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Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend hardly needs me to say that I am sympathetic to his proposition. Indeed, I had thought of making similar comments in response to the previous question. I am glad to say that, just before coming here this afternoon, I had the pleasure of being present at a function-- [Interruption.] --related to the
Column 376motor industry-- [Interruption.] It was a caring organisation concerned with providing residential care. At that function, it was clear that the motor industry was in a distinctly optimistic frame of mind.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for a further statement on the coal industry and the closure of pits? Does he recall that, when we debated the White Paper, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced that a number of pits would be kept open on a care and maintenance basis? Is he aware that there has been a conspiracy between the Government and British Coal to shut those pits? Many miners are being offered redundancy payments which, if they do not take them on the spot, will be reduced by more than half later in the year, in compliance with the law of the land. Is it not high time that that conspiracy was broken? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the women who camped on Abingdon green, outside the House of Commons, the other day were told by the people with cameras that they had been instructed by the Government that in no circumstances should they take pictures of those women, who were protesting against the illegal closures?
Mr. Newton : I suppose that I must say--although, once again, I feel that it is hardly necessary--that I wholly reject the allegations that the hon. Gentleman so freely throws around about conspiracies of one sort or another. Frankly, his concerns would be a good deal more credible if he did not lard them with such silly allegations.
Mr. David Shaw (Dover) : Will it be possible in the near future to have a debate on the need for continued restraint in public expenditure during which my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary can be made aware of the fact that, based on current trends, it is likely that in the not too distant future more people will be employed in central and local government than in manufacturing industry?
Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend will be well aware that my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is aware of concerns of the kind that he has expressed about public expenditure, and that is precisely why he is engaged on the reviews that appear to have led to some controversial speculation.
Mr. Newton : The answer is not quite as usual. For those who are not part of the group that takes part in these exchanges, may I say that this is about Members' interests. I hope that the Chairman of the Select Committee on Members' Interests will not mind my saying that I had a further word with him last night on the convenient timing of a debate. However, at present I cannot give an exact date.
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement of the Second Reading of the Crossrail Bill on 8 June. May we have a debate on roads next week so that I can raise the important matter of the proposed closure of part of Berkley avenue in my constituency, which is opposed by thousands of my constituents and myself, and on which we are awaiting the decision of the Department of Transport inspector who conducted an inquiry many months ago? We need his decision. May we have a debate so that I might secure it.
Mr. Newton : No one would be more surprised than my hon. Friend were I to promise the debate that he seeks, but I hope that he will take it in the friendly spirit that it is meant if I draw his attention to the fact that the Secretary of State for Transport will be here more or less continuously next Monday and Tuesday, either answering questions or dealing with the remaining stages of the Railways Bill. Thus, on a number of public and private occasions, my hon. Friend may have an opportunity to nobble him.
Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley) : Will the Leader of the House consider arranging an urgent debate on the way in which the unemployment figures are compiled? The Prime Minister again today evaded a question on the serious things that are happening in the way in which the unemployment figures are put together, and the Secretary of State for Employment is signally trying to avoid a dialogue with me on the question of people who are clearly not sick and who are being diverted from the unemployment benefit list to the sickness benefit list. That is undermining the community health service as doctors are being inundated with pro forma forms from the Department of Employment to be completed in order to give a sick note to people who are clearly well. That is a fiddle, and the three months' good figures really are not so good after all.
Mr. Newton : I sometimes find it a bit strange that at almost one and the same time we hear such allegations together with allegations which are often thrown at the Secretary of State for Social Security about how the Government are attempting to take people off invalidity benefit by subjecting them to medical examinations.
Mr. Newton : If there is evidence, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, or for that matter my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security, if it is for him, will consider it. As for the rest, my right hon. Friend made it clear that the Department's director of statistics has issued a statement, not on Ministers' behalf but on his own, saying that he has no reason to doubt the accuracy of the claimant count figures for recent months. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to attack an independent public official in relation to such a statement, let him do so, but we on the Conservative Benches will not join in.
