I was deeply concerned when Baroness Kinnock was appointed Minister for Europe, because I feel passionately about our relationship with the European Union. It is pivotal to that relationship that there is more accountability to parliamentarians in the House of Commons on this issue. It is deeply regrettable that Baroness Kinnock was made a peer and that she sits in the other House.
One of Baroness Kinnock’s first acts on being appointed was to state that the Government would support Mr. Blair’s candidature for the European Union presidency, should the new constitution and that position come into being. Mr. Blair’s father lives in my constituency, so I had a good relationship with Mr. Blair and gained a certain amount of access to him, which cannot be said of the current Prime Minister. However, he is the wrong man for the job.
I know the hon. Gentleman well from our days on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and respect him greatly. He criticises our promotion of matters European in the Houses of Parliament, but does he not think that the group that his party has joined in Europe is the most extraordinary mix of oddballs, malcontents, misfits, flat-earthers and unregenerate nationalist bigots? Is that not a fair and even-tempered description? Perhaps he should justify what his party has been doing in Europe since 4 June.
I wondered when that matter would be raised. That comment crystallises for me the sheer arrogance of this new Labour Government and the Prime Minister; it is the arrogance of power. The hon. Gentleman must not forget that the oddballs to whom he refers are people who represent parties that have been elected democratically by the people of sovereign nation states. If any political party dares to have even a scintilla of thought or opinion that differs from the great Labour policies, it is described as containing oddballs and nutters. That is bad for the democratic process.
The hon. Gentleman has talked about democracy and accountability, but is not Labour the only party that has ever provided such things on European matters? At about the time of the hon. Gentleman’s third birthday on 24 June 1975 Harold Wilson gave us a referendum on how Ted Heath had bulldozed us into Europe. I voted against at that time and have remained sceptical ever since. Is it not the Labour party to which people should look if they wish to embrace accountability and democracy?
It was good of the hon. Gentleman to try to find out when my birthday is. I was actually born on 24 January.
I said the 24th.
The hon. Gentleman said June, but let us not get into a debate about when my birthday is. I was born on 24 January 1972, which is the day on which Ted Heath signed the document to take us into Europe. I will come on to that later.
Let me finish my important point about Mr. Blair. We need only look at what he did in this Parliament to see why he is the wrong choice for that position. He neutered this place by using the Whips to railroad through huge, poorly thought out constitutional legislation, and he used his position to go to war against the express wish of millions of British citizens. In my view, he is quite simply the wrong person to bring greater transparency and accountability to Europe.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) is a brilliant negotiator, whom I have seen in action in Europe. I hope that he will guarantee that when he becomes a Foreign Office Minister—that will be sooner than the Minister thinks—the Conservative Government will veto Mr. Blair’s candidature to be President of the European Union.
I have a question to make the hon. Gentleman feel relaxed, comfortable and content. Does he think that any other member states would support the candidature of Tony Blair and, if so, will he name them?
The honest answer is that I do not know. As somebody who feels passionately about this country and its position in Europe, it pains me greatly that I would prefer somebody from another country to be President than a former British Prime Minister. However, I believe that Mr. Blair’s outrageous conduct in Parliament and his lack of regard for democracy should prevent him from becoming President.
Who is the hon. Gentleman’s preferred candidate?
We do not yet know who the candidates will be.
Our relationship with the European Union is under threat from the Prime Minister’s conduct towards other Heads of State. I hope that the Foreign Office officials are listening carefully. I have spoken to many foreign officials who say that he looks bored at European Union meetings, treats Heads of State with disdain and does not follow basic diplomatic protocol.
I will take as an example Iceland, which is not yet a member of the European Union, but which has expressed a desire to join in its Parliament. During the Icelandic banking crisis, the Prime Minister and the Government used counter-terrorism legislation to seize the assets of Icelandic banks. I will never forget his language during an interview on Sky News because it was the most undiplomatic that I have ever heard. The rudeness, disdain and contempt with which he treated Iceland and the Icelandic people were disgraceful. I will not go into detail, but I have a copy of that interview if hon. Members wish to see it. I hope that people will look at it again, because it was unacceptable.
Following the interview, I had discussions with the Icelandic ambassador and friends of mine who are Icelandic politicians and leading members of Icelandic society. They were traumatised by our Prime Minister’s conduct towards them. Nothing has done more damage to our relationship with Iceland. I hope that the Minister will apologise for the Prime Minister’s behaviour and that he will do everything possible to support Iceland as it tries to enter the European Union. We must show support to this vital NATO ally and neighbour and be its champion, so that we can repair that relationship.
From the perspective of the British people and my constituents in Shrewsbury, the Labour Government have put our relationship with the European Union into the deep freeze by refusing to give the British people a referendum on the constitution. In this Chamber, we have debated many times the necessity for our citizens to be granted an opportunity to cast their vote on this vital issue. The French and the Dutch people have had their opportunity to reject the treaty. The treaty of Lisbon, which has come into being as a result of that rejection, is, by the way, a carbon copy of the original constitution, according to Monsieur Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and many other prominent European politicians and former politicians. It is interesting that every time the people of any European country have been given an opportunity to have their say on the constitution in a referendum they have rejected it—for example, the French, the Dutch and the Irish.
The hon. Gentleman is simply wrong. The Spaniards were the first to have a referendum and there was an overwhelming majority in favour. He should get his facts right.
What about the other three?
Yes, what about the other three? The Minister is saying that only one country out of 27 has had a referendum in which the people have been in favour.
My hon. Friend clearly does not get it. The Spanish got it right; the other three countries got it wrong. When is he going to understand that?
A point very well made—I thank my hon. Friend.
Surely the central point is that the promise of a referendum that was given to the British people was a Labour party manifesto commitment. What does that say about the Government’s attitude to their manifesto commitments, and how should the British people respond to their manifesto at the next general election?
I totally agree with my hon. Friend: what has happened is a huge snub to the British people and is a trashing of the Government’s policy statements that were made in the run-up to the last election. That is part of the reason why there is so much cynicism towards politicians in this country.
Getting back to my date of birth, I do not know how old the Minister is, but I am 37, so, as the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) has rightly identified, I was three years old when we had the referendum in 1975. This issue is extremely important to me, because millions of people in the United Kingdom who are in their 20s, 30s and 40s have, like me, never been consulted on not just the relationship, but the ever-changing relationship that this country has been through with the European Community, the then European Economic Community and now the European Union. There has been no consultation at all for the British people.
I am following the hon. Gentleman’s comments with great interest. If there were a referendum on whether Britain should be a member of the European Union, how would he vote?
