I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of European affairs.
It is a great pleasure to have the honour of opening the first European affairs debate of this new Parliament. These debates not only provide the House with the opportunity to consider developments in the European Union in general but, more immediately, allow the House to give its thoughts on the forthcoming meeting of the European Council. In the past these debates have been held so shortly before the European Council meeting—sometimes only hours before, or the day before, or two days before—that the House has had no real chance to ensure that its thinking is in any way absorbed by the Government in their approach. We believe, in the new Government, that we can do better than that. This debate is taking place two weeks ahead of the European Council meeting, and before the Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg on 14 June.
The new Government will bring a fresh approach to Britain’s involvement in the EU. I said in opposition—to some scepticism on the Labour Benches, it has to be said—that we would be active and activist, positive and energetic, from day one. We have been exactly that. The Prime Minister’s first visits to foreign capitals were to Paris and Berlin, where he had highly successful meetings with President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel. My ministerial team has been extremely busy. The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne), attended the EU-Latin American and Caribbean meeting a fortnight ago in Madrid, and the EU-Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Madrid. I was able to meet many of my European counterparts at the Latin American meeting. I was in Sarajevo yesterday for the EU-western Balkans meeting, which I shall come to later. In the next seven days I intend to visit my counterparts in Paris, Berlin, Warsaw and Rome. The Minister for Europe attended the informal ministerial meeting on the eastern partnership in Poland last week, and has met in Brussels Members of the European Parliament and the European Commission. We said that we would be active from day one, and we have indeed been so.
This Government strongly believe that the European Union has a crucial role in enabling the countries of Europe to work together to face the vast challenges of this century: the maintenance of our global competitiveness, the problem of climate change, the grim facts of global poverty, and the need for the nations of Europe to use their collective weight in the world to deal with foreign policy issues. All are better dealt with if the nations of Europe can bring together common solutions—and above all, the right solutions.
We will, where necessary, be more robust in defending Britain’s national interests than the previous Government were. We will not repeat their wretched handling of the negotiations on the current financial perspective, which saw them accept a cut of £7 billion in our rebate while obtaining nothing of substance in return.
I do congratulate the previous Prime Minister. I am not in the habit of doing that, but on this subject I am very happy to do so. What a good job it was that the former Prime Minister, Sir John Major, ensured that we had an opt-out so that the most recent Prime Minister could keep us out of the eurozone.
I am most grateful to the Foreign Secretary; I am actually going to be very nice to him. I congratulate him on his appointment and remind him that I gave him his first job in the Commons, as secretary of the all-party footwear and leather industries group. I am glad that he is going to be active; we would expect nothing less from him. On enlargement, will he continue the previous Government’s policy of ensuring that countries that are capable of joining will be allowed to join? Leaving aside transitional arrangements such as whether people will be able to work, particularly in relation to the Croatia file, which must be on his desk, will he confirm that we believe in a Europe that is wider and stronger?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The role that we played together on the leather and footwear industries all-party group 20 years ago will for ever be somewhere in the recesses of my mind. I am very grateful for that reminder; the memory has just been retrieved from somewhere. He is absolutely right: there is a strong cross-party commitment on EU enlargement, to which I want to turn later in my speech. I want to talk specifically about Croatia later. He used an important phrase about countries joining when they have met the conditions. It is important that they meet the conditions for membership, rather than the conditions being changed to suit a particular country. I very much agree with what he said.
It is also our intention to approach European issues in a more coherent way across Whitehall than has sometimes been the case. In the three weeks for which I have held the office of Foreign Secretary, it has been apparent to my colleagues and me that under the previous Government, Departments could have worked together better, particularly more strategically. That point might also be relevant to previous Governments, and we intend to put it right. We are establishing a new Cabinet Committee on European affairs that I will chair, with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change as the deputy chair. [Interruption.] It is another example of a good coalition in practice.
That Committee will allow the new Government to take a more holistic approach to EU issues than was sometimes the case in the past, and I hope it will achieve better results for Britain. We must ensure that we are always ahead of the game in Brussels, unlike the previous Government, of whom that could not always be said; the position in which they left us in relation to the hedge funds directive is a particular example. In doing so, we will be aided by achieving a more collegiate feeling in a two-party Cabinet than in the previous Cabinet of one party.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary to his post and remind him that I still owe him the proceeds of a wager, when I said that his party would not leave the European conservative grouping, which, of course, it did. I have proved to be wrong on occasions. Returning to his point about greater co-ordination, will he say how he will arrive at a view about whether the Government agree with the proposals for a new European single credit agency operator? Will he explain how that will work?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for reminding me of our wager. Without giving too much away, I should say that I am looking forward to drinking with her the proceeds that she owes me. The wager was made on the understanding that I would join her so that we could consume the proceeds together. I am looking forward to doing that. [Interruption.] No, it is not beer on this occasion; it is something that we will drink together.
She asked how we would arrive at the decision. Well, that is exactly what the new European Affairs Committee of the Cabinet is there to do, supported by officials from both the Foreign Office and the Cabinet Office. There will be greater Foreign Office involvement and co-ordination of European affairs than has been the case for a long time. That is part of the more central role in government for the Foreign Office that I have always envisaged and am trying to bring about. That Committee will examine such issues, including the one to which the hon. Lady referred.
I warmly welcome the Foreign Secretary to his new job, and I am encouraged by what he has said about the new European Affairs Cabinet Committee. Can he assure me that the Committee will pull together issues of climate change and climate crisis across the whole of Government, because those matters are relevant to the Ministry of Defence, for example, and clearly to business, too? If Britain can be seen to be leading the new green agenda in Europe, there is a real chance that we can influence the world. To put it bluntly, if Europe does not lead, the Americans, the Chinese and others are not likely to follow.
I very much take that point. The hon. Gentleman can see how seriously we take the matter from the fact that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change is the deputy chair of the Committee. I shall talk about climate change during my speech. It was noticeable in the final stages of the Copenhagen meeting that the European Union was not at the final table—in the final discussions—and we have to put that right for the future. That will be part of the approach that we are trying to put together in the European Affairs Cabinet Committee.
The main issue before the forthcoming European Council is, of course, the current economic situation. A number of member states face severe fiscal difficulties, and growth across Europe is anaemic. The priority for all of us is to rectify our budgetary problems and deal with the fundamental underlying problem of weak economic growth. The Government have made it clear that we will stay out of the euro, but at the same time, we must acknowledge that the EU is our single biggest trading partner. Problems in one member state affect us all, whether we are single currency members or not. Recent developments in the eurozone have exemplified the need for fiscal consolidation, which is the No. 1 priority across Europe. We have made an urgent start on dealing with the deficit, and those actions will be crucial for the stability of our public finances, after those who are now on the Opposition Front Bench bequeathed the country the worst peacetime deficit in modern times.
The major issue dominating discussion of European affairs is the difficulty facing the eurozone. A strong and healthy eurozone is, of course, in this country’s interests. That is a view held even by those of us who have always opposed Britain joining the euro. Much of our prosperity depends on our neighbours’ prosperity: 49% of our exports go to the eurozone.
My right hon. Friend is making an incredibly important point about the eurozone and our trade with it. We acknowledge that there is significant trade, but would he also accept that one of the reasons why the eurozone is imploding is the vast amount of social and employment legislation––the over-regulation and burdens on business not only in Europe but imposed on this country as a result of European directives and regulations? Will he therefore accept that the Prime Minister’s commitment to repatriate those powers is essential not only for us but for negotiations in the European Union? If that does not happen we will not have jobs, growth or enterprise, nor will we be able to reduce the debt or pay for public services where necessary.
There are several parts to my hon. Friend’s question about the reasons for low economic growth in the European Union. One of those reasons is the extent of regulation, inflexibility and bureaucratic burdens. I think that is true in most, if not all, the countries of the EU, for a mixture of reasons. Some of that regulation is at EU level and some is at national level. I was going to deal with that issue.
Winning the argument for appropriate regulation is a very important part of the plans that we have put forward to revive economic growth in the EU, and sometimes that will mean having lighter regulation. That can be addressed partly through the European Union regulating more effectively and in a less burdensome way, and partly by nations doing so individually. The extent to which we can deal with the issue by changing the balance of competences between the EU and member states is something that we now have to examine as a coalition. My hon. Friend has a long-held view on the subject, and I have expressed views about it. We are a coalition Government, and he and I must accept that there is not necessarily a majority in the House of Commons for every single thing that we would have wanted to do. We must examine the issue as a coalition, and we are now doing so.
The Foreign Secretary speaks warmly—as so many Europe Ministers and Foreign Secretaries have—about our trade with the European Union. Is not the reality that we have a massive trade deficit with the European Union, and we do much better with trade outside the European Union? We do not benefit from that trade; Europe benefits from us and our market.
It is in the nature of trade that we all benefit from each other. The hon. Gentleman is right: if 49% of our exports go to the eurozone, the other half do not. However, I would not want to do without the 49% that go to the eurozone. All trade is very important to the future of the country.
I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his new appointment. There is undoubtedly a crisis within the eurozone, but does he not agree that there is a danger that those in Brussels will simply see this as an opportunity to accrete more power to themselves, centralise still further, and that their analysis will be that the solution to the problem is more Europe, not less. What steps will the Government take to ensure that that does not happen, and that Britain is not sucked into the black hole of the eurozone?
I too welcome the Foreign Secretary to his post. He has a reputation for blunt speaking, so will he tell the House whether he regrets his and his party’s decision not to proceed with a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, which was something that the people of Britain and the United Kingdom desperately wanted?
I shall also deal with referendums later in my speech. I explained yesterday that the edge is taken off blunt speaking by becoming Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, and it is probably in our national interest that the edge is taken off. Of course, I regret that there was no referendum on the Lisbon treaty—I campaigned for one for years—but the treaty was ratified. As the Prime Minister and I explained in opposition a few months ago, we cannot make up a referendum. The Lisbon treaty is now one of the treaties of the European Union. However, we will provide for referendums in future—I will deal with that point shortly.
I was listening carefully to the Foreign Secretary’s comments on labour market flexibility. May I give him the chance to elaborate slightly on that? Does he have any proposals to avoid the situation that arose at East Lindsey and Staythorpe, whereby, in the case of Staythorpe, skilled British workers were unable to apply for jobs to build new power stations precisely because of the lack of regulation in Europe? How will he address the Staythorpe situation?
I do not have proposals at this moment to address that, but the hon. Gentleman raises a legitimate point, so I will note it as something that the new Government will look at. From what I remember, it is not an easy problem to solve, but the point is legitimate and we can have further discussions about it.
The hon. Member for Glasgow South West has gone—I was about to address his point. So much for his enthusiasm for an answer! As I was explaining, the major issue is the difficulties facing the eurozone. Given the extent of our exports to the eurozone, of course we will support our partners in their efforts to deal with the current difficulties, but without being drawn further into the eurozone. For example, while we recognise the importance of maintaining a dialogue on deficit reduction across the eurozone and the wider EU, we are firm in our view that our national budget must always be presented first to our national Parliament.
We are listening to member states that are discussing institutional reforms to the eurozone—that is an ongoing debate—but I assure the House that the Government will maintain our position that there should be no further transfer of sovereignty or powers from Britain to the EU over the course of the Parliament. Sanctions for breaches of the stability and growth pact may be the right way forward for our partners in the euro area, but they should never apply to countries that retain their own currencies, and this country will retain its currency.
The next question for all members of the European Union is, “From where will the growth that we need come?” The Government, working with our European partners, mean to address that question with vigour. We know that spending our way further into dangerous levels of debt is not the answer. We need to get Europe back to work, create jobs, attract investment and deal with the erosion of our long-term competitiveness. Those issues concern every member of the European Union, not just the eurozone. We will urgently make the case for the extension of the single market, better regulation that can lighten the burdens on businesses, and seizing opportunities to create freer and fairer trade between the European Union and third countries. In that context, we will particularly encourage greater economic engagement between the European Union and new, rising economic powers.
I will try to make this the last intervention, but it is on an important point. Squeezing deficits and introducing labour regulation, which would depress wages, will simply drive the European Union further into depression and deflation. Is not that the real danger that we face?
I do not think that that is the danger that we face. Deficits unaddressed or regulation that prices people out of work in some European nations are the real dangers to economic growth in the long term. When we consider the position of the countries in the eurozone that face the most severe fiscal difficulties, their problem is not insufficient state spending or insufficient regulation, but very much the opposite. I am sorry—the hon. Gentleman and I agree on so many aspects of European policy, but we will have to disagree on that one.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the objectives that he would try to achieve by negotiation, in particular on some of the economic proposals that are coming forward, will be subject to majority voting? If and when he is outvoted in that context, what is his fall-back position? Will he introduce and enact a sovereignty Bill so that he can underpin those negotiations with a firm opportunity for the House to override European regulation in our vital national interests?
My hon. Friend has a long-standing campaign for such a measure. We are examining the case for a sovereignty Bill in the coalition, for the reasons that I explained to him earlier. It was part of the Conservative party’s election manifesto, but not part of the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto. We must therefore examine that together, and that examination has already begun. Of course, we will come back to the House with our conclusions.
I was making a point about the importance of extending the single market, where we think there are real opportunities to boost growth by further opening up energy and services sectors and moving forward on patents. There are many helpful proposals in Mario Monti’s recent report about relaunching the single market, on which we want to build. All that is germane to the Europe 2020 strategy, which will be the main formal item of discussion at the forthcoming European Council. It is the successor to the Lisbon strategy, which is widely acknowledged to have been well intentioned but disappointing in its results.
The current crisis in the eurozone demonstrates that it is vital that the EU has a coherent strategy for growth and jobs, but it must fully respect the balance of competence between member states and Community action. We will work with our partners on the Commission’s proposals for a Europe 2020 strategy to promote growth. The strategy is intended to drive growth in the next decade and secure jobs, and those are, of course, the right objectives, but we will want to pay close attention to the detail.
At the spring European Council, five EU-level target areas were identified: employment; research and development; energy and climate change; education; and social inclusion. We are concerned that some, while not legally binding, may stray into the competences of member states. Some are inappropriate for the different systems and models that various member states use. That variety must be respected in creating a meaningful strategy that addresses the economic issues faced across Europe.
We are clear that the EU has a role to play, for example, through providing a deeper and stronger single market, with smarter regulation, a more strategic approach to trade and a framework for innovation. The 2020 strategy faces two other immediate problems that need resolution. First, the next financial perspective—the seven-year EU budgetary framework—needs to cohere with it. In our view, its priorities should be aligned with the strategy. It is deeply unfortunate that the budget review has been so long delayed that linking the two is more difficult than it should be. Secondly, the 2020 strategy is a long-term strategy—it is meant to be—but recent events require a more immediate response to drive growth now. As I said, that response will be the Government’s priority. If we can get the 2020 strategy to be more coherent with the financial framework, and link its long-term nature with the immediate action that is needed, perhaps we can avoid the risk of a strategy again proving disappointing in the benefits that it brings to European nations.
In my defence, I came back. I had to leave because I had visitors—I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for that. I explained to them that the joys of listening to him were greater than those of meeting them. They are not voters in my constituency, which makes it a great deal easier to say that.
On the coherence of Government policy on Europe, given that financial cuts are being made across the Government’s budget, will the Foreign Secretary give us a guarantee that a cut will also be applied to the contribution that the EU receives from this country? Otherwise, there will be inconsistency.
There may well be inconsistency. The hon. Gentleman knows that I cannot give him such a guarantee, which is why he enjoyed coming back into the Chamber to ask the question. The contribution is not immediately under the Government’s control, but is the product of differences in agricultural payments, VAT payments and so on. It is regrettable, as I said earlier, that the Government whom he largely supported—his Front Benchers do not recognise that description of him; perhaps I should say, “the Government he was elected to support in the past”—gave away £7 billion of our rebate while securing nothing in return. He can be assured that we will not do that, and that will help keep the payments down, but it is not possible to vary them by unilateral Executive action.
Following the very good point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson), who asked why people in this country should take the pain when more and more money is going into the EU, will my right hon. Friend say why the Government think it right that this country should give increasing amounts of money to the EU when it does not have its accounts signed off? If the Government are serious about getting the EU to reform its budget, why does he not go there and say, “We’re not prepared to give any more money to the EU until it gets its accounts properly audited and signed off, which is what we would expect from any other organisation to which we give money”?
My hon. Friend makes a very powerful point. Like him, I have often complained vociferously about our inability to sign off the accounts of the European Commission. It is true that most of the problems that arise are now within member states rather than with the Commission, but nevertheless, the new Government will certainly re-examine that and want to put some energy into sorting that out. I feel very strongly about it, as does my hon. Friend.
The Council will also set the Union’s position for the G20 Toronto summit at the end of June, and the Government want to ensure that the position agreed at the Council reflects our views on fiscal consolidation, and on strengthening standards on financial regulations and bank levies. It is hoped that the Council will sign off the EU position for the UN high-level plenary meeting on the millennium development goals in September, which will take place just before the UN General Assembly. The Government will encourage other member states to fulfil their aid commitments. I am pleased to report that the United Kingdom is on track to meet both its 2010 target of 0.56% of overseas development assistance and its 2013 target of 0.7%. We can be proud that that is a point of consensus in the House between all three main parties, and I pay tribute to the work of the previous Labour Government.
However, collectively, the EU is not on track to meet its commitments, and we will encourage all member states to reinvigorate their commitments to that end. Tackling global poverty is one of the great causes of our age, and one in which the nations of Europe should play their full part.
I have not, but I will be visiting my Italian counterpart on Monday in Rome. While I am having an otherwise enjoyable meeting with him, I will drop that point in. Indeed, I will now be able to say that the matter has been brought up in the House of Commons. It is a valid point, so I will certainly pursue the matter.
The Commission will present a communication on the EU’s ambitions for a 30% carbon emissions reduction target, including an analysis of the costs and benefits to the EU economy, and of the impact on energy security, exports and job creation. The Government want the EU to show leadership in tackling international climate change and will support an increase in the EU’s emissions reduction target once that has been addressed with proper thoroughness.
Looking ahead, we recognise that there is a serious problem with the lack of proper democratic control in this country over the way in which the EU develops—I have already been asked about our position on the referendum. Beyond this Council meeting, the new Government will introduce a Bill to amend the European Communities Act 1972. We are agreed that there is a profound disconnection between the British people and what has been done in their name by British Governments in the European Union. In the past 13 years under the Labour Government, the percentage of the British public who believe that our membership of the EU is a good thing has, according to surveys, fallen to 31%. That is the previous Government’s legacy on Europe: public disenchantment after years of arrogance from Ministers, who did not listen to the people. That lesson should be borne in mind by the shadow Foreign Secretary as he seeks to learn lessons about his party’s election defeat.
Both parties that form the coalition are determined to make the Government more accountable to the British people for how the EU develops, so that Bill will be introduced later this year. It will enlarge democratic and parliamentary scrutiny, accountability and control over the decisions that we make in the EU. As the House will know, it will include a referendum lock, so that no future treaty may pass areas of power or competences from the UK to the EU without the British people’s consent in a referendum. The Government have already agreed that there will be no further transfer of sovereignty or powers in this Parliament in any case. The lock will also cover any proposal for Britain to join the euro. We regard that measure as essential in ensuring that the EU develops in a way that has the British people’s consent.
We are also clear that the referendum lock will apply only to any proposed future treaty transfers of power or competences from Britain to the EU. It will not apply to treaties that do not do that, such as treaties that make technical changes or accession treaties. We are now working on that legislation.
I note the Foreign Secretary’s renewed enthusiasm for referendums. The Maastricht treaty is second only to the Single European Act in terms of the amount of power transferred to the EU. Will he explain why he voted against a referendum on that?
There is nothing “renewed” about my enthusiasm for referendums—I am simply setting out exactly what I said in the last Parliament and in the general election campaign. There is great merit in a Minister doing what he said he was going to do before the general election. I voted against a referendum at the time of the Maastricht treaty because I was a member of the Government—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] The Government had the absolutely correct policy on that. We secured the opt-outs on the euro, for instance, of which we spoke earlier, and built in the commitment to a referendum on the euro if ever there was a proposal to join it, which is exactly the policy that will be encapsulated and legislated for in the Bill that we will introduce.
I am listening with great interest to my right hon. Friend on this hugely important matter. He referred to the question of further treaty transfers of powers, and as he will know, the coalition agreement states:
“We agree that there should be no further transfer of sovereignty or powers over the course of the next Parliament”
before referring to the working time directive. Will he concede—I am sure this is the case in a legal and constitutional sense—that “powers” in that context includes the extension of powers under the Lisbon treaty and the introduction of directives?
I was just coming to that point. The Bill will ensure that primary legislation will be required before the British Government may authorise the use of ratchet clauses in treaties—as some of us have called them—some of which result from the Lisbon treaty. Such clauses allow for a modification of treaties or provide options for existing EU powers to expand, which is my hon. Friend’s point. The proposed use of a major ratchet clause—for example, the abolition of vetoes over foreign policy—would also be subject to a referendum. That will be built into our legislation. Taken together, those measures will ensure that unlike under the Labour Government, the European Union can increase its powers vis-à-vis the United Kingdom only with the agreement of the British people. That is a major step towards rebuilding popular trust in the EU.
I may be anticipating what the Foreign Secretary will say, but at the moment, many items are available as opt-ins, particularly on criminal law and so on. There will be many cases over the next few years in which the choice will be either to opt-in or to withdraw from a whole section of a treaty. Will those be dealt with so that the House is given a vote on whether the Government should opt in or opt out?
They will certainly demand a lot of examination in the House. In the coalition agreement, we have committed to approaching further criminal justice legislation on a case-by-case basis. The UK has the right to decide whether to participate in new EU justice and home affairs measures, so we will give careful consideration to whether to opt-in to new measures in those areas while at the same time ensuring that the UK’s security is maintained and our civil liberties are protected, and that the integrity of our criminal justice system is preserved.
We recognise the importance of Parliament having adequate time to scrutinise those opt-in decisions. In all but the most exceptional cases, that means that we will not opt-in to any new measure in the first eight weeks following its publication, to give Parliament time to give a considered opinion. The hon. Gentleman will know that we are looking at how to improve parliamentary scrutiny of decision-making in Europe, and the positions that this Government or any future Government take at European councils. Indeed, we would welcome his views, as a distinguished former Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, on how those procedures can be improved. I know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would welcome hearing from the hon. Gentleman.
It is important that what the Foreign Secretary has just said is given maximum publicity. One of the aspects of the disempowerment felt by the British public is the perception that European legislation has been forced on them. We should have a real debate about the merits of issues such as the working time directive, and what he has just said will be warmly welcomed not only by his party, but by mine.
That is further evidence—to the deep disappointment of Opposition Members—of how well coalition government is now proceeding.
I will attend the Foreign Affairs Council on 14 June in Luxembourg. As I have long said, it is strongly my view that the nations of Europe should do more to use their collective weight in the world to advance shared values and interests. The problems have not been institutional, but political, including a lack of will and consistency. That is the spirit in which we will approach these matters.
I mentioned last week in the debate on the Queen’s Speech that this Government will give greater weight to elevating our relationships with emerging powers across the world, and that policy will, I hope, be complemented by other European nations doing the same. Indeed, some of them are further ahead than us in doing this, and it will form part of our collective work in the EU. The Council’s agenda will include Iran and the western Balkans. It will also be important to discuss recent developments in Gaza, how the European Union can give fresh momentum to the middle east peace process and what role we can play in helping to address the crisis in Gaza.
I understand that my right hon. Friend has recently visited Bosnia, a part of Europe that is often overshadowed by other international events, but tensions there remain high. There are frictions over the constitution, and I wonder whether he agrees that the EU and the UN would be wrong to dismiss Bosnia. We need to invest time and energy to ensure that the cycle of violence that we have seen in the past 10 years does not restart.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Bosnia is one of the major issues that I will discuss with the European High Representative, Baroness Ashton, this evening. I will say more on the issue in a moment.
I wish to update the House on the British nationals caught up in the incident in Gaza and improve on the information that was given yesterday. The latest information I have is that 34 British nationals were involved, not 37 as I informed the House yesterday. Two of those who were reported as missing do not appear to have been in the flotilla, and we are seeking to confirm that. Another was a duplicated name with different spellings. All the remaining 34 are now accounted for. One British national was deported directly earlier in the week, 32 have arrived in Turkey and one, who is a dual national, has been released and is in Israel with family. Of the 32 who have arrived in Turkey, one has returned to the UK and 31 remain there. We are offering assistance through our consulate general to British nationals who seek it.
