HC Deb 27 January 2004 vol 417 cc147-50
4. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con)

If he will make a statement on progress towards enlargement of the European Union on 1 May. [150690]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane)

The EU is on track for a successful and historic enlargement on 1 May, setting the seal on the end of the cold war divisions in Europe.

Miss McIntosh

The Minister will know of my close interest in enlargement. I particularly welcome the application of central and eastern European countries to return to the bosom of the European family. Will the Minister explain why Britain is one of the few countries not to allow the normal seven-year transition period for the free movement of workers? Does he think that the national health service, in particular, will be able to cope with a potentially big influx from 1 May? Would it not have been wiser to wait for the full seven years?

Mr. MacShane

That was fully discussed when we debated the European Union (Accessions) Bill. On Second Reading, the House voted by 490 votes to zero to support the policy—a Second Reading vote that I hope might be matched later today. It is, however, important for us to send a clear signal of welcome.

After 1 May, all EU citizens—the 350 million existing citizens and the 70-odd million who are coming in—will be able to travel freely and live where they want. In Britain, where we have a labour shortage, we have said that Polish nurses, Hungarian doctors and Czech plumbers are welcome to come and find a job, if they can find one. Countries with high unemployment, such as Germany and France, have adopted a different policy. Our policy is good and the European Union (Accessions) Act 1994 had the full backing of the Conservative party at all stages of its passage through the House. I hope that we maintain that united front of welcome to our new friends from east Europe.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab)

May I take this "window of opportunity" to ask the Minister whether he will announce a package of celebrations for 1 May? Long after we have debated today's issues, the lasting legacy of this Government will be the widening of Europe and the admission of millions of people who have been subjugated for the best part of 200 years into the club of free nations. We should celebrate that achievement, and I look to the Government to proclaim it.

Mr. MacShane

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's dedication, especially to building links between this House and the British people, and the Polish Sejm and the Polish people. I have celebrated May day on and off all my life, but I especially look forward to this one. Many events are planned: some will contain high pomp, while I hope that others will be popular and full of fun. I invite all hon. Members to take part and will make sure that my hon. Friend has an invitation to each and every event.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con)

Since Britain is the only large member state to permit an unrestricted number of people from those countries to come and live here and seek work from 1 May, do the Government stand by their earlier estimate that only between 5,000 and 13,000 people a year will avail themselves of that right? If so, why have they confirmed that they are taking out advertisements in the Czech Republic to persuade the Romana Gypsy population not to take up the right to live and seek work in this country, which they would otherwise be permitted to do after 1 May?

Mr. MacShane

The right hon. Gentleman should recall that the Government have reserved powers that could be used to introduce controls on applications for work. He makes a mistake when he refers to "Romana" or Romanian people entering Britain. Of course, the only famous Romanian family that we know about is that of the Conservative party leader, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). If rancid hate campaigns such as those that the tabloid press have recently been conducting against our east European friends had been applied in the 1930s, the position would be very different. Let me repeat again for the sake of clarity that every single European citizen will be able to travel freely in France, Germany and anywhere else. The United Kingdom and a number of other successful economies in Europe say that plumbers, doctors, teachers, cleaners and agricultural workers from the enlargement countries are welcome. The House voted unanimously in favour of that policy, and I hope that we do not follow some of the hate campaigns against our new partners and friends from eastern Europe.

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South) (Lab)

I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that enlargement offers wonderful opportunities to the UK and all other countries involved in it. However, I have a note of caution: I hope that discussion is taking place between Papadopoulos in southern Cyprus and Denktash in northern Cyprus. What progress is being made to ensure that Cyprus becomes a member of the European Union as a united island?

Mr. MacShane

At the beginning of the year, I paid a three-day visit to Turkey to discuss that issue with the Turkish Government, and I found a distinct new mood. Mr. Erdogan, the Prime Minister, presented his thinking to the UN Secretary-General on Sunday in Davos, and he will discuss the matter with President Bush tomorrow—I know that the American Administration are taking a keen interest in a settlement in Cyprus.

We urge all sides to seize the opportunity in the next two and a half months to allow a united Cyprus to enter the EU. Turkey has made remarkable strides given where she was even a year ago. It is now up to the Greek Cypriot Government to indicate clearly and unequivocally that they will start negotiations; that they will seek to finish them by 1 May; and that they will put the results to a referendum—as should the Turkish Cypriots in northern Cyprus. The Government's message is that speed and urgency are necessary and that both sides should take this historic opportunity to allow a united Cyprus to enter a united European Union.

Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con)

Notwithstanding previous replies given by the Minister or the vote on the principle of widening membership of the European Union, the British taxpayer is extremely concerned that numbers of people may come to this country and use our services without having contributed to them. I ask again why the Government did not apply for the derogation that would have prevented that situation.

Mr. MacShane

Anyone who comes to this country may be eligible for benefits after a certain period of employment—we call it the habitual residence test—like any British citizen who travels anywhere in the European Union. I repeat that we welcome the fact that our new friends and partners—the citizens of Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, the Baltic states and the others—will be able to come here. If they can find work, they will make a positive contribution to our economy. I hope that the Conservative party, which took a principled position on the issue of enlargement and voted consistently and unanimously with all the other parties in the House to send that positive message to our friends, will not now resile from that and start using the language of hate against our friends from eastern Europe that we have seen in some of the tabloid papers recently.

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