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Commons Chamber

Volume 171: debated on Tuesday 1 May 1990

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 1 May 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions




To ask the Secretary of State for Health what is the number of out-patients currently being treated by the National Health Service; and how many were treated in 1979.

In the calendar year 1979, some 7·7 million new out-patients attended NHS hospitals in England. In the year ended 31 March 1989 the equivalent figure was 8·4 million.

Do not those figures give the lie to continual talk about cuts and financial difficulties in the Health Service? Can my hon. Friend confirm that in the Norwich health authority area 60,000 more outpatients were treated in 1989 than in 1979—an increase of 25 per cent.? Is that not a good record of which Norwich health authority and the Government can be proud?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right, and I confirm his figures. For the country as a whole, real expenditure on out-patient services has increased by 26 per cent. in the past 10 years.

Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures clearly illustrate that the massive sums spent by the Government have reduced waiting lists and, in real terms, have allowed many more patients to be treated? That is surely what the Health Service is about, and we must continue to get better and more efficient use of the vast sums of money that are put in.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Most hon. Members would agree that we can do even better in terms of service in out-patient departments, particularly appointment times. In December last year, the Department of Health issued a report recommending how out-patient waiting times can and should be reduced to give a better appointment system.

General Practitioners


To ask the Secretary of State for Health what is the current level of general practitioners' remuneration; and what it was in 1979.

From 1 April 1990, the intended average net remuneration for general practitioners will be £33,280 and the average reimbursement of expenses £42,843. On 1 January 1991, the figure for remuneration will rise to £34,680. The corresponding levels of remuneration and expenses in 1979 were £12,830 and £11,355 respectively.

When my right hon. and learned Friend next meets the British Medical Association, will he suggest that it gives publicity to those figures, which are responsible for the fact that we now have more general practitioners than ever and the average GP patient list is shorter than ever?

I shall put my hon. Friend's excellent suggestion to the BMA when I next meet it. It is certainly the case that the number of GPs in this country has gone up by almost one fifth and lists have become much shorter while the Government have been in power. I expect that the number of GPs will continue to rise because of the attractive figures that I have described, and that lists will continue to fall.

In respect of future remuneration of GPs, is the Secretary of State aware of the anomaly produced by the Jarman indices? Is he aware that in future GPs in the London borough of Newham are scheduled to receive different additional payments in relation to the wards in which their consulting rooms are located? He must surely know that ward boundaries, in his constituency and elsewhere, are arbitrary and that a GP's patients will not necessarily live in an adjacent ward. Will he look at what appears to be an arbitrary and unsatisfactory system for an area which is greatly in need of medical services?

I am keen on the idea of increasing remuneration for those GPs who work in deprived districts, particularly inner city areas. I am glad that I reached agreement with the BMA on that subject. We have agreed that we should apply the Jarman index, but in applying it, it is inevitable that once boundaries are drawn some GPs will be disappointed if they are just the wrong side of them. We have introduced a significant extra incentive to GPs to give the higher levels of service required by people in deprived districts. I shall keep the operation of the arrangements under review, as the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it would be excellent if more members of the public realised that general practitioners are so well paid? However, will he bear in mind the problem for some GPs with the immunisation bonus payments, which require four separate actions for the child and unless all four are completed the GP will not be deemed to have carried out the treatment?

The public should be aware that GPs are well paid, and I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that it is right that they should be. No one has ever sought to interfere with that. Our new arrangements carefully spell out, for the first time, what we expect the best practices to deliver and how they will be paid for the best levels of service. It is true that immunisation targets will be met only when full immunisation has been given; otherwise, the child would not be properly protected. I am confident that the targets will be achieved by GPs, although I am the first to acknowledge that it involves considerable hard work and application by a practice to achieve the higher targets that we have laid down.

Residential Homes


To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will bring forward proposals requiring the disclosure of criminal convictions by persons who are, or intend to become, proprietors, managers or care staff in private residential or nursing homes.


To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will bring forward proposals requiring the disclosure of criminal convictions by persons who are, or intend to become, proprietors, managers or care staff in private residential or nursing homes.

Registering authorities should ask an applicant for registration to provide details of any previous criminal convictions. We plan to strengthen that by requiring applicants to declare previous criminal convictions when the regulations made under the Registered Homes Act 1984 are next revised.

That appears to be progress. It is clear that hon. Members and many people outside the House do not understand why there are different criteria—that which applies to children's homes and those who work in them and that which applies to the elderly and the handicapped. They are all vulnerable groups and they need protection. I hope that what the Minister has said will be enacted quickly.

I am most sympathetic to what the hon. Gentleman has said. We are already having discussions with the Home Office. He will be aware that work has started to ensure that criminal records are available for those in the public sector who look after children. There is a new development in voluntary child care, which will be an additional area of activity.

My hon. Friend knows that anxiety about criminal records is felt on both sides of the House. Does she agree that a valuable step in controlling that sort of abuse will come from both the operation of contracts and the work of care managers? Does she further agree that if that is done properly it should make a big difference?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is knowledgeable about these matters. There is no doubt that our community care proposals will enhance the safeguards for individuals who are the subjects of community care—not only the contracts, but making complaints procedures freely available. Those additional safeguards for the frail and the vulnerable, whom we all seek to help, have been written into the Bill.

Is the Minister aware of the case of Olive Wareing, who is in prison for the latest in a string of criminal convictions against elderly people in her care in old people's homes? Does the Minister share my concern that when Olive Wareing leaves prison she can set up an old people's home again and avoid registration provided that there are fewer than three residents in her care? Will the Minister act to plug that dangerous loophole in the law?

The hon. Lady frequently mentions names in her questions. The name in the minds of many Conservative Members is Nye Bevan lodge. Whether in the public or the private sectors, standards must be maintained and protected. As the hon. Lady well knows, during our discussions on the Bill we sought to find a way to introduce controls over smaller homes which did not come within the scope of the Bill. We have made it clear that we are seeking a legislative opportunity to ensure that there is some control over the smaller residential homes.

May I refer my hon. Friend to the report that the Select Committee on Home Affairs published last week about the National Identification Bureau? The report makes a number of recommendations to improve the availability of criminal records, which is rather haphazard at present—there certainly seems to be no uniform policy. No doubt my hon. Friend will wish to discuss with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary just how those proposals could help to monitor those who have access to individuals, whether through care homes or in any other part of the Health Service, particularly those dealing with children and elderly people? Will she also take care to ensure that, whatever standards are set, the private sector is not discriminated against?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I shall certainly study the report to see what further progress can be made. Those responsible for frail and vulnerable people are concerned that such people should be protected. Those responsible for them are in a position of trust. I fully endorse my hon. Friends comments. We seek a mixed economy of care whether in the private, public or voluntary sector. We want high standards of care, with dignity and choice for the elderly.

Nhs Reform


To ask the Secretary of State for Health what are the total estimated costs of the opting-out submissions made for the National Health Service hospitals; and if he will make a statement.

Applications for NHS trust status will not be invited until Parliament has given approval to the necessary legislation. We have made no estimate of the cost of preparing such applications.

Does the Secretary of Health accept that people will regard it as an outrage if a single pound is spent on opting-out submissions, particularly in areas such as Bradford, which has the highest infant mortality rate in the Yorkshire region. If the Minister is so confident about the opting-out process as the first step to towards privatisation, why does he not hold a ballot in Bradford and other areas? Why does he collaborate with serville administrators who are the enemy within the National Health Service led by the Minister as chief saboteur?

I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will try to get the public to feel a sense of outrage about almost anything that happens in the Health Service in Bradford, but I do not recognise his description of current events. I am pleased that he has turned his mind to the possible deficiencies and weaknesses in the standard of care provided in Bradford at the moment. I hope that he will give his support to all those local people in Bradford who want to address them and that he will support anybody in Bradford who thinks that being given more local control over how they tackle the problems might improve things.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that none of the real benefits of self-governing trust status will materialise without a clear commitment for regional health authorities to produce speedy and workable plans for weighted capitation? Will he give them a clear message that there must be no room for backsliding or fudging because money travelling with the patient is the essence of those reforms?

We are committed to ensuring that money is placed in the hands of the districts according to the number of their population adjusted for the age and propensity to sickness of that population. We will have to phase in progress to that end to make sure that there is no disruption of the system. However, I can assure my hon. Friend that as from next year, districts such as his own will receive funds on the basis of what they are now spending on their service—which, not surprisingly, is the basis of the present allocation. I am pleased to hear that in Hertfordshire people are now considering how they could use that money to improve the service further. I am sure that GPs, patients and others will be thinking about how to use the funds allocated to them on the new basis.

Is the Secretary of State aware that in Leeds, West, where the community health council balloted the staff at the Leeds General infirmary on proposals for opting out, nine out of 10 voted against the proposals? Now that the proposals have been widened to include other hospitals and institutions in Leeds, West, and detailed plans have been put forward, will he assure me and the House that there will be a full ballot of staff and people in the area before those proposals are taken a step further?

If the staff are given a description of NHS trust status which makes their blood run cold and their hair stand on end, one tends to find that in a subsequent ballot nine out of 10 say that they are against it. Ballots of that kind remind me of "Beyond the Fringe", many years ago, in which one of those who took part said that when they balloted people on whether they wanted their wives and kiddies fried to a frizzle in a nuclear holocaust 90 per cent. said no, 5 per cent. said yes, and 5 per cent. did not know. Such ballots do not add to public understanding of our Health Service reforms.

