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Westminster Hall

Volume 477: debated on Thursday 12 June 2008

Westminster Hall

Thursday 12 June 2008

[Hugh Bayley in the Chair]

European Commission

[Relevant documents: Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions—Annual Policy Strategy 2009—and Chapter 6 of the Eighteenth Report of the European Scrutiny Committee, HC 16-xvi.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. David.]

I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Bayley, in today’s three-and-a-half-hour debate on this important subject. I thank my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House for proposing the debate as a means of helping the House to achieve better scrutiny of the annual European Commission work plan. That objective is keenly shared by the Government, and I hope that this, the first of what we intend to be annual debates in Westminster Hall on the Commission’s annual policy strategy and legislative work programme, will be an important step in how Westminster scrutinises Brussels.

The Commission’s annual policy strategy establishes policy priorities for 2009 and identifies the initiatives necessary to realise them. As hon. Members know, the new Commission will be appointed in mid-2009. At that point, it will agree a five-year mandate laying out the broad priorities and aims for the period. It is therefore no surprise that the annual policy strategy is primarily a continuation of existing work streams for the current Commission. It is not a set of formal policy proposals but an aspirational document. The Commission has said that it is aimed at “sparking a debate” with the other institutions on where the policy priorities should lie for the next year. That dialogue is helpful in translating the annual policy strategy into deliverables in the legislative work programme for 2009, which will, of course, be presented in October this year.

The annual policy strategy is nevertheless helpful in a number of ways. It provides a framework for the preliminary draft budget for the corresponding year, as well as an operational steer for the Commission services. It helps the Commission to keep on track, preventing drift and endless new initiatives from dominating a new weekly agenda. The strategy is important also because the broad policy priorities that it focuses on will have an impact on the drafting and implementation of specific legislation and proposals. In Whitehall, such documents are important planning tools to help Departments to plan for negotiations.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) and I discussed earlier, 2009 will bring a new European Parliament and European Commission and, subject to national ratification processes, the entry into force of the treaty of Lisbon. Particularly given that backdrop, Members should see the strategy document as indicative rather than legislative. I hope that we can welcome it as a series of operational measures following our long institutional debate. After our debates on European structures in recent months, it is a pleasure for me to open a debate not on those structures, but on the substance of what Europe can and should be doing in the next year.

This debate is about the European Commission’s annual policy strategy. Is there anywhere in it a commitment from the Commission to get its accounts into such an order that they will finally be approved by independent audit? For more than 10 years, the accounts have failed that test.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. As I explained in my introduction, the annual policy strategy is not a legislative work programme, but neither is it the annual budget. That will be presented and agreed later in the year. That separate work stream, which is, of course, related to the policy strategy in some ways, needs continuing improvement and transparency, so that there is more confidence in the European Union’s budgetary processes here in Westminster and across the whole of Europe. That is an important point, but not directly germane to the document in question.

The debate is an innovation in our practices here in Westminster, and I look forward to it with great relish.

As the Minister knows, the European Scrutiny Committee examined last year’s annual policy strategy in detail, not just as a document but as a process. Given that it comes from the European Commission and gives a heads-up of what might be developed into the work programme, we thought, in the spirit in which we have always tried to work, that the earlier that we engaged with the Commission’s thoughts, the more likely we were to be able to influence them before they became directives. After that point, it is a struggle to negotiate improvements at a European Council meeting, as the Minister knows. To do so, we sometimes have to surrender some of our bigger ideas or block something because a directive has been structured so badly that it is not acceptable to the UK.

We carried out an inquiry last year into the 2008 annual policy strategy document. We took oral and written evidence, which I hope Members who are interested in European procedures will have taken the trouble to read. We considered that a useful exercise, providing an examination of the Commission’s planning process and giving the departmental Select Committees the opportunity to engage in the process at the earliest stages.

We often found that, when something became a directive, that was the first time that departmental Select Committees or those with responsibility engaged with it. As the Minister knows, one of the improvements that we suggested was based on the fact that, although Green Papers and White Papers from the Commission were widely consulted on by the Government, they were not sent to Select Committees. Everyone outside the House was consulted, but not the responsible Select Committees. Through the process, we saw errors and made positive recommendations.

As the Minister said, the document is not the Commission’s budget, and I am sure that he knows that at our last meeting—not this Wednesday, but the Wednesday before—we discussed the draft budget. We have recommended it for debate, and perhaps those who are interested in the process of audit and accountability will engage with the process in such a debate.

The Committee has considered the 2009 annual policy strategy document, as is reported in our 18th report of Session 2007-08. We examined what was in it and laid out a simple framework for people to look at, hoping that departmental Select Committee members in particular would raise matters with their Departments and engage in the process early on. The document sets out priorities; it does not contain detailed proposals. That is not necessarily a criticism of the Commission, but we assessed that its aspiration that the strategy would be a fundamental tool for debate would not be realised, because of its general nature and because it may have come too early.

It is worth noting that holding such debates on an Adjournment motion on a Thursday, when there is no pressing business in the House, means that we do not necessarily engage all those hon. Members who would normally want to be engaged in the process, because constituency priorities take many of them out of the House.

This will obviously be an important year for the EU. It will have to face up to not only a ratified Lisbon treaty, we hope, and all the new arrangements contained therein, but a new Parliament. There will have been parliamentary elections by the time the annual policy strategy becomes a work programme. That will change the environment in which the debate will continue. Then a new Commission will be appointed, which may set new priorities that disrupt the aspirations in the document.

On behalf of the Committee, I should like to outline what we saw as the key proposals in the annual policy strategy document that people might want to take on board. The Lisbon strategy for growth and jobs will continue to be at the heart of the Commission’s political agenda; I hope that that will be applauded by everyone, because it is fundamental to where we are going as a European partnership. The Commission says:

“The impact of the global financial turbulence on the real economy and the hike in raw material prices will require the EU to deepen its structural reforms at both EU and national level.”

That is something that we should welcome; just as we are not isolated from the world, the EU is not isolated from the world, and just as we can defend our own position financially, so the EU can help us to defend the position of the 500 million people in the EU.

I am interested in what my hon. Friend is saying; I always listen with care to what he says on these matters. He is talking about deepening “structural reforms” in the European Union. Those are typical EU words; I wonder whether he could say a little more about precisely what they mean.

Indeed I can. Although this is a very deep and important subject, the Commission sums it up by saying:

“Removing unnecessary administrative burdens put on businesses will be forcefully pursued.”

If anyone has gone to engage in debate with the other members of the European Union, they will know that, as a country, we have taken on board the Lisbon agenda very strongly. We have gone for liberated markets, including in labour. Some would say that that flexibility has helped to generate jobs, so that we have more people in employment in the UK than we have ever had on record.

Unfortunately, we see a growth in the EU of what has become known as economic patriotism; it used to be called protectionism. Even as we have signed up early to some directives, so other countries are now pushing them back. The one that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) hears me talk about quite a lot is the postal directive. We have liberated our postal markets, but the date for the liberalisation of the whole postal market in Europe, which should have been 2009, has now been pushed back to 2011, with some countries calling for a derogation until 2013. Therefore, access to the postal markets will not be available to UK firms in the way that it is available to firms from other parts of the EU.

There are many other examples of such delay. The unbundling of energy markets, with the idea of breaking up the generators of energy from the people who distribute and sell energy, is something that we have already done, but the idea has not been warmly welcomed, let us say, by other countries.

I will not go into great detail about it, but I received an excellent document from the City of London corporation called, “Delivering a competitive EU single market for the 21st century”. It is very well drafted and contains many ideas that we will hopefully take up as a UK Government; perhaps it will be quoted at length as a source of inspiration for Opposition Members. It outlines a very important way of thinking about the future. If there is a new European Commission and a new European Parliament, I hope that they will be more in favour of the Lisbon agenda and less opposed to it; unfortunately, opposition to the Lisbon agenda has been signalled by some at the moment.

The other measures being emphasised are the EU cohesion programmes. To quote the Commission in the annual policy strategy document, those programmes will

“ensure a major source of investment at regional level to implement the Lisbon strategy. European social partners’ contribution to the Lisbon agenda will also be geared up... The Commission wishes to focus on activities in the area of support for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), building in particular on the forthcoming European Small Business Act… The European Institute for Innovation and Technology”—

will enter—

“its first full year of operation… A key follow-up to the 2007 Single Market Review will be an initiative on shared partnerships between the Commission and Member States to apply and enforce Single Market law, clarifying the respective roles of the Commission and Member States and their shared responsibilities in making the Single Market work.”

As we all know, 2009 will be an important year to take forward work on energy and climate change. We had a debate last week on the proposal for renewable energy. Our position as a Government is to look for more flexibility in the mandatory targets that have been set by the EU. For example, the Minister for Energy has said that it will cost £5 billion per annum to reach the target of 15 per cent. renewables by 2020. In this particular economic climate, that figure must be a cause for concern. I therefore hope that the figure will be negotiable when the annual strategy policy document turns into the work programme.

Bringing the energy and climate change package to the implementation phase will be a priority. The package will include implementing the revised emissions trading scheme; enacting new legislation on renewables, as I have mentioned; and putting into effect energy efficiency action plans and developing low-carbon technologies. I hope that we all aspire to seeing those measures implemented. At this early stage in the annual policy strategy document, I hope that hon. Members will engage with the implementation process through Select Committees and their own special interests.

The Commission states that a key priority will be to make a success of the Galileo project, which will now be managed by the Commission. There was great controversy, and as a Committee we joined in with that controversy. We were not necessarily convinced that Galileo, as it was originally structured, would be capable of functioning as a commercial activity, and so it turned out; it has now been taken on by the Commission, with some regret on some parts and with some welcome on other parts. Our late colleague, Gwyneth Dunwoody, was very resistant to the idea that the Commission should take on the Galileo project. A number of Opposition Members argued that we have the global positioning system from the USA, which was free to use, and therefore that we did not need a European system. However, we have Galileo, and now we must deal with the question of Galileo, under what is called the Galileo Commission project.

There will also be work on the green transport package. There is a great deal of controversy about how green transport is achieved. In the European Parliament recently, a motion was carried that rejected the idea of biofuels being part of the package, because of the current effect of biofuels on food and food prices.

The APS also mentions the common immigration policy, which will remain a fundamental priority for the Commission and a number of key actions in that field are envisaged. Among others, those actions include the adoption of proposals on legal migration; the further development of Frontex; and work towards completion of the common European asylum system. Of course, the UK has a choice of opting into or out of all those actions, and that will prompt debate in the House every time these issues come up for discussion.

I am listening with interest to what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and he has now come on to the important issue of immigration. Of course, the EU has some extremely long land and sea borders. Does he or his Committee have any real confidence that the European Commission will introduce any effective measures to prevent the growth of large-scale illegal immigration into the EU?

In fact, the role of the European Scrutiny Committee is not to discuss and make policy on the merits of an idea, but to ensure that the Government puts forward all the information necessary for Parliament, either in a debate that we hold on the Floor of the House or in the correspondence that we have with the Minister in relation to what the Government propose at the Council of Ministers, which is then reported in the form of statements to the House. Those statements are then on the record in Hansard and in the Library, and every Member should obviously engage with that process of debate if they are interested in the issues.

