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The EU experiment is increasingly seen as an exercise for the political classes that is far removed from the concerns of ordinary men and women asthey go about their daily business. There is a growing lack of accountability in Europe, and we Members of Parliament have some responsibility for that, as well as
the responsibility to address those concerns. At each stage of the European experiment, when people raised their concerns, we just said, rather patronisingly, No, no; you are just seeing ghosts. It will never happen, but what was originally conceived of as a trading bloc is now moving into involvement in social and workplace legislation, and that is a far remove from what was originally conceived by the so-called founding fathers.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston(Ms Stuart) showed that she really knew her stuff when she accused EU institutions of mission creep, because when grand institutions come into being, the first thing that they want is to grab even more power. The EU is its own worst enemy, because it constantly meddles and interferes. A classic example is its failing labour market model. European labour markets are not competitive, as they do not create jobs. We heard about the big ideas at the Lisbon summit of 2000. Delegates at the summit said that Europe should create 20 million new jobs by 2010they thought that just by talking about it, it would happen. However, not one new job has been created. Structural unemployment in France and Germany has not budged in the past two decades. While some countries, including the UK, have enjoyed economic growth of varying levels, Europe has remained stagnant. Far from wanting to adopt the UK model, Europe continues to look inward, persisting with failed labour market solutions. It has tried to foist its problems, including the working time directive, on us. What business is it of Government to tell people how long they should work?
Mr. Jeremy Browne: I have done some research on the subject. In 1980, EU nations produced 26 per cent. of global output, but by 2003, that had fallen to 22 per cent. The International Monetary Fund forecasts that it will be 17 per cent. in 2015, and perhaps as low as10 per cent. by the middle of century. Does the hon. Gentleman not think that that continent-wide malaise should be a priority for all EU members?
Mr. Walker: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, as it is about time that Europe stopped looking inward. It should stop talking about itself, and start looking outward. It is time that it realised that it faces huge global challengesI shall come on to that in a minute.
We negotiated an opt-out from the working time directive which allows people to work more than48 hours a week, but the EU wants to take that away from us, lumbering us with a 35-hour working week. They want to impose more employment and social costs on employers, but there is a danger that that will drive yet more jobs to China and India. I sincerely believe that every time our equivalents in China and India troop into their Parliament they look at a picture of Brussels on the wall and say, Keep up the good work, guys. Thanks very muchwell have more of your jobs. Keep piling on the legislation.
The UK should be far more aggressive in pursuing its own national interests. The time for tummy tickling is at an end. Too often, we go to Europe and make grand statements about how we will take on the gnomes of Europe, or whatever they are called. However, we roll
over, they tickle our tummy, and we wag our tail. Once again, we get absolutely stuffed. While we are having our tummy tickled they steal our Pedigree Chum from under our noses. We are one of the largest contributors to the EU, so there is no harm in going to Europe and telling them that we do not like that, and that we are not going to do it. They will huff and puff, flap their arms and get into a frightful lather, but they cannot turn their back on one of their largest contributors.
I do not wish to be churlish, as the UK has been successful in the past 20 years. The previous Prime Minister, John Major, and the present Prime Minister have done an excellent job of keeping us out of the dreadful single currency. Having stayed out of the euro, we are on the verge of becoming the pre-eminent global financial centre. Frankfurt and Paris have fizzled outthey do not pose a challenge to us, as they do not offer London any competition, provided that we stay out of the single currency. We have even begun to surpass New York. In fact, 30 per cent. of Europes largest companies have their headquarters in the UK. That is a good start, but we need to do even more.
Instead of ceding even more power to Brussels, we should start to take power back. It will be a great upset for the Government, but sooner or later the UK will elect a right-of-centre Government by voting Conservative. However, we could be constrained in our delivery of right-of-centre policies by European workplace and social legislation which, unless we are careful, will trigger a constitutional crisis in this country and a loss of confidence.