As I said, Iran will be on the Foreign Affairs Council’s agenda. We remain extremely concerned about Iran’s nuclear programme. Iran has failed to suspend its nuclear activities in line with UN Security Council resolutions, has shown no serious intent to discuss its programme with the international community and has failed to address the outstanding concerns of the International Atomic Energy Agency. For those reasons, we are pursuing—as we speak—new sanctions, and a draft resolution is now being discussed at the UN Security Council. The EU has agreed to take measures to accompany this process and we will work hard with our EU partners to ensure that we take strong measures that have an impact on Iran’s decision making. The House will be aware that on 17 May Iran, Brazil and Turkey announced that Iran had agreed a deal to supply fuel for the Tehran research reactor. While that deal, if implemented, could still help to build confidence in Iran’s intentions, it cannot do so while Iran’s other actions show a complete disregard for efforts to engage it in serious negotiation, such as continuing to enrich uranium up to 20% despite having no apparent civilian use for that material.
A comprehensive diplomatic offer has been made to Iran and remains on the table. The EU High Representative, Cathy Ashton, made it clear in her statement of 21 May that we stand ready to meet Iran at any time to discuss its nuclear programme. The onus is on Iran to assure the international community of its peaceful intentions and to enter into negotiations. Until it does so, we have no choice but to continue to pursue the path of sanctions. The House will need no reminding of the risks associated with nuclear proliferation in the middle east. The pressure placed on Iran must be peaceful, multilateral and legitimate, but unless it is intensified, the opportunity to change Iranian behaviour on this issue may be lost.
The Government have also made it clear that we believe that the European Union must sharpen its focus on the western Balkans—as my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) said—until all the countries of the region are irreversibly on the path to EU membership. Achieving this and helping to turn the page decisively on the painful chapters of the region’s past will be a major test of what the EU can accomplish in world affairs. An EU without the western Balkans would for ever have a disenchanted and disillusioned hole near its centre. The western Balkans matter to stability and prosperity in Europe, and we cannot afford to ignore developments there, especially the current lack of progress in Bosnia, which demands sustained international attention. I yesterday attended the high-level meeting of EU and western Balkan Foreign Ministers, and set out our support for a clear strategy of firm action from European countries, as well as concrete steps by the countries of the region. We will work actively and intensively with our European partners, the High Representative and the Governments of the region to take this work forward in the coming months.
The issue brings me to enlargement more generally. In Britain, we have had a strong consensus on the principle that widening the European Union is a good thing, and I hope that that will continue. Widening of the European Union must go along with the rigorous application of the entry criteria. The Government will continue to champion the European Union’s enlargement, including to the western Balkans and Turkey. We will be assiduous in working with Ankara and other member states to resolve outstanding issues.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that continuing peace and stability in the western Balkans cannot be taken for granted, and does he also agree that the constitutional changes necessary in Bosnia and Herzegovina are critically important to enable that country to progress its accession to the EU?
I very much agree. It cannot be taken for granted that the problems have been solved. The 5+2 conditions necessary for the closure of the office of the High Representative have not yet been satisfied. As I have often said, I believe that European nations will have to be more forceful about this, and we will have to be prepared to push as well as pull some people in the western Balkans towards EU membership.
I have given way for the last time: I owe it to the House to allow the shadow Foreign Secretary and others to speak.
We continue to support the negotiations to re-unify the island of Cyprus—I am pleased that they restarted last week. Although we do not underestimate the difficulties, it would be very greatly in the interest of both communities on the island for those talks to succeed.
The House will also want to know about the institutional aspect of the EU’s external relations, the establishment of the European External Action Service. As the House will know, my party did not support the creation of the External Action Service, but it is now a fact. We warned that its creation would not necessarily lead to greater inter-institutional harmony in Brussels and that has unfortunately proved to be the case so far. It is now our task to ensure that the service is both useful to the nations of Europe and respects the role of national diplomatic services. The European Parliament has made its suggestions on how the service is to be organised, and there are discussions on the matter with the High Representative and the Spanish presidency. I hope that the European Parliament will recognise that the service will be a success only if it commands the confidence of member states. That is a crucial consideration.
The High Representative has made a good start to her very challenging role. We wished her well when she embarked on the task, and we look forward to working with her closely in the future.
The last Conservative Government left a considerable legacy in the European Union: the creation of the single market; the enlargement from nine to 15 members; and the setting in train of further eastwards enlargement. I will not take away from the last Government their achievement in helping to complete that enlargement, but in other respects their legacy is to be regretted: the alienation of the British public from the EU; the failure to stand up for Britain’s interests on the budget, and so on. The new Government have started as we mean to continue—with activity and energy in European affairs. We will play our role with enthusiasm, while vigorously advancing our country’s interests and never taking the British people for granted.
Before I call the shadow Foreign Secretary, I say to the House that there has been some comings and goings on the numbers wishing to speak in the debate. I propose, therefore, to alter the nine-minute time limit to 10 minutes. I do not automatically expect every hon. Member to expand their speech by one minute. It is just to ease the pressures that might otherwise exist during the debate.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is unusual in the House for the Foreign Secretary—at least it was under his previous roles—to lose an audience during a speech, but I will seek to address many of his points, focusing my remarks on the agenda for the European Council in two weeks. Of course, this quarter’s pre-European Council debate is unusual in that it is scheduled in the middle of the Queen’s Speech debates, but it comes at an important time for Europe.
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for his explanation of the Government’s approach. We want the Prime Minister, when he attends the European Council, to represent the interests of the country in a strong, outward-looking European Union, supporting an agenda of economic reform and social justice at home, and hard-headed internationalism abroad. The Foreign Secretary bravely said, in the Queen’s Speech debate last week, that he now favoured a policy of enlightened self-interest. We congratulate him on moving from unenlightened to enlightened self-interest—it is a step forward—but I hope that he will allow me, in the nicest possible way, to remind him of Harold Macmillan’s point that a Foreign Secretary is always caught somewhere between a cliché and an indiscretion. I hope that his repetition of his commitment to enlightened self-interest will not capture him in that trap.
It is not enough to say that one is enlightened. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary need to show it, and show it quickly, on the big issues facing Europe. They must put to one side institutional squabbles and focus on the substantive issues facing the European Union: a steady process of building economic growth alongside deficit reduction; developing the EU as a low-carbon economic zone of the future able to lead the international green economy; and supporting a strong European foreign policy that uses our weight in Europe to advance British interests. The Prime Minister’s press conference with Chancellor Merkel last month—his first foray into European politics as Prime Minister—was not encouraging. We are told that the Prime Minister is a fan of Disraeli, who said that
“petulance is not sarcasm, and insolence is not invective”.
The Prime Minister’s remarks in Berlin verged on both petulance and insolence.
I will focus on the Council’s agenda, but first I must pick the Foreign Secretary up on one thing. These debates are not traditionally partisan affairs, and my remarks will not be dedicated in that dimension. Pre-European Council debates—not European debates in general—have generally been focused on the agenda of the European Council. The shadow Foreign Secretary said—[Hon. Members: “You’re the shadow Foreign Secretary!”]I mean the Foreign Secretary. It sticks in the gullet, Mr Deputy Speaker; I am happy to admit it. However, in a few weeks, I hope I will get used to referring to the right hon. Gentleman as the Foreign Secretary.
I think I quote the Foreign Secretary correctly. He said that the United Kingdom got “nothing in return” for the 2004-05 budget deal. He also said that he was a long-standing supporter of enlargement, and he congratulated the previous Government on achieving enlargement. He knows that the budget deal agreed was necessary to make enlargement possible, and I say to him in the nicest possible way—well sort of—that he cannot keep on attacking the 2004-05 budget deal while professing his loyalty to the project of European enlargement. That project requires commitments in substance, and sometimes in budgets, as well as in words, and it simply is not good enough for him to keep on saying that we gave away the house in 2004-05 when it is not true. The EU achieved a historic agreement to expand, which he says he supports.
The hon. Gentleman says, from a sedentary position, that we should reduce them, but he will know that the 2004-05 budget deal agreed for the first time that British and French net contributions should be more or less equal. That had never been achieved before under any previous Government.
Is it not true that not only did it allow the accession of the A8 countries, plus Malta and Cyprus, because they had problems with the budget proposed before that, but it changed fundamentally the basis of the common agricultural policy, so that we did not continue to plough money into the agricultural surpluses, but put the money into development in the countries joining? It was a fundamental change that was necessary for Europe, and one that was beneficial in the long run to the UK.
My hon. Friend speaks with all the authority of a former Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee. Of course, the change was twofold: first, the shift in industrial and infrastructure support into the A8 countries and, secondly, the creation for the first time of the second pillar of the CAP—the pillar devoted not to agricultural subsidy, but to rural development. The previous Government set out a clear plan for how the CAP should be reformed, so that there was spending on rural development and rural support, notably with an environmental, green and climate change focus. The market-distorting aspects of the CAP—the so-called first pillar—were reduced. So I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention.
I am grateful to the shadow Foreign Secretary for giving way. However, does he not agree that Britain actually struck a very bad deal during the last budget negotiations? We did not get nearly as much as we ought to have, we gave up far more than we should have, and essentially the EU took advantage of us and our commitment to enlargement to strike a far better deal than we should have conceded. In fact, the deal that we conceded on enlargement was one of the things that lost us the election, not because people were hostile to enlargement, but because they were hostile to the uncontrolled immigration that resulted and to the feeling that the pervious Government were more interested in listening to Brussels than to their own people.
The Foreign Secretary and I jested earlier, when he said that my hon. Friend had always been a staunch supporter of the former Government, but I worry that he has been reading something left by the previous Opposition Whips Office, before the general election, setting our its view of what happened in 2004-05. I will make one important point to him: he will remember that six months before the budget deal was agreed, the then Government were denounced by the then Opposition for their failure to agree a deal. In June that year, there was a failure to agree a deal, and only under the British presidency, in December, did we get an agreement on the budget deal. So I do not accept his description.
No, I will make some progress, and if I may, I will come back to the hon. Gentleman later. He made at least two interventions on the Foreign Secretary.
I shall focus on the June Council agenda, which is understandably dedicated to addressing first the economic situation. The difficulties are well known, but the extent and possible permutations of the solutions are still relatively unknown, causing some instability in European and global markets. Concerns about Greece’s sovereign debt have led to market concern about other southern European economies. Eurozone growth figures are due to be released tomorrow—one disadvantage of having this debate before the European Council—and they will obviously provide a useful indicator for Council action.
All that matters to Britain, as the Foreign Secretary suggested, because 55% of our exports go to the EU. We are part of the largest single market in the world, along with our European partners. Half of UK inward investment comes from the EU. Out of the euro, we should still want the euro to succeed. In the light of those problems, the European Council needs to be clear about what needs to be done. The instability in the global economy as a result of Greece’s problems emphasises the need for effective and co-ordinated European action, as well as certainty for financial markets. A clear resolution framework is needed, and the eurozone countries must reach agreement between their members on the way forward.
However, this Council must be about growth, too, and it should look at the European economy as a whole. Competitive austerity, blind to the need to secure growth, will secure neither deficit reduction nor economic growth that improves living standards. In Europe and at the G20 meeting in Toronto, it is vital that the Government make that argument. As the US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said only yesterday:
“we want…fiscal reforms to happen in a way that’s growth friendly.”
That must surely be the right approach for any sensible Government. We on the Opposition Benches certainly share that view, for Europe and the global economy going into the G20. Deficits need to be brought down, but Europe also needs to think about generating growth, not simply stymieing demand through cutting too fast and too far. We urge the Government to push that argument, as well as that expressed by President Obama’s Administration.
The European Council has an extremely important role in agreeing ways of supporting European economic growth and better governance, and in fostering understanding between some of the strongest economies in the world. The last European Council meeting in March agreed, at the instigation of the then Prime Minister, a series of propositions on competitiveness, the prospects for European growth and the state of preparedness for the G20 summit.
In the context of what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, will he concede what Lord Mandelson said about the extent of over-regulation that comes from European directives and the like, which is that 4% of the European Union’s GDP is absorbed in unnecessary and burdensome regulation? That is the real reason why the eurozone is imploding. It simply does not have the capacity to produce enterprise and jobs. Indeed, enlargement, to include Bulgaria and Romania, is extremely suspect, because those countries have acted as a drag on the opportunity for the rest of Europe to prosper.
The hon. Gentleman asked almost exactly the same question of the Foreign Secretary. Difficult as it is for me to say it, the Foreign Secretary gave him rather a good answer, which is that a lot of the regulation to which he referred is, in fact, national regulation, not simply European regulation.
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the shadow Foreign Secretary, but let me just say to the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) that he is setting an awfully bad example to hon. Members who are waiting to make their first speeches by conducting a sedentary commentary, which he knows the Chair strongly deplores.
I am sure that my hon. Friends will come to learn that the contributions—not sedentary, but standing—of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) are an important feature of these debates. The consistency of his remarks is at least one model for us all to follow, even if that cannot always be said of their content.
Indeed, as my right hon. Friend also says from a sedentary position.
We look to the new Prime Minister to continue to show the level of engagement seen in the past on European economic issues. Of the many hard lessons that Europe has learned, the most significant is the importance of collaboration in the global economy. The “Europe 2020” growth strategy will be formally adopted at the Council. It was the previous Government who led on the development of those proposals, during the financial crisis that Europe faced last year, and who pushed for many of the positive solutions. We support a strong external dimension, to ensure that the EU is promoted on the global scene, notably through engagement with the so-called BRIC economies—those of Brazil, Russia, India and China.
We also support the expansion of research and development, increasing the share of renewables in final energy consumption to 20% and moving towards a 20% increase in energy efficiency. We also look to the Prime Minister to make the case for longer-term reform in the European Union, particularly in areas such as energy liberalisation and the completion of the single market in areas relatively untouched, such as e-commerce.
There was one country that the Foreign Secretary did not mention, but which it is appropriate to do so. He rightly talked of the importance of the rising powers, but he did not mention Russia. The EU is by far Russia’s largest trading partner, with three quarters of all Russia’s direct foreign investment coming from EU member states. The EU-Russia summit—the first since Lisbon came into force—took place on Tuesday, I think. I look forward to hearing further from the Foreign Secretary about how he sees Europe’s relationship with Russia. He will know—he referred to this in the debate on the Gracious Speech—that Britain’s relations with Russia over the past three years have been extremely testing.
The then Opposition supported the Government in the measures that we took in respect of Russia. However, when it comes to helping the modernisation of Russia, the European Union should be our best instrument. That is why we agreed to the opening of the so-called partnership and co-operation agreement negotiations—I think against the advice of the then Opposition. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will seek to use those discussions to help the process of engagement with Russia. We have a lot to gain, not least on issues to do with energy supply, on which the whole of the EU is a significant partner for Russia.
The European Union also has an important human rights dimension to its work in Russia. Indeed, it is appropriate that the Secretary of State for International Development should be in the Chamber now—he missed the Foreign Secretary’s speech, but I am glad that he has come in at this moment. He made great play during the election campaign of what he called the absurdity of the Department for International Development funding work in China or Russia. Let us leave China to one side. The work that the Department for International Development was funding in Russia was vital human rights work in Chechnya and Ingushetia, parts of Russia that are extremely poor and extremely riven with human rights abuses.
I hope that the Foreign Secretary will talk to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, because the important work that was being done with DFID money—relatively small amounts of money, compared with the multi-billion pound DFID budget—was supporting human rights issues that the Foreign Secretary said in his speech in the Loyal Address will be a vital part of his Department’s work. We have heard a lot of words about joined-up government from the new Administration, and this is one area where the price of a campaign commitment to an across-the-board cut in the work done in Russia will be borne by people trying to do brave and important work, in an important country in an important part of the world.
I am pleased to hear what the shadow Foreign Secretary is saying, but could he explain to the House why under his Administration the funding for the Council of Europe—and, implicitly, for the European Court of Human Rights—was basically frozen, while he allowed the European Union to spend hundreds of millions of pounds creating a fundamental rights agency that has nothing whatever to do with human rights in Russia or anywhere else?
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman’s intervention had so little to do with what I was talking about, which was a serious point about the development of human rights support in Russia. As he knows, the Council of Europe continues to receive generous support from the United Kingdom. The fact that we froze our budget is an example of the sort of efficiency and drive that he has often preached about. However, there is an important point there for the Foreign Secretary to address.
“Europe 2020” is the successor to the Lisbon agenda. What went wrong with the Lisbon agenda was that European countries did not acknowledge and achieve their benchmarks on certain aspects of policy. Before the shadow Foreign Secretary finishes the economic section of his speech, will he say whether he agrees that, as we focus on the new European Council, it is extremely important that there should be credible benchmarks? There has to be a proper understanding from European countries that those benchmarks are not pie in the sky; rather, they actually have to meet them if Europe is to become truly competitive.
I fear that there is a rather more fundamental problem than the one that my right hon. Friend has addressed. Although it is right to have a single European growth strategy, there is not a single European Government, nor is there a single European economic policy. We have nation states of Europe that pursue their own policies, and the vast majority of right hon. and hon. Members across the House would support that. The benchmarks that he talks about could not be enforced by the European Commission, or by anyone else, in those areas that were not within the competence of the European Union. I do not think the lesson from that is that we should centralise all work on universities or other supply-side issues. However, the structural problem remains, whereby the European Union operates by agreement, but implementation in significant areas is carried out by nation states.
I want to make some progress, but I will see whether I can squeeze the hon. Gentleman in a bit later.
I want to cover the important issue of the banking levy, which the Foreign Secretary did not mention. The last European Council’s conclusions noted
“possible innovative sources of financing such as a global levy on financial transactions”.
We have consistently been in favour of such a banking levy. The UK was the first major country to push for such a levy, at the G20 Finance Ministers’ meeting in St Andrew’s last November. We have also been clear about the need for such a levy to be agreed internationally. The former shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury—now the Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond)—agreed with that, saying:
“We’re very interested in the levy idea and we said so. We like what President Obama has announced but it’s got to be done on an international basis.”
Now is the time for the Prime Minister to follow through on that commitment.
We urge the Government to concentrate on finding consensus for a global levy. The G20 summit will provide another opportunity to build such agreement. I hope that the Minister for Europe will address that issue when he replies to the debate, as it was not addressed by the Foreign Secretary. He might also like to confirm that there is cross-party agreement on the suggestion that a banking levy should operate as some form of insurance fund. We have some concerns about that. We believe that the way in which any proceeds from a levy are spent should be a matter for individual countries to decide.
The European Council also has on its agenda the important preparations for the United Nations high-level plenary meeting on the millennium development goals. The Government have our full support in this area, and we are proud of our record on international development, to which the Foreign Secretary referred. The outlook for the goals is mixed. The right hon. Gentleman was poetic about his Government’s commitments, but he also pointed out that some other European countries were falling back in their commitments. For example, the proportion of children under five who are undernourished has declined from 33% in 1990, but it remained at 26% when the last figures were taken. According to the UN’s figures, the number of children in developing countries who were underweight still exceeded 140 million. There has been success in tackling hunger in parts of east Asia, but in sub-Saharan Africa, the poverty rate has remained constant at approximately 50%. These are issues on which Europe’s development budget, and its development work, have an important role to play, and I hope that we shall get a report back from the right hon. Gentleman, or from the Prime Minister when he returns from the European Council.
On climate change, which the Foreign Secretary mentioned in passing, the Commission report presented by new Commissioner, Mrs Hedegaard, was important. We on this side of the House are committed to increasing the EU’s target on emissions cuts as we move forward to a more comprehensive global agreement for the period beyond 2012. Figures released yesterday show that EU member states are halfway to cutting their emissions by 20% by 2020, which shows good progress, but that represents progress over a 20-year period, and we have only 10 years to go. We also need to ensure that the targets are not shirked, and that loopholes are closed.
In the light of the discussion yesterday, and of the terrible events that took place on Monday, it is right that I should dwell for a moment on the situation in the middle east. The European Heads of Government decided last year to devote one meeting a year to foreign policy, but that cannot lead to the exclusion of foreign policy from every other meeting. The Foreign Secretary spoke, quite legitimately, about the next meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, but the European Council has especial weight when it comes to choosing some foreign policy issues and dedicating time to them. I would not support the development of a Christmas tree approach, whereby every foreign policy issue was discussed at every European Council, but I do believe that the crisis in the middle east that was catalysed by the events on Monday deserves the attention of the Heads of Government.
We know that the EU is a big funder of humanitarian work on the west bank and in Gaza. We also know that it funds work for the Palestinian security forces on the west bank. Those are two ways in which the European Union makes like better for people in the occupied Palestinian territories. In political terms, however, Europe has not been a player of equivalent strength. The tragic events of this week bring into stark relief the consequences of stasis on the political track. These include limited progress on the implementation of resolution 1860, stalled proximity talks, and EU relations with Syria that are going backwards after the outreach early last year. Discussion has also been diverted from the important Iranian nuclear issue.
International engagement in this arena is not blocked by a lack of consensus; in fact, there has rarely been consensus on the long-term solution to the Israel-Palestine issue. However, the engagement has not been turned into action on the ground. This is a massive test for the foreign policy of all four members of the Quartet, but we on this side support a stronger role for the Quartet as a representative of the international community, and more structured links with the Arab Quartet, which needs to be part of any drive to reverse the slide in confidence and commitment that has been evident for some time, and which will be accelerated by this week’s events. The Foreign Secretary talked yesterday about making his and Britain’s voice heard. The European Council offers a chance for Europe’s voice to be heard, and I hope that the Prime Minister will take it. Europe needs a strong Britain, and we need a strong and successful Europe.
Given that the role of an Opposition is to oppose, is it the intention of the comrade leader aspirant that we should attack the Government for being insufficiently pro-Brussels? That was the position traditionally adopted by the Liberals, and it did not do them any good at the last election. I wonder whether we ought to learn the lessons of the general election and adopt a somewhat different position. For example, perhaps we should say that, if there is to be any more accession, there should be an end to unfettered immigration from the EU.
First, we will attack the Government for being insufficiently pro-British, and not for being insufficiently pro-Brussels. When they are insufficiently strong in their defence of the national interest, in regard to any aspect of European policy, we will attack them for that. Let me address my hon. Friend’s last point. His new ally, the Prime Minister, repeated in each of the prime ministerial debates that Britain needed a policy in which new entrants to the European Union had transitional arrangements for labour market access. That exists today for Romania and Bulgaria, precisely because we are learning the lessons of the past 10 years. I would say to my hon. Friend that, when our comrade party has done something right, it would be worth his while to recognise that. In this case, we have got it right.
Please could the shadow Foreign Secretary explain to our comrade from Glasgow—this now seems to be the parlance on these Benches—that this is not actually immigration? Once the treaty has been signed, people from the European Union have a right to come and work here unless there are transitional arrangements. Furthermore, there are 1 million British citizens working in mainland Europe in exactly the same way.
It is important to point out that there is now a net outflow of European workers from the UK, according to the latest figures, which were published at the end of last month. That reflects quite a lot about our economy. It is also important to say that other European citizens are required to work and pay taxes for 12 months in the UK before they are entitled to claim benefits. That is an important part of the compact. I accept that there are rights, but it is important not to forget that there are also responsibilities attendant on migration within the European Union.
It is also worth putting on record that the Single European Act, signed by Margaret Thatcher, gave people the right to travel and work within the European Union. That changed the fundamental structure in which people now operate in the EU. It was not the Labour Government who decided that; it was decided long before we came to power.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I want to refer back to the exchange between my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) and the Foreign Secretary. It is not often that he is stalled in his stride, but my hon. Friend managed to stall him by pointing out that his new-found enthusiasm for referendums on any transfer of competence, however small, stands in stark contrast to his loyal vote for the Maastricht treaty under his then Government. It also stands in stark contrast to all those Conservative Members who were in the House during the passage of the Single European Act and who loyally stuck to British parliamentary convention. That is, that we are a parliamentary democracy and that when there are fundamental transfers of power around the euro, for example, there should, of course, be a referendum, as all parties have agreed. It is the job of this Parliament, however, to scrutinise, debate and to vote on any other matters.
Although I shall not devote a long section of my speech to this subject today, we look forward to long debates about how the Foreign Secretary will justify spending £80 million to £100 million on referendums, for example, on a change in the organisation of the pension committee of the European Parliament, which is one consequence of the new-found policy adopted by the Government. We will have particular fun in asking the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), who has long stood for a high degree of European integration, to explain why that is a good use of taxpayers’ money.
Although this grieves me, let me put on the record that when it comes to referendums, all three parties have nothing to be proud of. We all went into the 2005 election promising one: Conservative Members kept saying “Oh, well, if it is passed, we cannot have one”, but they could perfectly well have had one; the Lib-Dems said, “Oh, we change the question; it should be in or out”; while we said that the document was different from the treaty. None of us came out of this with glory, and I think that we should recognise it.
