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Freedom Of Movement For Workers

Volume 406: debated on Thursday 5 June 2003

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I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 5, at end insert

';but no such regulations shall be made within two years of the passing of this Act'.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 2 in page 2, line 5, at end insert

';but no such regulations shall be made within seven years of the passing of this Act'.
No. 4, in page 2, line 5, at end insert
'; but no such regulations shall be made until the Home Office, the Department for Education and Skills, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Health and the Treasury shall have laid before Parliament reports on the expected effects of those regulations'.
No. 5, in page 2, line 5, at end insert—
'() If the Secretary of State makes regulations under this section he shall lay before Parliament a report on their effect for the duration of the seven-year period during which a derogation from the implementation of European Union rights on free movement of workers is permitted to the relevant acceding States.'.

We have tabled these amendments because we are not fully satisfied that the Government have given due thought to all the consequences of allowing free movement of workers from 1 May.

I should like to make it clear from the outset that we have no animus against the people of the accession countries and believe that those countries' accession will enrich themselves and the EU overall. We have said that on many occasions over the years. On the contrary, I can only repeat that, when in government, our party was one of the first advocates of enlargement to embrace central and eastern Europe, as this Government acknowledged in their written statement of 10 December. It said that
"the UK has been a champion of enlargement from the start."
We warmly welcome the participation of these countries in the European Union, and, of course, that implies freedom of movement of the peoples of the member states.

It should not be doubted that, in due course, the full enjoyment of the rights of free movement of workers by all 25 EU member states' citizens will be beneficial to everyone through leading people to richer and broader lives and to businesses being able to attract the best employees within the EU, both in the accession countries and in the United Kingdom. Free movement of workers with all other countries that have joined the EU has ultimately proved advantageous to all parties. There is no reason to suppose that over time this should prove any different. However, that does not mean that it is wise to refuse a derogation on free movement of workers from the actual date of accession. I am concerned that the Government have simply failed to argue their case adequately or convincingly. I hope that the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration will take the opportunity to make their case this afternoon.

The Government have published a written statement of fewer than 500 words, which was long on assertions but short on facts. Those assertions may be right, but we simply have little way of knowing. Thus our amendments bring a greater logic and consistency to this issue, and should be seen in this light.

The Government have not published a full and up-to-date report into the likely effect of not taking advantage of the options for national measures until apparently this morning. Is it not unwise of them to fail to take that option? The last study on this matter that the Government published was a study for the Department for Education and Employment, as it then was, which was issued as far back as July 1999. Last year's written statement announced that the Home Office had commissioned research on the matter. I hope that the Minister will respond to these points later.

However, that research was not published in time for the House of Commons Library to make use of it in its paper on the Bill, and that can be regarded as a great pity by everyone interested in this matter. It was not published in time for Members to consider the research and apply the facts available for the Second Reading debate. Nor was it published in time for Members to use the research when tabling amendments to the Bill. Instead, I am informed that it has been published today. Now, that surely cannot be right. Why today of all days? I had hoped and thought that the Government had recently learned some lessons.

It is not right that the Government should publish documents that are highly relevant to the Bill too late for hon. Members who vote on it to consider them properly. Can the Minister say with his hand on his heart that the Government show a real commitment to parliamentary accountability when we are in such a situation?

I am depressed still more by the unnecessary nature of the situation. The Bill need not have warranted amendment. The whole House could have united behind every detail of it lock, stock and barrel. Why have the Government kept back relevant information until it is too late for it to be of real use to Parliament during consideration of the Bill? That happens all too frequently. I hope that the Minister will give a full explanation of the regrettable timing and that he will commit the Front Bench to undertake more open and accountable discussions of information in the future when the failure to impart information in good time is so obvious. I hope that you do not mind me saying that, Sir Alan, because it is an important point about parliamentary consideration, especially in relation to the Bill.

In that context, we tabled amendment No. 4. The Government have taken a serious decision. Such a decision should be taken with as much information as possible, and such information should be easily available not only to Ministers, but to Parliament. The potentially large movement of workers into this country would have important consequences for several Government Departments. We know that the national health service has been burdened by numerous so-called health visitors. It is only right that all Government Departments should consider the consequences of such a movement properly and that hon. Members should be able to inform themselves of the impact of regulations across the board before making a decision on any statutory instrument that might ensue. The Government have nothing to lose and everything to gain by accepting the underlying point behind the amendment. As I said, they have not provided Parliament with a proper or thorough advance study of why they believe that allowing full freedom of workers' movements from 1 May is in Britain's best interests. That should, and could, be spelled out. Indeed, it is extraordinary that the Government have not undertaken and published such a study. Such open government would have been commendable. At the price of only a little work by Parliament and the Government, the Government's duty to the public would have been performed somewhat better.

We tabled amendment No. 5 because we want full and proper accountability to Parliament on any regulations Regulations and statutory instruments that become law should be made with due consideration. Nine existing member states will impose national measures—some for two years and some for seven years—and six member states will not. We and the Government will be able to judge the effect of each decision in the forthcoming years. I accept that the Government have provided for safeguards but if the deployment of such safeguards becomes necessary, it should be explicitly clear why that course was taken.

There is no harm in the Government reflecting on the logic of the amendment. I am sure that the Minister will agree that it is right for regulations to be subjected to proper parliamentary scrutiny. The amendment would allow us to do exactly that. In any case, I am sure that the Secretary of State will keep the effect of his regulations under close review. The amendment would ensure proper accountability. Such scrutiny should not be feared but welcomed, and if the Government accept the logic behind the amendment, it would show that they are taking their decisions with proper consideration.

The Government will be aware that there will be exceptional disparities of wealth in the European Union when the accession countries join formally. For example, Latvia, which is the poorest of the accession countries, has a gross domestic product per capita of only €7,700 while our GDP is €23,300 per capita—about the EU mean. Only one accession country, Cyprus, has a relatively higher GDP per capita.

Likewise, many accession countries have regrettably high rates of unemployment. Poland has a rate of 18.5 per cent., whereas our rate is a much more respectable 5 per cent. Let me dwell on Poland for a moment, especially in terms of size and importance, because it is perhaps the linchpin of the accession process. Poland will not benefit immediately from accession. In fact, it will be a net contributor and will be a net beneficiary of structural funding only in subsequent years. There will be a transitional phase of at least two to three years but we hope that that will not deter the Poles, as my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) said, from voting in adequate numbers to approve accession this weekend.

The Government fall back on a series of reports commissioned by the employment and social affairs directorate-general of the European Commission. The headline figures show that 350,000 immigrants will leave their homes in central and eastern European countries to move to their more prosperous neighbours. A professor of social policy at the London school of economics labelled that figure as a serious underestimate and suggested that the real figure could be in the order of millions. That divergence of views is due to the methodology adopted by the Commission-sponsored reports. The reports are largely based on an analysis of migration between the more impoverished East Germany and West Germany before the fall of the Berlin wall and the reunification of Germany. The analysis fails to take proper account of levels of fiscal transfer between the west and east in the period following reunification. Reunification cost £400 billion between 1990 and 2000, and that money went to an area with a population of only 17 million people. Yet, unemployment and wage levels will remain significantly lower than those in the former West Germany.

Compare that money with the amount offered to Poland, which has a population of nearly 40 million people. Depending on common agricultural policy reform and the next budget round, Poland might be offered about €15.5 billion from the EU over a similar period of 12 years. I ask the House to consider what happened in Germany relative to the challenge facing Poland. The accession countries will not receive a fraction of the Government investment that East Germany received and given their economic weakness, it is difficult not to worry about the prospect of considerably greater immigration to the United Kingdom.

