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EU Enlargement

4. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): If he will make a statement on progress towards enlargement of the European Union on 1 May. [150690]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): The EU is on track for a successful and historic enlargement on 1 May, setting the seal on the end of the cold war divisions in Europe.

Miss McIntosh : The Minister will know of my close interest in enlargement. I particularly welcome the application of central and eastern European countries to return to the bosom of the European family. Will the Minister explain why Britain is one of the few countries not to allow the normal seven-year transition period for the free movement of workers? Does he think that the national health service, in particular, will be able to cope with a potentially big influx from 1 May? Would it not have been wiser to wait for the full seven years?

Mr. MacShane: That was fully discussed when we debated the European Union (Accessions) Bill. On Second Reading, the House voted by 490 votes to zero to support the policy—a Second Reading vote that I hope might be matched later today. It is, however, important for us to send a clear signal of welcome.

After 1 May, all EU citizens—the 350 million existing citizens and the 70-odd million who are coming in—will be able to travel freely and live where they want. In Britain, where we have a labour shortage, we have said that Polish nurses, Hungarian doctors and Czech plumbers are welcome to come and find a job, if they can find one. Countries with high unemployment, such as Germany and France, have adopted a different policy. Our policy is good and the European Union (Accessions) Act 1994 had the full backing of the Conservative party at all stages of its passage through the House. I hope that we maintain that united front of welcome to our new friends from east Europe.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): May I take this "window of opportunity" to ask the Minister whether he will announce a package of celebrations for 1 May? Long after we have debated today's issues, the lasting legacy of this Government will be the widening of Europe and the admission of millions of people who have been subjugated for the best part of 200 years into the club of free nations. We should celebrate that achievement, and I look to the Government to proclaim it.

Mr. MacShane: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's dedication, especially to building links between this House and the British people, and the Polish Sejm and the Polish people. I have celebrated May day on and off all my life, but I especially look forward to this one. Many events are planned: some will contain high pomp, while I hope that others will be popular and full of fun. I invite all hon. Members to take part and will make sure that my hon. Friend has an invitation to each and every event.

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Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Since Britain is the only large member state to permit an unrestricted number of people from those countries to come and live here and seek work from 1 May, do the Government stand by their earlier estimate that only between 5,000 and 13,000 people a year will avail themselves of that right? If so, why have they confirmed that they are taking out advertisements in the Czech Republic to persuade the Romana Gypsy population not to take up the right to live and seek work in this country, which they would otherwise be permitted to do after 1 May?

Mr. MacShane: The right hon. Gentleman should recall that the Government have reserved powers that could be used to introduce controls on applications for work. He makes a mistake when he refers to "Romana" or Romanian people entering Britain. Of course, the only famous Romanian family that we know about is that of the Conservative party leader, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). If rancid hate campaigns such as those that the tabloid press have recently been conducting against our east European friends had been applied in the 1930s, the position would be very different. Let me repeat again for the sake of clarity that every single European citizen will be able to travel freely in France, Germany and anywhere else. The United Kingdom and a number of other successful economies in Europe say that plumbers, doctors, teachers, cleaners and agricultural workers from the enlargement countries are welcome. The House voted unanimously in favour of that policy, and I hope that we do not follow some of the hate campaigns against our new partners and friends from eastern Europe.

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South) (Lab): I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that enlargement offers wonderful opportunities to the UK and all other countries involved in it. However, I have a note of caution: I hope that discussion is taking place between Papadopoulos in southern Cyprus and Denktash in northern Cyprus. What progress is being made to ensure that Cyprus becomes a member of the European Union as a united island?

Mr. MacShane: At the beginning of the year, I paid a three-day visit to Turkey to discuss that issue with the Turkish Government, and I found a distinct new mood. Mr. Erdogan, the Prime Minister, presented his thinking to the UN Secretary-General on Sunday in Davos, and he will discuss the matter with President Bush tomorrow—I know that the American Administration are taking a keen interest in a settlement in Cyprus.

We urge all sides to seize the opportunity in the next two and a half months to allow a united Cyprus to enter the EU. Turkey has made remarkable strides given where she was even a year ago. It is now up to the Greek Cypriot Government to indicate clearly and unequivocally that they will start negotiations; that they will seek to finish them by 1 May; and that they will put the results to a referendum—as should the Turkish Cypriots in northern Cyprus. The Government's

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message is that speed and urgency are necessary and that both sides should take this historic opportunity to allow a united Cyprus to enter a united European Union.

Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): Notwithstanding previous replies given by the Minister or the vote on the principle of widening membership of the European Union, the British taxpayer is extremely concerned that numbers of people may come to this country and use our services without having contributed to them. I ask again why the Government did not apply for the derogation that would have prevented that situation.

