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7.39 pm

Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty), the hon. Members for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) and for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), and my near neighbour, the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns), on their excellent speeches. I will do my best to live up to the high standards that they have set.

I should also like to thank the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde for pointing out the magnificent scenery in my constituency of Argyll and Bute. I shall return the compliment by pointing out that a magnificent view in my constituency is the one from Innellan across the firth of Clyde to the beautiful hills in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, behind Inverkip.

I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, Ray Michie, who represented Argyll and Bute in Parliament for 14 years and was held in tremendous regard by her constituents. That was evident when I went from doorstep to doorstep during the election; the high regard in which she was held came across loud and clear. Time and again, I was told that if I was successful in being elected to Parliament, I would have a hard act to follow. I met person after person whose case Ray had taken up successfully. To her credit, she has a long list of successful campaigns—for a new hospital, road improvements and new bridges. She was also a robust defender of the Gaelic culture in Argyll—a campaign that I, too, shall champion.

Argyll and Bute is a huge constituency, full of magnificent scenery. I have no doubt that it is the most beautiful in the United Kingdom. It stretches from the Mull of Kintyre in the south to the shores of Loch Linnhe in the north, a distance of almost 100 miles. It extends from the firth of Clyde in the east to the Atlantic coast in the west, and includes the island of Bute in the firth of Clyde, as well as many islands of the inner Hebrides; and there is a total of 26 inhabited islands.

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Many hon. Members have told me that they have spent enjoyable holidays in Argyll and Bute, and I would recommend it to anyone who has not been; the scenery is unrivalled. Whether Members want an activity holiday—climbing, sailing or walking—or to relax on one of the many unspoilt golden beaches, it is an unbeatable holiday destination. A variety of holidays can be enjoyed there—for example, at the traditional seaside resorts of Dunoon and Rothesay on the Clyde coast. From those resorts, people can take a cruise through the magnificent waterway of the Kyles of Bute. Part of the Cowal peninsula in Argyll will soon become part of Scotland's first national park, to which Dunoon will be the gateway. Inveraray, with its beautiful picture postcard white buildings, is an early example of town planning. Many tourists have their photo taken outside the historic jail, although that was one photo opportunity that I was advised to avoid at the start of the campaign.

The long drive to Campbeltown and the Mull of Kintyre is well worth it for the magnificent scenery on the way. In the north of the constituency is the magnificent seaport of Oban, with its splendid harbour; it is a base for touring the islands, which are well worth a visit. There is no time to list them all tonight, but they include Islay and Jura, which are world famous for their many whisky distilleries. However, the local economy is in difficulties; the Chancellor could help, and make himself popular, by reducing the duty on whisky and ending the unfair tax regime that discriminates against spirits in favour of imported wines.

The islands of Tiree and Coll are famous for their miles of golden sandy beaches. Indeed, Tiree gets more sunshine than anywhere else in the United Kingdom, and is the perfect place for relaxing on a sunny, golden, unspoilt and empty beach. Iona has an historic abbey and is the burial place of many kings of Scotland.

Despite all its beauty, Argyll and Bute, like all rural communities, has suffered economic hardship in recent years. Because of the vast size of my constituency and the sparsity of its population, many rural economic problems that affect other areas are magnified. Thankfully, there have been no cases of foot and mouth in my constituency; nevertheless, the knock-on effects have been damaging for both the tourism and farming industries. We need Government policies that will help the traditional rural industries of farming, fishing and forestry, promote tourism and encourage new investment.

The highlands were largely depopulated by the clearances in earlier centuries. If the free market is allowed to operate without Government intervention, there will be further depopulation; I do not believe that there is a single hon. Member who thinks it is beneficial to have such depopulation and more population movement to the south-east of England. Unemployment in the remote Kintyre peninsula and on many of the islands is a cause for concern. Europe has been a tremendous help, both for the markets that it has provided and the great financial assistance brought about by objective 1 status. Europe appreciates the difficulties of running a business and delivering services in remote islands. Indeed, it has done so to a much greater extent than many British Governments. Not joining the euro at the outset has been a financial disaster for many businesses in Argyll and Bute.

