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Commons Chamber

Volume 344: debated on Tuesday 15 February 2000

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 15 February 2000

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


Private Business

Greenham And Crookham Commons Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Tuesday 22 February.

Child Care Procedures And Practice In North Wales


That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that there shall be laid before this House a Return of the Report and Summary (including a Welsh translation of the summary) of the Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the abuse of children in care in the former county council areas of Gwynedd and Clwyd since 1974, entitled Lost in Care.—[Mr. McNulty.]

Oral Answers To Questions

Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

The Secretary of State was asked

World Peace Council


If he will make a statement on (a) the status of, (b) the recent evolution and changes in the role of and (c) the identity of those funding the World Peace Council. [108519]

This Government have had no direct contact with the World Peace Council. It is an international non-governmental organisation, which has apparently been based in Paris since 1996. It has no member organisation in this country.

Is not that a rather thin account of the World Peace Council, which for more than 20 years was on the Labour party's list of proscribed organisations as the principal Soviet propaganda front? Given that that was its role and that it followed every twist and turn of Soviet foreign policy, will the Minister explain why the Foreign Secretary saw fit to appoint as the chairman of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which is intended to inculcate democratic values in ex-communist countries, someone who was a former active member of the World Peace Council at the height of the cold war?

I must tell the hon. Gentleman that, on Sunday afternoon between "EastEnders" and "Songs of Praise", I spent a happy time reading his speeches on the World Peace Council. Nobody in the House has given the organisation more coverage than he has. I assure him that it is an out-of-date organisation. It is almost as out of date as the hon. Gentleman's views on the cold war.

Does my hon. Friend agree that world peace can be advanced only by Governments who look to the future? Does he share my fear that, looking back over the past 10 years since the ending of the cold war, little progress has been made on nuclear disarmament? Will he assure the House that he will press the Russians to ratify START 2 and the Americans to ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, we use every international forum and every opportunity to encourage countries to be fully involved in these processes. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will visit Russia next Monday and Tuesday and he will use that opportunity, as he has always done, to encourage the process. Our views on the comprehensive test ban treaty are also very clear: we would like the United States to sign it. We were very disappointed that it did not, and we shall continue to urge all countries to be involved in this important process.

Will the Minister acknowledge that other organisations came into being during the cold war and that some are now outdated? A good example is the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, which is now the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. It succeeded in bringing down the Soviet bloc—that is why it was created—but it is now taking on other responsibilities and usurping the already well-established responsibilities of the Council of Europe. Have the Government thought seriously about reorganising the political structures of Europe following the collapse of the iron curtain? In that respect—

Order. This is hardly relevant to the World Peace Council. [Interruption.] Order. I say to the hon. Gentleman that the question was entirely about the identity and the funding of the World Peace Council and it has been answered.

Russia (Arms Exports)


What representations he has made to the Government of Russia about the supply of weapons to countries in the middle east. [108531]

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed the dangers of arms exports and assistance to countries of concern with Foreign Minister Ivanov when he visited Russia in March last year. He expects to do so again when he visits Russia on 21 and 22 February, next Monday and Tuesday.

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for that answer. He will no doubt be aware that Russia, perhaps because of its financial plight, continues to supply missiles and missile-related technology to countries such as Iran, which is not very supportive of the middle east peace process. He will also be aware of my interest in nuclear power. I am deeply concerned about such technology transfer because of the weakness of the technology and its potential application in enhancing Iran's nuclear weapons capability. When my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary visits Russia, will he use all his diplomatic skills to address these very serious problems?

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this matter. He has a great interest in those issues, and I can assure him that at every opportunity Foreign Office officials have raised them with the Russians. The Russians have assured us that their assistance to Iran is for civil nuclear application only and is in line with International Atomic Energy Agency standards. My hon. Friend has urged the Foreign Secretary to raise the matter again with the Russians, and I categorically assure him that my right hon. Friend has just told me that he will do so. I shall be happy to tell the House and my hon. Friend what happens as a result of those discussions.

Is it not the case that client regimes in the middle east and elsewhere that are in the marketplace for weapons like those armaments to be well tried and tested? Could not Her Majesty's Government therefore argue to the Russians that it is iniquitous and wrong for them to use their genocidal conflict in Chechnya as a proving ground for the weapons systems that they sell in the middle east? It is high time that those weapons were no longer used on the Chechens within the Russian Federation and no longer sold to rogue regimes outside it.

Our position on Chechnya and the Russian action there is absolutely clear: we do not believe that the use of disproportionate activities by the Russians was right. I expressed that view to the Russian ambassador. The hon. Gentleman's other points are, of course, matters that will be raised. It is absolutely essential that the major arms export countries adhere to the Wassenaar arrangement so that there is full transparency and disclosure. That is one way in which we can ensure that the export of arms is controlled.

Eu Enlargement


What recent discussions he has had with EU counterparts regarding enlargement. [108532]

I shall make a statement on the Government's policy on enlargement later this afternoon.

As I speak, the European Union is launching accession negotiations with six more applicant countries to join the six already in negotiation. Along with my EU colleagues, I discussed the prospects for enlargement with the Foreign Ministers of those six countries last night. I was impressed by their commitment to making a success of their application. Their enthusiasm for the European Union demonstrates a shrewder understanding of the benefits of membership than we often hear in the House from those on the Opposition Benches.

Did my right hon. Friend read the comments of the former shadow Foreign Secretary, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), in The Daily Telegraph last week, when he argued that Britain should hold up European Union enlargement until it accepted his pick-and-choose interpretation? [Interruption.] I am aware that that will not have been the reason that he was sacked, because he never discusses foreign policy with his leader. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such a view of enlargement is a betrayal of Britain's interests and something that no responsible politician should advocate?

I assure my hon. Friend and the House that the Government's policy is to do everything that we can to enable enlargement to proceed as quickly as possible. It is important for Britain's interests that, when those countries enter the European Union, they should remember Britain as a friend and an advocate of their membership.

I have long been puzzled by the Conservatives' policy of vetoing enlargement treaties if they do not get their way, but I understood how they got themselves into that position when I read the former shadow Foreign Secretary's remark today that he never had a serious discussion on foreign policy with his leader, despite several attempts to do so. Perhaps the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) should now tell us whether he will advise his leader to ditch that embarrassing policy out of the back of his white van, or whether he has not yet had a chance to discuss the matter with him.

Everyone should be totally committed, as we are, to the European Union at last embracing the whole of Europe. It is a scandal that, 10 years after the Berlin wall came down, not one of the great European countries that regained their freedom and nationhood at that time has yet been admitted to the club. Will the Foreign Secretary commit himself today to arguing in the intergovernmental conference for a new framework of flexibility so that at least the new entrants to the European Union can be spared the stifling grip of the "one size fits all" straitjacket that is currently promised?

We have no intention of using the intergovernmental conference to try to turn the treaty into a charter for opt-outs. We shall not do so, because we do not for one minute believe that it would be in Britain's interests for France to have the right to opt out of food safety regulations, Spain to opt out of animal welfare regulations, or applicant countries to opt out of environmental rules, such as the condition accepted by many of them to close nuclear reactors that do not meet safety standards faster. I repeat my question to the right hon. Gentleman: if he does not get his way, will he veto enlargement and so make the Tory party as unpopular among the 12 new members as it is among the existing 14?

Is not the simple truth that, faced with a choice between the modern, flexible Europe of the sort that is increasingly advocated, in which nations can co-operate in friendship and harmony, and the steady drift towards a single European superstate, the Government have unhesitatingly chosen the latter? They have done so step by step.

The Foreign Secretary talks about a charter for opt-outs, but he is getting rid of opt-outs. He gave up the opt-out on the social chapter, with the result that social legislation can now be imposed on this country from outside without Parliament or the House of Commons having any right to discuss it. The Government have signed away our veto in 16 areas as they proceed step by step down the road to the superstate. They are taking forward the defence identity outside NATO, and thereby risk undermining NATO. What have they got in return for all those concessions? Nothing.

The right hon. Gentleman must have picked up his response to my statement this afternoon by mistake. No one advocates a centralised European state and that will not be the outcome of the intergovernmental conference. However, he must recognise that not a single Government in Europe will accept his proposal for a pick-and-mix Europe—not even a sister party of the Tory party would accept such a proposal. The leader of one, John Bruton, has said that the Tory proposal is disastrous—that is what the right hon. Gentleman's own allies say. I repeat my question: even if no other Government agreed to the Tories' demands, would they really veto the treaty and stop enlargement of the European Union?

Middle East


If he will make a statement on the status of the middle east peace process. [108533]


If he will make a statement on the current status of the middle east peace process. [108546]

I visited the region again last month. I found deep concern at the delay on a framework agreement on the Palestinian track and at the suspension of talks on the Syrian track, but I also found optimism that procedural problems could be overcome.

Clearly, the situation in Lebanon is grave; we are worried and saddened by the violence. I spoke on Friday to the Foreign Minister of Syria and conveyed our view that all parties in Lebanon must exercise restraint. We have delivered the same message to the Israeli and Lebanese Governments. The crisis underlines the importance of efforts to find comprehensive peace for the region, which can be achieved only by the parties returning to the negotiating table.

I thank my right hon. Friend for appealing to all sides to show restraint in Lebanon. Does he recognise that a lasting solution for Lebanon can be found only within the framework of a comprehensive peace settlement between Israel and Syria? Will he urge both those countries to return to the negotiating table?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that welcome. I agree that the only way forward is via the negotiating table. It will be difficult to resolve the problems in Lebanon without a resumption of the Syrian track, on which I hope we can make progress on the basis of land for peace.

Will my right hon. Friend comment on reports that appear to indicate that the recent talks in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, broke down when it was revealed that the Israelis planned to leave 17,000 of their people living on Syrian soil? Will he reaffirm that our Government's position is that those settlements in the occupied territories and east Jerusalem are illegal?

It has been the long-standing view of Governments of both complexions that the settlements in the occupied territories are illegal under international law and are a block to the peace process. I am not sure that my hon. Friend is right about the current hiatus in the peace talks. It was undoubtedly unfortunate that one of the negotiating documents was published, it will be difficult to take such a sensitive and delicate matter forward if the negotiating documents get into the press.

Has the Foreign Secretary visited the middle east since March 1998? If not, is it because that visit was such a disaster for this country?

I do not know where the hon. Gentleman has been during Question Time for the past six months. I visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority in October last year. I was well received and had useful discussions with the Israeli Government. [Interruption.] I do not understand why Tory Members find it hilarious that one is greeted well by the Israeli Government. Last month, I visited Jordan and Egypt where I carried forward discussions. We have been actively involved there; the hon. Gentleman should turn the record over.

We share the Foreign Secretary's hope that the talks, especially between Israel and Syria, will resume and prove fruitful. We understand Israel's desire to ensure the security of its borders against terrorist attack, but we hope that talks will resume quickly. What is the Foreign Secretary doing to assist the resumption of those talks? My hon. Friend the Member for Mid"Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) recalled that, when the Foreign Secretary visited the area in March 1998, he managed to annoy everybody. Is not staying away the best that he can do?

The Opposition should reflect on recent history and realise that there has been a change of Government in Israel. The Israeli Government are working closely with us; we have had frequent exchanges with Prime Minister Barak.

Lord Levy has played a positive role in bringing the parties together. His visit to Damascus before the start of the Syrian talks was helpful in finding a formula to enable those talks to begin.

In the European Union, Britain is regarded as one of the leading advocates of the peace process. We shall continue to ensure that the European Union offers the necessary peace dividend if peace is to be permanent. The Government have fully supported the peace process; we are in contact with all the parties, and we shall continue to provide full support.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of recent anti-semitic propaganda in the state-sponsored Syrian Daily Tishreen, which suggests that the holocaust is a myth and condemns the Stockholm conference on the holocaust, which he attended? Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning that propaganda, and will he make it clear to the Syrian authorities that the appearance of such articles poses a major threat to the peace process?

I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that we have already made such representations. We understand from the Syrian Government that they regret the publication of those views, and that it is unlikely to happen again.

Does the Foreign Secretary believe that the Government's possible support for the Ilisu dam in Turkey and the water wars that might ensue will have a serious effect on peace in the middle east?