Mr. MacShane: Anyone who comes to this country may be eligible for benefits after a certain period of employment— we call it the habitual residence test—like any British citizen who travels anywhere in the European Union. I repeat that we welcome the fact that our new friends and partners—the citizens of Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, the Baltic states and the others—will be able to come here. If they can find work, they will make a positive contribution to our economy. I hope that the Conservative party, which took a principled position on the issue of enlargement and voted consistently and unanimously with all the other parties in the House to send that positive message to our friends, will not now resile from that and start using the language of hate against our friends from eastern Europe that we have seen in some of the tabloid papers recently.

Israel

6. Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East) (Lab): What assessment he has made of restrictions announced by the Government of Israel on the right to travel to Palestinian-controlled areas from Israel. [150692]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): We are seriously concerned by the possible impact of new regulations on media, humanitarian organisations and civil society groups operating in the occupied territories. We have raised our concerns with the Israeli Government directly, and are exploring with our EU partners further avenues for doing so.

Mr. Connarty : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. It is clear that the Israeli state is trying to obliterate any sovereignty of the Palestinian Authority. I was an observer, on behalf of the EU, at the elections for the Palestinian Authority and it was clear that in certain areas there was, theoretically, a Palestinian state in the making. Will my hon. Friend step up the pressure—together with the EU, which has raised the matter already—to have the restrictions withdrawn? They apply not only to voluntary organisations but to EU officials and, I presume, representatives of this Government and Parliament.

Mr. Rammell: I fully understand my hon. Friend's strength of feeling on the issue. Baroness Symons, who made a three-day visit to the occupied territories last week, has been lobbying the Israeli Government vigorously on the issue and spoke to the Israeli ambassador yesterday evening. It is worth noting that

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our understanding at present is that the new regulations are not being applied on the ground at Ben Gurion airport. However, it is worrying that such restrictions exist and that information leaflets are being distributed. We shall certainly continue strongly to urge Israel to lift the restrictions as soon as possible.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): While I understand the Israelis' need for security against the daily threat of suicide bombings, the controversial fence, 63 checkpoints and 34 road gates bring intolerable disruption to the lives of many Palestinians going about their ordinary, peaceful business. Does the Minister accept that one possible benefit of the Israeli Government completing their security partition—as they are determined to do—would be the removal of many, if not all, of the roadblocks on the east side of the partition? Will he urge them to do that as quickly as possible?

Mr. Rammell: We understand the legitimate security concerns of the Israeli state, but the issue is that several of those measures are not only a concern in themselves but are counterproductive to the interests of the Israeli Government and their people. The fence is a retrograde step; it is unlawfully positioned on the occupied territory and it threatens the two-state solution. I urge all parties on both sides to go back to the negotiating table and to implement the roadmap, which is the only feasible way forward in the circumstances.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I welcome what my hon. Friend has said about the new movement restrictions. It is important that British Members of Parliament are able to see the situation over there for themselves. For example, over Christmas I met a disabled Palestinian boy who has to take a £20-a-day taxi ride to reach his special school and his father cannot go with him because he does not have the right permit. Does my hon. Friend agree that such movement restrictions are not only unlawful but immoral? No country, including Israel, should stop parliamentarians from this country or anywhere else seeing matters for themselves and making the appropriate representations.

Mr. Rammell: I fully understand the views that my hon. Friend puts forward. There is a genuine concern that the restrictions will have serious consequences for those who attempt to work in or report from the occupied territories. More importantly, the restrictions could seriously disrupt the supply of essential emergency provisions for the most vulnerable people in the Palestinian territories. We will continue to put forward those views vigorously.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Given the high priority attached by President Bush and the Prime Minister to the middle east peace process in the run up to the conflict in Iraq, what precisely is now being done to draw the two sides together to attempt to reach a real solution?

Mr. Rammell: We continue to urge both parties to go back to the table and to fulfil their responsibilities in terms of phase one of the road map. If the road map process did not exist, we would have to invent a similar

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process. It is the only way forward, and the US, the UK and the other Quartet partners continue to make that argument forcibly.

Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester) (Lab): As someone who was fortunate enough to see the area at close quarters last week, I wonder whether my hon. Friend is aware of the situation in Kalkilya, a Palestinian town that is now surrounded by the security fence, barbed wire and a concrete wall. There is only one entrance and exit, and even that was closed for part of last week. Will my hon. Friend make representations to ensure that that does not happen again?

Mr. Rammell: We shall certainly continue to make representations to the Israeli Government on the issue of the fence. My hon. Friend's description underlines the serious impact that the fence has on those Palestinian people who are cut off from their livelihoods. It is an issue of real concern and, as I said earlier, it is counterproductive to the interests of the Israeli Government and people, because a settlement cannot be reached while opinion remains so polarised and divided.


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