Personally, I must say that there was a lot of strong argument that we should have joined the Schengen arrangements immediately. There were many reasons against doing so politically, but I can see very few reasons against engaging in all of the processes on immigration and asylum that are proposed under the treaty of Amsterdam. It is unfortunate that the political arguments basically scared everybody into thinking that, if we lost our own borders, we would have a flood of immigrants; we did not lose our own borders and then we had a flood of immigrants anyway.

The fundamental point is that no country will surrender control over its immigration policy to Brussels. So when the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) makes that appeal, he has to convert his own party into thinking in a more pro-European way. Immigration and the control of borders is a matter of national sovereignty; I might regret that, but that is the reality. He cannot wish the European Commission to be tougher on immigration, but deny it the powers and the right to act tougher.

That point is very well made. As a former Minister for Europe, my right hon. Friend knows this territory very well. In fact, he was probably the Minister for Europe when some of these decisions were made in the early days.

Immigration is an important matter; it is in the annual policy strategy document, and it will obviously work into the work programme. It is not an issue that will go away; it has to be worked on, and we have to engage step by step with that process. With many of these matters, if the Lisbon treaty is ratified, we will have to take opt-in decisions on them, and as a Committee we are considering how they will be dealt with by Parliament, because Parliament must have a say in advising Ministers about whether or not they should opt in on each of these individual matters.

The point about the 2007 inquiry that we undertook relating to this subject is that it is not likely to cause the kind of engagement on the annual policy strategy document that would prompt the debates on detail. Such issues will come within the work programme; but by highlighting some of them today, we hope that members of the Select Committees will look at the annual policy strategy document. The Government are very positive about it. I have not heard anything from them to indicate that there is something in it that frightens them. It contains matters that we know they are now moving through the process.

We will send the annual policy strategy document and our report on it to all the Select Committees, and I hope that Members will engage with it. Others who do not serve on Select Committees might want to look at the document to see which items are covered, as the hon. Member for Kettering did, whether it is the audit function, or immigration and asylum, the use of Frontex and the building of stronger Schengen arrangements to protect our borders.

Those are all things that I hope will be attractive to Members of Parliament who think, as I do, that we need to engage much more closely with Europe. Europe post-Lisbon will involve more of a resolution of forces and less of a triangle of Commission, Council and national Parliaments. The European Parliament will get much more power. We must find a way to be one of the forces in it that makes good policy for Europe, and one of the ways to do so is to engage early, which the annual policy strategy document gives us a chance to do.

I will have to leave early, Mr. Bayley, because I have to speak about the European Union to a group of business people for the Industry and Parliament Trust at 3 o’clock, so I apologise that I will not be here for the rest of the debate.

I welcome the Government’s finding time for this debate, although, like my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), I regret the fact that only three Labour Back Benchers—my hon. Friend is here in his capacity as the distinguished Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee—one distinguished Conservative Back Bencher and three Front-Bench spokespersons are here. That puts into perspective the gap between some of the hysteria about Europe that we read in the anti-European right-wing press and the actual state of public debate on and awareness of Europe.

In a sense, there is some reality in that position, because, at the end of the day, the European Commission takes just 1 per cent. of Europe’s gross national income for its purposes, and, of that 1 per cent., about 85 per cent. is immediately returned to national Governments in the form principally of agricultural payments and what are called structural, regional or cohesion funds. The agricultural policy is much contested in Britain, and rightly so. But if we did not have the CAP—the common agricultural policy—we would have to have a BAP, FAP and GAP; that is, a British, a French and a German agricultural policy. That is enough acronyms.

Believe me, I am absolutely confident that the National Farmers Union, backed by redoubtable Conservative Members of Parliament from the rural areas, would be extracting even greater subsidies for the farming industry in this country from the British national taxpayer than what is provided through the CAP.

I think the idea of national agricultural policies has great appeal. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that national Governments would be much better than the European Union at targeting subsidies where and when they are necessary, and that the agricultural situation and industry of each member state is quite different from that of all the other member states? It would be much more sensible for national Governments, not the European Union, to determine agricultural policies.

Having lived in Switzerland and seen the massive subsidies—a much greater share of state revenue than in this country—that the Swiss taxpayer has to give to its farmers because they are not in the CAP, I am not entirely convinced by my hon. Friend’s argument. Furthermore, to make an agricultural policy stick is a matter not just of subsidy but of import and export of agricultural goods, and the ineluctable and natural tendency of any farming lobby since the far-off days of the Roman empire is to ensure the protection of borders. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) smiles at that reference to ancient history, but Socrates, who predated the Roman empire, said that the man who does not know the price of a bushel of wheat will not last long in politics. If Socrates were an adviser to the NFU today, he would find that that aphorism still applies.

That is precisely why I am not a very successful politician. I did not study long and hard enough at the school of Socrates.

Of the 1 per cent. that comes to Europe, 85 per cent. goes straight back to national Governments for disbursement, and it is at national Government level that the legendary and perfectly accurate point about not being able to sign off accounts occurs. The European Commission is not able to have a functionary and accountant in every sheep field and wheat field to count the lambs and bushels in and out. The task is clearly beyond anybody’s grasp.

It is actually the failure of national Governments to spend the money in an accountable way that means that the European Commission cannot sign off its accounts, just as we cannot sign off—and never have been able to under any Administration—the accounts of the Department for Work and Pensions in any of its previous manifestations. I am afraid that the level of benefit fraud in Britain is such that an accountant cannot sign off the accounts. He knows that money has gone out but he cannot be sure how it has been spent.

We have to bear down and demand maximum transparency, but when we examine Europe, we find that 1 per cent. of its gross national income goes to Brussels, and of that 1 per cent., 85 per cent. is sent back for disbursement through national Governments. Just 15 per cent. of 1 per cent. is all that remains to the Commission—one seventh of 1 per cent. The idea that one can construct a monolithic superstate steamroller that destroys national freedoms and liberties in its path on the basis of one seventh of 1 per cent. of collective state income is nonsense. What is remarkable is how much has been achieved with that rather small portion of total EU income.

I will not enumerate the advantages that we have through travel, trade, investment and so on, because I want to focus on two narrow areas of the annual policy strategy for 2009. I hope that before I leave this House we might have a Government debate, in Government time, on something called the Government’s annual policy strategy for the year. That would be an exciting and innovative concept, but I am not sure that it would completely commend itself to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister or any future Prime Minister who may occupy 10 Downing street.

I had the pleasure of observing the Macedonian elections two Sundays ago. Some of them will be rerun this Sunday because of electoral fraud and manipulation. Before that, I had the pleasure of being in Kosovo, which I visited often as a Minister. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister will be in Kosovo on Sunday or Monday, at the moment when Kosovo achieves its statehood. It has already made its declaration of independence, but this weekend, and with the presence of the Minister, it will celebrate its independence. It is absolutely right that Britain should be there because the fate of the western Balkans has taken up a great deal of the attention of the House and the Government over the past 20 years.

I suspect that all of us in this House will, at some stage, have had gentlemen and women come into our surgeries who are asylum seekers from Kosovo or other parts of the western Balkans, or who have been transited through that broad region from Athens up to the Alps. Trying to bring some stability, democracy and rule of law to that region ought to be a Government priority. It took far too long for the British Government to intervene in the 1990s.

I commend to those who are interested the statement made to the House by the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), who was Foreign Secretary at the time of the Srebrenica massacre. I saw a bowl of water on the Dispatch Box and a distinguished Foreign Secretary washing his hands in it, saying, “It’s nothing to do with me, we cannot do anything, we’re staying out of it.” I hope that I never have the shame of listening to that kind of do-nothing policy again in my lifetime. Later, we had to intervene in Kosovo. It is one of the positive marks in the record of the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, that he put together the coalition and persuaded the United States to put in air and land power to stop the mass butchery of Muslims by Milosevic’s thugs.

For nine years, soldiers have been down there—18,000 are currently in the Kosovo peace implementation force—and Kosovo has been in limbo, being neither a state nor a province. It is quite clear that the people of Kosovo utterly reject rule by Belgrade, just as the people of Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia and, more latterly, the people of Montenegro rejected its rule. The people of Kosovo did that peacefully by building their own civil society in the 1980s and 1990s, under a great leader, President Ibrahim Rugova. They took the path of Ghandian non-violence until the very last moments of 1998 and 1999, when such were the exactions and repressions by the Black and Tans of the Milosevic militia that a resistance army was formed and a short war took place until the intervention of NATO, Europe, the United States and the United Nations to bring peace to the area. However, peace in the sense of absence of war has not meant peace in the sense of the Kosovans being allowed to create their own Government, elect their own leaders, decide their own laws and build their own relationships with their neighbours and the wider world.

Martti Ahtisaari, the Finnish President, after many long visits to both Belgrade and Pristina, and after the utter refusal of the authorities in Belgrade to accept that Kosovo should be Kosovo, advanced a plan, which in his typical Ahtisaari, Finnish way contained important safeguards for the Serb people in Kosovo. There is no denying that Kosovo is, for many Serbs, part of their historic roots: the first patriarchy of Serbia was in Pec, which is in Kosovo, and some of the great battles in Serbian history were fought in what is now Kosovo. However, one could say the same about Ireland in relation to England in the 1920s. Looking back to the 14th century, I imagine that bits of France were then part of England, but we do not seriously expect to be allowed to reclaim them. It is one of the tragedies of the western Balkans that the Serbs have not allowed Kosovo to be Kosovo and accepted that the future will be different; instead, they have been locked, sadly, in the past—particularly the ultra-nationalist irredentists in Belgrade, who have been making speeches and demanding that the Kosovans should accept rule by Belgrade again.

There has been a suggestion of partition for some small bits of Kosovo, which would allow the remaining small groups of Serbs who tend to be on the Serbian fringes of Kosovo to join Serbia or form enclaves within Kosovo. Is that possible?

I travelled from Prizren to Kacanik in the southern part of Kosovo and went through Brezovica, which is a Serb enclave—it is the principal ski station in Kosovo—doing a little reconnaissance for a later visit. As former chair of the all-party group on skiing, I say that it is important that we build our contacts on the slopes. The notion that this little part of Kosovo could somehow be disconnected and reconnected to Serbia is a bit like saying that Luton could be disconnected from Bedfordshire and reconnected to one of the many European countries that my hon. Friend is so fond of.

Perhaps. The answer to my hon. Friend’s question is no: the frontiers are set. Many Albanians living in the Presevo valley in Serbia proper could also make that claim. It is better to stick with the current frontiers rather than start trying to redraw them, which is not a Serb demand, by the way; the Serb demand is still that Kosovo is an eternal part of Serbia and that the Kosovans just jolly well have to live with that. On the contrary, we have to lend maximum support to allow Kosovo to be Kosovo. Britain has done that. Some 42 nations have now recognised Kosovo, and that is the agreed position of the European Union.