The Department of Trade and Industry has set out four major conditions for providing export credit to the dam. They include considerations about the welfare of the people in the valley, provision for proper environmental impact assessments, treatment of any water that would be used or collected in the valley and consideration of the provision of a regular supply of water to countries such as Syria, which are further downstream.



What recent representations he has made to the Government of Zimbabwe concerning good governance criteria. [108534]


If he will make a statement on human rights in Zimbabwe. [108536]

Zimbabwe has reached a turning point. President Mugabe has the opportunity to unite the country around him in a process of reform and recovery, which is long overdue. For far too long, dreadful economic mismanagement has propelled that potentially rich African country into crisis. I appealed to President Mugabe not to miss the moment and to face the challenges head on. It is the duty of friends to speak frankly. I have done that in private on several occasions to President Mugabe—unfortunately, to no effect. I hope that he will now accept that Zimbabwe's economy is in trouble and that the international community wants to work with Zimbabwe, not against it.

Britain, other donors and, crucially, the international financial institutions stand ready to help. However, the Government of Zimbabwe must understand that we will do that only if they show real commitment to sound economic policies and if they work with the international community in a spirit of political co-operation, rather than against us in paranoid isolation.

I am saddened that the referendum process that was designed to unite Zimbabwe on a programme of sorely-needed reform was so badly flawed. There was no electoral roll and no access to the media for opposition groups; there were no observers, and scant information was available to voters. The overwhelming victory for the no camp is a sign of the deep dissatisfaction with the Government over that and other issues.

The Government of Zimbabwe must now ensure that general elections in the spring are free and fair, give the voters a real choice and set Zimbabwe on the road to success.

I thank the Minister for that full statement. He will be aware that the Prime Minister said in a written answer last week that the Government

"will not grant export licences for new military dual-use equipment where there is a clear risk that it would be used in the DRC."—[Official Report, 9 February 2000; Vol. 344, c. 184W.]
Does that mean that this country has put an arms embargo on Zimbabwe?

No, the Prime Minister's answer means what it says. If there are any applications for export licences to sell to Zimbabwe arms that could be used for external aggression in the Congo or by other African countries involved in the Congo conflict, they will be refused. That is what the Prime Minister said and that is what the hon. Gentleman should have read into the answer.

In answering both questions together, the Minister clearly sought to avoid my request for a statement on human rights in Zimbabwe. It would have been nice to have heard a little more about that. Does he agree that today's rejection of the referendum proposals by the people of Zimbabwe is a step in the right direction against the despotic powers of President Mugabe? When will the Government match their announcements on an ethical foreign policy? Why do we not attach conditions, such as the improvement of human rights in Zimbabwe, to bilateral aid? Why have we sold spare parts for Hawk jets to enable President Mugabe to maintain a bloody civil war in the Congo? Why do not the Government have President Mugabe arrested for abusing human rights when he comes to this country, as they did with General Pinochet, or is it business as usual—say one thing and do another?

I remind the hon. Lady that her Government sold Hawk jets to Zimbabwe as, indeed, they sold arms to virtually every country on any basis—Suharto in Indonesia, for example. We have repeatedly made clear our anxiety about denial of human rights in Zimbabwe and we have consistently been concerned and made representations about the failure to establish a proper referendum. I repeat what I said in my initial answer: we want free and fair elections and Zimbabwe launched on a programme for democratic pluralism, including respect for human rights.

The Minister has made a robust and principled response. Does he agree that it was unfortunate that Commonwealth Ministers rejected the proposal made at the Heads of Government meeting in Durban last year for an enhanced Commonwealth ministerial action group to deal with such abuses of human rights?

My hon. Friend is right. A proposal was put to the Commonwealth and I was at the Commonwealth ministerial action group meeting that agreed to, and strongly supported, the suggestion that its remit should be expanded precisely to cover abuses of human rights and not only military juntas. I hope that the high-level group that has been established as a result of the Durban deliberations can take that agenda forward.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there has been a steady deterioration of human rights and more and more authoritarianism during the 20 years in which the regime in Zimbabwe has been in power? Is it not hypocritical of Conservative Members suddenly to notice that now, when we are the first Government to begin to take action against those human rights abuses and authoritarian, anti-democratic practices?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Conservatives were in power throughout the 1980s and most of the 1990s when the situation in Zimbabwe deteriorated, but did very little, if anything, to challenge that deterioration. We want Zimbabwe to succeed. It has enormous wealth, infrastructure and skills compared with the rest of Africa and is the best-educated country on the continent. If it reforms its economic policies and commits itself to a democratic future, we shall work with it to achieve that success.

The Minister has rightly referred to the wealth and potential of Zimbabwe. In those circumstances, is it not a matter of profound regret that the people of that country should find themselves short of food, short of fuel, in a deteriorating economy and facing an AIDS epidemic? Will Her Majesty's Government assure the House that they will call upon Mr. Mugabe to observe the results of the referendum? Will they also make it clear that Britain's support depends on the adoption of the principles of good governance and that we expect Harare to observe the principles of the Harare declaration?

Yes, we expect the Zimbabwean Government to comply with the results of the referendum, deeply flawed though it was, and with the Harare declaration, in terms of their membership of the Commonwealth. It is also absolutely vital that we see the kind of leadership in Zimbabwe that tackles the AIDS epidemic and deals with the economic failure that has led to fuel shortages and other problems. Without it, Zimbabwe is poised on the edge of an abyss and could go over the edge. That would be very serious for its people and, indeed, for South Africa, its major trading partner, and the whole of Africa. We want Zimbabwe to succeed.

While we recognise the problems with the referendum procedure, should not this country now, with the Commonwealth, tell Zimbabwe that we will help it with the preparation of an electoral register for the April election and that the Commonwealth will assist in monitoring a free and fair election?

We would be well prepared, as I am sure the Commonwealth and the European Union would be, to assist with a properly planned free and fair election. Unfortunately, because of the telescoped timetable for a quick election, without the necessary fair preparations or transparency it is very difficult to dignify such an election by providing official observers. That is the difficulty that we face, which is why I urged President Mugabe to look again at when, and the basis upon which, that election will be staged.

Observers of this Question Time will see from the Minister's answers what a mess and muddle this Government are in. At the beginning of this month, when there were reports of the aerial bombardment of civilians in the Congo war, using Zimbabwean aircraft, the Prime Minister overruled the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Office by insisting that spare parts for military aircraft were sent to Zimbabwe. How helpful did the Minister find that intervention? Does he think it will increase his effectiveness in influencing African affairs, when at the same time he was telling other African countries that we are determined to do everything in our power to stop fuelling the conflict in the Congo? Is he not even a little embarrassed that, rather than there being a fig leaf of an ethical dimension to the Government's foreign policy, he is now prepared to display on the international stage their willingness to do one thing and say another?

Absolutely not. This Labour Government changed the whole policy on arms exports applications. Instead of being prepared to sell arms for internal repression or external aggression, as the Conservatives did year after year, to every dictator throughout the world, we have introduced strict criteria, which we are now applying, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced last week, to ensure that no country can use British arms, under new export licences, in the Congo conflict.

I remind the hon. Lady that it was her Government who sold the Hawk jets in the first place. We have simply been obliged to honour contractual commitments and supply spares for the two Hawk jets that are still being used in the Congo.

"Your Britain, Your Europe"


What further plans he has for his Department's "Your Britain, Your Europe" campaign. [108535]


What future plans he has for his Department's "Your Britain, Your Europe" campaign. [108540]

We have encouraged the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Executive to organise regional roadshows later in the year to promote the benefits of our membership of the EU, to follow the successful roadshow of last November. I am also writing to the leaders of the city councils of Leeds, Liverpool, Reading, Southampton and Norwich to explore the possibility of their organising a Europe Day in those cities during the summer.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office will shortly publish a "UK in Europe" public information brochure that will cover the history of our involvement in the European Union, and hold a Europe Day on 9 May.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Is he aware that Ayrshire, which contains my constituency, accounts for 15 per cent. of Scotland's total exports; that 62 per cent. of that 15 per cent. are exported to the European Union; and that if the anti-Europe campaign launched by the Leader of the Opposition this morning works, about 40,000 jobs that depend on those exports will be put directly at risk? Will he accept my invitation—issued on behalf of those workers and their employers—to bring the information roadshow to Ayrshire, preferably to Kilmarnock, and use it to build on the productive relationship that has developed between Ayrshire and the European Union?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the benefits of EU membership are clear to the people of Ayrshire. I happily accept his invitation to visit him in Kilmarnock with the Scottish roadshow.

I am delighted that the Leader of the Opposition has decided to follow my lead in engaging in a tour of the United Kingdom. He said first that he would travel in a flat-back lorry; that turned into an unmarked white van, and my sources in St. Albans now suggest that it is down to a moped, with the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) at the front and the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) pushing from behind.

I hope that, when the Leader of the Opposition goes around the country, he will hear what I heard: that the people of the United Kingdom support Britain's being in Europe. We benefit greatly from being in Europe, and we will continue that membership.

As one who, in the 1990s, worked in the European Union—in Brussels—on behalf of the people of Leicestershire, may I say that those people were particularly angry that their views were not heard in Brussels because of the antics of the Conservative party? Does my hon. Friend agree that the Conservatives have learned nothing from their election defeat in 1997, and still peddle the anti-Europeanism that is of such disadvantage to the people of Leicestershire? Will he bring his roadshow to smaller areas—non-cities such as Loughborough? Will he also issue invitations to people in successful businesses such as Campbell Scientific, which I visited a couple of weeks ago and whose exports have risen by 26 per cent. in Europe alone?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on all his excellent work in the constituency, promoting local businesses. I will go to Loughborough with the roadshow and I will not be in an unmarked white van—the benefits to this country of membership of the European Union will be clearly stated.

As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said earlier, the former shadow Foreign Secretary has said that the renegotiators have taken over the Conservative party—a party whose spokesman is the man whose fingerprints and signature are on the Maastricht treaty.

Can the Minister estimate how many people he has spoken to during his roadshow about UK entry to the euro, and what proportion of those people have told him that they do not want this country to join?

I have spoken to about 5,000 or 6,000 people at public meetings and all over the country. Two people spoke against British membership of the European Union: their names were Ralph and Dave, and they were members of the Save the Pound campaign. The vast majority of people I spoke to supported our important role in Europe.

In his taxpayer-funded roadshow message, the Minister stated:

"I want to let them know what the Government thinks."
Does he not understand that, up and down the country, people know that the Government's views on Europe are minority views, day by day increasingly different from those of the clear majority of British people?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his promotion to the post of shadow Minister for Europe. We remember fondly the contributions of his predecessor when he was here; he too did not understand the benefits of Britain's membership of Europe.

Of course the people want to know the facts. That is why we went around the country to explain those facts. We do not support a campaign that is negative and that damages this country's national interest. A total of 3.5 million jobs depend on our membership of the European Union. The hon. Gentleman would do well to start campaigning on those issues.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Leader of the Opposition has not launched his campaign on a flat-back truck because he could not find one that did not depend on foreign investment? Would not that foreign investment, supplying those British jobs, be at stake if we ever supported the Tory party's policy of pulling out of the European Union?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As he has said on numerous occasions, the logical conclusion of the policy adopted by some Conservative Members—in the words of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), the renegotiators have taken over the Conservative party—is that Britain would withdraw from the European Union. We need to be in Europe. We are fully engaged in Europe. We believe in the reform of Europe, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will show in his statement at 3.30 pm.

The Minister will know that few Conservative Members are more in favour of the European Union than I, but the campaign sounds a bit too much like spin with little substance.

The Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary seems to be prompting him, but I hope that no Government money is going into the project. If Foreign Office money is going into it, would it not be better if it went to the British Council and BBC World Service? One does not expect Ministers of State in the Foreign Office to feel it necessary to go on roadshows throughout the UK. They should be doing other things with public money in the Foreign Office, rather than feeling that they need to go on what is effectively an election campaign.