I want to put on record the fact that my hon. Friend did cover herself with glory in respect of the consistency of the positions she took on European issues and—[Interruption.] I have to say to the Foreign Secretary that we have been working on that through separate channels. My hon. Friend achieved a remarkable result in the general election and her result was testimony to what independent-minded and strong constituency MPs can achieve in this country. I am very pleased that she will be applying her independent mind not only to everything that I say, but to everything that the Government say on European issues as well, pointing out the inconsistencies as they develop.
Many of our European partners will be looking forward to the appearance of the Prime Minister at the new European Council. They will be scratching their heads about some of the policies that the new Government will develop. It is not that they find coalition Governments alien—there are, of course, coalition Governments all over Europe—but they often assume that members of the Government will agree with each other on key foreign policy issues. The other leaders will know that the Conservative party has spent a large part of the last decade campaigning to “save the pound”, as they would put it, and that the Liberal Democrats have been campaigning for the last 10 years to ditch the pound. That is why the Foreign Secretary said that there was no more “fanatically federalist party” in Britain than the Liberal Democrats. That was before his new-found enthusiasm for their support on the Government Benches.
No, I have taken enough interventions. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman can make a speech later rather than intervene on mine.
We say to the Foreign Secretary that the one person he should listen to is the former Member for Bath and commissioner, Lord Patten, who was both a mentor to the current Prime Minister and also, I think, an employer of the current Deputy Prime Minister when he was a commissioner. Lord Patten said recently that the sensible thing would be for the Conservative party to move back to centre where big players sit around the table and make the big decisions affecting Europe. We do not want the British Prime Minister going to the European Council to represent the whole of the UK and be sitting in the corridor while the European Peoples party and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats Heads of Government make the real decisions and invite him—the only Head of Government not to attend either of those meetings—along afterwards only for a toast. There are big decisions to be made in Europe: they need leadership and good judgment. That is the basis on which we will hold the Government to account.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe to the Front Bench. I think that I speak for the whole House—or certainly for this side of the House—in saying that we now have a very strong team at the Foreign Office which will stand up for the United Kingdom’s interest in Europe as well as the UK’s interest in the wider world. It is with some sadness that I say I am speaking probably for the last time with you in the Chair, Sir Alan. We will miss you in that particular position, but I am sure that we will none the less see a lot of you around the House, which we look forward to in the future.
The Foreign Secretary spoke at some length about democracy and what could be described as a democratic deficit in European affairs, particularly in the European Union. I want to speak a little about what I see as a democratic deficit in common security and defence policy in the EU. There are a lot of good words on the role of national Parliaments in the Lisbon treaty, but there is little substance or structure on that subject. Sadly, one of the last dying acts of the previous Government—on the last day that this House sat before the general election was declared—was the announcement that they were signing the death warrant of an organisation called the Western European Union, and with it parliamentary scrutiny of European security and defence policy and common foreign and security policy.
Let me take a few moments to explain to colleagues what the Western European Union was, as it was the forerunner of the European Union. Its history dates back to 1948. The Brussels treaty was modified in 1954 to make the WEU an effective defence pact, and it participated in the early stages of the Balkans and Gulf wars. Then, 10 years ago, the European Union decided that it would transfer the functions of the WEU to the European Union, including the transfer of its military staff and its satellite centre, and the Western European Armaments Group effectively became the European Defence Agency. That is not what I want to talk about, however.
I thought that the hon. Gentleman might move on to make the simple suggestion that the scrutiny process carried out by the Western European Union should be remitted to the European Scrutiny Committee of this House, because at this moment decisions on those matters are not subject to scrutiny by that Committee.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and I shall come on to the role of European scrutiny committees in that respect. He may know that his colleagues in the French Parliament have already suggested that something similar to COSAC—the Conference of European Affairs Committees—of which the hon. Gentleman has been a member, should be involved in the process.
The Assembly of the WEU has brought together members of national Parliaments from across the European Union and also involved the non-European Union NATO members. Two years ago, the Assembly formally changed its charter to make all 27 national Parliaments and the now five non-EU members of NATO members of its Assembly. The WEU has been providing parliamentary oversight of European security and defence policy as well as wider European defence issues and, more particularly, the use of taxpayers’ money on European collective defence procurement.
As I said, in a written statement on 30 March, the former Foreign Secretary announced that the UK was intending to give 12 months’ notice that it wanted to withdraw from the organisation. The following day, all the other signatory states to treaty announced that they would do likewise on the basis of what can only be described as a cost-cutting exercise. We all want to save money, of course, but there is a danger when it comes to democracy of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
As seen in the Government’s statement, the statement of the WEU Permanent Council—the ambassadors in Brussels—and the recent motion in the French Parliament, to which I referred in my response to the intervention, and at the recent meeting of EU Speakers and at the EU Foreign Affairs Council in April, scrutiny is a role for national Parliaments and not for the European Parliament. They all made that clear.
The European Parliament, however, is ready, willing and able to step into the gap. In a resolution passed back in March, it claimed that the Assembly of the WEU—the European security and defence Assembly—had misappropriated its role in acting on behalf of national Parliaments, and that the European Parliament was the only competent body. That flies in the face of the Lisbon treaty, which states that this area of policy is intergovernmental and should remain so, and that there will be no further competences for the European Parliament.
It is national Parliaments and national Governments who authorise the use of our armed forces, whether it takes place on a European Union mission or on any other type of collective mission. It is national Parliaments and national Governments who pay for those deployments. It is national Parliaments and national Governments who pay for the equipment used by those armed forces, and it is national Parliaments and national Governments who decide on the terms of engagement.
The House of Commons Library contains an excellent research paper, which is currently sitting in the international affairs section, entitled “Parliamentary approval for deploying the armed forces: an introduction to the Issues”. Nowhere does that document, which makes very good reading, mention that the European Parliament has any armed forces whatsoever to deploy, or that it should in any way be involved in decisions about the deployment of our armed forces.
The decision made by the last Government—who have now been joined by other Governments—to abolish the Western European Union and wind up the treaty of Brussels abolishes parliamentary democracy, and nothing has been provided to replace that parliamentary democracy and oversight. Those Governments have provided no mechanism to implement all the rhetoric that they have produced in the Foreign Affairs Council and in their own statements by creating a new structure that would bring together national Parliaments to perform that role.
There are a number of options on the table. The simplest is for the current Assembly to transfer itself in order to become a European Union body. Plenty of precedents are provided by previous structures. The Foreign Affairs Council, which will meet in a week or so and which the Foreign Secretary will attend, may have an opportunity to move the discussion forward. What is proposed is a steering group that could draw up plans over the next six months or so, so that before the end of the life of the WEU and its Assembly we would have a structure that could exercise parliamentary democracy on behalf of all our national Parliaments and Governments.
I believe there is a real danger that if there is inactivity—if we all say that that is a good idea, but do nothing about it—the European Parliament will move into the void immediately. It has the money, the resources and the time to act in that way. We must now look to that Foreign Affairs Council meeting, and hopefully even the European Council meeting, to put some meat on the bones of the declaration of the last Foreign Affairs Council and start to create the structures that can take this form of parliamentary democracy forward. Otherwise, I fear that there will be another centralising drift in the European Union, which none of us wants.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter), and to make some comments that are relevant to what he had to say. First, however, let me welcome the Foreign Secretary to his post. He need not stay; he can do a Member for Glasgow South West on me if he wishes. I welcome the Minister for Europe to his post as well.
Let me begin with a quotation from an article in yesterday’s Financial Times by Charles Kupchan, professor of international affairs at Georgetown university. It is entitled “Britain is no longer America’s bridge to Europe”. Professor Kupchan writes that the present Government
“seems bent on pursuing a traditional Conservative foreign policy: cosy up to the US while giving Europe short shrift.”
In his view, that would
“leave Britain in a geopolitical no-man’s land and marginalise its international influence.”
He gives three reasons. The first is that the United States does not require us to do that any more. The second is that the United States has shifted its focus from the Atlantic zone to the middle east and Asia,
“leaving Washington keenly sensitive to Europe’s ability to share global burdens.”
The third is that
“Europe needs Britain as much as Britain needs Europe… British leadership is sorely needed to help lead the EU out of its doldrums.”
I entirely agree with that analysis.
The United Kingdom needs a strong eurozone. Members should be deeply concerned by the concerted attacks on the euro by the speculators in the money markets, who make nothing but trouble. As the Foreign Secretary generously pointed out, all that that does is weaken our market—the important market that is the European Union.
The process of fiscal consolidation and deficit reduction is very important. It is nonsensical for some Members in other parties, and the public press, to compare the situation in Greece to that in the United Kingdom, or to compare the troubles of Portugal and Spain to the situation facing the UK. The UK concentrated on building its supply side, and on education, training and research and development. As Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee for the past four years, I went to Portugal and Spain, and noted that they concentrated on major infrastructure projects rather than building up the talents of their young people or their manufacturing bases. Unemployment in Spain is nearly 40% among those aged 25 and under, and its national unemployment is 18%. We do not have those problems.
I welcome the paper by Mario Monti. It is important to focus on the new Lisbon 2020 strategy. It is true that growth is anaemic in the European Union, and it is not helped by currency speculation. We should recall the damage done repeatedly to our country and to sterling in past decades by currency speculators, and realise that what the eurozone countries have—whether they wanted it or not—is a commitment to stand together or fall together. Sadly, if we were attacked alone again, we would have to turn to those countries for support, because we do not have the strength that they have through their unanimity.
We need a strong EU climate change and energy programme. The UK’s 2% contribution can make little difference to the carbon footprint of the world without an EU programme. We—the UK and the world—need a focused EU international aid strategy. I pay tribute to Lady Kinnock for working so hard in the EU, when she was a Member of the European Parliament, to secure a strategy that focused on countries and Governments rather than project-by-project commitments. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), the former Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, it is all too easy for national Governments to cut their international development budgets, and it is important that the stability and growth pact is not used by countries to abandon the poor of the world.
Let me now turn to a matter that concerns me particularly. Members have mentioned the European Council that will take place in two weeks’ time, but some may not be aware that five European subject Councils have taken place since the Government came to office. Those who take an interest in what is happening in Europe should note that the activities of two of them were reported in yesterday’s Hansard. There was a meeting of ECOFIN on 9 May, after the Government had come to power but before the current Parliament was formed, but there has been no scrutiny of that or of the subject Councils, because no European Scrutiny Committee is up and running. There has been no written ministerial statement on the 9 May ECOFIN meeting, to which there was a reference in the ECOFIN statement of 18 May, although it dealt with some extremely important matters. There has been a press release from the European Council and a communication from the European Commission, but nothing from our own Government. Very important matters that we should be concerned about were discussed. Those are to do with the consolidation of the financial markets, but there was no scrutiny of that, and no report. The follow-up report
“underlined the need to make rapid progress on financial market regulation and supervision, in particular with regard to derivative markets”
and the role of credit rating agencies, and went on to discuss the excessive deficit procedure for Spain and Portugal. That was widely reported in the press, but nothing came through the processes of this Parliament.
On the Government’s approach and commitments, in what is now the coalition agreement there is the clear statement that
“there should be no further transfer of sovereignty or powers”—
I stress “or powers”—
“over the course of the next Parliament.”
We have heard from the Foreign Secretary about the methods by which that can be done. One of them, obviously, is treaties, but if I heard the Foreign Secretary correctly—perhaps the Minister for Europe can confirm this—he said that that excluded accession treaties: they would not be subject to a referendum, therefore. People will be concerned about the accession of other countries, and we know that there will be amendments attached to those accession treaties clarifying matters in respect of the Lisbon treaty, yet we have just been told that there will be no referendums on them. There is already smoke and mirrors from the Government, therefore. I do not know whether that is because they are influenced by their new Liberal Democrat partners, or perhaps the major Government party have chosen to do that themselves.
We have been told about the use of the passerelle clause, which can change the voting method on any issue from unanimity to qualified majority voting. If the UK Government decide in Council to give up their veto, the passerelle clause will be subject to a referendum or primary legislation, but the Government have to decide in the Council to give that up, because they already have a veto in Council. Therefore, the idea that we will be asked about that after the event is very worrying, as the Government will already have decided—and, I presume, will have discussed the matter with the coalition partners—that they will give up the veto before they put it to the House. They will then, of course, whip in Members in order to effect the dumping of the veto. Again, therefore, this is smoke and mirrors.
I asked about the opt-ins. We currently have opt-outs in many areas. If measures are amended, we can decide to opt in or opt out completely. In the European Scrutiny Committee, there was in the past unanimous concern that this process was not open enough for Parliament to have a say, and that many things were going through because that was suitable to the Government of the time. That is not what the Government that is now in power promised us. There has been mention of the issue of sovereignty or powers being transferred, and I wish to hear how they will deal with that.
Although its publications are not usually my favourite reading, Open Europe has a very good briefing on these subjects, which people might want to take a look at. I see that the former shadow Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), is smiling from the Government Front Bench. It is important that I pay tribute to him for the role he played on the Opposition Benches during the last Government’s term in office. I have always said I am not a Eurosceptic, but I am a Government sceptic, regardless of which Government.
Many parts of the Lisbon treaty are now being interpreted as denying the right of scrutiny to Parliaments—this Parliament and other Parliaments. We must try to deal with these matters sensibly. There are many articles in the Lisbon treaty that say they are not legislative Acts, and therefore, as such, the European institutions have said they are not subject to protocol 1, which gives Parliaments eight weeks in which to look at them, and protocol 2, under which they can be challenged using the orange and yellow cards or challenged in the courts. It is also very important that the draft conclusion of the Council is tabled, so that it can be dealt with in the ESC before going on to the Council. I hope the Government will allow that to happen.
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity to make my maiden speech as the new MP for Wyre Forest, and I also thank the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) for his contribution.
As I look around the House, I am very much aware of the fact that Members will have just come back from tough election campaigns, where candidates will have been getting stuck into each other in order to get elected, yet in Wyre Forest the campaign could not have been more gentlemanly. It steadfastly adhered to a political version of the Queensbury rules, and that is entirely due to the nature of my predecessor, Dr Richard Taylor. Richard was famously elected as an independent in 2001, trying to save Kidderminster hospital from down-scaling and the closure of the accident and emergency department. Although he may not have achieved everything that he and his party set out to do all those years ago, his political achievements have become a byword for people power. The term the “Kidderminster effect” is now used to describe political curiosities, and he is already described in modern political textbooks as an example of how the traditional party system can be broken when constituents feel strongly enough about a specific local issue. While Richard’s local achievements may not have been as huge as hoped for in 2001, he has proved two things for modern politics: that Governments ignore the views of the electorate on local issues at their peril, and that when it comes to important local issues, people are a lot more politically minded than we imagine.
Richard follows in a long line of interesting politicians in Wyre Forest, including former Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and the hugely charismatic Gerald Nabarro, but Wyre Forest also has many other interesting sons, including the 17th-century Puritan preacher Richard Baxter, who set up his ministry in Kidderminster in 1641. Also from Kidderminster was Sir Rowland Hill, the inventor of the modern postal system—someone whose legacy Members are reminded of every day as they collect their post bags from the House of Commons post office. More recently, and no doubt of interest to Members who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant is still an active member of the local community.
Comprising the three towns of Kidderminster, Stourport-on-Severn and Bewdley, as well as the outlying rural communities, Wyre Forest is a community that is both historical and fascinating. Straddling the river Severn, its earlier history is based on trade along the river. The town of Bewdley used to be an important trading port, part of which is mentioned in the Domesday Book, while the main town received borough status from Edward IV in 1472. This, of course, is the town that Stanley Baldwin lived in and from which he chose his title: Earl Baldwin of Bewdley. Downstream from Bewdley lies the Georgian town of Stourport-on-Severn, created as a port where the river Stour joins the Severn, but made much more prosperous by the building of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal. The canal basins and locks now form a stunning central focus for the town.
The biggest town in Wyre Forest is Kidderminster. Also mentioned in the Domesday Book, Kidderminster was granted a borough charter in 1636 by King Charles I—a former, and unfortunate, visitor to this House. Kidderminster is, of course, known for its carpet industry, which was started by the Brinton family in 1785. This has been the main driver for the local economy until recent times, and indeed there are still a number of successful carpet manufacturers based in Kidderminster and Stourport. So significant to the local economy was—and to a lesser extent still is—the carpet industry, that the local newspaper, The Shuttle, was named after the shuttle that forms an integral part of the looms used in the weaving of carpets.
The modern economy is more diverse, however, with manufacturing ranging from design and building the undercarriage for heavy earth-moving equipment to—slightly surprisingly for land-locked Worcestershire—the manufacture of luxury ocean-going yachts, and from forging parts for motor car components to the cutting-edge design and manufacture of rocket motors.
Taking advantage of the outstanding local beauty and our fascinating local history is the impressive local tourism industry, which includes both the West Midlands safari park and one of Europe’s finest heritage steam railways, the Severn Valley railway. Both represent significant tourist draws for the west midlands, and provide important diversions for my three children.
More recently, Wyre Forest has undertaken a comprehensive review of all the schools in the district, as a result of which the former three-tier system has changed to a two-tier system. That process has included a major rebuild and investment from Worcestershire county council. Worcestershire is a wave 6a Building Schools for the Future authority, and the proposals are to rebuild four of our secondary schools: Stourport high school; Wolverley Church of England secondary school; Baxter business and enterprise college; and King Charles I school. The proposals also include the provision of a new special school for two to 19-year-olds and the refurbishment of Bewdley school and sixth-form centre. The BSF programme has been signed off this year by the Treasury, so although I have no reason to believe that the rebuild will not go ahead as planned, I cannot understate the importance that this investment will have in Wyre Forest, where there is a need to deal with issues relating to certain pockets of local deprivation. These areas will benefit immeasurably from this investment.
On the wider issue of per pupil funding, Wyre Forest, as part of the Worcestershire education authority area, suffers from being near the bottom of the per pupil funding league table. That means that a school the same size as Kidderminster’s Baxter college would receive more than £3 million per year more to do the same job if it were located down the road from here, in Tower Hamlets. Of course we recognise the increased costs associated with being in the centre of London, but are they really that much higher? I hope that the proposed pupil premium for disadvantaged pupils will help to redress the imbalance, but I seek a move towards a fairer funding formula for Worcestershire schools.
I was keen to speak in this debate on Europe because I feel that we can learn many positive things from our European partners, including lessons from Sweden on school provision. I am frequently asked where I stand on the issue of Europe, and my answer is that I am neither a Europhile nor a Europhobe, but a Euro-realist: I feel that we are where we are on Europe. As someone newly elected to Parliament, I deplore the creeping nature of legislation that comes not from this place but from Brussels. I welcome the coalition’s proposed referendum lock, and I will always stand firm against joining the euro.
When I consider whether we should be in or out of Europe, my first instinct is to examine how it will affect the people of Wyre Forest, and whether my constituency would be better off if we came out of Europe. I remain open-minded and could be persuaded otherwise, but my instinct is that Wyre Forest’s economy stands a far better chance in the future if we stay in Europe, taking advantage of the trading opportunities available, which we talked about earlier.
I look forward to serving the good people of Wyre Forest not just in this place but locally in the community, where I intend to spend my time working with the business community, trying to attract more opportunities locally and tackling low local wages and rising unemployment. The man of the moment back in 2001, when the hospital was threatened, was always going to be a doctor, but in 2010, when we have rising unemployment and a doubtful economic outlook, I look forward to using my experience of business, investment and economics to work hard for the people of Wyre Forest to tackle the crucial issues facing us all.
It is a great pleasure to follow the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier), not least because I still fondly remember having a photograph taken in 1997 with David Lock, the then Labour Member for Wyre Forest. We all had red balloons and we travelled down to Westminster together. I am glad to say that, apart from David Lock, all of those in the photograph are still in the House. I wish the hon. Gentleman well. I am sure that people in his local carpet industry would have had one or two things to say if it had been forced to “go metric” on the weaving shuttles; I am sure that he will have one or two particular points that he wishes to bring to the House.
I wanted to speak today because Europe is facing a political and economic crisis which, although it has been brewing for a considerable time, is, in some ways, being denied both here and abroad. It is a political elite that is in denial, and in some sense that does not surprise me, because I still bear the scars of spending 18 months in Brussels attempting to write a European constitution. The democratic mandate was ignored then, too, and a political elite essentially rode roughshod over the wishes of the electorate.
Frankly, no party here has much to be proud of on the issue of referendums, nor do the Governments in the countries across Europe whose people said no when asked—and were simply ignored, as happened in Holland and France. Ireland’s people were simply asked twice; they were asked until they came up with the right answer. So there is something wrong going on in the house of Europe, and at the moment, that shows itself in terms of economics and the single currency.
Those who have warned against some of the problems of the single currency take little pleasure in being tempted to say, “I told you so”. People need to face up to what is happening at the moment, because this is not a question of one member of the eurozone having a financial crisis from which they can simply be bailed out. A bail-out is not the answer to the problem, nor is it in the current treaty provisions. The central issue in Greece is not associated with the pubic finances, although those are a problem. The real question is what happens when a country in the current monetary union loses competitiveness and cannot regain it. In essence, we are asking Greece to implement what amounts to two thirds of a traditional IMF package, which usually involves raising taxes and cutting public expenditure. However, the third and crucial element that always comes with recovery is depreciation of the currency, and that adjustment is not happening.
What the European monetary union calls “internal depreciation” has to replace a currency depreciation, but that is nothing other than a polite phrase for debt deflation. The programme currently recommended for Greece will crush output and increase both unemployment and private sector default. It will reduce Government revenues still further, and make public sector default and national bankruptcy even more likely.
Some people in countries such as Germany think that every country in Europe should behave like the Germans. As someone born in that country, I think that that is a perfectly reasonable expectation—but it is not the answer, as we cannot answer our economic problems by requiring every country to run a trade surplus. To be fair to Germany, it got out of its own economic crisis of the late 1990s and the first years of this century only at the expense of some of the other countries in the EMU.
So what are we going to do? Two solutions offer themselves. One is to transfer funds from countries with a current account surplus—in effect, those in the German bloc—but that assumes that a one-off payment is the answer. It is not. What is really required are year-on-year transfers, equivalent to what West Germany paid to the old East Germany. Let us be clear about this, however. Just for Greece, such a year-on-year transfer would amount to something like €35 billion to €40 billion a year. If we were talking about the default for Spain and Portugal, we would be looking at something like €100 billion a year, and that would wreck not only the German economy but its public finances as well.
The second solution would involve a massive devaluation of the euro.
I hope that my hon. Friend does not mind me intervening, but it seems that, having put down a set of rails, she is going to go all the way along until she crashes. Is there not a possibility that the fundamental flaws lie in how the failed economies acted? For example, Spain and Portugal put money into infrastructure and not education, with the result that people left school and built houses instead of educating themselves and creating a new economy. In Greece, the question centres on how much of the tax take that is due has been paid. Should we not concentrate on changing those economies so that they are stronger? Should we not use the 2020 strategy to rebuild growing economies, and not just bail them out?
That is a perfectly fair point, but there are two problems. The first goes back to the claim that we would have trade surpluses if only every country were like Germany, but things do not work that way. The second problem is how such a strategy would be policed.
There is a third difficulty, too. Every successful single currency requires significant transfers from the centre to deal with asymmetric economic shocks, and those transfers would be of the order of between 20% and 30% of the overall tax take. In Europe, that would require a European economic and political Government. The approach could not work in any other way, because we cannot expect countries to behave like that in the absence of any mechanisms for policing or transfer that would compensate them for their loss of competitiveness.
The problem in Greece is that it could become competitive again by devaluing its currency, but it is not allowed to do so. As a result, the approach outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) does not address the problem.
The second solution is a massive devaluation of the euro—a devaluation that some people say would have to amount to something like 50 cents against the dollar. A small devaluation would not be enough for Greece, and a large devaluation would be disastrous for the other countries in the EMU. For a country like Germany, a small devaluation would help competiveness, but a large devaluation would lead to incredibly high inflation that would ruin the economy again.
Again, what should we do? There is a least bad solution, although it is not a happy one. People argue that Greece should leave the euro, but I think that the least bad solution would be for the German bloc to leave the euro. That would, in a sense, allow for competitiveness to develop. Germany’s banks would still have to recapitalise, but it would be less costly to do this directly than it would be to do it indirectly by trying to rescue Greece.
