HC Deb 17 December 2001 vol 377 cc19-37 3.30 pm
The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on the European Council which took place in Belgium on 14 and 15 December.

The fight against terrorism remains uppermost in the minds of all the members of the European Union. There remains unanimous support for the military action which has been taken in Afghanistan and a determination to continue our efforts to root out the al-Qaeda terrorist network. The recent video of bin Laden demonstrates his guilt beyond any reasonable doubt whatever. It brought home the sheer evil of bin Laden and his followers, and their sick pleasure in the murders that they have committed. I do not think that anyone can now dispute that ridding the world of the al-Qaeda terrorist network is a job that is in the interests of us all.

The European Council welcomed the Bonn agreement between the Afghan groups. It gave strong support for the deployment of an international security assistance force authorised by the United Nations Security Council, as called for by the Afghan parties in the Bonn agreement. The details of such a force must await the outcome of the meetings in Kabul between an international military team led by Major General McColl and the interim authorities in Afghanistan. But I can tell the House that Britain is willing, in principle, to lead such a force, which is likely to comprise troops from various countries, European and others.

Friday's meeting of potential troop-contributing nations was attended by a number of EU countries as well as Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Czech Republic, Jordan, Malaysia, Turkey and the United States. The British contingent is likely to be up to 1,000 to 1,500, though I stress that that has not yet been decided. We expect the resolution to be passed by the United Nations Security Council later this week. The United States has given its full help and support for the security force, and we would hope to have lead elements in place shortly.

The force was a critical part of the agreement reached in Bonn on 5 December for the establishment of a provisional Government in Afghanistan. There has been a brilliant victory over the Taliban, who have ceased to be the Afghan Government, and that, of course, is a welcome liberation, but we know that that is only the start of enabling Afghanistan to cease being a failed state and to become a responsible partner in the region. The situation in Afghanistan remains fragile; the new political process remains in its infancy. There is, therefore, an urgent need to ensure that, as the war is being won, we play our part in securing the peace.

The European Council also took stock of European security and defence policy. We are determined to finalise soon the EU's arrangements with NATO. That will enhance the EU's capability to carry out crisis management operations over the full range of the so-called Petersberg tasks.

The European Council met amid continuing and appalling violence in the middle east. In our view, and that of all our partners, the only basis for durable peace in the middle east is full recognition of Israel's right to live in peace and security, together with the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. The members of the European Council will continue to do all that they can individually and through the good offices of the Secretary-General, Javier Solana, to whom I pay tribute, to help create the circumstances in which the violence can be halted and the dialogue resumed.

The European Council's other main purpose was to prepare for discussion on the future of Europe. It now looks increasingly likely that 10 new countries will join the European Union in 2004, and we welcome that. Their accession will contribute to peace, stability and prosperity in Europe—ours as well as theirs. It is obvious, however, that the European Union cannot, with 25 and more members, work in the same way, with precisely the same constitution, as it has with 15. Decision making will need to be streamlined, and EU laws will need increasingly to take the form of framework legislation, with the details of implementation left to the member states.

It is already the task of the European Council to give strategic direction to the European Union as a whole. But carrying that strategic direction into practice will mean looking again at the size and role of the Commission, reviewing the workings of the existing presidency of the Union, which at present changes hands every six months, and managing the business of the various specialist councils in a more coherent way. That is why, at Nice a year ago, when we opened the way for enlargement, we also agreed that there had to be another intergovernmental conference in 2004, and why we are now going to set up a convention to prepare for that conference by detailed examination of all those issues.

The basic agenda for the conference was of course agreed at Nice. The sort of questions that will need to be asked are set out in the declaration of Heads of Government issued at Laeken at the weekend. That declaration, which I welcome, acknowledges not only the contribution that the European Union has made to peace, stability and prosperity in all our countries, but the extent to which it has to deliver results to the citizens of Europe on jobs, the single market, the fight against crime, a safe environment and so on.

The British view, widely shared, is that while it is right to co-operate ever more closely with our partners, democratic accountability is fundamentally and ultimately rooted in the member state. As the declaration says, what European citizens expect is more results, better responses to practical issues and not a European superstate or European institutions inveigling their way into every nook and cranny of life". The Laeken declaration, and the convention, give us the opportunity to take a serious look at the division of competencies between the Union and the member states. For the first time in the Union's history, we shall be looking at the prospect of restoring some tasks to the member states. We now also have the chance to open up the European institutions to greater public scrutiny, and the role that we want to see our Parliament play in policing that process is now explicitly recognised.

The convention, which has now been established, will be chaired by the former French President, Mr. Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who, when President of France, played an instrumental role in bringing the European Council into being. The convention will work for a year. Each national Parliament will have two representatives as members of the convention. The regions will be represented as observers and there will be ample opportunities for views from all sections of public opinion to be fed into the proceedings.

Consultations will, of course, be held in the usual way on who the parliamentary representatives will be. The convention will present options to Heads of Government who will determine whether those options should lead to changes in the treaty. Those ultimate treaty changes will be made by unanimous agreement of the Governments concerned.

In the aftermath of 11 September, the European Council welcomed the agreement that has been reached on a European arrest warrant. We also agreed to give fresh impetus to delivering our objectives on asylum and illegal immigration. That will mean return agreements with third countries and a new agreement on handling asylum seekers, including common standards on asylum procedures and reception. We have agreed to improve co-operation on our external border controls.

