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I have spoken to logistics managers for Tesco who would love to be able to bring their wine and other things from the continent of Europe—for example, from Bordeaux direct by train to Birmingham, Glasgow or wherever. That cannot be done without heavy investment in track capacity and providing the capability to take serious container traffic to a much greater extent than currently exists on the railways. That would free up other railway lines for more and faster passenger trains. Segregation of freight and passenger trains where possible, as is being done on the continent of Europe, is clearly the way forward. Those on the continent are doing things right in respect of railways, but we are not. I have not yet persuaded my hon. Friends the Ministers at the Department for Transport to say yes to our scheme, but I think that they will in time. We can then say that we are greening transport, too.

Finally, I shall talk a little bit about what one might say is another hobbyhorse of mine: the common fisheries policy. The common fisheries policy is irrational nonsense that has led directly to the overfishing of seas. The only way forward to guarantee that fish stocks survive for the future is to re-establish the old national fishing waters and for each member state with its own maritime areas to defend its fishing grounds. Member states will then realise that their future depends on husbanding their fish stocks well, as is done in Norway, which is outside the European Union.

It has been said to me many times in humour that fish can swim. Humorously, if I were a fish, I would swim in the Norwegian waters rather than outside them, because I would be less likely to be caught. Nevertheless, there are more fish stocks around Norway than around the rest of Europe, because it has its own waters, is outside the common fisheries policy and looks after its stocks better than we do. The only way forward that guarantees that fish stocks across the whole range of fish will be given time to recover is for countries to take back their national fishing waters.

Mr. MacShane: If someone catches a fish in the North sea, how do they know whether it is German, Danish, Dutch, Belgian, Swedish, English or Scottish?

Kelvin Hopkins: Clearly, fish do not speak languages, so that is very difficult. They do not wear badges or flags. My right hon. Friend makes a point that has been made to me many times—fish can swim. However, if the sea is sufficiently big for fish to live in one area rather than another and if there are large shoals of fish around Norway and no shoals of fish around Britain, something has happened to the fish around Britain, which I suggest is the result of overfishing and it might just be because of the common fisheries policy. This is over-simplification and there are various detailed policies that I debated recently in the European Standing Committee with the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), who is responsible for fisheries. However, the common fisheries policy was a give-away at the time of negotiating entry to the European Union. It is irrational nonsense and I urge the Minister to put the case for at least the possibility in a few years’ time of re-establishing national fishing waters and abolishing the common fisheries policy.

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I am convinced that that is the way forward. I am sure that, if we said that we were going to retake our national fishing waters in five or seven years’ time and gave the European Union time to adjust to that thought, common sense would prevail in the end. The Minister responsible for fisheries has said that if we did that, we would be thrown out of the Common Market—sorry, I mean the European Union; I am using the old terminology. I think that it is highly unlikely that we would be thrown out of the European Union. It has a very big trade surplus with us and the rest of the European Union benefits so much in economic terms from Britain’s membership that it is unlikely that it would expel us.

If we made our case now and said that we would abolish the common fisheries policy or re-establish our own waters, we would be doing a great service to the fish stocks in our waters and in the waters around the rest of Europe and helping other countries in the European Union as well as ourselves. It is not just a selfish nationalist policy; it is a policy of conservation. It is a green policy, or a green sea policy. It would ensure the restoration of fish stocks that have been attacked to a dangerous degree in recent decades.

I could speak at greater length on a number of other subjects, as I am sure you appreciate, Mr. Bayley, but I have probably had more than my fair share of the time. I apologise, because I have to attend another meeting now, but thank you.

3.52 pm

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): Before he goes to his next meeting, I congratulate the hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins). He spoke for nearly half an hour. I did not agree with much of what he said and he did not really speak about the paper before us, the annual policy strategy for 2009—[Interruption.] In that, he was very like the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), who made a fantastic speech, most of which I agreed with. It elucidated many issues. He did at least make some reference to the APS for 2009, so perhaps he does not deserve so much criticism.

Mr. Drew: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davey: In a second. To be fair to the hon. Member for Luton, North and the right hon. Member for Rotherham, there is not a lot in the document before us.

Hugh Bayley (in the Chair): Order. Before the hon. Member for Stroud intervenes, I point out that it is for the Chair to decide whether contributions are relevant to the topic for debate. I hope that that is not the purpose of the intervention.

Mr. Drew: Thank you, Mr. Bayley. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) is right. This is the best we can do. For a document that is supposed to allow us to scrutinise the whole EU policy or direction of strategy, it does not say much. We in this House need much better. Whatever the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) and my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins), they have to speak on everything because there is such a limited amount that they can speak on according to the document.

