Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Laird: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the major problem, as we see it, is fuel laundering? Despite the fact that three plants were closed down last week, there are still nine plants in south Armagh. One of the plants was owned by a fellow called Michael Carragher, known as the south Armagh sniper, who murdered nine members of the security forces and was given a plant to launder fuel by the IRA, together with a house.

Does the Minister also recognise that there is an environmental problem? On the orders of Slab Murphy, a group of men dumped 45 tonnes of toxic acid, which was used to make 3 million litres of diesel fuel, at Conra wood on 15 January. Is it not about time that the Government clamped down on this multimillion-pound industry, which is distorting the economy of Northern Ireland and is helping the IRA to fund its illegal activities?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I have to presume that those very specific allegations have already been brought to the attention of the authorities.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, does the Minister think that the noble Lord, Lord Laird, is correct in the assumption behind his remarks that most of the smuggling that HM Revenue and Customs is so vigorously tackling—as it was some years ago as I recall—is IRA-based and that the benefits of the money that should go to the UK taxpayer actually go to fund the paramilitaries?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the only thing that I can do on that is refer noble Lords to paragraph 321 of the Independent Monitoring Commission report published last week, which states:

7 Feb 2006 : Column 513

That was published by the IMC last week.

European Union (Accessions) Bill

3.06 pm

Read a third time.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Triesman.)

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, although we on this side strongly favour the Bill, it would be a pity to let it now pass without a few comments on its historic significance and on some of the implications. I hope that the Minister will want to join in with a few comments. The Bill legitimises, at least in this country, our agreement to the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the European Union. The plan is that that should take place in January next year, which is only 12 months away—the Bill provides for the possibility that there might be some delay, as indeed there might be, because the schedule is obviously extremely demanding.

Allow me to note one or two implications and facts in relation to the Bill. First, the last big accessions Act, in May 2004, brought in 10 new countries, including eight from eastern and central Europe. In the 17 months that followed, some 293,000 workers from those new member states registered here. It is extraordinary how well the nation, or society, has succeeded in absorbing that colossal number. In that period, we have probably absorbed about three times the size of the entire Huguenot arrivals at the end of the 17th century. It has been one of the biggest and swiftest immigrations ever into this country—into which there have been immigrations for well over 1,000 years—and yet it has been absorbed in a way that has hardly raised any social comment or disruption anywhere. It has been one of the greatest inflows of modern times.

The nation can therefore pat itself on the back as we give the Bill its Third Reading. However, I am not sure that I extend such generosity to the Government, because their estimate of some 13,000 workers registering—which is not the same as immigrants for settlement, which might come later—was, to put it mildly, wide of the mark. Anyway, a very large number—some 300,000—have disappeared or settled into industries across the country. While the availability of the facts is not at all good, and there is a case for more illumination from the Government, we think that those immigrants have gone largely into the construction and service industries, such as restaurants and plumbing—the proverbial Polish plumber has featured on the scene.
7 Feb 2006 : Column 514

My party colleagues and I believe that all of this has been of considerable benefit to the national economy, as will any additional flows that result from the accession of Bulgaria and Romania. Why has this huge flow occurred? Why has Britain proved to be the obvious destination of choice? One reason was embodied in the previous accession Bill—namely, that Her Majesty's Government decided against any restrictions during the transition period, both before and after accession by the 10 countries involved, whereas most other EU countries decided to have restrictions. Indeed, 10 of those countries are now reviewing whether they should keep the restrictions, which will lapse if they are not renewed on 1 May this year. I hope that there are many other reasons why this country proved to be so attractive, but a clear reason was that restrictions were in place elsewhere. Presumably, lifting them might make some difference to the pattern of flows.

This is an important moment for Bulgaria and Romania. We all wish the negotiators well—those seeking to make a place for those countries in the European Union at a time when the EU is undergoing considerable transformation and is seeking new directions after the collapse of the ambitions for a detailed new constitution. We hope that Parliament will be kept very well informed as the flow of workers from Bulgaria and Romania who register here builds up, as it will. Indeed, I hope that we are better informed than during the previous round of accessions. We hear many figures and have many debates about non-EU immigration and worker settlement in this country, but my impression is that the availability of figures on the pattern of movements within the EU has not been so good. We might benefit from closer monitoring and more regular reporting to Parliament, which was the idea behind some of the amendments that we moved at an earlier stage.

These newcomers are an asset, as has been the case with most of the migrants who have settled here through the centuries. We welcome the Bill, as we welcome the skills that the new migrants bring, but it would be nice to know that Parliament will be kept closely informed about what happens over the next one, two, three and five years as these countries find their place inside the Union.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, I rise to say only a few words, because there is some surprise at the limited, but none the less detailed, points made by the spokesman for the Opposition Benches, who has just spoken. These matters were thoroughly aired at all stages of the Bill. Quite rightly, no further points were made on Report, because no amendments had been made in Committee.

Quite legitimate anxieties were expressed at Second Reading and in Committee in the Commons and in our House, although not so much on the treaty accession points—important as they are—as on immigrants coming in from the two countries. To some extent, those points have been answered by the Government, although now that the matter has been raised again, I would welcome it if the Minister reiterated answers
7 Feb 2006 : Column 515
to reassure the House and if he said something about the fact that we are getting closer to the end of April and the beginning of May, when the Commission has promised its extremely detailed report on the monitoring activities and its recommendations about whether January 2007 or January 2008 should be the target entry date. Many opinions are floating around on this and much goodwill has already been expressed strongly in all parts of the House about the entry of those two countries, but, none the less, there is a wish to have further information, if that is available.

3.15 pm

Lord Biffen: My Lords, my noble friend who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench said that it was important to keep Parliament informed as the negotiations proceed. I want to raise a narrow point that has not been mentioned hitherto in these debates. I refer to the unhappy decision to call off the proposed visit of Romanian parliamentarians by the Inter-Parliamentary Union. I make no comment on the wisdom or otherwise of that decision, except to say that, ironically, it is extremely unhappy that, at a time when we ought to be able to inform ourselves of what the challenges might be for us, we should not be able to understand further what the upheavals that will inevitably follow within the administrations of Romania and Bulgaria will mean. My request of the Minister is that the Foreign Office will do all that it can to facilitate visits from those countries, obviously with co-operation from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and see that the visit from Romania will be reinstated as speedily as possible.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page