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Commons Chamber

Volume 405: debated on Wednesday 21 May 2003

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 21 May 2003

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Transas Group Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Wednesday 4 June.

Oral Answers To Questions

Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State was asked

Peace Process

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the peace process. [113801]

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the peace process. [113806]

We shall continue to work for the restoration of trust necessary for the effective functioning of the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, on the basis of the Good Friday agreement and the proposals published by the two Governments earlier this month, with the aim of holding elections to the Assembly in the autumn. Progress depends on absolute clarity on both the future of paramilitarism, and the stability of the institutions.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, on the one hand, we need absolute clarity about the end of paramilitary operations and, on the other hand, we need to make it clear that if the IRA co-operates in that way, we will not allow further hurdles to be put in place to stop it playing its full part in the democratic process?

I agree that trust is absolutely necessary for the process to succeed. There is no question but that the breakdown of trust was the reason for the Assembly's suspension last October, which was a direct consequence of paramilitary activity. My hon. Friend knows that during the past few weeks various efforts have been made to try to ensure that we get greater clarity from the IRA. We have made some progress, but not enough.

It is interesting that this week's Belfast News Letter contained the results of an opinion poll. It clearly showed:
"If IRA made a statement that they would never again use weapons under any circumstances",
support in Northern Ireland for the restoration of the institutions would greatly increase. Indeed, the poll also showed:
"If IRA decommissioned all weapons and disbanded",
that support would increase even more.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the postponement of elections to the Assembly brings the danger of a period of drift for the peace process, which is certainly to be avoided? Will he consider, as a matter of urgency, convening a paragraph 8 comprehensive review of the agreement that would involve dialogue among all the parties in the Province? That will have to be done by December at the latest, in any case.

The hon. Gentleman is right: we cannot allow a vacuum to exist in the months ahead. As he will know, representatives of the Government met representatives of the Irish Government in London yesterday and had more than three and a half hours of discussions and negotiations about where we should go. Both Governments agreed that we should ensure that the momentum continues and that we maintain progress. To that end, I shall hold a series of meetings in Belfast over the next two or three weeks with parties in Northern Ireland to find out how we can best make progress. The hon. Gentleman is also right that the paragraph 8 review needs to be held before the year is out. I shall take soundings among the political parties to find out their opinions on the best time for the holding of the review.

The Secretary of State has often stated that clarity and trust must be established to process the re-establishment of the institutions of Northern Ireland. He says that he will negotiate with the parties. Will he state clearly that all parties will negotiate together so that the atmosphere of secret deals being done may be permanently eradicated? In the aftermath of the Stakeknife revelations, will he accept that trust in the Government as an impartial participant has been seriously eroded and that action needs to be taken? Will he state that an appropriate and urgent inquiry on Government participation in the Stakeknife process will be undertaken?

I cannot comment on intelligence issues. I do not agree with my hon. Friend that trust in the Government has broken down due to recent newspaper reports. I think that he would agree that after three decades of conflict and division in Northern Ireland, it is almost inevitable that issues such as those to which he refers will come out over time. It is important for everyone to realise that the process is sufficiently robust to withstand such circumstances.

On the round-table talks, I shall listen to what the parties say during the coming weeks. I rule out no specific format or process. We are all concerned with whatever is best for movement forward so that we can restore the institutions and hold elections.

I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that, if and when we have a successful peace process, one of the great benefits for Northern Ireland will be the opening up of the Province's tremendous tourist potential. Does he realise that other countries throughout the world put a lot of money behind their constitutional celebrations, such as the United States, which promotes Independence day on 4 July, and France, which promotes Bastille day on 14 July? When will the Northern Ireland Office give some support to our great constitutional celebrations, which are coming up on 12 July and 12 August, to promote the colour, the pageantry and the music, and to bring tourists into Northern Ireland to celebrate the great constitutional events in our history?

The hon. Gentleman is right: tourism has increased tremendously over the past number of years. One of the great advantages of the Good Friday agreement is the fact that tourism has been able to increase. I know that the hon. Gentleman would agree with that. People now come to the island of Ireland in numbers that they never did before, as a consequence of the great progress that has been made, economically and socially, over the past five years.

I shall have to consult on the other matter that the hon. Gentleman raised. I know that the different traditions in Northern Ireland enrich Northern Ireland, and as a consequence people want to go there.

May I give the Secretary of State the opportunity to complete the answer that the Under-Secretary attempted to give in a recent debate that was cut off because of a shortage of time? Will he tell the House, in clear and precise language and without using terms that can be conveniently interpreted at a later time, what the IRA—an illegal terrorist organisation—must say and do before ordinary, decent people in Northern Ireland can exercise their democratic right to vote?

It is encapsulated in paragraph 13 of the joint declaration, on which the two Governments agreed. That is as clear as crystal. There should be a full, immediate and permanent end to paramilitary activity, by which we mean targeting, training, the procurement of weapons and surveillance. There must also be an end to paramilitary beatings and so-called punishment beatings, to the incitement of rioting and to exiling.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House, frankly and clearly, which aspects of the joint declaration he proposes to go ahead with and implement in any event, and specific ally which are contingent on acts of completion by paramilitaries?

The issues that are contingent on acts of completion include the legislation and details of on-the-runs. They include what has been termed the so-called Sinn Fein clauses in the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2003, which have to return to this place for agreement by both Houses after restoration, and the full normalisation package, which is in the annexe to the joint declaration. The issues that will be implemented are those that should be implemented because they are part of the Good Friday agreement. They include human rights, equality, the Irish language, Ulster-Scots, criminal justice and other matters.

I appreciate that clear answer. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what he has got in return for agreeing to dismantle the two observation towers in South Armagh?

I hope that we have got progress in the process. The dismantling of the two towers was part of the normal process of returning to a normal society in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman knows that the normalisation package—the annexe to the joint declaration—referred to normalisation at a much greater pace and at a much greater intensity. That does not mean that we will not go further with what is necessary to ensure that Northern Ireland returns to being a normal place.

Stevens Inquiry

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the Stevens inquiry. [113802]

Sir John Stevens's report is to the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Sir John has indicated that specific criminal investigations continue and that files will continue to be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland. It is important that the criminal justice process takes its course.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. What will the Government do to get to the bottom of allegations of collusion and murder by members of the security forces? What assurances can my hon. Friend give the House that the Government are pressing for total co-operation in the supply of information by members of the security forces? Will she confirm that it will never be this Government's policy that murder can be justified, even to protect valuable intelligence sources?

The Government take allegations of collusion very seriously. We will study the recommendations that Sir John Stevens makes in his report. The recommendations are a matter for the Chief Constable to take forward, but it is precisely because we take allegations of collusion so seriously that the British and Irish Governments appointed the Canadian judge, Peter Cory, in May 2002 to examine allegations in relation to six high profile cases, with a view to advising what further action, if any, is needed.

We have always required public authorities to act within established guidelines when using covert human intelligence sources. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 has improved structures for the management of informants and ensured greater accountability.

I am sure that the Minister will join me in admiring the work of the policemen, policewomen, soldiers and women soldiers who have worked in the various intelligence agencies in Northern Ireland. Will she confirm that the allegations about the identity of the so-called agent Stakeknife will not imperil continuing intelligence operations in the Province?

In their fight against terrorism, the security forces use a variety of techniques, including covert human intelligence sources. It is difficult and dangerous work, and we owe a great debt to those who engage in it. However, it is important that wrongdoers be brought to justice. As I said in my earlier answer, the Government are open to scrutiny. It is important that we take seriously allegations such as those investigated by Sir John Stevens.

Have the Government yet identified where, and at what level, the obstructions encountered by Sir John Stevens during his inquiries originate?

We will study the findings of Sir John's report carefully. His recommendations, particularly those to which the hon. Gentleman refers, are for the Chief Constable, and there are issues for us to study closely and take forward. It is important that Sir John Stevens receives the fullest co-operation that it is possible to give, and that is our aim.

Given that the credibility of the Stevens inquiry continues to be seriously undermined by the non-co-operation of the family of the late Pat Finucane, what steps have been taken to encourage the family to co-operate with the ongoing Stevens inquiry?

That is a police investigation, and the investigations continue. It is important that the criminal justice process is upheld. It is, however, a matter for the Finucane family. In the normal course of events, I would encourage the fullest possible co-operation with the police.

Does the Minister agree that it would be repugnant to prosecute members of the police and armed forces when more than 440 convicted terrorists have been released early from prison?

No. There is no moral equivalence with terrorists. Wrongdoers in any of the security forces—the armed forces or the police—ought to be brought to justice. That is the Government's objective.

International Year For People With Disabilities

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what provision he is making in Northern Ireland to mark the international year for people with disabilities. [113803]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
(Mr. Desmond Browne)

The Government are committed to supporting the European year for people with disabilities in Northern Ireland, and committed to bringing forward a programme of initiatives, events and activities, in line with the commitments given by the previous Northern Ireland Executive. I have launched a Northern Ireland grants scheme to augment the UK-wide scheme. Thirty-four disability organisations in Northern Ireland have received more than £300,000 in grants for specific projects.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that children are involved in all events marking the international year for people with disabilities? What steps are likely to be taken to involve children in this year's world Special Olympics?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her work on behalf of children, especially those with special needs. She recently had cause to be even more interested in children—I understand that she became a grandmother for the first time last week. I congratulate her on that.

I am pleased to advise hon. Members that there is a strong focus on children in the arrangements for the international year. For example, some of the successful Northern Ireland grant applications were from groups with projects that are specifically geared towards children with disabilities. The world Special Olympic games are being held in the island of Ireland for the first time in their 25-year history. The events are targeted mainly, but not exclusively, at children.

Does the Under-Secretary accept that Mencap's campaign for more respite care, especially for those in the older age group, must be considered and enforced? Does he also agree that it would greatly benefit Northern Ireland and the people of Iraq if the Iraqi Special Olympic team could come to Lame? Will he facilitate that, unless there is adequate reason to prevent it?

I agree that there needs to be a continuing focus on respite care. I am taking that forward in my current capacity as Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety.

I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and for Culture, Media and Sport have been working together to try to resolve the problem of the Iraqi team for the Special Olympics, whose members were due to be hosted in Lame. I am also pleased to say that the necessary resources to secure the Iraqi Special Olympians' attendance have been identified through the games organising committee and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We are trying to establish contact with the team to confirm that it still wishes to participate in the games.

I thank the Under-Secretary for what he has said so far, but in recognising the valuable contribution that people with disabilities can make to life and society in general, may I press him to outline the progress in implementing the recommendations of the Disability Rights Taskforce, which reported in 1999 in Northern Ireland?

The hon. Gentleman is right to identify the need to take forward the recommendations of the Disability Rights Taskforce and I pay tribute to him for his contribution to that. The relevant departments in the Northern Ireland Office intend to implement all the recommendations as quickly as possible.

In addition to the excellent initiatives that my hon. Friend outlined, does he agree that, in recognition of the tremendous work of the reverend and hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), we should implement fully the Disabled Persons (Northern Ireland) Act 1989, which he pioneered, especially its advocacy and representation provisions?

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his consistent advocacy of such issues. He has an enviable reputation. One cannot underestimate the importance of advocacy in relation to matters that people with disabilities have to tackle. My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that.

Commercial/Industrial Development (Banbridge)

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on commercial and industrial development in the Banbridge area. [113804]

There is a significant amount of positive economic activity in the Banbridge area, including a major new development at Gilford Mill and one proposed at Bridgewater Park, which together could create around 3,600 jobs. At 1.6 per cent., the claimant unemployment rate is the joint lowest of all the 26 district council areas.

May I refer the Under-Secretary to the problems that are being experienced not only in Banbridge but in Northern Ireland generally as a result of slowness in decision making in the planning service? He rightly referred to two major developments in the area. I am especially worried about the business park at Cascum road, Banbridge. It is in competition to attract major developments with sites in the Republic of Ireland, which has a much more effective and quick decision-making process. Will the Under-Secretary consider that and ensure that the recent application for the extension of the business park is decided quickly so that a development that could be significant not only for Banbridge but a wider area goes ahead?

