House Of Commons
Thursday 5 June 2003
The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock
[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Oral Answers To Questions
Trade And Industry
The Secretary of State was asked—
What progress is being made with promoting inward investment in the north-west; and if she will make a statement. 
The United Kingdom attracts the lion's share of inward investment to the European Union, and we are keen to support the contribution that is made by my hon. Friend's area, the north-west. Last year, the Government and their agencies supported the attraction or retention of more than 50 firms, which secured or created almost 10,000 jobs, and we intend to continue that record.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. He will be aware that the Omega site in my constituency is vital to the development of well-paid, highly skilled jobs in the area. Will he therefore take a personal interest in the development of the site and liaise with other Departments to ensure that we have a procedure not only for the proper development of the site but to give people the right skills and to create the right public transport links to enable people from around the area to take full advantage of the jobs that will be created?
My hon. Friend, together with the local council, local businesses and Government agencies—the regional development agency and the Small Business Service—has championed the cause of inward investment in her constituency and the surrounding area. Yesterday, I had the opportunity, on behalf of my hon. Friend, to discuss with the Minister for Transport the transport infrastructure requirements and the investment that has already been made. I have also discussed with the Minister with responsibility for skills the vital need to ensure that there continues to be a skilled work force with the appropriate skills. All in all, it is a good news story. We want to reinforce the work that is being done locally and to promote those bold new initiatives to secure jobs for the present and the future.
Is not inward investment a relative term, because the fact that other European economies have been doing so poorly does not mean that we have been doing particularly well? Is not the real problem that taxes and regulations mean that foreign non-European companies no longer wish to invest to the same extent?
If the hon. Gentleman is the only Member—I suspect that he is—who does not believe that there has been a world slowdown, especially in Europe, I shall enlighten him. The strength of our economy has allowed us to attract the lion's share of inward investment and, according to the latest figures, to increase the share of inward investment into Europe at a time when countries such as Germany have experienced a declining share. I hope that he and his Front-Bench colleagues will welcome the positive action that the Department of Trade and Industry has taken to ensure that we have as secure a base as possible for manufacturing and for the other sectors of the economy that have enabled us to ride the global downturn better than almost any other advanced country.
May I bring the Minister's attention to my part of the north-west, where in the past two years we have experienced seven major manufacturing redundancies and lost 1,000 manufacturing jobs in my constituency? Last week, Peter Miles Engineering closed overnight, leaving 160 people out of a job—without even the courtesy of a text message, which seems to be the trend these days—and owed five weeks' wages. As well as looking urgently at the need to bring new investment to the Leigh economy, may I urge the Minister to do all that he can to speed up redundancy payments for local families who have been left in such a terrible financial crisis?
I heard of that report; I understand that the company makes parts for JCB-type diggers. I have had the opportunity to apprise the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis) of it, and he will liaise with my hon. Friend to ensure that payments are made quickly. Obviously, I deeply regret the loss of those jobs. I understand that some restructuring might be possible, and I should be grateful if my hon. Friend kept me advised of progress on that.
Post Office Closures
What recent discussions she has had with the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters on post office closures. 
Department of Trade and Industry Ministers and officials are in regular discussions with the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters about a wide range of post office network issues, including closures.
I thank the Minister for his response. Has he had a meeting with the federation since Colin Baker, its general secretary, described the switch from benefit and pension books to direct payments as confusion and shambles, and referred to the possibility of civil disobedience? Does he agree that that shambles, combined with the restrictions that are placed on the distribution of literature about Post Office card accounts, threatens the future of many thousands of sub-post offices around the country?
I do not agree with those remarks. The important thing for everyone concerned about the Post Office—in the House, the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters and elsewhere—is to focus on securing a commercially successful future for the network. Thanks to the £500 million investment that we have made in universal banking, the fact that there are now 11 million current account holders who can go to any post office in the country and obtain cash free over the counter with their ATM card, and the fact that the £150 million a year funding support for the rural network was recently approved by the European Commission, the prospects for that commercially successful future are now very good, as long as we work together to ensure that we realise it.
Does my hon. Friend accept the concerns of sub-postmasters that if the footfall in our post offices falls, many of them will have to decide whether their businesses are viable? Why has Post Office Ltd been prevented from promoting the Post Office card account as a product in its own right?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of footfall. That is why it is so important that we now have 11 million current account holders, many of whom will, for the first time, have a compelling reason to go into their local post office to obtain cash with their ATM card. The Post Office wants to increase that number, and a successful banking business is the key to a successful post office network. I have seen a variety of quite bright and attractive literature from the Post Office about direct payment, in which the Post Office card account features clearly. The important thing is that everybody has access to clear, accurate information, and I believe that that information is now being provided.
Will the Minister tell us what the average rural post office will lose in revenue in this coming year as a result of the ill-thought-out changeover to automated credit transfer?
What I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that there has been a very sharp reduction in rural post office closures—115 in the last financial year, which is the lowest for eight years. That is the result of our commitment to prevent avoidable closures—which is now backed up by the £150 million this year, next year and the year after—to safeguard the rural network and the incomes of rural postmasters, and to ensure that there continues to be wide access to post office services throughout the rural parts of the country.
Is my hon. Friend aware that, following a vigorous campaign by Labour councillors in Arbury ward in Cambridge, the Post Office has decided to delay the closure of Victoria road post office? Will he ensure that the Post Office remains sensitive to the needs of its customers and listens carefully to their views?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the campaign for Victoria road, in which she has been very active. I am aware of the progress that has been made in that case. We have provided specific funding to enable Postwatch to scrutinise each of the urban closure proposals, and it has put very thorough procedures in place. I am very pleased with the evidence that those procedures are working.
The Minister will be aware that many small village retail outlets are viable only because they have income from the Post Office. He has told us this morning how many million accounts have now been opened. Will he tell us how many people still have neither a bank account nor a Post Office card account? What further encouragement will be given during the transition, and will people—especially the very elderly—still be able to hold on to their pension books?
The hon. Gentleman asks an important question, and I can give him the figure. There are 3.5 million people across the whole country who do not have a bank account or a Post Office card account—the latter, of course, is very new. Our view has always been that it is important to give those people the opportunity to open a bank account because there are many benefits available to them if they do so. The Department for Work and Pensions has made it clear that, at the end of the two-year transition to direct payment, there will be what it describes as an exceptions service available for those few people who have difficulties with the arrangements that will be in place by that time. Their interests will certainly be safeguarded. This is an important commercial opportunity for rural post offices, and an opportunity to promote financial inclusion by extending bank accounts to many more people who, in the past, have just not been able to get them.
Is the Minister aware that more than three quarters of the people who claim benefits in the Jarrow constituency use their local post office? What is the logic in the Post Office's decision to close branches in Hedgley road and Bede Burn road in Jarrow? Will he use his offices to ensure that Post Office Ltd., which is on a different planet from Members of the House according to what we have heard today, resists any closures in areas of high dependency?
I am not familiar with the cases in my hon. Friend's constituency, although I will certainly have a look at them. If he has not already done so, I would encourage him to raise his concerns with Postwatch. Of course, all those people who use the post office to obtain benefits will continue to be able to do so under the new arrangements, through either a bank account or the Post Office card account.In addition, people who do not use the post office, but who have ordinary current accounts, will be able to go to their local post office to obtain cash. The post office will receive a payment for that, and there will be the benefits of extra footfall as people use it to buy additional items. It is widely agreed that the number of urban post offices needs to be reduced because the network is very dense, but, beyond that, the prospects are very good.
Why did the Minister duck the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley)? Is it because the Government are against small post offices and do not care how hard they make it for vulnerable old people to continue to collect their pensions in cash? Will the Minister confirm that Post Office management are rewarded if they speed up post office closures? That policy, coupled with the obstacles that he is constantly putting in the way of people who want to open Post Office card accounts, is leading directly to more post office closures and more problems for vulnerable old people.
The hon. Gentleman should welcome the fact that the number of rural post office closures has declined so sharply. The number last year was significantly fewer than that when the Government he supported left office. We are making a great deal of progress. We have made the commitment to ensure that there should be no avoidable rural post office closures and we have provided the funding to make a reality of that commitment. That is widely welcomed in rural areas, and he should congratulate the Government on the progress that we have made compared with the failure of the Government he supported. His points about incentives for Post Office managers are simply not correct.
If she will visit Bridgend to assess the impact of exchange rates on future employment. 
Although I have no current plans to visit Bridgend, I am well aware of the difficulties that the weakness of the euro, until very recently, has caused for British industry, particularly manufacturing.
My right hon. Friend would be warmly welcomed in Bridgend, where there is an important manufacturing sector; Sony and Ford are the two major contributors. Although I would not expect her to say anything about the euro, about which we will hear something on Monday, does she agree that something close to the current exchange rate would be one that British industry could welcome in terms of any entry to the euro in the fairly near future?
I agree that the recent strengthening of the euro has significantly improved matters for Sony and Ford as well as for many other manufacturing companies that export to the eurozone. The views of those two companies and many others on the exchange rate and the single currency are very well known, as are mine, but the fuller answer that my hon. Friend would like will have to wait for the Chancellor's statement on Monday.
Will not future employment be affected not only by the exchange rate, but by the collapse in business investment and the slowdown in productivity growth? Will not it be affected by the worsening strike record and the deteriorating trade deficit? Does the Secretary of State accept responsibility for those failures or does she blame them on rogue elements in the Department of Trade and Industry? Is she aware that business people are today hoping that she may indeed be promoted in the forthcoming reshuffle? They are praying that that will be one case of rewards for failure that she does not attempt to block.
Order. That did not have much to do with Bridgend.
What steps her Department is taking to increase the UK's manufacturing industry productivity; and if she will make a statement. 
The Government's manufacturing strategy, published last year, identified seven key areas of activity for Government and industry that are vital for manufacturing success. We are taking action in all those areas to help British manufacturers improve productivity in very difficult global conditions.
How much importance do the Government ascribe to research and development and diversification as ways of sustaining our manufacturing base in the face of increasing global competition?
The manufacturing strategy puts great emphasis on research and development, which is key to the driving up of innovation. We have put £300 million from the comprehensive spending review into scientific research and technological development, and invested a further £100 million to improve the flow of skilled scientists and engineers. That is crucial if we are to succeed. We will not succeed on the basis of low pay and low skills, nor should we want to. The only way in which we can compete in a fiercely competitive global manufacturing world is by innovating and adding value.
Is the Minister aware of the latest figures in the House of Commons Library, which show that although there has indeed been a superficially impressive growth in manufacturing productivity over the last five years—13.5 per cent.—it is derived from two negatives, a decline in output of 3.5 per cent. and a collapse in manufacturing employment amounting to 17 per cent.? Do the Government distinguish between manufacturing productivity improvements achieved through contraction and mass sackings, and improvements achieved through growth and investment? When do they expect to complete the transition from the former to the latter?
We have never crowed about improvements in manufacturing, or in manufacturing productivity. Manufacturing is still going through a terrible time. It is going through a terrible time in Germany, it is going through a terrible time in Japan, and it is going through a terrible time in America. There are no easy solutions. However, the manufacturing strategy, which is about hard slog rather than quick fix, has involved the industry and trade unions and has established measures that should have been introduced many years ago. It will take a long time for the measures to bear fruit, but as manufacturing is worth a fifth of our gross domestic product, 4 million jobs and 60 per cent. of our exports, it is worth making the effort to help manufacturers.I was not aware of the statistics in the Library. I shall hurry away to have a look at them after Question Time.
May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the anger that is felt in Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire generally about Waterford Wedgwood's shock announcement that it is to cut 1,085 jobs? We urgently need new, real jobs. No matter how productive factories such as the two that are to be closed may be, we cannot compete with labour costs abroad. Will my hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State to request the Cabinet to take a personal interest in what is happening in Stoke-on-Trent, and try to find quick ways of securing new jobs, retraining and other help for those who are to lose their present jobs?
