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11 Dec 2002 : Column 362—continued

9.46 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): I, too, have a printed out, pre-cooked and pre-digested speech, but as Minister for Europe I am trying to respond to debates and to have a conversation about Europe. If the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) will forgive me, I would rather not reply to each point in his pot-pourri of ideas, which contained every cliché and obsession about Europe of the past 20 years. He referred to the problem of the bloc mentality. My difficulty in debating with some Opposition Members in particular is their blockhead mentality.

In his opening remarks, the shadow Foreign Secretary condemned the idea of an integrationist approach to Europe. I want to integrate in NATO and in the World Trade Organisation. I have no problems with our integrating in Europe. The right hon. Gentleman accused us of being instinctive integrationists. For my part, I plead guilty. He is an instinctive isolationist. From the 1930s, through imperial preferences and right back to Tory support for the corn laws, that problem has condemned the Tories to year after year in opposition.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk said that the Conservatives are all in favour of Europe. In a speech on 9 May 2002, the shadow Foreign Secretary said that EU enlargement had always enjoyed the support of the

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Conservative party. It had its own referendum only a few months ago and it booted out the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), whom the shadow Cabinet had selected to represent the Conservative party on the Convention, and through a free vote of all its Members elected the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). Speaking for the Conservative party on the Convention on Radio 4's XAnalysis" programme on 5 December, he said that he was very worried about enlargement—that it was one of those unexamined good ideas that people were afraid to oppose but had not really thought through the consequences of. He went on to say that it would be extremely expensive. That is the formal voice for transmission to Warsaw, Prague and Bratislava of the Opposition Front Bench, but where is their real voice? There is only one Member on their Back Benches now. He spoke well, but the rest are utterly absent. I do not think that the burghers of central and eastern Europe, the folk of the Mediterranean who are coming into the European Union or even my very good friends in Gibraltar will be very impressed by the emptiness of the Opposition Benches during this important discussion.

We have heard some constructive speeches. In particular, excellent speeches about the importance of Turkey's entry into the European Union and the rightful claims of the people of Cyprus in that regard were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love). I think that they spoke for the majority in the House and across the party divide.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) for his congratulations and prescience. His blessing upon my head has turned out to have put me where I am. I hope that I will last at least as long as he did. He emphasised the need for reforms and spoke about the case of Lady Catherine Meyer, which concerns many of us in government. There is a problem, as the German court system does not work in accordance with norms that have been agreed elsewhere in Europe, and if we are to secure justice for Lady Meyer we need a more integrated approach. There is no justice to be gained for her from the Tory approach.

The hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore), who spoke for the Liberal Democrats, welcomed enlargement and referred to the need for common agricultural policy reform. I think that he spoke for many in the House. Along with the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), he also referred to the very serious crisis that faces the fishing communities and fishing folk of Scotland. The subject is technical and I am not entirely sure that it will not be best dealt with at the specialist council, where moves can perhaps be taken forward under qualified majority voting. I assure both hon. Gentlemen that I have had a discussion with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on the Bench tonight and that we will discuss the matter with the Prime Minister tomorrow. The tactics of exactly how an issue should be brought to the fore in the European Union are difficult and need to be considered. They must also be put into effect in the most efficient way. One can always pick up a megaphone and

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shout across the channel, but I am not sure whether that is the best way of advancing the cause of Britain, Scotland and the fishermen. None the less, I promise to keep in the closest touch with hon. Members from Scotland about the issue.

The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff), who is not in his seat, made a very constructive speech. [Interruption.] I see that he has been transposed to the Front Bench. He made an important speech in which he referred to the need for discussion at Copenhagen about the Israel-Palestine dispute. I assure him that that will be discussed—indeed, Foreign Ministers are already discussing it—and I hope that there will be a positive declaration on it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon) made a remarkable speech. He promised to be candid, which makes me think of the lines of a former Foreign Secretary, the great Lord Canning, who said that of all the ills that heaven can send,

My hon. Friend took us to the highways and byways of Tuscany and San Gimignano, and called for us all to be honest with people. He also said that his first and most important principle was to get on with it, so I propose to do exactly that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn) called for more focus on language learning in Europe, and my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) said that English was going to be an increasingly dominant language in Europe. Indeed, when I heard the Foreign Ministers of the accession countries making their presentations at my first Brussels General Affairs Council meeting, they all spoke English. However, we make a huge mistake if we believe that a monolingual Britain will make advances in a European Union, let alone a globalised community.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley gave excellent examples of programmes. I should like her to send details to Opposition Front Benchers. Although I am sure that they are all gifted linguists, or can certainly do wonderful things with their tongues, it would be no bad thing for them to learn a foreign language and thus understand the cultures of the countries with which we must communicate. Indeed, 10,000 EU students are studying in UK universities and approximately 1 million students from the EU study in universities outside their countries. I welcome that development. We must look forward to the new Europe that is being built by younger people and students in their universities, not the Europe of separated nation states, closed borders and frightened peoples, to which Conservative Front Benchers bear witness.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda made the important point that the European Union is the world's greatest experiment in liberal democracy. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) said that the achievements of Europe in the past 50 years outweighed those of the past 2,000 years. The shadow Foreign Secretary, who is muttering, read history at Oxford. I believe that he got only as far as Hobbes and the invocation of the war of all against all. I do him an injustice because I know that the right hon. Gentleman is a convinced European. He does not believe a word of the anti-European drivel that his leader forces him to

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pump out. Conservative Members should pay attention to the recent intervention by Lord Heseltine, a great Conservative.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda mentioned the increase in trade. He is right. Trade with the accession front-runners from the former Soviet bloc has increased by 400 per cent. since 1990. That is 10 times the growth of the UK's trade with the rest of the world.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) posed an important set of questions. He is a former Minister, and he was extremely courteous in saying that I could write to him with the replies. I shall do that.

The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) made a fine, short intervention in which he talked about the emotional glue that holds nations together. He is right, but we can all

to quote Hotspur, and turn them into fears. We have a choice: we can live under the shadow of our fears about Europe or in the sunshine of our hopes and the vision of our ambition. The House and the country want to live with ambition and hope.

Reference has been made to referendums that might be called on various aspects of Europe, but two great consultations on Europe have taken place in the past five years. One happened in 1997 and the other in 2001. In both cases, the British people had a simple choice: yes to Europe or yes to the Conservative party. There was no contest.

I hope that in our next debate, we can set aside the clichés, talk to each other and find ways in which to reconnect the great Conservative party to its internationalist and European tradition. To that end, I shall not invite my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Woodward), who made a powerful and eloquent speech, to recross the Floor because he is happy here and we want him with us.

At some stage, the Conservative party will have to talk sense on Europe. Conservative Members had a choice tonight—at the beginning of the debate and at the end—but, once again, we heard nothing from them. They have missed the bus on Europe and they have missed any chance of connecting with the British people.

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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