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Orders Of The Day

Volume 406: debated on Thursday 5 June 2003

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European Union (Accessions) Bill

Considered in Committee.


Clause 1

Accession Treaty

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

1. 33 pm

Clause 1 is central to the Bill. In crude terms, it will enable us to implement the accession treaty in United Kingdom law, paving the way for UK ratification later in the year. It should be recognisable to all who are familiar with past accession Bills. I have just had a very enjoyable lunchtime meeting with the Foreign Minister c f the Czech Republic, who hopes very much that he will be able to go home tonight with news that the House of Commons has sent the people of his country a positive message by adopting clause 1—and, indeed, the Bill as a whole.

Subsection 1 amends the definitions of "the Treaties" and "the Community Treaties" in the European Communities Act 1972. In broad terms that grants automatic effect to directly applicable treaty provisions, and allows designated Ministers to make regulations amending existing UK legislation to the extent that that may be necessary for the implementation of the treaty.

It is difficult to speak about this part of the Bill without rehearsing some of the principles discussed on Second Reading. I shall be brief, because I believe that there is a broad consensus on the principles of accession. We have separately placed the key facts in the public domain in the form of the explanatory memorandum on the treaty, and the explanatory notes and regulatory impact assessment relating to the Bill.

The enlargement for which the Bill provides means that the cold war will finally be laid to rest. After decades of suspicion, disunity and enmity, the continent of Europe will be united, locking in peace, security and prosperity. Just over a decade ago, six of the 10 states that will join us in the EU next year did not exist, and one of the 10 was at war. Now all the accession states, bar Cyprus and Malta, are or are due to become NATO members. Security and stability have increased markedly within and between the accession states, and across Europe as a whole.

Since the start of the association process 10 years ago, the gross domestic product of candidates from the former communist bloc has grown by 40 per cent. The standard of living in central Europe has improved dramatically. For example, the average salary in Slovenia has increased by 62 per cent. in the last 10 years. Central European economies have rapidly integrated with western European and world markets. When I visited Poland last week, I noted the remarkable change that is taking place almost year on year, with new wealth, new housing, new cars, new industry and new business surging forward.

The EU is the accession countries' main trading partner. As a bloc, the 10 new member states constitute the EU's largest trading partner after the United States.

The final package for the new member states is generous and fair, but it is also below the overall budget ceilings for enlargement set by the European Council in Berlin in 1999. Although some Members have complained that the deal is not generous enough, it is in line with the new member states' capacity to absorb funds.

Accession has helped and is helping the new members to address issues ranging from the protection of minority rights to the safety of nuclear power stations and to hygiene in dairies. They have had to reform and significantly strengthen their Administrations and their court and legal systems. All that benefits the citizens of those countries, and anyone who travels or works in them.

Given that the provision for regulations—the need for which is not of itself in dispute—comprises the vast bulk of clause 2 of a three-clause Bill, can the Minister enlighten us on whether the Government are prepared to consider subjecting such regulations to the affirmative procedure? That would afford the opportunity of a full debate on the content thereof on the Floor of the House.

Order. The hon. Gentleman's question relates to clause 2; we are debating clause 1.

Profound changes in the business environment have also taken place—for example, the creation of food standards agencies, telecoms regulators, labour inspectorates and insurance market supervisors. Enlargement is improving environmental standards across the continent as well as health and safety standards. That applies to food safety and the quality of food exports to the United Kingdom, consumer protection and employment practice. Enlargement has also improved human rights. The new member states have had to align their human rights law and practices with EU standards, and they are required to have taken on board by the point of accession the Community's acquis prohibiting racial and other forms of discrimination.

The Minister mentioned trade and exports. How will the accession of the whole island of Cyprus affect exports from the north of the island, and what changes will there be to visa requirements?

The status of the northern part will remain the same. We are optimistic that before accession on 1 May next year a united Cyprus, along the lines of the Kofi Annan plan, will enter the EU. I take great heart, as I believe do all Members, from the remarkable sight of the people of Cyprus voting with their feet against some of the most reactionary political advice that they have received in recent years.

The prospect of enlargement is helping us to boost cooperation between present and future member states in tackling organised crime, drug trafficking and people smuggling. Acceding countries are bringing their police forces up to EU standards, and will participate in EU anti-crime institutions.

There is certainly more for the new member states to do. The Commission continues to monitor their implementation of their negotiating commitments. We welcome that monitoring, which serves as both an encouragement to the new members to continue their efforts and an assurance to the existing member states.

The Commission will issue a comprehensive report in November this year. If necessary, that will advise on the potential use of the safeguards in the treaty for issues such as the functioning of the single market and mutual recognition of civil and criminal law. However, neither monitoring nor safeguards will affect accession itself. Subject to ratification by the 25 states, the treaty will enter into effect for all 25 states on 1 May next year. The signs so far are promising. Referendums have been won in Malta, Slovenia, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovakia. We have high hopes for Poland this weekend, for the Czech Republic a little later and for Latvia and Estonia in September. The message is clear and loud: saying yes to Europe is popular among those who know the value of freedom and who liberated themselves from communism.

Subsection (2) approves, for the purpose of section 12 of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002, the provisions of the accession treaty in so far as they relate to the powers of the European Parliament. As in previous accession Bills, the inclusion of that provision is a precautionary measure to put beyond doubt Parliament's approval of those parts of the treaty that deal with the powers of the European Parliament.