If one examines opinion poll evidence from the candidate countries rather than using the Commission's reports uncritically, there is an indication that the extent of immigration to the United Kingdom is likely to be far greater than that suggested. Reports using opinion poll data in the accession countries suggest that several million people plan to move to the west. Research carried out by the International Organisation for Migration suggests that it is likely that the United Kingdom would be the third most popular choice for people intending to leave central and eastern European accession states. That is hardly comforting because even though this country is the third choice, some 24 per cent. of the population of the Czech Republic have expressed a desire, in principle at least, to come to the United Kingdom.

Research suggesting that the UK is placed after Germany and Austria as a favoured country for immigration is based on polling that has not been updated since 1998. It is thus probable that the UK would be even more popular than the research suggests for two reasons: the prevalence of the English language among younger and more footloose professionals, and the relative economic performance of the UK versus Austria and Germany over the past five years. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Of course, the performance is so good because despite opposition from Labour Members, structural reforms made in the 1980s enabled that to occur. I think that some of us entered politics because of the utter shambles and chaos in the country in the late 1970s.

Eurobarometer polls rank English as the language regarded as most useful by 86 per cent. of respondents in the candidate countries.

Will the hon. Gentleman complete the picture by giving the House polling data on the number of people who have indicated an interest in leaving the UK to settle elsewhere in the EU, and the number of people who have expressed an interest in leaving their abodes in cities to move to the countryside in the UK?

3 pm

I cannot offer that evidence to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure we could try to secure an answer for him, but perhaps his question might be more usefully addressed to some of the more affluent members of the Government Front Bench. It is not unreasonable to predict substantial labour flows should the freedom of movement of workers be allowed from 1 May. If there is the possibility of emigration from the United Kingdom, I do not think that it in any way compares with the possibility of more substantial immigration. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not disagree with me on that.

It is difficult to make a judgment. It is not simply that there might be some small detriment to our economy should that movement take place. One of the great hopes for enlargement is that it will allow the accession countries to build themselves up so that they are in a more viable position, something that we certainly wish to see. We want the effect of enlargement to be like the effect of the accession on Spain, which has been a considerable success story in many respects. We would not want it to have the same effect as the reunification of East Germany, which has experienced a tragic drain of brain power and youth from east to west.

It would not be desirable for the same thing to occur now. We certainly want to avoid any damage to the new members' economies, many of which were held back during the communist era. So some caution on the immediate granting of free movement of workers from 1 May 2004 would not be misplaced. We expect some adjustments for about two years and hope that things settle down when all EU members begin to enjoy the solid benefits of enlargement, which every hon. Member accepts in the longer run. None the less, it would be wise to have safeguards with a clear time period. Should fears of dislocation to our economies and employment systems prove groundless, national measures could always be lifted. In practice, the matter cuts both ways.

I am listening carefully because it is important that we base our decision on the discretion on the best possible evidence and case. I want to be clear about what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Is he arguing for transitional arrangements on the free movement of workers primarily because that element will increase significantly the migration that might take place anyway as result of free movement rights more generally, or is he concerned about the impact on the UK economy? Is it, perhaps, that he is concerned about the potential negative impact of people moving out of the accession countries? Can he clarify which of those arguments he is using and on what evidence he bases his view?

With respect, I am astonished. That is exactly what I have been explaining for the past 10 or 15 minutes—[Interruption.] Well, I have cited those as possible problems and, because of that, advocate a period of caution, which other countries have favoured. Why does the Minister think that so many other EU members have secured those derogations? We do not know the effect of such movement, but I am sure she will agree that the very last thing we want to do is to create the situation, which I have cited as possible, that arose in East Germany where there was a considerable brain drain to the west, which was damaging. Equally, we want to ensure that a period of stability applies within those countries, especially in Poland where there is high unemployment, during the transitional phase while they are net contributors to the EU.

We do not know exactly what the effect will be. I am happy to concede that. Hopefully the Minister will provide the figures that her Department has so far been unable to produce, despite commissioning the report. I hope that when she responds she will apologise to the House for the way in which her Department has dealt with the matter. It is all very well for her to ask me such questions, but the House is interested in why the figures have not been produced because it is appalling.

The hon. Gentleman was at pains to point out that he had spent 10 or 15 minutes explaining in detail the circumstances of migration, yet he appears to be using, among other things, examples that relate to internal movement within a sovereign country, in particular Germany. Does he accept that there was internal movement within Germany before reunification, from north to south? Indeed, there has been internal movement within EU countries over a number of years. The example of the East Germans moving to West Germany, from one sovereign state to another, is not germane to the issue. It is, in fact, germane to a study of population movements within the EU as a whole. Perhaps he has some thoughts on that.

I was simply citing what happened in Germany and highlighting what happens when there is a juxtaposition between countries with far higher and far lower GDPs per capita. Of course there were cultural reasons for that movement, such as the German language, but had the hon. Gentleman listened he would know that I also cited reports, including opinion poll data, which suggest a considerable desire of people in many parts of the accession country states potentially to move. A number of our fellow EU countries sought derogations, but this country did not and the Government offered no reason for that. Perhaps that will be explained this afternoon. We certainly have not received any evidence thus far from the Government to explain why they took that decision. Whatever one thinks about the matter, the hon. Gentleman must agree that it has been a dereliction of duty on the part of the Government not to supply the evidence so that a proper consideration can be made.

I am sorry that I missed the opening part of my hon. Friend's speech because it is only now that I am able to enjoy listening to his mellifluous tones. In the light of the evident apprehension of the Minister, does my hon. Friend agree that in responding to amendment No. 1 and in setting out the Government's position, it would help if Ministers would explain whether they are agreeable to the principle of a full debate under the affirmative procedure on the regulations when introduced and, if not, why not?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I hope that Ministers have taken it on board.

I emphasise that we are in the fortunate position that some of our EU partners are not taking advantage of the option for national measures. Others are taking advantage of the option of two years and others of seven. We have the opportunity to see all the possible effects play out in those partners' economies and employment. We could then take whatever action we thought best. I believe that the Government's policy announcement was well meaning but premature. It would be wise of them to reconsider and wait a bit, as many of our European partners have done. Then they could take an informed decision, which would work best for us and for the accession countries' citizens. Hence the amendments.

I cannot forbear from mentioning that a claim was made in the statement on 10 December that the Government have a "managed immigration agenda". If only. That is what we need. Does the Minister agree that free movement of workers from the accession states cannot simply be taken piecemeal but must form part of a broader review of how this country manages immigration? The sorry fact of the matter is that people in this country no longer believe the Government on so many of their announcements, not least on immigration. In the absence of that confidence, we do not want to see the rise of extremism on the fringes of British politics, something that we all detest. We badly need a joined-up approach, from health care to payment of benefits. If the people of Britain felt confident that the Government had proper control, community relations would be strengthened.

As it is, because of the incoherence of the Government's policy on immigration over the past two years, there has been a great rise in confusion and anxiety. We value the tolerant and liberal society that we enjoy and cherish in this country. It is one of our chief sources of pride in being British, but I know that some in Britain are concerned about the effect of enlargement in that respect. I repeat that a period of adjustment would allay those fears or show them to be groundless.

We must also consider the employment effects on the enlarged EU's new neighbours. As I am sure the Minister is aware, there are fears in Ukraine about enlargement's effects on seasonal labour—for instance, on Ukrainian citizens working in Poland. We will need a strategy to deal with the EU's relations with nations east of the Vistula.

Before finishing, I shall return briefly to a point that we touched on on Second Reading. It is likely that an intergovernmental conference will be launched this autumn. Again, there is some lack of clarity about the exact dates. I am aware that the Copenhagen conclusions state that the accession countries should participate fully in the IGC. That is indeed a worthy aspiration, yet in practice anyone who has spoken to officials in the Commission about accession Governments will be aware that until 1 May 2004 the accession countries will experience a grey zone or period of limbo in their standing in the EU. It is difficult to see how, during that period, their opinions will have equal weight with those of existing member states in the treaty negotiations.

