend Mr. Stuart raised a number of good points. He pressed the Minister on the position regarding Turkish accession. The policy statement relates to accession in a number of areas. As there has been a lot of media comment about that in the past few weeks, will the Minister give the latest view from the Foreign Office on progress on Turkish accession? I hope he understands that it is a serious question. It would be helpful to hon. Members if he provided us with an update.

My hon. Friend also referred to our new grouping in the European Parliament. Since I have been doing this job, for the past two years, I have heard many people, including Labour Ministers, say that we would never do it—that it could not be achieved. Well, we have done it, and I just say to the Minister that in the European Parliament, there are a number of people in the socialist grouping, with whom Labour MEPs sit, who served in previous communist regimes in eastern Europe that seemed perfectly content to oppress the peoples of those countries. If he wants to talk about democracy, he should be more careful about the company that Labour MEPs keep, because they sit with people who were perfectly willing to suppress it for many years in eastern Europe. I am pleased that some of the people we are allied with resisted that, even under communism. I therefore believe that our grouping will provide an important addition to democratic debate in the Parliament. The President of the Commission, Mr. Barroso, will address our new grouping on 7 July. That is an example of how seriously it is being taken. I thank my hon. Friend for raising that matter.

My hon. Friend Mr. Ellwood asked a number of specific budgetary questions, and the Minister has had time to seek inspiration on those points, so I hope that we will receive specific answers. My hon. Friend raised in particular Galileo, which, as I think the Minister would concede, has been a controversial programme. When my hon. Friend referred to birds, he was not referring in any kind of slang or colloquial language to pretty young ladies; he was merely using a term widely used in the industry for satellites. Given that only one satellite is in orbit, and a test one at that, will the Minister update us on the Government’s view on Galileo—exactly where the programme now sits, when the next satellite will be launched, what our current budgetary contribution is, and where he believes the programme will go in the next several years? It has come in for a lot of criticism and it is referred to in the documentation.

We also heard a speech from the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire, from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. It is fair to say that she ranged over quite a considerable number of topics. She mentioned en passant the common agricultural policy and the health check, although she neglected to mention that a few years ago the present Government gave up £7 billion of the British rebate in return for what was supposed to be significant reform of the CAP. That was then downgraded to a health check and, in effect, very little further reform has taken place. We oppose that giving up of British taxpayers’ money. It is a discredit to the Government that they negotiated so weakly and did not achieve a creditable outcome.

I repeat to the hon. Lady the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness made: the Conservative vote increased in the European elections. Regardless of how the Liberal Democrats may have done in the east midlands, which she cited, to have come fourth in the country as a whole, even behind the Government, who had their worst result ever, was not necessarily a terribly creditable performance for the Liberal Democrats overall, and they might want to reflect on whether their European policy has something to do with that.

When the 2009 annual policy strategy was debated on 12 June last year, my hon. Friend Mr. Lidington, speaking from the Front Bench for the Conservatives, said about the document:

“I could not make up my mind whether it was a strategy document or a work programme. It is something of a cross between a White Paper and a Queen’s Speech, but it lacked the precision of the latter and associated documents because it does not tell us in detail exactly which measures of European legislation the Commission intends to introduce in 2009. The strategic analysis and presentation lacks coherence—it is a bag of all-sorts.”—[Hansard, 12 June 2008; Vol. 477, c. 164WH.]

That was a perceptive description, and in many respects it holds for the 2010 document.

I turn to the document, and I begin with Copenhagen. We welcome a number of the Commission’s objectives, particularly the fact that it wants to prioritise the fight against climate change. That is an important priority, and a topical one given that we all hope that international agreement can be reached at the UN summit in Copenhagen in December. Indeed, the House has seen cross-party support for that this afternoon.

We all appreciate the importance of the matter, and would like to see a deal done at Copenhagen, if it is possible. Given the importance of such a deal, we welcome the fact that the Commission recognises that the adoption of a climate and energy package and a revised emissions trading scheme should be a priority for 2010. For all its faults, the emissions trading scheme is an important example of how to create an international mechanism to deal with carbon emissions.

I move on to the Lisbon agenda, which forms an important part of the document that we are debating this afternoon. The aim, as stated in 2000, was that by 2010 the European Union should be

“the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion”.

Given that that period is nearly at an end, it is worth evaluating the outcome of the last nine years.