However, I say with regret that key European partners are refusing to recognise Kosovo. Spain, for example, does not recognise Kosovo, for reasons that are astonishing. As someone who has always supported Spanish freedoms and democracy, I have to say that for Spain to side with the Serbs is the same as if I were to side with the ETA thugs in the Basque country against the broader interests of the Spanish people. Bulgaria, a Slav country, has recognised Kosovo and I congratulate it for doing so. However, Romania, which is not a Slav country has, for whatever reasons, refused so to do.

Greece does not recognise Kosovo. That is a contradiction in terms of Greeks’ national interests. Greece needs a peaceful western Balkans corridor soon—I should like it to be composed of EU member states—through which Greek commercial interests, including tourism, can pass, allowing visitors to go peacefully up to the north of Europe instead of having to go through all the border checks. There is huge Greek investment in both Macedonia and Kosovo. Greek business men are there, helpfully making money and growing the two economies. Yet Athens cannot, for its own reasons, find its way to a peaceful relationship with Macedonia over the name issue or even give Kosovo diplomatic recognition, as we have and as France, Germany, the Nordic countries and the United States have.

I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to get the Foreign Office to see what it can do to counter the Spanish diplomatic campaign in Latin America against recognition for Kosovo. Through the Commonwealth and with our French friends—through La Francophonie, as it is called—and through other networks of states, working in particular with the majority Muslim countries, I ask him to see what can be done to show Belgrade and, behind Belgrade, a deeply revanchiste Russia, that Kosovo is getting recognition.

I am impressed by the level of economic activity in Kosovo. In the three or four years since I last visited, when I was a Minister, it really has been transformed from a war-torn country into one with a great deal of economic activity. Much of the money in the country is what we call “black money”, or illegal money, but as the Swiss say, money has no smell. With new buildings being built, along with new restaurants, hotels and gas stations, and with cars on the road—there are traffic jams galore in Pristina—and motorways being built, I see a future of economic activity and buzz.

Thank goodness, the 2nd Battalion the Rifles is currently in Kosovo, but only for a short time to cover the arrival of the EU legislative team, which is mentioned on page 6 of the report. The Ministry of Defence suffers from immense overstretch and from the deep irritation, shared by many hon. Members, at the fact that although there are 18,000 troops in Kosovo, few of them are as capable of imposing peace as the British Army and one or two other European contingents. I ask the MOD to see whether there are training possibilities in Kosovo for the soldiers we have stationed in Germany, and some way of having more British soldiers on the ground. Believe me, armoured vehicles going around with the Union Jack fluttering at the back do more to send out signals of confidence, law and order and a rule-based society than almost anything else.

We need to de-UNMIK Kosovo—the United Nations Mission in Kosovo—which is mandated by the UN and does its best. However, after the initial year or two with top people visiting, it does not have the finest flowers of the available global civil service. I am sure that they do not leave security material on the local public transport, but they are not necessarily of the highest quality. Frankly, a state cannot be run by the United Nations. A nation can only run itself by creating its own state.

Macedonia, which is next door to Kosovo, has never gone over the edge into full-scale violence, as the ex-Yugoslav states to its northern frontier did in the 1990s. In 2001, we came close, but strong intervention by Lord Robertson, who was the Secretary-General of NATO, Lord Patten, who was the EU Commissioner for foreign affairs, and Javier Solana, who was the European Council’s representative on foreign matters, really made a difference. Through the Lake Ohrid agreement, they stabilised the situation and avoided what could otherwise have been a quite difficult confrontation between Macedonians and Albanians, and between Macedonians and Macedonians of a more Slavic origin.

Unfortunately, the failure of the EU and NATO to allow Macedonia to pursue full Euro-Atlantic integration has led to the return of some of the old political thinking in Macedonia. I do not blame Her Majesty’s Government for that in any way. We have two excellent ambassadors in Andrew Key, who is in Skopje, and Andy Sparks, who is in Pristina. I also know how concerned the Minister is about the issue and how concerned previous Europe Ministers have been about it in the past few years. However, the plain fact is that Macedonia was led to believe that it could join NATO, when key NATO stakeholders did not have enough authority to overturn Greek objections.

I will not enter into the debate about Macedonia’s name—it is rather like the argument in “Gulliver’s Travels” about whether one should crack an egg at the big end or the small end. I accept that the issue is of passionate importance to our Greek friends, but it should not prevent Macedonia from exercising its right to pursue EU and NATO integration. I therefore ask the Minister to see what solutions can be found. We should leave the issue of the name to one side, and I will not, as I said, enter into a debate about its merits or demerits. We should not allow the question whether a rose is a rose by any other name, or Macedonia is Macedonia by any other name, to block Macedonia’s path to greater EU integration.

The same is true for Serbia. I love the Serb people. On every visit to Belgrade, I feel that I am in one of the greatest cities of the world, with an educated, cultivated, post-industrial—almost post-national—class of people who are multilingual and hugely talented. None the less, they seem to want to live firmly in the past. We make a mistake in thinking that if we are kind to the Serbs, they will be kind to themselves.

In that respect, I regret that there was a change of policy at the European Council on the issue of Ratko Mladic, the man primarily responsible for the butchery of 8,000 European Muslims in cold blood in 1995. The condition that was always set—that he should go to The Hague if Serbia is to unlock the door barring it from setting out on the path to future EU membership—seems to have been watered down. Ratko Mladic is known to the Serb authorities and he was part of the Serb army and militia network. He was seen around Belgrade a few years ago, so he is not hiding in the hills, unlike his comrade in shame, Karadzic, who is in Republic Srpska. We should have made Mladic’s removal to The Hague an unqualified condition, just as we made the rendering of Ante Gotovina to The Hague a condition for starting Croatia’s application for EU membership.

The Serbs do not respect the EU when it gets weaker bit by bit, drops conditionality and thinks that it will be rewarded for being nice. Not until we politically confront and defeat the so-called radicals—they are actually ugly, Falangist nationalists, who are not radical in any progressive or decent sense of the word—will there be much hope for Serbia and its brave President, Boris Tadic.

Those are just some views on the western Balkans, which derive from my complete belief that, having offered to integrate the western Balkans into Europe and Euro-Atlantic structures, we have taken our eye off the ball. For honourable and decent reasons, the eyes of the Minister and the Foreign Secretary have to be on many other balls and many other parts of the world. Currently, they are probably on the level of rainfall in Ireland and on what effect that might have on a certain decision that is being taken in the emerald isle today. However, Europe and Her Majesty’s Government have not put the same high-level pressure on the western Balkans that they did during the recent great crises. Bit by bit, the Balkans, instead of Europeanising, are gently suggesting that they might balkanise Europe. We need a serious push to move all the western Balkan nations—I have not gone into depth about Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro or Croatia—into the same position that Slovenia now finds itself in.

I turn now to the section of this excellent document entitled “Europe as a World Partner” and to the issue of the Maghreb—the countries of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. There is a debate about the extent to which Libya should be considered a fully Maghrebian country, but for the sake of my remarks, I will refer just to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Those three countries are indispensable future partners for Europe, and I therefore very much welcome the initiative by President Sarkozy. When he announced what the French would do during their presidency of the EU, he said that they would create what he called a union for the Mediterranean.

That raised certain eyebrows and met with opposition from parts of the EU that felt that the proposals were about the French seeking to put themselves in the driving seat in relation to their corner of Europe—the western Mediterranean. It was thought that that would somehow undo the so-called Barcelona process and the Euromed work launched in 1995. Be that as it may, new energy and a new initiative were needed to get Mediterranean and European economic and diplomatic relationships going again. Of course, the supreme prize is peace in the middle east, but rather than trying to climb the Mount Everest of middle east peace without oxygen, it might be better to attempt the rather lower mountains of the Maghreb countries. I hope that the Government will support President Sarkozy, and I am sure that they will be represented at the conference that he proposes to call. I also hope that we will somewhat upgrade our economic, political and diplomatic relations with the countries in the area.

The three Maghreb countries are all tricky. Algeria is an enormous potential source of energy—particularly gas—for the EU, but since the early 1990s it has faced a non-stop assault by ideological Islamists, which is aimed at destabilising the state. In that respect, it remains a mark of shame that Britain—its legal system, the Home Office, Liberty and all the other libertarian organisations—protected a man called Rachid Ramda, who was the financier behind the Algerian Islamist onslaught on the Paris Metro, which killed several innocent people in 1995. That was a forerunner of what happened in Madrid and in our own London tube bombings in July 2005. It took 10 years for this terrorist thug to be sent back to face his accusers in Paris and he is now, correctly, serving a life sentence because the evidence—with or without 42 days’ discussion with him—was incontrovertible.

That is what the Algerian state has faced. It is a nationalist state run by the military, so it is not my cup of tea in human rights terms. However, we should encourage it to take the same path as other parts of the world, such as Taiwan and Korea, as well as some of the Latin American and south-east Asian states, which started off in an authoritarian way but evolved over time.

Morocco has functioning political parties. It has a young king, who is trying to maintain order without wanting to lose the control and authority that all kings have before they understand the benefits of a parliamentary system. He works closely with the Jewish community in the country, just as the President of Tunisia does with the Jewish community there. Morocco’s king is seeking a different relationship with Europe. Sadly, there are not enough British contacts down there. We see the Maghreb countries as being a bit of a French backyard. The Spanish and the French have significant disagreements about Western Sahara and the Sahel. There is not, for example, any trade between Morocco and Algeria, which is as absurd as having no trade between Germany and France.

We should be taking the argument for what we have achieved in Europe in the past 40 years and saying that it would be a way forward, although we must be careful not to patronise. Of course we should make demands for freedom of expression and human rights, but it is a huge pleasure to walk around in Tunis, for example, and see Tunisian women not being obliged by a patriarchal religious order to wear strange costumes covering them, and to be normal women who hold down Government, ministerial and professional jobs.

President Sarkozy’s initiative faces difficulties such as whether Muslim Government leaders will be prepared to sit down in the same room with the Prime Minister of Israel, and the question of Turkey.

My hon. Friend alluded to Western Sahara, in which I take a particular interest. Surely the French could do more to persuade Morocco that its performance over Western Sahara, in direct contravention of all UN mandates, is disgraceful. It is about time that we recognised that. The British have a much more progressive attitude towards Western Sahara—that it is a country in all but name and should be treated as such.

The UN has commissions in the region, and the very distinguished Baker Commission is working on the issue. I am very glad, at times, that we did not have debates of this kind when the American South chose to secede from the Union in 1861. Such issues of identity are sensitive and difficult. In 1987, the Labour party election manifesto contained more about Polisario than it did about Europe. When people go on visits and meet dear friends from different movements around the world, they can get very focused on those issues. We need an agreement and peace, but Algeria also needs to stop supporting people whom the Moroccan Government see as being against them. All three of those Governments need the maximum support to stop what is now called the Maghreb branch of al-Qaeda. Whether that name is self-taken, or really represents any intervention by al-Qaeda, I am not qualified to judge; but we need more intervention, visits, investment, trade and commerce. Those three majority Muslim nations—not quite Arab, because the people are Berber—are future big partners for Europe.

