Previous SectionIndexHome Page

"Your Britain, Your Europe"

6. Mr. Desmond Browne (Kilmarnock and Loudoun): What further plans he has for his Department's "Your Britain, Your Europe" campaign. [108535]

10. Mr. Andrew Reed (Loughborough): What future plans he has for his Department's "Your Britain, Your Europe" campaign. [108540]

15 Feb 2000 : Column 759

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Keith Vaz): We have encouraged the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Executive to organise regional roadshows later in the year to promote the benefits of our membership of the EU, to follow the successful roadshow of last November. I am also writing to the leaders of the city councils of Leeds, Liverpool, Reading, Southampton and Norwich to explore the possibility of their organising a Europe Day in those cities during the summer.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office will shortly publish a "UK in Europe" public information brochure that will cover the history of our involvement in the European Union, and hold a Europe Day on 9 May.

Mr. Browne: I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Is he aware that Ayrshire, which contains my constituency, accounts for 15 per cent. of Scotland's total exports; that 62 per cent. of that 15 per cent. are exported to the European Union; and that if the anti-Europe campaign launched by the Leader of the Opposition this morning works, about 40,000 jobs that depend on those exports will be put directly at risk? Will he accept my invitation--issued on behalf of those workers and their employers--to bring the information roadshow to Ayrshire, preferably to Kilmarnock, and use it to build on the productive relationship that has developed between Ayrshire and the European Union?

Mr. Vaz: My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the benefits of EU membership are clear to the people of Ayrshire. I happily accept his invitation to visit him in Kilmarnock with the Scottish roadshow.

I am delighted that the Leader of the Opposition has decided to follow my lead in engaging in a tour of the United Kingdom. He said first that he would travel in a flat-back lorry; that turned into an unmarked white van, and my sources in St. Albans now suggest that it is down to a moped, with the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) at the front and the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) pushing from behind.

I hope that, when the Leader of the Opposition goes around the country, he will hear what I heard: that the people of the United Kingdom support Britain's being in Europe. We benefit greatly from being in Europe, and we will continue that membership.

Mr. Andrew Reed (Loughborough): As one who, in the 1990s, worked in the European Union--in Brussels--on behalf of the people of Leicestershire, may I say that those people were particularly angry that their views were not heard in Brussels because of the antics of the Conservative party? Does my hon. Friend agree that the Conservatives have learned nothing from their election defeat in 1997, and still peddle the anti-Europeanism that is of such disadvantage to the people of Leicestershire? Will he bring his roadshow to smaller areas--non-cities such as Loughborough? Will he also issue invitations to people in successful businesses such as Campbell Scientific, which I visited a couple of weeks ago and whose exports have risen by 26 per cent. in Europe alone?

Mr. Vaz: I congratulate my hon. Friend on all his excellent work in the constituency, promoting local businesses. I will go to Loughborough with the roadshow

15 Feb 2000 : Column 760

and I will not be in an unmarked white van--the benefits to this country of membership of the European Union will be clearly stated.

As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said earlier, the former shadow Foreign Secretary has said that the renegotiators have taken over the Conservative party--a party whose spokesman is the man whose fingerprints and signature are on the Maastricht treaty.

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds): Can the Minister estimate how many people he has spoken to during his roadshow about UK entry to the euro, and what proportion of those people have told him that they do not want this country to join?

Mr. Vaz: I have spoken to about 5,000 or 6,000 people at public meetings and all over the country. Two people spoke against British membership of the European Union: their names were Ralph and Dave, and they were members of the Save the Pound campaign. The vast majority of people I spoke to supported our important role in Europe.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): In his taxpayer- funded roadshow message, the Minister stated:

Does he not understand that, up and down the country, people know that the Government's views on Europe are minority views, day by day increasingly different from those of the clear majority of British people?

Mr. Vaz: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his promotion to the post of shadow Minister for Europe. We remember fondly the contributions of his predecessor when he was here; he too did not understand the benefits of Britain's membership of Europe.

Of course the people want to know the facts. That is why we went around the country to explain those facts. We do not support a campaign that is negative and that damages this country's national interest. A total of 3.5 million jobs depend on our membership of the European Union. The hon. Gentleman would do well to start campaigning on those issues.

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow): Is my hon. Friend aware that the Leader of the Opposition has not launched his campaign on a flat-back truck because he could not find one that did not depend on foreign investment? Would not that foreign investment, supplying those British jobs, be at stake if we ever supported the Tory party's policy of pulling out of the European Union?

Mr. Vaz: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As he has said on numerous occasions, the logical conclusion of the policy adopted by some Conservative Members--in the words of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), the renegotiators have taken over the Conservative party--is that Britain would withdraw from the European Union. We need to be in Europe. We are

15 Feb 2000 : Column 761

fully engaged in Europe. We believe in the reform of Europe, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will show in his statement at 3.30 pm.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): The Minister will know that few Conservative Members are more in favour of the European Union than I, but the campaign sounds a bit too much like spin with little substance.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): That is the Conservatives' policy.

Mr. Baldry: The Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary seems to be prompting him, but I hope that no Government money is going into the project. If Foreign Office money is going into it, would it not be better if it went to the British Council and BBC World Service? One does not expect Ministers of State in the Foreign Office to feel it necessary to go on roadshows throughout the UK. They should be doing other things with public money in the Foreign Office, rather than feeling that they need to go on what is effectively an election campaign.

Mr. Vaz: I am going to be nice to the hon. Gentleman because I know that he is a pro-European in a party that is anti-European. The amount of money that was spent on the last roadshow was a tiny proportion of--[Hon. Members: "How much?"] It cost only £60,000, plus travel and accommodation. It is a tiny proportion compared with the £20 million that was spent by the last Conservative Government on an information campaign that was designed to prepare Britain for the common market--a campaign that was authorised by the shadow Foreign Secretary.

EuroMed Agreements

8. Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South): What recent discussions he has had with the Government of Tunisia and other near eastern states about their participation in the EU's EuroMed agreements. [108537]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had a bilateral meeting with the Tunisian Foreign Secretary on 24 January. The Government have had regular contacts at various levels with the Tunisian Government.

Mr. Marsden: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and I am delighted, given the importance of Tunisia as a country of stability in the Maghreb, that those contacts have been so recent and extensive. I urge him and the Foreign Secretary to continue to make strong representations to our European partners about the importance of the Maghreb and the near eastern countries in that process. With the forthcoming investment seminar on the EuroMed coming up in Lisbon in two weeks, I also urge them and their colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry to give British companies every encouragement and incentive to invest in that area.

15 Feb 2000 : Column 762

Mr. Hain: I will certainly give my hon. Friend, who takes a great interest in the matter, those assurances. We attach great importance to our relations with Tunisia, which was the first Maghreb country to sign up to an association agreement with the European Union.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Can the Minister say whether those negotiations include such topics as asylum seekers and immigrants seeking entry to the European Union?

Mr. Hain: They cover a range of matters.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): I agree that contacts and dialogue between the countries of the Maghreb and Europe are vital. Might that prove a useful vehicle for persuading the kingdom of Morocco to comply with the United Nations referendum that is due in July 2000 on the future of Saharawi?

Mr. Hain: As the hon. Gentleman is aware, both Morocco and others are committed to that UN policy. I had discussions with the Foreign Minister and, indeed, the Prime Minister on that policy when I visited Morocco only late last year.

Next Section

IndexHome Page