Frederick Reinfeldt, the Prime Minister of Sweden—the country assumed the presidency of the EU only yesterday—and his Finance Minister, Anders Borg, did just that in a joint article on 2 June in the Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter. Their unfortunate conclusion was this:

“Even if progress has been made it must be said that the Lisbon agenda, with only a year remaining before it is to be evaluated, has been a failure”.

They then set out their remedies, which they see as based on sustainable public finances, lower taxes and greater participation in the jobs market. They argued that

“we have in Sweden held stable and sustainable public finances as an integral part in crisis control. A quick glance around Europe strengthens us in the conviction that it is right. The crisis in the United Kingdom doubled the national debt in just a few years.”

When it comes to the Lisbon agenda, the new European Union presidency singled out the UK, under the Labour Government, as a prime example of how unsustainable public finances can hamper sustainable economic growth. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that.

Another important matter covered in the Commission’s document is the proposed change to the regulation of the financial services industry. A number of my hon. Friends touched upon the fact that the change is vital to this country because of the large number of jobs created and tax revenue generated by the City of London, and other financial centres such as Edinburgh. The Opposition are concerned that the proposals mentioned in the strategy document will have a significant impact on the City’s ability to compete globally. For instance, the European system of financial supervisors should supplement and strengthen rather than replace the role of national regulators, such as the Financial Services Authority and the Bank of England.

Other proposals include giving the three authorities proposed in stage 2 of the de la Rosière programme legally binding powers over national supervisors, but that would potentially represent a significant transfer of power from member states to the EU in an area where Britain has a great deal at stake. The dangers are more apparent than the advantages. Moreover, the Institute of Directors points out that the distinction the Government seem to draw between financial supervision and regulation in respect of the proposed system is “dubious”. Why are the Government rolling over when they should be doing more to defend Britain’s interests? They have been weak, and they deserve to be criticised.

Since the last debate on the annual policy strategy, we have witnessed the Russian invasion of Georgia. Today’s document devotes a paragraph to support for Georgia and its political system. However, it does not mention any detailed measures on Russia, and specifically whether talks aimed at creating a new EU partnership agreement with Russia should be concluded while Russia remains in breach of the EU-brokered ceasefire, which was successfully negotiated by President Sarkozy when France held the EU presidency. It is important to put that on record.

I have asked the Minister this question before, most recently in a European affairs debate, but there was no time then for him to answer. I should be grateful if he would state whether it is the Government’s policy not to sign up to a new agreement with Russia while it remains in breach of its ceasefire obligations. There is plenty of time this afternoon. Perhaps the Minister will give us a clear answer to that straightforward question.

The documents also say that a special emphasis will be placed on the European neighbourhood policy—the ENP—and the new Eastern Partnership. The Eastern Partnership was one of the lasting achievements of the Czech presidency. We welcomed it as an example of how Europe could look outwards and continue with the enlargement process. However, when European Standing Committee B debated the matter some weeks ago—the previous Minister for Europe, Caroline Flint was there—I asked how the Eastern Partnership would be financed, and I am sorry to say that I did not receive a satisfactory answer. I therefore have some questions for the Under-Secretary about the budget for the Eastern Partnership, based on the documents before us.

At page 11, the strategy document states:

“EUR 250 million has been earmarked by reprogramming ENPI funds.”

It then goes on to say that

“The remaining EUR 350 million will come from the unallocated margin under Heading 4”.

Will the hon. Gentleman say more about precisely what is covered by heading 4—I understand that it acts in part as a reserve—and whether the redeployment funds will have any effect on future funding for programmes in the Balkans, or as implied in the next paragraph, for areas such as Gaza or other parts of the middle east? It is some weeks since the European Committee debate, and I wonder whether the Minister can provide greater clarify on exactly where the other €350 million will come from, and specifically which other budgets might suffer.

One of the greatest challenges for European enlargement is the Balkans, particularly Bosnia and Herzegovina. The European Commission’s work in Bosnia is ongoing, and the commitment to accelerate the stabilisation and association agreements in the western Balkans, referred to on page 6, is welcome. However, those agreements will not be able to progress without more European political resolve and initiative. Unfortunately, at least in some countries, that seems to be lacking.