Those are all areas where we need common action within Europe, and the strength of a united European approach in dealing with the rest of the world. I hope that we shall see agreements concluded in the coming year on all those points.

Once again at this Council, Britain played its full part constructively and achieved the outcome it desired. Europe faces huge challenges ahead, as it enlarges to 25 and, over time, to more than 30 countries covering territory from the Atlantic to the Black sea, with 500 million citizens in the EU. Those challenges are clear: over the completion of the single market with a single currency; over economic reform; over making European security and foreign policy work; over giving Europe the institutional framework to allow it to function effectively.

Those debates matter to Europe, but they also matter fundamentally to Britain. The days of isolationism are gone, rightly. Our role now is to be a leading partner in shaping the Europe of the future, not following reluctantly the shape moulded by others. We are playing that role now. We will continue to do so.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement on the Laeken summit and his words on the proposed United Nations peacekeeping force. If I may, I shall address the issues around peacekeeping first, as they perhaps have the most immediate significance for our troops.

The Prime Minister is right to talk about the success of the coalition against the Taliban. Events are still going on and clearly it is too early to say that the coalition has been fully successful, but so far it has been a dramatic success. Throughout, I believe rightly, we have supported the objectives laid out by the Prime Minister and by the President, and we remain committed to those objectives.

Our United States partners are cautious about deploying their troops in a peacekeeping role, as they think that that may be inconsistent with much of what they are doing in search and destroy on the ground in southern Afghanistan. The Prime Minister knows that I have deep misgivings about British deployment on a peacekeeping mission such as he described. My misgivings are based particularly on the reality that we already have troops on the ground with the Americans carrying out search and destroy against remaining elements of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. What concerns me and, I think, the House is that elements of the Pushtun are still unhappy about the settlement, and that members of the Taliban will find an opportunity to pick a target in the peacekeeping process to get their own back.

We have a number of questions for the Prime Minister arising from those deep concerns. Will he confirm the words of his official spokesman this morning that the initial deployment of a stabilisation force could be in Kabul before Saturday? Will he confirm to the House that any hurried deployment will overlap with British forces" involvement in search and destroy missions, as I have described?

Will the Prime Minister tell the House that military support—logistical support, airlifts and air cover—that peacekeepers will receive from the United States will be substantial? There are reports that a precondition for deployment was that the force will be under overall US command. Has that now been finalised and agreed?

What conditions will be met before our troops are deployed? What particular exit strategy has been decided on? Is there a time limit for their deployment, or is that to be open-ended and the subject of future discussions about when it will end?

As so many people in Afghanistan have weapons—pretty heavy-calibre weapons at that—what assessment has been made of the equipment necessary to protect the force? It may not be right to leave troops with the minimum equipment or light equipment, such as flak jackets and personal weapons. Heavy back-up support, even at the level of artillery, may be required.

Those serious questions need to be answered; otherwise the deep misgivings that Conservative Members and many others have about the deployment will remain. Our misgivings need to be assuaged, so that we can understand more fully that our troops are not being put into situations that they will be completely unable to control.

I shall now turn to the Laeken summit, about which the Prime Minister said: I believe increasingly that argument is moving in our favour. If only it were. Unfortunately for him, we can read the declaration that he signed up to. Nation states coming together for specific purposes can solve problems, but the declaration did not seem to reflect any of that. The response to 11 September was not about transnational institutions, but about the ability of free nation states to deal with specific problems. Laeken should have reflected that, and my concern is that it did not.

I shall quote from the declaration: Over the last ten years, construction of a political union has begun". Furthermore, the document asks, How can the authority and efficiency of the European Commission be enhanced? Is that really what the nations and the people of Europe have been crying out for: enhanced significance and power for the Commission and deeper political union? The declaration goes on to speak of the deepening and enhancing of European foreign policy. Does the Prime Minister believe, as I do, that the argument for a deeper foreign policy falls apart when we see how he and the United States were able to deal with the problems following 11 September in giving a lead to others who otherwise would perhaps not have been anything like as supportive? Should not that freedom continue rather than be sunk into a super-European concept?

Notwithstanding the Prime Minister's words, the document discusses dismissively the importance of national Parliaments. It says: The national parliaments also contribute towards the legitimacy of the European project. I thought they were the legitimacy of anything in Europe, rather than just contributing to it. Again, for those at Laeken the European project came first. They go on to say that they want to see Europe more involved in foreign affairs, security and defence". Yet again, deeper and deeper integration.

These decisions, I think, characterise a shift towards greater central authority; but there are three particular areas in which the Prime Minister agreed to things that the British people would not have wanted had they been at the table. First, he agreed to an EU-wide arrest warrant. That has done away with the principle of habeas corpus in regard to no fewer than 32 crimes, including crimes unrecognised in British law such as the ill-defined "EU crime"—a real thought police crime which will no doubt be drummed up in the future by someone in Brussels. Then there is falsification of means of payment, and, of particular concern, xenophobia. What exactly does that mean? [Laughter.] Labour Members laugh at xenophobia, but our concerns are generous. After all, what would have happened if crimes such as xenophobia and racism had existed over the past few weeks? The Prime Minister's poor Home Secretary himself might even now be languishing in a prison in Brussels. It is very unjust.

Secondly, the Prime Minister cannot believe that he has moved the argument into a federal Europe rather than away from it in signing up to what is becoming a European constitution. "Towards a European constitution" are the words; it is not a case of whether there should be a European constitution, or whether it is relevant. The Prime Minister agreed to that in the declaration.