I acknowledge the work that the right hon. Gentleman has done in successfully promoting the development of the site at Cascum road, Bridgewater Park in his constituency. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela Smith), who has responsibility for planning, will have heard what he said about the urgency of processing the planning application. She is committed to modernising the planning system, and we want to ensure that there is no undue delay in this case.

The Minister will be aware that in recent months several thousand job losses have been announced in the manufacturing sector across rural towns in Northern Ireland. What plans does he have to meet representatives of Invest Northern Ireland to address that ongoing crisis in the manufacturing sector?

The hon. Gentleman is probably aware that I have regular meetings with staff at Invest Northern Ireland, which is totally committed to supporting manufacturing in the region. A range of programmes are available to support manufacturing companies, and they will continue to be made available over the coming years. As a Government, we are committed to ensuring that we have a growing manufacturing sector and a growing service sector in Northern Ireland. As the process of Northern Ireland's returning to be a normal region continues apace, I am sure that the manufacturing sector will continue to survive and thrive. It has already grown by 15 per cent. over the past five years. [Interruption.]

Security Forces

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the political controls over undercover operations mounted by the security forces in the Province. [113805]

Operational control rests with the responsible agency, but all operations are properly authorised within a statutory regulatory framework. We have always required public authorities to act within established guidelines when using covert human intelligence sources.

Order. There is noise from both sides of the Chamber. It is discourteous to hon. Members who are asking questions that so much conversation is going on.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My right hon. Friend said earlier that trust is a vital element in the rebuilding of the stalled peace process. I am sure that he agrees that the disclosures of the Stevens inquiry and the revelations of the activities of Stakeknife will do nothing to aid that process. Will he give a guarantee that, in the wake of the Stevens inquiry, any steps that he takes will be based on increasing the accountability and transparency of the security forces? Will he assure us that he will take all possible steps to stamp out subversive murderous activity by paramilitaries sponsored by security forces?

I said earlier that I do not believe that the peace process has been adversely affected in any way by what has occurred over the past few weeks. We have put procedures in place through the Stevens report and the Cory inquiry to deal with those matters. My hon. Friend will be aware that this Government enacted the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which provides a legislative framework governing the use and authorisation of covert investigation techniques. In addition, we set up the Intelligence and Security Committee of both Houses.

Although building trust in Northern Ireland is important, saving lives is even more important. Will the Secretary of State join me in giving support to the intelligence services in Northern Ireland? Let us not forget that they were fighting what was called a war against one of the most sophisticated terrorist organisations in the world, which was extremely tight and difficult to infiltrate. As a result of that infiltration, hundreds of innocent people are alive today in Northern Ireland.

Yes, I agree with that. I also agree that there have been three decades of conflict and division in Northern Ireland and that, inevitably, awful things have happened during that time. I agree with the main thrust of the hon. Gentleman's point, and I know that he agrees with me, too, that the intelligence services have to operate within guidelines laid down by this House of Commons and by the Government.

Is the Secretary of State concerned that intelligence sources appear to have been prejudiced by leaks from official sources?

I deprecate leaks of any type that might endanger the process. I have said in earlier answers, however, that I believe that the process in Northern Ireland is sufficiently robust to withstand such allegations.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked

Engagements

Q 1. [114590]

If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 21 May.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I will have further such meetings later today.

The Government's decision to bid for the 2012 Olympics is to be warmly welcomed. Will my right hon. Friend identify some of the tangible benefits that could flow from the bid, if it is successful, to cities and communities outside London? Furthermore, as chair of the all-party Scottish football group, may I ask him to join me in sending best wishes to Glasgow Celtic for tonight's UEFA cup final? It is the only British team left—with the exception of this Government—that has an interest in Europe.

I believe that if we can secure the Olympics for this country there will be enormous benefits not only for London but for the whole of the United Kingdom, in terms of industry, tourism, jobs and, of course, sport. I am sure that the whole House will join my hon. Friend in wishing Glasgow Celtic the best of luck tonight.

The right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) says that the Prime Minister has been "outmanoeuvred" on the euro by a politically obsessed Chancellor. How would the Prime Minister put it?

I am never short of advice on this particular issue. I have to say that everyone will have to wait for the announcement by the Chancellor on 9 June.

So the Prime Minister is not denying that the Chancellor is politically obsessed and outmanoeuvring him. [Laughter.] Those words from his close personal friend show how vicious and personal this feud has become. The reality is that Labour is divided from top to bottom on the euro. Meanwhile, 30 of the Prime Minister's own Back-Bench MPs have signed up to a referendum on the constitution. Are they right?

No, I believe that they are wrong. We do not need a referendum on whatever constitution comes out of the intergovernmental conference. I note that when the Conservatives were in office, the now shadow Foreign Secretary and the now shadow Chancellor—

Yes, that is true. They voted against a referendum, and the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) and the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) voted in favour of a referendum. That is why I do not think that I need lessons from him on splits over Europe.

Well, if the Prime Minister wants to get into the past, let us just dwell there for a second. Perhaps he will recall saying of the European Union:

"We'll negotiate a withdrawal from the EEC"
because it
"has drained our natural resources and destroyed jobs".
Those are the words of the Prime Minister. I warn him, therefore, that if he wants to get into the past, he should remind himself that, when it comes to Europe, he has done more U-turns than a dodgy plumber. [Interruption.] Oh yes. The truth is that his party is now divided on the Convention on the constitution, as well as being divided on the euro. As Labour MPs know, the constitution was not mentioned in their manifesto, so the Prime Minister has no mandate. Why will he not have a referendum on the constitution and let the British people decide?

The reasons I am against a referendum are the reasons we have often given. The stories being told about what may be proposed in the Convention or at the intergovernmental conference are wrong. This is an important step, however—making sure that when Europe enlarges to 25 countries, Europe can work.

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to debate about the European Union and our membership of it, let me remind him that he is still a member of Conservatives Against a Federal Europe. It has said that if we cannot attain our ends by negotiation,
"we must withdraw from the European Union."
The true agenda of the right hon. Gentleman and many other Conservative Members is to get this country out of the European Union. That would be a disaster for Britain, British jobs, British industry and British influence.

The truth is that whenever the Prime Minister comes to the Dispatch Box to answer a question, he just makes it up as he goes along. Last week, for example, he stood there and said that this constitution was necessary for enlargement. The House of Commons Library, however, says

"the Convention and its outcome are not prerequisites for accession, the sole basis for which is the Accession Treaty".
The Prime Minister should get his facts straight.

While we are dealing with the constitution, let me say that it is a reality that up to 10 European countries plan to have referendums, a growing number of the Prime Minister's own Back Benchers demand a referendum, and the vast majority of the British people want to have their say. So why is the Prime Minister frightened of giving the British people their say?

As a matter of fact, a majority of the 25 countries in the European Union are not granting referendums. Their reasons are exactly the same as those set out by the last Government on the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty.

The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the real issue he wants to raise is Britain's withdrawal or non-withdrawal from the European Union. Changing the way in which Europe works is vital if a Europe of 25 is to function effectively. It is essential that we make these changes. The right hon. Gentleman wants to vote no to them even before they have been agreed—and the reason for that is that he and many other Conservative Members remain opposed to Britain's membership of the European Union.

The truth of the matter is that the Conservative party has not changed on this issue since before the election, and it would be a disaster were Britain to follow that course and leave Europe.

Will my right hon. Friend welcome the Home Office's award of £85,000 to Suffolk police for the recruitment of 15 community support officers? Will he join me in encouraging the chief constable to allocate a fair proportion of those officers to the borough of Ipswich, where they may be able to support all the agencies that are trying to tackle serious antisocial behaviour in the south-east corner of the town?

We will obviously have more community safety officers. I hope that all police forces take advantage of the possibility of providing them, as they are a good and helpful support to the police; but we are also going to have record numbers of police, in my hon. Friend's area and elsewhere. We have two major pieces of legislation, the Criminal Justice Bill and the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill, and the combination of record police numbers and additional powers will help us to keep crime falling.

May I ask the Prime Minister a question of which his right hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) helpfully gave me notice? If he does not agree with his right hon. Friend's description of the Chancellor, will he take this opportunity to disavow it?

As I have said, I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman and everyone else will have to wait until 9 June for the assessment. But I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that, as the Chancellor said last night, what we require in Europe is not half-hearted acquiescence but whole-hearted engagement. I think that when the 9 June statement is made, the right hon. Gentleman will find that it corresponds with that vision.

Is not the Prime Minister's real problem not the economic circumstances, but the political conditions of the Chancellor? The more he allows himself to be boxed in by the Chancellor's conditions, the more his policy will be characterised as dither and delay, just like John Major's.

I profoundly disagree with the right hon. Gentleman that the economics are irrelevant. There are three positions on this European debate. What he has effectively said, and the Liberal Democrats have said for six years is that Britain should join the single currency immediately, irrespective—

Yes it is—[Interruption.] Throughout the entirety of the previous Parliament, never mind this one, the Liberal Democrats' position was that we should join the single currency immediately, so they would say yes, irrespective of the economics. The Conservative party says no, irrespective of the economics. We say yes, if the economic conditions are right. That is why the sensible position is that the debate is about the economics, jobs, industry and investment, and that is what 9 June will make clear.

The number of asylum seekers crossing the channel and coming into the port of Dover has reduced so dramatically in recent months that asylum seekers from other parts of the country are now being bussed into Dover to fill empty spaces in our accommodation centre. Does my right hon. Friend expect tomorrow's asylum statistics to reflect the dramatic downward trends in Dover, and can he assure me that this bussing business is just a temporary arrangement?

I can assure my hon. Friend that, as the numbers come down and as other induction centres are opened, the problems in areas such as his will diminish. I cannot say exactly how quickly that will happen but I can assure him that we are very alive to his points. We need to get the number of asylum applications down precisely in order to relieve pressure on areas such as Dover.

Q2. [114637]

Does the Prime Minister share the concern of a number of my constituents, who are well qualified IT professionals with the relevant skills, that 21,000 IT work permits are granted every year while 56,000 British IT professionals are looking for work? Will he agree to investigate whether the granting of 200,000 work permits a year—that is a fivefold increase on last year—is in any way detrimental to the economically inactive in the UK?

There has not been a fivefold increase in work permits. The number has been rising for a considerable time, however, which is, of course, partly because greatly increased activity in the economy means there is rising employment and falling unemployment. Those who gel work permits are specifically audited for their ability to get work in this country—people want them to work for them—and I do not think that it is right to set those people against those who are looking for work. I simply point out to the hon. Gentleman that in his constituency, as in others, unemployment has fallen dramatically over the past few years and there are increasing employment opportunities for people in IT and other sectors as well.

Does my right hon. Friend welcome the outbreak of shareholder power at GlaxoSmithKline, where a £22 million payout to the chief executive in the event of his failing to do his job properly was rejected? Does my right hon. Friend agree that such rewards for failure are repugnant?

It is a matter for the shareholders, and what we have done is given them the ability to influence such decisions; I do not think that ultimately they should be taken by Government. It is important that the shareholders in those institutions are able to make their voice heard, and what we have seen this week is evidence of their ability to do that. The changes in corporate governance are in stark contrast to the total refusal of the Conservative party when it was in power to take any of those measures.

Q3. [114638]

Leaving aside for now the issue of the telephone tapping of conversations between Mo Mowlam and Martin McGuinness, is the Prime Minister really comfortable with armed police coming in the middle of the night to the house of distinguished and responsible journalists in Belfast, arresting them in front of their young child, breaking into their study and taking papers? Is that what should be happening in our country today?

