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European Council

Volume 447: debated on Monday 19 June 2006

With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement about the European Council held in Brussels on 15 and 16 June. I would like to thank Chancellor Schüssel and the Austrian Government for their arrangements for the summit and for the way in which they conducted their presidency.

There were two parts to the Council. On the constitutional treaty, it was agreed that there would have to be a further period of reflection, because at present there is no consensus on how to proceed. [Interruption.] A Europe of 25, not 15, soon to become 27—[Interruption.]

Order. Opposition Members often want Ministers to come to make a statement. Hon. Members ridiculing the Prime Minister, or anyone else, is not behaviour that I can condone.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

A Europe of 25, not 15, soon to become 27 and in time enlarged still further, needs a modern set of rules to function effectively. As regards this treaty, around 15 states have ratified it, but of course there have been the no votes in France and Holland, and as a result others, including the UK, have not proceeded with ratification. The German presidency in the first half of 2007 will therefore consult member states and present a report to the European Council. Decisions will then be taken by the end of 2008, but it was made crystal clear that, in line with the conclusions of the Council in June 2005, there can be no presumption as to the outcome of this discussion.

The bulk of the conclusions of the Council, however, deal with the specific issues of most immediate concern to Europe's citizens. One of the key outcomes of a positive attitude towards Europe on the part of Britain was the election of President Barroso to the Commission. I therefore thoroughly welcome his commitment to the Council to transmit direct now to national Parliaments all new Commission proposals and consultation papers and to take due consideration of their views. That is an important boost to a long-held British concern over subsidiarity.

In addition, on better regulation, the Commission has already announced the withdrawal of some 70 pieces of legislation. The European Council invited the Commission to report by early 2007 on further progress, and in particular asked the Commission to make proposals by that time on how to reduce administrative burdens on businesses by 25 per cent. That, again, is a central British objective, on which we built alliances with other partners.

On the single market, the Council welcomed the agreement on the services directive; welcomed agreement on the competitiveness and innovation programme; and looked forward to the Commission's forthcoming review of the single market and proposals for completing it. The services directive, in particular, is expected to deliver some 600,000 jobs across the European Union and add around €31 billion to the EU economy. I pay tribute to the work of British MEPs—both from the party of European Socialists and the European People's party—in securing the compromise necessary to allow it to pass.

The Council agreed a number of specific measures and initiatives to combat illegal immigration, designed to strengthen borders while improving co-operation with some of the main source countries of migrants and refugees. In particular, the Council agreed to implement regional protection pilot projects to protect refugees in their region of origin and, therefore, avoid the need for mass migration. We also agreed to intensify work on readmission agreements, so that across Europe failed asylum seekers can be more easily returned.

On energy, another of the Hampton Court initiatives, we welcomed and agreed to take forward proposals for an external energy policy, developed jointly by Javier Solana, the EU’s high representative, and the Commission. One of the priorities will be developing strategic partnerships with the main producer and transit countries, including a commitment to seek an agreement with Russia.

The Council also agreed declarations on the western Balkans; Iran; Iraq; the middle east peace process; Africa; the Lebanon and Timor Leste.

Finally, on climate change, the European Council committed itself to pursuing, in all the relevant multilateral organisations, an international goal consistent with the objective of a maximum global temperature increase on 2o C above pre-industrial levels.

This was a European Council which focused on the practical policy-driven agenda that we have long advocated. It demonstrated yet again the benefits of positive engagement with Europe, and I commend the outcome to the House.

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement.

We support action on climate change, so we back the commitment to a new Kyoto-style treaty.

We support enlargement of the EU so we welcome the accession talks with Turkey. There are genuine concerns about Turkish recognition of Cyprus and how Turkey treats Cyprus at present. The summit conclusions refer to the EU’s

“capacity to absorb new members”.

Can the Prime Minister assure us that that is not a new obstacle to Turkish membership?

Those of us who want the EU to be a force for co-operation, trade, stability and democracy on our continent should support further enlargement. Does the Prime Minister agree that that enlargement should eventually include all the western Balkans, Ukraine and, perhaps, even Belarus?