I understand that the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend met the Czech Foreign Minister recently. The Czechs are looking forward to participating. The hon. Gentleman must stop misleading the House continually by insisting that our partners in the new Europe whose citizens he wishes to exclude from participating, if they so wish, in our labour market will not have the full right to participate in the intergovernmental conference on the same basis as the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman must stop that line.

Order. The hon. Gentleman should not accuse any other hon. Member of misleading the House. I should be grateful if he would withdraw that remark.

The hon. Gentleman must stop inadvertently continually, repeatedly saying that which no one else—

I am grateful, Sir Michael. The great characteristic of the Minister for Europe—and may he reign supreme on the Front Bench after next week—is his ability to get in a hole and keep digging. He made the point admirably and I shall leave it at that, as I do not want to cause him any further embarrassment.

I do not understand why there is a rush to sign a new treaty. Most intergovernmental conferences take a year to conclude, but the timetable seems more like six months.

On a point of order, Sir Michael. The instructions of the IGC are not relevant to the clause.

Order. The hon. Gentleman may leave such matters to the Chair.

It is always a joy to hear from the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). Every single thing that he forecast up to, including and beyond Nice was totally inaccurate. That will be his secure place in history.

My party, as I said earlier, and as my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary and all my hon. Friends have indicated, supports the broad thrust of the Bill. That has been a consistent theme of our time both in government and in opposition. The Bill ratifying the accession treaty of course allows enlargement to take place, but I remind the House that although the Prime Minister said that the Convention was necessary to make enlargement work, that was incorrect.

I ask the Government to consider the amendments. I do not believe that they have thought out fully the consequences of their policy commitment. It would be difficult for them to do so as they were not able to publish the evidence until this morning. When the Minister responds, I hope that she will make it clear what employment restrictions the Foreign Secretary had in mind and what their implications would be if he reintroduced them, as he indicated in his written ministerial statement of 10 December 2002. I hope that we will have a considered response from the Minister this afternoon. The issue is the subject of lively debate throughout the European Union. Although there have been the reports that I mentioned, including that of the European Commission and the polling data, the British Government have failed the House by not providing the information necessary for debate on this important subject.

3.15 pm

I shall deal briefly with a concern that has been expressed to me by my constituents in respect of the freedom of movement of workers that will take effect from 1 May next year. I certainly do not support the amendments moved by the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring). My purpose is to highlight to those on my Front Bench some concerns about a sensitive aspect of the movement of people in the new enlarged European Union. I refer to a possible influx of what is described as the Roma people from, I believe, the old Czechoslovakia, where most Roma people seem to be resident.

Constituents have raised the matter with me following a documentary programme on the BBC or one of the other channels. It was a serious programme that did not attempt to exaggerate the problem. There are certain constituencies and areas in the country, as hon. Members know, which have had difficulties in the past with what I may describe as travellers. When constituents who have experienced such problems see a programme of that kind, they begin to worry that there may be an influx of travellers into areas such as west Wales where, as in other areas, we have had the problem for a long time. I express that concern to my hon. Friends in the hope that the matter can be examined quietly, without exaggerating the difficulties.

There are problems with regard to terminology, but they are not academic problems. We were told in the programme that it dealt with the Roma people who, I understand, are identical to the Romany people whose ancestors, apparently, came from the Punjab a long time ago. Some of them came to Britain in the 16th century. The Brits thought they were Egyptians and called them gypsies.

The more comprehensive term is "travellers". In west Wales most travellers are described as Irish tinkers, although in Northern Ireland, I believe, there is a statutory recognition whereby they are called the Irish travelling community. Those may be mere words, but they are important. Travellers apparently are not considered by the courts as a distinctive racial group, and therefore do not have the protection of the Race Relations Act 1976.

I understand, although I am not an expert on this branch of the law, that there is some authority from the courts whereby gypsies are considered a distinctive racial group for the purposes of the Race Relations Act. I do not think there are any recent cases in Britain relating to the status of Roma or Romany people, but if there were an influx into this country, I should think that, by analogy with the case law on gypsies, Roma or Romany would also be considered a distinctive racial group. The Race Relations Act, with all its difficulty and sensitivity, would then apply.

There is other legislation as well. There is, I am told, although I have not been able to find it, European Union legislation generated by what the Germans under Hitler did to the Roma people. That EU legislation seeks to protect gypsies, travellers and the Roma. Domestic legislation has been passed with regard in particular to caravan sites, which in the main are the responsibility of local authorities.

In my constituency and west Wales, local authorities have administered those rules with considerable sensitivity: they have bent over backwards to ensure that travellers or gypsies who live on the sites have their rights, are treated properly, and are dealt with in a sensitive manner. However, the local authorities' responsible attitude has not always been reciprocated, and sometimes my local authority has found itself in the courts. County council officials, who usually lose the cases, feel that they can never win against the gypsies in the courts, because the law is loaded against the county council. I do not know whether that is true—anyone who loses in the courts thinks the law is an ass—but overall I think that there is some sense, some justification, for local government officials' conclusion that in this respect the law has gone too far, to the extent that it does not enable the county council to protect the whole area as it should be able to.

Next, there is the wider question of law enforcement—the enforcement of criminal law and, increasingly in relation to some of the sites, of environmental law. Although it may be trite to say that everyone should be equal before the law, and in particular that minorities should be equal before the law, there is sometimes a real problem with the enforcement of criminal law against groups of what we may call travellers who do not always observe the laws of the area in which they are living. In a multicultural society, it is extremely important that minorities are protected, and we do protect them through specific legislation; similarly, equality before the law is also important. However, there is a suspicion that sometimes the criminal law and environmental law are not always enforced with rigour against groups such as travellers, although they are enforced against the rest of the community, minority or majority.

Order. I am listening carefully and hoping to hear more about the European dimension in the right hon. Gentleman's remarks.

The European dimension is that if there is a large influx of Roma people into this country, the existing problems will be magnified. I ask Ministers, especially Home Office Ministers, quietly and without making too much of a fuss to examine the present set-up and existing legislation to see whether they can withstand an influx of travellers, Roma or gypsy people who may come as a result of the Bill being passed. I do not support the transitional arrangements proposed by the hon. Member for West Suffolk, but I ask my hon. Friends to consider the issue so that the problem can be dealt with if it ever arises. I do not know whether it will arise, although I suspect that it will not, and the programme that highlighted the issue did not imply that it would. However, there is a possibility that certain areas of the country that act as magnets for travellers will experience an influx and my concern is to ensure not only that our law and our enforcement of our law are fair, but that tensions are not created, that the law is enforced and that we have the proper framework to deal with that possible influx. It is better to examine the arrangements and work out our response now than to experience problems later that we cannot deal with.

I do not expect an answer during this debate, but I hope that the Home Office or some other Department—with devolution, I am not sure how things work—will examine the matter, just in case. There is a problem at the moment and it might be magnified and made far worse if there is an influx of Romany or Roma people or travellers from eastern Europe as a result of the Bill being passed.

As the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) would expect, I listened carefully to him moving the amendments and the manner in which he did so. l agree with some of his remarks, for example, on the need for proper and adequate information and on the need for Government accountability to be at the forefront of all that we do in this House. However, we Liberal Democrats support the principle of the Bill, which is that all citizens of the accession countries should have full rights in the EU from day one. They will have the freedom to travel and to stay in this country and we believe that their having the right to work here makes good sense. In practical terms, that must remove any suspicions from those who seek to enter this country under their freedom to travel rights, and police and others will no longer need to spend a lot of time questioning the motives and activities of people from new member states who have come to this country.

