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11 Dec 2002 : Column 340—continued

Mr. Spring: If there is an overarching constitutional treaty, it changes the fundamental base of the relationship between the member states, which has up to this point been intergovernmental.

Angus Robertson: I take the hon. Gentleman's point. That is one of the reasons why the SNP has a standing policy. We would like a constitution or a constitutional treaty put to the people in a referendum, because we support such a treaty. We want it to be endorsed by the electorate so that it has the full mandate of people in Scotland and anywhere else that would choose to hold a referendum.

I shall touch briefly on the workings of the Convention, noting that there are no Scottish Executive or Scottish Parliament representatives on the delegation from the UK to the Convention, despite the fact that First Minister Jack McConnell, in an article in Business a.m. on 20 December last year, said that he had

Of course, he failed.

Unlike the UK, Germany takes the role of its devolved areas, the Lander, seriously, with the Premier of Baden-Württemberg, Erwin Teufel, being a full member of the German delegation. Mr. Teufel has argued for better rights for devolved Governments in the EU in the Convention, whereas the UK has not. The UK Government's representative, Peter Hain, has spoken in the Convention six times. His contributions amount to 2,869 words and he has never mentioned Scotland once in his contributions. He mentioned Wales once, but only in connection with where his constituency is, not in terms of how the EU should progress and Wales's place within it.

I am pleased that there are two democratically elected Scottish representatives involved in the Convention process, although not through the Scottish Executive or the Scottish Parliament. It will not surprise the House that both are members of my party, Professor Sir Neil MacCormick MEP for the Greens/European Free Alliance group, and Councillor Keith Brown of

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Clackmananshire council. We will continue to make the case for the improved representation of Scotland in the EU, with equality of status and the same rights and obligations as other EU countries. At a time when more decisions are being made at a European level, it is essential for Scotland to be there and that way we would at least ensure 100 per cent. attendance at key meetings, as opposed to UK Governments, both Tory and Labour, who have terrible records in representing Scotland. That for me is a positive vision of Scotland's place within a changing Europe, and that is why I welcome what is on the agenda of the Copenhagen summit. However, I come now to what is not on the agenda, which disappoints me greatly—namely, fishing.

I have reason to believe that the Foreign Secretary would not have mentioned fishing at all were it not for the fact that I intervened on him during his opening speech. The right hon. Member for Devizes made no mention of fishing either. He spoke about competition policy, the CAP, European security and defence policy, European monetary union, the Convention—the list goes on, but fishing was not on it. Perhaps the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) will be able to say when he replies what the Conservative party's official policy is on the question that I am about to raise, which is the unmitigated impending disaster for the fishing industry, and not just in Scotland. Anyone who listened to the XToday" programme this morning will have heard concerned fishermen from North Shields. Fishermen from around the coast of this island and Northern Ireland face disaster if the Commission's plans go through.

In a recent article in the Daily Record, the Prime Minister put a figure of 14,000 on those in the fishing industry who are under threat. Unfortunately, that seems to undermine the warning by the Scottish Executive that the figure is over 40,000, many of whom are likely to lose their jobs.

I appeal to Members representing constituencies south of the border to imagine the prospect of more than 100,000 people losing their jobs within a short matter of months as a direct result of EU policy. Imagine the Front Benchers of a British Government not raising that at the most important meeting that the EU can hold. It is unimaginable that Jacques Chirac, facing the prospect of 100,000 French farmers losing their jobs, or Premier Aznar facing the prospect of 100,000 Spanish fishermen losing their jobs, would not raise those matters in a Council meeting, especially a summit meeting.I have grave concerns that Government policy on this is completely out of sync. I note with interest that the Secretary of State for Scotland tried to persuade us yesterday in the Scottish Grand Committee that the Prime Minister has said that

I have followed EU business for a long time and I have never heard of a Prime Minister taking part in a European Agriculture and Fisheries Council. The Prime Minister takes part in summit meetings of Heads of State and Government. That is what will take place at the end of this week and that subject is not on the agenda. We are repeatedly told, because apparently the UK Government think it important, that the Prime

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Minister did talk with Franz Fischler on 14 November in what was described as a short meeting, and that was confirmed earlier today by his office.

I am glad that the Minister of State is here because I intervened during questions to raise the matter and he said:

I note with interest that there is no mention of the fishing industry on the agenda. I have confirmation from the Prime Minister of Denmark, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who holds the presidency of the EU, that an important issue for the Government of Spain is set to be debated—the Prestige disaster. Hon. Members will know about the oil spill off Galicia, which is tremendously important, and understandably so for the people of Spain. Their Government have made the effort to have the matter put on the agenda, yet the UK Government have not made a similar effort with regard to fishing.

I asked the House of Commons Library yesterday if it would produce a list to show how often member states have put matters of vital national interest at the top of the agenda of European Council and summit meetings, and it ran to five pages. I summarise by mentioning that in 1965 France secured veto powers on CAP reform, in 1983 the UK raised the budget rebate, and in 1992 Spain raised cohesion funding—the list goes on. With an impending disaster in the Scottish fishing industry, people in my constituency and throughout the coast of Scotland and elsewhere in the UK cannot and will not understand why the Government are not batting for them at the most important meeting that can make decisions, or seeking to impress on other Governments that it is imperative to deal with the issue.