As I have said on previous occasions, Bosnia remains in a delicate position. Nationalist rhetoric blows over the fragile central Bosnian institutions, and separatist calls are never far from the surface, yet it is now that the EU needs to show greater resolve in Bosnia than it appears to be showing. Rather than allowing discussion of its closure, the office of the High Representative needs our full backing; likewise, EUFOR is in need of greater European political support. Will the Government support the continued operation of the High Representative and EUFOR? Those are specific policy questions, and I should be grateful if the Minister were to answer them.

I want to ask the Minister about a related matter to do with Kosovo. As the UK has reduced its commitment to EULEX in Kosovo partly, it would seem, as a result of the Government’s public finance crisis, will he guarantee that British missions to Bosnia are not and will not suffer the same fate?

On page 6, the document describes the European Commission’s proposals for the implementation of the Lisbon treaty. Those plans not only take the Irish people for granted, but also to some degree the German constitutional court and Parliament. I am sure the Minister is aware that the German constitutional court’s ruling of 30 June, in effect, suspended ratification of the treaty in Germany. The court’s ruling is remarkable for its honesty. For instance, it states:

“The extent of the Union’s freedom of action has steadily and considerably increased, not least by the Treaty of Lisbon, so that meanwhile in some fields of policy, the European Union has a shape that corresponds to that of a federal state, i.e. is analogous to that of a state”.

That is to be found near the beginning of the judgment, which continued:

“The transfer of competences...has been increased once again by the Treaty of Lisbon”.

Importantly, the court also noted—this is of great significance to the UK Parliament, where all the Opposition’s attempts to insert legal safeguards were defeated by the Government on a three-line Whip—that the so-called ratchet clause needs a further legal safeguard. Given that the Minister assures us that he has read the treaty, he will understand exactly what that clause is. The court was specific about that, in the German context, but the need for safeguards has also been taken up in Holland, where the Dutch magazine, Elsevier, noted:

“What does this judgement mean for the sovereignty of other member states? Should they not also build a guarantee into their own legislation in order to secure their right to self-determination?”

As the German constitutional court has effectively compelled the German Parliament to insert legal safeguards, should the UK Parliament not also receive at least comparable safeguards to those that will apparently be provided to the German Parliament? That judgment came not from those on what the Minister might call the Eurosceptic fringe of politics, but from the constitutional court of Germany. As he was so keen earlier to refer to the German constitution, will he now be mindful of the decisions of the court that exists to police that constitution? In simple terms, if additional safeguards are good enough for the people of Germany, why should they not be good enough for the people of the United Kingdom? I hope he will address that point when he sums up.

Another part of the document that causes concern is the development of the European external action service. Page 6 of the document notes:

“One of the early and visible outcomes of such an institutional change would be the setting-up of the European External Action Service”.

There have been suspicions that the reason why there would be such an early and visible outcome is that the creation of the EAAS is already under way, notwithstanding the result of the referendum yet to be held—most likely—in Ireland. I should be grateful, therefore, if the Under-Secretary could reassure us that no work has been undertaken on setting up the external access service, as envisaged by the Lisbon treaty, given that its ratification has been halted in a number of member states. On that point, I should like to correct him: he said that it had not been ratified in two member states, but actually it has not been ratified in four—Germany, Ireland, the Czech Republic and Poland. That being the case, will he assure us that no work has been done in the UK to set up the external action service? As he well knows, the treaty is not live. I would like a clear answer to that.

In conclusion, the annual policy strategy provides a welcome insight into the work that the Commission will undertake in the year ahead. We support some of the proposals, such as those on climate change, biodiversity and—largely—enlargement. However, the EU must be based on the consent of its peoples. Missing from the document is a recognition that political developments cannot be divorced from the people whom they are supposed to represent. If European political leaders and institutions continue to deny the people their say, they should not be surprised if the institutions they build foster, in some instances, a mixture of cynicism and apathy. Instead of talking about implementing the Lisbon treaty and the furtherance of moves towards a federal European superstate, against the wishes of the people of Europe, the document should have concentrated on real outcomes, and only on areas where by working together, Europe can achieve more productively and for the benefit of its peoples. It should not be trying to create a “United States of Europe”, which those peoples do not want.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 4:24 pm, 2nd July 2009

With leave, Mr. Illsley, I shall speak for a second time in order that I might reply to the comments made in the debate. We might be few, but we are perfectly formed—small, but perfectly formed! I am sure that Mr. Francois identifies with that phrase.