I remember the Prime Minister saying in Warsaw last year—yes, last year: things move on— in practice I suspect that, given the sheer diversity and complexity of the EU, its constitution, like the British constitution, will continue to be found in a number of different treaties, laws and precedents". Well, the Prime Minister seems to have caved in over that. He seems to have thrown that one away in the course of his agreement at the weekend.

Not only has the Prime Minister signed up to a constitution; he has allowed the charter of fundamental rights to be made part of it. This is the charter that he and his colleagues assured us would have no more legal weight than the Beano. Is it really the charter that he is now allowing to go into the constitution?

Thirdly, there is the creation of the European security and defence policy, better known as the Euro army. If anything is more meaningless than that, it is the fact that at this time, after 11 September—given the lack of any significant EU response to those troubles, in many senses—the Prime Minister has gone ahead and agreed to further and deeper powers and control over defence at a European level. That will add absolutely nothing to the process of defending us against the evils that exist around the world, and will add everything to the lessening of our ability to do so by weakening NATO. What a time to agree to that! What a pointless exercise.

We witnessed an unedifying spectacle at the end. The only time the leaders gathered around the table became really exercised and excited was when it came to carving up the agencies that would go to their various countries. There were rows about what they would get—whether they would get enough—and disagreements over whether Parma ham looked better than Swedish women. That was what exercised the whole institution. How ridiculous! [Interruption.] It is all here. For the first time we have broken the code of secrecy applying to such debates, and can see what each leader was horse trading for. They were all rowing about ridiculous issues such as whether their countries should get 19 people or 1,000.

One issue that was never addressed was Ireland's veto over the Nice treaty. We still cannot go ahead with the treaty, because Ireland has rejected it. No doubt the Government will acquiesce in a drive to bully it into ensuring that it gets the vote right the second time, as ever.

As the Prime Minister said, the future of Europe does matter: it matters immensely. The Prime Minister has agreed to the establishment of a convention that is supposed to involve a balance of agreement about where we are going on Europe. Will he now say whom he intends to put on that body, from the national Parliament? We have already heard that the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Miliband) will be part of the praesidium, as they call it; and I read today that the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) might be on it. There seems to be no end of attempts to find a job for the right hon. Member for Hartlepool. Two weeks ago, he was going to be Mayor of London; now he will be on the praesidium in Europe. Is the Prime Minister prepared to open up the debate by offering such a post to somebody from the Conservative party, who would have a different view? [Interruption.] I challenge the Prime Minister: he says that he wants a decentralised Europe, so is he prepared to appoint to the praesidium somebody from the Conservative party who has a different view of the direction that we should take? If not, we know very well that he has no intention of seeing any change.

The Laeken Council was about a greater move towards a European state. I am reminded of the words of Humpty Dumpty. When I use a word, he said, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less … The question is … which is to be master—that's all. Over the weekend, we learned that the Prime Minister acquiesced, once and for all, in making the master of this process Europe, not the nation state.

The Prime Minister

May I deal first with the issues arising from the deployment of British troops as part of the peacekeeping force in Kabul? Although the questions that the right hon. Gentleman asks are perfectly reasonable—they are the obvious questions that we are in the course of answering—I very much hope that the Conservatives will support the deployment of British troops in the peacekeeping force, provided that those questions can be properly answered.

We have been looking at undertaking the mission at the direct request not only of the United Nations but of the United States. Of course, we have to make sure that our troops go to Kabul under proper conditions; that is precisely what we are doing now. However, it would be very unfortunate if we walked away from the situation, having achieved so much, and given that the peacekeeping or security force in Kabul is vital in allowing the provisional Government to exist, to prosper and to start putting Afghanistan back on its feet. If the international community walks away from Afghanistan now, it will make exactly the same mistake that the west made 10 or 12 years ago, when it left Afghanistan to become, as it did, a failed state.

In answer to the right hon. Gentleman's points, the United States has made it clear that it will offer full logistical support, including air cover support. A specific time limit has not yet been decided, but people are talking of several months, so British forces would not be in the country on a long-term basis; they would simply get the security force going. That force will, of course, have all the equipment that it needs to do its job properly.

There was talk this morning about when we can put people into place. That depends on the agreements being tied down, but lead elements may be in place by 22 December, when the provisional Government begin their work. Of course, there is no question of the full force being in place by 22 December; it will take far longer to put that together. I hope that, once those questions are answered, the right hon. Gentleman will give the mission his support, because it is important and because we as a nation are best placed to give that leadership, which is why we have been asked to do so.

I shall deal with the right hon. Gentleman's questions about Europe in turn, if I may. He claims that the very talk of political union in Europe is beyond the pale. I have to point out to him that virtually every European treaty over the past two decades has talked about ever-closer union in Europe. He seems to think that there is something objectionable about even asking whether the Commission's power should be enhanced. That is one of several questions that will, of course, be raised during this debate. Another asks whether the European Council's power will be enhanced.

Mr. Duncan Smith


The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman asks how. That is one of the very issues to be debated in the course of the work on the convention.

In what I thought was a curious point, the right hon. Gentleman said that national Parliaments were somehow to be downgraded or that the claim that they merely contribute to European politics downgraded them. The fact is that, for the first time, Europe is looking actively at involving national Parliaments in the decision-making process, which is extremely important.

