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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) will not take it in bad part if I choose this moment to remind the House of Mr. Speaker's earlier ruling concerning the narrow confines of this Bill. I must advise hon. Members that I shall be getting a little stricter on the content of their speeches if it is not directly related to the Bill.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I welcome the opportunity to speak about, and to express my happiness at supporting, a Bill that paves the way for the future EU membership of Bulgaria and Romania.
I very much agree with the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), although I hope that that does not worry him too much. By coincidence, I too was
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in Bulgaria in 1985. I did not know my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) then, but it is possible that we both went shopping in Sofia at the same time. Like him, I found the Bulgarians very charming, and the visit was a wonderful experience. However, I should say that I was merely enjoying a skiing holiday, not doing anything useful.
I want to talk about clause 2, which deals with workers' freedom of movement, and the regulation of workers from abroad. It is essential that all workers, foreign or otherwise, are regulated in their employment, and that they have the proper documentation and pay tax and national insurance. Foreign workers should be paid properly, at a rate comparable with domestic workers. They should not be used as a cheap labour force to undermine the wages and living standards of workers in the home country.
It is fine to use foreign workers to fill skills gaps and to make up employment levels when there is a shortage of labour. That happened here after the war, when a lot of people arrived to do the jobs for which we could not find workers. Many of the people who stayed here live in my constituency, and I believe that the experience has been a happy and valuable one for both us and them. Their presence has made ours a more diverse society, which is a good thing.
We should encourage foreign workers to join trade unions, and ensure that their conditions, protections and standards are the same as those enjoyed by their counterparts from this country. They must not be exploited, or used as a weapon to undermine wages in Britain.
Labour flexibility is not acceptable if it becomes merely a way to drive down wages. That could lead to difficulties in the EU. I have told the House before about my holiday in Portugal a few years ago, when I saw a building site with a sign in Portuguese that said "No Flexible Labour". If flexibility were to pose a threat to workers, it could lead to political changes that would go against the trend of the EU at the moment. Regulation must be used and properly enforced, for the protection of foreign workers and of our employment standards.
I welcome the prospect of EU membership for Bulgaria and Romania. It will benefit those countries, and the EU as a whole. I strongly favour enlargement, as I think that it will change the nature of the EU, making it a much looser arrangement of democratic states. Indeed, that has happened already.
That is my vision for the future of Europe. I do not want the EU to become a superstate, or an organisation driven by the Commission or the European Central Bank. I want there to be mutual co-operation across Europe between democratically elected Governments and their peoples.
I think that we can all accept that vision, as it allows a variety of approaches to economic management. Each European nation should be free to choose its approach democratically, not have it imposed from outside.
I hope that the process of enlargement will continue. There is no doubt that Bulgaria and Romania are European countries. Their culture is European, and they
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have made great contributions to European history and art. Before the second world war, Bucharest was regarded as the Paris of the east. Romania's language is derived from Latin, and its culture and tastes are like those of other European countries. Indeed, my favourite pianist is the Romanian Dinu Lipatti, and I own many CDs of his wonderful playing. Bulgarian music is equally marvellous: we have many links and associations with Bulgaria and Romania, and we will feel very at home with them in the EU.
As I have said many times in this Chamber, Europe's problems have to do with economics, and primarily with agriculture. The economies of both Bulgaria and Romania depend heavily on agriculture. They are big producers of agricultural products, and it is possible that they stand to benefit from the CAP. Of course, it is not being extended to them immediately, or even to countries that are already in the EU. There is a serious problem with the CAP, which causes distortions in fiscal transfers across the EU. It is coming to the end of its life. It has to be challenged, because it continues to make rich countries net recipients of budget funds and poorer countries net contributors. That process could get worse unless we abolish it.
There is much talk of reform, and we have had many reforms of the CAP, but it has not essentially changed and still has a distorting effect. It is unfair to have a CAP benefiting rich western European nations and not being extended generously to poorer eastern European nations with large agricultural sectors. I look forward to a world in which there is no CAP and in which we have our own domestic agriculture policies and are free to buy relatively cheap food from Romania and Bulgaria, among others. That would be a sensible way forward after the CAP has gone.
The future of the budget must be based on equity. If it is equitable for every member of the EU, we will all support it. At the moment, it is not. The only way to make it equitable is for receipts and contributions to the budget to be proportionate to our relative prosperity, so that rich nations are considerably greater net contributors and poorer nations perhaps net recipients, although it may just be that all of us make contributions but richer countries pay proportionately more. If the budget is related to our prosperity, everyone will think it fair and it will be objectively equitable. The CAP makes that impossible, and it should go.
I would also argue strongly that nationsBulgaria and Romania, in particularshould be able to choose their own macroeconomic policies. They should be able to choose how to run their economies to make sure that they grow. They should not have imposed on them from outside a particular model of economic management that might be to their disadvantage, and which, I think, would be. If they could retain their own currencies for the foreseeable future, they could choose an appropriate parity, which would be to their advantage. If they could choose their own interest rates to suit their domestic economies, that, too, would be sensible. If they could choose their own fiscal policieslevels of taxation and public spendingthat would be a good way forward. If they were not told that they could not use state aid to develop their industries, that would be a good thing. If the EU says that they cannot use state aid, that might cause them not to grow and could damage their economies, making it more difficult for them to attain
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the kind of living standards we take for granted in western Europe. The European Union should butt out for the time being on those matters for those states, and for some existing member states.
The Bulgarian lev is, apparently, pegged to the euro at the moment. I suggest that pegging is fine, but becoming a single currency, which gives no possibility of flexing the value of one's currency, would be a terrible mistake for Bulgaria and Romania, especially in their present relatively weak economic situations. A pegged currency is very different from a single currency. The peg can change from time to time, and we in Britain ought to retain that position, too.
Some new member states have had unhappy economic experiences, which are causing political difficulties for them. The same could be seen in Bulgaria and Romania if we are not careful. I look at Hungary, which has undoubtedly prospered in the sense that living standards have risen overall, but in which there has been a great division of rich and poor with 40 per cent. of the Hungarian people now living in relative poverty in spite of its having done relatively well. What one sees in some countries is apparently socialist Governments who have been driven to take the neo-liberal approach of privatising and liberalising their economies, resulting in great and growing disparities of income and wealth.
Meanwhile, conservative Opposition parties have said that they do not want more privatisation or liberalisation but want to protect their welfare states. That is what is happening in Hungary. The astonishing thing there is that a conservative Opposition are being supported by a Marxist workers' party against the nominal socialist party in Government. The New Statesman last week speculated that if Mrs. Thatcher was in Hungary, she would vote for the socialist party, never mind its name, because it is pursuing extreme neo-liberal economics. The leader of the socialist party has made considerable sums of money out of privatisation. In any case, those are not the sort of policies that should be imposed on Bulgaria and Romania. They should be allowed to manage their own economies to maximise economic growth so that they may attain living standards similar to ours.
If we impose economic policies on those countries and their economies are damaged, with greater disparities between people's incomes, it could breed disillusion that would not be healthy for the future of the European Union. If we want to be happy together, we must ensure that living standards rise in those countries, that we converge further, and that the poor are not left out.
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