Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): It gives me great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). I was particularly taken with his analogy of this being a group therapy session, something like "Europeans Anonymous", but I am not sure in which role that casts you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—perhaps the group therapist, looking on sagely as we expound our problems and difficulties.

This has been an intelligent and wide-ranging debate, even though I have marked differences of opinion with some of the comments that have been made. I regard myself as coming from the greatest little European country that exists—of course, I am talking about Wales—and it is further to travel to Wales than to France. I am great a pro-Welshman and a great pro-Britisher as well. I am also a strong pro-European, but I share some of the frustrations expressed on the Floor of the House today.

One problem is how we get out and tell people in Ogmore, Caerphilly or Luton that this is a great project and that the steam has not gone out of it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) said earlier, what is the great new dream that we put in front of people? Where is the project going? How do we get youngsters very much involved?

Yesterday evening, I attended a colleague MP's event where young people—new, young aspirant voters—were invited to pin up their thoughts about crime, Europe and international development on stick-it notes on a board. It was noticeable that few comments on Europe and the EU were pinned up, but one said, "I don't think they're doing a very good job in Europe, but I don't know a lot about it either." That is a major problem. How do we communicate not only the difficulties, but the successes and strengths? I am a frustrated pro-European and I am here today in this group therapy session not only to tell people about those problems, but to say what we should perhaps be doing.

Being at the heart of Europe is of direct benefit to Britain. Despite some articulate conversation today, some of what has been said is outdated, Eurosceptic jingoism—not all of it, but there has been an element of that. We need to look at the facts. I stress that we need to look at the European initiatives that create and safeguard jobs across the country. We live on an
15 Dec 2004 : Column 1731
island—that fact can be regarded as something of a traditional difficulty and as a great strength of ours—but we are also an island that is part of Europe.

Mr. Hopkins: I hope that my hon. Friend's reference to jingoism was not directed towards the left. We have had international meetings with people from France, Sweden, Denmark, Spain and elsewhere this year. We are an international movement of the left, fighting for a socialist Europe.

Huw Irranca-Davies: One aspect of my humble contribution with which my hon. Friend will agree will be the stress that I put on the way in which Europe has been of great benefit to workers' rights and protections. That matter is significant to my hon. Friend's constituents, as it is to mine.

Britain is clearly better off in Europe, and that is not only because of our ability to access to the world's largest single market, with a population that is now more than 450 million, but because we benefit from receiving the lion's share of foreign investment. I know that because my constituency borders the M4 corridor in south Wales. The M4 corridor is a great infrastructure project that has brought investment directly to mid and west Wales.

The UK is something of a gateway to the vast European market. More than 3 million jobs in 800,000 companies depend on the EU. Some 2 million British workers are employed directly by foreign investors. We are now such an integral part of Europe that eight of our 10 top trading partners are based there. The inter-reliance of countries on exports is significant. We now export more to France than to the 50 countries of the Commonwealth, and four times as much to the EU as to the whole of the US.

To touch on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) about discussions with international colleagues and the socialist agenda—I praise the work of our colleagues on the left in such discussions—the direct benefits of adopting the European social chapter in 1997 are being felt throughout the country. I challenge anyone who is sceptical about the wider benefits of Europe to examine the facts to find out the differences that European-led initiatives and funding are making throughout the country, especially in Wales and notably in south Wales.

Despite some scare stories, EU legislation has spearheaded initiatives to drive the economy forward, and it has made British countries able to compete in a global environment. However, to the people of Britain and Wales—and workers in Ogmore—EU membership means much more than simply free market opportunities for goods and services. It has led to fundamental improvements to working conditions and a minimum level of workplace rights. Those rights, which were voted through with the support of Labour MEPs, include a reduced maximum working week of 48 hours, which has been of particular benefit to families and has had an impact on reducing work-related stress. Further rights coupled with that include entitlements to paid leave and one day off a week. It might seem to Conservative Members that I am offloading something,
15 Dec 2004 : Column 1732
but if we are talking in terms of group therapy, it is important to offload such information and remind people, especially in the light of much of today's debate, about the good that has been achieved through the EU.