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset) : I am sure that my right hon. Friend is getting a little tired of colleagues asking for a debate on the Jopling report on the sittings of the House, but can he say whether we might have an early debate on that and whether he has had replies from other parties to the request that they should put forward what they believe should happen after the Jopling report so that we can, as a House of Commons, move forward together in a non-party political way?
Column 378of the desire in all parts of the House to make some progress. She has told me that she is aware of that, and I await further developments.
Mr. Alaived notification that the bodies are now ready to be returned to Britain, but they have been informed that they may be asked to raise between £2,000 and £3,000 in order to bring the bodies back to Britain for burial here? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that there must be a number of constituents like my own who are pensioners or widows with no savings for whom that would be an impossible burden? When I contacted the Foreign Office--
Madam Speaker : Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that these are business questions. He does not have to develop his case but must merely ask a question of the Leader of the House and explain in two sentences why he wants a debate next week.
Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore) : I do not wish to ask my usual question about the Shops (Amendment) Bill. Will the Leader of the House consider between now and the time the House returns from the Whitsun recess arranging for a statement to be made on whether the Government intend to go ahead with the Jubilee line? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a number of hon. Members are still without proper offices, and that the Accommodation and Works Committee spent five years devising a plan for the phase 2 development? It is still awaiting a reply and a decision from the Government regarding the Jubilee line. It is high time that the Government made a decision on that matter, in the way that they did yesterday in respect of the crossrail link.
Mr. Newton : A number of the hon. Gentleman's questions were rhetorical because he knows--given that we have attended the same meetings- -that I am well aware of the points that he raised. I imagine that he heard the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about the Jubilee line extension in Prime Minister's Question Time half an hour ago. Obviously, I am not in a position to add to them.
Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West) : Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the possible consequences of the record level of national debt on the sick and poor of this country? Is he aware that many people listened carefully to the remarks of the Chief Secretary last night, which were on the record--no scaremongering? We should have a full debate to reassure the country. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware also that the Chief Secretary's statement is a measure of the Government's mismanagement of the economy by relying too much on receipts from privatisation and neglecting manufacturing industry?
Mr. Newton : I certainly do not accept the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's question, given that his party persistently demands greater expenditure than any allocated to almost anything at any moment--with the possible exception of defence expenditure. When defence spending is reduced, the hon. Gentleman's party complains about that as well. I do not find the hon. Gentleman's remarks very credible, and I will not add to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister a few moments ago.
Several hon. Members rose --
Madam Speaker : Order. We must move on.--[ Hon. Members :-- "Oh."] I must strike a balance between business questions and the debate that is to follow. An unprecedented number of right hon. and hon. Members want to take part in that debate. Business questions have run for more than half an hour, and that is quite long enough. If right hon. and hon. Members had been speedier in putting their questions, and if the responses had been brisker, I would have been able to call more Members. We must learn lessons from that.
Madam Speaker : I remind right hon. and hon. Members that on the motion for the Adjournment of the House on Thursday 27 May up to nine right hon. and hon. Members may raise with Ministers subjects of their own choice. Applications should reach my office by 10pm on Monday next. A ballot will be held on Tuesday morning and the result made known as soon as possible thereafter.
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You were kind enough earlier to call me on the first Northern Ireland question on the Order Paper, which I much appreciated. However, if you examine the list of Northern Ireland questions, you will see that the first Northern Ireland Member to appear in the list is myself, at question 25. My question was followed by a couple from other Northern Ireland Members. If that happened during Scottish questions, and if the first question from a Scottish Member on the Order Paper was No. 25, with the first 24 being from Members from other parts of the United Kingdom, I am sure that there would be uproar.
Is it possible for someone to take a serious look at what is happening? There is evidence of an attempt by Labour Members to pack today's Order Paper with questions. We suspect that Ministers have tried to pack the Order Paper to keep out Northern Ireland Members' questions. Can something be done about it?