I find the Conservatives" opposition to the European arrest warrant absolutely extraordinary. For a start, the issues raised by the right hon. Gentleman are included in about 30 elements that will be defined specifically when we come to debate the matter in the House. Basically, however, this country has everything to gain from the European arrest warrant. At the moment, we are seeking people abroad for serious crimes such as drug trafficking, organised crime and serious sexual offences. We have an objective need to get these people extradited quickly. At the moment, it takes, on average, roughly 10 months to extradite them. Some have had extradition warrants outstanding against them for several years. It is therefore vital for proper law enforcement here that we make sure that those people can be extradited properly.

I do not understand the distinctions that the right hon. Gentleman was making. I think it a little unlikely that, in respect of xenophobia, he or anyone else is going to be extradited to any European country, no matter what he says. For a start, they probably would not want him.

It is absolutely extraordinary that the Conservatives should say that they are against the very concept of a European constitution when we already have in European treaties things that are set out concerning the relationships between members states of the Union. Surely it is entirely sensible to try to codify those and bring them into a proper and disciplined method that is simpler and easier to understand, allowing us for the first time to look at the competencies between the EU and the member states.

The right hon. Gentleman then went into his normal position on the European security and defence policy. He seemed to think that, somehow, agreeing to this would mean that our freedom to act as we have done after 11 September would be curtailed. That is the usual Conservative nonsense. There is absolutely nothing whatever in the European security and defence policy that would prevent us from acting in precisely the same way as we acted after 11 September.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

What does it mean?

The Prime Minister

I say to the shadow Foreign Secretary, it means this: it means that Europe should have the capability, if each individual country desires it to be so, to take part in peacekeeping operations—as we are doing now in Macedonia, in a way that is preventing civil war in that place and in the wider Balkans. Quite why the Conservative party should be against that, I do not know, but it is part of their usual European business.

I do not know whether the saddest thing about the end of what the right hon. Gentleman said was what he said or the support that he got from his Back Benches for saying it. I say to the Conservative party that, at some point, it will have to come back to its senses on Europe.

Let me give a classic example of what this country's diplomacy would be returned to were the Conservative party, in its present state, in government. There was a meeting of Conservative party leaders on Thursday night, which the right hon. Gentleman attended. One of the other Conservative leaders at the European summit described the meeting with the right hon. Gentleman—the first they had had—as "curious". He said that the right hon. Gentleman turned up for the first time with an eight-page letter—not written in green ink, at least—making a series of demands upon the European Conservative group. The right hon. Gentleman asked that those demands be accepted. They told him no. He asked to be able to raise them again in six months. They said that he could raise them as many times as he wanted. The right hon. Gentleman then left the meeting.

If we went back to that method of proceeding, this country would be where we found it in May 1997—isolated, marginalised and without any proper influence at all. On the issues concerning the future of Europe—economic reform, the single market, the institutional future of Europe, how we create the right security and foreign policy for Europe in the future—Europe needs Britain to be engaged and Britain needs to have influence in Europe.

If we went back to those days, it might satisfy some of the extremists in the Conservative party whose main motivation in politics now seems to be anti-Europeanism. But it would be a disaster for the proper interests of this country. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that his party will hopefully at some point come back to a realistic and sensible position on Europe. Until it does, frankly the Conservative party is barely qualified as an Opposition, never mind a Government.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West)

In welcoming the Prime Minister's statement and the outcome of the summit, I wish to point initially to the fact that too many of the European Union's detractors over the years have been able to make their cases precisely because it has not had an adequately defined constitutional settlement for the member states. The work that will now be undertaken on that matter is therefore to be welcomed. We will end up with a document that sets out what the EU should be doing and what it should not get involved in. Any sensible, candid friend of Europe—in this party, we are certainly that—would give a broad measure of welcome to such a development.

The need for such a development is underpinned by what the Prime Minister said about the process of enlargement. Those of us who were Members of Parliament a decade or so ago and remember that Monday afternoon after the weekend the Berlin wall came down—and the huge sense of political liberation that accompanied it—will remember that all the talk was of enlargement, but a decade later, the over-ossified structures have not yet enabled so many of the aspirant states to join. Something that will assist progress in that matter is to be welcomed.

As the Prime Minister acknowledged, that progress must also be accompanied by changes in our internal procedures here. Last week, the Leader of the House published modernisation proposals for the House to discuss. I commend to the Prime Minister an idea that does not appear in those proposals but on which we as a Parliament should reflect, and that is the need for more effective scrutiny on the Floor of the House of the monumental amount of legislation from Europe, which many of us have felt has never been adequately scrutinised. Is that something that the Prime Minister wishes to consider?

It is surely welcome that more priority will be given to openness. It is a sobering thought that the Council of Ministers is one of only three legislatures in the entire world to legislate in private, the other two being Cuba and North Korea. That is not something that Europe should seek to emulate much longer.

On Afghanistan, I wish to question the Prime Minister a little more about the extent of the mandate and, in particular, the nature of the rules of engagement for any British troops. How robust will the latter be? For example, will our troops be able only to defend themselves, or will they be proactive and able to intervene if a violation of human rights occurs? If our troops are committed to peacekeeping services in Afghanistan, does that rule out any future British involvement in, say, Iraq if the Americans decide to take that route?