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Mr. Davey: I agree. It is not absolutely clear what purpose the document is intended to serve. The Minister, in introducing the debate, said that it was a strategy document. It does not appear to be terribly strategic in the way in which it is presented. In the House of Lords report on the 2008 annual policy strategy, criticism was made along those lines. The other place questioned whether it was intended to be a snapshot of where the European Commission was at and what work was in progress, or whether it was supposed to be a list for a future work programme. It was not clear whether it was supposed to be a consultation document involving the other institutions and member states. If these debates are to be meaningful and we are to contribute to what is going on as a British Parliament—

Mr. Jim Murphy: A UK Parliament.

Mr. Davey: The Minister wishes to correct me and I am happy to be corrected. If we are to do that, it is incumbent on the European Commission to send us documents that are rather more meaningful and have much more clarity about both their purpose and their content.

It may be that because we are coming towards the end of the Barroso Commission and we face European Parliament elections next year, the Commission does not have much more to complete. Perhaps it has completed most of the work that it set out when it came together after the previous set of elections. That may well excuse the Commission and this strategy, but when we have these debates, we need a bit of context about their purpose.

As I think was implied by the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), perhaps this is an early warning system; perhaps it is flagging up what may be down the line. However, for a document meant as an early warning system, it does not give much detail, so there is not much that can be flagged up from it. I am unclear about its purpose and although I welcome more debates and more scrutiny—that is an important development—the European Commission will have to help us a little more if we are to perform that task.

My reading of the document suggests that if it is anything at the moment in the form in which it has been presented, it is a work programme. I refer hon. Members to pages 14 to 19, the annexe, in which it talks about the key actions envisaged for 2009. That seems to be the meat of the document and I want to ask the Minister questions about that meat later, because if we are to have a purpose today, we should understand what it is in that.

I hope that the Minister will take my concerns back to the Council of Ministers and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I would not be surprised if they were widely shared. Yes, we want these debates and documents that would set out an annual policy strategy—that would be useful—but we need more in them if that is to serve a useful purpose.

One reason why I would welcome this type of debate and document, if they were done properly, is that I think that the European Union needs to move on from the incessant debates about institutional reform and structures. Whatever is happening today in Ireland, whatever the result tomorrow and whether or not the
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Lisbon treaty ends up being ratified, we need to move on from the incessant debates that we have had about tinkering with the way in which the institutions work.

I personally support the Lisbon treaty. It makes valuable improvements, not least because the European Union has grown in size. With so many more member states, it seems sensible that some aspects of the institutional framework are reformed, which is the whole purpose of the Lisbon treaty; it is the main drive behind it. It may not have gone down terribly well with the Irish people, but the idea of having 27 commissioners, 28 if Croatia joins and 29 if Turkey joins, makes a nonsense of the Commission. One of the beneficial aspects of the Lisbon treaty is that it would streamline the number of commissioners and the bureaucracy and provide better value for money. It would be a shame if we lost that.

However, if the Lisbon treaty is not ratified and we do lose it, that does not mean that the European Commission cannot function. That has never been an argument that we have advanced. The European Commission, the European Union, will have to work out a way forward, but it should not say, “Okay, the Lisbon treaty has been lost because Ireland didn’t ratify it”—if that is what happens—“but let’s start another round of discussions about how we reform the institutions.” We must not do that. We need to move on and talk about policy—what the European Commission and the European Union institutions are doing and how they are benefiting the citizens whom we come to this place to represent and the citizens of the wider European Union. To focus on that is therefore sensible, and documents such as this can help.

The document points out a number of important areas, and the European Commission and the European Union should focus on them next year. Development of the Lisbon agenda, with its strategy for jobs and growth, could not be more critical. It has been important for many years, but it will be even more important as the world economy, our economy and the European economy come across tougher times. The fact that oil and food prices are high has been referred to; we clearly are in tougher economic times. Whether or not it has an impact on this country or our trading partners in pushing through things such as deregulation and reducing the administrative burden from Europe, that agenda is clearly sensible and one that we should support.

On page 14 and at the top of page 15, the document sets out how the Lisbon strategy for jobs and growth will be developed in the forthcoming year. I have some questions for the Minister on the key actions that are envisaged. The second point in the annex is

That sounds great. I looked for evidence of what those legislative proposals might be, but I cannot find any. Will the Minister tell us what is envisaged? Is he aware of what those proposals might be? If it is a genuine deregulatory approach, we shall certainly look upon it with some enthusiasm.

