Considered in Committee.
[Mrs Eleanor Laing in the Chair]
Approval of draft decisions under Article 352 of TFEU
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 2.
This is a short Bill. As I explained on Second Reading, the purpose of the Bill is to approve four draft decisions of the Council of the European Union. All four draft decisions rely on article 352 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, and therefore require the approval of Parliament. Section 8 of the European Union Act 2011 provides for exemptions in order to avoid the requirement for an Act of Parliament, but the decisions with which we are dealing do not fall within any of the exempt purposes.
The first two decisions will enable two countries, the Republic of Albania and the Republic of Serbia, to be granted observer status in the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency. The third and fourth decisions are necessary to implement a co-operation agreement between the EU and Canada on competition enforcement. Clause 1 provides for approval by Parliament of those four draft EU legislative decisions. Clause 2 concerns the territorial extent of the Bill, its commencement date and short title. Subsection (1) provides that the Bill extends to the whole United Kingdom, subsection (2) provides that the Bill will come into force on the day it receives Royal Assent and subsection (3) provides for the Bill’s short title.
We are content that all four decisions are reasonable and proportionate, and that they will not result in any additional financial burdens on the UK. I urge hon. Members to agree to clauses 1 and 2 standing part of the Bill.
The European Union (Approvals) Bill is a two-clause Bill, as the Minister has said. It will approve four draft decisions of the Council of the European Union in relation to the participation of the Republics of Albania and Serbia as observers in the work of the Agency for Fundamental Rights, and the signing and conclusion of a new agreement between the EU and Canada regarding competition law, including the exchange of information between the EU and the Canadian Competition Bureau. Approval of those decisions by means of an Act of Parliament is necessary under the European Union Act 2011 in order for a Minister to vote in favour in the Council.
The Fundamental Rights Agency replaced the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia in 2007. As the Europa website states, the agency advises EU institutions and national Governments on fundamental rights, particularly in the areas of discrimination, access to justice, racism and xenophobia, data protection, victims’ rights and children’s rights. The agency’s areas of work have been determined through a five-year framework, and the main priority areas include the fight against racism, xenophobia and related intolerance. EU candidate countries can participate in the FRA as observers. The Bill approves two draft decisions on the participation of the Republic of Albania and the Republic of Serbia as observers in the FRA’s work. We support the draft decisions concerning the participation of Albania and Serbia in the FRA.
Competition is vital to our economy, the success of our businesses and the prosperity of the people of our country, and the encouragement of healthy competition is vital. National Governments have a vital role in ensuring that a fair market exists, and not just a free market. The way in which Governments work together is also crucial in determining whether markets are free, fair or otherwise. The decision of the Trump regime to impose punitive tariffs on Bombardier will have a disastrous effect on the workers and communities of Northern Ireland, and on the economy. Such tariffs, if they are allowed to stand, exemplify the use by companies such as Boeing of market dominance to destroy competition.
I am not sure that I like Donald Trump any more than anyone else does, but does the hon. Gentleman understand the difference between a regime and an Administration? He calls the Trump regime a regime, but in fact the Trump Administration is an Administration. It is a democratically elected Administration, not some sort of hard left Venezuelan or Cuban-style regime.
I do not think there is any danger of confusing Donald Trump’s Administration or regime with anything of the hard left.
That Boeing can act as it has done—initiating trade disputes in a segment in which it does not compete—with the full support of a protectionist US Administration demonstrates the need to ensure that every effort is made to deliver healthy and fair competition. The reliance of some Ministers on the US for trade and for our own economic success has been brought into sharp focus by the actions of the Department of Commerce. Notably, this applies to the International Trade Secretary, who seems to think that our relationship with the US is the answer to all our prayers, but it clearly is not.
On Second Reading, the Minister told the House:
“The absence of the possibility of exchanging information with the Canadian Competition Bureau is regarded as a major impediment to effective co-operation. The proposed changes in the existing agreement will allow the European Commission and the Competition Bureau to exchange evidence that both sides have obtained in their investigations. That will be particularly useful in all cases in which the alleged anti-competitive behaviour affects transatlantic or world markets. Many worldwide or transatlantic cartels include Canada and, via Canada, the Commission will gain a good opportunity to have access to additional information concerning those cartels.”
