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18 Jun 2008 : Column 992

Keith Vaz: In fact, it was the Conservative party’s official position at the time of the Nice treaty that there should be a referendum on it. It paints itself as a party that supports enlargement, but it sought to block it by having a referendum.

Mr. Davey: The Conservative party’s position has always been to will the ends, but never to seek them.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): I am troubled by the hon. Gentleman’s speech, because the public appear to have no role. Why cannot he simply rejoice in what the Irish people have done? Putting the burden on the Government of Ireland is neither here nor there. We have not had any popular endorsements of this wretched treaty, but he seems indifferent to that. He suggests that it is more important that Heads of Government agree among themselves, even though they have no popular mandate for their actions.

Mr. Davey: That is not my position. I believe that every member state has its own constitutional process for ratifying the treaty, and the Irish Government are accountable to the Irish people. They have to reach their own conclusions. As the hon. Member for Stone rightly said, Ireland’s constitutional position is that if the Irish Government wish to proceed, they will have to have a second referendum.

The Foreign Secretary touched on various other issues, to do with Zimbabwe, Burma and Iran. However, as other hon. Members wish to speak, I shall not go into detail about them, except to say that we support the Government’s overall approach.

On Zimbabwe, the Government must persuade other EU members that a stolen election with all the killing, violence and intimidation that have been reported will move the EU, working with allies around the world, to take serious action. We must not simply look away: if what we all fear actually happens, this is one matter on which, at long last, the international community has to stand up and be counted.

The question of the western Balkans has not been mentioned much so far in this debate, but again we support the Government’s overall approach. However, I hope that the Minister for Europe will say something on the record about Serbia’s place in the European perspective on the western Balkans. Will he confirm that the stabilisation and association agreement that has been signed with Serbia will go no further until the Serbian Government ensure that war criminals like Mladic are offered up to the International Criminal Court?

This European summit is historic, as rising food and oil prices mean that it will have to deal with some of the most difficult economic and social problems for a generation. We have to hope that the EU can make a positive contribution to that work. The summit is also historic because it will have to take some difficult decisions about the EU’s future institutional framework. Yet whatever decision the Irish Government reach, Britain’s national interest remains with the EU, with or without the Lisbon treaty. We need to move on from institutional rancour and deal with the EU’s policy agenda, which is so important for dealing with international crime, terrorism and climate change and for restoring prosperity to the countries of the EU.

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3.11 pm

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): For the EU to be effective, it must engage with the issues that matter to the people who live in it. The issues that affect my constituents in Wakefield are the same as those that worry people in Warsaw, and Wicklow. People in Wakefield are worried about rising food and fuel prices. They write to me urging me to do more about the dangers of climate change, and they care about the plight of people, both at home and abroad, who are less fortunate than they are. My answer is that there is much that we can do, but that such problems cannot be solved by the UK acting alone. We are much better able to act when we co-operate and work with our friends in Europe.

Global rises in the cost of food and fuel are hitting people in their pockets across Europe. The UK and Europe face two long-term energy challenges. The first is the need to deliver a secure supply of clean energy at prices that people can afford, and the second is climate change, which requires reductions in damaging carbon emissions that put our children’s future at risk.

Fuel policy is now at the centre of European thinking. Europe imports half its gas from Russia, and 80 per cent. of that gas comes through Ukraine. In 2006, Russia interrupted the gas supply. During that time, I visited Brotherton’s, a chemicals company in Wakefield. Its managing director described vividly the impact that a 50 per cent. increase in gas costs was having on the business’s profit margin. When Russia turns off the tap, workers and businesses in Wakefield suffer.

Europe offers a clear route to cheaper, cleaner energy. Other hon. Members have described how the Heads of Government agreed in 2007 to a binding target of 20 per cent. of fuel from renewable sources by 2020. They also agreed to copy the UK model and further liberalise energy supplies by splitting supply and production from distribution activities. That should lead to lower prices for continental consumers, more competition and a level playing field on continental Europe, as well as to a level playing field for British companies that wish to distribute energy.

A functioning internal market and a common EU infrastructure in energy would lead to significant advantages for the UK and Europe, such as extra jobs, new technology, and, most importantly, cheaper prices for consumers. The EU will also increase by at least 50 per cent. its spending on energy research for the next seven years. That is great news for those British universities that are world leaders in certain areas of renewables research. That is the story that we need to tell our voters about the EU—how the single market and co-operation in Europe will lead to lower gas bills on their doormats.

On climate change, it is vital that we work with our EU partners to create an agreement to replace Kyoto when it runs out in 2012. Last year, the EU spoke with one voice at the UN climate change conference in Bali, and that unity gives us the basis for further negotiations to make large cuts in carbon emissions. Only a united Europe— with Britain at its centre, not skulking at the edges—can deliver the action that we need on climate change.

