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25 May 2005 : Column 837

28. Stamp duty and stamp duty reserve tax (intermediaries)


29. SEs (stamp duty and stamp duty reserve tax)


30. SEs (residence)


31. Reorganisation of water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland


32. Relief from tax (incidental and consequential charges)




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Bill ordered to be brought in upon the foregoing resolutions: And that the Chairman of Ways and Means, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Secretary Blunkett, Mr. Secretary Darling, Ms Secretary Hewitt, Secretary Alan Johnson, Secretary Ruth Kelly, Mr. Des Browne, Dawn Primarolo, John Healey and Mr. Ivan Lewis do prepare and bring it in.

Finance Bill

Dawn Primarolo accordingly presented a Bill to grant certain duties, to alter other duties, and to amend the law relating to the national debt and the public revenue, and to make further provisions in connection with finance: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed [Bill 8].

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European Union

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Gillian Merron.]

7.44 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to raise the way in which Europe is communicated to the British public, and also ways in which greater public awareness of the EU can be achieved.

On 5 May, new Labour won an historic third term in office. An essential element of our international policy for the first two terms has been our place in Europe. Our manifesto commits us to continue to build on this strong relationship and to find new and imaginative ways of meeting the challenges of communicating the European message to the British public.

I am pleased to see the Treasury Minister in her place. I am glad to know that the new Minister for Europe is my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, South (Mr. Alexander). As the House knows, there have been a number of Ministers for Europe over the past eight years. I was pleased to be one of them. I am glad to see my former boss, the former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), in the Chamber this evening. As for the new Minister for Europe, he has two distinct advantages over all his predecessors. First, he is the youngest Minister for Europe, so he will be able to deal with a huge number of visits with greater stamina than his slightly older predecessors. Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has decided that he should attend Cabinet meetings. In my view, that is a recognition of the importance of the portfolio, not only in informing the Cabinet of what is happening, but in getting the British people to understand that Europe is a priority for this Government.

The very word "Europe" is at once exciting and challenging, but also deeply controversial, especially in Britain. I hope in the debate to explore a number of key issues that will help us in our quest to bring the positive benefits of our membership of the EU into the homes, high streets and, dare I say it?, even the hearts of the people of this country.

Domestic and international issues are more closely linked than ever before. The issues in which Britain is involved internationally have a direct impact on our domestic agenda. It is evident that many people have a perverse perception of the remits and duties of the EU. It is important that we take this opportunity to get the factual messages across. We had an example during Prime Minister's questions today when the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) raised the issue of the EU directive on pet cemeteries. However, there is a wider context. It is worth reminding ourselves yet again that Europe is the largest single market in the world, with more than 450 million consumers, and the free movement of people, goods, services and money. The vast majority of Britain's trade is with the other member states in Europe. The EU has helped us to remove trade barriers and has generated growth and more and better jobs.

The EU has improved the environment and it has raised the standards and rights of consumers. It has helped us to fight international crime and illegal
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immigration much more efficiently. The Union has also brought us peace and stability for our continent and has given Europe a stronger voice in the world.

British citizens need to be reminded of what the EU is doing for them and understand how necessary it is for Britain to continue to be a strong and vibrant member state. Margot Wallstrom, the Commissioner for Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy, has said:

This means bringing Brussels closer to Britain. This task has to be achieved on several levels, locally, nationally and internationally.

The Commission has recently launched a number of initiatives to raise awareness among EU citizens. One initiative is the so-called 1,000 debates on Europe, in which elected representatives from the local to European level are encouraged to invite their constituents to discuss the constitution. Britain has pledged to hold 20 such debates, one of which, so far, is planned to take place in the east midlands on 30 May. In a public debate for people living in Oady and Wigston, just outside my constituency, the public will hear arguments about the constitution, both for and against.

Spring day in Europe—I have not chosen the title—is another initiative to promote learning and debate about the EU in schools. The next generation—our children—will live in and relate to a completely different Europe from the Europe to which we have to relate. It is therefore vital that they be equipped with sufficient knowledge of Europe at a very early stage.

For those who choose to take advantage of the multiple possibilities that Europe offers, national boundaries will have a lesser significance. More than 750,000 Britons are already taking advantage of this right by living and working in other member states. In the near future we will, to a much greater extent, live and work in different regions of Europe, and it will be as ordinary to pick up the phone to ring Manchester as it will be to phone Portugal or Poland to speak to a friend or colleague.

Last weekend we saw one example of a great European event when all European countries come together to celebrate—the Eurovision song contest. Unfortunately, Britain did not do brilliantly this year, but neither did Spain, France or Italy. It is alleged that the smaller countries ganged up against the bigger ones. I am surprised that some sections of the media did not immediately call for our withdrawal from the EU because Britain did not win!

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