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Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen). I am reminded that a favourite adage of mine is that pessimism of the intellect should not breed optimism of the will. I hope that the pessimism of his intellect will breed the optimism of our will to welcome Romania and Bulgaria into the EU under the accession treaty. I am also pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins), who sees the EU as the problem, when I see it as the solution to the problems that have been outlined in the contributions so far.
I welcome the accession treaty. I take the admonition not to give a travelogue, but I visited Romania with the hon. Member for Totnes and the European Scrutiny Committee, and I had a chance to speak first hand to people at all levels of Parliament, the Government and non-governmental organisations there. As always, when I go to those places, I pop into a café or two and have a chat with some of the younger people and hear their aspirations. I found a similar message to the one that I found when we visited the countries involved in the last enlargement. There are problems and there is much to be done, but they view the ability to accede to membership of the EU as a very bright light at the end of a tunnel that they have been travelling through since the time when they were trapped in the previous regime and saw their lifestyles and standards deteriorate.
In welcoming particularly clause 1 on the accession treaty, I accept that there is much to be done, including the things outlined by the hon. Member for Totnes, although we might find that what he said about agriculture is paralleled by the abuses that we have found in this country, even under our very strict laws on the treatment of animals. Neither their treatment of animals, nor their treatment of children and other members of their community will be accepted. That is where the EU comes into its own.
Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North, I see the EU and its attempt to create a level playing field for all as a great benefit. We should not allow people to hang their political hats on the EU hook; they must conform to the process of accession. In fact, by 2007, Romania must adopt 29 provisions of the acquiswhat a great difference that will makeand then the transition funds and eventually the structural funds that will become available will help Romania to do the very things that he says should be done. I certainly think that they should be done.
Mr. Steen: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman feels that my speech was pessimistic. It was based on my own observations. I am totally optimistic about the acquis and Romania's ability to become a fully-fledged member of the EU, but I thought it only right to point out what is going on there and what still needs to be done.
I fully accept that. I have always found that the hon. Gentleman's activities on the
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European Scrutiny Committee are in a positive vein, unlike those of some of his colleagues who travelled with us and encouraged people in other countries not to join the EU. Their admonition fell on deaf ears everywhere that we went, but he has never been guilty of saying such things. We should accept that there are problems and I shall mention some of them.
We should ask why Romania is joining in 2007, rather than 2008, which could have been an option. One of the problems is that Romania will have to run very hard to catch up with our demands on tackling institutionalised fraud, whether small-scale bribery or large-scale fraud. When we met the President of Romania, he admitted that fraud was a major problem that he was going to tackle. The hon. Member for Totnes omitted to mention the fact that there was a rather garish picture of a former Minister in manacles on the front page of the national newspaper, which saidI believe that this was the translationthat he was shouting, "The President of Romania has put me here, and I will ensure that he ends up in the same prison." The current President is clearly taking on board the need to tackle large-scale corruption and fraud in the institutions that previously ran the country. If his record as mayor of Bucharest is anything to go by, he will challenge and beat down that high level of corruption.
It would be unreal of us to think that this is just about the relationship between Romania and the EU. Senior members of its Parliament made candid comments about the reason why Romania would join in 2007. They said that they would offer the USA a base there. When I asked, "Do you mean a NATO base?" they said, "No, a USA base in Romania." If that is part of the equation, I am concerned. If Romania is to become involved in international defence, that should happen through NATO and it should be done in a way that does not single out any country as a partner in defence matters, while it is applying to become our partner in economic matters. Although I welcome the accession clause, I hope that the Minister will clarify whether a base in Romania will be offered to an individual country outwith the EU, rather than NATO, which is our common alliance. It might be that the politicians were expressing only an aspiration, but if that became a reality, it would be viewed negatively. It would be seen that there was a false contract between the EU and Romania if the purpose of speeding up accession was to hasten the provision of any form of military base for the United States of America.
The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): I have certainly not heard any talk of US bases, nor did I hear such talk when I was in Romania. However, I am interested to hear what my hon. Friend says.
Michael Connarty: The Minister can check that out if he wishes because it was said to me not privately in a whisper, but in a meeting in Romania that was attended by other members of the European Scrutiny Committee. The suggestion worried me, but if it was simply an aspiration and someone was grandstanding, I will be glad to see the rumour put to rest.
I had the feeling at that meeting that the speaker might have been confusing the United Nations
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with the United States and perhaps believed that the UN was funded by the United States, and thus was, in fact, the United States. Might that solve the problem?
Michael Connarty: I will leave the problem to be solved by those in government who must clarify such matters on our behalf. However, it would not have been right of me to pass on without putting the matter on record so that they can puzzle over it or refute it either during the debate, or in the future.
The freedom of movement for workers, which is addressed in clause 2, is a fundamental aspect of what we are doing. If I am reading the Bill correctly, we will allow people from accession countries such as Romania and Bulgaria to come to the United Kingdom to work if they have an offer of employment. It has already been said that some 230,000 people have already come here to work and are thus contributing and paying taxation.
Neither Labour nor Opposition Members can shy away from the challenges presented by the matter. Labour Members should not over-applaud the initiative and Conservative Members should not be afraid of some of the proposals. There is a problem with exploitation. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North said that we should not allow people who come into the European Union to be seen as second-class workers and second-class citizens who deserve only second-class conditions and wages.
I am worried that some people who have come here from the 10 accession countries in the last enlargement have already been exploited, even though they might be happy to get our minimum wage when they compare that with what they could earn in their own countries. However, we must consider the scenario that occurred involving a group of workers from one of the original 15 member countries. They were bused into a work place and kept in isolation from trade unions in this country. They were doing highly skilled work in a power station in Wales, but the unions could not discover their wages or conditions of service. They were working under the posting of workers directive, which will obviously apply to workers addressed by clause 2 because, when they come here to work, they should be covered by EU directives.
If the posting of workers directive means that we will not know whether such workers who come to this country enjoy proper conditions because they do not have access to trade unions in either their country of origin or here, something is wrong, given that there is a pledgeI believe that it was made when Mrs. Thatcher signed the Single European Actthat every citizen in Europe should be treated equally. Unless we introduce safeguards, people who come here might not enjoy the same quality, class or status of citizenship as people in the UK. Indeed, they could be seen by many as people who are available for exploitation. The trade unions must meet that challenge.
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