As I said, France also must understand its responsibility to Turkey, and face down the right-wing Islamophobe dislike of Turkey from many Conservative parties in Europe. Conservative parties in Europe tend to treat Turkey in the way our Conservative party treats the European Union—they dislike and oppose it, and wish to have as little as possible to do with it.

I will finish on a political point. The Minister and his colleagues who work for British national interests in Europe will be able to work so much more effectively and efficiently if the main Opposition party becomes realistic and sensible about Europe, because it may one day form the Government of the country, although after the comic opera that has been announced to our delight and delectation this afternoon, that day may be much further off than its members imagined before about 1.30 pm. The better-off-out brigade need to be put in their box, just as, in the early 1990s, Labour had to put in their box all the anti-Europeans who were keeping it in permanent opposition. I want to see a day when the entire British elected parliamentary and political class—with the noble exceptions of dear friends whose scepticism I respect, love and admire—will know that to have any voice in Europe, we need to be networking and broadly supportive of it. If we want to change the CAP we must change the point of view of our Irish friends—not our French friends. It is Ireland that refuses all reform of the CAP. To have an effective European defence and security strategy it is necessary to persuade the French to back President Sarkozy in his apparent aim of reintegrating France into NATO—and so on.

I wish the Minister well in what will be tricky and interesting negotiations in the coming period. Whether or not the treaty is ratified, we shall need to get our policies in place to bring about economic growth, social justice, rights for workers and a common policy on the environment, and to find some way of speaking as one with the incoming American President. At the moment, on Russia, on Kosovo, as I suggested, on energy questions and on too many other issues, Europe comes up with the lowest common denominator policy, and does not speak as one or provide an effective partner to the United States and the other great democracies of the world.

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and having called frequently for such European debates, I could do little else but speak. I want to speak also because it is important that the left critical view of the European Union should be heard. It is the view of a substantial body of people outside Parliament and in the Labour movement in particular. The TUC, for example, has opposed the Lisbon treaty and supported a referendum on it. There are many other active members of our party and movement who feel strongly that the European Union is not the democratic socialist ideal that we should want it to become if it continues.

We have recently had the problem of a European Court of Justice ruling in favour of employers against employees, which seemed to go against the fundamental right to strike, which the European Union has enshrined. Many of us are worried that that augurs a possible change of direction, whereby more and more power will be ceded to employers, with a progressive reduction in the influence and power of working people and their organisations.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the principal cases that he refers to in Sweden, Germany and Finland all concern the absence of a statutory minimum wage in those countries? The European Court of Justice cannot overturn national law on minimum wages. That is the big problem. Those countries, for honourable reasons, do not have a legal minimum wage, which would allow the European Court of Justice a way to debate employment rights there. That is why I believe that we should support a European minimum wage across Europe, set at a strong level, to support the working class everywhere in Europe.

That might be a long-term approach, but in the short term the decision went in favour of employers, not employees. However, that is just an aside. I wanted to talk in general about several economic aspects of the European Union.

Like a number of people in the Labour party, both inside and outside Parliament, I oppose the Lisbon treaty. I did not just support a referendum, but I would have voted no. It is interesting that Ireland, which has been referred to, is holding a referendum today, and there is a possibility of a no vote, which would save us an awful lot of trouble. I hope that there will be a no vote. I should welcome that and cheer it. I should probably have a glass of good French champagne to celebrate. The skies would not fall in; we would have the status quo, which is far too integrated even now.

I am one of those people who would have liked, as I have said many times here and in the main Chamber, a referendum on the Single European Act and on the Maastricht treaty. Those fairly fundamental changes were the change of direction—the real speeding up of the process of integration towards what I believe is a state of Europe, or a country of Europe, which will eventually completely marginalise the elected nation state Governments and Parliaments.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Does he find it surprising that, as far as I can see from all the material that has come from the EU, there is no plan B? If the Irish were to reject the constitution today, one would have thought that a set of proposals would be put in place immediately to say, “We don’t want a constitution”. However, there does not seem to be anything. That is the nature of the relentless drive towards centralisation and federalism. That is what some of us are so alarmed about.

I agree with my hon. Friend. My plan B would be to retain the strength of the democratic Parliaments of the member states and get them to work co-operatively for mutual benefit. Democratic power would have to be retained at the nation-state level. In other words, they would co-operate when necessary and when mutually agreed for mutual benefit, but they would not be compelled to do so or to cede power to the centre of Europe and have our nation-state Parliaments overridden by the European Union. That is my position.

I speak—as I have many times—as a European. Everything about me shrieks Europe. I am a European by ancestry. The language that I speak and the ones that I try to speak are European. My enthusiasm for the arts, my love of geography and everything else are related to Europe. The European Union is a political imposition on Europe; it is not Europe. I resent the use of the word “Europe” for the European Union. Europe covers countries as far afield as Russia—as far as the Urals—Norway, Switzerland and wherever. It is bigger than the European Union, and the European Union is a political construct of which we must be wary.

As I say, if there is a no vote, we will go back to the status quo, and things will not be very different from now. However, they will be significantly different if the vote is carried.

I was talking to some visiting French business men in a Committee room last week. They were from the nuclear industry and were fairly conservative people. When I talked about the economy, they were shocked at my views. It was almost as though economics did not count in Europe and the union was a political concept or idea. I said that, if it was such a political idea, why was the European Union so concerned to exercise economic control, to construct the single European currency and to have a European Central Bank that sets interest rates independently of any democratic control? I said that it was about economics and that economics is driven not by the interests of working people, but by the interests of big business and global corporations. I think that I made my point, but they were rather shocked that I emphasised economics.

We are possibly on the verge of very serious economic times. The credit crunch, the sub-prime lending crisis and rising oil and food prices are leading us towards a great hole in consumer and economic demand that could cause a recession of quite serious dimensions. We in Britain are more exposed than the continent of Europe. Nevertheless, all of us will be affected by some kind of economic downturn. It was just at these times that Keynes and others—Keynes was the greatest of them—said that Governments should borrow and spend to counter recessionary forces. Yet, at the moment, we are being told by the European Union that we must not borrow; we must not let our debt get out of hand. Debt in Britain is not excessive compared with some other countries and with what we have had in the past. If we are going into a serious recession, we should expect to borrow. I do not think that we want the European Union telling us, “You have to tighten your belt and spend less.” That would drive us deeper into recession, and we do not want that. We want to spend more to counter recessionary forces.

If there is a problem with debt, the logical way to deal with that is to raise taxes, but not tax the people who spend money, but the people who have lots of money. Those with an elementary knowledge of economics understand that, if we tax very rich people who tend to keep their money in banks, it will not have much of a deflationary impact on the economy, but if we tax poor people, it will. It is economically beneficial to redistribute income from the rich to the poor in difficult economic times. Poor people, by the very nature of their lives, spend every penny that they get on surviving. Therefore, they keep demand going. Rich people, even possibly the better-off Members of Parliament, will not be too affected by an increase in taxes. My suggestion for increasing taxes in Britain does not reach down as far as the incomes of Back Benchers—possibly Ministers, but not Back Benchers. I will have to check that out.

I have dealt with fiscal policy, borrowing, debt and public expenditure, and the other area is interest rates. The European Union is still dominated by deflationist monetarists who control the European Central Bank. They are talking about keeping interest rates high to squeeze out inflation. When an economy goes into serious recession, inflation is not the problem. The problem is generating demand to survive. Inflation will automatically come down if we go into a serious recession; prices will fall.

If we try to counter inflation, even in relatively stable economic times, we have to see from where the inflation comes. For example, it could be generated by external forces, such as the price of oil. In that instance, if we force an economy into recession to squeeze out inflation, we would destroy the internal economy to deal with something that is beyond our control—the price of oil. Inflation is not the serious threat that faces Europe at the moment; it is recession. At a point—it may be a high point—the price of oil will level off. It may be $200 a barrel, but it will level off. It is then that the additional inflation eases off.

Provided that the internal economies are kept strong and that sufficient product is coming through, inflation will not be a serious problem internally. If, however, by deflating the economy like mad, we destroy the internal economy, when we come to reflate, there will not be enough productive capacity to meet demand. That is when we would get inflation again, and it would be demand-driven inflation rather than cost-driven inflation.

I do not want to give a lecture on economics, but the European Union and our Government should be worrying about recession and not inflation. I hope that the European Union will think again. Even now in Britain, we are considering whether or not to raise interest rates. I must admit that I went hairless the other day—as hon. Members can well see—at the thought that we might have three more interest rate rises in the pipeline from the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. I do not think that that will happen. Within a few weeks or months, the economy would be in such difficulty that we would not be raising interest rates; we would be lowering them, which is what I suggested in Treasury questions last week.

There are other aspects to the annual policy strategy report. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), who is not in his seat at the moment, talked as though the budget was the major problem. It is not the major problem, but it is something that we must address and something that is ill-designed and unfair to Britain. I have suggested how it should be seriously reformed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) is Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, of which I am happy to be a member. He suggested that we should be more proactive in policy. I agree with him, and I have been proactive. I have probably spoken at 80 or 90 European Standing Committee sittings over the past 11 years. My hon. Friend the Minister for Europe was the Whip on those Committees. I remember him urging me not to speak too long, so that everyone could go home early. I did have my say, and I made my point.

One of the points that I repeatedly made was that, if we must have a European budget that has receipts and disbursements, it should be related to the relative prosperity of the member states, so that the rich ones are net contributors and the poor ones are net recipients, and it is all done on a fair basis. The common agricultural policy completely distorts that. If we took the CAP out of the equation and repatriated it to member states, the distortions in the budget would disappear. We could have a budget that was broadly related to the relative prosperity of different nations. There would be a redistribution of income between member states. The amounts concerned would be modest—perhaps 0.5 per cent. of gross domestic product or something—but the process would work well and those concerned would be happy with it. It is foolish, misguided and ill-designed for the whole budget process to be distorted by the CAP. Some countries are big net contributors when they should not be, and others are big net recipients when they should not be.

Bizarrely, at a time when we need to subsidise agricultural prices and look again at the traditional British system of deficiency payments, yet again the EU is continuing to argue for a minimum price system that is totally anti-poor. The system will lead to the production of the wrong products and will do nothing for international understanding at this difficult time. I am sure my hon. Friend would agree with that.

I agree with my hon. Friend. I have made the point in the past that price maintenance policies are always misguided. The European Union is supposed to be about free markets, yet it rigs the market in agricultural products completely. We must be careful about how we support and design our agricultural world, because we have a world-wide food problem that we must all address.

We should retain a significant amount of food production in our country for long-term strategic reasons, because we may all be facing serious problems in a few years. Each country ought to control its own agricultural policy. We should talk to other countries and try to adopt Fairtrade policies that do not damage poorer countries. Indeed, a well-argued letter from War on Want in The Independent this week pointed out that dumping cheap food on developing countries destroys local production. It also pointed out that farmers who in the past would have produced sufficient food for themselves—and possibly some surpluses—are now completely undermined by cheap food being exported by richer countries. That is an ongoing problem. My hon. Friend said that free markets in that sense do not work, and countries should be allowed, as he implied, to protect their agricultural sectors and ensure that they retain sufficient agricultural capacity at least to feed themselves.