Mr. Hendrick: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Angus Robertson: I shall not, because I am in my last minute. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand.

I have come to this debate with a heavy heart and with mixed feelings, because I am a convinced and proud European who is over the moon about the prospect of enlargement. It breaks my heart to stand here and persuade representatives of any democratic Government to stick up for people. Having marched with the steelworkers at Ravenscraig and Gartcosh with colleagues from the Labour party, I thought that there would be an understanding of what mass wholesale unemployment would mean, and I hope that the UK Government will make that effort and raise the matter at the Copenhagen summit. Every single effort needs to be made to secure the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people.

8.25 pm

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): I am pleased to take part in the debate as we enter a new era in the development of Europe. The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) made a case for Scotland's involvement in that, and I hope that in future Yorkshire will also have its chance to have its voice heard in Europe as the regional agenda develops in Britain.

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Like the hon. Gentleman, I also claim mixed parentage. My father was born in Yorkshire and my mother, alas, was born in Lancashire, so there are some differences there. I am reassured by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon), who is no longer in his place, that even people in Lancashire are people.

Since the second world war it is good to say that much of Europe has enjoyed peace and stability, and I hope that enlargement will mean much greater peace and stability throughout Europe. Last month the Prime Minister described the forthcoming enlargement as the creation of a new Europe by free will. Unfortunately, we know that many of today's threats come not from within individual countries but from terrorism. I believe that together in Europe we can work with the other parts of the world to try to continue in the peace and stability that we have all enjoyed for many years.

The EU has greatly boosted trade, jobs and the economy. We have heard today, and have been encouraged by it, positive speeches on both sides of the House about the EU, and a real desire to see how it can develop.

South Yorkshire has recently benefited from objective 1 money and I hope that with the enlargement of the EU there will be a commitment to achieve development across all of Europe's regions. We see within our own country how some regions have not done so well in the economy, hence the reason for the structural funds that have come to areas such as mine. It is important for stability, peace and justice that huge disparities are avoided in wealth, health and development throughout Europe and ultimately the whole world. Of course, there are many other issues as well as security and economic success. Increasingly, we have environmental concerns that do not stop at national borders.

We have often heard the European Union criticised for being complex and a difficult institution for its citizens to understand. Some take the view that there is a disconnection between the European institutions and the citizens of Europe and that that has led to apathy, so I should like to discuss an area that has been little mentioned, but was brought to my attention yesterday when the Select Committee on Education and Skills met members of the British Council. I refer to European education programmes, which should spread out and benefit all countries, including those that are joining the European Union as well as those that are already members.

The British Council runs many of the European Union education programmes in the United Kingdom. The number of programmes is probably greater than many hon. Members think, as they span the entire breadth of our education systems. For example, school education and joint curriculum projects operate between schools and colleges, giving staff training opportunities and allowing them to develop networks with teachers in other countries. Two such projects exist in Sheffield.

On adult education and lifelong learning, the aim is to improve the availability, accessibility and quality of adult teaching and learning by supporting European co-operation projects, learning partnerships, staff training

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and the development of networks across countries. If we want a Europe in which adults have the skills and abilities to work in the sort of jobs that will arise in the next decade, adult skills and education are very important.

The Lingua programme promotes the learning of foreign languages. The hon. Member for Moray might like to find out a bit more about it, as he was somewhat sceptical about the ability of this country's citizens to read and converse in other languages. As a linguist, I think it is very important that we promote the learning of languages in schools and for adults. The Lingua project supports the raising of awareness of language learning opportunities and seeks to develop such opportunities. As people get to meet the citizens of other European countries and learn about them, it is only natural that they should learn their languages. That enriches our culture and makes us all Europeans, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon) said.

Arion study visits are themed study visits for education decision makers. Again, they involve the sharing of education issues and ideas across Europe. The Government have rightly made education our No. 1 priority, and I should like to see it on the European agenda as well.

In addition to the programmes run by the British Council, there are other European Union educational programmes such as Erasmus, which relates to higher education and aims to encourage co-operation between European universities and support the mobility of students and staff and the development of joint programmes and courses and thematic networks. I was heartened by the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson), who recognised that the development of the European Union is not only about economics, peace or defence, but about culture and learning.

Of course, education has an intrinsic value, but it is especially important for the European Union in promoting co-operation and understanding between countries as we stand at the threshold of an enlarged European Union. By learning languages, we can begin to recognise the importance of the knowledge economy, in which people can benefit from being able to converse in another language in terms of trade between countries. In England—I say England advisedly—we are too often happy to sit back and allow other people to deal with things because they speak English. Is it not time that we learned those other languages so that we can expand our trading and cultural links as well?

Programmes such as those that I have mentioned support and create opportunities for all our citizens. I believe that enlargement provides opportunities not only to secure economic development, but to promote through such programmes understanding and co-operation across an increasing and I hope ever-enlarging number of countries. I firmly believe that enlargement will bring greater stability and prosperity to increasing numbers of people and that all European citizens will be working together for a more peaceful, prosperous and stable world.

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8.34 pm

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