Would it not be a helpful if the first task of the newly recruited public relations adviser to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State were to take steps to persuade the general public and, apparently, some Members of Parliament that the term "opting out" is a misnomer and that in no circumstances will hospitals which choose to take part, be operating outside the National Health Service?

I do not have a public relations adviser and I do not intend to have one. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I shall continue to tackle the problem of explaining the NHS reforms to the public myself. The difficulty, which is not encountered in the commercial world is that the public are constantly being given counter-explanations by those who make sensational statements about opting out and what it might mean. When we come to the reality and people can look at local plans put forward by local doctors, nurses and managers, we can have a sensible debate about what NHS trust status might do to improve the Health Service in many areas, including possilbly Bradford and Leeds.

Hospital Closures, Sheffield


To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he next expects to meet the chairman of Trent regional health authority to discuss hospital closures in Sheffield.

Ministers will meet the chairman of all the English regional health authorities, including Trent, at the next regional meeting in May.

When Ministers meet the chairman will they ask him how he defends Sheffield's preferred overall pattern of acute hospital services for the future, which does not take into account bed requirements and will undoubtedly lead to the closure of two support hospitals? Will the Minister also ask the chairman about future demand for beds for the elderly and the possibility of future major accidents?

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has said, from next year we shall begin the process of funding district health authorities on the basis of weighted capitation. Therefore, over a period of years there will be a fair allocation between different parts of the country—for example, between Sheffield and Sevenoaks. As I understand it, there are not yet any formal proposals for Sheffield. There is merely a plan. I assure the hon. Gentleman that if specific proposals are made, to which the community health council has objections, and if those objections are maintained by the regional health authority, the proposals will be brought to Ministers and the hon. Gentleman will have a chance to put his view directly.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the revenue of Trent regional health authority has once again increased faster than inflation? Would he care to compare that with what happened to the health authority under the Labour Government?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House that the total increase for hospital services in the current year is about 8·5 per cent. in cash terms. In real terms the increase in funding for the National Health Service in the past 10 years is about 40 per cent. Every region in the country has benefited from increased expenditure this year. Every region has benefited from a real terms increase.

Community Care


To ask the Secretary of State for Health what representations he has received regarding the funding arrangements for local authority community care.

We have received many representations about the new arrangements for funding community care outlined in our White Paper "Caring for People".

Is the Minister satisfied that the concept of community care is being implemented in our communities when local government is suffering from the imposition of the poll tax and in many instances bizarre calculations of the standard spending assessment have been made? The SSAs do not take into account local needs in areas with large numbers of elderly people. Elderly people have particular problems in terms of mental illness. Is the Minister aware that in some areas local hospitals have had to turn away people with mental problems who need mental care because the facilities for them are not adequate due to lack of funding? Will the Minister ensure that the necessary funding and commitment is given? We want action and results, not promises.

Many local authorities are making good progress in drawing up their plans for care in the community. We are having discussions with the local authority associations about the precise nature of the funding which will be required when those plans come into effect.

Is my hon. Friend aware that Inward, which does admirable work in my constituency for ex-drug users, is worried about the new funding rate? I have written to my hon. Friend today about that. Can she do something to ensure that the valuable and unglamorous work that that organisation does is not in any way frustrated?

I should like to reassure my hon. Friend that many voluntary organisations which over many years have had a precarious financial base, will have their position safeguarded under the community care plans. Not only will the district health authority have to look to the health needs of the local population, but the local authority, in drawing up its community care plans, will need to see how especially needy groups can have their needs met. If my hon. Friend has any further difficulties, no doubt we can discuss the matter further.

Will the Minister list for the House those organisations which support the Goverments's stance not to ring-fence money for community care?

I am unable to list them at this moment, but I will let the hon. Gentleman have a reply. The key point about ring fencing is that it essentially undermines local accountability. I hope that the hon. Gentleman wants to see that the money set aside for community care is put to good effect. Local authorities have well safeguarded their personal social services spending over the years. It has risen by 38 per cent. I do not believe that one needs to undermine the basic principle of local Government accountability to achieve the end that we both share.

Nurses And Midwives


To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many nurses and midwives there are in the National Health Service now; and how many there were in 1979.

At 30 September 1988, there were 403,900 whole-time equivalent nursing and midwifery staff in the National Health Service in England. The comparable figure for September 1979 was 358,400 whole-time equivalents. That is an increase of 12·7 per cent. The increase in qualified staff over the same period was 26 per cent.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, once again, those figures nail the lie that the Government are making cuts in the National Health Service? Is it not also a fact that since 1979 the average nurse's pay has risen by about 43 per cent. in real terms?

My hon. Friend, as ever, is extremely well informed. I can confirm those figures. Once again, they are a clear indication of the Government's support for the Health Service. I can inform my hon. Friend further that in inner London, for example, a top-grade sister is now earning £17,000—50 per cent. more than she would have done 10 years ago.

Does the Minister recall her own parliamentary answers to me which showed that there was a bigger increase in the number of nurses and doctors in five years of the previous Labour Government than there has been in 10 years of this Government? Is not the achievement on which she is inviting the House to congratulate the Government the achievement of having managed to more than halve the rates of increase in both professions?

I find it surprising that the hon. Gentleman should wish to draw attention to his own record in Government when those very nurses—my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) referred to their considerable pay increase of 43 per cent.—saw their pay fall by 21 per cent. under the Labour Government.

Day Patients


To ask the Secretary of State for Health what is the number of day patients being treated annually by the National Health Service; and how many were treated in 1979.

Between 1979 and 1988–89 there was an increase in day-case admissions for England—from about 600,000 to just over 1 million, representing a 70 per cent. increase.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. Is he aware that in the Kingston and Esher district health authority, which covers part of my constituency, the increase has been getting even better? During the past two years, the surgical day unit has treated 20 per cent. more patients, and last year it dealt with 5,431 patients. Is that not a sign of increasing efficiency in the unit which bodes well for the work of the NHS trust project team?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. An increase in day surgery is good for patients because they appreciate the chance to have their operations done more quickly and perhaps less invasively, and it is good for the National Health Service because the resources needed to care for the patient coming in for day surgery are clearly fewer. Many hon. Members and their families may have cause to be thankful for day surgery in the coming years—especially, for example, for cataracts, grommets for their children or female sterilisation, three operations now performed by day surgery but which hitherto required a long in-patient stay.

Does my hon. Friend accept that day care represents a cost-effective way of delivering more care to more patients more quickly, provided only—perhaps my hon. Friend can confirm that this is so—that there has been no decrease, but rather an increase, in the number of patients who have been admitted to hospital for operations and other treatment?

I give my hon. Friend that assurance. There has been an improvement in day surgery figures and out-patients and ward attenders—those who go to a ward for minor surgical treatment—have also increased in number, as have in-patients coming in for longer stays. The average length of stay is decreasing, and that is good for patients and for the National Health Service.

Internal Contracts


To ask the Secretary of State for Health whether the National Health Service has any experience of the use of internal contracts.


To ask the Secretary of State for Health what experience there has been of internal contracts within the National Health Service.

The recent document "Contracts for Health Services: Operating Contracts", which is in the Library, contains examples of contracts between NHS bodies. Most come from various district health authority pilot projects supported by my Department to prepare for the implementation of our reforms of the National Health Service. They demonstrate how contracts will benefit patients by specifying the services and quality of care to be provided.

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for his reply. As most health authorities have experience of internal contracts, is not it nonsense to suggest that the schemes are untested? Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that he will not delay his reforms until all the pilot schemes have been implemented?

A clear majority of authorities have experience of contracting with various bodies; the figure is well over 60 per cent. There are some established and running internal contracts. For example, the contract between Harefield hospital and South Glamorgan, has run without controversy for some time. I agree with my hon. Friend that we must continue to pilot contracting by continuing to finance the work being undertaken at present so that we can be ready by April next year. There is no case for delay because active preparation is well advanced.

But does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the National Health Service is not necessarily the swiftest organisation to take on board new ideas and bring them into practice? A number of authorities are slightly concerned that a blockbuster approach may be used. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that a simple and more evolutionary approach would be better in the introduction of this method, and would benefit patients?

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I reassure him that we have been urging a simple and evolutionary approach on health authorities since last summer. We expect the majority of health authorities to begin with block contracts with straightforward specifications of what they want. We envisage that health authorities, hospitals and GPs will begin by getting their existing pattern of referral of patients in place within the contract system. Thereafter, they will know what they will spend on each part of the service and what quality they are getting and they can work together to make the system more sophisticated and improve the quality of care that they give to patients.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the National Health Service is far too important for the same mess to be made of it as the Government have made with the poll tax? Before he spends one penny on training staff, will he ensure that the public have the chance to have their say through the ballot box, or is he frightened of democracy?

I certainly agree that the National Health Service is far too important for us to make a mess of reforms intended to improve it, although I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's comparison. We certainly do riot intend to make a mess of the National Health Service reforms. The answer lies in the supplementary question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page). There will not be a sudden transformation of the world next April or a blockbuster change to the system. We shall have improvements for which everyone has worked and prepared. Thereafter, we shall see steady improvements throughout the 1990s, as the benefits of better management work their way into the service and we concentrate on quality.

I am all in favour of consulting at every stage—for example, over the National Health Service trusts—but I do not think that the rather foolish local ballots being organised by the trade unions and the Labour party are helping to explain the issues or allay public concern.