I personally would vote for continued membership of the European Union, which I will come on to later in my speech. It is very important that we have a referendum to give the British people their say and to give me the opportunity to campaign in favour of our continued membership of the EU. As my hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb) has said, however, the Government’s broken promises and the lack of a referendum mean it is very difficult to sell European Union membership to our constituents.
I find it staggering that the Home Secretary, who is obviously a very busy man at the moment, has time to write articles in newspapers demanding that a referendum on a new voting system is held at the same time as the next general election. He wants a form of proportional representation and is demanding a referendum on that at the next election. However, he refuses to allow the British people a referendum on this vital issue. What is more—the Minister may contradict me on this point—the Home Secretary said in his article in The Independent that the Prime Minister has given him an assurance that he has not discounted such a referendum on a change to the voting system being held on the same day as the next general election. When I think of all the problems facing this country at the moment, I find that absolutely scandalous. I must declare an interest because I am chairman of the all-party group on the continuation of first past the post, about which I feel passionately. I find it absolutely staggering that the Government are talking about a change to the voting system and yet refusing to allow the British people to have a referendum on this constitution.
In the recent EU elections, we have seen the challenges that we face in our relationship with the EU. As we in this Chamber all know, across the whole of the country, the UK Independence party did much better than the Labour party and, in my own neck of the woods in Shropshire, UKIP outstripped the Labour vote by even more. UKIP is a party that wants to pull out of the European Union, which I am passionately against. It worries me greatly that so many British people want to vote for a party that will pull us out of the entire thing. I am making the point that it is so important to have a referendum on the constitution, because it adds a huge amount of power and succour to UKIP if the British people are refused that referendum.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. He makes a good point about the necessity of having a referendum; I totally agree with him on that. Will he go further and say that if second time around, in October, the Irish vote in favour of the Lisbon treaty, this country should still have a referendum on whether it should subscribe to the treaty?
There are hypothetical—[Interruption.] Let me answer the question. There are hypothetical things that we could consider—[Interruption.] They are hypothetical, because they have not occurred yet. As I will discuss in a second, the Polish President has not ratified the treaty and neither has the Czech President. Of course, if all those ratifications take place, there will be people like me in the Conservative party who will try to encourage my party to have a referendum. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a guarantee that that will happen because I am a Back Bencher and do not make such decisions. However, I feel passionately about the matter, and others and I will, of course, try to lobby the Conservative Government on that point.
I will just talk a little bit about the Members of the European Parliament, because they are a very important direct link with British citizens and our relationship with the European Union. Over the past four years, I have repeatedly spoken to organisations throughout my constituency. I have addressed rooms of 300, 400 or 500 people and said, “I will give anyone here £100 if you can name me two of our Members of the European Parliament.” I have not lost a penny to date. Why? Because no one knows who the Members of the European Parliament are in Shropshire. Why is that? Because none of them lives, works or has offices in Shropshire. There is no accountability. I consider it to be very important that I live in the county that I represent, that my office is in Shrewsbury, that my child goes to the local school, that I am part of the community and that people can stop me in the street or the supermarket and talk to me. It is very important for there to be that accountability.
If we are going to have a better relationship with the European Union, we have to make Members of the European Parliament more directly accountable to the people whom they represent. However, that should not be done through a proportional representation system whereby Members of the European Parliament represent a vast area. From an economic perspective, the west midlands is larger than the whole of Wales. That is a huge area. How on earth can someone represent an area of that size and yet still be accountable to the people of Shropshire?
I want to mention my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who I think will also make a speech, because he is an assiduous member of the Council of Europe. On the record, I thank him for the tremendous work that he does for that organisation. He has asked me—he is pushing against an open door on this, because I totally agree with him—to formally thank the Czech President for not signing the treaty into existence. I have written an open letter in Polish to the Polish President asking him not to sign the document. For the record, I wish to state that those two politicians are being put under a huge amount of pressure by the Germans and the French to ratify the constitution, because they are desperate for that to be done before a Conservative Government come into office and give a referendum to the British people. So, on the record, and with all the sincerity that I can muster, I thank the Presidents of the Czech Republic and the Republic of Poland for the courage and integrity that they have shown under intense pressure—almost blackmail—to ratify the treaty. I thank them very much, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh will also discuss this issue. We need them to hold out until we get into office and can hold a referendum.
Returning to the point that the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) made, the reason why UKIP is wrong is that we have a golden opportunity to change the European Union, whereas it simply wants to pull us out of the entire thing. What a squandered opportunity that would be. I do not want to pull out of the European Union; I want to change it and to challenge the Franco-German hegemony that has been prevalent in the past 40 years. The Franco-German axis has come up with all the strategies and direction of the European Union, but that will be challenged for the first time in our lifetimes, because so many central and eastern European countries are looking to the United Kingdom for leadership. If I were to take you to Warsaw, Mr. Amess, or to Prague, Bucharest or downtown Vilnius, you would see that they look not to Germany for leadership but to the United Kingdom. The British nature is to hide our strength under a bushel, because we are modest people, but the people of eastern and central Europe feel passionately about Britain and the role that it should play in the EU. They want us to form a coalition of support and they want a new European Union that is not federalist, that works closely on counter-terrorism, tackling poverty abroad and illegal immigration, but that nevertheless focuses on ensuring that each country has its own sovereignty.
We must make countries adhere to the rules of the EU. That is another bone of contention for our constituents, as we gold-plate everything that comes out of Brussels. As chairman of the all-party group on dairy farmers, which is one of the largest all-party groups in the House of Commons—I am getting through all my all-party groups today—I must say that the rules on nitrates and other things that are being brought to bear are destroying our dairy sector in the UK. We are gold-plating those rules, whereas some other countries simply ignore them. A specific case in point is the Italian Government’s announcement that they will give $250 million per annum in aid to Libya for the next 20 years. That aid is for road, railway and other major infrastructure construction projects in Libya.
It seems that some of the flaws that the hon. Gentleman is discussing can be addressed only by renegotiating our membership of the European Union. On 2 June, the fabled Jeremy Paxman asked the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who was in the studio with him, “Would you renegotiate our membership of the European Union?” to which he replied, “No.” Is the hon. Gentleman encouraged by that comment from someone whom he hopes will be the future Foreign Secretary?
The whole nature of governance is through in-depth negotiations of the sort that take place all the time at regional conferences. I am sure that when my right hon. Friend becomes Foreign Secretary, he will want to negotiate with his counterparts in his own brilliant way to get a European Union that is more akin to the thinking of the British people. I do not understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, because I know how passionately my right hon. Friend wants a change to the current situation in the European Union.
