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The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) again spoke with characteristic commitment. On behalf of those of us on the Government Benches, let me congratulate him on his re-election as treasurer of the all-party Poland group. He reminds us of the contribution made by those from eastern Europe to our economy and society, not just now but in previous generations. Tomorrow I will have the opportunity to visit my old school in GlasgowSt. Louise schoolwhich
is probably the first school in the United Kingdom where the majority of the pupils are from Poland. That is an occasion that I am looking forward to.
Many issues were raised in our debate, and I think that every country in the European Union was mentioned. Sixteen countries outside the European Union were mentioned. [Interruption.] Liechtenstein is now the 17th: I had the honour of meeting the Foreign Minister of Liechtenstein last week, and we had an enjoyable conversation. Nevertheless, I want to talk about a country in the European Union that will remain a proud and equal member, and that country, of course, is Ireland.
I do not pretend to speak for the Irish Government. I have never taken up my entitlement to Irish citizenship and I have no intention of doing so. However, the Irish people have the fundamental right to come to their own decision, as guaranteed by their constitutional settlement. That constitutional settlement reflects Irelands unique history, in the same way that our constitutional position, like those in all the member states of the European Union and beyond, is a reflection of our democratic traditions, arrived at through our unique experiences.
However, we have to be clearindeed, Her Majestys Government are crystal clear on this matterthat the European Union is, and should continue to be, a Union of 27 equal member states. There is no question of the treaty coming into effect or being implemented in any member state unless it is ratified by all 27 member states. We wish to be absolutely clear about that again.
Mr. Cash: Could the Minister explain to me and others what led the Government to decide to proceed with ratification under the current Bill, which they did not do with the European constitutional treaty, when the previous Prime Minister abandoned the proceedings? What was the reason for that and what is the distinction?
Mr. Murphy: The precedent on Maastricht, Nice and the old constitution plays both ways, as the Foreign Secretary said earlier in the week. With Maastricht, the then Conservative Government were determined to continue. When it came to Nice, we had not even had the First Reading of the Bill giving effect to the treaty when the Irish held their referendum, but we had all subsequent stages of that Bill after the Irish referendum. In the present case, we are 96 per cent. of the way towards ratificationindeed, the House of Lords is reflecting on the matter at the moment.
After the referendums on the old constitution, it was clear that those countries were not going to ratify. That is not the position at the moment, and we await the determination and decision of the Irish Government on how they now wish to proceed. After the referendums on the older constitutions, it was clear that France and the Netherlands were not going to ratify.
not going to intrude on any other member states ratification process. Its right and proper that each member state deals with this matter in its own constitutional procedures as we did with our process.
Daniel Kawczynski: The Minister has kindly spoken about what was said during our debate, but has he taken the time to talk to Back-Bench Labour MPs to hear their views about whether they support the continuation of the ratification process? Surely some of them must now have second thoughts because of what has happened in Ireland. Is the Minister taking those soundings himself?
Mr. Murphy: I have those conversations every day. However, with respect to my right hon. and hon. Friends, it is for the Irish Government and not them to decide the way ahead therein the same way that neither we nor any country in the EU should bully the Irish, Ireland should not determine the UK Parliaments process. The Irish referendum determines the Irish position; the UK Parliament decides the UK position.
The hon. Member for Stone and I have had some lonely debates over recent months about the nature of UK parliamentary sovereignty. We have talked in detail about the Vienna convention and the law of treaties, and he has inventedor spoken aboutprevious constitutional novelties. In the last couple of days, I believe that he has invented two further constitutional novelties. The first is that the sovereignty of the UK Parliament, which he so passionately defends, should be conditional on article 46 of the Irish constitution. There is no such sense of national sovereignty. We should defend absolutely our right as a Parliament to come to our sovereign decision on this matter; it should not be conditional on one article of the Irish constitution.
Secondly, the hon. Member for Stone has gone so far as to seek judicial review at the High Court to defend the right of the Irish constitution to supersede the UK Parliament on this issue of ratification. He sought to do that in the High Court of Justice this very week in the Queens bench division of the administrative court, presided over by the hon. Mr. Justice Collins in the case of Mr. William Cashforgive me for putting it that way, Mr. Deputy Speaker v. the Secretary of State of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The conclusion was that there was no reason why the Government should not ask Parliament to continue to deal with the European Union (Amendment) Bill despite the refusal of Ireland to ratify the Lisbon treaty, and that it will be for Parliament, not the court, to decide whether the Bill should be passed, having regard for the Irish decision. It is, as it has always been and as it always should be, for this Parliament to decide the processes and procedures for ratifying a treaty in the UK. It is for the Irish, through their own domestic constitutional arrangements, to make their decision.
What we have heard this afternoon is the traditional call from the Front Bench of the Conservative party, saying This is a dreadful treaty; we have to rely on Nice. Let us think back to what happened with the
Nice treaty. We heard the overblown hyperbole from the shadow Foreign Secretary, saying that it was three steps to a European superstate, so they had tried to delay it by introducing a referendum clause.
We should also recall the fact that Conservative Members voted against the Third Reading of the Bill on the treaty of Nice. What was the great clarion call during debate of that treaty? It was, Fall back on Amsterdam, because Nice was so dangerousoverblown hyperbole again. We were told from the Front Bench of the Conservative partynot by some better off out person from the Back Benchesthat the Amsterdam treaty would destroy Britain. Amsterdam would destroy the UK, we were told, and the Conservatives wanted a referendum on that treaty. They voted against it, as I said, on Third Reading. There is at least a pattern of consistency on some matters: overblown hyperbole; fiction repeated as fact; calling for referendums in opposition that are never supported when in government; voting against Third Reading on each and every one of the Bills that were so important to the reform and modernisation of the European Union. They claim to support that, but they should be judged on their actions, which have been to block every improvement in the EU over the past decade or more.