The accession treaty does not create new powers for the Parliament, but it increases the field of application of the existing powers of the Parliament. Article 11 of the Act of Accession provides for an allocation of MEPs to all 25 member states for the electoral term beginning in June 2004. The figures allocated to each member state were foreshadowed in the relevant protocol and declaration of the Nice treaty, but have been adjusted to take into account the fact that neither Bulgaria nor Romania will accede next year. Minor adjustments were also made to reflect more accurately the sizes of the Hungarian and Czech populations.

Like other existing member states, the UK will see a reduction in the number of its MEPs in the new Parliament; it will decrease from 87 to 78. That is a fair price to pay for an efficient enlargement. Those changes will be implemented in the UK through the European Parliament (Representation) Act 2003, which has recently become law.

I thank the Minister for setting out what is in clause 1. Of course, we endorse both the sentiments behind it and what is in the clause, but I remind the Committee of the Copenhagen criteria that were set 10 years ago for the accession process. The criteria demanded that, before a state could be considered for membership of the EU, it must possess the following attributes. An applicant must have stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the protection of minorities. An applicant must have a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competitive pressures in the single market of the EU. An applicant must be able to take on the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union. Lastly, the applicant must create the conditions for its integration through the adjustment of its administrative structures, so that European Community legislation transposed into national legislation can be implemented effectively through appropriate administrative and judicial structures.

I agree with the Minister. He said that the moves have had in many instances a salutary effect on internal reforms in the accession countries. Equally, it has been a very heavy load for some of those countries, with the 85,000 pages of the acquis communautaire. I pay tribute to the officials in the accession countries for their hard work and dedication to bringing this historic moment about.

Sir Alan, I hope that you will allow me the indulgence of saying a few words about each of the accession countries, because this is an extremely important moment. Each of the accession countries has something special to offer our European partners. In Britain, perhaps too little is known about them but I hope that, as a result of what we are doing today and the accession process, many millions of Britons will take the opportunity to experience the beauties of central and eastern Europe and to get to know about the political systems there.

1.45 pm

Malta is well known to us. It is a cherished and valuable member of the Commonwealth. We remember it for its bravery in the second world war and it is a considerable economic success story. The Baltic states have their own rich heritage. Estonia is famous for its beauty. What has characterised Estonia above all is its clear commitment to liberal economics. It has reduced taxation and is having to reimpose tariffs and subsidies— [Interruption.] I do not know why the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) finds this so amusing. I am trying to record for the purposes of the Committee how pleased we are, and to pay tribute to what those countries have done.

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, who was being extremely discourteous.

The result has been excellent economic growth. Latvia has one of the great cities, Riga. It celebrated its 800th anniversary last year. I hope that it will celebrate its 801st in the EU. Lithuania has a rich history and we welcome it into the EU. It has long fought for independence. It has a unique culture and it will act as a gateway and bridge to Russia, as will all the Baltic states.

Perhaps more than any other country, Poland suffered grievously in the previous century. It is now free from communist subjugation. The fall of the Berlin wall opened up the whole process; in effect, it began to crumble in Gdansk. I was lucky enough to visit Poland last year. Again, Poland will play an important part in the European Union and help us to open links with countries such as Belarus and Ukraine.

The Czech Republic lies at the heart of Europe. Prague is perhaps the most famous European city between Vienna and St. Petersburg. Again, it has a rich history. The country stood up for freedom strongly during the communist era. Similarly, the British people will, I am sure, be more aware of Slovakia. We pay tribute to what has happened there and to the harmonious relationships that have been built between the Slovakian majority and Hungarian minority.

Hungary's national spirit was fiercest in the resistance against communist tyranny. It now has a sturdy democracy and a growing economy. Budapest is recognised now as one of the great cities of Europe.

Slovenia is an exemplar in a troubled part of the world. Alone of the former Yugoslav republics, it has avoided the horrors of civil strife. [Interruption.]

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I do not want sedentary discussion going on and disturbing the debate. Nothing is out of order. If anything occurs that is out of order, I will rule it so. The clause deals with the accession of certain countries to the European Union. It seems therefore perfectly in order that some discussion should take place about those countries. However, I expressed the hope to some hon. Members before the debate that it should not be a slavish repetition of the Second Reading debate.

Thank you, Sir Alan.

On Cyprus, the whole Committee will recognise that this is something of a bittersweet moment because the special representative of the United Kingdom, Lord Hannay, has just been withdrawn, according to this morning's newspapers. I salute his efforts and those of Kofi Annan, but Cyprus is not joining as a united country. We regret the collapse of the negotiations process and what happened at the end of March. Our position has always been clear: we support a bi-zonal, bi -communal federal structure for a united island. I hope that, despite that terrific setback—as the Minister said, we saw a great outpouring and a total lack of rancour between the two groups on the island when they were allowed to meet in a limited way—it will be possible for the process to move on. The Republic of Cyprus has prospered, but that has not been true of Turkish north Cyprus. It is important that some arrangement be entered into that will result in prosperity for all parts of the island.

In paying tribute to the emerging countries, does the hon. Gentleman agree that they prize their independence, and that it is important that, as we go forward, we do not become an embattled Europe but bear in mind the whole world when talking about free trade?

I very much agree with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman. Free trade and flexibility must be key elements in making the European Union enduring and successful in the years to come.

