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Mr. Brady rose—

Mr. Cash rose—

Keith Vaz: I give way to the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash).

Mr. Cash: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Kok report was about Europe as a whole; it was not with regard to the United Kingdom? Does he also accept, as one who has studied the Kok report in detail, that there is no doubt that Mr. Kok did severely criticise the failures of the European Union within the eurozone? Does he further accept that the consequence of that is that the only reason why the United Kingdom is seen to be doing comparatively better is despite, not because of, its policies, for example, on economic and monetary union? In the past, Labour would have supported, and did support, our engagement with the exchange rate mechanism, which the Prime Minister constantly throws at us but actually was supported by the then Labour party in opposition, so we should point that out, too.

Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is right—we have been an economic success in the United Kingdom
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because of the policies pursued by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He is right also to say that the Kok report does outline a number of serious criticisms. The point of having a report of this sort is that when we look at Lisbon, five years on, as we shall do in the spring Council next year under the Luxembourg presidency, we shall at least have the basis for ensuring that there are action plans. The hon. Gentleman will know, because he has read this report, that what is being suggested is that each member state produces an action plan between 2005 and 2006, so that when we get to the spring Council in 2006 each EU country will have an action plan detailing what they will do as a result of the Kok report.

I am very pleased that only yesterday, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills appointed Will Hutton a member of the Kok team, to lead for us in conducting the gap analysis that is being sought to see why we have fallen short of the criteria that have been set out. A gap analysis in the area of learning and skills and education is very important. I know from my time as Minister for Europe that these reports are wonderful, summits are all wonderful, and everything is always such a success in the European Union, but as we have this detailed report we need to act on it, and yesterday a domestic Department has decided to become the first of our Departments of State to ask a person—Will Hutton, an excellent choice as he served on the Kok committee—to produce a gap analysis so that we know where we are going wrong. I want to see other domestic Departments doing the same thing. The predictions of the hon. Member for Stone would be correct if a similar approach is not taken by the Department of Trade and Industry and other Departments that are affected by economic policy. So, we have to take those criticisms; we have to accept that we need to do better. The proposals put forward yesterday and the proposals that will emerge from Departments will be very valuable in ensuring that we get our action plan in place.

I also want to raise an issue that I have raised at every one of these Adjournment debates that has been held before a European Council meeting—I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), will take a note of this so that he can pass it on to the Minister for Europe—and that issue is reform. On 25 February 2002, our Prime Minister, Mr. Aznar and Gerhard Schröder wrote a joint letter on reform to the then European President. The point that we raised then was that there were key areas that needed to be looked at, and I raise it again because I hope that we shall have some answers at the end of the debate. How many of those points mentioned in that letter of 25 February 2002 have actually been realised? How many boxes can we tick? When I last raised this, we did not have an answer, but I am giving notice because I hope that information will be passed to the Front Bench by the time of the winding-up speeches.

There is no point in our taking brave leadership positions in Europe, as our Prime Minister has rightly done, if the rest of Europe does not follow. Our job is to ensure that if we set benchmarks, we know whether they have been realised, and I think that four years is long enough to have looked at this process. I have said before that the people of Britain will never learn to love the EU until the EU learns to love reform, and that means that
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we need to explain to the people of this country, on an ongoing basis—not just if, but when the referendum campaign is called—the benefits of membership of the European Union. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) tried to do so during the process of formulating the European constitution, and, to give him his credit and his due, so did the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) when he sat with her on the Convention. They went out and tried to discuss these issues, and I have received many invitations to events all over the country where they have been speaking on them. That is exactly what we should be doing.

The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes, instead of knocking the EU all the time, should be supporting what Britain is doing. We know where he really stands on this issue. We know that he has to adopt a hard-line approach because he speaks for the Conservative party, but we know where his heart really lies on Europe. Unlike others in his party, he wants to stay in the European Union. I will not mislead people by saying that that is not what he wants to do. If that is what he believes, he should be spending his time supporting what Britain is doing, as we spent our time supporting what Government Ministers did before 1997.

Mr. Hopkins: My hon. Friend talks about people learning to love Europe. Is not the problem that people are supportive of Europe but they want a different Europe? They want a social democratic Europe with full employment and good welfare states and social equality, and all the things that the Labour party has traditionally stood for. That is what they are not getting from Europe and that is why they are so sceptical.

Keith Vaz: I know that I cannot convince my hon. Friend of the merits of the euro, and I do not know whether I can convince him of the merits of being in the European Union, but the fact is that the Lisbon agenda is not just about economic reform, it is also about all the other things that go with social policy. If we have failed to explain that to people it is our fault—Europe can deliver these benefits, but we have not explained them to people in places like Luton, Leicester and Manchester, and that is our failure.

Ms Stuart : Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a real problem, because we can preach the Lisbon agenda and then we see such things as the latest merger and takeover directive, which goes totally counter to what the Lisbon agenda said we should be doing? We aspire to things, but we do the opposite. That is what makes it so difficult.

Keith Vaz: My hon. Friend is right. She has great knowledge of these issues, and my experience and her experience, having sat on the Convention, are similar. Before these initiatives take root in the European Commission, and in all those great directorates-general it has all over the place, they need to be discussed here in the House. I believe that the proposals made by the Foreign Secretary and the Leader of the House for proper scrutiny of European affairs, merging all those
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various Committees into a Committee that really has teeth, are the way forward. I believe that on European issues we should take the route that we took on the Convention, when my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston and the right hon. Member for Wells kept coming to the House to report back and seek our views. I believe that the idea of a second Chamber has gone now—I do not think that we shall get that—and that means that we must take a much greater role in ensuring that scrutiny takes place.

I want to end by briefly talking about the EU presidency, which will come to us in July next year. We are already starting to work on the presidency agenda, and this European Council gives us the opportunity to take forward a number of themes. Obviously, the enlargement theme can be taken forward, as will the Lisbon agenda, but I hope that we can develop the theme of Europe being more than just the original countries that joined or the 15, because we are now a Europe of 25—a Europe of many cultures. We should be proud of the differences in Europe and celebrate them, rather than seeking to find excuses about why Europe does not work.

The Dutch have done extremely well in holding together this presidency. I recently visited Holland to look at the aftermath of what has been happening there. They have had some awful problems—not just the assignation of political figures, but at least 17 mosques have been subject to arson attacks. They are going through their own identity crisis and they have held together the presidency so well. We should learn from what has happened in Holland this year and we should ensure that we push forward the idea of not just an economically prosperous Europe that is able to compete with the United States, producing the jobs that we have not had in the past 10 years, but in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins), a socially responsible Europe that does not involve us in giving up one iota of our economic success.

I wish the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary well in their negotiations this weekend. If the go-ahead is given to Turkey, Britain will have achieved yet another major success, but I hope that all the other points that I have mentioned will also be pursued because we need to change Europe for it to get better.

2.21 pm

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