Does the Secretary of State agree that if he is to push ahead with the contracts, everybody will want to judge how well they are operating, and that a key factor in making that judgment will be the flow of information available which will depend heavily on the ability of hospitals and health authorities to introduce proper and full computerisation? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman therefore pay heed to the point that I have raised with him before—that many people in the National Health Service are saying that the money and time required to computerise to the level of sophistication necessary to monitor the system and make it work as the Government want it to are not available?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the Health Service needs to be computerised and that it needs information systems to enable everyone concerned to run it better. That would have been needed whether or not we reformed the Health Service and it will take some years to achieve a good up-to-date level of information systems.

However, I do not accept that we cannot start the process of reform until we have completed that investment. The experience of contracting was not based on modern information systems. We are allocating a lot of money to update those systems, but we can begin with the basic contracting system next year on the basis of the information that we already have. We can start it simple and then sophisticate it afterwards as the information systems come along.

Royal Colleges Of Medicine


To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he last met representatives of the royal colleges of medicine; and what matters were discussed.

On 4 April, I met representatives of the medical royal colleges along with representatives from the dental, midwifery and nursing royal colleges to discuss ways of safeguarding and securing improvements in clinical standards for National Health Service patients after the introduction of our NHS reforms in April next year.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that he dug the first turf at the new general hospital in Bury a few years ago, thereby demonstrating his and the Government's commitment to high quality and good service in the NHS? When does he think that the royal colleges will finally realise that that same determination for quality and service runs through the health reforms that my right hon. and learned Friend is pursuing? When does he think that they will finally welcome some of the quality initiatives that we have taken instead of being so keen to criticise?

I well remember turning the first sod in my hon. Friend's constituency and I still have the spade in my study to remind me of that happy event. I am delighted that that new hospital is now operational.

With regard to quality, I accept that the royal colleges still have some concerns about the impact on clinical standards although I do not believe that those concerns are well founded. For that reason, I have been having a dialogue with all the royal colleges and I want them to make a positive contribution by helping to monitor clinical standards in the improved NHS in the 1990s. I detect a preparedness on the part of the royal colleges to contemplate that and a willingness to reach agreement if we can.

As the royal colleges have expressed some concern about opting out, should not they be told by the Secretary of State that a referendum was organised in my borough by the local council with questions that were approved by the local health authority and that more than 78 per cent. said that they were against opting out? If there were referendums in other parts of the country, is not it clear that the results would be the same? That is why the Secretary of State is so hostile to balloting and why he is so fearful of people being able to express their views. All the public relations advisors in the world will not be able to sell that idea to the British public.

The Labour party is quite bereft of any contribution to the debate on National Health Service reforms. Labour prefers to publicise ill-founded fears about what might occur and then carry out ballots afterwards like a lot of demented amateur Gallup pollsters. That is not a sensible approach to NHS reforms.

How does my right hon. and learned Friend equate his remarks in respect of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill with remarks made yesterday by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health to people from MIND when he said that hundreds of mentally ill patients have been dumped on the streets and that he is determined to give those people a new deal? Will my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State tell us how the Government are going to give a new deal to those hundreds of mentally ill people who have been dumped on the streets because of a lack of places in appropriate hospitals?

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health used slightly different language and a slightly more analytical approach to a serious problem about which I know my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) feels strongly. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said yesterday, he has put a great deal of work into preparing an initiative on that subject because we all know that mentally ill patients have fallen through the net and become homeless in London. When my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is ready with the details, he will announce what I believe will be an extremely valuable new initiative to tackle that serious problem.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on having achieved unity among the royal colleges for the first time in the 40-year history of the NHS. Did he see their joint statement in the week he met them in which they concluded that there was no evidence that his changes will improve the standard of care, access to care, choice of care or even the cost-effectiveness of care? Why do Ministers persist in thinking that more than 20 colleges have got it wrong and that only they have got it right?

The hon. Gentleman should stop taking questions from my Parliamentary Private Secretary and answering them. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the royal colleges support the vast bulk of what we are doing, including the introduction of the resource management initiative and the introduction of clinical audit, in which the royal colleges are playing a leading role. I have already recognised that they still have some concerns about the consequences of the reforms, but at my meeting it was clear that the royal colleges wish to reach agreement with the Government on how standards can be monitored and supervised after we introduce the reforms next year.

Clinical Standards


To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on his Department's proposals for future monitoring of clinical standards in the National Health Service and the terms of reference of any monitoring agency.

On 4 April, I invited the presidents of the dental, medical, midwifery and nursing royal colleges for talks on the assessment of clinical standards for National Health Service patients after the proposals in the National Health Service and Community Care Bill are implemented. I put forward ideas for setting up a national multi-professional clinical standards advisory group. That was broadly welcomed by the professions, but further discussions will be needed on the way in which such a group might operate.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer. Will he confirm that he and the Department are most enthusiastic about the new proposal and getting the system right? Will he say a little more about the composition of the advisory group? It will be of critical importance in reassuring all opinion—lay and medical—that the standards will e properly monitored.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend because, in broad terms, his reaction is the same as that of the presidents of the medical, nursing and dental colleges. We all agreed that we need more talks about how such a system might work, be financed and so on. On the whole, the composition of any group would need to be determined by the medical, nursing and dental royal colleges, and comprise representatives from all the professions to work on a multi-disciplinary basis.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that perhaps we could learn a lesson from the United States, where peer review organisations examine about one in four operations and determine whether it was necessary in the first place, at what cost it was done and how successful it was? Such detail is more likely to result in patient satisfaction than some overall national body.

I do not envisage a national body taking over the detailed operation of local services. I envisage a national body that will be available as a source of advice if people encounter local difficulties. I agree with my hon. Friend that we require what I call systematic quality control, which is usually described as audit control. We are drawing on American experience, but the royal colleges and the Government would like an even better system introduced in all branches of the National Health Service.

On the monitoring of the health of any community, will not the Secretary of State admit that family practitioner committees are extremely worried about the lack of morbidity statistics in terms of their ability to play a constructive role—if that is not a contradiction in terms—in how the NHS reforms are now being applied?

We have morbidity statistics. I have not had representations from English medical practitioner committees about the inadequacy of the statistics, but I shall certainly make inquiries to see whether the federation believes that it is a problem or whether there is a particular problem in Wales.

General Practitioners


To ask the Secretary of State for Health what is the number of general practitioners in the National Health Service now; and what it was in 1979.

At 1 October 1988 there were 25,322 GPs in England. That compares with 21,357 at 1 October 1979, an increase of 18·6 per cent.

Bearing in mind the substantial increase in the number of GPs and the fact that our population is static, will my hon. Friend explain why some doctors believe that service to patients will reduce because list sizes will increase?

I am quite unable to explain it. As my hon. Friend rightly says, the population remains static. There are more GPs joining the lists each year and we have seen lists come below 2,000 for the first time. That is a major achievement and it leads to better patient care.

Mental Handicap


To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will bring forward proposals to improve the availability and quality of day care services for the mentally handicapped.

Local authorities are primarily responsible for providing day services for mentally handicapped people. The recent social services inspectorate report, "Inspection of Day Services for People with a Mental Handicap", suggested a number of ways in which day services could be improved within existing resources.

Because of the haste to close mental handicap hospitals and discharge mentally handicapped people, because of the problems facing local authorities—with restrictions on financing and the fact that the money allowed to them is not ring-fenced and there is no guarantee that there will be a sufficient increase to allow for inflation—and because every pound spent above the level of assessment set by the Government under the poll tax arrangements for services for the mentally handicapped means a £4 increase in the poll tax, when does the Minister intend to do something to provide real services for the mentally handicapped?

There is no rush to close mental handicap hospitals. The closure programme and the discharge of patients back into the community from mental handicap hospitals is relatively slow. As for the transfer of resources from the Health Service to local authorities for patients discharged, we are looking at the future of joint finance—of finance passing from the Department of Health to the Department of the Environment—and we shall bring to the House in due course our proposals for ensuring adequate funding for such patients.

Prime Minister



To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 1 May.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Does the Prime Minister accept responsibility for the chaos and confusion at the heart of Government over the poll tax? Does not she owe it to the House and the people before they vote on Thursday to give a straight answer to a straight question? What, precisely, is she going to do about the poll tax?

Had the hon. Gentleman read he Official Report of the debate we had on that subject last week, he would have known the answer. We are looking to see whether any adjustments need to be made to the community charge for next year. Some of those were indicated in the debate, and there is no surprise about it. When one goes from a rate tax to a community charge, adjustments will, of course, need to be made, and we are looking to see which ones need to be made for next year—[Interruption.] If there is any confusion or any high rates, that is in the minds of Labour local authorities. High community charges are due to local Labour councils. Most councils have got out their charges with the rebates and the traditional relief included in them.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 1 May.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be wrong for a local authority to cave in to threats of a politically motivated strike, particularly to secure the reinstatement of a leading member of Class War who hailed the Trafalgar square rioters as heroes?

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. I understand that Hackney suspended a person who hailed the Trafalgar square rioters as heroes, that the National and Local Government Officers Association threatened to go on strike and that Hackney then caved in. That tells us a lot about the people whom Hackney employs, a lot about NALGO and a lot about what life would be like under Labour.

Will the Prime Minister tell us now, is she or is she not going to introduce legislation to change the poll tax in this Session of Parliament?

When we have a statement to make we shall make it—[Interruption.]—and it will be far more detailed and thorough than any statement we hear from the right hon. Gentleman about roof tax.

Does the Prime Minister recall telling me just a few short weeks ago that she thought:

"The community charge will he very popular?"—[Official Report, 22 March 1990; Vol. 169, c. 1231.]
Does she still believe that, and if she does, why is she sending her Ministers off in every direction, desperately searching for an escape route from the poll tax?