I will not comment on the individual circumstances that the right hon. Gentleman has just mentioned because I do not know about them. However, it is extremely important that we enforce the law in every respect, and I simply say this to him and to others: it is particularly important when we are dealing with highly sensitive security information that we make sure that the law is properly upheld and that the ability to keep those issues secret is also upheld. I understand why newspapers and others will take a different view, but I happen to think it extremely important that the work that our security services and police services do, when it is supposed to be kept secret, is indeed kept secret.

Yesterday, Toyota announced an additional shift at its Burnaston plant in my constituency, bringing 1,000 extra jobs to it. Would the Prime Minister care to comment on the implications of a decision such as that for the assessment of working skills in my area, and for the attractiveness of the UK to inward investment?

I am pleased to say that we are still attracting inward investment. The 1,000 extra jobs in my hon. Friend's area are excellent news both for it and for the whole of the country. These jobs indicate not just a high level of industrial activity but increased levels of skills as well. That is one of the reasons why we have, I think, the best rate of unemployment anywhere in the industrialised world at the moment.

At Edenham high school in Croydon, children are being sent home early and teachers face the sack. Who does the Prime Minister think that the parents should blame—the Labour Education Secretary or Labour-controlled Croydon council?

First, in relation to the individual school, I understand that the local education authority is visiting it today to discuss its budget. I am not in a position, and nor is the right hon. Gentleman, to comment in detail on that budget. I would point out, however, that the schools budget for Croydon has increased by more than double the rate of inflation. That, again, if I may say so, is as a result of additional investment being put into schools. Whatever the problems schools have at the moment, they would be infinitely worse if we were not supporting that investment but cutting it—as the right hon. Gentleman wants to do—by 20 per cent. across the board.

I will tell the Prime Minister what the Conservatives will end up cutting: tuition fees, crime, asylum, bureaucracy—and the Government at the next election. But instead of arrogantly trying to say what we will do, why does he not offer an explanation to the parents of the 700 children who will be on the streets this afternoon? The problem is not just happening in Croydon. Up and down the country, schools have run out of money and teachers face the sack. [Interruption.] Oh yes. In Cornwall, Torpoint school is getting rid of two teachers and two support staff, and its head told the Education Secretary yesterday that he had failed. So it is now clear that the Education Secretary has utterly botched the new funding system—that is the reality. So will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to get to the Dispatch Box and apologise to all the parents, teachers and governors?

We have in fact had, as I said, an almost 12 per cent. increase in the schools budget. That is a massive increase on any basis. In addition, over the past few years we have had rises in the number of teachers, rises in the number of classroom assistants and support staff, and the biggest ever investment programme in schools. I have accepted that there are real problems with some schools this year, and we are looking into those, but it cannot be the right answer to the schools funding issue to refuse to support the increases that we are putting in, and instead actually to cut the investment going into schools. So whatever criticisms we get from teachers or local education authorities, a party that wants to cut 20 per cent. off the education budget—

Oh yes—that is the right hon. Gentleman's policy. A party that refuses to support the investment and would cut the schools budget is not a party that can criticise us.

Mass killing of civilians is going on in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. What action is the Prime Minister taking to ensure that adequate UN forces get into the region urgently to prevent further massacres?

I spoke to Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, about this the day before yesterday. A UN force is being put together now to go into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and I understand that France will make a considerable contribution to that. Given all our other engagements, we are seeing what support we can give, but it will be very important to try to make sure that that force is properly led and properly supportive; otherwise, we will revisit the terrors of the Congo of a decade or so ago. I can assure my hon. Friend that we are doing everything that we can to avoid that.

Q4. [114639]

The Prime Minister is no doubt aware that the first anniversary of the Potters Bar crash has just passed, but is he aware of the plight of the bereaved and injured? They are still waiting for a full explanation of how the accident happened, and for someone to accept responsibility, as has been the case with similar incidents previously. Will the Prime Minister and his colleagues give serious consideration to the call from the families for a public inquiry?

I understand the concern of the hon. Gentleman's constituents, and I understand too why it is a particularly difficult situation for them, when so long a time has passed. However, the Health and Safety Executive has said that it wants to conduct the most thorough investigation. It has not completed that yet, and it is not for us to tell it when to complete it. Obviously, as soon as that investigation is completed we will analyse the outcome, and announce any further proposals at that time.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Gloucester city council on its endeavours to regenerate acres of brownfield land in my constituency? However, he may be aware that one scheme, at St. Oswald's park and valued at more than £100 million, received the green light for local planning in August 2001 and is waiting for approval from Government. Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to ensure that projects with very real regeneration credentials are speeded up through the planning process?

My hon. Friend makes a very valid point. I do not know about the particular development to which he refers, but we do want to ensure that development on brownfield sites is speeded up. It is precisely for that reason that we are putting forward proposals to make the planning process work faster. I hope that we will have a result on that in the near future.

Q5. [114640]

The Prime Minister will be aware that the Scottish Parliament agreed at the beginning of this year to pay compensation to hepatitis C sufferers in Scotland who contracted the disease through contaminated NHS blood products. However, not a penny piece has yet been paid, as a result of dithering by Westminster over jurisdiction. Can I inject a sense of urgency into the debate and ask the Prime Minister to confirm today that Westminster will not frustrate the will of the Scottish Parliament to pay compensation under exemption from the benefits clawback regulations? Surely the Prime Minister would agree that the people involved have already waited far too long for justice.

I am aware of the Scottish Executive's decision to pay compensation to hepatitis C sufferers. I am not aware of the other particular problem to which the hon. Lady has just drawn attention. I shall look into it, and write to her about it.

Q6. [114641]

Will my right hon. Friend inform the House of the measures that we can take to alleviate the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe under Mugabe? He will be aware that inflation there is at 228 per cent. and unemployment at 80 per cent., that 75 per cent. of the industrial base is not being used at present and that people are starving. Does he accept that there is a need to speak urgently to President Mbeki to make sure that, sooner rather than later, he exerts his influence and prevails on Mugabe to resign?

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had a meeting with the President of South Africa just last week. We continue to press at every possible level for action against Zimbabwe. The situation there is obviously deteriorating rapidly—it is appalling, in humanitarian and political terms, and in terms of the economic situation for people. That is why it is important, particularly in relation to the Commonwealth, that we continue to make it clear that the actions of Zimbabwe under the Mugabe Government are utterly unacceptable.

What is the right rate of exchange for entry into the euro?

The issues to do with the rate of exchange will, of course, be discussed at the time when the assessment is made.[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asked about the right rate of exchange. Fixing the rate of exchange would happen when we decided to enter the euro.

Q7. [114642]

Does my right hon. Friend consider it possible that further amending the UN draft resolution to mandate the early return to Iraq of both organisations of UN weapons inspectors could help to reunify the international community, to reassert the authority of the UN, and to provide credibility in the face of scepticism that the extent and immediacy of the threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, which precipitated the rush to war, now seem possibly to have been exaggerated?

In respect of the UN resolution, discussions in the UN Security Council are proceeding extremely well and I hope very much that we can reach agreement this week on a new UN Security Council resolution. That will also deal specifically with the return of UNMOVIC and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In relation to weapons of mass destruction, as I have said before, we are conducting a thorough search of all potential sites. We are also interviewing scientists and experts under the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, and I can assure the House that when all that evidence has been accumulated—I think people will find that it is very telling indeed—we shall present it and there can be a proper debate about weapons of mass destruction and the Iraqi regime.

Q8. [114643]

Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating my constituent, Velma Paterson, on her successful hip operation under the NHS? May I tell him that she was delighted with the clean, modern hospital, the excellent medical staff and the tremendous post-operative care, but can he explain to me and to her why she had to have her operation in France?

Yes, I can explain that. It is also the case that hon. Members on both sides of the House will know of constituents who have had superb care in the NHS in this country. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman's constituent recognises that it is only because we are prepared to pay for operations, should people have to wait too long on the NHS, that she was able to get that treatment. The vast majority of people get their operations on time, in the NHS, in this country, but, for the first time, if they are unable to get that treatment within a specified time, we are prepared to pay here, abroad or wherever to reduce their suffering. However, all that, including that constituent's operation, could not take place without the investment in the health service—[Interruption.] The Leader of the Opposition may be tired of hearing that, but he is going to hear it from now until the next general election. The truth is that without the extra investment, that constituent's operation would not have been done, and I hope that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) tells her that.

As someone who supported the operation to overthrow Saddam Hussein before, during and after the war, I welcome the progress at the United Nations, but does the Prime Minister agree that we need to make further progress in controlling civil unrest and in training forces in non-lethal methods of crowd control so that we can establish a stable environment for the new Iraqi interim regime?

My hon. Friend is right, and, if we are able to secure the UN resolution in the next few days, I hope that it will also allow us to access greater support from other countries. The situation in Baghdad is improving and the situation in Basra, in the south, has rapidly improved, but there is still a long way to go. If we can get the help of other countries, we can make even faster progress.

Q9. [114644]

The Secretary of State for Wales, the Government's representative on the Future of Europe Convention, described the outcome as merely tidying up. I think that the Prime Minister and I share the conviction that it is in Britain's national interest to be a member of the European Union, and to be a leading member. Would this not be an opportunity to explain again to the British people, 30 years after we joined, what the benefits are, and would it not also be an opportunity for the Prime Minister to assuage the fears of those who feel that this is something more than tidying up?

There is a very good opportunity to explain to people the benefits of the European Union. What the hon. Gentleman says is right; he represents a strand of the Conservative party that is, I am afraid, all too little represented on the Conservative Benches. People ask what has come out of Europe to Britain's benefit. What has come out for the past few decades is peace, prosperity, rising living standards and the chance to play a part in the world's biggest strategic alliance and single economic market. I think, therefore, that there will be an opportunity both when the assessment is announced on 9 June and in respect of the Convention to hold a proper public debate in this country about Europe. I look forward to that debate, during the course of which it will be seen increasingly that those who really want to wrench Britain out of Europe—as do Conservative Front-Bench Members—are in a minority.

Q10. [114645]

The European Court of Justice has decreed that Governments should no longer hold golden shares in companies, the European Commission does not believe that Governments should dictate the shape or form of public interest companies that can take on services, and the European Central Bank is touting the idea that Governments should no longer run health services. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the European Union's privatisation agenda is running a bit ahead of itself and could even reach the stage where it threatens some of our flagship policies?

Obviously, we shall study the judgment about the golden shares carefully. In relation to the national health service, I simply point out to my hon. Friend that one of the reasons why we want to raise health service and health care public spending in this country is precisely that we recognise that we are not spending enough on the national health service. It is thus rather an odd charge that if we were part of the European Union we could not spend the money that we wanted on health.

Points Of Order

12.31 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I would be grateful if you could inform me how best to set the record straight, because the House appears to have been inadvertently misled. The Prime Minister said that the new applicants for work orders were all being individually vetted for their specialist skills, but that does not accord with the answers given to me by the Department over the past few weeks. Many are completely unskilled.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As recorded in column 58 of Hansard on 28 January, the then Minister for Pensions, the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), assured the House that there would be a full debate on the pensions Green Paper, but we have not had it. Ahead of tomorrow's business statement, could you, Mr. Speaker, make inquiries as to whether the reason for the hold-up is the fact that there has been no Pensions Minister since 4 April, seven weeks ago? If so, is not that a bad reason for holding up an important debate on pensions in this place?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman might try to catch my eye at business questions. That would be the right occasion.

Bp Grangemouth

12.32 pm

Under Standing Order No. 24, I ask that you, Mr. Speaker, grant an emergency debate on the health and safety impact of BP's demand for 240 new redundancies at Grangemouth in my constituency. Those are additional to the 700 redundancies agreed in 2001–02, which are still being implemented. I am deeply concerned about the employment impact and the impact on the local and Scottish economy. I am also concerned about the diminishing local and Scottish spend by BP in Grangemouth.

