Previous Section Index Home Page

3 Jun 2010 : Column 679
5.28 pm

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): It is an enormous pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), who referred to me as his hon. Friend; coalitions are building, but I do not think that they are going quite that far. It is a delight to see him, because despite his absolutely ludicrous, nonsensical opinions on Europe-and nearly everything else under the sun-he is quite a nice guy. Indeed, we have shared many a pint, and several bottles of wine, which I think I always paid for, in Les Aviateurs in Strasbourg. I wish him well. The hon. Gentleman follows on from a very fine Member of Parliament, who was much respected across the House; he had much more sensible views than the hon. Gentleman, I fear.

I should explain to new hon. Members that the normal course of an EU debate is that we have exactly the same people along to every single one for about 15 years, and they deliver their single transferrable speech, which they have delivered at every previous such debate. It sometimes reminds one a bit of a sitcom-"Dad's Army" springs to mind. There is always somebody-normally it is the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash), who does not seem to be in the Chamber at the moment-who is rather irritating, and just ever so slightly pompous, but whose heart, we know, is really in the right place: the Captain Mainwaring of the House. We always have the immensely suave Sergeant Wilson, who is of course the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter). I am not suggesting that he resembles Sergeant Wilson in any other regard, incidentally.

We always have someone who has to say, "Don't panic, Mr Mainwaring! Don't panic! It's all going to be okay!", and that is normally my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins), who on these matters, unfortunately, never agrees with me about anything.

Mr Davidson: Get on with it, Pike!

Chris Bryant: I am glad that my hon. Friend is piping up, because we always have Private Frazer, "We're doomed, Captain Mainwaring! We're doomed!", and he is always played by my hon. Friend.

Then, of course, we always have someone who is immensely sanctimonious- [ Interruption. ] And lo and behold, the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) has arrived in the Chamber. Such sanctimony, I hope, will be a thing of the past from the Liberal Democrats. If there is one thing that they must have learned on becoming members of the coalition, it is that sanctimony must be a thing of the past for the Liberal Democrats. I can see that several Conservatives who were Members in the previous Parliament agree, and the hon. Gentleman is surely the vicar from "Dad's Army".

At this point I should like to welcome the Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington) to his post. He is a splendid man; I know him well; and he has very good intentions. Again, doubtless, he is about to show us that he has ludicrous politics, but he is a nice man. He is sometimes perhaps a little too precise in his politics, and that might render him the verger from "Dad's Army", who was just always a little too precise for his own good. However, the hon. Gentleman is an extremely intelligent man, who I think has led the
3 Jun 2010 : Column 680
most winning teams on "University Challenge", and we look forward to his intelligence, which I am sure he will deploy throughout Europe over the coming months.

We heard a great number of maiden speeches, and that makes this debate rather different from any other, because remarkably few Members said anything about Europe. But, that is in the way of things, and there have been some excellent speeches. It is a shame-

Ms Gisela Stuart: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Chris Bryant: Yes, of course.

Ms Stuart: I was just wondering: is there any room for women in "Dad's Army"?

Chris Bryant: I was about to make exactly that point. It is so rare for my hon. Friend to help me in any debates on Europe, but it is a great pleasure. It might just be a facet of today's debate, but, as I was just about to say, it is an enormous shame that, while we have had several maiden speeches from women Opposition Members, we did not have a single one from a woman Government Member. I do not want to make a big partisan point about that, but we must achieve a House that is more representative of the whole of Britain.

There have been some excellent speeches. The hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier)-

Mr Cash rose-

Chris Bryant: Ah! Captain Mainwaring himself.

Mr Cash: I cannot resist it. Does the hon. Gentleman take upon himself the mantle of Godfrey?

Chris Bryant: Far be it from me to take any mantles upon myself at all, although I thought that I might be Warden Hodges, who was always the nemesis of Captain Mainwaring.

Anyway, we had a splendid speech from the hon. Member for Wyre Forest- [ Interruption. ] He has moved! He gave us some wonderful geographical outlines of his constituency, and I thought that I could just hear Elgar playing in the background.

We also had a splendid speech from the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby), who talked about how the French razed Brighton at some point. He thought that the people of Brighton were rather troubled by the French, but then he went on to praise the Norman church. I think that at some point the Normans were the French, were they not? So there seemed to be a bit of inconsistency there, but he made a splendidly short speech, and brevity is the soul of wit in this Chamber. [ Interruption. ] That does not apply to me. [ Interruption. ] Neither brevity nor wit.