In March this year, the European Council agreed an ambitious schedule for adopting a package of measures to cut EU emissions by 20 per cent. by 2020, or by 30 per cent. as part of an international agreement. If
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one is pro-environment, one has to be pro-Europe. The EU emissions trading scheme is the biggest environment policy in the world and it is likely to be at the heart of, and perhaps the blueprint for, a future global carbon trading scheme.

Meeting the EU’s climate change target requires not just action to reduce carbon emissions from energy suppliers and industry, but incentives to change individual behaviour as well. The European Commission is currently looking at how economic incentives, including VAT rates, can increase the use of energy-efficient goods and energy-saving materials in the home.

An EU that delivers cheaper insulation materials, cheaper energy-saving light bulbs, and cheaper green energy is an EU that speaks a language that everyone in Europe can understand. Tackling rising fuel prices and climate change can best be done through Governments working together, and that is why it is so baffling that the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) is so determined to pull the Tories out of mainstream European politics. One of the few concrete pledges that he has made, in a stream of vague hints and sales pitches, is that he will remove the Tory MEPs from the European People’s party, so putting them firmly on the fringes of the European political scene.

The Lisbon treaty allows the EU to tackle climate change at an international level. It is vital that we press on with it so that we can take action in that area. Labour has led on climate change both at home and abroad. We were pivotal in securing the Kyoto protocol, and with our European neighbours we launched the international emissions trading scheme. Further work is being done with the recently introduced Climate Change Bill.

Meanwhile, however, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood)—who headed the Opposition’s economic competitiveness policy review—believes that climate change is a “swindle”. It is no wonder that people are starting to realise that the Opposition’s claim to care about the environment is nothing but a photo opportunity and a scam—a reptilian green skin that will be shed in favour of true-blue tax cuts and Europe-bashing at the first opportunity.

Yesterday, the Governor of the Bank of England announced inflation figures showing that people in the UK are spending 8 per cent. more on food this year compared to last. Global food prices have risen by 83 per cent. over the last three years, and rice, maize and wheat prices have all reached record highs this year. There are no magic bullets or simple solutions to the problems of rising food prices. They concern us all, and they affect the poorest in every society. I am especially concerned about the effect that the price rises will have on children, not just in EU member states but—and particularly—in the developing world. They are making food unaffordable for many of the poorest people in the world’s poorest countries. It is an international problem, and it requires an international response.

The UK is just one voice among those of 240 countries in the world, but when we stand with our European partners we are part of an institution that speaks for almost 500 million people and generates almost a third of the world’s wealth. When the EU speaks, the world listens.

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The Prime Minister has made it clear that the world is not making progress on the eight millennium development goals agreed by world leaders in 2000. The first of those goals is supposed to be achieved by 2015 and it is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. We are halfway through the time scale allocated for achieving the millennium development goals, and we are absolutely nowhere near reaching the target.

Hon. Members have talked in this debate about the situation in Zimbabwe, where 45 per cent. of the population is dependent on food aid. Even now, the international humanitarian response is in jeopardy, as Mugabe uses the food supply as a tool of oppression and a political instrument.

In Burma, the natural disaster caused by Cyclone Nargis was compounded by the generals’ indifference to their suffering population. Burma might now have faded from the news headlines, and it might be incredibly difficult for journalists to report from there, but, as we speak, probably thousands if not tens of thousands of people are dying a slow, lingering death from diseases that are preventable by vaccines and good hygiene—because of the generals’ difficulties in allowing foreign aid agencies in. There are people in this House who believe that such indifference on a mass scale, compounding the devastation caused by the cyclone, constitutes a crime against humanity.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which I visited in 2006, there is an infant mortality rate of 20 per cent. in children under five. That means that one in five children dies before their fifth birthday. In the east of the country, in north and south Kivu, there is also widespread sexual violence against women. While I was in the DRC, in Bukavu, I visited the Panzi hospital, which treats some of the 4,000 rape victims each year, whose ages range from four to 75. Those women and children have not only been raped with violence by the militias of the Interahamwe, who are still hiding in the jungle and in the bush; they have been abused and tortured with bottles, guns and pieces of wood. The doctors there spend an incredible amount of time and effort trying to put those women’s lives back together.

That hospital is funded by the European Union’s programme. The irony was that the hospital received funding while war was raging in eastern Congo between 1998 and 2004, but as soon as peace was declared in the region, the European Community decided that it no longer merited emergency funding, because the situation in that province was no longer classed as an emergency. The funding therefore ended. I am delighted that the Department for International Development has made up some of the shortfall in that funding, which has allowed the hospital to create a second ward in which women can wait for their operations. They often need a series of operations.