The simple truth is that neither the eurozone countries nor any countries around the eurozone will get out of this mess without some very serious decisions being made, and there will be consequences for us all. As I understand it, the Prime Minister says that it is in Britain’s interests for there to be a stable and strong euro. If he says that out of diplomatic politeness, I understand and accept that, but with the current structure there is no way that he can have a stable euro and a strong euro. It will be weak in its basic economic fundamentals, and that is what has been wrong with something that was driven by political will but underpinned by excessively bad economics. The euro has always been a political project, and people keep assuming that given sufficient determination by the politicians, this structure will work. But it is fundamentally flawed.
It is then argued that the answer is more central control from Brussels, with its already incredible intrusion into countries’ sovereignty. Look at what has been happening to Greece, and what has been happening to Spanish Ministers and what they were told to do. Essentially, Brussels is now running Greece as if it were a protectorate. Is that the answer? I do not think it is. I do not think it is acceptable. That is the real difficulty—that nobody is facing up to the fact that the structure is so fundamentally economically flawed that it will not work.
That is why, when the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister go for the first time to European Union meetings in their new roles, I urge them to stop using phrases such as “having to protect our negotiating capital.” I think they have to face the fact that that is simply a polite phrase for not being prepared to say no when on occasions you need to say no. Again I have seen it, and the Foreign Secretary himself acknowledged that once people join the Government again, the tones get slightly softened. When a problem arises, the Brits will, as always, within a few hours say, “I’m sure there’s a way through this,” encouraged by our very able diplomats—who, I remind the House, are always in government, irrespective of which side of the House hon. Members are sitting, so it is in their interests to find these rather smooth solutions.
We are coming to a point where, to get out of serious economic difficulties, Britain will have, on occasions, to say no. When it comes to threats to our financial industries and our financial sector, it is no good protecting our negotiating capital. It is time to say no, just as the French would say no if we attacked their wine industry, or the Germans if we attacked their car industry. The price that will have to be paid if we do not become competitive again, if we do not protect our own currency, will not be paid by Members in the House, or by the Commission in Brussels. The political elite and the nomenklatura are always protected. The price will be paid by the old and the young, by the people who have no jobs, the people who lose their savings and the people who lose their pensions. The political elite have not been prepared to listen to them. It has been driving through a political project that was underpinned by bad economics. I hope that the people on the Government Benches will now show that when in government, they are able to act with the mettle that they pretended to have when they were in opposition.
I shall be brief, in the hope that I might catch your eye again in the near future, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I am delighted to rise to speak today as the new Member for Brighton, Kemptown, the sixth in the 60 years that the seat has existed. Brighton, Kemptown, as we know, is very close to Europe, and I have to tell the House that in 1514 the French invaded the town of Brighton at the time and razed it to the ground. I am not surprised that even 500 years later, many of my constituents are still suspicious of our relationship with Europe.
Tradition dictates that I should thank my predecessor, Des Turner of the Labour party. For 13 years, he was the MP for Brighton, Kemptown, and I have to say that he did a good job. He worked hard and was an excellent constituency MP. In this House, his experience as a scientist was put very much to use, and I hope, as a mathematician, that I might follow him in that regard.
I should also like to pay tribute to his predecessor—not Dennis Hobden, who was the first Labour MP in Sussex, having won by seven votes, nor David James, the man who pursued the Loch Ness monster, but Sir Andrew Bowden, the MP for Brighton, Kemptown, from 1970 to 1997, a friend of mine and an excellent constituency MP.
Let me tell hon. Members about Brighton, Kemptown. It is without doubt one of the best seaside destinations not only in this country, but in Europe. It attracts 8 million visitors and many conferences. Many of us in this House will have enjoyed the hospitality that Brighton has to offer. The constituency runs from the Palace pier to Peacehaven, and from Moulsecoomb to the marina. It is, in my opinion, the best part of Brighton and Hove city, and the best part of East Sussex. Whitehawk has had human inhabitants for thousands of years. My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) mentioned the Domesday Book; Brighton appears in it, and there is a fantastic Norman church in the village of Ovingdean. I have mentioned the French invaders, so we will move on.
Brighton has a large lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, and I am proud and honoured to have the opportunity to represent it and the constituency in Parliament. It has a race course and the leafy suburbs of Woodingdean, Rottingdean, Saltdean, Telscombe Cliffs, and Peacehaven. It has older people and younger people. It has two universities. It has a hospital—designed, incidentally, by Charles Barry, the architect of the building in which we stand. It has a grade II listed lido in Saltdean, and one of the largest marinas in Europe, which I very much hope will remain a marina.
I am honoured, humbled and privileged to represent Brighton, Kemptown. It is an exciting, diverse and happening place, and I hope to do my very best.
May I first offer my thanks to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity to make my first contribution to a debate in this House, and for the kindness that you and other experienced Members of all parties have shown me in recent weeks? I should also like to congratulate the hon. Members for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) and for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby) on their excellent maiden speeches.
I intend to be brief, but I hope that the House will permit me the time to say a few words about my constituency and the issues that are important there. I considered it a very great honour to have been selected as a candidate to represent the place where I was born, and that I call home. To represent here those with whom I grew up in Wirral South, my family and my oldest friends, is a responsibility that is sincerely humbling, and one that I can barely find the words to describe.
As a Wirral South person, I have had the pleasure of my predecessor’s acquaintance for many years. Mr Ben Chapman is a very amiable man, and I have been struck by how many Members of this House have taken the time to speak to me about him in recent weeks. They have stopped me and asked me to take with me to Wirral their best wishes for him. I am sure that that does not happen to every new Member of Parliament, and it is a sign of how highly he is regarded here. He worked hard to foster better relationships between our country and others, most especially China, and his legacy to this House will be in those relationships. Today’s debate is about Europe, and I believe that politics is more internationally minded because of Ben’s work. In a globalised world, nothing could be more important.
I note that my predecessor made his first contribution to this House during a debate on the National Health Service (Primary Care) Bill. He explained that some of our constituency’s most pressing problems related to health services. He spoke of 6,000—more than one in 10—of our residents being on waiting lists, and those in hospital having long waits on trolleys, and not swift effective treatment.
In the coming months, I wonder whether some might attempt to rewrite the history of the recent Labour Government, but I can report that in Wirral South we have achieved a great reduction in clinically unnecessary waiting times, and that in the Clatterbridge Centre for Oncology we have a world-beating treatment centre for those with cancer. Along with our marvellous NHS staff and Ben Chapman’s hard endeavour in standing up for local health services, we also have Labour Health Secretaries to thank for that.
I am deeply proud to originate from the constituency that I now represent, but I cannot claim to be the first local resident of Wirral South to become involved in Labour politics. In 1932 a Mr Wilson, an industrial chemist, on being made redundant from his job in Huddersfield, moved to Spital in my constituency. His son joined the local grammar school and became its head boy. Young Harold was clearly made for leadership roles, and, although he went on to represent constituencies over the water in Huyton and in Ormskirk, Wirral has never forgotten him.
Wirral is a geographically wonderful place—especially the southern part, which I represent. From the banks of the Mersey overlooking the Liverpool skyline to the banks of the Dee where one can see the heights of Snowdonia, we Wirralians are thankful for our good fortune to reside in one of the most visually stunning parts of Britain.
However, it is our people, our culture and our heritage that truly makes us. We are an internationally minded and cultured people in Wirral South. We are the traditional home of Unilever, and many of my constituents work for nearby Vauxhall Motors and Airbus, as well as for other international companies in manufacturing and other sectors—companies that trade on the European and world stages and worked with the Labour Government and the trade unions to carry British industry through difficult times over the past year. Britain’s role in leading Europe over the past decade has benefited Wirral and north-west England, and I trust that all members of the new Government will be able to maintain our influence.
For us Merseysiders, our culture and heritage is at the heart of who we are. According to Impacts 08, the report on Liverpool’s year as European capital of culture, we are more likely than others in the UK to go to a museum or gallery, and I like to think that that is not much of a surprise, given that my constituency boasts the treasures of the Lady Lever art gallery in the Victorian model village of Port Sunlight and a wealth of community organisations dedicated to involving people in music, dance and drama. I, myself, am the granddaughter of local songwriter and folk singer Pete McGovern, and I grew up spending many hours in the Philharmonic hall in Liverpool, wrapped in its peerless acoustics.
As such, I should like to say a few more words, if time permits me, about culture. The passion for culture is especially strong in young people in my constituency, and I cannot imagine that there are any more talented young people in any other constituency. Local schools use children’s creative talents on stage in order to build their confidence and, during the recent election, I was lucky enough to visit several schools to see their pupils’ performances. That work has a really positive effect on the rest of a child’s education, and my constituency, like many others, has seen schools make great strides in educational achievement. We should not forget how far very able head teachers have taken us in the past 13 years.
We also recognise culture as a driver of economic growth. For example, the recent increased promotion of culture in Merseyside resulted in the north-west being seen as a better place to do business. The same is true of other places in the UK, from Folkestone to Newcastle, and at a time when we run the risk of sliding back into recession that lesson can surely be applied more widely.
Our culture is an asset. Although we should never stop celebrating it for its own sake, we should not be blind to the benefits it brings to our economy. In the coalition agreement, the Government made great play of returning to the original four good causes of national lottery funding. We will have a debate in due course about whether that is the right approach, but lottery funding for capital projects is no substitute for core public funds, on which the arts in this country are built. Yes, lottery and private funds play a vital role, but they cannot be sought without the foundation of public funds on which to build. I recall that the first chair of the Arts Council was John Maynard Keynes, a great economist who understood this very well, as do the people of Merseyside.
Wirral South is a constituency whose people, throughout the recent election, showed me and the other candidates very great kindness; especially to me, they showed friendliness as one of their very own seeking to represent them. I hope that I can do so, living up to their expectations, and provide Wirral South with the strongest possible voice in the coming years.
I start by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) for her excellent contribution, and to my hon. Friends the Members Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby) and for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) for their excellent maiden speeches.
I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to take part in today’s debate, as I stand here making my maiden speech on my 39th birthday. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I had to think about that this morning—exactly how old I was. I am filled with a great sense of honour and pride but, most importantly, a feeling of determination to ensure that I do not let down the residents of York Outer, who have put their trust in me, and that I represent them to best of my ability over the coming years.
York Outer is not the catchiest name for a new constituency. However, one thing that the name cannot take away is the huge privilege that I have in being the first MP to represent this new seat. York Outer is a ring around the city of York, taking in all the villages and communities on the edge of our great Yorkshire city; in essence, it is a doughnut seat, I think the only one in the country. I realise that I am going to have to watch my weight over the coming years, as the connotations could be a problem.
Representing a new seat means that I have a number of distinguished predecessors to whom I should like to pay tribute, two of whom are still serving in the House and two who have retired. I start in no particular order, with the former Member for Ryedale. John Greenway was a very hard-working, extremely well-liked Member of Parliament who started his political career as a local councillor in North Yorkshire county council. He had a fantastic grasp of local issues affecting Ryedale. I have been knocking on doors campaigning for the past four years, and this phrase greeted me on many occasions when discussing local issues: “The support we’ve received from John on this issue has been fantastic.” He will be sorely missed in the House.
I also have the great privilege of having my hon. Friend the newly elected Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) as one of my predecessors. Anne gave me tremendous support during my time as a local councillor in the old Vale of York constituency. As a local farmer, I pay tribute to her tireless work and support for local rural communities and agriculture. I know that that work will continue over the years, and I am delighted to see her back in the House.
The former Member for Selby represented the southern area of my new constituency from 1997. John Grogan and I have a number of things in common. First, we are both born-and-bred Yorkshiremen, and exceptionally proud of it. Secondly, there is our support for Yorkshire county cricket. I must pay tribute to all the work that John did to try to keep test match cricket on terrestrial TV. Thirdly, there is his great dedication to his local community and constituents, highlighted by the number of committed Conservative voters who would tell me, “I’ve never voted for John, but he’s been a brilliant MP.” I hope that over time committed Labour voters will say the same about me, or might even vote for me. This is probably where the similarities end. However, John’s independent spirit, friendly approach and support in the House for our great county of Yorkshire will be sadly missed.
Last, but by no means least, I must pay tribute to the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley), who is now representing the centre of the York Outer seat. It is a great privilege for me to be making my maiden speech with you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker—thank you very much. Hugh represented City of York from 1992, taking over from Conal Gregory. Hugh’s respect and experience in the House, and in York, has been built through his dedication and work for his constituents. He has championed several causes over the past 18 years, serving on the International Development Committee and being the chair and founding member of the all-party Africa group. I am delighted to see him appointed as Deputy Speaker, albeit on a temporary basis; the fact that he has got this position certainly underlines the high esteem in which he is held in the House. Given the links between our two seats, it is important that, on certain issues, politics is put to one side and we work together by putting the issues of our great city above party politics. I know we will be able to do that.
York is undoubtedly one of the most inspiring cities of our country. It is steeped in history, has stunning architecture, is surrounded by beautiful countryside and offers a charming and wholehearted Yorkshire welcome. I know that I sound like a representative of the York tourist board, but I count myself extremely privileged to live on the edge of such a great city. I cannot think of a better place to bring up my young family and it is a great honour that I now have the opportunity to put something back into my local community.
From the urban fringes, such as Dringhouses, Woodthorpe and Rawcliffe, to the more rural towns, such as Haxby, to the villages, such as Strensall in the north and Elvington in the south, Dunnington in the east and Rufforth in the west, one thing that all the different communities have in common is that they make up this new seat and they all see York as their main centre and a provider of essential facilities.
With that in mind, I would like to raise a number of issues that impact on my constituency. Investment in local infrastructure in and around York is crucial to its long-term success. Local transport is a classic example of that, from a poor road network and the infamous York northern ring-road, which is becoming permanently gridlocked and slowly strangling our city and is affecting future business investment and putting current businesses under threat, to our disjointed rural bus services and the need to access future rail halts.
Sadly, for too long the previous Government have short-changed our region on transport funding and our local council has not had the vision to put forward a long-term plan that can take our city forward. It has opted for short-term solutions to an ever-worsening problem. Such a situation has to change and I will pursue the matter in Parliament over the next few years.
A further issue is the threat to the green belt around York, which has been brought about by the top-down approach of planning targets imposed on this House and on the City of York council. I am delighted to see that Her Majesty’s great speech included a Bill to devolve a large number of powers to councils and neighbourhoods, and to give local communities control over housing and planning decisions, therefore enabling York’s green belt to be protected for future generations.
With respect to today’s debate on European affairs, I must confess that I have a rather personal connection to all things Europe. My father, Robert Sturdy, is a Conservative MEP and, given that it was under his watchful eye that my passion for politics flourished, I shall always have a keen interest in European matters, if only to allow me to hold my own at the dinner table, where things can get quite heated from time to time.
On a more serious note, I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak in this debate and raise one of the key issues that was constantly brought up on the doorstep during the election campaign. That issue is, of course, the previous Government’s abject failure to fulfil their long-standing pledge to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. The previous Administration’s decision to deny the people of this country such a vote was, frankly, a devastating blow to those who care passionately about the sovereignty of this House. Indeed, I feel the decision not to fulfil the promise of a referendum further damaged public trust in our politics and politicians. I therefore welcome the new Government’s determination to improve political accountability, openness and transparency.
Europe has always been a contentious issue and I am sure that will continue to be the case here in Westminster. However, I can assure the House that, back in York Outer, a sizeable majority of my constituents seem to share my concerns about the recent transfer of power from Westminster to Brussels. To put it simply, I firmly believe that we cannot allow any further erosion of powers from this Parliament without allowing the public to directly express their will on such important constitutional amendments.
As such, I welcome the European Union Bill that was set out in the Queen’s Speech last week. The Prime Minister is right to ensure that the people of this country are granted a referendum before any future treaties that hand over powers to the European Union are approved by Government. The Government should seek to be a proactive, positive and friendly partner in Europe, particularly when it comes to promoting British business and trade. In other key areas, too, the EU has the potential to be a force for good as we tackle global poverty and the rise in global competitiveness, and get to grips with global climate change.
Britain should play a full role in ensuring that the EU’s voice is heard loud and clear on an increasingly diverse global stage. However, we will not be able to play such a role unless the boundaries and limitations of the EU are clearly drawn. The public need to believe in the worth of the EU and, in my view, that will happen only when we strengthen and protect further our own democracy here in Westminster.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in the debate on Europe. Our membership of the European Union has brought significant benefits to my constituency, particularly through investment in businesses and jobs.
I congratulate those who have also made their maiden speeches today: my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) and the hon. Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy). Both speeches were excellent.
I pay tribute to Doug Henderson, my predecessor as Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North from 1987. As a former Minister of State for Defence, and for Foreign Affairs, particularly Europe, he would approve, I am sure, of my making my maiden speech during today’s debate. He was renowned for his athletics— he was a marathon runner, who ran about 50 miles a week. However, one of his proudest achievements in the House was Royal Assent for the Access to Health Records Act 1990. As someone who has personally benefited from the protection that that Act affords, I thank him today for that and for his unfailing support. I pledge that I, too, will make a positive difference to people’s lives through the work that I undertake in the House.
I am incredibly proud to have been elected to represent Newcastle upon Tyne North, the constituency in which I was born and continue to live with my own young family and my extremely large extended family. I thank the people of Newcastle upon Tyne North for electing me. It is a part of the country that I truly love and will do my best to serve.
Newcastle upon Tyne North is home to a vibrant and diverse community. We house the award-winning Newcastle airport, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, and, since 1881, Newcastle race course. The constituency is home to Sanofi Aventis pharmaceuticals, the factory that created Andrews Liver Salts and, next door, Nestlé, home of the famous Rolo.
The constituency has a proud industrial history, from extracting coal from the banks of the Tyne to manufactured engineering and glass and steel products exported all over the world. However, by the time my predecessor took on the honour and responsibility of representing the people of Newcastle upon Tyne North in 1987, the majority of industry was gone. I read Doug Henderson’s maiden speech with a sinking feeling. I will take the liberty of sharing a quote from it. He said:
“The people of the north know… that unless the manufacturing base of our city is rebuilt and we begin to attract and create new high-tech jobs, no amount of special assistance will tackle the real problems that our cities face… They know that it is sheer hypocrisy for the”—
“Government to claim that they can stimulate an enterprise culture when they… reject the establishment of a northern development agency.”—[Official Report, 2 July 1987; Vol. 118, c.674.]
Today, we have our much valued regional development agency, One NorthEast, which is based in Newburn in my constituency. It is itself a shining example of major investment as it sits on disused industrial wasteland, which has been redeveloped to create a vibrant home for businesses. Across the political spectrum, One NorthEast is heralded as a success for the region. It has been a vehicle for major investment and has played a key role in developing a low carbon economy in the region. It has also changed the face of our regional economy and through its Passionate People, Passionate Places campaign, helped position the north-east and my constituency as a prime destination for tourists and businesses.
That brings me back to the subject of the debate. The regional development agencies are responsible for administering the European regional development fund, significant amounts of which have been invested in my constituency and across the north-east. There are examples of ERDF investment throughout the region, from the Printable Electronics Technology Centre in Sedgefield and the New and Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth, to the Newcastle enterprise scheme, which benefits Newbiggin Hall in my constituency, which has received £1.56 million ERDF to increase enterprise in the most deprived communities.
Across the north-east, we have benefited from a strong regional voice that is able to attract national, European and international funding to our economy and to job creation. However, the EU does not give handouts. ERDF expenditure is dependent on the local economy finding match funding. Such funding can come from a variety of sources, including private and Government investment, and the complex arrangements that are in place are currently co-ordinated by One NorthEast. That is all under threat following the 40% cuts outlined by the coalition Government and the threatened senseless dismantling of a highly successful, much needed RDA.
All ERDF is time-limited, and expenditure delayed because of uncertainty around administrative arrangements or the inability to raise match funding will almost certainly be lost. The north-east missed out time and time again before One NorthEast was created, and we will not stand by and watch our region go backwards because of an ideological opposition to an interventionist economic approach.
I must also pay tribute to our excellent regional press, in particular to the Journal, which has championed its case for the north-east and one strong regional voice. The threat to ERDF is just one of many concerns for the people of the north-east, who are staunch defenders of our RDA. As a region, we stand stronger together, and we will not accept the Government dismantling our strength by withdrawing regional support and leaving us an underfunded toothless tiger to represent us on the national, European and international stages. I pledge today to fight my hardest to ensure that that is not our fate.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), who made a very feisty and savvy contribution. She was clear on the importance of Newcastle and the support that the north-east and its great capital city need.
I made a mistake in the last year. I thought that my colleagues were talking about amending regional development agencies, but I had had clear instructions for months that One NorthEast should continue. I heard from my right hon. Friend the Business, Innovation and Skills Secretary today that One NorthEast will continue, and I hope the hon. Lady will be reassured by that—[Interruption.] RDAs may be different in structure, but the message is clear. My right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) has also been very clear on that. Through the pages of the Newcastle Journal or otherwise, I hope there can be collaboration on ensuring that Newcastle continues to do well. I know that my colleagues who run the council are equally determined to ensure that every possible opportunity is given to the hon. Lady’s great city, and I will give it my support. I have been there often and love it much, even though those of us who ended up in the south have to put more clothes on all year round than people in Newcastle.
I also congratulate the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern). We have two things in common. As she knows, we were both born in Cheshire—
Well, it was in Cheshire, and some of us think it always has been and always will be. We may disagree on that, but we both come from that part of the world, and we both ended up being politicians in Southwark. I pay tribute to her for the four years she served on Southwark council for the Brunswick Park ward and for being deputy leader of her group in that period. We are glad to see her here, whatever our party differences.
I welcome the new Minister for Europe, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Mr. Browne), and the Foreign Secretary to their briefs. We hope that they do well in their representation of us in the European Union and more widely in Europe, but we also hope that Baroness Ashton continues to have the support and good wishes of Ministers and the Government. We wish her well in her responsibilities.
I started my intervention on the Foreign Secretary by making it clear that one of the great reasons why the European Union and wider international organisations are needed is that many issues do not stop at boundaries—and the threat to our climate is one of those. I hope that the Minister for Europe and his colleagues will be forward-looking and robust on the challenges of the international climate crisis to which Europe can positively respond. If we are really clear about the science, we should seek to limit the temperature rise to 1.7° Celsius, not 2°. We should also ensure that the European Union—as per the agenda for the European Council this month—moves to a 30% reduction in emissions as our target. I regret that that was not achieved in Copenhagen. If we are to be really robust in our leadership, we will also ensure that we have strategies not just for European economic recovery and dealing with the world economic crisis as it affects our continent, but for the environmental crisis.
We should do better at promoting the fact the European Union has as its agenda the things that matter most to this continent. The main item on the agenda later this month will be the strategy for jobs and growth, and how we come out of the recession stronger and better, in spite of the huge difficulties. Other agenda items include preparing for the G20 summit, ensuring that we focus much more on achieving our millennium development goals, and dealing with the climate threat. We have heard some excellent contributions on the interrelated economic issues. It is clear that, as a continent, we need strategies for addressing the financial and banking sectors. Although any levy raised may be spent nationally, we must have a more effective Europe-wide strategy to ensure that bankers do not play with people’s money and take the profits.
For the avoidance of doubt, although my party has said that there may be a time when it is right to join the euro, I have never campaigned for us to join. Nor has my party, and we are clear that the time is not right. I am therefore happy to sign up to the agreement, as part of the coalition, that the pound should remain for the whole of the coalition agreement for this Parliament, and that no attempt will be made to change that position. I am also clear, however, that we need to revisit some decisions, such as the working time directive, where the European Union made mistakes. My great enthusiasm for the European Union and better collaboration across Europe does not make me blind to those things that have not gone well or where we need to do better. Overly prescriptive regulation, such as the working time directive, is one such example.
I am greatly encouraged by the line that the hon. Gentleman is taking on this issue. In the spirit of good fellowship, does he agree that in negotiations to change the working time directive—or any of the other massive burdens on business that Lord Mandelson suggested were costing 4% of GDP—we would need to be able to repatriate those powers? Otherwise we would end up with a European Union that did not work because we would not be able to trade effectively.
That opens some big questions. I do not oppose considering the repatriation of some powers—it depends on the power. I do not take the view that we should only ever have one-way traffic of power from member states to the European Union, but we have to be careful that we make the right judgment. Some things clearly need European responsibility—aviation, for example, which cannot be dealt with on a purely national basis as the boundaries do not permit that. Environmental issues are another example. There are many issues on which the European Union is a better sized organisation to compete in the world. It is better that we have a common market when it comes to taking on China, India and the US. So there are advantages to the European Union, but I am not against the repatriation of individual issues and subject areas. I hope that we can consider that sensibly and with as little partisanship as possible.