I am going off the track of what I wanted to say. The point that I was about to make was about being proactive in relation to policy. I mentioned having a budget where receipts and contributions are related to relative prosperity between member states. I have said that many times and, interestingly, it was fed back into a European document of the type that we are considering. I read the document one day and there was a precise rejection of what I had been suggesting. I suppose that others might have also suggested the proposal, but it was interesting that it was rejected entirely. A good argument was not made against the proposal, except for saying that it would obviously mean the end of the CAP. The idea was said to be not practicable, or some such word.

Nevertheless, at least the proposal was noticed. If one has something to say, it is important in politics to say it over and again until it either proves to be incorrect or it has some effect and people start to take notice. We do not achieve very much by saying nothing. Just moaning about the European Union without being specific is not helpful, so I try to be fairly specific in these matters. The budget is ill-judged, ill-designed and ought to be fundamentally reformed, by abolishing the CAP and repatriating agricultural policies to member states.

I strongly support the greening of transport, which was mentioned in another part of the report. We are in an era of rapidly rising energy, and clearly the cost of transport—particularly personal transport—will rise rapidly. We will have to invest more in public transport. Certainly, in the continental countries, the time will come when travelling by train will be much cheaper than driving. Demand for rail travel will increase, because it will be the most economical and greenest way to travel.

Heavy investment in rail is important—in passenger and particularly freight services. Global warming and CO2 emissions are serious issues. Compared with road freight, rail freight produces one twelfth of the volume of CO2 per tonne mile—that is for heavy freight. Light freight is rather different, although even then there is a significant difference. For heavy freight, travelling by road is 12 times worse than by train. We must seriously invest in rail freight track capacity across the whole of Europe. That is being done on the continent of Europe, which is to the credit of our noble Friend Lord Kinnock, who promoted the idea of a cross-Europe rail freight network when he was Transport Commissioner.

Vast tunnels are being built through the Alps. Some of us visited the Brenner pass, which is a 35-mile tunnel primarily dedicated to freight. It is capable of taking double-stack containers on trains and will mean that trains carrying such containers can go from southern Italy to northern Germany. That is serious investment. We are miles behind in that respect. It is difficult even to get single-stack, full-size containers on to most of our network. If we want to be serious about being part of that network and that economic lifeblood or blood system of the European Union, we must build more rail freight capacity here.

My hon. Friend the Minister will know that I have been involved in promoting a dedicated rail freight scheme to build a rail freight line from the channel tunnel to Glasgow, through the major industrial areas of Britain. We have a detailed scheme that is feasible, practicable and economically worked out. I have put a submission to the Transport Committee, spoken in the Chamber about it, met senior officials in the Department for Transport and spoken to Ministers on many occasions. That is a real scheme. We have to be part of the Europe-wide rail freight network, as it will mean the possibility of transferring at least 5 million lorry loads of traffic on to rail each year, much of which will go through the channel tunnel and on to the continent.

I have spoken to logistics managers for Tesco who would love to be able to bring their wine and other things from the continent of Europe—for example, from Bordeaux direct by train to Birmingham, Glasgow or wherever. That cannot be done without heavy investment in track capacity and providing the capability to take serious container traffic to a much greater extent than currently exists on the railways. That would free up other railway lines for more and faster passenger trains. Segregation of freight and passenger trains where possible, as is being done on the continent of Europe, is clearly the way forward. Those on the continent are doing things right in respect of railways, but we are not. I have not yet persuaded my hon. Friends the Ministers at the Department for Transport to say yes to our scheme, but I think that they will in time. We can then say that we are greening transport, too.

Finally, I shall talk a little bit about what one might say is another hobbyhorse of mine: the common fisheries policy. The common fisheries policy is irrational nonsense that has led directly to the overfishing of seas. The only way forward to guarantee that fish stocks survive for the future is to re-establish the old national fishing waters and for each member state with its own maritime areas to defend its fishing grounds. Member states will then realise that their future depends on husbanding their fish stocks well, as is done in Norway, which is outside the European Union.

It has been said to me many times in humour that fish can swim. Humorously, if I were a fish, I would swim in the Norwegian waters rather than outside them, because I would be less likely to be caught. Nevertheless, there are more fish stocks around Norway than around the rest of Europe, because it has its own waters, is outside the common fisheries policy and looks after its stocks better than we do. The only way forward that guarantees that fish stocks across the whole range of fish will be given time to recover is for countries to take back their national fishing waters.

If someone catches a fish in the North sea, how do they know whether it is German, Danish, Dutch, Belgian, Swedish, English or Scottish?

Clearly, fish do not speak languages, so that is very difficult. They do not wear badges or flags. My right hon. Friend makes a point that has been made to me many times—fish can swim. However, if the sea is sufficiently big for fish to live in one area rather than another and if there are large shoals of fish around Norway and no shoals of fish around Britain, something has happened to the fish around Britain, which I suggest is the result of overfishing and it might just be because of the common fisheries policy. This is over-simplification and there are various detailed policies that I debated recently in the European Standing Committee with the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), who is responsible for fisheries. However, the common fisheries policy was a give-away at the time of negotiating entry to the European Union. It is irrational nonsense and I urge the Minister to put the case for at least the possibility in a few years’ time of re-establishing national fishing waters and abolishing the common fisheries policy.

I am convinced that that is the way forward. I am sure that, if we said that we were going to retake our national fishing waters in five or seven years’ time and gave the European Union time to adjust to that thought, common sense would prevail in the end. The Minister responsible for fisheries has said that if we did that, we would be thrown out of the Common Market—sorry, I mean the European Union; I am using the old terminology. I think that it is highly unlikely that we would be thrown out of the European Union. It has a very big trade surplus with us and the rest of the European Union benefits so much in economic terms from Britain’s membership that it is unlikely that it would expel us.

If we made our case now and said that we would abolish the common fisheries policy or re-establish our own waters, we would be doing a great service to the fish stocks in our waters and in the waters around the rest of Europe and helping other countries in the European Union as well as ourselves. It is not just a selfish nationalist policy; it is a policy of conservation. It is a green policy, or a green sea policy. It would ensure the restoration of fish stocks that have been attacked to a dangerous degree in recent decades.

I could speak at greater length on a number of other subjects, as I am sure you appreciate, Mr. Bayley, but I have probably had more than my fair share of the time. I apologise, because I have to attend another meeting now, but thank you.

Before he goes to his next meeting, I congratulate the hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins). He spoke for nearly half an hour. I did not agree with much of what he said and he did not really speak about the paper before us, the annual policy strategy for 2009—[Interruption.] In that, he was very like the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), who made a fantastic speech, most of which I agreed with. It elucidated many issues. He did at least make some reference to the APS for 2009, so perhaps he does not deserve so much criticism.

In a second. To be fair to the hon. Member for Luton, North and the right hon. Member for Rotherham, there is not a lot in the document before us.

Order. Before the hon. Member for Stroud intervenes, I point out that it is for the Chair to decide whether contributions are relevant to the topic for debate. I hope that that is not the purpose of the intervention.

Thank you, Mr. Bayley. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) is right. This is the best we can do. For a document that is supposed to allow us to scrutinise the whole EU policy or direction of strategy, it does not say much. We in this House need much better. Whatever the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) and my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins), they have to speak on everything because there is such a limited amount that they can speak on according to the document.

I agree. It is not absolutely clear what purpose the document is intended to serve. The Minister, in introducing the debate, said that it was a strategy document. It does not appear to be terribly strategic in the way in which it is presented. In the House of Lords report on the 2008 annual policy strategy, criticism was made along those lines. The other place questioned whether it was intended to be a snapshot of where the European Commission was at and what work was in progress, or whether it was supposed to be a list for a future work programme. It was not clear whether it was supposed to be a consultation document involving the other institutions and member states. If these debates are to be meaningful and we are to contribute to what is going on as a British Parliament—

The Minister wishes to correct me and I am happy to be corrected. If we are to do that, it is incumbent on the European Commission to send us documents that are rather more meaningful and have much more clarity about both their purpose and their content.

It may be that because we are coming towards the end of the Barroso Commission and we face European Parliament elections next year, the Commission does not have much more to complete. Perhaps it has completed most of the work that it set out when it came together after the previous set of elections. That may well excuse the Commission and this strategy, but when we have these debates, we need a bit of context about their purpose.

As I think was implied by the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), perhaps this is an early warning system; perhaps it is flagging up what may be down the line. However, for a document meant as an early warning system, it does not give much detail, so there is not much that can be flagged up from it. I am unclear about its purpose and although I welcome more debates and more scrutiny—that is an important development—the European Commission will have to help us a little more if we are to perform that task.

My reading of the document suggests that if it is anything at the moment in the form in which it has been presented, it is a work programme. I refer hon. Members to pages 14 to 19, the annexe, in which it talks about the key actions envisaged for 2009. That seems to be the meat of the document and I want to ask the Minister questions about that meat later, because if we are to have a purpose today, we should understand what it is in that.

I hope that the Minister will take my concerns back to the Council of Ministers and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I would not be surprised if they were widely shared. Yes, we want these debates and documents that would set out an annual policy strategy—that would be useful—but we need more in them if that is to serve a useful purpose.

One reason why I would welcome this type of debate and document, if they were done properly, is that I think that the European Union needs to move on from the incessant debates about institutional reform and structures. Whatever is happening today in Ireland, whatever the result tomorrow and whether or not the Lisbon treaty ends up being ratified, we need to move on from the incessant debates that we have had about tinkering with the way in which the institutions work.

I personally support the Lisbon treaty. It makes valuable improvements, not least because the European Union has grown in size. With so many more member states, it seems sensible that some aspects of the institutional framework are reformed, which is the whole purpose of the Lisbon treaty; it is the main drive behind it. It may not have gone down terribly well with the Irish people, but the idea of having 27 commissioners, 28 if Croatia joins and 29 if Turkey joins, makes a nonsense of the Commission. One of the beneficial aspects of the Lisbon treaty is that it would streamline the number of commissioners and the bureaucracy and provide better value for money. It would be a shame if we lost that.

However, if the Lisbon treaty is not ratified and we do lose it, that does not mean that the European Commission cannot function. That has never been an argument that we have advanced. The European Commission, the European Union, will have to work out a way forward, but it should not say, “Okay, the Lisbon treaty has been lost because Ireland didn’t ratify it”—if that is what happens—“but let’s start another round of discussions about how we reform the institutions.” We must not do that. We need to move on and talk about policy—what the European Commission and the European Union institutions are doing and how they are benefiting the citizens whom we come to this place to represent and the citizens of the wider European Union. To focus on that is therefore sensible, and documents such as this can help.

The document points out a number of important areas, and the European Commission and the European Union should focus on them next year. Development of the Lisbon agenda, with its strategy for jobs and growth, could not be more critical. It has been important for many years, but it will be even more important as the world economy, our economy and the European economy come across tougher times. The fact that oil and food prices are high has been referred to; we clearly are in tougher economic times. Whether or not it has an impact on this country or our trading partners in pushing through things such as deregulation and reducing the administrative burden from Europe, that agenda is clearly sensible and one that we should support.