I note that she also told us:
“The existing competition agreement with Canada does not allow the sharing of confidential information, but the new one does.”—[Official Report, 4 July 2017; Vol. 626, c. 1048.]
Many people regard the actions of Boeing in pushing the US Department of Commerce towards levying 300% tariffs on Bombardier, a competitor with a technically superior product, as a pretty strong example of the type of anti-competitive behaviour that the Minister spoke about on 4 July. Indeed, given Boeing’s battle with Airbus, it very much appears to be an attempt to destroy further competition in a market in which it has long been the dominant player.
The Canadian Government and the EU have both been working hard to address the actions taken to reverse the protectionist, anti-competitive actions of Boeing and the US Government. I trust the Minister will agree that any action to help all those connected with Bombardier in the UK, who are now fearing the worst, would be widely welcomed. The European Commission has noted that the absence of a power to exchange information with the Canadian competition authority is now an impediment as co-operation between the two parties has increased. Co-operation between the Canadian Government, the UK Government and the EU has never been more important, and what is happening at Bombardier is a reminder that such increased co-operation can only help.
Fair competition means avoiding anti-competitive practices, whether at home or abroad, including through the creation of cartels, or through mergers and acquisitions that distort the market. The undercutting and exploitation of workers in smaller businesses, the use of zero-hours contracts, the creation of false self-employment about which workers have little choice, the unfair treatment of smaller businesses by banks that will fund only those with liquid assets and delays in the payment of invoices by larger firms are all examples of anti-competitive and exploitative practices. In relation to such practices, Governments should find ways of intervening, nationally and internationally, to create a level playing field. Governments should be the partner of business and of the workforce, and they should encourage those wishing to start and to grow a business.
Preventing competition from being undermined matters, so co-operation between competition authorities and the sharing of information between jurisdictions is a key part of preventing anti-competitive practices. There is an existing agreement between the EU and Canada on competition law. It provides for the reciprocal notification of cases under investigation by either party where such cases may affect the important interests of the other party. It provides for co-ordination of enforcement activities and the provision of assistance where both parties have an interest. It provides the ability of one party to request the other to take enforcement action if there is reason to believe that anti-competitive activities carried out on its territory are adversely affecting the other party’s important interests. It also provides for the exchange of information subject to confidentiality provisions and conditions of use, including on current enforcement activities and priorities, economic sectors of common interest, policy changes that either party is considering and other matters of mutual interest relating to the application of competition law.
Labour will seek for us to remain a member of common European agencies that benefit the UK, such as Europol, Eurojust and the Erasmus scheme. To those, we can now add having access to the information shared between the competition authorities in the EU and in Canada and, for that matter, between those in the EU and in other countries.
The emphasis from the Labour Benches is on jobs, the economy and retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union. Being able to share information about competition, to prevent anti-competitive practices and support fair competition is consistent with maintaining the best possible relationship with the EU and access to our biggest customer as a country—the customer being the EU, which accounts for 44% of our trade.
On Second Reading on 4 July, the Minister told the House, in answer to my question whether the UK could remain part of the Fundamental Rights Agency after Brexit:
“The Government are looking at the UK’s relationship with all EU bodies, including the FRA, as part of the exit negotiations.”
Further to that answer, may I ask her, three months later, whether the Government have a view yet on whether we will remain in these EU bodies and, indeed, which ones we will remain in during transition, and secondly, whether the UK wishes to remain in these bodies after transition?
In answer to my questions about the competition arrangements, the minister told me on 4 July:
“The UK Government will be free to enter into their own arrangements to share information with Canada directly, and the UK and Canada will need to negotiate any such agreement.”
I also asked about international agreements after the UK leaves the EU, and whether this agreement provides a model. She told me:
“The UK will be free to enter into international agreements on competition”
and she told me that the Government
“believe that this agreement is a good model.”—[Official Report, 4 July 2017; Vol. 626, c. 1074-75.]