We back deregulation and we shall want to see concrete results from what the Prime Minister told us today. We have long supported greater openness and transparency at EU Ministers’ meetings, so should we not all be relieved that the Foreign Secretary completely failed in her extraordinary attempt to block the opening up of EU meetings to public scrutiny? When it comes to building alliances to block transparency the score, apparently, was 24-nil.

As well as opening up the EU’s decision making, we should be reducing its costs. Does the Prime Minister support the growing campaign for the European Parliament to sit in just one place, rather than wasting hundreds of millions of euros moving between Brussels and Strasbourg?

Let me deal with the two most contentious issues at the summit: criminal justice and the future of the constitution. On criminal justice, will the Prime Minister give a guarantee that Britain will not give up its veto in that vital area? Our criminal justice system may have been reduced to chaos by the Government but that is still not an argument for handing it over to the European Union.

Three years ago, the then Minister for Europe—I am sorry to see that the current Minister for Europe has not even made it on to the Treasury Bench today—warned that ending the veto could

“change fundamental principles of our legal system”.

Can the Prime Minister explain why the Government now apparently have an open mind on the issue?

The European Commission has said that if we had no veto it would want to look at issues such as Belmarsh. The Prime Minister and I agree that ultimate responsibility for dealing with terrorism must lie with the British Government. Is that not an issue on which the Prime Minister should look to the long term, take a firm stand and not hand over responsibility for something that he will later regret? Abolishing the veto in those areas was a key part of the European constitution. Does the Prime Minister understand that reintroducing such changes without a referendum is completely unacceptable?

Is it not clear, after two decisive referendum defeats, that the European constitution should be declared null and void? The Prime Minister repeatedly told us that the constitution was essential to make enlargement work, yet Die Welt has said recently that

“the last 12 months have shown that Europe can live without a constitution”.

Does the Prime Minister accept that his argument about the constitution is being disproved by events? Is not the real alternative an open and flexible Europe? May we have a clear answer from the Prime Minister about the issue?

The Austrian Federal Chancellor, who chaired the discussion, said:

“There is…agreement that the substance of the Constitutional Treaty is sound and should be retained.”

Does the Prime Minister agree with that? Or does he agree with the Labour party’s representative on the constitutional convention, who is in her place, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart)? She said last week:

“The first thing the Government needs to do is to state categorically that the Constitution is finished. Like the parrot: dead, deceased and no more”.

The Government are perhaps starting to look a bit like a Monty Python sketch so perhaps it is time to say: and now for something completely different. Instead of his usual pre-prepared rant, will the Prime Minister just answer two simple questions? They concern the key issues at the summit. Will he give up the veto on home affairs and is the constitution dead—yes or no?

First, let us go through the issues that the right hon. Gentleman raised at the beginning. On the capacity to absorb new member states, no, that is not a new criterion. Indeed, it was part of the insistence of this country that conclusion language that suggested that it might be a criterion was taken out. In respect of Turkey, yes, of course, we support Turkey’s accession, which is why, under our presidency, we began the accession negotiations.

In respect of the criminal justice system, fortunately as a result of what we have negotiated, we can opt in or out at our leisure. That is the right thing to do. There may well be circumstances in which, as a result of Europe, for example, wanting to tighten immigration controls in a particular instance, we might want to participate in that process, but it is up to us. That is the benefit of the flexible arrangements that we negotiated.

As for whether the constitution is dead or not, that depends not simply on me, but on all the other countries in Europe. What is very obvious, however, is that it cannot be proceeded with unless there is an overturning of the French and Dutch no votes.

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about leadership in Europe, he is not going to get a pre-prepared rant. [Interruption.] No, I am just going to point out that his decision that the Conservative MEPs should leave the European People’s party is a foolish error of judgment. It is one of the few instances, incidentally, in which an error of judgment by the Opposition can have an impact on the country. If he wants to take someone’s word for it—not mine—I can tell him that the British Chambers of Commerce has said that this would damage British commercial interests and several members of his own European party have said that it is deeply inimical to the proper interests of this country. He has said that, by the end of next month, he will reach a decision on this matter. Let me tell him what other Members of the European Parliament call the people he is negotiating with: “nutters”, “the barmy army”, “very embarrassing allies”,

“fascists, outcasts and ne’er do wells”.

