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8.47 pm

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): Like most hon. Members, I have sat here for almost five and a quarter hours. I was formerly a Member of the European Parliament. I had the privilege of being there between 1979 and 1984. An interesting aspect of the European Parliament was that we knew when we were speaking, whether we were speaking and for how long. That important facility enabled us all to plan our lives much better than we can under the present arrangements in the House of Commons. If anybody spoke longer than their allotted time, the time was taken off the other member of their political group, so it was a good restraint on us to keep our comments within a certain time. I should like to see many other facilities in the European Parliament translated to this place. I am grateful to have had an opportunity to go to the European Parliament before coming to this House.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), said that he had changed his mind. Like me, he campaigned in 1975 against membership of the European Union and then changed his mind. I, too, changed my mind. I went in on an anti-EC ticket, but changed my mind two and a half years later. I am not ashamed of saying that. It is important to have the right to change one's mind when circumstances show the error of one's ways. I wish that more politicians would change their minds more often. We would have better politics if, every so often, people stood up and said, "I'm sorry, but I have changed my mind."

I congratulate the hon. Member for North Tayside (Mr. Swinney) on his maiden speech. He advanced some interesting ideas, some of which I agreed with and some of which I did not. One of the stoutest campaigners in the European Parliament on behalf of Scottish fishermen was a member of his party, Winifred Ewing, who made a valuable contribution to the debates.

I changed my mind because I recognised the importance of working with people from other nationalities for common interests. When we first went to the European Parliament as a small Labour group of 17 MEPs in 1979, we were extremely unpopular. We were unpopular with our socialist friends because they were disappointed that so few of us had been elected to the European Parliament. We became unpopular also because the majority of our group were opposed to membership of the European Union.

It is interesting, however, that when people of different nationalities work together from day to day, they rub corners off one another. They have to co-exist. I would advise my right hon. Friends not to go to the European Union and lecture the other member countries. They deeply resent that, particularly if one suggests that one has a better solution for the people of the EU than have other countries. Most of the other countries are after the same solutions as we are.

After all, the European Union was set up initially because countries had fought one another in two world wars. It was an attempt to co-operate for the peace and security of Europe. That is one of the main reasons why I support enlargement of the EU and more powers for the European Parliament. MEPs are elected Members, as we are, and we cannot tell elected Members that they may not have powers to do the things for which they were elected. The European Parliament cannot be expected to run a race and achieve its goals if it is hobbled.

When I was a Member of that Parliament, I thought that it might take 20 years for the European Parliament to acquire the powers that we have. I now realise that that timetable was unrealistic and that it could take 50 years to achieve the powers that that Parliament should have.

I am glad that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have gone to Europe with a different attitude from that of the previous Government. It is interesting to see how strongly they have been welcomed by other leaders of the EU, who realise that we want to co-operate with them, that we do not want constant conflict, that we do not look down on them and that we see them as equal partners with us in the EU.

The Amsterdam conference has a limited agenda. I do not know what people are huffing and puffing about when they suggest that it will change the course of history.

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I hope that the leadership of my party will provide the vision that was missing in the previous representation from this country. The approach was grudging, confrontational and not conducive to good working relationships with other countries. I am certain that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the rest of the team will have an entirely different attitude.

Some changes are necessary. There must be a reform of the common agricultural policy and a crackdown on fraud. Something must be done about the massive number of unemployed in Europe. I remember being at the European Parliament in 1982 with Barbara Castle, when we wore black sashes because the then Employment Secretary, now Lord Tebbit, came to the European Parliament and made a speech which we thought was totally insensitive to the needs of the unemployed in Europe. As I recall, we wore sashes with the words "8 million unemployed". Since then, of course, matters have become far worse. Only by co-operation with the other countries of Europe will we be able to tackle the problem.

I find all the talk of sovereignty nonsensical. Bernard Crick said some time ago that sovereignty was an idea dreamt up by those who wanted to retain power for themselves, to frighten the smaller nations into believing that London knew best, and that anyone who put a foot out of step was in danger of doing damage. I think that sovereignty is an outdated, 18th century Whig concept and that it is time that we moved into the real world.

Member countries should take steps to ensure that the European Parliament has one seat. It is ridiculous that the Parliament hops from place to place, and that many of the institutions are based in yet another country--Luxembourg, Strasbourg and Brussels. It is costly, there is no need for it, and it is up to the member Governments to reach a decision on a single place of work for the EC.

What is the need for the Economic and Social Committee? I know that I may be offending many people who may have placed Members on the committee, and some of my friends may sit on that committee, but what necessity is there for the Economic and Social Committee, which costs member countries £18 million a year and merely mirrors the work of the European Parliament? I could understand the need for it when there was no directly elected Parliament, but it seems a pointless beast now, when there is an elected Parliament. I ask our Government and the Governments of other member countries to consider whether that institution is any longer necessary.

