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: In retrospect, do the Conservative Opposition regret having opposed the generous and wholly correct decision of the Prime Minister to allow the free movement of labour from day one? It has been highly
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successful. I hope that she will recant because I hope that she will be served in London restaurants in future. It is time that we were told because the Conservatives claim that they will not oppose the BillI welcome thatbut they want to have it both ways. They want to say that they support accession while peddling a rather mean line on workers. At the next municipal and European elections, I and many other hon. Members will remind the large, additional electorate of the identity of those who supported access from day one.
Miss McIntosh: As always, the hon. Gentleman makes an interesting and positive contribution. We have asked a question, and we would like to know from the Minister whether the workers from Romania and Bulgaria will enjoy exactly the same terms as those from the 10 new member states. I am sure that the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) will accept the point that we are making.
I would also like to ask the Minister whether the two applicant countries will have the ability to meet the acquis communautaire in the same time frame that applied to the 10 countries that have recently joined the European Union. Also, will he give the House his response to the points raised about avian flu? At least two ducks have been caught in Romania, and there is a fear that the infection could spread from migratory birds. Several of my hon. Friends have raised the very real question of inadequate border controls, and those of us who have poultry producersand, indeed, a number of wild ducksliving in our constituencies want to know how the Minister will address that issue.
Several points remain to be addressed, including the free movement of workers, and the vexed question of people trafficking. The hon. Member for Thurrock mentioned waitresses. A number of young women from Bulgaria and Romania will be applying to work as waitresses in various parts of the European Union, and they could be exploited in other ways. We would like to know what provisions will be put in place to prevent their exploitation in any other way than that intended by the treaty. We also want to hear from the Minister what his Government are doing to bring pressure to bear on Romania and Bulgaria, given that the European Commissioner for Enlargement has notedparticularly in relation to Romaniathat no corruption cases have been prosecuted to date. No person, official or otherwise, in those countries should be allowed to be seen to be above the law.
There are many reasons why we support the Bill, but perhaps the most profound is that we believe that it will be a test of the Government's commitment to the European Union if they are able to answer our questions tonight and during the brief passage that I am sure the Bill will have through the House.
The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells):
I welcome this evening's debate. The Minister for Europe, my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, South (Mr. Alexander) set the tone for what has been a very constructive debate, and I welcome the largely positive speech from the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady). His words have been echoed by the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh).
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I would also like to say how much I enjoyed and appreciated the speech made by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley). It was inspirational, and, if I had not already been raised a good Wesleyan in Trecynon in Aberdare, I might have taken up the cause of the Baptists in Romania. But that is a problem for history. I bet history is very glad that I did not take it up.
I am sure that the representatives of Romania and Bulgaria will have noticed the bipartisan spirit in which this discussion has been conducted. I use the adjective "bipartisan" carefully, because the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) was a bit upset earlier by the idea that the discussion was between only three parties. He made a good point. This has been a very good debate, and it has drawn constructive views from all the parties represented in the Chamber tonightalthough I notice that the Welsh nationalists were not present.
The Romanians and Bulgarians can be sure that this country will welcome them into the European Union as equals and partners. Some concerns have been raised in the debate and I will try to respond to them, but let me start with some general observations. The United Kingdom has always been a strong supporter of enlargement. It is a policy that has consistently enjoyed cross-party support. Indeed, as early as March 1991, the then Prime Minister, John Major, argued that the ultimate destiny of eastern Europeans was membership of the then European Community. It is not difficult to see why.
Successive enlargements have led to a stronger, more stable and secure Europe. We need only look at last year's accession of the 10 new member states from eastern and central Europe to see the new economic opportunities brought by enlargement. The prospect of membership helped to boost the candidate countries' economies. We have heard several accounts today, including that of the hon. Member for Moray, of the huge difference that membership has made in a short period of time. Such differences can be contrasted with conditions in some other parts of the world, where countries ought to have made similar progress but have not. This is proof of what the EU can do. Now, we see growth rates as high as 8.3 per cent. in Latvia and 5.3 per cent. in Poland.
This is a win-win situation. High growth provides job opportunities and helps to raise living standards in the new member states. It also provides new trade and investment opportunities for the United Kingdom. Indeed, since May 2004, British businesses have benefited from new opportunities in a market that has more than 70 million new consumers. A good example is Tesco, which now has 25 supermarkets in Slovakia. As the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) reminded us, there are 30 million people in Romania and Bulgaria to add to that market. That is an important consideration.
Enlargement also means that we live in a more secure Europe. It has led to closer co-operation on border control and on tackling organised crime. New member states have brought experience and knowledge of specific regional problems. Their expertise has enabled us to get one step ahead of the drug and human trafficking gangs working through eastern Europe. The arrests of sex traffickers in Sheffield last month came
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about through co-operation with new member states' police forces, which represented an enormous step forward.
One of the most striking successes of enlargement is the way in which it has spread democracy and stability across Europe, as has been mentioned today. For many of the new member states, and for Romania and Bulgaria, military and authoritarian rule is still a recent memory. It was only 15 years ago that people took to the streets demanding change. Since then, the prospect of EU membership has driven and supported political developments. For many eastern Europeans, EU membership represents the final step in their country's transformation from dictatorship to democracy. Lech Walesa's statement on 1 May 2004, when Poland became a member state, sums that up well:
Romania and Bulgaria are also coming to the end of their journeys. Their paths have not been easy. Tonight, we have heard some of the most moving accounts that we are ever likely to hear of what life was like under those authoritarian regimes. I found them a real inspiration. The House is constantly criticised from outside, but I do not know of any other venue in which Members can come together to share such a wealth of experience. I very much hope that this debate is reported and that the public pay attention to it. It is extremely important that that should happen but, as usual, the Press Gallery is a little empty. No doubt they are all watching the debate on television.
It is clear that more work still needs to be done. However, the significant changes that have already taken place are a credit to the vision, energy and determination of the peoples and Governments of Romania and Bulgaria. I know that those qualities are there. I was lucky enough to visit Romania three times, and to travel to the industrial areas of the north. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) is not here at the moment, but I should like to tell him that there are many hon. Members who have shared that kind of experience.
The hon. Members for Altrincham and Sale, West and for Moray, and my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) spoke about the free movement of workers, which is an important issue. A decision on whether Romanian and Bulgarian nationals will be given complete access to the labour market will be taken closer to their countries' accession.
It would certainly be premature to make any decision now without sufficient information and planning. A final decision will be made after full consideration of the state of the domestic labour market, other member states' decisions and further analysis of our own experience of the last accession. We will of course seek Parliament's approval before setting the terms of access.
The worker registration scheme for A8 nationals was an overwhelming success, and I think it will continue to be. We have heard some terrific tributes to it. The policy brought real benefits to the United Kingdom economy. I was gladas, I know, were othersto hear accounts of the way in which economies far-flung from London had benefited.
Skills shortages are not limited to rural areas. I remember that we suddenly noticed in Pontypridd that there were a good many Portuguese bus drivers.
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That was because the bus companies could not recruit drivers in our area, and it has made a big difference. We began to recruit rugby players from Samoa and New Zealand at the same time.
Many questions were asked today about Romania and Bulgaria's readiness for accession. It is in all our interests for them to be ready for accession on 1 January 2007. The hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) stressed that that should happen sooner rather than later, and I could not agree with him more.
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