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Nice Treaty

4. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): If he will make a statement on progress with ratification of the treaty of Nice. [1541]

The Minister for Europe (Peter Hain): The Gothenburg European Council reaffirmed that the ratification process for the treaty of Nice will continue so that the Union is in a position to welcome new member states from the end of 2002.

Tim Loughton: May I also welcome the Minister to his post and hope that he will be rather more forthcoming with answers to European questions than his boss?

If the UK held a referendum on the treaty of Nice that resulted in a "no" vote, would he be happy for our EU partners to carry on regardless with the treaty? In which case, what is the point of holding any referendums in this country on Europe? Or is it just that he regards Ireland as a second-class partner?

Peter Hain: That was a pretty poor effort, Mr. Speaker. No referendum is planned on the Nice treaty, just as there was no referendum on the Amsterdam treaty or on the Maastricht treaty, which the Conservative Government took through and was constitutionally far more important

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and far-reaching than the Nice treaty. We respect the view of the Irish people and we await advice from the Irish Government on how they intend to take the matter forward.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): Does the Minister agree that those of us who support EU enlargement do not take lightly the Irish voters' rejection of the Nice treaty? Does he agree that one of the main issues is that the EU as an institution must be much more democratically accountable? Is it not important that we engage with Europe, as we will lose massive economic benefits in manufacturing in each of our constituencies if we do not ensure that EU enlargement takes place?

Hon. Members: What benefits?

Peter Hain: It is very interesting to hear the Opposition's catcalls of, "What benefits?"

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Well, tell us.

Peter Hain: I will tell the hon. Gentleman. More than 3.5 million jobs are dependent on our membership of the EU—

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Rubbish!

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must be calm.

Peter Hain: Conservative Members do not understand why they were so roundly rejected by the electorate on 7 June. Membership of the EU has been enormously beneficial to Britain, and the many companies in the constituencies of Conservative Members that depend on exports to Europe or trade with Europe will hound them out of office if they persist with their policy, which is nothing less than a programme for withdrawal from Europe.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Does the Minister share my assessment that one of the reasons why the Irish people turned down the treaty of Nice was that they benefit so greatly from the cohesion fund? Will he and his colleagues bring pressure to bear on Ireland, and other partners in Europe who benefit greatly, to share the prize of enlargement with us?

Peter Hain: May I very much welcome the hon. Lady's point, which for a change was a serious point about enlargement from a Conservative? She makes the point that enlargement has enormous benefits, not just for the accession states but for the British companies and jobs that will benefit from the enlarged market that will be created. The point she makes about the cohesion fund is important. A number of sticky issues need to be addressed as progress is made chapter by chapter, including the common agricultural policy and the structural funds.

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Missile Defence

5. Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): What recent discussions he has had with the US Administration on missile defence. [1542]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): I discussed missile defence with the US Secretary of State Colin Powell at the recent meeting of the North Atlantic Council and the European Council on 13 and 15 June. I look forward to renewing the discussions during my visit to Washington, for which I leave later today.

Mr. Savidge: May I welcome and congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his appointment? More than 250 Members of Parliament have already signed early-day motion 23. With all due and delicate diplomacy, will my right hon. Friend convey to our United States allies the concern that star wars, in attempting to reduce a comparatively remote threat, might increase far graver dangers? There is also a wider worry: on a catalogue of vital issues the Bush Administration seem recklessly ready either to block or breach international agreements that are essential to a safer and more civilised future and, indeed, to George Bush Snr's vision of a "new world order."

Mr. Straw: I thank my hon. Friend for his early remarks. I have of course read the early-day motion, and I recognise the concerns expressed in it. I must point out, however, that the motion endorses the unanimous conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which included a commendation of the Prime Minister's approach to the issue.

President George W. Bush has made very clear—he set this out again at the NATO Council in June—his wish to proceed by co-operation and consultation not only with the United Kingdom and other European allies but with China, Russia and other major countries to the east. That is the right way forward.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): But does the Foreign Secretary understand that what unites Labour Back Benchers, Liberal Democrat Members and such influential figures in the Democratic party as Senator Joseph Biden, who has recently become the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Senate, in their scepticism about missile defence is the prospect of unilateral action by the Bush Administration, when nuclear proliferation has been prevented by a network of treaties and collective agreements? What are the prospects, for example, of maintaining the nuclear non-proliferation treaty at its current level of effectiveness if the United States embarks on unilateral action of the kind proposed?

Mr. Straw: I understand those anxieties. To some extent, they are underlined by the current uncertainties in the propositions from the United States. I note that President George W. Bush, in his speech on 1 May, said:

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Given that there is such imprecision in what the United States is proposing, it behoves us, as long-standing allies of the US, not to come to conclusions until we are clear about what we are concluding about. That is why the process of consultation and co-operation that the Prime Minister set in train and that I shall continue tomorrow in Washington is the appropriate way forward.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): Does my right hon. Friend accept that sometimes a good and firm ally of the United States should be willing to tell an American Administration when they are wrong? They are wrong over star wars, and we should have the courage to say so.

Mr. Straw: It is very important not to generalise about the propositions and use the label "star wars". There has been a series of propositions, some of which are more likely than others to come into effect. Some, although they are on the table, may have no effect for 20, 30 or 40 years, as the American Administration are making clear.

It ought, though, to be underlined that at the heart of the American propositions is their concern, which we share, that the world has changed in the past 30 years, with a much greater threat from rogue states. The threat from Russia is no longer perceived to be in any sense imminent, but we have to decide how to deal defensively with the threats that exist. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends agree that the appropriate way forward is not to commit ourselves on the nature of the US propositions until we know exactly what they are. That is what I shall be doing in Washington.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham): I wish the Foreign Secretary well in his Washington discussions. I hope that they prove fruitful. We believe that a successful missile defence system is strongly in our interests and that the Government should be willing to commit themselves now, in principle, to working with our American allies to develop a satisfactory system. We appreciate the fact that this is a difficult issue for many Labour Members, but I want to make it clear that we will give the Government robust support if they choose to proceed in that way. Is the Foreign Secretary in favour, in principle, of missile defence?

Mr. Straw: I would probably rather go naked into a conference chamber than with the robust support of the right hon. Gentleman.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley): Does my right hon. Friend accept that concern about nuclear missile defence is not confined to the House? In their letters to me, my constituents have expressed three main anxieties, which I hope that my right hon. Friend will raise with the Americans on my behalf. They are worried that the proposed system will not be successful because it is technically flawed, that it will not achieve its aim of dealing with rogue states and that it could cause proliferation in those states that have nuclear weapons. Will my right hon. Friend hammer home those points on behalf of my constituents?

Mr. Straw: The concerns that my hon. Friend has expressed are entirely understandable, and I shall certainly ensure that they are reflected in the discussions.

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