It is not only full-time workers who have benefited from advances in workers' rights. Some 6 million British citizens, most of whom are women, have benefited from the part-time workers' law, which guarantees them equal rights to paid leave, pensions, maternity rights, access to training and other company perks and benefits. That fundamental change has been driven through in the European Union by Labour MEPs and others. Up to 1.3 million temporary workers have benefited from an EU law that has granted them conditions comparable to those of people on full-time contracts.

Many advantages have been gained through the EU, yet we do not often hear them covered in such debates or media representations of them. Somehow we prefer to dwell on what is perceived as the ridiculous, the unfortunate, the regrettable and the errors, but we forget the great advances that we have made, not least on workplace protections and rights.

One aspect is health and safety. British workers have benefited from the greater health and safety protection guaranteed by the EU, which is especially significant when one considers that 500,000 people in western Europe will die as a direct consequence of previous exposure to asbestos. That is of particular importance in my constituency, not because we have a prevalence of asbestos-related disease, but because those in my constituency who were affected looked across the UK to find support groups. They were also anxious to lobby for the protection of workers in future. Although it is already strictly controlled in Britain, the marketing and use of asbestos will be banned throughout the EU from 2005. Asbestos will continue to pose a risk for those working on older buildings—electricians, builders, plumbers and all crafts. That is why Labour MEPs backed a new package of safety and training measures to target workers who will continue to be exposed to asbestos.

Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting and salient speech, but I hope that he is not suggesting that the Government, regardless of persuasion, would not have passed such measures anyway. Common sense dictates that we protect people from asbestos. I am sure he is aware that at Turner and Newell 40,000 people have lost their pensions because of asbestos claims from America.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I hope that no Government of any persuasion would object to asbestos protection measures. My point is that they were introduced with the vociferous support of Labour MEPs in particular.

Europe-wide measures such as those are forging a working environment in which workers take precedence over company profits and exploitation, which are being banished from our great continent. We should embrace Europe and the Government's role at the forefront of the European project, not sideline ourselves from what is being achieved in Europe for the people of Britain, the working people of Wales and my constituents. It is time
15 Dec 2004 : Column 1733
to move on and discover the new vision—the dream that will engage the youth and others in the European project.

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Before my hon. Friend moves on to the European vision, will he confirm or dispel the suggestion that the new constitutional treaty will be good for the workers of this country? I believe that will be the case. Does he agree?

Huw Irranca-Davies: I entirely agree. The European constitution is undoubtedly part of the process of reform. I described myself at the beginning of my contribution as a frustrated European. I do not for one moment assume that everything in the EU is perfect—far from it. Many hon. Members in all parts of the House have identified problems of clarity, accountability and fraud. All those diminish confidence in the European Union, but if we focus on the problems to the exclusion of all the achievements, we jeopardise the whole project and the success that can emanate from it.

The European Union has allocated £1.5 billion in structural funds to Wales in 2005–06. With matching funding from various sources—public, private and voluntary—that brings the total structural funds available to more than £3.2 billion. Under the guidance of WEFO—the Welsh European Funding Office—those funds directly benefit some of the poorest and most ostracised members of our communities, many of them in my constituency. Projects set up with European funding have boosted job prospects for many in south Wales and lifted community morale. There is a direct relationship between the turnaround in communities and community spirit, and the European funding that is going into a great variety of projects. For example, Bridgend Youth Focus, a project set up with European funding, is receiving £2,927,000 to help young people who are most at risk from social exclusion begin to lead valued social and economic roles in their communities. It tackles health, welfare, education and training, and provides personal support programmes. Some of the most vulnerable youngsters benefit directly from our engagement with the European Union.

Next Section IndexHome Page