Agriculture is still our largest industry in Northern Ireland and it is vital that it is maintained properly. I have already asked the Foreign Secretary about the fact that, only a few short months ago, we received an undertaking that the common agricultural policy was
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secure after the mid-term review so the farmers could plan for the future. Now, suddenly, the farming community is asking us what is going to happen. We are alarmed about that. The Government must keep faith with the farming community because farming is in difficulty.
I hear a lot of talk about Poland and the fact that it will be a threat to the farmers of those states that were in the economic Union first. Not many people know that Poland leads the world in the production of strawberries, and is about to take over the raspberry business as well. Before we know it, Poland might take over the carrot business too, and maybe try the spud business, even though Polish farmers did not even know what a spud was. When such countries get their produce on to the market, our farmers will have many more difficulties. We need to face up to that.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I agree with many of the hon. Gentleman's comments. Does he agree that an over-hasty and ill-considered review of the common agricultural policy could put at risk the environment, rural communities and the security of food supply to this country?
Another matter was mentioned eloquently by the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), who has left the Chamber. He spoke about all the gadgets for interpretation in Europe. I have just discovered that a translation into the Irish language is to be made available. I made some inquiries, which revealed that no Member of the European Parliament in this term or any other term has ever required an Irish translation to participate in the workings of the European Parliament. The translation will cost £3.5 million every year, and there will be 20 to 30 translators translating into Irish for Irish people who never even asked for it.
Where is the money going? We know that a former leader of the Labour party who was a Commissioner was given the solemn responsibility of trying to deal with fraud. What happened? The departments working on European strategy were responsible for much fraud and would not co-operate with him. A Commissioner appointed to deal with fraud came back and said that he could not do it, not because of one party or another, but because of the organisation itself.
The food supplements directive, which is due to come into force in July, has had an interesting history. In the past, assurances were given by Ministers and Governments, then the matter was referred to the advocate general, the senior adviser to the European Court of Justice. He found that the entire food supplements directive was invalid under European law. He declared that it infringed the principle of proportionality because basic principles of Community law such as the requirements of legal protection, legal certainty and sound administration had not properly been taken into account. It is expected that the European Court of Justice will rule in favour of this pronouncement, so the ban on vitamins and minerals
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that are not included on the EU positive list, which is due to come into effect on 1 August, will be declared illegal. In essence, the positive list of allowable nutrient forms will be deemed too narrow, too restrictive and as being based on flawed science. What are we to do about that?
Those are the difficulties that we have with Europe. The directive would put at risk more than 5,000 products on the shelves, including the main natural forms of vitamin E, several forms of vitamin C, the key natural form of folic acid and a range of minerals. That is a very serious matter.
I trust that the Minister will take up such issues that affect the well-being of our people. I trust that we will not be incorporated into this Union, and that we will show that we are European in the sense that we want co-operation with everyone and to make our contribution to the combination of people who want to go to places where they feel that they can work together and do a job, but that we do not want to lose the best things of our national life. We want to retain those.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Debates that precede European Council meetings are normally quiet affairs, but the result of the French referendum has made the European issue and the discussion on Europe central to this Government's foreign policy. I welcome the fact that so many speeches this afternoon have not just touched on what happened in the French and Dutch referendums, but have looked forward to Europe's future.
As the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe prepare for a very important European Council meeting, they can take direction from our discussions this afternoon. Obviously, we have had the usual tour de force from the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), although the luxury of Opposition is that one can make scintillating speeches with many jokes, normally directed at the Government Benches, but not have to follow through on any of the things that one has said.
We also had the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Dr. McDonnell), who said that he prefers to be in Belfast than in the House of Commons, and has no doubt gone back there. I pay tribute to the former Member for Belfast, South, Martin Smyth, who was for many years the treasurer of the Indo-British parliamentary group, even though, as far as I am aware, he had nobody of Indian origin in his constituency. He was forceful in his contribution to the group and I wish him well in his career.
The central issue that will face the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe this weekend is of course how to deal with the aftermath of the constitution. What we have heard from Conservative Membersnot Liberal Democrat Members, as the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) spoke eloquently as usual, looking forward and not backhas been a rehearsal of the arguments made over the past few months about the European constitution. The Government's position is clear and I believe absolutely correct. As France and the Netherlandstwo founding members of the EUhave voted so decisively against the constitution, it is now time
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for Europe to pause and reflect. It is now time for us to put back our timetable for a referendum on the constitution and to assess what impact the referendum results will have on European policy.
I happen to believe that there is not going to be a referendum in the United Kingdom on the European constitution, because the effect of France and the Netherlands deciding not to proceed will be that other countries will decide not to go ahead as well. A number of other countries have already indicated that they would prefer not to hold referendums and not to ratify the treaty until the detail has been examined as a result of the French and Dutch decisions. I would not be upset if the Government were to decide to put off the referendum for ever, because I was not one of those who believed that a referendum was necessary. Those major issues could have been decided by the House of the Commons in the same way as they were decided in Germany by the German Parliament. There is no need to put the matter to the British electorate, because the Government were elected with a clear mandate to support the changes in the constitution.