On page 14 and at the top of page 15, the document sets out how the Lisbon strategy for jobs and growth will be developed in the forthcoming year. I have some questions for the Minister on the key actions that are envisaged. The second point in the annex is

“Legislative proposals aimed at reducing administrative burdens, as part of the Commission’s Action Programme”.

That sounds great. I looked for evidence of what those legislative proposals might be, but I cannot find any. Will the Minister tell us what is envisaged? Is he aware of what those proposals might be? If it is a genuine deregulatory approach, we shall certainly look upon it with some enthusiasm.

We then come to the subheading “Single Market and Competition”, which includes:

“Recommendation on shared partnerships with Member States”.

I looked in the main text of the document, and on page 4 it states:

“A key follow-up to the 2007 Single Market Review will be an initiative on shared partnerships between the Commission and Member States to apply and enforce Single Market law, clarifying the respective roles of the Commission and Member States and their shared responsibilities in making the Single Market work.”

I do not understand that, and I hope that the Minister can explain it. I do not know what “shared partnerships” are. Neither do I know what is meant by a “New Approach Directive”, which is mentioned in the following sentence. I have heard of directives, of course, but I have no knowledge of an “approach directive”. Will the Minister enlighten us?

Under the title of jobs and growth, the document talks of the Commission stepping up action in the “area of competition”. The Minister will have the support of the Liberal Democrats if the Government push this strongly, particularly looking at anti-trust issues and preventing the misuse of state aid. However, the liberalisation agenda of the energy sector is critical. High energy prices are taking their toll on certain industries, so we need to push that programme.

I urge the Minister to see whether work can be done by the Government and the European Commission on the refinery sector. There is some concern that it is not only the rise in the commodity prices that feeds through to the pumps and the higher fuel costs faced by our constituents and industry but the pressures in the system resulting from a lack of refinery infrastructure that have created some of the problems that we have seen with supply and demand. I put it to the Minister that that may be an area for competitive inquiry, either by the EU or the Government.

The final area in the growth and jobs aspect of the document that I want to touch upon is the fact that the Commission is going to

“work on a renewed VAT Strategy”.

It then speaks of the

“preparation of initiatives on VAT grouping and on the VAT treatment of public authorities”.

I am not quite sure what that amounts to, and some clarification would be welcome. However, I urge the Minister—I hope that he will discuss the matter with his Treasury colleagues—to focus on the VAT treatment of charities with the Commission.

The United Kingdom is not unique, but it has a much more vibrant voluntary and charitable sector than many member states. The way that VAT affects charities in this country can be extremely damaging—not to all charities perhaps, but certainly to those that are not able, through their trading and other activities, to pass on the VAT to the final customer, as is the case in the commercial sector. I do not know whether the renewed VAT strategy will touch upon that problem, but the Government need to consider that question.

I move on to the section of the document that talks of a “sustainable Europe”. It focuses on environmental issues in what I have described as a work programme. I welcome the increased emphasis on policies to tackle climate change. Although it is part of the Lisbon treaty, the European Commission and the European Union are doing a lot of work outside the treaty. That is one of the most important arguments for the European Union, and it is good to see a large part of the strategy work programme with such details. There is some substance in it—things that we can get our hands on, things that we can understand—and I support several things in it.

For instance, it talks of setting out the EU’s position for the November 2009 Copenhagen climate conference. That is critical. In moving on from Kyoto and Bali, the EU has been leading the global debate. It is critical for the member states of the European Union to take a really strong and coherent position—not only for the UK or Europe, but for the whole world. It is an essential piece of work, and I hope that the Minister and his colleagues will contribute strongly to it.

Implementation of the revised emissions trading scheme will be important during the next year or two. The first round of the ETS was not as successful as it might have been, but given that it was innovative and given that we were leading again, it was a valuable exercise. It is worth pointing out that, not least because of increased fuel prices, windfall gains were made by a number of energy companies as a result of the first round of the ETS. I hope that it will not happen in the second round, although I fear that it might. The emissions trading scheme is critical. In the first round, it dealt with about 40 per cent. of carbon emissions in the Union. It now takes account of aviation, which is welcome. I hope that it will take account of emissions from freight transport, including from shipping. Again, that is a welcome development. I hope that the Minister well tell us how he thinks implementation will work. Are we are on track? What are the key milestones?

I now turn to the implementation of the energy efficiency action plan. I welcome it, because I am absolutely convinced that we can do an awful lot more than has been managed before. Although most aspects of energy efficiency policy should be considered at the national as well as the local level, it is good that the EU is working on the matter—particularly in relation to the workings of the single market. Inevitably, regulations on things such as lighting and other consumer goods will have to be made, in part, at a European level. The proposal for a new initiative on energy labelling of tyres, and measures on domestic lighting and incandescent bulbs are a good step forward, and we should support them. There will inevitably be problems with implementation, as we move from one system to another, but it has to be the way forward. I understand that if the EU gets rid of incandescent light bulbs, that measure alone will save 20 million tonnes of carbon emissions. That is the equivalent of 25 medium-sized power stations—it is big stuff. It is important that the European Union leads the way: if it is going to happen, we should welcome the document.

I could talk about a number of things that are in the action plan, but I wanted finally to focus on the section titled “Europe as a World Partner”, which is a key part of the Commission’s future work. That status is often underplayed and under-presented. We have debates, particularly with Conservative Front Benchers, about the operation of European security, defence and foreign policy, but, clearly, they depend on unanimity. Some of the concerns that are raised about the operation of that policy level are not valid, because we have a veto. Because we are part of the European Union, we speak with a louder voice. We can work with partners that we can listen to more effectively. Also, people want to join us, so we can promote the values and rights that are at the heart of the EU.

In the coming year, within the strategy, there is a work programme to make progress with accession negotiations with Croatia and Turkey, which is absolutely right. Bringing in states from the western Balkans is important. The Liberal Democrats have always supported the idea of Turkey becoming a full member of the European Union. It would be historic if a secular Muslim state joined and was welcomed into the European Union. It would be fantastic. It would be great for trade and good for getting Turkey up to the human rights standards that the EU seeks to promote, but it would be far more than that. We often forget the historic messages that the EU sends. My party and I are proud to stand up as strong supporters of the EU. I believe that the European Union is one of the greatest steps forward in the history of humankind. That goes against what one would read in the press, and it is an unfashionable view, but I think that all those states gathering around tables to talk to one another, solve problems and co-operate, with the rule of law and a degree of democratic accountability, following due process transparently, is fantastic. Bringing a secular Muslim state such as Turkey into that kind of club would be historic, so it would be fantastic if work was done in 2009 to pursue that goal.

The strategy addresses the important foreign policy issue of making progress and working on a new framework agreement with Russia. We are all aware of some of the worrying developments in Russia. The problem for the EU is that we have not been able to agree on our approach because of divergences between some of the big member states—between Germany and France and Germany and the UK. It might be that we are unable to achieve a common approach, but it would help if we could develop an approach that we consider to be in Britain’s interest and that we can persuade other people to take up. If Russia is able to pick different member states off, it is powerful; if Russia faces a united EU, strengthened by a common agreement to which states have signed up through a proper process, it becomes much weaker. Together we have a much stronger voice, and we will not allow the bully-boy approach that Putin adopted—we have yet to see whether Medvedev adopts the same approach—to succeed. That is important for Britain and Europe.

The final part of the long work programme under the title “Europe as a World Partner” is on the implementation of the Doha development agreement. The Foreign Secretary touched on that last night when he gave a speech at Lancaster house—we were celebrating Her Majesty’s birthday. The US presidential elections will be out of the way in November, and one of the new President’s first tasks, with the new Congress, will be to engage on the matter. There will be problems because, whether or not the Democrats win the White House, they are likely to strengthen their control over Congress. I do not know whether that will mean that there will be a majority in both Houses for the Doha agreement. The last time I talked to American politicians and policy makers about the agreement, they said that Washington is not all that interested because there is not a lot in it for the US. They say, “You guys in Europe talk about a development round, but it doesn’t really do very much for us”. Hopefully, there will be a new atmosphere in American politics, and they might take a more enlightened approach. If so, the European Union should be ready to push it forward and achieve something.

The document states:

“If appropriate, implementation of the Doha Development Agreement”.

I think I know what the Commission means by that, but I am not sure. In any case, we, as a member state, ought to push for it. No trade agreement contains everything one wishes for, but one can get 75 per cent. of it—that is the way of trade politics. I would welcome progress on that.

I repeat that I have concerns about the process, but the fact that I have been able to speak for so long and refer to the document suggests that it has some value. However, that value is compartmentalised. The European Commission is doing this and wants to make progress on that, which is all good. We can discuss it and put our points of view, but it does not amount to a strategy. If that is what the Commission is seeking to do, it needs to think again. Having said that, I am looking forward to the Minister’s response to my detailed questions.

May I offer the apologies of my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), who would normally speak in a European debate from the Conservative Front Bench? As the Minister knows, he is attending the wedding this afternoon of a member of his staff, and I am sure that the whole House wishes the happy couple every success in their marriage.

I share some of the analysis of the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) of the document. I could not make up my mind whether it was a strategy document or a work programme. It is something of a cross between a White Paper and a Queen’s Speech, but it lacked the precision of the latter and associated documents because it does not tell us in detail exactly which measures of European legislation the Commission intends to introduce in 2009. The strategic analysis and presentation lacks coherence—it is a bag of all-sorts.

Having said that, I am able to welcome a fair amount of the document, including the continuing commitment of the Commission to enlargement, and I strongly endorse its determination to press ahead with the negotiations with Turkey. The Conservatives have always supported Turkey’s accession to the European Union. For the broader reasons alluded to by the hon. Gentleman, it will be in Europe’s greater geopolitical interests for Turkey’s membership to become reality.

It is good that the Commission mentioned in its document the need to enhance relationships with the countries of north Africa. I am glad to see that the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) has returned to the Chamber, because he made some important points on the way in which the interests of European and north African countries are interconnected. It is important for us to foster those relationships. He also gave a friendly but appropriate warning to the British Government and to Britain as a country that British business is sometimes slow off the mark in getting to grips with the opportunities available in north Africa. When I have talked to representatives of those countries, they have been keen to encourage investment, trade and cultural and educational relationships with the United Kingdom.

I welcome the Commission’s words about Doha, but like the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton, I think that its completion should be a priority; it should not be conditional on circumstances. The EU should be pressing for it urgently. I also welcome the Commission’s words about strengthening the work of the Transatlantic Economic Council. At a time when economic difficulties around the world are strengthening the voices of protectionism, it is vital that the European Commission and the major players in the European Union maintain their commitment to free markets and free trade. Bringing down the barriers that divide us from the members of the North American Free Trade Agreement is an important initiative that can be taken in the right direction.

In general, it is my belief that the Barroso Commission has been more sympathetic to the needs of business and enterprise than its predecessors. It has adopted a friendlier overall attitude to small and medium-sized enterprises in particular, which is to be welcomed. I liked what the document said about the need for emphasis on the quality rather than the quantity of European legislation, and it was refreshing to read a Commission document that talked about needing a year to see to the proper implementation of previously announced initiatives, rather than wishing to press ahead with a whole new raft of directives and regulations, as though that were some test of the effectiveness of the Commission or the EU more generally.