I sympathise with my hon. Friend and her colleagues in Stoke-on-Trent. It was dreadful to hear that more than 1,000 jobs are to be lost. I believe that the HR1 notices have already been issued.As my hon. Friend will know, I went to Stoke-on-Trent a few months ago and spoke to the council and people in the ceramics industry. They are having a very difficult time. Waterford Wedgwood says that it is moving to China, where labour rates are 70 per cent. lower than those in the United Kingdom. As I have said, we cannot compete on that basis. Protectionism is not the answer; the answer is to introduce measures such as those we have introduced through the Ceramics Industry Forum with the aim of increasing innovation and driving up research and development. The Department has contributed to an investment of £20 million in the Chatterley Valley project, which is expected to bring 4,000 jobs to Stoke-on-Trent. I hope that that will, to some extent, mitigate the problems experienced by my hon. Friend's constituents following the recent announcement.
The Minister's own departmental statistics show that manufacturing productivity has halved since 1997 and that over the same period 650,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost. Yesterday, we heard that jobs will be lost at Wedgwood and that 1,500 jobs will be lost at Cable and Wireless. The hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) mentioned the number of jobs that have been lost in his constituency. Are we not suffering the consequences of the Government piling more and more burdens on businesses and removing our opt-out from the social chapter? Does he have a manufacturing policy to reverse those trends, or is he just going to sit back and do nothing?
Pick the nuts out of that one. According to the party that wants to be the official Opposition, we have increased manufacturing productivity. Now we are told that it is in a worse position. The two Opposition parties need to tell us what their pouch of fairydust is for solving the problems in manufacturing. If they have one, let us know about it.The hon. Gentleman said that one of the reasons why manufacturing is suffering is that we signed up to the social chapter. I am really pleased that he has emphasised the fact that his party still opposes basic workers' rights. I have not heard one manufacturer mention the issue of the social chapter. The Conservative party was not just an embarrassment to this country—
If she will make a statement on the level of competition in the broadband market. 
The Government target is for the UK to have the most extensive and competitive broadband market in the G7 by 2005. The latest assessment indicated that at the end of March we had the third most competitive market—we are ahead now of the USA—based on measures of choice, price and regulatory framework.
I am afraid that the reality is not matching the Minister's rhetoric. He must be aware that in suburbs of London and in the home counties there are areas where broadband is not available. What is needed is more competition. BT runs an arcane system of registration before it will introduce broadband to an area. Will he explain why his party defeated a Conservative party amendment to the Communications Bill that promoted more competition in broadband?
The reality is well ahead of my rhetoric. We passed the 2 million mark on broadband last month, only eight months after we reached 1 million. In April alone, another 163,000 broadband connections were added. That is probably the highest monthly figure ever. The two million connections are evenly divided between ADSL—asymmetric digital subscriber line—and cable. There is fierce competition going on—exactly the competition that the hon. Gentleman calls for. In the ADSL market, there are more than 100 competing resellers of the BT wholesale product. Indeed, I received an e-mail last week from a company offering broadband at less than £19 a month, so the competition is working. We need a competitive market. That is what we are getting and we are seeing the benefits of it.
What is the Department doing to ensure that public sector investment in broadband, particularly in education and health, can be piggybacked by communities that do not have access to broadband? In many areas, there is no competition because there is no broadband. If the public sector is investing in broadband, surely that investment should enable local communities in those areas to get access.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is an important part of the answer in rural areas in particular. I am chairing a ministerial steering group addressing exactly the issues that he raises. The public sector as a customer will make a key contribution. We will spend £1 billion across the public services on broadband over the next three years. That will lead to investment in telecommunications infrastructure for the public sector, which will then be available to other users such as small businesses and residential customers. Our task is to ensure that we manage that process to maximise the benefits in areas such as his. We are firmly committed to that, as are my colleagues in education, health and the other public services. I believe that we can be very optimistic about the outcome.
What representations she has received from the Wood Panel Industries Federation on the Government's renewable energy policies. 
Representations from the Wood Panel Industries Federation have been received on the impact of the renewables obligation on the industry and, in particular, on the encouragement given under the obligation for the use of UK forestry material by co-firing power stations.
I thank the Minister for that reply, but he has not addressed the seriousness of the situation. Some 15,000 jobs in this important industry are threatened because these so-called green power stations will be able to outbid woodchip mills for the basic raw material that they need—woodchip, much of which comes from freshly felled trees. Surely the purpose of these power stations was to burn biomass produced by farmers on surplus acres, rather than to consume sustainable material that has a future in the furniture and kitchen manufacturing industries, and in the building trade.
A review of the renewables obligation is under way, and account will be taken of the points made by the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, there is a further question, about an existing—perhaps I should say almost existing—biomass plant in Yorkshire, which I shall deal with a little later. By and large, the current problem is not an excessive number of biomass plants consuming all the United Kingdom's timber—on the contrary. However, it is clearly important that we get the balance right, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is offering grants for the growing of trees for specific use in biomass plants. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that full account will be taken of the points that he makes on the industry's behalf.
Does my hon. Friend accept that the rather relaxed tone that he adopts towards the DEFRA review is not in keeping with the time scale with which the timber processing industry is confronted? For example, 50 per cent. of the available timber in Scotland has been bought by a single power station on the back of substantial subsidies for renewable generation. There is every possibility that in the ensuing 12 months there will be insufficient timber to enable Scottish processing plants to continue. Will my hon. Friend therefore accede to the request, made to him by a number of colleagues on both sides of the House, to meet him to discuss this urgent matter as soon as possible? I wrote to him two weeks ago and I await a reply; I am anxious that I get one as soon as possible.
The request for a meeting has yet to reach me, but I shall of course agree to one. I have never refused my hon. Friend—or, I think, any other Member of this House—a meeting, and I should be delighted to discuss this issue.
We support the aspiration in the energy White Paper to increase the percentage of electricity generated from renewable power sources, as, of course, does the Renewable Power Association. Sadly, the RPA estimates that the Government will fail to meet their 2010 target of 10 per cent. generation from renewable sources—only some 7 per cent. will be so generated—and their 2020 target of 20 per cent. generation from renewable sources, with only some 12 per cent. being so generated. How do the Government answer this absolutely fundamental criticism of a central plank of their energy policy from those whom they expect to implement it?
The Government will fail to meet these targets only if a number of conditions have not been met. One reason why they would not be met is if we remained almost exclusively dependent for our renewables targets on hydro and onshore wind—the only technologies that are contributing significantly at the moment. That is why we are backing biomass, photovoltaics and wave and tidal. We have to extend the range of technologies that can contribute. If we start from a defeatist point of view and say that we will not meet the targets, they will indeed not be met. They can and will be met only if we do a great deal to give substance to the words that we have committed ourselves to, and it is my job to make sure that that happens.
What recent discussions she has had with the World Trade Organisation on the impact of international trade liberalisation on the relief of global poverty; and if she will make a statement. 
What action she is taking to promote the interests of developing countries in the world trade round. 
I welcome the reaffirmation by G8 leaders earlier this week of their commitment to a successful conclusion of the Doha development round, which would bring significant benefits in trade to developing countries. That is why we are working so hard to make progress in the WTO talks. In addition to the visits that I have recently made to South Africa, India and Thailand, I have today accepted an invitation from Christian Aid to meet producers and farmers in central America, on our way to the WTO meeting in Cancun in September.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers) said that current free trade orthodoxy is wrong in forcing poor countries to open up their markets to competition, and in reducing their Governments' protection of vulnerable industries. Does the Secretary of State agree with her predecessor that the World Trade Organisation rules of international trade are indeed stacked against poorer countries, in favour of fat-cat multinationals? Would not managed trade with a focus on poverty reduction be a better alternative? Why can the scales on ministerial eyes be removed only with a P45?
Since I became Secretary of State I have said that it is essential that market opening in developing countries is phased to take account of their state of development, and that the liberalisation of markets is accompanied by effective regulation. We saw the effects of the lack of such regulation in the financial disasters in some developing countries a few years ago. However, I do not agree that subsidies and long-term protectionism are the way forward for developing countries. It is important that we in the developed world listen to the increasingly urgent pleas of developing country Governments themselves—and their producers—who want access to trade, and in particular to trade on free and fair terms with the developed countries. The developing countries would also benefit from reducing the tariff barriers that they put up against one another.
The WTO is a rules-based organisation, and one of the key ways of helping developing countries is to provide capacity building to empower them to play by those rules. The most significant current issue is the EU agricultural meeting later this month. The fact is that the best thing that the EU could do is to reform the common agricultural policy, in particular by removing export subsidies that effectively prevent developing country farmers from accessing overseas markets. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that she will do all in her power to press the EU on that point?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and I have been working closely with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to that end. Our Government are the leaders in pressing for radical reform of the common agricultural policy across the European Union. Not only does the CAP cost the average European family of four an extra £475 a year on our food bills, but as my hon. Friend rightly says, it condemns farmers in the poorest countries of the world to absolute poverty. Commissioner Fischler's proposals on CAP reform provide an excellent opportunity to move that agenda forward, above all for the sake of producers in developing countries. I hope that the Agriculture Council will seize the opportunity and agree those proposals next week.
Will the Secretary of State tell us where she will be on Saturday 28 June? Will she be in her constituency, as I will, supporting trade justice day and her constituents who are making a real effort to draw to the Government's attention the failures of the world's developed community in that respect?
Does the Secretary of State not accept that the liberalisation of agriculture is, as we have heard, a potentially double-edged sword for developing countries? The Government of the Philippines, for example, have argued that opening up markets to the large agribusiness conglomerates of the western world could undermine local food production systems in the developing countries.
When I last met the Trade Minister for the Philippines, his main concern was to ensure access to European markets for their canned tuna exports. That was a major issue, as the hon. Gentleman may recall, at the discussions in Doha. The main issue is to ensure that the European Union and the United States stop preaching free trade abroad while practising protectionism at home. The WTO rules already permit "special and differential treatment", to use the jargon, so that developing countries can open their markets in an appropriate fashion. That is the way to proceed and, with the majority of WTO members being developing countries, that is how we can proceed, providing that we in the European Union and the United States face up to our own responsibilities
My right hon. Friend will know that protectionism is regarded nowadays by the international community not as a 13-letter word but as a four-letter word. How can we ensure that the same fate that befell Zambia, Haiti, Mali, Nepal and Peru does not befall other developing nations? What measures will the Government propose to avoid unfettered liberalisation happening too rapidly in those markets?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. The Government have led the way in supporting investment in developing countries for trade-related capacity building, so that they can engage more effectively in the negotiations within the WTO, and also so that they can ensure that they put in place the necessary regulation to help them with a phased opening of their markets.Of course, it is possible for developing countries to take advantage of greater trade and economic reform only if they also put in place the necessary reforms to their own systems of governance. That is an issue to which we direct much support and attention through our aid and development work.
I could not possibly be as unkind to the Secretary of State as the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) was. Given that protection and export subsidies in the agricultural sector of up to £1 billion a day now represent five times the level of international development assistance and are doing grave damage to the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, does she agree that it is now time—consistent with what she has said—for the developed world to stop being so selfish and to start to recognise that genuine free trade, subject to the normal checks and balances, is the greatest wealth-creating mechanism known to mankind and the best source of help for the most vulnerable people the world over?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Our experience in the European Union is a good example of how countries—six of them, initially—came out of the devastation at the end of the second world war, through a process of free and fair trade among them, to the prosperity that we enjoy today. It is simply not acceptable that we in the European Union subsidise our dairy farmers to the tune of $2 a day for every head of cattle in Europe, when more than 1 billion people in the developing world live on less than that amount. Nor is it acceptable that the United States continues to subsidise its cotton farmers by a total sum significantly greater than the economy of several poor African countries. That argument is being made with increasing force in both the developed and the developing world. The issue for the Agriculture Council next week, and for the US Administration, is whether we will produce significant measures that will meet the commitment that we made at Doha to reduce, with the aim of phasing out completely, the trade-distorting subsidies that we put on our agriculture exports.
If she will make a statement on the prospects for renewable energy plants fuelled by willow coppice. 