I am going to be nice to the hon. Gentleman because I know that he is a pro-European in a party that is anti-European. The amount of money that was spent on the last roadshow was a tiny proportion of—[HON. MEMBERS: "How much?"] It cost only £60,000, plus travel and accommodation. It is a tiny proportion compared with the £20 million that was spent by the last Conservative Government on an information campaign that was designed to prepare Britain for the common market—a campaign that was authorised by the shadow Foreign Secretary.

Euromed Agreements


What recent discussions he has had with the Government of Tunisia and other near eastern states about their participation in the EU' s EuroMed agreements. [108537]

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had a bilateral meeting with the Tunisian Foreign Secretary on 24 January. The Government have had regular contacts at various levels with the Tunisian Government.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and I am delighted, given the importance of Tunisia as a country of stability in the Maghreb, that those contacts have been so recent and extensive. I urge him and the Foreign Secretary to continue to make strong representations to our European partners about the importance of the Maghreb and the near eastern countries in that process. With the forthcoming investment seminar on the EuroMed coming up in Lisbon in two weeks, I also urge them and their colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry to give British companies every encouragement and incentive to invest in that area.

I will certainly give my hon. Friend, who takes a great interest in the matter, those assurances. We attach great importance to our relations with Tunisia, which was the first Maghreb country to sign up to an association agreement with the European Union.

Can the Minister say whether those negotiations include such topics as asylum seekers and immigrants seeking entry to the European Union?

I agree that contacts and dialogue between the countries of the Maghreb and Europe are vital. Might that prove a useful vehicle for persuading the kingdom of Morocco to comply with the United Nations referendum that is due in July 2000 on the future of Saharawi?

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, both Morocco and others are committed to that UN policy. I had discussions with the Foreign Minister and, indeed, the Prime Minister on that policy when I visited Morocco only late last year.

Sierra Leone


If he will make a statement on the situation in Sierra Leone. [108538]

The Lome peace agreement offers the people of Sierra Leone the best prospect of lasting peace and security, after eight years of brutal conflict. We remain concerned, however, about the continued violations of the peace agreement. We are pressing all parties to honour their commitments.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that the situation in Sierra Leone remains extremely fragile, and that the Lome peace agreement offers the best possible opportunity for that country to restore stability, so that people may once again live in peace and harmony? What are our Government doing to ensure that the Lome agreement works? If it is not successful, should we not be fairly pessimistic about the consequences?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the Lome peace agreement is very fragile. Last month, I visited Sierra Leone and was able to see at first hand the agreement taking root. There is now a United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone that Britain has supported. Indeed, we are providing more support than any other country outside Africa for the progression of that agreement. However, some of the individuals and parties to the agreement have still not fulfilled the full terms of the agreement which they signed. In particular, Foday Sankoh, leader of the RUF, is still not complying with the disarmament measures. I am concerned that he should return as soon as possible from Abidjan, which he recently visited, to carry through the full terms of that agreement.

Austria (Bilateral Meetings)


If he will make a statement on the UK's future bilateral relationship with the Austrian Government. [108541]

Britain fully supports the position of the 14 European Union countries which have announced that they will not hold bilateral meetings with Ministers in the new Austrian Government. Mr. Haider's appeal to xenophobia and racism is in flat conflict with the values of tolerance and mutual respect on which the European Union is founded. I also fully understand the grave offence to Jewish communities, including here in Britain, of Mr. Haider's statement that the Waffen SS were "decent men of character".

Austria is entitled to exercise its full rights at meetings of the European Union, but, with regret, we cannot maintain our traditionally warm bilateral relationships while its Government includes people who reflect Mr. Haider's repugnant views.

I welcome that response. Is my right hon. Friend aware of Jörg Haider's description of the concentration camps where 6 million Jews were murdered as "punishment camps"? I also welcome the sanctions taken by the British Government and by our European Union partners against the Austrian Government. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, if necessary, further action will be taken, not against the Austrian people but against the Austrian coalition Government?

Does my right hon. Friend share my sense of utter horror that, in the same month in which the British Government announced plans for a national holocaust memorial day, Austria formed a coalition involving a party that has an entirely different sense of history and of the holocaust?

I was in Stockholm on that day, addressing the holocaust conference, and it was moving to see so many countries of Europe come together to make it clear that we have to be open and honest and face up to our past as a foundation for the future. I regret that Mr. Haider does not seem to recognise the importance of acknowledging what happened in the past if we are to ensure that it does not happen again in the future.

As for our relations with Austria, the Austrian Government have issued a statement of full support for human rights. It is a very good piece of rhetoric and a wonderful statement. We shall now be watching very closely to ensure that they abide by those commitments.

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that he should be disqualified from holding ministerial office now because of the very many foolish things that he said in the past when he was in opposition? Would it not be fairer and more democratic for him to be judged on his current record, disappointing though it has been so far?

If the hon. Gentleman can produce any statement of xenophobia or racism made by me in the past, I shall happily resign.

Has the Foreign Secretary had the chance to study the detailed programme and policies of Jörg Haider's Freedom party? If he has not, may I tell him that they are no more extreme those of the British Conservative party?

I have to say that I am not aware of any hon. Member who has spoken of the SS in the terms that Mr. Haider has used. We should recognise that the consensus among the 14 member states has been built in the clear recognition that this is not a matter of political programme, but of values. Mr. Haider has rejected the values on which parliamentary democracy and the European Union are built.

The Foreign Secretary talks about rhetoric. Does he realise that there is more than a whiff of armchair anti-racism about his attitude towards Mr. Haider who, with the Government's ethical foreign policy in tatters, is an easy target? If he wants to encourage Mr. Haider's policies in Austria, the best way is to continue the isolation.

The polls do not support the hon. Gentleman's argument. Since the European Union's 14 member states took action, Mr. Haider's personal standing has dropped from 8 to 5 per cent. and his party's popularity has also dropped. Our action does not appear to be helping Mr. Haider, as the hon. Gentleman argues.

East Timor


If he will make a statement on the status of East Timor. [108542]

East Timor was invaded by Indonesia in 1975. The United Nations never recognised Indonesia's annexation of East Timor. In the UN-organised ballot of 30 August 1999, the East Timorese voted by an overwhelming majority to reject the autonomy proposal put forward by the Indonesian Government and in so doing indicated their clear desire for independence. The subsequent violence led to the intervention of a peacekeeping force. Indonesia relinquished all claim to East Timor on 20 October. UNTAET—the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor—is now established and is carrying out its mandate to prepare East Timor for independence.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. In the midst of the international efforts to restore justice and human rights in East Timor, will he assure that House the Britain will continue to play an important role in the transition from UNTAET, and will he join me in congratulating our armed forces on their excellent work in the early days of the multilateral intervention?

I am sure that the whole House would be happy to congratulate the armed forces on their excellent work on behalf of the international peacekeeping forces. Our Gurkhas were among the first to go to East Timor. When I visited in January, the Australian General Cosgrove, who was in charge of the forces, singled out the Gurkhas for special praise for having helped to bring about a prompt peace.

The transition from the peacekeeping force to the UN administrative authority is due to be completed by the end of February. We are happy to continue to play a leading role in the UN process, as we have done since the outset. The Department for International Development pledged a further £13 million over 13 years at the recent World Bank conference in Tokyo, and the Foreign Office has opened a staffed support office in Dili. We shall do all that we can to rebuild the newly emerging country that was so badly devastated in the conflict.

I share the Minister's hopes for the development of the new state in Timor and the speedy return of those in West Timor to their own land. Will he express his concern to the Government of Indonesia, now released from responsibility for East Timor, that they should exert discipline over their armed forces, which have sometimes perpetrated acts of terror against their citizens in other parts of Indonesia?

The hon. Gentleman has frequently raised issues relating to the other islands that make up the huge complex that is Indonesia. As he knows, there was a change of Government in September. A civilian is now in charge of the armed forces. There has been a quiet revolution in Indonesia in the past few months. At the same time, the United Nations and Indonesia's national inquiry have reported on the activities of the military and are bringing them to heel. There will be trials to bring to book all those responsible for atrocities in East Timor. There are different causes for the conflicts in the other islands, but solutions will be found through democratic, peaceful means.

Human Rights


In pursuing an ethical foreign policy what regard Her Majesty's Government have to a country's internal human rights record; and if he will make a statement. [108544]

We consistently promote British interests and pursue British values in our foreign policy by supporting democracy and human rights wherever we can and however we can.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but in the light of the Government's ethical foreign policy, why are they so supportive of Turkey, given its disgraceful human rights record in relation to the Kurdish people? Why is it thought ethical and proper that the British taxpayer should stump up £220 million to sponsor the Ilisu dam project? Is that ethical and proper when 20,000 to 60,000 Kurds will be displaced by that awful state?

We have not made any decision on the Ilisu dam project. We have consistently raised human rights matters with Turkey and, indeed, securing advances on human rights is one of the conditions it has to meet as a basis for admission to the European Union.

Although I accept my hon. Friend's comments that we need to have good relations with other countries to promote human rights, will he consider one country with which we have a special relationship—the United States? It is still that country's practice to keep minors on death row until they are old enough to be executed. Can he assure me that he will make strong representations to representatives of the US Government about that?

Unlike the previous Government, we have played a leading role in opposing the death penalty wherever it is used, and we will continue to do so in the various international forums in which we have an opportunity to raise the matter. I answer my hon. Friend's question in that context.

What is ethical about selling jet parts to Zimbabwe so that President Mugabe can bomb the Congo for private gain?

I find questions like that very interesting from the party which sold arms to Iraq, as the Scott report exposed, and whose Ministers misled the House over the matter. As I said earlier, we were fulfilling a contractual obligation on Hawk jets sold by a Conservative Government, including two Hawk jets operating in the Congo and a few spares for them. We have also made it clear that we have tightened our policy on arms exports to such countries as Zimbabwe which are involved in the Congo conflict—a policy that the Conservative Government never got anywhere near adopting—and we deserve praise and credit for that.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there are circumstances in which constructive engagement can encourage a country that has a poor record on human rights to improve that record? Does he agree that an example of that is Iran, where Britain's funding, bilaterally and through the United Nations International Drug Control Programme, for Iran's drug control agencies has helped to show the benefits of engagement with the west and has strengthened the more progressive forces in Iran, which is especially important given the upcoming election there?

Yes. There is no point in having a detailed dialogue with some countries—for example, Burma, Iraq and the Yugoslav Republic—because there is no opportunity to do so. As my hon. Friend pointed out, we have recently had critical dialogue with Iran about, for example, the Jewish detainees and other issues. It is because we have supported the reform programme of President Khatami that we have had an audience on those issues and have been able to put our points of view. We have seen some results from that, and critical dialogue is a policy that we have successfully adopted and will continue to use with many countries with which we do not agree about every aspect of their government, policies or constitution.



If he will make a statement on the UK's relationship with Burma. [108545]

The Government are appalled by the human rights violations and lack of democracy in Burma, and we are at the forefront of international action on Burma. Our bilateral relations with the military regime reflect this. We take every opportunity to condemn the regime's disregard of human rights and to urge the regime to enter into dialogue with democratic leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi—who was elected in 1990 with the National League for Democracy—and other ethnic minority leaders.

There is no doubt that the Burmese regime is nasty. Apart from what it does to its own people, Burma is the world's largest producer of illicit opium. Following the failure of the EU mission in July and the extension of sanctions in October, should not we this year redouble our efforts with the EU, the Americans and the Japanese to apply pressure for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, to start Burma on the process towards the proper democracy that its people deserve?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We are at the forefront of support for the European Union common position that was put in place, co-sponsoring United Nations resolutions on action in the International Labour Organisation, to combat forced labour. We do not encourage trade investment or tourism with Burma. It was this Government who announced on 19 June 1997 that we would not encourage United Kingdom companies to trade or invest in Burma. We will work within the European Union to do what we can to toughen the position and make it plain to the Burmese junta that it should enter into democratic negotiations with the democratically elected leadership.

Intergovernmental Conference White Paper

3.30 pm

With permission, Madam Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the Government's support for the enlargement of the European Union and our approach to the intergovernmental conference, which is necessary to prepare the European Union for almost double the present number of member states.

I am today publishing the White Paper "Reform for Enlargement", which sets out in detail the steps that the European Union must take to get ready for enlargement.