Can she tell me what happens after we leave until new arrangements have been agreed? What transitional arrangements do the Government have in mind for sharing information about competition with Canada and other countries? Perhaps, following my comments about Bombardier, she might want to say whether, in her opinion, the sharing of information with the Canadian Competition Bureau might be of help in addressing the problems caused by Boeing’s actions and by the imposition of punitive tariffs and the return to protectionism that we have seen from the United States Government.
It has been said by some that this Bill lacks substance, that this is a perfunctory debate and that it has little significance. I think that could not be further from the truth. For our actions here in the House this evening demonstrate beyond any discernible doubt that up to and until the point that we leave the European Union, we will continue to use our rights and obligations as full members of that institution, demonstrating that in the United Kingdom the European Union will retain the closest of friends, the strongest of allies and the most dependable of partners.
In that spirit, with our desire to do the right thing by our neighbours and echoing the Prime Minister’s comments yesterday when she reaffirmed our commitment to a peaceful, secure and prosperous future for Europe, it is right that we approve the decisions of the European Union Council. Few other single acts could better signal our desire for a peaceful and prosperous Europe than the granting to Serbia and Albania of observer status in the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency.
We cannot forget that it was less than 20 years ago that British and other NATO troops were deployed in the Balkans in the midst of an horrific conflict that we hoped we would never see the likes of in Europe again. While I am sure that all in this House would agree that more should and could be done, with the Council of Europe among others, regarding the pursuit of war crimes in Serbia, and on judicial reform, anti-discrimination policies, illegal migration, organised crime and protections of fundamental freedoms, it is surely a mark of the huge progress made in all these areas by the respective countries that the Council of the EU has seen fit to recommend that they be granted observer status as part of their EU candidate status.
Using our rights and obligations to the full until we leave, as we should, it is right that the UK supports Albania in its accession efforts and Serbia in its reform projects. Our giving consent to these—
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about encouraging the enlargement of the EU across the Balkan countries. On that count, does he also support the application of countries such as Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo and Bosnia?
Each application has to be looked at in its own individual context. It is obviously not for me or this House to decide where each state is in terms of its candidate status, but for the Council of the European Union. I know that that is going through at this very moment.
The third and fourth decisions of the EU Council are necessary to implement a co-operation agreement between the European Union and Canada on competition enforcement. Canada is one of the United Kingdom’s oldest and closest partners: we have been allies in conflicts for over a century and we have a shared past, strong family links and shared values. As if to underline that closeness, Canadian and British troops, as well as European and other NATO service personnel, are working closely, side by side, as part of Exercise Joint Warrior along the north coast of Scotland. It is because of this closeness, and our shared history and values, that many in this House and beyond find it so frustrating that it has taken over eight years for the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement to be agreed between the European Union and Canada. Even then, it almost came unstuck due to the complex internal machinations of Wallonian politics—I was going to make a comment about unchecked devolution, but I have thought better of it. I just wonder whether a UK-Canada free trade deal might take a slightly shorter time.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way and for reminding us that as well as the co-operation with Canada, subject to this proposed Act, a much more significant and detailed co-operation agreement was finalised not so long ago. He will be aware that while the Bill has been offered a potential six hours debating time on the Floor of the House, the CETA deal was agreed without a single minute’s debate on the Floor of the House. Does he believe that that allowed the House to properly influence such an important trade deal?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, that was well before my time in this House so I would not feel entirely comfortable commenting on that. This debate is not about CETA.
The decisions taken in the EU Council being approved by us today for agreement by the European Parliament will replace the 1999 competition and co-operation agreement. As the Minister said, the agreement replicates and builds on the provisions in the earlier agreement by allowing the European Commission and the Canadian Competition Bureau to exchange evidence obtained during investigations, including confidential information and personal data. These decisions will further help British businesses thrive internationally, as both Canadian and European business benefit from strong international competition law. On anti-competitive business practices, we must continue to work with Europe and Canada after we leave the European Union. We on the Conservative Benches know that the only way to reliably increase long-term living standards is through trade. Fair competitive trade is, as we know, the catalyst for reducing poverty, spreading prosperity and fostering innovation.
