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28 Oct 2002 : Column 550—continued

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): We welcome the progress that has been made on Turkey. But have we misunderstood the Prime Minister? Did he undertake that there would have to be a breach by Iraq of the freedom of weapons inspectors before military action was taken? How does that lie with the statements over the weekend by Colin Powell that there would be no difficulty in getting a coalition, and that this was the key week in relation to Iraq? If there is no difficulty about getting a coalition, who is to form that coalition, other than the British and Ariel Sharon?

The Prime Minister: I think that there is a large measure of agreement. We are obviously working on a UN resolution now. Most people accept that the weapons inspectors should go back in, without any restraint or hindrance, unlike what happened before, but that if Iraq again plays the same game as before, action should follow. Most people can agree to that. It is a reasonable position which gives Saddam the chance to come back into compliance with the UN, but makes it clear that compliance will be enforced.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle): What is the point of the policy of step-by-step sacrifice of aspects of British national sovereignty as the price of being, as the Prime Minister likes to put it, at the heart of Europe, if, when a crucial negotiation about the future of the common agricultural policy is held, the matter is settled at meetings between the French and German leaders behind his back, and all he gets is an unprecedented insult from the President of France?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman should make up his mind who is insulting whom. He is wrong

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about the summit. The part of the deal that was unacceptable was the part of the deal that was resisted, with the greatest respect—a point that, no matter how many times one makes it, does not seem to have penetrated the Opposition. The reason for that is exactly the point that he makes in the first part of his question. He and his fellow Conservative Eurosceptics must say the whole time that Europe is something terrible. They therefore have a view of British national sovereignty that really means in the end that Britain being in Europe is a giving up of British national sovereignty. The fact is that Britain gains as a result of co-operating with other European countries. We gain through the single market, we gain through co-operation on issues such as defence, we are gaining on issues such as economic reform, and it is important for Britain to be in Europe and at the centre of Europe—[Interruption.]—yes, I believe that, because I believe it to be in the British national interest.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Does the Prime Minister agree that there is an air of unreality about the arguments on the common agricultural policy? I listen to the Tories every time the matter is raised. They give the impression that they do not like it. The truth is that if it were ever proposed in the House, every Tory MP would vote to put the money in the pockets of the farmers and the Countryside Alliance. As for the dust-up with President Chirac, if there is to be another row, let us have it about the euro. I will give my right hon. Friend a bit more advice: he should take the Deputy Prime Minister with him. He would put President Chirac in his place.

The Prime Minister: I always get immensely constructive and occasionally idiosyncratic advice from my hon. Friend, and I will reflect upon it.

Mr. Michael Portillo (Kensington and Chelsea): I welcome the Prime Minister's reference to Turkey in his statement. Does he agree that Turkey is a particularly valued ally because it is an Islamic state, but it is also pluralist and pro-western? Does he also agree that it occupies one of the most important squares on the strategic chessboard? Have not the EU leaders sometimes been unwise in the past to appear to shun Turkey? Given that Britain understands our strategic interests, will the Prime Minister become a positive advocate of Turkish membership of the EU in the future?

The Prime Minister: I agree exactly with what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. It is important for Britain to be an advocate for Turkey, on the basis that Turkey abides by the rules of the European Union. I hope that there is a growing recognition within Europe and within Turkey that Turkish membership of the EU is in the end a good thing for Turkey, for Europe and for the wider world. We have tried consistently to support the case for Turkey while making it clear that it must abide by the same rules as everybody else in Europe.

Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West): I welcome the progress that has been made towards enlargement. However, is not one of the strongest cards in the hands of those who want CAP reform the fact that an excellent alternative to the CAP already exists

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through the rural development regulation, which is a much more flexible way of helping rural areas and avoids distortions and the effect on the world economy that the present CAP has? Therefore, will it not be vital during the review of the CAP to build as wide a coalition of support as possible in favour of the rural development approach?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The rural development regulation is important. Our ability to move forward on that was untouched by any deal at the summit.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): My hon. Friends welcome enlargement. Indeed, we would rather see Europe even larger.

Did the Prime Minister have the opportunity to discuss the fishing industry at the European Council? The industry will be affected by enlargement and it faces an immediate crisis with the proposed closure of the white fishery around Scotland, which will cost thousands of jobs and economically dismantle entire communities. Can the Prime Minister offer two commitments? The first is that the fishing interest will not be traded away in pursuit of wider British interests in Europe, as has happened so often in the past; and the second is that, over the coming weeks he will fight as hard for our fishermen as the French do for their farmers.

The Prime Minister: On the common fisheries policy, hugely difficult decisions will have to be taken because of the depletion of fishing stocks. Of course we shall fight very hard for the interests of our fishermen; we do so on every occasion. As any Government will find at present, the situation is difficult. There is no doubt, as the scientific report shows, that there is significant depletion of stocks. I am well aware of the effects of that on fishing communities not only in Scotland, but throughout the United Kingdom. We will do our utmost to ensure that any deal that is secured protects, in so far as it is possible, the interests of British fishermen.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): I welcome my right hon. Friend's careful and precise words on Iraq, which should have wide support on the Government Benches, and I share his pleasure that the year after next we are to be joined in the European Union by two Commonwealth countries—Malta and Cyprus. Does he agree that it is out of the question for Turkey to become a member of the European Union as long as its armed forces are occupying a third of Cyprus? Does he also agree that the best way to get Turkey into the EU, as we would wish, is for its Government to facilitate and use their influence to obtain a settlement in Cyprus?

The Prime Minister: I am sure that my right hon. Friend will understand if I say simply that we are working very hard to try to secure an agreement in respect of Cyprus, and I hope that that can be done. That is in the interests of everyone within the EU and it is in the interests of Turkey. We are supporting strongly the United Nations efforts in that regard. It is probably better if I do not comment on the matter further as the negotiations are at a delicate stage.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): As the Prime Minister raised the question of hostage taking in

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Moscow, will he tell us whether he can think of one good reason why President Putin is refusing to divulge to his own doctors the nature of the poisonous gas that has made so many of the hostages so ill? Will he use his good offices to make representations to President Putin to enable his own doctors to know what antidotes they need to apply? Otherwise, much of the sympathy which President Putin deservedly had for his dilemma will promptly evaporate.

The Prime Minister: I understand the concern behind the hon. Gentleman's question. I am sure that, consistent with Russian security, further answers will be given to such questions. I hope that people understand that the Russian President, as I could tell when I spoke to him on Friday, was faced with an agonising and painful decision. These people will stop at absolutely nothing and have no hesitation in killing large numbers of innocent people. We know that those taking hostages had explosives strapped to their bodies and were willing to give their lives in a massive terrorist attempt to destroy as many lives as possible. These are difficult decisions, but I am sure that, in due course, we will get some answers on those points and others.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): My right hon. Friend will know that throughout the countries in eastern and central Europe whose joining the European Union has been agreed to, the part played by him and the Government in seeking and supporting enlargement has been very much welcomed. Does he recognise that his statement with regard to Romania and Bulgaria and the target date that he envisages for them is seen as very important? Once the other 10 countries have joined, it is vital that those two countries can also do so at the earliest possible opportunity, in line with the indications that he gave.

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