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European Council

Volume 478: debated on Monday 23 June 2008

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the European Council held in Brussels that I attended with the Foreign Secretary on 19 and 20 June. The main business of the Council on Thursday and Friday evening was to focus on the economic challenges ahead—the triple challenge of rising oil prices, rising food prices and, because of the credit crunch, the rising cost of money—and, in the wake of the US downturn, on measures to keep the European economy moving forward.

Important conclusions were also reached on the Irish referendum, on climate change, on the millennium development goals and on the European response to the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe. On Thursday evening, in the discussion on the Irish referendum vote, the Irish Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, offered to the Council meeting in October a report on the next stage for Ireland. The Council held that other member states will continue with their ratification processes and I was able to report for the UK that—like in 18 other countries—the Lisbon treaty had completed its parliamentary process and that the Bill received Royal Assent on Thursday. Once we have received the judgment in the ongoing legal case, we will move to ratification.

This time last year the price of oil was about $65 a barrel. At the last European Council in March it stood at $107. At the June Council, the oil price had risen further still to more than $135 a barrel. The global challenge that we face is a rising demand for oil—particularly from China and the other emerging economies now and in the future—that has so far been only partly met by an increase in supply, driving up fuel bills for families across the whole of Europe. Governments are taking action domestically to help—including our winter allowance and the new agreement that we have signed with utility companies for low-income households—but we know that those are ultimately global problems that require global solutions. The shared European view is that we must take action to reduce our dependence on oil and to improve our energy efficiency.

The new technology of carbon capture and storage will help us continue to use coal, oil and gas in a way that avoids harmful emissions, so earlier this year we reiterated our commitment to move forward with up to 12 commercial scale carbon capture and storage plants by 2015. Last week, accepting UK arguments about the importance and urgency of the matter, the Council called on the Commission to bring forward an incentive mechanism to achieve that goal. Britain is ready to have the first such plant in Europe.

Transport will account for two thirds of future increases in oil demand so improving fuel efficiency and exploring alternatives to petrol and diesel is essential to incentivise innovation among car manufacturers. The UK will continue to push for a commitment to an EU-wide car emissions target of 100 g per kilometre by 2020—down from 160 g, and a 40 per cent. reduction—saving the British family about £500 a year in fuel costs. At Britain’s urging, the Council also agreed to explore the scope to accelerate the introduction of commercially viable electric vehicles and the infrastructure that their widespread use would require across the EU. Generating electricity is significantly less carbon intensive than using oil, and with all major car manufacturers—including all UK-based ones—now close to developing commercially viable hybrid and electric vehicles, they have the potential to reduce our dependency on oil and our carbon emissions as well as to create thousands of jobs in the British automotive industry.

All those measures will help to meet our overall target of reducing carbon emissions by 20 per cent. by 2020—or by 30 per cent. as part of a wider international agreement—but these decisions are made in the context of a dialogue between oil producers and consumers, where both should commit to greater transparency and a better balance between supply and demand. The Council therefore welcomed Saudi Arabia’s high-level meeting between oil producers and consumers, which I attended, in Jeddah this weekend. I am today writing to all European leaders to inform them of the results of the Jeddah process, which will lead to a follow-up summit in London later this year. I can tell the House that the summit discussed measures to deliver a more sustainable global oil price, to reduce the risks and uncertainty that can increase prices and to ensure greater investment in oil production as well as energy efficiency and alternatives to oil.

I proposed that Britain and other oil consumers should open up our markets to new investment from oil producers in all forms of energy, including renewables and nuclear, providing all producers with a long-term future in non-oil energy. In return, oil producers should be open to increased funding and expertise in oil exploration and development through co-operation with external investors, providing increased oil supply in the medium term while growing economies adjust to a less oil-intense long-term future. The House will know that Saudi Arabia announced at the summit its increases in oil production.

The prices of rice and wheat are now double what they were only a year ago. Higher food prices cause concern to many of us here at home, but in poor countries, where food often accounts for more than half a family’s spending, they can be even more devastating. To tackle rising prices both here and overseas and to help boost agricultural production, the Council agreed to implement the conclusions of the Rome food summit. It also agreed to assess the evidence of the indirect impact of biofuel, and the UK’s Gallagher review on the indirect impact, due to report shortly, will be part of that process.

We also committed to work towards a successful outcome to the Doha trade round, where eliminating trade-distorting subsidies and import restrictions could increase global gross domestic product by as much as $300 billion a year by 2015. That is something that I have discussed with President Bush, President Lula, Chancellor Merkel and President Barroso as well as with the European Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, in recent days. I believe that while we are at the eleventh hour in getting a trade deal, a trade deal is definitively within our grasp.

The European Union must take action on the elements of the common agricultural policy that raise the cost of food for consumers across Europe. Removing incentives for taking arable land out of production, for example, could reduce cereal prices by up to 5 per cent. The Council agreed to re-examine the issues of fair competition and sustainable agriculture.