It is important to look at how European assistance is given and to ensure that there are better controls over that process. Every year, we see conflicts, droughts and earthquakes triggering humanitarian responses in different parts of the world, and every year millions of people, be they in the DRC, Afghanistan or Darfur, find themselves without shelter, food, water or medical care. The European Union provides emergency relief to those people. The EU is the world’s biggest aid spender, with a combined budget of $34 billion in 2004, of which $8 billion is administered by the EU directly. I believe that the EU must follow the UK’s lead in decoupling trade from aid.
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That is another provision that the Lisbon treaty would allow. We are halfway through the target time frame for the millennium development goals, yet we are nowhere near achieving many of them.

I want to conclude by mentioning the Irish referendum. The Irish have spoken, but there are 26 other member states whose opinions matter as well. The fact that one country has said no to the package as it stands is no reason for us to forget the reasons why we need reform, and no reason for us to stick with the current system. All member states agree on the need for reform. Even Conservative Members are agreed on that, and the various groups that campaigned for a no vote in Ireland claimed that they wanted a better settlement. We need to allow the Irish a period of reflection and space to identify what they do not like about the Lisbon treaty. Presumably, it is not the extra democratic powers for Parliaments, or the clearer focus on combating climate change. It must be some other aspects that they do not like. If they can identify those aspects, perhaps their concerns can be addressed.

I should also like to caution hon. Members that public hostility and indifference to the process of EU institutional reform are nothing new. I remember standing outside the James Joyce pub in Brussels when the Danes rejected the Maastricht treaty in 1992. It was an interesting evening, and one that I remember well. The Danes said to the rest of Europe that they did not want to destroy the entire edifice, and that they would come back with constructive proposals that would provide a way out of the impasse. They had looked at the parts of the Maastricht package that they did not like, and the UK and other member states were able to meet their concerns without making huge changes to the treaty. The treaty was then approved by a comfortable majority in a new referendum.

Some of the fears raised during the Irish debate were unjustified. The treaty does not affect Ireland’s abortion laws. It does not affect Ireland’s ability to set tax rates or its neutrality. Nor does it force its armed services to become part of a European army. Those fears can be assuaged without fundamentally changing the treaty, perhaps through clarifying declarations or additional protocols.

The UK Government are right to give the Irish a breathing space. Whatever the issues may be, it should not be impossible to address them. I do not think that we should pay any attention to the howling of Eurosceptics that holding a new referendum would in some way be undemocratic. It is perfectly reasonable to address differences in the positions of the 27 EU countries by asking a minority of one to think again, especially after working together to address the concerns involved.

The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) is no longer in his place. We talked a lot about cojones when he was ribbing the Liberal Democrats earlier. I wonder whether it is a demonstration of cojones on the part of his leader not to reject Alun Cairns as a Welsh Tory prospective parliamentary candidate for saying that he would not support the Italian football team because they were a bunch of “greasy wops”. I wonder why the Conservative party has not expelled someone who expounds such racist and xenophobic views— [ Interruption. ]

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Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Perhaps the hon. Lady could confine her remarks to the European affairs that we are discussing.

Mary Creagh: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think that it is a matter of European concern when a party has members who express such xenophobic sentiments.

Returning to the Lisbon treaty, I do not believe that anyone wants yet more debate and negotiation on the minutiae of the composition of the EU institutions. I am sure that that prospect sends shivers down the spines of Members on both sides of the House— [ Interruption. ] Except the spineless, indeed. Achieving a solution acceptable to all 27 countries is never easy, but an even worse solution would be to abandon all hope of reform and have a poorly functioning EU that would be incapable of further expansion. We need to ensure that the EU expands eastwards to Croatia and to the nascent, fledgling states of the Balkans.

I should like to make a final point about the Irish. There are 1.6 million Irish people living in the UK at the moment, many of them pensioners. Two of them are my parents. The reason that they can draw pensions in this country—based on the work that they did in Ireland, and as residents of the United Kingdom—is that Ireland and the UK joined the EEC, as it then was, in 1972, and that the provisions of joining gave citizens of both countries the right to draw pensions in another member state. Those Irish citizens and pensioners living in the UK did not have a chance to express their views in the referendum, but I am sure that if they had, the response would have been very different.

I conclude my remarks with a quotation from a person who led this country into the EEC:

That was what Ted Heath said as he took this country into Europe, and I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House would do well to remember that as we go forward in Europe.

3.28 pm

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): The hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) ended her speech with a quotation; perhaps I may begin with one from many years ago. G. K. Chesterton said:

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