To get back to my point, why can the Italians give $250 million a year to Libya in tied aid? That cannot be right. I do not believe that European Union countries should do or are allowed to do that; it certainly goes against the spirit of the EU rules. I hope that the Minister will write to me on that, and that he will challenge the Italian authorities about giving that money to Libya in tied aid. As chairman of the all-party group on Libya, and as someone who is passionate about helping British companies to secure infrastructure construction projects, I strongly hope that the Minister will address that issue, because British companies are losing out on vital construction projects.
My hon. Friend makes a good point about Italian practices on overseas aid. Does he share my concern about the Labour party’s great friend and ally in Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, reneging on his commitment to give 0.7 per cent. of gross domestic product in overseas development assistance by 2013?
I do, very much. We are all under huge pressure because of the current economic crisis, but this country and all political parties have adhered to the targets, so I strongly regret that Signor Berlusconi finds it impossible to match such targets.
The EU relationship can be strengthened only if it tackles issues of concern, one of which is illegal immigration from Africa. I recently secured a debate in this Chamber on the Department for International Development’s support for north African countries. It transpired that DFID gives not a penny piece to vitally strategic countries in north Africa, who are neighbours of huge importance. Conversely, the Americans, who realise the importance of Egypt, give them $1.5 billion a year in aid, but we give them nothing. Those countries are grappling with counter-terrorism issues—a British citizen was recently shot dead by al-Qaeda in Mali—and they are dealing with illegal immigration and the tremendous suffering that happens as a result. We see many times on our televisions and in our newspapers the tremendous human suffering of people who cross the Mediterranean in boats to the Canary Islands, Italy, Lampedusa and Malta. The European Union needs to do more to help north African countries deal with the human tragedy that is illegal immigration from north Africa. I hope to hear more from the Minister about what is happening on that issue.
The right to self-determination is something that I feel passionately about as someone who has Polish ancestry. My grandfather’s country did not have self-determination for the whole of his life. Self-determination is one of the issues that drives me more than any other in politics, which is why I want to speak briefly about Gibraltar. We want no more talk of Anglo-Spanish co-operation over any changes to the status of Gibraltar. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh becomes a Minister, we can give Gibraltar an assurance that it will always be British and that we are proud to have it as part of our family. I hope also that the next Conservative Government will encourage more visits and more royal visits to Gibraltar. I know that my hon. Friend campaigned in Gibraltar during the European Union elections; from what I hear, he went down extremely well there and they were grateful that he went. I wanted to get on the record my thanks to him for that, as well as my great love for the people of Gibraltar.
Finally—because I vowed that I would not speak for more than 30 minutes—let me discuss Turkey. It has been in a crazy situation for decades regarding whether it will join the EU. I want to ask the Minister about the current status of its application to be a member of the EU. What is his understanding of the time frames involved, and what is he doing specifically to support its joining the EU? Turkey is an important NATO ally, and I, for one, feel uncomfortable about the lack of clarity about its membership of the EU.
I have friends in Ankara who say, “Frankly, we are not actually interested any more. We’ve had enough. We’re going to pull the plug on this and go our own way.” People may say what they like about Turkey’s membership of the EU, but I worry about a situation in which Turkey is pulled closer to Syria and Iran. I very much hope that it will remain within the European sphere of influence, and that the Minister will give me an update on what is happening with its membership of the EU.
I thank you, Mr. Amess, for this opportunity, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister will say.
This is a great opportunity for me to contribute to this important debate on the last day before the recess, when—to get the record straight—we go into 82 days of working in our constituencies.
I had rather hoped that, following my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), I would be able to tell him that I could name two of his MEPs and claim the £100. However, even by cheating and using the Blackberry to ask my researchers to come up with the names, I cannot do so. Even using the internet, we are hard pushed to name the MEPs from his area. I find it much the same when I ask people in the north-west of England to name their MEPs. Many can name their MPs, but, going down a list of seven or eight MEPs, they find it difficult to name just one of them. I appreciated his comments.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I give way to my honourable neighbour.
Can the hon. Gentleman name one of his former MEPs?
That is the kind of question that could, perhaps, rebound on the hon. Gentleman after the general election. If I were to ask him to name some former MPs, the list would be somewhat longer than the list he is asking me to choose from at this moment.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, I am a democrat, and I am concerned that the turnout for the European elections we have just gone through was lower than the turnout for the previous elections and the time before that. In 1979, the turnout was 63 per cent. for the whole of Europe; in 2009, it was 43 per cent. People say that it is just Britain that is Eurosceptic and therefore not interested in what happens in the European Union, but those figures prove that the whole of Europe feels somewhat remote from the institutions that act on its behalf.
In the United Kingdom, the turnout was even more worrying, at 34.3 per cent. Two thirds of the country had something more important to do on the day of the European elections, even though we have made it far easier for them to vote. In the UK, 11 million people voted in the European elections. In 2002, 23 million voted in “Big Brother”. More people in Britain are more interested in what happens on “Big Brother” than in the Big Brother state in Brussels, which actually has more say on how they lead their lives.
I am a democrat; therefore, I am concerned about what is happening in the EU and, indeed, in the UK. My hon. Friend mentioned the referendum on the Lisbon treaty. Tony Blair said that we would have one, but, in his dying days as Prime Minister, he said, “By the way, there will not be a referendum.” That is one of the greatest denials of democracy that I have seen in this country in the 51 years I have been alive. Everyone knows that the Lisbon treaty is exactly the same as the constitution, apart from one or two words. The French, the Dutch and the Irish said no to it. I am staggered that the French were told that they could not have another vote, and the Dutch “no” was also ignored.
Ireland keeps getting it wrong. I do not know what is wrong with it. It did the same in respect of the Nice treaty, but, fortunately, had another go and got it right that time—as far as Brussels was concerned. If I were Irish, I would feel somewhat aggrieved that my voice in a referendum is being ignored. We hear the great democrats of Europe ask, “Why should one country be able to block this treaty when the other 26 wish it to go ahead?” That is the system. They need unanimity of the 27 countries. They should not try to change the rules simply because one country is deemed to have got it wrong.
I must point out that I used a bit of irony when I intervened on my hon. Friend earlier, just in case someone thinks that I actually believed what I said about three countries getting it wrong and one country getting it right. I actually think that the referendum in Ireland was poignant. I hope that when the Irish are forced to have another referendum—I believe that it will be on 2 October—they will stand firm and vote as they did last time. They will be doing not only themselves but democracy a favour if they say “no” again. My great suspicion is that, if they do, the wonderful, nameless bureaucrats will take the Lisbon treaty to one side, salami-slice it and then introduce it bit by bit through the back door, as if the vote had never mattered. It is appalling that parts of the Lisbon treaty are already being introduced, even though it does not have the unanimous vote that it requires.
