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Dr. Reid: Yes indeed. I hope that the whole House shares my concern and that of my hon. Friend. We are deeply concerned about the latest developments in Burma, and we have firmly called on the Burmese to release Suu and her National League colleagues immediately and to reopen the NLD offices and the universities in Burma. We are in discussions with our European Union and international partners on what further steps we will take if the regime does not provide immediate satisfactory responses on those matters.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): Does the Leader of the House agree that the quality of parliamentary business could be greatly improved if we did not have to endure half an hour of questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland once a month? When he next speaks to the Prime Minister, might he perhaps

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suggest that the rumoured forthcoming reshuffle would present an excellent opportunity to get rid of a Department that has clearly outlived its usefulness and to replace it with a Department that would deal with all the Administrations in the devolved regions?

Dr. Reid: Even while wearing my hat as a member of the United Kingdom Government with United Kingdom-wide responsibilities, I am staggered by the hon. Gentleman's attempt to diminish the importance of Scotland. I would have expected him to welcome the opportunity, for just 30 minutes each month, to discuss the responsibilities of this House, which have an immediate and important impact on Scotland. I am thinking of trade policy, macro-economic policy, telecommunications, the oil industry, social security and benefits—quite apart from foreign affairs and defence, which are of huge interest to the people of Scotland. The hon. Gentleman should think again before talking down Scotland.

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the restrictive practices that are being applied by NTL and Telewest in relation to the new directory inquiries system? They are not permitting any of their 5 million customers to contact the other 82 companies that are allowed to provide services and have paid a lot of money to obtain their numbers. Will my right hon. Friend try to arrange a debate, or get in touch with the Department of Trade and Industry and in particular Oftel, which has refused to do anything on the ground that five million people is too small a number to be bothered with? Perhaps one of the Opposition parties would consider requesting a debate next week.

Dr. Reid: I was not aware of that, and I thank my hon. Friend for telling me about it. If what he says is accurate, it is extremely disturbing, and at the very least it is something that I should bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I will do that.

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Orders of the Day

European Union (Accessions) Bill

Considered in Committee.

[Sir Alan Haselhurst in the Chair]

Clause 1

Accession Treaty

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

1.33 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane) : Clause 1 is central to the Bill. In crude terms, it will enable us to implement the accession treaty in United Kingdom law, paving the way for UK ratification later in the year. It should be recognisable to all who are familiar with past accession Bills. I have just had a very enjoyable lunchtime meeting with the Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic, who hopes very much that he will be able to go home tonight with news that the House of Commons has sent the people of his country a positive message by adopting clause 1—and, indeed, the Bill as a whole.

Subsection 1 amends the definitions of "the Treaties" and "the Community Treaties" in the European Communities Act 1972. In broad terms that grants automatic effect to directly applicable treaty provisions, and allows designated Ministers to make regulations amending existing UK legislation to the extent that that may be necessary for the implementation of the treaty.

It is difficult to speak about this part of the Bill without rehearsing some of the principles discussed on Second Reading. I shall be brief, because I believe that there is a broad consensus on the principles of accession. We have separately placed the key facts in the public domain in the form of the explanatory memorandum on the treaty, and the explanatory notes and regulatory impact assessment relating to the Bill.

The enlargement for which the Bill provides means that the cold war will finally be laid to rest. After decades of suspicion, disunity and enmity, the continent of Europe will be united, locking in peace, security and prosperity. Just over a decade ago, six of the 10 states that will join us in the EU next year did not exist, and one of the 10 was at war. Now all the accession states, bar Cyprus and Malta, are or are due to become NATO members. Security and stability have increased markedly within and between the accession states, and across Europe as a whole.

Since the start of the association process 10 years ago, the gross domestic product of candidates from the former communist bloc has grown by 40 per cent. The standard of living in central Europe has improved dramatically. For example, the average salary in Slovenia has increased by 62 per cent. in the last 10 years. Central European economies have rapidly integrated with western European and world markets. When I visited Poland last week, I noted the remarkable change that is taking place almost year on year, with new wealth, new housing, new cars, new industry and new business surging forward.

