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Commons Chamber

Volume 268: debated on Thursday 7 December 1995

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House Of Commons

Thursday 7 December 1995

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MADAM SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

City Of Westminster Bill Lords

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Promoters of the City of Westminster Bill [Lords] may, notwithstanding anything in the Standing Orders or practice of this House, proceed with the Bill in the present Session; and the Petition for the Bill shall be deemed to have been deposited and all Standing Orders applicable thereto shall be deemed to have been complied with;

That if the Bill is brought from the Lords in the present Session, the Agents for the Bill shall deposit in the Private Bill Office a declaration signed by them stating that the Bill is the same, in every respect, as the Bill which was brought from the Lords in the last Session;

That, as soon as a certificate by one of the Clerks in the Private Bill Office, that such a declaration has been so deposited, has been laid upon the Table of the House, the Bill shall be read the first and second time and committed (and shall be recorded in the Journal of this House as having been so read and committed) and shall be committed to the Chairman of Ways and Means, who shall make such Amendments thereto as were made by him in the last Session, and shall report the Bill as amended to the House forthwith, and the Bill, so amended, shall be ordered to lie upon the Table;

That no further Fees shall be charged in respect of any proceedings on the Bill in respect of which Fees have already been incurred during any previous Session.—[ The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

To be considered on Thursday 14 December.

Oral Answers To Questions

Northern Ireland

Campbell Soups


To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what correspondence he has received from Campbell Soups about location in Northern Ireland. [3029]

I have no record of an approach from Campbell Soups.

If the company, Campbell Soups, comes knocking on the Minister's door, he should not believe a single word that it says as all it does is tell lies. In my constituency, that US company with a turnover of $6 billion a year bought a highly profitable factory in Maryport. Within 11 weeks, it announced its closure, causing immense concern in my constituency. Will the Minister join me in asking the people of Northern Ireland to boycott Campbell Soups and Fray Bentos products in the supermarkets? The company used the market place to take its decision, and we should now let the consumers repay it for what it is doing.

I have no intention of asking the people of Northern Ireland to do anything of the sort. If an application is made to my colleague in Northern Ireland it will be looked at on its merits.

Is the Minister aware that the Campbell Soups company has a large facility in King's Lynn in my constituency which employs many people and is an excellent employer? Obviously, the people who work in that factory have every sympathy with the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and the people who work in the factory in his constituency, but they are concerned about their jobs and future. Is the Minister also aware that if the Campbell Soups company wanted to invest in Northern Ireland it would be a good employer?

I agree with my hon. Friend—none of us likes to see job losses, wherever they occur. I repeat to my hon. Friend what I said to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours): if an application is made to my colleague, Lady Denton, it will be looked at on its merits.

Peace Process


To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on developments in the peace process. [3030]


To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what further meetings have been arranged to continue the peace initiative. [3032]


To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the latest situation in the Northern Ireland peace process. [3037]


To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about recent progress in the peace negotiations. [3038]

Last Tuesday my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, Mr. Bruton, announced the launch of a twin-track process to make progress in parallel on the decommissioning issue and on all-party preparatory talks.

Senator George Mitchell has been appointed as chairman-designate of the international body by both Governments. The two other members are General John de Chastelain, chief of the Canadian defence staff, and Mr. Harri Holkeri, a former Prime Minister of Finland. I wrote to the Northern Ireland parties on 1 December inviting them to begin the preparatory talks. The Tanaiste, Mr. Spring, has issued parallel invitations.

The Secretary of State will be more aware than anyone else of President Clinton's hugely successful visit to Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State will have heard, as I did, the President of the United States putting the weight of his office behind the twin-track proposals. What will be the terms of reference for Senator Mitchell's committee?

The terms of reference are set out in the communiqué, which I have in front of me, but which would take too long to read out now. The terms of reference are set out in paragraphs 5 to 8 of the communiqué, which I think the hon. Gentleman will find in the Library of the House of Commons.

Will the Secretary of State explain how it is that the Government have recently signed a peace treaty in Bosnia and lifted an arms embargo, although there has been no decommissioning before the signing of the treaty? Why is it necessary in the dispute in Northern Ireland and Ireland for decommissioning to occur before a treaty is agreed? Why do the Government operate double standards on different peace treaties throughout the world?

It is the hon. Gentleman who is uncharacteristically operating double standards. He regards himself as a good democrat. In a democracy one cannot expect people to sit round a table or in any other formation to discuss the future of part of their democracy unless they have full confidence that everybody claiming to participate is there exclusively by reason of the votes that he commands, and not by reason of any armaments that he can discard.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that some Conservative Members have not been at all happy with the American President apparently interfering in the Northern Ireland peace process? However, I acknowledge that President Clinton made an extremely positive contribution last week during his visit, particularly because of the timely and powerful message that he gave to all the terrorists there that their day is over. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on the robust and sound stance that he has taken on the issue of terrorist weapons and decommissioning.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. There had earlier been some misunderstanding as to whether the interest of the United States was, in some degree, interference, but that never was the intention or expectation. My hon. Friend is absolutely right in pointing to the deep significance of what the President said. Speaking to those who still wish to use violence for political objectives, he said:

"You are the past; your day is over".
That has rather an interesting resonance. He continued:

"Violence has no place at the table of democracy, and no role in the future of this land."
The sooner that that is accepted on all sides, the better.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that it is his view that some paramilitary arms need to be decommissioned before all parties can enter full and substantive negotiations? If an alternative is produced that engenders sufficient trust and confidence on all sides to bring all parties to such talks, will he study it closely?

As the hon. Gentleman suggested, the key to this question is confidence that everybody who claims to participate is there on a solely democratic basis and in fulfilment of what paragraph 10 of the Downing street declaration required. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear time and again that we can see no means by which that confidence can be engendered, save by the fulfilment of the three Washington conditions that I stipulated in March this year. If some other means become apparent by which that confidence could be engendered, naturally we would wish to consider it. I emphasise that we cannot see any at present.

If and when we move towards any form of talks process, there will be a more precise focus on the policies of the Government. In that context, can I refer the Secretary of State to the recent statement by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland in which he said that the Government stood foursquare behind the Union with Scotland, and that that Union was a matter not only for the people of Scotland, but for the people of all the Union? How does the Secretary of State reconcile his position of disinterested neutrality and his close co-operation with a foreign Government who are subject to a constitutional imperative to destroy that Union?

The hon. Gentleman does less than justice to what was said at the time of the launching of the joint framework document in February this year, when Mr. Bruton made it clear that, as part of an overall settlement, he would put to the Irish people, in a referendum, proposals that would mean that there was no further territorial claim—such as undoubtedly exists at the moment in the Irish constitution—to that part of the island of Ireland that is part of the United Kingdom in international and domestic law. That is the first point.

Secondly, it is very important that all those matters should be available for discussion during the political track of a twin-track process. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—and I, for what that is worth—have made it clear time and again that we very much support the Union, supported as it also is by the majority of people living in Northern Ireland. The key to the understanding of the Downing street declaration is that both the Irish Government and our own stipulate in it that there will he no future change in the status of Northern Ireland, save by the wishes of most people who live in Northern Ireland.

Bearing in mind the Prime Minister's statement that his working assumption was that the ceasefire was permanent, has the Secretary of State heard or seen reports of the interview with Mitchell McLaughlin, Sinn Fein party national chairman, who, when asked about the permanence of the peace, said that it was not possible to say peace was permanent because the conditions that led to 25 years of violence still existed? When asked why the IRA would not decommission weapons, he said:

"The reality is that nobody can say that these guns will not be used again".
What will the Secretary of State tell the people of Northern Ireland?

I will tell them what I have told them on many occasions before: that we do not have a complete peace, by reason of the remarks that the hon. Gentleman has just recited, and many others. There is, for instance, a passage in Mr. Adams' book, published in May this year, in which he reasserts the right of the Irish people to the "armed struggle". That is why it seems to us, and to the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom, essential, if confidence is to be established, that Sinn Fein in particular be wholly committed to peaceful and democratic means.

Then a beginning must be made to decommissioning, to signify good faith and the start of a process. There must also be a commitment to the principle of decommissioning and a method of achieving it. I very much hope that the first track—decommissioning—of the twin-track process will help to allow that confidence to be engendered.

The Secretary of State will be aware that much has been spoken and written about President Clinton's words during his welcome visit to the people of the north of Ireland. Not so much notice, however, has been taken of the words spoken, or perhaps not spoken, by the people of Northern Ireland during that visit, although they have made it clear that they want two things: lasting peace, and a new, agreed political dispensation in the north of Ireland.

Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to tell the House what dynamic the two Governments are going to instil in the multilateral discussions that are to precede the all-party talks? Can he confirm that such a dynamic, which is essential, will lead to real negotiations and will put the political process back on the subject of politics, not the question of arms?

When the Prime Minister held a press conference last Wednesday week to announce agreement on the communiqué, he said that the twin-track process was intended to impart new momentum to the peace process. I am sure that it will; it is the means by which the Governments will achieve that.

Secondly, I warmly endorse what the hon. Gentleman said about President Clinton's visit. It was a most extraordinary and moving series of occasions. I certainly agree that the people of Northern Ireland, if not articulating what they meant, shouted—nay, roared—it.

Has my right hon. and learned Friend made it absolutely clear to the chairman of the international body, former Senator George Mitchell, that his remit is purely to look at illegally held weapons, not at security weapons held by Government forces? I wonder whether my right hon. and learned Friend watched the "Newsnight" programme last week in which Mr. Mitchell leant back laughing in his chair and said that he would be perfectly happy to look at Government weapons too. Surely that is not what we have in mind?

I can assure my hon. Friend that the communiqué uses language which accurately reflects what both Governments intend—that the arms and armaments which shall be the subject of study and advice by the commission relate to those held illegally by paramilitary organisations and do not include constitutionally held arms north or south of the border. I am aware of the "Newsnight" programme; my hon. Friend will, I think, agree that it was broadcast only a very few hours after the agreement had been reached. It may have been the case that at that stage Senator Mitchell, whose appointment had not been completed, had not fully read, read at all or been shown the terms of the communiqué. I do not know, but there is no doubt about its content.

The Opposition congratulate both Governments on the launch of the twin-track process. Does the Secretary of State acknowledge the public desire for a lasting peace so vividly expressed in Northern Ireland last week during President Clinton's visit? Interestingly, paramilitary punishment beatings on both sides of the divide stopped during that period, which is indicative that they could soon stop altogether. As to reflecting the feelings exhibited during President Clinton's visit, does the Secretary of State agree that it is up to the political parties in the preparatory talks to reach widespread agreement through dialogue on the way to proceed to all-party, substantive negotiations?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her opening remarks. I much agree with her about the significance of the intermission in punishment beatings at a time when it would have been politically inexpedient for the persons who carry them out for political purposes to have continued doing so during President Clinton's visit. If those individuals could stop the beatings at that time, let us hear no more about the inability to control them at any other time. As to the last part of the hon. Lady's question, I join her in hoping that the political parties will take full advantage of the political track—of the preparatory talks that can take place.