The community charge is a much fairer charge than rates—[Interruption.]

—and a far fairer charge than the alternative roof tax. I notice that when the right hon. Gentleman gave an interview to The Independent on 21 April, it stated that Mr. Kinnock—[Interruption.]

Order. The Prime Minister was asked a question. She must be given a chance to answer.

It stated:

"Mr. Kinnock then gave a strong indication of his own thinking. He said 'the tax base for rates was imputed rents and that's one thing we can take into account now and bung into the computer.'"
Does not he know the old computer saying, "Garbage in, garbage out"?

Cannot the Prime Minister understand what just about everybody in the country now understands —that the poll tax will never be fair? It cannot be amended; it must be got rid of, even if that means that the Prime Minister goes down with her own flagship.

Cannot the right hon. Gentleman understand that domestic rates have been abolished; that they were a most unfair tax; and that the enemy is not the community charge, but the high-spending Labour councils?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that as only 19 million people paid the rates and 36 million people will now pay towards community services, the community charge is already infinitely fairer for over half the adult population?

Yes, my hon. Friend is correct. I noticed that in a recent poll over 70 per cent. of people thought that everyone should make some contribution to local authority spending. That is precisely what the community charge does, with more generous rebates than have ever been given before and with generous rebates for transitional relief. It is a much fairer tax than either the rates or the roof tax.

Is banding of the poll tax one of the adjustments that the Prime Minister has in mind, so that people can pay on the basis of their ability to pay, or is the Prime Minister opposed to that in principle? Or are there practical arguments, in which case perhaps she will enumerate them to us?

Those who cannot afford to pay get generous community charge rebates—far more generous than ever before. Some 9 million people will benefit from them. Those who have a sharp difference between the old rates and the community charge are eligible for transitional relief. That applies to some 7 million people. The people who do not get sufficient transitional relief live in the areas of high-spending labour councils, which care nought for their citizens but are more anxious to dig their hands deeply into their citizens' pockets. People who are better off pay far more to local services because the taxpayer is the greatest contributor to local authority spending. The top 10 per cent. of income earners pay 40 per cent. of the income tax yield and therefore pay more for local services than the people in the bottom 10 per cent.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 1 May.

During her busy day, will my right hon. Friend spare a moment to commend Medway city council on setting the lowest community charge in Kent? Will she list the five local authorities that have the worst education record, the largest number of empty council houses and the highest rent arrears?

I gladly pay tribute to the eficient Conservative authority in Medway.

With regard to my hon. Friend's question about the five worst education authorities and so on, I am sure that the House is avidly waiting to hear my reply. The five councils with the worst education results are Knowsley—[HON. MEMBERS: "Labour."]; Waltham Forest—[HON. MEMBERS: "Labour."]; Barking—[HON. MEMBERS: "Labour."]; Newham—[HON. MEMBERS: "Labour."]; and Sandwell—[HON. MEMBERS: "Labour."].

The five authorities which have most empty council houses are Manchester—[HON. MEMBERS: "Labour."]; Liverpool—[HON. MEMBERS: "Labour."]; Sheffield—[HON. MEMBERS: "Labour."]; Salford—[HON. MEMBERS: "Labour."]; and Birmingham—[HON. MEMBERS: "Labour."]. Between them, those Labour-controlled authorities have more than 20,000 empty houses.

The five authorities with the highest rent arrears are Southwark—[HON. MEMBERS: "Labour."]; Lambeth—[HON. MEMBERS: "Labour."]; Liverpool—[HON. MEMBERS: "Labour."]; Brent—[HON. MEMBERS: "Labour."]; and Islington—[HON. MEMBERS: "Labour."]. Between them, those authorities are owed £86 million in uncollected rents.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 1 May.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Is the Prime Minister aware of the many thousands of people in the United Kingdom who have been discriminated against because of a hostile interpretation of rules governing concessionary television licences for the elderly and the disabled? Although they live in identical circumstances, because of the regulations they are being denied what is rightfully theirs. In the twilight of the Prime Minister's premiership, will she now find it within her heart to instruct her Ministers to give to retired people that which is equal and just?

I am not aware of any discrimination in interpreting the regulations. Interpreting the regulations is a matter for the Department concerned and I am sure that if people are entitled to receive a concessionary licence they will do so.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that 6,000 people in Ealing have been sent bills for the full community charge, regardless of their rebate applications? Some of those people are pensioners and students who are entitled to pay only one fifth—£87—but instead are being required to pay £435 by Ealing's Labour council, which will not process their rebate applications until after the local elections next Thursday. Is not that another wicked Labour con trick?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Most local authorities have been thoughtful enough of their residents to deduct the community charge relief and the transitional relief from the bills, so that they do not raise needless fears. That is naturally good administration. If there are any who have not done it, it is bad administration and demonstrates sheer lack of consideration for their own citizens.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 1 May.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Does the Prime Minister recall those heady days when she described the poll tax as her flagship? Now that Thursday's election torpedo is fast approaching, despite the captain's apparent order to change course, does she recall the fate of another flagship, the Belgrano?

The hon. Gentleman could have done rather better than that.

As regards the community charge in Scotland, where it has operated for a considerable time, far more councils are now either holding the charge or reducing it. Accountability in Scotland is at last beginning to work, as this year councils know that they cannot blame increases on anyone but themselves.

Raf Shackleton (Crash)

3.30 pm

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the crash of the RAF Shackleton in the Outer Hebrides.

I know. The hon. Gentleman knows that I take points of order in their proper place, after the statements.

I know. I repeat to the hon. Gentleman that I take points of order in their proper place, after the statements.

It is with much regret——

Order. The hon. Gentleman is a very senior Member of the House. He knows that I take points of order in their proper place, after the statements.

I know. I repeat to the hon. Member, who has been here as long as I have, that I take points of order in their proper place, after the statements.

Order. I do not know whether the hon. Member can hear what I am saying to him. I am saying that I take points of order in their proper place after the statements—and that I will certainly do—and not now. We are still in the middle of Question Time. This is a private notice question which I have granted.

It is with much regret that I have to confirm to the House that an RAF Shackleton airborne early warning aircraft based at RAF Lossiemouth, crashed on a hillside near Northton on the isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides yesterday afternoon around 12.30 pm. Tragically, all 10 RAF personnel on board the aircraft were killed. I am sure that the House will join me in extending our deepest sympathy to the families of those concerned.

A board of inquiry has been convened. As the House will be aware, until the board's investigations are complete it would be inappropriate to speculate about the causes of the accident.

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I join the Government in extending to the families of the airmen who were killed our most sincere condolences and sympathy.

I would also like to place on record our tremendous regard for the aircrews of No. 8 squadron who have to fly the Shackletons, often in extreme conditions, and also for the groundcrews of the squadron who have the incredibly difficult task of keeping these 40-year-old aircraft in service. The task has been made extremely difficult in recent years because of the reduction of operational Shackletons from 11 to the current six. During this time, planes which have gone out of commission have been cannibalised to keep the rest in the air, which is a significant achievement.

The provision of early warning planes has had a sorry history in this country——

We find it difficult to understand why the Shackleton seems to have had no upgrading in recent times. Apart from the many questions relating to the condition of the aircraft there are questions peculiar to this crash that need to be answered.

One matter of great concern is the role that the aircraft was playing at the time of the crash—[Interruption.] We are investigating a crash in which 10 aircrew were killed.

I understand that the RAF spokesman said that the Shackleton was participating in a missile-firing exercise, but he went on to say in the same statement that no missiles had been fired for at least an hour and a half before the plane crashed. If the plane went on to do flight training, as we were told in the statement, perhaps the Minister will tell us why it was flying at 700 ft when the normal operational mode is 6,000 to 8,000 ft, levels at which the plane is not equipped to fly. It has no terrain-following radar or all-weather radar—it has only the Doppler radar which is required for its functional role.

Why was no warning given to the aircraft by the air defence radar, which is only 20 miles away on the mainland and which was acting as an air control station during Exercise Elder Forest?

The Opposition have drawn to the attention of the House the fact that the cuts of recent years have led to a fall in the operational efficiency of the RAF. It is because of such cuts that tragedies like this occur.

The hon. Gentleman referred to cuts. I remind him that one or two of these aircraft at a time are operational, out of a fleet that was six, so there is no question of putting lives at risk when flying these aircraft. They have kept up the high standards of maintenance that we have come to expect from the RAF, particularly during peace time, and there is no question of anyone having been put in danger.

The board of inquiry has started its investigations and it would be wrong to pre-empt their outcome. It is up to the board to decide what happened.

I wish to put the hon. Gentleman straight on one matter. The aircraft was not participating at this stage in the exercise that was taking place at the time. That had finished some hour or so before, and the aircraft was 60 miles away from the training area and was on a training flight.

I join all hon. Members in expressing my deepest sympathy to the relatives of those killed in this tragic accident. As one who is closely involved with RAF Lossiemouth, may I emphasise the exceptional record of that station and of No. 8 squadron in maritime reconaissance and air-sea rescue work?

I share the Minister's view that we should not speculate on the causes of the accident before we hear from the board of inquiry. Does he agree that no Royal Air Force aircraft of whatever age ever flies unless it is fully serviceable and airworthy?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks and for his experience in these matters. He is absolutely right to say that we have had an exceptional record with these aircraft. The last one that crashed was in 1968, and it was a maritime patrol version of this aircraft. In 1972 the aircraft were given strengthened air frames and were updated for the airborne early-warning system, and none of these updated aircraft had crashed until this regrettable tragedy.