Could the Prime Minister modify his over-caution on the euro by giving the House a clearer idea of any possible time scale vis-à-vis a referendum? Does he agree that in opening up the institutions of Europe, and the European Council in particular, we should apply what we applied to ourselves some years ago, and allow those proceedings to be seen in public?

The Prime Minister

I am sorry to disappoint the right hon. Gentleman, but I do not wish to say anything on the single currency other than what I have said many times before. The tests have to be met, and that is the position.

The UN mandate will be on a chapter 7 basis. The rules of engagement still have to be finalised, and they will need careful consideration to ensure that our troops are properly protected at all times. The Modernisation Committee will consider any proposals that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to submit on the scrutiny of European legislation. On the issue of enlargement and the simplification of the treaties, if the EU expanded from 15 to 25 or, in the end, to 30, it would obviously be necessary to simplify and change the process of decision making, which is one reason why the Conservative party's position is so ridiculous. That has to happen; otherwise Europe would be unable to take the necessary decisions.

Europe is trying to codify in a constitution exactly what the basic competencies of member states and the European Union are precisely because we need the right framework to develop in future.

As ever, the Conservative party asks completely the wrong question. The issue is not whether we have a constitution—we already have one through the treaty of Rome and other treaties. The issue is what should go into a constitution. That is where our main effort should be made. Rather than saying that we want nothing to do with the process simply because it is discussing the constitution, we should be focusing attention on how we manage to ensure that the constitution is drawn up in exactly the way that we want. We want a European Union of co-operating member states, not a federal superstate. The language of the Laeken declaration makes it clear that we are not going down the path towards a federal superstate.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Rather than listening to the Liberal Democrats squawking about the euro, the Prime Minister should remember that if it is a good idea to allow nation states to have more power, there is no point in having a single currency covering 25 different currencies. It will not be a good idea to rush into the euro. Even if he succeeds in deciding that we enter, at the right time, and after a referendum of the people, that decision would have a damaging effect at any forthcoming general election. Many Labour Members will gladly travel down that road, but I think that it is very dangerous indeed.

The Prime Minister

There are two positions on the euro—indeed, there are more than two positions, but there are certainly the two positions that my hon. Friend mentioned. We are doing the right thing by saying that it is, in principle, sensible for Britain to join a successful single currency, but that, in practice, the economic tests must be met. The euro will be a reality in the European Union in a very short time when the notes and coins physically come into being. It would be foolish to take the position of the Conservative party and say that we should have nothing to do with the euro, that we should not even prepare for it and that never will Britain join. That foolish position might gain support in certain quarters, but it is not in the interests of the country.

Mr.Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton)

The Prime Minister has come a long way since he stood on a manifesto in 1983 that offered to take us out of the European Union. That said, he is absolutely right that if we are in Europe, it must work effectively. Does he agree that when the Commission acts to uphold free trade in the single market, it acts in the British national interest? Does he agree that it therefore needs to be made more authoritative and that we need to know how it is controlled?

Does the Prime Minister also agree that the European Court of Justice, in enforcing decisions made by Ministers, is acting in the British national interest? Does he further agree that the Petersberg tasks in defence, which were agreed by Conservatives, are vital to Europe's interest and that it is therefore essential that Europe has a role in proceeding with them as part of a wider NATO commitment. On all those things, will the Prime Minister continue to raise his voice in Europe? We are in Europe, and we shall be run by Europe only if we do not use our influence in the sort of discussion that will culminate in the intergovernmental conference of 2004.

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the Labour party has travelled a certain distance on Europe since 1983. I regret to say that his party has travelled a certain distance too, but in the opposite direction. [Interruption.] Well, look where it got us is all I can say to that.

On Court decisions and so on, the hon. Gentleman is right. It would not be possible for us to enforce our will on issues relating to the single market without the Commission and the Court acting in our national interest. The hon. Gentleman was also right to say that the European common defence policy was started under the previous Government. That was a classic example of a debate that, when we came to office, was proceeding without much British influence. Britain has since successfully shaped that policy to include two very important safeguards. First, it applies where NATO as a whole does not wish to be engaged.

Mr. Ancram

That is not true.

The Prime Minister

Secondly, there is not a standing army.

Mr. William Cash (Stone)

Not true.

The Prime Minister

They keep saying that it is not true, but I can absolutely assure them that that is the precise position. The policy applies only where NATO as a whole does not want to be engaged. That is what the Council conclusions say.

Secondly, only in respect of each operation do we have to agree before our troops are used, so the policy is not a European standing army—it never has been and no one has ever wanted it to be. It is, however, for Europe to have the capability—where America, for example, does not want to be engaged—to undertake peacekeeping and humanitarian tasks. We can see from what happened in Bosnia in the early 1990s, for example, and from what happened recently in Macedonia how vital it is to have that additional string to our bow.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

What action is the Prime Minister urging Europe to take to reduce the flow of financial and other support to Hamas and Islamic Jihad—terrorist organisations dedicated to ensuring that there is never peace in the middle east?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of how support gets to terrorist groups—Palestinian or others—wherever they may be. During the past few weeks, the European Union has, of course, agreed further financial regulation provisions on issues such as money laundering, in order to ensure that we cut off the sources of funding for those groups. Part of the problem is that they have been extremely well financed during the past few years. We have to ensure that those sources of finance are dried up.

Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire)

As the Prime Minister has given way at Laeken on almost everything that matters, how can we trust what he says about "Corpus Juris"?