We had a splendid speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), who gave us a great sense of a passion for culture, which is not just an add-on to political life, but absolutely intrinsic to the life of her constituency. She also referred to our former leader, Harold Wilson, and his time in the constituency.

We had a splendid contribution from the hon. Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy)-a peculiarly named and, perhaps, constructed constituency. He referred to it as a doughnut constituency and he did, indeed, sound
3 Jun 2010 : Column 681
like the representative of the York tourist board, as of course all hon. Members do at some point-well, not for York, obviously. He said that it is his 39th birthday, so we wish him well. He does not look 39 yet, but I can assure him, given the way that Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is treating us all, that within a year he will look considerably more than 40. I also note that he looks a little like his father, the Member of the European Parliament.

We heard a splendid speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), who referred to Doug Henderson. I hope that she will be running marathons as well. He was, I think, the third fastest marathon runner in the House; there is a tradition that several are run every year. She referred to Rolos-I never liked Rolos very much-and Andrews Liver Salts, which did not seem like a particularly interesting combination of food. She is a very astute woman, because she praised the local media assiduously; I am sure that that will get her a fine headline in her local newspaper.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) made a fine speech. I did not understand any of the stuff about football, because I have never understood football; I look forward to switching off all the televisions over the next month. She referred to Chris Mullin, a Member who was respected across all parts of the House for his work-and feared, in equal measure, because of his diaries. There are more instalments to come, I fear.

The hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) kindly referred to Mike O'Brien, who was, again, respected by many people. He mentioned the bun day at his local school, with the giving out of buns. It sounded as though that was happening during the general election, which I thought counted as "treating", but there we are. He referred to his time in the Royal Army Medical Corps and in Banja Luka in what was, I think, normally referred to as the mental factory rather than the metal factory. It is good to have such a mix of people who have served in the armed forces in this House, especially when we are still at war.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) made a very good speech. For me, the most moving point was when she referred to the squandering of the talents of so many women. She has experienced that in her own family's history, but it is also true in very many walks of life, and it is something that we still need significantly to address.

The hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) started with a risqué joke. I myself have never used a risqué joke, or tried to be risqué, in the past. He said that he loved Europe, but of course we knew what was coming-he does not really like Europe very much, or any of its institutions, and certainly not the single European currency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) made an important speech, particularly in relation to the need for 21st-century buildings if we are to provide 21st-century educational standards. He talked about the exploitation of foreign workers, with a very interesting story from his own family.

The hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley) said that he is an Iron Maiden fan, or supporter; in any case,
3 Jun 2010 : Column 682
he intends to wear his T-shirt in here at some point. He mentioned various films because he has a history of his own in that line of work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) made an extremely passionate speech referring to the problems that mining constituencies have had-something that I know about from my constituency in Rhondda, where we still have to overcome some of the problems that were given to us from the past.

The hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) mentioned Wat Tyler's revolt. I thought that we were about to hear a radical, left-wing speech and that he was going to give us Wat Tyler's lines, "When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?"-but then we know, of course, that it is every single member of the new Cabinet.

The hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) went right back in history to the time of Julius Caesar and said that the border controls were rather good in those days; well, they were not, really, because we were entirely invaded. He described Dover as the gateway to England, whereas I think of Bristol as the gateway to England from Wales-a far more important avenue.

The hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) started by talking about the death warrant for Charles I. I was a little bewildered at that point, because I thought that he was going to blame that on the European Union.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con) indicated assent.

Chris Bryant: I see the hon. Gentleman nodding. He thinks that everything bad that has ever happened is basically down to the European Union, the Labour Government or, for all I know, me personally.

There were also important contributions that were actually about Europe. In particular, the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter) referred to the issues relating to the Western European Union, in which he has played a significant part. I hope that the new Minister for Europe will be able to answer some of those questions, particularly about what his plans are for making sure there is a replacement, so that the important job of scrutinising European foreign and defence policy is not just assumed by the European Parliament. That would not be the right place for that to be done.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), who I hope is not only the past Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, but the future Chairman, made some important points about how we conduct scrutiny in the House. I have always thought that we have not done it very well and, during my time as a Minister, I tried to improve that. I hope that the Minister will be able to say whether he will table a new scrutiny reserve resolution for that Committee as soon as possible. That was very much in the pipeline before the general election and I hope it can be arranged as soon as possible.