An outward-looking global Britain, as we will be, must continue to fight fair for business practices across the globe to ensure that free trade works for everyone. I hope the European Union recognises that the approval of its agreements is done in good faith, because it benefits citizens and businesses across the United Kingdom, Europe and Canada. In approving these decisions, we not only signal our commitment to the future of a peaceful and prosperous Europe, reaffirming our position as its closest and most dependable friend, but signal our continued desire to promote fair competition, free trade and an ambitious future for ourselves and our partners across the world.
I am happy to speak in support of the Bill. As I mentioned in my intervention, it seems ironic that something that appears to attract little opposition and not even a great deal of concern across the House could, if necessary, be granted a total of six hours of debate—tonight’s allocation and what we had on Second Reading—on the Floor of the House, yet massively important and much more contentious EU legislation, such as the CETA deal, is guaranteed no time whatever on the Floor of the House. The Government were eventually dragged kicking and screaming into an upstairs Committee room for an hour and a half after the CETA deal had been signed off but before it was finally ratified. That was after months, if not years, of determined efforts by the European Scrutiny Committee, whose scrutiny process was ignored and overridden by the Government on that and on so many other matters. I will come back in a moment to explain why that is so vital, but it seems ironic that something relatively non-contentious requires an Act of Parliament before the Minister can sign it when Ministers from all parties have quite happily signed much more contentious EU documents in the past without any appropriate reference back to this House.
I want first to speak about the applications from Albania and Serbia. We should enthusiastically welcome the movements in those two countries. I am one of a fairly small number in here who can remember the days when Albania was like the North Korea of Europe. Even before the fall of the iron curtain, even when the Stasi were in charge in East Germany and even when the Ceausescu regime was in charge in Romania, Albania was seen to be the most isolationist place of all. We should welcome the fact that it now wants to move closer to the more modern family of European nations. And look at where Serbia has come from in the past 20 or 25 years; we should enthusiastically welcome the fact that it is now asking to be allowed to co-operate much more closely in the protection of human rights and the eradication of racism and xenophobia. We should encourage the Serbian people and Government to continue on that journey.
The co-operation with Canada makes sense. We are two major trading economies, both of which accept that anti-competitive behaviour on a global scale damages everybody except the handful of billionaires who own the anti-competitive companies. It makes sense for Governments, nation states and groups of nation states to work together. A single country on its own these days is often not big enough to take on the big global economic superpowers that are today’s multinationals. We have to work together to make ourselves big enough to be able to stand up to the big bullies of multinational business. We should certainly look for this kind of co-operation with Canada and, similarly, with other major economies in the future.
There are consequences to the way in which this Government and previous Governments have failed to respect Parliament’s role in scrutinising everything Ministers did on our behalf at the European Union. I say it like that deliberately because the job of the European Scrutiny Committee has never been to scrutinise what Europe is doing. It has always been to scrutinise what Ministers are doing in Europe on behalf of the House. From the couple of years in which I was a member of that Committee, it was perfectly clear that Governments in the past have done everything they could to avoid that scrutiny. I am sorry to say that the House often appears to have been supine in its failure to hold Governments to account for that. That, more than anything, has allowed the wildest of all myths to gain currency: the myth that European civil servants are allowed to make laws without any input from this Parliament. It is simply not true.
When this Parliament has been denied the opportunity to comment on European laws, it has not been the European Union that has denied us that opportunity; it has been British Governments, past and present. Had they not done that—had they held themselves properly to account for their actions in Europe and come back to this House saying, “We don’t agree with what the Europeans want to do. What do you, as Parliament, think?”—the public would not have been made to believe that Europe was acting over the top of this Parliament. They would not have been led down the path that we are heading down. We could have avoided that comical—if it was not so tragic—irony.