The hon. Lady rightly used the word "dialogue", which is intended to mean that there shall be talks in any format that seems convenient. They need not necessarily be around a table. One-to-one talks are still a dialogue. That is an important point to make, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for enabling me to make it.

Royal Victoria Hospital


To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what will be the effect of the funding of Royal Victoria hospital capital projects on other capital developments in the health service; and if he will make a statement. [3031]

The Royal Victoria hospital scheme is one of a number of major capital schemes currently being taken forward. Others are at Causeway in Coleraine, the Royal Belfast hospital for sick children, at Craigavon and at the Altnagelvin hospital in Londonderry. Together with a programme for health and safety improvements, that commits the bulk of resources over the next few years. In line with the Chancellor's Budget statement, I will be looking more and more to private finance to take forward new schemes.

Does the Minister agree that it is rather strange that wholesale capital investment went ahead at the Royal Victoria hospital before the McKenna report was published, bearing in mind the fact that the Minister did not release funds for the development of Belvoir Park hospital, which would have been much more minimal, until the report appeared? Is the Minister aware of continuing anxiety that the Ulster hospital, which has been waiting a considerable time for capital finance, is still waiting? Will he re-examine the private finance initiative concept and say whether it will be applied to capital work or specialty services?

The Royal Victoria capital project was agreed and endorsed by the Eastern health board and by Dr. McKenna's reorganisation project. A business case has been made for the Ulster hospital and it is currently with the Department of Finance. As to Belvoir Park, I have commissioned a report under the Chief Medical Officer to investigate cancer services in Northern Ireland. When I have that report before me, I shall make a decision regarding capital requirements at hospitals providing cancer services.

Is the Minister aware of the grave disappointment that his answers will cause the people of Down, who for three decades have been waiting for a modest capital scheme to improve the Downe group of hospitals? The injustice is that Downe, having passed efficiency and business tests with flying colours, is now subjected to a private finance initiative to which the Royal Victoria, in respect of a sum of £64 million, was not subjected. I ask the Minister to provide Downe with the modest sum required, over a three-year period, say, to improve a hospital complex that is 250 years old.

The business case for Downe hospital has been passed by the management executive and is currently with the Department of Finance. We shall then move to testing for the private finance initiative. If no private finance is forthcoming, we will have to consider providing funds on the normal basis to progress the capital scheme at Downe hospital.

Will the Minister confirm that the effective use of capital investment in the national health service in Northern Ireland remains a priority for his Department? If so, will he comment on the fact that when the new Waterside hospital at Gransna park was opened only four years ago by his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), who is now Minister of State, Foreign Office, it was described as the jewel in the crown of the Western health board, but it is now to close, along with Strabane hospital in Roe valley in Limavady, as 173 NHS care-for-the-elderly beds are replaced by 65 private nursing home beds? Will the Minister give an assurance that no future expenditure of precious NHS capital resources will be wasted in a few short years, as they have been at Waterside?

The total sum available over the next five years for capital development of hospitals in Northern Ireland comes to £240 million, which is £40 million each and every year. We are considering the private finance initiative for the hospitals that are not in the programme. As I have said, it is a full and comprehensive programme. We are out for consultation on the closures at Strabane. We shall be making our decisions when we have the benefits that will derive from the consultation process.



To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is his assessment of the prospects for employment in Northern Ireland. [3034]

The outlook is very encouraging. Employment is at record levels. Output and trade are increasing and tourism is booming. Business confidence is very high and there have been substantial inward investment successes recently. With continuing peace, we can look forward to this excellent progress being maintained.

Is my hon. Friend aware that over the past two-and-a-half years unemployment has fallen by 18.5 per cent. in Northern Ireland and that unemployment at the long-term end fell by fully 17 per cent.? Does he agree that the increasing employment opportunities flowing from the improved economic condition bodes well for long-term stability in the Province?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who rightly talks about the significant progress that has been made to reduce unemployment. It is interesting to note that employment is at a record level of 566,550. Even more encouraging is inward investment. Since the ceasefire 14 projects worth £288 million, with the potential to create 4,000 jobs, have been announced. Even more significantly, in the month of November five projects worth £153 million and over 2,000 jobs were announced. That indicates the strength of the Northern Ireland economy and the hope that we all have in it for the future.

Does the Minister agree that there is a sound foundation on which to build better future prospects for employment in Northern Ireland, and that we can expect with permanent peace more inward investment to take advantage of our excellent national and international air and sea links and our good road and rail links to efficiently managed harbours at Larne, Belfast, Warrenpoint and Londonderry? Most important of all, there is the opportunity for those investing in Northern Ireland to harness the skills, talents and high education qualifications of an industrious work force, which is awaiting opportunity. Will the Minister assure us that there will be continued financial support available to encourage further inward investment?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. We certainly will continue to encourage inward investment. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State visited Larne the other day with the hon. Gentleman and was most impressed by what he saw.

It is important, too, to recognise that peace is an important ingredient for inward investment. It underlines the importance of reaching an agreed settlement to underpin that peace. At the end of the day, that will give a greater boost to inward investment than anything else.

It is worth recording that it is the responsibility of us all to ensure that we sell all the good aspects of Northern Ireland, as the hon. Gentleman has just done, rather than talking, as we sometimes tend to do, about the bad aspects. Last week, when President Clinton was there, the eyes of the world through the television media had a wonderful picture of the opportunities that exist within Northern Ireland.

Although the peace process has played a significant and welcome part in creating new jobs in Northern Ireland, should not the agencies, such as the Irish Development Board and the tourist board, be recognised for the enormous amount of effort that they have put into making the Province more attractive in many respects? In relation to tourism, does my hon. Friend agree that even greater efforts could be put into ensuring that people, not only in that part of the United Kingdom but in the rest of Europe, are aware of the wonderful opportunities and attractions of that most beautiful part of the United Kingdom?

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend, who not only has great experience of the work that is being done in Northern Ireland but contributed to it very substantially during his time as a Minister in Northern Ireland, and I pay tribute to him for that. He is right to point to the work that is being done by those agencies, both of which are fully aware of the opportunities that the ceasefires have brought to Northern Ireland, and are taking Northern Ireland out across the world and selling it. I know that both are making substantial efforts to do so.

The Minister will agree that inward investment depends very much on good transport links. Does he share my concern and that of many people in Northern Ireland that Belfast international airport is seeking to take over Belfast city airport, and that that would be to the detriment of the tourist industry, the business community and, indeed, all people travelling between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom?

As the hon. Lady knows, those areas do not fall within my responsibility, but I am sure that my colleagues who are responsible for them will have heard what she has to say. It is important that we give every encouragement to movements within the economic sector in Northern Ireland that increase competitiveness and therefore give a chance to the people of Northern Ireland to prosper within their economy.

Although I welcome the inward investment into Northern Ireland, which is creating jobs and impacting on long-term unemployment, would not the prospects for employment be improved if job losses that have occurred through privatisation, the creation of agencies and the contracting-out of services—particularly strategic services, where in-house bids are prohibited—were prevented? Would it not be better to stop that process to preserve jobs within the Province?

If the hon. Gentleman were to talk to those involved in, for instance, the five projects that were announced last month, in terms of inward investment, he would find that many of them are interested in investing in Northern Ireland because of the flexible employment practices that exist there. My understanding—if I do understand Labour party policy, which is never as clear as it might be—is that if the Labour party had its way, those flexible practices would be discontinued.

Water And Sewage Treatment Plants


To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what assessment he has made of the performance of water and sewage treatment plants in Northern Ireland. [3035]

The Department continually assesses the performance of its water and sewage treatment works. Data about the quality of water produced at its water treatment works is available on the public register. The environment service is preparing formal discharge standards for sewage treatment works for monitoring on a similar public register.

Is the Minister aware that his Department is allowing industrial effluent to be put into the normal sewerage system, which inevitably leads to untreated sewage entering our rivers? Will he give an assurance that no sludge from aluminium or supernatant water is getting back into the drinking water system in Northern Ireland, with the obvious dangers of causing Alzheimer's disease?

The Department's water executive operates approximately 900 sewage treatment facilities in Northern Ireland, ranging from small rural septic tanks to multi-million pound works in urban areas. In that context, in 1994, just 27 pollution incidents out of a total of 2,216 were ascribed to its work—approximately only 1 per cent. Aluminium levels in public water supplies are regulated under the Water Quality (Northern Ireland) Regulations 1994, and the United Kingdom standards in them incorporate those of the European Commission. There is no proven link between aluminium and the incidence of Alzheimer's disease.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the people of Greater Andersonstown in my constituency of West Belfast have had to tolerate the stench of human excreta for the past 20 years and that various Department of the Environment Ministers have made promises and given explanations, all of which have been futile. He will also be aware that the DOE gave planning permission for building the large housing estates and development of the nearby brewery. Will the Secretary of State accept that the DOE and the Northern Ireland Office have been grossly negligent in allowing that problem to continue for so many years?

Will the Minister now give a guarantee that meaningful and urgent action will be taken to deal with the problem so that the thousands of families who live in the area will no longer have to tolerate the stench of human sewage?

I am familiar with the problem, to which the hon. Gentleman refers, of the Upper Falls works, since he brought a deputation to see me on that very matter. He will be pleased to note that the Department has met the senior management of the Bass brewery, who have agreed to reduce the strength of the brewery's discharge by 50 per cent. during the next six months. That should bring the discharge load down to design capacity.

In the longer term, we have now agreed a new route for the sewer to Glenmachan street pumping station and from there to the reconstructed sewage treatment works at Duncrue street. Detailed design work has commenced and I hope that the new sewer will be installed towards the end of the 1996-97 financial year.

Republic Of Ireland (Agreement)


To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make it his policy that no joint agreement with the Republic of Ireland will be agreed by the United Kingdom without the consent of the majority of Northern Ireland citizens. [3039]

It is already the declared policy of Her Majesty's Government that the present status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom will not change without the consent of the people who live there, and that the outcome of the three stranded talks process will be put to the electorate of Northern Ireland for their approval by referendum. We have no plans to add to or subtract from that policy.

Will the Minister, mindful that the principle of consent is a cornerstone of the Downing street declaration and has never been unequivocally and unreservedly accepted by Sinn Fein-IRA, give an assurance that, should the substantive talks take place and fail, Her Majesty's Government will not enter into any agreement with the Republic of Ireland in relation to the future government or administration of Northern Ireland without the specific consent of the majority of British citizens living there? Does he accept that the pro-Union parties in Northern Ireland will need an assurance before participating in those talks that they do not do so against a background of a threat of an imposed agreement or settlement without the majority's consent being given?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State have made it clear on many occasions that consent is absolutely central to any settlement in Northern Ireland. Not only is it central in terms of the Government's belief and policy, but in terms of practicality. History teaches us that any attempts to impose settlements on the people of Northern Ireland against the wishes of a majority of the people in Northern Ireland do not work. It is for that reason that the present status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom will not change without the consent of a majority of the people who live there.