That is his own people. May I suggest this to him? Since his position now is not merely to withdraw from the European People’s party, but to support the—

Order. I must gently say to the Prime Minister that he should really be responding to the statement that he has made. He has made his point.

I begin by generally welcoming the terms of the Prime Minister’s statement. There are a number of matters that are particularly welcome that he did not mention. I have in mind, for example, the agreement to deliver aid to the Palestinians. I welcome the renewed commitment to enlargement and, although there is no doubt that there are particular difficulties that attach to Turkey, it has been the view on both sides of the House that Turkey’s accession to the European Union is essential for the future of the European Union. I also welcome the agreement on transparency, although the Prime Minister may care to reflect on how the United Kingdom came to be isolated on an issue of that kind.

The Prime Minister is right to accept that a union of 25—soon to be 27—cannot operate within a framework designed for six. In the meantime, what practical steps can be taken for reform and does he remain committed to a referendum if there are any proposals for constitutional change that would significantly alter the relationship between Westminster and Brussels? If I may say so, he was a little hard on the Leader of the Opposition. I wonder whether he would give some consideration to the constitutional propriety of this: if there is a referendum, could we have a second question to ask the British public whether they think that Tory MEPs should leave the European People’s party? We would not find it too difficult to agree on the form of a question: “Should the Conservatives leave sensible Mrs. Merkel and join a rag-bag of eccentrics?”

What does the Prime Minister propose to do to involve British citizens in the debate about Europe in the 21st century? Was there any discussion of rendition and possible breaches of international law? Does he accept that, however welcome negotiations with Russia about security and energy might be, they should not absolve Russia from legitimate criticism of its human rights record, its restrictions on non-governmental organisations and its attitude towards freedom of the press?

First, in respect of enlargement, we are essentially agreed that we want enlargement to proceed. The issues raised by the constitutional treaty will come back in some form or another, for sure, because if we have a Europe at 25 and then 27—or an even greater number if we encourage more member states to join, especially from the Balkans, which would be sensible in the longer term—the issue of how Europe works will be a live one. It would be deeply unfortunate if this country took an unprincipled decision to be opposed to anything that changes the proper workings of the European Union.

Secondly, on the practical steps in the meantime, the steps on subsidiarity are important, thanks to this European Commission President, as are the additional steps on deregulation that are being taken. For the moment, the single most important issue for the European Union is to concentrate on things such as energy policy, on which there is a common and collective need, and mass migration across the European Union. In that regard, there was a debate on illegal immigration, which affects all the major countries in Europe and, obviously, the United States as well. That discussion during Thursday night’s dinner perhaps could not have been held in quite such a way a few years back. There is now a far stronger need to take European action, which is, again, a reason why—with the greatest respect to the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron)—taking the unprincipled position of never co-operating on the European issues of justice and home affairs would be great mistake.

I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was saying that. The only way in which one can co-operate is to opt in to certain parts, so we must be able to do that.

For us as a country, the important thing is to keep our options open on such issues and, in the meantime, to carry on building the alliances that have seen very successful measures being negotiated in the European Union recently, not least of which was, of course, the services directive.

What discussion took place about the need for EU action to assist the African Union and to contribute to peace and security in Darfur and Congo? Has any progress been made on the establishment of the battlegroups in the European Union and an enhanced role for the EU on security and defence policy?

There has been progress both on establishing the peacekeeping force in Africa, which is part of the work of the United Nations, and on trying to ensure that the EU has the strategic capability to assist any such progress. The declaration specifically on Africa, which recommitted us to the millennium development goals, was an important part of the statement. There is also a desire to hold the EU-Africa summit, if we can overcome some of the difficulties that have been experienced with it in the past.

