The halfway point of the Parliament's legislative session has seen some major changes within the Conservative delegation. We have elected a new leader Jonathan Evans, MEP for Wales, an extremely able former Trade Minister, and have elected my close London colleagues, Theresa Villiers as our new Deputy Leader and John Bowis as Treasurer. I have been appointed Foreign Affairs spokesman, whilst remaining as substitute on The Economics and Environment committees and, for the time being, a member of the Whips Office.
Since being elected, I have participated in 83% of all main committee votes (EPP-ED average 61%) and 86% of plenary votes (EPP-ED average 75%), which includes periods such as official delegation trips abroad and my first year when I was still a local Councillor and winding down my medical practice, from which I am now fully retired.
I continue to be extremely busy. Wearing my old hat of Financial Services Spokesman, I appeared on both French and Portuguese Television debating with French and Portuguese MEPs in their native tongues on the British Conservative views on the Euro, which, in turn, inspired me to write an article published in the Wall Street Journal (available on my website http://www.charlestannock.com) on this vital issue. I was able with Theresa to question Wim Duisenberg, retiring ECB President, on a number of technical aspects of the single currency, including why we needed € 500 notes which can only facilitate the activities of fraudsters and criminals. I also made the official plenary speech on the introduction of notes and coins in January.
In December, I was invited down to Monaco again to Chair the session on Financial Services and explain to Finance Ministers from the developing world how the City of London was prospering outside of Euroland and how much importance we all attached to the single market in financial services, so vital to the prosperity of London as well as the U.K. as a whole. There is increasing recognition in Europe that a single financial market is necessary for the wellbeing of all European economies, and Theresa and I have both worked extremely hard with others in the Parliament to make this a reality. I think it also fair to say that our constant interventions in the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, consistent with statements made by the British Government in the Council, helped to make many people in Brussels keenly aware that tax harmonisation was off the agenda as far as Britain was concerned, although, no doubt, there will be bruising battles ahead.
On foreign affairs, I have made a number of speeches in plenary ranging from the tragedy of the civil war in Colombia and the long term civilian devastation brought about by landmines to aid and reconstruction in Afghanistan, defending the US handling of detained terrorists in Cuba and showing solidarity with India over the recent terrorist attacks by Islamic militants against its parliament. I also visited the Ukraine Slovak border as a member of the Joint Parliamentary Committee inspecting the future outer perimeter of the EU and the measures put in place to prevent illegal immigration. This is relevant since many illegal immigrants reaching Eastern Europe eventually make their way to the UK.
In committee, I have amended the EU-China report, focusing on human rights violations ranging from persecution of Christians and Falun Gong practitioners to forcibly using body parts from executed prisoners, as well as an appalling disregard for animal suffering, such as bleeding caged bears for their bile with no anaesthetic. In the last Strasbourg plenary session, I had dinner with Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Peter Caruana, being one of the Gibraltar MEPs, in order to explore further ways of maintaining Gibraltar's sovereign link with Britain in the face of opposition from the Labour Government.
Just before Christmas, I spoke in the Laeken summit debate criticising the biased composition of the Constitutional Convention launched to map out the future of the EU which will be overwhelmingly in favour of a more federalist and integrationalist approach, though we Tories will be represented by David Heathcoat-Amory MP and Timothy Kirkhope MEP who will offer an alternate vision of a Europe of co-operating nation states rather than a centralised superstate. For my part, I shall continue to explain to my European colleagues that any further moves towards integration must have the support not only of Europe's political elites, but also the willing consent of its peoples, something which is too often forgotten.
Several weeks ago, I organised a trip to Strasbourg for Liam Fox MP and Tim Loughton MP from the shadow health team involving a visit to a number of French Hospitals as part of Iain Duncan Smith's plan to examine our European partners' health systems. This was a successful visit both in terms of understanding exactly how the French have been able to achieve such high quality health care, whilst at the same time allowing two senior MPs to meet MEPs and to have a better appreciation of the work we do and how we can best co-ordinate our efforts to attack Labour. I firmly believe that the Government's failure to deliver on Health, Transport, Education and Crime makes them vulnerable to the charge of neglect and allows us opportunities to suggest alternate models for financing and prioritising resources according to the needs of the public, rather than pandering to vested trades union interests or, worse still, political correctness.
I have also tried to make use of my medical knowledge and skills by participating in a few chosen areas. On one occasion, I was able to help broker a compromise agreement on the Report on Blood Products designed to safeguard the interests of Haemophiliacs who are in danger of being prohibited access to imported "purchased" rather than donated blood products at a time when we cannot find sufficient free donated Factor VIII supplies in Europe. I also had a letter published in The Daily Telegraph asking the Government to clarify the entitlement of NHS patients to reimbursement for the purchase of digital hearing aids and other medical appliances and treatments in Europe, and have submitted a Written Question on this matter to the Commission.
I have also been an author of two Written Declarations (Early Day Motions), the first calling for additional support to the victims of Asbestosis (although I remain sceptical that white asbestos poses the same danger of grey or blue asbestos) and the second calling on the EU to ban the importation of cat and dog fur, often sold under the guise of something else, which come from Asian markets where these animals are bred in cruel and inhumane conditions for food. I was also responsible for the introduction of TV monitors in the bar and dining areas in the European Parliament which were not present when we arrived.
Finally, I have been active holding the Commission and the Council to account through asking questions on topics as diverse as freedom of expression, healthcare entitlements, animal rights, food safety, immigration controls, air safety, the peaceful employment of former Soviet biological weapons scientists and the application of competition policy in several areas (including the car retail sector where British consumers have for so long been paying much more for their cars than consumers on the continent). I have even asked the Commission to look into how the son of a constituent in Italy would be able to legally register his scooter in Italy, where he lives, rather than having to drive it all the way back to the U.K. to register it. After all, as his mother points out, this is precisely the kind of benefit which being in Europe is supposed to bring to its citizens.
It will not be long before the Local election campaign starts here in London and I hope to get round a significant number of the thirty-two London Boroughs, and particularly the target ones. If you think that I or my MEP colleagues can enhance your campaign, particularly with European related issues, I hope you will not hesitate to contact our offices.
Lastly, I am organising a sponsored trip to Strasbourg by coach on 12-16th May and would welcome additional participants at this or future events, which enable party activists to inspect the European Parliament and the work of their MEPs at close quarters. Please contact my office if you would like to join the trip and send me your email address if you have one so I can keep you informed of any major developments in the Parliament which may be of interest to you.