I shall go through the speeches made and try to respond to any points that I can. If I cannot answer any questions, I undertake to write to hon. Members.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

As a courtesy, I want to say that it was very kind of the Minister to refer to me as “perfectly formed”. I am grateful.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman finally recognised the compliment—I was not meaning to be disrespectful. My respect for him is abundant.

The hon. Member—indeed, my hon. Friend—for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) misunderstands how the European rules on mobile telephony have changed and how enforced standards were imposed on television across Europe. As a result, we have ended up with a much better television system in Europe than the one in the United States of America. There was a shared pressure between the Commission and some member states that was not shared by others. This is a constant process. The architecture of the EU presents some difficulties. Different bodies play different roles, which is mostly misunderstood by members of the public.

Why should the public have to spend their time understanding the difference between the Council of Ministers and the Council of Europe, or the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, and their different responsibilities? The result is a curious democratic deficit in Europe. There is not one European demos holding a single view at any one time and so able to grant a mandate to the whole of Europe. I have long held that view. It is an important principle, but it makes it difficult to get an agreement across Europe, including on matters on which Britain has led the way. The common agricultural policy is a classic example.

The Government would much prefer a radically reformed CAP, but if we had no CAP, which was a position advocated at the beginning of the Union, the danger would be that each member state would simply dole out moneys to their own agricultural bodies and farmers, without any regard to what is happening in other countries. That would have had as detrimental effect on farming in the UK as state aid policies in some of the eastern bloc countries would have had had they continued into the modern era. So we have an important balancing act to perform.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

If the CAP had not been implemented, like in many other areas of industry subsidised in the past by nation states, competition law and the development of the EU single market might have been more effective. Instead we have this large EU project that seems to have been relatively immune to reform, although I accept that some—but far too limited—progress has been made.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I hate to say it, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman; we want much greater progress in this area. However, Greek or Spanish colleagues’, let alone French colleagues’, understanding of the significance of agricultural subsidies to their economies and of tackling issues relating to poverty, migration and so on, is very different from our experience. I am hesitant to say that there should never have been a CAP, but I agree entirely that we need far more substantial movement.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

I appreciate that the impact of the CAP in different EU countries is perceived in different ways. Nevertheless, as I intimated earlier, when the former Prime Minister came back from the negotiations in 2005, having given up £7 billion of British taxpayers’ money, he told Parliament that he had done so in return for further reform of the CAP. Where is the reform that we were promised?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The hon. Gentleman knows that there has been reform. Moreover, even at a time when a large number of agriculture-dependent countries have joined the EU, the proportion of the EU budget that has been spent on the common agricultural policy has fallen dramatically. We want to see another significant fall, which will be one of the challenges facing the new Commission when it takes on its responsibilities.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

The Under-Secretary talks about further reform, but there has been very little reform of the CAP since 2005. Is he seriously saying that the CAP health check represents real significant reform and that it is worth £7 billion of British taxpayers’ money? If that is the argument he is making, I just want to be clear about it because there are many people who would not agree with him.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My argument is pretty straightforward. It is that we need further reform of the common agricultural policy. To achieve that, we must carry other people from the European Union with us. This is a difficult business for us to achieve. I am glad that the percentage of the EU budget that is spent on the common agricultural policy has fallen, and we would like to see it fall still further. We will make a very strong case for that when we come to discuss the health check to which he has referred.

The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness also raised the issue of the Irish people, and several other hon. Members mentioned what happened in Germany this week. The only thing I would say is that there is an irony when people suggest that we should be telling every other country in Europe how they should go about the process of ratification because they do not want a federal state. I do not want a federal state or a federal Europe. That is one of the reasons why I am not in the business of telling each and every member state around Europe how they should go about their process of ratification. It is for the people of Germany to decide how they go about that. I know that there was a ruling in the German constitutional court this week, but that is a matter for Germany to resolve. If Germany feels that it is unable to resolve it, then that is how it is. In the end, it is a matter for Germany. It is not for us to tell it what to do. It was extraordinary to hear the hon. Member for Rayleigh effectively saying that the German constitutional court should be telling us in this Parliament how to conduct our business. I thought that we fought against that.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