The one big point of difference between us and the Tories during the election campaign, Europe, has been resolved in the coalition agreement, which is testimony to intelligent draftsmanship and savvy political work. In passing, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws), who was one of the authors of the agreement, and whose service to our party and—already—Government I hope will be continued before too long, following his recent difficulties. The Liberal Democrats made it clear that we need Europe to ensure that we deal with criminals better, and the European arrest warrant and other mechanisms are important parts of a wider European collaboration.
There are organisational matters to deal with too. We must keep on the agenda the fact that it is a nonsense for the European Parliament to meet sometimes in Brussels and sometimes in Strasbourg. That has to be sorted. I understand why we are where we are, but it is right that it should be on the agenda, and it is also right that we continue to look at the EU budget. It is unacceptable that it has never been adequately audited, and we need to ensure that the rules are complied with. There is also a continuing issue about agricultural subsidies, but that does not stop us being proactive and helpful to rural communities that need us to support people moving on to the land and being able to inherit tenancies.
I am clear, too, that we now have a clear, popular and reasonable position on future referendums: we will not have one if, for example, Croatia wants to join, but we will have one if there is a major political change. I welcome the fact that both coalition parties have said that they believe in the expansion of the EU, but expansion should come with a transition period for every country, as in the agreement, in relation to the right to move freely around the EU—the Bulgaria and Romania example. I have always been suspicious, privately and publicly, about whether we should have opened the doors immediately to all the previous accession states, at the time that Poland was given free access. The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), the then Home Secretary, argued for immediate access, and on the basis of the figures projected, we went along with that, but I was clear that it was a risk. A phased admission of people from new countries would be a much better process and reduce the fears about immigration and migration that the public naturally express.
I would like to raise a few issues about individual countries. It would be helpful if the Minister could tell us the latest news on the conversations with Iceland, which is now an applicant country, and with Turkey. I welcome very much the fact that Turkey should be seen to be an important part of the EU. I ask him to give our condolences, concern and support to the Government and people of Poland after their terrible national tragedy of the air crash only a few weeks ago. I also encourage him to do what his predecessor as Minister for Europe did: understand that sorting out the Cyprus problem is a big priority. It is a nonsense that the EU has not yet been able to resolve that issue.
I ask the Minister publicly, as I have done in private, to pay attention to Russia and the Russian issues that have been raised on the Floor of the House. The relationship with Russia is important, but so too is that with Ukraine, which is an important European country that has not fulfilled its potential. There are economic issues, as well as human rights issues, in relation to both. Finally, the wider European concerns must be that the EU is proactive in the world in leading on conflict prevention; in dealing with the situation in the middle east, which is a crisis and a tragedy; in continuing to sort out the legacy of the civil war in Sri Lanka; and in promoting human rights in Africa, Iran and China. I welcome this debate and wish Ministers well.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the time to make my maiden speech. I, too, congratulate the hon. Members for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) and for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby), my hon. Friends the Members for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) and for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), and the hon. Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) on their excellent contributions. However, I beg to differ with the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes): I was not aware that the north-east had a capital city, and coming from Sunderland, the largest city in the north-east, I disagree with his comments.
It is a great honour to be here today, having been elected a few weeks ago by the people of the community that I have lived in and around all my life—Sunderland. Sunderland Central, the constituency that I represent, is a new constituency, taking in parts of three previous constituencies. The first was Sunderland North, which was represented from 1992 by Billy Etherington, who served at the Council of Europe for many years. I wish him a long and happy retirement. The second constituency was Houghton and Washington East, which was represented from 1997 by Fraser Kemp. Fraser is someone with whom I worked before he entered the House and for whom I have the greatest respect. A more shrewd political brain I have not come across. He was a tenacious advocate for his constituency and the north-east region, and will, I am sure, be missed in this place.
The third constituency was Sunderland South, which was represented from 1987 by Chris Mullin. Before announcing his intention to retire, Chris was selected as the candidate for the constituency that I now represent. Although not from Sunderland, Chris has made it his home. He had a long and distinguished career in Parliament, as a Back Bencher, a Minister and the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, a role that I know he found particularly rewarding. I am sure that he will continue to contribute to debate outside this place through his writing. He has also given me enormous support and advice since I was selected, something invaluable, and for which I thank him.
Sunderland is a city on the north-east coast of England. Its industrial history is one to be proud of. At one point in the previous century, Sunderland was home to the most productive shipyards not just in Europe, but in the world. Ships were built on the River Wear that sailed the world, thanks to the work of men dedicated to their craft—skilled men who took huge pride in the ships that they produced. Sadly, in the late 1980s the major shipyards on the Wear closed, with the loss of many thousands of jobs.
Coal mining was the other major industry to dominate Sunderland in the previous century. Part of the Durham coalfield, the area produced good quality coal for many years. The last deep coal mine in Sunderland, Wearmouth colliery, closed in 1993 with the loss of many jobs, bringing to an end an industry that still had life left in it.
For me, those two events were tragedies for my city, the result of what I firmly believe were political decisions by Governments of the day, not economic decisions. Although I was already involved in local politics, living through the demise of those two industries—industries that I feel passionately should have continued—and witnessing the impact that that had on Sunderland and the communities in which I lived was an experience that galvanised my increasing involvement in politics. I felt that I had to try to fight injustice where I saw it and do whatever I could to ensure that my city was never hit like that again.
We have come a long way in Sunderland since those dark days of the late ’80s and early ’90s. There has been regeneration in Sunderland, but there is still much more to do. New jobs have been created, but more are needed. We still have relatively high unemployment and too many areas of deprivation—things that I am totally committed to trying to improve.
Sunderland is a city of contrasts. It has one of the most beautiful coastlines in the country. Whatever the weather, the beaches of Roker and Seaburn are always beautiful. We also have the National Glass Centre on the banks of the Wear, a fitting place for it to be, for Sunderland has a long history of glass production. Next door to the National Glass Centre is the St Peter’s campus of Sunderland university. The university is a real good-news story, employing many people and attracting students not just from Sunderland and the north-east, but from all over the country and around the world.
We also have—how could I not mention it?—the magnificent Stadium of Light, the home of Sunderland football club and one of the most important places, probably in the world, to fans of the team and to my city. Built on the site of the former Wearmouth colliery, a miner’s lamp at its entrance, the stadium is a celebration of our past and our future. Hon. Members should never underestimate the impact that the football club doing well will have on the people of Sunderland.
Looking forward, Sunderland has a huge opportunity to take advantage of the jobs being created through the green jobs programme. We have the Nissan plant in Sunderland, although it is not in my constituency. It employs thousands of people directly, and many more indirectly. It is excellent news that the battery plant and the recently announced production of the Leaf electric car will be coming to Sunderland. These are forward-looking developments that will benefit Sunderland, the north-east and the country. I am concerned, however, by the Prime Minister’s refusal yesterday to confirm that the £21.7 million grant already promised to Nissan by the last Government to enable these developments to happen will still be available. That is very worrying, and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills also refused to confirm it this morning. That money is essential to secure Sunderland as the plant of choice for Nissan in Europe. The consequences of its not coming are unthinkable.
In Sunderland, we also have a huge opportunity to play our part in the development of offshore wind farm production. The skills needed to develop this area of work are the same as those required in our historic industries. Turbines and offshore windmills are going to be built somewhere. There is a huge market for them, not only in the UK but throughout Europe. In areas such as Sunderland, where jobs are needed, it is important that we attract new industries such as these. They will sustain economic growth in my city in the years ahead. We have the natural resources of a port, a river and direct access to the North sea, and I genuinely believe that if we are to start to tackle climate change through the supply of our energy, offshore wind farms have a part to play.
The opportunity for the north-east to become the centre of excellence for this industry—not just in this country but in Europe—is real and there to be taken advantage of, with Sunderland playing its part. We already have a testing facility at Blyth, which has benefited from European funding. For Sunderland and the north-east to become the centre of excellence, we need the Government to support the development of this industry.
I should like to say what an honour it is for me to be given the opportunity to serve in this House. It is something that very few people have the opportunity to do. I want to thank the voters of Sunderland Central for giving me this opportunity. As I said throughout my campaign, I will stand up for Sunderland with determination and vigour. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak today.
I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech today. It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Members for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) and for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), and all the new Members on both sides of the House who have spoken so eloquently. I hope that I will do justice with my own speech.
I am conscious of the apocryphal story of the newly elected Member many years ago who, after making his maiden speech to the House, was delighted when a senior and highly respected grandee—a gentleman with a great deal of “bottom”—approached him in the Tea Room later and patted him on the shoulder, muttering, “Rolls-Royce of a speech, old boy, Rolls-Royce of a speech.” The delighted Member later recounted this to a colleague, and was most disappointed by the response: “Ah yes, he always says that to the new boys. It means you were well oiled, almost inaudible and went on for a very long time.” I am aware that time is precious today, and I will try not to run on.
I would like to start by expressing my deep gratitude to the people of North Warwickshire and Bedworth, who have entrusted me with the honour of representing them here in Westminster—a task that I take very seriously and will seek to undertake with enthusiasm and energy. Having lived and gone to school in Warwickshire, now to represent a Warwickshire seat in Parliament is truly an honour.
North Warwickshire has a broken history as a parliamentary constituency, having once been abolished under the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885—something I sincerely hope will not be repeated any time soon! But North Warwickshire was not to be erased so easily, and, some 98 years later, the seat was resurrected in time for the 1983 general election, when it was won by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr Maude), who held the seat for two terms. He is remembered with great warmth and affection in North Warwickshire and Bedworth, and kindly visited on a number of occasions during my campaign to offer avuncular advice and support.
Let me also pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, Mike O’Brien, who was elected as Member of Parliament in 1992 and represented the seat for 18 years. Since May 1997, Mike O’Brien held an unbroken string of some eight junior ministerial positions. He was once described by Matthew Parris as
“a dapper fellow, the sort of junior Minister every mother would want her daughter to marry”.
Mike worked hard as a constituency MP and always fought for what he believed in. During my time as the parliamentary candidate, we had our political differences and our ding-dongs in the press, but we could always shake hands and we never lost sight of the fact that we both wanted what was best for North Warwickshire and Bedworth. I wish Mike all the best for the future.
My constituency is large and has a diverse economy. Historically a coal mining area, the last working mine in the west midlands, Daw Mill colliery, sits on our border with Nuneaton, and 2008 saw a record year of production. Much of the constituency remains rural, with significant areas of green belt land, and farming remains a strong part of the local economy. Our superb road links make North Warwickshire a hub for distribution and transport, and giants such as UPS and TNT have flagship facilities in the constituency. As in much of the west midlands, manufacturing remains vital to the local economy and to local jobs. An estimated 8,000 jobs in the constituency are linked to manufacturing, ranging from the BMW engine plant at Hams Hall in Coleshill to highly specialised niche engineering companies such as Powerkut Ltd in Bedworth, which, among many other activities, exports precision components for nuclear power stations as far afield as China and around the world.
Culturally, North Warwickshire retains many old and cherished traditions. In Bedworth, a great benefactor was the fondly remembered Nicholas Chamberlaine, who was rector for 51 years from 1664 until his death. In his will, he provided for a school for local children and almshouses for the poor. Today, four local schools and the Nicholas Chamberlaine almshouses continue to receive support from his legacy. Indeed, last Friday, I was privileged to attend founder’s day—or “bun day” as it is known locally—in his honour, and to continue the tradition of handing out currant buns to pupils from the schools that enjoy support from the trust.
In Atherstone, the famous “Atherstone ball game” is an ancient Shrove Tuesday tradition, which dates back some 900 years and continues to raise money for charity—and indeed continues to send one or two people to hospital every year. There is only one rule—that the ball must not be taken outside of Atherstone. Whoever is holding the ball at 5 pm is declared the winner. Beyond that, anything goes. I am delighted that for 900 years, the ball game has avoided the attentions of the “health and safety police”—and long may it continue to do so!
North Warwickshire has a number of difficult issues, which are of deep concern to local people. As MP, I will do all I can to fight for my constituents’ interests in these matters. The proposed rail route for High Speed 2 will potentially devastate the villages of Gilson, Water Orton and Middleton. Bedworth is at risk of losing the local fire station as a result of a proposed reorganisation of the Warwickshire fire and rescue service, and I have been part of a local campaign for some time to fight a large, unsustainable and unwanted housing development on green belt land close to the villages of Keresley and Ash Green, near Bedworth.
In addition, there are a number of national issues that I plan to champion during my time in the House—issues on which I know from the doorsteps I have the support of my constituents. One such issue is the welfare of our soldiers and their families, and in particular the issue of mental health care and rehabilitation for veterans and reservists.
I am aware that we are not discussing defence here today, but, as an old soldier, I hope that the House will indulge me for a moment. I had the privilege of serving for some nine years with the Royal Army Medical Corps as a medical support officer. Indeed, I served on operations in Bosnia under the command of the EU military headquarters, when I served with HQ EUFOR in Banja Luka.
I will leave my thoughts on that for a later speech.
I left the Army to enter politics because I became deeply concerned about the support that we as a nation give to our wounded soldiers. That the British people hold our servicemen and women in the highest regard is beyond doubt; the success of fantastic charities such as Help for Heroes and Combat Stress ably demonstrates that. But these are charities that should not need to exist. I still do not believe that we, as a nation and as a Government, give our soldiers and their families the support they deserve when they are damaged on operations fighting for our country. As the Prime Minister noted yesterday, the sad fact is that we have now lost more veterans of the Falkands conflict to suicide than we did during the conflict itself. Specialist programmes such as the veterans medical assessment and reservist mental health programmes rely on referrals from civilian GPs. They are excellent programmes for those who make it that far, but study after study has shown that only a small minority of civilian GPs are even aware that they exist. In theory, veterans are entitled to priority treatment on the national health service, but in practice, for too many that entitlement simply is not there.
There will doubtless be much debate over the coming months about the value of some major defence projects costing billions of pounds, but please let us get the fundamentals right too. Let us not forget the poor bloody soldier and his family—the soldier on whom we call to do so much in our name, and who deserves our support when he has been wounded, when he has been traumatised, and when he is back home, out of uniform, and the medal parades are over.
Thank you for indulging me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Those are concerns that I know are shared by hon. Members in all parts of the House, but they are also issues on which we can and must do so much better.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to deliver my maiden speech during today’s debate on Europe. I congratulate the hon. Members for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) and for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby), my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), the hon. Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy), my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) and for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), and the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) on their fine speeches.
It is an honour and a privilege to be in this Chamber representing the people of Nottingham South. I am particularly proud to be the first woman to represent our city in Parliament. When I was a little girl, my dad often talked about his mother, whom I never met but whose name I share. He told me that although she was bright and won a place at grammar school, she was unable to take up the place because my great-grandfather thought that education was wasted on girls. A generation later, my own mother, the daughter of a Lancashire clog-maker, also had limited educational opportunities. Her teachers at secondary school asked her to help with the younger pupils, but there was no opportunity for her to take public exams, and she left school without a single qualification.
The fact that the abilities of those two women had been squandered or ignored on the basis of their sex or their class infuriated and inspired me as a child. It made me determined to grasp every opportunity I had, but it also made me want to fight to ensure that every girl and young woman—many of whom did not have the support and encouragement that my parents gave me—could fulfil their potential. I am therefore delighted to be here to speak for the men and the women of Nottingham South.
I hope that many hon. Members have already had an opportunity to visit the queen of the midlands, as Nottingham is sometimes known. If they have, they will know that it is a fine city with a long and fascinating history, but as it is represented by three Members of Parliament, they may be wondering which of its delights are in my own constituency. I hope that my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) and for Nottingham East (Christopher Leslie) will forgive me if I claim to have more than my share of the best bits, particularly those that demonstrate the innovation on which our city prides itself.
Nottingham South is home to the oldest inn in England, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, carved into the sandstone caves at the base of Castle Rock. The camellia house at Wollaton Hall is the oldest cast-iron glasshouse in Europe, and we have, in Notts County, the world’s oldest professional association football club. But Nottingham is not just a historic place; it is an industrial city. While the lace workshops may have disappeared, as sadly has the factory producing thousands of Raleigh bicycles, Nottingham has shown its resilience, and other enterprises have sprung up to take their place. We are a modern European city, home to many thriving businesses employing cutting-edge science and technology to produce products and services for the 21st century. Our employers include Boots, Experian and Speedo. Moreover, it is no coincidence that Nottingham is developing as a science city, given that it has not one but two world-class universities.
My immediate predecessor, Alan Simpson, is a graduate of Nottingham Trent university, and was a student at a time when the cost of study was borne by the public purse. I know that the taxpayers of Nottingham have had great value for money from Alan, because he has been an outstanding representative of our city. Everyone who I have spoken to in the past few weeks, whether Members or staff in the House, has told me how much they liked Alan and how much he will be missed. I say “everyone”, but I must confess that when I visited the Whips Office I did detect some relief, for Alan was fiercely independent and never afraid to stand up for the things he believed in, even when that incurred the wrath of his colleagues. Perhaps his greatest achievement has been to secure recognition that climate change poses an immense and immediate threat to our planet and that we must take action urgently to address it. Although Alan has retired from Parliament, I know that he will continue to enjoy being a thorn in the side of any Government or Opposition who fail to grasp the importance of protecting the environment for future generations.
I have never asked Alan why he decided to stand for Parliament, but I had only one reason for becoming an MP: to make a difference. I know that sounds rather grand, but let me explain. I have spent my whole working life representing working people, many of them low paid or part time and most of them women, and 18 of those years have been spent in Nottingham as a trade union organiser for Unison. My first few years were depressing times for anyone seeking to defend public services and the people who provide them—hard-working, committed and caring people who have often sacrificed pay and perks to do those jobs, which are not just socially useful, but vital to every one of us.
In the early 1990s when I started, local government, the health service and higher education lacked the investment they required—but what a difference a Labour Government made! For many low-paid workers in Nottingham, from care workers to bar staff, the introduction of the national minimum wage meant a pay rise. For my own children, and those of many constituents, Labour’s investment in education meant that they were taught in brand-new classrooms, with state-of-the-art IT facilities, rather than in leaky portakabins. For young people with little prospect of work or an education, a Labour Government brought new jobs, apprenticeships and university places, and the winter fuel allowance meant that thousands of Nottingham’s pensioners no longer had to worry about switching on the heating in the colder months.
I am proud of Labour’s achievements, but I want more, and so do the people I represent. As we begin a period in opposition, I will stand up for the people of Nottingham South, for their families and for our city, to ensure that the things that have changed their lives for the better are preserved and built upon, to fight for effective action to free them from poverty and inequality, and to strive for a better future for every one of them.
Unfortunately, I fear that the so-called new politics that Members on the Government Benches are so keen to talk about may provide a pleasing soundbite but be of no use to the people I seek to represent. I fear that the drive for efficiencies and cutting waste that the Chancellor’s team is so intent upon will actually take us back to a time as bad as the one that I remember in the 1980s—a time when millions faced the misery of unemployment with no prospect of real help or support, when public housing was either sold off or allowed to deteriorate so that only those in desperate need would want to live there, and when it was normal to wait for months, and even years, for hospital treatment. My constituents do not want a return to those times, and it is my duty and responsibility to ensure that their voice is heard, their questions are answered, and their hopes and aspirations are met.
Among the most pressing of my constituents’ concerns is the future of several capital investment projects planned for the city, such as the widening of the A453, a vital link between Nottingham and the M1, which is of huge importance to the local economy, to local businesses and to local people coping with the danger and inconvenience that heavy congestion brings. They want to know why this has been deferred, and for how long, and whether the new Government appreciate the cost of delay.
My constituents are also concerned about phase 2 of Nottingham’s tram network. Last summer, the previous Government committed £530 million to help build two additional lines. This development will regenerate parts of the city, further develop our excellent public transport infrastructure, and encourage more people to leave their cars at home, choosing instead this clean green alternative. It will also provide between 4,000 and 10,000 new jobs—but is the funding secure?
During the election I was asked about the new school building for Farnborough school in Clifton, and whether it would go ahead if Labour was re-elected. I was happy to be able to assure the chair of governors that it would, but what shall I tell him now? And what can I tell the other heads, governors, parents and pupils whose schools were due to be rebuilt or refurbished under Building Schools for the Future? What, too, can I tell council tenants waiting for new kitchens, bathrooms, windows and doors under the decent homes programme?
Over the coming months I shall be raising those concerns, and I apologise now if Members tire of them, but I am here to press the Government on the issues that matter to my constituents.
I am delighted to conclude my first speech to the House, and pleased that in a while I can head back to my constituency and my family. It is a journey that I will make often, so hon. Members should not be surprised when I press the Government on the electrification of the line to Nottingham, and on a high-speed rail link to bring our city closer to the heart of Europe. I will do so not just because I understand the need for great transport links and the vital importance of staying close to those whom I represent, but because I must always try to get home before my three daughters’ bedtime on a Thursday night.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to give my maiden speech. In this debate we have heard many fine maiden speeches, all of which were well crafted and delivered. In particular, I must compliment the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) on her speech, and declare a vested interest: I am a graduate of one of her area’s great universities, the university of Nottingham. I must also admit to having sampled the hospitality of Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem inn on more than one occasion.
I took advice on what the contents of a maiden speech should be, and I was surprised by some of what I heard. I was told that my speech should have all the attributes of a lady’s well-cut dress, meaning that it should be long enough to cover all the important points but still short enough to be interesting. I will try to comply with those criteria.
Hon. Members will know that this is the first time for more than five months that this Chamber has been addressed by an hon. Member for North West Leicestershire, following the tragic and untimely death of my immediate predecessor, David Taylor, who, very sadly, passed away on Boxing day last year. I have become aware that tributes to one’s predecessor are sometimes given through gritted teeth, especially when the previous Member had sat on the opposite side of the House, but that is not the case on this occasion. Although David Taylor and I often disagreed on what he did, I have always been a great admirer of the way in which he did it. At this time, when we are so keen to rebuild the public’s faith in our Parliament and our parliamentarians, we could find few better examples or role models than David Taylor. When David and I agreed, we fought together for the benefit of our constituency—defending Moira fire station from closure, opposing open-cast mining at Measham, and trying to protect the green wedge from overdevelopment.
David Taylor was born in North West Leicestershire, and he lived and worked there. He was unflinchingly loyal to his constituency, and as a result was extremely well regarded by his supporters and political opponents alike. His dedication to his work was unparalleled both in this House, where he was voted Back Bencher of the Year in 2007, and in his constituency. Given all his work against smoking and the dreaded weed, I know that he would be delighted that his successor is a reformed smoker. Our constituency is a far lesser place for his passing, and it is a privilege to be here in his stead.
Hon. Members will recall many column inches being filled in April with speculation about the voting intentions of “middle England”, but there was often confusion about exactly whom that referred to. From my perspective, it referred to the people of North West Leicestershire, who are literally based in the very centre of our country; mine is possibly the most landlocked constituency in the country, surrounded as it is by eight other constituencies. North West Leicestershire is at the heart of the new national forest, where many millions of trees have been planted over the past 15 years. That fabulous countryside sits alongside the traditional and gritty mining town of Coalville and the historic market town of Ashby de la Zouch. My constituency’s gently undulating countryside is both quaint and picturesque, spanning Newton Burgoland in the south and Cavendish Bridge in the north, and containing the villages of—I shall name but a few—Castle Donington, Kegworth, Moira, Measham, Ibstock, and Swannington, which is in the middle, and is where I live with my wife and children.
However, that description belies a constituency of extremes. My late predecessor experienced many of those extremes. Imagine his surprise in 1992 when, despite polling more than 28,000 votes, he lost the election. North West Leicestershire had the highest turnout that year, with more than 85% of the electorate going to vote. However, David got the rewards for all his hard work in 1997, when he gained the biggest swing against the Conservatives in that election.
In 2007 the pendulum swung again, this time back towards the Conservatives. We had the biggest swing against Labour in the district council elections that year, and on 6 May this year we again witnessed another 12% swing back to the Conservatives. Indeed, the chimes of the mediaeval church at Breedon on the Hill symbolised the bellwether nature of our constituency, which has always gone with the Government. I believe that when the people of North West Leicestershire have had enough of you, they come out and vote and let you know. History proves it. That was always very heartening in opposition, but I assure the House that it is slightly more worrying when I am standing in this position—which brings me back to today’s debate.
We are here to debate Europe, and I am delighted to be speaking on that subject because I love Europe. I have travelled extensively through it, at my own expense. Indeed, East Midlands airport in my constituency is our border with Europe and the world. I adore much European cuisine. I admire much of its culture, and I revel in its diversity, but I am not a supporter of economic union. I was an active member of Business for Sterling in the no campaigns. I strongly support the Government’s policy of placing a referendum lock on new European treaties, and indeed on anything that would give more powers away to Brussels.