Our farmers, fishermen and tourism industry must sell to other Europeans and they are finding it difficult to compete at the present exchange rate. Prawn fishermen

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sell much of their product abroad, to countries like Spain and Italy, but are finding it hard to compete against fishermen in those countries because of the high rate of the pound against the euro. European tourists continually complain about our high prices. Joining the euro at a favourable exchange rate is essential if businesses in the highlands and islands of Scotland are to avoid financial disaster. I therefore urge the Government to hold a referendum at the earliest possible opportunity.

As I have said, Europe has invested much in the highlands and islands. We have recently succeeded in attracting a Danish wind turbine factory to Kintyre. That is an exciting new technology and an industry of the future, but sadly, I must relate that all the other agencies involved in the project are unanimous in their view that the Ministry of Defence, on whose former Machrihanish base the factory will be built, has been most unhelpful. I urge the Ministry to realise that it has social responsibilities when it closes bases in remote rural areas; extracting every last drop of public money from other Government agencies that are trying to bring jobs to a remote peninsula is not an achievement of which to be proud.

St. Columba sailed from Ireland to Iona 1,400 years ago and brought Christianity to Argyll. In those days, people and goods regularly travelled back and forth between Argyll and Ulster. Today, sadly, there is no direct link. To travel the eight miles from the Mull of Kintyre to County Antrim involves no fewer than three ferry journeys and miles of driving. A ferry link is essential; it would mean that Kintyre would become part of a European highway, and would not be a cul-de-sac. Efforts to reinstate the ferry link from Campbeltown to Ballycastle must therefore succeed. There is a dire situation in Argyll and Bute; Government assistance is needed and joining the euro is essential.

7.48 pm

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South): I congratulate the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) on an excellent maiden speech. Indeed, it is one of a quintet of excellent maiden speeches that we have heard this evening. I was especially pleased that history and geography were strongly to the fore in all areas of those speeches. When the five speakers finally leave the House, they will all have excellent third-age careers as authors of guidebooks and gazetteers.

I make no apology for focusing on EU enlargement and the implications of the Nice treaty. Despite what has been said tonight, enlargement is enshrined in the protocol of the treaty. With Milosevic in court at The Hague today, we should be starkly reminded of the need to embed the present fragile stability in eastern and central Europe in the EU. Enlargement is a key part of that process, but it will work properly only with the structural reforms proposed at Nice.

In his article today in The Daily Telegraph, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary referred to a 30-year link with Jan Kavan, whom he met in 1969 when they were both students. I do not have the same length of pedigree, but my interest and involvement in eastern Europe likewise goes back to human rights battles of student days. In the late 1970s, when I was a postgraduate at London university, I got involved in the east European solidarity campaign and met Jan Kavan. Subsequently, I saw the impact of the testimony of many of the

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dissidents at the hearings into Carter's human rights policies in Washington. As co-chairman of the future of Europe trust in this place, over the past three and a half years I have been able to meet many politicians from central and eastern Europe, and to hear about their concerns and their vital need for the enlargement process.

Historically, the United Kingdom has had a strong commitment to enlargement and to the countries of central and eastern Europe. That commitment has been shared by both major parties in the House. I am happy to pay tribute to the support that Mr. Major and his Foreign Office team gave in the early days to that process. It is sad, therefore, that the Conservatives now seem to want to jeopardise the process by unpicking Nice, as the Opposition amendment proposes.

The treaty of Nice is not perfect. Some have said that it is a minimalist settlement, some have said that it goes too far, and the European Parliament has expressed doubt. That probably means that the treaty is just about right. The process is one of give and take, and it is important that we understand that. However, it is also crucial to establish new institutional and decision-making arrangements to prepare the European Union for 27 members. That has to be done.

The Opposition have tried to twist the issue by claiming that, technically, accession does not require a treaty. That is at best disingenuous and naive, and at worst, if persisted with, would endanger the process and momentum. With 26 or 27 EU members, we simply cannot make up structures as we go along. I agreed wholeheartedly with the right hon. and learned Member for North–East Fife (Mr. Campbell), the Liberal Democrat spokesman, when he said recently that the process is fundamental. Importantly also, the applicant countries believe that to be true.

