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13 Nov 2002 : Column 66—continued

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that pre-legislative consideration should be extended to European legislation, so that we can have an input to the debate in Europe before such legislation comes to this House and we are given the faits accomplis that are often sent down to us?

Andrew Mackinlay: Absolutely. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who is not now in his place, challenged me about my attitudes to Europe and subsidiarity. I want scrutiny and accountability. I want things to be examined because, ultimately, I want the best European regulations and legislation, just as I want the best legislation here.

I also want to consider bureaucracies, whether based in Brussels, London or elsewhere. That must be our mission. To some extent, the Government have embarked on that course. I should like them to go faster and I am coaxing and encouraging them to do that. At the end of the Parliament, I hope that they will be able to look back with pride at the fact that they substantially shifted the balance and loaded the dice perhaps a little more in favour of this legislature.

The Queen's Speech rightly refers to the enlargement of NATO and the European Union. In the discussion of the Queen's Speech 10 years ago, John Major specifically said that he hoped that Poland would join

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the European Union in 10 years. Some slippage has occurred, but the matter is important to me. Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and all the states of central Europe were denied their right to join the club of free nations by the disfigurement of Europe through the Yalta agreements. When those countries join the European Union in a little more than a year, it will be the end of world war two for them. I therefore believe that enlargement is one of our most exciting missions. I shall be enormously pleased and proud when those countries join the European Union and benefit from everything that flows from membership, including opportunities for conflict resolution. NATO enlargement will also create a new and richer collective security. That is important and long overdue. I hope that I have been able to do my part in a small way in arguing for it.

In my maiden speech, I welcomed John Major's desire for Poland and other countries to join the European Union. I also said that it was wrong to argue for that and at the same time insist on visas for people from Poland. The requirement was abolished soon afterwards. However, we continue to insist on visas for people from Slovakia. We should remove that requirement. Visa systems do not prevent people who should not be here from getting into the country. However, they stop young students of English who are keen to improve their language skills coming here and subsequently returning to Bratislava or other places in central Europe.

People will always break the system and get through. However, it is wrong and ridiculous to impede people who are the seed corn and energy of expansion, and who will create a market in the wonderful countries of central Europe. It is also in our interest for them to master language skills and become familiar with the United Kingdom. I therefore urge Ministers to reflect on that.

It is time to bring to a head the question of our membership of the single currency. We should move to a referendum—and I would argue for a single currency. Even if the vote went the other way, at least the issue would be resolved for the time being. It will not go away, and as sure as night follows day we will eventually join the single currency. However, we should resolve the matter for now. I welcome the intimation in the Queen's Speech that we shall probably reach some resolution of this issue in the summer.

Let us consider international terrorism and Iraq. At the Labour party conference, I spoke in support of the Government and their stewardship of the Iraq crisis. Some of my friends were surprised, especially in view of my reputation for scrutinising the Government. I stress to them that when the Government are right, I shall proclaim that. Since the summer, the Government's skilful and courageous stance has meant that attitudes in the Bush Administration have shifted substantially from all the nonsense about regime change. They argued that they could go into Iraq simply on the basis of an Ximminent threat" to the United States. We rightly said no to that and stressed that we need to buttress and support the United Nations and enhance its authority. That is vital. We are doing that, and we were pleasantly surprised by the recent unanimous resolution of the Security Council.

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There is a great prize to be won. If Saddam allows the weapons inspectors unimpeded access, we will reinforce the authority of the United Nations and send a signal to other despots around the world, to those who seek to take on weapons of mass destruction, and to those who try to defy United Nations resolutions. It will help the world community to lean on Israel, which flouts United Nations resolutions, albeit not the chapter VII mandatory resolutions. A great deal is at stake but, uniquely, only the Labour Government could have made the contribution to our current position. We are entitled to say that.

When I was speaking to party members a few nights ago, I was surprised that one of my good friends believed that talk about the threats to London and elsewhere was propaganda. A few people in the House, in the media and in our constituencies do not understand the gravity of the situation and the nature of al-Qaeda and such organisations. Matters are grave. Of course, that view has to be balanced, and we must not be too alarmist. We also need to understand that weapons of mass destruction can be small, that they can lie in a cupboard or fridge and be procured and created in London. They do not have to be brought in. I have already mentioned the need to tighten security in our ports and I proposed establishing national ports police. I hope that the Government will consider that.