Today in Brussels, the Portuguese presidency is opening negotiations with six more countries. That brings to a total of 12 the countries currently in negotiation for entry into the European Union.

Throughout central and eastern Europe, countries that have only recently emerged from a centralised state and a command economy are making heroic efforts and taking painful decisions to prepare themselves for membership of the European Union. It is in their own interests to do so. The reforms that they need to compete successfully within the single market are also the changes that they need to give their people a prosperous economy. It is also in our interest that they face up to the conditions of membership, not only because they will be better trading partners for British exporters and investors, but because the reforms that they have to make are of direct benefit to us. For example, three separate countries, as a condition of membership, are now committed to the early closure of nuclear reactors that do not meet our standards of safety.

There is no better way in which we can guarantee security and stability throughout central Europe than by providing its countries with a clear perspective of membership of the European Union. Given the difficult and courageous decisions that the candidate countries have taken to prepare for entry, the European Union owes it to them to show the same determination to make the reforms necessary for enlargement.

It is because we recognise the importance of the European Union to Britain that we want it reformed in order that it may do its job better. We have long argued for a Commission that is run on merit, not on influence. We lobbied for Neil Kinnock to have responsibility for reform, and we strongly support the package of measures that he has produced, which fully confirms our confidence in him. It provides welcome steps to measure performance against targets, to improve financial management and contract procedures, and to ensure that staff are recruited and promoted on merit, not on national quotas.

Europe must also embrace economic reform to meet the challenge of competitiveness in a global age. Next month's special summit in Lisbon will be an important staging post in the process of creating in Europe a knowledge-based economy which promotes opportunities for innovation. Britain will be pressing at that summit for commitments to remove obstacles to electronic commerce, to set targets for lifelong learning, and to match the lowest world prices for access to the internet.

We welcome the opportunity of enlargement for institutional reform. For the United Kingdom, the most pressing of these reforms is to increase the share of our vote in the Council of Ministers. France, Germany and Britain contain a majority of the population of the European Union, but together have only a minority of the votes in the Council. After enlargement, they will not even be a blocking minority. We will be seeking a fairer voting system in the Council of Ministers that gives more democratic recognition to the population of Britain.

The second institutional reform required by enlargement is a limit on the growth of the Commission. If all 12 countries were to join the European Union under the present rules, we would have more than 30 commissioners. It would be a challenge for such a large Commission to function efficiently as a single cohesive body—nor is it easy to see what jobs they could all do.

As a first step in containing the size of the Commission, we are prepared to consider that the larger countries should retain only one commissioner. That would enable the smaller countries to retain their own commissioners, at least through the first wave of enlargement. However, I stress that we see these two measures as a package. The larger member states cannot be expected to give up their second commissioners if they are not given a larger weight of votes in the Council of Ministers.

The third area for institutional reform is the balance between unanimity and majority voting. There will be double the risk of decisions being blocked if there are twice as many countries round the table with a veto. Those decisions that are blocked may well be in Britain's national interest and may concern matters on which we want agreement.

The White Paper repeats our commitment that unanimity must remain in cases such as treaty amendments, border controls, taxation, social security, defence and revenue-raising. More than 80 per cent. of legislative decisions in the Council of Ministers are already outside the veto as a result of the massive expansion of majority voting under the previous Government. There is therefore little room for further expansion of majority voting, but we are prepared to consider it in cases in which it might be in Britain's interest. For instance, it would be in our interest to reform the sluggish procedures of the European Court of Justice, but it would not be in our interest if any other country round the table could veto reform of its rules of procedure.

I do not underrate the difficult decisions and tough negotiations that will be essential before we can complete enlargement of the European Union. But the prize is great. It is the final burying of the division of Europe between east and west, which has scarred the continent for half a century. The prize is the reunion of Europe. The result will be an EU that stretches from Portugal to Poland. We will have a single market of 500 million consumers with a combined gross domestic product of £5,000 billion—the largest single market anywhere in the world.

That prospect offers exciting opportunities for our country. Those who would put at risk Britain's standing in such a powerful union are a danger to our national interests. We have no doubt that, faced with the prospect of a wider united Europe, Britain's place is playing a leading part in it and shaping its direction. The Government understand how important it is for Britain to make a success of our membership of the European Union. It is crucial to our trade, prosperity and quality of life. The majority of our exports go to existing members of the European Union. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and the hon. Members for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) do not want to hear the facts about why Europe is important to their constituents. That is why their constituents will not entrust the Opposition with office.

Some 100,000 people in Britain work at any given time in Europe, where their professional skills are recognised. In the past year alone, more than 40,000 new jobs were created in Britain by inward investors, who came here because they could sell from here to the whole of Europe. Those are the gains to the people of Britain of membership of the European Union. The gains will be even greater in the wider Europe created by enlargement. At some time over the next few years, each of the 12 applicant countries will become members of the European Union. The Government want them to remember Britain as an advocate of enlargement, and want to be regarded as their natural ally when those 12 new members join us at the Council tables of Europe.

That is why the Government recognise that it is in the national interest of Britain to be both a leading advocate of enlargement and a leading partner in a reformed and reunited Europe.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for making this statement on a matter of the utmost importance. Will he confirm that the House will have an early opportunity to debate these crucial issues in Government time?

It is absolutely right that enlargement should happen, but I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is equally inevitable that an enlarged European Union must undergo serious changes. The EU has today reached a fork in the road. Down one track lies flexibility, the creation of a modern and flexible Europe and a common-sense answer to the challenges of the global economy and the reality of a diverse Europe. Britain has an historic opportunity to chart such a route, and to lead Europe along it.

The second route—

The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. King) may talk about leaving Europe, but of the Foreign Secretary and me, only one of us has ever stood for that. It was the Foreign Secretary, and he said so repeatedly. Few Members of the House have been more anti-European in their time than he has.

The second route at the fork is the familiar federalist walk, step by step, inexorably towards the single European super-state. What else did Romano Prodi mean just a few days ago, when he said that "step by step", the Commission was behaving like a "growing Government"? With the talk of a European army, a European Government, a single legal area, a European prosecutor, and no role for the national veto, there can be little doubt that, step by step, the destination is a single European super-state.

Has not the White Paper simply ducked what really matters—the fact that in a bigger European Union, within a fast-changing world, the one-size-fits-all model of inexorable integration has had its day?

Why has the Foreign Secretary not ruled out the further extension of the loss of the veto in areas already identified by the Commission, which include measures on discrimination, transport, social policy, the environment, structural and cohesion funds, the common commercial policy, culture and industrial policy? Those are all areas in which an extension of the loss of the veto is proposed. Loss of each one of those vetoes would enable yet more laws to be imposed on Britain, with the House of Commons having no right to decide on them.

The Foreign Secretary says that he will consider such matters case by case. We know what that means. It means, step by step, the creation of the single European super-state. Does not his failure to rule out losing the veto mean that we are discussing not a White Paper, but a white flag?

Let the right hon. Gentleman answer these questions. Will he now rule out further loss of the British veto, so that further legislation cannot be imposed on Britain against our will? Will he reject the development of an EU defence identity outside NATO, which risks undermining NATO? Will he guarantee that the charter of fundamental human rights will never be incorporated in the treaty or made legally enforceable? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I note that there is a desire to extend the ambit of the European Union yet further.

Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House whether he, like Mr. Prodi's new Commission, is aiming at
"a new kind of global governance to manage the global economy",
based—however incredible it may seem—on
"Europe's model of integration"?
What a failure of vision by the Government, to give up the historic chance to lead Britain and Europe towards a braver future, where nation co-operates with nation in concord and friendship. Why are the Government so locked in the past and trapped by the dogma of rigid uniformity and relentless integration? Britain deserves better than that.

If I understood the right hon. Gentleman's opening remarks correctly, he welcomes the Government's support for enlargement, which, if I caught him aright, he described as right and inevitable. I am glad that that is common ground between those on the two Front Benches.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman for the third time: will he now ditch his party's policy of vetoing the enlargement treaty if the Opposition do not get their way in it? Three times I have given him the opportunity, and three times he has refused to do it, so we can only conclude that it is a question of not of the white flag, but of the white van, in which that policy is still alive and still a threat to the 12 countries of central and eastern Europe.

It is a piece of brass neck for the right hon. Gentleman, of all people, to demand that I should rule out any extension of majority voting. He is the man who, as a Minister, signed the Maastricht treaty—[Interruption.]— no wonder he is smiling. That treaty conceded majority voting in 30 different cases—on education, on health and safety, on public health and on freedom of movement. After that record, how does he have the nerve to posture as the champion of the veto?

The right hon. Gentleman should be proud that he is the champion of majority voting. I will share his words with the House. He said:
"The number of times that we are in the minority and are out-voted is tiny."—[Official Report, 11 June 1990; Vol. 174, c. 103.]
He was right at that time; he should have the courage to stand by his principles. We shall look carefully, on a case-by-case basis, at where majority voting would lift a block on reform. I may disappoint the right hon. Gentleman, but I cannot hope to match his all-time record of conceding the veto 30 times with one signature.

From the right hon. Gentleman's response, it is plain that the Tory party does not welcome anything that anyone else wants to discuss in the negotiations, and that anything the Tories propose will not be welcomed by anyone else. That is a recipe for isolation.

After three years in opposition, the Tories have still not grasped how much they damaged our national interest by isolating Britain in Europe. As long as they refuse to learn that lesson, the people of Britain will give them many more years in opposition to learn it.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's support for enlargement. It will be in the interests not only of the new entrants, but of existing members, including the United Kingdom. I also welcome my right hon. Friend's support for sensible institutional reform. Does he agree that it is good that his White Paper concentrates on the real issues, rather than raising the foolish spectre of the veto, which the Conservatives say they are prepared to use to block enlargement? They said that at their last party conference.

I agree with my right hon. Friend in his welcome for the process of enlargement: I appreciatg the fact that he has focused on the issues that are before the House.

The House—and perhaps people in some quarters of our press—should try to throw their minds forward to what Europe will look like 10 years from now. It will be a Europe of 27, perhaps even 28, member states. It will be the largest single market in the world. That will be an immense opportunity for Britain, but only if we are wholehearted in making the best of our membership.

I welcome the White Paper, which builds on the joint declaration made by the Foreign Secretary and myself during the past fortnight. Let me take the three issues with which the IGC is likely to be concerned. Is it not in the interests of the UK that there should be proposals on the balance of voting in the Council that are for the benefit of the UK? Is it not also true that it will benefit the whole of the European Union if the Commission is both cohesive and effective? Finally, on voting on a case-by-case basis, is it not common sense to examine a proposal on its merits, and to determine whether to support it depending on whether or not it is in the interests of the people of the UK to do so?

The right hon. Gentleman was right to raise the question of enlargement as though it was one of obligation upon those of us who are members of the EU. It would be a tragedy for Europe, and a betrayal of the applicant countries—such as Estonia and Slovenia, which are trying to provide a foundation for the democracy that they have so recently won—if their applications for membership of the EU became pawns in the anti-European game currently being played by the British Conservatives.

I agree with the last point made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I welcome the fact that the Joint Consultative Committee was able to produce a document setting out a joint policy on that issue. I can see from the negotiations in the EU that other countries benefit from the strength of the consensus in their nations on the commitment to Europe and to enlargement. I regret that we cannot achieve an all-party consensus in the House. However, I welcome the fact that it is not only the Labour party that is concerned with that matter and that we have allies in other parties.

I agree entirely that the three points made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman are also three issues of reform that will benefit Britain. It cannot be in Britain's interest not to go positively into an intergovernmental conference that could give Britain a greater weight of votes. It cannot be in Britain's interest not to go into that conference seeking a reformed, coherent, credible Commission. We welcome the opportunity for reform at this conference. We support Europe, we believe that Britain's place is in Europe but we want to ensure that we reform that Europe.

In his opening statement, the Foreign Secretary took some pride in the conditions that have been imposed, including the closure of three nuclear power stations. If Koslodui in Bulgaria was closed, who would pay for the replacement? The Bulgarians have few other sources of power. And which were the two other stations to which the Foreign Secretary was referring?