As part of the year of action on the millennium development goals, and ahead of the G8 in July and the United Nations meeting in September, the European Council signed up to an agenda for action that reaffirms EU aid targets and sets specific milestones for the developing countries, to be achieved by 2010: increased European investment of €4 billion to recruit 6 million more teachers, and, on health, an extra €8 billion to help save 4 million children’s lives and provide for 75 million more bed nets against mosquitoes in Africa. I will be pushing the G8 in July to ensure that we have as a world the 120 million nets that we need, so that every child in every family in the world is able to sleep safely at night. The Commission has also agreed to establish millennium development goal contracts, linking European Union spending to specific and agreed outcomes by developing countries, that will secure value for money. I am pleased to announce a British contribution of £200 million to that fund.

The Council also discussed the deteriorating political and humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe. In recent weeks under Mugabe’s increasingly desperate and criminal regime, Zimbabwe has seen more than 80 killings, 2,700 beatings, the displacement of 34,000 people and the arrest and detention of Opposition leaders, including Tendai Biti and Morgan Tsvangirai. In the face of that unacceptable situation, the European Council reiterated its readiness to take further measures against those responsible for the violence. We will seek to impose travel and financial sanctions on those in the inner circle of the criminal cabal running the regime.

The House knows that since the Council met last week, the situation has deteriorated further still. As a number of African Presidents and Ministers have already stated, the regime has made it impossible to hold free and fair elections in Zimbabwe, and state-sponsored terror and intimidation have put the Opposition in an untenable position. Our thoughts are with the people of Zimbabwe, who are facing an unprecedented level of violence and intimidation from the regime. The whole world is of one view: that the status quo cannot continue. The African Union has called for the violence to end. The current Government—with no parliamentary majority, having lost the first round of the presidential elections and holding power only because of violence and intimidation—are a regime who should not be recognised by anyone.

The UN Security Council will meet later today. The Foreign Secretary will make a detailed statement in a few minutes following the discussions that he and I, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Africa, Lord Malloch-Brown, have held with African leaders. Today, I have talked to the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon; to the president of the African Union, Mr. Kikwete; to the President of South Africa; and to Morgan Tsvangirai himself. Members of the Southern African Development Community and the African Union leadership will want to meet to discuss the emergency. We understand that there are plans for meetings very soon, and we support that happening quickly.

We urge that SADC observers’ evaluations of the seriousness of the situation on the ground be made public immediately so that the whole world can witness the truth about what has been happening. We urge that the UN and the African Union work together with SADC to send envoys and a mission to Zimbabwe to discuss the situation on the ground and the way forward. We believe that the UN envoy should be allowed to return immediately to examine the human rights violations. The international community must send a powerful and united message: that we will not recognise the fraudulent election rigging and the violence and intimidation of a criminal and discredited cabal. We are ready to offer substantial help for the reconstruction of Zimbabwe once democracy has been restored.

The Council also expressed its ongoing concern about the humanitarian situation in Burma in the aftermath of the cyclone and called for a return to democracy and the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. We made clear our continued determination to play a leading role in ensuring peace and stability in Kosovo.

Our national interest is, and remains, a strong Britain in a strong European Union. We will continue to focus on an outward-looking European agenda that tackles in an effective way the global, economic, environmental and development issues that affect us all. That is what the Council sought to do at its June meeting, and that is what the Government will be doing in the run-up to the French presidency that starts in July. I commend this statement to the House.

May I first welcome what the Prime Minister said about the millennium development goals and about Burma?

On Zimbabwe, we welcome what the Prime Minister says about the EU widening sanctions on members of that regime, but will he make sure that it really happens this time? Will the Government press for a UN commission of inquiry into the abuses of human rights, with a view to future action by the International Criminal Court? Vitally—he hinted at this, but perhaps he could go further—will he set out a detailed rescue package for the post-Mugabe era to make it absolutely clear that when Mugabe goes we will do all that we can to breathe new life into that country and into those people who have suffered so much? But is not there something else that we can do? Should not we now make it clear that we are prepared to withdraw international recognition from Mugabe’s regime to say to him and his henchmen: “You are no longer the legitimate Government of the country you are terrorising”? The Foreign Secretary shakes his head, but the Prime Minister’s statement was so opaque that perhaps he can be a little bit clearer in his reply about withdrawing recognition. If he rattles these things off like a machine gun, it is extremely difficult for people to follow things. Let me take this nice and slowly so that he can concentrate.

Let me turn to the cost of living. There are three key policy areas where the EU has real power to affect the cost of living—free trade, reforming agriculture and, crucially, keeping its own costs under control. On that basis, was not the European Council a huge disappointment? On free trade, there was nothing more than platitudes. There was no new action on the common agricultural policy, and not a mention of the EU keeping its own costs under control. Meanwhile, at a time of rising living costs, have not our own Government given up £7 billion of our rebate—taxpayers’ hard-earned money—with nothing in return?

The Prime Minister rightly focused on the price of oil and the need to encourage renewables and new technology. We welcome what he says about the 100 g carbon dioxide target for new cars by 2020—that is, I can announce, another Conservative policy introduced by this Government. Given his enthusiasm, though, why is he going ahead with the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station without carbon capture and storage, why has he done so little on tidal and wave power, and why is he dragging his feet on feed-in tariffs? Clearly, the supply of crude oil is important, but what is he proposing to do about the danger that prices are being driven higher because financial institutions are investing so heavily in commodities, including oil?