It was a great privilege for me to serve in the European Parliament. I believe strongly in the European Union. I want to see it develop, but it is making slow progress. When the time is right, I want us to join the European monetary union. That must be the next step in the development of the EU. Again, I say that countries that fought one another in two major wars have now worked together for a long period in peace and stability. I believe that the European Union contributes to that.

8.58 pm

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech on my third attempt--I have probably clocked up about 17 hours in the Chamber waiting to be called. I appreciated the comments of the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) and I hope that someone, somewhere was listening.

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I pay tribute to my predecessor, the last Member of Parliament for the constituency of Richmond and Barnes, who I understand was a well-loved Member of the House. He was a friendly, honest man who had a great sense of humour. I believe that he was also an excellent mimic. He gave distinguished service as a Minister in various portfolios--Northern Ireland, Defence and the Foreign Office--and as chairman of the Conservative party. I was somewhat puzzled that he did not mention his last post in his address during the election campaign. He served his constituents very well and I hope to equal his performance. In short, I was sad to defeat him in the election--although I am very glad that I did. To use his words, I am sure that he views it as an exhibition of high spirits on the part of the electorate.

The constituency of Richmond Park is a new one, comprising most of the old Richmond and Barnes constituency plus five wards of Kingston. It is part of Greater London--I will not tell hon. Members how beautiful it is, because we are all bored with beautiful constituencies--where the countryside comes to town. Kingston and Richmond have much in common. As well as the River Thames, both areas have very royal connections. Saxon kings were crowned in the centre of Kingston, the Tudor monarchs lived in Richmond, and Elizabeth I died in Richmond palace, close to Richmond green. The remnants of that palace can still be seen today. The Hanoverian kings lived, played and reared children around Kew green, where I live. Perhaps eclipsing all the great monarchs of the past, my constituency is also the home of Sir James Goldsmith--the founder of the Referendum party, who did so much to help the Conservatives in the run-up to the last election.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have worked as a doctor in the health service for 30 years, so you would expect me to mention the NHS in my maiden speech. My concerns for my constituents centre on the fate of Queen Mary's hospital in Roehampton. The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) made an excellent speech on the subject on Friday morning, so I shall not go into detail now. However, I stress that Queen Mary's in the Richmond Park constituency is losing most of its services and that Kingston hospital is showing signs that it simply cannot cope with the extra patients. I urge the Minister of State, Department of Health to undertake a review of London hospitals as a matter of urgency. We were promised the terms of that review last week, but they have not materialised. If decisions are not made urgently, lives will be lost next winter.

The most pressing problem facing Richmond Park concerns the environment. Richmond upon Thames has a very good record in that area, having achieved the last Government's target for recycling two years ago--five years ahead of schedule. We already collect 25 per cent. of household waste. However, the problems of noise and air pollution transcend borough and national boundaries. The closure of Hammersmith bridge has added significantly to our problems, and the lack of a strategic London authority is slowing down decisions about repairing the bridge.

Another major concern in Richmond Park--which poses probably the greatest threat to our environment--is the proposed fifth terminal at Heathrow airport. The airport is a great polluter in Richmond Park, causing both noise and traffic pollution. The previous Government's aviation policy was an appalling combination of

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protection for privatised monopolies at the expense of the environment. The imagery of the second world war was conjured up time and again when we were told that Frankfurt would become the air travellers' hub of Europe if terminal 5 did not go ahead. When terminal 4 was approved, the inspector told the public inquiry:

    "Terminal 4 should be the last major expansion at Heathrow".

That was the first condition for the approval of terminal 4.

The then Under-Secretary of State for Trade, Norman Tebbit, assured everyone that the Government would not permit the construction of a fifth terminal and that the cap on flights would be enforced. That has not happened and the number of flights has increased by 50 per cent. The people of Richmond Park have no faith in capping and I urge the Government to make clear their intention to honour the undertaking that terminal 4 would be the last major expansion at the airport, which the previous Member for Brentford and Isleworth described as "the neighbour from hell".

When the Deputy Prime Minister was shadow Secretary of State for Transport, he said, in The Observer of 7 February 1993, that the then Government's aviation policy was "absurd". On their policy of expansion at Heathrow, he said:

As the Deputy Prime Minister said then, now is the time to think afresh. If he needs reminding, I ask Labour Members to ask him whether he would like to have dinner at my house in Richmond Park. A lounge suit will do--we do not always dress for dinner in Richmond. He could stay the night and enjoy the noise and air pollution that we have to suffer day in, day out, week in, week out. I moved there 25 years ago, which is a long time to learn about aircraft movement.

I urge the Government to work with our European partners at Amsterdam. In aviation, competition, verging on conflict, is accepted. Must we inflict more and more suffering on the people of my constituency just to stop France and Germany winning the air transport war? Environmental damage is of international concern and I urge the Government to put it high on the agenda at Amsterdam.

In conclusion, I place on record my constituents' determination to fight the threat of terminal 5 at Heathrow, which is a big environmental disaster for our area. If the House thinks that Swampy said it all, you ain't seen nothing yet.

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