The events in Greece, which spread quickly to Spain and elsewhere, demonstrate the danger inherent in trying to pull together a disparate group of economies and cultures. We need to learn from their misfortunes and hold on to our triple A rating at all costs. I am particularly pleased that all hon. Members on this side of the House, our Liberal allies included, now appreciate that we need early deficit reduction to protect our credit rating. In my first three weeks in politics I believe that I have seen something I never thought I would see—a miracle. I think that we should call it “The Conversion of St. Vince on the Road to Whitehall”.
The consequences of not holding on to our credit rating are extremely frightening. Our economy has been run on to the rocks. Had we joined the euro, we would not just be holed below the waterline, we would also be without lifeboats. We have a huge task ahead to rescue our economy and solve the problems of 21st-century Britain. Sadly, we Members of this House, with a few notable exceptions—or should I say extensions; I am thinking of my hon. Friend the Father of the House—are merely “here today, gone tomorrow” politicians. As a result, we must not consider ourselves to be the owners of sovereign powers. We are merely the custodians of power and sovereignty for future generations. Sovereignty is not ours to give away; it belongs to the people who elected us, and to their heirs and successors.
On that basis, I am very pleased to be one of the many Members of this House who fought and argued over many years to prevent the UK from joining the euro. We Eurosceptics have often suffered the disdain of the Europhiles: at times—heaven help us—we have been called “little Englanders”. As an Englishman of below average height, representing a constituency in the centre of our great country, that is an accusation that I personally find difficult to refute.
My background is in business. I firmly believe that our country’s small and medium-sized enterprises provide the backbone of our economy. If we help them, they will help to get us out of the current predicament that we find ourselves in. It is not just as a politician but also from a business perspective that my views on Europe have developed over the last 20 years. In 1997 we were the fourth most competitive place in the world in which to do business, but now we are a lowly 84th. Much of that is due to regulation from Europe. This cannot continue.
My business has been a major employer in North West Leicestershire for many years, and I want to be a champion of business and enterprise. I shall support the creation of an environment in which public spending is managed more efficiently and the private sector is unshackled from the weight of burdensome EU regulation. I want an environment in which our country can move free from the lodestone of needless red tape, and where we can build for our future by correcting so many of the mistakes of the recent past.
It is a privilege to stand in this House, and to serve the people of North West Leicestershire. I will do my very best not to let them down, and if at the end of my time in this place, however that may come, I am thought of anywhere near as well as my predecessor David Taylor, I will class myself as having done a very good job indeed.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for inviting me to make my maiden speech today. First, I congratulate hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today, including my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen). Those two highly contrasting speeches sum up many of the differences between the two sides.
My constituency of Sefton Central is made up of parts of the old Crosby constituency and parts of the old Knowsley, North and Sefton, East constituency. Crosby was represented by Claire Curtis-Thomas, who served here from 1997 until this year. She served her constituents diligently, and many of them have expressed their gratitude to me for the support that they received from her. She was also one of the few qualified engineers to serve in this House, and spoke with great authority on the subject during her time here. Knowsley, North and Sefton, East was represented by my right hon. Friend who is now the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth). He has been good enough to introduce me to many people in his former constituency who are now constituents of mine. I believe he has served the House and the people of Knowsley, North and Sefton, East with distinction, and he will do the same for the people of his new constituency. He is deserving of the support of Members in his bid to be Deputy Speaker.
I believe I am not the first member of my family to make a speech in this Chamber. My granddad was an electrician, and after the war he worked on the rebuilding of this Chamber. A number of the Polish workers who had served in the forces were also employed on the same work, and when the British workers, who were all strong trade unionists, discovered that the Polish workers were being paid less, they organised a meeting in this very Chamber. My granddad, as the shop steward, made the first speech in the newly refurbished Chamber. Unlike in the case of my granddad, there are Clerks here to record my speech, but I am happy to claim that my granddad’s story is right, and that he gave his maiden speech here some 64 years before I did.
Of course, the story of east European workers being paid less than British workers has relevance today. Like many other hon. Members, I have heard countless tales of east European workers being paid less than the minimum wage, taking jobs that British workers would otherwise have been employed to do. I therefore hope that the Government will confirm that the law is enforced, and that foreign nationals are not exploited in this way to their cost or to the cost of British workers. It was wrong when my granddad was here in 1946 and it is wrong now.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby) gave his maiden speech and recalled what an excellent seaside constituency he represents. Sefton Central is another excellent seaside constituency. It is between Bootle and Southport, and has many outstanding features. Its sandy beaches stretch from Waterloo to Formby, and form part of the 20-mile stretch of sand dunes that characterises the Sefton coastline—the longest stretch of sand dunes in the country. Crosby beach is decorated by the Gormley statues, which are named Another Place—a much-admired tourist attraction—and there are red squirrels to be found at Formby, looked after by the National Trust.
Sefton Central is also home to the Grand National, and to Aintree race course, and I hope that the Government do not carry out their threat to take the world’s top horse race off terrestrial TV and sell it to Sky.
Many people in Sefton Central believe it has the highest number of Premiership footballers of any constituency in the country. That may well be true. I would like to congratulate two of my constituents, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, on their selection for the England World cup squad this week. Wayne Rooney also used to live in Sefton Central, and I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will want to wish them, and the whole England World cup squad, well. My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) mentioned Harold Wilson, who represented the Ormskirk constituency in 1945. Parts of that constituency are now in Sefton Central.
I hope that the coalition Government go ahead with a number of important projects in my constituency that were given the go-ahead by the Labour Government. One is the Thornton relief road. I mentioned the importance of tourism to my constituency; the Thornton relief road is much needed to reduce congestion from Switch Island, which is at the junction of the M57 and the M58, to Thornton. The route is a bottleneck for people trying to reach Crosby, Formby and Southport, and the new road would have a significant economic benefit for tourism and other business. People in Sefton Central remember when a previous Tory Government neglected them and thousands more across Merseyside. I will press Ministers to make sure that this vital project and others are not axed, and to ensure that the road’s importance is finally recognised.
According to many people in Sefton, the road was first proposed in 1934. Surely that is too much delay for any new road. At the election, candidates in Sefton Central from all parties pledged to make sure that the road was built, and I hope that Ministers from both coalition parties will note the promises made on their behalf by Tory and Liberal Democrat candidates.
Sefton has many fine schools, and my wife and I have been hugely impressed by the primary school that our children attend. I have also visited a number of excellent secondary schools in Maghull, Formby and Crosby, and will argue with Ministers to make sure that Building Schools for the Future is not a victim of Government cuts. Chesterfield High and Crosby High are good schools, and are due to be rebuilt on a joint site. Brand-new facilities do not guarantee success, but having 21st-century buildings certainly makes a difference if we want 21st-century learning and standards.
The constituency has four Sure Start children’s centres—at Holy Rosary Catholic primary school in Aintree, at Hudson primary school in Maghull, at Freshfield and at Thornton. My son attended a nursery at a Sure Start centre, and the support that my family had was outstanding. Many of the other parents told me that they noticed the difference that Sure Start had made to them, their families and their children. They noticed a marked improvement in support once the children’s centre opened, and have noticed the impact that it has had on their families, and on the progress made by their children. I welcome the coalition’s commitment to Sure Start, and I hope fervently that it is a promise that is kept.
People in my constituency were horrified to learn of the £4-million cut in the Merseyside police budget that was announced by the coalition last week. I urge the Government to reconsider such a cut, and to think about the likely impact of such drastic action on front-line policing. More importantly, the Government should consider the impact on our communities and on the people of Merseyside. I said earlier that I hoped that we would not see a re-run of the neglect of previous Tory Governments. Sadly, the police cuts, and the threats to the Thornton relief road, to Chesterfield High and Crosby High schools, and to the Royal Liverpool University hospital, do not bode well for the economy or my constituents.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to deliver my maiden speech to the House as the newly elected representative of the good people of Hove and Portslade. I also thank the previous speakers for their excellent contributions, including my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby), and the hon. Members for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) and for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), who all claim to have the best seaside town in the country in their constituency; I will try to persuade them otherwise later.
I pay tribute to the work of my predecessor, Celia Barlow. She worked tirelessly during her five-year term on local and national matters. She was just as formidable in the House as she was on the doorstep, and I wish her well in whatever career path she pursues. I should like to mention another former Member for Hove, Sir Tim Sainsbury, whose advice and support over the years have been invaluable to me.
Brighton and Hove does, of course, take its name from two neighbouring historical towns, situated on a delightfully sunny, and sometimes windy, spot on the south coast. From the inclusion of Hove in the name of the city, it might rightly be assumed that those living in my constituency are mindful of its unique identity, separate from our larger neighbour, Brighton. We Hove residents are often asked whether we live in Brighton, and our defensive response gives rise to the well-known phrase, “Hove, actually.”
I will be keeping a close eye on Hove’s individuality—that is, on its regency and Victorian architecture, wide boulevards and colourful beach huts. I shall keep an even closer eye on the individuality of Portslade. Its history, and indeed its contribution to local affairs generally, is just as rich as Hove’s. I am so keen to see that fact recognised that I shall campaign to change the name of the constituency to Hove and Portslade.
The bedrock of our community has always been our elderly population, although demographically Hove has changed a lot in recent years. It is a friendly place, with many different cultures represented, and I pay particular tribute to my friends the Coptic Christians from Sudan and Egypt, a thriving Muslim community, which includes a number of entrepreneurial Iranians, and a well-established Jewish community, whose roots go back to the 18th century. I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown, am also proud to represent the LGBT community in the city.
I come to politics from a background in film and music, and I shall channel my passion for each into supporting local talent. It is no secret that Hove is home to a great number of musicians, some of whom are internationally famous, but it is home also to the excellent Brighton institute of modern music. Hove’s cinematic past, however, is often overlooked, and it is frequently forgotten that, at the end of the Victorian era, the pioneers of Hove developed techniques that are still in use throughout the world today.
The distinctive beaches and buildings of Brighton and Hove translate extremely well on to film, and that is why they have featured in countless films over the years. Classics include “Brighton Rock”, “Oh! What a Lovely War”, “Carry On At Your Convenience”, “Carry On Girls” and “Quadrophenia”; and in recent years there has been “The End of the Affair”, “Circus”, “London to Brighton” and the rather curiously named “Brighton Wok: The Legend of Ganja Boxing”.
Promoting the city as a location for filming and, indeed, as a place for the media business to thrive must be done in partnership with my council colleagues, and that will be just one area where we are able to work together. Another area is the promotion of local businesses. As a qualified management accountant, and as a past owner of one of the area’s largest manufacturers, winning two Queen’s awards and the Sussex company of the year award, I shall make supporting small and medium-sized enterprises one of my biggest priorities.
All councils should take back some powers from London, and as an example I note that Brighton and Hove city council has limited powers to pursue the owners of neglected listed buildings for the reimbursement of costly emergency repairs. I have therefore written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport to see whether more powers might be handed to councils so that they can deal with such irresponsible people.
On sport, Hove is home to the well-established and successful Sussex county cricket club, the winners of last year’s Twenty20 cup, which they successfully started defending this week. On football, I have been a supporter of the Seagulls, Brighton and Hove Albion, and during my teenage years I used to go and watch them when they actually played in Hove. We should soon have our new stadium in Falmer—and a deserved promotion in due course. Brighton and Hove do not do everything together, however, and Hove has the more successful rugby club, which won the Sussex cup just last month.
Secondary education in my constituency has been a hot topic in recent years, and I have deliberately avoided putting a partisan twist on to my maiden speech, but Hove and Portslade are just the sorts of places that will benefit greatly from the policies of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education. I look forward to being involved in any way that I can, and that includes supporting the award of academy status to Portslade community college.
Hove needs a new primary school, and I am working with parents and councillors to see what the best options are. The process has just taken an interesting twist, with the news that the much-loved Connaught centre has been vacated as an adult education base. It began as a school in 1884, and I am keen to ensure that a return to its original purpose is investigated in full. I could refer to many local heroes who have put their lives into educating our children, but I should like to mention one man, Bob Wall, who runs an extremely tight ship at Hillside special school in Portslade. When I think of a model head teacher, I think of that man.
I should also like to single out several charities. There are so many worth mentioning that I could fill my whole speech with them, but I shall name just a few. The Martlets hospice, Impact Initiatives, Off the Fence, the Alzheimer’s Society, Macmillan and Emmaus all stand out as beacons of excellence in my constituency.
Returning to music, I perhaps bring something new to the House in the form of my huge passion for rock and heavy metal. A few years ago I rashly pledged that I would be the first Member to wear an Iron Maiden T-shirt in the Chamber, so, Mr Deputy Speaker, I may be in touch soon to see how I can deliver that promise without breaking too many rules. The benefit of this country’s musical success to our economy is often understated. In 2008, for example, overseas earnings rose by 15% to £140 million. I was particularly delighted, therefore, to see a commitment to live music in the coalition policy document. On that musical note, Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank you again for the honour of letting me make my maiden speech today.
Let me first say what a splendid speech we have just heard from the hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley). I am particularly interested in his support for music. As a former musician and a lifetime lover of music, I think that he will make a very valuable contribution.
Indeed, that is true, but I have a wide range of tastes in music, including opera and classical. My son is even educating me in heavy metal, but that is a rather new field for me, I am afraid. I was very interested in what the hon. Member for Hove said, and I congratulate him; I am sure that he will make a fine contribution to the House over the years.
I want to speak about the eurozone and its current problems and to reflect some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart). The eurozone is facing disaster at the moment—a disaster that some of us predicted some time ago. However, the eurozone is not the European Union, and it is quite possible to imagine the European Union without a eurozone. Indeed, I think that that is likely to be the future provided that the EU itself does not start to fragment as a result of the eurozone’s troubles. I also want to emphasise, as I have time and again in the past, that Europe is not the European Union, or the European Union is not Europe; eliding the two terms is a mistake. The European Union is a political construct that has been imposed on, or adopted by, several of the nations of Europe, but it is not Europe. Europe is a place that, like the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen), I love very much. In a few weeks’ time, I shall be surrounded by the vineyards of Provence, no doubt listening to Mozart and drinking something very decent. I love Europe in every sense, even in struggling to speak French, but I am deeply critical of the European Union and think that the eurozone is a terrible mistake, as is proving to be the case.
The eurozone is in crisis, and a very predictable one. Some 20 years ago, I wrote a paper—I used to write many papers on the EU and its economy—predicting the exchange rate mechanism debacle before we actually joined, and I proved to be exactly right. People thought I was prophetic, but anyone with a moderate knowledge of economics and a little foresight would have seen that the ERM was going to bring about a disaster. In fact, it led to the defeat of the Conservatives in 1997 and the election of a Labour Government, so for the Government side of the House it was indeed a disaster, but, unusually and unexpectedly, it brought benefits in terms of a Labour Government.
Strong currencies derive from strong economies, not the other way round. If one tries to impose a strong currency on a weak economy, it will not survive. There are great examples of this around the world. The best one in recent years is perhaps Argentina, where people linked the peso directly and rigidly to the dollar for a period, which caused terrible mayhem inside their economy. Eventually, after some 10 years, when the economy was almost wrecked, they were forced to devalue to break that link. As a result of that devaluation, Argentina is now bouncing back, no doubt helped by its splendid wine industry. I am sure that the competitive edge that the wine industry has had because of devaluation has helped the Argentine economy to recover.
Weak economies within the eurozone will have exactly the same problem, and we will not solve it without those countries departing from the eurozone. The first would be Greece, but others would follow. I will come to some of the problems with that in a moment. From time to time, I have met Irish politicians and suggested that their only solution is to recreate the punt, devalue and rejoin the sterling zone instead of the eurozone, because we are Ireland’s major trading partner—it is essentially part of the larger economy of the British Isles. Ireland would benefit greatly from such a decision.
Some people think that it is unrealistic to expect countries to leave the eurozone, although Angela Merkel suggested, some eight or nine weeks ago, that it should not be impossible for countries to do so. She was then roundly condemned with a fierce reaction from the French, who thought that that was an appalling thing to say, and she has now drawn back from it. However, there are those who believe that in the long run the Deutschmark will be recreated, or that there could be a Deutschmark zone that might include Holland and Luxembourg, but not much more.
The problem is that if Greece goes, the other PIGS countries––Portugal, Ireland and Spain––will also eventually depart the euro. The problem that the French and German Governments have is that their banks are heavily exposed in lending to those countries, which would immediately devalue and start to become very competitive with stronger nations in northern Europe, particularly with the French. The French would immediately have a problem competing with Italy and Spain—their next-door neighbours––and would then eventually leave the eurozone and devalue. That would leave the German economy on its own, effectively with a currency that in real terms was much more highly valued because the others would have been devalued.
That takes us back to what Keynes suggested in Bretton Woods. He wanted a world in which there would be stable but separate currencies and said that those countries that get into a big deficit should be able to devalue and, indeed, those countries that run big surpluses should be required to revalue. Indeed, the German economy was built for decades on an undervaluation of the Deutschmark, which is, in a sense, what has given it its strength and has enabled it to become effectively overvalued within the eurozone. Other countries cannot compete with Germany—indeed, we cannot compete with it, which is why, I think, we devalued. Despite the devaluation, we still have a massive trade deficit with Germany, but we are starting to improve and recover, because we had that opportunity.
Because we are outside the eurozone, we have the ability to devalue—depreciate—our currency as appropriate and to choose our own monetary and fiscal policy. Those policies are interrelated—we have relations with the countries in the eurozone—but, nevertheless, we have a degree of freedom in managing our economy that countries inside the eurozone do not. If we try to impose strong currencies on weak economies, such a problem occurs.
If we do not allow those countries to leave and dismantle the eurozone, we will see massive deflation. One cannot just expect countries such as Greece and Spain to cut their deficits and deflate their economies massively and, indeed, get rid of protection for workers, so that wages are driven down. That would merely make their economies much poorer and weaker, increase unemployment and be no good at all. The logical thing for those countries to do would be to withdraw from the eurozone, start to direct demand towards their own economies and spend time behind the effective barrier of a depreciated currency, rebuilding the strength of their economies in a realistic way.
That is what is needed in the eurozone and that is why the eurozone is deeply flawed. It has to be dismantled and we have to build a Europe based on economies that have separate currencies, which are like shock absorbers between economies––they have to be able to adjust. If they cannot do so, those economies will be in serious trouble for a very long time. Indeed, there could be serious social unrest, the like of which we have not seen for a long time.
In a sense, I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston was saying. We ought to look forward practically. Rather than indulging in Schadenfreude—pleasure in the pain of others—and saying, “I told you so,” we should take practical steps to persuade those countries to think about dismantling the eurozone, recreating their separate currencies and progressing from there onwards in a much more practical and sensible way.
I had the pleasure of being able to refer to some of the matters I wish to mention in the Queen’s Speech debate. I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me another opportunity to carry the matter forward, particularly in the light of some absolutely superb speeches from Back Benchers on our own side on the question of the European Union as a whole and also in the light of the contribution of the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), who began to move quite perceptibly towards the centre of gravity of where we are now in the coalition Government.
It is no secret that my concern about any coalition Government remains that we must keep to our principles and our manifesto promises. It is essential that we stick to our template and manifesto commitments on sovereignty—I originally proposed a sovereignty Bill some five to seven years ago—and human rights, with which I will deal shortly, and the associated charter of fundamental rights, for a simple reason. There are three categories of activity in coalitions: the easy stuff, the difficult stuff and the red lines stuff. As I said repeatedly on radio and television in the aftermath of the coalition announcement, we must stick to the red lines because they are about who governs us and how. I do not need to elaborate, but a sovereignty Bill and the repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 are central to that.
As hon. Members who spoke this afternoon have strongly emphasised, we have a responsibility and an obligation to put the sovereignty of Parliament at the top of our agenda because, as I have often said, it is not our Parliament but that of the people who elect us. The question, “Who governs the United Kingdom?” is therefore central and we have no right to make any concessions on that.
Like the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins), I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) for her speech. By the mettle of her arguments and the manner in which she addressed the questions that I asked in several interventions on the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary about the burdens on business and deregulation, she gave the impression that she had somehow been liberated.
With great respect, it is not good enough to imply that gold-plating and national over-regulation is the real problem, when the problem is the extent of the acquis communautaire. It has an enormous impact on burdens on business—£88 billion according to the British Chambers of Commerce recently. I pay tribute to Tim Ambler and Francis Chittenden for their remarkable analytical work, from which I drew the figure of 4% of GDP, to which Lord Mandelson referred when he was a Commissioner. Mr Verheugen gave similar figures about the over-regulation of European business.
The eurozone does not function properly because of the economic model of the Lisbon agenda—my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) admitted that it had not been working. For years, the European Scrutiny Committee has shown that it has not worked properly. That is all part and parcel of the reason for the widening of our trade deficit with Europe. We cannot manage to trade with an imploding eurozone, part of which is affected by profligate public expenditure, as in the case of Greece, and part of which is affected by the deeply flawed statistical base of the EUROSTAT system. People are allowed to engage in what would be regarded as false accounting in any company.
We are in a European Union that simply cannot work as it is. It is imploding. It cannot compete with China and India because it is inherently ossified. It is a great concrete jungle of over-regulation. One cannot change the nature of employment, yet the whole social and employment base must be changed. To my mind, whether we transfer further powers is neither here nor there. It would be wonderful if we had a referendum on the European question, but the notion that we would be committed to it only when a further transfer of powers occurred is wrong. I have heard it all before. I heard it when Lord Hurd was Foreign Secretary during the debates on the Maastricht treaty. I stood in this very place, inveighing against it. As the hon. Member for Luton North said, we got so much about that right at the time. The late Peter Shore and I found an amity based on a common understanding that that system was not going to work, and so it has proved.
I certainly do, and I say without any sense of self-congratulation that when we said such things in the Maastricht debates, we were vehemently criticised by the then Government. We were rubbished, if I may use that expression, for daring to suggest that the single currency would not work. The same goes for the paraphernalia that followed in a succession of treaties. I must have tabled at least 150 or 200 amendments—I cannot remember exactly how many—to each of the treaties from Maastricht onwards, including the Lisbon treaty, which we simply must not implement.
The whole European system must be radically and drastically reformed, precisely because it is impossible to repatriate powers without a sovereignty Act—I repeat my call for that to be introduced as urgently as possible—and we need that to underpin the negotiations on economic recovery. We must have economic recovery because otherwise, we cannot reduce the debt or pay for the necessary public services. We are living in a fool’s paradise if we think otherwise. That is fundamental.
I am concerned about further enlargement, and my earlier exchanges with the shadow Foreign Secretary are on the record—I was slightly pulled up for following my point up. The European Scrutiny Committee asked very serious questions about the accession of Bulgaria and Romania. Those countries are reasons why we should not enlarge any more, to include, for example, Albania, Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey. I do not have time to go into those arguments now, but the bottom line is that the European Union is more than large enough, and unfortunately, it does not work, and must be reformed drastically.
If there is no way of reforming the EU from within because of the acquis communautaire and the role of the European Court of Justice, and because other member states are simply not prepared to negotiate sensibly on legislation that requires unanimity to repeal, we are going to be stuck by the majority vote. All the protestations, hopes, aspirations, and perhaps some rather over-enthusiastic promises, will come to nothing, because it is impossible to change the system under majority voting when there is no will to do so on the other side, which takes us back to repatriation and the sovereignty Act.
The human rights question is enormously important. The necessity for the repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 runs in tandem with the charter of fundamental rights. In a recent speech to judges, the Lord Chief Justice stated:
“The primary responsibility for saving the common law system of proceeding by precedent is primarily a matter for us as judges…Are we becoming so focused on Strasbourg and the Convention that instead of incorporating Convention principles within and developing the common law accordingly as a single coherent unit, we are allowing the Convention to assume an unspoken priority over the common law?…We must beware.”
We must take such things very seriously.
Lord Hoffman has said that the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
“has been unable to resist the temptation to aggrandise its jurisdiction and to impose uniform rules on Member States. It considers itself the equivalent of the Supreme Court of the United States, laying down a federal law of Europe.”
The same applies to the charter of fundamental rights. We must stop that process.
I am grateful for the honour and the opportunity to make my first contribution to this House and I congratulate other hon. Members who have done so today. If I may be forgiven for being partisan, I especially enjoyed the contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) and for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood). I also wish to compliment the hon. Members for Hove (Mike Weatherley), for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen), for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) and for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby).