Does the Minister accept that the principle of consent, which has always been at the heart of the Labour party's policy, is now established in an international treaty? Does he agree that consent, which is so important, should now give the people of Northern Ireland the confidence to negotiate an agreement which brings to the minority and to the majority community a sense of confidence in their own direction, which they can set for themselves knowing that we shall not drift back to what happened in the past when either the minority or the majority community felt threatened that something would be imposed without consent?

Indeed. That is key to the whole question of confidence, and to parties' becoming involved in the talks. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear at the time of the publishing of the framework documents that there was what he called a "triple lock". It is a question not just of the consent of the people of Northern Ireland, but of the broad agreement of the parties, followed by a referendum, followed in turn by the agreement of Parliament. That triple lock remains firmly in place.

Royal Ulster Constabulary


To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what proportion of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is known to be (a) Protestant and (b) Catholic. [3040]

At 1 November 1995, 89 per cent. of the Royal Ulster Constabulary regular force, 88 per cent. of the full-time reserve and 93 per cent. of the part-time reserve were perceived to be from the Protestant community, whilst 8 per cent. of the regular force, 6 per cent. of the full-time reserve and 5 per cent. of the part-time reserve were perceived to be from the Catholic community.

Does the Minister agree that, until the RUC reflects the balance of the communities in Northern Ireland, problems will continue? If the Government were able rapidly to present plans to achieve a better balance in the RUC, that might be a major argument in favour of decommissioning, which would reassure nationalists.

I do not agree with the supposition that it is necessary to change the religious characteristics of the RUC to achieve that balance. The evidence points the other way. Now that we have a ceasefire however, more Roman Catholics are seeking to join the RUC.

Perhaps I might remind the House that, during the 25 years o1 violence, one of the major reasons why members of the Catholic population did not seek to join the RUC was the fact that 297 RUC officers were killed and more than 7,300 injured and the Roman Catholic police officer was specifically targeted. Those days, I hope, are now behind us.

Is not it the case that, throughout the years of violence, support for the RUC was remarkably strong? Has not that support increased significantly on both sides of the political community divide since the ceasefires?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The latest opinion survey shows that more than three quarters of the population—some 78 per cent.—thought the police to be helpful in dealing with ordinary policing problems. The Catholic population were only just less positive in their overall assessment of the helpfulness of the RUC than the Protestants, in whose case the figure was 81 per cent.

The House and the people of Northern Ireland will be encouraged by the Minister's reply. Does not the increased Roman Catholic membership of the RUC demonstrate that the RUC is becoming more acceptable throughout Northern Ireland, and belie the campaign by Sinn Fein and its fellow travellers for the crown on the RUC badge, or the word "Royal", to be removed if the RUC is to become acceptable?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. All the evidence in Northern Ireland suggests that the constabulary is serving the whole community of Northern Ireland. It is increasingly successful in community affairs, and is addressing the concerns of the population. There is no need to change its basic characteristics to obtain support.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, whether it is Catholic or Protestant, the RUC enjoys the utmost admiration among my constituents—and, I believe, among those of most hon. Members?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The RUC has a tremendous reputation, built over 25 years of terrorist violence and, because of its steadfastness, it has contributed to the present peace process. The House and the country owe it a great deal.

As the Minister has said, a crucial part of the peace process in ensuring that the police force is supported and respected by all the people in Northern Ireland. Does the Minister agree that, to achieve that consensus, it is necessary that the Police Authority for Northern Ireland should be given more powers and that the Secretary of State should reconsider the process whereby he appoints all the members of that authority?

I shall issue a White Paper on the future arrangement for that police authority, and the tri-partite arrangement in Northern Ireland, soon. The hon. Gentleman is right—the authority should echo the interests of Northern Ireland's population and have clearly defined powers to hold to account the expenditures and policy objectives of the Chief Constable of the RUC.

Prime Minister



To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 December. [3059]

This morning, I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Will the Prime Minister tell us who is running the Government this week? Is it proper for the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) to announce that the Government intend to publish a White Paper on Europe? If so, is that not further proof of the lurch to the right—or is the Prime Minister doing what he usually does: ruling nothing in, ruling nothing out and being decisively indecisive?

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has made clear this morning, we are examining all the issues that will come up in the intergovernmental conference, including whether it would be appropriate to have a White Paper.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the present turmoil in France epitomises the potential social and political dangers of any attempt to shackle Britain to a single European currency or the social chapter, as is proposed by the Labour party?

What it certainly shows, as my hon. Friend will be aware, is the difficulties that the present French Government have inherited from their socialist predecessors. If their predecessors had dealt with the underlying structural and fiscal problems at the time, the present French Government would not be facing this difficulty.

I am surprised that the Prime Minister cannot tell us whether there will be a White Paper, but let me put this question to him and see whether he can answer it. Is it still the Government's position that he will not rule out joining a single currency in the next Parliament?

That is still the Government's position, as I have made clear on a number of occasions.

I think that that is a very important statement. The Prime Minister has said that he will not rule it out in the next Parliament. We know that that is not the position of the Welsh Secretary or of many of his Back Benchers. Will he tell us this, then: is that the position of the whole of his Government, including the Euro-sceptic members of the Cabinet?

Of course it is the position of the whole Government and it has been repeatedly stated that that is the position of the whole Government. We have made that clear on a number of occasions, and nothing has changed.

One of the conditions of the Dayton agreement is that all the parties should observe the European convention on human rights. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be somewhat paradoxical for British forces to be, in a sense, enforcing the European convention on human rights in Bosnia while we in Britain are contemplating withdrawal from that convention?

We are certainly unhappy about some of the rulings made under the European convention on human rights. We have made that point and we will continue to do so. We were one of the founders of the European convention on human rights which, as my hon. Friend knows, is a quite separate matter from the European Court of Justice. That does not alter the fact that we and a number of other countries have been profoundly unhappy with some of its rulings. As I have said, we have made that point clear and will continue to do so.

Will the Prime Minister make it clear whether Britain will withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights?

We have not said that we shall withdraw from the European convention on human rights. We have said that we are profoundly dissatisfied with some of the court's judgments and that we propose to take that up with the European Commission of Human Rights and deal with it in some way in the future.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, at the end of this decade, a great many of our computers and those elsewhere will fail because they are not programmed to recognise the double zero of the year 2000? That will have immense and costly consequences for British business, small businesses and, perhaps, Government Departments. Can my right hon. Friend say whether the Government are aware of that and how they are responding to it?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that helpful question. I shall certainly ensure that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade examines the matter and responds to him.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 December. [3061]

When the Prime Minister writes his customary letter to Santa this Christmas, will he make it quite clear that he is not asking for a puppy? Will he make it clear that he would discourage anyone from giving a puppy as a present to a child this Christmas, because a puppy is for all the year, not just a Christmas present?

When the Prime Minister has finished his Christmas list and is writing his resolutions for the new year, will he make a resolution to introduce legislation to ban puppy farms? Such legislation would win support on both sides of the House and outside.

I hope that everyone who contemplates giving a pet as a present for Christmas bears in mind that it is a present for the long term, not just for the short term. I hope that people will be responsible in their present giving.

Is my right hon. Friend surprised at the survey today which found that more than half of all private investors would remove their capital from Britain in the event of a Labour victory—or does he consider that that is the inevitable consequence of such a catastrophe?

I cannot pretend to be surprised at that survey's findings. I suspect that those surveyed have examined the likely implications of joining the social chapter and of the spending promises made by the Labour party and realised what they would do to taxation, competitiveness and employment.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 December. [3062]

As a parent of school-age children I am sure that I speak on behalf of many parents when I tell the Prime Minister that the Government have failed to convince the public or school caterers that British beef is safe. Will the Prime Minister, as a matter of urgency, make sure that the Department of Health issues genuinely independent advice about this matter to reassure parents?

Of course this is an important matter for schools and for the safety of consumers as a whole. I have sought and received advice that there is currently no scientific evidence that BSE can be transmitted to humans or that eating beef causes CJD. That is not in question. I am also advised that beef is a safe and wholesome product. The chief medical officer's advice is clear—there is no evidence that eating beef causes CJD in humans.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 December. [3064]

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the quality of teaching is crucial to improving standards and that the publication of test results is important in monitoring them? Does my right hon. Friend find it strange that the belated conversion of the Labour party to recognising the need for higher standards has not been matched in the past by its willingness to see the publication of test results? In fact, it has done everything to frustrate that.

My hon. Friend makes a point that will be recognised by parents throughout the country. On this matter, the Opposition's actions have frequently spoken a great deal louder than their words. During the past few years, they have opposed every measure that we have introduced to raise standards. They have described school league tables as political propaganda, test results as virtually useless, teaching children the basics as a fanatical doctrine—[Laughter.] Hon. Members may scoff, but they are scoffing at what their party and their Front Bench have said.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 December. [3065]

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that Northern Ireland students who have been accepted into universities in England to follow physiotherapy or other courses leading to para medical qualification should not be disadvantaged and should not be expected to pay the balance between their mandatory award and the fees charged by the universities, which sometimes amounts to more than £5,000? Will he consider the matter and ensure that Northern Ireland students are not less well off than students from the Irish Republic or the European Union? Will he endeavour to remove this perceived disadvantage?

I shall certainly examine that matter. If the hon. Gentleman has pointed to a genuine disadvantage, I shall invite my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to examine it and see whether it can be corrected.

Which local education authority produced the worst results in the recently published GCSE league tables? What options would the Government want to be available to parents in that local council area who are dissatisfied with the education authority's performance?

I understand that the worst results were in Islington education authority. There are several options available to Islington. I hope that the education authority will try to correct what has gone wrong and improve the quality of education for all the children in Islington. Of course, there remains the option of grant-maintained schools, which many parents throughout the country rightly perceive as offering good education that they want their children to enjoy.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 December. [3066]

In her Centrepoint speech this morning, Princess Diana highlighted the inadequacy of the present system for homeless young people forced to live on the streets. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking to respond to that eloquent plea by providing further assistance for such young people so that the problem no longer blights British society?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government have been dealing comprehensively with the problem for some time and have made remarkable improvements over the past few years. We are fully committed to ensuring that there is no necessity for some people to sleep rough. We very much hope that the culture, which has grown up among some people, of doing so can be changed and broken. The Government are providing about 5,000 places in permanent and temporary accommodation for people who otherwise would have to sleep rough. That is in addition to the outreach and resettlement services for homeless people living on the streets. There is no doubt that there has been a remarkable reduction in the number of people sleeping rough. Plans to eliminate that practice continue, and I look forward to that day being reached.

I welcome very much what my right hon. Friend said about a possible White Paper on Europe. Does he agree that it would not only help to set out the Government's basic objectives, but would draw to public attention the ever-widening gulf between the Government and the Opposition who, under their present leadership, are destined to surrender more of our liberty, power, jobs and freedom to Brussels?