I greatly applaud the measures taken by the Republic of Cyprus in respect of Turkish north Cyprus. It made several suggestions on 30 April, including greater freedom of movement of goods for citizens living in the Turkish part of the island, and of persons and vehicles. It also made suggestions concerning employment rights, medical care and participation in international events. I hope that, despite the setback, there can be a coming together.

The hon. Gentleman referred to Lord Hannay's withdrawal, but his mandate has simply come to its natural end. He is a superb servant of the Foreign Office and the Crown. He is well into his retirement and has given immense energy and time to trying to bring the people of Cyprus together. I simply want to place on the record, in front of the Committee of the whole House, all our thanks for the magnificent work that he has done. I hope that the spirit of Hannay will allow a united Cyprus to join the EU before next May.

I am very grateful to the Minister for those comments—obviously, what I read in one of this morning's newspapers was not entirely accurate. However, the fact is that Lord Hannay's tenure is coming to an end, and I am very happy to endorse the Minister's comments. Indeed, I did say that Lord Hannay has played an important part—[Interruption.] Perhaps the newspaper report originated from a rogue element—I do not know. I salute Lord Hannay and all those who have tried to bring about reconciliation. Cyprus is an island with which we have strong historical links, and there are Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities here in the United Kingdom that enrich our own national life. It seems tragic that at this moment in history, as the 10 accession countries are joining, one of them should not be united.

I am grateful to you, Sir Alan, for allowing me to make those comments about the accession countries, which have different histories, cultures and traditions. We very much welcome their joining the European Union, and that applies in the context of clause 1 of the Bill.

I shall speak very briefly, and I do not of course wish to repeat everything that was said on Second Reading. I want to begin by congratulating the Minister for Europe on all the work that he and his Department have done in respect of enlargement. He has been assiduous in visiting all the enlargement countries. Indeed, he has just come back from Poland, and his visit perhaps overshadowed even that of our own Prime Minister and President Bush, so well did the Polish receive him. We have reunited the continent of Europe, and reunited the Minister for Europe with members of his own family in Poland.

I am very pleased that the Minister has launched a campaign in this country—I understand that it is supported by the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats—to inform people about the enlargement process. The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) is absolutely right: people do not know enough about the enlargement process, and the work that the Minister is doing in taking the message to the people of this country will help us enormously.

It is always interesting to listen to the hon. Member for West Suffolk. I am grateful to him for repeating the names of all the applicant countries. Of course, the Conservatives' position has changed. At the time of the Nice treaty, they were in favour—as was the hon. Gentleman—of a referendum on Nice, thereby seeking to block the enlargement process. I was therefore delighted that, when the Conservative party called for a Division when this matter was debated on Second Reading, they voted in favour of enlargement; indeed, nobody voted against it. That unanimity is a bit late in coming, but we welcome such support.

All that we did not hear from the hon. Gentleman was an analysis of the voting during the Eurovision song contest, but perhaps that will come when he discusses clause 2. However, it is important that we pay tribute to these countries, which have worked extremely hard. The timetable set by our Prime Minister and others is being realised—perhaps sooner than many of us anticipated.

I want to raise one final point with the Minister, relating to his letter to me of 4 June. Page 2, paragraph 3 of that letter deals with early-warning letters sent by the Commission to the applicant countries—an issue that he mentioned in his speech. In considering this part of the Bill on Second Reading, I raised with the Minister the issue of countries such as Poland, which have received early-warning letters. I sought an assurance from him that their receiving such letters did not bar them from acceding to the European Union in May 2004, and he wrote to me giving that assurance. However, I am worried about paragraph 3 of that letter, in which he says that if the early-warning letters and the report that will be published in November show that some countries have not reached the necessary standard, those countries, if no safeguards are already agreed in the negotiations, will face the prospect of infraction proceedings as soon as they join.

That would be a terrible end to a very long process. Many of these countries have worked hard for a number of years in order to join the European Union. To say to those countries that, once they join, infraction proceedings may be started against them if there are no safeguards, is surely the wrong message to send. At this stage, we should be making sure that they meet the established criteria. I want the Government to do as much as they possibly can to help the applicant countries to achieve the benchmarks set by the Commission. We should not leave that task to the Commission. As the Minister has said, we have good relations with many of these countries. Why do we not give them whatever support they need to make sure that they resolve the problems described in the early-warning letters?

The prospect of infraction proceedings against those countries is awful, and I hope that we can ensure that we meet the criteria in a proper and effective way. If that means giving them more resources, we should do so. I know that the Minister, the Foreign Secretary and others have launched various action plans with the applicant countries, but if they need more support perhaps we should arrange the secondment of some of our civil servants. Indeed, we should help them in any way that we can, because there are still several months to go before they sign the treaty and accede.

I support the Bill and I hope that the clause will go through unamended.

I want to speak briefly about the importance of clause 1 to the Baltic states and specifically to Estonia, for obvious reasons. During the collapse of the Soviet Union, The Irish Times ran a cartoon depicting Estonia as a greenhouse filled with burly Russians chucking the local population around. The caption said simply, "People who live in glasnost shouldn't throw Estonians." [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Thank you very much. Estonia has come a long way since then. It had much to fear from the USSR, but I would suggest that the United Kingdom has nothing to fear from the implications of clause 1 and the benefits that it will bring to Estonia and the other Baltic states.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) correctly highlighted the importance of the four Copenhagen criteria, and I am glad to say that Estonia is certainly equipped to achieve the requirements of those criteria. Indeed, it has a great deal of common ground with the existing full members of the European Union, and particularly with the United Kingdom. Common points include a concern about the harmonisation of tax policy, an eagerness for reform of the common agricultural policy, a concern about over-centralisation of decision making and a healthy support for the tenets of competitive markets. Indeed, Estonia sees itself as a worthy competitor in a positive way, and clause 2 will have some very important benefits with regard to the movement of workers.