The impact on health and safety is the most urgent, important and specific reason for calling for a debate. I am sure that you will recall, Mr. Speaker, the seven major health and safety incidents at Grangemouth between 1998 and June 2002—including a major fire and an explosion. BP management were heavily fined on several occasions for safety breaches and a major health and safety taskforce imposed a Health and Safety Executive improvement notice on the plant, which ran until May 2002 and led to a major upgrade of safety and maintenance. An important aspect of the problem is that the A904 Bo'ness road from Grangemouth runs through the middle of the BP complex and an explosion took place only 10 minutes after a woman and her dog had passed the pipe that exploded on the main road.

The 700 redundancies are not yet fully implemented. Some people are still to leave the plant; some are still in training to run the plant with 700 fewer staff; and the health and safety control of major accident hazards certificates have not yet been granted for running the plant at the operating levels that will result from having 700 fewer workers. The manager of the plant, Colin Maclean, is basically a BP hit man. He has been around the world—particularly in Brisbane and America—taking people out of plants. He now wants 66 per cent. of the health and safety department out; a further 70 to 80 plant operators out; the engineering maintenance section out—the engineering fabrication section out, even though the ink is still to dry on the agreement that he signed. He also wants management supervision levels out, thereby placing dangerous work loads on front-line plant operators.

The BP plant in Grangemouth made a $71 million operating profit in the first quarter of this year. There was a 94.1 per cent. availability of plant—and every 1 per cent. increase in availability is worth £10 million to the company. The manager seems determined to turn back the clock to a time when the plant was not properly maintained, there were not enough staff and lives were endangered in the plant and in my community. We must not let Colin Maclean, who is the man responsible, risk health and safety and endanger lives in the community of Grangemouth in my constituency, for the sake of corporate greed. I ask that we debate the issue now as a matter of urgency.

I have listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) has said, and I have to give my decision without stating any reasons. I am afraid that I do not consider that the matter that he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 24, and I cannot therefore submit his application to the House.

Bill Presented

Draft Constitutional Treaty On The Future Of Europe (Referendum) Bill

Mr. Frank Field, supported by Mr. Graham Allen, Tony Wright, Mr. Geoffrey Robinson, Kate Hoey, Alan Howarth, Mr. Graham Stringer, John Cryer, Mr. David Drew, Mr. Ian Davidson, Denzil Davies and Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody, presented a Bill to make provision for a referendum on the draft Constitutional Treaty on the Future of Europe: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 11 July, and to be printed. [Bill 114].

European Communities (Regulations)

12.36 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision in respect of the effects on persons and businesses of regulations made under section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972.
I am glad to see that the Field mafia are in town today. British business, like the British people, has a propensity to be fairly long-suffering and will accept most regulations as part of the burden of living in a democratic society. However, what arouses the fury of business most is the perception that under the cloak of European requirements, the British Government—and the British Government alone—legislate in a way that is significantly more anti-business than is the case in other member states. This Bill is designed to help British business become more competitive.

The irritation of business is encapsulated in the phrase "a level playing field". Whether it is the much publicised prosecution of a food producer or regulations that drive road hauliers out of business, it is the inequity of the British approach that so often generates the headlines. Although it is necessary to scrutinise all existing regulations to see if they can be sensibly simplified, a deregulatory approach on its own will not reduce the total net amount of regulation because new regulations are continually being promulgated in great detail.

The EU treaty sets out the legitimate extent of business regulation in article 36 and implementation nearly always increases business costs. The UK procedure sets out clear and well rehearsed reasons why different EU nations may have different approaches to the development of national legislation. Here in the UK, the impact of national legislation is normally much more rigorous than in several other European countries.

The body of domestic regulation that currently exists is a result of the consensus of all of the pressures that apply within our constitutional framework. In a democracy, the people who would stand to lose as a result of any proposed change in the law tend to shout a lot louder than those who stand to gain, and the former will often appear on the broadcast media and in the newspapers to set out their case. Those who should benefit from such changes are normally much more reticent and consequently the case for maintaining, or extending, existing regulations is invariably broadcast more forcefully.

Accordingly there is little chance of rolling back legislation through parliamentary means unless, unusually, there has been a massive shift in popular sentiment as a result of technological or similar change. Even apparently simple deregulation changes take much time and effort and, as someone who has recently devoted dozens of hours of time to the scrutiny of the Licensing Bill, I can confirm that to be the case. Likewise, Sunday trading was only finally approved in the mid-1990s, having initially come before the House as long ago as 1986.

Our political system has a much greater tradition of wider consultation, with draft proposals being sent to the broadest range of bodies for comment. That leads special interest groups to lobby hard for their particular concerns in using the proposed legislation to maximise their individual requirements. In contrast, British business organisations, such as chambers of commerce, are often significantly less important and well organised than the equivalent organisations in continental Europe. Commercial and trade bodies in other member states often have a far stronger tradition of business involvement at the senior levels of government and the civil service.

The tradition of UK parliamentary democracy also ensures that Ministers can be easily called to account, although perhaps less easily than many of my hon. Friends would like to believe. However, such lobbying is much more likely to be by an MP on behalf of a disgruntled constituent and rarely on account of a complaint from business. Even in my constituency—which is unusual, as some 950,000 people a day come to work in the Cities of London and Westminster and I have a slightly pastoral role for the vast number of businesses based there—I am very conscious that relatively few businesses seek to take up their concerns with Ministers. Officials in Departments are acutely conscious of that imbalance and, as a result, regulations tend to be couched in such a way as to protect the public, rather than the interests of business.

All Members know that parliamentary time is scarce and, as a result, it is difficult for Departments to claim more than a handful of legislative slots each year. The main opportunity for departmental initiatives is therefore through statutory instruments. The policing of British regulations is well established and comprehensive, with a culture that is both local and non-corrupt, but inevitably, each local inspector is appraised on the number of prosecutions that he achieves, rather than on the overall competitive success of the sector for which he may be responsible. As I have mentioned, much of that contrasts with a more lax enforcement regime on mainland Europe.

Many Members will have expressed concerns about gold-plating—where the UK goes beyond the minimum required by a European directive—and although there have been umpteen initiatives in the past decade or so to try to stem the tide of regulation, the burden on British business continues and the prospect of a level playing field with the rest of the EU seems, I am afraid, as elusive as ever.

The legislation that I am proposing, whereby a provision of UK domestic law made by statutory instrument under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 in purported implementation of an EC legal obligation could be attacked in the courts if it were shown that the UK legislation involved burdensome regulations not required by Community law; or, where member states had a choice about how they implemented the relevant EC law, the UK had not chosen the least burdensome method of implementation; or if one or more of the other member states did not have in their law provisions equivalent to those imposed by the UK regulations—or, indeed, if they did not effectively enforce their laws.

In short, I seek to ensure that the lowest rather than the highest burden would be placed on UK businesses and that the courts would have the power to grant a declaration to that effect, so the relevant UK regulation would cease to have effect to the extent that its provisions went beyond the basic minimum required by Community law. Businesses, affected individuals and bodies, such as trade associations, could go to court to apply for such a declaration. I should emphasise that such a defence would not apply where the EC law obligation had been implemented subsequently by Act of Parliament, but only to the gold-plating that I earlier described.

The consequences of the Bill would be completely to turn the tables for legislative priorities. Civil servants and officials, rather than being motivated to increase regulatory requirements, would in fact be keen to ensure that their proposals could not be overturned in court because they went further than those in other EU states. I hope that, similarly, UK embassies abroad in each EU member state would be obliged to discover more about the status of legislation in that country and feed back that information for the purposes of our good governance. Rather than Ministers having to defend European-derived legislation, any business that was prosecuted could argue its case for fair treatment in the courts.

May I take this opportunity to thank Sir Paul Judge, the businessman and philanthropist, for his work in promoting this initiative? I am also delighted to have received the endorsement of Ruth Lea of the Institute of Directors and John Blundell of the Institute of Economic Affairs, both of whom support the ideas in the Bill. Ideally, this small piece of legislation would have the effect of diffusing all the issues relating to that ever-elusive level playing field, which I understand to be the main regulatory complaint of British business. Question put and agreed to. Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Mark Field, Mr. Richard Bacon, Gregory Barker, Mr. John Baron, Mr. Adrian Flook, Mr. Boris Johnson, Mr. George Osborne, Mr. Mark Simmonds, Mr. Nigel Waterson and Mr. Bill Wiggin.

European Communities (Regulations)

Mr. Mark Field accordingly presented a Bill to make provision in respect of the effects on persons and businesses of regulations made under section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 11 July, and to be printed [Bill 115].

Orders Of The Day

European Union (Accessions) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

12.45 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Although the Bill is slim, it is significant and important. It will do two things. First, clause I will enable the implementation under United Kingdom law of the accession treaty, which was signed in Athens on 16 April and extends the European Union to the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia from 1 May 2004. Secondly, from the same date, clause 2 will allow nationals of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia the same rights to work in the United Kingdom as those enjoyed by nationals of current member states and those that will be automatically enjoyed by nationals of Malta and Cyprus. However, that will be subject to a clear regulation-making power to withdraw such a concession if the need arises, as I shall discuss later in my speech.

Let me begin with clause 1. The accession treaty is one of the most important agreements in the European Union's history. Enlargement sets the seal on the end of the cold-war division of Europe. Many hon. Members, including myself, represent Britain's immediate postwar generation. We hardly need reminding that security among European nations has been nothing less than a continental and American obsession for almost 60 years. That was the stimulus behind the infusion of Marshall aid and the inspiration for the foundation of the European Union. It led to the establishment of the most successful military alliance in our history—NATO.

European security was a central preoccupation of one of my most distinguished predecessors. Ernest Bevin. If he were alive today he would, I am sure, be immensely proud of the progress that Europe has made from being the
"breeding ground of pestilence and hate"
that was so vividly described by Churchill in 1945 to becoming the prosperous and peaceful Union that we have today. Those of us who take an interest in European history need to recognise that the norm in Europe has been conflict and bloodshed and that the exception has been relative peace and harmony. That exception, which we have created in the past 60 years, has not been accidental but was created as a result of conscious decisions by peoples in Europe and throughout the continent.

When the Berlin wall fell in 1989 and tens of millions of Europeans decided to take destiny into their own hands, they were not unwitting actors in a historical drama driven by political and economic forces beyond their control. Indeed, they wanted to exert control over economic and political forces that had previously denied them such control. They acted because they recognised that their system had failed them. They looked not further east or south but west for a better future, freedom, representative government and the opportunity better to reward their talents. They recognised the European Union as an institution that, alongside NATO, had delivered security and prosperity to its members for decades.

As a result of that, almost immediately after the fall of the Soviet bloc Governments and the establishment of substitute Governments that became representative and democratic in time, Governments in central Europe pursued the goal of EU membership with relentless determination. It has been a remarkable effort. Political and economic reforms have laid the foundation for a prosperous future. Given the rich talents of each of those countries, I have no doubt that they will, over time, enjoy an economic transformation every bit as striking as that in Spain and Portugal since the 1980s.

Bearing in mind the overwhelming votes in referendums so far among accession countries, will the Secretary of State deprecate those who make the case that people in accession countries who have voted to enlarge the Union are substituting their hard-won independence for some form of tyrannical government? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the building block of the European Union remains independent member states, and that enlargement should be supported by all Members of this place?

It is a matter of free will whether enlargement is supported. However, I sign up to both of the propositions that the hon. Gentleman makes. In all my dealings with my Italian, French and German colleagues, I have had no sense from them that they feel that their nationhood has been diminished or undermined by membership of the European Union. More importantly, countries such as Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland and Hungary see their membership of the EU as an expression of their new nationhood, and not in any sense a detraction from it.

