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Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): I want to speak briefly about the importance of clause 1 to the Baltic states and specifically to Estonia, for obvious reasons. During the collapse of the Soviet Union, The Irish Times ran a cartoon depicting Estonia as a greenhouse filled
The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) correctly highlighted the importance of the four Copenhagen criteria, and I am glad to say that Estonia is certainly equipped to achieve the requirements of those criteria. Indeed, it has a great deal of common ground with the existing full members of the European Union, and particularly with the United Kingdom. Common points include a concern about the harmonisation of tax policy, an eagerness for reform of the common agricultural policy, a concern about over-centralisation of decision making and a healthy support for the tenets of competitive markets. Indeed, Estonia sees itself as a worthy competitor in a positive way, and clause 2 will have some very important benefits with regard to the movement of workers.
Estonia very much supports the belief that NATO must continue. In terms of many other policy areas, clause 1 simply enables countries that already have a great deal of cultural and spiritual commonality with existing members of the European Union to play their full part. I am grateful for the fact that the UK showed such generosity to my parents by allowing them to come here as refugees during the second world war. I hope that the implementation of clause 1 will give Estonia the opportunity to repay the gratitude that it feels for the help given to so many refugees.
Keith Vaz: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the most famous person of Estonian origin in the country lives in my constituency and happens to be his mother. What more does he think that we can do to encourage the communities that are settled here permanently to get involved in the enlargement process?
Lembit Öpik: I shall not go too far into that, because we risk rerunning Second Reading. However, I agree that there may not be sufficient awareness of what clause 1 and the Bill as a whole will achieve. If clause 1 is agreed, and I suspect that it will be, we will have the opportunity to inform members of communities from the 10 countries of the potential benefits. That could also prove beneficial in respect of whatever referendum the Government decide to introduce.
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test): In recording the importance to the Baltic states of the accession arrangementsand, indeed, the future role of the Baltic states in Europewhat does the hon. Gentleman think about the important discussions that have taken place, particularly in Lithuania, about Kaliningrad? What will be the implications for good working and trading relationships, particularly through Lithuania and Poland, with Russia? The Baltic states have done good work on behalf of the whole EU in
Lembit Öpik: I did not intend to cover the point, but it is true, as the hon. Member for West Suffolk said, that clause 1 is beneficial not just to the Baltic states, but, in providing an active and direct economic and cultural interface with Russia to the European Union. That will allow for greater political stability and confidence, and a reduction of the danger of military problems breaking out in that area. I shall leave it at that for now.
To conclude, as the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) said, my mother lives in his constituency. As a Liberal Democrat, I sometimes feel that she is too keen a supporter of his constituency work. I hope that the clause will be passed, and I remind hon. Members that the Baltic states have a long memory and that they are truly grateful for the support of the UK in the past. As I said, clause 1 will provide an opportunity to repay that gratitude, and I hope that the country will shift from being good neighbour of the European Union to a full member of the team.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): Because I want to raise some issues that might prompt Government Members to wonder where I am coming from, I should like to clear the decks before I go on to the detail, and make a couple of points absolutely clear. First, I support enlargement. I have no problem with it, and I never have had a problem with it. I also support the Bill in principle and have no difficulty with it; as Labour Members can imagine, there are a few buts to follow in a moment.
In the past, Conservative Members might have said that there should be a referendum on enlargement. The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) said that he was glad that we had moved on from that, because it meant that we were against enlargement. However, what he needs to understand is that championing the idea of consulting the people of this country does not necessarily mean that we are against something. It simply means that we want to invite the people to have their say. I make no apologies for wanting referendums and I do not accept the view that any party that supports a referendum is committing itself to campaigning for a yes or a no, or even to campaign at all. It means that an issue is so important that the people's views matter. If the hon. Member for Leicester, East does not want to bother to listen to his constituents, some of us will ensure that they understand that he could not care less about them, but does what he believes is in his and his party's best interest. I feel sorry for him if that is what he thinks.
Secondly, I want to make it clear from the outset that I am not in favour of leaving the European Union. If people think otherwise, they have got it wrong; I am still in favour of belonging to what I voted yes to in the referendum held in the past. I have no wish to leave it, only to change what we have now, which is a wholly different issue and way beyond the scope of clause 1. I make that point clear because the Minister for Europe made the usual assumption that it is a matter for rejoicing when people vote in favour of the European Union in referendums. He rejoiced in the fact that people in the applicant countries voted yes to Europe. I wish the Minister would stop claiming that the
The Minister said that huge numbers of people were enthusiastic about joining the European Union. It is tempting to point out the size of the majorities in favour in the referendums, and it is even more tellingand helps to put the debate into perspectiveto examine the turnout. If we then deduct from the turnout the numbers who voted no, things do not look so rosy for the Minister. In Malta 53 per cent. of the electorate voted, in Slovenia 60 per cent.perhaps a good showing. In Lithuania 63 per cent. votedeven better. In Slovakia only 52 per cent. managed to voteonly 2 per cent. more than was required to make it a valid referendumand in Hungary only 45 per cent. voted. We should therefore temper any claims about the great enthusiasm for joining the European Union. I am glad that the people voted and I am pleased about the referendum results, but we should not get carried away about what it all means.
Mr. Bercow: The only danger in my hon. Friend's observations so far is that he seriously understates his case. I share his enthusiasm for public consultation, but does he agree that clause 1 should be the catalyst for the development of an outward-looking, dynamic association of self-governing nation states, which should provide an alternative to what has all too often in recent times seemed to the people of this country a narrow, inward-looking protectionist club?
Mr. Wilshire: If you would allow me, Sir Alan, to have a debate of that sort this afternoon, I would be only too pleased to respond to my hon. Friend, but I suspect that you would not. I hope that it is in order to repeat what I said at the outsetthat I support enlargement. I do so for exactly the same reasons as my hon. Friend. I have high hopes that enlargement will turn the EU outward and result in a more relaxed grouping of sovereign states, rather than what it is now.
Ann Winterton (Congleton): My hon. Friend has fallen into the tender trap once more, by expressing a view that we heard many times on Second Reading. He gave voice to what is on his wish list, so let me tell him that what he espouses is not on offer. If he believes otherwise, can he tell me in which treaty it is mentioned?