Given that the Danube is poisoned, and that it is blocked at Novi Sad, what is the financial obligation to an applicant country—in this case, Bulgaria?

First, the three countries concerned are Lithuania, Slovakia and Bulgaria. Secondly, the European Union is providing very large sums of money to help the applicant countries in their preparation and in meeting the conditions that we are setting for membership. Yesterday, the Portuguese presidency and the Commission informed Bulgaria and others that, now that they have entered negotiations, they can expect that sum of financial help to be doubled.

On the blockage of the Danube, yesterday at the General Affairs Council we considered the Danube commission's proposals. I very much hope that that will lead the way forward for the unblocking of the Danube, and we are willing to help with that process. We have been unwilling, rightly—I do not think that the House would wish us to do so—to submit to the blackmail of President Milosevic that we reconstruct his country as part of the price of lifting the blockage in the Danube. The Government of Bulgaria stood shoulder to shoulder with us during the conflict in Kosovo, and that is one of the debts that we owe to them in the enlargement process.

I wonder whether it is evidence of the Government's offhand attitude to the rural economy and agriculture that there was no mention in the Foreign Secretary's statement of the common agricultural policy. Can he confirm that, at the moment, the common agricultural policy takes up nearly half the European Union's budget, and that the addition of Poland alone would almost double expenditure on the CAP? Is it really practical to think in terms of another 12 members without fundamental reform of the CAP?

My statement today did not mention agriculture because it is not a matter that will be before the intergovernmental conference—although at Berlin we did of course consider the reform of the budget of the European Union, both in relation to agriculture and in relation to structural funds. It is well known that we did not secure as much reform as we would have wished. Nevertheless, we have reduced prices in the European Union's agriculture policy, to an extent that will save the average British family of four £65 in any one year.

We need to make further progress and are determined to do so, but I would rebut the hon. Gentleman's assertion that cost stands in the way of enlargement. If he looks carefully at the proposals for enlargement, he will see that there is no commitment to direct payment for farmers in Poland or any other applicant country.

Surely the opening of the European Union to the new democracies of eastern and central Europe will be seen historically as an investment in democracy in our interests—just as earlier enlargements entrenched democracy in the Iberian peninsula and in Greece. Does my right hon. Friend hope, at the IGC, to see proposals for increased democratic control of EU institutions, including closer linkages between national Parliaments and those institutions? As we are talking about democracy, what will be the mechanisms for consulting the applicant countries about their views on the shape of the new Europe?

My hon. Friend makes an important strategic point about the need to support the new democracies of central and eastern Europe by embracing them within the family of nations of the European Union. I believe that one reason why we have had so much stability in central and eastern Europe is precisely that we hold out to them the prospect of membership of the European Union, on conditions that they respect borders but do not make borders into barriers. Already, throughout the applicant countries, major steps have been taken to improve the status and rights of ethnic minorities because that is a condition of membership of the European Union.

My hon. Friend also makes one or two valuable points about the importance of increasing transparency within the European Union. Britain has been at the forefront of that argument. We shall continue to be so. As my hon. Friend knows, we are encouraging closer ties between Scrutiny Committees and the European Parliament.

We will continue to do all that we can to keep the European applicant countries involved in any discussions about the future shape of Europe. That is why we had at dinner last night a discussion at which we reviewed the major strategic issues facing Europe, and we have shared our views with the applicant countries.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said recently and rightly that we are committed to membership of the European Union and, therefore, we must make a success of it. Enthusiasm for that point of view is, I am sure, shared by my colleagues who were humming the European anthem during the Foreign Secretary's presentation of the White Paper.

The Foreign Secretary is right to say that, if we are to make a success of the European Union, there are some things that need to be streamlined. We need a more streamlined Commission, a more sensible voting system in which qualified majority voting could be extended outside the core areas that he listed, and a more sensible weighting of votes in relation to population.

However, will the right hon. Gentleman address one item of flexibility that is being discussed not only in this country, but on the continent? What does he understand by potential flexibility? Under the Amsterdam treaty, members were restrained from moving ahead faster if they wished to use the institutions of the European Union to do so. What does he think the negotiations around flexibility will involve, because a few of the new entrants will move at different speeds? That fact could be accommodated by transitional arrangements rather than treaty changes.

I am not sure that I entirely share the hon. Gentleman's confidence that his colleagues were hymning the success of the European Union: I sometimes get the impression that nothing would suit them better or make them happier than to see to its failure, despite the immense damage that that would do to this country.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's agreement to the three main proposals in the White Paper and our three main priorities. On enhanced co-operation, a number of countries wish to improve the procedures that can trigger enhanced co-operation. We are not entirely convinced that that needs to be a priority for this intergovernmental conference, given that the procedures were instituted only three years ago. However, we shall listen to the debate and consider whether it will be practical to make such changes.

Will my right hon. Friend give his assessment of the prospect of developing European security and defence policies and of their effect on existing resources and relationships in NATO?

The proposal for the European security initiative, in which Britain played a leading part when we started, produces the headline goal that we agreed to in Helsinki. European countries should develop the capacity to put into the field a core strength of service men—50,000 or 60,000—within 60 days and to support them in the field for at least one year. One reason for our adopting that target is our experience in Kosovo and the importance of our being able to provide such a peacekeeping mission.

I stress to my hon. Friend that that increased resource will be available to NATO in the same way as it will be available to the European Union. Should NATO decide to carry out a peacekeeping exercise, it could call on that force just as well as the European Union. Therefore, our proposals do not in any way weaken or undermine NATO: on the contrary, they make available to it a new resource that would otherwise not exist.

Why should welcome enlargement and desirable institutional reform necessarily involve more integration?

I have set out to the House this afternoon our three main priorities: increased votes for Britain in the Council of Ministers; an improved Commission that is streamlined; and, where it is appropriate and in Britain's interest, an agreement to majority voting. I do not honestly see in any of those a step to integration which the House should reject as a matter of principle. They are all important if we are to make enlargement work. The hon. Gentleman should be frank: is he in favour of enlargement, or is he not?

Has my right hon. Friend noticed the dismay among young people at the flat-earth policy of the Opposition towards Europe, and their failure to recognise that the European Union has been a great vehicle for conflict resolution and is a ratchet and guarantor of democracy? Will my right hon. Friend stand firm during the negotiations in ensuring that there is no Europe a la carte? Although legitimate transitional arrangements are needed, flexibility could be the prescription for the dissolution of that which has been built up to guarantee democracy in Europe and to act as a force for good, for cohesion and for conflict resolution.

Will my right hon. Friend also tell us what he is going to do about Gibraltar in the negotiations?

I should have anticipated that my hon. Friend would mention Gibraltar. We continue to pursue Gibraltar's interests in several different forums within the EU. In particular, we are seeking a way to implement the ruling that the people of Gibraltar should have a vote in European elections, but we are doing so through the common statute of the EU, not through the IGC.

I can reassure my hon. Friend on his other point. What is interesting about the Conservatives' demand for a pick-and-mix Europe is that that demand is not being made by any of the applicant countries. They all want to be full members of the EU, to play their full part in it and to accept their full obligations. Transitional periods may be required for some of the countries, but unlike the Conservative party, they know why they need to be full members and what benefits they will get from that.

Are there no circumstances in which the Government would veto the treaty of Nice?

If the treaty is produced by the time of Nice, it will be produced only because all member states, including Britain, have agreed to it.

Does the Secretary of State agree that there is a still a lack of clarity from Opposition Front-Bench Members about their attitude to enlargement? Does he agree that there are compelling political, social, environmental and trade reasons for enlargement and that western help and technology will be of great benefit to those countries, not least because of nuclear reactors such as the one at Koslodui in Bulgaria?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. One should remember that the improvements in nuclear safety in central Europe are improvements in our safety, so we stand to gain. I share my hon. Friends' disappointment at the comments that we have heard from Conservative Members. So far we have heard a lot of criticism of the Government's position at the IGC, and many new demands, but very little support for enlargement. I have to warn Opposition Members that what they have been saying in the House will sink like a lead balloon in a dozen capitals of countries in central and eastern which are trying hard to get into the EU.

How many of the 12 applicant countries have said that it is their ambition eventually to have the euro as their currency? Will the principle of free movement of persons within the European Union apply to the applicant countries, and will the Foreign Secretary therefore welcome the free movement of Turks into Greece, Germany and Cyprus?

The principle of freedom of movement will certainly apply to all applicant countries when they succeed in becoming members. We have already said that negotiations with Turkey cannot commence until it conforms with the Copenhagen criteria on democracy, human rights and treatment of ethnic minorities. Turkey is therefore not one of the 12 that are currently in negotiations.

It is understood by most of the applicant countries that, realistically, they are unlikely to join the euro at the time of joining the EU, but many of them have their sights set on that eventual goal.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the countries that are applying will be very happy with Britain's approach to the number of commissioners and understand why there must be reweighting of voting in Council to ensure that smaller countries, which may be in the majority, will never be able to outvote the countries that have the majority in terms of population?

My hon. Friend touches on the very fair bargain that we are offering to smaller countries within the EU and those that are applying for membership; namely, that they may retain their commissioner, at any rate through the first wave of enlargement, but that we in turn need to have a fairer weighting of voting within the Council of Ministers. That is a reasonable bargain which has something in it for all the present members, and I hope that we can achieve that package in the negotiations.

Does the Foreign Secretary recall that the greatest motive for the advance of British interests in Europe has been qualified majority voting? If he intends to move towards a system in the Council of Ministers in which the votes are more proportional to population, will he contemplate a situation in which the big four members of the EU no longer enjoy the same number of votes?

At present, we would prefer that the existing broad banding be retained; that would mean that all four larger countries would remain in the same band. However, additional weight needs to be given to the votes of the four countries within that band. The right hon. Gentleman refers to votes being proportional to population: we seek an outcome that is more proportional, but we do not seek to disturb the principle that all member states are equal, so votes should not be strictly proportional to population. We do, however, require that fair recognition be given to the size of our population so that we do not find ourselves in the absurd position in which three of the four largest countries do not even constitute a blocking minority.

Does my right hon. Friend share my amazement at the false dichotomy proposed by the Opposition spokesman—that the choice is between a super-flexible Europe and a super-federalist Europe? Will he confirm that the Conservatives are the only advocates of those two models and that there is no way in which the IGC will bring either of those two models into being?

The limited remit for the IGC will certainly not create a European centralised integrated federal state. While travelling in Europe and meeting leaders of other European nations, I find no appetite for subordinating their nation to any grand federal European integrated state. President Chirac recently said that he believed not in a united states of Europe but in a united Europe of states, and Chancellor Schröder said that the nation state would continue to be at the centre of the hopes and aspirations of the peoples of Europe. We are very comfortable with those statements—we share that vision of the future of Europe.

Is the right hon. Gentleman not at all worried that he is a leading member of a Government who are progressively turning the House of Commons into nothing more than a glorified county council? He failed to answer the question previously, so I shall repeat it: does he think that the IGC will result in more integration? If he does, is that in line with the Labour party's policy of creating a political union—a Europe of the regions? Finally, why did he not mention fishing? The fishing industry is on its knees because of the failure of the common fisheries policy. Why does the right hon. Gentleman not use the opportunity to negotiate a better deal for our fishing industry?

I did not mention fishing because it is not on the agenda of the intergovernmental conference. However, it is fair to say that successive Governments have had to wrestle with the extremely poor deal that the Conservative Government obtained on joining the common fisheries policy.

On the question of integration, I can only repeat the three main priorities that we have set out: more votes for Britain, a more sensible Commission, and a case-by-case approach to accept majority voting only when it is in our interests. If the hon. Gentleman chooses to describe that as integration, he is free to do so, but let us not try to frighten the public by dangling bogeymen in front of them.

Is it not true that, without some change in decision-making procedures, enlargement of the European Union will not be possible? Is it not also true that QMV currently serves our national interests well, given that we have lost only three of the last 393 votes carried out under QMV? Is it not true that changes in the rules of procedure of the European Court of Justice that could be achieved under QMV would be likely to bring about a speedier resolution to our dispute with France over the beef ban? Is it not about time that we in this country had a grown-up debate about such issues, instead of constantly trying to pretend that Britain loses out under any changes in voting procedure, which is far from the truth?