We then come to the subheading “Single Market and Competition”, which includes:

I looked in the main text of the document, and on page 4 it states:

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I do not understand that, and I hope that the Minister can explain it. I do not know what “shared partnerships” are. Neither do I know what is meant by a “New Approach Directive”, which is mentioned in the following sentence. I have heard of directives, of course, but I have no knowledge of an “approach directive”. Will the Minister enlighten us?

Under the title of jobs and growth, the document talks of the Commission stepping up action in the “area of competition”. The Minister will have the support of the Liberal Democrats if the Government push this strongly, particularly looking at anti-trust issues and preventing the misuse of state aid. However, the liberalisation agenda of the energy sector is critical. High energy prices are taking their toll on certain industries, so we need to push that programme.

I urge the Minister to see whether work can be done by the Government and the European Commission on the refinery sector. There is some concern that it is not only the rise in the commodity prices that feeds through to the pumps and the higher fuel costs faced by our constituents and industry but the pressures in the system resulting from a lack of refinery infrastructure that have created some of the problems that we have seen with supply and demand. I put it to the Minister that that may be an area for competitive inquiry, either by the EU or the Government.

The final area in the growth and jobs aspect of the document that I want to touch upon is the fact that the Commission is going to

It then speaks of the

I am not quite sure what that amounts to, and some clarification would be welcome. However, I urge the Minister—I hope that he will discuss the matter with his Treasury colleagues—to focus on the VAT treatment of charities with the Commission.

The United Kingdom is not unique, but it has a much more vibrant voluntary and charitable sector than many member states. The way that VAT affects charities in this country can be extremely damaging—not to all charities perhaps, but certainly to those that are not able, through their trading and other activities, to pass on the VAT to the final customer, as is the case in the commercial sector. I do not know whether the renewed VAT strategy will touch upon that problem, but the Government need to consider that question.

I move on to the section of the document that talks of a “sustainable Europe”. It focuses on environmental issues in what I have described as a work programme. I welcome the increased emphasis on policies to tackle climate change. Although it is part of the Lisbon treaty, the European Commission and the European Union are doing a lot of work outside the treaty. That is one of the most important arguments for the European Union, and it is good to see a large part of the strategy work programme with such details. There is some substance
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in it—things that we can get our hands on, things that we can understand—and I support several things in it.

For instance, it talks of setting out the EU’s position for the November 2009 Copenhagen climate conference. That is critical. In moving on from Kyoto and Bali, the EU has been leading the global debate. It is critical for the member states of the European Union to take a really strong and coherent position—not only for the UK or Europe, but for the whole world. It is an essential piece of work, and I hope that the Minister and his colleagues will contribute strongly to it.

Implementation of the revised emissions trading scheme will be important during the next year or two. The first round of the ETS was not as successful as it might have been, but given that it was innovative and given that we were leading again, it was a valuable exercise. It is worth pointing out that, not least because of increased fuel prices, windfall gains were made by a number of energy companies as a result of the first round of the ETS. I hope that it will not happen in the second round, although I fear that it might. The emissions trading scheme is critical. In the first round, it dealt with about 40 per cent. of carbon emissions in the Union. It now takes account of aviation, which is welcome. I hope that it will take account of emissions from freight transport, including from shipping. Again, that is a welcome development. I hope that the Minister well tell us how he thinks implementation will work. Are we are on track? What are the key milestones?

I now turn to the implementation of the energy efficiency action plan. I welcome it, because I am absolutely convinced that we can do an awful lot more than has been managed before. Although most aspects of energy efficiency policy should be considered at the national as well as the local level, it is good that the EU is working on the matter—particularly in relation to the workings of the single market. Inevitably, regulations on things such as lighting and other consumer goods will have to be made, in part, at a European level. The proposal for a new initiative on energy labelling of tyres, and measures on domestic lighting and incandescent bulbs are a good step forward, and we should support them. There will inevitably be problems with implementation, as we move from one system to another, but it has to be the way forward. I understand that if the EU gets rid of incandescent light bulbs, that measure alone will save 20 million tonnes of carbon emissions. That is the equivalent of 25 medium-sized power stations—it is big stuff. It is important that the European Union leads the way: if it is going to happen, we should welcome the document.

I could talk about a number of things that are in the action plan, but I wanted finally to focus on the section titled “Europe as a World Partner”, which is a key part of the Commission’s future work. That status is often underplayed and under-presented. We have debates, particularly with Conservative Front Benchers, about the operation of European security, defence and foreign policy, but, clearly, they depend on unanimity. Some of the concerns that are raised about the operation of that policy level are not valid, because we have a veto. Because we are part of the European Union, we speak with a louder voice. We can work with partners that we can listen to more effectively. Also, people want to join us, so we can promote the values and rights that are at the heart of the EU.

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