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Mr. Cash : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be impossible to achieve the result that he would prefer, namely, a different kind of structure in Europe, while hanging on to the past and to the constitution? Are not serious changes needed to return power to the national Parliaments and, as I would prefer, to go down the route of associate status, so that we could address
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the real question of how to accommodate the proper aspirations of the enlarged European Union and of Turkey?

Keith Vaz: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's conclusions, but I pay tribute to his analysis and the work that he does in this area. What he does with the European Reform Forum in taking evidence on these issues is extremely important, as the House should discuss European issues not just in the Chamber and European Scrutiny Committee but on an all-party basis. In that way, we will find a great deal about which we agree, as well as issues about which we disagree.

Turkey must be admitted as a full member because it seeks that kind of status. I do not agree that we should have a two-class Europe. That is why I supported the Government in the measures that they took to ensure that when the latest enlargement took place, on 1 May 2004, we allowed workers from the 10 new member states to work in our country. What a benefit they have been to the British economy, even though the then leader of the Conservative party—I do not hold the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks responsible, as he was not an Opposition spokesman on that occasion—predicted that there would be chaos in our benefits system and huge problems of social cohesion. Those who came in as part of the last wave of enlargement have contributed to the British economy and enabled us to take a leadership role in Europe. While Germany and France did not allow them to work, we did, and that is the right course of action. In relation to Turkey, those are the only issues about which I would be concerned.

I hope that we will get a decision on whether Romanian and Bulgarian workers will be allowed to come here on an equal basis with the rest of European Union citizens before the 2007 deadline, as it would be wrong to leave it until the last minute to be fuelled by hysteria in the tabloid press. I hope that we will get that decision soon, as it is important that we send out a signal to the rest of Europe that we are the champions of enlargement.

That leads on to what the Foreign Secretary has said about the rebate and the difficult negotiations that are going ahead, and I wish him and the Prime Minister well in those. I remember sitting round the table and trying to get agreement with other Ministers in an EU of 15. In an EU of 25, however, it must be extraordinarily difficult. I pay tribute to all our Ministers for the way in which they have engaged in discussions, especially with the new member states. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks commented on the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and other Ministers not being seen in other parts of Europe over the past six months. That is because they have been dealing with crucial negotiations. In the past week alone, five Prime Ministers—perhaps more—and dozens of Ministers have come to London to have meetings to try to resolve the problem.

Kelvin Hopkins : My hon. Friend talks about the difficulty of securing agreement between 15 and now 25 member states. Rather than trying to force through decisions that cause difficulties, would not it be easier if we had a much looser arrangement in which each member state had a higher degree of independence?
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Keith Vaz: My hon. Friend keeps saying that, but of course those states have independence. That is why we have discussions. We are not trying to force through these issues, and nobody tries to do so. Ministers do not turn up and try to dragoon people into supporting our view. There must be a process of painful negotiation and agreement, which is why it takes so long. That is why the Foreign Secretary has honestly told the House—the House admires his plain speaking—that if there is no deal, there is no deal. The Government will do their best, however, to ensure that there is a deal.

It is right, of course, that discussion about the rebate needs to be set against reform of the common agricultural policy. We have sought to do that for the past eight years. When the Conservative party was in government—and when the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks was a Minister in John Major's Government—I did not see Conservative Ministers coming to the Dispatch Box and telling us about all the work that they were doing to try to reform the common agricultural policy. I did not hear about any campaign by the then Conservative Government to try to put right the iniquities that were present, and are still present, in our system. All we had was silence.

All that I know in respect of the CAP policy is that Ministers have been trying for the past eight years to do something about the iniquities of the CAP. The budget must be set in that context. We cannot have a fundamental reform of the EU budget unless we have a fundamental reform of the CAP. There is agreement on both sides of the House on that. That is why the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary rightly said that we negotiate about our rebate in terms of a reform of the CAP.

The cost of enlargement is quite different. One cannot be in favour of enlargement and want a wider Europe and then not pay for the costs of a wider Europe. Of course, the 10 new member states are benefiting because of the millions of euros that will be spent on those countries. Why do they need to be spent? Because those countries need to be brought up to speed with the rest of Europe, and because it benefits our country to have countries with which we can trade—which are our partners and with which we can trade on an equal basis. That is why we are spending all that money on the issue.

Kelvin Hopkins: My hon. Friend talks about our generosity to the new countries coming in from eastern Europe. The amount of money that they receive from the CAP is a tiny fraction of that received by the rich countries in western Europe. It is an absolute nonsense. If there was sincerity about the CAP, those new countries should have the same proportion of CAP spending as other richer nations. Then, of course, the whole thing would break down.

Keith Vaz: On that point, my hon. Friend is absolutely correct. That is the case that is being made—that there must be a reform of the CAP. It is unfair because it favours France. We should ask the Polish farmers—and the Polish Government when they were seeking to join the European Union—what they think about that. Of course they want a much fairer deal. Until they have that fairer deal, however, it is up to European Union countries, through structural and cohesion funds, to give them a deal that will enable them to do the kinds of things that we want them to do.
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As I understand it, that is the basis of the deal currently on offer from the Foreign Secretary. The rebate is to be considered in the context of the common agricultural policy, but we need to find other ways in which we, as a rich nation, can contribute to the new members so that they do not lose out as a result of our rebate. We must therefore give them additional funds to make sure that they can reach the level that we promised them when they joined the European Union. That also means considering the way in which those funds are dispensed. We do not want to see public opinion in the new member states waning since they joined the European Union, which appears to be happening, because they look at the European Union and see an organisation that seems not to be willing to reform.

In the discussions that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has over the weekend, I hope that he will pursue the reform agenda, as the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks said he should be doing. I have raised that matter with the Foreign Secretary on a number of occasions. There is no prospect of the constitution being adopted at this moment—my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been given credit in that regard, but I know that he is too modest to accept such plaudits—but the fact remains that reform is needed of the structures and practices of the EU.

That was originally set out in the joint letter from the then Chancellor Schröder and our Prime Minister in February 2002. That reform agenda is essential if we are to make the European Union work efficiently, especially in respect of the Lisbon agenda. Of course, the Kok report was damaging, but that was the point of having a report five years after Lisbon—to see what had been achieved. Many benchmarks have not been met—we have done better than other countries, but it is essential that that reform agenda survives beyond our presidency and into the Austrian presidency, and into the discussions and negotiations that we will ensure happen after our presidency has finished.

The world will not end on 31 December. The EU is an ongoing process, and I seek an assurance from my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my hon. Friend who will wind up the debate that we will pursue the reform agenda in a vigorous way. That does not depend on the constitution, as it is independent of it, but we must get those reforms moving if we are to play a real part in providing leadership for the EU.

2.9 pm

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