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Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): It is always a pleasure to follow—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I am sorry; I called Mr. Doug Henderson.

6.11 pm

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North): That is not the first time that there has been such a misunderstanding. My right hon. Friend and I have often received mail intended for the other because of the similarity of our names.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) on her excellent maiden speech. She said that the people of Guildford were a thoughtful bunch. They obviously have a thoughtful representative to look after their interests for the next four or five years. She also said that Guildford had last been a Liberal seat in 1906, and had returned to the fold at this election. My own seat was a Liberal seat in 1906 but, thankfully, it did not return to that colour this time. She told us all about her wonderful constituency and expressed an interest in cricket. May I say to her that if Yorkshire does not let her go back, she will be very welcome to join me at the Riverside as a guest of County Durham if she ever needs to return to the northern reaches of English cricket?

This has been a refreshing debate about the bigger pictures involved in the European issue and the way in which the Nice treaty impacts on them. It is highly desirable that we should not miss the big picture by getting embroiled in all the details of the bits and pieces of the Bill. That is not to say that those bits and pieces are unimportant, and I am sure that we shall devote the necessary time to them in Committee. However, I fear

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that, too often, we get embroiled in the details and the public then fail to recognise what the European Union is about, why it has to change and what its priorities are.

This is a forum for discussion of policy among the British people, and I do not for a minute complain that the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) or my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies) take a different view from my own. It is important that we have a healthy debate. However, I fear that too many of my colleagues who share my view on Europe have been too quiescent in their support of that view. It is high time that those of us who believe in the European ideal—and who believe that the EU is a crucial part of the future economic, political and social stability of the existing EU and of a much wider area in Europe and in spheres of influence beyond that in parts of the former Soviet Union and north Africa, which must develop to reflect the priorities of the day—acted on our responsibility to make that case more loudly.

I do not know what the position of Conservative Front-Bench Members is on this issue. I know that it is difficult for them to draw up a resolution on foreign policy at this time, particularly in relation to the European issue. Perhaps it will be easier next week, or by the end of July, or perhaps we shall have to wait until September.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby): Give it a year.

Mr. Henderson: Perhaps we should give them a year; perhaps even longer.

The Opposition amendment is extremely negative and damaging to Britain's standing and interests in the European Union and to Britain's contribution to building and rebuilding the stability of Europe in the EU. It is not enough to argue about whether we shall have a few more votes here or a bit more influence there, although those matters are important and, as I said, we should examine them in detail in Committee.

We must consider how we can guarantee the future of the European Union. Some hon. Members may have been fortunate enough to travel to applicant countries such as Slovakia and Latvia; I think that I have probably travelled to them all. If Conservative Members realised what the response of people in those countries would be to their amendment, I do not believe that they would pursue their stated position. If the Conservative party believes in the enlargement of the European Union, it cannot have the luxury of being negative every time a European issue is placed before the House.

I am not saying that Opposition parties should not be critical, or that they should not be able to dispute with the Government when there are genuine differences. However, we heard from the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) that he was in favour of enlargement but against the Nice treaty. That is a completely untenable position. If the British nation does not endorse the Nice treaty, the treaty will run into serious difficulties.

Important parts of the Amsterdam treaty had to be carried over; not everything could be agreed there. Numerous issues were agreed, many of which were much more far reaching than the provisions in the Nice treaty.

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However, it was not possible to achieve everything at Amsterdam. The proposals on the reform of the Commission, among others, were referred on from the Amsterdam negotiations to the Nice negotiations.

It is also not enough for the Conservatives to say, "Oh, but if the Irish do not accept the treaty, the whole thing will fall." If the treaty falls, we shall be back the next day, and every provision from the Nice treaty will have to be included in any subsequent treaty if we are to make progress on enlargement. Everyone in Europe knows that. The Conservative position is ridiculous. All the nations in the European Union are backing the treaty. Okay, the Irish have rejected it in a referendum, but the Conservatives' position is tantamount to saying that they know better than all the other parties in government throughout the European Union, including other Conservative parties.

The Conservatives do not recognise that, in countries such as Slovakia and Latvia, change will not take place towards a market economy or a reinforcement of democracy to build on the achievements of 1989 and 1990 unless there is a belief that they can accede to the European Union. Those countries know that there is no future for democracy and a market economy unless they are part of the general regulatory system in Europe. If they do not have the opportunity to join because the Nice treaty or subsequent treaties fall, those countries will not know which way to turn. They will not be allowed to turn towards the European Union, which will have rejected them. The only option will be to look somewhere else. We can be absolutely sure that in Slovakia, for example, members of the previous leadership—which, under Meciar, was strongly totalitarian—will be saying, "Our way was the only way. You can forget the gypsies. We are going back to the system that we had before. That is the only way forward." That would be extremely damaging for the security and stability of Europe.

Before the Conservatives vote this evening, they should think more clearly about those issues. They should forget the bickering in their party. Surely the stability of Europe and of this country is a much bigger issue than their bickering over the nuances of the extent to which they are for or against Europe. That is my plea to Conservative Members. In most other European countries with which I have had dealings, there is a pretty good consensus about the nation's interests in all these issues, and about the contribution that the nation should make to Europe. However, in this country we are perceived as bickering and nit-picking all the time. It is no surprise that the electorate feels remote and excluded from European issues.

I believe that we have a responsibility to rebuild that connection so that people understand that their security is achieved not only through the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, important as it is, but through membership and development of the European Union. Enlargement is important to that development and to the economic prospects of our nation, as it will give British exporters a better opportunity to penetrate larger markets, although I am not saying that that is the main argument for enlargement.