As I said, the European Union spends far too much time talking about itself and to itself. In my constituency we recently had a delegation of professors visiting one of our secondary schools to see how we manage education in this country. They were not from Spain or from France. They were from China. Fantastic! My secondary school, John Warner school, is to offer Mandarin from next year. If my secondary school can recognise the opportunities that reside in China, so must we and, more importantly, so must our European Union partners, or they will be left behind.
I shall give an example of the unintendedperhaps they were intendedconsequences of European regulations. I recently met the chief executive of one of my local hospitals. I asked why the hospitals performance had not improved. I said, Youve had huge amounts of additional money. Where is it all going? She replied, Well, we have to pay our doctors 30 per cent. more and, because of the working time regulations, they are working 30 per cent. fewer hours. How can I increase productivity on that basis?
That is what Europe does not understand. People can be paid more and work more, they can be paid less and work less, but they cannot be paid more and work less. That just does not add up. We have been getting away with it for the past 40 or 50 years, but the hard-working people in China, India and other emerging economies will not let us get away with it in the future. Clearly, I am causing great distress to the Ministers Parliamentary Private Secretary, who has left her place, but the situation that I am describing is the reality, which the hon. Ladys Chancellor recognises, as in his pre-Budget report he spoke a lot about China and India and not a lot about the European Union. Perhaps the message is getting through to him as well.
In conclusion, I have greatly enjoyed contributing to the debate. We have an opportunity to forge a new relationship both with our European partners and with the emerging economies of India and China. It would be to our detriment and loss if we did not take advantage of that opportunity, because it comes once in a generation. If we miss it, it is gone.
I was a little premature in my winding up. I conclude with one of the greatest scandalsthe common agricultural policy. France is an extremely nice place. I love going to France, I love French people, I love their wine and their culture. I love the fact that they are extremely difficult, and I like that. France is a nice place because the European Union, through the common agricultural policy, is supporting a totally inefficient agricultural sector. We are funding Frances lifestyle.
That may bring a smile to some peoples faces, but it does not bring a smile to farmers in developing third world countries, whose products are priced out of European markets while we dump our subsidised products on their markets. It is unbelievable that we could all hop on a plane to Nigeria tomorrow and find tinned European tomatoes there. Nigeria does not produce any, because it is not financially viable to do so. That is a scandal.
Great concern has been expressed about enlargement and the problems of Polish immigration to the UK, but I congratulate our new European partners on being expansive in their outlook. They have escaped the yoke of communism. They do not want to go back to regressive top-down regulatory pressures. They want to take advantage of the commercial opportunities out there. We should follow their lead. It is a sadness that at a time when our new European partners are looking outwards, the Governmentthis is just a mild criticismare tending to favour the more regulatory approach followed by some of our old European partners. We want a successful economy. We want high levels of employment. We want substantial wealth creation. As currently structured, the EU is a barrier to that, not a promoter of that aspiration.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Having taken part in several European debates since I was elected to this House, I think that this has been the best to date. I congratulate Members on both sides of the House and hope that I keep up with them in my remarks.
I should like to comment on Bulgaria and Romania. I have been to Bulgaria, which is a fine country, but not yet to Romania. The accession of those countries represents an important time for the European Union and, indeed, for the United Kingdom. Last week, I met the Romanian Immigration Minister and raised concerns expressed by many of my constituents about the number of economic migrants who might come to Shropshire and to this country as a whole. The Minister tried to comfort me by saying that she thought that most people leaving Romania would go to countries with warmer, sunnier climates, such as Italy and Spain. That may be so. Nevertheless, when the most recent accession countries acceded to the EU, the Government predicted, despite the Foreign Secretarys earlier denials, that 15,000 economic migrants would come to the UK. We now know that the figure is 500,000 and growing. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) is not here today, but she has rightly
observed that more than 10,000 Polish people have entered Aberdeen over the past year or so. In Shropshire, there are many hundreds of Polish people; no poll has been undertaken to ascertain precisely how many.