However, I hope that the Minister and his colleagues in other Departments will keep a close eye on what those initiatives actually mean in practice. Do the simplification rolling programme and the action programme to reduce administrative burdens deliver the reductions in business costs that the manufacturing and service industries in the United Kingdom so desperately need as they fight the ever fiercer challenge of global economic competition?

We must bear it in mind that there are pressures in the opposite direction. I mentioned how language about trade around the world seems to be becoming more protectionist. I certainly hope, if the Democratic candidate wins the US presidential election, that some of the protectionist language that we heard on the campaign trail will not translate into US policy, because that would be harmful to this country’s interests and the interests of those seeking growth and prosperity throughout the world.

We must consider what is happening in Europe. If the Lisbon treaty comes into force, it will contain that significant shift in language that has relegated free markets and free trade, one of the defining features of the European Union, to a lesser role. We debated that in the Chamber in connection with the treaty. The French hailed it as a great victory for their approach to economic matters and a defeat for the forces of the Anglo-Saxon world.

We should be a bit concerned about some of the positions adopted by our own Government. Only yesterday, the Financial Times reported that the British Government had entered a “non aggression pact” under which this country

“agreed to drop Britain’s long-standing demands for sweeping pan-European electricity and gas liberalisation.”

When the Minister responds, I hope that he might be prepared to spell out the terms of that reported deal. To what extent has the United Kingdom resiled from the oft-expressed ambition of liberalising the European energy markets to at least the same extent as in our own country? What does he believe will be the impact on British business and British consumers of such a change in our negotiating position? We know, for example, that so far it has not proved possible to get some continental gas suppliers to sell gas to United Kingdom distributors for the same lower price that they are prepared to offer distributors on the continent. Are our Government satisfied with that state of affairs? If not, what initiatives do they plan within the EU to end that anomaly in what is supposed to be a single market?

I hope, too, that the Minister might say a word about the concessions that the Government recently agreed on the agency workers directive. He will know that the role of agency and temporary staff is of greater significance in the British economy, especially to small and medium-sized businesses, than in the other major economies of western Europe. Have the Government assessed, in particular, the impact on SMEs of the measure that they are now prepared to endorse? Have they thought through the possible impact of such a directive at a time when the British economy is going through a severe downturn?

I was troubled by the words on page 4 of the strategy document about financial services:

“The Commission will actively engage in the response to the global financial turbulence, which will require long-term adjustments in the regulatory and supervisory environment for financial services.”

What does that mean? There is certainly a case—

Well, I am certainly not going to stand here and argue that there is no case for revising systems of regulation and supervision, but it seems vital that the United Kingdom, whatever party is in government, stand up firmly for the principle that light regulation is what tends to breed successful financial service industries. What has benefited the City of London has been the ability to innovate in an on the whole successful system of self-regulation since the days of the big bang. If the European Union, no doubt for well-intended reasons, goes down a path of ever-tighter regulation and stricter government—or supranational government—supervision, the people who will cheer are those who want to establish financial centres in Switzerland or anywhere else outside EU boundaries.

The hon. Gentleman makes a strong point. Was he as concerned as I was to read that Chancellor Merkel seems to be on an offensive, suggesting that the Anglo-Saxon model of approach to regulation has had its day? The sentence that he read out may echo the idea that down the line, there could be a European-wide financial services authority. That would be extremely worrying.

I dread the thought of a pan-European FSA, not least because the City of London has been of huge benefit to the British economy, in terms of investment and employment, over the past couple of decades. It is vital that we do nothing that prejudices the success of the City as a generator of income and jobs for British people.

I would question, too, whether some of the initiatives listed by the Commission are worth it at all. I really question why we need a European institute of technology. We can agree that technology is a good thing, that innovation is to be welcomed, and that we should support contact and the dissemination of ideas between different enterprises and academic institutions. However, Europe is richly endowed with universities and institutes with track records of technological innovation and a history of publishing and sharing their ideas. Will anything be gained by having an additional institution funded by Europe’s taxpayers that cannot be gained, to the same extent or greater, by leaving universities and other institutes to act on their own? Will a central European institute of technology be more dynamic and innovative than Europe’s existing diverse institutions?

I welcome the Commission’s continuing commitment to action on climate change, but although I have no problem with supporting its objectives, we must acknowledge that the main instrument of policy—the EU emissions trading scheme—is itself flawed. I have always supported emissions trading as a way of introducing a market mechanism to reinforce desirable, environmentally friendly behaviour on the part of companies, but the record of the European ETS is surely that too many credits were issued at the start and that, as a result, we do not yet have a real price for carbon in Europe with which to make that scheme effective and to introduce a dynamic that drives companies to reduce their use of carbon over the years. If the Government share that assessment of what is wrong with the ETS, what are they planning to do about it? Will they campaign in the Council of Ministers and try to assemble allies in the EU to secure improvements to the scheme? Will the revisions to the ETS mentioned in the document actually remedy the flaws to which I have referred, or do we need further work before we have an instrument fit for purpose?

The common immigration policy makes up a fair bit of the Commission’s strategy document, and I would be intrigued to know whether the Government have made up their minds on whether they plan to use their opt-ins, if the Lisbon treaty comes into effect. I would also be grateful for clarification of what some of the Commission’s proposed measures would entail. For example, page 16 of the document makes reference to directives for specific sectors of industry in relation to the entry and stay of legal migrants. I presume that that would apply to people who, in the British context, are admitted to the UK under work permit or seasonal worker schemes of one sort or another. What concerns me is that we could end up with a European directive designed for a sector, when the significance and labour needs of that sector might significantly differ from one member state to another. How can we design a directive on economic migrants that will work in Greece, Estonia, the UK, Portugal and Malta, and which will make sense in the particular business circumstances in each of those very different economies?

The Commission is clearly very concerned in the document about the need to connect the institutions of the European Union more closely to the lives and everyday priorities of the citizens of European countries. That theme comes through quite powerfully in the sections of the policy strategy entitled “Putting the Citizen First” and “Communicating Europe”. I agree with the objective, but I am not at all sure whether it is working in practice. I noted, when the European Parliament had its initial debate on President Barroso’s policy strategy, that several Members made reference, in the context of the section on putting the citizen first, to the need to sort out cross-border entitlements on health treatment. MEPs were calling for the Commission to make that a high priority for its programme of work for the year. What is the Government analysis of the likelihood of such a measure coming forward? What would be the impact on the NHS of much greater freedom for people to seek medical treatment across national borders within the EU? Do the Government endorse that principle?

On page 6 of the document, in the section entitled, “Putting the Citizen First”, the Commission states:

“Food safety, animal health and animal welfare will be the subject of new proposals and monitoring activities will be stepped up”.

That could be okay, and something that people could welcome, but it raises the question: what does it mean when we get down to the detailed practice? Will we open up our newspapers and find that they are full of indignant owners of bed-and-breakfast establishments complaining that, owing to European legislation, people want to stop them letting the family dog into the kitchen if they are to continue to have guests, and are telling them to choose between barring Rover from part of the family home and giving up their small, family bed-and-breakfast business?

All of us in this place know that sometimes, that sort of over-regulation stems from Brussels, but sometimes it is down to Whitehall gold-plating or to the way in which the local enforcement authority interprets the words sent down to them. Without looking into the issue in greater detail than I have had time to do today, I do not know which it is in this case. In this country, however, when we debate regulations that impinge upon everyday life, we should take every opportunity to argue that: first, we must base our proposals on a common-sense evaluation of an actual, rather than a theoretical, risk; secondly, we must be sensible to the distinction between large enterprises employing large numbers of people, and small businesses run by families, almost as an adjunct to the family way of life; and thirdly, we must understand how people in very different countries actually live their lives day by day. Regulations must seem sensible to people when going about their daily routines.

The section on “Communicating Europe” states that 2009 will be a very important year for Europe. I supported what Mr. Barroso said before the European Parliament, which was that it will give us the chance to celebrate 20 years since the fall of the Berlin wall, and the reunification of a continent that had been so horribly divided since 1914. That really is something for everyone to take pride in in 2009, whichever side we take over the Lisbon treaty.

If we want to communicate about Europe and if we are to engage the public seriously in debates about Europe, European leaders must stop treating the peoples of Europe as tiresome extras. Page 8 of the document talks about the Commission seeking

“to maximise its work in partnership with the other European institutions and Member States to help spark a lively debate on European policies in the run-up to the European elections and beyond.”

We have had a wonderful opportunity for lively debate this year, but the leaders of the Commission and, apart from the Irish, the leaders of the Council of Europe have funked it. The people could have been consulted about the treaty that those leaders have argued would bring enormous benefits to every member state and their citizens.

The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton shimmied elegantly around the topic without mentioning that, yesterday evening, the votes of 65 Liberal Democrat peers ensured the defeat of the referendum proposal in the House of Lords. It is ironic that he has sought and attained martyrdom on the Floor of the House on the cause of having referendums on the Lisbon treaty and on Britain’s membership of the EU, but that when exactly the same proposal was made in the other place, all his colleagues in the House of Lords lined up with the Government to vote it down. I still have not worked out whether that is simply because he and the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) have lost all authority over their colleagues in the House of Lords, or because the Liberal Democrats wanted all along to make sure that the public did not get the say that they were promised in 2005.

For the record, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like to tell the House that the Conservative peers, Lords Heseltine, Patten, Brittan, Hurd, Howe, Tugendhat and Bowness, some of whom are former Foreign Secretaries and Cabinet Ministers, all voted with the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Government in the House of Lords against the Conservative position in the House of Commons.

The hon. Gentleman is accurate in what he says, but he does not mention that those Conservative peers are not members of the Front-Bench team. The Liberal Democrat peers who voted in the House of Lords in the opposite direction to how his party voted in the House of Commons included his party’s official spokesmen, who sit with him and his party leader in their Front-Bench meetings and are supposed to be collectively responsible for shaping Liberal Democrat policy. That is the difference between his party and mine on this issue.

Whatever view we take on Lisbon, the principle that this document misses is that if Europe’s political leaders continue to deny the peoples of Europe their say, they should not be surprised if the public look on what is happening in Europe with a mixture of apathy and cynicism. That is not healthy for this country or for the European Union as a whole. If we are to build the sort of European co-operation that will be in the interests of the people of every member state, the way forward is to have greater openness and genuine engagement with the public.

I am delighted to respond to the debate, which has, to quote the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), been another wonderful opportunity for a lively debate on Europe. I am glad that we have such a thing, on occasion.

I apologise to the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) for heckling him about the constitutional nature of our Parliament being the United Kingdom Parliament rather than the Great British Parliament, but we must remember the important role that Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland play in our proceedings.

I should also like to share in the celebration regarding the absence of the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois). Of course, it is not his absence that gives us cause to celebrate, but the reason for it: the wedding of his assistant, Adele Smith. In a unique European union all of their own, she is marrying a gentleman from France, whose name escapes me at the moment. I think that we are all delighted about that occasion.

In the hour and a quarter that I have to respond to the debate—is that right, Mr. Bayley?