That policy is clear in many Opposition speeches, but it is not universal. They seem to sing a different tune on some occasions. We are considering the desirability of a White Paper, which was recommended by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and the Scrutiny Committee. We shall consider their recommendations carefully, but we have made it clear on a number of occasions that we will most certainly oppose some areas—certainly in advance of any White Paper saying so—in the negotiations that are to take place next year. They include an extension of qualified majority voting, massive new powers for the European Parliament and signing the social chapter. Whatever decision is reached about a White Paper, those policies are firm and will not change.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 December. [3067]

When will the Government stop closing hospitals and wards, which affects the million-long waiting list and creates misery for all the people who want to get into hospital? Is the Prime Minister aware that it is creating another problem? Does he know that people are roaming the streets at night looking for hospitals to visit, but cannot find them? It is giving a whole new meaning to the term "roving ambassador".

On the subject of provision of resources in the health service, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the increased provision—an extra £1.3 billion again this year, which is 70 per cent. above inflation during the year. There was a time when there was a significant cut in the health service, but that was when the hon. Gentleman supported a Labour Government.

Business Of The House

3.30 pm

May I ask the Leader of the House for details of future business?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Tony Newton)

The Business of the House for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 11 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Asylum and Immigration Bill.

TUESDAY 12 DECEMBER—Until about seven o'clock, Second Reading of the Health Service Commissioners (Amendment) Bill.

Second Reading of the Rating (Caravans and Boats) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 13 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Armed Forces Bill.

THURSDAY 14 DECEMBER—Estimates Day (1st allotted day). On recommendations from the Liaison Committee, in relation to specified votes on account, there will be two debates. First, there will be a debate on the provision of NHS services for women with breast cancer, clinical research into breast cancer and the NHS breast screening programme. That debate will be for up to three hours. It will be followed by a debate on the regulation of financial services in the United Kingdom.

At ten o'clock the House will be asked to agree the winter supplementary estimates and the vote on account.

FRIDAY 15 DECEMBER—The House will not be sitting.

The House will also wish to know that the following European Standing Committees will meet at 10.30 am to consider European Community documents as follows:


European Standing Committee A, European Community Document 6612/94 and the unnumbered explanatory memorandum submitted by the Department of the Environment on 30 November 1995 relating to environmental impact assessments.

European Standing Committee B, European Community Document COM(95)333 and the European Monetary Institute report dated November 1995 relating to the single currency.


European Standing Committee A, European Community Document 9491/93, 7511/95 and the unnumbered explanatory memorandum submitted by the Department of the Environment on 2 June 1995 relating to integrated pollution prevention and control.

European Standing Committee B, European Community Document 10836/95 relating to state aid to the Irish steel industry.

[Tuesday 12 December:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Community documents: (a) 6612/94 and (b) unnumbered, Environmental Impact Assessments. Relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee: (a) HC 48-xxi (1993-94) and HC 70-xiv (1994-95); (b) HC 51-iii (1995-96).

European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community documents: COM (95)333, Single Currency; (b) European Monetary Institute report relating to thechangeover to the single currency. Relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee: (a) HC 70-xix (1994-95) and HC 70-xxvi (1994-95); (b) HC 51-i (1995-96).

Wednesday 13 December:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Community documents: (a) 9491/93, (b) 7511/95 and (c) unnumbered, Pollution Prevention and Control. Relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee: (a) HC 49-i (1993-94), HC 48-xiii (1993-94), HC 70-xii (1994-95), HC 70-xix (1994-95), HC 70-xxi (1994-95) and HC 70-xxvi (1994-95); (b) HC 70-xxi (1994-95) and HC 70-xxvi (1994-95); (c) HC 70-xxvi (1994-95).

European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community document: 10836/95: State aid to the Irish steel industry. Relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee: HC 70-xxvi ( 1994-95) and HC 51-U (1995-96).]

Thursday 14 December:

Estimates Day—Vote on Account, Class X1 Vote 1, Department of Health: Hospital, community health, family health services and related services, England, in so far as it relates to the provision of NHS services for women with breast cancer, clinical research into breast cancer and the NHS Breast Screening Programme.

Relevant report: Third report from the Health Committee, Session 1994-95, (HC 324), Breast Cancer Services.

Vote on Account, Class XVI, Vote I, Departments of the Chancellor of the Exchequer: HM Treasury, in so far as it relates to the regulation of financial services in the United Kingdom.

Relevant Reports: Fourth report from the Treasury and Civil Service Committee, Session 1993-94, (HC 236), Retail Financial Services Regulation: An Interim Report; Second report, 1994-95, (HC 26), Financial Services Regulation: The Building Society Sector; Fifth report, 1994-95, (HC 187), Financial Services Regulation: Self Regulation at Lloyd's of London; Sixth report, 1994-95, (HC 332), The Regulation of Financial Services in the UK.

In the following week, on Monday 18 December the business will be as follows:

Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Remaining stages of the Hong Kong (Overseas Public Servants) Bill.

Motion on the Copyright and Rights in Performances regulations.

Debate on the Commons Fisheries policy on a Government motion.

On Tuesday 19 December and Wednesday 20 December, I anticipate that Government business will be taken, but details of it have not yet been determined. At the conclusion of business on Wednesday 20 December, subject, of course, to the progress of business, the House will rise for the Christmas recess.

I thank the Leader of the House for that information. Next Wednesday morning's debate in private Members' time on the preparation, drafting and publication of Government Bills, welcome as it is, does not preclude the need for a fuller and wider debate on making Parliament more effective—the debate for which I have been asking. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has some sympathy with my request. Perhaps we can look forward to such a wide debate early in the new year.

May I ask the Leader of the House about progress on the establishment of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges? I know that he is extremely anxious, as I am, that that Committee should be established as soon as possible so that it can get on with the difficult job of establishing a new code of conduct for Members. Will he use his best endeavours to ensure that the Committee meets as soon as possible so that that important work can be started?

The Leader of the House will also be aware that the Government were defeated in the House of Lords on Tuesday on the Probation Rules (Amendment) Order 1995 and that serious concerns were expressed in the Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation yesterday when the order was debated. As the order deletes entirely provision for the training of probation officers and puts nothing in place of the existing arrangements, can the Leader of the House assure us that a new training requirement to fill that vacuum will be brought before the House as quickly as possible for full debate and approval?

In view of the widely conflicting expert opinion—not all experts are as confident as the Prime Minister—about the health threat from eating beef, and in view of the widespread public concern, may we have an urgent debate on the issue? Does the Leader of the House agree that such a debate would be widely welcomed, especially by parents, following yesterday's advice to schools that beef should be taken off the menu? This is a matter of great concern to many people. It is not as simple as the Prime Minister has said. I ask the Leader of the House to provide time for a debate as a matter of urgency.

As for the debate on legislation next Wednesday, I have some sympathy with the hon. Lady's request for a wider debate at some stage although I cannot yet make a definite commitment. She and I have in common a wish to continue to build, in any practicable way, on the improvements of the past couple of years.

I entirely agree with what the hon. Lady says about the new Select Committee on Standards and Privileges and I shall continue to use my best endeavours to ensure that it is established as soon as possible. You yourself, Madam Speaker, said yesterday that you attached some importance to the matter.

On the probation rules debate, I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is considering what was said in another place last week and he will, no doubt, also consider what was said in the Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation yesterday. I cannot, however, add to that or say this afternoon what the outcome of that consideration will be.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was not presenting himself as an expert giving advice on BSE, but was reporting the advice of the expert and independent committee which advises the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on these matters and the advice of the widely respected Chief Medical Officer who advises my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. Nevertheless, I note the hon. Lady's request and do not in any way dismiss it, although I make the point that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is due to answer questions next Thursday.

May I ask my right hon. Friend yet again if he will spare time for a debate on Essex social services, as it has recently become evident that Essex county council, under Labour, is wasting £90,000 a week keeping its own old people's homes open, instead of using the private sector at a much cheaper rate?

I cannot promise a dedicated debate, despite my interest as my hon. Friend's constituency neighbour, and my being well aware of the concern felt in Essex. However, my hon. Friend will know that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), has recently asked the social services inspectorate to investigate the position.

Will the Leader of the House make time for an urgent debate on the plight of elderly and disabled people during the present cold spell? We do not want there to be more unnecessary deaths from hypothermia. Will he announce that the Government intend to change the rules whereby a person does not get a cold weather payment unless the temperature has been below freezing for seven consecutive days?

The cold weather payments scheme has been considerably improved over the past few years, as I know, because I was responsible for many of the improvements. The payments have recently been increased from £7 to £8.50, and there has been a 40 per cent. increase since April 1994. Since 1991 more than 8 million payments, worth more than £50 million, have been made, which reflects the extent to which the scheme has been widened effectively.

My right hon. Friend may be aware that the compensation arrangements for big public works in this country are still lamentable. Kent is threatened yet again with another railway proposal, and the Department of Transport has not yet worked out how it might implement its promise to the ombudsman to reconsider compensation for various oppressed individuals. Will my right hon. Friend allow us a debate on that important issue?

No doubt some reference was made to that subject in the debate on the carry-over motion for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill shortly before the end of last Session, and I cannot promise an early further opportunity to discuss it. However, as his question acknowledged, my hon. Friend is aware that the Secretary of State for Transport is examining some aspects of the matter following the ombudsman's report. My hon. Friend will also recognise that the matter is difficult and complex.

May we have an extra Scottish Question Time next week to compensate for the fact that more than half the questions tabled for the next Scottish Question Time have been planted by Tory Members representing English constituencies? And if we are still level after extra time, can we decide it on penalties?

I might be more sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman's request if he would give me an undertaking never to ask a question that relates to England.

Will my right hon. Friend give some thought to the idea of allowing time for a debate on victim impact statements? He may be aware that there is much interest in them in this country, and that they already operate in many states in the United States of America. Victims are allowed to go to the court and make a statement about what has happened to them since they became victims, and the sentence is passed accordingly. I believe that we could consider that idea seriously for our courts. At present many victims in this country do not even know when their attackers are coming to court.

I always consider requests on such important matters, put in such a reasonable way, but my hon. Friend will understand that I can make no commitment.

I understand from a parliamentary answer on Monday from the Secretary of State for the Environment that he has now received the inspector's report from the public inquiry into the emergency drought order in Yorkshire, but that he is not prepared to publish it yet—possibly not until after Christmas. The people who attended the inquiry feel that they have the right to see the inspector's report in the public domain as soon as possible, so will the Leader of the House find time to ensure that his right hon. Friend presents the report to the House before Christmas?

Of course I will bring the hon. Lady's request to the attention of my right hon. Friend. But I would say off the cuff that as this is a serious and difficult matter, I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend would want carefully to study such a report.

Will my right hon. Friend expand the debate on Parliament that he is having with the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) to include the future of the other place? Is he aware that old Labour wanted to abolish the other place? Is he further aware that new Labour wishes to abolish all hereditary peers and convert them to life peers by an act of patronage that has not been seen before? Has it occurred to my right hon. Friend that both steps would move us in the direction of becoming a one-party state?

I note my hon. Friend's concern, and I agree that in this matter—as in many others—the Opposition's policy appears to consist of a rather fluctuating set of half-baked proposals.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on specific areas of law and order? Following recent widespread consultation, my constituents told me that their top priorities are still crime and the fear of crime. Will the Government consider crime prevention measures and try to get at the roots of crime? Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to find time for a debate on the issue?