Estonia very much supports the belief that NATO must continue. In terms of many other policy areas, clause 1 simply enables countries that already have a great deal of cultural and spiritual commonality with existing members of the European Union to play their full part. I am grateful for the fact that the UK showed such generosity to my parents by allowing them to come here as refugees during the second world war. I hope that the implementation of clause 1 will give Estonia the opportunity to repay the gratitude that it feels for the help given to so many refugees.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the most famous person of Estonian origin in the country lives in my constituency and happens to be his mother. What more does he think that we can do to encourage the communities that are settled here permanently to get involved in the enlargement process?

2 pm

I shall not go too far into that, because we risk rerunning Second Reading. However, I agree that there may not be sufficient awareness of what clause 1 and the Bill as a whole will achieve. If clause 1 is agreed, and I suspect that it will be, we will have the opportunity to inform members of communities from the 10 countries of the potential benefits. That could also prove beneficial in respect of whatever referendum the Government decide to introduce.

In recording the importance to the Baltic states of the accession arrangements—and, indeed, the future role of the Baltic states in Europe—what does the hon. Gentleman think about the important discussions that have taken place, particularly in Lithuania, about Kaliningrad? What will be the implications for good working and trading relationships, particularly through Lithuania and Poland, with Russia? The Baltic states have done good work on behalf of the whole EU in making such arrangements possible, thus avoiding what could have been a flashpoint and point of contention in future years.

I did not intend to cover the point, but it is true, as the hon. Member for West Suffolk said, that clause 1 is beneficial not just to the Baltic states, but, in providing an active and direct economic and cultural interface with Russia to the European Union. That will allow for greater political stability and confidence, and a reduction of the danger of military problems breaking out in that area. I shall leave it at that for now.

To conclude, as the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) said, my mother lives in his constituency. As a Liberal Democrat, I sometimes feel that she is too keen a supporter of his constituency work. I hope that the clause will be passed, and I remind hon. Members that the Baltic states have a long memory and that they are truly grateful for the support of the UK in the past. As I said, clause 1 will provide an opportunity to repay that gratitude, and I hope that the country will shift from being good neighbour of the European Union to a full member of the team.

Because I want to raise some issues that might prompt Government Members to wonder where I am coming from, I should like to clear the decks before I go on to the detail, and make a couple of points absolutely clear. First, I support enlargement. I have no problem with it, and I never have had a problem with it. I also support the Bill in principle and have no difficulty with it; as Labour Members can imagine, there are a few buts to follow in a moment.

In the past, Conservative Members might have said that there should be a referendum on enlargement. The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) said that he was glad that we had moved on from that, because it meant that we were against enlargement. However, what he needs to understand is that championing the idea of consulting the people of this country does not necessarily mean that we are against something. It simply means that we want to invite the people to have their say. I make no apologies for wanting referendums and I do not accept the view that any party that supports a referendum is committing itself to campaigning for a yes or a no, or even to campaign at all. It means that an issue is so important that the people's views matter. If the hon. Member for Leicester, East does not want to bother to listen to his constituents, some of us will ensure that they understand that he could not care less about them, but does what he believes is in his and his party's best interest. I feel sorry for him if that is what he thinks.

Secondly, I want to make it clear from the outset that I am not in favour of leaving the European Union. If people think otherwise, they have got it wrong; I am still in favour of belonging to what I voted yes to in the referendum held in the past. I have no wish to leave it, only to change what we have now, which is a wholly different issue and way beyond the scope of clause 1. I make that point clear because the Minister for Europe made the usual assumption that it is a matter for rejoicing when people vote in favour of the European Union in referendums. He rejoiced in the fact that people in the applicant countries voted yes to Europe. I wish the Minister would stop claiming that the European Union equals Europe. The atlas on my bookshelf at home does not have a hole torn out where Switzerland is and does not end on the western boundaries of Sweden. Europe is not the European Union and the claim that anything that happens in favour of the enlargement of the EU has something to do with Europe is simply misleading.

In his opening remarks, the Minister also rejoiced—

If it would help the hon. Gentleman, I am happy to say that I rejoiced in the fact that the countries voted yes to Europe, minus Switzerland and Norway.

It is not as simple as that, but we will not go down that road, because I suspect that you would rule me out of order, Sir Alan.

The Minister said that huge numbers of people were enthusiastic about joining the European Union. It is tempting to point out the size of the majorities in favour in the referendums, and it is even more telling—and helps to put the debate into perspective—to examine the turnout. If we then deduct from the turnout the numbers who voted no, things do not look so rosy for the Minister. In Malta 53 per cent. of the electorate voted, in Slovenia 60 per cent.—perhaps a good showing. In Lithuania 63 per cent. voted—even better. In Slovakia only 52 per cent. managed to vote—only 2 per cent. more than was required to make it a valid referendum—and in Hungary only 45 per cent. voted. We should therefore temper any claims about the great enthusiasm for joining the European Union. I am glad that the people voted and I am pleased about the referendum results, but we should not get carried away about what it all means.