As the local Member of Parliament for Lossiemouth, I thank the Minister and all other hon. Members who have expressed their deep sympathy to the people of Lossiemouth and the men at the base. I left Lossiemouth only this morning, and it was a numbed and stunned community. It has not been a stranger to tragedies in other aspects of its life. At a time like this, our thoughts and prayers must surely be with the families of the bereaved, some of whom are known to me personally.

May I ask that there be no further idle speculation about the possible causes of the tragedy? As the inquiry proceeds, will the Minister ensure that the privacy of the families in Lossiemouth and the surrounding areas will be fully observed, and that all action is taken to expedite any practical matters which may help the bereaved?

I can, of course, give the hon. Lady that undertaking. I remind the House that the board of inquiry is sitting. If it comes up with prima facie evidence of technical faults or something to do with the structure of the aircraft which would cause disquiet, the fleet would be grounded at once.

Does my hon. Friend agree that when accidents occur, personnel at Royal Air Force stations are always shocked and their thoughts are with the dependants of those who died? Does he further agree that the Shackleton aircraft has a remarkable safety record and that Royal Air Force pilots and aircrew sign only for aircraft which have been passed as fit and fully operational, and that under no circumstances do RAF aircrew take into the air aircraft that do not meet those criteria? Speculation should therefore not be allowed at this time.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks. It is certainly true that the RAF maintains the highest possible standards and there is no question here of those standards having been in any way lowered.

As the Member for the area in which the accident occurred, I add my condolences to the relatives of those who were killed. The whole community in the islands feels very deeply for the relatives and colleagues of those who died. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the emergency services at the scene of the accident? Does he agree that they responded in an efficient, prompt and thoroughly professional manner?

I join in the hon. Gentleman's tribute to the emergency services. It was a tragedy that there was so little that they could do when they arrived on the scene of the crash.

My hon. Friend will have read that, according to the newspapers, the aircraft of No. 8 squadron were grounded following the tragic accident. Will my hon. Friend confirm that that is not the case, despite press speculation, and that the fact that the aircraft are not flying is a mark of respect for the sad loss?

That is absolutely right. As a mark of respect, the aircraft are not flying today, although there is one standing by in case of emergency. There is no question of the aircraft being grounded unless the board of inquiry comes up with something that causes it disquiet, in which case it would ground them. At the moment, we have no evidence that the accident was caused by a technical fault.

May I assure the Minister of the sympathy of my right hon and hon. Friends for the families and service colleagues of the bereaved? He has already confirmed that it is too early to speculate on the cause of the accident. It is distasteful to try to make political capital out of speculation. It is a tribute to the Shackletons that they are still in service after so many years, carrying out the role assigned to them. Can the Minister give us any indication of when the AWACS replacements will come into operation?

We are not happy with the capability of the Shackleton as an airborne early-warning aircraft. We are happy about its operations capability and the safety of the crew, but its ability as an airborne early-warning system is not good and we should like to replace it as soon as we can. The AWACS will be coming in the spring of next year. We hope that the whole order for seven aircraft will be completed within about 12 months from then.

Will my hon. Friend undertake to take a personal interest in the welfare of those who are bereaved, bearing in mind that in the case of my constituent who was widowed by an RAF helicopter crash it took nearly two years to reach a settlement? Such a delay is too long and must never be allowed to occur again.

I take my hon. Friend's point that two years seems a very long time. We shall certainly do all that we can to make sure that settlements for widows are speeded up.

As a member of the Select Committee on Transport, which has gone into the whole question of RAF and civil flying, may I ask the Minister to ensure that the inquiry removes any suspicion that flying in the normal flight paths could endanger the safety of the public?

We are always mindful of the need to ensure that air safety is kept at the highest possible standard, but we should not anticipate the outcome of the inquiry. We do not know the cause of the accident. We must wait until the board of inquiry has reported and we have a clearer idea of what happened.

As we join together in mourning the loss of the flight crew of No. 8 squadron, will the Minister confirm that it matters not the age of an aircraft so long as during maintenance no structural fatigue or inter-crystalline corrosion is found? Does he also agree that an aircraft's age should not be predominantly in the minds of people when they make certain assumptions?

I totally sympathise with my hon. Friend about that. We are aware of the stress and fatigue problems in terms of the air frames. That is why they are carefully checked on aircraft of that age, and it is because they are so carefully checked that we are happy that it is a safe aircraft when in the air.

European Council (Dublin)

3.45 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on the informal meeting of the European Council in Dublin on 28 April, which I attended with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. The text of the Council's conclusions has been placed in the Library of the House.

The Council was convened for two main purposes: to consider the consequences for the European Community of German unification; and to discuss the way ahead in the Community's relations with eastern Europe. We made useful progress on both issues.

The Council agreed clear guidelines for the detailed discussions which will be necessary in order to incorporate East Germany into the Community, taking account of the interests of other member states. Those discussions will cover trade, agriculture, fisheries, the environment and many other issues. It will be for the Commission to make proposals for any transitional arrangements which are necessary. I emphasised that derogations from Community law and practice should be brief; and that we must avoid unfair competition and disruption to trade. Those points are well understood by the Federal German Government.

In the period before unification, East Germany will have access to normal Community funds which have been set up to help eastern Europe: and will also be able to benefit from full access to the European investment bank. Chancellor Kohl indicated that the federal republic is not seeking any special fund for Community financial assistance to East Germany.

A very welcome feature of the discussion on German unification was the strong support expressed by Heads of Government for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and for the view that a United Germany should be a member of NATO. That corresponds very much with our own views and those of the United States.

As regards eastern Europe, the Council reached two main conclusions: first, that assistance from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development group of 24 countries ought to be extended to East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Romania, as well as to Poland and Hungary as at present; and, second, that, as soon as possible, we should negotiate association agreements between the European Community and those eastern European countries which are making decisive progress to market economies and genuine democracy. That responds to a British initiative before the Strasbourg European Council last December and we very much welcome the decision.

The Council also provided an opportunity to take forward discussion on other items of European Community business, in particular political union. That has never been defined: and it was clear from our discussion that there are widely differing views on what it covers. I pointed out that the term political union raises anxieties among many people about a loss of national identity, national sovereignty and national institutions. I suggested that we should all make clear that political union does not mean, for example, giving up our separate Heads of State, or our national Parliaments, or our legal or electoral systems, or our defence through NATO.

I also proposed that we indicate that we do not intend to alter the role of the Council of Ministers as the Community's main decision-making body, with Ministers each accountable to their national Parliaments; and that we are opposed to centralising powers in Europe when decisions are better taken by national Parliaments and Governments. If we could agree that none of those things would happen as a result of political union, we could show that many of the fears about it were groundless.

I suggested that the positive way forward lay instead through ever closer co-operation among member states and reform of the Community's existing institutions to make them more effective and more efficient. We shall ourselves have constructive ideas to put forward for that.

I found a number of these views shared by other Heads of Government. Indeed our discussions during the day, particularly on matters concerned with foreign affairs and defence, showed very clearly that in practice we all continue to think in terms of keeping certain key issues as matters for national decision.

We therefore agreed to instruct our Foreign Ministers to analyse more thoroughly what political union should cover and report back to the European Council at the end of June, with a view to a decision then on the holding of an intergovernmental conference. Such a conference can, of course, be convened by a simple majority of member states, but its decisions have to be reached by unanimity and approved by national Parliaments.

I will summarise briefly the other main issues that we discussed. First, the Council confirmed the commitment to complete the European single market by 1992.

Second, we agreed to intensify preparations for the intergovernmental conference on economic and monetary union, which will start in December this year. We also set an objective of finishing the work of that conference in time to permit ratification of the results by the end of 1992. It is rather early to say at this stage how feasible such a target is. The results of that conference would have to come before the House, which has already expressed its views on stages 2 and 3 of the Delors plan.

Third, we confirmed our commitment to a successful conclusion to the Uruguay round of trade negotiations in the GATT.

Fourth, we repeated our desire to strengthen relations with the EFTA nations and extend the single market to them.

Fifth, we asked our officials to make proposals, in time for the next European Council, for improving the effectiveness of the Community's co-operation against drug trafficking and drug abuse.

Foreign Ministers also discussed a number of international issues. They agreed a statement on Cyprus, as well as guidelines for our approach to the CSCE summit, which we expect will be held later this year. Those texts are annexed to the Council's conclusions.

The additional meeting of the European Council set the way ahead for the Community on several important issues. It was also an opportunity to put clearly on record Britain's views on what political union should and should not mean, and not least our determination to defend the powers of this House.

I thank the Prime Minister for that statement. I welcome several aspects of the Dublin communique agreed by the Heads of Governments, in particular the improved co-ordination of action against drug trafficking, the statement on Cyprus—which will have resonance for many hon. Members—the new arrangements for dialogue with the United States of America, and the undertakings given by the German Government on the process of unification.

While we welcome the Council's conclusion relating to support for the economies of eastern Europe, and want that to be extended, will the Prime Minister give an undertaking that any commitment by Britain in that direction will not result in a reduction in the resources that we allocate to Third world countries, whose needs remain as great as ever?

I wish to raise two issues relating to the Community. First, has the Prime Minister made any progress in efforts to locate the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London, which is where it should be located? Secondly, in the light of the Chancellor's prediction yesterday on the rate of inflation, can the right hon. Lady update the House on the timing of Britain's entry into the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system?

