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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order.

9.4 pm

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): I, too, am delighted to have this opportunity to speak in the debate. In 1979, I was a student in Strasbourg for a year. My newly directly-elected MEP came to the city for the first time while I was there. It was summer, and my grant being somewhat non-existent, I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet him. That MEP is now my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) and the Minister for Sport, and he made sure that I had two good meals that day. That evening, we went to a restaurant and met some Danish MEPs. I am sure that my hon. Friend will not mind my telling this story now—I have never told it before—but some anti-European British MEPs were meeting their Danish counterparts to discuss how they might pull out of Europe.

The views of many Labours Members have changed—not all of them, as we have heard today—and one reason for that is that Europe has gone further in what it does. At that time, Labour party members thought that the Common Market was purely for trading purposes. It was viewed as another way for capitalism to grow bigger and bigger, without doing much good for the workers. More than 20 years on, I am pleased to say that the situation is completely different. We now see a recognition by Labour party members of the significance of globalisation and the importance of European and worldwide markets. We also have a Europe with a social conscience, which is concerned about the environment and which can be of benefit to ordinary people.

The approach taken by the Conservatives is disappointing but predictable. Last weekend, as one of my first duties as a new Member of Parliament, I was invited to a conference on town twinning in Sheffield. It was organised to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first visit of some young people from Sheffield's twin town, Bochum in the Ruhr valley. The origin of that link is similar to the origin of the development of what is now the European Union and has its roots in the fundamental desire for peace that followed the second world war. Town twinning was seen as a way for ordinary people to get to know each other, so that we would never again experience the horrors of that war.

Three politicians attended the conference—I, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) for the Liberal Democrats, and a local Conservative who had been a lord

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mayor. The Conservative spoke of how important the link between the towns had been and how it had brought alive for members of his group the things we have in common as Europeans. He talked of taking a busload of members from Sheffield council over to Bochum. Unfortunately for the Conservatives, the trip would now need only a moped, because there is only one Conservative councillor left on Sheffield city council.

Sheffield has also developed other links, especially with Donetsk in the Ukraine, which has also developed a link with Bochum. It is interesting to note that Bochum and Donetsk have developed trading links. It perhaps says something about Britain that we have not used those strong links to develop ways to trade better together. Time and again, our reluctance fully to participate and engage in Europe holds us back. When I talk to friends from Germany and France, they are often puzzled by our seeming half-heartedness. If we want to be a strong voice in Europe, we must stop that nonsense. We will only be seen as a nation that can influence what goes on if we are properly committed to the process.

The benefits of the European Union appear to me to be threefold—stability, security and economic prosperity. Importantly, the economic prosperity is achieved in a socially responsible way. The Nice treaty offers us a process for enlargement, and I welcome that.

Economic prosperity is important. I am staying with my sister while I am in London, and this morning we were discussing what I would be doing today, and I said that I was hoping to speak in this debate. We were looking at the list of applicant countries, and she made an important point. She works for a small specialist software company which exports its product throughout the world. She said that, because the product is so specialised—not unusual in computer technology these days—we need those markets. If companies are to survive and be at the cutting edge in Britain, they need to know that they can export to those markets. She looked down the list of applicants and it was surprising how many countries she had already visited on business. Other companies in the same position will also see this as a positive step.

For me, developing the European Union further promotes the security and stability that the people of my parents' generation saw as so important to the future of the whole of Europe. Enlargement is in our interests; the principles that brought together a smaller number of countries must hold true now.

The prospect of enlargement has already made a difference to political stability and international security in central and eastern Europe. We do not have to look very far to see some of the horrors that have taken place. People of my generation believed that we would never see such horrors again, but unfortunately we have. The European Union is fundamental to ensuring stability and is an important way forward for us and for those countries. If countries that border the EU suffer from poverty or division, we cannot all enjoy the security and stability that we want for ourselves and our families. We know that, without that prospect, neighbouring countries have suffered from instability and war, at great human and financial cost.

I want the treaty to be ratified. Yes, there are many small things to discuss, but overall, this must be the way forward. My hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) and for Wimbledon (Mr. Casale) made it

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clear how difficult things would be in the European Union if we did not ratify the treaty. I see it as very important; I want us to sign up to it wholeheartedly. It is time we stopped dithering, because that is how it appears to our European neighbours. Let us get on with it and be the strong voice in Europe that we are in a position to offer.

9.13 pm

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): In his absentia, may I warmly congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his appointment and welcome the new Ministers to the Front Bench, most particularly the Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Neath (Peter Hain)? Double congratulations are due.

This has been a tremendous parliamentary debate. We have heard some outstanding speeches on both sides of the House from all the various viewpoints. What has come through above all is an underlying concern and anxiety, genuinely expressed, about the future of the European Union and the disconnection that is taking place between the peoples of Europe and the structures and institutions of the European Union. Those points were powerfully made by my hon. Friends the Members for Stone (Mr. Cash) and for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow).