The only danger in my hon. Friend's observations so far is that he seriously understates his case. I share his enthusiasm for public consultation, but does he agree that clause 1 should be the catalyst for the development of an outward-looking, dynamic association of self-governing nation states, which should provide an alternative to what has all too often in recent times seemed to the people of this country a narrow, inward-looking protectionist club?

If you would allow me, Sir Alan, to have a debate of that sort this afternoon, I would be only too pleased to respond to my hon. Friend, but I suspect that you would not. I hope that it is in order to repeat what I said at the outset—that I support enlargement. I do so for exactly the same reasons as my hon. Friend. I have high hopes that enlargement will turn the EU outward and result in a more relaxed grouping of sovereign states, rather than what it is now.

My hon. Friend has fallen into the tender trap once more, by expressing a view that we heard many times on Second Reading. He gave voice to what is on his wish list, so let me tell him that what he espouses is not on offer. If he believes otherwise, can he tell me in which treaty it is mentioned?

My hon. Friend is right, but that does not undermine my point. It is why I suggested that any further comments would be out of order, but the issues must be addressed. She is right, however, to say that the clause and the Bill do not include the options that I referred to. I have already tried your patience long enough, Sir Alan, so I will move on.

I ask the Minister to comment on several issues arising from clause 1. Clause 1(1) will alter the European Communities Act 1972, and that is what we are being asked to approve. That must raise the question of whether the change is sufficiently important for a referendum to be held on it. The Minister did not say whether the Government consider it a substantial change. We have been told that other matters are merely a question of tidying up. Is this change mere tidying up? I would have thought that the addition of 10 more states is stretching the meaning of the phrase somewhat. If this is a substantial change, as the whole Committee seems to agree, perhaps the Minister could tell us whether he gave any thought to consulting the British people. If so, what conclusions did he reach?

The changes go beyond tidying up, and the questions that arise, many of which are addressed by the Convention, flow directly from enlargement. If enlargement is not tidying up, the issues that arise from it cannot be tidying up. Therefore, the argument against a referendum, on this or anything else, must collapse, according to the Minister's own argument. I would be grateful for his views on the holding of a referendum, because we will have to return to the issue in due course.

Ministers are always ready and able to shift the goalposts. Just as they can argue against a referendum on the so-called tidying-up grounds deployed by the Secretary of State for Wales, they are also capable of believing that issues are too important to subject to a referendum, for fear that the public might deliver the "wrong" verdict.

Order. This is a debate not about a referendum, but about clause 1 stand part.

I thought that you might intervene shortly, Sir Alan, and I accept what you say. I have made my point, and my hon. Friend underlined it.

Clause 1(1) will alter the treaty to take account of the joining of the countries that it mentions. Can the Minister tell us what the effect on the Bill would be if one of the 10 countries had a referendum that said no, and therefore did not join? We would have an Act of Parliament that altered a treaty to allow the accession of a country that would not in fact join. Would that make the entire procedure null and void? I note that clause 2(4)—I shall not debate the point now, Sir Alan—makes provision for what happens if one of the countries does not join. Why will we be told in that later debate that it is necessary to take precautions against a no vote in somebody else's referendum? If that is necessary in clause 2, why is it not necessary to have some sort of get-out provision in clause 1?

If the Minister thinks that an amendment could usefully be tabled in the other place to reflect that point, he might like to consider the European Communities Act section 1(3), which contains reference to the accession of Norway and makes arrangements for that country to become a member of the European Union. I know that he has a precedent to say that such provision is not necessary, but it appears to be necessary in clause 2. Can the Minister clear the muddle up, and what will he do about the Norwegian reference?

Is my hon. Friend aware of tension about these matters in some countries such as the Czech Republic? Some politicians and people in that country are deeply fearful about the impact of the common agricultural policy on them, and we may well see a negative vote.

2.15 pm

That is another avenue that I would like to explore, but I fear that I would be out of order. My hon. Friend gives an example of a country that may provoke the very problem about which I am attempting to probe the Minister.

I am a little confused, because the hon. Gentleman began by saying that he was in favour of enlargement. He has raised several important points, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will answer them, but is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we should delay the enlargement process until all those points have been addressed and all the referendums in the application countries are completed?

Absolutely not. The hon. Gentleman clearly has not been listening. I am tempted to repeat it all in case he could manage to grasp it the second time round. For his benefit, I shall try to make it as simple as possible. All I want is an assurance from the Minister that the wording is not defective, because I do not want enlargement to be held up. I want to be assured that if we leave clause 1 as it is, it will not wreck the whole process. That is the exact opposite of what the hon. Gentleman suggests. If he claims to see some ulterior motive in the points that I am making, he is wrong. I am in favour of enlargement and I am happy to vote for the Bill, but I would like an assurance on that point.

In the event that one or more of the acceding states fails to ratify on time, the Council is required to decide on immediate indispensable adjustments to key provisions of the treaty. There is an exhaustive list of those provisions that would need to be adjusted. I could give the Committee more detail, but the issue is covered. The hon. Gentleman has made a fair point, but the Bill is in line with previous accession treaties.

I thought that that was what the Minister would say. If such provision is not necessary in clause 1, I hope that he will have a convincing argument as to why it is necessary to make reference in clause 2—when we reach it—to what will happen if one or more countries do fail to join. This is confusing, because he has now told us that part of clause 2 is not necessary. Perhaps he will wish to table an amendment to that effect.