At the heart of this European Council was the issue of the Irish referendum. The Prime Minister said so little about Ireland, I thought that he was about to tell us that it was a far-away country of which we know little. Did not the Prime Minister face a very clear choice? He could have done the difficult thing and declared the treaty dead, or he could have done the easy thing, and joined others in starting the process of bullying Ireland into a second referendum. Is it not the case that in taking the latter path, he has let down the people of Ireland, let down Britain and let down Europe? Can the Prime Minister really explain why he has done this?

Governments of this country, whether Labour or Conservative, have never wanted a European constitution, with a European President, a European Foreign Minister and a European diplomatic service. Even Tony Blair was clear, when the process started, in saying that he did not want a constitution. The Prime Minister has only ever attempted to sell the treaty on the basis of what he has opted out of, rather than anything positive in the document. So why, when the only people given the chance to speak say no, does he fail to show any leadership? Even Tony Blair was better than this. When France and the Netherlands voted the treaty down in its original form, Tony Blair halted ratification and said that people were

“blowing the trumpets round the city walls.”

Why did the Prime Minister not give the same sort of lead following the Irish vote? [Interruption.] I have not only read the treaty; I have also looked at your website.

Is it not the case that anyone arguing against this treaty is met with four entirely bogus arguments? First, the Government say that it is time to stop talking about institutional reform. If that is the case, what is the Prime Minister doing supporting a new institutional treaty? Secondly, he said last week that the treaty is absolutely essential for enlargement. Is it not the case that that is simply untrue? The Labour Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee—I am glad to see him in his place—has said that that is

“not legally true, and…not politically true either.”—[Official Report, 18 June 2008; Vol. 477, c. 980.]

Instead of giving cover to those who want to slow down or halt the enlargement process, will the Prime Minister correct that statement today? Thirdly, he says that if the treaty is killed off, we would be isolated in Europe. But is that not wrong too? On our side, against this steady creation of a European state, are the Dutch voters, the French voters and now the Irish voters.

Is not his final argument the most bogus of all? He says that any party that chooses to talk about the loss of national vetoes, the dangers of a European superstate or giving people a vote in a referendum is somehow backward-looking and indulgent in old politics. Does he not see that what is backward-looking is the political elite in Brussels, endlessly coming up with new powers to transfer to a European Union without giving anyone a say? In every other walk of life, people are being given more control, more choice and more freedom. That is the new politics. When is the Prime Minister going to wake up and realise that the European Union is going in entirely the wrong direction?

A year ago, the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing street and said that he would protect the British way of life, build trust in government and bring the change that could not

“be met by the old politics”.

But let us look at what he has done: he has brought back a constitution, pretending it is a new treaty—[Hon. Members: “No!”] Yes. He is taking part in the bullying of a small country that has voted against it, and insisting on driving through the treaty without allowing the British people a say on it. Half-truths, ignoring democracy, breaking promises and shutting people out when they should be given a say: can you get any more old politics than that?

Let me start with Zimbabwe. We all know about the deterioration of the situation—on that, we are agreed—but I would like the House to know the extent to which we will work with other countries to try to find a way forward for the people of Zimbabwe that avoids violence, brings an end to intimidation and allows them to have a fully democratic Government in their country.

It is right that sanctions have been placed against the bank accounts of 130 people. It is also right that the European Union, at our prompting, is considering further financial and travel sanctions not only against those individuals, but against others and their families. We know the names of the people responsible for running the criminal cabal surrounding Mugabe in Zimbabwe, and we are determined to force through the sanctions and to track down the money that is in their accounts in other countries.

It is also right that we are taking action through the Security Council. I spoke to the Secretary-General earlier this afternoon, and it is right that the Security Council expresses, through a presidential statement, its distaste for what has happened, its desire for an end to violence and its call for democracy to be restored in Zimbabwe. I have spoken to the other African leaders, as has the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Africa. Many of those leaders signed a statement last week, calling for democracy in Zimbabwe, and they, too, are appalled by the recent turn of events and understand the frustrations that have led the opposition party to pull out of the elections, but they want a positive way forward that avoids an extension of the violence. I call on the African Union and the Southern African Development Community, working with the United Nations, to send a mission to Zimbabwe so that we can see a way forward from today’s events.

The Leader of the Opposition mentioned the human rights situation in Zimbabwe. The United Nations has sent an envoy, who has been in Harare and is now in Pretoria. We would like the Government of Zimbabwe to allow him to return so that he can report to the world on the human rights situation. The whole world now sees the regime for what it is, and there is a consensus in the House that what has happened is intolerable. We want an immediate end to violence because the loss of life is unacceptable, but we also need a way forward for the people of Zimbabwe.

I confirm to the Leader of the Opposition that we have not only offered help for reconstruction, but are working with other countries on a detailed plan to help the Zimbabwean people so that, once democracy is restored, reconstruction can happen, poverty can be alleviated—many people are not even getting food aid at the moment, even though non-governmental organisations want to get it to them—and Zimbabwe’s economy, which should be one of the strongest in Africa, can be restored to its proper place, delivering jobs and prosperity to the people of that country.

On recognition, I made it clear that we do not recognise the regime as legitimate. That has been made clear for many weeks and it is clear in the statement that I gave the right hon. Gentleman before the questions today.

