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7.48 pm

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow): I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this important debate.

To use an expression little used nowadays, I come from an ordinary working-class background, where it is not the norm to go into public life, let alone become a Member of Parliament. It is therefore with deep humility, but also with pride--for myself, for my family and for the community of Harlow that nurtured me--that I make my maiden speech.

It is customary to pay tribute to one's predecessors, which I am more than happy to do. Hon. Members new and old will have their memories of my predecessor, Jerry Hayes. I say with some admiration, and certainly with respect, that he was a politician who never shrank from an opportunity to use the media to expose his views to public scrutiny. In the context of this debate on Europe, he came from what I would call the sensible wing of the Conservative party. He rightly understood that Britain had no future outside the European Union, certainly not a prosperous one. I also learnt during the general election campaign that he was a dedicated constituency representative who earned enormous respect for his local work.

I also pay tribute to Stan Newens, who represented Harlow for 15 years. Many hon. Members know that Stan represents London, Central in the European Parliament, but he still lives in Harlow and is remembered with respect and fondness by constituents. Even if one disagrees with Stan, it is impossible not to respect the sincerity and passion of his convictions and the way in which he puts them forward.

Harlow's modern history started with the decision of the Labour Government in 1946 to create a new town there. The decision was popular and welcomed by the majority of local people. It gave rise over the following decades to opportunities for thousands of people where previously there had been none. Families moved, as mine did in the 1960s, from rundown and overcrowded accommodation in London to the green spaces, the lower-density, higher-quality housing, and the excellent comprehensive schools and community facilities offered by Harlow. It was planned and designed as a group of neighbourhood communities separated by pleasant green wedges. The stress on the concept of community and neighbourhood has continued to the present day. Harlow council is a pioneer of successful and pragmatic devolution of power and responsibility to neighbourhood forums and committees.

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Harlow has also given rise to magnificent sporting opportunities and facilities. To this day, it boasts the largest youth recreational football league in Europe. Among the products of that excellent system is the current England football coach, Glenn Hoddle, who was a classroom contemporary of mine. I and other Harlow residents will always be happy to be associated with Glenn's achievements, but that is even more true after recent results. I am sure that next summer he and the England team will prove the accuracy of Labour's iron rule of football, that it is only under Labour Governments that England win the World cup. That is the last neo-nationalist comment that I will make in this debate.

Harlow has led the way in innovative social and community facilities: the first all-purpose health centre in 1955; one of the first holiday play schemes in the early 1960s; and one of the earliest after-school care schemes in 1979. I am pleased that the importance of those initiatives is recognised in the new Government's programme. Harlow has lost much of its traditional manufacturing industry. However, that industry is being replaced and Harlow is becoming a centre for scientific research and development. Major international companies such as SmithKline Beecham, Northern Telecom, and Merck, Sharp and Dohme and are centralising their research activities there. Local people welcome that.

I am proud to represent my constituency and I recognise the start in life that Harlow gave me. It is home to a proud working-class community. People support each other and believe in shared community life and facilities. They also aspire to get on in life and to do better for their children. I fully admit that those were the people who my party lost contact with in the 1980s: defence industry workers, council house purchasers and small business people. Labour has come home to them, and they have certainly come home to Labour. I assure hon. Members that we do not intend to lose contact again.

I understand that it is traditional to make a maiden speech on a non-controversial subject. I have therefore chosen Europe. I say that not because I have taken leave of my senses but because I believe that, over time, Europe will and must become a less controversial subject. It is too important to play party politics with. The future of Britain has never been so much at stake as it is now. I say that with particular reference to the Euro-sceptics both inside and outside the Conservative party. They try to reduce every debate to a dogmatic, obsessive tirade against Europe and all things European. They are the King Canutes of British politics. For them, the general election was a watershed. They attempted to play upon ignorance--to use the fact that people do not fully understand how the institutions of Europe work--to create prejudice and fear, and so set Britain apart from Europe. They failed in that enterprise on a massive, unprecedented scale.

I strongly believe in a deepening and growing European Union; a Europe that I am certain will, in time, develop a single currency. Of course, there must be debates and negotiations about start dates, timetables and the convergence criteria, but the idea that Britain could remain outside a single currency for a long time without enormous damage to our economy is fool's gold.