I was surprised that the Prime Minister responded to the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) about whether the constitution was dead by saying that that was a matter for our other partners in Europe, given that he told us last year that because the constitution was dead, we did not need a referendum in this country. Now that he has decided with his European colleagues to postpone the constitution’s burial for two years in the hope of resurrection, will he assure us that if there is any question of that resurrection, the matter will be put to a referendum of the people of this country so that they can make it clear once and for all that they do not want a European constitution?

Our position on the constitutional treaty—or any constitutional treaty—and a referendum has not changed. I said that it would be not for me alone to say what will happen to the constitution because that will be a matter for agreement among the 25. The question for Conservative Members is whether they are more interested in making a point to their own party than in securing the right agreement in Europe.

Was there was any discussion of the working of existing European institutions, especially those such as the European Aviation Safety Agency, which has taken over responsibility for licensing air safety? Will my right hon. Friend give me a certain undertaking that under no circumstances will the United Kingdom accept a derogation from our existing air safety that would put at risk anything in the air space of the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister will know that on the Order Paper, as there has been for months now, there is provision for the European Union Bill to have Second Reading, for a money resolution and so on. Last year, through that Bill the Government voted to implement into UK law the full text of the European constitutional treaty and to provide for a referendum on it. The right hon. Gentleman knows that he cannot implement part of the treaty, so either he is completely committed to every provision of that treaty, in which case he should tell us now and get on with the Second Reading, or he is committed only to some part of it. In the event of the latter, he should withdraw the Bill from the Order Paper. Will he do so?

No, for the reasons that we have given on many occasions. Let me explain. I understand entirely why the hon. Gentleman holds the position on Europe that he does, but the amendment that he tabled to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill—an amendment supported by those on the Conservative Front Bench—would mean, in effect, our leaving the European Union. [Hon. Members: “No.”] Yes, it would, because it specifically sought to allow the provisions of the European Communities Act 1972—the Act of our membership—to be overruled. To the Conservatives, I say that they have positions on such issues that they may want to keep within their own party, but they are central to the future of this country and we shall expose them at every turn.

In the discussions about migration policy, did the Prime Minister or any of the other leaders discuss the plight of very poor people from west Africa, hundreds of whom have died trying to cross from west Africa to the Canary islands or to the Mediterranean, or those hard-working people who lead a twilight existence in every major city in Europe but none the less contribute to the economic well-being of us all? Will the European Union take a humanitarian view and do its best to assist poverty alleviation in west Africa?

We did discuss that—it was a major part of our discussion on mass migration. It is important that we work to ensure that those African countries that are in a state of abject poverty are helped; that is why this country in particular has played a leadership role in help for Africa, the millennium development goals and so on. On the other hand, the people coming into Europe often do so in extremely dangerous circumstances, as my hon. Friend rightly says, and they are often prey to organised crime and illegal people trafficking. It is important that we have solid rules in the EU that protect our borders; otherwise the incentive is for people to engage in that appalling trade continues. We need a balance: we need to make sure that there is properly managed migration with proper controls and we need to act on some of the root causes of migration in the countries of origin, and we are doing both. It is interesting that that is the single biggest issue facing EU countries such as Spain and Malta.

I broadly welcome the statement, particularly the comments on the services directive which, the Prime Minister suggested, would create some 600,000 jobs. However, he will be aware that there are some concerns. What discussions took place and what discussions are planned on levelling up and equalising professional qualifications, so that there can be confidence in the UK that those who provide services from the EU are suitably qualified to do so?

We discuss that regularly with our European partners, but it is important that we do not allow discussion of professional qualifications to become a way of protecting vested interests and keeping out people who come here and often perform a great service for our country. I do not oppose some harmonisation where that is sensible, but the point was made in relation to the services directive that we have to be careful not to “level up” in a way that keeps out people who would do a good job.

My right hon. Friend referred to the middle east peace process. I congratulate him and the Foreign Secretary on the part that they have played in channelling finance to the Palestinian Authority to alleviate the appalling poverty suffered by the Palestinian people. What action are the Government taking to compel the Israeli Government to pay over to the Palestinian Authority the tax revenues that they are stealing from the Authority?