The Government are committed to the development of all forms of bioenergy, including renewable energy plants fuelled by wood coppice. We provide support, ranging from research and development to the creation of a market for energy generation from energy crops, including wood coppice, through the renewables obligation and the bioenergy capital grants scheme.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the future of the Arbre plant near Selby, which is fuelled by willow coppice, has implications not only for the 50 growers who supply willow coppice to the plant, but for confidence in the entire energy crops sector? Will he ensure that a meeting takes place urgently between his officials, the new American owners of the plant, representatives of the European Commission, which has invested £10 million in the plant, and the Non-Fossil Fuels Purchasing Agency, which has a contract with the plant, to see if there is a viable way forward?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, and contact has been made with the company already. The decision to sell to that company was made by the liquidator. It is very much in everyone's interests that there should be the sort of contact that my hon. Friend seeks, and that we do everything possible to encourage the new owners to take Arbre forward as an ongoing and, I hope, viable proposition. I should make it absolutely clear that we have never turned down any request for support for Arbre. It is, of course, open to the new owners to talk to us about that as well.
What percentage of our energy will be provided by willow coppicing, and how does that compare with the possible percentage that could be produced through encouraging the burning of waste paper and packaging?
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman those figures, for the very good reason that we do not have prescriptive targets for each particular technology. There is a great deal of potential in the biomass sector, and willow coppice is only one of the sources. So far, however, very little of that potential has been fulfilled. I agree with the implication of the question, which is that waste technologies contribute more in the short term 'when they are counted as renewables, and they have the potential to contribute much more. I have visited a number of such plants, and I have been impressed with some of the technologies involved. We should not rule out any of the technologies, but it is extremely important that we test, sooner rather than later, some of the assumptions about whether the technologies will contribute anything of significance to the targets. We are putting a lot of money into biomass, and we want to see some return on it soon.
My hon. Friend will be aware that most of the product burned in the renewable energy plants is not willow coppice but waste wood products. What is the economic or environmental sense of a subsidy that allows wood products to be purchased at £40 a tonne, when the wood panel industry can buy it at £20 a tonne? That industry keeps 15,000 people in jobs. Instead of burning wood products and producing carbon, it recycles the material and ensures that the carbon is locked in. Surely there is a need for an urgent review, as was suggested earlier? We need to protect those 15,000 jobs and end carbon emissions to the atmosphere by recycling and locking that carbon in.
As I said in response to the earlier question, this is an important matter. A review of the renewables obligation and of any anomalies that it might throw up is under way. I should be very pleased to meet industry representatives and any hon. Members who might have a proper interest in this matter.
What representations she has received on the future of community pharmacies. 
A very substantial number and range of stakeholders have been feeding in their views on the Office of Fair Trading's report, both through the appropriate Health Departments and directly to the Department of Trade and Industry.
Does the Minister agree that the present structure of community pharmacies provides a high level of access to patients, including vulnerable patients such as those who are elderly, in rural areas and on lower incomes? Does she agree that when the Government consider the OFT report it is very important that health policy should not lose out to competition policy?
I agree that we need to achieve a balanced package in this area, and proposals for such a package will be offered for consultation before the summer recess. We have made it clear that we favour change to open up the market and to improve quality and access. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that access is very important, but we do not want to diminish pharmacies' crucial role in local and rural communities, and in respect of people who do not have easy access to transport.
I am concerned that my hon. Friend's comments make this issue sound predominantly a rural matter. However, inner-city areas such as my constituency have a disproportionately high number of elderly people who use community pharmacy facilities. Given the low level of car ownership among those people, is not it essential that the existing community pharmacy network is maintained?
I can only agree strongly with my hon. Friend that community pharmacies are as important to inner-city areas as they are to rural and poorer areas. We have been well aware of that in our work to produce a balanced package. The Department of Health, which leads on the health policy aspects of the package, has had considerable input, and it is very conscious of these matters.
While I fully endorse the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) on health access, does the Minister understand that in rural areas, where there may be only one independent pharmacy in a small rural town, it will be difficult for that pharmacy to compete with large out-of-town supermarkets? Does she understand that such a pharmacy provides not only health advice but a range of social services advice, and that, when combined with the loss of many other rural facilities—for example, post offices, magistrates courts and police stations—it will be a heavy blow if the only independent pharmacy is forced to close because of full competition?
It is for just that reason that we are balancing health and competition and that we have put the emphasis on continuing, and indeed broadening access. That issue obviously needs special consideration in respect of rural and more isolated pharmacies. Indeed, the Department of Health already has support systems for essential small pharmacies in any event. The hon. Gentleman may like to know that in March 1992 there were 9,765 pharmacies, as against 9,756 in 2002, so pharmacy distribution and the number of pharmacies has been maintained at much the same level over the past decade or so.
Minister For Women
The Minister was asked—
What action she is taking to ensure that women play a full part in a new Iraqi Government. 
As well as meeting a representative group of Iraqi women exiles, we arranged last week for a meeting of about 40 Iraqi women in Baghdad with Ambassador Bremer and John Sawers, the UK special representative in Iraq. That meeting was also attended by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who is now the Prime Minister's special representative on human rights in Iraq. In due course, I, too, shall be going to Baghdad to help to support Iraqi women's participation in the political and reconstruction process.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. It is heartening that there are moves to get women involved, as I am sure that, like me and many of my constituents, my right hon. Friend will be aware of the many images from Iraq showing that all the people involved in shaping the new Government are male. I fear that that does not augur well for the involvement of women in Iraq's Government. Is she as concerned as me that, if the Baghdad conference does not take place, women will be further excluded from any interim authority that is set up?
My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point. She and I were both concerned that so few women attended the last conference held in Baghdad, and indeed in Nasiriyah. After the women's meeting last week, a steering group of seven women was set up. They are focusing on ensuring that women come forward and become part of the Iraqi interim administration. I agree that that is especially important if, as now seems likely, security considerations and the state of political debate make it impossible for the Baghdad conference to go ahead as initially planned.
Certainly, we believe that women should play a full and active role in governing Iraq, but the priority right now is that they are not safe and that they cannot live normal lives. There are daily abductions of women and girls throughout the country. For example, on 13 May, 13 girls were abducted at gunpoint from a school in central Baghdad, perhaps to be sold into prostitution or for human trafficking—who knows? Given that the coalition forces are legally obliged to maintain the rule of law, can the Minister tell us what is being done to prevent such crimes and to bring those responsible for them to justice?
The hon. Lady is right. The women at last week's meeting made it clear that of course security is a top priority for them, just as it is for the coalition administration. We are working closely with the American Administration and the coalition provisional authority in Baghdad, as well as in Basra—where the security situation, although not perfect, is considerably better—to put in place much more effective policing-type security to protect the citizens of Iraq and, of course, to continue protecting coalition troops.However, let me stress that my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley, who is still in Baghdad and with whom I was in touch only yesterday, was heartened by the signs of normal life returning to Baghdad, including large numbers of women collecting their children from school on the school run. It is not all bad news from Baghdad, and several of the Iraqi women with whom I am in touch in Britain are already planning their return to Iraq. Indeed, they are being encouraged by their families to do so.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the superb job that she is doing in promoting the interests of Iraqi women. Will she particularly look at the fact that the US-led administration have appointed only male lawyers and male judges to the group that is working up a new legal code for Iraq? She will appreciate, as I do, the critical nature of the legal code when it comes to ensuring women's rights in Iraq in the future.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, not only for her comments but for the very active role that she has been playing in this whole process. She makes an important point, and I will bring it urgently to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and of John Sawers. In my discussions with Iraqi women and with a broader group of women from Muslim communities in Britain, it has become clear that we need to ensure that women Muslim scholars are fully engaged in the development of the new legal code in Iraq.
What steps she is taking to ensure that Government Departments promote gender equality. 
Later this month, I will be publishing "Delivering on Gender Equality", which will set out policies and targets across Government for delivering improvements in this area.
I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement of that review, as Departments should be seen to be taking a lead on equality. On the specific issue of tackling pay inequality, now that the deadline for undertaking equal pay reviews across Departments and agencies has now passed, what progress is being made in implementing the results of those reviews?
The report that I will be publishing shortly refers to how we will deliver on the gender equality public service agreement target that we have already published. As far as the equal pay reviews and audits are concerned, I am glad to say that 67 Departments and agencies, representing nine out of 10 civil servants, have now completed their pay reviews and have submitted action plans. Those are now being pulled together in the Cabinet Office, and we will publish a summary report of the findings by the end of July.
The report is welcome, but the Minister may recall that a previous Minister for Women, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), first announced that the Government would produce an annual report in 1998. Clearly, the report is five years too late, so is it not yet another example of a part-time effort from a part-time Ministry?
I am very sorry to hear the hon. Lady falling into the trap of suggesting that part-time jobs are not worth while. It reminds me of some of the comments that we used to hear in the 1980s from the not then reconstructed brethren in the trade union movement, who used to say when the employment figures were published, "Well, those are only part-time jobs, so they don't count." I am sure that, on reflection, the hon. Lady will want to withdraw that remark.The Government have published annual reports on how we are delivering on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. As we agreed for the first time last year the gender equality public service agreement, it is not surprising that this will be the first report on how we will deliver progress towards that goal. We are making a great deal of progress and we will continue to do so, with or without the hon. Lady's support.
What steps she is taking to encourage women to take up careers as (a) scientists, (b) technologists and (c) engineers. 
On 28 April, I launched a new strategy to improve the participation of women in science, engineering and technology careers. Central to that new strategy is the establishment of a resource centre that will move that agenda forward and encourage more women to take up and to stay and to succeed in science, engineering and technology careers.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but will she ensure that sufficient resources are made available for the implementation of that strategy, much of which is based on Susan Greenfield's excellent recent report? Will she ensure that sufficient resources are made available to allow many of its recommendations to be implemented?
Yes, I will. We have already secured additional funding worth nearly £1 million a year to cover all the activities of the new resource centre. That centre will also put together a plan for additional investment to ensure that women with science and technology qualifications who are not in employment are helped to return to employment, which should amount to an additional £500,000.
May I remind my right hon. Friend that many women scientists work at the National Institute for Medical Research? Their careers are somewhat uncertain because of the proposal to relocate the institute. Will she do what she can to secure an early decision on that, because it is causing significant recruitment and retention problems at the NIMR, especially for women scientists?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his ingenuity in shifting that question. As he implies, no decision has been made on the future of the centre. That is a matter for the Medical Research Council, which is consulting closely on the centre's future with staff and other stakeholders.
Business Of The House
Can I ask the Leader of the House if he would like, please, to give us the business for next week?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for asking a staggered question to allow me to get to the Dispatch Box.The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY 9 JUNE—Second Reading of the Courts Bill [Lords]. TUESDAY 10 JUNE—Motions to provide for the carry-over of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill. Motion to approve a money resolution on the Sustainable Energy Bill. The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration. WEDNESDAY 11 JUNE—Opposition Day [8th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be confirmed. THURSDAY 12 JUNE—Debate on armed forces personnel on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. FRIDAY 13 JUNE—Private Members Bills. The provisional business for the following week will be: MONDAY 16 JUNE—Remaining stages of the Licensing Bill [Lords]. TUESDAY 17 JUNE—Opposition Day [9th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced. WEDNESDAY 18 JUNE—Debate on "European Affairs" on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. THURSDAY 19 JUNE—Estimates [3rd Allotted Day]. Subject to be confirmed by the Liaison Committee. FRIDAY 20 JUNE—Private Members Bills.
I am grateful, as ever, to the Leader of the House for letting us have the business.The Leader of the House will know that he was quoted in yesterday's Times—accurately, I think—as saying:
Yesterday, the Prime Minister said:"There have been uncorroborated briefings by a potentially rogue element — or indeed rogue elements — in the intelligence services".
Both the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister are making serious allegations about the intelligence services or rogue elements within them. In that context, will the Leader of the House reassure us that the Intelligence and Security Committee on which the Prime Minister placed such reliance yesterday will include that in its terms of reference and investigation? In what I can describe only as the notorious interview with John Humphrys on Radio 4 yesterday morning, the Leader of the House—I shall quote from the transcript; I know how much he likes transcripts—said:"of course there was somebody from within the intelligence community who spoke to the media."—[Official Report, 4 June 2003; Vol. 406, c. 147.]