That was not my interpretation of my hon. Friend’s comments. The reason why there is such an interest in what goes on in other countries is that it relates to the mechanics of what we are voting for. We do not have the system if one country votes against it, so, of course, we look over our shoulders to see what is happening in other countries. We want to be aware of what is happening. That is why it is pertinent to debate such matters and have an understanding in this House as well. We cannot ignore what happens in Germany; we do not want to interfere. If Germany decides not to ratify the constitution, it will have huge ramifications for Europe and for us.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I will reply to the hon. Gentleman once I have heard from the hon. Member for Rayleigh.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

If you are happy to allow a double intervention, Mr. Illsley, then it is down to the Minister. Forgive me, but I do not want the Minister in any way, perhaps inadvertently, to misrepresent me. The point that I was making was that if additional safeguards are to be allowed for the people of Germany and the German Parliament, I believe that similar safeguards should at least be on offer to the people of Britain and the British Parliament. That is not a case of being told what to do by anybody, but it is saying that we would like the same additional safeguards that a court in Germany appears to believe that its Parliament might well merit. The question was why can we not have them here if we want them?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, that is slightly different from the way in which he expressed himself earlier. He seemed to be saying that because the German constitutional court has said X, we must do Y, and that would be wrong. We have gone through the parliamentary process. The hon. Gentleman is not happy with it. He believes that the Lisbon treaty is inappropriate and that we should not be going forward with it. I happen to disagree with him, as does Parliament. It is about the majorities that were secured in not just the House of Commons but the House of Lords. So, I disagree with all those hon. Members who think that because one country has gone down one course, we should follow.

The hon. Members for Beverley and Holderness and for Rayleigh raised the question of Turkey. I will make it absolutely clear that the Government are as fully committed to Turkish membership of the European Union as they ever have been. There are countries that adopt a somewhat different position. There are those who believe that such membership should take a long time and those who think that it should take a short time. We believe that having a secular Muslim state as a member of the European Union and playing a key role at the edge of Europe is a matter of significant strategic importance. Turkey has addressed a number of issues, including its human rights, and many more still need to be resolved. None the less, our support has not diminished.

The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness referred to the issue of party groupings. We could talk about that all afternoon, but I am not sure that there is enormous value to our doing so. I still have a large number of issues to address by 5 o’clock so, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will leave that matter.

At the beginning of the afternoon, the hon. Member for Rayleigh asked me which MEP said:

“I do not want to see the strong Tory group of MEPs in Europe...forced to give up all the positions of influence we have used to the benefit of our constituents, our country and our party, in exchange for a position on the back benches alongside a bunch of fascists, outcasts and ne’er-do-wells.”

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that it was Struan Stephenson, who is still a Scottish MEP representing the Conservative party.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

Will the Under-Secretary tell me the date of the quote?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I cannot do that, but the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I used that quote on a previous occasion in the Chamber. If the hon. Gentleman felt that the quote was inappropriate, he should have written to Mr. Stephenson to get him to withdraw it. I am not aware that he has done so, and he certainly has not done so in writing to me.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

I just want to make it plain that I have spoken to Mr. Stephenson on a number of occasions, the most recent being three weeks ago, and he was fully in favour of this new group. As the Under-Secretary has been doing a bit of research, I should like to know how old the quote is. I think that it probably goes back a little way.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I note that the hon. Gentleman has not said that Mr. Stephenson has withdrawn that view. Should he be able to get Mr. Stephenson to write to me saying that he wholly disowns that quote and that he never intended to express such views, then I am perfectly happy to make that clear in any subsequent debate in the House. If necessary, I will apologise. However, Mr. Stephenson must provide a full retraction of that and say that he never held those views and does not hold those views now.

The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness asked about the working time directive.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

No, the hon. Gentleman did not, he asked about the European energy performance of buildings directive. As he will be aware, the Government support the direction in which the directive is going. It is at an early stage of negotiation. We want to ensure that the details are ones that work for the United Kingdom. As the negotiations go forward, I am perfectly happy to provide further information, but it is early stages yet. The hon. Gentleman should not be running away with the view that we are opposed to this directive.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East referred to a large number of issues. If he does not mind, I will rattle through them. He was very dismissive of Galileo, as was the hon. Member for Rayleigh. I think that I have heard him dismissing Galileo before. It is important to bear it in mind that there is a keen distinction between Galileo and the Global Positioning System. GPS has a military foundation, whereas Galileo was always intended to be under civil control. We believe that it has contributed to the Lisbon agenda by providing high-skilled jobs in Europe and ensuring that we have a knowledge-based economy. We are concerned about ensuring that it is delivered at the agreed cost, which I think is €3.4 billion. We do not want the cost to increase, but I am not as dismissive as him: I believe that it will provide improved accuracy when it works in collaboration with GPS.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My worry is that if I give way to the hon. Gentleman, I may end up being unable to respond on other matters, but he has asked.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