Let me say up front that I do not suggest that the hon. Gentleman wishes to pander to the arguments of some on the far right who attack immigration and immigrants. In his speech, he referred to the dangers of such views and dissociated himself from them. However, we in this country are sometimes in danger of forgetting our proud heritage of welcoming immigrants, sometimes as refugees, who go on to make huge and valid contributions to our economy. We need to face facts: this country has many skills shortages which enlargement may help us to tackle. It is entirely appropriate to welcome all citizens of such countries as soon as they have formally become part of the EU.

Safeguards are included in the accession treaty, and it is entirely appropriate that the Government monitor the situation, as I am sure they propose to do. I do not quite understand why the two-year and seven-year restrictions in the amendments have been chosen, or why they would achieve something that would not be achieved by ongoing monitoring.

The answer is simply that those are the derogations that have been secured by existing EU member countries.

I accept that other countries have achieved them. I was simply waiting to hear why the hon. Gentleman thought they were appropriate.

At the end of this debate, a judgment has to be made on the appropriate way forward. It appears to us that the Bill as drafted and the safeguards outlined will be sufficient to achieve the objectives. We believe that legal immigration and the associated economic benefits are preferable to illegal immigration and the associated costs. For those reasons, we cannot support the amendments.

I support the Government view on the arrangements for free movement of workers, and I suggest that the amendments are inappropriate. I draw the Committee's attention to some spectacularly poor pieces of empirical evidence brought to bear by the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) in moving the amendments. I intervened on him to discover whether he was aware of the number of people in the UK who respond to opinion polls by saying either that they would wish to move from whether they currently live, predominantly in cities, to the country, or that they might wish to move out of the country entirely.

Regrettably, he was unable to provide me with the information contained in those polls. However, I recall that the figures set out in a number of them revealed that about 70 per cent. of those who responded to the polls suggested that they might like to move from the city to the country, and 25 per cent. said that they might like to move out of the country to live and work somewhere else.

3.30 pm

We all know that that does not happen. Seventy per cent. of people are not about to move to the country, and nor are 25 per cent. of the work force about to leave the UK to live and work somewhere else. Yet the hon. Member for West Suffolk appears to suggest, with authority, that similar polls conducted in applicant countries are likely to be absolutely right. The fact is that they are not. They are no more likely to be right than the polls that have been conducted in the UK, as we can see from the evidence.

Of course, some people will respond to polls in the new accession countries by saying that they might consider moving and working abroad.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in agricultural communities such as mine in Lincolnshire there are a significant number of migrant workers, some legal and some illegal, who have come from what will be the accession countries? That is causing a great deal of unrest in places such as Boston. The problem will be exacerbated after the proposed legislation is put in place.

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned that. I shall come later to the question of so-called illegal migrant workers. I thought that he might ask me whether I was aware that many people in urban communities are moving into rural communities. That is the situation in some instances. I was making the point that the opinion polls that we are discussing cannot be relied upon in any country as accurate measures of likely future movements.

There are about 500,000 Brits living in Spain who have effectively revivified large parts of the economy of southern Spain. Is it not true that sometimes immigration is downright positive, instead of the negative version that we hear sometimes from Opposition Members?

My hon. Friend makes a strong point. To assume that any movement will be bad news is to paint an unnecessarily negative picture of what happens in reality.

The other piece of empirical evidence that the hon. Member for West Suffolk brings as a centrepiece to his arguments is what has happened in Germany. That is curious. I attempted to remind him in an intervention that after Germany was unified it became one state. Social movement, movement between families and movement to obtain work temporarily then applied as they apply internally in any other state. I made the point that over many years there have been instances within EU states where movement within those states has been detrimental to some parts of the economies of those countries and helpful to other parts of those economies. Indeed, the EU already has arrangements in place for regional assistance and aid within its structural funds.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is slightly missing the point of my remarks. I gave a range of opinions, including that of the Commission. I hope that he will agree with me, and say so, when I say that given that it was well known that the Bill would come up for consideration in Parliament, it is appalling that the Government's view, and their commitment to providing a view on these issues, was released only today. We would not need to have this discussion if the Government had provided the information in an appropriate way.

I agree that information should be before hon. Members in the best available form—and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to guide and enlighten the Committee on that point. As I was not, and am not, party to how the figures were released, I can shed no further light on the matter.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk is making a series of hypothetical points. That is important in terms of the evidence on which he relies. Entirely different circumstances apply in Germany, for example. The rather nebulous wishes that may be expressed by some people in applicant states have little bearing on the reality of what will happen or is likely to happen.

I find it difficult to follow the case that the hon. Gentleman is advancing. I have half-German cousins, and I suggest to him that following reunification it was found that people from the east, who were in low-wage jobs, tried to move to the west, where there were better wage rates. At the same time, investment in industry went from the west to the east. It seems to me that that is a pretty good example of what might happen if there is a wave of immigration to the higher wage earning countries from the poorer countries in the east, and investment will probably go in the opposite direction.

The hon. Lady claims that she has listened carefully to my train of argument, but she appears not to have listened at all. I was not talking about the movement of people from one state to another. To combine my two points, the circumstances in which people express the wish to move from their sovereign state to another state often do not come to pass in reality. People who respond to opinion polls in this country do not do what they say they will do when confronted by somebody with a clipboard in the street. As the hon. Lady says, matters may be different in terms of internal arrangements within sovereign states in some circumstances.

As the hon. Lady will know from her direct experience, the circumstances of the reunification of Germany, including the population movements and the economic movements, and the social and cultural problems, are—this is my view—specific to the German circumstances, and are fairly complex.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk is seeking to suggest that it is likely that millions of people will come from the applicant states to the UK to live and work after the EU has expanded. That case is made on extremely flimsy grounds—that is the argument that I was attempting to put forward.

In rubbishing the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), the hon. Gentleman might reflect on what has happened so far. Why are so many economic migrants coming to the UK? They come for various reasons.

No, not the climate.

These people are coming because we have a high-wage economy. We have a national health service and a social security system that are second to none in the entire EU. There are other reasons why they are coming, too. Let us throw away all those polls, as I agree with the hon. Gentleman that they are not worth the paper that they are written on. None the less, from experience, does he not accept that there is a case for suggesting that people may come to the west from the applicant nations for the reasons that I have given? That is a real issue, and the people of this country are concerned about it.

The hon. Lady has now shifted the ground on which she is speaking. I am delighted that she has agreed that the case made about polls by her hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk appears to have little substance. I agree that some economic migrants are coming to this country, and that some are doing so illegally. That is the other important point that we should think about in relation to the Bill. As the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) said, the accession treaty allows free movement of people in the EU, but if the provisions were not agreed to, it would not allow movement to work. That is what we are talking about—not immigration, but movement to work.

It is true that some people in this country, including some in my city, and in the towns and cities represented by other hon. Members, are working illegally. The point about combining free movement in the EU after accession and the right to work is that circumstances will come together whereby people can work legally and be regulated and checked up on. They can also be covered by the minimum wage, for example, so they will not have any dealings with the white vans that we sometimes see at 5 o'clock in the morning picking up people who are often in very difficult circumstances so that they can work illegally, often for tiny wages.

The practical outcome of the provisions is that a number of those circumstances will be ameliorated. The fact that people will be able to have a national insurance number, and their wages and conditions of employment will be able to be regulated, is good news for all of us in this country, including the constituents whose views the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) brings to the Chamber in raising worries about what is likely to happen after accession.

That is good news for all of us, over and above the idea—an idea that I shall simply leave on the table—that we are not in a position to do without anybody else in our labour force in years to come. We should not underestimate the importance of the contribution provided by free movement of labour in the EU to this country's ability to work economically in years to come.