The Minister rightly points out that there are provisions to cover what needs to be renegotiated in the event of the failure of a country to accede, but he has not clarified the standing of the Bill—or the subsequent Act—in such a case. We have had the answer about the effect that it would have on clause 1, but what would happen if a country that said no then entered into further negotiations on the specific points that had upset its voters, and arrived at a different solution that meant that it would join on different terms? Would the Government have to come back with another Bill, or is the wording of the Bill sufficient to allow entry following renegotiation of the terms? That is a serious point, because we should have the chance to consider any new conditions negotiated with an entrant state. Or are we saying that all 10 applicant countries can join on whatever terms are negotiated?

I am sorry that the Minister finds this tedious. He sighs, but we must clarify these matters. I am not a great believer in tramping through Lobbies to suit him, or anyone else, just because that would be expedient or because, at 2.19 pm, the Minister wants to get home. We are here to scrutinise legislation.

The Bill uses language identical to that in the three preceding accession Acts. Clause 2(4) states:

"Regulations under this section do not have effect so as to apply an enactment in relation to a national of a relevant acceding State which has not ratified the treaty mentioned".
The hon. Gentleman is making a series of hypothetical points, as he is entitled to. If a nation decided not to join the EU on the terms that have been agreed, it would have to make new proposals and see whether they were acceptable, then negotiate its position and have another referendum. In due course, a separate Bill for that country would have to be brought before the House. That is what the Bill provides for if, between now and next May, one of the 10 countries decides not to join the EU. The language used covers such a refusal.

I am grateful to the Minister for that clarification. We now know where we stand with regard to renegotiation by applicant states.

The Republic of Cyprus has been touched on already, and two issues arise from that, about which the Committee must be clear. The first is the situation in northern Cyprus, which is covered by protocol 10. When I looked at the paperwork relating to the Bill, I assumed that I would find details about travel across the green line, and indeed, those details appear in protocol 10.

Unfortunately, the protocol says merely that the matter will be left to the Commission to sort out once Cyprus's accession has been agreed. Is that sensible, given the history of the green line? We all hope that Cyprus will be united by May next year, but I worry that the protocol could increase tension rather than decrease it, because no one knows what it means.

For the benefit of the Committee, I can report that the Commission has presented today, in the form of a communication to the Council, its proposals for dealing with some of the matters arising if there is no settlement in Cyprus before May next year. The communication includes proposals on trade and aid, for example. On trade, the Turkish Chamber of Commerce would become a customs authority under the authority of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus, so that trade with the north could recommence On aid, the proposal is that €13 million—the technical term for "million euro" is now, I understand, the ghastly "meuro"—of unspent budget will be spent in the form of 9 meuros on economic development and infrastructure, and 3 meuros on an information campaign covering EU issues. We fully support the proposals.

The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) asked about access and visas. Clearly, all holders of a Cypriot passport can travel to the EU and will be full citizens of the EU after 1 May, with normal visa-free access. People with Turkish passports will have to apply for visas, where appropriate, in the normal way. An increasing number of Cypriots from all communities are seeking the full Cypriot passport precisely so that they can get the travel rights that allow them to move freely about Europe.

I am grateful for that helpful intervention, to which I shall make a couple of responses. First, I thought for a moment that the Minister was saying that the euro was ghastly. I would have agreed with him about that. I half hope that Hansard will have heard it the same way, but I think that he meant that the word "meuro" was ghastly.

I am not clear about the unit of denomination being used. It would be helpful to know about it, for the purposes of clarifying the clause.

I am prepared to guess that I heard the word "meuro", which means millions of those ghastly awful things that I hope are never inflicted on this country. If the Minister wanted to join me in that sentiment, I should be delighted to give way to him.

The Minister referred to a document that he received today. I do not accuse him of discourtesy, as I might have been able to find the document in the Vote Office or the Library. However, we are being asked to legislate in respect of protocol 10 and I at least would be grateful to have a sight of that document. I hope that it may be possible for the Minister to arrange for someone to use a photocopier, as it would be helpful for members of the Committee to see exactly what is being proposed as an alternative to sorting out the green line problem after Cyprus has joined the EU. I am glad that the Minister has been able to tell us that such proposals now exist. All I want is to be able to decide whether they are adequate. It would be a huge help if he could make them available before the end of the debate—but I mean no criticism of him for not doing so beforehand.

People in the north of Cyprus who do not have a full Cypriot passport, or who choose not to apply for one, will not enjoy the right of free movement in Europe without visas that others enjoy. Will my hon. Friend reflect on the anomaly thus caused, and perhaps encourage the Government to seek a solution?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point, which I shall not pursue beyond hoping that the Minister will say something about visas when he responds to the debate. My hon. Friend has raised the matter before in an intervention, and clarification from the Minister would be helpful.

I hope, too, that the Minister will say whether he or Home Office Ministers have had any discussions with the Greek authorities on the matter. In the past, those authorities have had a nasty habit of denying British people access to Greece if they find a northern Cyprus stamp in their passports. Bearing it in mind that Greece is now an EU member, that seems a bit high-handed and unreasonable. I hope that the Minister will assure the Committee that that will stop when Cyprus joins the EU.

Another problem with the Republic of Cyprus that I hope that the Minister will clarify has to do with protocol 13, which deals with the sovereign base areas. It strikes me as weird that sovereign base areas should be situated outside the EU. Why do the Government think that that is a good idea? The only reason that I can find for that is that the Government consider that the arguments that applied when Britain negotiated EU entry still apply—that is, that when we joined, the sovereign bases did not join with us.