Serbia and Albania were each in danger of being seen as international pariahs at different times and for different reasons. These two countries are now taking the sometimes difficult, but momentous, steps towards fully rejoining the worldwide family of democratic nations. At some point along that journey, they will meet the United Kingdom heading in the opposite direction. That is a tragedy that should have been avoided had this Parliament and previous Governments done their job properly.
I have spoken during a previous stage of this legislation and am happy to do so again. Before I begin on the Bill, I have to take issue with the shadow Minister’s use of the phrase “Trump regime”. This really is the sort of childish politics that we have come to expect from the Opposition. Never mind various shadow Ministers popping along on certain strong leaders’ particular TV channels without seemingly any notice at all—no criticism of that. But describing the democratically elected Government of our biggest ally and friend as a regime is silly, childish politics. The shadow Minister could do better, but he showed why the Labour party is unfit to hold any sort of ministerial office at any time soon.
I take issue with a couple of things that the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) said. It is not true that Parliament has not discussed, debated and questioned Ministers on CETA. I declare an interest as a previous vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on TTIP, now the all-party parliamentary group on transatlantic trade. We have had Backbench Business debates in which TTIP has been debated and the CETA deal has been smeared by certain Members as a Trojan horse for American interests, which is a deep insult to our Canadian friends and allies. Ministers have responded to those debates, and of course the issues have been raised time and again in questions. I partly understand his point, but it is not the case that we have not examined and discussed the CETA provisions in depth in this place, both in the Chamber and elsewhere. It is a consequence of its nature that the trade treaty with Canada passes in this form. There is nothing unusual about it. It is part of our constitutional system.
I also take issue with one other thing the hon. Gentleman said, which in my mind was the biggest nonsense I have heard for some time: that the reason the British people voted to leave the EU was that the British Parliament, even in cases of the direct applicability of EU law and an activist European Court of Justice, has not got in the way of things forced on Britain, even sometimes against the wishes of the British Government. It was a bizarre argument. I suppose it is just another example of people failing to accept the democratic will of the people. Seven out of 10 of my constituents voted to leave the EU. They have pretty much been smeared since the referendum campaign for daring to vote a different way from certain establishment types in this place.
I will not rise to some of the nonsense the hon. Gentleman is speaking. Will he confirm whether he is familiar with the resolution of the House requiring Ministers to get either clearance or an agreement to waive scrutiny from the European Scrutiny Committee, and will he confirm that when the International Trade Secretary—I think it was him, but I cannot be sure—signed CETA, he did so knowing he did not have the Committee’s approval? The resolution does not say it has to be discussed at a Backbench Business debate or by an APPG; it quite clearly says it has to be cleared by the Committee, but it was not at that time—
Order. We are a little more lax because this is Committee stage, but I kind of forgot the hon. Gentleman was intervening rather than making a speech. I should not have let him go on for quite so long, but I am sure he has made his point now.
I wish to forget that the hon. Gentleman was speaking, given, again, the nonsense he was trotting out that in some way this is Parliament’s failure. He clearly does not understand how European decision making has evolved through the various European treaties over the years and how the role of this House in that legislative process has been diminished. He is a member of a party that wants to retain decision making in Brussels, rather than repatriate it to the UK, so it is a little difficult to swallow being lectured about parliamentary democracy by a representative of a party that wishes decision making to remain in Brussels.
I am delighted, as I was at previous stages, to support the Bill. It is important, as we exit the EU, that we continue to be good partners in Europe, and if it is the will of Serbia and Albania to join the EU in the future, it is not for us to get in their way. Regardless of whether we are in favour of leaving or remaining in the EU, we will all wish them well as they embrace the values that we in this country and our allies in Europe hold so dear. It is important for their own stability that they be allowed to progress unimpeded down the path they have chosen. Also, by actively supporting the Bill, we show what we wish to be after we have left the EU: good partners with Europe. As a proud Brexiteer, therefore, I am more than happy to support a Bill that might well pave the way for the expansion of the EU.
