[back to previous text]

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: The debate has been useful in clarifying the Government's attitudes. If the Minister recanted his previous opinion that Nice was central to enlargement, I did not hear him. The Government used to take the position that if the Conservative party was against Nice, it must be against enlargement. That ill-judged assertion probably contributed to the result of the referendum in Ireland. The people of Ireland saw through that claim and realised that it was perfectly possible to be in favour of enlargement but against many other aspects of the Nice treaty, so they voted against it, only to find the Commission saying that negotiations for enlargement would go ahead anyway.

If the Government really are enthusiasts for enlargement, they must have a contingency plan. If planning is being done in secret, I regret it. It may be that, tactically, the European Union wants to put pressure on the Irish electorate by pretending that it is holding up enlargement. That is not true. Previous waves of enlargement took place with treaties specifically designed to bring into European law the institutional and financial changes necessary for those rounds of enlargement. I know, because I worked on the round in which Finland, Sweden and Austria joined, which provides a good precedent. I urge the Minister to be more forthcoming about plans for a situation in which the Irish persist in their attitude to the Nice treaty.

I support part of what the hon. Member for Luton, North said about the enlargement process prompting wider and welcome debate. No one asks the difficult questions, because everyone is in favour of enlargement. In the same way that the single market used to be used to justify any directive or regulation, a position is being taken on enlargement that stops dispute or argument. That argument runs: ''We are all in favour of enlargement, so this or that policy is justified.'' That is not what our constituents think, however. A gap is opening up between the politicians

Column Number: 23

of Europe, all of whom are frantically in favour of enlargement, and the man in the street who, when he thinks about it at all, is concerned.

The European Scrutiny Committee provided a good list of questions on page 37 of the House of Commons document about costs, implications for people at work, pensions, defence and imports, and those questions need to be addressed. There is a danger of our becoming a political club and leaving the electors behind, a fact that was brought home to me a few months ago when 20 or 30 Portuguese workers arrived in the city of Wells and were housed in a hostel. Workers in some manufacturing plants around Wells complained that those people were being brought in to undermine their wages. Portugal has been in the European Union for about 15 years and its people have a perfect right to come here, but that was news to some of those who came to see me, including trade unionists and others worried about local wage rates. The prospect of the free movement of some 100 million people from another 10 countries, therefore, needs to be examined.

Mr. Hopkins: I am interested in what the right hon. Gentleman says. He seems to take a different view from his former colleague, Lord Tebbit, who thought that the people ought to get on their bikes and look for work. Does he agree that a more civilised approach to the problem is to try to provide work for people where they live now, rather than insisting that they travel, perhaps across the world, to get work? For some people, moving around the world makes life more interesting, but for most, it is much better to provide work where they live.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I agree with that, but my point is slightly different. The free movement of people will be one of the rights attaching to the enlargement countries. There may be a transitional period, but they will then be able to come over here, in large numbers, as of right. My point is that I am not completely sure whether the British public are aware of the implications of that. If not, they deserve to be educated about it and to have their consent sought. Otherwise, we will meet with the familiar reaction that matters have all been decided by Brussels, that we were never asked and that something has happened suddenly. People feel alienated by that, and it is a problem that we are already trying to address in the European convention on the future of Europe.

I have another anecdote to report. Someone came to see me who had noticed the debate about illegal immigrants, or asylum seekers, and how the Government rightly sought to limit their numbers. He made the point that many of those people came from countries such as Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia and were unwelcome because they were economic migrants, but if those countries become members of the European Union, their people would become entitled, almost overnight, to come here

Column Number: 24

in any numbers at all. My constituent asked, as an innocent question, why people who are unwelcome now would suddenly become welcome then.

I have made the point, and perhaps the hon. Member for Luton, North will agree with it, that it is intended that such people will become so rich and successful in their own countries that they will not want to come here. However, that was not the experience at the time of reunification in Germany, when a large number of people from East Germany flooded west in search of a better life and higher wages. We must brace ourselves for a significant migratory effect, whether that is good or bad. I am not completely convinced that that topic is yet in the public domain.

My next point follows on from something said by the hon. Member for Luton, North. Are we erecting higher hurdles for those countries quite unnecessarily? He gave the example of the requirement to join the single currency; I mentioned earlier the acquis communautaire, which runs to 85,000 pages. No attempt has been made to simplify it, and when I asked the Minister about it, he said that we would obviously want those countries to sign up to all rules and obligations that apply to us.

That puts us in danger of slipping into Eurospeak and saying that something has to happen, that it therefore will happen and that it is a good thing. However, there is already considerable disillusionment in the European Union, and certainly among the British public, that although we sign up to things and have strong administrative systems, regulators and inspectorates to enforce the rules, those rules are not adequately enforced in other countries. If we expect a whole lot of countries that were, until fairly recently, run from Moscow not only to abide by the rules but to implement and enforce them at every level, are we not simply engaging in wishful thinking?

Mr. Hopkins: Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that when the countries become aware of the rules and obligations of the acquis communautaire some may chose not to join? In Poland, a large body of opinion does not want to join the European Union. I do not suggest that one should encourage or discourage that, but it is a fact.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: That may well happen. When the public in such countries are faced with having to comply with highly intrusive rules and regulations, they may change their view. As the documents point out, we have reached the stage at which countries are introducing rules into their legal systems, while implementation and enforcement remain extremely primitive.

David Cairns: May I ask the right hon. Gentleman the same question that I asked the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring)? If he thinks that the acquis communautaire is too onerous for the countries to bear, which bits would he leave out or not ask countries to comply with?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: First, we need a radical simplification. It is grotesque that the acquis communautaire has 85,000 pages. Even if its content is

Column Number: 25

retained, it can be simplified, but I would go further, and I will give the hon. Gentleman examples of how. Why are culture, sport and education EU competencies? They should be transferred back to member states. We should not only simplify the acquis communautaire, but bring policies back in touch with countries' electors. We should close the gap between the European elite, which passes the rules, and ordinary people, who must live by them.

Let me return to costs. It was a familiar feature of previous enlargement rounds that difficult questions—such as those on agriculture, expenditure, CAP reform and structural funds—were left to the end. Indeed, those enlargement chapters have not been closed. The end game was difficult when Finland, Sweden and Austria joined because, although they are rich democracies that brought money in, Spain, and other cohesion countries, fought like tigers for their existing privileges. The time scale to which the Minister holds is extremely optimistic for that reason.

The Commission document refers to a coherent financial framework to be published by the end of January 2000 at the latest, and I assume that that sets out the exact costs. Is that available from the Vote Office, as was promised? If it is in the documents, I may have overlooked it, but I ask the Minister that question genuinely, not rhetorically.

My last comments relate to Cyprus. The European Union is making a mistake over Cyprus, and we know how that has happened. The Greek Prime Minister was anxious to have Cyprus accepted as a candidate state, and that was agreed to. However, it is not right to contemplate admitting an unresolved quarrel into the European Union. We hope that the quarrel will be resolved soon, and perhaps admittance is being offered to the two parts of the island as a carrot. However, enormous diplomatic efforts over several years have failed to find a resolution, and issues of property and compensation, which affect our constituents, are outstanding. People regularly visit me to discuss their destroyed properties in Varosha, and elsewhere. Such efforts are apparently stalled or proceeding at a snail's pace, but negotiations on the accession of the island are nevertheless at an advanced stage. I suggest that the Minister starts to back-pedal slowly, so that we can say that Cyprus has not met the political criteria and avoid the disruptive implications of the eventual accession of a still-divided island.

5.59 pm

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 18 March 2002