As my hon. Friend said, the Czech President, the Poles and, indeed, even the Germans—the treaty is going through their constitutional courts—are clearly showing greater care for democracy than has been shown by several other countries, and certainly by Europe generally.
I feel uneasy, to say the least, that we have an unelected Prime Minister who is trying to push a general election in this country into the long grass so that the Lisbon treaty can be ratified by the 27 countries before Britain has a general election. That is because the Conservative party is committed to having a referendum on it if it has not been ratified by then. And then, to have another unelected person—Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead, who was recently appointed to the House of Lords—say on behalf of the British people that we will support Tony Blair as president of the EU when the position has not yet been created is quite stunning. The lack of democracy in every stage of this is amazing.
As a member of the Council of Europe, I spend some of my time visiting some of the 47 member states to talk about democracy and observe their elections. I tell them how important the rule of law is, yet it seems that it does not really matter for us. I feel incredibly uneasy about that.
We all believed, when the French, the Dutch and the Irish said “no”, that the treaty was dead, but the walking corpse has had some life breathed into it, and we may well see it become a reality for the whole of Europe—for all 27 countries. I hope that that will not happen.
The EU is an important institution, but many of my constituents say that it has been transformed into a creature that they did not wish to see. The hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) said that in the 1975 referendum he voted against, as many did. The vast majority of people whom I speak to did not have an opportunity to vote in that referendum because they had not reached voting age. They have never had a referendum on Europe, yet over the years they have seen it transformed into something akin to a united states of Europe, which is what some, including Hans-Gert Pöttering, wish to see.
Many of those who voted yes in 1975 voted for a Europe of independent sovereign nation states trading together, but with their own sovereign Governments who would conduct the laws that pertained mostly to them from their own countries. However, year by year, treaty by treaty, we have seen this ebb away and we now have a creature that few people, including Ted Heath, would ever have recognised as the organisation that existed when he took us into Europe in 1973. Ted Heath fought the ’75 referendum by saying that it was a Europe of trading states, and that that was all it was. Clearly, it has turned into something far more than that.
We have learned the word “subsidiarity”, which has come into our parlance, but we are not acting on it. I hope that a future Conservative Government will take subsidiarity to heart and ensure that, in the ongoing set of negotiations that is the European Union, we return vital powers back to the nation states and closer to the people—that is the sort of devolution I believe in—instead of more power being attracted to the centre, which we have already proven is fairly remote from the vast majority of people in the country.
I shall end by talking, as my hon. Friend did, about EU enlargement. The Council of Europe comprises 47 countries, many of which have had problems, such as Georgia, which has faced hostilities on its borders from another Council of Europe country—Russia. Many of those countries would dearly love to join the EU. Fortunately, two of the more recent entrants to the EU, the Czech Republic and Poland, have shown that they are no pushover when it comes to the rights of their countries and their peoples. I, too, want to see Europe expanding. I want a wider Europe, not a deeper one. I want many of the Balkan states neighbouring us to join the EU as soon as possible, including Croatia, which will hopefully be the next country to join, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo. I look forward to countries such as Turkey being able to join at the appropriate time.
It will not be the same Europe. It is almost impossible for us to talk about all the countries that will have joined Europe having the same access to labour markets as is currently the case. When Romania and Bulgaria joined we learned the lesson that we failed to learn when the other 10 countries joined. Whereas France and Germany protected their countries with derogations on people being able to settle and work there, we did not, and—surprise, surprise—several hundred thousand people from those 10 countries settled in the United Kingdom. Many of those people did so positively and have contributed to our economy.
Roughly 500,000 Poles are living in the United Kingdom as a result of Poland’s membership of the EU. I welcome their contribution, but I have repeatedly asked the Polish Government to invest more in consular and embassy staff to help those citizens, because a lot of them have to ask for support from British Members of Parliament, whereas the responsibility for helping them really should still lie with Poland. The Polish authorities should do more to support them here.
That is spoken from the heart by a man who probably gets a disproportionate amount of correspondence from Polish citizens in the UK—they know he is fluent in the Polish language—and who, I suspect, has become a sort of icon for the 500,000 Poles who live in the UK and are looking for help. I appreciate my hon. Friend’s point. Poland has to recognise the extra work load created when so many people from their country come to the UK.
More importantly, we welcomed Poland and a number of other countries into the EU to assist them to grow and prosper and to lessen the magnet effect of other EU countries on their people, leading them to leave their own. The French and the Germans got it right, because they ensured that there was a 10-year period during which the cohesion funds going into Poland, for example, would at least have a chance to work. We just said, “Open the doors”, and coaches full of young Poles come to Victoria station, up the road, looking for opportunities in the UK. Yes, many of them have now returned to Poland, because they do not regard Britain as the golden place, as in the picture that was painted for them. Still, a considerable number of people have come here. At least we put the derogations in place in respect of Bulgaria and Romania. If we went down the road of accepting the Balkan states and then included Turkey, we would need to have safeguards to ensure that a fair chunk of people from Turkey, for instance, did not uproot themselves and plant themselves in the rest of the EU. That is the great fear in Germany and France, which is why Sarkozy has been making some of his pronouncements.
The next general election will soon be upon us and, if the Lisbon treaty has not been ratified, that will give an enormous opportunity for the British people to have their first say since 1975 on how they wish their country to develop. When the Minister responds to the debate, he has an opportunity to reinforce my suspicion, which is that the real and only reason why the British people are not having the referendum on the Lisbon treaty is that the Government have done their private polling and know what the result would be. Polls on the Lisbon treaty referendum have said that up to 70 per cent. of the British people would have voted no. Rather than the British people having their democratic say and rejecting the Lisbon treaty, as has happened in three other countries, they have been denied the vote. That is an absolute disgrace.
If the Lisbon treaty is ratified, I will, like my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, press my party to consider giving a post-ratification referendum so that the British people will have their final say on whether they wished to have the Lisbon treaty foisted on them in this undemocratic fashion. If the British people say no, as I suspect they will, that gives us a wonderful bargaining chip with the rest of the EU in future negotiations to get the sort of Europe that is for the benefit of the British people and for generations to come in the United Kingdom.
The future is exciting for Europe if we get it right. At the moment, we are getting it wrong.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on securing this debate. Although at times the debate so far suggests that hon. Members may be a little bit demob happy, he made some interesting points that I agree with. I strongly agree that Britain should be in the EU. He may be surprised to know that, as Liberal Democrat spokesman on foreign affairs, I believe that the EU should be reformed. I would enjoy a debate with the hon. Gentleman on all the different reforms that we might have. He may be interested to know that I believe that some powers could potentially return, but that would have to be done in renegotiations with our partners. I will come back to that point in a second. I also agree that one problem is that we in this country have gold-plated EU legislation when directives come down to Whitehall. We are our own worst enemy when it comes to many aspects of how European Union law works.