On the provisions as they relate to Canada, the Minister was unable, quite reasonably, to say whether we would wish to participate in these arrangements in the future. That will of course be a matter for our final arrangements with the EU. The hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) set out a position, and the Opposition have set out any number of different positions on Brexit, all of which they appear to be capable of maintaining at the same time. That is an interesting approach to such an important issue.
How many positions do we think the main Opposition party have taken? I have lost count. Is it five, 10, 15? Where have we got to?
I only got a C in GCSE maths, so I am afraid I cannot do such advanced sums involving so many numbers at any one time, but it is certainly a lot, and it is certainly the case that the position taken depends on which shadow Ministers—be they impressive or unimpressive—pop up on the television screen.
Let me now deal with the broader relationship with Canada. This whole process—not only through the agreement that we are discussing, but through CETA—has been an important indicator of how we may wish to do business with Canada in the future.
My hon. Friend is making a typically powerful speech. This agreement is a good start, but, as an advocate for opportunities for future trading arrangements with Canada, does he agree that there is potential to be even more ambitious?
I absolutely agree. I am delighted to have been asked once again to be the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Canada, as I was previously until I had the unfortunate experience of being a Minister for a year. I was passionate about the deal that was negotiated. As hon. Members will remember from our work on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, I have been a strong advocate in the House for improved trade relations between this country and north America. I should add, despite being a strong advocate for CETA, that CETA is a classic example of the European Union way of negotiating a trade deal that does not necessarily reflect the peculiarities and the particular circumstances of our economy.
I think—and the Canadians have been very positive about this—that although it would be sensible for us to continue to apply CETA during the immediate period after we have left the European Union and to use it as a starting position, we can be far more ambitious. After all, 40% of our merchandise comes into the EU from Canada. We are the biggest recipient of Canadian foreign direct investment in the EU, and we are the biggest foreign direct investor in Canada among EU countries. It is certainly the case that we can be more ambitious, and aim for more than what has been achieved so far through CETA, although it is a good start and a good base. I welcomed the Prime Minister’s recent visit to Ottawa, where she established a bilateral trade working group with Prime Minister Trudeau and his Government. That was a good step forward, especially in the eking out by officials of where a deal could lie in the future.
I want to make a case to the Minister that I have made at earlier stages. I hope he will take it on board, because it is the crux of my speech, as it was at those earlier stages. While it is important that we maintain our relationships with the federal Government, I think that the one thing we have learnt from the CETA process, on both sides of the Atlantic, is how important—particularly in a Canadian context—engagement at a sub-federal, sub-national level really is. I urge the Minister to ensure that we learn the lessons of how we engage with provincial Governments, who are so important to the success of any future trade deal with Canada. We need to ensure that, as well as continuing our bilateral relationship through the working group that we have established through the federal Government in Canada, we are actively working with those provincial Governments, a number of whom have representatives and trade offices in the United Kingdom, and we need to ensure that we learn the lessons of any failure to do that through CETA.
I have little else to say, other than, again, to wish the Bill every success.
This is a Bill that I think we can all support. It is small and we have consensus but, as other Members have said, it is still a significant measure. I refer, in particular, to the decision to grant Serbia and Albania observer status at the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.
One of the EU’s great successes, which I think the House should celebrate, notwithstanding the decision to leave, is its support to progressive movements in many former Soviet bloc countries in eastern Europe. Many of those countries are now full members of the EU, but many others, although now parliamentary democracies, are still seeking to move forward in a range of areas, as the Minister reminded us, such as in combating sexism, racism, homophobia and conservative nationalism in the worst sense of the term. It is important that we reflect on that in this debate.
Only 20 years ago, as the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) mentioned, this country supported Kosovans. We saw ethnic cleansing in that part of Europe, just a few hours away from Heathrow. We thought that ethnic cleansing had been banished, and that it was impossible for that to occur again in Europe after the horrors of the second world war. The instability of the situation threatened the wider region. It has taken Serbia and Albania 20 years to reach the position in which they can be granted EU observer status.