We are talking about astonishing sums of money—€3.4 billion—so it is worth just a couple more seconds of the Minister’s and the Chamber’s time. We should have updates and more detail on exactly how the money is being spent. The matter was being debated when I first became an MP, and as the Minister said, I have spoken about it before, but there is still only one satellite up there. The project is way behind time. He should not lean on the argument that GPS is for military purposes. The web was for military purposes, but it has now wandered off into civilian use, so we are able to adapt. The BlackBerry in his pocket works off GPS, and that will continue. The accuracy of Galileo will be no better than GPS, so the question remains: why are we paying for a duplicate system when we can use one free of charge? Everyone who uses the Galileo system will be charged—it will not be free at the point of use—for the additional accuracy that is needed.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I have heard the hon. Gentleman’s views on the matter before. As it happens, I do not have a BlackBerry in my pocket; I have an iPhone, but the point remains.

As it stands, GPS will need significant levels of investment in the years to come if it is to maintain its operability. Of course, we expect and hope for that investment, but that does not negate the necessity for Galileo. The hon. Gentleman is right that we have concerns about how the programme has been developing and the finances, but that does not mean that we should write it off. I am perfectly happy to provide in much greater detail our precise views on Galileo in writing if he wishes.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My honest views are the same as those I espouse—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want to suggest otherwise.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about carbon capture and storage. Again, he was sceptical about whether it would succeed. Jo Swinson made an important point on CCS—that it is not just about what we in Britain and Europe do; it is also about what happens in China and India. Given the number of coal-fired power stations that are being opened every week around the world, it is important that we ensure that CCS technology happens. It may prove to be an interim technology or it could last some considerable time, but I hope that the Government will be able to provide in the near future considerably more detail.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

More information on Galileo by letter would be much appreciated. I appreciate that I am testing the Minister’s generosity and I am grateful that he has given way once again. I am happy to be proved wrong, but we have yet to see any form of CCS actually work. I am very much in favour of other forms of green energy. The one thing that could be successful, but which we are always told is 20 years away, is nuclear fusion. It is 20 years away because we do not put enough money into the research. That is the utopia. It is the form of nuclear energy that is absolutely safe. It would not require any form of radioactive material such as uranium or plutonium because it uses water. It would be very simple, very safe and very cheap, if we could harness the technology. Why do we not invest in it?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The hon. Gentleman said “very simple,” but if it were very simple, doubtless we would already have it. There would be an enormous advantage if we gained first-mover status and were able to develop CCS first. The potential value of that to European economies in relation to China and India would be very significant.

I generally take on board the hon. Gentleman’s points on energy policy—several questions were asked about it. We cannot put all our eggs in one basket. One of the difficulties that the country faces is that having relied on particular forms of energy, we could become more and more dependent on energy from abroad if we do not take the serious decisions that need to be taken on nuclear energy. The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire and her party are wholly opposed to that, but in the end it will be difficult to establish the future energy security of the UK, let alone ensure that people are able to keep the lights on and the economy running, if we are unable to include it in our package of measures.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

