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21 July 2009 : Column 216WH—continued

Following the interview, I had discussions with the Icelandic ambassador and friends of mine who are Icelandic politicians and leading members of Icelandic society. They were traumatised by our Prime Minister's conduct towards them. Nothing has done more damage to our relationship with Iceland. I hope that the Minister will apologise for the Prime Minister's behaviour and that he will do everything possible to support Iceland as
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it tries to enter the European Union. We must show support to this vital NATO ally and neighbour and be its champion, so that we can repair that relationship.

From the perspective of the British people and my constituents in Shrewsbury, the Labour Government have put our relationship with the European Union into the deep freeze by refusing to give the British people a referendum on the constitution. In this Chamber, we have debated many times the necessity for our citizens to be granted an opportunity to cast their vote on this vital issue. The French and the Dutch people have had their opportunity to reject the treaty. The treaty of Lisbon, which has come into being as a result of that rejection, is, by the way, a carbon copy of the original constitution, according to Monsieur Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and many other prominent European politicians and former politicians. It is interesting that every time the people of any European country have been given an opportunity to have their say on the constitution in a referendum they have rejected it-for example, the French, the Dutch and the Irish.

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman is simply wrong. The Spaniards were the first to have a referendum and there was an overwhelming majority in favour. He should get his facts right.

Daniel Kawczynski rose-

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): What about the other three?

Daniel Kawczynski: Yes, what about the other three? The Minister is saying that only one country out of 27 has had a referendum in which the people have been in favour.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): My hon. Friend clearly does not get it. The Spanish got it right; the other three countries got it wrong. When is he going to understand that?

Daniel Kawczynski: A point very well made-I thank my hon. Friend.

Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): Surely the central point is that the promise of a referendum that was given to the British people was a Labour party manifesto commitment. What does that say about the Government's attitude to their manifesto commitments, and how should the British people respond to their manifesto at the next general election?

Daniel Kawczynski: I totally agree with my hon. Friend: what has happened is a huge snub to the British people and is a trashing of the Government's policy statements that were made in the run-up to the last election. That is part of the reason why there is so much cynicism towards politicians in this country.

Getting back to my date of birth, I do not know how old the Minister is, but I am 37, so, as the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) has rightly identified, I was three years old when we had the referendum in 1975. This issue is extremely important to me, because millions of people in the United Kingdom who are in their 20s, 30s and 40s have, like me, never
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been consulted on not just the relationship, but the ever-changing relationship that this country has been through with the European Community, the then European Economic Community and now the European Union. There has been no consultation at all for the British people.

Mr. Davey: I am following the hon. Gentleman's comments with great interest. If there were a referendum on whether Britain should be a member of the European Union, how would he vote?

Daniel Kawczynski: I personally would vote for continued membership of the European Union, which I will come on to later in my speech. It is very important that we have a referendum to give the British people their say and to give me the opportunity to campaign in favour of our continued membership of the EU. As my hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb) has said, however, the Government's broken promises and the lack of a referendum mean it is very difficult to sell European Union membership to our constituents.

I find it staggering that the Home Secretary, who is obviously a very busy man at the moment, has time to write articles in newspapers demanding that a referendum on a new voting system is held at the same time as the next general election. He wants a form of proportional representation and is demanding a referendum on that at the next election. However, he refuses to allow the British people a referendum on this vital issue. What is more-the Minister may contradict me on this point-the Home Secretary said in his article in The Independent that the Prime Minister has given him an assurance that he has not discounted such a referendum on a change to the voting system being held on the same day as the next general election. When I think of all the problems facing this country at the moment, I find that absolutely scandalous. I must declare an interest because I am chairman of the all-party group on the continuation of first past the post, about which I feel passionately. I find it absolutely staggering that the Government are talking about a change to the voting system and yet refusing to allow the British people to have a referendum on this constitution.

In the recent EU elections, we have seen the challenges that we face in our relationship with the EU. As we in this Chamber all know, across the whole of the country, the UK Independence party did much better than the Labour party and, in my own neck of the woods in Shropshire, UKIP outstripped the Labour vote by even more. UKIP is a party that wants to pull out of the European Union, which I am passionately against. It worries me greatly that so many British people want to vote for a party that will pull us out of the entire thing. I am making the point that it is so important to have a referendum on the constitution, because it adds a huge amount of power and succour to UKIP if the British people are refused that referendum.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. He makes a good point about the necessity of having a referendum; I totally agree with him on that. Will he go further and say that if second time around, in October, the Irish vote in favour of the Lisbon treaty, this country should still have a referendum on whether it should subscribe to the treaty?

