Kelvin Hopkins: I am pleased to participate in this debate with my hon. Friend. During the election campaign, the Prime Minister said that he does not expect a referendum on the euro in this Parliament but there might be one in a future Parliament.
Keith Vaz: If the conditions are met and the Chancellor announces that we have met the tests that he clearly set out in 1997, we will have a referendum. If the tests are not metit is a matter for the Chancellorwe will not have a referendum. There is a danger in trying to see too far into the future. These are issues of fact that have to be reported to the House before a decision is made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Ed Balls) observed in a thoughtful article in the Financial Times this week that the danger that we face in the forthcoming European Council meeting and in terms of the priorities for our presidency is that we may get so hung up on constitutional reform that we forget about the need to push forward the economic reform agenda. Without adopting the policies that were clearly set out by the Heads of Government at Lisbon in 2000, we cannot achieve the economic reforms that are necessary for us to do what all right hon. and hon. Members would like Britain in Europe to dothat is, to compete on equal terms with the United States of America.
I know that India and China have been suggested as global competitors for the United Kingdom and Europe in future but, at the moment, our biggest competitor is the United States of America. In the past 10 years, 10 million jobs were created in the USA compared with 1 million in the EU area. It is therefore vital that, in all the discussions, even those on the rebate and the constitution, we do not lose sight of one of the Government's key prioritiespushing forward the Lisbon agenda.
As we begin considering what we will do in our presidency, I hope that we will acknowledge the genuine and important progress that has been made under Tampere and The Hague agenda. The hon. Member for Woodspring complained about the appointment of the single prosecutor for the whole of Europe, but several important aspects of the justice and home affairs agenda will help British peoplefor example, the mutual recognition of decisions taken by courts. British citizens
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who go abroad and want to sue in a EU court find it difficult to get the judgment enforced. We are considering critical issues that, although not global, affect our citizens when they travel to other EU countries.
I appreciate that people do not want to be reminded of statistics because they believe that they are simply mantras spoken by pro-Europeans. However, eight of our top 10 trading partners are members of the EU. Of course, there is a world outside and, as a trading nation, we have to trade with nations outside the EU. However, our trade is based on that with EU countries and we need to ensure that that is enhanced and developed. Lisbon is important, but, as we move forward, we need to examine other matters on which we can co-operate.
I am not in favour of a single judicial system, but I support the exercising of our judgments in different parts of the EU. Switzerland voted only last week to ensure that its citizens joined Schengen. The Swiss people have decided that they want better and closer links with the EU because they realise what happens when one is not part of it or takes only some of the benefits that are on offer: one suffers not only economically but in terms of missed benefits for the people of the country.
I listened carefully to the comments of the leader of the Democratic Unionists about the Poles being after our strawberries and, indeed, our raspberries, but enlargement has hugely benefited our country and the whole EU. It is worth remembering that Conservative Front-Benchers predicted mayhem when the 10 new countries joined on 1 May 2004. They claimed that Poles and Slovaks would rush to London, take our jobs, benefits, strawberries and raspberries and cause chaos in the UK. They said that the Home Office would be inundated with applications. That did not happen. Enlargement has been good for the UK and the EU. Few people have gone on benefits. I therefore hope that Ministers will remember to push forward the enlargement agenda because it benefits not only the EU but the other countries that will join.
It is a great privilege to follow the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) with all his expertise on European matters. I shall stick more carefully to the parameters of a maiden speech. One of my illustrious predecessors, the former Speaker Jack Weatherill, once said:
Certainly, one thing that I do not forget is just how conscientious Jack Weatherill was as a Member of Parliament. I remember being summoned to the Speaker's House when I was chairman of the education committee in Croydon, to negotiate with people who were unhappy about a new city technology college that
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was to be introduced in the London borough of Croydon. It was certainly Jack's style to bring people together, and he was most conscientious in pursuing constituents' concerns and always writing back, in green ink, with a personal note. That is the style of constituency Member to which I would like to aspire.
I am sure, however, that I have made more mistakes in the House in a few weeks than Jack ever would have made. The conviviality and friendliness of the House, however, ensures that such mistakes are easily forgiven. As a new Member of Parliament, I have been most impressed that the House's supposed reputation for not welcoming new Members is entirely untrue.