We are working hard to ensure that a trade deal takes place. Discussions are happening at the moment and I hope that there will be a ministerial meeting soon. I hope that, before we go to the G8, we can make progress on getting a signal that protectionism is unacceptable around the world. A world trade deal will, incidentally, help developing countries. After all, it is the Doha trade deal.

The Leader of the Opposition said that we had announced the go-ahead for a coal power station. That is not the case—the matter is still under discussion. We want to move forward on wind and wave power in the United Kingdom. There are local planning objections, some from members of the Conservative party, to wind power, but we are determined to move forward with our renewables objectives. A full statement on that matter will be made on Thursday.

I come now to the right hon. Gentleman’s objections to the discussion in Europe on the Irish referendum. Let me make it clear that the Irish reported to us and said that they wanted time to discuss the matter in their country. They also said that they wanted to report to the Council. It is for the Irish to make their position known, and they made it absolutely clear. The Irish Government made it clear that they were not seeking to persuade other countries not to ratify the treaty. That is why the Leader of the Opposition is isolated in Europe; he claims that other European Governments are with him, but every other country is moving ahead with the ratification process because, unlike him, they believe the first words of the declaration of Brussels almost a year ago: the constitutional concept has been abandoned and the reform treaty is very different from the original treaty, which has been forsworn. He asks whose voice has been heard—this Parliament’s voice has been heard and he should respect the fact that the House of Commons and the House of Lords both voted in favour of the treaty; otherwise it could not have received royal consent.

The right hon. Gentleman wants environmental co-operation round the world, but refuses to support co-operation in Europe. He wants to tackle poverty in Europe, but refuses to support the social chapter and wants to repatriate social policy. He wants a world trade deal, but that can happen only through Europe working as Europe to make that possible. He wants action on food prices, but that, as well as action on issues related to the economy, can be best done by being part of the European Union. I sometimes think that the Conservative party forgets that nearly 60 per cent. of our trade is with Europe and that 3 million jobs depend on our membership of the European Union. The Conservative party is isolated not only in Europe, but in the perverse view that blames everything on Europe, when Europe is delivering many good things for the British people.

I am grateful to the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement.

Compared with other six-monthly European Union summits, last week’s was not a hugely significant one. In truth, it was more about catching up with fast-moving developments than about setting the pace for the future. Rather than being their master, the summit was in many ways a slave to events, whether the aftermath of the Irish vote on the Lisbon treaty or the unscheduled spat between the French President and the Prime Minister’s good friend, the EU Trade Commissioner.

On the Lisbon treaty, the Prime Minister is right, of course, that we need to respect the need for the Irish Government to consider their next steps before October. However, as a supporter of the treaty, I none the less worry that we might soon make the best the enemy of the good. Uncertainty beyond October would genuinely raise the spectre of a paralysed European Union, unable to deliver concrete benefits to European citizens. So will he give some assurance that the treaty’s fate, whatever one thinks about it, will be sealed one way or another in October and that we will not be pitched into months of further uncertainty about the treaty?

On the issue of Zimbabwe, I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to working in the European Union and the United Nations. I hope that the international community will consider all the options available, including the case for stopping foreign currency remittances into Zimbabwe, restricting electricity supplies from South Africa and Mozambique, and encouraging the Southern African Development Community to take more action. However, does the Prime Minister agree that there are more things that he could do now, here? Will he, for instance, consider allowing asylum seekers who are fleeing Mugabe’s brutal regime to live and work temporarily in the United Kingdom, until such time as Zimbabwe is more stable and they can return home?

I also welcome the summit conclusions in favour of carbon capture and storage technology. However, how does the Prime Minister square that approach and the summit’s unambiguous conclusion with the strong indications that his Government will go ahead with a new generation of dirty coal power stations that are CCS ready, but not CCS functional, such as the one at Kingsnorth?

Finally, it is good to see the European Union grappling with the issue of food and fuel prices. However, the Prime Minister’s summit-hopping, from Europe to Jeddah, is not enough. We need him to take practical steps here at home, too. So will he emulate the example of other European Union countries, such as Spain, whose Government have clawed back some of the massive subsidies that energy-generating companies have been handed on a plate through the European emissions trading scheme, to compel energy companies to help the fuel poor and to promote energy efficiency in our homes on the scale that is now urgently needed?

I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about Zimbabwe. All of us are appalled by the violence taking place, and all of us are looking for a way forward. Each asylum case is dealt with on an individual basis, but I will consider what he has said about that. However, he must agree that the priority is to see an end to the violence in Zimbabwe and a way forward that allows democracy to be properly in existence there, and then, once democracy is restored, to see how we can help with the reconstruction of that country.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned carbon capture. We are leading the rest of the European Union in seeking to have the first demonstration plant, and then the first commercial plant, for carbon capture. We want the EU to provide a mechanism by which that will be possible, because it is an expensive thing to do. We are urging the Council—I hope that he would support this—to ensure that, from the budget of the European Union, there is a means by which carbon capture can be given some support.