I am somewhat disappointed by the amendments. We have to be careful about how we conduct this debate, and extremely careful about the language that we employ.

I am pleased that the Bill includes the clause under discussion and that the Government indicated in December last year that, in respect of the eight applicant states that seek the right of freedom to work in the current European Union, the UK would introduce measures from the date of accession that would make that right available. That is to be welcomed, and it has been extremely well received by the applicant countries.

Opposition Members have expressed concerns about the Bill, but I cast my mind back to just a few years ago, when we discussed the applications of other states to join the European Union. I well remember the debate about Portugal, Greece and Spain, in which many people said, "Oh, this will be terrible; we'll have thousands upon thousands of Portuguese, Greeks and Spaniards flocking to our shores, taking British jobs and making British people unemployed." Has it happened? No. Will it happen in the future? No. In fact, as has been mentioned, the opposite has been the trend and more and more British people have been moving to work and retire in countries such as Portugal, Greece and Spain.

Particular reference has been made to one central European country—Poland, where the current unemployment rate is 18.5 per cent. However, it would be profoundly wrong for us to imagine for one moment that because the clause will apply to Poland, just as to the other seven countries, millions of unemployed Polish workers will come to this country trying to find work.

The reason why that will not happen is that family, cultural and distance restraints will inevitably apply. People will want to have the opportunity to leave, but the practical impediments are such that we will not experience a mass migration of labour. History, and all the economic and social analyses, tell us that.

3.45 pm

The scaremongering that we hear from some quarters will inevitably be short-lived. That is because although unemployment is high in parts of Poland, for example, the economies of the countries of central Europe will strengthen remarkably in a relatively short space of time. The accession process involves the employment of structural funds and the liberalisation of markets, so those countries will have an opportunity that they have not had in a generation, which will be a tremendous boost leading to higher levels of indigenous employment. If what I am saying is wrong, safeguards are in place, and there is nothing to prevent the

Government from reintroducing regulations if they so wish, but nobody who has considered the matter in any great detail and depth can believe that such a scenario is likely.

My next remarks may not be at all popular with Conservative Members. This country, particularly south-east England, needs more workers coming in who have the skills to help us to build our economy and create a strong, productive economic base. We have a strong economy, which I hope will get stronger, and we need people from outside to work with us to create the economic prosperity that we all seek. That is not a common perception—I appreciate that—and many Conservative Members will be almost pathologically opposed to such a concept, but it is the truth. In my area of south Wales, the whole industrial experience is about workers from different parts of Europe coming in and helping to create the prosperity that our region once enjoyed and, I hope, will enjoy again.

In approaching this issue we must be honest, but broad-minded as well. If we are immediately to create the right kind of atmosphere in this new enlarged Europe, we must have a proper and enlightened attitude to such matters. I therefore sincerely hope that Conservative Members will have second thoughts about the amendments, so that we do not send out a negative and unintended message to the countries who wish to join, and, what is more, that they will not try to pursue an agenda that is against our economic best interests.

Let me say at the outset that I hope that in addressing the points raised by the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), as well as other Members who contributed constructively to the debate, I can convince him to withdraw the amendment. I shall deal later with his criticisms about the time at which the report has been produced.

I hope that Conservative Members can join us in supporting the whole Bill, not only because the Government included clause 2 for sound reasons, but because it is important that we send as positive a signal as possible—not just as a Government, but as a whole Parliament—to all the acceding countries. There is a danger that somebody reflecting on today's proceedings could be concerned about what the amendments imply about Conservative Members' attitude towards some of the new member states. They say that they support enlargement, but their amendments suggest that, although there is no need for it from a UK point of view, they want nationals from new member states to be treated, at least in the first phase, as second-class citizens.

I will just finish this point, then I will be happy to give way.

It is our position that the Government should extend to these countries the hand of friendship, offer them full acceptance at the earliest opportunity—provided that there is no economic or other reason relating to UK interests not to do so—and not close the door in the first few years.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Of course we shall listen very carefully to what she has to say and to the explanations that she gives. We shall obviously consider our amendments in that light. Let me make it absolutely plain, however, that I will not accept for a moment any inference on her part that our seeking this derogation through the amendments somehow implies something negative towards the accession countries. I will simply say that Finland, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium and Austria have all sought such derogations. I hope that the hon. Lady is not casting aspersions on those countries.

The hon. Gentleman has made that point before. From my information, he is quite incorrect about the position of other countries on this matter so far. According to my information, at least six, and possibly seven, countries including the UK—have already decided not to seek the derogation.

Yes. A further three have yet to make any decision at all, including some of those the hon. Gentleman named, such as Italy and Luxembourg. They might well follow the lead that has been given by the UK and the other five or six countries that have already declared that they will not impose such regulations or seek the derogation. Almost half the countries have already decided not to impose transitional arrangements—some have yet to announce a decision—and so far, only four have said that they probably will, and they have not firmly committed themselves to a time scale. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has conveyed his information from a position of not being fully informed, as opposed to anything else, but he is actually quite wrong.

Will my hon. Friend furthermore not accept the line given by the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) that the whole of the Conservative party is unanimous in its support of enlargement? The truth is that Conservative Members of the European Parliament lobbied against yes votes in several of the new member states that we hope will be joining next year.

I understand entirely the point that my hon. Friend is making. On the wider issue of the Opposition's position on this question and the amendments that they have tabled today, the Governments and the peoples of the new member states will form their own judgment as to who their supporters in the UK are. By withdrawing the amendments, however, Conservative Members have an opportunity to make their position absolutely unequivocal on the extent to which they wish to welcome the acceding countries at the earliest opportunity and in the fullest way into membership of the European Union.

I should like to set out for hon. Members particularly Conservative Members—the reasons, which we announced last December, why we wanted to give workers from the new member states the same rights to work in the UK as are enjoyed by existing EU nationals from the date of accession. That decision was made for very sound reasons, and was the product of serious consideration across all Departments which concluded in that governmental decision. In terms of overall migration, clause 2 deals with only a very small part of the free movement of workers. In fact, that free movement will have only a marginal impact, in terms of the overall migration as a result of enlargement per se.

As the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) and others have acknowledged, the accession treaty provides that all citizens of the new member states will be able to enter the UK and other member states without restriction on 1 May 2004 and reside here freely. Preventing the relatively small number who want to come to work from doing so for any period makes little sense in the context of the UK, and it would have only marginal, if any, additional impact on migration as a whole.

My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) rightly referred to the lessons from history and the previous enlargement. I accept that there are important differences between that enlargement and this one, but there are considerable similarities none the less. The lessons from that enlargement are, first, that the fears expressed then about its impact on total migration proved to be completely unfounded and, secondly, as he rightly pointed out, that one of the factors behind that was the impact on the economies of the acceding countries.

Despite what people may say in surveys of their aspirations to move, such as those pointed to by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead), when they have the opportunity to work in their own country, family ties, culture and identification with country of origin prove to be far more powerful in determining what people do than the pull factors—the attractions of another country.

I take the Minister's point on the net impact of countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal. Any concerns were not realised. However, I simply make the point that transitional arrangements were put in place when those countries acceded to the EU.

They were, but they were also rescinded early. In the UK, they were not enforced beyond, as I recall, about two years, even though they were lifted after six. [Interruption.] Exactly, but that proves the point that they were not necessary. They were thought to be necessary then, but they proved not to be so. They were not enforced.

May I get to the substance of the decision that we have reached on immediate free movement of workers? That decision was not taken lightly, and we looked carefully at a number of factors beforehand. First, we considered the experience of previous enlargement. when the fears of mass migration from those three countries proved to be unfounded despite apocalyptic fears being expressed at the time. Secondly, we examined the body of research on the possible impact on migration post-accession following this enlargement, including by the former Department for Education and Employment and by the European Commission. Both predict that the number of people migrating across the Union will not be significant as a result of this enlargement.