That was a touching endorsement of how he sees the role of Committees. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Intelligence and Security Committee is appointed by the Prime Minister, reports to the Prime Minister and, indeed, that the Act that set up the Committee gives the Prime Minister the right to edit or censor its reports? In that context, why do we have to place such reliance, as the Prime Minister did yesterday, on a Committee that is the Prime Minister's own creature? Why can we not have, as the Opposition propose, an independent and impartial tribunal set up by statute and chaired by a senior judge? Why are the Government so afraid of that, as they appear to be? You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that yesterday at column 195 the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) said that "we simply were wrong." He meant the Government and was talking about weapons of mass destruction. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) said:"Well it, you know the way we do things in this country is through Select Committees and I no more dictate what the Select Committees will choose to investigate than, than the Prime Minister dictates what the intelligence services will choose to discover, analyse and produce as information."
That is what those former Cabinet Ministers said. In the context of that, can we be reassured that both the Intelligence and Security Committee and, indeed, the Foreign Affairs Committee will consider those serious accusations by former Cabinet Ministers about the conduct of the Prime Minister and the Government in the run-up to the hostilities in Iraq? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman confirms that. On a different matter—[Interruption.] Well, I can do more if hon. Members want."the Prime Minister misled us".—[Official Report, 4 June 2003; Vol. 406, c. 207.]
Order. The right hon. Gentleman can do more only if it is about next week's business.
Mr. Speaker, next week can we finally have the debate on pensions—[Interruption.] It was promised on 20 January by the then Pensions Minister, the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney). He promised a debate in Government time on the Green Paper on pensions that was issued in January. Yet in yesterday's debate the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), said that we would have a White Paper on pensions by the recess. We are now in the bizarre position of having had a Green Paper since the beginning of the year and moving straight to a White Paper before the recess without a proper debate in the interim in Government time led by a Pensions Minister because there still is not a Pensions Minister. Will there be a reshuffle to appoint a Pensions Minister next week and will we have a debate then? That is the question.I should also like to know whether next week we could have a debate arising from yesterday's Audit Commission report. Does the Leader of the House think that there were perhaps rogue elements in the Audit Commission who said:
NHS trusts—"The majority of trusts"—
The report went on to say:"were finding it difficult to balance their books—some used new money, intended to boost services, to meet underlying financial problems. The majority of trusts were finding it hard to recruit enough extra doctors and nurses"?
It goes on further to say:"it is highly likely that growth monies will have been invested in funding the deficit."
Those are very serious matters and they have been highlighted by the Audit Commission. I hope that we will have an urgent debate on them because they appear completely to undermine the Government's repeated claims that the NHS is in good health. Can we please have an immediate debate?"The Annual Development Plan assumed that growth monies would be used to fund deficits by delaying project starts until the year end."
The right hon. Gentleman was obviously so intoxicated with my performance yesterday that he missed the fact that we had a pensions debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "In Government time."] It is funny how quickly Conservatives get worked up. They should take a lesson from Mr. Humphrys who remains calm throughout. Secondly, we have pensions questions next week. We will also probably have a statement next week on pensions. I shall have firmer details on that later specifically to please the right hon. Gentleman.The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the NHS audit. I always welcome opportunities to debate the NHS in all its aspects, including Audit Commission reports, not least because we are putting in twice as much of an increase than any other Government in the history of the service. We have put in tens of thousands of extra nurses and we have a new hospital building programme. A debate that highlighted the disastrous effects of the 20 per cent. cuts that the Opposition would impose on the health service would be worth having. On the more important subject that the right hon. Gentleman raised—it is an important subject, and I want to make sure that, whether unwittingly or through mischief, no one misinterprets what I said yesterday, because there are mischievous elements around, some of them malevolent—let me repeat what I said on the "Today" programme. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has also read those comments in the transcript, but he did not share them with the House. I said:
I also said that I know from working with them in Northern Ireland and as Minister for the Armed Forces that they are courageous, loyal, professional, self-sacrificing, committed and dedicated people. Indeed, my life and hundreds—perhaps thousands—of other lives depend on those services. The people whom I was attacking, whom I am asked to name, I cannot name because they are anonymous. The right hon. Gentleman might ask Mr. Gilligan, the reporter who has been producing reports based on their information, who they are. I do not know them, I do not know their status, but I do know that they have been undermining or attempting to undermine the integrity of our intelligence services, up to and including the Joint Intelligence Committee and its chairman. Anyone who attempts to do that is an enemy of mine, and I believe should be an enemy of those on the Opposition Benches. I turn to the other question that was asked about the inquiry. The Intelligence and Security Committee, which has been dismissed for its deficiency by the right hon. Gentleman, was set up by the previous Conservative Government, and its terms of reference were established by the previous intelli—I almost said intelligent Conservative Government, which of course would have been a contradiction in terms. The terms of reference were established by the previous Conservative Government. I believe that that Committee consists of people whose seniority, wisdom and integrity should be unquestioned throughout the House, and I certainly do not question it. It is not true that the Committee's opinions, publications or intended publications can he dismissed at will by the Prime Minister. What the right hon. Gentleman did not say is that—I quote from section 10(7) of the Intelligences Services Act 1994 which established the Committee—"I have the greatest respect for our intelligence services."
and the words that the right hon. Gentleman missed out were"If it appears to the Prime Minister,"—
that is, our intelligence services, which the Government are determined to protect—"after consultation with the Committee, that the publication of any matter in a report would be prejudicial to the continued discharge of the functions of either of the Services"—
in other words, after consultation with the Committee itself. I believe that we should have confidence in that Committee to discharge its functions. Finally, Mr. Deputy Speaker—[HON. MEMBERS: "Mr. Speaker."] I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. [Interruption.] I do not know why hon. Members get upset. I am one of those, unlike some Opposition Members, who have taken great pleasure in your rise through the House from the time that we were very young men. I have some good news for the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and some bad news. As he will have noticed from the photographs this morning, when the Prime Minister comes to the House with a tabbed book, he does not have a tab on it marked "IDS", which says a lot, does it not? The good news, as I suppose it is testimony to the stature of the right hon. Gentleman, is that I do have a tab marked "Eric Forth". The bad news is that I am able to read transcripts as well. I have read the transcript of the right hon. Gentleman's defence of the Leader of the Opposition this morning on "Today". Perhaps we can debate this next week. He was asked by Mr. Naughtie, whom I know well"or, as the case may be, GCHQ, the Prime Minister may exclude that matter from the copy of the report"—
The right hon. Gentleman said:"Why didn't your leader knock Mr. Blair to pulp at the dispatch box yesterday?"
The transcript then says "(pause)". He added:"Well"—
I will allow right hon. and hon. Members to decide how high in the league table of robust defences of our leaders that answer comes.[Laughter.]"that's a fascinating parliamentary question, and as I come up to celebrating my twentieth anniversary in the House—a great privilege and honour—I can reflect on that."
The Leader of the House has referred to a transcript from the "Today" show—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Show?"] It is often referred to as the John and Jim show. As the right hon. Gentleman has referred to the exchanges with the rogue element or perhaps rogue elephant on the Conservative Front Bench, may I draw his attention to the fact that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) made no mention during his exchanges on "Today" that the Prime Minister got his war because Conservative Members voted for it? Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise, as Leader of the House, that it is not only the credibility of the Prime Minister that is at stake now, but the credibility of the whole House? Neither the right hon. Gentleman nor I would ever accuse the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst of being gullible, but it is extremely important that the information that was given to all Members, including the Conservative Members who voted for the war, was accurate. Therefore I ask the Leader of the House whether he is prepared to arrange for a statement next week, or a debate, on the particular information that was given to the House—I will come to a specific issue in a moment—and the way in which the House will now deal with it. Has the Leader of the House noticed, for example, that the United States Senate has set up a joint inquiry into these issues? Why cannot we in this place have a joint inquiry involving the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee, to ensure that the whole issue is properly covered and that there is proper co-ordination between the two Committees? What arrangements does the Leader of the House intend to make to ensure that the reports of the two Committees are properly co-ordinated and brought to the Floor of the House? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that it is the credibility of the way in which the House does its business and scrutinises Government that is on the line, as well as, specifically, the credibility of the Prime Minister. It may be that the Prime Minister and the Government will look shifty and slippery if the outcome is that we were led into war under false pretences but, not only that, quite frankly, the House will look silly for taking the decision that we did on false information. I ask the Leader of the House specifically to consider the issue raised yesterday by the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), the former Foreign Secretary, with the Prime Minister. He asked specifically about the issue of the purchase by Iraq of uranium for the manufacture of nuclear weapons. The Prime Minister said that he was
that information, on which the advice was given to the House, was correct. On 24 September, the Prime Minister said:
"not in a position to say whether"—[Official Report, 4 June 2003; Vol. 102, c. 154.]
That was repeated in the so-called dodgy dossier, which said:
"we know that Saddam has been trying to buy significant quantities of uranium from Africa."—[Official Report, 24 September 2002; Vol. 390, c. 4.]
uranium. On 28 January, President Bush said:"We judge Iraq has sought … "
Obviously he was taking his advice from the British Government. However, on 7 March, at the United Nations Security Council, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency said that the reports were not authentic. Hans Blix called them a falsification. On 2 June, Colin Powell said that he did not believe that there was "solid enough" authentication. When will we get an answer to the question of the previous Foreign Secretary? Can we have it next week?"The British Government has learnt that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
First, the hon. Gentleman asked whether we could debate various matters relating to Iraq. I think that even the worst enemy of this Government would concede that we have made probably more time available to debate Iraq, the run-up to what happened there and its various aspects than any other Government have done previously in such circumstances. Of course, we will try to allow even more time, but we have to balance the priorities of the House.Secondly, the hon. Gentleman raised the question of the security services. I do not know how to make this any plainer to him. The nature of the collection of the intelligence means that thousands and perhaps millions of pieces of disparate information are brought together. Some of them are corroborated, some are not, some are human intelligence, some are technical, some are from above the sky, some are from beneath the waves, some are photographs and some are gossip. All of them are partial and fragmentary, so the job of making a judgment on that basis is a very difficult one, and it is one that I believe our security services discharge with fantastic capability and professionalism. It is possible for human beings to make mistakes—of course it is—but let me make the distinction that the hon. Gentleman crossed over again in using the term "false pretences". For the past week, the allegation has been that information that the Government and the chiefs of our intelligence services knew to be wrong was put into the public domain. That is not an accusation that we might have made a mistake, but an accusation of dishonesty against the Government and the intelligence services.
"False pretences" repeats that accusation. That is completely and utterly untrue and it is a manifest slur not only on the politicians, but on the chairman and everyone involved in the Joint Intelligence Committee, and we reject it. I make that absolutely plain as far as the Liberal party is concerned.On the Intelligence and Security Committee, of course, on Niger and everywhere else, it will be able to look at the issue in the round and consider the specific piece of information that the hon. Gentleman mentioned in the context of anything else that may be there. That is up to the Committee. He also suggested that it is not adequate. Since he mentioned the former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), let me use his words about that Committee:
That is what the hon. Gentleman implied. The former Foreign Secretary continued:"The Committee's work necessarily is not in the open. It would sharply inhibit the candour with which its questions were answered if it met in open session. Some hon. Members may imagine that, because the Committee meets and takes evidence in private, it provides an easy life for its witnesses."
All I would say is that I cannot think of a better way of validating the competence, ability and integrity of that Committee. Having asked for an inquiry, we should let it get on with it."I should disabuse the House of that idea. As one of those who has given evidence to the Committee, I can assure the House that the fact that the meeting takes place in private does not in any way diminish the acuteness of the questioning, which is just as testing as any in front of the press."—[Official Report, 2 November 1998; Vol. 318, c. 578.]
Can the house have an early opportunity to consider the findings of Cancer Research UK, which has found that fewer women are now dying from cancer? In my constituency, women have written to me about how highly they value local services, including not only clinical services, but aftercare. Should we not share those experiences across the House, so that where there is good practice, it can be shared in all constituencies so that even fewer women die from cancer and women get the counselling that they deserve and need?
Absolutely. I hope that those sentiments will be accepted throughout the House. I am very pleased that my hon. Friend has highlighted this matter and that the Cancer Research UK report states that deaths from breast cancer are down significantly and that five-year survival rates for breast cancer are improving all the while. According to reports published last year by Cancer Research UK and the European Institute of Oncology, Britain has had the world's biggest decrease in deaths from breast cancer in the past decade. Since 1960, Britain has had the largest decline in breast cancer deaths in the European Union. I therefore hope very much that we will find sufficient time to debate that issue, as well as many other aspects of women's health.