The interests of applicant countries in joining an enlarged EU cannot be wholly divorced from their interests in an enlarged NATO. The amended article 25 of the treaty of Nice provides for an enhanced role for the EU Political and Security Committee. That is right and just. The status of the European security and defence force in relation to NATO is also dealt with in annexe 6 to the presidency conclusions from the Council. The Political and Security Committee will liaise with NATO and is not a threat to it. What was agreed at Nice will preserve the character of NATO and the front-line position of both applicant countries and existing members.

That balance is important because there is a need to respect Russian sensitivities, especially in the Baltic concerning Kaliningrad. At the same time, Romania and other states that wish to join the EU must not be blocked, particularly if they are not likely to be in the first wave of accession.

There are key questions to be answered about expansion, and they are hard ones. They must not just be ignored in a process of good will and positive rhetoric. Last week, in the Financial Times, Charles Grant, the director of the Centre for European Reform, rightly drew attention to such key questions when he said that the EU should insist that applicants meet the highest standards of human rights and civil society, and that enlargement will leave those outside the Union at a disadvantage. New members, he said, will have to impose visa requirements

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on their eastern neighbours and the EU cannot ignore developments in regions which become unstable or suffer economic crises that will directly affect the Union through migration, for example. Human rights and the building up of civil societies are key elements of the chapters to be completed, but so are those other knotty issues.

I want to give two examples of the issues that we need to address. There was considerable tension between Hungary and Romania during the 20th century over the issue of Transylvania. That is beginning to be resolved through much better relations between those countries, and must not be jeopardised by a disregard for transitional arrangements for migration and visas. The issue of migration is also likely to arise between Poland and Ukraine, as Poland is to enter the EU early and Ukraine's entry is a very long way off.

The Nice treaty is not set in stone; nor should we see it as such. However, it is crucial to embed the applicant states in the process. That is why the Opposition's amendment risks missing the boat. In his speech in Warsaw in October, the Prime Minister rightly recognised the other side of the coin. If we do not embed applicant countries in the EU, we shall face all the issues and concerns over migration and asylum that have so preoccupied debate in this country over the past 12 months.

Our commitment, NATO's achievements in Kosovo and our difficult engagement in Macedonia are possible only because they have been underpinned by logistical, diplomatic and other support and consensus among applicant countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and the Czech Republic, many of which took considerable domestic risks in moving away from long-standing doubts, ethnic hostilities and shibboleths. We should recognise that, not jeopardise their position in allowing right-wing nationalists to hold up the enlargement process.

That is why I welcome the recent initiative by the Swedish presidency to bring second-tier candidates into the first wave, with a sense of give and take over the free movement of labour. There is give and take; this is a modern, flexible and reformed EU. That makes a nonsense of the Opposition's scaremongering over insensitive integration. Their dog-in-the-manger approach shames their party, which has acquitted itself so honourably in previous times.

Enlargement is of course not just about altruism. An enlarged EU will bring significant financial benefits to this country—and the statistics are there for people to see. We need to engage our people and explain those benefits to them. That is why there is a warning in the Irish referendum result. I agree with the Foreign Secretary that we cannot just ignore it and plough on like arrogant bureaucrats. We need a process of persuasion and dialogue to bring people round. That is why it is necessary to pay some attention to the social and cultural contribution to our common European inheritance that the applicant countries have made.

Enlargement will banish for ever the views of Bismarck, who said that the Balkans were not worth the bones of a Pomeranian grenadier, and the infamous remarks of Chamberlain in Munich about the far-away country of whose people we know nothing. Today, in a globalised, interdependent world, that is not true. There are city breaks to Tallinn, Krakow and Budapest. We

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recognise the immense cultural contributions of such countries. One thinks of the contributions during the last century of composers such as Dvorak, Janacek, Bartok and Gorecki. One thinks of writers such as Kafka and Horvath. One thinks of Mitteleuropa and the Hapsburg multiethnic and multinational union, which was viable. One thinks even of Mr. Rubik, with his cube—an apt image for the delivery and finesse with which we shall have to operate in enlarged EU institutions.

The momentum of enlargement will be maintained only by telling our peoples about common heritage, interest and hope. Nice and its ratification is a vital refuelling point in that momentum. That is why this House should give it and the enlargement process that it guarantees its fullest support.

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