As several of my colleagues have said, to represent the people of your home constituency—in my case, Easington—is a great privilege. It is all the more special for me as I represent the constituency in which I was born and where I have lived, brought up my family and worked all my life. As hon. Members may be aware—or perhaps not—Easington has an illustrious list of former Members of Parliament and a proud tradition of trade union and Labour party representation. The area that I now represent has returned Labour Members of Parliament since 1921, when the great socialist Sidney Webb was first elected. He was a leading member of the Fabian Society, one of the founders of the London School of Economics, and author of the Labour party’s original clause IV.
Labour’s Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald was one of my predecessors. The House would do well to take note of his experience of peacetime coalition Government. When he split with the Labour party, his 1931 coalition leading the Tory and Liberal Democrat—sorry, I mean Tory and Liberal—parties, with an agenda of severe cuts in public spending, was opposed by the Labour Party. At that time the Labour Opposition developed a progressive socialist alternative and opposed the cuts that were to hurt ordinary working people and the unemployed. The following election saw Labour gain 102 seats, and the election after that was a Labour landslide.
The eminent Manny Shinwell served the people of Easington for more than 35 years. As Minister for fuel and power he achieved the nationalisation of the coal industry in 1947. It is recorded in Hansard that following angry exchanges in this House, Shinwell crossed the Floor, not in the usual fashion, but instead to strike a blow at the face of a Conservative MP. More recently, the popular Jack Dormond represented his local seat of Easington and served as chairman of the parliamentary Labour party for several years.
However, it is my direct predecessor John Cummings about whom I can talk without reference to history books or the parliamentary archives. Like me, John was born in Murton, a small village in Easington, and he worked in the coal mines from the age of 15. He was a political activist in the Durham Colliery Mechanics Association and the Labour party. He was later elected to the Easington district council and became its leader. In 1987, he was elected to this House and he has served the people of Easington with passion and diligence for 23 years. Indeed, I had the privilege of working for John and witnessing his extraordinary commitment on behalf of the people of Easington during his 23 years of public service. The whole House can be proud to serve in a democracy where a boy who went down the pit aged 15 could rise up to serve as a distinguished Member of this House. John is a friend who has been an inspiration to me, and I wish him well in his retirement.
Easington consists of a series of small villages and the larger towns of Peterlee and Seaham. It has natural beauty in abundance. Our east Durham heritage coast is an undiscovered masterpiece which enticed Lord Byron and Lewis Carroll to the area two centuries ago. The communities of Easington are former coal mining communities. The House should understand the importance of this proud history but also the lasting legacy of coal mining. Easington’s pits produced the nation’s wealth, its communities were created and built around a life in coal mining. Areas like Easington were a microcosm of the welfare state before any national Government had the foresight to implement it. Part of Easington’s proud tradition was its self-reliance and its widespread socialised community provision, which included socialised medicine, health care, pensioner housing and even funeral arrangements.
The lasting legacy of coal mining in Easington, however, is tarnished by the joblessness and economic activity that followed the reckless actions of previous Tory Administrations. Easington has prospered and seen significant improvements over the past decade, but more recently it has been at the forefront of job losses and economic decline, due to the global financial crisis and recession, which is why the successes of Caterpillar in Peterlee and the automotive industry—directly related to the success of Nissan in Sunderland—are so important.
The achievements of the last Labour Government are exemplified by the physical regeneration of large parts of Easington and the laying of the foundations for economic revival. Our new restaurants, cafes and retail outlets, such as Dalton Park—the biggest outlet shopping centre in the north-east—have brought jobs and a new dynamism to east Durham, its surrounding areas and the whole of the north-east. We have new Sure Start centres, new primary schools, such as Trinity primary school in Seaham, and new secondary school buildings, such as Shotton Hall community school. They have given hope, optimism and a sense of purpose to the people of Easington, especially young people.
Most of all, the last Labour Government protected the elderly people of Easington. The winter fuel allowance and cold weather payments stopped pensioners having to choose between heating and eating; a rising state pension, the pensioner guarantee and help with paying council tax gave them financial security; and the free bus pass gave them their independence. Easington, in its transition from its coal mining legacy, was always going to need the support of the Government to assist in building a new economic infrastructure. It is a shame that the people of Easington had to wait until 1997 for that support to come, when a generation had already been lost to unemployment and ill health. However, significant progress has been made and the face of Easington is changing.
I have been elected to serve the people of Easington at a time when the coalition Government have committed to cut spending, to cut the support to business through the regional development agencies, to cut support for jobs through the future jobs fund and to cut support for education by jeopardising the flagship Building Schools for the Future programme and through unidentified cuts to the education budget. The work of the RDA, One NorthEast, which was highlighted by my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle upon Tyne North and for Sunderland Central, has been pivotal in encouraging new businesses and jobs, not only in Sunderland and Newcastle but in areas such as Easington.
The House has only to look at GT Group in Peterlee, in my constituency—a cutting-edge manufacturing company specialising in environmental engineering—which, with the support of One NorthEast, has safeguarded 200 jobs and guaranteed 200 new jobs. That is not just my perception. In the words of GT Group managing director, Geoff Turnbull,
“The major investment programme”
in GT Group
“would have been very difficult without the assistance of One North East and Durham County Council, both of which have shown a real commitment to ensuring our business has the support it requires to be a pioneer in this important technology.”
I hope this coalition Government will consider seriously the policies of the previous Labour Government, which harnessed the resources of the state to encourage the creation of new businesses and the expansion of businesses such as GT Group.
The European consensus on renewables, green technology and combating climate change, which was referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (David Miliband), the shadow Foreign Secretary, is a prime example of the need for co-ordinated Government policies that cultivate a positive response from private business in these sectors. One NorthEast was created by the previous Government and was funded to deliver its ambitious plans for regeneration. We now understand that it faces cuts of up to 40%, which will effectively cut the legs from beneath it. We have also lost our north-east Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown), who provided leadership and a coherent strategy across a range of issues in our region, not least in his support for the Centre for Creative Excellence south of Seaham.
I am most grateful to you for permitting me to make my maiden speech, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I am most thankful to the House for its courtesy and attention. I look forward to more robust exchanges in future and to many more opportunities to represent the views and interests of my constituents in this Chamber.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech to the House. I commend the speech that the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) gave in such an eloquent and powerful manner.
On the subject of the debate, I agree not only that Britain can benefit from its membership of the European Union, but that Europe benefits from Britain’s membership of the union. We should resist unnecessary interference from the European Union, which should not seek to interfere with every facet of our lives. We need individuals to have greater freedoms over their lives and for this House to have the freedom to operate without further subservience to the European Union.
This House benefits from the expertise that different Members bring to it. I pay tribute to my predecessor, Dr Howard Stoate, who brought to the House an in-depth knowledge of medical issues, which I am sure the House appreciated. He served the residents of Dartford for well over a decade and worked hard for them.
Dartford has a tradition of not changing its Member of Parliament very often; indeed, I am only the sixth Member for Dartford since the second world war. That is a tradition that I would like Dartford to continue. Dartford is also the longest serving bellwether seat in the entire country, with the Member of Parliament reflecting the Government party for nearly 50 years. Again, that is a tradition that I would like to keep. Dartford is also the seat that Lady Thatcher contested twice and the place where she met her husband Denis. To this day, she is referred to as Margaret Roberts by some of my more senior local party members.
It is traditional for new Members of Parliament to say something complimentary about their constituency. For me, that is easy. Dartford is my home, my background and my life. I grew up locally. I helped my father to deliver milk to the local area on his milk round, and I attended Dartford grammar school. Although I probably spent more time in the headmaster’s study than he did, I still gained a great deal from my education, and I doubt whether I would be here today if it were not for that experience.
Dartford is a diverse constituency, with rural villages and an urban town centre. It is a commuter town, with a heavy reliance on the rail network. As part of the Thames Gateway, we have seen a large number of new houses built in the area. Thousands more houses are planned that could threaten the stability of the local area if we do not properly prepare for them. However, they could also create a wonderful opportunity, if we can ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place to cope with the influx of new residents. The more established areas, such as Joyden’s Wood, Longfield and Hawley, are popular villages for local families to live in. Areas such as Greenhithe are once again flourishing, after declining with the loss of manufacturing in the area.
Dartford also has a rich vein of history. The Roman road of Watling street was built through Dartford, going under the site of the town’s church, via a ford over the river Darent, thus giving the town its name. Wat Tyler’s revolt began in Dartford, which was where he lived and where the peasants congregated before marching towards this House. I am pleased to say that the residents of Dartford still like to lobby their representatives in a forthright manner, but thankfully for me in a less blood-thirsty way these days.
In the 16th century, Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleeves, lived in Dartford, and shortly afterwards the school that I attended was founded in the town centre. Thus began a tradition of good quality education in Dartford that still exists today. Although we have four excellent grammar schools in Dartford, we also have flourishing academies, such as the Leigh technology academy, which attracts pupils from a wide area—so much so that Dartford now needs more school capacity to provide sufficient places for local school children.
Dartford has other challenges ahead. Our town centre is desperately in need of regeneration. The recent recession has prevented a development project from taking place, and local traders are suffering the consequence of that.
Another thing that affects traders and local residents is the continuation of the tolls on the Dartford crossing. The tolls remain in force despite previous assurances, and they create congestion and misery across the entire area. They act as a literal road block to the opening up of the Thames Gateway. Any Member who has found themselves stuck in traffic at the Dartford crossing will confirm that, instead of opening up the area, the crossing actually stifles it. It also creates pollution, which has a detrimental effect on the health of my constituents. For all those reasons, and many more, I will never stop campaigning for the tolls on the Dartford crossing to be scrapped.
Dartford also has much to be optimistic about. Too often, we hear reports in the media about religious tensions, but our Baptist church sits right next door to our Sikh temple without a murmur of difficulty, something of which both congregations are rightly proud. Bluewater shopping centre provides fantastic employment opportunities and a model apprenticeship scheme—not to mention the shopping opportunities that are keenly experienced by my wife. A lot of work has gone into improving Dartford. It has a first-class new judo centre at Stone, as well as a brand new football stadium and a forward-thinking local authority. My constituency is also the home of Ebbsfleet International train station, which lies on the new high-speed rail line between London and Paris. These increased transportation links—rather than increased political links—with the European Union represent the direction in which I believe we should be moving.
I am the first ever Member of Parliament to live in the beautiful rural village of Hartley in my constituency. Villages such as New Barn, Wilmington and Southfleet add to the pleasant country feel of much of the area. Although it is just 16 miles from this Chamber, Dartford has a very Kentish character and culture. It is proud to be distinct from London, and I am very proud to be able to represent it.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) on his excellent maiden speech, and all the other hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today. I particularly welcome the fact that we have had four superb speeches from new women Members on the Labour Benches. That demonstrates the fact that, although it is still happening too slowly, the more representative the parliamentary Labour party becomes, the more effective we will be. As an Opposition, we will be far more effective as a result of their contributions and those of others that we shall hear. That was ably demonstrated during the debate.
I also note that, during the past three hours since the Front-Bench speeches, the notional quorum of 40 has not been reached in the House. There are no specific business votes today, but this situation will need to be challenged—perhaps not today, but in the next few weeks. It is neither fair nor reasonable that we should have a coalition Government with only half the coalition present. I apologise if there are Members whom I do not recognise because they are new, but I do not spot any Liberals here. I have spotted some documents that have arrived, however: the Liberal party, in government for the first time in 80 years, is represented here today by a pile of papers. For the past two hours, there have been no Liberals present in the Chamber. They have a responsibility, when in government, to be here to listen and to argue their case.
I commend the Minister for Europe, and welcome him to his job. I believe that he has been present throughout the debate. That is appropriate Front-Bench activity for any party, but where is his Liberal deputy, or any Liberal? Not so long ago, the Liberals would have crawled across broken glass to attend a debate on Europe to show their enthusiasm for the European Union. Perhaps that explains their reluctance in this new coalition, when Members such as the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) can congratulate them on their speeches on Europe and tell them how far they have moved in three weeks.
This fragile coalition will, I predict, be still more fragile on the issue of Europe in times to come. One thing I can assure the Liberals of is that they are going to have to provide, as a coalition Government, sufficient Members at any one time—or they will be challenged, whatever day and whatever time of day it is. That is particularly so when the new Government want to reduce the number of Members—by 65, I believe. Well, that is a legitimate debating point and we will no doubt vote on it at some stage in the future, but if we are going to reduce the number of Members, we have to have those who are Members here in the Chamber in the first place. That is the first duty of Government. We, of course, have less onerous duties in terms of—[Interruption.] Oh, I see that a Liberal is belatedly emerging, which gives me the opportunity to reinforce my point, and the Liberals will be particularly keen to understand and contemplate it, given their role in the coalition.
It seems to me that politicians across the world and within Europe, however it is defined, are not addressing the two biggest issues in the world. The first is population. It is not sustainable for the world population to continue to increase in the way it has. Politicians across the world, including in Europe and in this House, have virtually nothing to say on that key issue. The second issue that goes alongside the growth of population and exacerbates it is the problem of migration.
Peoples have always migrated, but when the number of people migrating and the volumes and speed of migration are increasing as fast as they are today, conflict will emerge in all parts of the world. Some of those conflicts will be based on resources, some on climate, some on wars—in fact, some will create wars—and some on economic migration, but conflict is fundamental. Given the size of the world population, it seems to me that the levels and speed of migration are not sustainable. A quarter of the world’s countries have had food riots in the past 18 months. Many of the mass migrations outside the European Union in recent years have led to major conflict, leading to multiple deaths because of war.
One of the dilemmas and problems that this coalition will have to face over the EU is that although the Prime Minister makes great play of how tough he is on immigration, on all occasions when he refers to immigration, he means immigration from outside the EU. Thus doctors from India cannot get into this country, even when our hospitals want them, because the Government—it was the same under the Labour Government—are “toughening their stance” on immigration. As I say, that means immigration from outside the EU.
Earlier today, however, we heard a leading Liberal, the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), when he had bothered to attend, say that the new coalition was potentially in favour of Turkey acceding to the European Union. We have also heard the new Foreign Secretary outlining how there will be no referendums on accession. He was prepared to name Croatia, but how many more countries are there? With accession, of course, comes free movement of labour. The Maastricht treaty, as voted through by the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues in 1992, created the format, using the treaty of Rome as its basis, but going much further on the free movement of labour.
We have heard speech after speech, including those from the Eurosceptics on the Conservative Benches, saying unequivocally that what they want is more flexibility—in other words, a cheap labour pool for business. That is what flexibility is about for them. For a power worker at Staythorpe power station or for a worker at the East Lindsey oil refinery, or at many other places, as new migrants have come in, the agencies have squeezed wage levels and reduced the opportunities for jobs. In my area, the agencies recruit in Polish from Poland and then employ those people in factories on a casual basis, day by day. The fact that workers in my constituency and surrounding constituencies cannot compete with those wage levels is causing fundamental problems which this dishonest coalition is refusing to address.
The hon. Gentleman has not had the privilege and joy of listening to my speeches about the issue in the past, but I will give him an opportunity to do so now. I have made the same criticism of the Labour Government, who made a fundamental error in failing to address the problem of agency workers and the programme of migration.
This issue will not go away. We cannot go on expanding the European Union and allowing more cheaper-wage economies to move in, because that is not sustainable. There is a deeper unsustainability when we see people migrating to where social conditions are better. The Germans have a solution with their Gastarbeiter—there are 20 million Turks living in Germany who are not official citizens—but it cannot be applied within the European Union.
People migrate here quite legitimately, realising that they can work here and then retire here, benefiting from health and education services that are significantly better than those in the potential new accession countries. In their position, I would think it rational to move. I would think it rational to get my children into good British schools. I would think it rational to use the British health service, because investment has made it far better than others. The people who lose out, however, are not the middle classes, who are happy to enjoy a plethora of new restaurants in London and happy to benefit from the au pairs, gardeners and other advantages of cheap labour, but working-class communities. That is where the new migrant labour lives. The pressure on health and schools has a disproportionate impact on the very people who do not gain the benefits of that migrant labour, and who are competing with it for jobs. That is not a sustainable social model.
A major change will be necessary at the heart of the treaty of Rome. Currently, under that treaty, the Maastricht treaty and the various accession Acts that have been passed by successive Governments, workers and family members must not become a burden on the social assistance system. Well, they are not, but that is to do with the benefits system. The real cost is the cost to the working-class communities in schools, in health and in infrastructure. It is those communities who are losing out, and the middle classes who are benefiting.
I hope that the spokesmen on my party’s Front Bench are listening, because this issue is fundamental to the people whom we represent. The social model within Europe that allows this mass migration—the free movement of labour to whatever destination—is not sustainable, and the European Union is not sustainable with it. There must be a restriction to protect the position of those working-class communities, not least mine.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech, and to speak up for the people of Dover and of Deal. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) on his excellent maiden speech, and on his passionate and trenchant defence of the Dartford crossing. He and I share an interest in, and a concern about, the selling off of our nation’s assets. I also congratulate Members on both sides of the House who have made their maiden speeches today. The list has grown too long for me to name all those Members, but all their speeches were excellent, and I believe that they all have a great future in this place.
It is traditional to congratulate and celebrate one’s predecessor in the constituency. I pay great tribute to Gwyn Prosser, who was an excellent hard-working Member of Parliament, well known by Labour Members. He was also a very loyal and diligent Member of Parliament, who took up the causes and concerns of the people of Dover and Deal. When what I used to think were simple problems, easily solved, suddenly landed in my lap, I found that they were less simple and less easily solved than might have seemed the case outside this great and august House. He was a very fine Member of Parliament, and he will be a hard act to follow.
I understand that it is also traditional to talk about one’s constituency and its history. We in Dover are, of course, used to visitors. One of our earliest recorded visits was in 55 BC by Julius Caesar; he caught an early ferry from France and came to Dover. In those days border security was quite good—would that were still the case—and he was unable to make a landing at Dover because warlike tribesmen were going to see him off. Instead he went down the coast a few miles—to Deal and Walmer, it is said—where he landed and did the customary European thing in those days: proceeded with an invasion. Having made some progress with his invasion, he then dispatched a communiqué back to Rome. This is what he said:
“By far the most civilised inhabitants are those living in Kent, a purely maritime district”.
Well, Dover maritime is very maritime—and, we like to think, very, very civilised. While we are disappointed that Julius Caesar made war upon us, we forgive him a bit because of his very communautaire approach in talking so nicely about us to his capital city.
European relations have continued in this vein ever since, in war and in peace. In Napoleonic times the channel fleet was stationed off the coast of Deal. The long historical link between Deal and the Royal Marines was forged, too. As Members will know, we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of Operation Dynamo, the glorious retreat from Dunkirk. Our white cliffs came to symbolise a nation’s struggle to survive—a nation’s struggle for sovereignty and the values of liberty, democracy and freedom that our nation upholds. As Member of Parliament for Dover, I know that I carry a heavy responsibility to uphold those vital values.
Dover paid a heavy price for being in Hellfire Corner. We lost a beautiful regency town, and we are still waiting for regeneration to this day. I have said to my electors that my hope is that with investment, jobs and money, the gateway to England can once again become a jewel in the crown of our nation. This is my hope. I want it to be my life’s work, and I hope we will achieve it and succeed.
Other things come out of our history of being the gateway to England and the border of our nation. The first of them is concern: concern that the previous Government conceived a plan to sack our experienced immigration officers. We are concerned because we do not want porous borders, nor do we want more human trafficking, more gun running or more drug smuggling. We want to ensure that we have proper border security and national security. We want to ensure that the “jungle” in Calais is dealt with, not simply because we are concerned about the number of people there, but because we are concerned about the children there, who are living in terrible conditions. We want them to be looked after properly in a proper European settled way. We must co-operate with our friends, allies and community partners to get a lasting solution to this concern that many hold.
The previous Government also conceived a plan to sell off our port. We do not want our nation’s borders to be sold. The people of Dover are trenchantly opposed to that idea. I come here planning to do all in my power to find a better way forward than simply to sell it off at the bottom of the market, possibly to a foreign power. That would be the wrong thing to do for our nation’s security.
The people of Dover also want to have a proper hospital back in Dover. The previous Government offered us a polyclinic, having run down our hospital. We say we want a proper hospital, with care beds and doctor-led emergency services. These things are important to us because the nearest acute hospitals are 40 minutes down the road by car and four hours by public transport. That is bad for old people, and those who are badly off and cannot afford a car and do not have access to one. We want a fair share of health care; we feel that is very important.
People in Dover have also told me time and again, “When you come to the House, Charlie, tell them we want a George cross, too.” That might be a bit much to ask, but our area paid a heavy price in the war, and people might compare the price we paid with the price that Malta paid. This case should be examined, and I hope that it will be, in due course.
Finally, I should say that the liberty of the subject is one of the most important calls on any Member of Parliament, and as the Member of Parliament for Dover, I especially feel that responsibility, given my constituency’s history in defending our nation’s freedom and liberty. The honouring of the military covenant is also important to people in Dover and Deal. I therefore bring to the House’s attention the case of Major Bill Shaw, MBE. He is a man who was commissioned from the ranks. He was a regimental sergeant major and was awarded an MBE for his excellent services to the armed forces. He was promoted to the rank of major and subsequently retired having served in Bosnia and Iraq, having been decorated and having instructed at Sandhurst.
He has served our country well, but today he finds himself in an Afghan jail facing a two-year sentence as a result of allegations of “corruption”; there seems to have been a misunderstanding as to what constitutes corruption and what constitutes a payment to release one’s car from the pound. I am concerned about this matter, as is his family, and we want to see that justice is done. There are questions as to whether due procedure was followed, and whether he received justice. I ask my colleagues on the Front Bench to examine this case and see what can be done for this man. He defended us for most of his life, and it is therefore right that we should defend him in his hour of need and ensure that his case is properly looked at and his interests properly defended by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to make my maiden speech; I am very grateful.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech as the new Member of Parliament for Great Yarmouth. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) and all the hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today. So excellent have they been that there is great pressure on those who rise to speak at this stage of the day, because we are very aware of what has come before.
I am also conscious of Great Yarmouth’s history, and it seems, in an ironic way, fitting that I should make my maiden speech in a debate on Europe, given some of the political controversy that Great Yarmouth has enjoyed over the years. That dates back to the fact that some Members of Parliament of the time signed the death warrant for King Charles I in Great Yarmouth—I commend the museum there to any hon. Member who wishes to find out more about that—and carried on through to its dissolution as a constituency in the mid-1900s for electoral questions and corruption, only for the constituency subsequently to rise again.
I am the third Member of Parliament to represent Great Yarmouth in its new formation. The first was Michael Carttiss, which is why I mentioned the irony of the fact that I am speaking in a European debate. Michael’s views, actions and speeches on Europe and on the Maastricht treaty are still notorious in Great Yarmouth and Norfolk, as they doubtless are with some hon. Members. He gave years of public service and still serves as a Norfolk county councillor in the Great Yarmouth area. He was followed by my direct predecessor, Mr Anthony Wright, who has also given a huge amount of public service and who deserves a great deal of thanks from me and from all the constituents of Great Yarmouth. We should recognise the amount of time that he put in as a councillor and council leader, and as the Member of Parliament for Great Yarmouth. He built a great reputation among all its residents for being a genuine, straight and friendly man to deal with, and he did so much to represent many charities across the constituency.
There are a great many things to do in my constituency, and it is fitting that I am speaking on a day when so many hon. Members representing seaside and coastal resorts have spoken. There has been a form of competition as to who represents the best coastal town, and I shall put my pitch in for Great Yarmouth, the second largest seaside town in the country. Tourism is a hugely important industry for my area, as it is worth getting on for £500 million a year to its economy. That makes it important to Great Yarmouth, to Norfolk and to East Anglia. Our area contains more than most people realise. It contains a large chunk of the Norfolk broads, rural villages to enjoy, architecture that dates back to the ruins of Roman forts, places with links to Nelson, some fabulous museums, a race track, a dog track and a wonderful shoreline.
However, part of that shoreline is under threat from coastal erosion. Our coast stretches from Winterton, through Hemsby, Scratby, Great Yarmouth itself, Gorleston and Hopton. I will have work to do as a Member of Parliament to support the new Government on this issue, when, as I hope, we move away from the bureaucracy and red tape that has led to report after report on coastal erosion, and get down to doing some work to protect our coastline and safeguard some of the communities in Great Yarmouth. I will work with my hon. Friend and ally the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) to make sure that we protect the coastline to the east of Norfolk more generally.
We must also remember that tourism is an important industry for our country. I hope to play my part in arguing the case for it, as it is one of our most cost-effective industries in creating jobs. That is something that we in Great Yarmouth need, as at certain times of the year our unemployment is way above average.
The town has one of the most deprived wards in the country, and there is much work to do to improve our infrastructure. One of my predecessors often joked that the nearest motorway was on mainland Europe, and not too much has changed. We have work to do in that regard, but it is worth doing.
