21st June 2010 House of Commons
Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the two soldiers who have lost their lives: Trooper Ashley Smith from the Royal Dragoon Guards; and a Royal Marine from 40 Commando Royal Marines. As the Prime Minister has said, 300 members of our forces have now given their lives in Afghanistan in the service of our country. We pay tribute to their bravery and honour their sacrifice, and our thoughts are with their families. I strongly agree with the Prime Minister about the cause for which our soldiers are fighting in Afghanistan: they are fighting there to keep our streets safe here. That is why the Opposition join the Government in support of our troops and their mission. As we approach Armed Forces day, let us remember all our servicemen and women, whether they are stationed abroad or at home. Their skill and courage are unsurpassed.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. First, may I endorse his support for the summit's declaration on Iran, which again shows that on issues of international concern, we who are EU member states have a bigger impact when we combine our efforts? Does he agree that while the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran remains a matter of the utmost concern, the international community is now more united than ever before in searching for a peaceful solution, and that the active EU diplomacy we have seen in recent years has played an important part in that? Will he tell us whether there is a timetable for further EU action on Iran? Will he confirm the importance not only of sanctions and diplomatic pressure, but of international engagement with the people of Iran? Will he therefore give an undertaking that the BBC Farsi service will be protected from any threats to the budget of the BBC World Service?
Secondly, may I also welcome the EU summit's strong commitment to meeting the millennium development goals by 2015 and the Prime Minister's endorsement of that? The terrible crisis of drought, food shortages and starvation in Niger is a vivid reason why we must have international action on development. Will he not be a stronger voice in the EU for the whole of the EU to make development a priority, if his Government continue to prioritise development? Following the Labour Government's commitment, the European Commission recommended that all EU member states should consider legislating to enshrine the 0.7% aid target, which the Labour Government established. Will the Prime Minister take forward in this Session of Parliament the Bill that we introduced to make that target legally binding?
Is it not the case that we can only be effective in Europe if what we say and do there is matched by what we say and do at home? In that regard, may I commend the Prime Minister on his reference in his pre-summit article to what he describes as the
"shocking inequality of women in many parts of Europe"
and what he says is the "urgent need for change"? If he recognises the "shocking inequality" of women elsewhere in Europe, can he act on it here? Will he show Europe that he means at home what he says in Brussels by committing himself to implementing the Equality Act 2010 as soon as possible and to pressing on with the plan to make employers publish the gender pay gap?
What will the Prime Minister do about his Tory MEPs who clearly have not got the message at all and abstained in the vote on the millennium development goals, and who voted against measures to combat gender inequality only last week. He thinks it is "shocking", but they seem to be all in favour of it.
The Council focused on economic growth, and I welcome the summit's adoption of the Europe 2020 strategy for growth, which stated that
"priority should be given to growth-friendly budgetary consolidation strategies"
"increasing the growth potential should be seen as paramount to ease fiscal adjustment in the long run."
In other words, it said, "Don't undermine growth when you're cutting borrowing", and, "You need growth to be able to bring borrowing down." According to the official summit conclusions, one of its main objectives is
"to unlock the EU's growth potential, starting with innovation and energy policies".
We agree with that. That is what the Prime Minister signed up to in Brussels. However, he is doing something very different here at home. How does it help growth to cut business investment support, and how does it
"unlock the EU's growth... starting with... energy"
to cancel the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters allowing it to build the next generation of nuclear power stations? Does this not mean that Europe, as well as the United Kingdom, will lose out as South Korea and Japan proceed with that work?
Let me turn to the important question of financial services. We welcome the intention to implement a new system of levies and taxes on financial institutions, and to explore an international approach. May I ask the Prime Minister to say more about the progress report on the work of the taskforce on economic governance? There is a British representative on it, and the taskforce has implications for the United Kingdom as well as for eurozone countries. Which, if any, aspects of enhanced economic governance might be applied to the United Kingdom?
This was the Prime Minister's first European Council. He is now representing our country in Europe. So is it not time for him to have a sensible rethink about the wisdom of continuing to exclude himself from the grouping of centre-right political leaders? The European People's party includes President Sarkozy, Chancellor Merkel, and the Prime Ministers of Sweden, Italy, Poland and many other countries; but instead of meeting them to prepare for the summit, the Prime Minister has a meeting with one Polish MEP to prepare for Britain's contribution.
The general election is over. The right hon. Gentleman is Prime Minister now. Will he put aside his pandering to his Europhobic Back Benchers and agree with his Liberal Democrat coalition partners on this point? That is what would be in Britain's interests.