I was interested by the comment of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) that there may be circumstances in the future where it is in Britain's interests to join a single currency. I believe that he was

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sincere, but I do not believe that he, or any of his potential successors, could deliver the Conservative party to support such a proposition. In a party with pretensions to the national interest, that is to be regretted.

I also believe in a Europe in which, at long last, Britain has signed up to the social chapter so that, at a very basic level, our people can enjoy the same minimum standards of employment as exist elsewhere in Europe. I believe in a Europe where qualified majority voting has been extended to prevent other countries from unacceptably vetoing things that are important to us and our communities. I believe that all those measures are in Britain's interest; certainly they are in the interests of my constituents. Let me give an example of how that is already happening.

Harlow's innovative approach to training and job creation in the past year alone has brought in almost £1 million of European funds. My constituents gain real benefit from the opportunities that constructive partnership in the European Union brings. In essence, that is what the debate is about. To believe in one's country and people does not mean blindly beating the path to isolation. We have to have confidence in our country, its people, its institutions and what they stand for, and to recognise that sometimes we can achieve more for our people in combination with other nations than we can alone. That was reinforced by the general election result. Europe is our future. Our task as politicians is to make Europe succeed for all our people, to open up its institutions and to make them accessible. It is a task that I, as a new Member, will relish.

7.57 pm

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): I know that I am profoundly privileged to make my maiden speech in this House. Many of us here, and many, many not so fortunate, have dreamt of the moment, perhaps for decades. I have faced an additional problem, as some of my colleagues have enjoyed pointing out. "You are going to have say something nice about George," they chortle. It must be admitted that Sir George Gardiner did not end his Conservative party career in a blaze of glory. I had the difficulty of representing the Conservative cause in Reigate against someone who had represented it for 25 year as a senior, and distinctive, Member of this House. I believe that, on cool reflection, he will regret the manner of his passing from his party, as many of his friends in the Conservative party in Reigate regretted deeply the impossible strain that he placed on loyalties divided between man and party.

Sir George was a resolute battler for the causes he believed in, and although many of us questioned his judgment at the end, no one could question the resolve with which he steered his chosen course. That quality served my constituents well for more than two decades. None did him more credit than his championing of the Tadworth Court children's hospital, now the Children's Trust, Tadworth. In 1982 it faced closure due to reorganisation at Great Ormond Street. Sir George and my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) led the campaign that saved it by both raising money and changing the policy of the Department of Health. I hope that it is a cause which Sir George feels he can continue to support in my constituency.

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Further to that, in the primary duty of those of us sent here, no one complained and, indeed, Sir George had a fine reputation for the way in which he looked after the concerns of his individual constituents. That is a record which I can only hope to match in the time that I have the privilege to represent Reigate in the House.

Reigate is a constituency with a long parliamentary history which began as long ago as 1295 when it sent two Members to Edward I's Model Parliament at Westminster. It is said that parliamentary representation in the 14th century was regarded by boroughs such as Reigate not as a privilege but as an irksome duty, and one to be evaded whenever possible. A borough that returned Members had to find the money to pay their wages and was thus subject to a higher rate of taxation than the county. There is a lesson in that for today. If I may depart briefly from the subject of the European Union, I hope that the people of Scotland appreciate that the taxation accompanied by any Parliament can indeed become irksome. I cannot believe that the people of Scotland expect the people of England to pay for their Parliament. That would be guaranteed to be a greater cause of irritation than it was for my constituents six centuries ago.

Previous representatives of the Reigate constituency have included Charles Howard, the Lord High Admiral of the Fleet that defeated the Armada. That is not meant to be clue as to my intentions tomorrow. They also included the modestly named Julius Caesar.

Today, the constituency consists of most of the borough of Reigate and Banstead. It runs from Banstead in the north to the village of Salfords in the south. I would like to ask the boundary commissioners to have some pity on Banstead, which they have moved on every single occasion that they have had the opportunity, from one parliamentary constituency to the next. I hope that they will allow it to rest for a few decades to come in the borough in which it exists.

Chipstead is one of the most desirable parts of my constituency. My parents were lucky enough to find an Army hiring there in the 1950s. Today, Michael Reeve is one of my constituents who is fortunate enough to live in that lovely village. Unfortunately, he cannot enjoy Chipstead today or for an indefinite period because he is currently being detained in Antwerp prison by the Belgian authorities in disturbing circumstances.

