HC Deb 07 December 1999 vol 340 cc687-9
11. Mrs. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton)

If he will make a statement on relations with Poland. [99954]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Keith Vaz)

Our relations with Poland are excellent. Poland is the largest of the EU accession states, and our most important trading partner in central and eastern Europe. We warmly welcomed Poland's membership of NATO in March 1999, and strongly support Poland's application to join the EU.

Mrs. Gilroy

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I think that it will be warmly welcomed by the thousands of Polish people who have made their homes in and around Plymouth because of the close association between the city and the second world war. Underpinning that is a strong twinning arrangement with the naval port of Gdynia and some extremely interesting exchanges recently dealing with football hooliganism, community safety and tackling drug abuse. Does my hon. Friend share my hope that such exchanges will go from strength to strength as Poland approaches membership of the EU? Will he say something about the importance that he attaches to ministerial exchanges at national level to facilitate that?

Mr. Vaz

I fully support my hon. Friend's comments. The United Kingdom wants Poland to be part of the EU. It is a country of 40 million people and, as my hon. Friend has correctly said, there are strong historical ties between our country and Poland. Five days after I was appointed Minister with responsibilities for Europe, I went to Poland. I visited Warsaw and I launched a bilateral action plan. I was pleased to learn that more than £100 million-worth of know-how fund assistance has been given to Poland. Another six of my ministerial colleagues have visited Poland recently, including my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister. We want to ensure that we keep these contacts going until Poland joins the EU, and we hope that that will be as soon as possible.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Will the Minister take this opportunity to praise the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), who always argued for the broadening of Europe as opposed to the deepening of the European Union? Does he agree with me that if Poland is to accede to the EU—I believe that the whole House wishes that it does so—we shall first have to ensure that the common agricultural policy is revised considerably?

Mr. Vaz

I certainly support the view that Europe should be as wide as possible, and that is why the United Kingdom has been in the lead on enlargement, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said earlier this afternoon. Obviously, Poland will have to negotiate to join the EU. I am pleased to say that 23 of the 31 chapters of the acquis have been opened. Agriculture is a matter that will be considered. I am certain that the negotiations will be fair and will give the best possible deal for Poland and the EU.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

Will the Minister remind the House, in view of earlier questions, that the omission of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic from the European Union is a moral issue and, but for Yalta, they would not only be members of the EU but would have been in at its formation?

In view of my hon. Friend's comments about the importance to the United Kingdom of trade, is he aware that, in relation to Poland, we are far behind some of our principal European competitors? Will he have a private word with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and remind him that my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), when she was Secretary of State, went to the important market of Australasia, and that when my right hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) was Secretary of State, he went to the important marketplace of south America? Neither of them went to Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia or Slovakia, which are the principal front-rank applicants for membership of the EU, and nor has the present Secretary of State.

Although United Kingdom commerce and trade and industry are making big inroads in Poland, we are not doing sufficient, particularly in the banking and finance sectors, where we have particular skills. Will my hon. Friend ask my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to go to Poland, bearing in mind that other Heads of Government have been there, not just once, but twice or three times?

Mr. Vaz

I realise that my hon. Friend was in Poland over the weekend. A visit from him is worth a visit from three Cabinet Ministers. I can assure him that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was disappointed to have to postpone his visit last year at very short notice, which my hon. Friend knows was due to Northern Ireland business. I know that my right hon. Friend hopes to be there at some time in the near future.

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade was in Poland in September to launch the Opportunity Poland campaign. Bilateral trade in 1998 was worth £1.9 billion. As my hon. Friend knows, almost £2 billion of British investment goes into Poland. I can assure him that all his points have been well taken. I am glad that so many of my ministerial colleagues have visited Poland. I will pass the message on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Who knows, even my hon. Friend may decide to visit again in the near future.

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