The Secretary of State is making the point about the future prosperity of the applicant countries that will follow, as he says, from their entry. He must take into account the fact that the current average level of prosperity of the applicant countries in terms of per capita income is about one seventh of that of the present members. Unemployment is about twice as high. In Poland, for example, it is 20 per cent. Who will pay for the great new prosperity that the applicant countries will enjoy?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Enlargement will lead to a greater range of gross domestic product per head than has existed hitherto. There are some significant figures. The new 10 will add 23 per cent. to the land mass of Europe, 20 per cent. to the population, but only 4 per cent. to the GDP of the EU. Those disparities are there.

The hon. Gentleman asked who will pay, and I will give the exact figures later. The key way in which we have the process paid for is by increasing the output of the new member states. In a sense, they pay for it themselves. That has been historically the practice, after some initial subsidisation of new entrants, and I think that that will be the practice in future. Already, the GDPs of the candidate countries—former communist bloc countries—have grown by 40 per cent. As they are drawn into the EU, they will have wider access to our markets, especially our agricultural markets, or some of them. They will also be able to change and adapt their labour practices. We shall then see them really motoring, in the same way as the economies of southern European countries that have come within the EU. There will be some subsidy, and I shall deal with that.

Those of us in this country who hail from central European Jewish backgrounds, as I do, have no reason to feel any antipathy towards our fellow Europeans, but we are legitimately concerned about the right of this country to retain the power of self-government. Given that it is now five years since the inclusion of the protocol on subsidiarity and proportionality in the treaty of Amsterdam, will the Secretary of State identify one directive or regulation flowing from the EU that has been repealed under the terms of the protocol?

No, and the practice has been unsatisfactory. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asked for an answer and I have given him the answer. I am then asked what we are going to do about the situation. One of the major issues that is being discussed within the Convention is to ensure that there is a two way street in terms of subsidiarity. There is an important proposal, which I hope will be supported by the whole House, that where the Commission puts forward draft proposals for legislation and that is objected to by a third of national Governments, those proposals must go back to the Commission for reconsideration [Interruption.] I am asked what reconsideration means We want to see that strengthened. I believe that that is a dynamic mechanism and far better than the mechanisms that were put in place by the previous Government.

I return to the point made earlier by the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Sir Michael Spicer) about the economics of the new entrants. Is it not true that when Spain, France and Greece all joined the EU, exactly the same phenomenon was true? Britain increased its trade with countries such as Spain by about 40 per cent. over only four or five years.

The Secretary of State has made an important point about the failure of the principle of subsidiarity up to now. He has said that there is a new power in the draft constitution. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that at best member state parliaments will be able only to request that the Commission review a proposal, and that there is no obligation on the EU or the Commission to take any notice of such a proposal? The point was made by the Scrutiny Committee. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore undertake to veto a draft constitution that does not give practical effect and powers to member state parliaments to enforce the subsidiarity principle in the way that he thinks is desirable?

I do not undertake to do the latter, but I shall come on to our approach to the recommendations, of the Convention when we get to the intergovernmental conference. However, we want to see the present proposals strengthened. The matter was discussed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and Valéry Giscard d'Estaing at the dinner that I attended on Monday. We wish to push it.

No. I have taken many interventions, and I may take some more later.

I say to the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) that even this proposal represents a significant advance on the proposals for subsidiarity which were included in earlier treaties. In the previous Government, the right hon. Gentleman, when he had responsibilities for Europe, voted in favour of the Maastricht treaty. He was an adornment of that Government. The proposal allows some dynamism in the process, and the right hon. Gentleman needs to see that in the context of the majority that is required, even under qualified majority voting, to get something through.

If I may, I will make some progress. I pay tribute to the efforts of previous Governments, including the right hon. Members for Wells and for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), to secure Europe's unification. It was a distinguished predecessor of mine, Lord Hurd of Westwell, who said eight years ago:
"Enlargement is not a luxury. It is a necessity if we are to build a safe and successful Europe for the 21st century."
It was good that the previous Administration, under John Major, not only made those statements but backed them with actions such as the establishment of the know-how fund and the sponsorship of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. Also, that Administration pushed and prompted the EU to enter into association agreements with each of the applicant member states so that they had a route through from where they were in 1989–90, which was flat on their backs in economic and political terms, to where they are today, which is just about to become fully fledged members of the EU.

In paying that straightforward tribute to the previous Administration, I say also that we are proud of this Government's record in pursuing this cause. In a speech in Warsaw three years ago, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was the first EU leader to call for enlargement before the European parliamentary elections next year. At the time, some believed that that was overly ambitious, not to say an unrealistic ambition. However, it is about to be realised on schedule.

To take up the point raised by the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Sir Michael Spicer), integrating the accession countries into the Union will entail costs. The financial package agreed by Heads of Government at last year's Copenhagen Council amounted to £26 billion between 2004 and 2006. By any standard, that is a large amount of money, but it is well within the overall budgetary ceilings for enlargement that were agreed in Berlin in 1999. In comparative terms, it amounts to a total cost to the EU 15 of just 0.1 per cent. of EU GNP in any one year.

We must make a calculation—and both the previous Government and we have done so—about whether the benefits of accession outweigh the costs. That has been our judgement collectively in the House over many years. Studies estimate that enlargement could increase our own gross domestic product by £1.75 billion in the medium term, and help to create more than 300,000 jobs across the Union. Our workers will enjoy freedom of movement across the world's largest trading bloc. Our companies will enjoy unfettered access to a market of more than 500 million consumers.

The opportunities for the United Kingdom are greater than for almost any other country in Europe, if only we take them. We have the opportunities arising from our more dynamic, more liberal market economy, and from the way in which our service sector excels, and we have the opportunities presented by the fact that we speak—if the phrase will be pardoned—the lingua franca of the whole of eastern Europe: English. The further east those countries are, the more they look towards us, rather than towards some of our continental neighbours. Those are opportunities that we should seize.

Enlargement will not only help us to realise Europe's full economic potential; it will give us the capacity to reach across national borders to confront the new threats to Britain's security. We all know that, acting alone, we will never be able to protect our citizens from the threats of global terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or the chaos and misery spread by failed and failing states. We need more partners in Europe to confront those threats, and we need to build on the tried and trusted EU methods—co-operation across borders, intelligence sharing and joint law enforcement operations. That has been a central lesson over the past 20 months in the campaign against terrorism.

If the European Union is mutually to benefit from the accession of the additional 10 countries, the institutions that were originally designed for the six founding members will have to be reformed to cope with the demands of 25 member states. It is a tautology, and a pretty useless one, to claim that what is in the Convention, and the changes that the Convention may in time lead to, are not a condition for accession. That is obvious, because we are dealing with accession separately. It tells us nothing, except that if we tried to operate the EU at 25 with the existing institutions, we would find that the institutions became less and less efficient.

There are many examples of how that would happen. For example, when the revolving presidency was first agreed, each member state had a presidency for six months in every three years. When we first became members, it was once every four and a half years—almost within the perspective of a single Government term. Currently, it is once every seven and a half years, and from 1 May 2004 it will be once every 12 and a half years. In addition, alongside the wider disparity in economic performance in those countries, there is a much bigger range in population and capacity. With the best will in the world, it would be extremely difficult for some of those very small countries—in private they know it, even if they are less willing to admit it in public for the time being—to run an effective presidency across all the Councils for six months in every 12 and a half years. There will be no collective memory in those systems.

That is why we proposed that there should be a fulltime president of the Council. We also proposed that there should be a full-time representative on foreign affairs, and within that there should be arrangements for team presidencies. I say to those Opposition Members who share my vision and view of a European Union of sovereign nation states that it is in their interest as much as ours that we strengthen the institutions of the Council, which represents those nation states, rather than that they should be weakened, as they have been in recent years.

It has always been understood by those of us in the Opposition who are keen on enlargement that in order to make a European Union of 25 work, there would have to be concessions. We would give up something in order that the new entrants could come in, and the EU would be no less effective. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that in treating the outcome of the Convention, he will safeguard certain interests that we have, such as foreign policy being subject to a veto, but otherwise will seek the best solution of the division of powers between the European Union and the British nation, so that we can make progress within the EU, rather than trying to make progress impossible?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Of course we have our clear red lines, and we will stick to them. We will not have foreign policy communitised. We simply will not have it. There are many other red lines for us, but what we have learned since the mid1980s is that this country benefits, for example, from qualified majority voting in a wide range of areas. When Maastricht was under discussion, it was striking that Lord Hurd, debating whether there should be a referendum, pointed out that the most significant and major changes that were made in the way in which the EU operated in order to make it more effective, not least for our benefit, were ones made in the Single European Act. Lord Hurd said:

"There was no referendum on that and precious little call for one."—[Official Report, 21 April 1993; Vol. 223, c. 453.]

The Foreign Secretary assured my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) that there would be no communitised foreign policy if he had his way. Can he explain the differences between a communitised foreign policy and a unified foreign policy in Europe, which the Prime Minister promoted in Cardiff some months ago?

Of course I can. There is a huge difference. I am not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman is in such a muddle over the issue that he does not understand the difference between a communitised foreign policy and a unified foreign policy, so I shall explain.

A communitised foreign policy is one where all the Community institutions operate in respect of that foreign policy. The right of initiative is left solely, as it is at present in respect of trade or fishing, to the European Commission. As Foreign Ministers, we would become subordinate to the European Commission, and whether or not we went to war would be subject to qualified majority voting in the Council. We would be bound by the decisions reached by qualified majority vote inside the Council. Even if we objected to the decision, we would still have to put our troops in, and any legal issues would be subject to arbitration by the European Court of Justice. That is the communitisation of foreign policy.

A unified foreign policy is what we all seek, regardless of whether we are in the European Union. It is one under which we have a view, others have a view, and we try to come together in unity. That is what we seek. The phrase that we use is "a common foreign policy". Sometimes we are able to achieve that, as we have on the middle east, rather successfully, and as we have on the Balkans and many African conflicts. Sometimes we cannot achieve it, as in the case of Iraq, in which case we have to agree to disagree.

I will in a moment, but I have something that I feel the House ought to listen to, if I may say so, with respect—

As well as the rest.

The right hon. Member for Devizes, the shadow Foreign Secretary, he who voted for Maastricht and against a referendum on Maastricht, said when he was making an impassioned speech in favour of Maastricht and against a referendum—I ask the House to weigh these words with great care—
"I said at the beginning that I did not want to be part of a European superstate."
He went on to say:
"Equally, I do not want to find myself in a country that is outside a European superstate, with our industries unable to penetrate it"—[Official Report, 4 November 1992; Vol. 213, c. 343],
which seems to imply that he was content, if necessary, to be a member of a superstate, because he regarded that as preferable to being outside it. If he has a better explanation of that, I am happy to give way to him. I see that he remains silent.

My right hon. Friend will recall the letter that the Prime Minister and Gerhard Schroder sent to Prime Minister Aznar on 25 February 2002. It set out our stall on the reform agenda. Is he confident that we have made progress on achieving the points in the letter?

Yes, we have indeed made progress and we shall achieve more.

The Convention on the Future of Europe has been examining how to make European institutions work better for the past 15 months. Representatives of this House, the other place and the Government have participated in that. It is increasingly clear that the accession countries broadly share the United Kingdom's vision of the Union's future: a Europe of sovereign nations, proud of their distinct identities but co-operating for mutual good, and a partner, not a rival, of the United States.

We have always been clear about our objectives for the Convention. We want delegates to agree a constitutional text for the Union, which enables it to work efficiently at 25 members, sets out what it is, what it does and how it does it, defines the role and powers of its institutions and their relationship with member states, and improves its ability to deliver practical benefits to Europe's citizens. Some contend that the Convention is about none of that but signals the demise of the United Kingdom as a sovereign independent state. It does not. If it did, none of us—except the right hon. Member for Devizes, who appears to be dallying with the idea of a superstate—would have anything to do with it.

