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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 reasonablethey are the obvious questions that we are in the course of answeringI 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
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.
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
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.
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 operationsas 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. Gentlemanthe first they had hadas "curious". He said that the right hon. Gentleman turned up for the first time with an eight-page letternot written in green ink, at leastmaking 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 1997isolated, marginalised and without any proper influence at all. On the issues concerning the future of Europeeconomic reform, the single market, the institutional future of Europe, how we create the right security and
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 Europein this party, we are certainly thatwould 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 downand the huge sense of political liberation that accompanied itwill 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?