What is impressive about the Conservatives is their lack of confidence in Britain's ability to win a majority vote. In the past two years, we have been outvoted only five times; in the same period, Italy has been outvoted three times as often and Germany four times as often. If unanimity had applied on those occasions, Italy and Germany would have been able to veto decisions that were in our interests. The fact is that, on balance, majority voting has served Britain's interests.

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), recently said of flexibility that the French would not stand for it? Now that they have changed their position, does he accept that flexibility will now not only be on the agenda but is likely to be accompanied by the removal of the veto in that respect, as the European Commission has proposed? Will he assure the House that the Government will insist on retaining the veto in respect of flexibility and that they will renegotiate those provisions?

The hon. Gentleman's proposal, as I understand it, is in conflict with the views expressed by the previous shadow Foreign Secretary in his last speech. He said that Britain would not wish to stand in the way of other countries which wanted to pursue flexibility. His sudden disappearance suggests that perhaps his view did not entirely find favour with the Conservative party. We wait to discover whether it remains Conservative Front-Bench policy.

Flexibility is not a pick-and-mix charter for opt-outs. The flexibility that other member states propose means the enhanced co-operation of a tighter group. We agreed to such a model at Amsterdam. It has never been used. It is hard to understand why a provision that has not been used already needs amendment.

What would happen if the British Government ruled out the single currency for ever and also blocked enlargement so that the potential 12 additional members of the European Union were not included in it? What would happen to relations between this country and the rest of the continent if such a policy was pursued by a Government led by white-van man?

My hon. Friend makes his case through his question. There is no point in this country remaining a member state of the European Union if we, like Conservative Members, are half-hearted about it. A halfhearted Britain in the European Union would secure only half a national interest. If we are to remain a member of the European Union—and we are committed to that—the only rational strategy is to be a full member playing fully to ensure full benefit for Britain.

Will the Foreign Secretary be more specific about Cyprus? I think he said that on joining the European Union, an applicant country must accede to free movement of peoples and capital. Does that mean that if Cyprus signs and joins, the division of the island is over, but if the division continues, Cyprus cannot join?

That is not our policy. I have long argued from the Dispatch Box that Cyprus's application for membership of the European Union must be judged on its merits. It would assist that process if the division of the island was settled, and the people of the Republic of Cyprus want that to happen. However, it must not be a condition of membership. Freedom of movement between the Republic of Cyprus and the occupied northern sector would apply only if Turkey simultaneously joined the European Union.

What does the Foreign Secretary envisage as the end state of European political integration?

I have already told the House that we share the vision of other European leaders and that we shall continue to move towards a united Europe of states, not a united states of Europe.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that one of the eventual consequences of enlargement will be the diminution of the amount of cash available in the United Kingdom for agrimonetary compensation and structural funds? Is it not therefore essential that we do not lose out on the money that is currently available because of the Government's reluctance to contribute genuine additional match funding?

We debated those issues in Berlin. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the deal that Britain secured whereby the highlands and islands continue to receive exactly the same amount of money as they received when they were an objective 1 area.

The Foreign Secretary is right that enlargement requires institutional reform, and I look forward to the enlargement about which he speaks. He was also right that retention of the veto could mean that reforms in Britain's interest might not occur. However, is not the reverse also true? Extension of qualified majority voting could mean that Britain would have to accept changes that would not be in our interest. Which is more important?

I have already made clear the subjects on which we do not accept an extension of qualified majority voting. They are: border controls; taxation and social security; revenue raising; treaty amendments; and defence. We will retain the veto on those matters for precisely the reasons that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's recognition, which is not shared by some of his hon. Friends, that retaining the British veto means retaining the veto for everybody else, and leaving our interests subject to it.

Will the Foreign Secretary undertake to reject any treaty that does not accord France, Britain and Germany at least that blocking minority vote of which he spoke?

If we do not achieve the increase in weighting in the Council, there will be no change to the Commission. If there is no change in the size of the Commission and no change in weighting in the Council of Ministers, it is impossible for the European Union to proceed. That is clearly set out in the protocol to the Amsterdam treaty.

Does the Foreign Secretary realise the importance to Britain's economic interests of our sovereign right to negotiate international air service agreements, particularly as Heathrow is a premier gateway to Europe for those who cross the Atlantic? Can he assure the House that he will not relinquish our veto in transport matters?

I fully understand the importance of the air service agreement to Britain and regularly raise it bilaterally with countries that I visit. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I wish to retain the freedom to do so.

In my customary consensual way on these issues, may I ask the Foreign Secretary about systems of proportional representation, which he supports? Given the overwhelming opposition to such systems in the Labour and Conservative parties, will he guarantee that any veto that would prevent Europe from imposing on this country a proportional electoral system for which we had not voted ourselves is not among the many vetoes that he may be considering giving up?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's attempt at consensus-building, although he will have to go a little further next time to secure it. I am aware of no such proposal and plainly would not welcome it. No European Union country—

I am not even aware of the proposal. It would be my firm view that every nation should set its own electoral system.

Mr. Arne Otter of the Estonian Youth Council recently wrote to me. [Interruption.] Labour Members laugh, but they have mentioned Estonia and new applicant states. The letter says that the

"thinking of most Estonians is that an empire is an empire … The people sitting both in Moscow and in Brussels are not familiar … with the situation in small countries … it is usually impossible to make decisions that were good for small and for big."
Does not the Foreign Secretary think that many applicant countries cannot absorb the full acquis communautaire in one hit and that a more flexible approach would be sensible?

I have good relations with the Estonian Foreign Minister, but I confess that I have not received a letter from Mr. Arne Otter. The bulk of the population of Estonia strongly supports its application for membership of the European Union. Indeed, the Estonian Government have taken heroic steps to meet the conditions, particularly in their treatment of the Russian-speaking ethnic minority. In those circumstances, in which Estonia is working hard for membership, we have to work equally hard to make it possible for it to join.

Child Abuse (North Wales)

4.18 pm

With permission, I should like to make a statement about the report of the tribunal of inquiry into the abuse of children in care in the former county council areas of Clwyd and Gwynedd since 1974. Copies of the tribunal's report are available from the Vote Office.

The report includes the testimony of many people who made allegations of physical and sexual abuse and gives an insight into the appalling suffering that they endured as children. It is a tragedy that such treatment should have been meted out to children in care.

The background to the inquiry is complex. Allegations about poor treatment of children in north Wales emerged in 1986. One result was an intensive investigation by the North Wales police in 1991, which resulted in a number of convictions. However, speculation continued that the physical and sexual abuse of children in care in the former Clwyd and Gwynedd was on a much greater scale. In 1996, when Clwyd county council—on legal advice—did not publish a report that it had commissioned, there was increasing concern in north Wales and in the House and renewed speculation in the media, leading to calls for a public inquiry.

The then Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), informed the House on 17 June 1996 that there would be a judicial inquiry, under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921. Given what has emerged, I think the House will applaud his decision. Sir Ronald Waterhouse was appointed as chairman, with Margaret Clough and Morris le Fleming as the other members.

The tribunal sat for 201 days between January 1997 and April 1998; 264 witnesses gave oral evidence, and 311 submitted written evidence. The work of the tribunal was difficult and harrowing. I place on record our gratitude to the tribunal for the work it has done and our deep admiration of the courage of the many complainants who were willing to relive their childhood experiences.

The report records the testimony of the witnesses in detail and with great sensitivity. Recounting past events will have been distressing to some, and I have made arrangements for the services of the Bridge Child Care Development Service, which provided a witness support team throughout the proceedings, to be available again from today to witnesses and their relatives or partners for a period of up to six months.

In its report the tribunal has named many people: alleged abusers, convicted abusers, local government officers and elected members of local authorities and Welsh Office officials. It has not named complainants or some alleged abusers. The tribunal set out its policy on the naming of names, and did so in the knowledge that its report would have the absolute privilege afforded by the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840.

The tribunal has also confronted the serious questions that arise about the management and safeguarding of children in care. There are 95 conclusions. Those relating to the abuse of children are that there was widespread sexual abuse of boys, and to a lesser extent of girls, in local authority and privately run children's residential establishments and schools, and in an NHS psychiatric unit in Clwyd, between 1974 and 1990; that there was no evidence of persistent sexual abuse in children's residential establishments in Gwynedd; that many children in children's residential homes were subjected to physical abuse; that sexual and physical abuse also occurred in a small number of foster homes in Gwynedd; and that
"there was no evidence presented to the Tribunal or to the North Wales Police to establish that there was a wide ranging conspiracy involving prominent persons and others with the objective of sexual activity with children in care".
However, the tribunal also says:
"During the period under review there was a paedophile ring in the Wrexham and Chester areas in the sense that there were a number of male persons, many of them known to each other, who were engaged in paedophile activities and were targeting young men in their middle teens. The evidence does not establish that they were solely or mainly interested in persons in care, but such youngsters were particularly vulnerable to their approaches."
On the role of the police, the local authorities, the Welsh Office and central Government, broadly the tribunal concludes that, with few exceptions, the police carried out investigations properly; that standards of care and of education in children' s residential establishments were deficient; and that failures in the care system were widespread at all levels—including local authorities, the Welsh Office and central Government—embracing staff recruitment, supervision and management; qualifications and training; complaints and investigation procedures; registration and inspection; and policy making, implementation and monitoring by local authorities and by the Government.

There are 72 recommendations.

On the detection of, and response to, abuse, the tribunal recommends that an independent children's commissioner for Wales should be appointed and that every social services authority, not only in Wales, should be required to appoint an appropriately qualified or experienced children's complaints officer.

There are recommendations on advocacy services, complaints procedures and whistleblowers; on assessment and care planning; on inter-agency working when abuse is suspected; on the recruitment and training of staff and foster carers; on inspections and regulation of private residential schools and all forms of children's residential care; on common standards of care; and on support for young people leaving care.

The tribunal makes recommendations on the expertise required in social services management, on the responsibilities of local authority members for monitoring services to children, on the need for a wide-ranging review of children's services in Wales, on the monitoring of residential and fostering services across Wales, and on the appointment of an advisory council for children's services in Wales. Many recommendations are specific to Wales, and the National Assembly will receive a copy of the report today for the first time.

A number of the recommendations have wider implications. We have already put significant new work in hand to secure real improvements in the standards of care that we expect for children living away from home. As the tribunal recognises, there have been many far-reaching changes over the past decade, in particular those flowing from the changed perceptions introduced by the Children Act 1989.

More recently, we have taken a number of important steps to raise the quality of care for children in response to "People Like Us", the report by Sir William Utting of the review of safeguards for children living away from home, which was commissioned at the same time as the inquiry. The Protection of Children Act 1999 will create a statutory register of individuals deemed unsuitable to work with children. Regulated child-care providers will be required to check the names of all whom they propose to employ in posts involving regular contact with children against the statutory lists kept by the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Employment.

The Care Standards Bill will introduce improved arrangements in England and Wales for the independent regulation and inspection of local authority, voluntary and private sector services on an evenhanded basis. They will cover the inspection of all children's homes, including those with fewer than four children, fostering agencies, voluntary adoption agencies and residential family centres, and welfare arrangements involving schools. The Bill will also establish new care councils for England and Wales, which will provide enforceable codes of conduct and practice for all social care employees. They will set standards and regulate the work force, helping to ensure that staff receive the training and qualifications that they need.

The Children (Leaving Care) Bill will establish extensive new support arrangements to ensure that young people over 16 leaving care will continue to be supported until they are ready and able to stand on their own. A duty will be placed on local authorities to assess and meet needs, and to keep in touch with care leavers. Our plans for more general youth support—through the Connections programme that has just been launched in England, and a broadly similar scheme for Wales—will offer children in care, and others, a range of support in education, careers, housing and personal relationship issues.

The Government have launched major new programmes—"children first" in Wales, and "quality protects" in England—to improve the management and delivery of children's social services. That will include a distinct role for local councillors. There is revised guidance on inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. The revised paper "Working Together" was issued in England in December 1999, and will be issued in Wales in March.

