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House of Commons

Tuesday 10 July 2001

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


Greenham and Crookham Commons Bill


That the promoters of the Greenham and Crookham Commons Bill which originated in this House in the last Parliament but had not received the Royal Assent may, notwithstanding anything in the Standing Orders or practice of this House, proceed with the bill in the present session of Parliament; and the petition for the bill shall be deemed to have been deposited and all Standing Orders applicable to it shall be deemed to have been complied with;

That the bill shall be presented to the House by deposit in the Private Bill Office no later than the fifth day on which the House sits after this day;

That a declaration signed by the agent shall be annexed to the bill, stating that it is the same in every respect as the bill presented in this House in the last Parliament;

That on the next sitting day following presentation, the Clerk in the Private Bill Office shall lay the bill on the Table of the House;

That in the current session of Parliament the bill shall be deemed to have passed through every stage through which it had passed in the last Parliament, and shall be recorded in the Journal of the House as having passed those stages;

That no further fees shall be charged to such stages;

That the petition relating to the bill which stood referred to the committee on the bill in the last Parliament shall stand referred to the committee on the bill in the current session of Parliament;

That no petitioners shall be heard before the committee unless their petition has been presented within the time provided for petitioning or has been deposited pursuant to Private Business Standing Order 126(b);

That, in relation to the bill, Private Business Standing Order 127 shall have effect as if the words 'under Standing Order 126 (Reference to committee of petitions against bill)' were omitted.—[The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Message to the Lords to acquaint them therewith.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Drugs Trade

1. Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North): If he will make a statement on the involvement of his Department in the campaign against the drugs trade. [1538]

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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): The Foreign and Commonwealth Office co-ordinates international anti-drugs activity for the United Kingdom. On 25 and 26 June, we hosted an international conference on the global economy of illegal drugs. We have a substantial programme of counter-drugs assistance overseas, which is directed at countries that produce or transport illegal drugs.

Mr. Watts: I thank my right hon. Friend for his response. Does he agree that it is crucial that drug barons' assets can be seized in any country? What action are the Government taking to press other countries throughout the world to take similar action to that which we propose to take, whereby we can seize the assets of drug barons? Does he share my amazement at Opposition Members, who seem to be opposed to such legislation?

Mr. Straw: As my hon. Friend notes, the Government are committed to introducing legislation to facilitate the confiscation of drug barons' assets. Much work is going on with our European Union partners and countries throughout the world to strengthen the arrangements for mutual legal assistance so that we can ensure that such drug dealers and transporters are convicted in many countries.

My hon. Friend asks me to express amazement at the stance being taken by a number of Opposition Members. I am sorry to say that I am not amazed by anything that candidates for the Conservative party leadership are getting up to.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Can the Foreign Secretary assure the House that Her Majesty's Government are not merely doing everything they can to assist the coca eradication programmes in Andean countries such as Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, but pursuing proper replacement strategies, otherwise, poor people, farming communities and the peasantry will be further impoverished?

Mr. Straw: Yes, I can. We are working closely with, for example, the Colombian Government following the change of presidency in 1998. I accept entirely what the hon. Gentleman says. We must not only have the eradication programmes but recognise the economic reliance of many poor people in those countries on the drugs trade. Therefore, we must ensure that that income stream is replaced by lawful income streams.

Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West): I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that Russia has recognised the massive problem that it has with the drugs trade. At a meeting earlier this year with Russian MPs in the Duma, it was made clear to me and to parliamentary colleagues that Russia is keen to co-operate far more fully with European countries to build an effective partnership. Have there been any recent discussions with the Russian Government on the issue, and are any initiatives planned?

Mr. Straw: In my previous post as Home Secretary, I discussed the drugs trade—both through Russia and in it—with my opposite number in the Russian Federation.

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It has continued to be discussed in the G8. It will be discussed further by me and my Russian colleague when Foreign Ministers meet next week in Rome.

Western Sahara

2. Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): What recent representations he has made to the UN concerning the referendum in Western Sahara. [1539]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): We supported United Nations Security Council resolution 1359, which was passed unanimously on 29 June and which extended the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara until 30 November 2001.

Dr. Tonge: I welcome the Minister to his new post.

There seems to be some confusion in the Minister's Department about the referendum in Western Sahara. On 4 July, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) received a reply that indicated support for the framework agreement passed by the Security Council. On 5 July, the Government went back to the original position of supporting the UN settlement, which was for a free and fair referendum for the Saharawi people to take place as soon as possible—the settlement was reached 10 years ago. Does he not appreciate that the framework agreement means that the electorate for the referendum in Western Sahara will be increased by hundreds and thousands of Moroccan settlers and soldiers and therefore will not be a true referendum of the Saharawi people?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am sorry if the hon. Lady is confused, but as far as we are concerned there is no confusion. The resolution is absolutely clear: it reiterates full support for the on-going efforts of the United Nation's mission to implement the settlement plan, and for agreements adopted by the parties to hold a free, fair and impartial referendum for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Will the Minister assure the House, first, that there will be no further arms sales to Morocco until the situation in Western Sahara has been resolved and, secondly, that Britain will not take part in any operation to try to rewrite the 1974 census agreement on who should be allowed to vote in the referendum? As the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) rightly said, it must be for the Saharawi people, and only for them, to decide their future and their self-determination in peace. We do not want more of this constant delay; the UN operation has already been delayed for more than 10 years.

