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There are reasons why it makes no sense to join the euro quicklyobviously, in a recession, it would be ludicrous to start pegging our currency to fixed rates or targets at a time of uncertainty in the currency markets. Moreover, there is that great court of opinion out there that is still to be won over. We know that public opinion is deeply sceptical and cynical about any such move, which presents a huge job to those of a pro-European intent of whatever political persuasion even to get the facts of the case across. That is why joining the euro cannot be a policy, but it should remain a strategy and it should remain a legitimate aspiration for better times,
years down the line, whatever Government are in power, underpinned by a confident vote from the British public as a whole.
The more we can move the debate in that direction, the better it will be. It is sad that it has taken such calamitous circumstances for the debate to begin to make its way back to the desired level, but, for all the reasons I have given, it has done so. It now behoves the House and all other participants to contribute in a constructive and informing manner for the benefit of those who will be most affected by it, and, at the end of the day, those are our fellow citizens.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I am delighted to follow the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy), particularly given his stirring tribute to Russell Johnston. May I add to something that I said in an intervention on the right hon. Gentleman? I consider Russell Johnston to have been a good European in both the European Union and the Council of Europe style, but I also remember his ending a five-day mission to Palestine and immediately travelling to Strasbourg in order to be present for the tail end of the Council of Europes session there. I also remember returning from Armenia with him in the vehicle that picked us up from the airport. I asked Shall we drop you off at Dolphin square? He replied No, notake me to Parliament. I think that, above all, he was a workaholic. It was impossible to hold him down: he always knew that there was something that he wanted to do. Irrespective of his age and irrespective of his health, he always wanted to be working, and that is exactly what he did until the very end.
It is a delight for me to take part in todays debate. I want to deal with a number of issues, fairly briefly. One is, of course, the Lisbon treaty. I have to say that no one was more delighted than me when the Irish voted no. I always think that, irrespective of whether one is pro or anti-European, it is good to see an institution that seems to be going at a fair speed being given a kick now and again. I tend to think, Hold it back and let people reflect. That, basically, is what the Irish said to the European Union, but now the European Union has asked the Irish to reflect. It has gone the other way, although it should not have done so.
When the French and the Dutch people voted no, it was clearly Europes problem, but when the Irish voted no, it was the Irish peoples problem. I do not think that that is right. The hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) spoke in glowing terms about everything European. She used the words freedom and democracy many times. I began to ask myself, What about the freedoms of the Irish people? What about the democracy of the people of Ireland? Should they not be allowed to have their say? Surely their voice is as important as that of any other country.
What we know is that there must be unanimity among the 27 countries. I was a bit miffed when I heard people in the European Union ask, How dare a small number of people from one country hold back the project? Actually, that is exactly how the project was constructed. It was constructed to allow someone to say, Think again or We are not happy about the way in which this is going, so that the project could be stopped in its
tracks and we could be given an opportunity to have another look at it. I think that Europe should have considered what needed to be done next to make itself more popular in the eyes of the people.
The hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire said that, in her eyes, everything was wonderful, and that those of us who did not quite see it her way had got it wrong. My response is that Europe has a sales pitch to deliver that it is not delivering. It should not bully people into liking it, because that does not happen. It should achieve its aim by actions, and by ensuring that through the very way in which its institutions grow up, they can be respected and liked. Then people will follow in its wake.
What people do not want are remote politicians, unelected Commissioners, and a President whom, if he were to walk into the Chamber now, hardly anyone would recognisepoliticians, that is, never mind people in the rest of the country. European politicians must start to connect with the people. During the June elections next year, we shall all be out delivering leaflets and knocking on doors, but I think we shall all be a bit surprised if the turnout is more than 40 per cent. There was a very high turnout in the United States, where a candidate really did spark excitement. I am not talking about Mr. McCain; I am talking about President-elect Obama, who excited the American people to the extent that a swathe of them turned out to vote who did not usually do so.
I believe that what has focused resentment in this country and made it concrete is the fact that people here were promised a vote on the constitution, which was taken away from them just as Tony Blair was leaving No. 10. His parting shot to the British people was, You are not having that vote. I think that that was dishonest. As we know from listening to them, the vast majority of European Union leaders talk with pride about the fact that the vast majority of the constitution is contained in the Lisbon treaty. They are not afraid to tell the people that, because they think that that is what the people want to hear.