Given all the recent comments, it is worth recalling that of Giscard d'Estaing, that the outcome will not be a European superstate but a "union of states". Some—not me, but Opposition Members—may say, "Oh well, he's a former President of France and we should take less notice of him." The idea that France, with its separate seat in the United Nations Security Council, and a history and foreign policy that are as distinctive as ours, would be willing to give up its national identity for a European superstate, in which it would be overwhelmed by countries non-sympathetic to it, is nonsense.

The Foreign Secretary said that one of the Convention's aims is to make running the EU more efficient. I apologise for taking him from the higher echelons of the ether that he is currently inhabiting to the practical consequences of running an organisation of 25 member states. Like me, he will have sat through Council of Ministers meetings that worry about minutiae. Unlike me, he will not have had to do that in an organisation of 12 member states. That was difficult enough, but I suggest that doing it in an organisation of 15 is almost impossible, given the detail to be considered in, for example, the Agriculture Council. What sort of arrangements can be devised to pare down the detail, involvement and the sheer number of hours that a body of 25 member states would require?

The right hon. Lady raises important practical issues. When we considered justice, home affairs and foreign policy, we were dealing with second and third pillar arrangements whereas she had to deal with first pillar arrangements. I recall one occasion on which I was almost driven completely mad when we were arguing about the mutual recognition of driving disqualifications. The minimum for which the directive allowed was 31 days. That was also the case in every member state except Austria, where the period allowed under its domestic law for driving disqualification was 28 days. It was a wonderful, Rubik's cube of a challenge without a solution. We found one in the end.

In time-honoured fashion, we settled on a month, which could be 28 or 31 days. It was 6 o'clock on a Friday, I was chairing the session and I claim some credit for the outcome.

The right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) made an important point. We should all consider the Convention carefully, and the need to make Europe work more effectively. Let us consider the operation of a Union of 25 member states, some of which have skilful Ministers to take the chairs of the Councils, but only for six months. To be frank, there are less skilled Ministers, from countries with no collective memories in their systems or from tiny countries, who tell us that they do not have the capacity for such an extraordinary undertaking. Unless we do something practical about that, power will shift to a centralised Brussels Commission. That will happen if we do nothing.

Some people claim that we should have voted against the Nice treaty and that we should now hold a referendum on the Convention. For them, the point of a referendum is to say no to it.[Interruption.] Of course that does not apply to everyone. However, those who suggest that the Convention is a terrible nightmare need to examine the proposals and the requirements of a future Union. Those requirements mean that we must ensure that member states, through their Ministers in the Council of Ministers and the Council's secretariat, can rebalance the Union's institutions in the interests of our citizens.

That can be achieved through several prosaic methods. First, we could appoint a full-time president of the Council, who would be answerable to the Council and sovereign nation states, just as the President of the Commission is answerable to the Commission. Secondly, there could he team presidencies. Instead of every country having all the presidencies once every 12 and a half years, member states would be placed in blocks of four, and each country could share two presidencies for two years. I am happy to provide the grid for hon. Members. Many other, mostly prosaic, things can be done to make the Union operate better. That will enable rebalancing.

I accept the point made by the right hon. Member for Wells that the proposed mechanism is not as satisfactory as it should be to ensure a block on Commission proposals that national Parliaments regard as unacceptable. That is important. I do not agree with the proposal for a single legislative council that is emanating from part of the Convention, but although the idea is overblown, more effective scrutiny of the drafting of directives and regulations and a check on too many regulations is in the interests of member states.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the advantage of the rotating presidency is that it puts the reins of the Community in the hands of directly elected national politicians every six months? Which country does he find deficient? Luxembourg, which has a population roughly the size of for Wolverhampton, has been able to run a professional presidency for the past 30 or 40 years. Which country does the Foreign Secretary believe to be incapable of performing that function?

Seductive though the hon. Gentleman's invitation is, I shall not be drawn into naming names.

Luxembourg is the exception among very small countries. It was significantly supported and, as a founder member of the European Union, it has a specific expertise and skill that are not available to others. It is not only tiny countries that are sometimes unable to provide effective presidencies. Like any other Minister, I am happy to chair the bodies, but from my experience, which is shared by some hon. Members on the Conservative Benches, if the hon. Gentleman wants to ensure that the House and the Government answerable to it are better served in Brussels, in the Councils in Luxembourg and in the Commission, our rather prosaic proposals are likely to deliver greater efficiency.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the key matter in reforming the European Union is the power of the Council of Ministers? If that power is retained as it is, with the ability of the sovereign countries to determine whether they will go along with foreign and defence proposals, the identity of the president and the officials and the nature of the systems in the committees are secondary matters. The issue of principle is the power of the Council of Ministers. If that does not change, there is no case for a referendum.

I agree with my hon. Friend; I am about to come to that point.

Let me deal with the issue of a referendum. It is important to remember that the Convention has no executive authority—none whatever. It will make final decisions on absolutely nothing—its deliberations are not definitive. Its task is to submit a constitutional text to member states next month at the Thessaloniki European Council. Whatever the Convention recommends, the decisions on whether there is a new constitution for Europe—then, crucially, what goes into it—do not depend on any operational institution of the European Union. No one should get obsessed about the fact that it will be called a constitution. Every party represented in this House has a constitution—that does not make it a nation state. I refer those who want further elucidation to an article that I wrote for The Economist two or three months ago, in which I try to expand on that. The content of any new treaties will depend solely on the Governments of the 25 sovereign states meeting together in an intergovernmental conference and taking decisions only by unanimity. That IGC negotiation is unlikely to conclude before the end of the year. Adoption of the draft treaty would then be subject to ratification by the different constitutional procedures of the member states.

In the United Kingdom, there is no hard and fast rule about which issues should go to referendum, and the weight of an issue—its gravity—cannot be the sole test.We have routinely held referendums on what most of us regard as second or third-order issues such as Sunday drinking in Wales. We have never held referendums—nor has any other country, as far as I am aware—on the most critical question that can ever come before any Government and Parliament, but particularly a democracy: whether to go to war. Although there is no iron rule, in practice we have had referendums to determine whether to change dramatically our constitutional arrangements. That has been the case for the past 30 years. Thus, we had the 1975 referendum on whether to stay in or leave the European Union, and the late-1990s referendums on whether to have a Scottish Parliament, a Welsh Assembly or a London—orHartlepool—mayor. The euro plainly comes into that category of changing our constitutional arrangements in an open-and-shut, dramatic way, even though the criteria for the Cabinet's recommendations are, as we all know, economic. In each of those examples, the choices are very stark and the alternative consequences are clear. One stays in the Common Market—as it was—or leaves it; one has a Scottish Parliament, or not; one has the euro, or sterling.

What we—successive Governments—have not done is to have referendums on whether to approve changes to the existing institutions to which we belong. The Single European Act of 1986 and the Maastricht treaty of 1992 introduced big changes in the way in which the European Union ran—on any analysis, bigger changes than could possibly be introduced by the Convention even if everything in it was simply rubber-stamped by member states, which will not happen. They were big, and complex, changes. It is worth remembering that 12 members—that must be a significant majority—of the shadow Cabinet, including the right hon. Member for Devizes, who is shadow Foreign Secretary, and the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), as well as the right hon. Member for Wells, who is not in the shadow Cabinet, voted against a referendum on Maastricht, and did so for very good and eloquently expressed reasons. Similar arguments must apply to the product of the intergovernmental conference. Any changes will be complex overall. Let me be clear that we will not sign up to them unless we are clear that they meet our aims—to make the EU more effective and responsive—and do not compromise our national sovereignty.

I hope that the changes agreed by member states in the forthcoming IGC will involve important reforms, which we have discussed, to the way in which the EU operates internally. However, they will not entail any significant change in the relationship between the United Kingdom as a sovereign state and the European Union as an association of nation states. It follows that any likely overall reform package will not be on a par, in terms of importance, with, for example, whether we keep our pound sterling or share our currency with the euro. As I said, the IGC's product will be far less significant than either Maastricht or the Single European Act. Moreover—this is very important—the IGC and Convention product will be, on any basis, far less significant than the Bill in terms of the future of Europe and the future of this country. I have heard no calls from right hon. and hon. Members on the Conservative Benches for a referendum on the contents of the Bill. Of course they do not intend to do that, because they are in favour of the Bill, but against the Convention.

The IGC negotiations should result in reforms that enable the Union to respond effectively to voters' concerns. As we all know, one of the issues that animates European voters and Governments alike is Europe's—not necessarily ours, in fact far from it—relatively weak economic performance. We have sought to reflect our commitment to economic dynamism in Europe in the changes that are made by clause 2, which will make a modest, but important contribution in that respect. The point of clause 2 is to grant nationals from the eight central and eastern European accession countries the same rights to work in the UK from 1 May next year as are enjoyed by nationals of the existing member states. As I told the House earlier, nationals of Cyprus and Malta will enjoy those rights automatically on accession. That measure is in our national interest. It will attract the workers we need in key sectors. It will ensure that they can work here without restrictions and need not be a burden on the public purse. It makes sense financially, as we can focus resources on the real immigration problems, rather than trying to stop EU citizens enjoying normal EU rights.

Independent studies, including recent independent research commissioned by the Home Office, suggests that there will not be a substantial increase in immigration from the accession countries that poses a threat to standards of living and employment in any region of the UK or to any occupation. That is because although there will be rights of migration here, what is bound to happen is that the economies of the 10 countries, especially the eight that I mentioned, will expand, and as a result the demand for labour in them will increase. For those who are concerned about the matter, I say this: we should bear in mind the experience of Spain and Portugal in joining the European Union. It is worth remembering that we now take Spain and Portugal for granted as countries that are on the same level as ourselves, but they were not in that situation at all when they joined the European Union in the mid1980s.

I shall give some figures for Spain and France. When Spain joined the European Community in 1986, there were more than 100,000 Spanish workers in France. Within eight years, that figure had fallen to 35,000. What is fascinating about Spain and the United Kingdom is that there were many Spanish people in the United Kingdom before Spain joined the European Union; now, there are hundreds of thousands of British people in Spain—the migration has been the other way.

I was in Portugal in 1985, and I recall Lisbon being an incredibly poor city. If one goes to Portugal today, one can see the massive transformation that has been brought about by membership of the European Union and the single currency. Does my right hon. Friend think that that is likely to happen in all the other accession countries as they join the EU and the single currency?

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I believe that that will happen. If, however, there are problems, and we need to change the regulations that we introduce, clause 2(2) allows for the regulations to be changed for any individual country, or as a whole, or for the concession to be withdrawn.

It is true that recent progress towards enlargement has not been entirely smooth. I regret that in Cyprus it did not prove possible for a settlement to be secured before Cyprus signed the treaty of accession on 16 April. We repeatedly sought to facilitate an effective negotiation between the two parties, Greece and Turkey. I pay tribute to the Governments of Greece and Turkey, who played a commendable role in trying to secure a satisfactory conclusion, to the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his special representative de Soto, and to our special representative, Lord Hannay. A settlement was not possible, however, so Greek Cypriot Cyprus—the state that we recognise—is part of the European Union and the Turkish part is not.

Does my right hon. Friend welcome the opening up of the border between the two communities in Cyprus? We hope that negotiations will start in the very near future, and that they will lead to the solution that he is looking for.

I do, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's work in trying to secure a rapprochement between the two communities. He knows better than almost anyone in the House that the diaspora of both Turkish and Greek Cypriots is a very important constituency for the political processes in Cyprus. The recent opening up of the borders has been terrific, and has provided people on both sides with hope regarding what is to come, and shown them how, after years of enmity, they could live in peace with a more open border.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and I have agreed that the European convention on human rights should be extended to the United Kingdom's sovereign base areas on Cyprus, with effect from 1 May 2004. This is good news, particularly for the 7,000 Cypriot citizens who live in the sovereign base areas, who will enjoy the same human rights protection as other Cypriots.

