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Mr. Wiggin: I recognise how meticulous the hon. Gentleman is in his research. With all the claims about people being at meetings at which they were not present, especially with regard to the parties that he mentioned, does he know whether any expenses claims have been submitted? Perhaps he has researched that matter as well.
Angus Robertson: Unfortunately I must disappoint the hon. Gentleman, as I have not pursued that issue, although he might wish to do so. I do not want to cast aspersions on Scottish Executive Ministers about the expenses involved in Brussels trips, as I am more concerned about the political claims that they make about turning up and standing up for Scotland when they do not even bother to be present. Incidentally, they skive off 90 per cent. of meetings of the Council of Ministers, too.
On transparency, it was interesting to hear the Foreign Secretary say that he welcomed the conclusion of the recent European Scrutiny Committee report. He may want to reread the report; if he does so, he will note that the Committee is in favour of changing the rules on confidentiality with regard to interaction between the various levels of government in the UK.
The four key issues that are to be pursued at the convention also include subsidiarity. As I said, the reality in the UK is that 90 per cent. of Council of Ministers meetings are not attended by the democratically elected Ministers of Scotland. The statistics are even worse for Wales and Northern Ireland. Similarly, it is beyond me to understand what sort of ambition the First Minister, Mr. Jack McConnellno doubt he is supported vigorously by the UK Governmenthas with regard to the acceptance of the idea that any eventual subsidiarity watchdog might have fewer representatives than there are member states of the European Union. Of course, that would preclude direct representation of interests from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
I do not know whether there are any Members in the Chamber from Wales[Interruption.] I must clarify for the Minister the fact that I meant Back Benchers. Perhaps he can explain the very strange decision to close the Welsh representation office in Brussels without any consultation. While every other part of Europe is opening offices willy-nilly to pursue and fight the good fight for the interests of Scotland, Catalonia or wherever else, Wales is suddenly not to have any such representation. I do not know why the Labour-Lib Dem Administration in Wales has decided in favour of that proposal.
Angus Robertson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. First, he must understand that I am speaking on behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru. My colleague who speaks for Plaid Cymru on these issues is currently in a meeting dealing with objective 1 status for Wales. There is, of course, a question about whether the UK Government are going to include in the next comprehensive spending review a budget line to cover the match funding for objective 1 in Wales. Perhaps the Minister, with his Welsh interests, will be able to confirm to the hon. Gentleman that a specific budget line for match funding for objective 1 will be included.
Peter Hain: As the hon. Gentleman has taken an interest in Wales, let me reassure him that every nationalist attack on this Government in respect of objective 1 funding has been shown to be untrue. The nationalists said that we would not get the funding, and we did; they said that we would not get requisite funding and resources from the Treasury, and we did; and they said that we would not get match funding, and we did. All their allegations have proved to be unfounded, as his is now.
Angus Robertson: In that case, I await the announcement on the budget line in the comprehensive spending review, as will all the people in Wales. We do not have long to wait. Following the Minister's intervention, and as he is a member of the convention's working group on subsidiarity, I look forward to hearing for the first time from the Government about how the interests of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be pursued in the convention. I would also be interested to
I know that many other hon. Members wish to contribute, but I should like very briefly to mention a number of other important points. Clearly, immigration has been creeping up the agenda at home and on the continent, despite the factit is not repeated enoughthat the total number of asylum seekers now is only half what it was in 1992. I agree wholeheartedly with the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) that we need an effective common European policy. I take the subject seriously because of personal experiencemy mother came to this island as a refugee after the war. Scotland, of course, is a country of immigration and has benefited for centuries from immigrants, particularly from Ireland, England, the Asian sub-continent, eastern Europe and elsewhere.
I am concerned about the rise of the far right of Pim Fortuyn and Jorg Haider. In Germany there are serious worries about the so-called "Haiderung" of the Liberal Democrats' sister party, the Free Democrats, and, indeed, Edmund Stoiber's CSU, which campaigned under the slogan "Kinder statt Inder"children instead of Indians. That should be of concern to hon. Members, especially as German opinion polls put the CDU/CSU in pole position ahead of the SPD.
We are anxious about the role played by certain parts of the media in relation to immigration. A recent MORI poll showed that respondents believed that the UK hosts 23 per cent. of the world's asylum seekers and refugees, which proves that perceptions have been massively skewed. We must appreciate that a number of newspapers have been grossly irresponsible in their coverage of the subject.
I was pleased that when the Scottish National party recently commissioned a poll by Systems 3, the main polling organisation in Scotland, to establish the key perceptions of people in Scotland about immigration and asylum seeking, it found that a massive majority of Scots reject racist attitudes and believe that all people in Scotland should have equal rights and fair treatment, regardless of their colour, creed or country of origin. Similarly, Scots believe that incomers make a positive contribution to Scottish society. By an even greater marginnearly three to oneScots oppose the deportation of incomers living in Scotland.
We have a declining population because successive Labour and Conservative Governments managed to put our economy into relative decline, so it is essential that we welcome people from elsewhere who bring with them skills, energy and immense commitment. Before I entered the House, I reported for the BBC from Austria and saw at first hand the dangers of populism and media hysteria about immigration. We should take every opportunity to tackle extremism head on, and find sensible and humane solutions to the challenges and opportunities of immigration.
I shall conclude now, because other Members wish to speak. I wish the Government well in seeking an appropriate conclusion to the Seville summit. I firmly support measures to reform the EU, make it more effective, help it to remain confederal, and ensure that it is closer to the people. We need a Europe of nations and nation states. Unlike some Members of Parliament, I believe that Scotland is a nation. To secure democracy, accountability, transparency and subsidiarity, the best answer for Scotland is independence in Europe.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Our debate is taking place at an interesting time. I want to go back to the debates that were going on just before the countries that joined the single currency did so. As a member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Parliament before last, I went to Portugal and had discussions about whether the Portuguese economy would be sufficiently robust for it to join the euro. There was a general view in the British media and among Conservative Members that that would be impossible for Portugal. Yet the Portuguese joined the euro and the Portuguese economy is a success within it. We saw stories saying that the launch of the single currency would be a failure, but on 1 January this year, in notes and coins, it was a success. The process went very smoothly. After a long period in which the euro fell against the dollar, five months later it is going the other way, and the budget deficit in the American economy may lead to serious long-term problems.
Of course, the Eurosceptic pressthe Murdoch and Conrad Black newspaperswill want to run stories about the euro saying that all is doom and gloom and that it will fail. Unfortunately, some hon. Members also push a doom-laden scenario. Most of them sit on the Conservative Benches, but I regret to say that some are Labour Membersthey are not here at the moment, so unfortunately they cannot hear me. I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) to the Chamber. I am referring to him, among others, so it is important that he hears what I have to say. They believe that the economy will collapse, the euro will disintegrate, and all its member countries will leave it. That is nonsense. The single currency will generate economic growth and expand trade and company relationships: eventually that economy will be the dynamic for 400 million people in our continent.
An enlargement process is taking place. If several new members join the European Union in four or five years' time, they will all join the euro, and the single currency will extend from the Baltic down to the Mediterranean. In a decade or 15 years' time, it may reach all the way across to the borders of Russia and Ukraine. We in this country are living in cloud cuckoo land if we think that we will not be affected by that process. Unfortunately, there is an element of wishful thinking on the part of my hon. Friend and others.