Many of those people are contributing legitimately to our economy and have brought skills that we need. However, this needs to be seen in the contextof unemployment, which is at a seven-year high. Unemployment is going up and we have an inflow of economic migrants, so more people are chasing fewer jobs. We also see wage deflation in some areas of the economy, certainly in the agricultural sector in Shropshire, Herefordshire and other parts of the west midlands. If we are not careful, the very good community relations that this country has enjoyed over generations, for hundreds of years, could inadvertently be undermined. That would not be good for our nation, and I know that the Government do not intend that it should happen.
Let me give the example of somebody who, two years ago, went for a factory job as a press operatora comparatively dirty jobbut then said, No, Id rather not take it: Ill go and find a cleaner one down the road. Two years later, that job ceases, but they still have to pay their mortgage, with increasing mortgage rates, and to put bread on the table to feed their families, with rising costs of living. They go back to the factory where they turned the job down, where the manager says, Im sorry, the jobs taken. They look over his shoulder and see people from other EU nations doing the job that they need to pay their mortgage and put bread on the table. It is not an ethnic issue or a skin colour issuethere could be a white European in that job. One might say that that is the price we are paying for being members of the EU.
Mr. Hoon: The basic flaw in the hon. Gentlemans argument is that there are more people in employment in this country than ever beforeabout 29 million, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said in his pre-Budget report. The hon. Gentleman may be warning of some doom-laden future, possibly related to the prospect of a Conservative Government, but he is not dealing with the present situation.
Mark Pritchard: I thank the Minister for trying to realign my comments, but I do not accept that. The population has clearly increased from the turn of the century and, by definition, an increase in population means more people in work. Let me be helpful: unemployment has clearly decreased under the Labour Administration. However, today it is at a seven-year high. Let me give the Minister a specific exampleI know that he is keen on them. In Shropshire in the past 12 months, unemployment has risen by 36 per cent. Jobs are being lost not only in manufacturing but in the service sector.
In the Chancellors pre-Budget report statement, he rightly identified the problem and the challengewe need to upskill our labour force and educate our young people so that they are qualified and skilled for the modern workplace. The trouble with the statement was that it did not give a solution. Apart from rising unemployment and wage deflation, there is the problem of people from other countries coming in who have more skills, including language skills, are more versatile and are potentially more flexible about what
they are prepared to do. That is the challenge for our indigenous population and for the Governments economic policy in the context of our discussion on European affairs.
I would like some reassurance from the Minister about what the transitional derogation means in detail. As I understand it, for the Bulgarians and Romanians who enter the United Kingdom next year, any transitional derogation will last for only two years. After that, it will go to the European Commission, and the Commission, not the Government will have a say. That worries me and I would be interested to hear the detail.
I have been to Turkey, which is a fine, ancient nation that is rightly proud of its history and heritage. However, I do not share the Governments position or, indeed, that of my Front Bench on Turkey acceding to the European Unionfor the time being. That is my get-out clause. It is not that I am unprepared to be principled and put my head above the parapet, but I believe that Turkey will not be able to do the things that it needs to do in the short, medium or long term. My position is therefore pragmatic as well asI hopeprincipled.
I am worried about Turkey because it has a poor record on human rights and it has not made enough progress on religious freedom. It also needs to make more progress on Cyprus, including the embargo on Cypriot ships, the green line, property such as Famagusta in the north of Cyprus and the wider issue of property ownership in the north of the island. It would be an opportune moment for Turkey to recognise the Armenian genocide. Its continuing reluctance to state clearly that the genocide took place and that it was exceedingly wrong is disappointing. Turkey could also reinstate diplomatic relations and normalise relations with Armenia. Again, it has not done that to date.
Daniel Kawczynski: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and fellow Shropshire Member for giving way. Does he agree that Turkey needs to do far more about the rights of the Kurdish minorities in the south-east of the country before we allow it into the EU?
Mark Pritchard: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, as ever, and I entirely agree with him. It is not just the Kurds; there is a whole range of ethnic minorities within the Turkish nation with which the Government of Turkey need to deal in a far better way than they do today.