The Prime Minister

First, we have not given away what is in this country's interest. In the end, on all these issues, we have to ensure that we go in and argue our case. When the European Union enlarges to 25 members, it is inevitable that we shall have to change the method of proceeding. We will not be able to be in a situation where, for example—

Sir Michael Spicer

What about "Corpus Juris'?

The Prime Minister

I am coming to that in a moment. We shall not be in the situation where, for example, there is a rotating presidency every six months. We shall have to change the way in which we work. At present, the Council meetings are not properly—

Sir Michael Spicer

The right hon. Gentleman gave way.

Mr. Speaker


The Prime Minister

We are engaging in a debate. As for "Corpus Juris', again we have not given away anything. In respect of the debates in Europe, we have to make our views known.

I support the European arrest warrant. It allows us to get back from abroad criminals who have committed offences in this country and then fled abroad: literally scores of them are living in European countries. It takes us years to get them back and it is only today's Conservative party that could oppose such a thing.

Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford)

Does the proposal for an intergovernmental conference responding to the enlargement of the European Union and the preparatory convention chaired by Mr. Giscard d'Estaing imply that the treaty of Nice is, in essence, an interim measure?

The Prime Minister

No, it does not imply that, because the treaty of Nice said in terms that there should be an intergovernmental conference in 2004. It shows that there are two stages. First, certain changes were agreed at Nice in relation to, for example, the voting rights of the applicant countries. Then, there were a series of things that we agreed could not be decided at Nice but which needed a longer period of consideration, because the applicant countries will not come in immediately. That is the purpose of the intergovernmental conference. There are really two blocks of things. There are things such as voting rights and so on—the precise conditions under which applicant countries would come in. Secondly, there are the internal workings of the European Union itself—that is what the intergovernmental conference will consider.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

How can the Prime Minister claim that the European Union has yet to deliver results? Is not it the case that most of British agriculture is almost bankrupt as a consequence of the common agricultural policy and that we pay some of the highest food prices in the world? Is not it the case that the British fishing industry has been decimated through the common fisheries policy? As for the commitment in Afghanistan, is not that posturing—an attempt to get into the victory chariot when most of the fighting is over? Are not British troops going to be there for an inordinately long time, for no clearly defined political purpose and at great risk to themselves?

The Prime Minister

As for the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question, the reason that the issue of a security force is raised in respect of Afghanistan is that it was part of the agreement for the political future of that country—concluded by all the parties in Bonn. It will be a real shame if the Conservative party now sets its face against supporting such a force.

Britain is talked of as the lead nation because it was specifically asked by both the United Nations and the United States to take on this role. The reason why it is important—[Interruption.] If the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) is saying that the United States does not support Britain's role in this matter, he is simply wrong, and he will have been told that when he was in Washington.

I agree that the European Union, the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy need fundamental reform, but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would find much support among, for example, the British farming community for unilateral withdrawal from the CAP. What we need are major changes to it. Again, we will get those changes only if we are inside Europe, arguing our case.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

The Prime Minister mentioned preparations for the IGC in 2004 and the convention. Will he say more on what role the accession states will have in discussions leading up to the convention, as it may involve some treaty changes that will affect them?

The Prime Minister

They will be fully involved in the convention. They will have the right to be there and to make the points that they wish. That is a very important element. The accession, applicant countries have a deep interest in the matter. The proposals made at Laeken for their involvement were broadly and widely welcomed by the applicant countries in the course of our meeting.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

Although the emphasis on enlargement is indeed welcome, will the Prime Minister comment on the following concerns? First, if we are really to take all 10 applicant countries into the Union in two years" time, or just over that, will that not require for some, though not all, intensive and indeed expensive care and maintenance to ensure the stability of their economies? Secondly, will he ensure that there is no distraction from the task of making sure that the single market works effectively, of which we have had a conspicuous counter-example, which has been resolved in the European Court this week? It is essential that we keep on the pressure to consolidate the single market.

Thirdly—this is my real concern—the Prime Minister has spoken a number of times about decision making and said that it must be streamlined. Does he understand that there are concerns that we will not be faced with streamlining as much as steamrollering of essential national interests?

The Prime Minister

In relation to the 10 applicant countries, the hon. Gentleman is of course right to say that enlargement is a very big thing to happen in the European Union. There are, however, phasing arrangements for many of the most critical aspects, and I think that that will be of some assistance.

On the European Court and the completion of the single market, it is vital that the Court has the powers that it has and that, where its decisions go against particular countries, they are enforced by the Commission—as, for example, they will be in respect of France and the ban on British beef.

As for, as it were, streamlining versus steamrollering, what is clear is that there are two different views on how Europe should develop. One view is that, in effect, it should develop into a situation in which the Commission has very much more power and the European Parliament is the fount of democracy in the EU—a view shared by some countries. There is an equally strong view—I would say now predominantly rather stronger—that that is not the right way for Europe to go, and that, in fact democratic legitimacy is rooted in the member state.

That is a debate in Europe, and a very strongly fought one. My point is simply that the most important thing is that we end up ensuring that we are in Europe, fighting our corner, rather than retreating to the sidelines and saying that we are so scared of the debate taking place that we, Britain, do not believe that we can have any influence on it. In fact, we have been able on, for example, the issues of economic reform or European defence to secure many of our objectives precisely because we have been willing to be involved rather than marginalised. I am sure that in the end, as indeed the previous Conservative Government did with the single market, that is the right approach.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

I welcome enlargement in terms of the number of countries and the timetable. I hope that we will be in a position in three years" time to go some major way towards making Europe a safer place for future generations than it was for past generations. The accession of Bulgaria will rely not only on the Bulgarian economy, but on the regeneration of the Balkan economy. Are improvements in that region likely in forthcoming years?