The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned food and oil. I agree with him that they are the major problems that many households up and down the country face, with the cost of food in the supermarket and the cost of petrol at the petrol pumps, as well as gas and electricity bills being higher as a result of the oil price. However, he underestimates the extent to which we have raised the winter allowance. We have provided additional help for insulation, which was billions of pounds in previous years and will be billions of pounds in the years to come, to help people insulate and draught-proof their houses, and to make energy-efficient and environmentally sensitive adjustments. When the right hon. Gentleman talks about the utility companies, I think that he has forgotten that we have just negotiated a deal that gives us £150 million a year after next year—the deal will go for many years—to provide extra money to give help to low-income households.

The right hon. Gentleman’s first point was about the report on Ireland. We have said to the Irish Government that it is for them to come forward with their proposals. It is for them to suggest, as they have done, that they need time to look at this. They will then submit a report to the Council in October. At a time when we have 26 other countries moving towards ratification, the Irish will come to us with their views about what can be done, and we will look at the matter in October. It is fair to give the Irish Government the time to assess the situation and then bring their proposals forward to us.

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, and particularly for his remarks about Zimbabwe and Burma. He also referred to Kosovo. Will he give the House more information about what discussions were held on the progress of the implementation of the EU-led programme for the judicial and police takeover in Kosovo, and on the prospect of the enlargement of the European Union and the ongoing discussions with Croatia about further enlargement in the western Balkans?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question; he takes a huge interest in these matters. There was a long discussion about the proposals for the next stage for Kosovo at the Council meeting and at the Foreign Ministers’ dinner the night before, and the UN Secretary-General’s proposals for reconfiguring the support that is given to Kosovo were mentioned. The EU will take a bigger role in future and I believe that, despite all the differences that have been expressed over Kosovo, there was a general welcome for the proposals.

Having lived and worked in Zimbabwe, may I suggest to the Prime Minister that the collapse of law and order in that country has now reached a point at which it is no longer a question simply of the internal trauma of the Zimbabwean people? There is now a threat to the stability of the whole of southern Africa. Does the Prime Minister agree that perhaps the only key to progress lies with the African Union and with SADC? Will he try to impress upon the leaders in southern Africa, who are now speaking out more eloquently than they have done before, that the answer is not simply a mission to Zimbabwe but a withholding of recognition of Mugabe’s Government by the African Union and SADC, and a threat to the Zimbabwe Government that they will be suspended from the African Union and SADC, if they do not embark immediately on the necessary reforms?

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that question. I know of his great interest in Zimbabwe and that he worked at the university there for some time. I have talked to him about that on previous occasions. He is absolutely right to say that African leaders must be vocal in their condemnation of what is happening. I sense that the surrounding leaders are becoming increasingly angry and appalled by the events that are taking place, and that they are now prepared to speak out against them. He is also right to say that we should discuss all possible measures to ease the situation there. I agree with him that a mission to Zimbabwe in itself is only the first stage in dealing with the problems that exist. I also agree that none of the African states should recognise the legitimacy of the Mugabe regime, and they should certainly not recognise any elections—if they go ahead—that take place at the end of the week.

I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will sense from the conversations with African leaders that I have mentioned, and from the statements that they have made, that there is a new mood in Africa that is unprepared to accept the violence, the intimidation, the lack of democracy and the poverty and degradation that have been forced upon the Zimbabwean people. He is in good company in saying that the whole world must speak out and give no legitimacy to that regime. It is time that we supported the people of Zimbabwe, who want democratic rule and a return to prosperity.

I would like to ask my right hon. Friend many questions about the policy issues, but I am afraid that there is a great barrier between my wish and the reality. That barrier is the Irish referendum. It is quite clear from all the legal advice and the Crotty decision that Ireland would require another referendum or amendments to be made to the constitution, the Lisbon treaty—[Interruption.] You know what I said about that in the past. The treaty would have to be amended in some way to allow Ireland to have an opt-in or an opt-out in the way that Denmark had. That would then require re-ratification by all 27 countries.

It seems to me that everyone expected something more enlightening and open than just waiting to see what we can get the Irish to come up with. I urge the Prime Minister to tell us whether anything else went on at the Council and to give some hope to those who want to see the European Union expand that there was more in it than simply waiting to see whether the Irish can somehow change their minds.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is also Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee and provided the House with a report previously. I think that he would agree, however, that in the situation in which we find ourselves, when 26 countries are moving ahead towards ratification, but one country after a referendum is unable to do so, we should give that country time to consider the position. There are many reasons that the Taoiseach will want to look at in reflecting on the result of the referendum and many issues were not exclusively concerned with the treaty itself. There are reasons such as the state of the economy and other matters in Ireland, as well as the provisions of the treaty, that could have contributed to the result—[Hon. Members: “Ah.”] I have to say that the Taoiseach has set these issues out in speeches over the last few days, which provides all the more reason for listening to the Irish Government as they review what has happened and make progress towards making a statement to the European Council in October. That is the right way to proceed—to be sensitive to what the Irish Government will wish to say.

