Since the June European Council meeting, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have had further discussions with counterparts on the areas in which we want to see change in the EU: sovereignty, fairness, competitiveness and immigration. We will both continue to do so over the coming months.
I think that the reforms that we are seeking to deepen the single market and make it easier for businesses to sell digitally and to sell services throughout Europe, the efforts that we are making to push for the successful completion of a free trade deal between Europe and the United States, and the work that we are doing to cut red tape in the EU should be of direct benefit to the businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency.
There are particular concerns with the recent EU accession countries in relation to corruption and maladministration. What is the UK doing to ensure that these countries conform to the high standards? What bilateral work, if any, is being undertaken to assist them in cleaning up their police, justice and Government departments?
We have given practical technical assistance to both Bulgaria and Romania—and, indeed, to a number of candidate countries wishing to join the EU in the future—to root out corruption and to support reform of the judiciary and the police system. I discussed these issues with the Bulgarian Foreign Minister when he came to London in June.
22. The Minister will be aware that reform is a two-way process. Can he set out some areas where he thinks we should have greater co-operation with the European Union, not just those where there should be less co-operation? (901015)
Yes, we are very keen to see the European-wide single market extend to services much more fully than it does at the moment. At the moment, we have a pretty well functioning single market in goods, which works to the great benefit of British industry. It is services that will provide the future growth for us and other European countries. It is a woefully underdeveloped single market when it comes to services.
The Minister will have seen the stories in the press over the weekend suggesting that the Prime Minister was seeking to wind back the clock and make the opt-out from the social chapter part of the UK Government’s negotiating strategy over Europe. Can he tell the House, first, whether there is any truth in these stories and, secondly, whether he agrees that a bonfire of important protections for people at work, such as paid leave, maternity leave and rights for part-time workers, is not exactly the best way to build support for a yes vote in the forthcoming referendum?
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said before, there are bound to be all sorts of rumour and chatter as the renegotiation continues. I would advise the right hon. Gentleman not always to put too much faith in what he sees in the newspapers. We are certainly committed to cutting red tape in the European Union, as in the United Kingdom, but in the week after a Budget in which this Government have introduced a national living wage and cut taxes for the poorest people in society, it is a bit rich for the Labour party to try to give us lectures about workers’ rights.