We have also commissioned further independent research from University college London, which has been published today, to ensure that all the facts on which we based our decision are before us. That research looks at literature surveys and the previous studies, which I have referred to, as well as making its own econometric analysis and prediction of the impact on migration as a whole.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk has criticised us for the date of publication. I understand his point. We had interim findings from the research group earlier—in December—to enable us to take that principled decision, but the completion of the draft by the people from whom it was commissioned was finalised only this week and we were unable to publish the final report before today. However, I say to the hon. Gentleman that I am pretty sure that we said that the report was coming. We announced that to the media today, and his colleague the shadow Home Secretary appeared to know that it was being published today, because he phoned my private office and was given access to it. It has been published on the website, which was announced, and I am happy to ensure that there is a copy in the Library.

4 pm

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. If we had been able to publish the report earlier we would have done so; but we made clear that it was on its way—and indeed some Conservative Front. Benchers appeared to know that, and took the earliest possible opportunity of looking at it today.

As the Minister knows, we had an important discussion about this on Second Reading. It is a key element of what the accession process is all about. Irrespective of whether the report was published this morning and whether someone had sight of it yesterday or knew it was coming, the fact is that the timing is quite impossible. The Minister must accept that producing a report on a matter that is so hugely important on the first day of the Bill's Committee stage is absolutely disgraceful.

I acknowledge that that has placed the Opposition in a more difficult situation than I would care to contemplate, but this is independent research, and when it came to exactly when it was to be published we were in the hands of its authors.

When all Members have had a chance to read the report, as well as research by the former Department for Education and Employment and the European Commission, they will observe that the predictions in the three documents about numbers and the overall impact of migration are very similar. It is predicted by all three that there will be only a small increase in the total number of those migrating from eastern to western Europe—whether to visit, to study or to reside—and that the number coming here to seek employment will be minimal. The research done for the Commission, for instance, suggests that within 30 years just 1.1 per cent. of the population of the current EU Fifteen will consist of nationals from the new member states. The current percentage is 0.2.

Let me now refer to the overall conclusions of a study combining the research by the Department and the Commission's research. It envisages a number of scenarios. The worst-case scenario involves some of the differences between this enlargement and the previous one, referred to by the hon. Member for West Suffolk—in particular, differences in income and GDP. The study concludes that even if we assume that the countries involved are high-emigration countries, and also that convergence in GDP is slow, migration to the UK as a result of eastward enlargement is unlikely to be too great. The evidence that we have collated from existing—not new—sources suggests that net migration from the 10 accession countries to the UK will be in line with current migration.

I repeat that that conclusion refers to total migration, most of which will result from the freedom of movement that is embedded in the treaty. The additional freedom of movement granted to workers from the date of accession will be minimal.

Having considered history and the research evidence, we considered our own domestic situation. As a number of Members have pointed out, many UK employers are experiencing shortages in sectors such as hospitality, construction, food processing and transport. The new member states will provide the range of skills and the supply of workers that many UK employers need. That point was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test. Those workers will also be able to contribute to our economy, and it will all be legal and above board. I think that is why both the CBI and the TUC support our decision.

Given those factors and given the wider benefits that the UK will reap from a positive message to the new member states, the only sensible option is to liberalise our labour markets from the point of accession. But, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly we have tempered that gesture with safeguards. We do not expect it to happen but, if there were an unexpected negative impact specifically from the movement of workers, we would be able to suspend or to amend the regulations under the Bill in order to reintroduce restrictions, so our decision, based on a sound analysis of history, of research and study and of the needs of our labour market, poses no risk and is copper-bottomed by a safeguard in the legislation. It will bring us many benefits, which the amendments would cancel out.

Amendment No. 2 is contrary to the accession treaty, so it would be ultra vires. The accession treaty only allows existing member states to impose restrictions on workers for seven years if they can show the existence of a particular threat after five years have passed. At this stage, the restrictions can be only for a maximum of five years. The further two are only possible if, at that five-year stage, a particular threat can be shown.

Obviously, we cannot know what the position in May 2009 will be. That is why we have decided to maintain the right to reimpose restrictions on workers if the evidence shows an influx of workers at any time after accession. If after five years there is such a threat, we can still restrict workers for up to seven years from accession, as allowed by the treaty.

Amendment No. 4 would make the granting of free movement rights to workers from the eight relevant new member states dependent on reports being completed by Government Departments, listed in the amendment, on the expected effects of the regulations under the Bill. As I have made clear, the Government would not have made the decision they did in December 2002 on free movement of workers if all those Government Departments had not considered fully the impact of such a decision on their work. They all concluded that the regulations would have a positive impact on the United Kingdom.

The effect of amendment No. 5 would be to make my Department lay, apparently, regular reports before Parliament on the effect of the regulations under the Bill from May 2004 to 2011. The Department for Work and Pensions already closely monitors the labour market and will continue to do so. From next year, it will look specifically at the effect on the labour market of opening it to the eight relevant new member states from accession. It will use a range of data and information to see whether there is any disturbance to the UK labour market sufficient to justify reintroducing restrictions on workers in line with the safeguards in the legislation. The Department will also closely monitor other sources of information. The CBI, the TUC and other stakeholders, the sector representatives that we are in close dialogue with for other reasons, are already talking to us about how we can do that systematically. Therefore, amendment No. 5 is not necessary. I hope that the Opposition will not press that amendment, or the others.

There is one outstanding point: that made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies). As I have made clear, all Departments considered the impact of clause 2, including the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. I understand his point about Roma people but we do not expect enlargement to result in a flow of Roma people. As I have made clear, it will reduce the push factors that encourage people to leave their countries. We do not expect—he acknowledged that it might not happen—enlargement to lead to a large influx of Roma people.

If the Opposition press the amendments, I will ask the Committee to resist them but my hope is that they will not press them. I hope that they will join the Government and support the Committee on this important Bill, and that we send the most positive signal we can as a Parliament to the accession countries that we not only welcome enlargement but feel able positively to give them full rights as acceding countries from the date of accession. I hope that the Opposition will support clause 2.

I thank the Minister for her comments, which were made with great courtesy; indeed, we all listened with considerable interest to what she had to say. She came to the conclusion that access to the United Kingdom for workers from 1 May would have a marginal impact, and cited three studies, including one published today and one by the former Department for Education and Employment. I am grateful for her somewhat oblique apology for the study that was published only today; at least she acknowledged that fact. She slightly gave the game away when she conceded that there had indeed been a transitional period of two years in respect of previous accessions. That is what we were seeking to achieve through these amendments.

We of course endorse the Minister's point about key workers. It has always been the policy of all United Kingdom Governments to make it easy for people to come to this country, wherever they come from, and we would always wish to be in favour of that. However, the various studies by Government Departments that she talked about were not mentioned at all on Second Reading. It is absolutely extraordinary that the Foreign Secretary made no reference to this wonderful variant of joined-up government. We certainly did not see it, and had we done so it might have persuaded us to think again. As with the study that is so important in reaching a conclusion on the impact of immigration, the Foreign Secretary was unable to reveal the information on Second Reading. I am sorry about that, because it tells my colleagues and I that the functional aspect of the Government is sometimes extremely weak. However, we do not want to dwell on that.

Everyone who was present on Second Reading will remember that we had a wide-ranging debate on a variety of issues that were not particularly relevant to the Bill. In fact, the Opposition spokesperson himself simply passed over clause 2, saying that they wanted to deal with it in Committee.

One key aspect of accession is entry into the United Kingdom and other existing member states, and I fail to understand why the Minister does not see the importance of that. We will not dwell on the matter, but the fact is that it could have been cleared up on Second Reading. It was not, and that was unfortunate. We have now had two instances of the Government's behaving in a way that is very unhelpful in furthering understanding of the Bill.