I know that my right hon. Friend realises that we are working closely with the Israeli Government to try to ensure that the release of money happens. It is a difficult situation, for a reason of which my right hon. Friend is aware, that of the continued threat of terrorist activity. The most important thing that we agreed at the European Council is to ensure that we develop the right mechanism for getting money to the Palestinian side to alleviate human hardship. As my right hon. Friend knows—I am sure that he would agree with this—the only ultimate answer to the question is to get the peace process back on track and reach a negotiated settlement.

We are all glad that the Foreign Secretary’s extraordinary attempt to block a modest opening up of the Council of Ministers to public scrutiny was itself turned down. However, are our own procedures much better? Does the right hon. Gentleman think it right that the EU Scrutiny Committee weekly meeting has to be held in private, with the public and the press excluded? Will he end this anomaly and strike a small blow for the right of the public to know in our own Parliament?

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has heard what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and I know that there are discussions taking place about that matter.

My right hon. Friend mentioned an enhancement of the role of Javier Solana, the high representative, so that he is involved in energy negotiations with the countries outside the EU. Have there been any further discussions on the external action of the external diplomatic service?

There continue to be discussions about how we make the service more effective and ensure that we pool our resources collectively in circumstances where that is appropriate. The main thing that people were concerned about was to ensure that, in terms of foreign policy, this was very much kept as a Council matter.

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement that the Union is entering into what I think he called strategic negotiations with Russia and other energy suppliers over the long-term security of supply, would it not be reasonable for those countries to ask in return for security of demand, and how would a market economy such as ours provide such security?

I do not know that we could provide security of demand in that way. We are seeking an agreement with Russia because of the degree to which the EU is now dependent on Russian supplies of gas, which makes it important to get the right strategic partnership with Russia in relation to that. A balanced energy policy in this country is important because in the future all of us will be, to an extent, dependent on imports of gas. We need to ensure that that dependency is not so great as to put our security of supply at risk. There are a certain number of things that Europe can do collectively to influence that, but I do not anticipate making an obligation on the security of demand in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Would the Prime Minister confirm that we already have a constitution for the European Union? It began in 1957 and continued through the Maastricht treaty. The words that he has used refer to a consensus on the modern set of rules. Why should it be appropriate to wait until 2008 for the European Council to look again at the issues of a new constitution? In the meantime, is it not incumbent on politicians, academics, business men and others to seek a new way forward by building a new consensus that can be pushed forward to Government, and from Government to the people in a referendum?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Certain rules will be necessary if the Union is to work effectively once it is enlarged. It is already the case that a Union of 25 people sits round a table. The amount of negotiation that can take place in the room is limited for that reason. Next year, the membership will be expanded to 27 countries. In time to come, if Turkey and other Balkan countries come in, we shall have a completely different type of European Union from that which was envisaged by its founders. My hon. Friend is right in saying that it is sensible, and in a constructive way with others, to look to find a way through this so that we meet the concerns of citizens while meeting the absolute necessity for a better and more effective functioning of the Union.

Given that the Prime Minister utterly failed to answer two simple questions put to him by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—namely whether he would exercise the veto on something that was apparently vital to the national interest just a couple of years ago and if he would say whether the constitution is dead or not—and then launched an attack on my right hon. Friend, is it the policy of Her Majesty’s Government that the British Conservative party should remain a member of the European People’s party? That would seem to be rather a strong endorsement of the policy adopted by my right hon. Friend.

Order. That is a matter for the Conservative party, not for—[Interruption.] The Prime Minister raised it, but I reminded him that he should not have done so. The hon. Gentleman should not raise it either.

As we are to have a period of reflection, will the Prime Minister continue to pursue the reform agenda in Europe, not only to make the Commission more efficient and effective but to develop the economic agenda? As he said, Bulgaria and Romania will join next year, which will obviously create even more problems in the running of the European Union. Is 1 January a firm date, or is it likely to be 2008?