May I reinforce the request for a debate on the security services next week, which would allow the high opinion that the Leader of the House has expressed to be shared and agreed across the House? Such a debate would also provide him with an opportunity to remind the House just how many weeks the Wilson Government lasted after the then Prime Minister announced that he was being undermined by elements of the security services.
I always try to find time for the hon. Gentleman, but he need not wait, because he could start to contribute by using his time not to attack those of us who were defending the security services, but to attack those who are spreading misinformation suggesting that the leadership and the security services are lacking in competence or integrity.
Can my right hon. Friend find time next week or the week after for a debate on the responsibilities of the media and its regulation in particular? He will know that, on 31 May this year, The Guardian ran on its front page an article about an alleged meeting between the Foreign Secretary and his US counterpart in the Waldorf hotel in New York. Today, on page 25, there is a 2-in column retraction of that claim and an apology for it. It is about time that we got some balance in media reporting in this country.
My right hon. Friend will not be surprised at all to know that I agree with every word that he has said.
Will the Leader of the House confirm that, next week, he will be contacting the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, the previous Government Chief Whip, to volunteer information about rogue elements in the security services and to give evidence following up the very serious allegations that he made in The Times yesterday?
If anyone wishes to find who is spreading the misinformation, they should speak to people who are claiming that information as the source of the stories. Those allegations were made to undermine the Government and the security forces. I made allegations about people who are unknown and anonymous, and whose position is not known, but on whose word the integrity of our security services and Joint Intelligence Committee is being impugned. I cannot stand by and allow that to happen. Given that the right hon. Gentleman previously held a position in connection with Northern Ireland, I would have hoped that he would be attacking those who are spreading misinformation about our security services, rather than defending those who are maligning them.
Ninety per cent. of the heroin on the streets of Hamilton. North and Bellshill, as well as Inverclyde, originates in Afghanistan. Given that, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the recent United Nations report predicting that this year's poppy harvest in Afghanistan will be the largest ever? We must take steps now to ensure that the poppy that will be harvested in the autumn does not become the raw opium that becomes heroin on sale in his constituency and mine. Does he agree that cheap heroin on the streets of Britain is not a price that we have to pay for the war on terrorism?
Yes, I very much agree with my hon. Friend, and I shall bring his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary.
Will the Leader of the House find time next week to debate the appalling mismanagement of the European Union's aid budget, particularly with regard to Ethiopia, following the comments of Sir Bob Geldof, who described it as appalling and pathetic?
I am always prepared to try to find time for discussions on overseas aid, not least because this Government have a proud record on reversing the cuts that had been so disgracefully imposed by the previous Government. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman makes a point about criticism of how the European aid budget is disbursed in some cases and I know that the Government have had their reservations about that. Even if we cannot have a debate in the Chamber, I am sure that there will be an opportunity either in Adjournment debates or Westminster Hall, but I shall certainly seek to ensure that we pay some attention to that matter.
May we have a debate on the role of the oldest political party in Iraq, which was founded in 1934 and includes Sunni, Shi'a, Kurds, Turkomans, Assyrians, Christians and Jews, and works with middle-of-the-road parties in trying to establish pluralism and democracy? Should not the role of the Iraqi Communist party be a matter that is considered in the building of a new Iraq, and should not new Labour at least understand the nature of new communism?
I am not sure that I am qualified to answer that question.
Would the Leader of the House find time to debate next week the continuation of locally based and recruited security support for the civil power in Northern Ireland? He will know from his experience that there has been no time since 1920 when we have not had locally-based and recruited mobile armed back-up to the civil power: first the A, B and C special constabulary; then, in the 1970s and for the next 30 years the Ulster Defence Regiment; then, from the mid-1990s, the home-based battalions—now three—of the Royal Irish Regiment. For the first time ever, the security of the people of Northern Ireland is being put at risk by this Government. Will he find time to have that debate so that we can get a commitment from the Government to continue home-based, locally recruited back-up for the police in Northern Ireland—that is, the home battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's remarks will be noted by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, as well as by the Secretary of State for Defence, and I have no doubt that he will find opportunities, in Adjournment debates or in other ways, to raise the matter again.
I welcome and agree with my right hon. Friend's confidence in debating our health policies. May I urge him to have a debate on the Floor of the House on the Audit Commission report on the NHS plan, which would give us an opportunity to examine the way in which the investment to which he referred is improving capacity and bringing progress? It would also give us an opportunity to contrast that with the cuts proposed by Conservative Members and with what many of us believe to be a Trojan horse—namely, the proposal to have passports in the NHS.
Yes, indeed. As I said to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), I am pleased to try to find time to debate the NHS at any time, and that applies to the Audit Commission report. That report was based on a snapshot of the situation halfway through the last financial year. The NHS has moved on since then, and we are pleased that performance at the end of the year is even better. The resources and reforms are beginning to bite. Contrary to what the report implies, we expect that the majority of NHS trusts, and the NHS as a whole, will end the year in financial balance. I suspect that the demand from Conservative Members that we debate the report will quickly diminish once the year-end figures start to come out.
Will the Leader of the House say what steps are being taken to ensure fair scientific scrutiny of the evidence for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? I understand from a note that I have obtained from the Library that only one of the Committees concerned has a member with any scientific qualifications.
The hon. Lady asks about scrutiny of evidence. I have already made some comments about the difficult task that faces people in assessing and analysing the evidence. I have every confidence in the first step of that, which is the operational intelligence assessment that is being carried out by our intelligence services. I think, however, that she is referring to the second step, which is the work of the Committees and their potential capability for securing expertise to make judgments of a technical nature. I am sure that the Committees will be able to make arrangements to supply themselves with such capabilities, and that the House would want them to be able to do so.
May I ask the Leader of the House whether we can have a debate in the near future on the need to streamline the police disciplinary procedures? Yesterday in Cumbria, an internal inquiry that cost £2 million and took three years to complete collapsed owing to lack of evidence. It concerned a minor complaint about the misuse of police vehicles. It not only cost a fortune, but robbed the people of Cumbria of the dedicated services of nine police officers for three years. We need not only a debate, but new legislation to streamline the shambolic system that we have inherited from 50 or 60 years ago.
I thank my hon. Friend for bringing that matter to the attention of the House. It is certainly disconcerting in a number of ways. I cannot promise him a full debate on that particular issue, the details of which I do not know, but I promise to bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will find opportunities to raise the matter again.
Can we have a debate next week on the middle classes? I am sure that the Leader of the House will have noted that in Liberal Democrat News of 30 May, Jonathan Calder, who is a member of the party's federal policy committee, wrote an article about the Conservative policy of scrapping tuition fees. He says that it
but goes on to say:?has a lot to he said for it",
We should like to debate that rather old-fashioned concept with them."If the Conservatives do not speak for the stupid middle classes, who do they speak for?"
That was obviously written for a member of the working class, since we have come to expect the Liberals to say to the working class that the middle class is stupid and to the middle class that the working class is stupid. That is in the nature of Liberal politics. I shall do what I can, however, because I think that we should always try to make opportunities to bring class analysis into these matters.
Will my right hon. Friend consider a debate on the sharply rising costs of living and working in London, not only from the private sector point of view in terms of business rates and commuter fares going up, but in relation to the London weighting that is given to public servants, which is quite out of line with private sector costs and is leading to a migration of public servants out of the capital?
As my hon. Friend will probably concede, we have done a considerable amount to assist people working in London through housing and various other mechanisms. I should have thought, given the nature of the subject, that Westminster Hall might be an appropriate venue to discuss it, because he is speaking not only about financial issues, but a range of measures that would enable people to recruit, to work and to live in London more easily than at present.
May I express my sadness that so much of the time at business questions is taken up by Front Benchers, given that it is a time for Back Benchers to raise issues of concern? May I therefore raise with the Leader of the House a matter that is of concern to me—namely, that he has announced for next week a carry-over motion for the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill? Does he accept that that has proved necessary because the Government failed to provide adequate time to debate that Bill on the Floor of the House and elsewhere? Will he give me an assurance that he will, as a matter of urgency, review the whole programming policy to ensure that this House has adequate time to debate important Bills?
If I have in any way contributed towards elongating Front-Bench contributions, I apologise, although I noticed that the hon. Gentleman's eyes were drifting in a different direction when he made his comments. However, I would not want to stir up difficulties on the Opposition Benches.On the planning Bill, no, it is not that we have just discovered that we did not allow enough time for scrutiny. As I explained to the Front-Bench spokesman for the Liberal Democrats and to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, we intend to change some of he details of Crown immunity. There will be further time for scrutiny, and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that, rather than complain about it.
Has the Leader of the House had the opportunity to glance at the helpful reply by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell) in last night's debate on the detention of Tariq Aziz? Whatever differences we may have about Iraq, are we not united in thinking that we have to ask the Americans whether such people are to be put on trial? That cannot be left for ever. We have to be careful about victor's justice and to show that the west has higher standards than other people who do not have trials.
We have always believed that the Iraqi leaders most responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes should be brought to justice, and that that should be done as soon as possible. There are strong arguments for allowing the Iraqis themselves to bring to justice those who have committed crimes against them. We shall therefore need to explore what kind of investigative and trial processes they can adopt. United Nations Security Council resolution 1483, which was adopted on 26 May—unanimously, I might say—affirms the need for accountability for crimes and atrocities committed by the previous Iraqi regime. It also appeals to member states to deny safe haven to those members of the previous regime who are alleged to be responsible for crimes and atrocities, and to support actions to bring them to justice. I hope that that answer brings some solace to my hon. Friend.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate next week in which we might receive an explanation from a Minister as to why there has been such a substantial change in Government attitudes to inquiries? In the first few years of the Labour Government, a number of inquiries—public and judicial—were set up to look into the activities of the previous Conservative Government. Since then, there have been no public or judicial inquiries at all into any of the actions of this Government. Why was the Prime Minister so happy to authorise inquiries into the previous Government, when he is not so happy to have inquiries into his own?
It may speak to the comparison between our conduct and theirs.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Ms Blears) launched sure start month earlier this week. [HON. MEMBERS: "What?] He will also be aware that sure start, which is run by dedicated staff, works in some of the poorest areas in the country and with some of the poorest and most deprived people. [Interruption.] May I ask my right hon. Friend whether we can find time for a debate on this important programme, which will bring into relief not only the transfer of best practice and value for money but a recognition of the work that the staff do in those areas?
My hon. Friend will have noticed the mockery and scorn that greeted his references to sure start, a programme that has brought opportunities for well over a million children, some in the most deprived areas. I can assure him that, at least on this side of the House, we are committed to improving access to good quality education, affordable child care, early learning, family support and so on. We were the first Government to introduce a national child care strategy in England. I can assure my hon. Friend that we shall look for every opportunity to implement—and to debate and discuss—measures that will build on that early success.
Will the Leader of the House reconsider the responses that he gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) and my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) on the issue of rogue elements, in view of the historic precedents and the propensity of senior Labour Government figures to allege that there are rogue element activities in the security services in order to get themselves out of a tight spot? In this regard, does he recall the interview on rogue elements given by his predecessor, the late Lord Wilson, which is recorded in Philip Ziegler's biography? Lord Wilson said:
He also said:"I might tell you to go to Charing Cross Road and kick a blind man standing in the corner. That blind man may tell you something, lead you somewhere."
"I see myself as a big fat spider in the corner of the room. Sometimes I speak when I am asleep. You should listen."
If I ever find myself afflicted by insomnia, I will get the hon. Gentleman to read me bedtime stories; he seems amply qualified to do so. I cannot be any plainer: I just do not understand why those on the other side of the House who supposedly support our security services do not want to attack those who are undermining them. I make no apology for attacking and criticising those who have been impugning the integrity of our intelligence services as well as of the Government. Finally, while I am always willing to be flattered by compliments, I am afraid that Prime Minister Wilson was not my predecessor; I do not think that he ever managed to reach the dizzy heights of the position of Leader of the House.