The main argument for enlargement is providing stability and security in the European context and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) said, building on what has been achieved over

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the past 50 years. We must ensure that we look ahead to the prospect of security and prosperity, and that is the main purpose of the Nice treaty.

As colleagues have said, there is an awful lot of work to do and many issues to resolve. When the EU has 25 or more members, it will be much more difficult to reach decisions, to operate the Commission, to decide who will provide and who will receive structural funds and to reform agricultural policy, but without the Nice treaty we will not even get near those issues. I hope that the House overwhelmingly supports the Bill.

6.21 pm

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): I begin by congratulating the new hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) on her maiden speech and thanking her for her kind remarks about her predecessor. It is a particular pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), who was my predecessor's pair in this place for many years.

It was Benjamin Disraeli who once said that the greatest opportunity that can be offered to an Englishman is a seat in the House of Commons. Having been a Member for only a few weeks, I am beginning to understand what he meant. I have been immensely impressed by the courtesy and helpfulness of all the staff in this place, and, as an ex-Territorial Army officer, it is particularly welcoming to see the Doorkeepers each and every day. I learned in the Army that those who want to know what is going on ask the senior non-commissioned officers. That seems to be as true here as anywhere else.

I do not, however, intend to follow the example of a young cadet at Sandhurst several years ago, who was taken aside by a Guards sergeant major to be told that his performance on the drill square had been "distinctly sub-optimal". The sergeant major thrust his pace stick roughly into the ribs of the poor unfortunate and bellowed at him, "There is a complete idiot at the end of this pace stick." The cadet replied, "Not at this end, sergeant major."

I am delighted and honoured to have been elected to the House as the new Member for Rayleigh. Unlike some hon. Members, I do not claim that my constituency is the most beautiful in the country, but I would humbly nominate it for a place in the top 10. The Rayleigh constituency is named after its largest town, which numbers some 35,000 people and stands roughly in the centre of the seat, just north of Southend.

The historic town of Rayleigh was first recorded in the Domesday Book as belonging to Sweyne of Essex and it boasts the oldest castle in the county—indeed, one of the oldest in the country. West of Rayleigh lies Hanningfield reservoir, which supplies much of the county of Essex, and a series of picturesque villages that surround it, including East, West and South Hanningfield, Downham, Ramsden Heath and Rettendon as well as the slightly larger community of Runwell.

North-west of Rayleigh, close to the beautiful River Crouch, lies South Woodham Ferrers, a town of some 20,000 souls, which is fighting a battle with Chelmsford borough council against unwelcome overdevelopment. I pledge to assist the residents of the town in that fight. East of Rayleigh lie a number of popular communities, such as Hockley, which has its ancient royal hunting forest, Hawkwell, Hullbridge and the smaller rural villages of

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Ashingdon, the Pagelshams, Stambridge and Canewdon, whose 15th century church tower was erected by Henry V in thanksgiving for his rather impressive "away win" at Agincourt.

Until 1997, the constituency included the town of Rochford, from which it previously took its name, but it was removed in the previous parliamentary boundary review. That has led to some confusion about the revised boundaries. At the general election, a commuter from my constituency got off the train at Rochford station to be met by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), who knows what I am about to say. The commuter spied the blue rosette, smiled, walked forward, stretched out his hand confidently and said, "Don't you worry, Mr. Francois, I have already decided to cast my vote for you."

It is an honour to follow in the footsteps of my predecessors, Dr. Michael Clark and, before him, Sir Bernard Braine, who was Father of the House. Dr. Michael Clark is a man of principle who served the constituencies of Rochford and Rayleigh with distinction for more than 18 years. In addition to his duties as a constituency MP, which he carried out diligently, he made a career in this place as Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee and a member of the Speaker's Chairmen's Panel.

While canvassing during the general election, I was genuinely struck by how many people know Dr. Clark personally and by how well they speak of him. I am conscious that I am being asked to step into a very large pair of shoes indeed, although I discovered one person in the constituency who is even better known than Michael Clark—his wife, Valerie. She served in local government in her own right and was a tireless worker for local charities and good causes. For that, she is well loved. Michael and Valerie Clark are an immensely popular couple and everyone in Rayleigh wishes them every success for their new life together down in the west country.

I am in favour of enlargement of the European Union in principle, but not at any price. I have an affection for the Republic of Ireland; I proposed to my wife Karen while overlooking Galway bay. The next time I visit, I would like to congratulate the people of that country on their sagacious decision to vote against the Nice treaty, and by such a clear margin.

Whatever the views of any of Member of the House on the European issue, when a country as traditionally pro-European as the Irish Republic votes against a European treaty, that should, at the very least, give us all pause for thought. I confess that I was not quite old enough to vote in the British referendum in 1975, but I believe there was no real practical discussion of a federal Europe or of abandoning our currency.

The British people were essentially told that they were assenting to a free trade area—a common market—and that is what they endorsed in 1975. The further we move from that position, the greater the risk that we shall exhaust their patience on all things European. We are an historically tolerant people, and we are willing to negotiate and co-operate, but we will not be subsumed by a foreign superstate that ignores our traditions and undermines our laws.

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My father, Reginald Francois, who died when I was a boy, fought in the second world war on the Murmansk convoys so that we could continue to live in a free and democratic county. That point is not lost on his son.

It was Dr. Johnson who said, "Though we cannot outvote them tonight, we will outargue them." That seems to me to be a reasonable motto for an Opposition, and, from what I have seen so far, we are not doing such a bad job. Over the months ahead, I, too, hope to play some small part in helping to win the argument. I am deeply grateful to the electors of Rayleigh for returning me and giving me that chance.

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