I very much hope that, at some point during the next Parliament, the Government will be able to introduce a Bill to endorse the accession of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007. Turkey should follow thereafter. A state in which the overwhelming majority of people are Muslim, but which is secular, and accepts our conception of liberal democratic values, would strengthen Europe's ties with the Islamic world. I think that the whole House is united—I hope it is—in encouraging Turkey to continue its programme of reform so that we shall be able to judge it on the same basis as all the other countries in terms of whether it is ready to come into the European Union. We also look forward to the accession, on the same strict criteria, of an increasing number of Balkan states in the former Republic of Yugoslavia.

Enlargement, as all the parties to the treaty have declared, is a continuous, inclusive and, I believe, irreversible process. This current enlargement, which is of unparalleled dimension and significance, will broaden the horizons of European unity, enhance the United Kingdom's influence in the European Union, and increase security and prosperity across the continent, to the benefit of all European Union citizens. I commend the Bill to the House.

Does "irreversible" mean that we cannot get out?

1.32 pm

I would like to start by referring to a matter that the Foreign Secretary dealt with at some length, although it might not strictly come within the terms of the Bill. I would like to make a comment or two on his analysis of why he is not going to hold a referendum on the treaty that will be forthcoming as a result of the work done by the convention. I find his explanation quite extraordinary. We live in a world in which we have had 34 referendums since 1997. We have had them on Scotland, Wales and London, we have had them on mayors, and now we are going to have them on regional assemblies. Yet the Foreign Secretary tells us that, on this significant measure—which he tends to suggest is not as significant as some of his colleagues think—we cannot have a referendum.

Let me just pose one simple question to the Foreign Secretary. If it is significant to have a referendum on whether we should have a mayor, not just in London but in Hartlepool, why is it insignificant whether we should have an elected president of the Council of Ministers for a five-year period? What is the difference between the two? I will tell the House what it is. The Government are afraid to put this whole question of a constitution to the people of this country because, as the Secretary of State himself has said, they fear that they would say no.

I will in a moment.

We have been given a series of explanations of what the constitution is going to mean. We were told by the Secretary of State for Wales that it involved "tidying up", yet on Sunday he agreed that it was constitutionally significant. We have heard all sorts of explanations from the Foreign Secretary of the importance of the measure. We heard the Prime Minister the other day wrongly saying that the constitution was essential to make the accession treaty work. Whatever explanation is given, we cannot deny that this is a significant measure, and my colleagues and I would like to see it put to the judgment of the British people.

We know what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. It is his arguments that are poor, not what he is saying. I have already explained this point, but I am happy to repeat it. If the Convention is agreed by member states in due course, it will involve some important changes in the way in which the European Union operates, but they are complex. It will not involve a significant change in the nature of our relationship with the European Union. If the right hon. Gentleman is now arguing for a referendum on the contents of the Convention, why was he against a referendum on Maastricht, which, on any analysis, involved much more significant changes in our relationship with the European Union? Let him answer that.

I will. Ten years ago, I was against all referendums. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] Yet, since 1997, we have lived in an age of referendums. The question that the Foreign Secretary refuses to answer is: why, if we have a referendum on everything else, can we not have one on the European constitution? As for the Foreign Secretary's— [Interruption.]

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman. We must have some calm and quiet in the House. These are important arguments that should be heard on both sides.

The Foreign Secretary's suggestion that we should not have a referendum because this is a complex issue is a total insult to the British people. He knows, and I know, that the Convention and the constitution are going to move Europe from being a Europe of sovereign nations to being a supranational Europe. If that is not significant, I do not know what is.

That is surely a remarkable argument. The spirit of the age has changed, and therefore the right hon. Gentleman must change. Will he tell us where, along that Damascus road from Maastricht, the light dawned?

I find it quite extraordinary to hear the arguments of the other side. I believe that the British people should decide whether this is significant. All the opinion polls that we have seen suggest that they think it significant and that they want a referendum. Yet we have the arrogance of those on the Government Front Bench who say that, because it is a complex matter, the British people should not be allowed to make a judgment on it. That is the most disgracefully antidemocratic argument that I have heard in the House for a long time.

No, I am going to move on.

The Bill fulfils the technical requirements arising from the treaty signed in Athens on 16 April. It paves the way for the accession next year of 10 new members of the European Union. The Conservatives welcome enlargement, and we warmly welcome the accession countries.

May I come back to the important question raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson)? At what point did the shadow Foreign Secretary suddenly change his mind?

When I very reluctantly found myself in a world in which we had referendums on Scotland and Wales, in which I had to take part, and a referendum on London—a world in which I suddenly found that the process was one in which we consulted the people in referendums. But why, if we do that on all these other issues, are the Government not going to do it on this significant issue? There is absolutely no question but that they are avoiding a referendum on this issue because they believe that the British people, if asked, would give them the judgment that we believe should be given.

No, I am going to move on.

I spoke about this matter at the beginning of my speech, because it does not strictly arise from the Bill, but the Foreign Secretary had raised it and I felt that it was necessary to deal with it.

The Conservatives have consistently supported enlargement. As early as 1992, the then Government made the expansion of the EU into eastern Europe a clear policy aim, and we have promoted it ever since. Today we are pleased that it is coming to pass, and we support the Bill. That is not to say that we see enlargement as a panacea. Despite the Foreign Secretary's rather high-flown optimism, it will undoubtedly pose substantial economic challenges for many of the accession countries. It will need patience and understanding.

There will be great disparities of wealth. Poland has a population more than three times the size of Greece's. Its gross domestic product per head is under a quarter of that of Greece, yet in the first year of full membership it will receive from the EU only 65 per cent. of what Greece will receive. There will also be great disparities in living standards, and there is no quick or easy way of resolving them. Successful enlargement will require commitment and courage from the applicant countries as well as from those who are already members. We must be realistic about the challenges that accession and enlargement will bring. I mention this so that we do not start this debate peering at enlargement through rose-tinted glasses.

In that regard, I must also mention that the provisions in the Bill on the immediate freedom of movement of workers from accession countries are a cause of considerable concern. This is inevitably a sensitive issue, but for a start, we need to know why so many other countries are taking advantage of the transitional derogation that is available in the treaty. There are questions to be answered about why the United Kingdom is not doing so. We will return to that issue in detail in Committee, but for the moment, I flag it up as a matter of concern.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that a significant reason why other countries see that aspect as more important than it is seen to be here in the UK is that 80 per cent. of such people currently outside the accession countries are living in Germany and Austria?

As I understand it, six of the 15 current members will allow immediate entry, while the others will use the derogation for somewhere between the two and seven years that are allowed. I believe that we need to deal with the matter carefully and understand the implications. As I said, we will return to it in detail in Committee. I believe that many questions should be answered at that stage.

We must pay tribute to the determination of the accession countries to join the EU even in the light of the challenges that many of them will face. I welcome this enlargement because it moves towards the completion of Europe—

I am in middle of making it; perhaps the hon. Gentleman should wait until I have finished making the point before seeking to intervene on it.

I welcome this enlargement because it moves us towards the completion of Europe in a way that was impossible in the days of the cold war. As my noble Friend Lady Thatcher said in her famous speech 15 years ago:
"We must never forget that east of the iron curtain peoples who once enjoyed a full share of European culture, freedom and identity have been cut off from their roots. We shall always look on Warsaw, Prague and Budapest as great European cities."
Now those great European cities have regained their roots and are undeniably European again. I believe that everyone in all parts of the House will welcome that.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. He congratulated the accession countries on their determination to join the EU. Will he therefore distance himself from Conservative Members of the European Parliament who campaigned in several of the referendums in accession countries against their joining?

We made it clear all along in this House that we believed in accession and wanted enlargement of the European Community. That was the position of the Conservative party and it is exactly what we have said all the way along.

I think that we should recall history. We should recall that Europe has never been the introverted, defensive and conformist entity that so many eurocrats like to paint it as. Europe is broad and varied, speckled and different, and combative and affectionate. To an historian, Poland, which is famous for its bravery, has always been a natural part of European history, along with the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. It is not often remembered—it may be that not many people know this—that the Lithuanians were the first European people to defeat the Mongols.

Today, we welcome these countries, together with those other vital parts of European history and culture, the Czech and Slovak Republics and the Republics of Hungary and Slovenia. As Lady Thatcher recognised, they lie at the geographical heart of Europe. Like the Foreign Secretary, we welcome the accession of the Republic of Cyprus, although we regret that it is not possible for the island to join us whole. We delighted in the accession of the Republic of Malta, whose courage and resilience we in this country recognise and know well. Like the Foreign Secretary, I hope that we may one day welcome Romania and Bulgaria, and possibly, in due course and if European Union criteria are met, even Turkey.

We are looking now not at an old, outdated fortress Europe, but at a new, vibrant and forward-looking Europe—a patchwork quilt of cultures, interests and values. We should now be turning our backs on a coercive, conformist Europe where power is increasingly drawn to the centre. That is yesterday's unenlarged Europe. We look to tomorrow's Europe as one that rejoices in diversity, recognises national rather than supranational interests and works on the basis of co-operation rather than coercion. That is what we believe is meant by a true partnership of sovereign nations.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. He is at a very important part of his speech. Can he confirm that the 10 applicant countries have without exception accepted the terms of all previous treaties in the European Union and have signed up lock, stock and barrel to the acquis communautaire, which seems to me to suggest that the Europe about which he is talking and which he hopes will come into place in the future is not actually on offer at present?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point that I was going to mention a little later. The applicant countries know what they have signed up to, but they will now face an intergovernmental conference that will supersede those treaties. I shall deal with the issue later, but my understanding is that those countries will not have full voting rights in that process, although they will be bound by whatever comes out of it. That is a very important point and we need to come back to it.

I want to seek to clear up a little confusion—or perhaps I should say, given the turmoil in the Government at the moment on all matters European, a little of the confusion. The Prime Minister claimed last week that our call for a referendum on the new constitutional treaty had been made because we were against enlargement. As I said, he said that the constitution was necessary to make enlargement work. He has clearly not realised that enlargement can and will proceed now with or without a new constitutional treaty. Either he has not done his basic homework or he has done it but does not want an honest debate, as that is the position, as the Library has made perfectly clear.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition remonstrated with the Prime Minister, only to be met by an hysterical and clearly rattled outburst of invective. Yesterday, in an extraordinary and intemperate letter, the Prime Minister turned fact and history on their heads and accused my right hon. Friend of jeopardising enlargement, claiming that he sought to take Britain out of the EU. I wish to make it clear that that is not only totally untrue, but black propaganda of the most cynical and disreputable kind. It was not my right hon. Friend who said that the EU
"takes away Britain's freedom to follow the sort of economic policies we need"
and was a reason for coming out; it was the Prime Minister in Beaconsfield in 1982. It was not my right hon. Friend who said that the EU had
"drained our national resources and destroyed jobs"
and that withdrawal should be negotiated. Again, that was the Prime Minister, in his election address in Sedgefield in 1983. I can tell the House that we will take no lessons from the Prime Minister on hostility to Europe and inconsistency in his approach to Europe.

While I am on this theme, may I ask whether it is true that the Foreign Secretary, who was happy to quote me—I hope that he will listen for a moment—called at the Wembley conference in 1980 for withdrawal front Europe? How strange that that seems to have slipped his mind.

I did not speak at the Wembley conference in 1980, as far as I remember. I may be wrong, but it was a long time ago.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will wish to correct the impression given by a report on him by Andrew Roth, who seems to remember it well.

The truth is that we believe in enlargement and want to make it work. What is clear is that it will not work in an environment that forces the accession countries to conform and toe the line. There is too much variety in Europe for that. Yet that is what the Government and their centralising allies are concocting and proposing. For all the weasel words of the Secretary of State for Wales, that is what is likely to emerge from the Convention. The Prime Minister was wrong to say that the measures being considered by Giscard d'Estaing for the new constitution are vital for enlargement. They are not. He would have been nearer the mark if he had said that what is emerging from the Convention would make successful enlargement that much more difficult.

Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that, with the accession of 10 new countries to the European Union, the existing constitution in it s informal form needs no amendment whatever? Is that the position of the Conservative party?

No. I do not know how many debates on Europe the hon. Gentleman has attended, but I have been arguing from the Dispatch Box that we want a much more flexible Europe precisely because enlargement is coming. I am now saying that the Convention will produce something that is even worse than what we have at the moment, move us away from a Europe of nations towards a supranational situation and make it even more difficult for enlargement to work.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, 60 years on, it remains impossible to improve on the position as it was articulated by Winston Churchill:

"We are with Europe but not of it. We are linked, but not comprised. We are interested and associated, but not absorbed. And should European statesmen address us in the words which were used of old—'Wouldst thou be spoken for to the king, or the captain of the host?'—we should reply…'Nay sir, for we dwell among our own people'"?

I am grateful not just for my hon. Friend's perfect recollection of Winston Churchill's words, but for the point he has made.

What is the right hon. Gentleman's response to that eloquent intervention, though? The logical conclusion of what the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) has just said is that we should not be in the European Union. Is that the right hon. Gentleman's view?

No. What it means is that we should be in a partnership of sovereign nations. That is what "sovereign nation" means. The Foreign Secretary frequently talks about a partnership of sovereign nations, but his intervention shows that he does not understand what sovereignty means, and is quite prepared to alienate it because he does not think it matters.

I am chairman of the European Movement, which Sir Winston Churchill set up with the precise objective of ensuring that we tied ourselves more closely to the continent. As Lord Jenkin pointed out in a letter to The Times, Sir Winston was emphatically in favour of our applying to join the European Economic Community—for exactly the political and economic reasons for which we eventually did join.

I do not think there is any difference between our arguments. We are talking about a partnership of sovereign nations, which is what the European Economic Community was. One of its basic principles was that power flowed from the national Parliaments towards the centre. The Convention proposes something very different—that power should flow from the top down towards the national Parliaments.

I was somewhat confused by the intervention concerning what Winston Churchill aspired to. If I recall rightly, he once said, "If Britain has to choose between Europe and the open sea, she must always choose the open sea." I do not think that Winston Churchill would have been in favour of the European Union.

I say this with a great deal of diffidence, but I like to think that if that great statesman were standing at this Dispatch Box and were asked if he approved of what was emerging from the Convention now, with Giscard d'Estaing, he would give the same answer—because that is precisely what the choice could be.

Enlargement requires decentralization and flexibility—what has sometimes been called flexible geometry, within which the very different interests and requirements of the accession countries can be better recognised and met. In a European Union with new members as diverse as Estonia and Cyprus, not only is conformity ludicrous; it makes flexibility essential. The Europe of the Convention and the constitution is anything but flexible. We are seeing the building of the new superpower to which the Prime Minister referred in his speech in Poland in October 2000. [Interruption.] The word "superpower" was used by the Prime Minister, not me. The Foreign Secretary must understand that the Opposition are very puzzled by the different descriptions of what is happening that we hear from the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Wales. It is time they got their act together and decided what they are trying to achieve in Europe.

We are talking about a Europe in which fundamental rights will be centrally enforced, asylum laws will no longer be made nationally but will be made at European level, large swathes of international policy will be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, the intergovernmental concept that gives nation states their voice and their moment of leadership in the Council will be weakened, and foreign policy will no longer be a matter for individual members but, ultimately, will be imposed centrally. It is a Europe that will have increasingly crossed the line between the Europe of sovereign nations and the sovereign nation of Europe.

This centralised and bureaucratised Europe is precisely what enlargement does not need. Many of the accession countries to which the Bill refers have only comparatively recently freed themselves from centralised. Soviet domination. They are new democracies with national democratic institutions that are still young and finding their way. The last thing they want or need is to find themselves once again under stifling centralised domination. They want to see their national Parliaments strengthened, not weakened, and they want to have their own voice in Europe.

Those countries had a taste of post-Giscard Europe during the Iraq crisis, when nearly all of them joined Great Britain and Spain in supporting the US line against the stance being taken by Germany and France. President Chirac's arrogant and intemperate response, chiding them for being "ill brought up" and threatening them with consequences if they did not dance to France's tune, was a salutary warning of the way in which a unified foreign policy would operate: it would be centralised, insensitive and bullying.

I have given way a lot, and I am not going to do so again for the moment.

That is what is likely to be enshrined in the Convention's recommendations. The proposed constitution states that there must be a
"common foreign and security policy",
with a duty incumbent on member states
"actively and unreservedly to support"
that policy
"in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity".
Whatever the Foreign Secretary may say about what is meant by a unified foreign policy, that is what the Convention is trying to achieve.

Different European countries, including the accession countries, will rightly have different ideas about the future direction of international affairs, different historical relationships and different interests. In a healthy, enlarged Europe those should be not constrained but encouraged. It would have been unthinkable to impose the French view about Iraq on all the accession countries, with all their close ties to the United States.

I will give way when I have made further progress.

The Maastricht treaty said that member states should co-ordinate economic policy. The new constitution says that
"the Union shall co-ordinate the economic policies of the member states",
which is completely the other way around. If that is not centralisation—if that is not drawing power away from nation states—I do not know what is.

We do not yet know for certain every detail of what will emerge from the Convention, but we do know that it will be a lot more than the "tidying up" referred to by the Secretary of State for Wales. We do know that it will be a lot more than was implied by the Foreign Secretary's famous "golf club constitution" analogy. And we do know that it will mean seeking to centralise rather than devolve, and institutionalise rather than leaving things to national Parliaments. With a single five-year presidency, it will break the concept of intergovernmental leadership—a point made by a number of my hon. Friends in interventions. I believe that that is the antithesis of what enlargement and accession need to succeed.

There is another aspect, mentioned earlier, which has a bearing on enlargement, arising from the constitution. The constitution will abolish and replace previous treaties. The accession countries will find themselves in a European Union fundamentally different from the one that they are about to join. It is not clear whether they will have equal rights of participation in the forthcoming IGC. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that they must not be treated as second-class members? Their future as well as ours is being determined in the debate on Europe's future. Would it not be better, therefore, for the IGC to take place after I May next year, when the accession countries will be full members and will be able to exercise their rights as such, including rights of veto?

The right hon. Gentleman has alleged twice that the accession states will not participate in the IGC. They will be full participants, and will take part in all debates. The treaty will be signed after I May, and at that point all 25 members will vote for or against. They will have full veto rights, along with the United Kingdom and every existing member state. The right hon. Gentleman must not raise false hares, and must rely on reading documents to know what is the case.

I did not learn that from reading documents; I learned it from the accession countries themselves. They know that while they may be able to participate, they will not have the same voting rights as other EU members while the treaty is being negotiated. I am merely advancing the sensible proposition that if the negotiation were left until after 1 May 2004, they could play a full and democratic part in it.

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman had an opportunity last week to meet the high-powered delegation from the Hungarian Parliament. They all wanted the Convention's conclusions to be ratified after their country and others had fully joined. What would be wrong with ratifying the constitution after enlargement?

That is a fair point. I have gone further by suggesting that the IGC itself should take place after 1 May, when those countries are full members. I think that that is a constructive proposal, and am surprised that the Government have dismissed it out of hand. That too shows the view that the Government take of the democratic process in relation to the negotiations.

I believe that both current and accession members of the EU can and should benefit from enlargement. It will increase our trade and theirs. It will encourage stability and prosperity. However, it is deeply disappointing that, in its rush to build the European superpower, the EU has failed to tackle the areas most in need of reform if enlargement is truly to succeed: reform of the common agricultural policy, of regional subsidies and of EU finances. It is also disappointing that more progress has not been made towards deregulation and decentralisation, which offer most to an enlarged EU and to the countries joining.

I have given way an awful lot. I have given way rather more than the Foreign Secretary did, and I have given way to him rather more than he gave way to me.

Just to pin this down, it is clear beyond peradventure that new member states will participate fully in the intergovernmental conference. That was the conclusion of the Copenhagen summit. Another conclusion was that the new treaty will he signed after accession precisely in order to ensure that those countries can participate politically in the negotiations. They have to because, legally, the new treaty could not be signed until after their accession.

The Foreign Secretary, perhaps deliberately, is missing the point. The point is that those countries will not have the right to veto matters within those negotiations; until they are full members, they will not have the right to do so. That is what they say to me and I believe that my suggestion is important.

We need a clear vision to reconnect the peoples of the present EU and the peoples of the future EU with the European Union. We need to create a Europe within which the peoples of the accession countries can feel at home. We have been arguing for some time for a Europe in which the democratic ability to hold the EU and its institutions to account is strengthened, particularly within the national Parliaments of the nation states. We have been promoting an EU within which the role of the national Parliaments is strengthened in terms of the initiation of European legislation. We are looking for an EU where sovereign Parliaments can come together to veto undesirable EU legislation that offends against the principles of subsidiarity.

I heard what the Foreign Secretary said about the present proposals to allow the Commission to take back legislation, to look at it and to reconsider it. He knows as well as I do that that is no power at all, because the Commission could come back with the same legislation all over again. Why will he not accept my suggestion that a significant number of countries could say no to legislation because it offends against the rules of subsidiarity, and stop it in its tracks?

We would like to see a Europe that works increasingly through framework rather than specific directives to recognise individual national needs. We want Europe to return to its first principles of power flowing from the people—through the national Parliaments—upwards rather than from the top down. We want a less bureaucratic and centralised Europe that will allow the new democracies among the accession countries to flourish, and which will recognise and respect the variety and differing interests of the increasingly disparate membership of the EU that accession will bring.

Enlargement is at once a great challenge and a great opportunity for Europe. We wish the accession countries well but we must ensure that the Europe that they are joining is a Europe for the future—a genuine partnership of sovereign nations, flexible, responsive and dynamic, rather than a European superpower, top-heavy, centralised, coercive and inimical to the nation states.

We stand at the crossroads of that decision. We on the Conservative Benches are clear that we will fight to preserve the primacy of the nation states in Europe, the new as much as the old, and we will never forget that, in the end, Europe must never be about its institutions and must always be about its peoples. That is why we believe that, when faced by momentous decisions on Europe's future, it is the peoples of the nation states who should decide, starting with a referendum here. We support the principles of the Bill.

Order. I remind the House that there is a 15-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches from now on.

2.4 pm

The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) ended his speech by talking about the need for vision. I think he is right. The lack of vision is on the Conservative Benches. What a confused and muddled speech from the right hon. Gentleman. Just imagine the shadow Foreign Secretary not reading the Copenhagen conclusions and therefore not being aware that the new countries when they join on 1 May will be able to participate fully in the next IGC. Of course they will be able to participate fully, as they have as observers in the debates that are going on at the moment.

I am delighted to be participating in this debate. I am pleased to be able to be part of a debate that will see the enlargement of the European Union.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is being very modest. He has played a very large part in pushing the enlargement process forward. I congratulate him on what he has done and what the Government have done. Those of us who have been watching this particular development over the past few years would not have believed that, less than three years after the Prime Minister made his speech in Warsaw on 6 October 2000, we would be debating the accession of the 10 applicant countries.

I have just returned from Poland, where I met a number of people who are involved in various activities concerned with entry to the EU. They do not share any of the concerns that have been put forward by the shadow Foreign Secretary. They are absolutely delighted that they will be part of the European Union. They are pleased that they will be able to participate in a new Europe and they want to be there as full members, participating in all the decision-making processes.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for finally giving way. He as a former Minister for Europe should know this and I am aghast that he does not. If he had spoken to any of the accession countries, he would know perfectly well that they do not have full voting and equal rights on exactly the same basis as existing members. He is in ignorance of that. Time and again, the accession country representatives have pointed that out to us and hoped that the British Government would take that issue up.