I wonder whether, in any spare time that he might have had this week, my right hon. Friend has noticed early-day motion 1274.[That this House calls on Ordnance Survey to review their decision to remove national park boundaries from the OS Explorer maps; notes that every national park authority is opposed to the proposal and that thereplacement illustrations of national park boundaries on the map cover will be useless in precisely describing park borders; affirms the role of the national park authorities as a point of information for visitors and local residents; regrets that under these proposals this valuable point of information will be made less accessible; and calls on Ordnance Survey to liaise with the Association for National Parks to ensure that national park boundaries continue to feature in OS Explorer maps.] The motion raises the fact that Ordnance Survey intends to remove national park boundaries from its Explorer maps. If there proves to be no time to debate this matter next week, will my right hon. Friend at least ask Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to take it up with Ordnance Survey, because the representatives of all the national parks of England and Wales believe that removing those boundaries from the maps will deter them from carrying out their duties?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this matter. I do not normally start my response with the words, "It says here", but I am going to do so now. It says here that national park boundaries will continue to be shown on each appropriate map cover, but not on the map itself, as extensive research and consultation has indicated that the depiction caused confusion with access land boundaries. National park boundaries will, however, continue to be shown on other Ordnance Survey products, including the 1:50,000 scale OS Landranger map series, the OS Travel Map Tour series and appropriate digital map data. I hope that that gives some consolation to my hon. Friend.
If not, I will try to find other opportunities to debate the matter.
May I tell the Leader of the House of the real shock that many of my constituents felt last week, when the closure was announced of Ethicon, a world-leading manufacturing company? Will he find time to debate in the House what can be done to help our manufacturing industry, particularly in the face of jobs going abroad? Some of these manufacturers are considering short-term moves abroad rather than the long-term loyalty of the work force and communities that have made them world leaders.
I am sure that hon. Members will understand the shock that was felt by the hon. Gentleman's constituents. Few things are more difficult for a constituency MP than their constituents being afflicted by unemployment and huge job losses. I understand that myself, coming from an area that went through the decline of the coal industry and then the steel industry. I do not know the details of the case to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I hope that he will agree that, in general, we have tried to compensate where there have been job losses, through taskforces and other mechanisms, and to create the right economic environment. I will certainly bring his comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
Today, Lieutenant-Colonel Stuart McCrostie, the commanding officer of 2 Signal Regiment, returns from Iraq to the regimental barracks in York with his soldiers. On the eve of the regiment's going into battle, he wrote to me to say that it was his ambition to bring all his soldiers back alive. Mercifully, that is what has happened. Will the Leader of the House join me in paying tribute to the regiment, and to wish 219 Squadron well, while it remains in Iraq? Will he consider whether there is some way for the House to put on record its appreciation of the bravery and professionalism of our soldiers in Iraq, and to allow us to thank them for the freedoms and human rights that they have brought to the people of Iraq?
I wholeheartedly support every single word of my hon. Friend's contribution. I am sure that we send collectively from the House our congratulations to the commanding officer and to 2 Signal Regiment, particularly as they are returning to York, which has been a garrison town for 2,000 years, as my hon. Friend is always ready to remind us, and because they represent success. Whatever differences we have in the House over Iraq, the one view on which we should have none is that, once again, our armed forces have shown that, pound for pound, they are as good as, and probably better than, any in the world. We should be immensely proud of every single one of them.
Will the Leader of the House find time next week for an urgent debate on the right to demonstrate? I ask this for two reasons. First, there was a Greenpeace demonstration yesterday at a building site in Marsham street, at which one demonstrator took charge of a high crane. About 50 police officers were on duty around the circumference of the block. This morning there were six police vans full of police officers on stand-by. I would be interested to know whether any of them had been deployed from the London borough of Havering, where the sighting of a police officer is a cause for great rejoicing. The second reason is the demonstrations that have been tolerated in Parliament square, which I understood to be in contravention of United Kingdom law.
I am not aware of the first case, but I will bring it to the attention of the Home Secretary. On the second, I know that Members on both sides have expressed concern, but we in the House stand by and, indeed, represent the development of democracy as well as people's right to make their point of view known and to demonstrate. However, that always has to be balanced against the convenience and safety of all others in our democracy. That includes the House of Commons, so I will look into the hon. Lady's second point.
Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 1126, which concerns community pharmacies and the barmy Office of Fair Trading plans to deregulate pharmaceutical prescribing?[That this House congratulates colleagues in the Welsh and Scottish assemblies on their firm rejection of proposals to allow unlimited opening of pharmacies by large national retailers; recognises the role of theindependent community pharmacist in serving vulnerable urban and rural populations; notes that a 'balanced package of measures' may not necessarily be the best way to serve the health needs of the whole community; and calls upon the Government to follow the lead taken by the Welsh and Scottish assemblies and end the uncertainty about the future which is affecting community pharmacists across the country.] This matter was referred to earlier at Trade and Industry questions, albeit briefly. If the OFT proposals go through, there could be a serious threat to community pharmacies and the big supermarkets will move into pharmaceutical prescribing. Can we have a debate on the issue or, if not a debate, perhaps a statement from a Health Minister?
We are aware of the concerns held not only by my hon. Friend, but by people who have expressed similar views. Although I am not acquainted with that early-day motion, I will have a look at it. I understand that it refers to what is in effect, at this stage, something with the status of a proposal on which we are consulting. Therefore, I am sure that he will find many opportunities to make his views known in that consultation.
The Leader of the House continues to stand by his allegations that there have been leaks from rogue elements in the security services. Regardless of whatever investigations are undertaken by Select Committees of the House, will he at least tell us whether the Secret Intelligence Service takes his allegations seriously and whether any internal inquiry has been set up to look for those rogue elements? If they truly exist, that would be very serious indeed. When does he expect that internal mole hunt to report? Will he allow the publication of the conclusions reached by that report? Is SIS taking his allegations seriously at all?
Let me ask two simple questions that might help the hon. Gentleman. Does he believe the BBC reporter who says— [Interruption.] No, he does not—fine. In that case, he does not have to believe that there is anybody in any way connected with intelligence who has briefed the BBC reporter. If, on the other hand, he believes the BBC reporter, by definition he must believe that someone has said something who is connected—[Interruption.] I do not know who that person is, as he is anonymous. We do not know where such people come from and we do not know what credit to place on this matter, but I wish that the hon. Gentleman would spend 1 per cent. of the effort that he is spending on trying to make rather trite cheap party political points in condemning anyone who is misinforming the public about the security services.
Is there an internal mole hunt?
Order. Mr. Barker, you have asked a question and the Leader of the House is answering. It may not be of the desired quality, but none the less it is an answer. The hon. Gentleman has to be calm and quiet. That is the way it goes.
I think that the Leader of the House has managed to give a decent enough answer on that one.
Can consideration be given to holding a debate in the House on the question of Government support for indigenous industries? Although many of us welcomed the decision on the construction of the aircraft carriers and the boost that it gave to shipbuilding and to sustained, long-term security for those who work in the major shipyards, a number of small, independent commercial shipyards at e struggling to survive. Will my right hon. Friend put pressure on the Department of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Defence, for those shipyards do not have the luxury of waiting for those orders to come through? If we lose these skills, the community will suffer and we may not get them back. Therefore, we may not be able to complete the aircraft carrier contracts.
Without diminishing in any way what my hon. Friend says, he will accept, first, that the shipbuilding order placed by the MOD is bigger than any such order placed by any previous Government. Secondly, the DTI has been particularly active under this Government, which contrasts with the days when the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was referred to by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor as a. man with an empty in-tray, an empty out-tray and a full ashtray. In those days, of course, the Conservative Government believed that there should be no intervention at all to help industry. I accept that challenges remain, but the Government have not only made time available, but made great efforts to assist our industry.
Will the Leader of the House confirm that the voting system for Scottish local government is a matter exclusively for the Scottish Parliament? Will he join me in condemning the campaign started by several of his colleagues from Scotland to try to reverse the Scottish Executive's decision to legislate for fair votes, including threatening to review in this House the voting system for the Scottish Parliament? Would not it be better for the whole matter of the voting system to be transferred to the Scottish Parliament to keep it away from the petty feuding and bickering that go on in the Scottish Labour party?
Of course, what the hon. Gentleman refers to as bickering is political discussion. We have that in the Scottish Labour party, but I do not know whether they have it in the Scottish National party. If they have had it, it has not been very productive. I suspect that his deep interest in a change in the voting system results from the fact that under the current one there has been a huge decline in the SNP presence in the Scottish Parliament. However, I shall certainly bring his remarks to the attention of the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Can my right hon. Friend tell me what is new in out-of-control elements in the security services undermining a Labour Government? Has not that been the case since the first Labour Government came to office in the 1920s?
All I can say to my hon. Friend is that I have complete confidence in our security services, because from top to bottom the vast majority of people in them are committed, professional, loyal and dedicated. That is why I get so angry when there appear to be one or two people who are prepared to put information out that questions the integrity of our intelligence services. I get even slightly angrier, although nothing normally surprises me about the Conservatives, when they jump on a bandwagon apparently supporting those elements who are undermining our security services.
The Leader of the House has twice been asked whether he will approach the Intelligence and Security Committee to give evidence on the serious allegations that he has made. Will he now take the opportunity to say whether he is willing to do so? If he is not, will he perhaps give the House an opportunity to debate the matter further?
You said earlier, Mr. Speaker, that I may not have been giving an answer of the necessary quality. [Interruption.] We are very open-minded in the House. There is another suggestion, of course, and an alternative—
Order. Perhaps I should say that that was the opinion of an hon. Gentleman. I am quite happy with the quality so far.
Thank you. In which case, I say that there is an alternative solution: the intellectual capacity of those on the other side of the House in grasping even the most simple proposition is somewhat lacking. I do not intend to repeat the answer that I have already given four times, which the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) might understand if he reads it from the transcript with the aid of some of his fellow storytellers.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about the situation in Burma? We know that the leader of the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been not only detained, but injured. We also know that the Red Cross has been allowed no access to her and that her deputy, U Tin Oo, was last seen being beaten up and has now disappeared completely. Will my right hon. Friend consider holding a debate in the House so that we can see what we and the international community can do to try to tackle the brutal regime in Burma?
Yes indeed. I hope that the whole House shares my concern and that of my hon. Friend. We are deeply concerned about the latest developments in Burma, and we have firmly called on the Burmese to release Suu and her National League colleagues immediately and to reopen the NLD offices and the universities in Burma. We are in discussions with our European Union and international partners on what further steps we will take if the regime does not provide immediate satisfactory responses on those matters.
Does the Leader of the House agree that the quality of parliamentary business could be greatly improved if we did not have to endure half an hour of questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland once a month? When he next speaks to the Prime Minister, might he perhaps suggest that the rumoured forthcoming reshuffle would present an excellent opportunity to get rid of a Department that has clearly outlived its usefulness and to replace it with a Department that would deal with all the Administrations in the devolved regions?
Even while wearing my hat as a member of the United Kingdom Government with United Kingdom-wide responsibilities, I am staggered by the hon. Gentleman's attempt to diminish the importance of Scotland. I would have expected him to welcome the opportunity, for just 30 minutes each month, to discuss the responsibilities of this House, which have an immediate and important impact on Scotland. I am thinking of trade policy, macro-economic policy, telecommunications, the oil industry, social security and benefits—quite apart from foreign affairs and defence, which are of huge interest to the people of Scotland. The hon. Gentleman should think again before talking down Scotland.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the restrictive practices that are being applied by NTL and Telewest in relation to the new directory inquiries system? They are not permitting any of their 5 million customers to contact the other 82 companies that are allowed to provide services and have paid a lot of money to obtain their numbers. Will my right hon. Friend try to arrange a debate, or get in touch with the Department of Trade and Industry and in particular Oftel, which has refused to do anything on the ground that five million people is too small a number to be bothered with? Perhaps one of the Opposition parties would consider requesting a debate next week.
I was not aware of that, and I thank my hon. Friend for telling me about it. If what he says is accurate, it is extremely disturbing, and at the very least it is something that I should bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I will do that.
Orders Of The Day
European Union (Accessions) Bill
Considered in Committee.