Among the excellent speeches were some memorable maiden speeches. I congratulate in particular the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty), who spoke warmly of her constituency and its many activities, including ice hockey, new businesses and cultural activities. I also wish to express my appreciation of the very kind comments she made about my friend Nick St. Aubyn. I hope that she will make many more such competent contributions to debates in the House in her parliamentary career.

I should also like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) who, in a parliamentary sense, is truly to the manner born. As a parliamentary speaker, he already shows remarkable force and ability. He said that his constituency is not particularly beautiful, but he said so with great good humour and affection. We will all agree that his tributes to Dr. Michael Clark, who was a senior and respected parliamentarian, were extremely appropriate. I know that my hon. Friend will make excellent speeches in the House in the future.

The hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) paid warm tribute to his predecessors. He talked about the history of his constituency and its fine maritime traditions, and said that it is moving towards modern industries such as updated electronics industries. He was very witty, and he has staked his claim to a position in history. He is a former cleric who has taken his place in the House, but he has yet to see as much as some of us of the vicar of St. Albion—a well known figure who is far less likely than the hon. Gentleman to appear frequently in the House. I congratulate him on his excellent speech and look forward to hearing frequent contributions from him in future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) made generous remarks about a highly intelligent and independent former parliamentary colleague, Sir Peter Lloyd. He talked with warmth and affection about his constituency, mentioned its naval history and said that new business is being attracted to the area. I took

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particular note of his reference to the pressure on housing in the south of England, which is a tremendous problem that we must deal with as the population tilts ever southward. I know from listening to him today that he will make an outstanding contribution to Parliament through his speeches in this Chamber.

The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) spoke with warmth about Ray Michie, who was an impressive constituency representative. He made his constituency sound extremely attractive, and all who have visited it will know that that is the case. It is certainly one of the most beautiful parts of the British Isles, and he made it seem so tempting that he might just get a rash of visits from parliamentarians in the next few years. Apart from the stunningly beautiful aspects of his constituency, he also talked about worries that many of us share about rural Britain. I feel sure that he will be an eloquent spokesman for his constituency in his time in Parliament.

My hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mr. Simmonds) paid tribute to Sir Richard Body, who was a great parliamentary individualist and a very assiduous constituency MP. My hon. Friend was right to bring powerfully to our attention the terrible problems currently experienced by British agriculture. Of course, Lincolnshire is a great farming county—one of the greatest in England. He talked about the welcome diversification in his constituency by small businesses and the tourist industry. Boston and Skegness has a fine representative in the House, and certainly a powerful orator.

Finally, I should like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham). Unfortunately, I was not present to hear him, but my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) tells me that it was a fine speech. He talked about his predecessor, Lawrence Cunliffe, a long-standing parliamentarian. He discussed his worries about the manufacturing industry, which I think we all share. Of course, many parts of manufacturing are in recession. He spoke of the need to revitalise his constituency, of the Beeching cuts and of the coal mine closures of the past. His was a fine maiden speech and I wish him well in his career.

The salutary effect of the Irish referendum was to make all of us stop and think about the future of the European Union, its democratic underpinnings and enlargement. Nice simply failed to address some of the most vital questions that the European Union faces, thereby making enlargement more difficult and adding to the increasing disconnection between the European Union's institutions and the citizens of its member states. Many hon. Members have made that point today, and we have repeatedly warned that that is precisely what would happen.

The previous Foreign Secretary frequently told the House that Nice was essential for enlargement to proceed. He tried to tell us that, in not supporting Nice, we could not support enlargement. That was simply incorrect. My right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) accurately warned that, in practice, Nice would actually slow down enlargement.

I shall deal with the matter straight away. Conservative Members believe that enlargement is right both economically and politically, but it is a moral issue too. In government, we Conservatives played our part in fighting the totalitarianism that blighted the lives of millions of our fellow Europeans. We must now embrace

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them to help to secure their democratic status and prosperity—it is as simple as that. We will take no lessons on that score from any Labour politician.

Both the Foreign Secretary and the Commission President have indicated that enlargement could go ahead without the Nice treaty, so let us consider all the extraneous baggage surrounding Nice which we believe to be so unnecessary. My right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and other hon. Members spoke about the implications of the move to increase qualified majority voting. That point was ably and directly taken up by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard).

None of that baggage is essential for enlargement, and we see, throughout Europe, people's growing alienation from EU institutions and structures; but has there been even one example of powers being returned to national Governments to deal with that problem? Did our Government argue for the return of such powers? By contrast, we would have drawn a clear line to begin the process of reversing the remorseless centralisation and harmonisation, which is crucial if the EU is to connect with its people again. That is why we want to give the British people a voice in this matter.

Outside the treaty, but endorsed at Nice, is the charter of fundamental rights, described idiotically by the former Minister for Europe as being on a par with the Beano. That is not the view of learned counsel. The charter is being held up as the basis for a future written EU constitution, and even if that does not come about, the Commission has stated:

Our long traditions of evolving case law and of the clear divide between the judiciary and the legislature will be undermined by the charter and the inevitable growth of judge-led law in this country.

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