Is it not patently clear that people such as Mugabe and those around him, who have been responsible for the murder of scores of people, who have brutalised thousands and wiped out the livelihoods of millions, should now be brought within the ambit of international criminal law? Will the right hon. Gentleman make a commitment to that as a matter of Government policy?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising the issue of conditions in Zimbabwe. The Foreign Secretary will be making a further more detailed statement about what is happening there. The Zimbabwean Government are not signatories to the International Criminal Court provisions and it would require a motion by the UN Security Council to bring them within those provisions. We will of course look into everything that needs to be done, but the priority now is to secure an end to the violence and a way forward for the people of Zimbabwe and then to secure the reconstruction of the country. I have already mentioned the action that we propose to take in respect of imposing travel, financial and other economic sanctions on the criminal cabal around Mugabe.

May I assure the Prime Minister that, notwithstanding the comments of the leader of the Liberal Democrats, every European Council is significant and every European Council reflects the forward march of the Union? In respect of the question about the Irish raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), the House should welcome the statement of the Taoiseach to come back in October and explain and define how the Republic of Ireland will stay at the heart of Europe.

As to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) about enlargement to the east, does the Prime Minister agree that such enlargement of the 27 member states cannot take place uniquely on the back of the treaty of Nice?

I think it is generally recognised that the treaty of Nice contains provisions that make it very difficult for the EU to move ahead with 27 members. At one stage, the Opposition parties wanted a referendum on the treaty of Nice and now they want us to govern Europe by the treaty of Nice; I think the best way ahead is to implement the reform treaty. It is right to listen to what the Irish Government say and it is right for them to review the situation. That is clearly the best way forward and I would have thought that every sensible Member in the House would support it on that basis.

Like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), I served in Rhodesia, as it was called in those days, in 1979 in order to bring universal suffrage to that country. I was proud of our position then, but I am not particularly proud of ours or Europe’s right now. Does not the secret to providing a solution lie in Pretoria and Beijing? Is it not time that we said in no uncertain terms to the Chinese that if they wish to be accepted as a decent nation, they should stop supporting violent regimes such as Mugabe’s? If we also said to President Mbeki, who is almost alone in South Africa in supporting that man, that if he pulled out the stops, made Zimbabwe a pariah state, cut off all support and said to Mugabe, “Go or we will finish you”, he would be gone in a week.

I understand the knowledge of the situation that the right hon. Gentleman has given from when he was in the country many years ago. I have to say to him that the UN Security Council will meet this afternoon and I believe that there will be a presidential statement. That will require the countries that are part of the UN Security Council and that play a part in its affairs, including the ones he has mentioned, to be able to support that statement. I hope that they will support a statement that says in the strongest terms that the violence is unacceptable. What has led to the opposition leader pulling out of the election is perfectly understandable and a way forward has to be found for the Zimbabwean people, but that will be discussed by the UN Security Council later this afternoon.

I talked to President Mbeki before I came to the House this afternoon and urged it upon him that there had to be a solution and a way forward found, but he, too, will in my view join the statement that will be made by the UN later this afternoon, which shows that South Africa, too, wants an end to the violence and a solution to the problems we face.

First, I congratulate the Prime Minister on the considerable success of the summit and on the meeting in Saudi Arabia. Does he agree that true leadership consists of being guided by the long-term interests of the country and that, in the case of the EU, that means playing a central, constructive and, indeed, leading role, and in not constantly picking quarrels, sending signals that we do not want to be part of the venture at all and for ever playing to the gallery?

The Conservative party, as everybody knows, is isolated in Europe. It not only wants to renegotiate this treaty, but it would have renegotiated the other treaties signed under this Government—Amsterdam and Nice. It wants to withdraw from the social chapter and from social policy in Europe. It has no support in any other part of Europe for doing so. It should start to recognise that it is isolated in Europe. If the Conservatives were in power, we would be in the second division as a result of it.

In response to the global energy crisis and, in particular, to help hard-pressed sectors such as the hauliers, the French Government tabled a proposal at the European Council to introduce a cap on fuel taxes when oil prices reach $150 a barrel. The Austrian Government proposed a windfall tax on oil speculators, who have been heavily criticised by the US Congress and American regulators recently. Surely that is a more attractive proposal than going cap in hand to authoritarian regimes in the middle east. Did the Prime Minister support the French and Austrian initiatives?

As far as speculation is concerned, the EU, like the American Congress and other bodies including the Treasury in Britain, is looking at the forces at work in the marketplace. If there is any speculative activity, which is market manipulation, they will report on its existence. On the hon. Gentleman’s other proposal concerning VAT and the discussion on it, the Council agreed to look at all proposals that the different countries were putting forward. A report will come on that in the next few months.

We will look at those proposals, but the hon. Gentleman should also know that we in Britain have done what many other countries have not. We have raised the winter allowance for pensioners to help them with their fuel bills; we have negotiated a deal with the utilities to help low-income households; and we have frozen petrol duty, as we did in the Budget, for the next few months. The Chancellor will announce later what we will do in future.

Following the Irish no, there have been suggestions that work is going on that tries to disaggregate the Lisbon treaty into those things that could be brought in without treaty amendment and those that are institutional changes that could be piggy-backed on to a Croatian accession treaty. Will the Prime Minister give an undertaking to the House that if any British official is involved in any such negotiations, he will inform the House either in writing if the House is in recess or in a statement, or via the Select Committees?