That may be a very good reason, but I hope that the Minister will say why the Committee is being asked to agree to clause 1, which in effect provides that the sovereign base areas of Cyprus remain outside the EU. However, I have discovered—surprise, surprise—that the benefits of the common agricultural policy will still apply to those areas, even though they are not in the EU. That is an example of having one's cake and eating it too. The sovereign base areas will have all the benefits of not being in the EU—if there are any, perhaps the Minister will tell us—but they will still get the money. That sounds weird—but perhaps I am being too suspicious and the Minister will be able to set my mind at rest.

2.30 pm

May I turn to subsection (2)? My understanding of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002 is that it requires any increase in the powers of the European Parliament to be referred to the House for approval, so I assumed that, for the purposes of section 12 of the 2002 Act, the House was being asked to increase the powers of the European Parliament. Perhaps I have not read the Bill or its explanatory notes correctly, or perhaps I have not correctly understood the Library briefings, but search as I may, I can find no increase in the powers of the European Parliament. Either the subsection is unnecessary or there is some increase in those powers that has not been explained, so will the Minister tell us which it is? If there are to be no increases, I hope that he will remove that subsection. If there are to be increases, we need to know about them so that we can decide whether we are prepared to give the European Parliament more powers.

I think that I shall receive the answer that the provision merely alters the number of member states, but that does not seem to alter the power of an individual member or of all the members collectively. That is not an increase in power, but merely an administrative change, which is an entirely different matter. Could the Minister help us out on that point?

The Minister needs to comment on several institutional issues to which the clause gives rise. Article 2 of the treaty refers to an increase in the size of the European Parliament, and we have considered separate

legislation to deal with that. Article 58 makes provision for nine more languages, so we shall have 20 languages. If we vote for the measure and add another nine languages, how much extra will the British taxpayer have to pay for that tower of Babel? The permutation of 20 languages each being translated into 19 others beggars belief. If we support the measure, what are we going to do about that?

Article 45 refers to the Commission increasing from 10 members to 25 members. We are being asked to agree to that, but the Government are already locked into discussions on another treaty that would alter that membership of 25. We shall be agreeing to something that the Government do not really want to happen. Article 12 refers to qualified majority voting—in respect of numbers, not the area over which it will be applied—yet the Government are already locked into discussions on extending the scope of qualified majority voting.

If the Government are asking us to agree to that parcel of changes, which are certainly not tidying up but substantial, yet they are already locked into negotiations to try to sort out some of the absurdities to which I have referred, will the Minister indicate that he will give the British public an opportunity to express their view about—

Order. I have already ruled on the referendum point. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not abuse my ruling.

I apologise, Sir Alan. I shall move on to article 3, which is about the Schengen agreement. I am seriously worried—as, I suspect, are many of my colleagues—about the implications for immigration and asylum seeking of moving the external border of the European Union eastwards. I hope that the Minister can give us some reassurance, as I notice that when the applicant states join they will have some latitude in applying the Schengen acquis. I want to vote with the Minister on the clause, but to persuade me to do so, he must reassure us that we will not be opening a loophole—a weakness in the external borders of the EU—by agreeing to only partial implementation of the acquis in the early stages.

My hon. Friend refers to his anxieties about Schengen. I ordinarily keep a beady eye on the matters that the Committee is being invited to scrutinise, so can he tell us whether, if we vote for clause 1, we should be conscious that subsection (2) thereof provides for a calculated, as opposed to an inadvertent, increase in claims on public expenditure? I had understood no such thing and should be disturbed to discover that it was so, but I need to know.

Order. Any further explanation of that point will take us well over the line as to whether the remarks of the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) are relevant to clause stand part.

I note that you prevented me from saying that I agreed with my hon. Friend, Sir Alan, so I shall not do so.

The last point that I want to raise relates to land access between Kaliningrad and Russia. In a previous incarnation as a member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, I was closely involved with that issue when discussing it with regard to Poland and the Baltic states.

Not on that occasion.

Will the Minister tell us whether the protocol will be able to cope with the dangers and risks involved in that land access? It would be the only place where two parts of a sovereign state are divided by part of the EU. It would be sensible to allow Kaliningrad land access to the rest of the country to which it belongs. However, when we take the trouble to find out about the state of affairs in Kaliningrad—the poverty, the shambles of the economy and whether it can manage to produce any income for its citizens—we have every reason to worry furiously about crime, smuggling and many other things about which we should be extremely wary.

Discussions about Euro-policing are not for this Bill, but if we allow the protocol to pass, under the provisions of clause 1, we must be reassured that we are not opening the door to yet more crime from Russia, which would cause us huge difficulties. It is right for the people of Kaliningrad to be given access to the rest of Russia, but how is that to be policed? Are they halfway down the road to being able to go where they like and do what they like? That worries me enormously.

I am grateful to the Committee for allowing me to raise what I believe are genuine anxieties—although the Minister may not agree. I end as I started: I am an enthusiastic supporter of enlargement, but, as with everything else, when we enter into something—even if we are in favour of it—we should do so with our eyes open. We need to know exactly what we are signing up to. The Minister's helpful interventions have put my mind at rest on some matters. I am sure that he has made a note of the remainder, and I hope that he will be able to respond to my queries so that I can enthusiastically vote with him and deliver the enlargement that he wants, and that we want.

