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Mr. Cash: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I share many of his views on questions of principle about the EU. I speak to him in a spirit of mutual constructiveness about problems on the left-wing side of the argument. I am thinking of Laurent Fabius in France and the Labour party in this Parliament. I know of many early-day motions and expressions of concern from Labour Members, but I am not convinced that I have ever seen anything that I would regard as a serious revolt over Europe, equivalent to what occurs in the Conservative party. When push comes to shove, I believe that such revolts are the only way in which these matters will ultimately be resolved.
Mr. Hopkins: I do not want to remind the hon. Gentleman about this, but the previous Conservative Government voted for Maastricht. When they went into opposition, the Conservatives underwent a conversion and opposed it. It is interesting that, in Britain especially, political parties tend to be sceptical about Europe when they are in opposition, and to change their minds when in government. I may be old fashioned, but my rigid mind means that I have not changed my views for a long time. I am always happy to be challenged about what I saypoliticians have to be like thatbut I have not been persuaded that my view is incorrect.
I have been speaking for rather a long time, but a few interventions have led me down paths that I was not able to pursue. I believe that a case can be made for a democratic socialist Europe, but not for a neo-liberal Europe. I and others support a democratic socialist Europe, through the Centre for Social Europe and other organisations.
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There is a legitimate and strong socialist case against the constitution. I hope that the constitution will be voted down by one country or another when the matter goes to referendum and that it will not come into force. That would allow us to return to the present status quo and to argue more sensibly for a better Europe with full employment, equality, proper social protection and pensions, and a welfare state that benefits everyone.
I consider myself to be a good European because I want a good Europe for all Europeans, and one that is beneficial in the wider world. The approach adopted by me and those comrades who share my view is the way forward.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): It was worth turning up to this debate just to hear the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins), who represents a species of politician that I thought had died out with the Labour Euro-Safeguards campaign. The Minister for Europe can never again dare to associate the no campaign or Euroscepticism solely with the Conservative party. We have just heard the authentic voice of Eurosceptic Labour, and even the word "comrades" was used. Clearly, it is worth hearing that voice more often, explaining the Euro-Safeguards campaign. I thought that people who used such language had all been purged from the new model Labour party.
I give advance warning to the House that my speech this afternoon will have two parts. The first part will be very bad tempered, and the second very tedious. I shall begin with the bad-tempered bit. European policy affects pretty well everything that we do in this House and in this country. It is not acceptable that it is debated only in the European Standing Committees and the Select Committee on European Scrutiny.
As Chairman of the Select Committee on International Development, I was fortunate to be able to attend the trade negotiations at Cancun, and I am grateful to the Government for that invitation. However, that visit brought it home to me that the EU negotiates in those areas, such as trade policy, where it has total competence. Pascal Lamy had very little time to brief Ministers from the nations involved about what was happening in the trade negotiations. In fact, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry spent a large chunk of her visit in Honduras, where she opened an embassy and a new office for the Department for International Development. I am sad to say that the office was closed recently because of cuts in the relevant bit of DFID's budget as a result of extra spending on Iraq.
I shall speak about trade policy later, which is now an EU competence. We ought to have a debate on EU trade policy at least once a year, with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry at the Dispatch Box.
The House will know that my principal interest in this House at the moment is my chairmanship of the International Development Committee. We have lots of cockshies: we had one today in DFID questions, and when the hon. Member for Luton, North spoke a moment ago about EU development assistance. All sorts of arguments can be put forward about the external affairs budget, and so on. We never have a coherent debate in the House on EU development assistance at which the Secretary of State for
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International Development gives an account of the quarter of all UK development spending that goes to the EU.
Not long ago, the International Development Committee published a report on migration and development, including many issues that relate to the European Union, such as migration policy and the recruitment of doctors, nurses and other skilled people from developing countries. We did not have a debate on that.
Twice a year, we have these debates on Europe, but they are like group therapy sessions. The usual suspects turn up and make pretty much the same speechesthey are good and enjoyable speeches, but we do not move on much. My bad-tempered point is that the Procedure Committee should look at how we can find more time for debates on the Floor of the House on specific motions on Europe and EU policy, rather than just these general debates twice a year, which are no proper substitute for accountable debate. The Minister for Europe is an honourable man and I am sure that he will ensure that Ministers in other Departments read what colleagues on both sides of the House have said today on specific policy areas, but no coherence will emerge if we just have these group therapy sessions.
The comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) were important. At some stage before the end of this Parliament, we should have a proper debate on the constitution. I am prepared to bet any amount of money that the Government business managers will do anything other than have a debate on the constitution on the Floor of the House before this Parliament finishes. If an issue is as important as our membership of the European Union, we should give more time to specific motions on it on the Floor of the House.
The International Development Committee recently took evidence from officials from the Department for International Development and the Department of Trade and Industry on Cotonou. We all left the meeting feeling that we had failed the Houseand the House itself had failedby not giving any proper attention to Cotonou and its potential impact on developing countries. It is certainly as important as Doha. Glenys Kinnock, who was co-president of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, described Cotonou as the bedrock of Europe's development policy, but there has been little debate about it in this House. Indeed, since Cotonou was agreed in 2000 and trade negotiations begun, only one articlethat I could findhas been published in the UK press. There have been no statements to the House on Cotonou.
A few weeks ago, the Under-Secretary of State for International Development was in Brussels to discuss issues surrounding Cotonou, but no subsequent statement was made to the Housenot even a written statement in Hansard. On 3 December, there was a ministerial meeting to review the Cotonou agreement, but again no statement was made to the Housenot
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even a written one. On 2 December, there was at least a debate in Westminster Hall on the Caribbean and that brought the first mention of Cotonou in the House since an oral question three Sessions ago. These trade negotiations will have a significant impact on Caribbean countriesa quarter of the Commonwealth is in the Caribbeanand on the many poor, least developed countries in Africa and the Pacific. Indeed, the Prime Minister is talking about a Commission for Africa next year.
The Under-Secretary would not have volunteered any information on Cotonou in Westminster Hall unless he had been prompted to do so. Even then, he gave us only a short paragraph that had been passed to him by officialsand that was despite having been in Brussels the previous week to discuss Cotonou and at a ministerial meeting on the issue the next day. The coalition against the European Commission's proposals on Cotonou is widespread. The solitary press article to which I alluded earlier appeared in the Financial Times almost two years ago. It raised the concerns set out in a World Bank report, which called on Cotonou to be radically simplifiedan important point, given that EU commissioners will have more bag carriers at trade summits than African, Caribbean and Pacific countries will have lawyers. Non-governmental organisations, including ActionAid, Oxfam, Christian Aid, CAFODthe Catholic Agency for Overseas Developmentand a number of others, have been circulating Members with a briefing entitled "Six Reasons to Oppose Economic Partnership Agreements in their Current Form". I acknowledge that economic partnership agreements are part of the tedious language of trade negotiations, which is why it might be helpful if debates such as this could take place when the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was in the Chamber to answer them; however, they are the new instruments that will be introduced to replace the existing arrangements with ACP nations.
Earlier this month, officials from the Department for International Development and the Department of Trade and Industry gave evidence on Cotonou to the International Development Committee. After hearing that evidence, every member of the Committee believes that we have not sufficiently kept our eyes on the ball on Cotonou and on the impact that discussions will have on the least developed countries, in particular the ACP countries.
for developing countries to negotiate on. There is no idiot's guide to Cotonou, but these are the basics. In 2000, the Cotonou agreement replaced Lomé, and it marked a shift from non-reciprocal tariff preferences to establishing reciprocal trade agreements for all ACP countries. The Cotonou agreement proposes to create World Trade Organisation-compatible economic partnership agreementsEPAsbetween the EU and the six ACP regions. The ACP group will continue to exist, but its role and scope will be radically altered. That will mean that quite wealthy countries, such as the Bahamas, will negotiate with quite poor countries, such as St. Kitts and Nevis, under the same arrangements.
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The EU has said that the economic partnership agreements should have a strong developmental emphasisalthough we have yet to see evidence of thatbut that they should also include reciprocity, so preference will go. In other words, as the markets of the EU open up, the EU expects the markets of the poorer countries to open up simultaneously. In evidence to the Select Committee, officials stated that economic partnership agreements will
However, they also said that the regional trade agreements "must include reciprocity". Ministers need to indicate how those two seemingly incompatible objectivesmaintaining preferential access and including reciprocitywill be put into effect in a WTO-compatible manner. If that does not happen, which side will the UK be on? Will it be on the side of those who want to help the least developed countries or of those who want to drive a mercantilist solution as speedily as possible?