There will be a report in October, and we have always supported the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to EU membership. I can assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to push hard on the reform agenda, and it will be very important to build alliances, not least with the new German Government, in doing so. The reform argument is being won in Europe today. Its pace, I agree, is a more open question, but the direction is now very clear. One of the most important things to happen in the past few years was the nomination and election of President Barroso as head of the Commission, which gives us the chance to work with the Commission. While he is strong on the Commission’s rights and responsibilities, he also shares our vision of a Europe of economic reform.

At the end of the Council meeting, the Dutch Prime Minister pronounced the constitution dead. Why was he wrong?

If the right hon. Gentleman studies carefully what the Dutch Prime Minister said, he will see that he said the same as everyone else. In Holland, unless there is a change in the no vote—I said all this last year—the constitution cannot be proceeded with, so there will not be a situation where the constitutional treaty is implemented in its present form. The question is: how do we secure the best set of rules for the future of Europe? That is something on which we as a country should be engaged, in negotiation with our European partners. The debate about whether the constitutional treaty is dead can go on all over Europe, but it does not make the slightest difference to whether we secure a sensible outcome to the rules that will be necessary to govern a Europe of 25, then 27, then further countries. The issue for us as a country is whether we can build sufficiently strong alliances with other like-minded countries so that the necessary changes in rules can be made to make Europe more efficient, without going down the federalist path. That cannot be done unless we build those alliances.

May I ask the Prime Minister whether, in plenary or in the margins of the summit, the final status of Kosovo was discussed, or the ramifications of Montenegro’s independence, in the context of the need to rebuild the fractured countries of the western Balkans in the European Union were discussed?

That was not specifically discussed by the leaders in the European Council, but I understand that there was a brief discussion by the Foreign Ministers, and a statement or declaration appears as an annexe to the European Council conclusions. The truth is, we are trying to find a way through a very difficult issue with Serbia; it is difficult for the Kosovan people, too. I hope very much that we will be able to reach a conclusion in the next few months.

The Council of Europe, as distinct from the European Council, is a specialist forum that promotes human rights in its 46 member countries, including Russia and Turkey. Belarus is currently suspended, because of its human rights record. Does the Prime Minister share my concern that the proposed fundamental rights agency in the European Union will duplicate the work of the Council of Europe, and will, indeed, threaten its very existence?

There are some concerns about how the agency will develop, which were expressed at the European Council. That is why the wording in the conclusions is very careful, precisely to make sure that the agency does not have the effect to which the hon. Lady draws attention. My best belief about the general sentiment in the European Council is that the agency’s role should be clearly limited, to make sure that it does not conflict with the Council of Europe.

Again on the middle east peace process, did the Council discuss the killing on the Gaza beach which took the lives of five young children, among others? Is it not rather peculiar that the Israeli authorities first seemed to accept responsibility and said they were sorry, and now deny that the event ever took place, as far as they are concerned? What are the Israelis playing at? And yes, I am totally opposed to suicide bombings.

I know no more about the matter than what is in the statement put out by the Government of Israel. Obviously, there will be a continuing debate about that, as my hon. Friend knows. Of course, everybody deeply regrets the loss of innocent lives on the Gaza beach. Unfortunately, there are innocent lives lost on both sides in the conflict. That is why it is important that we do our utmost to reach a solution. I believe that the only sensible solution is to return to the provisions of the road map, which we carefully negotiated at international level, and make sure that they are implemented.

Whenever the right hon. Gentleman talks to his colleagues in the European Council about the European constitution, he needs to make it plain that there can be no progress without the United Kingdom approving the proposals in a referendum. He ought to remind his colleagues at the European Council that no significant diminution in the rights of nation states or any significant enhancement in the powers of the European institutions is likely to be approved by the British electorate.

Each country will look after its own interests. We look after our country’s interests—[Interruption.] Yes we do, and an important way of looking after our interests is to secure the objectives that this country wants on issues such as, for example, the election of the new Commission president some time ago, the services directive and the working time directive. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friends want us to have any influence in Europe, the sensible thing is not to keep lecturing other member states the entire time about British positions with which they are extremely familiar, but to try to reach agreement on the objectives that we need and they need in order to move Europe forward.