There are still significant challenges. I recently met representatives from Albania at a conference in Rome on slavery and human trafficking, and we were reflecting on the challenges that the country still faces—I am not as familiar with Serbia, but I know that other Members are. All that I wanted to do was stand up in this House and say that the British Parliament thinks about and understands the people who are seeking to bring about progressive change in their counties, sometimes in very difficult circumstances.
There is a question for us, if and when we leave the EU—without getting into the divisiveness of whether or not we should—of how we can continue to support progressive movements that are seeking to tackle some of the problems in Serbia and Albania, and indeed in counties such as Montenegro. The Government will need to consider how to approach that. That sort of consideration can easily be lost in our debates on the EU, but it is of fundamental importance.
Serbia and Albania have made massive advances, but there is still a long way to go. The granting of observer status is another significant step forward. The people in those countries who are seeking to advance the causes of sexual equality, anti-racism and a nationalism that does not remind us of the horrors we have seen before need our support, and they need to know that we are interested, that we care, and that we will support them in their endeavours. The Bill is small, but it is crucial to us all.
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and I will hopefully pick up on a couple of his points. I will speak briefly in support of the Bill, and specifically Serbia and Albania’s admission to observer status in the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. That is important for us, but it is extremely important for those two countries, particularly Serbia.
Whether we like it or not—we clearly do not, because we thought that it had ended about 20 years ago—we are in something of a cold war with the Russian Federation, or at least with its leadership. The aggressive cooling of relations was advertised in President Putin’s Munich speech back in 2007, and it could be said that there was a gestation period of some 10 to 15 years before that during which the forces of proto-communism and socialism, hard-line nationalism, and even an aggressive, virulent fascism coalesced around an illiberal hostility to the western world. Whether we like it or not, there is a battle for Serbia’s future and, broadly speaking, there are two models for where the country is going. One is pro-EU and involves democracy, individual rights and hostility to minority oppression. It is not a perfect system—it could be said that a little more adversarial politics would be no bad thing—but those things are critical to a civilised society.
As the hon. Member for Gedling was saying, the other model that the Serbians face is the one that the Russians want: hard-line nationalism; hostility to individual rights; perhaps a celebration of a sort of pan-Slavism; and aggressive propaganda against NATO, the EU and “gay Europa”, as the Russian official media would have it. The hon. Gentleman mentioned conservative nationalism, but it goes beyond that—it is a virulent form of illiberalism in almost all forms. It is almost proto-fascist, although it gains support from both sides, with avowed fascists and avowed communists having a similar social agenda involving antagonism towards homosexuality and what they perceive as deviance, and a slavish hierarchical acceptance of an order that we would consider stifling and deeply unpleasant.
Examples of the active destabilisation that has sadly been engaged in in the Balkans include the recent attempted coup in Montenegro, which was allegedly carried out by the GRU—Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate—and the handing out of Russian passports to Serbians in the Balkans. The aim of that is to give the Russians the ability to interfere in politics in that part of the world and, in the worst-case scenario, to create the destabilising, small-scale conflicts that have marked Russia’s behaviour in the former Soviet states. There is also economic and political pressure in mainstream Serbia to try to get the country, and powerful individuals within it, to turn away from a broadly pro-western, pro-EU model.
What can we do about that? From my experiences in former Soviet states, the easiest things are probably free trade and free movement—all those things with the word “free” in—as well as support in every conceivable way for civil society, which the EU’s fundamental rights will help to grow. That is the fundamental basis on which democracy will be strengthened on the basis of our alternative—a broadly pro-western, liberal alternative —with a rejection of more aggressive, destabilising nationalism. For those reasons, the Bill is somewhat important to us, but it is extremely important to the Serbians.
We are still a member of the EU, so it is right that we proceed with the Bill as quickly as possible. We are not talking about leaving the EU on bad terms, so it is right that we spend time considering such cases as good members of the EU. Two of the four procedures that we are considering under the Bill involve giving Serbia and Albania observer status in the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. The agency replaced the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. It collects data about fundamental rights and seeks to engage the public and civil society on tackling such issues. That sounds to me very much like the work of the Council of Europe. I have returned this morning from Strasbourg, where the plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is still going on. That body needs a lot of reorganisation and work to bring it up to scratch. However, there was mention earlier of what we might do post-Brexit to engage with such agencies, and it occurs to me that there would be an opportunity, if we were so minded, for us to consider how we might bolster an organisation such as the Council of Europe and wrap things up, rather than duplicating effort.