The Prime Minister

I know that my hon. Friend takes an interest in that area. We commend the improvements and progress made in Bulgaria. He is right to say that regeneration in the Balkans will be important to the stability of Bulgaria, Romania and other countries in the region. What is interesting about all the Balkan countries is that the prospect of EU membership has become a major focus for democratic and economic progress. People sometimes ask what good has come out of Europe in the past 50 years. Peace and prosperity are two pretty good results; furthermore, many of the nations in the most troubled parts of the European continent are not anxious to stay out of the European Union, but are desperate to get in.

Angus Robertson (Moray)

Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity to confirm that he will not allow the full direct representation of the Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish Parliaments or Administrations as part of the UK delegation to the convention? Will he explain to the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland why he thinks we are not good enough to attend in our own right, unlike the German Bundesländer?

The Prime Minister

Relations and representation will be precisely the same as for the German Länder, so the hon. Gentleman is wrong.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

May I take the Prime Minister to a narrow point relating to the appointment of parliamentarians to the convention? Does he agree that who is to represent Parliament is his business as a Member of Parliament, not as Prime Minister? Is not the question of who should represent us a matter for Parliament? Should not both the seats be for the House of Commons—the elected House—with the other place losing out? Will he give an assurance that the decision will be made by the House? My right hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), my hon. Friends the Members for South Shields (Mr. Miliband) and for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson)—and others, no doubt—have already been mentioned as possible candidates. We in this place should elect our representatives. The Prime Minister is represented at the convention as Government; we want our slice of the action to be directed by the House and not influenced by either Front Bench.

The Prime Minister

We shall certainly consult very closely on the proper arrangements.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield)

May I return the Prime Minister to the important question asked by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the danger of confusion of British troops" roles in carrying out two separate tasks in Afghanistan? Does he understand that there is great concern, not confined to those of us who have served with United Nations peacekeeping forces, about the potentially greatly enhanced danger of British troops being engaged in peacekeeping operations in the same theatre as they are involved in offensive search-and-destroy operations?

The Prime Minister

Of course—it is precisely for that reason that we must tie down carefully the arrangements for Britain to participate in the peacekeeping mission in Kabul. The force is there, in effect, as a security assistance force for the new provisional Government. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the arrangements under which our forces participate will take full account of the issue he raises. However, to return to the point I made when answering the Leader of the Opposition, it would be unfortunate were we not to participate at all. The reason why we have not been giving all the details since the issue was raised some days ago is that those details are important and must be tightly bolted down before we give our consent to be the lead nation. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are currently addressing precisely those issues.

Roger Casale (Wimbledon)

Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the fact that many Europeans will be looking to him and to other European leaders to bring the same dedication and leadership to a new international initiative aimed at retrieving the peace process in the middle east as they have shown in the international fight against terrorism? Does he agree that while it is right to condemn unreservedly the terrorist attacks on Israel and to call on Yasser Arafat to dismantle Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad networks, European leaders should also be calling on Israel to stop short of destroying the Palestinian Authority altogether, because without a Palestinian Authority there can be no peace process at all?

The Prime Minister

We have made it clear that anything that weakens the ability of the Palestinian Authority to fight terrorism is a retrograde step. However, it is important that we balance the calls that we make upon Israel with strong calls in respect of the Palestinian Authority, too. We cannot continue with a situation in which, literally week by week, there are appalling suicide bombings and terrorist outrages. We know in the House how we felt after the worst outrages of, first, the IRA and then things such as the Omagh bomb of three years ago: imagine if that were happening in this country literally every week or two weeks. People should have some understanding that that is the background against which Israel is acting.

It is important to get initial security steps in place and then return to a process. In the. end, it is only through the political process that any of these difficult issues will be resolved.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

Does the Prime Minister agree that an elected President of the EU would be incompatible with the sort of vision that he has set out of co-operating, independent democratic states in the EU, or has the Chancellor persuaded him that it could be an exciting vacancy for a man of his talents?

The Prime Minister

I am not in favour of a directly elected President of the European Commission, but that is exactly the type of argument that will be fought out over the next two or three years. Some people will say that all the power should be put into the hands of the Commission and the European Parliament; others, such as ourselves, will say that the Commission must retain its independent right of initiative, but that we must consider how we strengthen the workings of, for example, the European Council and make it more effective, and how we deal with the issue of a rotating six-monthly presidency—a procedure that cannot be maintained in an enlarged European Union.

It is important to get into those arguments, participate in them and attempt to succeed in them. The trouble is, as the right hon. Gentleman's leader found when he went to the leaders" meeting in Laeken, that if the Conservatives are completely isolated—[Interruption.] The idea that the other Conservative leaders in Europe agreed with the British Conservative party is laughable. Over the past few days we have had a good example of the diplomatic position of the Conservative party, which ends in basic humiliation and failure. Our diplomatic position has secured all the objectives that we sought.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the reality of economic and monetary union will be brought home in the United Kingdom in two weeks" time by the circulation of euro notes and coins? People will be able to go into their local Dixons to buy a television set with euro notes and coins and to buy a pint in JD Wetherspoon on the same basis. That may not change the attitude of the owners, but perhaps the attitude of the people will be changed. Will my right hon. Friend take it from me that the European Central Bank misses the democratic accountability element? That is an important aspect if we are to bring the Union much closer to the people of the European Union.