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Daniel Kawczynski: There are hypothetical-[Interruption.] Let me answer the question. There are hypothetical things that we could consider-[Interruption.] They are hypothetical, because they have not occurred yet. As I will discuss in a second, the Polish President has not ratified the treaty and neither has the Czech President. Of course, if all those ratifications take place, there will be people like me in the Conservative party who will try to encourage my party to have a referendum. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a guarantee that that will happen because I am a Back Bencher and do not make such decisions. However, I feel passionately about the matter, and others and I will, of course, try to lobby the Conservative Government on that point.

I will just talk a little bit about the Members of the European Parliament, because they are a very important direct link with British citizens and our relationship with the European Union. Over the past four years, I have repeatedly spoken to organisations throughout my constituency. I have addressed rooms of 300, 400 or 500 people and said, "I will give anyone here £100 if you can name me two of our Members of the European Parliament." I have not lost a penny to date. Why? Because no one knows who the Members of the European Parliament are in Shropshire. Why is that? Because none of them lives, works or has offices in Shropshire. There is no accountability. I consider it to be very important that I live in the county that I represent, that my office is in Shrewsbury, that my child goes to the local school, that I am part of the community and that people can stop me in the street or the supermarket and talk to me. It is very important for there to be that accountability.

If we are going to have a better relationship with the European Union, we have to make Members of the European Parliament more directly accountable to the people whom they represent. However, that should not be done through a proportional representation system whereby Members of the European Parliament represent a vast area. From an economic perspective, the west midlands is larger than the whole of Wales. That is a huge area. How on earth can someone represent an area of that size and yet still be accountable to the people of Shropshire?

I want to mention my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who I think will also make a speech, because he is an assiduous member of the Council of Europe. On the record, I thank him for the tremendous work that he does for that organisation. He has asked me-he is pushing against an open door on this, because I totally agree with him-to formally thank the Czech President for not signing the treaty into existence. I have written an open letter in Polish to the Polish President asking him not to sign the document. For the record, I wish to state that those two politicians are being put under a huge amount of pressure by the Germans and the French to ratify the constitution, because they are desperate for that to be done before a Conservative Government come into office and give a referendum to the British people. So, on the record, and with all the sincerity that I can muster, I thank the Presidents of the Czech Republic and the Republic of Poland for the courage and integrity that they have shown under intense pressure-almost blackmail-to ratify the treaty. I thank them very much, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh will also
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discuss this issue. We need them to hold out until we get into office and can hold a referendum.

Returning to the point that the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) made, the reason why UKIP is wrong is that we have a golden opportunity to change the European Union, whereas it simply wants to pull us out of the entire thing. What a squandered opportunity that would be. I do not want to pull out of the European Union; I want to change it and to challenge the Franco-German hegemony that has been prevalent in the past 40 years. The Franco-German axis has come up with all the strategies and direction of the European Union, but that will be challenged for the first time in our lifetimes, because so many central and eastern European countries are looking to the United Kingdom for leadership. If I were to take you to Warsaw, Mr. Amess, or to Prague, Bucharest or downtown Vilnius, you would see that they look not to Germany for leadership but to the United Kingdom. The British nature is to hide our strength under a bushel, because we are modest people, but the people of eastern and central Europe feel passionately about Britain and the role that it should play in the EU. They want us to form a coalition of support and they want a new European Union that is not federalist, that works closely on counter-terrorism, tackling poverty abroad and illegal immigration, but that nevertheless focuses on ensuring that each country has its own sovereignty.

We must make countries adhere to the rules of the EU. That is another bone of contention for our constituents, as we gold-plate everything that comes out of Brussels. As chairman of the all-party group on dairy farmers, which is one of the largest all-party groups in the House of Commons-I am getting through all my all-party groups today-I must say that the rules on nitrates and other things that are being brought to bear are destroying our dairy sector in the UK. We are gold-plating those rules, whereas some other countries simply ignore them. A specific case in point is the Italian Government's announcement that they will give $250 million per annum in aid to Libya for the next 20 years. That aid is for road, railway and other major infrastructure construction projects in Libya.

David Taylor: It seems that some of the flaws that the hon. Gentleman is discussing can be addressed only by renegotiating our membership of the European Union. On 2 June, the fabled Jeremy Paxman asked the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who was in the studio with him, "Would you renegotiate our membership of the European Union?" to which he replied, "No." Is the hon. Gentleman encouraged by that comment from someone whom he hopes will be the future Foreign Secretary?

Daniel Kawczynski: The whole nature of governance is through in-depth negotiations of the sort that take place all the time at regional conferences. I am sure that when my right hon. Friend becomes Foreign Secretary, he will want to negotiate with his counterparts in his own brilliant way to get a European Union that is more akin to the thinking of the British people. I do not understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, because I know how passionately my right hon. Friend wants a change to the current situation in the European Union.