Madam Speaker : As the hon. Gentleman and the rest of the House know, questions are placed on the Order Paper according to the ballot system. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly free to see that ballot system, as is every other hon. Member. If he wishes to put the matter to the Select Committee on Procedure, he may do so. It is only right, however, to remind the hon. Gentleman that, despite the fact that the first question from a Northern Ireland Member was No. 25, all the members of his party who were in the House today were called to ask supplementary questions, as were the other Northern Ireland Members present in the Chamber. We must now move on.
European Communities (Amendment) Bill
Order for Third Reading read.--[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified].
[Relevant document : Second Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Session 1992-93 on Europe after Maastricht (House of Commons Paper No. 642).]
Madam Speaker : I remind hon. Members that between 6 o'clock and 8 o'clock I shall have to limit speeches to 10 minutes. I hope that all hon. Members, including Privy Councillors, who speak outside that period will limit their speeches so that as many Members as possible may be called.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. A reasoned amendment has been tabled to the Third Reading and you did not say whether you had selected it. It is a useful amendment, which many people would support if there was an opportunity to vote on it.
Madam Speaker : I am well aware of the amendment and read it carefully a couple of times this morning. I thought that it said exactly what the hon. Member wanted to say and that perhaps he did not want to be called in the debate as he had expressed himself so well. I must tell the hon. Member that I have not been able to select his amendment.
Mr. Hurd : The House last debated the Bill as a whole almost a year ago on Second Reading and gave it a majority of 244. Since then the House has spent 204 hours of debate on the Bill. More than 600 amendments were tabled and the Committee stage took 163 hours during 23 days of detailed debate. So it would be fair to begin by congratulating those hon. Members who were most closely involved on all sides of the argument. Perhaps the House will allow me to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), for his diligence and-- most of the time--for his good humour. I cannot tell, Madam Speaker, but I think that there is a sense of relief in some parts of the House that the ordeal is almost over and that, as the poet observed,
"even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea".
I do not think that the House should be defensive about what has been a remarkable, although complicated, parliamentary endeavour. The Bill has grown from its original three clauses to eight, but without altering its central thrust. Its purpose remains to bring into United Kingdom law, where necessary, those parts of the treaty of Maastricht which give rise to Community rights and obligations.
I will mention again those amendments which deal with the social protocol and, in his reply, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will touch on those that deal with the economic and monetary aspects of the treaty.
Column 382The House has prepared itself more thoroughly than any other Parliament of the Community for the crucial vote tonight. Tonight we shall decide whether to approve the Bill and, through it, the treaty that the Government signed at Maastricht. That decision is with Parliament, not with the Government. The Government will not ratify the treaty unless Parliament passes the necessary legislation. I know that there is a public perception problem. Most of the press--I shall not embroider the point, for it is a general one--have given up reporting debates in the House, although plenty of space is provided for interpretation, gossip and the odd colourful phrase. With the exception of radio, the media have chosen barely to exercise the right for which their predecessors had to fight very hard in the 18th and early 19th century--the right to report what is said and done in the House.
That is a pity. It is a pity on this occasion, too, because the quality of debate on the Bill has been generally high. Anyone, for example, who is interested, as many people are, in establishing what subsidiarity means, or how, for example, the new arrangements under the treaty for co-operation on foreign and security policy will work out, would be hard put to it to find better discussion of those issues anywhere than the one which now appears in the pages of Hansard, on both sides of the argument.
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : Has it occurred to the Secretary of State that the radio and press have not reported these discussions because the public have had no role whatever to play in them? Anybody who has been to Denmark knows that the media there covered the debate extensively. The Maastricht treaty was made available, but in Britain, as the Government chose to keep the public out, there was perhaps no reason why the radio should explain what was going on.
Mr. Hurd : We have chosen to operate--and the House of Commons endorsed this in its vote on the referendum--as a parliamentary democracy. The right hon. Gentleman has frequently and ably set out his views in theory in public, in theory within earshot of his constituents, but in practice not, for the reason that I have given. Those who struggled in the late 18th and early 19th century for the right to report the proceedings of this House would feel, I think, that that is a pity.