The Prime Minister

It is important that the people understand that in a couple of weeks" time euro notes and coins will be in circulation; twelve of the 15 European Union member states will be using that currency. It is also important for British companies and British firms here, many of which will be trading in euros or using the euro in one form or another, even though Britain is outside the single currency zone. It is extremely important that we do not take the position of sticking our head in the sand and pretending that it will all go away. It is a reality, and in two weeks" time it will be an even greater reality.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

Will the Prime Minister say which specific European competencies he wishes to see repatriated to national Governments, and do they include agriculture?

The Prime Minister

No, I think that, over a period, we should analyse carefully all the various competencies. We should decide on those things where Europe may, for example, want to integrate more and those that it wants to repatriate to member states. I do not think that it would be sensible for us to tie our hands at this juncture.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

May I assure the Prime Minister that he has the support of all Labour Members for saying that he will not turn his back on the people of Afghanistan? He will be aware that the World Food Programme has estimated that as many as 3 million people may have been displaced because of the military action and for other reasons, and that camp Maslakh may be housing nearly 800,000 people in desperate circumstances. Even worse, in the remote rural areas, it is now being reported that some people have already died as a result of cold or hunger. Did the Council discuss ways to get emergency aid in, and will the Secretary of State for International Development make a statement on the position before the Christmas recess?

The Prime Minister

I do not know the precise arrangements that the Secretary of State for International Development may be making, so I am afraid I cannot comment on that, although I will find out and let my hon. Friend know. She is right to say that humanitarian aid is extremely important. Of course, the only reason that we can get that aid through now is that the Taliban stranglehold on many parts of Afghanistan has been broken.

Finally, my hon. Friend is right; we will not turn our back on Afghanistan because it is right to remain engaged—we promised that we would do so—and if we do not, Afghanistan may return to the failed state in which we found it after 11 September. The truth of the matter is that it was a state existing basically on terrorism and drugs, which subjected its people to vile oppression and was a source of instability in its own region and wider. For us to remain engaged in the reconstruction of Afghanistan is not merely right—it is manifestly in our interest.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)

Will the Prime Minister confirm that the summit written conclusions and the declaration are littered with references to the need to cut red tape and reduce labour market regulation but that, simultaneously, the European Union has signed up to the information and consultation directive, which will add red tape and extra labour market regulation? How can he and the European Union be taken seriously when the European Union continues to say one thing in those bits of paper while simultaneously doing something different?

The Prime Minister

In respect of the information and consultation directive, I do not accept that every single piece of European legislation is wrong. Indeed, it is not wrong in my view to make sure that people are properly consulted as a work force. In respect of the attitude of the European Union and how much it legislates and how much it does not, it is worth pointing out that that concern is raised in all member states. The European Union declaration makes it clear that that issue has to be on the agenda, but it is more than simply on the agenda in theory: the recent Mandelkern report was endorsed by European Union leaders and, if implemented, it will mean a much greater number of decisions at European Union level will be taken in principle but implemented in the way in which member states want.

I do not dispute the fact that there is an issue and a problem but, again, the body of opinion in Europe is moving towards an easier and lighter-touch process rather than the heavy-handed regulation that perhaps we had in the past. At least the right hon. Gentleman has read the conclusions and the declaration, but he will find that many of the statements in the Laeken declaration tie in with many of people's legitimate fears about the encroaching power of the European Union. I therefore hope that, in some senses, it is welcomed by Conservative Members.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many millions of people are still rightly anxious about what they perceive as Brussels interfering in the nooks and crannies of British life and that many individuals, including some Opposition Members, rightly need reassurance about a European superstate not being on the agenda? Does he accept that one of the best ways of providing that is to state clearly and baldly in a European constitution that nation states have their rights, and clearly define those rights and the concept of subsidiarity in the constitution? Does he not agree that Opposition Members do not fear a superstate or intervention in nooks and crannies as much they fear clarity?

The Prime Minister

I am afraid that they are just anti-Europe. It is as simple as that. The point that my hon. Friend makes is true. Part of the purpose of the declaration is to make sure that on issues of subsidiarity, we achieve clarity. That is important. The declaration, which was agreed by every one of the member states, states in clear language that they do not want a European superstate. A few years ago, voices would probably have been raised in protest against that.

I draw attention to the recent statements made in front of the French Parliament by Mr. Giscard d'Estaing on the same subject. There is a general view in Europe that as member states move together on certain matters, it is important that they decide not to go into other areas, and even to push back power in certain areas. That closer co-operation must be based on co-operation between member states, rather than on the obliteration of national identity.

The idea that a country such as France has lost its national identity is absurd. The countries of Europe are proud of their national identity. The idea that Poland, for example, which wants to come into the European Union, is not proud of Poland and Polish national identity is absurd. We—or rather, the Conservative party—must escape from that ideological straitjacket; otherwise we will be unable to protect the British national interest, which requires us to be engaged.

The British Conservative party is virtually alone of all Conservative parties in Europe in its views, so much so that the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) must write to them pleading to be allowed a different set of rules from Conservative parties elsewhere in Europe. That is an indication of how far away the Conservative party is from a realistic view of how people are living and working in the Europe of today.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We must move on to the main business.