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has found time for a debate on the issue tomorrow.

Will it be possible to have an early debate on industrial relations in this country, so that we can make an effective comparison between this country and trade union and mob-rule dominated France? Such a debate would give us an opportunity to condemn the Labour Members of the European Parliament who signed up to a resolution supporting the strikes in France, thereby proving that the Labour party is still the striker's friend.

I share my hon. Friend's astonishment that Labour Members of the European Parliament should have acted in the way reported, and I can only assume that they would equally vote for a return to the winter of discontent here.

The Leader of the House offered the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) a deal—no English crowding out of Scottish questions if Scottish Members do not ask questions on English matters. I will take that deal if it is still available.

In the mean time, may we have a debate before the Christmas recess on the Secretary of State for Scotland's forecast earlier this week that Scotland would be independent by the year 2002? Does the Leader of the House support his Cabinet colleague on the matter, or is he thinking of a quicker time scale to get us out from under this decrepit institution? Given that we are moving into the season of good will, can I have a more adventurous reply from the right hon. Gentleman than I usually get to my very reasonable questions at Business Questions?

As far as I am concerned, every season is the season of good will—even for the hon. Gentleman.

May we have an urgent statement before Christmas by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment regarding the conduct of ballots on whether schools are to become grant maintained? In addition to the well-reported experiences of a school in County Durham—in the Sedgefield constituency, I seem to recall—I have recently heard that there was serious harassment of parents at Hollyfield school in my constituency by members of the Opposition regarding the proposal that the school become grant maintained? Fortunately, the parents voted yes to the proposal. Nevertheless, this is a serious matter. Unfortunately, harassment seems to be going on all over the country.

It would be unfortunate if the allegations were demonstrated to be true. My hon. Friend will understand that at a time when the Department for Education and Employment is making inquiries about the allegations, it would not be right for me to comment further from the Dispatch Box. I would make the point to my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is due to be answering questions on Wednesday 13 December.

May I add my voice to the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) for a debate on BSE? Given the alarm that people feel when top scientists advise against eating beef burgers, sausages and beef products and the fact that advisers are now telling schools not to serve beef, surely it is incumbent on the Government to have an urgent debate and to receive expert advice from sources other than the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food because its advice is completely discredited and nobody believes it?

I underline what I said earlier. We are not talking about officials in any Government Department, but an expert committee in relation to MAFF, comprised largely of eminent academics who are certainly not MAFF officials. I rightly described the Chief Medical Officer as widely respected—I happen to know him quite well because I used to work with him—so whatever else the hon. Lady says, I hope that she will not convey the impression that inexpert people are offering advice. For the rest, of course, I note her request.

Will my right hon. Friend endeavour to provide time for a debate on policing so that we have an opportunity to congratulate the police on the success of Operation Christmas Cracker, led by the chief constable of West Mercia? That operation demonstrates the determination of the police to crack down on all forms of theft.

That is the third question related to crime, law and order and the like, so I can only assume that there will be a busy and crowded debate in the House tomorrow.

Bearing in mind the present spirit of good will and the concept of Santa bringing presents, is the Leader of the House aware of whether the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland wishes to make a statement announcing that Northern Ireland will receive the same benefits as have been extended to Scotland and Wales and that sittings of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee will be held in public in Northern Ireland?

I have not received a request from my right hon. and learned Friend to make a statement, but as I take the hon. Gentleman's question as a disguised request for something to be done, I shall bring it to my right hon. and learned Friend's attention.

May we have time to debate local government spending so that I can bring before the House the subject of the refusal of Ealing Labour council to provide travel passes—which it is bound by law to provide—to children wishing to attend the sixth form of Twyford Church of England school? That is not the only school for which the council is refusing travel passes. That refusal represents a denial of parental choice of school, which the Labour party has said that it believes in, but does not practise.

That would be another good question for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment next Wednesday. Of course, I would expect further debate on the local government settlement in late January or early February when the usual orders have been laid.

May we have an urgent debate on the problems facing exporters who want to obtain money from countries to which they export goods? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Smith and Nephew in my constituency had to lay off 50 people as they found it impossible to get any money out of not only Iran, which has acknowledged foreign exchange difficulties, but Saudi Arabia, which is paying billions of pounds to the United States in recompense for the Gulf war, but cannot find the money to pay an important employer in my constituency? Can the right hon. Gentleman imagine the fury that I felt when I received a Christmas card through the post today from the ambassador of Saudi Arabia, when that country cannot pay its bills for goods exported there?

I am not sure whether the Saudi ambassador reads Hansard, but I am sure that in one way or another the hon. Gentleman's remarks will be brought to the ambassador's attention. I shall certainly bring them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade.

May I join those who have urged my right hon. Friend to have a debate on education so that we can discuss the fact that, while the Labour party nationally talks about education standards, Labour councils locally produce poor results? Does he agree that there is more than whiff of hypocrisy in the fact that those who practise choice in education for their own children seek to deny it to other children?

Yes—that is, yes to my hon. Friend's observations rather than to a commitment to a debate, but I shall consider his request.

When may we have a debate on the view expressed by all the hon. Members who participated in the debate yesterday on young people leaving care that the Children Act 1989 is not working and that the plight of young people leaving care at the age of 16 and 17 is deteriorating? We need that debate to draw attention to the cut in housing benefit which will further punish those young people who have faced every problem that life can throw at them, as described in early-day motion 135.

[That this House notes that 30 per cent. of young, single homeless people have experienced local authority care; recognises that young people leaving care need secure and stable accommodation; accepts that shared accommodation is often unstable and necessitates frequent moves; believes that young people leaving care should have the option of living by themselves; deplores the decision in the Budget to restrict housing benefit for the under-25 year olds to the cost of shared accommodation; and believes that this will greatly increase the problems already facing young people leaving care in finding a home.]

Is it not a terrible disgrace that we arc treating those children in that way? Most young people leave home at 22, but these youngsters are being thrown out at 16 and pitchforked from full-time care into full-time neglect.

The hon. Gentleman's question has little or nothing to do with the Children Act 1989, but is more a question about the social security proposal that was announced at the time of the Budget. I draw his attention to the fact that the Secretary of State for Social Security is also due to answer questions next week.

Unusually, may I urge my right hon. Friend to resist the calls for a debate on BSE? Does he understand that, given that British beef is completely safe, such a debate would be greeted with utter dismay by the beef farmers of Worcestershire and the rest of the country? The Opposition are prepared to exploit any issue for narrow party advantage.

I take note of those representations even though they arc somewhat different from those I have received from the Opposition.

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Employment Select Committee is to wind up on 2 March, having had to complete its report on employment statistics by then. The report will have to take into account the independent report by Dr. David Steel, commissioned by the Government. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the President of the Board of Trade when that report will be available; whether he will keep to the undertaking that we shall have it before the House by the end of January; and, if there is any doubt about it, whether he will make a statement to the House?

It is not true to say that the Employment Select Committee must complete anything by a particular date. I know that it wishes to, and our objective was to give it the opportunity to do so.

I believe that the hon. and learned Gentleman has recently written to the Chancellor or the President of the Board of Trade about the matter. Of course, I will do anything I can to assist, to ensure that the report is available as soon as possible. However, I cannot guarantee a particular time.

May I add my support for the call for an urgent debate on education, so that we can discuss the amazing inconsistencies of certain Labour Members, who say one thing publicly about grant-maintained schools, but do something completely different when they have the opportunity to send their youngsters to those schools?

We could also discuss Lancashire county council and the fact that it sent letters to parents, before it knew the amount of the Budget settlement, that frightened them into thinking that the education budget would be cut by 8 per cent. The council now knows that there will be an increase in the education budget, but the chairman of the education committee—Stan Wright—will not give a guarantee that all that extra money will be passed on to schools.

A debate on education, given the enthusiasm manifested by Opposition Front Benchers, becomes a more attractive proposition by the minute. Of course, careful students of the Gracious Speech will realise that education legislation is in prospect, partly related to grant-maintained schools. That should provide some opportunities in due course.

Following his previous answer, and in view of the fact that if the weather changes not a single penny will be received by pensioners for heating—because of the mockery and farce of the scheme—will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Secretary of State for Social Security to come to the House on Monday to announce that the payments will be made regardless of the weather and because of the intense hardship experienced by millions of pensioners on the lowest possible incomes? Is that asking too much before the festive season?

I have already arranged for the Secretary of State for Social Security to answer questions on Tuesday, as I told the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn). Beyond that, I cannot add to what I said earlier—except to underline the fact, which is well known to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), that the scheme has been radically improved over a short period.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Labour party has called for a significant increase in the powers of the European Parliament. Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate soon, to give Opposition Members the opportunity to specify the powers that they would like to hand over? Without wishing to tempt my right hon. Friend into indiscretion, will he comment on how damaging such a transfer of power would he for Britain?

I am tempted to say that if only people would stop asking me questions, such a debate would take place immediately.

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 147?

[That this House notes that the latest official electoral figures show that there is an average of five per cent. of the eligible population missing from electoral registers in the United Kingdom; further notes that these figures under-state the problem and that as many as three to four million people may be absent from registers, a claim that is described as broadly correct by the OPCS Director of Statistics; believes that this continuing and high level of voter under-registration, particularly in inner city areas and among the homeless and rootless, black people and youth, should be of urgent concern to democrats in all parties and none as it undermines the quality of our parliamentary democracy; further notes that Saturday 16th December is the deadline for people having their names included in the annual register of voters published in February; and encourages those who have not already done so to register by this deadline; further believes that reforming the current outdated voter registration system through the introduction of a rolling register will help to reverse the dramatic shortfall in electoral registration as this will allow people to register where they live, when they live there and will give extra duties for electoral registration officers, greater local and national publicity and increased access by disabled people to polling stations and to voting; and congratulates the Full Franchise umbrella group for seeking to bring all these matters to the attention of Parliament and the people during its week of activities from 3rd December.]

That early-day motion has been signed by 157 hon. Members, even though it appeared on the Order Paper only on Tuesday, and the six main sponsors are from six different political parties. The early-day motion shows that the electoral register is in a terrible state and needs readjusting and work. The homeless, young people and others should be added to the register, so that they may enjoy their full democratic rights. All democrats should believe in the basic building block of equality of the franchise. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange a debate, which would be appropriate now, because 16 December is the final date for checking names and recording them on the electoral register?

A lot is done to make the register as complete as possible, including television advertising by the Government aimed at the young and people from ethnic minorities, who are among those about whom the hon. Gentleman is concerned.

Will the House debate the panic in the Tory party, which has now reached epic proportions? Today's Financial Times reports that the 1922 Committee is accusing not just Labour and other Opposition parties but the Speaker of being biased. The Chairman of the Tory party is also monitoring the activities of Madam Speaker. I speak from a position of impartiality, having been thrown out—in rugby league parlance, taken an early bath—a few times. The last occasion was when I said that the Government were a wart on Thatcher's nose. Will the Leader of the House put a stop to that nonsense, so that we can get on with the job of proper politics? If the Tories cannot stand it, let us have a general election and sort the matter out.