If that is the case—as the Minister suggests, it will be difficult to cut our carbon emissions without nuclear technology—is it not an admission of the Government’s failure in the past 12 years to invest sufficiently and to push alternatives, energy efficiency and renewable technologies? We are still not a world leader. Does that suggest that the Government have not had the success that they should have had?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The hon. Lady will be surprised to hear that I do not agree with her, but she has made her point.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East was entirely right about a common gas market. We would like a liberalised common gas market across Europe. It is important, and we have been arguing for it for some considerable time. Getting the French and the Spanish to agree with us has been a difficult process, but we are getting much closer. All European countries, not just those that are closest to Russia and that have been most anxious and nervous about the possible closing off of their gas supplies, have begun to realise that energy security is vital. It cannot depend only on state-provided solutions; we have to ensure that we have a liberalised energy market. It is also important in terms of competitiveness.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Copenhagen, as did all hon. Members. There is unanimity on Copenhagen. I am grateful for the comments of the hon. Member for Rayleigh, because the more Ministers can say that they speak unambiguously for Parliament in the lead up to Copenhagen, the better. We want an ambitious programme, because we recognise that climate change is not a myth, as some suggest, but potentially the biggest single danger and risk to economic prosperity and individuals’ ability to live contented lives. The more we are able to say that as a united Parliament, the greater the chance that we will get a successful outcome in Copenhagen. In my day job as Minister with responsibility for Latin America, I am keen to ensure that we get a strong message to our allies. Many in Latin America want the same things, because they know that climate change is likely to affect the poorest countries, and the poorest people in those countries, most dramatically.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East asked about the CFP. We are keen for it to be reformed, and we are thoroughly aware that in many parts of the world, humanity has overfished and stocks are so depleted that it may be impossible for them to regenerate. I have always been rather sceptical of those who want an entirely national fisheries policy, because I do not know of any fish that know how to stick within their national borders. This country has responsibilities not only within the EU. Because of our overseas territories, we have some of the most important territories of fish stocks in the world. Our presence in the British Indian ocean off the east coast of Africa is vital. If we were able to create a sustainable marine park—because of how the currents work towards east Africa—it could make a dramatic difference to the fishing stocks in the region and to some of the poorest parts of the world.

The hon. Gentleman asked about world policy. I pay tribute to him, because he knows a great deal about the armed forces, not only from his service, but from his continuing work as an MP. His information is not old and he has kept it refreshed. He makes an important point on the need for better co-operation between the EU and NATO. We as a Government have never thought that the developments in the EU for which we have argued should contradict NATO. They should always harmonise with and supplement them. There are key places where that has been self-evident, not least in the Balkans.

The hon. Gentleman drew a distinction between war fighting and peacekeeping. There is not only peacekeeping, but peace building. Those three processes are distinct, but sometimes the moment of transition from one to another is difficult to spot. A classic example is Bosnia. The British had started to feel that our job had been done and that we were no longer doing a military job, but there was a danger none the less that if we withdrew too soon, the situation with Republic Srpska, which was trying to dismantle federal solutions to criminal justice problems, would relapse back to its old position. I think that we have got our timing more or less right, but I note in response to the hon. Member for Rayleigh that Republic Srpska has declared that some institutions are illegal. I think that it is right that we should push back and that the EU should make it clear that we intend to move forward and not back towards a segregated, divided—dare I say balkanised—Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East also asked whether it is the armed forces or the international development people who should be engaged in the process of what he referred to as peacekeeping, but which I guess is also peace building. Sometimes he is right in these matters, and sometimes he is wrong. I think that there must be a creative engagement between the two. The Foreign Secretary has admitted readily that one thing that the coalition did not get right in Iraq was the process of ensuring that a proper reconstruction plan was in place and ready to start swiftly. Often, of course, that would have to be introduced by the armed forces rather than others. I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Rayleigh is twitching in an interventionary way.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

The Minister mentioned Bosnia, and I thank him for what he said about it, but will he confirm that it is still the Government’s policy—perhaps he is coming to this—that the Office of the High Representative should not be wound up? That has certainly been the Government’s policy to date, and I would like some confirmation that it has not changed. A simple “No it hasn’t” will suffice.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

It might be a simple question, but my inspiration is not functioning. Maybe the dove of inspiration will descend on me in the near future.

Looking at my papers, I can see that I have done that and done that—Hansard need not put in the “done thats.”

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

You just read it into the record.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I am fully aware of that, but I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing it out. I have now written him into the record as well.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East asked about the lifelong learning programme and how the extra £39 million will be spent. A series of new initiatives will be introduced: adult learning workshops, new schools and local authority partnerships, a new programme of pupil mobility and training for learning assistance.

The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire said that what was important was advancing the argument for what Europe has achieved. I was brought up partly in Spain, which was a fascist dictatorship at the time, and travelled when I was young with my father to Greece, which was then a dictatorship of the left. I also travelled to Poland when it was a communist dictatorship. I know that one thing that we forget all too easily is the new human rights that many people across the whole of Europe enjoy and that I hope will never be reversed. That is in large measure due to the political willpower expressed by the countries of Europe to create the European Union.