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To get back to my point, why can the Italians give $250 million a year to Libya in tied aid? That cannot be right. I do not believe that European Union countries should do or are allowed to do that; it certainly goes against the spirit of the EU rules. I hope that the Minister will write to me on that, and that he will challenge the Italian authorities about giving that money to Libya in tied aid. As chairman of the all-party group on Libya, and as someone who is passionate about helping British companies to secure infrastructure construction projects, I strongly hope that the Minister will address that issue, because British companies are losing out on vital construction projects.

Mr. Crabb: My hon. Friend makes a good point about Italian practices on overseas aid. Does he share my concern about the Labour party's great friend and ally in Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, reneging on his commitment to give 0.7 per cent. of gross domestic product in overseas development assistance by 2013?

Daniel Kawczynski: I do, very much. We are all under huge pressure because of the current economic crisis, but this country and all political parties have adhered to the targets, so I strongly regret that Signor Berlusconi finds it impossible to match such targets.

The EU relationship can be strengthened only if it tackles issues of concern, one of which is illegal immigration from Africa. I recently secured a debate in this Chamber on the Department for International Development's support for north African countries. It transpired that DFID gives not a penny piece to vitally strategic countries in north Africa, who are neighbours of huge importance. Conversely, the Americans, who realise the importance of Egypt, give them $1.5 billion a year in aid, but we give them nothing. Those countries are grappling with counter-terrorism issues-a British citizen was recently shot dead by al-Qaeda in Mali-and they are dealing with illegal immigration and the tremendous suffering that happens as a result. We see many times on our televisions and in our newspapers the tremendous human suffering of people who cross the Mediterranean in boats to the Canary Islands, Italy, Lampedusa and Malta. The European Union needs to do more to help north African countries deal with the human tragedy that is illegal immigration from north Africa. I hope to hear more from the Minister about what is happening on that issue.

The right to self-determination is something that I feel passionately about as someone who has Polish ancestry. My grandfather's country did not have self-determination for the whole of his life. Self-determination is one of the issues that drives me more than any other in politics, which is why I want to speak briefly about Gibraltar. We want no more talk of Anglo-Spanish co-operation over any changes to the status of Gibraltar. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh becomes a Minister, we can give Gibraltar an assurance that it will always be British and that we are proud to have it as part of our family. I hope also that the next Conservative Government will encourage more visits and more royal visits to Gibraltar. I know that my hon. Friend campaigned in Gibraltar during the European Union elections; from what I hear, he went down extremely well there and they were grateful that he went. I wanted to get on the record my thanks to him for that, as well as my great love for the people of Gibraltar.

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Finally-because I vowed that I would not speak for more than 30 minutes-let me discuss Turkey. It has been in a crazy situation for decades regarding whether it will join the EU. I want to ask the Minister about the current status of its application to be a member of the EU. What is his understanding of the time frames involved, and what is he doing specifically to support its joining the EU? Turkey is an important NATO ally, and I, for one, feel uncomfortable about the lack of clarity about its membership of the EU.

I have friends in Ankara who say, "Frankly, we are not actually interested any more. We've had enough. We're going to pull the plug on this and go our own way." People may say what they like about Turkey's membership of the EU, but I worry about a situation in which Turkey is pulled closer to Syria and Iran. I very much hope that it will remain within the European sphere of influence, and that the Minister will give me an update on what is happening with its membership of the EU.

I thank you, Mr. Amess, for this opportunity, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister will say.

11.31 am

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): This is a great opportunity for me to contribute to this important debate on the last day before the recess, when-to get the record straight-we go into 82 days of working in our constituencies.

I had rather hoped that, following my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), I would be able to tell him that I could name two of his MEPs and claim the £100. However, even by cheating and using the Blackberry to ask my researchers to come up with the names, I cannot do so. Even using the internet, we are hard pushed to name the MEPs from his area. I find it much the same when I ask people in the north-west of England to name their MEPs. Many can name their MPs, but, going down a list of seven or eight MEPs, they find it difficult to name just one of them. I appreciated his comments.

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Evans: I give way to my honourable neighbour.

Mr. Hendrick: Can the hon. Gentleman name one of his former MEPs?

Mr. Evans: That is the kind of question that could, perhaps, rebound on the hon. Gentleman after the general election. If I were to ask him to name some former MPs, the list would be somewhat longer than the list he is asking me to choose from at this moment.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, I am a democrat, and I am concerned that the turnout for the European elections we have just gone through was lower than the turnout for the previous elections and the time before that. In 1979, the turnout was 63 per cent. for the whole of Europe; in 2009, it was 43 per cent. People say that it is just Britain that is Eurosceptic and therefore not interested in what happens in the European Union, but those figures prove that the whole of Europe feels somewhat remote from the institutions that act on its behalf.

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