I am sure that you, Madam Speaker, listened with interest to the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I hope that we may take them as a promise of future good behaviour.

The Leader of the House may not have had the opportunity to read an article in today's Independent which details the extent to which £86 million that has gone into Motability Finance Ltd. to provide transportation and vehicles for the disabled is difficult to account for, to say the least. I ask him urgently to arrange a debate on the structure of Motability Finance and to ask the Prime Minister to clarify whether the matter has been brought to his attention and is one that he has raised with Lord Sterling in his capacity as chairman of Motability Finance Ltd?

I have not studied the article in the Independent although I know a good deal about Motability, having been the Minister for Disabled People and held other relevant positions over the years. The Minister with principal responsibility for the matter is the Secretary of State for Social Security, who will be in the House to answer questions next week. I will draw his attention to the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Will the Leader of the House find time in the next few days for a debate on Britain's contribution to international organisations, particularly in view of the visit to London today of Federico Mayor, Director-General of UNESCO? I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to early-day motion 152.

[That this House welcomes UNESCO's Director-General Dr Federico Mayor's visit to the United Kingdom and his participation in the events which took place in London to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of UNESCO's Constitution adopted at the Institute of Civil Engineers on 16th November 1945; welcomes the strong message of support for UNESCO's work which Dr Mayor received from President Clinton on the occasion of that anniversary and his assurance that the re-entry of the United States of America to UNESCO would be given high priority as soon as the budget situation allowed;deeply regrets the negative and outdated arguments put forward by the Minister of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the debate on UNESCO on 31st October; believes that the United Kingdom is missing a very important opportunity to promote both its international obligations and its national self-interest by not joining UNESCO without further delay; laments the incalculable harm that is befalling British culture as a whole and the English language in particular as a direct result of the United Kingdom's absence from UNESCO; and seeks specific guidance from the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that Her Majesty's Government is willing to set a specific target date for early re-entry and to include the financial obligations connected with renewed membership in its budget planning.]

Will the Leader of the House raise with his Government colleagues the disgraceful decision to cut funding of the British Council and of projects such as those in Gaza, where there is an enormous demand for English language tuition and where the funding of new building would greatly help the development of the middle east peace process? Also, the Commonwealth Institute is about to make redundancies because the Government cut that organisation's support a couple of years ago. Is not it time to debate the Government's disgraceful attitude to supporting international organisations?

It is well known that this Government and this country have a good reputation—far better than some larger countries—for paying their subscriptions and the like. We note the views expressed in early-day motion 152, but, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said a month or so ago, the question of our return to UNESCO remains under review.

Looking around the House, it is clear that we are too late and that mad cow disease has already entered the human food chain. If the Leader of the House cannot arrange for a debate on BSE and its link to human beings, will he issue an instruction that all beef products should be removed from the menus of the House? Perhaps that would prevent us from becoming even more demented.

Even were I minded to do so—the hon. Gentleman will have realised from my earlier answers that I am not—I would not have the power to do so.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate on Monday about the orders that are due to take effect which will lead to another huge upheaval in public services in Wales, in this instance the fire brigades? We have had no opportunity to debate the orders despite requests that we should be able to do so. Does he understand that many people in Wales are concerned that there has not been an opportunity for proper and democratic scrutiny? Fire services are vital to Wales and the Government's proposals are viewed with great concern by many members of the public.

I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. It would seem to highlight the advantages of the proposals that my right hon. Friend has recently made to extend the role of the Welsh Grand Committee.

Point Of Order

4.6 pm

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it not the case that if ever there is any criticism of the Speaker a motion should be tabled on the Order Paper? As I understand it—you will correct me if I am wrong, Madam Speaker—that motion should be debated immediately. Is it not unacceptable for your activities to be monitored? When there were Conservative Speakers, I am not aware that Labour Members monitored their activities.

As my hon. Friend says, it is disgraceful. If the chairman of the Conservative party, a Member of this place, is dissatisfied with your conduct, Madam Speaker, he should table a motion on the Order Paper so that we may have a debate.

I do not believe everything I read in newspapers. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) is right: if there is any criticism of the Chair, a motion must be tabled, which would be debated immediately. I repeat that I do not always believe what I read in newspapers.

European Union

[Relevant documents: The Twenty-fourth Report of the Select Committee on European Legislation, Session 1994-95, on the 1996 Intergovernmental Conference: the Agenda; Democracy and Efficiency; the Role of National Parliaments (HC 239-1), and the Government's reply (Cm 3051); European Parliament-Resolution A4-0102/95 on the functioning of the Treaty on European Union with a view to the 1996 Intergovernmental Conference; Report of the Council on the functioning of the Treaty on European Union (Cm 2866); Report by the Commission on the operation of the Treaty on European Union (SEC(95)73I); Report by the Court of Auditors on the operation of the Treaty on European Union and the Report of the Court of Justice on certain aspects of the application of the Treaty on European Union; the White Paper on Developments in the European Union January-June 1995 (Cm 3130); and the Minutes of Evidence taken by the Foreign Affairs Committee on 30th November (HC 72-i).]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Burns.]

4.7 pm

The debate provides Members with an opportunity to comment on a range of issues affecting the European Union. I intend to concentrate on the forthcoming European Council summit in Madrid. I shall have a few comments to make, which I hope will be helpful, to the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), the Opposition's spokesman, so that we may help to clarify certain of the Opposition's policies. I think that that will be of benefit to the House and the country.

First, I shall concentrate on the forthcoming summit in Madrid. The next few years will be as important as any in the EU's 40-year history. We shall face challenges such as enlargement to the east and south, hard decisions on a single currency, the development of Europe's security architecture, and fundamental reform of the common agricultural policy. Underlying all that is the need to restore Europe's global competitiveness and its ability to create jobs. Only if the EU can contribute to that goal can we rebuild people's confidence in a way that is relevant to their concerns.

Next week's Madrid European Council will focus on many of the issues to which I have referred. It is clear that the intergovernmental conference will be a major item on the agenda next week. I welcome the close interest that the House has taken in the preparations, and especially the reports from the Select Committees on European Legislation and on Foreign Affairs. Members will have seen the Government's response to the Committees' reports.

My hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis), the Minister of State, has kept the House closely in touch with developments in the study group. He will talk in more detail later about these developments if he is successful in catching your eye, Madam Speaker. Keeping Parliament informed is a priority for the Government. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said earlier this afternoon, we are considering whether to publish a White Paper early next year setting out the Government's approach to the intergovernmental conference.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for showing his characteristic courtesy. Does he agree with Commissioner Kinnock that, as far as eastern European countries are concerned, the prospect of membership of the European Union is exceedingly distant?

I am not sure that I necessarily agree with Commissioner Kinnock. It very much depends. It is undoubtedly true that negotiations on enlargement will take a number of years; they did for Spain and Portugal, so it is hardly likely that they will take less than the five or six years that were required for those countries when we come to the countries of central and eastern Europe. But time will tell, and I will have something further to say on enlargement later.

The Secretary of State talks about fully communicating and informing Members of Parliament. Is not what we need as domestic politicians more involvement in what is going on in Europe, and proper, positive involvement, not just information?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman proposes to support the Government in their view that national Parliaments should be more involved in the consideration and scrutiny of European proposals, and that will be one of the items for the intergovernmental conference.

No, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

The study group, which has been meeting since June to prepare options on the issues that the IGC will address, issued its report earlier this week. Although the membership of the study group does not precisely reflect that of the IGC, the report is a good preliminary indication of the likely agenda, and the current balance of member states' views.

The report says that next year's IGC will not entail a radical rewrite of the Maastricht treaty or aim to turn the European Union into a super-state, but will concentrate on practical steps to make Europe more relevant to people, and to make the Union work better and to prepare it for enlargement. These are fine words, and I endorse them, but it is not enough to assert these things: we need to deliver them. Our Government's realistic, practical agenda for the IGC will, I believe, do that.

With so many major challenges facing us over the next few years, people could be forgiven for asking why the European Union is embarking on another IGC so soon after Maastricht came into force. If it heralds a long period of navel-gazing and institutional tinkering, people will feel that the European Union is fiddling while Europe burns. But if the IGC strengthens practical European co-operation where necessary, and shows with renewed determination that the European Union should stay out of areas where it is not necessary, people will be prepared to welcome that. That is what our approach is designed to deliver.

I shall now comment on European Union enlargement, which the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow raised with me.

None of the challenges that I mentioned earlier is more important than the historic mission to re-embrace the countries of central and eastern Europe. We must welcome them back fully into our family of democracies. In extending to our neighbours to the east the security and prosperity that we have enjoyed for 50 years, we will enhance the security and prosperity of the whole of Europe. That is why we are so firmly committed to enlargement.

It is clear that enlargement will not simply happen overnight: both the candidate countries and the European Union have plenty to do first. The European Union must take sensible decisions about the negotiating process. We expect at least some of the countries of central and eastern Europe that are ready and willing to begin negotiations alongside Cyprus and Malta, six months after the IGC.

But we also want to ensure that the enlargement process is smooth and sustainable. That means that the European Union will have to decide which associated countries have made most progress towards readiness for membership. The Commission's Opinions will be a vital ingredient in that process, and I welcome its intention to produce the Opinions shortly after the IGC. Meanwhile, we must continue to encourage the associated countries to keep up the progress that is being made in preparing to take on EU membership, particularly in preparations to join the internal market.

There are other major issues, too. The IGC must address the institutional needs of an enlarged European Union, and there are important policy implications. The Commission has just published two important reports, which will launch a very important debate on reform of the common agricultural policy and the structural funds. I welcome its analysis that, as we have long been saying, extending an unreformed CAP to an enlarged European Union would breach commitments under the general agreement on tariffs and trade on subsidised agricultural exports.

I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend on the importance of enlargement for Cyprus and Malta and for countries of eastern Europe. However, as he says, enlargement will require institutional change. Does he not perceive that some of that institutional change will be an extension—a wise extension—of qualified majority voting? Otherwise, the possibility of a small country using its veto to block progress until there is a reform of the CAP that suits it will surely be all too great.

I do not agree with my right hon. Friend. Of course there will be implications for the size of the Commission as the Community enlarges. It is ludicrous to imagine that, as the Commission enlarges, each new member state, including very small countries, will automatically have a Commissioner, and that nothing else will change. The Commission itself clearly has to be reformed, and I recognise that fact. I also recognise that the weighting attached to the voting rights of individual countries may have to reflect an enlarged European Union. But I do not accept the argument that the case for enlargement points towards an increase in qualified majority voting.

I say that for this reason. The Community is already 15-strong. We already have qualified majority voting in many areas. Where we have the need for unanimity, it is almost invariably because there is a need for it because of the importance of the issues concerned. If one considers the European Union, despite small countries such as Luxembourg, that has not prevented progress from being made. If one considers other international organisations, NATO, for example, has never had qualified majority voting at any time in its history. It has always proceeded by consensus, and has always managed to reach agreement acceptable to all member states.