In addition, we have had an excellent report on Europe from the Foreign Affairs Select Committee which analyses the implications of the treaty. The House is obliged to the Select Committee for the work that it has done--not just this time, but on earlier occasions. It has also begun to look ahead, as we all should, to the agenda for 1996. After this detailed scrutiny and preparation, the House stands ready to take its decision on the Bill and the treaty as a whole. The Danish people, as the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said, voted decisively in a second referendum on Tuesday in favour of ratifying the treaty, as clarified and amplified by the agreement at Edinburgh. Despite some extraordinary forays from Britain by editors and other distinguished persons, designed to scare the pants off the Danes, the Danes refused to be scared in that way.
Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West) : Is it the position now that if the Danes had said no, the Government and the other countries of Europe would have ganged up against them, as my right hon. Friend so effectively threatened the Danish people?
Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend is doing again what he has done throughout these proceedings--for example, on the European Court of Justice. He is putting words into people's mouths which were never uttered. I would refer my hon. Friend to what I actually said and to what the Prime Minister said subsequently. If the Danes had voted no, I should have spent most of yesterday in Rome with the Danish Minister and the other Ministers of the Community deciding and setting on track, I hope with the Danes, how the 12 members of the Community should react to that event. Fortunately, however, that was not so.
Nine of the other member states of the Community have used an exclusively parliamentary route to ratification, as we have. That is not because both they and we are, in some way, less democratic, but because that is the normal constitutional procedure for the approval of treaties in this country and in those other member states. The House considered the option of a referendum and decisively rejected it.
I shall not go over the argument again. Like others, it was a thorough and principled debate. We decided to do the job for which we were elected rather than to pass that job back to those who sent us here.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) : My right hon. Friend is making an important point. Is he aware of a German poll, which was reported in The Guardian today, which showed that 83 per cent. of the German people wish to have a referendum on the proposed treaty on European union? How can it be said to be inimical to parliamentary democracy for this Parliament, or any other democratic Parliament, to set the question for a referendum and then to judge how the question is decided by the outcome of that referendum as expressed by the people? How is that against parliamentary principles?
Mr. Hurd : We argued that point at length in the House. I cannot remember whether my hon. Friend took part in the debate, but his argument was strongly put. The House came to the conclusion--I am sure rightly--that many people work very hard to elect Members precisely so that we should take decisions of this kind. Therefore, the House was right to follow exactly the line that was taken by my noble Friend Lady Thatcher, when we in the Conservative party voted exactly on those grounds of principle against having a referendum on Europe in 1975.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : The Secretary of State has said at least twice in the past few minutes that we do things differently from Common Market countries that have had referendums because we are a parliamentary democracy, in which we debate Bills differently. That has been the solid argument of the Government for refusing a referendum. Why is it that when a majority of hon. Members in this so-called parliamentary democracy decide to accept the social chapter, the Foreign Secretary says from the Dispatch Box, "I don't care how many people vote for it, we are going to ignore it"? In this tin-pot parliamentary democracy, the British people cannot have a referendum and if something is passed that the Government do not like they say, "Get stuffed."
Mr. Hurd : We have never accepted a proposal that would include the social chapter in the treaty or impose burdens on this country. I will come to that. The only time that the House voted on the substance of the matter, it rejected the social chapter on the reasoned amendment that was proposed by the Labour party.
I want to look at the background of the wider scene of the discussion and the decision. The negotiations leading up to the treaty were launched at a time of tremendous change in Europe. They followed the liberation of central and eastern Europe and the peaceful reunification of Germany and during the negotiations the Soviet empire collapsed. It is no secret that we would have preferred to have waited for such events to settle and for the completion of the single market before setting out on the negotiations. The treaty that resulted is a genuine attempt to strengthen the framework for European co-operation in such a way as to reflect the importance of the Community in this new Europe.
We need to become more effective in promoting our shared interests in the world. We need to co-operate more effectively against crime and illegal immigration. We need to tackle shared environmental problems. We need to make the single market work effectively. Above all, we need, as Europeans, to tackle the main political and economic burden that is needed to buttress reform and democracy in the eastern part of the continent. The decision that we take tonight will obviously be important for us and for Europe.