That this House has considered the matter of European affairs.
Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): On behalf of my constituents in Greenfields in Shrewsbury, I present a petition to the House calling for the post office in that community to be saved. Five post offices in my constituency of Shrewsbury and Atcham are under threat of closure, and I shall try to present a petition on each of [Interruption.]
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I must tell the House that there should not be conversations going on while the House is still proceeding with business.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to instruct Post Office Ltd. to ensure that Greenfields Post Office is kept open.
Declares that the plan to close five Post Offices in the Shrewsbury and Atcham constituency will have a detrimental effect on the lives of local residents. The local Post Office is a vital and integral element of the local community, supporting social i nteraction between residents. They should not simply be assessed on an economic basis without taking into consideration the social economic value they
offer to the local community. The proposed partial replacement of three of the Post Offices earmarked for closure by a mobile vehicle with restricted hours, and in some cases parked on the side of roads or in lay-bys, is a substandard solution not benefiting the world we live in today.
Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet) (Lab): My parents were of the generation who were young adults in the second world war and they brought up their family in the years that followed. I remember that debt was anathema to them. If people could not save to buy something for cash, they could not have it. We live in a very different world. For most people, debt is a way of life. Our mortgages, our big-item borrowings and our credit cards have become the foundation of many household economies. What matters to most people now is not what we can save up for, but what debt we can afford to service.
We can argue until the cows come home about whether that is good or bad, but the fact is that it is the reality of our modern lives. Without credit not only is our access to luxuries severely restricted, but our ability to access the basic necessities of life, such as a roof over our heads, is also at risk. If people have a poor credit rating, they can have a torrid time getting by.
I shall give my right hon. Friend the Minister an example. A constituent of mine has just approached me for help. He and his new partner wanted to start their life together in their own home. It turns out that his partner has a poor credit rating as a result of problems in her previous relationship. She was not responsible for those problems and has done her best to address them, but, nevertheless, her credit rating has been tarnished.
As a result, this couple have been told they cannot have a mortgage. When they approached private letting agents in my area, they were again told that the poor credit rating of my constituents new partner would prevent them from getting accommodation in the private rented sectorand all that because one of the two, not both of them, is regarded as financially untouchable. That cannot be right.
I could certainly understand the financial services sector taking that view of an individual who had behaved recklessly or irresponsibly, but it appears to pay no regard to the specific circumstances of the case and is not prepared to show flexibility. I know that my right hon. Friend understands the importance of credit in the modern world. I also know that the Government have done a huge amount to give people with debt problems the advice that they need and realistic options to pursue.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will use some of his time to set out those important initiatives, but my purpose in introducing the debate is to highlight the fact that this is a problem of growing significance and that we need to think about doing more. This problem is no longer isolated or one that affects only other people. It affects hundreds of thousands of families and people just like each of us. It affects people in the south and the north, and in all parts of the UK. It affects people of every social class and every lifestyle, and in every profession. In 2006-07, Citizens Advice dealt with 1.7 million inquiries on debt.
The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reforms Insolvency Service reported nearly 65,000
bankruptcies and about 42,000 individual voluntary arrangements in 2007. In addition, the debt resolution industrys estimate is that there are probably between seven and nine informal debt management plans for every person entering into an IVA. In other words, there could be 400,000 to 500,000 people becoming financially untouchable every year, and that is not including people who are shunned by the financial services sector just on the basis of their postcode or because they have a learning disability.
If anyone listening to the debate thinks that this does not apply to them, they could well be wrong. Many people do not realise that they are in this position because they have not applied for credit for some time. They include people who had a glitch in their payment history some time ago, but recovered their position and began making payments again. Perhaps a personal problem arose, or there was a significant change in their life circumstances outside their control such as redundancy, a family emergency or a relationship problem. Such people, having regained control of their situation, are often blissfully unaware that they have a credit black mark until they try to remortgage or take on a new loan and find that their request is refused.
A person in that category told me of his own experience. He had had a fixed-rate mortgage. When the fixed rate ended he was put on to the banks standard variable rate, which was significantly more expensive. He tried to shop around and obtain a better deal, but discovered that he could not do so. Without knowing it, he had become financially untouchable as a result of a problem that he thought he had resolved to everyones satisfaction. As time has gone on, he has found his extra mortgage costs increasingly difficult to finance. People in this category can find their mortgage costs increased by as much as 50 per cent., and can be forced back into debt problems that they thought they had resolved; many are even being pushed into insolvency.
The problems faced by people who are financially untouchable have been raised with me not only by my constituents but by Mr. Richard Rubin, who is behind a website called ReallyWorried.com. I am grateful to him and his colleagues for helping me to prepare for the debate. On the website real people can talk about the problems they face, and other real people can offer solutions and advice. Mr. Rubin approached me because he was finding that the problem of debt was being frequently recorded on the site, and had specifically identified problems faced by people who had been deemed by the financial services sector to be financially untouchable. Mr. Rubin calls such people funts, and he is reaching out to them through a new website called funts.co.uk. I hope that they will find some of the support and advice that they need there.
I should add at this stage that I have also received excellent briefing from Citizens Advice, for which I am grateful. As we all know, Citizens Advice is an excellent source of advice for people with debt problems, and many people certainly need advice. My first request to the Minister is for the Government to review the advice and information available to people with debt problems, and to ensure that all who provide such services and advice make their own interests and biases clear. Good advice could prevent a lot of people from becoming funts, but whether advice is provided through Citizens Advice, a professional organisation or funts.co.uk, it must be good advice, unbiased advice and robust advice.
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