The Dublin summit obviously reflected the process of events immediately before it. Was the Prime Minister personally consulted by Chancellor Kohl or President Mitterrand before they sent their letter to Lithuania last week? If so, why was not Britain associated with that constructive initiative? Was she personally consulted by either Chancellor Kohl or President Mitterrand before their letter of 19 April to the Community Heads of Government, setting out their proposals to convene an intergovernmental conference on European political union?

Has it occurred to the Prime Minister that, when Chancellor Kohl and President Mitterrand are taking important and significant initiatives and Britain is not directly involved, it is because the right hon. Lady has put our country on the sidelines and left others to determine the course and the nature of the new Europe?

We are just six weeks away from a Community summit which, contrary to the Prime Minister's professed wishes, will now consider proposals for an intergovernmental conference on political union. Is not it obvious that the Prime Minister has no positive strategy for that summit? Do not those events make it crystal clear that, because of the way in which the Prime Minister has conducted affairs, she has been pushed to the fringes from which she can exercise only marginal influence on events? Is not it plain that the Prime Minister has made herself merely a spectator, the lame duck of the Community, and she has only herself to blame?

I shall go through the points which the right hon. Gentleman has made. Help for the economies of eastern Europe should not diminish help for the Third world. That is very much in the minds of all our colleagues and we do not intend that it should diminish help for the Third world. Help for eastern Europe has been provided out of a special fund.

With regard to the new European bank, we have applied to have it in London. Of course, it is not a Community bank; it is much wider than that, so we have also been in touch with the United States and others who will contribute to it. Many people feel that it should be in London. There is also a battle going on, if I might refer to it in that way, about who should be president or governor of that bank. I suspect that the two issues will be settled together.

With regard to inflation, I have nothing to add to the Madrid conclusions about when we shall join the exchange rate mechanism. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, some countries have yet to have full freedom of capital movement and to remove their foreign exchange controls. It is expected that Italy will do that before the beginning of July. There is still not full freedom of financial movement, but the main thing is to get inflation down now before we can join the exchange rate mechanism.

The statement on Lithuania issued by Chancellor Kohl and President Mitterrand was done at one of their bilateral meetings. May I point out that, when all the Foreign Ministers met the week before, they jointly issued a communiqué on our approach to Lithuania under the terms of the political co-operation treaty which requires us all to consult one another before we make statements, if possible, so the Foreign Ministers have made a joint statement.

Chancellor Kohl and President Mitterrand did not consult others before they issued their statement, although it was inside the political co-operation treaty that they should have done so. I am not surprised or disappointed that they did not. The fact that we agree on political co-operation does not mean that we relinquish our sovereign right, unilaterally or bilaterally, to make our own statements. I thought that it was rather on my side that they were giving practical evidence that they did not intend to give up their sovereignty unilaterally or bilaterally, although they were talking about political union without any definition whatsoever. The document that they put before the Council on political union talked a great deal about political union without defining it. Certainly in the first stage they meant increasing the efficiency of Community institutions and increased political, economic and monetary union. It is difficult to define political union by reference to other unions by repetition of the word. They also meant increasing co-operation on security matters, but, of course, one has to remember that each of the nations of the Community takes a very different view. Many of us are fully under NATO; some are not militarily integrated into NATO and some are neutral. So it did not seem a very good example of political union.

On the right hon. Gentleman's final point, may I remind him that Britain was one of the principal political players in that informal session. Many people supported what I said and we got our own way in asking Foreign Ministers to analyse what was meant by political union.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that that she was absolutely right at Dublin to seek a clearer definition of European political union? Does she accept that there is, indeed, a strong case for political progress and development in Europe but that it should be constitutionally based on strengthening the role of national parliaments and not on bureaucratic centralism or simply increasing the power of central institutions without proper accountability? Does she agree that that is an excellent case which can be put well by the British, that she has made an excellent start in putting it, and that she should continue to do so with great vigour?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I agree wholeheartedly with him. There has been a tendency to increase the central powers of the Commission. That is going the wrong way. The Commission needs some increase in powers in one respect—a quasi judicial respect—it needs powers to enforce some of the directives. In other respects we need a greater distribution of powers for decisions. Those should be taken through the national Parliaments and the Council of Ministers. We have particular proposals to put forward about strengthening the Court of Auditors. The Commission's accountability on finance could be greatly improved.

Following our exchanges in the House last Thursday, is the Prime Minister aware that her strong, clear statements in defence of parliamentary sovereignty accurately reflect the views of people not only in Northern Ireland but throughout the United Kingdom?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I believe that it reflects our views. We are by far the oldest Parliament and we probably report far more often to our Parliament about everything that goes on in the Community than do many other Heads of Government. The fact that at the outset other Heads of Government were not prepared to put any limitation on political union was alarming, but it could mean that they go step by step towards relinquishing the things which are absolutely vital to our parliamentary traditions.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, far from being isolationist or lacking in influence in Europe, the outcome of the Dublin summit proves that we are leading Europe from within and, furthermore, we are doing so on the basis of our insistence on real parliamentary democracy and asking simple questions of those in authority?

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is absolutely wrong that people should use phrases without defining them. It is our task as Heads of Government to define them and set strict limits on them. I could not possibly come back to the House without doing precisely that. It took a good deal to do that at the informal summit, but it is now being done. In precisely the same way, and by being isolated at first but obtaining a reasonable settlement, we obtained a rebate of £1·7 billion this year. If we had not taken that path at previous summits, we should be paying £1·7 billion more to the Community than we pay now.

Is the Prime Minister aware that many people in all parties throughout Britain do not necessarily believe that it is in Britain's interest that she gets her own way? Is the right hon. Lady aware that many people feel that here attitude in Dublin was negative and insular? Does she accept that many people believe that the development of a federal Europe, far from being a threat, is the best protection of our pride, realistic sovereignty and economic well-being? As for our electoral system, the sooner that we get rid of that wretched and unfair system, the better.

It is not my way that one achieves. It is the way that the Government feel is best for Britain. The Government have done well for Britain in finance, agriculture, trade, competition and so on. In particular, we have obtained a realistic budget and seeing that we had a realistic contribution to make. I noted what the hon. Gentleman said. Clearly he does not mind losing little by little, or even faster, the powers of the House to a federal Europe. I disagree with him. We should stop any more centralisation and make certain that the future of the Community is implementation of measures through the national Parliaments.

As the President of the European Commission has made it clear that he envisages European political union in a structure in which the majority of decisions that affect the people of this nation will be taken in Brussels, and as Chancellor Kohl made it clear at Dublin after the summit that he saw increasing power being vested in the non-elected Commission members, will the Prime Minister give the House today a categorical assurance that if the conference moves to add to or change the treaty of Rome she will give this nation the opportunity by referendum to say whether it will go on that course?

We shall receive the report of the Foreign Ministers at the next meeting in Dublin in June when doubtless they will give a number of proposals about the way forward. I believe that an intergovernmental conference will then be set up because most people want it and that could be done by a simple majority vote. We shall have our own proposals about making institutions work better. We are very much aware of the enormous powers that are vested in the non-elected Commission. We do not believe that those powers should be increased. There would, of course, be a tremendous attempt to increase them under monetary union and economic union, and that is where the main battles will come. Everything, fortunately, will have to come back to this House for approval. One remembers that the whole time when one is negotiating and believes that one has the feel of this House that it does not wish to yield up any more of its sovereignty than it has already.

Although the communiqué rightly welcomes the unification of Germany under a European roof, is not it a pity that the communiqué was not similarly forthcoming about the now independent countries of eastern Europe? Would not it be a good thing if they, too, were brought under a European roof? Is not it a fact that the whole priorities of the Community are distorted and that the achievement of a wider Europe should be the first and central aim? Would not an enlarged Europe be a far more effective counterweight to over-arching German economic power than these half-baked proposals for political and monetary union in western Europe?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that I share his view about the proposals on monetary and economic union, and the House made its views clear in a debate. With regard to what I call the wider Europe, I am very conscious—and I made a speech about it—that Europe and European civilisation were created long before the treaty of Rome and the European Community. I am, therefore, very much aware that eastern Europe is also a part of Europe.

I do not think that eastern Europe could come under the European roof straight away. East Germany is an exceptional case, because it is being incorporated into Germany. It is lucky to be able to plug straight into a system of law, a market economy, a whole banking system, a financial system and a system of company law, whereas it is a long time since the other countries in eastern Europe knew all the structure of a market economy and they could not come in without having gone through the process of getting to that structure and full democracy. That is why we have taken the present route with them. First, we are creating a trade agreement—and many trade agreements have been concluded, as the right hon. Gentleman knows—and, secondly, we are creating special association agreements with them which will have certain common features and some clauses tailored to the particular circumstances. Some of us will think beyond that. We shall think of full membership and believe that that is the right and better way for Europe to go. That could not be done before they had a proper democracy and a market economy.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that she spoke for the people of Britain when she insisted that the meaning of European unity be spelt out in detail? Surely it is of the essence that the future position of our sovereign, of our national government and indeed of these historic Houses of Parliament should be clarified and accepted as essential realities in any move towards a wider European unity.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I think that what one has noticed over the past 10 years is that the rhetoric and the practice often vary very much in countries in the European Community. We must define our terms, or we shall have artificial debates and arouse needless fears. [Interruption.] No, I am the person who does the analysis. I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend says.

Did I hear correctly when I heard the Prime Minister say that defence was among the matters discussed? Surely that is not normally a matter for the EEC. I should find it even more surprising if the Taoiseach, who is the President and whose country is neutral and deliberately has nothing to do with NATO—and that is its business—chaired a meeting at which defence was discussed.