It is incumbent on all Members of Parliament to try to explain why there is so much European law. Parties such as UKIP—I know that the hon. Gentleman opposes its position—try to suggest that Europe is taking over law-making. That is simply not true as one finds when one analyses not the numbers but the type of law. One reason why Europe has passed so many directives recently is that it deals with trade issues in the internal market—the single market. Anyone who is familiar with the history of law development, whether in the European Union, Britain, the United States or any other developed market economy knows that there are more laws, particularly detailed regulations, covering trade and economic issues than almost any other area. It is not surprising in a single market that more laws have been passed at European Union level. That does not mean that Europe is highly regulated—on the contrary.
An example that I often use is the directive on strawberries. Anti-Europeans say that it shows how mad the European Union is to pass a law on strawberries, but before that there was a British law on strawberries, a Danish law on strawberries and a French law on strawberries. There were 15 or 27 laws on strawberries—on what constitutes a strawberry, and what can be sold by strawberry growers or retailers. Those laws have been stripped away, and there is one law, so that strawberry growers of Kent and elsewhere do not have to have different punnets of strawberries going to Belgium, Holland and France. They can have the same punnets, which is helpful to trade.
European laws have inevitably been numerous because they have dealt with trade, but they have also been deregulatory because there has been a bonfire of member states’ laws. That vital fact is rarely stated, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) for providing the opportunity for me to air that argument.
[Mr. Eric Martlew in the Chair]
In raising the matter today, the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham inevitably focused our attention on the Conservative party’s policy on the European Union and what it might be if the Conservatives ever came to power. He and the hon. Member for Ribble Valley talked about their support for a post-ratification referendum if the Lisbon treaty is ratified before that event, and I look forward to the comments of the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois). I am sure that he will make clear the Conservative party’s position, so I will not put words into his mouth. I am interested to know whether he will talk about its strategy to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the European Union, and how it has been building influence in Europe in recent weeks to make that more possible.
When framing foreign policy, a Government must consider their relationship with Europe’s capitals—Berlin, Rome, Madrid—and particularly with Washington. If the Conservative party believes that it will have more influence in the White House because it has less influence in Berlin, Paris, Madrid and Rome, it must be stark, staring bonkers. The major stake to the heart of the Conservatives’ attitude to their whole foreign policy is their inability to put forward a coherent, consistent and credible policy with key Conservative European Governments and parties.
How would the hon. Gentleman characterise the Liberal Democrats’ relationship with Washington?
It is extremely good. If the hon. Gentleman had joined me at the Democratic convention in Denver he would have seen that there were more Liberal Democrat MPs there than Conservative and Labour MPs put together.
I turn to business’s view of the Conservative party’s position on leaving the European People’s party.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
In a moment.
British Chambers of Commerce is alarmed and said in the Financial Times on 24 June that
“having so many UK MEPs outside the mainstream groupings is a worry for business.”
Its head of European representation said that time will tell whether the new alliance will prove successful, but at the moment it looks somewhat fragile. I shall talk about fragility in a moment.
During my speech, I tried not to say anything derogatory about the Liberal Democrats, but the hon. Gentleman has started to criticise the Conservative party. I want to raise two issues. First, why did his party vote against giving the British people a referendum? His party’s support for the Government prevented the British people from having that referendum. Not many people realise that. Secondly, why did so few people—only 15 per cent.—vote for his party in the European Union elections?
The hon. Gentleman should be careful about the latter point. He knows that all the major parties saw their vote fall from what was predicted in the polls. On the referendum, he should know—I believe that he attended many of the debates on the Lisbon treaty—that the Liberal Democrats supported a referendum on whether we should be in or out of the European Union, and we had an exchange on that. Our reason was that that was closest to our 2005 manifesto commitment. The constitutional treaty, unlike what members of the Conservative party often say, is not the same as the Lisbon treaty on key constitutional issues.
The constitutional treaty contained the Maastricht treaty, the treaty of Amsterdam, the treaty of Nice, the treaty of Rome and the Single European Act in one document. To vote on that is to vote on the whole European Union. The Lisbon treaty is minor. It is an amending treaty, not a constitutional treaty. It is not about whether one agrees with the whole of the European Union’s rules as built up over decades; the constitutional treaty, however, was. A referendum on being in or out of the EU was far closer to our pledge.
Goebbels was right in saying that propaganda is repeating the same lie—[Interruption.] Misrepresentation —I was talking about the Conservative party, not individuals.
The hon. Gentleman will know that when the former President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering, gave a speech to the Council of Europe he said that the document was virtually the same as the one the French, Dutch and Irish rejected. Indeed, the vast majority of European politicians rather like the Lisbon treaty, and when they talk about it in their own countries they reassure people that it is virtually the same document. Only in the United Kingdom do we carry on with the pretence that somehow the document before us is different.
Order. Interventions should be short.
Again, I refer the hon. Gentleman to our debates on the Lisbon treaty, because many people had a completely different view.
The realpolitik at the time was that the Labour Government would never allow a referendum on whether we should be members of the European Union. By not voting with us, the hon. Gentleman’s party lost a golden opportunity to give the British people a referendum on the constitution. Surely he knew at the time that the Government would never allow such a referendum.
The hon. Gentleman should have backed our call. We would then have had a much stronger case, and the Government would have been on a much weaker wicket.
The key issue—I am sure the hon. Member for Rayleigh will address it—is the Conservative party’s decision to leave the European People’s party in the European Parliament. Elected Conservative Members of Parliament and those in Brussels have described that as “stupid”, moving the Conservatives to the “wild fringes”, “crazy” and “head-banging”, the final description being that of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke).
Let us be clear. A vast majority of respected Conservatives believe that the party’s current position is crazy. Why did it occur in the first place? The European Parliament does not have the power to change EU treaties, nor can it or MEPs make the EU more federalist. That can be done only by negotiation, subject to the unanimity laws, between member states. Why it was so difficult for British Conservatives to sit on the same benches as the MEPs of Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy is beyond me, particularly as Chancellor Merkel’s views are probably the closest of any German leader since the second world war to those of the modern British Conservative party.
The situation is even more bizarre because the European People’s party, after quite a big victory for centre-right parties across the European Union, is at its strongest in the European Parliament, and it is at this moment that the British Conservatives decided to leave, so they have chosen isolationism over influence. That will hobble a future Conservative Government.