I think that the last time I was in Strasbourg was during the April session, and I opened up my locker yesterday to find my speaking notes from that trip. The Council of Europe building, which sits next to the Strasbourg European Parliament building, is essentially mothballed. There is a lot of waste and a lot of duplication, and we could work with our European colleagues and partners to ensure that we streamline things and focus on the frontline of protecting people’s fundamental rights. This debate will affect many millions of people.
Albania and Britain have some quite odd but big links. C. B. Fry was offered the monarchy of Albania, which he turned down, giving rise to the reign of the wonderfully named King Zog I. Norman Wisdom is also fêted in Albania; I think he has a statue in Tirana. The reason why I know these two bits of pub quiz trivia and little else about Albania was mentioned by the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant): Albania has been a very closed country for a long time. It is important that we work however we can to open up that country and keep it progressing, joining the international community in the fullest possible way and protecting people’s rights.
I welcome the accession of Serbia and Albania to the agency, but I also want to say a word about the Canadian aspect of the Bill, as we consider competition law ahead of the ratification of the CETA deal. I have been lucky enough to travel around the world over the past few years to places such as Bangladesh, Burma, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Taiwan, and they have all been looking at how they can work with the UK through free trade deals. I am excited about the prospect of having free trade with as many countries as we can. I do not care if the EU is involved in this free trade—we need to widen it out so that we can break down barriers wherever they exist. Working on CETA and against anti-competition procedures can only be a good thing for our European partners. Although we might not be around in the EU to benefit from the CETA deal, it is only good for European and global trade that we should push this Bill through.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.
Bill reported, without amendment.
I beg to move, That the Bill now be read the Third time.
The brief explanation that accompanied the clause stand part debate in Committee covered all the points that need to be made about this short Bill. I thank all hon. Members who have contributed so fully, and I am grateful for their support for the measures. I wish the Bill an equally swift passage through the other place and on to Royal Assent.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. With your permission, I would like to pay tribute to a loyal servant of this House, Trevor Ford, who has been a Doorkeeper for more than 20 years and is retiring today. He is from my region; he was actually born in Gateshead, but is a proud red and white Sunderland supporter all the same. He served with great distinction in the Royal Air Force from 1969 to 1992 and completed tours in both Northern Ireland, during the 1970s, and West Germany. In 1996, he became a Doorkeeper here in the House of Commons. Many of us will know that Trevor has worked at almost every post in and around the Chamber; he has worked in the Members’ Lobby, at the back of the Speaker’s Chair, in the Strangers Gallery and, more recently, in the Special Gallery. He has been the Bar Doorkeeper and has led the Speaker’s Procession on many occasions. He is a thoroughly well liked, thoroughly decent individual, and he has served this House with great distinction for 21 years. On behalf of the whole House, I would like to thank him for his loyal service and wish him well on his retirement.
On a technical matter, I thank the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) for raising that point of order. It was, of course, not a point of order for the Chair, but I am delighted that he took the opportunity to draw to the attention of the House the fact that this is Trevor Ford’s last day in his current office. On behalf of everyone in the whole House, I would like to add our very grateful thanks to Trevor Ford, who has carried out his duties with great dignity over many, many years. All of us who are elected to this House know very well, every minute of every day, that we could not do our duties if we did not have the support and absolute loyalty of the other servants of the House, who carry out their duties so well. We appreciate that what Trevor Ford has done over many years often goes without notice, but we notice all the hard work and all the dedication. I am absolutely delighted that the House has this momentary opportunity to pay tribute to Trevor’s many, many years of service. I should just say for the record that while I have been saying this he has managed to stand to attention the whole time—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.] It is unusual that we can manage to pay a tribute such as this, but let me give our very sincere thanks from the whole House. We wish Trevor all the very best for the future.