[SIR ALAN HASELHURST in the Chair]
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
1. 33 pm
Clause 1 is central to the Bill. In crude terms, it will enable us to implement the accession treaty in United Kingdom law, paving the way for UK ratification later in the year. It should be recognisable to all who are familiar with past accession Bills. I have just had a very enjoyable lunchtime meeting with the Foreign Minister c f the Czech Republic, who hopes very much that he will be able to go home tonight with news that the House of Commons has sent the people of his country a positive message by adopting clause 1—and, indeed, the Bill as a whole.Subsection 1 amends the definitions of "the Treaties" and "the Community Treaties" in the European Communities Act 1972. In broad terms that grants automatic effect to directly applicable treaty provisions, and allows designated Ministers to make regulations amending existing UK legislation to the extent that that may be necessary for the implementation of the treaty. It is difficult to speak about this part of the Bill without rehearsing some of the principles discussed on Second Reading. I shall be brief, because I believe that there is a broad consensus on the principles of accession. We have separately placed the key facts in the public domain in the form of the explanatory memorandum on the treaty, and the explanatory notes and regulatory impact assessment relating to the Bill. The enlargement for which the Bill provides means that the cold war will finally be laid to rest. After decades of suspicion, disunity and enmity, the continent of Europe will be united, locking in peace, security and prosperity. Just over a decade ago, six of the 10 states that will join us in the EU next year did not exist, and one of the 10 was at war. Now all the accession states, bar Cyprus and Malta, are or are due to become NATO members. Security and stability have increased markedly within and between the accession states, and across Europe as a whole. Since the start of the association process 10 years ago, the gross domestic product of candidates from the former communist bloc has grown by 40 per cent. The standard of living in central Europe has improved dramatically. For example, the average salary in Slovenia has increased by 62 per cent. in the last 10 years. Central European economies have rapidly integrated with western European and world markets. When I visited Poland last week, I noted the remarkable change that is taking place almost year on year, with new wealth, new housing, new cars, new industry and new business surging forward. The EU is the accession countries' main trading partner. As a bloc, the 10 new member states constitute the EU's largest trading partner after the United States. The final package for the new member states is generous and fair, but it is also below the overall budget ceilings for enlargement set by the European Council in Berlin in 1999. Although some Members have complained that the deal is not generous enough, it is in line with the new member states' capacity to absorb funds. Accession has helped and is helping the new members to address issues ranging from the protection of minority rights to the safety of nuclear power stations and to hygiene in dairies. They have had to reform and significantly strengthen their Administrations and their court and legal systems. All that benefits the citizens of those countries, and anyone who travels or works in them.
Given that the provision for regulations—the need for which is not of itself in dispute—comprises the vast bulk of clause 2 of a three-clause Bill, can the Minister enlighten us on whether the Government are prepared to consider subjecting such regulations to the affirmative procedure? That would afford the opportunity of a full debate on the content thereof on the Floor of the House.
Order. The hon. Gentleman's question relates to clause 2; we are debating clause 1.
Profound changes in the business environment have also taken place—for example, the creation of food standards agencies, telecoms regulators, labour inspectorates and insurance market supervisors. Enlargement is improving environmental standards across the continent as well as health and safety standards. That applies to food safety and the quality of food exports to the United Kingdom, consumer protection and employment practice. Enlargement has also improved human rights. The new member states have had to align their human rights law and practices with EU standards, and they are required to have taken on board by the point of accession the Community's acquis prohibiting racial and other forms of discrimination.
The Minister mentioned trade and exports. How will the accession of the whole island of Cyprus affect exports from the north of the island, and what changes will there be to visa requirements?
The status of the northern part will remain the same. We are optimistic that before accession on 1 May next year a united Cyprus, along the lines of the Kofi Annan plan, will enter the EU. I take great heart, as I believe do all Members, from the remarkable sight of the people of Cyprus voting with their feet against some of the most reactionary political advice that they have received in recent years.The prospect of enlargement is helping us to boost cooperation between present and future member states in tackling organised crime, drug trafficking and people smuggling. Acceding countries are bringing their police forces up to EU standards, and will participate in EU anti-crime institutions. There is certainly more for the new member states to do. The Commission continues to monitor their implementation of their negotiating commitments. We welcome that monitoring, which serves as both an encouragement to the new members to continue their efforts and an assurance to the existing member states. The Commission will issue a comprehensive report in November this year. If necessary, that will advise on the potential use of the safeguards in the treaty for issues such as the functioning of the single market and mutual recognition of civil and criminal law. However, neither monitoring nor safeguards will affect accession itself. Subject to ratification by the 25 states, the treaty will enter into effect for all 25 states on 1 May next year. The signs so far are promising. Referendums have been won in Malta, Slovenia, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovakia. We have high hopes for Poland this weekend, for the Czech Republic a little later and for Latvia and Estonia in September. The message is clear and loud: saying yes to Europe is popular among those who know the value of freedom and who liberated themselves from communism. Subsection (2) approves, for the purpose of section 12 of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002, the provisions of the accession treaty in so far as they relate to the powers of the European Parliament. As in previous accession Bills, the inclusion of that provision is a precautionary measure to put beyond doubt Parliament's approval of those parts of the treaty that deal with the powers of the European Parliament. The accession treaty does not create new powers for the Parliament, but it increases the field of application of the existing powers of the Parliament. Article 11 of the Act of Accession provides for an allocation of MEPs to all 25 member states for the electoral term beginning in June 2004. The figures allocated to each member state were foreshadowed in the relevant protocol and declaration of the Nice treaty, but have been adjusted to take into account the fact that neither Bulgaria nor Romania will accede next year. Minor adjustments were also made to reflect more accurately the sizes of the Hungarian and Czech populations. Like other existing member states, the UK will see a reduction in the number of its MEPs in the new Parliament; it will decrease from 87 to 78. That is a fair price to pay for an efficient enlargement. Those changes will be implemented in the UK through the European Parliament (Representation) Act 2003, which has recently become law.
I thank the Minister for setting out what is in clause 1. Of course, we endorse both the sentiments behind it and what is in the clause, but I remind the Committee of the Copenhagen criteria that were set 10 years ago for the accession process. The criteria demanded that, before a state could be considered for membership of the EU, it must possess the following attributes. An applicant must have stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the protection of minorities. An applicant must have a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competitive pressures in the single market of the EU. An applicant must be able to take on the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union. Lastly, the applicant must create the conditions for its integration through the adjustment of its administrative structures, so that European Community legislation transposed into national legislation can be implemented effectively through appropriate administrative and judicial structures.I agree with the Minister. He said that the moves have had in many instances a salutary effect on internal reforms in the accession countries. Equally, it has been a very heavy load for some of those countries, with the 85,000 pages of the acquis communautaire. I pay tribute to the officials in the accession countries for their hard work and dedication to bringing this historic moment about. Sir Alan, I hope that you will allow me the indulgence of saying a few words about each of the accession countries, because this is an extremely important moment. Each of the accession countries has something special to offer our European partners. In Britain, perhaps too little is known about them but I hope that, as a result of what we are doing today and the accession process, many millions of Britons will take the opportunity to experience the beauties of central and eastern Europe and to get to know about the political systems there.
Malta is well known to us. It is a cherished and valuable member of the Commonwealth. We remember it for its bravery in the second world war and it is a considerable economic success story. The Baltic states have their own rich heritage. Estonia is famous for its beauty. What has characterised Estonia above all is its clear commitment to liberal economics. It has reduced taxation and is having to reimpose tariffs and subsidies— [Interruption.] I do not know why the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) finds this so amusing. I am trying to record for the purposes of the Committee how pleased we are, and to pay tribute to what those countries have done.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, who was being extremely discourteous.The result has been excellent economic growth. Latvia has one of the great cities, Riga. It celebrated its 800th anniversary last year. I hope that it will celebrate its 801st in the EU. Lithuania has a rich history and we welcome it into the EU. It has long fought for independence. It has a unique culture and it will act as a gateway and bridge to Russia, as will all the Baltic states. Perhaps more than any other country, Poland suffered grievously in the previous century. It is now free from communist subjugation. The fall of the Berlin wall opened up the whole process; in effect, it began to crumble in Gdansk. I was lucky enough to visit Poland last year. Again, Poland will play an important part in the European Union and help us to open links with countries such as Belarus and Ukraine. The Czech Republic lies at the heart of Europe. Prague is perhaps the most famous European city between Vienna and St. Petersburg. Again, it has a rich history. The country stood up for freedom strongly during the communist era. Similarly, the British people will, I am sure, be more aware of Slovakia. We pay tribute to what has happened there and to the harmonious relationships that have been built between the Slovakian majority and Hungarian minority. Hungary's national spirit was fiercest in the resistance against communist tyranny. It now has a sturdy democracy and a growing economy. Budapest is recognised now as one of the great cities of Europe. Slovenia is an exemplar in a troubled part of the world. Alone of the former Yugoslav republics, it has avoided the horrors of civil strife. [Interruption.]
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I do not want sedentary discussion going on and disturbing the debate. Nothing is out of order. If anything occurs that is out of order, I will rule it so. The clause deals with the accession of certain countries to the European Union. It seems therefore perfectly in order that some discussion should take place about those countries. However, I expressed the hope to some hon. Members before the debate that it should not be a slavish repetition of the Second Reading debate.
Thank you, Sir Alan.On Cyprus, the whole Committee will recognise that this is something of a bittersweet moment because the special representative of the United Kingdom, Lord Hannay, has just been withdrawn, according to this morning's newspapers. I salute his efforts and those of Kofi Annan, but Cyprus is not joining as a united country. We regret the collapse of the negotiations process and what happened at the end of March. Our position has always been clear: we support a bi-zonal, bi -communal federal structure for a united island. I hope that, despite that terrific setback—as the Minister said, we saw a great outpouring and a total lack of rancour between the two groups on the island when they were allowed to meet in a limited way—it will be possible for the process to move on. The Republic of Cyprus has prospered, but that has not been true of Turkish north Cyprus. It is important that some arrangement be entered into that will result in prosperity for all parts of the island.
In paying tribute to the emerging countries, does the hon. Gentleman agree that they prize their independence, and that it is important that, as we go forward, we do not become an embattled Europe but bear in mind the whole world when talking about free trade?
I very much agree with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman. Free trade and flexibility must be key elements in making the European Union enduring and successful in the years to come.I greatly applaud the measures taken by the Republic of Cyprus in respect of Turkish north Cyprus. It made several suggestions on 30 April, including greater freedom of movement of goods for citizens living in the Turkish part of the island, and of persons and vehicles. It also made suggestions concerning employment rights, medical care and participation in international events. I hope that, despite the setback, there can be a coming together.
The hon. Gentleman referred to Lord Hannay's withdrawal, but his mandate has simply come to its natural end. He is a superb servant of the Foreign Office and the Crown. He is well into his retirement and has given immense energy and time to trying to bring the people of Cyprus together. I simply want to place on the record, in front of the Committee of the whole House, all our thanks for the magnificent work that he has done. I hope that the spirit of Hannay will allow a united Cyprus to join the EU before next May.
I am very grateful to the Minister for those comments—obviously, what I read in one of this morning's newspapers was not entirely accurate. However, the fact is that Lord Hannay's tenure is coming to an end, and I am very happy to endorse the Minister's comments. Indeed, I did say that Lord Hannay has played an important part—[Interruption.] Perhaps the newspaper report originated from a rogue element—I do not know. I salute Lord Hannay and all those who have tried to bring about reconciliation. Cyprus is an island with which we have strong historical links, and there are Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities here in the United Kingdom that enrich our own national life. It seems tragic that at this moment in history, as the 10 accession countries are joining, one of them should not be united.I am grateful to you, Sir Alan, for allowing me to make those comments about the accession countries, which have different histories, cultures and traditions. We very much welcome their joining the European Union, and that applies in the context of clause 1 of the Bill.