I have heard Hans-Gert Pöttering speak at the Council of Europe. I have heard him say The flag is not there and the anthem is not therespeaking with tears in his eyes, believing that such symbols are importantbut the vast majority of what we wanted in the constitution is still there. He has no doubt that people will see that as a stepping stone towards eventually having the flag as the adopted flag of the European Union, and having the anthem as the adopted anthem.
Mr. Cash: Does my hon. Friend agree that it looked highly probable when the present Prime Minister became Prime Minister that he was doing something which he knew the outgoing Prime Minister wanted and which was part of a dealthat there would not be an election and there would not be any trouble if he went down the route of endorsing the Lisbon treaty?
I think that some deal must have been concocted. If the current Prime Minister had wanted to do a couple of things that would have been hugely popular, the first thing he would have said following Tony Blairs departure from No. 10 would have been,
Actually, we are going to give the people of Britain a vote on the Lisbon treaty because that is what we promised them. The second would have been, I think we will have a general election while we are at it. I think the Minister for Europe knows that I would not like to predict the outcome of at least one of those two actions had the Prime Minister had the guts to take them. Just as a dog is for life and not for Christmas, a promise on a referendum is for life and not just for the duration of the election campaign. The British people rightly feel let down.
I want to say something about Somalia, because it was mentioned by the Foreign Secretary. I returned recently from leading a delegation of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association to Kenya, one of whose neighbouring countries is Somalia. The current piracy is having a huge impact on traffic through the gulf of Aden and on Kenya itself, given the unsettled nature of Somalia and Somaliland and everything that is going on there. I feel sorry for Kenya in many ways. Its other neighbours are Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda. Uganda is relatively stable, but Congo is next to it, and the whole region of east Africa is very troubled. The one thing that it needs is trade.
The gulf of Aden is used as a transportation bloc, and as a path for cargo and cruise ships. It is important for us to be able to guarantee the safety of all those ships. I read the other day that a pirate ship came alongside an American cruiser and opened fire on it. What is going on is amazing. I am therefore delighted that Britain, with its expertise in naval matters, is taking part in the EU operation in the region, but a number of questions need to be addressed. How many other countries can we persuade to play a role in the region, as that is vital? Also, when pirate ships are seized and the people on board them are arrested, under whose authority will they be tried? Where will these people end up? This is a new type of operation for the EU to be undertaking, and it needs to answer those questions. This point might be raised at the summit.
The recession is hitting everybody. As far as Kenya and the developing world are concerned, I hope that the Prime Minister will be able to negotiate from the other EU leaders a continuation of support from both individual EU countries and the EU as an institution. The one thing the Prime Minister has shown himself to be sincere about is his devout support for the developing world in Africa, both in terms of tackling HIV/AIDS and in supporting the rescue of the people who live in awful slum conditions in which they do not have proper sanitation, access to clean water or even good education, and where they need proper drugs. He wishes to see that change, and I hope he will work with fellow European leaders to ensure that progress is made towards achieving that and that, during this economic downturn, countries will not peel off from contributing to that and will not cut their aid budgets. If they do so, the most severely hit will be the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.
I hope one of the first visits the Prime Minister will make post-20 January will be to see President Obama, whose lineage goes back to Kenya. The Kenyan people were excited and delighted by the fact that he will be the next President of the United States of America. I hope he and the Prime Minister can work together and do whatever they can to help the developing world.
The euro has been mentioned several times this evening. We have a promise on the table that we will have a referendum on whether to join it. It is hard to imagine that that promise will be taken away but, having said that, it is hard to imagine that a device could have been so swiftly devised to remove the promise of the last referendum from the British people. It is now winter, and I feel as if I am skating on thin ice; I might be putting too much trust in the Government when they have let us down once already. If the condition of the pound worsens, might they say, Im sorry, but the conditions are so bad we dont have time for a referendum; were just going to have to join the euro?