The tribunal's report adds impetus to this programme for change, but also makes significant new recommendations. We will be looking hard at them to see how they complement changes that we are planning—or are already implementing—or whether a change of direction or emphasis is needed. At the top of the list is the tribunal's call for the appointment of a children's commissioner for Wales. The National Assembly is already working on detailed proposals for such an appointment, and we shall be considering how best to proceed.

Our key concern now must be to satisfy ourselves as far as we can that people who have abused children are not in a position to do so now. Those named in the report who are still working in one of the successor local authorities in north Wales have been traced and risk-assessed. Given the time span covered by the report, however, there are a number of individuals against whom findings have been made in the report who are no longer working for one of the successor authorities, and whose current whereabouts are unknown. We are working together to establish their current whereabouts, and to ensure that they do not now pose a risk to children or other vulnerable groups.

In order to achieve that, the Government are taking additional immediate action. We are today extending the consultancy index to permit the inclusion of names in the list otherwise than following a referral by an employer. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will announce today that a number of individuals named in the report who have been convicted of offences against children, or against whom the tribunal has made a finding of having harmed children, or of being unsuitable to work with children, are to be included on the extended index temporarily, with immediate effect. That is an interim measure pending representations by those individuals, which will be carefully considered by the Secretary of State before deciding whether they should be included on the extended index permanently.

We are taking immediate steps to establish the current whereabouts of individuals named in the report who have been convicted of offences against children, or against whom findings of having harmed children, or of being unsuitable to work with children, have been made by the tribunal, but whose current whereabouts are unknown.

Today, the Department of Health and the National Assembly have written to all chief executives of health authorities and local authorities in England and in Wales asking them to check their employment records immediately to verify whether such individuals whose whereabouts are unknown are currently working with children, or with other vulnerable groups within their authorities. If such individuals are found to be working with any authority, that authority will be required to inform the Department of Health in England, or the National Assembly of that fact and of the action that the authority proposes to take.

The report is being sent to all local authorities, police authorities, health authorities, NHS trusts, voluntary sector bodies, area child protection committees and other bodies that have a key role in the protection of children. That will enable checks to be made where appropriate. To ensure that the messages in the report are widely read, greater numbers of a summary report are being issued.

The programme of action that we have already put in train is a demanding one for all levels of Government. We are determined to see it through and to use the report as a warning of the constant need for vigilance. The Secretary of State will direct the Government's work to drive through the programme, with advice from the ministerial task group on children's safeguards, which includes local government, the voluntary sector and young people themselves.

Sir Ronald's report catalogues deeds of appalling mistreatment and wickedness, of sexual, physical and emotional abuse, and of the total abuse of trust. To those whose lives have been shattered, to the families of those who have died and to all decent-thinking people, of course, we all say "sorry", but sorry is not enough. We are determined that the report will lead to a society where young people can be cared for in safety and where they can truly enjoy their childhood—just as most of us in the House were able to do.

I thank the Secretary of State for Wales for his courtesy in providing me with an advance copy of the report and statement. It is, rightly, a weighty report. Our thanks must go to Sir Ronald Waterhouse and to his team for providing us with such a thorough report, which is required reading for all bodies and organisations that deal with child-care provision away from home.

It is time to reflect on the report, to look carefully at its 72 recommendations, to take on board the reasons why it was set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) in 1996 when he was Secretary of State for Wales, and to act with speed and determination.

Our thoughts are clearly with the victims who are at the centre of the report. It makes chilling reading. It has already been described as the greatest scandal to hit the modern welfare state. It contains descriptions of horrendous abuse, physical and sexual, over 20 years involving hundreds of children, the most vulnerable young people in our society, in many homes. It leaves one filled with many emotions and feelings. The main one for me is a sense of betrayal. Our system has betrayed the very people who needed our help most; it not only failed them, and failed to deliver for them and to live up to their expectations and our intentions: it betrayed them.

We do not look for a knee-jerk reaction to produce a short-term fix for what are long-term deficiencies and decay. It is the system that has let down our children, and it is the system that must be addressed. As the Secretary of State himself has acknowledged, the system—notably by means of the Children Act 1989 and other measures—is being addressed. Nevertheless, we must remember that not only the depravity of the acts that we are considering, but the utter scale of the abuse condemn the system that allowed such abuse.

This major inquiry followed many internal investigations into child abuse in north Wales, including a report by John Jollins. Sadly, however, on legal advice, that report was not made public. There was also a major police investigation, in 1991, that resulted in eight prosecutions and six convictions.

Subsequent to that inquiry and the non-publication of reports, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks initiated the judicial review. At the same time, the then Secretary of State for Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell), established his review—which the Secretary of State for Wales mentioned—under Sir William Utting, of safeguards for children living away from home.

Today's headlines will report and centre on the call for an independent commissioner for children and for children's complaint officers in each local authority. Although due consideration must be given to those recommendations—especially considering the backing that they have received from various voluntary organisations—all the recommendations should be considered carefully. Each of the recommendations should play an important role in building a strong fabric of detection and of protection for our children. I therefore have a number of questions about the recommendations.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House in what time scale he expects the Government to consider the report before they are able to provide their response? I appreciate that measures are being considered by the House now—Sir Ronald himself refers to that fact—but with today's publication of the report, we should know what time scale the Government envisage for consideration of and consultation on the recommendations.

The Secretary of State stated that counselling facilities will be available for six months to victims and their families, provided by the Bridge Child Care Development Service. We welcome that provision. However, will he give an assurance that he would be prepared to revisit the matter of counselling in the light of requests from those receiving help, with the possibility of extending the time for which counselling is available?

One of the report's recommendations is to examine the availability and adequacy of fostering provision. Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that such an examination will be made? My hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) has established his own commission on the provision of fostering and adoption, which is being chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis). Both fostering and adoption are vital to providing greater stability and security within a family atmosphere, and both can play an important role in child-care provision.

What role does the Secretary of State envisage for charitable bodies such as Barnardos, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and others in developing the Government's policy on child care? Those organisations have tremendous expertise. What additional role does he envisage them playing in addressing the issues?

After the publicity that the report will receive, it is likely that other victims will wish to come forward. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that sufficient measures will be put in place not only to cope with further complaints as they arise, but to encourage former victims to come forward? One of the reasons given by victims for not complaining at the time, or soon afterwards, was their sense of guilt and shame. Will the Secretary of State assure the victims that there is no guilt or shame for them, but that their evidence in coming forward will help further to root out abuses that still exist in the system? Will he also make public the best course for them in making their complaints?

The Secretary of State has stated that he will assist in helping to track down the people named in the report, but who have since moved on and whose location we do not yet know. Will he say how many people he believes fall into that category? In his requests for local authorities and other bodies to check their employee records, will he include a time limit in which those checks are to be made, to ensure that everyone is clear about the urgency of the situation?

Will the Secretary of State discuss with his colleagues in Government the need for fresh guidelines to deal with deficiencies in the system, so that internal inquiries, such as the Jollins inquiry, are made in such a manner that they can be properly published and acted on?

The Government's response to the Utting report states that children have a right to be protected against abuse. That is a provision of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, which the United Kingdom has ratified. We cannot guarantee that abuse will never occur, but particularly for children living away from home, the Government have a responsibility to put all practicable safeguards in place to prevent it, to uncover it when it occurs and to deal severely with those responsible. Conservative Members fully endorse those aims. We shall work with the Government to bring about excellence in child-care provision throughout the country and to ensure that the horrendous and appalling acts of abuse that have stained and scarred so many lives in this country, particularly in north Wales, will never happen again.

I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said, particularly his comments on the victims of such terrible acts. I agree that we do not want knee-jerk reactions to such an important and sensitive report.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the time scale. We hope that matters will be dealt with as soon as possible. The Ministry working group will meet next week. We shall revisit the issue of counselling victims and others after six months if it is felt that there is a need. I entirely agree with him on fostering provision. The National Assembly for Wales and the Department of Health will be dealing with that. I also agree that charitable bodies play a hugely important role, working closely with the Department and the National Assembly. If others have complaints, they should be listened to seriously and the method by which they are able to do that should be made public. I also agree that no guilt or shame should attach to such complaints.

Approximately 200 people are named in the report, although not all are associated with abuse. Some of them needed to be named so that they could be exonerated. Twenty-five people have been convicted. A number have died. The report makes findings against 11 people—either that they have harmed children or that they are unsuitable to work with children. Information in the report brings into question the suitability to work with children of a further 30 to 40 people, but in relation to a wide variety of incidents of differing gravity. The letters to local authorities and health authorities requesting the information required by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and the National Assembly have been sent today. We shall require a response by 5 pm on Thursday this week.

As my right hon. Friend knows, many of the private homes involved in the tragedy are in my constituency. Will he assure me and the residents of north Wales that all the alleged abusers and all those named by the victims—including those not named in the report—will be subject to investigation and prosecution if necessary?

Yes, I think that I made that clear. My hon. Friend has played an important role as a north Wales Member of Parliament in watching the events closely. He represents his constituency well on these matters. We are asking every local authority and health authority in England and Wales to inquire as to whether anyone named in the report is working for them. If they are, the authority must report to the Department of Health or the National Assembly by Thursday. In addition, the report will be widely available to all sorts of authorities—including police authorities, health authorities, local education authorities and social services authorities—as well as in libraries. Everyone who needs to see the report will be able to do so. Employers will be able to read it and take appropriate action.

I thank the Secretary of State for doing me the courtesy of giving me a prior viewing of the report. That was very valuable. We endorse the congratulations to Sir Ronald Waterhouse on the very thorough conduct of his inquiry and report. The investigation has exposed a shocking catalogue of child abuse that is a massive tragedy for the victims who have been abused, and was a betrayal of children's trust.

We accept the report and its 72 recommendations, especially the recommendations for an independent children's commissioner for Wales—for which the Liberal Democrats in the National Assembly have pressed especially hard—and a children's complaints officer. We need to strengthen investigative powers and the complaints procedure, as well as to provide sufficient qualified staff and training, which are especially important. We also need advocates for children.

Will the Secretary of State ensure that the names of unnamed abusers in the report will appear on the register of known abusers? Will he clarify the situation of NHS-registered homes? Page 50 of the report mentions the Gwynfa NHS psychiatric unit in Upper Colwyn, where staff were suspended but their case could not be properly addressed by the tribunal. That is a problem that crosses the responsibilities of police authorities. Will the Secretary of State authorise compensation for those victims whose lives have been ruined by abuse in establishments in north Wales?

I endorse the hon. Member's views on the tribunal. The three members worked unbelievably hard over a long time and had to listen to some terrible things. When hon. Members read the report in detail, they will see how well written it is and how many recommendations it makes that should be considered very seriously. I also wish to mention Sir Ronald Hadfield, who was the adviser to the tribunal on police matters and provided useful and important advice.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether unnamed abusers would be put on the register. I refer him to the policy on naming names that the tribunal describes in its report. The members thought carefully about what they should do, because they wanted to identify those persons who have already been subject to relevant court proceedings; individuals against whom a significant number of complaints had been made, with the tribunal's assessment of them; other persons who figured prominently in the evidence, whether they had been the subject of substantial complaints or not; a limited number of persons who should have been identified to exonerate them after rumours about them had circulated; and persons who had not been the subject of allegations of abuse but who were in positions of responsibility and whose acts and omissions were relevant to the tribunal's full terms of reference—including council officials and police officers—and who had not had the benefit of any anonymity ruling by the tribunal. That covers many people, and those who are covered by it should be named and, therefore, identified in the way that I described earlier.

I endorse my right hon. Friend's expression of gratitude to Sir Ronald Waterhouse and his team for their valuable work. The priority now has to be to prevent any recurrence of that systematic abuse. In that connection, how do the Government intend to proceed through primary legislation? My right hon. Friend has referred already to two Bills that will be before the House shortly, but do the Government intend to amend those Bills to take on board the recommendations in the report?

With specific reference to the children's commissioner for Wales, is it my right hon. Friend's understanding that primary legislation will be required to achieve statutory authority for that role? What assurances can he give, especially to cash-strapped local authorities, that reform programmes will be properly resourced?

I thank my hon. Friend, who represents a north Wales constituency, and has a particular interest in the findings of the report. As he knows, primary legislation for Wales on social services is a matter for this House, and he is right to point to the various relevant Bills going through Parliament, particularly the Care Standards Bill.