While I welcome what the Prime Minister has said about Zimbabwe, may I ask him to take up the opportunity presented by Nelson Mandela’s visit to this country? Although Mr. Mandela, who has unrivalled moral authority in southern Africa, has retired from international politics, will the Prime Minister seek to persuade him to appeal to President Mbeki and say to him that the image of southern Africa is tarnished further by every minute that this evil man remains in power in Zimbabwe? He should be given the opportunity to go quietly, but if he does not do so, he should be put in the proper place, which is in the dock at The Hague.

I will raise those matters with President Mandela when I meet him later this week. The whole world is appalled at the violence and everybody who has a love of Africa is appalled at what is happening. Now that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned it, the whole House will want to send its best wishes to President Mandela on the occasion of his 90th birthday. He has been a true servant of Africa and of the world, and his courage is unsurpassed in modern times.

I thank the Prime Minister for a generally very helpful and welcome statement. May I ask him for assurances with regard to his view that there should be external investment in Britain’s nuclear industry, which is already causing some concern in the country? It strikes me, and perhaps others, that should investment come from certain Saudi quarters and nuclear stations be built with Saudi money, that would offer a tremendous security risk to the country.

Any nuclear work in this country, including nuclear stations, happens under the strictest of conditions attaching to both security and safety. Those conditions will be rigorously and strenuously upheld at all times. I must tell my hon. Friend that some of our nuclear industry already has external investment.

The European Council received a report on the extensive preparatory work already done on aspects of the Lisbon treaty, including the External Action Service or European foreign ministry. Given that the treaty can no longer come into effect, certainly not on 1 January, did the Prime Minister take a lead and demand that all that anticipatory work stop immediately, or is he, on that as on everything else, continuing to defy the verdict of the Irish people?

That work is not going ahead in the Foreign Office, and nor was it discussed at the European Council. We are very clear that there must be unanimity on the foreign policy issues raised by the treaty—that is the condition on which we signed it.

My right hon. Friend will recall the December 2001 Laeken declaration triggering a process to bring about the objectives of making the EU more transparent, democratic and efficient, and fit for a Europe of more than 27. Given the deliberations of the Irish and the difficulties that they face, will he do everything in his power to see that those original objectives are achieved at the October Council?

My hon. Friend is right that there are many questions that the Irish Government will want to consider as a result of the defeat in the referendum on supporting the European treaty. Those are the kind of issues that they will consider as they prepare the report for the October meeting of the European Council. It is not for me to say exactly what they will come forward with; that is a matter for them. But I am absolutely sure that they will want an open, transparent and democratic European Union.

The Prime Minister mentioned the increase in Saudi oil production. Does he believe that that is a result of his visit to the region and his personal intervention, or that it was a decision made prior to his arrival?

It was a decision made by the Saudi Government as the right decision to increase oil production around the world. All oil producers are sensitive to the fact that demand for oil is rising very quickly, as a result not just of what is happening in China, India and Asia, but of the growth in the oil-producing countries themselves. Supply will have to adjust to meet that demand. There are many ways of doing that: to find alternative sources of supply than oil, such as nuclear and renewables; and to make the use of oil more efficient, through improved technology for running vehicles and other means of conserving energy. One way forward will be that those oil suppliers who have the capacity to do so should use that capacity to increase their production of oil. The Saudi Government are aware that many people have argued that it is important that they increase their production where they can, and that is what they announced yesterday.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing the pilot scheme for carbon capture and storage to the United Kingdom; only through that means will we deal with the Chinese and Indian problem. If we can develop carbon capture and storage in a way that can be sold, it will be a big step forward. If he wants to do that, the billions of tonnes of coal in the United Kingdom should be used for that purpose, and I suggest that the plant should be in Scotland.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the United Kingdom’s energy resources. I can also tell him that we are working on a carbon capture and storage project with the Chinese.

Does the Prime Minister share my view that Croatia should accede to European Union membership on schedule, or does he believe that it should be used as a pawn in a vain and doomed attempt to save the Lisbon treaty?

When I met the Croatian Prime Minister last week, I told him that it is this Government’s view that Croatia should not be held back from its membership of the European Union, that the negotiations should proceed as planned, and that we hoped that the timetable for membership could be met. Of course, Croatia must meet the conditions for membership, but I have every reason to believe that it is working to meet those conditions, that it will meet them, and that it is in the interests of Europe for it to meet them.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the leadership that he has shown on the issue of future vehicles, which is enormously important to the British economy. We have a very complex transition to undergo, and if Britain is to play a leading role, we must also manage the manufacture of internal combustion engines and secure the maximum efficiency from them. May I urge him to bring together representatives of power generation, oil refining and the vehicle industry, and to create a high-level summit to work out the best way forward for the strategy?

I shall be happy to do that. My hon. Friend has fought hard for the car industry in this country, as well as fighting for the best environmental standards. The United Kingdom will continue to lead the battle in Europe to secure a lower car emissions target. We are aware of the sensitivities relating to particular models in the United Kingdom and will bear them in mind, but it is important to recognise that the prize ahead of us is a 40 per cent. reduction in emissions as a result of what we do. That is why I think that my hon. Friend’s proposal should commend itself to Members in all parts of the House.