I celebrate the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) in the Chamber. Even if she can sometimes slightly irritate me, I am delighted she is here. The doughtiness of her campaign in her constituency stood her in good stead in the
3 Jun 2010 : Column 683
general election and, even though we sometimes disagree with her, I am sure that we all accept that the doughtiness of her argument is well put. She made some important points this afternoon about the euro and the genuine crisis in Europe, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins). However, he did say something rather odd about Argentina's economy, which I would suggest is nowhere near as prosperous as he seems to think.

The speeches of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) speak for themselves and I cannot add to them. He put his Front Benchers on the spot a bit about whether there should be a referendum, which was an important point also well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann). One of the most controversial European issues--it certainly has been over the past six months in British politics, although it is rarely expressed in public--is that of migration within the European Union, and I do not understand why accession treaties should not, under the logic being advanced by the new Government, be subject to a referendum as well. It is one of the issues that will most materially affect member states.

Mr Cash: As I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows, the problem specifically arises in relation to Croatian accession, particularly the linking of that to the Irish guarantees. That takes us back to the constitution under the Lisbon treaty.

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman makes a point to which I hope the Minister will be able to reply.

Mr Davidson: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Chris Bryant: Yeah, go on.

Mr Davidson: I am grateful to Private Pike for giving way. Can I take it from his criticisms of the Government Front Benchers that it is the Opposition's policy that there should be a referendum before any other accession treaty?

Chris Bryant: No, of course my hon. Friend cannot! He knows perfectly well he cannot--he is a mischievous lad. The point I am trying to make is that there is an illogicality about the Government's position. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman--sorry, I mean my hon. Friend, I sometimes forget--will at some point want to make that point to the Government, rather than always doing so to us.

May I just ask the Minister some very quick questions? First, I urge him to be extremely careful about trying to reset the relationship with Russia. There are very big problems in relation to Russia, not only in its attitude towards Ukraine and Georgia, but with internal democracy and human rights--those who seek the bear's embrace all too often get hugged to death. On Cyprus, I hope that he will push forward as much as he possibly can. We can stand ready to help if there is anything that we can do. Britain obviously plays a key role in trying to develop a peace in Cyprus.

Likewise, Britain has over the past couple of years played a strong role in relation to Greece and Macedonia, trying to resolve something that to many people outside those countries seems completely illogical.

3 Jun 2010 : Column 684

The European Union has got close to signing up to a free trade agreement with Peru and Colombia. When I was in post, I was keen to try to ensure that that would have to be ratified in the Parliaments of every member state. I hope that the Minister for Europe will ensure that it must be ratified in this Parliament.

The hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark said that the Liberal Democrats had never argued for the euro. Perhaps the party did not all the time, but the new Chief Secretary, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change did. It is good to see them on the road to Damascus, but it would sometimes be nice to hear a little less sanctimony from them.

5.45 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I thank the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for his welcome to me on my first appearance in my new ministerial capacity in a European Union debate. If he looks at the repeated comments of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in opposition and since we came to office, he will see that, although we have said that we hope for a better relationship with Russia than has been the case in recent years, we do not regard it as something to be entered into lightly. We certainly expect Russia to abide by her international obligations, and events such as the occupation of territory, which is legitimately part of Georgia, are unacceptable. We are all too aware of the implications of the Litvinenko case and Moscow's refusal so far to respond. Although our approach to Moscow will be positive-we hope for Russia's co-operation on important global issues, such as counter-terrorist efforts and countering the threat of nuclear proliferation from Iran and other countries-it will also be cautious.

The hon. Gentleman will be all too aware of the complexities of the dispute in Cyprus, but the Government are intent on being energetic in supporting the relevant parties in seeking an agreement leading to the reunification of the island. That would be the best thing for both communities.

Ms Gisela Stuart: What is the British Government's position if the United Nations says that Cyprus is a European problem and we need to sort it out?

Mr Lidington: With respect to the hon. Lady, we are not in that position yet. Talks have resumed between the Government in Nicosia and the representatives of the Turkish Cypriots, and I greatly hope that they have a more positive outcome than has been the case in the past couple of years.

I am with the hon. Member for Rhondda on Macedonia. It is important that we get a resolution to the dispute between Skopje and Athens. From our point of view, the sooner that Macedonia can be seen to be clearly on the path towards full EU membership, the better.

Next Section Index Home Page