Mr. Don Foster: I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the issue's importance, but does he agree that the Government could do more by giving greater support to our local authorities on emergency planning? My local authority had a cut this year to #89,000, with which it must perform all the additional planning. There is an urgent need for more funding to support the work to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Andrew Mackinlay: I agree; our emergency planning is deficient. I believed that before the immediate crisis. Prudent Governments should tackle the matter. Again, not only the current Government should be criticised. We have been rather sanguine about such matters for 25 years. Old vehicles have been mothballed and we must now beef up emergency planning and provision without causing alarm.

I want to consider Ireland. I listened carefully to my friend, the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), who is focused on the matter. All hon. Members have sympathy for public servants who have borne the brunt of those 25 years, and bear the scars of losing loved ones and colleagues. We all hope that Northern Ireland will have a brighter future. None of us has easy solutions; there is no magic wand. However, the Government have done a great deal to bring about reconciliation.

Whatever the legislation in the Queen's Speech that will affect the Police Service of Northern Ireland, we must be sensitive about the reserve. It is a misnomer because the reserve consists of full-time, paid police employees. They are overwhelmingly of one religious grouping because that is the nature of things. However, they are also diligent, keen public servants. We cannot swiftly run them down—that is insensitive and not good policing. Whatever measures are devised, and at the same time as we implement the Patten proposals, those officers need reassurance that they will be treated

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sympathetically. I appreciate that there must be an accelerated system of promotion, and that we need to create as soon as possible a more sensible system and a police force that better reflects the religious groupings in Northern Ireland. However, we must also consider those people who have borne the brunt for 25 years. The Northern Ireland police reserve is one such group. Insufficient deference has been given to these people.

I have enormous admiration for our colleagues who come from Northern Ireland constituencies, whatever their persuasions. They have difficulties because inevitably questions involving the constitution and security are paramount for them. There are many other issues that other Members raise, and because there is limited parliamentary time, limited slots and sometimes difficulty in catching the eye of the occupant of the Chair, comparable issues are not raised in relation to Northern Ireland. The opportunities are somewhat limited. During the period when we have direct rule, we should not return to the system which previously prevailed where we passed the equivalent of Acts of Parliament for Northern Ireland in an hour and a half by order. It would be much better if we included provisions for Northern Ireland when considering and enacting what I might call English legislation, rather than having a separate order for Northern Ireland being considered at a different time, with minimal scrutiny.

Some terrible outrages occur in Northern Ireland and the constitutional position is, obviously and inevitably, a matter of considerable debate, particularly in terms of Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, outside the United Kingdom people get an entirely wrong impression about Northern Ireland. I shall share something with the House. For the third summer running, I spent my summer holidays in Northern Ireland. When I tell colleagues, I see the look of surprise on their faces. I snap back and say, XIt is the safest place in western Europe." In many respects it is. We should talk up Northern Ireland. We should refer to the great beauty of the glens of Antrim, of the banks of the Foyle, of the lakes of Fermanagh and of the Strangford lough with its rich and almost unique bird life.

I was disappointed when a quango did not select Belfast to be on the shortlist as one of the European cities of culture. That decision may well have been borne out of prejudice and ignorance of the rich culture of Northern Ireland, of the peaceful nature of the vast majority of a beautiful country and of the tremendous hospitality of the people. We should make it clear that Northern Ireland is a great place for holidays, that it is rich in culture and is a place where there are some tremendous people who are overwhelmingly of good will. We must recognise the conflict, the terrible loss and cost, the sacrifice and the outrages that occur. However, we must be mindful that Northern Ireland is a part of these isles where people from the United States and north America should feel very safe. That applies especially to people from Washington, who recently had to undergo the outrages of the snipers. XAmerican visitors, you are safe in Northern Ireland," —we should say that also to the people of the Irish Republic and of south-east England. We should visit this important part of the British isles and talk it up.

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