Mr. Reeve has been involved in a massive reinsurance fraud. He protests his innocence. He claims that his company was the unwitting agent for two companies that were properly audited and incorporated under Belgian law, but which now seem to have been the product of organised crime.

Mr. Reeve commissioned his own private investigation and has made the report available to the Belgian authorities. His home and office have been searched by those authorities. He has twice surrendered himself voluntarily for questioning by the Belgian authorities. In the first instance, his reward was to spend Christmas and the new year in prison. When he returned in April, having been assured by his own lawyer that there were no grounds for his re-arrest, he was re-arrested and has been incarcerated since 28 April.

That spectacular fraud may take up to three years to come to trial, so why is Mr. Reeve in prison? He will not reoffend. The case is known to the whole insurance industry; no one will do business with him and his

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company is going into liquidation. He cannot interfere with the evidence as his home and office have already been searched. Those are the grounds on which he is formally being held, but, in an unwise moment of candour, the judge of instruction, Mrs. Van Hoeylandt, told Mr. Reeve's lawyer that he was in prison because

    "he was still not telling the truth."

That is clearly an outrageous use of detention to coerce a subject of investigation.

Mr. Reeve's appeal process, which has failed in Belgium, has uncovered another dubious attribute of the Belgian criminal justice system. There is a data link between the prosecuting authorities and the Appeal Court. The court's judgment was identical to the electronic text of the Attorney General's submission. That is clearly a breach of equal rights for the prosecution and the defence.

Mr. Reeve's detention is, of course, having the precise opposite effect to that desired by the investigators. Here is a man who was co-operating with the authorities, but who is now silent in prison because he refuses to be coerced. His only legal recourse is to the European Court of Human Rights.

That case and the condition of the justice systems across the European Union are of concern to all of us in the House. In the negotiations that have led up to the Amsterdam intergovernmental conference, proposals were put forward for inclusion in the treaty that would have allowed Belgian police officers to cross international frontiers to arrest the citizens of other nations in the European Union. Although those proposals were killed off in negotiations by the previous Government, and I trust that the Minister can confirm that they remain dead, the Government should be under no illusion as to the agenda that some of our European partners are working towards.

The village of Chipstead, to which I hope Mr. Reeve will shortly be able to return, is far from the only attractive and desirable part of my constituency. Reigate is part of London's green belt and the issues related to protecting the environment and sustaining my constituents' quality of life will dominate whatever period I have the privilege of representing the constituency.

Protecting the quality of life of all of our citizens should remain the responsibility of this Parliament. However, as our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary prepare to go to Amsterdam, that responsibility is another of the policy areas that they have said that they intend to give away. They wish to make environmental policy across the European Union subject to qualified majority voting.

I hope that Ministers understand the potential consequences of extending qualified majority voting to article 130s of the Maastricht treaty. That will mean harmonisation of the planning process across the European Union. With an environment as rich as that of Reigate, that is not a power I believe that the United Kingdom should be surrendering. It could also mean the final surrendering of control of our energy policy. In the past 18 years, we have made the supply of energy much cheaper due to the increasing operation of the free market.

To quote from article 130s, I fear that we are about to agree to qualified majority voting on

I hope that the Minister can assure me that that is not the case.

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Equally, the case for extending QMV to aspects of industrial, regional and social policy has not been made. It is the product of scratching around to find some seemingly innocuous concession to justify the warm embrace that Ministers have received from their colleagues in Europe. The potential consequences of those concessions are not innocuous. In industrial policy, we could find ourselves subject to the failed interventionist industrial policies of the 1960s and 1970s. There surely can be no case for exposing the United Kingdom to their possible return.

I served as a special adviser in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office during most of the run-up to the intergovernmental conference. I now find myself on the Opposition Benches and I cannot help feeling rather like this century's distinguished naval occupant of Reigate Priory, who followed in the footsteps of the victor over the Armada. Admiral, the Earl Beatty, retired to Reigate priory in 1927. Two days after leaving the Admiralty, he wrote to a friend:

I sincerely hope that our new Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, in their desire to enjoy the warm embrace of our partners in Europe, are not manoeuvred into accepting something that they should not at Amsterdam.

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