HC Deb 29 March 1995 vol 257 cc1003-4
1. Mr. Raynsford

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the Government's objectives for the European Union intergovernmental conference in 1996. [14939]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

The IGC will be an opportunity to consolidate the achievements of the European Union and prepare for enlargement to the east. Our goal will be a Union that is flexible, efficient and responsive to popular concerns.

Mr. Raynsford

The Foreign Secretary referred to consolidating achievements. Given the deteriorating position in Bosnia and the European Unions recorded failure in recent years to respond effectively to the tragedy in the former Yugoslavia, the right hon. Gentleman must be aware that the lack of co-ordinated action on security and foreign affairs is one of Europe's current weaknesses. Does he see the IGC as an opportunity to remedy that?

Mr. Hurd

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's analysis. We have worked closely with our European partners on Bosnia, and continue to do so. For example, 10 days ago we put together our policy again—particularly with the French and Germans, who are fellow members of the contact group. But, however well we co-ordinate our policy within the European Union—as we do—that in itself does not guarantee our ability to provide a solution to the conflict in Bosnia. The fighting in Bosnia will end when those who are doing the fighting decide to end it.

Sir Timothy Sainsbury

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the greatest achievements, which should certainly be consolidated, is the creation of the single market? Will he consider giving more publicity to the results of that—for example, the greater success of our exporters in the Spanish market? Instead of an adverse trade balance of nearly £250 million, we now have a strong positive balance of well over £1 billion, which means many more jobs in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Hurd

My right hon. Friend is right, and he speaks from his own experience. The achievement of the single market is one of the big benefits of our membership of the European Union. It is not yet complete, however, and during the next few years we shall seek to ensure that it is complete and that the remaining protectionist devices that impede it are swept away.

Mr. Charles Kennedy

On earlier occasions, the Foreign Secretary has confirmed that in drawing up the objectives for the IGC the Government will want to take account of the views of all political parties. What mechanisms does he propose for consultation—not least with former members of his party who have had access to the Home Secretary for such a discussion, have been denied access to the Chancellor for such a discussion and, presumably, are very keen to know whether the Foreign Secretary would be willing to meet them—and, if he did meet them, to what extent he would empathise with them?

Mr. Hurd

My door is always open to the hon. Gentleman—and, of course, to my hon. Friends.

Mr. Dykes

In the last few words of his original answer, my right hon. Friend referred to consulting the public properly. Does he agree that, if Ministers boldly tell the public more about the reasons for European Union combined policies, they will be both reassured and more enthusiastic? Will he assure us that from now on Ministers will do that?

Mr. Hurd

We do that all the time; whether the media report it is a different matter.

Ms Quin

Did the Foreign Secretary hear the chairman of ICL tell the Britain in the World conference this morning that negative and backward-looking views of Europe were undermining Britain's ability to be taken seriously in the world? How does he respond to the fact that the Conservative party is now the only party of its kind in the European Union that is not a full member of the European Peoples party? How will that isolation help the Tories to win allies in the 1996 process?

Mr. Hurd

I cannot think that the nature of the connections between our MEPs and the European Peoples party is central to the issue.

I heard Sir Peters remarks. He made a very good speech to the conference that is in progress today, and I think that his basic point was entirely right. It is in the interests not only of the British business community but of Britain as a whole for the House and the country, in the coming months, to work out coherently an approach to the future of the European Union with which we, as a nation, can be at ease. The Government are now doing that. It is perfectly possible to arrive at conclusions and proposals that will have wide support in the House and in the country.