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The European Council meeting next week will be an important one and it is obviously going to consider the extremely important issue of climate change. I am not going to dwell, in the few minutes I have available, on that issue because I know other Members will cover it. I want to talk about one or two other issues that I hope
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will be raised, and I hope that the Minister will respond to explain current Government thinking when he concludes the debate.

When the Minister gave his opening speech, I raised with him the issue of the Lisbon agenda. The Lisbon agenda is a very important agreement among European colleagues. It is not, of course, the same as the Lisbon treaty, which is also important, and this predates that treaty. There must be something about Lisbon to make it the place where all the important decisions about Europe are taken. The importance of the Lisbon agenda is that it set down for the first time a set of economic benchmarks that it was hoped European countries would try to achieve.

As those involved in European affairs will know, there are often meetings, summits and other things of that kind and there is often general good will about all the initiatives that are going to be followed, but the importance of the Lisbon agenda is that it set those benchmarks down-on employment, on growth and on how the economies of various EU countries should work together. I hope that we will not lose the opportunity to ascertain whether all the 27 countries have met those benchmarks set 10 years ago. If not, we must ensure that there is a corrective mechanism to enable them to meet them. I know that the current global economic crisis will have had an effect on the benchmarks that were set 10 years ago, because the crisis was not envisaged, but I still think it important for British Ministers to hold themselves, the Government and colleagues to account as to whether those benchmarks have been met.

I am glad that the Government remain committed to the accession of Turkey in the future-in the near future-and I am also pleased that the Opposition are fully supportive of it. I do not think that the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton mentioned Turkish accession- [Interruption.] Perhaps he did while I was out of the Chamber. I believe that-apart, obviously, from the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash)-there is all-party unity among Members in the House at the moment in favour of Turkey joining the European Union. It is important that we do not merely say these things. We should use our weight to ensure that that happens, precisely as we did when we ensured that Poland and other east European countries entered when they did. Had it not been for the work of Tony Blair, the then Prime Minister and Robin Cook, the then Foreign Secretary, I do not believe that we would have seen the enlargement of the EU by that number of countries at that particular time. We should put our weight behind getting Turkey in as soon as possible. That also applies to Croatia.

It is important not to leave countries to fend for themselves when they enter the EU. Romania and Bulgaria have been mentioned. I think that Romania's accession has been a success, as has that of the other eastern European countries. I do not think we should condemn Bulgaria; I think that we should work with it to ensure that it overcomes its difficulties. Part of the problem is that when new countries enter the European Union, they are delighted and there is national euphoria, and then Brussels moves to the next set of priorities. Support is extremely important if we are to ensure that the EU succeeds and member states feel that they are welcome. We want member states to be part of a first-class Europe with no second-class countries, moving together in what I hope will be a united way.

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Kelvin Hopkins: My right hon. Friend talks of all the countries moving together. Is not the problem in the European Union that its member states are so diverse, economically and politically? If we want the kind of European Union that he is describing, perhaps we should adopt the Edward Heath model: a smaller group of western European nations with similar economies and cultures.

Keith Vaz: My hon. Friend is a frequent visitor to debates on these issues. I think he has participated in almost all the European affairs debates over the past 10 years or so; he has certainly participated in the more recent ones.

I do not favour a federal Europe, and nor do the Government. We must have a Europe of nation states. Where there is a method of co-operating beyond the strict rules, we should adopt it. One example is the justice and home affairs agenda. We can opt in or opt out when we wish to do so, and we can ensure that we work with European partners to deal with immigration issues.

I have mentioned my visit to the "jungle camp" in Calais with members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. We went to the camp a week before the French moved in and broke it up; I do not know whether that had anything to do with the Committee's visit. We met a large number of young men between the ages of 15 and 40 who had travelled to Calais all the way from Afghanistan and Iraq. They had passed through Austria and Romania, some had been to Spain and some had gone through Germany, but they had all ended up at the tip of the continent, and all that they wanted to do was come to London and live in the United Kingdom. No matter what they were offered, that was what they wanted to do. They formed themselves into a "jungle camp" and refused all the offers from the French to allow them to seek asylum, because they wanted to cross the channel and come to the United Kingdom.

I kept saying to those young men, "But you have come all the way from Afghanistan and Iraq. Surely there is some other European country where you might like to stop in order to claim asylum." If there is an area in which we need better co-operation, it is the justice and home affairs agenda, and immigration in particular. Our European partners are simply not abiding by their responsibilities and obligations. When people pass through their countries, they should deal with the problem.

Mr. Bone: As usual, the right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech. I should like to know why he thinks those people travelled across Europe and wanted so desperately to get into the United Kingdom.

Keith Vaz: I could be flippant and say that they knew about the success of our country after 12 years of a Labour Government and wanted to join in that success, but I think that they see the United Kingdom as El Dorado. It is the place where they believe they can be safest. There would be a common language, as many of them spoke English, and none of them spoke French, German or Austrian German.