There are other things, such as clean beaches in Europe. I remember as a child that one always ended up being covered in tar, and had to take olive oil to the beach to get tar off one’s feet. That does not happen on EU beaches, because the European Commission and the member states working together fought hard to institute a programme of clean beaches around the whole of Europe. The EU has also ended the death penalty. The right to work in any country in the EU is enjoyed by many of my constituents, who work in the aviation industry all over Europe. That is a significant benefit that they would not have been able to enjoy in the past, as is the fact that if they go on holiday, they have the same consumer rights as they would have in their home town. Those are important benefits that have accrued.

The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire referred to energy. I hope that I have answered her questions. She also referred to financial services and the dangers of repeating problems. I have argued for a long time that we should be examining how the financial services industry sometimes pushes debt on people in the poorest constituencies in our land and the poorest areas in Europe. In this country, it is for our Financial Services Authority to regulate, but I am glad that we as a Government can now move forward on credit card checks and the other issues that we discussed in a White Paper this week.

The hon. Lady referred to the packaging waste directive. I agree wholly. I remember taking part in a media event with Help the Aged that tried to point out that some packaging is impossible for elderly people to open. We tried with boxing gloves on, but I could not open it even after I had taken them off. Clearly, that is a significant issue, and if she will permit me, I will write to her about it.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right about protectionism. I do not think that protectionism, whether of the political variety or the economic, tariff-creating kind, is the answer to any of the world’s current problems, which is partly why we need fair trade, free trade agreements around the world. That is a message that we push not only in Europe but in all our other agreements.

The hon. Lady asked about Croatia. We want to move forward with Croatia, but we also want to move forward with an interim agreement only when we have obtained 100 per cent. co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. That is important. We hope that in the near future, it might be possible for Croatia to bring forth the remaining indicted war criminals, but we need 100 per cent. co-operation if Croatia is to move any further forward. If she does not mind, I will write to her about the Maghreb, as the issue is wider than the one country to which she referred.

The hon. Member for Rayleigh began by referring to birds as pretty young women. I will have to refer him to the Leader of the House. As she is also Minister for Equality, she will doubtless put him on the naughty step and send him off for training in political correctness. However, I have a horrible fear that it might not work.

The hon. Gentleman referred to Copenhagen and the common agricultural policy, which I have already mentioned. On the Lisbon agenda, he seemed to suggest that the Swedish Government were arguing for radical cuts in public spending and that one of the problems in Britain was the level of public spending. In Sweden, the level of public spending is significantly higher than in the UK and historically its level of taxation has been considerably higher. I am therefore not sure that the Swedish Prime Minister would agree entirely with the way in which the hon. Gentleman cast his views.

I believe that it would be wholly inappropriate at this point in the economic cycle, while there is a worldwide recession, for Britain to cut its public spending. It is right to allow borrowing to grow at the moment. I realise that the hon. Gentleman disagrees with us. I realise that he will beg, borrow and steal friends who might even half agree with him on the matter. However, I do not think that many people in Europe have argued that the whole of Europe should be cutting back. In fact, the European economic recovery plan, which stretches to nearly 5 per cent. of gross domestic product, has made a significant contribution.

I am inspired: of course we support the EU High Representative in Bosnia.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I was just about to move on to Georgia and Russia, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me. He knows perfectly well that we are concerned about the position that Russia has adopted. The Council of Europe grouping in which his party sits includes members of the Russian Government. He might wish to raise some of the issues he has mentioned with them in Council of Europe meetings. He is right that we would have preferred all three monitoring groups to have continued in Georgia. We believe that Russia is acting inappropriately. We are only grateful that because Russia is not a member of the European Union, it cannot decide whether the EU will continue its monitoring presence in Georgia, to which we are committed.

I hope that I have answered the hon. Gentleman’s questions about Bosnia and Herzegovina. He raised several issues about the Lisbon treaty, in particular on the external action service. He knows perfectly well what my views are about that because we have debated those matters in Committee. Nobody is progressing the external action service. He can check the record from the last time I was asked about the matter. I assure him that we are not proceeding on the assumption that the Lisbon treaty will be implemented, but are looking at all possibilities.

I hope I have answered all the questions that hon. Members have asked.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting adjourned.