The London Borough elections are now behind us, and I am delighted with the results, which show us building a steady base with a 7% overall voting swing in our favour in London. This, in turn, should stand us in good stead for the GLA and Mayoral elections in May and June of 2004 and, of course, for the Euroelections. Our next task will be to select our candidate for Mayor of London and shortly thereafter those who will stand as Conservatives in the European elections. Needless to say, I hope that Party Members will look at my record and offer me the opportunity to represent them for another five years. London Conservative MEP's also warmly welcomed the March defection of Richard Balfe to our ranks after disgracefully shoddy treatment by the Labour Party, and he has already been active supporting our Council candidates.
During the Borough elections, I very much enjoyed canvassing in the eight target Boroughs, as calculated by CCO, of Havering, Redbridge. Bromley, Bexley, Croydon, Hammersmith and Fulham, Harrow, Barnet and Ealing. I also managed to spend some additional time canvassing in Tottenham, Westminster, Wandsworth and Kensington and Chelsea. This has enabled me to get around London, meet key activists and better appreciate the problems and political priorities expressed both by council candidates and the electorate on the doorstep. I was delighted with our winning control of Barnet, Redbridge and, more unexpectedly, Enfield and Richmond. In fact some 2/3 of all Council seats gained were in London. I extend congratulations to all those who were elected and condolences to those who were not on this occasion successful, but in politics we all live to fight another day and it is as well to remember that every campaign is excellent experience for the next one.
I have been very busy as Party Spokesman on the Foreign Affairs Committee. As well as regularly speaking in Committee, I have succeeded in getting through the Parliament a number of amendments in a variety of reports highlighting a number of areas of concern. These range from the pressganging of child soldiers, who are then often forced to carry out suicide missions, to human rights abuses of Christian and Falun Gong minorities in China as well as its appalling treatment of animals. I have also tried to explain some of the deficiencies contained within the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and why we share American concerns over the possibility of malicious prosecution of British or U.S. troops or their civilian or military leaders, whilst accepting the desirability of a Court in principle. We have also kept to our policy of regarding the use of the death penalty as a matter of individual conscience and have voted against reports criticising the U.S. and other democracies which wish to retain it for heinous crimes. In the plenary sessions of the Parliament I have spoken on the Human Rights situation in Burma and the appalling imposition of Sharia Law sentences such as the stoning to death of adulterous women in Nigeria. I have defended the rights of Gibraltarians to retain their link with the British Crown both in Committee and Plenary as well as in an article in a Brussels English-language newspaper.
I have maintained my interest on the Middle East with a keynote speech setting out my policy views on the Israeli Palestine conflict, as well as an attempt at dialogue both with Islamic leaders, Palestinians and Israeli peace protesters in Committee. Whilst violence in the region has been intensifying, there has been an extraordinary convergence of international opinion over the need for a 'two-state' solution which will offer security to the state of Israel and dignity to the Palestinians, and I have attempted to stress the importance of focusing on that aim.
I have had numerous meetings with envoys, ranging from the new Sri Lankan Minister responsible for the peace negotiations with the Tamil Tigers to the Indian Ambassador, which resulted in an official invitation to the sub-Continent from his Government in appreciation of the support I have given India in response to Islamic terrorist attacks. I was invited in April to meet the Australian Immigration Minister at the Australian Embassy in Brussels in recognition of the speech I made defending Prime-Minister Howard's robust stand against abuse of their asylum system, a stance which not only helped to win re-election for the Australian Conservatives, but which has drastically reduced the flow of boat people arriving on their shores.
Together with Theresa Villiers, I greeted a deputation of Greek Cypriots in the Parliament, who wanted to talk about Cyprus' progress in the enlargement negotiations. This is a vital issue over which I have taken a considerable interest, delivering a number of speeches on Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, clarifying the EU limits of interference in imminent Slovak domestic elections, as well as establishing the country's right not to have regional government imposed on it against its will. At a meeting attended by Commissioner Verheugen, responsible for enlargement, I tried to defuse the controversy over the 1948 Benes decrees (which authorised the expulsion, expropriation, and even killing of German Sudetens and Hungarians even if not guilty of Nazi crimes) by calling for the Commission to ensure that any decrees which continue to have legal force are compatible with the European Treaties.
I am also delighted to see the return of King Zahir Shah to Afghanistan, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Rome in September, given the importance of the potential role which he can play as a unifying force and advocate of moderation and tolerance.
I have also kept my toe in the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, voting regularly as a substitute member and intervening on particular issues, defending, for example, the British consumer in the face of long-awaited amendments to the block exemption from normal competition requirements for car manufacturers (which will affect the price paid for motor cars) and speaking in Plenary on the best way to promote venture capital - so essential to encourage small and medium sized industries as they are developing.
I also attended with Theresa Villiers a briefing session in the City of London hosted by Judith Mayhew from the Corporation of London to reassure the largest single generators of London's wealth that their Tory MEPs are on side. I was one of three MEPs to greet the new Lord Mayor when he visited Brussels in March.
Recently, I addressed a conference of Health Professional, expert on female cancers, regarding the need to expand the use of a new technology (HPV testing) for Cervical cancer. I asked a question of Nick Brown MP (televised on the UK Parliament Channel) on the Foot and Mouth Disease enquiry which led to an admission that the government had overpaid compensation to farmers because of a perverse system used to assess livestock value, whereby the valuers were paid a percentage of the valuation fee they themselves determined! I also collected 128 MEP signatures on my E.D.M. calling for a ban on the importation of cat and dog fur into the EU from the Far East. I put down the EDM because these animals are being slaughtered in a painful way by being beaten with sticks and EU consumers are being misled by false labelling so that they are not aware that they are wearing such furs.
All in all, it has been a busy time since I have remained a Whip and continue, therefore, to be involved in determining overall voting direction in all areas of the Parliament.
Future Direction of Europe
Two weeks ago I had dinner with David Heathcoat-Amory MP and Tim Kirkhope MEP (our Convention reps) and a number of colleagues which led to an interesting debate on the Convention and the future direction of Europe. Needless to say, although we were in broad agreement on the need to defend the national governments and Parliaments, we were divided on a number of issues such as the possible increased powers of the European Parliament to match that of the Council of Ministers and whether a Constitutional Treaty with the word "constitution" might be acceptable to our Party if it simplified the existing Treaties, and delineated more precisely the separation of powers between the various tiers of EU, national and regional government. Opinions also varied on whether we should campaign for referenda to endorse the treaty proposals in all member states. We also do not have positions on the issue of whether EU enlargement should be supported by us before it is made clearly much more affordable by radically scaling back the Common Agricultural Policy and the Structural Funds. The debates have started and I would welcome your views.
In the meantime, have a good summer. I hope that the next Newsletter will be ready for the October Party Conference.