Any grouping in the European Parliament must have 25 MEPs from seven member states. Following the decision of the Finnish MEP who had been recruited to leave the new grouping after a few days, having met his erstwhile colleagues, the new grouping has only seven member states represented and four of those seven have only one MEP.
The hon. Gentleman is incorrect: there are eight.
Oh, there are eight—it changes day by day. We can never quite tell. One day, we have former leaders of the Conservative group, people such as Edward McMillan-Scott, who are members of the Tory party, and then we do not. We have to keep track, and I apologise for not being quite as up to date as I needed to be, but the key point remains that four members of the new group have a single MEP. It only needs two of them to leave and then the group folds, so the instability—the fragility that the member of the British Chambers of Commerce referred to in the Financial Times last month—is still there. That cannot be a sensible way of going on.
The Conservatives told us that the new grouping would mean a big voice for the British Conservatives, so what have they gained since the elections? They still have only one chair of a committee. That is all that they had in the past. They have not gained any new chairs; their voice has not got any bigger. However, they have reduced voting strength on all the committees, so their voice cannot be heard when they are voting on legislation. Even the leader of their group, who was to be a Conservative MEP, has had to become a Polish MEP. The influence of the Conservative MEPs has been reduced.
I would have liked to go on about all the different members of the new grouping and their particular policy preferences, but I will not, because of time. They have already been rehearsed and I would like to give the Minister a chance to rehearse them, as I am sure he would like to do. I shall therefore end on an issue of policy that is relevant to how Britain is involved with the European Union, and to future issues that will challenge the next Government on both foreign policy and expenditure; we all know the expenditure problems. The issue relates to defence.
I refer hon. Members not to Liberal Democrat policy, but to an article by the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) in the Financial Times last week entitled “Britain must work with Europeans on defence”. In the article, the former Conservative Foreign Secretary talks about the importance of European colleagues working together far more effectively on issues such as defence procurement, and in terms of ensuring that commonality is achieved in equipment, weaponry, armour and so on. He talks about the huge savings that could be reaped. He also talks about making our own Army far more effective. He talks about it being able to work more closely with other armies, particularly that of France, which does take its defence policy seriously, but also with others as, it is hoped, they begin to do so as well.
That ought to go to the heart of political debate—the security and the finance of our nation. We have to work with our European colleagues, and with rather more enthusiasm and with some semblance of influence. I think that the British Conservatives are about to sell our country down the river.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Martlew. I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on securing this important debate. He criticised the possible appointment of Tony Blair as President of the EU, and I will certainly want to return to that theme. I commend my hon. Friend for his assiduous membership of a number of all-party groups; he is clearly a very hard-working Member of Parliament.
My hon. Friend raised, among other things, Gibraltar. I can tell him that one of the first all-party groups that I joined when I came to this place in 2001 was the all-party group on Gibraltar. Gibraltar and the desire of the Gibraltarians to remain British will always be something that is close to my heart. I intend to fight very hard for that should I ever have the honour of becoming a Minister in the Foreign Office. I hope that my hon. Friend takes some reassurance from that.
I also commend my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who made a typically passionate contribution. He raised several issues, including enlargement. He made the point that a number of countries look forward to the possibility of joining the European Union—of having an EU prospective, as it is often put. He also raised what happened in Bulgaria and Romania. People in all parties in this country and in many other countries in the EU have learned lessons from that. In essence, the lesson is that if we attempt to bring in countries to meet an arbitrary timetable, the risk is that we bring those countries in before the process of reform has been fully completed. That lesson has been learned across the EU, and we now talk about conditionality rather than arbitrary timetables. In simple terms, if further reform has to take place, it is better that it takes place before a country is admitted to the EU rather than afterwards, because there is still a degree of leverage to argue for reform before it comes in and it is difficult to get that reform once it has been admitted. It is fair to say that that lesson has been learned by many countries of the EU. It is hoped that a number of the countries mentioned by my hon. Friend can undertake the reform that might be necessary to allow them one day to join the EU.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I have a lot to say, but I will give way.
Will my hon. Friend also accept that it is important to take the peoples of those countries with us as well? If it is ever gleaned by the people that they are being dragged by the nose in a certain direction but the chances of them ever joining are remote—Turkey is a perfect example of that—we run the risk of those peoples turning against the European Union and against the whole concept of what we are trying to create.
My hon. Friend’s point is well made. It remains the Conservative party’s position that we support, in principle, Turkish membership of the European Union. He is right to raise the prospect of some frustration in Turkey about what I think people there perceive as problems being put in their way by certain other countries in the European Union. We run the risk that if those problems pertain for any length of time, people in Turkey will begin to lose faith in the possibility of membership. My hon. Friend therefore sounds an important warning in the debate, and I hope that the Minister will take that warning on board.
I want to follow the remarks by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham about the possibility of the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, becoming the President of the European Union. That really came to light last Thursday following an extraordinarily candid admission by Lady Kinnock, the new Minister for Europe:
“The UK government is supporting Tony Blair’s candidature for president of the Council.”
The post of EU President does not exist at present, but the creation of the post by the Lisbon treaty and now the former Prime Minister’s candidature have huge potential consequences for the way in which the EU is run, for our relationship with the EU and, given Tony Blair’s relationship with the present Prime Minister, for British domestic politics as well. Of course, we are opposed to the Lisbon treaty, so we do not want the post to be created at all. It is particularly presumptuous of the Labour party to raise the prospect of his having the job before the treaty is even ratified.
The post of EU President, were it ever to come about, would, particularly in the hands of a well known and ambitious politician such as Mr. Blair, have the potential to become a very powerful yet, importantly, unelected office. That raises real concerns. I would therefore like, as part of this debate on how we might interrelate with the rest of the EU, to consider his record and what he might do were he ever able to assume that office.
The former Prime Minister will be remembered for many things. One thing that he will be remembered for is the surrender of £7.2 billion of the British rebate—that was British taxpayers’ money—for very little in return. That surrender followed a now familiar pattern from Labour of initially defiant rhetoric for media consumption, followed by surrender and subsequent spin to try to make up for it. To summarise, Downing street assured us in 2005 that the rebate was not up for negotiation. The former Prime Minister promised Parliament:
“The UK rebate will remain and we will not negotiate it away. Period.”—[Official Report, 8 June 2005; Vol. 434, c. 1234.]
When asked whether the rebate was justified and non-negotiable, the current Prime Minister replied, “Yes”. He went on to say:
“there will have to be the rebate and the reason is that even if you decided to negotiate down the Common Agricultural Policy...there would still be that period where we were paying far more because other people were getting the benefit—not just of the Common Agricultural Policy but of Structural and Cohesion Funds.”