I shall have to curtail my remarks then, if I have only three quarters of an hour.

It is interesting that, other than in the past two or three minutes of well-rehearsed jousting, few party political points and many important, specific points have been made. Between them, the hon. Members for Aylesbury and for Kingston and Surbiton have raised 40 separate questions and points. I sense that I would lose my audience, to the extent that there is one, if I were to respond in detail to all those points from the two Front Benchers, but I shall do what I can not to try the patience of the hon. Gentlemen by taking up the entire 45 minutes available.

It will be helpful if I put on the record again, almost verbatim, what I said earlier, to reaffirm the context in which the debate takes place. The annual policy strategy is not a set of formal policy proposals, but an aspirational document. That is the understanding across member states and of the Commission. The specific documents are relevant to the Commission’s legal work plan, published in October, and many of the specific points raised by hon. Members today are relevant to that.

There has been a genuine observation—frustration might be too strong a word for it—that the document lacks detail, notwithstanding that we could sustain a debate on it for perhaps three and a half hours between six of us. That is a reflection on the nature of the document, but it is also a reflection on the nature of where Europe is today: on the cusp of having a new Commission and Parliament as well as new senior representatives in 2009. That will be the end of one five-year work programme and the start of another. Most of the major legislative proposals tabled in last year’s work programme were for introduction this year. It would be fairer to describe that programme as a six-month programme than an annual programme—perhaps an eight-month programme at its most ambitious—with the European elections taking place halfway through the year to which it applies.

Let me address some of the points that have been raised. I hope that hon. Members will accept that it is not practical to respond to every point that has been raised. If hon. Members will allow me, I shall respond first to the points made by those who are still in their places. I think that that is the most appropriate thing to do.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) followed an excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), who is the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee. I wish to put on record again the excellent work that he and others on the Committee do. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham spoke largely, though not exclusively, about the western Balkans. Based on his visit to Kosovo, he rightly talked about his experiences there and the sense of shared frustration in many European capitals that the EU of 27 was not able unanimously to recognise the new state of Kosovo. However, the vast majority—20 of the 27 countries—have recognised it.

The frustration that my right hon. Friend experiences helps to disprove one of the common Conservative misrepresentations of the nature of Europe. The fact is that every member state makes its own decision on foreign policy. The member states came to their own view about whether to recognise Kosovo. As he rightly said, 42 countries have so far recognised Kosovo. I had the fantastic privilege this morning of meeting the Foreign Minister of Liechtenstein, which is one of those 42 counties. We are fundamentally committed to the settlement in Kosovo based on the Ahtisaari proposals, including the territorial integrity of a united Kosovo with no partition and respect for minorities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) intervened on my right hon. Friend and talked about respect for minorities in the north, but those of us who have paid close attention to Kosovo, including my right hon. Friend, know that most of the Serbs do not live in the north. They are in enclaves throughout the country. There is a concentration of them in the north, of course, but the majority do not live there. Some 60 per cent. live in enclaves elsewhere. My right hon. Friend will know that there is an impending donors conference on Kosovo, which is of great importance. I share his observation that the more closely the EU mission can be involved, the more significant it will be in helping to rebuild Kosovo.

My right hon. Friend also made some wider reflections on the western Balkans in relation to the annual plan, and he spoke about Serbia. Although it is for the Serbian people to decide who wins Serbian elections, it was an important statement of their aspiration that they voted for the most European-inclined parties in their general election. I wish to put on record again Her Majesty’s Government’s view on the condition of Serbian compliance with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. I was at the signing of the stabilisation agreement with other Europe and Foreign Ministers of the 27 countries of the EU and with Serbia, and there is no doubt that the condition still applies. However, the judgment was made that the date at which it will apply should be deferred until after the signing of that agreement, for reasons that my right hon. Friend is well aware of. The EU countries made that judgment together, and that was the best way to progress. Of course, it is good news that one of the indictees was arrested yesterday.

We shall continue to work to find a resolution to the issue about the name of Macedonia and its disagreement with Greece. I had the opportunity to meet the ambassador of Macedonia last night at the reception for Her Majesty’s birthday. Croatia, of course, will almost certainly be the next member of the European Union. We all acknowledge that.

I visited Bosnia relatively recently. The important hurdle there has been police reform, and we must continue to show support for EU representative Lajcak. I have spoken to Republic Srpska’s Prime Minister Dodik on the telephone and reaffirmed that we believe in Bosnia’s territorial integrity as a unitary state. It is important to put on record that we are not in the business of carving up modern countries in the Balkans on mono-ethnic lines. I look forward to following in my right hon. Friend’s footsteps once more when I travel to Kosovo next week, and I hope that my words about the western Balkans reassure him.

The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) made 26 or 27 separate points, and I shall try to respond to many of them, but if there are some that he thinks I have missed, we can—I am absolutely certain that we will—continue the conversation.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned energy. I have said before, and it bears repeating, that energy is an issue on which we have got out of kilter. The priority given to energy policy in the public conversation is not as it should be. It is one of the biggest strategic challenges facing Europe, but the conversation about it often relegates it to seventh, eighth, ninth or 10th in the list of priorities, or perhaps even further down. In a world of increased energy demands and curtailed energy supply, reflected by increased prices, solutions that are climate-sensitive but free from the interference of geopolitics are of fundamental strategic importance to the EU. When I was in Azerbaijan recently and met the president, that was a core component of our conversation. We mentioned the southern corridor and the Nabucco pipeline. I spoke with our ambassador in Turkmenistan this morning about natural gas supplies there. Energy is an issue of great and fundamental importance. I am not au fait with the detail of the refineries sector, but I shall look into the hon. Gentleman’s fair point about it.

Energy is one of the matters that concerns politicians across the political divide. There is no party politics, which shows the importance of energy sources and supplies and the diversity, security and predictability of routes to market. It is disappointing that on occasion, Russia has used energy policy as a tool of foreign policy. That frustration is reflected in other European capitals.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned climate change, entirely properly. Europe has to show leadership up to Copenhagen and beyond on our renewables targets and the deal that we have signed up to. Of course we have to be sensitive to national pressures on occasion, such as the niche markets in German car production, but if Europe does not lead on climate change and sustainable consumption, on developing low-carbon technologies and on the type of work that the hon. Gentleman spoke about—consumer and climate-sensitive ways to change customer behaviour—it is difficult to imagine how we can construct a global deal on climate change with the United States, Russia, China, Brazil or any other strong or emerging economy.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Government’s position on Turkey. In light of the constitutional court judgment about the wearing of the hijab, it is important to put on record our view that Governments should be decided by the electorate, not by the constitutional court. It is a bad signal for a modernising Turkey to be caught in that domestic crossroads in deciding its future. The Government’s view is that Turkey’s secular destiny is not in jeopardy under the governance of the AK party, but the constitutional court will come to its decisions.

The importance of Turkey’s accession to the EU is that although it must resolve the situation at its domestic crossroads and be a constitutionally guaranteed secularised state, it is also at an international crossroads in its relationships with the middle east, the Islamic world and across the globe. It will be another strategic addition to the EU as an organisation. Turkey is an addition economically, culturally and in all sorts of different ways. The issue of admitting Turkey would be a remarkable opportunity for the European Union to expand its reach and influence beyond its current borders.

A number of other issues were raised about energy efficiency by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton. Energy efficiency is important, which is why the proposals in the European Union 2020 strategy are about standard labelling of appliances; minimum equal standards for buildings; vehicle efficiency standards, and much more.

I would like to turn briefly to some of the questions raised by the hon. Member for Aylesbury; we look forward in the future to having the opportunity perhaps to hear from him again in European debates. He raised a number of points, including points about Doha; better regulation; economic migration; justice and home affairs; the energy market; agency workers; the European institute of technology; communications, and much else besides. I hope that he will accept that I am not attempting to avoid answering any question if I do not go into all of those points in great detail; it is my style to try to answer questions, but he would not thank me for doing so in great detail.

Regarding Doha, quite simply it is the Government’s single greatest trade policy priority. We want to see a deal and the Secretary-General of the World Trade Organisation thinks that there still can be a deal, but time is against us. There is a need to come to at least a preliminary deal on agricultural products. So we are working from the Prime Minister down within Government to get a deal on Doha.

On the issue of better regulation, the fact is that the Commission is making progress on better regulation from a relatively slow start. Mr. Bayley, you will be aware that I was previously the Minister responsible for better regulation in the Cabinet Office; I must curtail my own remarks here to just a few sentences, although having done that job for a year I could offer more than a few. As I say, the fact is that the Commission has made improvements from a slow start, but it has to go further: it has to have better and wider consultations; it has to involve small businesses in particular in consultations; in its impact assessments, it has to see how much more it could do to give a monetarised value of the likely impact of measures, and it should revisit its impact assessments to see how effective they were in predicting the actual cost of regulation.

So there is much more that still can be done about better regulation. However, this Commission, under President Barroso, has made real progress and there is a real appetite in member states to see further progress being made and the United Kingdom Government are at the cutting edge of that ambition.

Regarding the issue of justice and home affairs, our view is that there is now a genuine respect in the European Union for what one would call the common law tradition. The United Kingdom, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta primarily form what is called the common law club, but there is a real respect and sensitivity to the common law tradition and that is important.

In respect of economic migrants, countries already have flexibility. The United Kingdom, of course, chose one route in terms of openness of Labour markets on economic migrants. At that time, Sweden, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom took one view and 22 other member states—I think that was the total—took a different view.

On agency workers, we think that our approach is right. The deal that we have come to with the CBI and TUC, which is now being agreed in Europe, is the right approach for the United Kingdom. It reflects the nature of the structure of the UK economy and the relative importance of temporary employment in the UK, notwithstanding the fact that the UK has a much lower level of temporary employment than many other EU member states that have signed up to a different version of a deal on agency workers.

Regarding regulation of the financial markets, I apologise again to the hon. Member for Aylesbury for my earlier intervention from a sedentary position; I was aiming to be helpful, rather than to show poor manners, by saying that what we are talking about is transparency. Transparency is really what we are talking about, both in global markets and in European markets, and we would do nothing that would jeopardise the competitive advantage of the City of London. We are not interested in doing that—it is not a conversation that we will get involved in—but it is important that we have transparency.

Finally, a small number of technical points were raised and I will just address one. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton asked about shared partnerships; I am surprised that he is uncharacteristically under-briefed, as I read out my brief to him. Shared partnerships is about the single market review and about using a wider range of policy tools; it is a non-legislative approach to modernise the single market, based on consultation with business and member states, and it is also about improving administrative capacity and co-operation, and building on synergies and taking, as I say, a non-legislative approach where that is possible. I am delighted to remind the hon. Gentleman that that is the working definition of shared partnerships.

With that, I would like to thank hon. Members for their participation in today’s debate. We have had a thoughtful debate, free from the usual, tiresome rehearsal of clichés and point-scoring. As a consequence, we have had a relatively much more informed debate and I thank all hon. Members for that and also, of course, you yourself, Mr. Bayley, for presiding over our proceedings today.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at six minutes past Five o’clock.