I shall speak very briefly, and I do not of course wish to repeat everything that was said on Second Reading. I want to begin by congratulating the Minister for Europe on all the work that he and his Department have done in respect of enlargement. He has been assiduous in visiting all the enlargement countries. Indeed, he has just come back from Poland, and his visit perhaps overshadowed even that of our own Prime Minister and President Bush, so well did the Polish receive him. We have reunited the continent of Europe, and reunited the Minister for Europe with members of his own family in Poland.I am very pleased that the Minister has launched a campaign in this country—I understand that it is supported by the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats—to inform people about the enlargement process. The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) is absolutely right: people do not know enough about the enlargement process, and the work that the Minister is doing in taking the message to the people of this country will help us enormously. It is always interesting to listen to the hon. Member for West Suffolk. I am grateful to him for repeating the names of all the applicant countries. Of course, the Conservatives' position has changed. At the time of the Nice treaty, they were in favour—as was the hon. Gentleman—of a referendum on Nice, thereby seeking to block the enlargement process. I was therefore delighted that, when the Conservative party called for a Division when this matter was debated on Second Reading, they voted in favour of enlargement; indeed, nobody voted against it. That unanimity is a bit late in coming, but we welcome such support. All that we did not hear from the hon. Gentleman was an analysis of the voting during the Eurovision song contest, but perhaps that will come when he discusses clause 2. However, it is important that we pay tribute to these countries, which have worked extremely hard. The timetable set by our Prime Minister and others is being realised—perhaps sooner than many of us anticipated. I want to raise one final point with the Minister, relating to his letter to me of 4 June. Page 2, paragraph 3 of that letter deals with early-warning letters sent by the Commission to the applicant countries—an issue that he mentioned in his speech. In considering this part of the Bill on Second Reading, I raised with the Minister the issue of countries such as Poland, which have received early-warning letters. I sought an assurance from him that their receiving such letters did not bar them from acceding to the European Union in May 2004, and he wrote to me giving that assurance. However, I am worried about paragraph 3 of that letter, in which he says that if the early-warning letters and the report that will be published in November show that some countries have not reached the necessary standard, those countries, if no safeguards are already agreed in the negotiations, will face the prospect of infraction proceedings as soon as they join. That would be a terrible end to a very long process. Many of these countries have worked hard for a number of years in order to join the European Union. To say to those countries that, once they join, infraction proceedings may be started against them if there are no safeguards, is surely the wrong message to send. At this stage, we should be making sure that they meet the established criteria. I want the Government to do as much as they possibly can to help the applicant countries to achieve the benchmarks set by the Commission. We should not leave that task to the Commission. As the Minister has said, we have good relations with many of these countries. Why do we not give them whatever support they need to make sure that they resolve the problems described in the early-warning letters? The prospect of infraction proceedings against those countries is awful, and I hope that we can ensure that we meet the criteria in a proper and effective way. If that means giving them more resources, we should do so. I know that the Minister, the Foreign Secretary and others have launched various action plans with the applicant countries, but if they need more support perhaps we should arrange the secondment of some of our civil servants. Indeed, we should help them in any way that we can, because there are still several months to go before they sign the treaty and accede. I support the Bill and I hope that the clause will go through unamended.
I want to speak briefly about the importance of clause 1 to the Baltic states and specifically to Estonia, for obvious reasons. During the collapse of the Soviet Union, The Irish Times ran a cartoon depicting Estonia as a greenhouse filled with burly Russians chucking the local population around. The caption said simply, "People who live in glasnost shouldn't throw Estonians." [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Thank you very much. Estonia has come a long way since then. It had much to fear from the USSR, but I would suggest that the United Kingdom has nothing to fear from the implications of clause 1 and the benefits that it will bring to Estonia and the other Baltic states.The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) correctly highlighted the importance of the four Copenhagen criteria, and I am glad to say that Estonia is certainly equipped to achieve the requirements of those criteria. Indeed, it has a great deal of common ground with the existing full members of the European Union, and particularly with the United Kingdom. Common points include a concern about the harmonisation of tax policy, an eagerness for reform of the common agricultural policy, a concern about over-centralisation of decision making and a healthy support for the tenets of competitive markets. Indeed, Estonia sees itself as a worthy competitor in a positive way, and clause 2 will have some very important benefits with regard to the movement of workers. Estonia very much supports the belief that NATO must continue. In terms of many other policy areas, clause 1 simply enables countries that already have a great deal of cultural and spiritual commonality with existing members of the European Union to play their full part. I am grateful for the fact that the UK showed such generosity to my parents by allowing them to come here as refugees during the second world war. I hope that the implementation of clause 1 will give Estonia the opportunity to repay the gratitude that it feels for the help given to so many refugees.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the most famous person of Estonian origin in the country lives in my constituency and happens to be his mother. What more does he think that we can do to encourage the communities that are settled here permanently to get involved in the enlargement process?
I shall not go too far into that, because we risk rerunning Second Reading. However, I agree that there may not be sufficient awareness of what clause 1 and the Bill as a whole will achieve. If clause 1 is agreed, and I suspect that it will be, we will have the opportunity to inform members of communities from the 10 countries of the potential benefits. That could also prove beneficial in respect of whatever referendum the Government decide to introduce.
In recording the importance to the Baltic states of the accession arrangements—and, indeed, the future role of the Baltic states in Europe—what does the hon. Gentleman think about the important discussions that have taken place, particularly in Lithuania, about Kaliningrad? What will be the implications for good working and trading relationships, particularly through Lithuania and Poland, with Russia? The Baltic states have done good work on behalf of the whole EU in making such arrangements possible, thus avoiding what could have been a flashpoint and point of contention in future years.
I did not intend to cover the point, but it is true, as the hon. Member for West Suffolk said, that clause 1 is beneficial not just to the Baltic states, but, in providing an active and direct economic and cultural interface with Russia to the European Union. That will allow for greater political stability and confidence, and a reduction of the danger of military problems breaking out in that area. I shall leave it at that for now.To conclude, as the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) said, my mother lives in his constituency. As a Liberal Democrat, I sometimes feel that she is too keen a supporter of his constituency work. I hope that the clause will be passed, and I remind hon. Members that the Baltic states have a long memory and that they are truly grateful for the support of the UK in the past. As I said, clause 1 will provide an opportunity to repay that gratitude, and I hope that the country will shift from being good neighbour of the European Union to a full member of the team.
Because I want to raise some issues that might prompt Government Members to wonder where I am coming from, I should like to clear the decks before I go on to the detail, and make a couple of points absolutely clear. First, I support enlargement. I have no problem with it, and I never have had a problem with it. I also support the Bill in principle and have no difficulty with it; as Labour Members can imagine, there are a few buts to follow in a moment.In the past, Conservative Members might have said that there should be a referendum on enlargement. The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) said that he was glad that we had moved on from that, because it meant that we were against enlargement. However, what he needs to understand is that championing the idea of consulting the people of this country does not necessarily mean that we are against something. It simply means that we want to invite the people to have their say. I make no apologies for wanting referendums and I do not accept the view that any party that supports a referendum is committing itself to campaigning for a yes or a no, or even to campaign at all. It means that an issue is so important that the people's views matter. If the hon. Member for Leicester, East does not want to bother to listen to his constituents, some of us will ensure that they understand that he could not care less about them, but does what he believes is in his and his party's best interest. I feel sorry for him if that is what he thinks. Secondly, I want to make it clear from the outset that I am not in favour of leaving the European Union. If people think otherwise, they have got it wrong; I am still in favour of belonging to what I voted yes to in the referendum held in the past. I have no wish to leave it, only to change what we have now, which is a wholly different issue and way beyond the scope of clause 1. I make that point clear because the Minister for Europe made the usual assumption that it is a matter for rejoicing when people vote in favour of the European Union in referendums. He rejoiced in the fact that people in the applicant countries voted yes to Europe. I wish the Minister would stop claiming that the European Union equals Europe. The atlas on my bookshelf at home does not have a hole torn out where Switzerland is and does not end on the western boundaries of Sweden. Europe is not the European Union and the claim that anything that happens in favour of the enlargement of the EU has something to do with Europe is simply misleading. In his opening remarks, the Minister also rejoiced—
If it would help the hon. Gentleman, I am happy to say that I rejoiced in the fact that the countries voted yes to Europe, minus Switzerland and Norway.
It is not as simple as that, but we will not go down that road, because I suspect that you would rule me out of order, Sir Alan.The Minister said that huge numbers of people were enthusiastic about joining the European Union. It is tempting to point out the size of the majorities in favour in the referendums, and it is even more telling—and helps to put the debate into perspective—to examine the turnout. If we then deduct from the turnout the numbers who voted no, things do not look so rosy for the Minister. In Malta 53 per cent. of the electorate voted, in Slovenia 60 per cent.—perhaps a good showing. In Lithuania 63 per cent. voted—even better. In Slovakia only 52 per cent. managed to vote—only 2 per cent. more than was required to make it a valid referendum—and in Hungary only 45 per cent. voted. We should therefore temper any claims about the great enthusiasm for joining the European Union. I am glad that the people voted and I am pleased about the referendum results, but we should not get carried away about what it all means.
The only danger in my hon. Friend's observations so far is that he seriously understates his case. I share his enthusiasm for public consultation, but does he agree that clause 1 should be the catalyst for the development of an outward-looking, dynamic association of self-governing nation states, which should provide an alternative to what has all too often in recent times seemed to the people of this country a narrow, inward-looking protectionist club?
If you would allow me, Sir Alan, to have a debate of that sort this afternoon, I would be only too pleased to respond to my hon. Friend, but I suspect that you would not. I hope that it is in order to repeat what I said at the outset—that I support enlargement. I do so for exactly the same reasons as my hon. Friend. I have high hopes that enlargement will turn the EU outward and result in a more relaxed grouping of sovereign states, rather than what it is now.
My hon. Friend has fallen into the tender trap once more, by expressing a view that we heard many times on Second Reading. He gave voice to what is on his wish list, so let me tell him that what he espouses is not on offer. If he believes otherwise, can he tell me in which treaty it is mentioned?
My hon. Friend is right, but that does not undermine my point. It is why I suggested that any further comments would be out of order, but the issues must be addressed. She is right, however, to say that the clause and the Bill do not include the options that I referred to. I have already tried your patience long enough, Sir Alan, so I will move on.I ask the Minister to comment on several issues arising from clause 1. Clause 1(1) will alter the European Communities Act 1972, and that is what we are being asked to approve. That must raise the question of whether the change is sufficiently important for a referendum to be held on it. The Minister did not say whether the Government consider it a substantial change. We have been told that other matters are merely a question of tidying up. Is this change mere tidying up? I would have thought that the addition of 10 more states is stretching the meaning of the phrase somewhat. If this is a substantial change, as the whole Committee seems to agree, perhaps the Minister could tell us whether he gave any thought to consulting the British people. If so, what conclusions did he reach? The changes go beyond tidying up, and the questions that arise, many of which are addressed by the Convention, flow directly from enlargement. If enlargement is not tidying up, the issues that arise from it cannot be tidying up. Therefore, the argument against a referendum, on this or anything else, must collapse, according to the Minister's own argument. I would be grateful for his views on the holding of a referendum, because we will have to return to the issue in due course.
Ministers are always ready and able to shift the goalposts. Just as they can argue against a referendum on the so-called tidying-up grounds deployed by the Secretary of State for Wales, they are also capable of believing that issues are too important to subject to a referendum, for fear that the public might deliver the "wrong" verdict.
Order. This is a debate not about a referendum, but about clause 1 stand part.
I thought that you might intervene shortly, Sir Alan, and I accept what you say. I have made my point, and my hon. Friend underlined it.Clause 1(1) will alter the treaty to take account of the joining of the countries that it mentions. Can the Minister tell us what the effect on the Bill would be if one of the 10 countries had a referendum that said no, and therefore did not join? We would have an Act of Parliament that altered a treaty to allow the accession of a country that would not in fact join. Would that make the entire procedure null and void? I note that clause 2(4)—I shall not debate the point now, Sir Alan—makes provision for what happens if one of the countries does not join. Why will we be told in that later debate that it is necessary to take precautions against a no vote in somebody else's referendum? If that is necessary in clause 2, why is it not necessary to have some sort of get-out provision in clause 1? If the Minister thinks that an amendment could usefully be tabled in the other place to reflect that point, he might like to consider the European Communities Act section 1(3), which contains reference to the accession of Norway and makes arrangements for that country to become a member of the European Union. I know that he has a precedent to say that such provision is not necessary, but it appears to be necessary in clause 2. Can the Minister clear the muddle up, and what will he do about the Norwegian reference?
Is my hon. Friend aware of tension about these matters in some countries such as the Czech Republic? Some politicians and people in that country are deeply fearful about the impact of the common agricultural policy on them, and we may well see a negative vote.
That is another avenue that I would like to explore, but I fear that I would be out of order. My hon. Friend gives an example of a country that may provoke the very problem about which I am attempting to probe the Minister.