However, that rhetoric soon turned into the reality of a Labour EU climbdown. On 21 June 2005, the former Prime Minister said:
“we have made it clear all the way through that we are prepared, not just to discuss and negotiate upon, but to recognise that the rebate is an anomaly that has to go, but it has got to go in the context of the other anomaly being changed as well.”
However, that did not happen. In his statement attempting to justify the new deal, the former Prime Minister claimed success, saying:
“we also agreed on a fundamental review of all aspects of the EU budget, including the common agricultural policy…it is then possible for changes to be made to this budget structure in the course of this financing period.”—[Official Report, 19 December 2005; Vol. 440, c. 1564.]
In practice, however, that so-called fundamental review of the CAP, which was promised to Parliament, was downgraded to a non-binding health check, which has not led to genuine reform. We were sorely let down, and £7.2 billion of our money was given away with virtually nothing in return. If the former Prime Minister became the EU President, therefore, Britain would be left facing a powerful President with a track record of failing to stand up for Britain’s interests in Europe.
The former Prime Minister’s record should also be examined with regard to his role in forcing the Lisbon treaty on the British people without the referendum that he had promised them. As we know, the treaty represents a significant transfer of power from member states to the EU’s central institutions. That includes the loss of 60 vetoes and the creation of a European diplomatic service, a Foreign Minister in all but name, a charter of fundamental rights and an EU President. The treaty is nearly identical to the EU constitution that Blair promised would be put to the British people in a referendum.
Let me pick up the point that the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), made about the Lisbon treaty. He attempted to argue that the treaty and the constitution are markedly different, but they are not, and he does not need to take that from me. He can take it from the former Irish Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, who said that they are 90 per cent. the same. He can take it from the Spanish Foreign Minister, who said that they are 98 per cent. the same. He can take it from the Spanish Prime Minister, who literally went one better, saying that they are 99 per cent. the same. He can take it from Chancellor Merkel, who has been mentioned several times today. She said:
“The substance of the Constitution has been maintained.”
He can even take it from the Prime Minister. Shortly after taking up his new post, the Prime Minister had a meeting with the Taoiseach. At the subsequent press conference, he was asked what they had been talking about. He replied:
“the European constitution and how that can move forward over the next few months.”
Even the Prime Minister therefore knows that the treaty and the constitution are essentially the same. It is—I choose my words carefully—disingenuous of the Liberal Democrats to pretend that they are materially different, so that they can get out of the referendum that they solemnly promised the British people in their 2005 general election manifesto.
Order. Hon. Members need to be quiet.
I am sorry, Mr. Martlew, I appear to be enthusing my hon. Friends that bit too much. Nevertheless, the Liberal Democrats have tried to wriggle out of their promise. They tried to make the same case on the Lisbon treaty in the European elections, and they were ritually slaughtered for their trouble, so we will take no lectures from them about the treaty.
Tony Blair’s possible candidature was not really an issue in the European elections, and I do not remember it cropping up very much. However, the elections were one example of the British people having at least some say over the European policies of this country’s different parties. Although the elections saw socialist party policies across Europe being rejected, the people’s rejection of the Labour party in Britain was particularly decisive. The Labour party did worse than its socialist brethren in France or Spain; it got just over half the MEPs that the Italian socialists did; and it achieved a similar result to that of the German Social Democrats, the SPD, despite the fact that the SPD had its worst election result since the second world war. In the new European Parliament, the British Labour delegation will rank as only the sixth-largest party in the Socialist group, only just ahead of the Romanian Socialists, who have 10 seats. As I understand it, although the Minister may correct me, the Labour party will have no committee chairmanships in the European Parliament. Given that my party has at least one, therefore, it is rich for the Government to criticise us.
On our relationship with the EU, we would like to hear from the Minister what the position of Labour MEPs will be on the working time directive in the new Parliament and perhaps under a new Commission— whatever happens to the Lisbon treaty, there will have to be a new Commission. As the Minister knows, I have raised this issue with him before. The UK’s opt-out from the working time directive—the opt-out is now used by 15 different EU countries—affects the jobs of 3 million people in this country. This is not, therefore, some esoteric debate, because the issue matters to the employment of millions of people in the UK. In the crunch vote a year ago, most Labour MEPs, including the woman who now leads them in the European Parliament, voted to get rid of the opt-out, although a few voted to retain it. It is likely that we will return to the issue, so it is important to press the Minister on exactly where Labour MEPs stand.
When my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) became the leader of the Conservative party, he said that we would form a new grouping in the European Parliament. In effect, he gave three years’ notice that we would do that, so it is not something that we decided to do overnight. Many people, including several Ministers, the Liberal Democrats and several commentators in the media, said that we would never do that, but we have. We have established a new grouping, which has 54 Members of the European Parliament representing eight EU countries. If we look at the balance of power in the Parliament—I know that the Minister studies these things—we can see that that grouping will have quite significant influence and could be a swing voting grouping on particularly important votes.
I will conclude now, so the Minister has a chance to make a contribution—[Interruption.] Well, I want to give him at least 13 minutes. I leave him with this thought. A GfK NOP poll at the weekend asked people whether they wanted Tony Blair to be the EU President. Some 25 per cent. said yes, but 54 per cent. said no. If the Government intend to take any notice of the slaughter inflicted on them in the European elections by the people of this country, they should pay some heed to those figures and change course.
It is a delight to sit under your chairmanship, Mr. Martlew. I am afraid that I will have to rather rush through things because so many different matters have been raised.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on securing the debate. I should tell him that I do know who the Welsh MEPs are; indeed, I know two of them—Derek Vaughan and Jill Evans—personally, although I do not know John Bufton and Kay Swinburne. I also happen to know who the hon. Gentleman’s MEPs are: Mike Nattrass, Malcolm Harbour, Philip Bradbourn, Nikki Sinclaire, Liz Lynne and Michael Cashman.
The Minister asked a friend.
The hon. Gentleman suggests that I have a better researcher than he does, and he is quite right.
It is good formally to confirm on behalf of those of us in the Chamber that the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham is a Polish icon. He is much respected in the House—I mean this seriously—for many of the issues that he raises and for his relationship with Poland. There are not many fluent Polish speakers in the House, and I know that the hon. Gentleman also speaks Swedish. Hon. Members who come here from many different parts of the world with their own family history often add something to the way in which we do our business.
