I recently wrote to Simon Burns, the Minister with direct responsibility for HS2, on behalf of a constituent who had heard that an EU directive was forcing the UK Government to build HS2. As you will see from Mr Burns’ reply this is not the case.
Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category
I set off last Sunday afternoon for a three day visit to Washington and New York. My main purpose in going to Washington was to talk to people in the Obama administration and in Congress about the Balkans (the USA maintains a strong interest in countries like Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo and Albania), NATO and US-EU relations. I also gave a speech to the Atlantic Council about the Trans-Atlantic Relationship and visited the US Chamber of Commerce to discuss trade relations and the prospects for the Doha Round of global trade negotiations.
My visit coincided with tense negotiations between the President and Congress, Senate and House, Democrats and Republicans about the federal budget. A deal was finally concluded but the US federal government was only a few hours away from a total shutdown that would have left all but essential federal government services suspended and staff sent home without pay. Representative Dan Burton, the Indiana Republican who chairs the House of Representatives sub-committee on European affairs, welcomed me to his office with, as you can see, a magnificent view of the Capitol.
Then it was a three hour train ride to New York arriving on Tuesday night. Besides being America’s financial and business capital, New York is also home to the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly. The UN is playing a key role in helping to facilitate talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots with the aim of achieving a settlement to the Cyprus dispute. I am hoping to visit Cyprus a bit later this year and it was helpful to be briefed by senior UN officials on how they saw the situation on the island.
A little later, I took the United Kingdom’s seat at a meeting of the Security Council for a session on Haiti. As you’ll remember, Haiti, already one of the most desperately poor countries on earth, suffered a devastating earthquake in 2010. The UN has a humanitarian interest in Haiti and also has a peacekeeping force deployed there. Haiti has just completed the first round of a presidential and parliamentary election so that this was an appropriate time for a bit of stocktaking by the Security Council. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, had appointed former President Bill Clinton as his special representative for Haiti, and on Wednesday we heard from President Clinton and the outgoing Haitian President, M. Preval, about the reconstruction work that had been completed – and about how much more remained to be done. During my own speech, I confirmed the United Kingdom’s support for Haiti and emphasised the need not only for economic development but also for the reform and strengthening of the courts and the police in Haiti. Public order and confidence in the rule of law are key to attracting the international private sector investment that Haiti needs to provide jobs and a route out of poverty for her people.
The other part of my day in New York was a bit of commercial diplomacy. The Government has identified the promotion of Britain’s prosperity as one of the three key objectives of our foreign policy. The British Consul-General in New York is in charge of all our efforts to help British companies to sell to the United States ( and to encourage US firms to invest in Britain). Besides New York and Washington DC, he has small teams operating in Boston, Houston, Chicago and Los Angeles. I visited our Consulate General and later had dinner with a group of New York businessmen and women.
A number of local people have contacted me about Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s ‘Fish Fight Campaign’, and so I thought it would be a good idea to set out my thoughts on the matter here.
Throwing dead fish back into the sea is a terrible waste. It is disruptive to marine ecosystems and damages the viability of fishermen. The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) needs to be overhauled to overcome this and many other problems facing the marine environment and the fishing industry.
The UK is keen to lead the way in seeing an end to this waste. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has been driving initiatives to tackle this problem with a phased programme of projects addressing the various reasons why fishermen discard. These reasons range from throwing back fish that are too small, to discarding species that are not commercially viable. DEFRA funded ‘Project 50%’ in the South West, to get participating fishermen to design more selective nets. This resulted in dramatic reductions in discards and the landing of better quality fish. The Government has also been testing a new catch quota system which ensures that fishermen do not continue to fish once they have caught their quota. Furthermore, a DEFRA research project, ‘Fishing for the Market’, is seeking to encourage consumers to try a wider range of fish, to reduce discards of unpopular species.
The solution, however, will be achieved most effectively if Member States work together at the European level, so that the same rules apply to all. A special meeting of EU ministers was held in March 2011 on fish discards, and the European Commission is aiming to finalise its proposals this year.
Some constituents have asked me to sign Early Day Motion 1123, which concerns this issue. As a member of the Government, I am not able to sign EDMs. These provide an opportunity for backbenchers to register an opinion and to gather support for it. Ministers do not sign EDMs. What I have done instead is to speak directly to the fisheries minister about the issue.
On Thursday last, I gave the annual lecture to the UK Association of European Lawyers. I used the occasion to explain the European Union Bill, which the Government has just introduced into Parliament, and which will give the electorate and Parliament siugnificant new powers to hold this and future governments to accounbt for decisions taken on behalf of this country in Europe.
You can read the full text here.