Mr. Bradshaw: I am sorry to tell my hon. Friend that I cannot give him the first assurance that he seeks. All United Kingdom arms exports are approved under extremely strict European Union and UK guidelines: they are among the strictest in the world, and are being made even stricter by legislation currently passing through the House.

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As for the second part of my hon. Friend's question, there is absolutely no suggestion that the UK is giving up its commitment to self-determination for the people of Western Sahara.

EU Enlargement

3. Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale): When he expects EU enlargement negotiations to be completed. [1540]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): The Gothenburg European Council agreed last month that we should make it possible to complete the negotiations by the end of 2002 for candidates that are ready. The objective is that those candidate countries should then participate in the European parliamentary elections of 2004, as members.

Mr. Hall: I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment, and wish him well in his challenging job.

I welcome the news that enlargement of the European Union can commence in 2002. I should like the Czech Republic to be one of the first members in that tranche. What steps will the British Government take, however, if the euro continues to be weak, to ensure that our economy does not suffer as a result of enlargement?

Mr. Straw: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. He may like to know that the Czech Republic has closed 20 of the chapters for accession, and is among the first five or six countries in terms of its advance towards satisfactory accession. As for his second question, about the euro, he will know that just 11 countries are currently in it. Whether the accession countries come in will depend on whether they meet the criteria for the euro, and whether they decide to join. The assumption behind the question does not, therefore, arise for the moment.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): I too congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his promotion.

It is clear that the Irish people have voted no, so the treaty of Nice cannot be ratified. Does the Foreign Secretary not agree that it is a most important democratic principle that if a people are consulted in a referendum and vote no, "no" means no? Or does he belong to the new wonky school of democracy according to which, if the people give the wrong answer, they must be polled as many times as the Conservative party in the election of its leader, in the hope that they will change their minds?

Mr. Straw: I made it perfectly clear during last week's debate on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill that the Irish people's decision in the referendum meant what it said—that they had rejected membership of the Nice treaty. [Hon. Members: "Ah!"] I cannot remember whether the right hon. Gentleman was in the Government at the time, as he was in and out so often; but in 1992, when he may have been—[Interruption.] We have now ascertained that the right hon. Gentleman was a member of the last Administration. In 1992 they decided, in the

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light of the Danish refusal to vote yes on Maastricht, to follow a similar procedure to that agreed by the 15 members of the General Affairs Council.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham): We delayed the Bill.

Mr. Straw: It is not about delaying the Bill; it is about the principle of the thing.

At the General Affairs Council in mid-June, we agreed that we would stick to the text of the Nice treaty, while providing Ireland—if we could—with some accommodation in respect of its worries. [Interruption.] That was exactly the approach of the last Administration, and it is the approach that we have agreed to adopt. It remains to be seen whether in due course there is a further referendum for the Irish people, and whether they agree to the Nice treaty. If they do not, the treaty will not go ahead.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): Has my right hon. Friend received any representations from business leaders on enlargement of the European Union? When I met business leaders in my constituency over the weekend, they were very keen that we move towards the speediest possible enlargement of the European Union. They recognise that access to new markets is good for jobs in my constituency and good for jobs in Britain.

Mr. Straw: We have had a great many representations on enlargement from business leaders in the United Kingdom. Almost without exception, they support enlargement because of the benefits that it would bring to British jobs and to British business.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): May I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his post? This month, in the Nice treaty debate, the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) berated my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) for not reading the Foreign Affairs Committee report, saying that had he done so,

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the hon. Lady was completely wrong about the contents of her own report, and that, as the report states, even after all these years none of the candidates for enlargement

Given the Foreign Secretary's very words today that the Nice treaty might not go ahead, rather than that enlargement will forge ahead, is not the cruel reality that EU enlargement is turning out to be a promise that ranks with the other great deceptions such as "the cheque is in the post" and "I will love you in the morning"?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her generous congratulations on my assumption of this post. I did not hear all of her last point—I heard only bits of it, about loving in the morning—so I shall let it pass. As for her point about whether chapters are open or closed, as I understand it my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South–West corrected herself. The truth is that none of the applicant countries has closed the chapter on

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agriculture. The hon. Lady is wrong, however, because a number of countries including Cyprus, Hungary, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia have closed chapters on the free movement of goods, services and persons.

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland): May I welcome my right hon. Friend—a Euro-realist, like the Chancellor and me—to his new post? Does he recognise that there is huge enthusiasm among Labour Members for the completion of enlargement, as it will underpin emerging democracies in eastern Europe and force a very substantial renegotiation of the common agricultural policy? However, does he also agree that enlargement will make it all the more important that we approach the euro with caution, and will he ensure that at least the European Central Bank becomes far more transparent and that it begins to take employment and output into consideration in pursuing its inflation targets?

Mr. Straw: I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind remarks. We believe that enlargement is very much in the interests of the United Kingdom, the applicant countries and the stability of the peace and security of Europe. I greatly regret the fact that the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) seemed to welcome the fact that there have been some temporary difficulties in the pathway to enlargement, as there always will be. The extraordinary achievement of the EU in the past 20 years is the way in which it has enlarged but still brought benefits to the people of Europe. We believe that that will be the case with the enlargement countries.

It will also come as no great surprise to my right hon. Friend that I fully support the position on the euro set out by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his excellent speech at the Mansion House a few weeks ago.

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