Earlier, I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary mention the green agenda, climate change and the need for new energy sources in the future, because all that represents an opportunity for Great Yarmouth. Just as the hon. Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) noted with regard to her constituency, Great Yarmouth can benefit from renewable energy. I believe that I can work with my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) to make Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth an epicentre for renewable energy in our region, as well as in our country and in Europe.
We in Great Yarmouth already have the experience of working with the offshore oil and gas industries, and the offshore wind farm at Scroby Sands used to be the largest in Europe. A new wind farm is coming, and there is the local potential to exploit marine energy and other renewables because we have the necessary experience and expertise. Most importantly, our phenomenal new outer harbour has created a deep-water port that will allow us to service the industry, not just through facilitating its supply chain when it is built, but by acting as its construction base. I intend to play my part, loudly, in bringing that about. I have already talked to Ministers to ensure that Great Yarmouth gets a really good shot at delivering on some of the opportunities arising from the new energy industry. I want to protect and grow our economy, and to protect and grow energy for our country in the future.
We have a wide diversity of business in Great Yarmouth. The Government’s plans to free up business and entrepreneurs are very exciting. The tourism industry is the essence of our entrepreneurship, but among our businesses are also companies that supply potatoes for crisps and chips. Other firms supply microchips for NASA and the Ministry of Defence, and still others provide broadband services and other facilities.
Mine is a diverse and exciting constituency. I have a phenomenal job ahead of me in making sure that I deliver on the trust and faith that the people of Great Yarmouth have placed in me. I want to follow those that have gone before in making sure that we take advantage of the opportunities that exist for the area. I intend to play my part in making sure that we grip with them with both hands. I hope that I can play a small part in moving Great Yarmouth forward, thereby helping our country to grow in the years ahead.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me my second opportunity to speak in what is only my third week in this place. I look forward to goading my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), the former Minister for Europe, into answering some of my questions in a few moments.
I come to this place after 10 years of experience in the European Parliament. Throughout that time, the hon. Member for Rhondda was ever present in European circles. He first came to us as a lobbyist, talking to us in BBC-speak about the audio-visual media services directive and such like, but his later guise was as the Minister for Europe.
However, first I want to address the current Minister for Europe. There are a number of tricks of the trade—I know that my hon. Friend will learn them very quickly—but I do not think that they were completely grasped by his predecessor in the role.
First, I do not think that we have ever used all the power that we should be able to wield in European institutions. We are, and have been for a number of years, the second largest net contributor to the EU budget. We all know, because it is often talked about in this place, that for the past 15 years the European Commission’s accounts have not been signed off—in the technical language, given a “positive statement of assurance”—by the European Court of Auditors.
That state of affairs has continued since 1994. During all 13 years of the previous Labour Government, not one Treasury Minister visiting Brussels queried whether we were getting value for money. Not only that, but no one asked whether so much money should be spent on projects that were well known to be affected by fraud and mismanagement.
If we were to punch above our weight—or at least at our weight—in Europe, I would suggest that we honour, almost, what French, German and Spanish colleagues do. They would stop at absolutely nothing to get their way in those institutions. They would drag the budget process to a halt. They would drag a former British Prime Minister to talk about trumpets at the gate and say that he is actually just about to give away a huge amount of British money to keep them quiet—to stop them moaning at him for some other engagements that he might be doing around the world. We must absolutely remind our European partners that yes, we do want to play a full part in European institutions with our European friends, in whatever future Europe has, but that actually we want to be regarded as a fair partner as well. We have been playing—and paying—their game for too long.
I suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that we should be arguing for more repeal of European legislation—something that just does not happen any more. We want sunset clauses in all new directives passing through the European Commission, as I hope we would expect in any new legislation that passes through this place, so that if a directive does not work, there is an opportunity for it to fall.
I would advise my hon. Friend about EU-creep. No, I am not like Nigel Farage, the former UK Independence party leader, referring to the Presidents of the European Council. I am talking about where Europe gradually extends its field. Six years ago, as a Member of the European Parliament, I went to a meeting where I was advised that the External Action Service—which we commented on earlier today—was simply not going to happen. On the way to that meeting, I met a friend of mine who had just had a job interview for a position with that External Action Service. I told the gentleman from the Foreign Office who had told me that the service would not happen that I had this friend and that jobs were available, and he said that no, he must have got that absolutely wrong. For years, those who now sit on the Opposition Benches have said that there would be no such thing—that it would not happen—and now we have a full-blown External Action Service. We are going to have European Commission offices acting like embassies across the globe, diminishing the role of those of member states.
I am deeply concerned about the passerelle clause that came into being in the Lisbon treaty—the constitution: it was and is the same thing. I believe that that clause will be actioned on many occasions, and probably is being actioned at this moment. I am equally concerned about the growth in the European Union’s budget. All these things are not negatives taken on their own, but together they add up to what I call Euro-creep: a growing tendency for powers and money to gravitate towards the centre, which is Brussels—and, of course, Strasbourg.
I opened my maiden speech by saying that it was a great shame that we have to have Strasbourg as a home for the European Parliament. Ministers, the current Deputy Prime Minister and I set up a campaign in the European Parliament. We had a petition that got 1 million signatures online—including that of the now European Commissioner from Sweden—to try to get only one seat for the European Parliament. I know the problems that go with it, but I emphasise to hon. Members that surely the current arrangement is one example of a member state punching way above its weight.
The hon. Gentleman is a former Member of the European Parliament and before he gets too sanctimonious, I remind him that during the Convention on the Future of Europe the European Parliament refused to agree on one seat because the default position in the treaty is that the Parliament sits in Strasbourg. Without French agreement, it would have had to give up its seat in Brussels.
There are many other examples, from debates held over the years in all institutions in Europe—and from debates that I have read in this House—of wonderful ideas on what we could do with the buildings of Strasbourg or Brussels. The fact is that we are talking about a huge, expensive white elephant that the people of Britain think is yet another waste of taxpayers’ money.
I know that this will not make my hon. Friend the Minister particularly popular when he is in negotiations on the other side of the channel, but I just ask him to mention, every now and again when the French delegation gets a bit excited about reformulation of the common agricultural policy or something else—the French get excited about all sorts of things—that we have been very generous in allowing them to maintain the seat of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, because it is unpalatable to most of our electorates.
I wish my hon. Friend the greatest of luck in his new role. There are great difficulties across the continent at the moment. There is the crisis of the huge debt that many countries have, and the incongruous way in which that debt may have to be serviced by other members of the eurozone—I like to think that it would not be serviced by British taxpayers. There are other pressures, too. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) made the point that we cannot have British jobs for British workers, and talked about the pressures that future accessions might bring. I know from my time in the European Parliament, and from going round schools in what was my region and is now my constituency, how deeply unpopular among the British people the possible accession of Turkey could be. If we press forward with it, we will have a great deal of work to do in explaining to our electorate that it is the right thing for Britain and British workers.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for asking me a question way above the pay grade of such a cub Member; I refuse to answer it because I haven’t got a clue what the answer is. That is the blunt honesty that will, I hope, become associated with me. If we go down the line of accession, we should look not only at Croatia, but at countries such as Macedonia, which has been held back because of its problems with Greece over so simple a thing as its name and history.
There are many items on which there are problems ahead, but I would like to think that my hon. Friend, the Minister for Europe, has it all completely under control.
It is an enormous pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), who referred to me as his hon. Friend; coalitions are building, but I do not think that they are going quite that far. It is a delight to see him, because despite his absolutely ludicrous, nonsensical opinions on Europe—and nearly everything else under the sun—he is quite a nice guy. Indeed, we have shared many a pint, and several bottles of wine, which I think I always paid for, in Les Aviateurs in Strasbourg. I wish him well. The hon. Gentleman follows on from a very fine Member of Parliament, who was much respected across the House; he had much more sensible views than the hon. Gentleman, I fear.
I should explain to new hon. Members that the normal course of an EU debate is that we have exactly the same people along to every single one for about 15 years, and they deliver their single transferrable speech, which they have delivered at every previous such debate. It sometimes reminds one a bit of a sitcom—“Dad’s Army” springs to mind. There is always somebody—normally it is the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash), who does not seem to be in the Chamber at the moment—who is rather irritating, and just ever so slightly pompous, but whose heart, we know, is really in the right place: the Captain Mainwaring of the House. We always have the immensely suave Sergeant Wilson, who is of course the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter). I am not suggesting that he resembles Sergeant Wilson in any other regard, incidentally.
We always have someone who has to say, “Don’t panic, Mr Mainwaring! Don’t panic! It’s all going to be okay!”, and that is normally my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins), who on these matters, unfortunately, never agrees with me about anything.
I am glad that my hon. Friend is piping up, because we always have Private Frazer, “We’re doomed, Captain Mainwaring! We’re doomed!”, and he is always played by my hon. Friend.
Then, of course, we always have someone who is immensely sanctimonious—[Interruption.] And lo and behold, the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) has arrived in the Chamber. Such sanctimony, I hope, will be a thing of the past from the Liberal Democrats. If there is one thing that they must have learned on becoming members of the coalition, it is that sanctimony must be a thing of the past for the Liberal Democrats. I can see that several Conservatives who were Members in the previous Parliament agree, and the hon. Gentleman is surely the vicar from “Dad’s Army”.
At this point I should like to welcome the Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington) to his post. He is a splendid man; I know him well; and he has very good intentions. Again, doubtless, he is about to show us that he has ludicrous politics, but he is a nice man. He is sometimes perhaps a little too precise in his politics, and that might render him the verger from “Dad’s Army”, who was just always a little too precise for his own good. However, the hon. Gentleman is an extremely intelligent man, who I think has led the most winning teams on “University Challenge”, and we look forward to his intelligence, which I am sure he will deploy throughout Europe over the coming months.
We heard a great number of maiden speeches, and that makes this debate rather different from any other, because remarkably few Members said anything about Europe. But, that is in the way of things, and there have been some excellent speeches. It is a shame—
I was about to make exactly that point. It is so rare for my hon. Friend to help me in any debates on Europe, but it is a great pleasure. It might just be a facet of today’s debate, but, as I was just about to say, it is an enormous shame that, while we have had several maiden speeches from women Opposition Members, we did not have a single one from a woman Government Member. I do not want to make a big partisan point about that, but we must achieve a House that is more representative of the whole of Britain.
There have been some excellent speeches. The hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier)—
Far be it from me to take any mantles upon myself at all, although I thought that I might be Warden Hodges, who was always the nemesis of Captain Mainwaring.
Anyway, we had a splendid speech from the hon. Member for Wyre Forest—[Interruption.] He has moved! He gave us some wonderful geographical outlines of his constituency, and I thought that I could just hear Elgar playing in the background.
We also had a splendid speech from the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby), who talked about how the French razed Brighton at some point. He thought that the people of Brighton were rather troubled by the French, but then he went on to praise the Norman church. I think that at some point the Normans were the French, were they not? So there seemed to be a bit of inconsistency there, but he made a splendidly short speech, and brevity is the soul of wit in this Chamber. [Interruption.] That does not apply to me. [Interruption.] Neither brevity nor wit.
We had a splendid speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), who gave us a great sense of a passion for culture, which is not just an add-on to political life, but absolutely intrinsic to the life of her constituency. She also referred to our former leader, Harold Wilson, and his time in the constituency.
We had a splendid contribution from the hon. Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy)—a peculiarly named and, perhaps, constructed constituency. He referred to it as a doughnut constituency and he did, indeed, sound like the representative of the York tourist board, as of course all hon. Members do at some point—well, not for York, obviously. He said that it is his 39th birthday, so we wish him well. He does not look 39 yet, but I can assure him, given the way that Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is treating us all, that within a year he will look considerably more than 40. I also note that he looks a little like his father, the Member of the European Parliament.
We heard a splendid speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), who referred to Doug Henderson. I hope that she will be running marathons as well. He was, I think, the third fastest marathon runner in the House; there is a tradition that several are run every year. She referred to Rolos—I never liked Rolos very much—and Andrews Liver Salts, which did not seem like a particularly interesting combination of food. She is a very astute woman, because she praised the local media assiduously; I am sure that that will get her a fine headline in her local newspaper.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) made a fine speech. I did not understand any of the stuff about football, because I have never understood football; I look forward to switching off all the televisions over the next month. She referred to Chris Mullin, a Member who was respected across all parts of the House for his work—and feared, in equal measure, because of his diaries. There are more instalments to come, I fear.
The hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) kindly referred to Mike O’Brien, who was, again, respected by many people. He mentioned the bun day at his local school, with the giving out of buns. It sounded as though that was happening during the general election, which I thought counted as “treating”, but there we are. He referred to his time in the Royal Army Medical Corps and in Banja Luka in what was, I think, normally referred to as the mental factory rather than the metal factory. It is good to have such a mix of people who have served in the armed forces in this House, especially when we are still at war.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) made a very good speech. For me, the most moving point was when she referred to the squandering of the talents of so many women. She has experienced that in her own family’s history, but it is also true in very many walks of life, and it is something that we still need significantly to address.
The hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) started with a risqué joke. I myself have never used a risqué joke, or tried to be risqué, in the past. He said that he loved Europe, but of course we knew what was coming—he does not really like Europe very much, or any of its institutions, and certainly not the single European currency.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) made an important speech, particularly in relation to the need for 21st-century buildings if we are to provide 21st-century educational standards. He talked about the exploitation of foreign workers, with a very interesting story from his own family.
The hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley) said that he is an Iron Maiden fan, or supporter; in any case, he intends to wear his T-shirt in here at some point. He mentioned various films because he has a history of his own in that line of work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) made an extremely passionate speech referring to the problems that mining constituencies have had—something that I know about from my constituency in Rhondda, where we still have to overcome some of the problems that were given to us from the past.
The hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) mentioned Wat Tyler’s revolt. I thought that we were about to hear a radical, left-wing speech and that he was going to give us Wat Tyler’s lines, “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?”—but then we know, of course, that it is every single member of the new Cabinet.
The hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) went right back in history to the time of Julius Caesar and said that the border controls were rather good in those days; well, they were not, really, because we were entirely invaded. He described Dover as the gateway to England, whereas I think of Bristol as the gateway to England from Wales—a far more important avenue.
The hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) started by talking about the death warrant for Charles I. I was a little bewildered at that point, because I thought that he was going to blame that on the European Union.
I see the hon. Gentleman nodding. He thinks that everything bad that has ever happened is basically down to the European Union, the Labour Government or, for all I know, me personally.
There were also important contributions that were actually about Europe. In particular, the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter) referred to the issues relating to the Western European Union, in which he has played a significant part. I hope that the new Minister for Europe will be able to answer some of those questions, particularly about what his plans are for making sure there is a replacement, so that the important job of scrutinising European foreign and defence policy is not just assumed by the European Parliament. That would not be the right place for that to be done.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), who I hope is not only the past Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, but the future Chairman, made some important points about how we conduct scrutiny in the House. I have always thought that we have not done it very well and, during my time as a Minister, I tried to improve that. I hope that the Minister will be able to say whether he will table a new scrutiny reserve resolution for that Committee as soon as possible. That was very much in the pipeline before the general election and I hope it can be arranged as soon as possible.
I celebrate the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) in the Chamber. Even if she can sometimes slightly irritate me, I am delighted she is here. The doughtiness of her campaign in her constituency stood her in good stead in the general election and, even though we sometimes disagree with her, I am sure that we all accept that the doughtiness of her argument is well put. She made some important points this afternoon about the euro and the genuine crisis in Europe, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins). However, he did say something rather odd about Argentina’s economy, which I would suggest is nowhere near as prosperous as he seems to think.
The speeches of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) speak for themselves and I cannot add to them. He put his Front Benchers on the spot a bit about whether there should be a referendum, which was an important point also well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann). One of the most controversial European issues––it certainly has been over the past six months in British politics, although it is rarely expressed in public––is that of migration within the European Union, and I do not understand why accession treaties should not, under the logic being advanced by the new Government, be subject to a referendum as well. It is one of the issues that will most materially affect member states.
No, of course my hon. Friend cannot! He knows perfectly well he cannot––he is a mischievous lad. The point I am trying to make is that there is an illogicality about the Government’s position. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman––sorry, I mean my hon. Friend, I sometimes forget––will at some point want to make that point to the Government, rather than always doing so to us.
May I just ask the Minister some very quick questions? First, I urge him to be extremely careful about trying to reset the relationship with Russia. There are very big problems in relation to Russia, not only in its attitude towards Ukraine and Georgia, but with internal democracy and human rights––those who seek the bear’s embrace all too often get hugged to death. On Cyprus, I hope that he will push forward as much as he possibly can. We can stand ready to help if there is anything that we can do. Britain obviously plays a key role in trying to develop a peace in Cyprus.
Likewise, Britain has over the past couple of years played a strong role in relation to Greece and Macedonia, trying to resolve something that to many people outside those countries seems completely illogical.
The European Union has got close to signing up to a free trade agreement with Peru and Colombia. When I was in post, I was keen to try to ensure that that would have to be ratified in the Parliaments of every member state. I hope that the Minister for Europe will ensure that it must be ratified in this Parliament.
The hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark said that the Liberal Democrats had never argued for the euro. Perhaps the party did not all the time, but the new Chief Secretary, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change did. It is good to see them on the road to Damascus, but it would sometimes be nice to hear a little less sanctimony from them.
I thank the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for his welcome to me on my first appearance in my new ministerial capacity in a European Union debate. If he looks at the repeated comments of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in opposition and since we came to office, he will see that, although we have said that we hope for a better relationship with Russia than has been the case in recent years, we do not regard it as something to be entered into lightly. We certainly expect Russia to abide by her international obligations, and events such as the occupation of territory, which is legitimately part of Georgia, are unacceptable. We are all too aware of the implications of the Litvinenko case and Moscow’s refusal so far to respond. Although our approach to Moscow will be positive—we hope for Russia’s co-operation on important global issues, such as counter-terrorist efforts and countering the threat of nuclear proliferation from Iran and other countries—it will also be cautious.
The hon. Gentleman will be all too aware of the complexities of the dispute in Cyprus, but the Government are intent on being energetic in supporting the relevant parties in seeking an agreement leading to the reunification of the island. That would be the best thing for both communities.
With respect to the hon. Lady, we are not in that position yet. Talks have resumed between the Government in Nicosia and the representatives of the Turkish Cypriots, and I greatly hope that they have a more positive outcome than has been the case in the past couple of years.
I am with the hon. Member for Rhondda on Macedonia. It is important that we get a resolution to the dispute between Skopje and Athens. From our point of view, the sooner that Macedonia can be seen to be clearly on the path towards full EU membership, the better.
The hon. Gentleman needs to be careful when giving lectures about referendums and seeking popular consent. It is fair knockabout for him to say when responding to the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson) that he detected some illogicality in the Government’s approach. There is complete logic in his approach to referendums: he does not want any, in any shape or form, on anything to do with the European Union’s future powers. That makes his position different from that which the two coalition parties have adopted and embodied in their agreement. We believe that power resides ultimately with the people, who should have the final say on any further initiative to transfer powers from the House and the British Government to Brussels.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I must press on.
There were 15 maiden speeches and I compliment all those colleagues and Opposition Members who spoke for the first time today.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) demonstrated early on that he aims to copy the independent streak of his immediate predecessor. He will be a doughty champion for his constituents, but he also spoke wisely about the economic advantages that he sees his constituents gaining from this country’s continued membership of the EU.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby) spoke about the ups and downs of the Anglo-French relationship over the centuries. Like many hon. Members on both sides of the House, he gave us a kind of Cook’s tour of the best tourist sites in his constituency. I felt I was getting the benefit of a top-quality travel documentary programme condensed into a parliamentary debate.
The hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) spoke of the importance of European trade to businesses in her constituency. What came through above all in her speech was her sense of pride in, and affection for, the area where she grew up and that she now represents. I was delighted to hear from her that Harold Wilson could be said to have started his career in her constituency. Of course, when he became Prime Minister, he fell so in love with Chequers and Buckinghamshire that he ended up retiring to Great Kingshill just outside my constituency. It is something of a habit for former Labour leaders. Clem Attlee did exactly the same thing—when he accepted an earldom, he took the secondary title of Viscount Prestwood, in honour of the village in Buckinghamshire where he lived—and now Mr Tony Blair has also decided to make his home in that most conservative of counties. The estate agents in my constituency scan the post every morning for the envelope postmarked Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath.
My hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) spoke of the sense of public disaffection from the EU. Awareness of that is very much driving the Government’s policy towards the Europe Bill, which we hope to introduce later in this Session. He also said that he wanted the Government to be proactive, positive and a friendly partner within Europe. With the addition of the words “clear-eyed and hard-headed,” that is exactly how the Government intend our policy to be. It is customary to say that we hope to hear from those who have made their maiden speeches frequently and in the near future. With the lavish praise that he bestowed upon the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley), my hon. Friend can be fairly confident that he will be called again before too long.
The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) spoke of the need for jobs and investment in the north-east, and made a very wise paean for her local media, which I am sure will ensure that her speech gets the coverage in her region that she hopes for.
The hon. Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) spoke about the importance of Nissan, jobs and economic growth in her constituency, but also warmly of Chris Mullin, a former colleague whom we all miss. He had no airs and graces—probably very few ex-Ministers, when penning their memoirs, would actually write about an incident in which officials forgot to remove a post-it note that they had inscribed, “This is a very low priority. Perhaps we could pass it to Chris Mullin.”
My hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) spoke about the diverse community in his constituency and the diverse recreations in which they take part. However, if I may say, I thought he was hiding his light under a bushel. I feel that a man who has rowed the Atlantic could surely emerge in next year’s Atherstone ball game at 5 pm holding the ball—he will probably be the only one remaining upright in Atherstone village. I look forward to him telling us of that achievement in future years.
The hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) spoke with great passion about what led her into politics. I suspect that she and I will have many disagreements, but anybody who listened to her speech, whatever their political view, will have felt encouraged and inspired that they too might one day be able to make a difference. Her determination and perseverance are things that all of us can admire, and she is very welcome here.
My hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) spoke of the urgency of tackling the United Kingdom’s deficit in public finances. The hon. Member for Rhondda was unfair to my hon. Friend, because he reminded us that it is possible for someone to feel that they are culturally part of Europe—to feel an affinity with everything that European civilisation has produced—but also to feel that they do not want further political integration within the European Union. We need to accept that Europe is now united and at peace, but also that it is diverse. The trick for Europe is to recognise that diversity as well as its unity.
The hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) spoke in particular about the importance of education to his constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley) set some sort of record by managing to work in references to both Iron Maiden and the Carry On films in the course of a single speech.
The hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) enticed us with visions of the beaches of east Durham, but spoke seriously about the need for more employment and investment in the north-east of England. My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) explained to me finally what lies behind the big brown signs that say “Historic Dartford”, which have baffled me every time I have visited friends in his constituency. When I am commuting between London and Brussels, I will think of my hon. Friend as the train passes through Ebbsfleet, and I shall know exactly whose constituents I am close to.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) spoke about a particular constituency case. I can tell him that consular staff at the Foreign Office have visited his constituent and they have been in touch with the family. We think that in the first instance it is for Mr Shaw’s lawyers to come to our officials with the evidence that gives rise to their concern that the trial was unfair so that we can consider their case and determine how we might take it forward. It would be most appropriate for the judicial proceedings to run their course first, and for any direct intervention from the British Government to follow once those have been concluded—
I suggest to my hon. Friend that, rather than intervene—as I am very short of time—he could perhaps have a meeting with me or the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who is responsible for south Asia, to discuss the case in more detail. We will be happy to listen to his concerns.
Finally, but not least, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) spoke with great eloquence and warmth about the glories of his constituency. He reminded us that he would not let us get away with ignoring the problem of coastal erosion. I can see that he, too, will be a formidable champion for his constituents. All 15 maiden speakers are welcome and all have had a successful first outing today. We look forward to hearing from them again.
In view of the lack of time, I propose to write to those hon. Members who have raised specific questions, especially the former Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, and let them have a considered response, instead of half a sentence now. On the Government’s approach to Europe generally, we see no contradiction between being vigorous in defending and asserting the national interests of the United Kingdom, and playing an active and activist role within the European Union, in pursuit both of our national interests through the institutions of the European Union and the common advantage of European countries, where our interests coincide.
I believe that part of a successful European policy will be to demonstrate to our own people, here in the United Kingdom, that the decisions taken on their behalf by British Ministers in the institutions of the European Union will be more accountable. That is why we will press forward with our referendums Bill and look to improve dramatically our efforts to scrutinise European legislation in the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the matter of European affairs.