The Minister has said that safeguards are in place and she has spelled them out. I accept them and I am grateful to her for that; however, we will want to monitor them carefully. Having said that, I endorse entirely her point that we want to send out a positive message to the accession countries. We were entitled to ask for clarification, but the overriding importance of the Bill was shown on Second Reading, when something historically extraordinary happened in this Chamber: unanimous acceptance of the Bill. In that context, we will not seek to divide the Committee. The spirit of our support across the party political divide for the accession countries is so powerful and so rooted in the thinking of successive Governments that we do not propose to take these amendments any further. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
  • Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
  • Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
  • Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
  • Bill reported, without amendment.
  • Order for Third Reading read.

4.15 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

We have had a good afternoon's debate, with generous comments on how much the whole House welcomes the accession of 10 new member states. It is an historic moment for the House of Commons, bringing closure not only to 50 years of the cold war, but to a much longer period during which Europe was divided by different passions, different politics and different ideologies. I hope that it signals the beginning of a new century of peace and prosperity, progress and democracy for our common continent and the Euro-Atlantic community of nations to which we and all other members of the European Union belong.

I am grateful, as are all Government Members, for the way in which Opposition Members have taken the Bill through its Committee stage, making important and cogent points. I do not deny the fact that some fears have been voiced. We heard about the BBC programme on the Roma, which reflected fears that we have to deal with, but we should never lose sight of the fact that our nation has always been at its best when it has opened its doors and been generous to our fellow Europeans and immigrants from all over the world. It was Daniel Defoe's great poem, "The True-Born Englishman", written some 300 years ago, that referred to the English people as "this mongrel race".

I greatly welcome the contribution of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), who spoke about the welcome that his parents from Estonia received in this country. I think of my own father who, as a Polish army officer, was wounded in the first campaign against the Wehrmacht of 1939. He escaped and ended up in Scotland, where he married my mother.

When I was in Poland last week, I took the opportunity to visit some of my great-cousins and I met my father's sister. I discovered that they will be voting yes in the referendum this weekend. I wonder if this could be a turning-point in the history of the House of Commons, when at long last the poisonous venom of anti-Europeanism begins to be drained out of the political system of the United Kingdom, and we can start to speak more as one on the great question of Europe. I hope that never again will my second and third cousins, nieces and nephews in Poland have to contemplate a future other than in their own country, unless they wish to live in another part of Europe. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) pointed out, many of our fellow citizens live and work in other parts of Europe. Many citizens from the European Union work here in London and elsewhere in the UK. I state as firmly as possible from the Dispatch Box that each and every one of them adds value to our nation.

I am proud of the fact that the Government, with the support of the House, will not apply the more rigorous transition periods that other nations have. I do not criticise them, but I do not understand the need for seven more years of illiberal red tape and bureaucracy before granting people the possibility of coming here to work.

We had a good Second Reading debate, although it was clogged up with the detritus of isolationism from the Daily Mail and the usual anti-European drivel that we get from those who want this country to withdraw from the EU. I am glad that this afternoon we have moved into the calmer waters of a serious, mature debate on how to make the enlargement of the European Union work.

I will convey, as I did at the Catholic university of Lublin last Wednesday, the fact that the House of Commons is united in supporting the enlargement of the European Union. It really is an enormous privilege—and strengthens my arm, in as much as I have the honour to represent Her Majesty as the Minister for Europe—to be able to pray in aid the House of Commons united on this matter. I hope that on the future great questions of the euro and the constitutional treaty, I will be in a similar position.

The Third Reading of the Bill is a quiet and satisfying moment in our country's history. Our Prime Minister and his predecessors have taken the lead in holding their feet to the fire, as some of our European partners—who perhaps were not as keen on enlargement—failed to do. Today, the House completes an important piece of legislation and we can say, from the Baltic sea to the east Mediterranean coast, to the two new Commonwealth country members of Malta and Cyprus and to our friends in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, welcome to this our common European Union, and welcome to the possibility of working with the United Kingdom to make a stronger European Union fit for all of its citizens.

4.21 pm

I am glad to support the Third Reading of this historic Bill which paves the way for the Europe of 15 to become the Europe of 25. The Conservative party was one of the earliest advocates of enlargement. Europe could never be whole when so many of its member nations were living behind an ideological as well as a physical iron curtain. The end of the cold war and the collapse of communism opened the doors to the historical reconstituting of Europe. We warmly welcome that, and with this Bill we welcome to our European family the 10 successful applicant countries. From Poland to Malta and from Estonia to Cyprus—and all the other countries that will join us—they will bring both energy and variety.

I was pleased, along with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill. That is more, I may say, than the Prime Minister did, which was a strange omission from someone who has accused us of being anti-enlargement while proclaiming his own deep support for it. Another example of him being all mouth and no delivery.

We congratulate the accession countries on the courage and determination with which they have pursued their applications to join. The negotiations have not been easy, and uncomfortable concessions and sacrifices have had to be made, as those who have been involved in the negotiations can bear witness. We look forward to working with our new partners in the building of a more prosperous, more stable Europe that looks forward rather than back. That is why one of the ironies of this Bill is that, while it provides for the accession of the 10 new members, it is still not able to indicate what the shape of that which they are joining will be. The Europe that they have negotiated to join is the European Union of the existing treaties. Subject to the coming IGC, and its reaction to the recommendations currently emanating from the Convention, there is a danger that the Europe they join could be very different.

The current European Union is still, if only just, a Europe of nations where power flows from the national Parliaments and Governments upwards, although that shape has been gravely eroded over recent years. The Europe that they may be heading into could be a different animal—a politically united Europe where power flows from the top downwards. The Government will once again dismiss that suggestion. They will tell us that the new Europe will merely be a tidied-up Europe. They have to tell us that, because they know that the British people would not accept the creation of a European political entity. But the accession countries to which the Bill refers are owed better than the sleight of hand to which they are being treated. Those countries need to look beyond the details to the totality of what all the details put together will create.

If the Convention proposals were adopted, the accession countries would find themselves in an EU that had a number of elements. Those elements would include a separate legal persona; a full-blown constitution, including enforceable fundamental rights; a president with a five-year term; a foreign secretary; supremacy of its laws over the laws of its component parts; its own currency and central bank; a public prosecutor; control over vital areas of home policy; and, increasingly, its own foreign and security policy.

That would be the totality. What it provides is no longer, in any shape or form, a Europe of nations but a political entity in its own right. That is the reality of what the accession countries would be joining, and not the deceptive spin that we so often receive.

Hon. Members do not have to take that from me. These accession countries can listen to the words of the former Italian Prime Minister and Convention member Lamberto Dini. Speaking in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph last weekend, he said:
"Anyone who claims that the constitution will not change things is trying to sweeten the pill for those who do not want to see a bigger role for Europe … The constitution is not just an intellectual exercise. It will quickly change people's lives … Eventually the Union will be able to make legislation of its own. It will become an institution and organisation in its own right."
That is the view from the inside. It is certainly more credible than the "tidying up" nonsense that we get from the Government.

That view raises interesting questions in relation to the position of the accession countries. The Prime Minister last week in Poland seemed to think that, although the Poles are to have a referendum on accession, they would not have one on the proposed constitution. We later learned that that was not certain and had not yet been decided. The question is this: if a new treaty can be prevented by the failure of any current member of the EU to ratify it—Giscard d'Estaing said on "Breakfast with Frost" two weeks ago that there would be no treaty if that happened—could a new treaty with a constitution be stopped in its tracks by one of the accession countries failing to ratify it following a referendum that required it so to do? That is to say, could an accession country, as its first act of membership, prevent Europe going down the constitution road by refusing to ratify it? That question remains unanswered.