Therefore, the Government's view is clear. We do not believe that there is a case for an increase in qualified majority voting, and we do not believe that the enlargement of the European Union changes that in any meaningful or significant way.

I accept the Secretary of State's view that there should be no extension of qualified majority voting to take account of enlargement, but will he say something about the directly relevant point of what should constitute a blocking minority in an enlarged Community?

Yes. As I mentioned, I accept that there is a case for what is often referred to as a re-weighting of the voting strength of individual countries, because it clearly would be ludicrous if a country such as Malta, with a tiny population, had a voting strength which was more comparable with that of Belgium, Greece or the Netherlands. Likewise, one must take account of the larger countries, which have considerably increased voting weight. That is already recognised to some extent in the existing voting rights and the voting weight of respective member states. I have no doubt that further work needs to be done on that, and the British Government are willing to support that approach.

If hon. Members will forgive me for a moment, I am sure that they will have an opportunity to intervene later in my remarks.

It has also been pointed out by the Commission, in the work that has been done on enlargement, that, unless the CAP is reformed, the European Union will face the prospect of yet more food mountains. That is why the report concludes that the status quo for the CAP is not an option. That is welcome news, even if it does not go far enough for us. I should also add that the status quo is not an option for the structural funds, either. Reform will be needed so that the Union can enlarge successfully and affordably.

Those are difficult issues. We must tackle them and tackle them soon. That is not because we have somehow gone cool on enlargement—quite the opposite. If we put these problems to one side now, they will certainly come back to obstruct progress later. We are serious about enlargement to the east, and keen to see the process begin as soon as it reasonably can. That is why we want to bring all the questions into the open now, starting at the Madrid European Council next week.

On the question of enlargement, is it not a huge task to expect the former Soviet bloc countries to sign up to the whole of the acquis communautaire? In view of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's exhortation to have a multi-speed, multi-track Europe, should we not be seeking to give those countries the opportunity to join aspects of activities of the European Union, not necessarily to compel them to join all of them?

I do not underestimate the complexity of the issues, but I must say two things to my hon. Friend. First, the countries themselves wish to sign up to the whole of the acquis; they are not asking for a differentiated approach. Secondly, the complexity that my hon. Friend rightly identifies will be relevant to the length of the transition that may be required for individual countries.

However, the countries that have expressed the greatest interest—the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary—have said that they wish to become full members of the European Union, and they are prepared to make the internal changes because they are trying to move to a market economy as quickly as possible.

Following the answer that the Foreign Secretary gave one of his own Back Benchers, the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin), may I ask him whether it is not a measure of the success of the European Union that so many former members of the Warsaw pact want to sign up not just to parts of the treaty, but to all of it?

That is an entirely reasonable comment. Despite being controversial in many respects in many countries, the European Union is seen as a positive force for European progress.

The Government and British businesses are wholly committed to maximising the gains to British citizens and British business from membership of the European Union. The achievement of that goal is not a zero-sum game; as Europe prospers, so does the United Kingdom. The Government have an economic agenda for Britain and for Europe. We want, and are working, to sharpen the competitive edge of European businesses. Successful businesses create jobs; uncompetitive businesses shed jobs. We want less regulation and fewer burdens on business, completion of the single market, liberalisation of the telecommunications and energy sectors, and more free trade.

It is fashionable to knock Brussels. It is the bureaucratic capital of the world, and the home of red tape. Much of the criticism is justified, but under the new Commission things may now be changing. Jacques Santer made that clear in his speech to the Guildhall earlier this year. He is committed to "less action, but better action". Sir Leon Brittan made it clear in his speech to the CBI three weeks ago when he said:

"the tide of social legislation has all but dried up … the emphasis is now on job creation".
At Madrid, our Prime Minister will again reinforce the message. We want progress on enhancing competitiveness, improving the quality and reducing the quantity of legislation, deregulating labour markets to make them more responsive, creating jobs and reducing unemployment. We want less rhetoric and more action, and we shall continue to push strongly for that.

Let me give two examples of the way in which the battle is being won. First, there is the legislative burden. In 1990—only five years ago—the Commission proposed 185 pieces of primary legislation; by 1993, that figure was down to 75, in 1995 it is down further to 43, and the Commission estimates that next year it will be down to 21.

One of the reasons why that admirable trend may be happening is the increasing power of the European Court. Lord Denning's "onrush of European law" is beginning to become a reality. Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that some of the reforms may increase the Court's credibility? We want to restrict and limit it to interpreting the treaty of Rome, rather than making laws that replace some of the Commission's laws.

I agree with my hon. Friend that the proper task of the European Court is to interpret the treaty when there is a genuine legal dispute concerning its provisions. We are giving thought to proposals to improve the workings of the Court. We think it unfortunate, for example, that no appeals procedure exists. However controversial or expensive for a member state the Court's judgments may be, there is no opportunity for a second consideration. That is quite unlike the procedures that are available in national courts.

We also need to look afresh at the European Court's powers to impose heavy damages on member states retrospectively, even when some infraction of a directive may have been carried out in good faith and with no intent to disregard the significance of that directive. Important reforms can be made in a constructive way, and we intend to take the lead in promoting such an approach.

Is not the problem that, in interpreting, as my right hon. and learned Friend says, the treaty, the judges consider it with the eye of continental lawyers? They do not narrowly construe just one section of one Act; they consider what they believe to be the general purpose of the treaty. The result is that the thing is always skewed in a federal direction.

I must confess that I am very nervous when my hon. Friend refers to the judges interpreting these matters in a continental fashion, as the British judge, Judge David Edward, is my old devil master, at whose knees I learned such knowledge as I have of Scottish law. I would not dare make such an accusation in regard to any judgments in which he was personally involved.

One of the European Court's strengths is that it has brought together different traditions and different legal systems, and sought to apply the European legal profession's accumulated wisdom in determining such matters, but I accept my hon. Friend's point to some extent. Of course, if the bulk of the judges come from countries with a continental judicial tradition, that is bound to influence the way in which they deal with particular matters. That is another reason why some appeal system is required within the European Court: if, for whatever reason, there has been an imbalance, it is unhealthy if that cannot be rectified in any way.

I mentioned the dramatic and welcome decline in primary legislation in the past five years. We should like similar progress in secondary legislation emerging from Brussels. The quality of legislation also needs to improve, with greater consultation, especially with businesses, before specific legislation is even considered.

Before my right hon. and learned Friend leaves the point about an appeals procedure, has he considered how that might be structured, and whether, if disputes on subsidiarity were involved, it might be better if an appeal were referred to a body drawn from the national Parliaments of the European Union rather than from another series of judges?

There are various ways in which subsidiarity can be given greater primacy. Our view is that we should like it entrenched in treaty form, to ensure that such matters are given much greater weight. That is what we will seek to do.

The other area in which there has been good progress is in the fight against fraud. The United Kingdom secured significant changes at Maastricht, including an enhanced role for the European Court of Auditors and for the European Parliament in that respect. That is also an area where further work is required. Further detailed examination of the ways in which fraud can be more effectively dealt with should be given the prominence it deserves.

The UK lives by trade and by investment. That is why the Government are fully committed to working towards open markets around the world, whether within the European Union, across the Atlantic or elsewhere. With our European partners, we took a leading role in the 1995 World Trade Organisation negotiations on financial services liberalisation. We shall press hard for a good outcome to the negotiations currently under way within the WTO for liberalisation of telecommunications and maritime services. We must keep up the momentum for dismantling barriers to trade and investment wherever they exist.

Market access is crucial, whether for the European Union's neighbours to the east or for the Mediterranean countries. Britain is the strongest supporter in the EU of open markets, and that is why we want over time to create a Mediterranean free trade area, covering, in particular, agriculture, where many Mediterranean partners enjoy a comparative advantage.

That is why we have been pressing for increased access for agricultural and other goods from central and eastern Europe. That is important if those countries are to develop their economies in a free-market fashion that we would wish to welcome.

That challenge has not yet been responded to satisfactorily by member states as a whole. Last month, European Union Foreign Ministers considered a European Commission proposal for a five-year programme to increase quotas for goods from eastern European countries by 10 per cent. a year. That would have been a modest help in allowing them to develop those sectors of their economy that are most competitive. We strongly supported the Commission's efforts. We made it clear that the quantities of extra goods involved were tiny. It was absurd that the Commission's proposals were opposed by some member states.

Let me give just one or two examples of what some member states felt obliged to oppose. At present, Bulgaria can send four lorryloads of strawberry jam to the European Union each year. The Commission proposes that, by the end of the century, it should be able to send an extra two lorry loads. That was opposed. In five years' time, Poland would be allowed to send an extra four tonnes of lettuces to the European Union each month. That was opposed. Slovakia's quota for ham exports should be raised by 12 kg per day per member state. That was opposed. An extra 40 lb of Polish sweet peppers per member state per day was opposed. A total of 40 g more Czech duck meat annually for each man, woman and child in the Community by 1999 was considered unacceptable. According to the Commission's proposals, in five years' time all the associated countries of eastern Europe would have been able to export additional cereals equivalent to 0.3 per cent. of German production, yet Germany opposed that request.

Those proposals for increases over five years were opposed by a number of countries, including Germany and several Mediterranean countries. I am not sure how other member states can proudly claim to be helping the central Europeans when they are so miserly about access to our markets. It defies belief that a few jars of Bulgarian jam could represent a serious threat to the economies of western Europe.

Since the Foreign Secretary is obviously opposed to petty opposition from member states, can he tell me why his Government are opposing a proposal by Sweden to make full employment an objective of the European treaty? Does he oppose full employment in Europe, or is his opposition petty?

Britain's position stems from the fact that we have the lowest levels of unemployment of any major country in the European Union. One of the reasons for that low level is that we believe that employment policy can best be determined by national Governments answerable to national Parliaments. We have rejected the social chapter precisely because it results in higher unemployment and lost jobs. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about these matters, he should speak to the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen, and tell them to abandon the policy that is so damaging to the employment requirements of this country.

Economic and monetary union will feature prominently at Madrid. The Prime Minister made it clear at the informal Heads of Government meeting in Majorca in September that a number of important issues had yet to be examined properly. Although the Prime Minister secured for Britain an option on whether to join stage 3 of economic and monetary union, the questions to which the Prime Minister referred, and will refer again at Madrid, are of the utmost importance not only to Britain but to all member states.

Was it not a remarkable triumph of diplomacy to negotiate that option on the single currency at Maastricht, and to gain along with it the right to play a full part in the discussions on the future shape and management of the single currency? Is it not right that those two abilities—the option and the right to take part in discussions—represent considerable assets for this country, and that one would have to be completely barmy to suggest simply throwing them away?

That is right. It was a negotiating triumph by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and it illustrates most clearly a point to which I shall return—that, just occasionally, the United Kingdom has to be prepared to be on its own if it is properly to protect British interests.