Conservative Members dwelled on the content of the constitution, and the fact that their speeches have been based on the substance of a constitution that cannot proceed shows the difficulties with Conservative party European policy.
Keith Vaz: I gladly give way to the hon. Gentleman, because he is consistent in his opposition to Europehe is one of those people who strongly believes that Britain should actually withdraw from the EU.
Mr. Cash: I agree with the hon. Gentleman's remark about concentrating on the constitution. We should discuss the existing treaties embedded in the constitution, because they have given rise to all the problems. The constitution would have repealed and revoked existing treaties, so, following a rejection, the existing treaties should be revised and rejected, too.
Keith Vaz: At least the hon. Gentleman's views are consistent. The difficulty for Conservative Front Benchers is the inconsistent development of their European policy, of which we have recently seen an example. Last week, the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) told us at the Dispatch Box that the Single European Act should be unpicked. Today, he told the House that there should have been a referendum on the Maastricht treaty, which is a position that I am sure that the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) would support. However, the current Conservative party chairman signed that treaty, which shows the problems with Conservative party policy.
The Minister for Europe should leave it to other countries to make their own decisions on ratification. One cannot complain, as the hon. Member for Woodspring did, that Europe has become so centralised that Brussels makes all the decisions, while arguing that we should tell countries that have not decided on ratification what they should do. It must be up to those countries to make their own decisions.
Britain's rebate, which has made the negotiations so exciting, is the second key issue that will be discussed in the European Council this weekend, and, again, the
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British Government's position is absolutely correct. At the 2002 summit meeting, all the Heads of Government reached an agreement on the rebate, so there is absolutely no reason why we should enter into discussions or negotiations. If the rebate were tied to a fundamental review of how the European Union budget is constructed, the issue would be different, but the short period before the discussions in Brussels at the weekend does not allow sufficient scope for such a review.
We should maintain our position, which we adopted a long time ago and which was agreed by member states as far back as 2002, that the rebate remains intact. It should remain intact for the reason mentioned by all hon. Members who have contributed to this afternoon's debate: the inherent unfairness of the common agricultural policy means that 40 per cent. of expenditure goes on 5 per cent. of the population. It does not serve the British people's interests and British farmers' interests for the agricultural budget to continue on that basis, and the Government should continue with their policy.
It is very unusual for the Eurosceptic media to support the Government's position. Normally, no matter what is decided at European Council meetings and no matter whether it is in the best interests of the British people, those sections of the media who do not like the EU always criticise it. At the moment, of course, they are firmly on the Government's side because they believe that the stand that we have taken is the right onethat it is positive and results in the rest of Europe being on the other side. Despite the fact that the Government have the support of the leader writers, Mr. Trevor Kavanagh and all the other people in the Eurosceptic media, we should proceed along this course of action, because if we were to give in at this stage it would create enormous problems for the way in which we wish to continue with our discussions on the budget.
An essential part of our discussions on the CAP must also relate to economic reform. In just fourteen days' time, we will take over the presidency of the European Union. It is important that we take up the challenge of the vacuum that currently exists and provide leadership to the rest of Europe. That means pushing forward with the Lisbon agenda. Lisbon was different because, for the first time, we had a series of benchmarks against which all European countries were to be measured. The Kok report, which was published at the end of last year, gives us, for the first time, a scorecard that sets out exactly what each country has achieved as regards the Lisbon benchmarks. In some areas, we are doing very well because of the stewardship of the economy by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. We are doing well on the liberalisation of utilities, but we are doing badly on social protection.
The difference between Lisbon and all the other summits before it and since is that those economic indicators have been vital in relation to the progress of the European economy. This is not about the euro. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks was keen to suggest that the reason why the German economy is going badly and that we are doing well is that we are not in the euro and the Germans are. There is no wavering, in my viewperhaps the Minister can confirm this when he winds upin the Government's commitment to join the single currency. Our principled position, which was set out in our manifesto at three successive elections, is
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that as a Government we are in favour of the euro but in practice will join only if the economic tests that have been set by the Chancellor are met. That remains our position, and it is the position that we have had since 1997. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks is annoyed because in 1997, when the Labour Government were elected, he wanted to save the pound, and got on the back of a lorry and went round the country to do so. Then the Prime Minister announced that the pound was saved, and the Conservatives' cause célèbre was taken away from them, as is the case with the constitution.
The fact remains that we have to meet the benchmarks that have been set by the Chancellor. We have not met them. As soon as they are met, we will put this in a referendum to the British people, who will thereby have a chance to make the decision themselves.