Another relevant question arose during the recess. I hope that the Minister can clear it up. We learn from the Bill that all members of the EU, including the 10 accession countries, will hold elections to the European Parliament next June. In the absence of referendums, do the Government share the view of the Welsh Secretary that these elections provide a sort of surrogate referendum in which the people can—and will—decide? Does that view refer only to this country or will it be applied as well to the equivalent elections in other countries, where there will not be referendums? Would not it be far simpler, more democratic and more honest to hold a referendum here, and let the people decide?

This Bill is about enlargement. It clears the way for the 10 countries to join the EU. However, the work does not end here. Making enlargement a success will not be easy. Disparities of wealth within the EU will be larger. Certainly, the accession countries will badly need better infrastructure, and support in deploying their natural talents and resources to best effect.

I believe that the peoples in the 10 accession countries rightly hope that EU membership will bring wealth and jobs. If the economic promise of membership is to become a reality for its new members, then existing members will have to make changes to the way the EU presently works. After all, have we not asked all the applicant states to prepare for membership by closing all the chapters? It is not now a case of what we have done to prepare for their entry, but more a case of what we have not done.

First, the common agricultural policy must change. There is widespread agreement that it is in need of radical reform. Its history goes back to the beginnings of the Common Market. What it was able to do for six members, it will no longer be able to do for 25.

Secondly, structural funds cannot continue to be used as they have been. Many countries have benefited greatly from them, and some have prospered so much that they no longer need them to the same extent. Now these funds will be needed elsewhere. Countries such as Poland are crying out for investment in their infrastructure, and wise use of structural funds could be crucial in helping their economies to prosper. I hope that that will also be pursued.

Thirdly, we must continue to make the single market work. A stable Europe is one built on prosperity. Deep economic reform should be the key priority for the EU at this time. We need flexible economies, freed from the burden of red tape. This week, as we look at the demographic challenges that face so many parts of Europe, we have seen strikes in several European countries, as Governments seek to deal with this emerging problem.

We will need courage, boldness and vision if over-regulation and archaic and inflexible working practices, coupled with an ageing and shrinking work force are not to make Europe a relative economic backwater.

Enlargement does not stop next year, however. We hope that Romania and Bulgaria will join in 2007. We hope that, when the political criteria are satisfied, negotiations will begin with Turkey that will lead to its membership. Furthermore, we need to look at the EU's relationship with Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine and Russia. That question is becoming acute. It would be a tragedy if the result of enlargement were to weaken the ties that those countries enjoy with the rest of Europe. It is becoming increasingly clear that the EU will have to develop more flexible structures if we are to develop our relationships with those countries to their full potential. I hope that we shall all take up that challenge for the future.

Enlargement will create new opportunities for people and businesses in all 25 member states of the new EU. New wealth and jobs will be created. I hope that we shall now seek to build an enlarged Europe that revels in its diversity, not a Europe that seeks to turn itself into a grand political entity, trying to rival the United States, superseding our continent's nation states yet failing to tackle its weak points. We look forward to working with the accession countries to build an EU that looks to its peoples' aspirations, not simply to the aspirations of its elite. I am delighted to support Third Reading.

4.31 pm

Who would have believed it? We have held a major debate on a significant development in Europe and we have cross-party consensus. Indeed, there was a spectacular result on Second Reading, when 1 he House supported the Bill by 491 votes to nil.

In that debate, there was much talk of remarkable political transformations, which referred mostly to the spectacular progress made by the accession states, whose membership we endorse today. However, we should not let this moment of cross-party unanimity on this subject pass without reflecting on the positive pro-European signal that our votes sent out on that occasion. Alas, as the speech of the shadow Foreign Secretary has just indicated, and as we may find when we have the announcement—or non-announcement—about the euro on Monday, the moment will prove to have been brief. Let us enjoy it while we can. Liberal Democrat Members wholeheartedly endorse the Bill and support its Third Reading.

Within a year, we must hope that the existing 15 member states will be joined by 10 new members. Given the extremely positive results of the referendums so far, that seems highly likely. As the Minister for Europe pointed out in Committee earlier, referendums in Malta, Slovenia, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovakia have given strong endorsement for accession to the European Union. The indications in countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic, which are due to hold referendums shortly, are that they, too, will endorse accession.

Those results are important and, hopefully, in September will be further enhanced by the addition of Estonia and Latvia to the accession process. They represent a symbolic break with a past that, for so many, was characterised by conflict, invasion and totalitarian rule. The shackles are completely broken. The promised brighter future is taking a new and tangible form.

Each of those former communist countries has made decisive strides away from its past during the last decade. It would be insulting and naive to suggest that only the lure of EU membership created that change. Each has fast been developing its own democracy and modern market economy, and their desire to join the EU and part of our enthusiasm in welcoming them is based on the entrenchment of their new democratic principles, creating more prosperity and bolstering their security.

In recent months, opinion polls in the accession states have highlighted what the people of the new members see as the benefits of membership. Greater economic stability, improved competitiveness, human rights protection, rights for workers, environmental protection and common action on drugs and other forms of trafficking are just a few examples and positive reasons why they wish to join the EU. We in this country will benefit as well, with access to an increased market with up to 500 million people, which is about twice the size of the United States of America. We, too, will enjoy the benefits of enhanced security, finally, we hope, putting behind us centuries of conflict in Europe.

Not all will be plain sailing, and it would be remiss of us to ignore some of the problems that still face us. Indeed, in today's proceedings, right hon. and hon. Members have talked about the problems in Cyprus and we share their disappointment that it is not yet possible for the island to join in a united form. However, as has been said today and in previous debates on the subject, the fact that the people of Cyprus are voting with their feet and crossing between the north and the south is a positive development. I hope that the politicians will reflect on that and that a settlement will be reached.

Similarly, we must not ignore the problems of the need for reform within the EU. We, too, agree that the common agricultural policy, among other policy areas, needs to be examined seriously and overhauled from its present form. As the shadow Foreign Secretary highlighted, we can also look ahead to the outcome of the Convention and the intergovernmental conference and to a whole new way of operating in the EU. We will return to that debate on another occasion. No doubt, the arguments will be vigorous.

For now, we should continue to recognise the scale of the historical achievement that the Bill marks and that accession represents. Liberal Democrats wholeheartedly endorse the process and support the Bill.

4.37 pm

I rise briefly to support the Bill's Third Reading, not least because its brings into focus once again the importance to Parliament of the European Communities Act 1972, which has to be amended each time European legislation is introduced in this country. It is important that Members and people outside appreciate the importance of that Act. To date, it has been a one-way journey, in that we have amended the Act to introduce European legislation, but it can be amended the other way—for example, to bring back national control over British fisheries policy. That could be done if this Parliament had the political will so to do.

I welcome the countries that are joining the EU, but the Second Reading debate was amazing because of the themes that ran through it. I have flicked through Hansard and I wish to quote a couple of remarks made in that debate. The first is by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who said:
"Enlargement requires decentralisation and flexibility".—[Official Report, 21 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 1040.]
Everyone would agree with that.

Later in the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) said:
"The EU is in drastic need of reform. A large proportion of hon. Members agree broadly on the agenda to deal with it. We want a looser EU with the supranational element stripped out. We want the application of subsidiarity, or whatever one wants to call it. We want much greater scrutiny of EU activity by national Parliaments."—[Official Report, 21 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 1108.]
However, the accession of the 10 states after May next year and an EU of 25 states will make change and reform much more difficult to achieve. Any meaningful change or reform has to be agreed by unanimity. It has been difficult enough to get unanimity among 10 and 15 member states, and another 10 will make that even more difficult.

With that word of caution, I join hon. Members on both sides in welcoming the Bill and supporting its Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.