A further point on Turkey relates to safeguarding our national culture. Our Government sometimes describe Turkey as a secular nation; at other times they describe it as a Muslim nation. We should try to encourage democracy in Turkey and to buttress, support and strengthen it. We should encourage the moderate voices in that nation. However, the British Governments view of Turkey, as expressed in their foreign policy, should not be driven by American foreign policy. Yes, I understand Americas strategic geopolitical and defence position of wanting Turkey to be westward facing rather than eastward facing, but Turkey is already a member of the customs union, and it benefits greatly from its trading relationship with the European Union. Even if the EU decided not to allow it to become a full member, I do not think that
it would suddenly pull up the drawbridge and stop trading with other European nations. It would not cut off its nose to spite its face. Nor do I believe that it would turn eastwards towards the central Asian republics, because those republics are also looking westwards. Therefore, I believe that that is a false argument.
We have heard todayeven from the Liberal Democratsabout supporting an independent British foreign policy. The issue of Turkey represents an opportunity to assert British independence in foreign policy outside of American strategic geopolitical interests. Some elements of the Austrian position on Turkey are right, and many of the points that Germany has made are correct. Even the French have been right about some of their concerns over Turkish accession.
Another key issue is the free movement of people, should Turkey become a full member. With 15,000 people having come from the Baltic states and Poland in the most recent accessions, how many would we see coming here from Turkey? Would it be 15,000, or half a million, or more? How would that change our nation? Would it change our culture or our identity? Thisis not a criticism of or a slight on the Turkish people. I have Turkish people in my constituencythey are wonderful people who are fully integrated into the Shropshire community in which I live. However, this is a matter of making our own national culture and identityand, arguably, in extreme circumstances, our national securityparamount, and placing them above the interests even of those in the State Department in the United States.
I also want to touch on the position of the Vatican, the Holy See, in relation to Turkey. His Holiness the Pope visited Turkey recently and it was claimed by some elements of the Turkish mediaand, indeed, the British mediathat he had changed his view about Turkey. It was declared that while he had previously not been keen on the idea of Turkeys accession, as a result of his visit he had endorsed proposals for its full membership. I understand, however, that that is not the position. I have checked this over the past 48 hours, and the position is that the Vatican is neutral on the matter. It is neither in support of nor against Turkey becoming a full member. It is important to put that on the record because some of the British media followed the Turkish media in getting that wrong. There is no endorsement from the Catholic ChurchI speak asa non-Catholicfor Turkey joining the European Union.
We have heard some excellent contributions today on the European constitutional treaty. I would be interested to hear what the Governments position is on this matter because I am still confused, especially after the Home Secretarys reference this week to the constitutional treaty as a diseased dead parrot. I am not sure whether that was a misquote. Perhaps it should have read a deceased dead parrot, if it was a reference to the Monty Python sketch. While the treaty might be deadI say mightis it buried? As my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) said, there is talk of a mini treaty. However mini and compressed a new treaty might be, if issues of competency and sovereignty are involved the Government should allow this nation a referendum. It is time that we took powers back from Europe, rather than giving new powers to Europe.
A couple of weeks ago in the House, I mentioned the charter of fundamental rights. Despite the treaty not having been ratified by all the nation states, some European Courts have referred to the charter of fundamental rights in cases over the past few weeks. Why is that happening? Is not that ultra vires? Is not it beyond their legal powers to make reference to a charter that has not been ratified?
Why are offices apparently being purchased and personnel recruited for the external action service, the European Unions so-called diplomatic service? That was part of the treaty, and has not been agreed. What legal powers have been given for that to go ahead? Who is paying for the budget for that? We should retain our own diplomatic service and not have a common diplomatic corps. With the greatest respect to France, I do not think that a French ambassador representing European Union interests would necessarily always have the same foreign policy or even commercial dimension in mind when representing British interests or a British company in another nation. It is disappointing that we are closing diplomatic missions around the world, such as in Tonga and Paraguay.
Britain needs to have an independent foreign policy, working closely with the Americans when it is right to do so, and working with our European partners when it is right to do so, but, first and foremost, putting national interests above all else.
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