Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Straw: First, I will ensure that my hon. Friend's concerns for her constituency are followed up. I happen to be one of her constituents, along with many thousands of others, and if I may say so, she does a brilliant job as our Member of Parliament, and is held in high regard by all her constituents. I am also my own Member of Parliament, but I shall not comment on the kind of service that I receive from myself.

The question of why people come to this country is complex. It has to do with some factors that we cannot do anything about, or do not want to do anything about. For example, they include the fact that English is our language, that our economy is doing better than those in other countries, that the London economy, in particular, is doing very well, and that a quarter of the people in London are drawn from ethnic minority communities of one kind or another. There are a whole range of issues—and yes, we also treat people decently.

In France the number of asylum seekers is, and has been, rising but I accept the case that my hon. Friend makes for taking the pressure off places such as inner London boroughs and south coast resorts. That is one of the reasons why I introduced the dispersal policy, which I happen to think was a relative success.

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford): Throughout our discussion of what are, after all, the central issues for this country—the control of asylum seekers, border controls and immigration—the Foreign Secretary has spoken about the essential importance of commonality across the European Union. Can he tell the House what the Government's exact position will be on giving away a little control, in the form of qualified majority voting, on such issues? Does he intend to do that or not?

18 Jun 2002 : Column 165

Mr. Straw: On asylum, the hon. Gentleman will probably be aware that under article 67 of the Amsterdam treaty, the House approved—

Mr. Prisk: What about Seville?

Mr. Straw: Seville is not an intergovernmental conference, so there is no issue of treaty renegotiation. The powers necessary to apply the policy are in the treaties. Under article 67, there is provision by which the Council can move by unanimous vote to qualified majority voting in certain areas of asylum and immigration policy. We wish that to be used for certain areas of asylum policy, but that is quite separate from the issue of whether our veto and our opt-out in respect of our border controls for immigration purposes are maintained. The position on that is absolutely clear. We shall maintain our veto and opt-out for border controls and for normal immigration purposes.

I know that Members on both sides of the House sometimes confuse the two issues, but they should not be confused. They are two very separate issues. One is about the routes of legal immigration into this country, for which we need our own controls. The second is about the routes for illegal immigration into this country and the rest of Europe, and there it is very much in our interests to have a common application of common principles—to which we are, in any case, signed up under the 1951 convention.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East): My right hon. Friend said that Britain's economic success was one of the reasons why people wanted to come to this country. On the point about Britain's economic success, may I ask, as one old Eurosceptic to another, whether he agrees that the argument about whether it is right in principle to join a single currency was largely dealt with during the debates on the Maastricht treaty and the Single European Act? It is now a technical rather than a political matter. That being so, does my right hon. Friend agree that in addition to the Chancellor's five tests, it might be a good idea to ask the Governor of the Bank of England to take advice from wherever he thinks it appropriate and advise the Government and Parliament as to when the time might be right to enter the single currency?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend is a good and old friend—and I may say, between friends, that there was no necessity to drag out my previous convictions in that way. I will draw his views and suggestion to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Government's position was well set out in my right hon. Friend's statement of 27 October 1997, and that remains our policy as stated.

We must tackle the long-term causes of illegal immigration and asylum seeking, such as the poverty and instability that lead to migratory pressures into Europe. That means the development of an effective policy towards source and transit countries for illegal immigration. Our goal is to strengthen the European Union's partnership with such countries, confronting the problems at the point of origin and, where necessary, providing targeted assistance.

We also need to take more immediate action. We have to make it clear to source and transit countries that co-operation with the EU in this field is of the utmost

18 Jun 2002 : Column 166

importance, and that working with us will strengthen their relationship with the EU and create the advantages that they want. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, we are proposing a positive conditionality. For example, if source countries are prepared to take back their own nationals, many of whom will have valuable skills and experience, then we are prepared to help.

Roger Casale (Wimbledon): I welcome the recognition of the need for a common asylum policy, and what my right hon. Friend says about source and transit countries. Just as we work with countries within the EU, it is also important that we work collectively with countries outside the EU to regulate migration flows. In the respect of framing a common asylum policy, will my right hon. Friend look closely at the experience of previous Italian Governments who have worked with countries in north Africa to develop a three-pronged approach? First, they have worked closely with the security forces in north African countries; secondly, they have accepted a quota of legal migration; thirdly, and importantly, they have provided investment and assistance to help the economic development of those countries to abate the pressures for economic migration in the first place.

Mr. Straw: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's work on European co-operation. I will definitely take forward his positive suggestion, which is based on much experience of southern Europe.

The EU's tardiness in acting on the Tampere agenda shows that even with just 15 member states it does not act as effectively as it should. Our public wants a Europe that delivers. If we are to meet that demand, the Union's institutional structure must be overhauled.

Britain has taken the lead in the debate on institutional reform. Almost two years ago in Warsaw, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister mapped out his vision of how the EU should develop in the 21st century. In The Hague earlier this year, I set out specific proposals for EU reform to prepare not just for the challenges of enlargement, but for the here and now—for the changes that we need to make now if the EU is to work better. We have to make the Union more effective, more democratically accountable and better understood. We should spell out more clearly for the public what the EU is for, what it is not for, and how it enables nation states to achieve more together than they can achieve alone.

Reforms requiring treaty change will be taken by the next intergovernmental conference in 2004. The IGC will, of course, be informed by the report of the convention on the future of Europe. I am glad to see in the Chamber my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, who sits as the Government's representative on the convention, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who is one of the two parliamentary representatives from this House, and the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), who represents the official Opposition. I pay tribute to all three for their work, which I know has involved considerable effort. I also pay tribute to the work of Lord Tomlinson, Lord Maclennan, who sits on the convention for the Liberal Democrats, and Baroness Scotland, who is one of the alternates representing the Government.

A key issue before the convention is the presidency of the Council. We believe that we need a more consistent and co-ordinated approach than the current six-monthly

18 Jun 2002 : Column 167

rotation allows. We have advocated the appointment of national chairmen for each of the specialist Councils for a longer period of, say, two and a half years. Those chairmen might act as a sort of team presidency to ensure that the strategic direction given by the European Council is properly followed through.

Although the Seville Council, which will take place soon, cannot itself take any decisions on reforms requiring treaty change, we will press for the adoption of several other measures to improve the efficiency of the Council and make the Union more accessible to the public. The Secretary General of the Council, Javier Solana, has made a series of proposals for Council reform and they will be the basis for discussion. His recommendations focus on injecting greater strategic coherence into the Council, splitting the General Affairs Council into a foreign affairs council and then separately into what is called a horizontal council, which co-ordinates across the work of the functional councils, reforming the presidency system, and increasing transparency. That is largely our agenda.


Next Section

IndexHome Page