I fully agree with the idea of an extended period of reflection on the constitution, but in the view of the Belgian Prime Minister, who believes that if four fifths of member states ratified the constitution it could be referred back to the European Council for some sort of immediate action, it is possible that that period of reflection could be cut short. Could my right hon. Friend tell us whether that was discussed at this week’s summit, and whether he supports that view or whether he would vigorously oppose it if it were put forward?

With the greatest deference to the Belgian Prime Minister, whose enthusiasm for the constitutional treaty is well known, the fact remains that unless all the member states ratify it, it cannot be proceeded with.

The Prime Minister mentioned the matter of influence. Does he believe that by announcing his retirement but not setting a date, he has weakened our negotiating position in the European Union?

I will tell the hon. Gentleman, if I am allowed to, what I think does weaken our position—[Hon. Members: “Answer the question.”]. It is the decision to leave the main grouping of similar parties. That would be damaging for us and very damaging for the country. I thank the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity of repeating that.

The Prime Minister will know that the element of energy policy that our constituents, in particular pensioners, find most troubling is their heating bills. Many businesses, too, are worried about their energy costs rising dramatically. Did my right hon. Friend have any success in trying to pursue energy liberalisation with the French and the Germans, so that we might see a fairer deal between countries around Europe?

There is a commitment to pursue energy liberalisation. The pace of it is the issue, not so much with Germany, but to an extent with France. My hon. Friend is right: this is another area in which we must work with other European countries; otherwise the security of our energy supply might be at risk and the price of our energy will rise. That is why energy policy, which we put on the agenda at Hampton Court, along with some of the other issues that I have mentioned, has come centre stage for the European Union—and rightly, too.

Members throughout the House will be delighted to hear that European leaders have decided that global temperatures should not rise by more than 2º C above pre-industrial levels, but the Government are failing to meet their own target of a 20 per cent. cut by 2010, and the pre-Budget reports produced by the Environment Audit Committee show the trail of inaction on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and his reluctance ever to allow policies to deliver on objectives which, I am sure, the Prime Minister shares. With the current Chancellor in place, and the possibility of his becoming Prime Minister, how will we ensure that we cut British emissions and keep to that temperature rise?

One way would be by keeping the climate change levy, which the hon. Gentleman opposes. There is a simple reason why Britain’s position on climate change is accepted throughout Europe: we will not only meet our Kyoto targets, but exceed them by double the original amount, and we will be one of the few European countries to do so. We have led the way on extending the European emissions trading system, which is extremely important, and we have also obtained an agreement to implement another treaty when the Kyoto treaty expires in 2012. Again, that is an area in which constructive relations with other Europeans are important.

The Prime Minister will recollect telling us before May 2004 that between 8,000 and 13,000 EU accession migrants would enter the UK. He was only out by a factor of 10: more than 200,000 people have entered in that two-year period. Most of those people are decent and law-abiding, but not all of them are. Why have his Government specifically absented themselves from the EU pilot project that began this month to share across Europe information on the criminal records of EU citizens?

People from eastern Europe were entitled to come here once their countries became EU members; the question was whether they were entitled to come here and work. The best evidence suggests that large numbers of people have come from eastern Europe and worked here, and many of them have gone back. I happen to think that migration from eastern Europe has been positive rather than negative for this country. We are keen to share data with other countries, but it must be done in a way that protects our interests, which is the point that I made earlier.

The Prime Minister was keen on introducing the euro and abandoning the pound. Was that matter discussed at the European Council? If not, will he introduce the relevant proposals before his retirement?

The position on the euro is perfectly simple—it depends whether the economic tests are met, which they have not been. It is extraordinary that not one of the questions asked by Conservative Members has been positive about Europe. That is an expression of that party’s deep hostility to Europe, which is completely inimical to the interests of this country.

In his statement, the Prime Minister mentioned administrative burdens on business, but he did not mention the working time directive. Will he confirm that, whatever advice he is getting from his MEPs, he still intends to keep the UK’s individual opt-out, which is essential for British industry and our future?

Yes, I can confirm that. One of the reasons why we can maintain that position is because we have the support of Germany. The hon. Gentleman should remember that that is why it is quite important to keep good relations with Germany