We know that European leaders are talking about this. Peter Mandelson, who is now based up the road, revels in the fact that he causes unease and disquiet wherever he walksor floats, or whatever he does. The fact is that he is not alone in talking about the euro. Again, I recently heard Hans-Gert Pöttering talking about this; he looked at a British table among many other tables of representatives from other EU countries and said how much he looked forward to the time when Britain could play its full role as a proper European country, intimating to us that we are not good or full Europeans because we are not in the euro. If we consider the financial contribution of the British people and taxpayers to this project, it will be seen that we are very good Europeans indeed. Perhaps the other nations might wish to mark themselves on that scale. If the EU is looking for money, it had better start looking to the other 26 member states to increase the amounts they are putting in, because I think we are doing very well indeed.
President Barroso has also said that the strength of the euro might be a marker that the British are looking more seriously at joining that currency. I do not remember him saying that when the pound was doing very well against all the other currencies. I feel very sad for the many British people who made travel plans months back to go Christmas shopping in the USA or to go to one of the fantastic winter fairs that take place across Europe, such as in Strasbourg and Berlin. They did so when the pound was a lot stronger than it is now. It is now a lot weaker, but the fact is that the pound and the euro will go up and down in value, as will the dollar. We just have to accept that that is the way of things, and that the British people do not seem at present to be showing any great strength of opinion one way or the other as to whether to give all this up and throw themselves in with the euro.
I do not want to say too much more about Russia and Georgia because I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) covered that comprehensively and expertly, particularly in his new role as leader of European Democrat Group in the Council of Europe. I should emphasise the fact that I am talking about the EDG, because there is also a European Peoples Party in the Council of Europe. Funnily enough, the Conservatives are not members of that particular grouping and we do not seem to be suffering because of itwe have our own very good European Democratic Group.
The other thing that amuses me is that the vast majority of peoplethis probably applies to those arguing for and against on this particular issuehave not got the faintest idea in which groupings our Members of
the European Parliament happen to be. Most people would be hard pressed to name many MEPs, let alone to know to which grouping they belong. I do not think that people will be kept awake at night worrying about the groupings in which we happen to be.
If the Minister answers only one point that I make tonight, I would like it to be one that relates to climate change, which has been mentioned time and again. I was recently with MEPs and members of the Council of Europe at a conference that examined climate change. It sticks in the throat a little when MEPs talk about saving the planet and doing what we can to reduce our carbon emissions, given that once a month they are happy to get into their cars and planes to go from Brussels to Strasbourg for the session that takes place once a month. It costs more than £100 million for this huge circus, because they have to take all the paperwork and all the researchers with them. We all know that it is a farce. Although I do not want to put words in her mouth, that might be one of the points that the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire was making when she said that certain things within the institution were not quite right.
I raise this matter whenever I possibly can with the European Parliament. Although it voted to continue this absurd arrangement, I am told that the Parliament does not have the final decision and that, in fact, this is a decision for the Council of Ministers. If that is the case, will the Minister for Europe ensure that this issue is raised at every opportunity to ensure that the circus is stopped, that the £100 million is saved and that, more importantly, it acts as an indicator to the rest of the European Union and the rest of the world that we take climate change seriously and are doing something to cut carbon emissions?
Jo Swinson: I am very sympathetic to the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about the ridiculous decamping of MEPs to Strasbourg every four weeks; my only point of disagreement with him is on his comment that MEPs are perfectly happy to do that. I know that the European Parliament has had a vote on this, but the MEPs to whom I have spoken think the situation is just as ridiculous as we do and wish it would end because of the environmental aspects, as well as the waste of money and time.
If people were asked privately, the vast majority would probably say that there was no sense in this arrangement. I know that the Strasbourg authorities love the fact that it continues, and for obvious reasons; they bend over backwards to say that it must continue. If I remember rightly, the issue was raised in the treaty of Edinburgh; John Major was Prime Minister and the French were threatening to boycott everything if we pulled out of Strasbourg. Just as support is provided to ease the pain if an industry whose time has come is no longer in a locationthe industry in this case is bureaucracyI am sure that something could be done to ensure that Strasbourg is awarded one of the agencies. I am sure that the Council of Europe would love to expand into some of the properties that are available in the city, because it is always stretched for property. I am sure that something could be done to ensure that the
loss of this arrangement did not affect Strasbourg too much, but I do not believe that this absurdity should continue simply in order to placate the Strasbourg authorities.