Article 6 of the European Union constitutional treaty states that following ratification:

“The instruments of ratification shall be deposited with the Government of the Italian Republic”

by each country. Does the Prime Minister intend, if Stuart Wheeler loses his case, to deposit the United Kingdom’s instrument of ratification in Rome—yes or no?

Yes, we would hope to move forward, but we are confident that we will win the case in the courts. We believe that we have the right case and a good case. Let me clear up matters for the House. We wrote to the judge saying that we knew he was considering these matters and we wanted to proceed to ratification. He asked us if we would wait until he had given his judgment. We were happy to do so, and we now know that his judgment will come this week. What that judgment will be is of course a matter for the judge, but we believe that we have a good case, and after that we will proceed to ratification.

May I draw the Prime Minister further on China? Can he tell me how we are to stop Chinese inward investment in Zimbabwe, and also reassure me that the money-laundering that is going on pertains to Chinese banks in Hong Kong and Beijing?

We will examine the matters that my hon. Friend has raised. Clearly, the sanctions that we are considering are sanctions on individual members of the regime, but I will look at what he has said. I believe that China will support the presidential statement from the United Nations today, and will support both an end to violence and the restoration of conditions in which democracy can happen and flourish in Zimbabwe.

The Prime Minister has said nothing about Afghanistan. Will he tell us whether he raised with the Governments of Germany and France the possibility of German and French troops being deployed in Helmand province in an operational role? Does he agree that the Government’s decision to deploy British forces in the province without assurances from the Governments of France and Germany that they would reinforce on request was an act of the grossest incompetence?

I have talked to the Chancellor of Germany and the President of France on a number of occasions about the challenges in Afghanistan. We must remember that more than 40 countries are involved in supporting efforts in Afghanistan both to secure law and order and to bring democracy and prosperity to the country.

Germany is active in pushing forward with the programme that all of us want to support, and is leading in respect of the training of police forces for the future in Afghanistan. It has just doubled the number of police forces there, and I applaud the Chancellor for taking that step. The French are to move troops to the east of Afghanistan, which will allow American marines to move to Helmand, thus strengthening the position there in the months to come.

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, last week the Secretary of State for Defence announced that we would reconfigure our troops in Afghanistan and ensure that there were additional troops there for the work that needs to be done. We all know of the sacrifices that British servicemen and women have made in Afghanistan. We are determined that those sacrifices will lead to the democracy that we want to see there and to greater prosperity for the Afghan people.

The Prime Minister will be aware that the first millennium development goal is the eradication of hunger, and while a 40 per cent. rise in global food prices over a year is painful for European consumers, it is catastrophic for the poorest living in developing countries. What impact does my right hon. Friend think the rise in food prices will have on the achievement of that millennium development goal, in particular with reference to Zimbabwe, 45 per cent. of whose population is currently dependent on food aid?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. The first thing that should happen in Zimbabwe is that the non-governmental organisations providing food aid should be allowed to do so; at present, hundreds of thousands of people are being denied food aid because the NGOs are not allowed to operate. My hon. Friend is also right that 100 million people face famine as a result of the increased food prices and the inability of many countries to deal with the food shortages in their midst. We are determined to work with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to do more about that. At the conference in Jeddah yesterday, the Saudi Arabians offered $1 billion extra for relief from the high oil and food prices and the problems facing the poorest countries, and we are talking to the World Bank about what more we can do together to meet the need for food around the world.

After the Jeddah meeting, can the Prime Minister answer some of the myths about the oil market, notably the myth that oil producers are deliberately withholding supply when spare capacity is only 2 per cent., and the myth perpetuated by the Conservative leader today that prices are where they are because of financial speculators rather than the underlying reality of rapidly rising demand and fixed supply?

On speculation, I have said in answer to another question that the Treasury is looking into that matter. An inquiry is going on within the IMF and the US authorities are conducting an examination. If there has been market manipulation, that will be exposed by the work being done. On supply, I am satisfied that many of the largest oil producers are trying to supply the market. The problem is that there has been insufficient investment in capacity and refining in previous years, and another problem is that some oil-producing countries get their oil to the marketplace in inefficient ways. These forces should be examined. That is why British oil companies, and oil companies from outside the region, should be allowed to invest, so that we have higher production and better refining in these areas. It is also why, reciprocally, we should agree that the oil producers should be able to diversify their portfolio and invest in other aspects of energy so that they have an interest in the stability of the whole energy market.

The last time the British people voted on the European Union they voted yes, and the Conservative party has never come to terms with the fact that Britain is part of the European Union and that it should remain at the centre of the European Union. Instead of using every excuse to oppose the European Union, it should start to recognise that if it has truly changed as a party, it would have changed its visceral opposition to the European Union.

Ahead of the start of the French presidency of the Council, what discussions did the Prime Minister have with President Sarkozy about French plans for greater defence co-operation in general, and the creation of EU-controlled defence forces?

I answered that question last Wednesday. We issued a statement after the meeting with President Sarkozy when he came to Britain only a few months ago. We outlined those areas where defence co-operation was not only taking place, but was good for Britain, Europe and the world. I said last Wednesday that those people who were trying to suggest that there would be a merger between the British and French navies were totally wrong, because when one examines the detail even of the French statement, one sees that it is made absolutely clear that there is to be co-operation and working together, not merger and amalgamation.