The way in which Officers of the House have inducted new Members has impressed me a great deal. I learned that it is important to be careful about where one goes and what one says. During one of the induction procedures in which we were shown around the House, and shown how Members put marks on the back of their seats in the Chamber to reserve a seat at Prayers, I made the mistake of referring to Germans and towels. Unfortunately, another Member's partner happened to say, in a Germanic accent, "What is this about Germans and towels?"
It will also disturb the Whips Office to hear that I found myself sitting in a hot desk area reserved for Labour Members. Only when I heard a large number of Scottish accents, and reflected that there were probably not many Conservative Members elected to the House who had Scottish accents, did I realise that I was in a Labour party room.
Before I talk about Croydon, I would like to refer to my predecessor, Geraint Davies, who was both a diligent local councillor and Member of Parliament for Croydon, Central. He took a particular interest in the provision of healthy food for school children and the damage to our local environment, including the loss of many birds, which is an important issue in our locality. Obviously, I am delighted to be elected to the House, albeit with a majority of only 75 votes. I am sure, however, that that is mirrored by the disquiet and upset that Geraint must face, having lost by only 75 votes. I wish him the very best in his future career, and no doubt he will return to the Housenot at my expense, I hope. Croydon has a history of close election results. John Moore had a majority of 164 votes, and the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), back in 1966, had a majority in Croydon, South of just 81 votes.
It is a great privilege to represent the town in which one was raised and educated. I am a councillor of 23 years' standing in Croydon, and know very well how important the expansion of the European Union is to Croydon in terms of the businesses pursued. Businesses have been particularly keen to look for opportunities in the Czech republic and Poland, and Croydon already has a substantial Polish community. It is important that Europe is a free trading community, with Nestlé having its headquarters in Croydon.
It is also important that Croydon as a town has looked out to other European cities that are at the edge of metropolitan communitiesso-called edge citiesto try to share experiences. Towns such as Croydon, which have seen significant changes, not necessarily to our advantage, in our social, demographic make-up, face many challenges in terms of serving the needs of our community.
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Also with a European theme, it is fair to say that we welcome to our town many eastern Europeans from beyond European Union borders. I was very pleased when I attended a recent Turkish-Kurdish event to find many from those communities, when they welcomed me to speak, chanting, "Croydon! Croydon!". No one had ever chanted "Croydon! Croydon!" like that before, but it is a sign of how migrants to Croydon have identified very quickly and positively with that community. It is important, I feel, to reach out to all communities, and I am so pleased that the al-Khair school, which is based in Croydon, Central, has also been successful. A real example of a great success from Croydon and a way that one can prove it is important to welcome migrants to our shores is the story of Katie Melua, who came from Georgia and was educated in Croydon at the BRIT school.
There are many businesses28,000 in allin Croydon, which reach out across Europe and seek to export their services and products, but what is important to them is how we can reach and transport ourselves around a congested town. Thus, it is very good news that Croydon is likely to be connected to the London underground's East London line and possible that the successful Croydon tram link will be extended to Crystal Palace. Also, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway), a bypass is being built around Coulsdon. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for supporting the home team by being here with me this afternoon.
Croydon is also an important retail centre. Indeed, its retail centre dates back to the Surrey street market founded in the 13th century, although people can shop until they drop at many other places, such as the Whitgift centre, the Drummond centre and the new Centrale centre. But Croydon is not just retail heaven. Indeed, we compete with other important centres when it comes to culture. The creation of the Croydon Film Commissionwhich competes with Prague for sites for films and, in particular, advertsis important because we can provide not only 1960s brutalist chic through our skyscrapers, but many attractive heritage items and open spaces.
Croydon's name comes from a Saxon word meaning saffron valley or, perhaps less flatteringly, crooked valley. One of our many open spaces was promoted by James I in terms of starting racing in Croydon in the Ashburton area, but unfortunately the Croydon race course was closed in the late 19th century by a mayor of Croydon because of all the undesirables who came to it. I guess the modern equivalent is the many undesirables who frequent the centre of Croydon while using our night-time economy.
Another open space in Croydon was Fairfield, which is now the site of the important Fairfield halls. Many people have been there to see many good performers, but a particularly important musician who is an export of Croydon is David Bowie. We have other important exports, such as David Prowse, who played Darth Vader in "Star Wars", and Derren Brown, the famous mind-reading TV star.
I doubt very much, Madam Deputy Leader, whetherI am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker. My local government background has leaked out. I doubt very much whether I will be able to display such persuasive, mind-reading skills in the House, but I very
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much hope that I will be persuasive to some extent on behalf of my constituents in Croydon and put Croydon first.