We discussed the importance of East Germany when incorporated into a unified Germany, with the unified Germany as a whole being in NATO. We did not, of course, go into detail, and we could not possibly have done so. France is not militarily integrated into NATO, but is every bit as concerned as the rest of us t hat a unified Germany should be in NATO. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, the Taoiseach is neutral.

I again refer to what Chancellor Kohl and President Mitterrand said in their letter to the Community about political union: they suggested that one of the things that should be discussed was security. One pointed out that we were not the organisation that was the decisive organisation on defence matters, and I did not see how that could possibly be a definition of political unity.

My right hon. Friend has rightly expressed herself cautious about extending the powers of the Commission, which is a non-elected body. In any future discusson of political plans for the European Community, will she be wary of increasing the powers of the European Parliament in relation to finance? Over the years, the Parliament unfortunately seems to have been more interested in increasing public expenditure in the Community—often in areas that overlap public expenditure in individual member states—than in protecting the interests of taxpayers in Britain and in the other member states.

I agree with my right hon. Friend. We should be wary of further increasing the powers of the European Parliament, particularly over finance. The Parliament often wants to spend more, but the responsibility for raising the money lies elsewhere. I know that those powers have been increased both in the lifetime of the previous Labour Government and during the lifetime of this Government. I agree with my hon. Friend: I think that we have gone far enough.

Is the Prime Minister aware that, following the historic events of the past 12 months, it is quite proper that we should be having an open debate about the future of Europe but that the debate is not between nationalists and federalists but among a much wider range of people than that? Many of them, like me, would like to see a wider Europe, with nations of different traditions harmonising by consent and cooperating politically and economically without the domination of a central body. That view must be allowed to appear upon the agenda. Those who have rejected Gospan, which is not elected, will similarly reject the Commission, which is not elected or the Bundesbank, which is not elected. I hope that the Prime Minister will agree that before the June meeting the House can discuss the matter fully.

I have one further question, about the role of the House of Commons. As all laws emanating from the Council of Ministers—a legislative body—are made in secret by British Ministers using the Crown prerogative of treaty making, the House of Commons has lost all its powers, and accountability has simply become a vote of confidence in the Government of the day. It is not just European political union but the present arrangements and the 1992 arrangements that have reduced the House to municipal impotence. We are spectators of what is decided by Ministers in our name, without any authority, either in advance or afterwards, for the decisions that they have reached. Can that also be discussed?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, when those draft directives are being negotiated, the negotiations are long and detailed. The right hon. Gentleman is right in that the Commission has the only right of initiation of draft directives. Draft directives may be withdrawn and others introduced. Separate countries cannot amend such directives. It might take four, five, six or even seven years for Ministers to approve a draft directive because, as a result of that directive being taken back and changed, it is very different. Where it is vital, such directives must be agreed by unanimity, on other occasions by majority. We would propose that the Commission should not have the only power of initiation. Ministers should be able to amend the draft directives.

The more important point raised by the right hon. Member related to the Community's wider aspects. It was started as the European Economic Community and we had to give up all powers directly over our own agriculture and that is now negotiated in the Community and a similar process applies to trade. Therefore, we cannot appear at the Uruguay round as a separate country. We negotiate through the European Community and the Community has an economic character in which it must have fair competition and try to get rid of heavy subsidies. We cannot discard that, because that is fundamental to the Community.

I would disagree with the suggestion made by the right hon. Member that we should widen the debate. I would have a different solution from that. The Community is the place in which we negotiate on economic matters and perhaps on political matters, because we have political co-operation, but that must be considered. We negotiate defence in NATO, but that is still not enough. That is where the importance of the Helsinki accords and the conference on security and co-operation in Europe come in. That was signed by 35 nations on both sides of the political divide in Europe and that is why many of us want that conference to meet more often, possibly with Foreign Ministers meeting twice a year, so that we achieve that essential discussion between nations of different political characters. We can then see more and discuss more of the problems and perhaps prevent some of them from arising and have a greater understanding of them. However, that is a separate task for the CSCE framework and we hope to meet later this year to consider that further.

Did the Council of Ministers agree that it was the duty of every member state at all times and in all circumstances to do its utmost to cleanse Europe of the evil of terrorism? Did my right hon. Friend make it clear to the President of the Council that, as a result of the recent events and decisions of the Supreme Court in Dublin, many hon. Members consider that the Republic has become a safe haven for terrorists and that that is wholly unacceptable to the House?

As my hon. Friend knows, I have raised that matter before and have been very forthright about it—just as forthright as my hon. Friend is now. A rule of law matters very much to us and part of that is apprehending those who are suspected of crimes and, if they are guilty, seeing that they are convicted as guilty before properly appointed courts and that the sentence is carried out.

We have been very concerned about terrorism and with the greater freedom of movement of people, particularly across the mainland of Europe and the removal of some internal borders. We have not yet made sufficient provision for catching terrorists or people dealing in drugs or other articles who cross borders. We have raised that matter on many occasions. We are in a special position because we are an island and we can exercise such controls at our ports and airports. However, we do not have a satisfactory way of achieving that more generally.

I welcome German unification. However, given that in international law East Germany as the GDR is a separate state, on what legal basis will East Germany be incorporated into the Community? Will it require the unanimity of the current 12 member states?

The hon. Gentleman has used the correct word. It will not be annexed and therefore we do not have a separate treaty negotiation as we would have if we were taking on a wholly different country. It will come in under article 23 when the GDR becomes incorporated into Germany. Therefore, we are negotiating in a completely different way. We do not have to have unanimity under each facet of negotiation, for example, in agriculture, fisheries, trade, competition and environment, but it will go under the ordinary Community law.

In the meantime, we are aware that many things need to be negotiated, and they are being negotiated in a pre-unification way because the GDR has totally different kinds of farming from that in Europe. It has enormous co-operative farms. Also, it produces a great deal of wheat, barley and potatoes, and of course some of those could come into a Community that already has a surplus and is getting rid of its surplus, and that must be negotiated. It has a fishing fleet twice the size of that of the Federal Republic of Germany and very few waters, and that will have to be negotiated and very carefully indeed. Then, of course, it has many subsidies and a Communist economy at the moment, and we really cannot have goods coming across and undercutting us. All those matters, therefore, are for the Commission to be negotiating at the moment.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for robustly defending the interests of this country at the European talks, and particularly for committing this country to the thoroughgoing discussions on European political, economic and monetary union, which, of course, in reality will enhance the sovereignty of this country. Does she agree that there is no reason on earth why the proposals and procedures to be adopted should not enhance the sovereignty of this national Parliament, particularly in its developing work with the European Parliament, itself exercising accountability over the European Commission?

I am aware of the argument that my hon. Friend uses. It is used frequently, particularly by some of the smaller members of the Community, who say that, because they are part of a bigger organisation, they have influence where they would never have had it before. I think that there are distinct limits as to how much further that view can be taken. For example, we cannot, as I said, negotiate as a separate nation in the Uruguay round.

My hon. Friend says that it does not matter. I should not say that it enhanced our sovereignty—not in any way; it may pool our sovereignty. It could diminish our influence if we were only one country in 12. On the whole, we make our views felt and sometimes we get the right answer because we have the right proposals. I know that that will continue to be so.

Is the Prime Minister aware that what she said about parliamentary democracy and the powers of this House will receive some assent here and outside, but do not two questions follow? First, is not it high time that the House agreed to the unanimous four-year-old request of the Select Committee on European Legislation that its powers be slightly extended so that it may give full information to the House about matters relating to the EEC and its legislation? Secondly, whatever may have happened in the past, is it now appropriate that all the documents that will be put before the future Council of Ministers, future European Councils and, indeed, intergovernmental conferences be placed before the House for debate on a substantive motion before Governments commit themselves? If our friends and neighbours in Europe are to take seriously what the Prime Minister and others are saying about parliamentary democracy, surely the answer to both questions must be yes.

The hon. Gentleman is aware of my general view that I believe that he and others who have taken a particular interest—indeed, the whole House—should have as much information as possible, first, because of the traditions of the House and, secondly, because some of the decisions that we shall take in the next five years will have a fundamental effect on the future of our children. We wish to do the best for them, but we think that the best is done by a combination of belonging to the European Community and being influential in that, but also of being a very proud nation state, and one of 12 proud nation states. We think that it is better to co-operate in that way than trying to merge more of our sovereignty, as we have done in the past. I shall do my best to look into this matter and see that as much information as possible comes before the House, because that can only enhance the quality of the debate and help Ministers when they are negotiating.

Will my right hon. Friend accept congratulations for injecting such a welcome note of British realism into the proceedings arid for asking just the right kind of searching questions on some of the dreams of European political union? Was she surprised this afternoon when the Leader of the Opposition, on the basis of minimal information, apparently committed himself and some of his party to going along with the Franco-German theory of political union, a theory which can only result in a massive shift of power away from this House and contrary to the wishes of the British people?

The Leader of the Opposition has ceased to surprise me—[Interruption.]—and perhaps I might ask him to go into these matters rather more closely and in greater detail.

In relation to the important issue of the unification of Germany, may I ask the right hon. Lady to confirm that, when she refers to article 23, she is referring to article 23 of the basic law of the Federal Republic's constitution and that unification will take place under that law? Will she confirm that the proposal is that the five regional areas of East Germany will merely be added to the 11 laender of West Germany and that we shall be faced with a 16-laender Federal Republic of Germany becoming part of the EEC? Is the Prime Minister aware that I am 110 per cent. in favour of that new state being a member of NATO?