The point is that our colleagues need to ensure that they fulfil their responsibilities. When people enter a European Union country, whether it is Romania, Austria or Germany, that is where the problem should be dealt
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with. If there is one thing that we ought to be doing, it is sitting around a table at the Justice and Home Affairs Council when the Home Secretary is next there and ensuring that that happens. I know that the Minister for Borders and Immigration and his French counterpart have decided on a common strategy. The trouble, however, is that the French offered some of these people a return to Afghanistan, a charter plane was booked, but before they could board it, the French cancelled it. There has to be a common approach to immigration policy.

Better use needs to be made of Europol. It is headed by a Brit: Robert Wainwright, formerly a senior official in the Serious Organised Crime Agency. We do not do enough to support Europol. I know that there are problems with the European arrest warrant, but this is another EU institution through which we can work with our European colleagues and partners and we must make sure that it is strengthened and robust. Our country simply cannot deal with the threats we face from organised crime and international terrorism without the support of colleagues. Again, those engaged in these activities have to pass through many other countries in order to get to the United Kingdom. The support of colleagues and partners is vital, and it is also vital to the security of our country that we support institutions such as Europol.

The hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) is not in the Chamber at present, but no Member has done more to combat human trafficking; he has been an assiduous campaigner on the issue. The Home Affairs Committee completed its report into human trafficking earlier this year, and we again found that although this is a cross-border issue on which we ought to have the support of European partners, we did not get that support. We would like there to be a Europe-wide organisation to deal with human trafficking.

I am not suggesting for one moment that we should spend any more taxpayers' money in creating yet another European institution, because I am the first to admit that not all of them work satisfactorily despite the huge budgets they receive. However, there must be networks that we can create that will permit us to work with partners to stop the scourge of human trafficking, which is currently the second biggest illegal activity, after the drugs trade. I hope that at the next Council meeting we will support the Swedish presidency to ensure that it continues to make tackling human trafficking a priority. One of the good features of the EU over the past few years is that themes have not only been taken up by individual presidencies, but they have been carried over to cover a number of presidencies. This started in Prague and went on to Stockholm, and I hope it will be continued in Madrid, so that there is longer than just six months to consider the themes that are fashioned and outlined by the countries that hold each presidency.

I know that Sri Lanka is not a huge issue for next week's European Council, but I also know that the EU is about to consider whether to extend GSP-plus-the generalised system of preferences-for Sri Lanka. There have been positive developments in Sri Lanka, in that a number of people have been let out of the camps that the Government have created. I and colleagues in the all-party group on Sri Lanka-including the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton, who has been at the forefront of UK support for the Tamil community-have met the Foreign Minister. We made it very clear to him that it is
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not enough for the Sri Lankan Government just to let people out for a short period-they must return to the camps after 15 days-but that they must demonstrate that they are committed to understanding and engaging with their own people about their true wishes. That means that they will have to sit down and talk to the leaders of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. I urge the Government not to permit an extension of GSP-plus yet-that is our official position, and it was the position of Cathy Ashton when she was Trade Commissioner-because if we send a signal now that we are happy with what is going on, it will be read in the wrong way. We should continue this engagement with the Sri Lankan Government-we should continue a dialogue with them and welcome what they have done-but we should also make sure that they complete the process. A few days of respite for the Tamil people is not enough; the Sri Lankan Government must do more.

I wish the Minister for Europe well in his first European summit since taking on the post. I know that he will have a terrific time there, because this is the subject about which he knows the most. I hope very much that he will continue to do what he and all other Ministers have done, which is to put the interests of Britain first while dealing with colleagues and partners to make sure that we do the best for Europe and the best for Britain.

2.55 pm

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who served for a time-perhaps it was too short a time-with distinction as Minister for Europe and is now serving with distinction as Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. His kind comments about my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) are welcome and on the record. The right hon. Gentleman's speaking about human trafficking in the way he did underlined yet again that when Europe and its nations need to come together to address a key problem, they fail. Human trafficking is just another example of where we need to be more pragmatic in our approach, in sharing the issues and in dealing with them in a unified way.

I share the disappointment of my Front-Bench team that the European Court of Auditors has refused to sign off the EU's budget for the 15th time in a row, owing to fraud and mismanagement in the budget. It is very unfortunate that the EU, with the enormous powers that it yields and a gargantuan budget to match, continually faces such serious allegations from its own auditors. I wish to take this opportunity to highlight some of the nonsense that has been recorded regarding projects funded by the EU in recent years.