My hon. Friend will also be aware that a children's commissioner for Wales is a manifesto commitment of our party, which has the widespread support of other parties in the National Assembly for Wales. The Assembly has been considering the matter in its committees over a matter of months. I have been in close contact with the Assembly's First Secretary and Health Secretary. We are currently studying the implications of a legislative vehicle for a children's commissioner. However, my hon. Friend may rest assured that we will give it priority.

I join the Secretary of State in his condemnation of the evil people who undertook these grotesque actions against just about the most vulnerable children in our society. However, we should not allow that condemnation to be used to tarnish the reputation of social workers who commit their lives and their efforts to supporting those young children.

I welcome the thrust of the 72 proposals, although obviously we have not read all of them yet. I welcome particularly the fact that they reinforce the "quality protects" initiative and the Care Standards Bill, now in the House of Lords.

All these matters interact in a complex way. The balance of adoption, fostering and care is difficult to get right, and more than one Government have struggled with it. Will we have an opportunity to debate the implications of this, not just for the homes in Wales, but for those in the other parts of our kingdom? Such a debate should allow us to cover the whole range of adoption, fostering and care, because these issues clearly deserve our detailed attention and understanding.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for those comments. I agree with what he says. I particularly agree with his view that we must not tar all social workers with the same brush. There are many thousands of social workers who are currently working in the field and have done so over the decades to which the report refers, and who contribute tremendously to the well-being and protection of young children. We strongly support those people.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the significance of the report of the tribunal is so enormous that it is extremely important for the House to debate it as soon as possible. I, of course, cannot determine when that will be, but I should have thought that it has to be fairly soon. In addition, it should deal not only with Wales but with the entire country.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the involvement of council officers and elected members of the old Clwyd county council. I find that particularly disturbing. Was that a significant factor in the abuse of these young people?

My hon. Friend is another who represents a north Wales constituency. When he reads the report, which I know that he will do with great interest, he will see that so far as the local authorities were concerned, and the officials and elected members therein, the problem was that they simply did not listen to the children—or, indeed, the adults—who were complaining about what they thought were difficulties. There was a lack of decent management, a lack of decent guidance and a lack of direction over a period of 20 years. The report names a number of council officials throughout north Wales who really should have done their job better. That is not, in any sense, to say that they were necessarily involved in the abuse of children—it was more a case of not doing their job well enough.

The report makes an excellent recommendation that elected members who choose to sit on social services committees should take their duties very seriously and visit residential homes in their local authority areas. In the past, it would seem from the report, such visits were very perfunctory. The councillors did not discover what they should have discovered. There is an important role for elected councillors, throughout England and Wales, and I know my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and his colleagues are also dealing with the matter.

Order. A number of hon. Members wish to ask questions on the statement, but the main business of the House is yet to begin and must start within the next hour. I should be obliged if hon. Members put one question briskly, and if the Minister replied briskly, so that I may call as many hon. Members as possible. I know that there is deep interest in the matter.

I add my congratulations to Sir Ronald Waterhouse and his colleagues. I welcome the report, as many of us have campaigned for many years for a children's commissioner. The complaints officer will also be an excellent forward move. Will the Secretary of State be amenable to assisting Voices from Care and Children in Wales to advance amendments to the Children (Leaving Care) Bill, on which they have already lobbied Parliament? Their sensible amendments would ensure that the voice of young people was heard.

May I also thank the Secretary of State—I may be doing this in the wrong order—for extending me the courtesy of a preview of the report earlier today?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who represents a north Wales constituency. I am sure that any representations made by organisations such as those to which he has referred will be taken seriously by my ministerial colleagues.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who fought hard to have an inquiry set up should be congratulated? In particular, Councillors Malcolm King and Dennis Parry and the care worker Alison Taylor deserve our praise. It was extremely difficult to get the issues into the open.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the great tragedies of this matter has been that young people who had to leave home—for whatever reason—ended up in much worse situations? They were supposed to be taken to places of safety, but they were not. I welcome my right hon. Friend's general apology, but would ask for arrangements to be made for apologies to be given to young people who have survived into adulthood. Sadly, many have died. Some of the children came from south Wales, and they have said that no one has ever said sorry to them.

I agree with all that my hon. Friend said about the important role played by members of local authorities and others in getting the tribunal set up. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales is, as I speak, in north Wales, where I hope he may have the opportunity to say sorry in the area where all the abuse occurred.

Given the seniority of some of those involved in abuse, it seems likely that it could have spread further across Wales than we have yet established. Does the Minister have a plan that will allow us to break through the veil of secrecy and to find out whether other parts of Wales had similar horrendous catalogues that have not yet come to light?

Many inquiries—32, I think—are being conducted in England and Wales. One large inquiry is happening in my own county, Gwent. The results of the tribunal report will ensure that we are even more vigilant.

I join everybody else in congratulating the team that produced the Waterhouse report. We have not yet taken in all its implications, but the House will surely put its full weight behind any proposals made by my right hon. Friend and the Government, particularly on the children's commissioner. May I plead for significant work on developing skills among both those in social work and those who want to do it? I ask, too, for more support for those people.

As well as focusing on child abuse, which is close to being endemic despite the good work of many social workers, we need to provide a great deal more family support.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend who, as a former Minister in the Welsh Office, is conscious of many of the issues discussed today. I agree that we must make every effort to recruit and train more qualified staff. Too many staff are still unqualified. I know that the training support programme in Wales for 2000–01 is attempting to address these important issues.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in a previous existence, I was one of the barristers instructed by Clwyd county council to advise whether the council could publish its own, earlier report into this appalling and tragic scandal? Is my right hon. Friend also aware that had the council published, its insurance company could immediately have argued that its insurance policies were thereby vitiated? Does he agree that action should be taken so that insurance companies no longer have the right of veto over matters of such signal and painful importance?

I am, of course, aware of my hon. Friend's previous existence and of his interest in the report published today. The question whether insurance can affect the publication of certain reports resulting from inquiries is important. When my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and the National Assembly for Wales see the report of the proceedings of the House, I am sure that they will take account of my hon. Friend's remarks and consider future activity in that regard.

As a former member of Gwynedd council and chair of social services, I welcome with great emotion my right hon. Friend's statement, and look forward to working with our colleagues at the National Assembly for Wales. Does my right hon. Friend agree that when the commissioner is appointed, it is important that he or she should work in partnership with colleagues in other parts of the United Kingdom, as abuse does not have convenient boundaries? That is where we failed in the past, and we must make sure that we do not fail in the future.

I know that my colleagues at the Welsh Assembly will understand the point that it is important that advocates should be able to communicate with children and young people, and in Wales it is important that advocates should be bilingual. When children are placed in a vulnerable situation, they find it difficult to express themselves after the experiences that they have gone through, so it is imperative that there be sufficient numbers of suitably trained advocates who can communicate in the language of the child's or the young person's choice.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who also represents a Gwynedd constituency. I agree that abusers do not recognise national boundaries, and that there must be the greatest co-operation between any children's commissioner for Wales and any counterpart in England. My hon. Friend's points about the need for the use of Welsh in advocacy are well taken.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that what he said today amounts to the most profound statement of failure of the state in its duty of care to the most vulnerable in our society? It is a failure of local government, central Government and society. In the 1970s and 1980s I was a teacher, and I sometimes taught children who were in care homes. I wonder whether I spent sufficient time talking to those children. The report reveals a failure of society as a whole. I approve of the proposal to set up a children's commissioner; I agree with many of my colleagues' comments about that.

May I make one criticism, however? The report, which was commissioned by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), has taken almost four years to come before Parliament. Would it not have been possible to issue interim proposals rather sooner? I know that the report is comprehensive, but it has taken a long time. Its recommendations should be implemented as soon as possible.

As a former Minister in the Welsh Office with responsibility for health, my hon. Friend will know that these matters are especially difficult and sensitive. When he sees the size of the report, he will realise that the amount of time taken to produce it was necessary in order to get it right. However, I take the general thrust of his points. It is most important to overcome the difficulties outlined in the report.

Is it not staggering that, after so much evil over such a long period, so few people admit to awareness of it? Will the Secretary of State confirm that the present statutory provisions do not include the vetting of volunteers? Is he satisfied that the inquiries that he has set up will not be impeded by existence of that loophole?

I agree with my right hon. Friend's point about volunteers. Paedophiles will find their way into many different occupations and jobs; they will not confine themselves to those that we have discussed today. As a longstanding Member of the House, my right hon. Friend knows how important it will be to consider carefully the recommendations of the report; that is what the Government will do.

This is yet another damning indictment of our failure to protect our young people. As a trustee of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, I welcome the recommendation for a children's commissioner. However, evil knows no boundaries. Will my right hon. Friend speak to other members of the Government about the appointment of a children's commissioner for all our children?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. In England, there are some differences in the way we deal with these matters. As she will be aware, the relevant Bill will include a commitment to a children's rights official. We need some time to consider the implications for administration in the report, but she can rest assured that all 72 recommendations will be treated very seriously indeed—not only by the Welsh Assembly but by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and his colleagues.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the report will strengthen the Government's intention fundamentally to reform the entire care system throughout the United Kingdom? Will he also confirm that the children's commissioner will provide a service for all children? Does he agree that there is great strength of feeling throughout the House as to the need for linked offices—for a children's commissioner for all children in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales?

I agree with my hon. Friend. However, as he is aware, there is devolution throughout the UK, so it is for the Administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to decide how they will react to the report. I have no doubt that they will all agree on the need to treat the recommendations seriously. As I said, there will be provision for the appointment of a children's rights commissioner in England in a relevant Bill. I am sure that our Scottish and Northern Ireland counterparts will consider the report seriously.

I must first declare an interest in that I am a founding trustee and director of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation—an organisation that, over 10 years, has rapidly established an international reputation for leading therapeutic techniques for dealing with victims and with perpetrators.

I can hardly welcome the report, but I can register satisfaction that at least it has been produced. We feel relief, but we felt similar relief on the publication of similar reports before. I remember the Cleveland child abuse inquiry, conducted by Lord Justice Butler-Sloss. The report of that inquiry contained more recommendations than this report. However, the recommendations were implemented with great selectivity—driven largely by availability of Treasury funds.

Will my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Wales and for Health and their ministerial teams institute monitoring, as called for by other colleagues today, throughout all the nations in the United Kingdom, to trawl the previous inquiries of this kind and pick up recommendations that have been discarded in the past? That would ensure that we have a comprehensive programme which should be constantly monitored to ensure that it is effective not only in the United Kingdom but against those characters who leave the United Kingdom to practice their scandalous procedures elsewhere, and those who visit the nation from outside.

My hon. Friend is right to say that it is very important to treat all the recommendations with the seriousness that they deserve, but I should remind him that many of the recommendations in the report were anticipated in the drafting of the two relevant Bills before the House; that several measures have been implemented in the past few years, including "quality protects" and "children first"; and that we are in the middle of the biggest overhaul ever of ways in which we can deal with children's safety.

This is a very important report and I wholeheartedly welcome the Minister's response. However, in his response he drew on the Protection of Children Act 1999 several times, and I feel that it is my duty to point out that there is a major loophole in the Act, concerning volunteers. At the moment, the 1999 Act only allows for the vetting of volunteers—it does not require it. If we do not shut this door when we know that it is open, it will be an avenue for abuse. I call on the Minister to consider that as a matter of urgency. None of the measures introduced by the Care Standards Bill or any of the other measures coming before the House in the foreseeable future close off that avenue, which is still open.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who pioneered the Protection of Children Bill in the House and will be thanked by generations to come for what she has done. However, on the vetting of volunteers—a matter which my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) also mentioned—we do understand the point that my hon. Friend is making and we will examine the matter.

The Secretary of State expressed it aptly when he said that what had happened was a total abuse of power and that sorry was not enough. Does he consider that these principles should be extended to other fields, such as educational and residential settings; that active child protection policies should be pursued; that a complaints procedure should be instituted; and that designated teachers and senior officers should be responsible for reporting at least yearly, thereby transforming their passive role into an active one?