Is the right hon. Lady aware that the achievement of the wider European family—if, as we hope, the new Germany becomes a member of NATO—will require confidence-building measures, bearing in mind the attitude of the Soviet Union? Does she accept that if that were not to happen there could be tensions in Europe that, to say the least, would be difficult to handle? Is she convinced. in view of all of that, that sooner rather than later we should have a major debate about the direction in which Europe is travelling?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making the first point. The article 23 to which I referred is article 23 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany, which is so well known that I did not identify it. He described the procedure as I understand it—that East Germany will divide into five laender, that they will be annexed and that they will become one unitary German state.

The hon. Gentleman went on to speak of the wider European fabric, and perhaps one can divide it into three. First, there are the immediate east European countries that were part of the Warsaw pact and which now wish to have association agreements with us, so we shall get closer that way, and they may eventually want to join. Secondly, there are the six EFTA countries with which we are renegotiating a new agreement—again, a wider grouping, and some of them may wish to join. Austria has already applied, and that is another neutral country.

I do not think we can go beyond that, except within the existing framework. When considering the future, I have always thought that we were fortunate in having those three frameworks. We have the European Community, we have NATO for our defence, which locks us in, both sides of the Atlantic—the defence of freedom is both sides of the Atlantic; it locks us into the United States and the United States into us—and we are able to use the Helsinki accords to go across the divide.

There will obviously be much more difficulty in getting a free market economy in eastern European countries, and particularly in the Soviet Union, and the greater the discussions we have with them the better. The framework exists, and I believe that it would be best to use that framework.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that her statement this afternoon and the questions that have followed represent one of the most important events in the life of this Parliament? Is she aware that we are dealing with the fundamentals of our national life, not only for ourselves but for our children and our children's children? Is she further aware that she stands in the line of great Prime Ministers of this country who have stood up for Britain and have had the support of the vast mass of the people? We are fortunate to have my right hon. Friend, rather than the inexperienced Leader of the Opposition representing us abroad.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is extremely important that we stay in NATO and that we keep the United States in Europe to ensure both our freedom and our rule of law. It is important that we retain our national identity and our ancient traditions and heritage, which have done so much for the world. It is also important that we play a part in the development of Europe. However, we must remember that the civilisation of Europe, which is now seen the world over, was built up over centuries and that it belongs to more countries than just to the 12. Indeed, it was built up before Europe had any central authority, partly because of the variety within Europe and because there was always another place to go for those who sought more freedom than they found in any particular state.

Therefore, I agree with my hon. Friend and with Opposition Members who have said that this was one of the most important summits. That is why one finds it a tremendously responsible and exciting job. We are shaping the future for a long time ahead and we shall do so carefully, with full respect for the traditions of this House.

If, contrary to the assurances that were given in the referendum, we were to have economic, monetary and now political union, and if, as Jacques Delors suggested, 80 per cent. of our policy was decided in Brussels and taken from this House, does the Prime Minister have any proposals to reduce the salaries of Members of Parliament by 80 per cent? As the Palace of Westminster would become rather redundant, does the Prime Minister have any plans to privatise it and to link it to the Greater London council building and turn it into a hotel, or perhaps it could be turned into a museum with a variety of artefacts that would remind tourists of the old days when Britain was a self-governing parliamentary democracy?

I realise that the hon. Gentleman worked hard at that supplementary question, but he is slightly out of tune with the spirit of the House today. We are all working anxiously for the future of Europe and the wider world and to extend freedom and the rule of law ever wider, along with wider prosperity. However, the hon. Gentleman has touched on something fundamental. There will be fierce debates about economic and monetary union. Those debates will be fierce because from what we have seen of Delors stages 2 and 3, which have been rather general, we do not like or accept the idea of going to a single currency or locked currencies or the idea of a central bank, which would take powers away from this House, as was described in the Delors report. We have already gone some distance because it has been made clear that that organisation would not have as many powers over the general budgetary decisions of this House as Delors set out. That issue will be hotly fought because a number of others want to go much further than we do.

The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who earlier spoke about the need for more information, was right to say that we shall need as much information as possible. That issue will be much more fiercely fought at the moment than that of political union, because political union is much further behind and we have stopped it meaning things that we did not want it to mean.

May I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend both on her statement this afternoon and on all the ways in which she works for the British interest both in Europe and elsewhere in the world? In her discussions on the exchange rate mechanism, was she aware of the growing unease of many of the member countries about a fixed exchange rate mechanism covering such a broad spectrum when there is so much uncertainty about German monetary union? Is there really a good case for returning to fixed exchange rates after this country's unhappy experience from 1949 to the early 1970s? Therefore, are not we wise in being extremely cautious before we hand over our money supply to a third party?

My hon. Friend has put his finger on an important point. It is one thing to join an exchange rate mechanism with certain quite wide margins within which the currency can fluctuate, as has been necessary. We should consider Spain's experience since joining the exchange rate mechanism because that has not been an easy option for Spain. It would be much more unwise to go to locked exchange rates. Some of us remember the times of fixed exchange rates under the Bretton Woods system when we used to hear in the House details of public expenditure cuts, of how we had to let go a great deal of our reserves, and of high interest rates—all at once. Those problems arose from the fixed Bretton Woods exchange rate system. It was broken, and we should be wary of returning to such a rigid system.

In the past, the right hon. Lady has expressed concern about the consequences of German unification. In the circumstances, does she think that it is wise to go on harping—as she does—about national independence, national sovereignty and national identity? Is there not something to recommend the approach of President Mitterrand and Chancellor Kohl, who believe in a common approach that would bind a united Germany more closely to the Community?

Again, if I may say so, those are merely words. The Federal Republic is a member, and was a founder member, of the Community. Britain, too, is a member of the Community. We are all bound by the same rules, and we must all agree if we wish to change them. Why should being in the Community bind Germany more firmly that the rest of us? Again, it is a phrase which people are using rather easily.

Naturally, Germany will probably be one of the dominant countries in the Community because she is far larger and very rich. The rest of us would be right to have regard to that. That is one reason why people feel that we should extend the Community. If there is one dominant member in the Community, the other members must have regard to their national identity and to their traditions. Britain's parliamentary traditions go back further than those of any other Community member. Therefore, we have a specific balancing role to play—as we have always had—in Europe.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that mutual self-interest is the best binding agent for the EEC, and that political union could be divisive? We talk about German unity as if it was a matter of fact, but does the Soviet Union still retain some residual powers ahead of a peace treaty?

I agree with my hon. Friend. We are in the Community because we believe that membership is in our interests and because we believe that we should co-operate on those things. That will give our children more scope and opportunities than we ever had. That is a good thing.

The Berlin four powers and the two Germanies have yet to decide how to wind up the present arrangements in Berlin. We took the view that we should be wary to ensure that that forum was not used to discuss wider defence matters but should be confined to that purpose. Any residual business to be completed will have regard to our duties—as an old occupying power—towards East Germany. Britain will do that with the greatest possible understanding. The Soviet Union is a member of the Berlin four and we will have to negotiate with it on the question of the peace treaty and German unification, even though many of us think that that is not necessary. However, there is a call for such a settlement, especially one that has regard to the borders of Poland. My hon. Friend knows that both Germanies have now undertaken to honour the Oder-Neisse line. They say that as separate states. When they are unified they will have a treaty to that effect.

The right hon. Lady must be aware that I absolutely oppose and detest everything that she has done in relation to this country. The right hon. Lady is totally wrong when it comes to our internal situation here, but she is not wrong on everything; on odd occasions she can be right. She must also be aware that I used to be a staunch supporter of this country entering the Common Market until I realised the effect that it would have on ordinary people. It was that realisation which determined me to resign as a Labour Minister, because I believed that what the Government were doing at the time was wrong.

I still believe that the ordinary people of this country are not getting a good deal from the Common Market and that it is, therefore, right to ask the questions that the right hon. Lady has asked in regard to political union and what it means, and I believe that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench are being too easily conned on these questions of the European Economic Community.

I believe in a socialist Europe. I want a united socialist Europe. I do not want the type of system which is being proposed at present. So I suggest that we need to be much more serious about this question—at present, some of our people are only too keen to rush into it.

While I disagree, therefore, with everything that the right hon. Lady says in relation to this country—[Laughter.] It is no laughing matter; it concerns the future of our people, and our people mean a lot to me. They may not mean a lot to some people, but I left a Government job because of them. While I disagree with her on everything else, she is right to ask the questions that she is asking.

I respect the hon. Gentleman as a sparring partner in domestic politics, and I enjoy sparring with him. I disagree with him and I am sorry that he does not accept that this country has had much greater prosperity during the past 10 or 11 years and a much higher international reputation.

With regard to the European Community, the future generation will take a different view from those of us who have lived through different experiences, but we will share this with them: they will have greater opportunities because of the European Economic Community, because of the way in which people can set up businesses and practise their professions in Europe and the way in which they can travel in Europe. It will be of great advantage to them. I hope that they will take that opportunity and perhaps be better at languages than we have been in the past. It is our job to create a better future. We do not disagree about that.

The hon. Gentleman said that he wanted a united socialist Europe. I do not. Eastern Europe is trying to get away from centralised socialism. The thing that always puzzles me about the hon. Gentleman is that he demands centralised socialism while being himself a great individualist.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that most people in this country arid throughout Europe will wholly support her in seeking to define more precisely and in practical terms what European union means? On the exchange rate mechanism, will she acknowledge that many people feel that our interest rates in this country are much too high—almost double those in the European Community—because we rely solely on interest rates rather than on the co-operative mechanisms of the European monetary system? If, for example, we we