It is clear that, if EMU is to go ahead on 1 January 1999, only a minority of member states will be ready. Many will not have met the convergence criteria in the treaty of Maastricht. What will be the relationship between those within and those outside EMU? What effect might that have on the functioning of the single market, Community spending and the institutional framework of European decision-making? Much more work needs to be done on those and other issues before any clear picture emerges about what stage 3 might look like.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House what the British Government will be expecting by way of currency convergence and stability to meet the Maastricht treaty 109J for those countries and currencies which are seeking to join?

Those are exactly the issues on which the work has not been done. We will be arguing strongly that, whether it is because of an inability to join EMU or an unwillingness to do so, it is clear that more than half the member states of the Union would not be part of a single currency if it were to be formed in 1999. Therefore, it is crucial that the work should begin now, not in 1997 or 1998, on the implications for the relationship between the "ins" and the "outs" in such a situation.

At Madrid, the Heads of Government will also consider the reference scenario for the transition to stage 3, the name of the currency, and German proposals for a fiscal stability pact in stage 3 to reinforce budgetary discipline among those member states which participate in the single currency. In its present form, the recommendation on a reference scenario which ECOFIN will submit to Madrid is broadly acceptable to the UK.

The decision on the name, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in his speech to the Guildhall, is a potential distraction from the more important issues which we want discussed at Madrid—although I imagine that those who support a single currency will want it to have a name with some popular resonance.

If a single currency is established by a minority of countries and Britain stays out of it, would that not be extremely damaging to the British economy and to our role in international financial institutions, especially if those countries take retaliatory action against other countries that are not part of the system?

Those matters are clearly among the issues that the United Kingdom will have to consider and on which it will have to reach a decision—looking not only at the alleged advantages but at the alleged disadvantages, and coming to a judgment on where British interests lie. We will give very serious consideration to that.

On fiscal stability, the Government's record—notably the recent Budget—speaks for itself. The Government's fiscal policy is directed at maintaining sound public finances. As to the detail of the German proposals, that will be a matter for the Heads of Government to address. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor emphasised in his Budget speech, we will continue to pursue economic policies that will have the effect of achieving the convergence criteria set out in Maastricht by the end of 1997. These policies make sound economic sense in themselves.

Given the obvious difficulties that some of our partners, such as Italy and Belgium, will have in meeting the convergence criteria, does my right hon. and learned Friend think that, in a spirit of fraternal friendship with those countries, it is time to suggest that they might dust down the idea so ably put forward by our own Prime Minister several years ago, that the ecu should trade not necessarily as a single currency, but as a common currency? That would be a market-based, gradualist solution that might well have many attractions, both for our party and for other countries.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's views are well known. We must leave it to other countries to come gradually to their own conclusions on whether they might be relevant to their circumstances. My right hon. Friend has always said that he believes that there is strength in that sort of approach. Perhaps, at some stage, it might commend itself to others as well.

With regard to Madrid, I want finally to deal with the immediate issues facing the EU on the question of the customs union between it and Turkey. We are anxious to ensure that the EU remains outward-looking. The Foreign Affairs Council on 30 October took a formal decision to implement a customs union. I very much hope the European Parliament will give its assent next week.

Customs union will reinforce the EU's relations with a very important neighbour. Turkey is a key partner in a volatile region, and customs union will help to maintain its western orientation. It will also bring important benefits to British business, as Turkey liberalises its import regime and brings its legislation into line with the EU on intellectual property protection, competition policy and state aids.

Turkey has made real progress on a number of human rights issues identified by the European Parliament in recent months. There have been constitutional and local government reforms, the release of certain Members of Parliament, and reforms to article 8 of the anti-terror law. Some 150 jailed writers and academics have benefited. When she visited London recently, Prime Minister Ciller of Turkey made it clear that she is committed to continuing the process after the forthcoming general elections. We very much welcome that.

Having commented on the Government's approach towards the Madrid summit, I want to refer to the views expressed in an interesting and memorable way by the Opposition. What has struck me as most significant has been the extent to which both the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Livingston, the shadow Foreign Secretary, have emphasised that a British Government led by them would not be isolated in Europe. They have made their views on that clear in a most unambiguous way.

The Leader of the Opposition said on 4 October 1994:

"Under my leadership, I will never allow this country to be isolated or left behind in Europe."
He said on 20 May:

"My belief is that the drift towards isolation in Europe must stop and must be replaced by a policy of constructive engagement."
The hon. Member for Livingston said at the Labour party conference on 3 October:

"The Government's isolation in Europe has cost Britain dear. Labour has a positive agenda for reform in Europe, a people's agenda, that will strengthen Britain's influence and benefit the people of Britain."
I have been giving some thought to what the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Livingston might mean by not being isolated in Europe. It is a very powerful position to adopt. One has tried to work out how they intend to achieve it. So far as I can tell—unless the hon. Member for Livingston corrects me—there are only two ways in which they could achieve it.

Either they are saying that, over the past 16 years, if they had been the Government, they would have agreed with the rest of the European Union on all the issues on which the British Government stood alone. That is one possible way in which we could have avoided isolation. Alternatively, they are saying, "Well, no, we would not necessarily have agreed. But we would have allowed ourselves to be out-voted, allowed majority voting, and removed the veto. So, even if we disagreed, we would have come to terms with what is being proposed."

I thought that that latter approach was Labour policy because, at the time of its party conference, it produced a policy document that seemed to suggest that it was preparing to abandon the veto and unanimity requirements. In that document, published in October, it said, quite explicitly: "We reject permanent opt-outs." That is very clear. In the same document, it said:

"Labour therefore accepts that it is in Britain's interests to extend qualified majority voting in some cases such as certain areas of social policy, industrial policy, regional policy and environmental policy."
That seems quite clear. Labour is saying that we would not be isolated, because we would have no permanent opt-outs, and QMV would operate in all those areas.

At least, I thought it was clear, until I started listening to the speeches. Despite putting those statements in their document, Labour Members have been extraordinarily shy in sharing those observations with the general public. Unless one goes to the actual text, one would not know that what I have cited is Labour party policy.

On the very day that the policy document was published, the hon. Member for Livingston made a speech to his party conference. He made no reference to having no permanent opt-outs or to abandoning qualified majority voting in those four areas. He has made a speech in the House on European policy since then, and, despite requests from Conservative Members, he did not make a single reference to ending qualified majority voting or having no permanent opt-outs. The leader of the Labour party, in his famed address to the Confederation of British Industry, made no reference to those matters, nor did he in a major speech on European policy on Thursday.

So we have to ask ourselves whether that lack of reference is because of shyness. Did the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Livingston forget that that was their policy? Have they not read their own document? Or is it tactics? Do they like to have a commitment on paper to end Britain's ability to protect its interests, and hope that no one notices because they make no reference to it in their speeches?

If that is their policy, as spelled out in the document, we are entitled to ask—I say this in the friendliest possible way to the hon. Member for Livingston—why they are so coy about informing the House and the public on the implications of it and why they hold it so dear. Why is it a policy that dare not call itself by its name? Why is the hon. Gentleman so reluctant to speak to the policy to which his party has committed itself? We will be listening very carefully to his speech to find out whether what I have said is indeed the case.

Is it possible that, in addition to the powerful points that my right hon. and learned Friend has just made, there is a third interpretation of Labour policy—that it totally exaggerates the degree to which this country has been isolated over the past 16 years in the European Union? Indeed, in many respects, we have forged effective alliances in order to advance our national interests, especially in the single market.

That may indeed be the case. I come to the second possibility that I mentioned. It could be argued by the Labour party that what it meant when it said that Britain would not have been isolated is that it would have agreed with the various policies in which Britain has, under this Government, stood out. Let us look at that question.

It may be that the Labour party had the social chapter in mind. Indeed, we would have been entitled to assume that it was prepared to go unreservedly into the social chapter. But there again, the Leader of Opposition sought to assure the CBI conference when he said:

"The social chapter is not detailed legislation … Each piece of legislation will be judged on its merit. I have no intention whatever of agreeing to anything and everything that emerges from the EU. Proposals are just that: proposals. And they will be examined, with you, on their merits."
What happens if, having been examined, those proposals turn out to be against British interests? Would a Labour Government stand out alone against such proposals? Would they be able to, given that qualified majority voting applies to the social chapter? We have had no statement from the hon. Member for Livingston on that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) referred to the areas in which Britain has been isolated over the past 16 years. If the Labour party claimed that it would not have carried forward a policy which would have led to our isolation, I should remind it and the hon. Member for Livingston about some of the issues on which we fought for British interests, even though it required isolation.

It took several years of very splendid isolation from my right hon. Friend the former Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher, to win the British budget rebate, for example. It has been worth £18 billion to British taxpayers since it was won. When the hon. Member for Livingston comes to the Dispatch Box, will he inform the House whether a Labour Government would have been prepared to be isolated, standing alone in Europe, in order to win that British budget rebate? Indeed, would a Labour Government be prepared to continue to be isolated in defending that British budget rebate, when other member states might seek to have it terminated?

If the hon. Member wants to give me that assurance, I shall happily give way. Will the hon. Gentleman assure the House that a Labour Government would be prepared to accept isolation to defend the British budget rebate? Would he care to give the House an assurance?

May I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I hope to catch Madam Speaker's eye? I shall be making my own speech in my own good time.

Very well. We have given the hon. Gentleman adequate notice of the information that the House is entitled to know. Would a Labour Government be prepared to accept isolation in order to defend the British budget rebate? That is question No. 1. As he is noting it down, will he note down a number of other similar questions?

The second question is on the Schengen frontier controls. On that, virtually all the member states have accepted that they are going to have open frontiers, that they will not have the sort of controls which we have to combat terrorism, illegal immigration and drug smuggling. The only other country that does not take that majority view is Ireland, because it is so linked to the UK that it could not do so unless the British Government changed their policy. So we are isolated—I have to acknowledge that.

Since the hon. Member for Livingston is noting down these points, will he note down and also inform the House whether a Labour Government would be prepared to see Britain isolated for as long as was required in order to protect frontier controls? Can he make a clear statement on that—no fudge, no equivocation—to the House and the country?

While we are on the subject, will the hon. Gentleman also express some views on his attitude towards defence policy? We may very well be isolated, with many member states saying that the Western European Union should be subordinated to the European Union. A number of countries appear to wish that as a long-term objective. Is that what the hon. Gentleman believes? Or would he be prepared to see Britain isolated, if that was required?

What about qualified majority voting on common foreign and security policy? Would a Labour Government acknowledge the need to go for QMV on that matter? Would the hon. Gentleman be prepared to see Britain isolated on that matter?

Those are not unreasonable questions to put to the hon. Gentleman. I put them to him, as I said, in the spirit of trying to have a constructive dialogue across the Floor of the House, so that the House and the country may have a clearer understanding of a policy, to the clarification of which the Labour party up to now does not appear to have given the highest priority in presenting its views.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that many of the issues on which Britain has been isolated—and rightly isolated—have been those on which people, business men and sometimes politicians in other community states have looked to Britain to fight their corner? Indeed,, some years later, they come round to thank us for having done so, and take up that very position themselves.