The hon. Gentleman will know that our relationship with Poland is a strong and historic one. That is particularly true as regards the second world war, but it was also the case before. As he will know, we have just opened a new embassy in Warsaw at a cost of £35 million, and we are very much committed to our strong relationship with Poland. Polish and British troops often fight together, in places around the world, and there is a strong link. It is a delight to see that shopping habits in Britain have changed—that there are Polish sausages on our supermarket shelves. In 2007, Poland imported £47 million of British food—an increase of 54 per cent. I am told that a large amount of that is Marmite.
One thing rather let down the hon. Gentleman’s speech. He accused the Labour Government of arrogance, but he presumed on the British public on about five occasions, talking about when someone would be the Minister, and when there would be a Conservative Government. That shows the arrogance lying beneath. He may not want to own up, but it is a matter of motes and beams.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of Department for International Development aid to north Africa, and said that it is wrong that we do not provide aid in the way that Italy is providing it to Libya. We do not agree with tied aid of that kind. It is inappropriate, and we shall lobby throughout the European Union to ensure that that does not happen. Likewise, one of the things of which I am most proud is that when Labour came to power we said we would not tie the aid that we provided to other countries to contracts secured by British companies. Instead we would tie it to two things, and the first of those was good governance; we would not simply put money into the pockets of corrupt Governments, even though they might represent very poor areas. Secondly, we said that we would target our aid at the poorest countries in the world. If anything, one of our criticisms of other European countries has been that they have tended merely to provide aid to countries with which they have a historic link. That is inappropriate because if we are to meet the millennium development goals we must target our money at the poorest countries.
The hon. Gentleman referred to Iceland and its continuing process of trying to join the European Union. Obviously, we are delighted that Iceland will submit an application for membership. We do not think that it should be linked, directly or indirectly, to banking and the crisis earlier in the year. The Government are working to try to overcome the difficulties that charities and individuals have had because of the collapse of Icelandic banks.
Will the Minister give way?
I am very hesitant to, because I have a very short time. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can raise things with me after the debate; I have to deal with about 20 other things that he has already raised with me.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of ratification, and so did other hon. Members. That is, of course, an issue in Germany: in the Bundestag on 26 August there will be the First Reading of the changes to the law that it believes it needs to proceed with ratification. The Second and Third Readings will be on 8 September in the Bundestag and on 18 September in the Bundesrat. We hope that the Czech Republic and Poland will proceed to ratification, notwithstanding the charming letter that the hon. Gentleman sent to the Polish President.
The hon. Gentleman raised the matter of Gibraltar, as did the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois). I do not know whether he is aware that there are trilateral meetings today between the Spanish Government, the UK Foreign Ministers and Peter Caruana, on behalf of Gibraltar. There are several issues, and the process is a serious one, which can only redound to the benefit of the people of Gibraltar. We are engaging on issues to do with financial services and taxation, customs, police co-operation, education and so on. The self-determination of the people in Gibraltar must obviously be at the heart of the trilateral relationship. The British Government have no intention of changing that.
Will the hon. Gentleman assure us that in those meetings Her Majesty’s Government will raise the important issue of Spanish vessels making incursions into Gibraltar’s territorial waters?
Those issues have already been raised, and we shall continue to raise them, as well as environmental issues that have come up in the past few months, on which we believe the Spanish Government have not acted appropriately, and on which we disagree with them. We can have disagreements with strong allies.
The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham raised the issue of renegotiation of Britain’s membership of the European Union. I want to say to him and the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who is immensely charming but always wrong—on these issues anyway—that renegotiation can happen only if we persuade all the other members of the European Union that they want to renegotiate. Talks of bargaining chips, referendums, post-ratification referendums and the rest of it are cloud cuckoo land unless another single country, to start with, and, in the end, all the other countries in the EU, can be persuaded that they want to go through the process of treaty renegotiation. In my view, the European Union has been too obsessed in the past five or 10 years with treaties and institutional arrangements and it would be better if it were more focused on the real needs of the peoples of our countries. That means an appropriate level of subsidiarity so that member states can make the decisions that are important for them. However, it also means that on key areas of co-operation we must all bind together.
The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) referred to work that was done by the former Conservative Foreign Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), and he is right that there are major areas in which we still have to develop further levels of co-operation. In defence areas the basis of that would always be unanimity—it would have to mean member states taking clear decisions about whether they wanted to take part in military intervention. However, there must surely be a greater opportunity for us in greater, enhanced co-operation.
The hon. Members for Shrewsbury and Atcham and for Rayleigh raised the issue of Turkey. We are fully committed to Turkey’s membership of the European Union; it is important. Of course, many issues must be resolved. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley referred to migration. He is right that one of the focuses of the concept of the European Union was the freedom for people to live and work where they chose within it. That is essential to a free, open and single market. However, we must ensure that migration patterns across the European Union are not so intense that any one country feels overburdened, or, for that matter, over-denuded, with respect to the working population. Of course that is right. One of the many reasons for our support for a very important round of talks in Copenhagen, at which we must get a clear resolution on climate change issues, is that the danger of climate change, in particular if sea levels rise because of the increased temperature of the globe, is that because some of the poorest people in the world live in the lowest-lying areas, they may be pushed into patterns of significant migration. We do not believe that that would be sustainable, and that is why we want to fight climate change.
The hon. Member for Ribble Valley raised issues about enlargement and Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia, and I do not know that I can cover all of those now, but I want to return, as the Liberal Democrat spokesman thought I might, to the question of the Conservative grouping in the European Parliament. Is it not fascinating that the Conservatives decided to eschew the most important and significant Members of the European Parliament, with whom they might have had historic associations, in France, Germany, Italy and Spain, and decided instead, out of an ideological obsession, to work not in the British interest but in that of their ideology, and to stitch up a new grouping on the sidelines of the European Parliament? Fascinatingly, of course, we now know that part of that stitch-up was making sure that Mr. Kaminski would be one of the vice-presidents of the European Parliament. Unfortunately, so incompetent was the negotiation waged by the hon. Member for Rayleigh that those involved knew Mr. Kaminski would not get anywhere near the vice-presidency; consequently, Mr. Edward McMillan-Scott, one of the wisest members of the Conservative party, decided he had to stand. He secured the vice-presidency, in the British interest, I would suggest. That meant greater influence, because the vice-presidents play an important role in the way the European Parliament does its business.
There are major issues about Mr. Kaminski. Only this weekend, Rabbi Barry Marcus, of the Central synagogue in London, condemned the Conservatives’ association with Mr. Kaminski, who is now, of course, their leader in the European Parliament. They organise a new group and cannot even sort out making sure that one of their own Members is the leader. What does that suggest about what a future Conservative Government might get up to?
Will the Minister give way?
No; there are barely seconds left. Rabbi Barry Marcus of the Central synagogue—