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The EU is the accession countries' main trading partner. As a bloc, the 10 new member states constitute the EU's largest trading partner after the United States.

The final package for the new member states is generous and fair, but it is also below the overall budget ceilings for enlargement set by the European Council in Berlin in 1999. Although some Members have complained that the deal is not generous enough, it is in line with the new member states' capacity to absorb funds.

Accession has helped and is helping the new members to address issues ranging from the protection of minority rights to the safety of nuclear power stations and to hygiene in dairies. They have had to reform and significantly strengthen their Administrations and their court and legal systems. All that benefits the citizens of those countries, and anyone who travels or works in them.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Given that the provision for regulations—the need for which is not of itself in dispute—comprises the vast bulk of clause 2 of a three-clause Bill, can the Minister enlighten us on whether the Government are prepared to consider subjecting such regulations to the affirmative procedure? That would afford the opportunity of a full debate on the content thereof on the Floor of the House.

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman's question relates to clause 2; we are debating clause 1.

Mr. MacShane: Profound changes in the business environment have also taken place—for example, the creation of food standards agencies, telecoms regulators, labour inspectorates and insurance market supervisors. Enlargement is improving environmental standards across the continent as well as health and safety standards. That applies to food safety and the quality of food exports to the United Kingdom, consumer protection and employment practice. Enlargement has also improved human rights. The new member states have had to align their human rights law and practices with EU standards, and they are required to have taken on board by the point of accession the Community's acquis prohibiting racial and other forms of discrimination.

Bob Spink (Castle Point): The Minister mentioned trade and exports. How will the accession of the whole island of Cyprus affect exports from the north of the island, and what changes will there be to visa requirements?

Mr. MacShane: The status of the northern part will remain the same. We are optimistic that before accession on 1 May next year a united Cyprus, along the lines of the Kofi Annan plan, will enter the EU. I take great heart, as I believe do all Members, from the remarkable sight of the people of Cyprus voting with their feet against some of the most reactionary political advice that they have received in recent years.

The prospect of enlargement is helping us to boost co-operation between present and future member states in tackling organised crime, drug trafficking and people smuggling. Acceding countries are bringing their police forces up to EU standards, and will participate in EU anti-crime institutions.

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There is certainly more for the new member states to do. The Commission continues to monitor their implementation of their negotiating commitments. We welcome that monitoring, which serves as both an encouragement to the new members to continue their efforts and an assurance to the existing member states.

The Commission will issue a comprehensive report in November this year. If necessary, that will advise on the potential use of the safeguards in the treaty for issues such as the functioning of the single market and mutual recognition of civil and criminal law. However, neither monitoring nor safeguards will affect accession itself. Subject to ratification by the 25 states, the treaty will enter into effect for all 25 states on 1 May next year. The signs so far are promising. Referendums have been won in Malta, Slovenia, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovakia. We have high hopes for Poland this weekend, for the Czech Republic a little later and for Latvia and Estonia in September. The message is clear and loud: saying yes to Europe is popular among those who know the value of freedom and who liberated themselves from communism.

Subsection (2) approves, for the purpose of section 12 of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002, the provisions of the accession treaty in so far as they relate to the powers of the European Parliament. As in previous accession Bills, the inclusion of that provision is a precautionary measure to put beyond doubt Parliament's approval of those parts of the treaty that deal with the powers of the European Parliament.

The accession treaty does not create new powers for the Parliament, but it increases the field of application of the existing powers of the Parliament. Article 11 of the Act of Accession provides for an allocation of MEPs to all 25 member states for the electoral term beginning in June 2004. The figures allocated to each member state were foreshadowed in the relevant protocol and declaration of the Nice treaty, but have been adjusted to take into account the fact that neither Bulgaria nor Romania will accede next year. Minor adjustments were also made to reflect more accurately the sizes of the Hungarian and Czech populations.

Like other existing member states, the UK will see a reduction in the number of its MEPs in the new Parliament; it will decrease from 87 to 78. That is a fair price to pay for an efficient enlargement. Those changes will be implemented in the UK through the European Parliament (Representation) Act 2003, which has recently become law.

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