It should also be remembered that countries such as St. Kitts and Nevis, which has only four trade negotiators, are simultaneously having to deal with the ACP negotiations on Cotonou and the Doha negotiations at the WTO, which will be going on until next year. In a recent speech to ACP Heads of State, Kofi Annan said:
"A major concern, for example, is the impact that the trade liberalisation to be wrought by EPAs would have on fiscal revenue. Many of your countries are heavily dependent on income from tariffs for government revenue. The prospect of falling government revenue, combined with falling commodity prices and huge external indebtedness, imposes a heavy burden on your countries and threatens to further hinder your ability to achieve the Millennium Development Goals."
That is rather powerful stuff from the Secretary-General of the United Nations. He is effectively saying that our Prime Minister is setting up a Commission for Africa on the one hand, yet on the other what the European Union, through the Cotonou negotiations, is putting in place threatens, to quote the words of the Secretary-General, to "hinder" least developed countries'
There does not seem to me to be very much policy coherence. The UN Secretary-General is telling the ACP states that negotiations with Europe will make life a lot more difficult for them rather than a lot easier.
We should consider dropping the principle of reciprocity in the EPA negotiations, because reciprocity between the EU and the ACP countries constitutes a substantial threat to the economies of those nations. Not least is the concern about the uneven playing field on which reciprocity is being negotiated. There has been little coverage of the subject in the UK press, but it has deeply concerned the press and people in the developing world.
The Prime Minister is rightly focusing on Africa as the lead theme for Britain's G8 presidency, so it seems somewhat strange for us to be making life more difficult
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for Africa elsewhere. It is simply not acceptable to talk up the EU's commitment to a bilateral agreement at the World Trade Organisation while simultaneously shopping around for what might be more advantageous bilateral deals.
The Government, when they are pressed on these economic partnership agreements, say, "We understand that there are problems here, so perhaps we can come up with some alternatives." One suggestion that officials have come up with, which I think Ministers are toying with, is a suggestion for a generalised system of preferences, but as yet there has been very little discussion of the limits of such systems. It is probable that it will prove impossible to offer all developing countries "Everything but Arms" access, but what steps are the Government taking to ensure that a viable alternative with at least as good access is available to ACP states that do not wish to pursue an economic partnership agreement?
"When I was in Brussels this week, I received assurance that the EU does not by any means expect full reciprocity. We have received continual assurances from the EU that it sees EPA as tools for development . . . The current EPA negotiations are focused on regional integration. For that reason alonealthough there are othersI do not think that we should delay the start of negotiations. They need to continue in tandem with the Doha . . . negotiations."[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 2 December 2004; Vol. 428, c. 41WH.]
Hearing that, hon. Members could be excused for gaining the impression that, apart from a few tweaks, all is well in trade policy, yet officials were very much darker just 10 days earlier. On 30 November, they told the International Development Committee:
"I think probably the most worrying area is the fiscal one: that if the ACP or indeed the WTO negotiations forced the ACP, particularly African countries, to reduce their tariffs, they would have a huge problem in terms of their revenue. The World Bank has come up with some figures and it looks extremely grave from their evidence where they have estimated that offering the EU duty free access would incur losses amounting to one per cent of GDP and seven to ten per cent of Government revenue for sub-Saharan Africa. Obviously, therefore, you need to pace this and you need assistance for substantial fiscal reform. That is not the only area, obviously."
"the UK as you know is very keen to see conditionality attached to EDF in terms of good governance and properly targeted development, but we certainly would not want to see any conditionality attached to implementing trade reforms. Basically, the work needs to be done, we need a dialogue with the Commission, but obviously it would be helpful if the Committee and others can be saying, do not let us rob Peter to pay Paul."
The Government have said that next year Africa will be very important, and I am quite sure that we shall hear a lot from the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and others at the beginning of the year about the importance of the G8, the importance of the Commission for Africa, and the importance of Britain's presidency of the European Union in the last six months of next year to take forward their agenda on Africa. However, I ask the Minister for Europe to relay to the Secretary of state for
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Trade and Industry and others in the Government that if they get the Cotonou negotiations wrong the Commission for Africa will produce no more than hollow words because all it will mean is that the EU will make life in terms of trade, which is, of course, crucial to every developing country, much more difficult than at present in those developing countries.
I had hoped that we would have an opportunity to debate trade policy on its ownwe clearly will not but that is an important part of EU policy, where the Commission largely has competence and the Government need to ensure that the Commission is responding to what I believe is a very considerable consensus in this country that, next year, we should seek to make poverty history, but we will not make poverty history if we do not get the Cotonou trade negotiations right.
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