My first example took place under the umbrella of the common agricultural policy, when €173,000 was given to the luxury golf resort called the Monte de Quinta Club in the Algarve in Portugal. According to the resort's website, guests can choose

It would be interesting to know whether that appropriation has been challenged and the money reclaimed. My second example is that of a Swedish farmer who received
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a subsidy, albeit small, of €200 through the EU's single farm payment scheme for land on which he grew cannabis; we are told that he had filled in all the required forms correctly. Last, but certainly not least, is the example of the €4 million subsidy given in 2002 to seven Italian orange farmers who failed to grow a single orange between them.

It is not just the EU's agricultural policy that is not fit for purpose; another key area of waste is the EU's structural and cohesion funds-its second largest spending area, representing almost a third of the budget. The European Court of Auditors concluded in its report on the 2008 budget that the structural and cohesion funds remain problematic and are

Worryingly, the Court estimated that at least 11 per cent. of the total amount paid out in grants from those funds should not have been paid out in the first place.

The structural and cohesion funds are intended to narrow the economic disparities among member states, and key recipients included Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Greece after they joined the EU in the 1970s and 1980s. Following the eastern enlargement in 2004 and 2007, most of the recipients of the funds are now central and eastern European states. Despite the €45 billion poured into the funds from member states every year, the OECD has not found any conclusive evidence that the funds have had a positive impact on the economies of the states receiving them. In fact, an OECD report from September 2007 stated that

It calculated that at the current rate of convergence it would take 170 years just to halve the economic disparities between different regions in the EU. A major reason for the extraordinary levels of waste and mismanagement is the sheer size and complexity of the budget. As the EU's auditors pointed out in their recent report, in many situations the errors are a consequence of too complex rules and regulations.

There are several ways in which the budget can be improved. At the moment, EU rules state that allocated funds must be paid out within two years or the money will be cancelled. That, of course, encourages member states to spend the money as quickly as possible without due scrutiny or responsibility. Bringing the structural and cohesion funds under national control would, in our opinion, simplify the EU budget and inject national accountability, greater transparency and more involvement by national Parliaments. It would, we believe, reduce waste and mismanagement and establish a better link between performance and receipt of subsidies.

Kelvin Hopkins: I have suggested on many occasions that the European budget ought to be distributed according to need, with the rich countries paying proportionately and the poorer countries drawing proportionately, according to their standards of living. Paying directly to Governments would be necessary as part of that. It seems to me that we have agreement on these matters.

Mr. Moss: I am most grateful for confirmation from the hon. Gentleman that we are moving in the right direction.

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One of Tony Blair's conditions for giving up parts of Britain's rebate was that the Commission should conduct a wide-ranging review of EU spending. I am disappointed that the deadline for the review at the end of 2009 is unlikely to be met. However, a leaked draft paper on the budget review suggests that the Commission, once it has got its act together, will put forward several worthy proposals for reform. They will include some proposals that would not serve Britain's best interest, but I welcome the proposals significantly to reduce the amount of money spent on agriculture and to reform the structural and cohesion funds.

As far back as 2003, the then Prime Minister wrote in The Times that the structural and cohesion funds should be returned to the control of the member states. Will the Government push for that in the EU's next budget negotiations; or is the Prime Minister-and is the Minister-prepared to give up this pledge just as his predecessor gave up part of our rebate in return for nothing?

The UK is now the second biggest net contributor to the EU budget according to Treasury figures. We pay almost £10 billion a year into the EU's budget for 2007 to 2013 and get back about £5.2 billion. Crucially, the UK's net contribution will rise from £4.1 billion in 2009-10 to £6.4 billion in 2011-12. That is after the European Parliament voted in October to increase Britain's payments by £5 million a day, against the advice of the European Commission and the European Council.

Moreover, the UK is also the EU member that receives the least back from the budget per head. According to figures from Open Europe, we receive only €770 per head in EU funding, which is lower than any other member state. It is half as much as France, which receives €1,480, and a quarter as much as Ireland, which receives €3,090. Perversely, the richest country in the EU-Luxembourg-gets more than €22,000 per capita because it benefits from hosting several EU agencies.

Mr. Evans: To be added to that is the famous rebate that Margaret Thatcher wrestled from the European Union, which Tony Blair famously gave away so that he could get the top job, which he never has.

Mr. Moss: I am sure that my hon. Friend's logic is absolutely correct in that regard.

It would of course be interesting to know what efforts the Government propose to make in future to ensure that the UK gets a fair deal in the EU. Whichever way one looks at the budget situation, this country seems to be considered by its EU partners as some sort of milch cow. How is it that, after 12 years of being told repeatedly by this Labour Government that they and they alone of the UK political parties knew how to play the game in Europe-at the centre of Europe-we now have a deteriorating contribution situation with absolutely nothing to show for it?

Kelvin Hopkins: The term "milch cow" is appropriate, because the distorting factor in all this is the common agricultural policy, and we do not have enough milch cows to claim enough. I have called for the abolition of the CAP and the repatriation of agricultural policy to member states, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that something fundamental has to be done to the CAP?

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