I shall try to respond as briefly as possible. I do not want to go over Second Reading matters, nor do I want to engage in a general European debate on whether we should hold referendums and so on. Suffice it to note that, when the three previous enlargement treaties came before the House to be put into British law, there was no question of a referendum, and that people in other countries who called for a referendum on enlargement did so explicitly to shut out the 10 countries and deny them the chance to join the EU—a message that I am sure that the Committee does not want to send today.

I dealt with the point about Cypriot passports raised by the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink). I welcome the intervention about Estonia from the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik). I paid an enjoyable visit to Tallinn, which is recovering its glory as a great Hanseatic trading port. The city and its hinterland are quite remarkable.

The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) talked about Kaliningrad, which is of the most acute interest to Lithuania. A sensible system of facilitated transit visas has been put in place. It means that Russians will be able to go from Kaliningrad to the rest of Russia with a specific visa for the purpose of that journey. There will not be the free access to the EU about which the hon. Gentleman expressed concern.

Britain is, of course, not part of the Schengen agreement and the accession countries will come bit by into Schengen, as the treaty makes clear. We will have the right of regard on that, but I do not think that we will have specific new problems to worry about that arise out of Schengen.

On sovereign bases, it is true that the sovereign base areas were kept out of the European Union when we joined in 1973. The very simple reason is that they are military bases from which important military operations take place. The common agricultural policy will apply simply because—again, I think very sensibly—large parts of the sovereign base area are agricultural land on which Greek Cypriot farmers go about their normal farming business. It is quite right that they should have the same rights as farmers in other parts of the European Union.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) for the energy that he has put into supporting the cause of Europe and, in particular, that of enlargement. He referred to infraction proceedings. To put it simply, all member states—new and old—are subject to Community law. The Commission is the guardian of the treaties and it alone is responsible for infraction decisions. Rather than the suggestion that the 10 new member states will have different and less rigorous rights and duties on entering the European Union, 1 think that they want to keep moving their game to the highest European levels. It is right that they know from 1 May next year they will have to operate according to the same standards as the rest of their fellow European member states.

My hon. Friend was right to say that we need to help, and we are helping through twinning and by sending civil servants and other technical experts to work on Ministries' specific action plans. In addition, there has been generous pre-accession funding and programmes to support that.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire referred to the need to sell enlargement. I apologise to the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) that a letter that I sent out muddled his first name with that of the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring). However, with their support, I have sent an enlargement poster to every hon. Member and I invite those present to take this poster, which is designed for secondary schools, to the secondary schools. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for West Suffolk suggests that there is not much demand for the poster. On the contrary, in co-operation with the Department for Education and Skills, we have already sent it out to every single school and we are receiving many requests for more posters. That just goes to show that, when the hon. Gentleman and I do something together, the country listens.

What I said was that—surprisingly enough—there was not much demand for the poster in the House.

The photograph on the poster did every credit to the hon. Gentleman's handsome visage, but perhaps did not show me at my youngest and best. It is a serious matter, and I shall be visiting Birmingham on Wednesday with other Ministers and colleagues and the Polish Minister of European Affairs. With the help of the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce, I shall also visit 100 UK towns and cities to talk about enlargement and to have discussions on the wider issues relating to our membership of the EU. The current external borders will remain in place with the new member states until they have undergone due process by the existing member states.

I was asked about the European parliamentary elections and procedures. The language in the Bill is identical to that in all previous Bills that have been enacted by the House. As I said in my opening remarks, the number of seats is being altered to allow the 25 members to have an appropriate and proportionate number of seats. If Romania, Bulgaria and other countries join, we will have to look at the matter again.

I noted the animadversions of the hon. Member for Spelthorne on the fact that only 60 per cent. of the people of Slovenia voted to say yes to the EU. I notice that 27 per cent. of the electorate in his constituency voted for him. I am sure that they made a sound choice, but only 27 per cent. said yes to him.

2.45 pm

Mention was made of the Commission proposals that have been put to the Council in the form of a communication on how some matters relating to Cyprus will be handled if Cyprus does not become reunited before 1 May. I am happy to put a copy of that document in the Library so that it is available to hon. Members.

If there are any points that I have not covered, I will be happy, on request, to write to hon. Members with any detailed information that they may desire.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause I ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Freedom Of Movement For Workers

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


Post Offices

4.40 pm

It is a great honour to present to the House a petition from the west of Scotland seniors forum. Its headquarters is based in my constituency but, as its name suggests, it campaigns on behalf of the elderly over a wide area of Scotland.

Tremendous concern has been reflected throughout Scotland and the United Kingdom about the effect of the current post office closure programme on our local communities and, especially, the elderly. Many older people, including a significant percentage of older people in my constituency, rely entirely on their local post office to obtain their pensions and pay their bills. Many elderly people rely solely on public transport and many suffer from mobility problems. In addition, many live a considerable distance from alternative banking facilities. Such closures are likely to hit our elderly the hardest.

The west of Scotland seniors forum has collected a magnificent 9,076 signatures from post office users in many parts of Scotland. It calls for the current closure plan to be stopped and hopes that its appeal will be taken seriously.

The petition states:
To the House of Commons
The petition of the West of Scotland Seniors Forum
Declares that Consignia/Post Office Ltd is wrong to consider closing 3,000 local post offices as this will lead to poorer services for older people who rely on their local post office for many transactions. The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to intervene and stop the closures.

And the petitioners remain, etc.

To lie upon the Table.