I pay tribute to my friend the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) for what she said about Turkey. We know that Croatia is soon to join the European Union and we all cheer about that. I also look forward to the day when Turkey becomes a full member of the European Union, because I have no hang-ups about that happening when the Turks fulfil all the criteria. The other members of the European Union must be honest about their position. The right hon. Lady talked about Turkeys problems with human rights, and we know that those have been, and continue to be, severe. She mentioned the Member of Parliament, Leyla Zana, who has had a torrid timeand that is probably a great example of English understatement from this Welshmanbecause she has fought for democracy. Turkey has to learn that it must not only get its house in order financially, but get its human rights into shape.
The leaders of France, Germany, Greece and others also have to learn that they have a responsibility to Turkey. We set the criteria and once they are met, with independent verification, Turkey must be allowed in. We cannot continue to erect new barriers to Turkey joining the European Union.
As a member of the Council of Europe, I like to think that it is a bigger family than the EU. We have some of the more troublesomeperhaps I should say, younger and fledglingcountries in the Council of Europe, and they look to us. That is one reason why I was so disturbed when Russia invaded Georgia, and I am also concerned about what Russia is doing on other fronts. As a member of the Council of Europe, I observed Russian parliamentary and presidential elections and I was disturbed to find that emergency legislation was pushed through the Duma at breakneck speed to increase the presidential term to six years and the parliamentary term to five years. Most countries are going the other way. I am told, Dont worry, the Finnish presidency is the same length, but while I do not wish to denigrate Finland, I would have thought that Russia should be comparing itself to the US, which has a four-year presidential term. Indeed, the US Congress is elected on a two-year rolling programme, which is too short for my liking. Imagine what it would be like here if we had elections every two yearsit would be impossible.
It was not good to have two Council of Europe countries at war. We need a better understanding of the international institutions that can be used to sort out the problems that exist. Other Council of Europe member states, such as Ukraine and the Balkan states, which were mentioned earlier, are looking to join the European Union at some stage. Sometimes people point to Eurosceptics like me and say, Ah, you dont want all these people coming from Europe and taking all our jobs. But nobody speaks more highly than I do of the people who have come from other European Union countries to work here legitimately. They all seem to be very hard workers with good skills, and I have no problem with them.
The funny thing is that the two countries that had derogations to prevent such workers coming were France and Germany. We did not have a derogationwe said,
Come in from day one. That was a bit of a mistake, and we should have specified the skills that we needed, but the fact is we are where we are. At some stage, the Balkan countries want to join the European Union, and they may be looking at what happened with the Czechs and the Poles. In the eyes of the French and the Germans, those countries have not been wholly communautairein other words, they have not taken everything spoon-fed. Instead they have questioned things, and it is probably healthy for democracy in Europe that the Czechs and the Poles should question how we are developing. Those two countries are actually very good friends to the UK, and we are delighted that they are full members of the European Union.
At some stage, I hope that countries such as Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Serbia will have the opportunity to join the European Union. We will then be talking about expansion to include other countries, such as Georgia and Ukraine. Russia has tried to block Georgia and Ukraine from becoming members of NATO, and has done so in the most cack-handed fashion, and I hope that nothing similar will happen when the other countries apply to become members of the EU. However, we are not even at that stage yet. A number of countries in the EU would prefer it to go deeper rather than wider.
We will have several problems in trying to get some of the other Balkan states into the European Union, but that will not be because they are not ready. We could argue that some of them are as ready as Bulgaria and Romania were when they entered the EUsome would say that we should have waited a bit longer in those cases, but the fact is they are members. If we are seen as fortress Europeif we let in 27 or 28 countries, but not Turkey, and are then not interested in the Balkan states because our members would prefer the union to go deeperto where will the other countries look? The only way in which we can try to raise their economies, to improve their human rights records, to follow the rule of law and to improve the strength of their democracies is by saying, Come and join us. Once they have reached those targets and raised their democracies to a certain level, the doors should be wide open.
Although expansion of the EU will not be at the top of the agenda at the summit, I hope that the Government will take the opportunity to raise the issue of what will happen in the future to the countries that want to join the EU. I know that it will not happen tomorrowit might be several years down the line before those countries might be able to joinbut we need to look for another stepping stone that they can use to allow them to tick several more boxes on the way. That would at least give them some hope.
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