I do not think that the treaty is constitutionally more radical or innovative than the Single European Act, which the House approved in 1986. It is not the blueprint for a European super-state. Of course, there are some significant figures who continue to believe that the Community should develop into a united states of Europe. Commissioner Bangemann, for example, is always anxious to share his thoughts with us and they are constantly picked up, especially by Conservative Members. There are others who share his views.
It does not require a shock-horror lead story on the front page of The Sunday Telegraph to reveal that the Belgian Prime Minister is a federalist. During the Maastricht negotiations the Dutch Government set out, in good faith, a centralised model for the treaty, with a single Executive and most co-operation made subject to the authority of the European Court of Justice. That model was unacceptable to us and was rejected by most of our partners. Instead, we agreed to proceed on the basis of the "pillar" structure, including intergovernmental co-operation, which is contained in the treaty and which the House has discussed for many hours.
The treaty is not the final word in the development of the Community. There will continue to be differing views in all member states, which is perfectly healthy. We must continue to argue our case strongly. But the treaty, in contrast to its predecessors, marks an advance for our approach. Others will continue to hold views that I regard as old-fashioned--for example, that the only respectable way forward for Europe is that of steady integration and centralisation. We believe differently and the public across
Column 385Europe increasingly express a different opinion, as does the treaty. The debate will continue ; we should not be dismayed by it. If we consider the hours of discussion in the House, we see that the Bill has been assailed by two main groups of critics.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Does the Foreign Secretary accept that those who want a federal set-up--be they abroad or the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath)--see the treaty as the basis for creating, in a short period, a centralised, federal state of Europe modelled very much on the United States of Europe? The third stage of the treaty contains powers that provide the basis for that vision. Why is not the Foreign Secretary as honest with the House as the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup?
Mr. Hurd : We are both entirely honest in putting forward differing views on the future of Europe. Those who think in the way described by the hon. Gentleman will continue to argue their case as they are entitled to do --I have mentioned some of them by name. We shall continue to argue our case. I hope that I am making it clear that the sort of Europe for which we are arguing is theone that will exist and that will be based on the treaty that we are asking the House to enable us to ratify. The evidence to support my assertion is constantly piling up.
Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West) rose
Sir Teddy Taylor rose--
Sir Teddy Taylor : Before the Foreign Secretary leaves the issue of the protocol and his great respect for parliamentary sovereignty, will he state whether there has ever been a time in the history of Parliament when the House of Commons has acted as it has over the protocol? It voted to show that it did not want taxpayers' money to be used for a particular purpose--to pay for the social chapter of the other 11 members--but, despite that clear vote on the protocol, the Government have said that they will use taxpayers' money for that purpose.
Mr. Hurd : We will use taxpayers' money in the legal ways for which provision is made. My hon. Friend makes a specific point about administrative expenses. I have discussed the matter with him on the Floor of the House and in correspondence on several occasions. He certainly knows how we intend to proceed if any administrative expenses are incurred as a result of the social protocol. Clearly, we must act in line with the provisions approved by the House under different Acts.
Mr. Randall rose--
In the House, the Bill has been assailed by two groups of critics whose avowed objectives were incompatible, but who were prepared to make common cause from time to time to seek to damage the Government or the treaty. The Labour party has shown itself to be obsessed by just one aspect of the treaty, the social chapter. It knows that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister could not have fulfilled the mandate given to him by the House had he signed the social chapter. It knows that almost every member state has now ratified the treaty containing the social protocol which excludes the United Kingdom from the effect of the agreement of the Eleven.
It knows that at the last election it put forward such corporatist policies, but was not elected. If it wants to pursue such policies it would be better for it to seek a mandate through the front door rather than try to smuggle in such policies through the back door. Our view remains unchanged. We believe that Britain and the Community as a whole will be better off without the damaging provisions of the social chapter. I shall briefly set out our case yet again. At present, in social affairs and employment law, the treaty of Rome gives the Community specific power to legislate by qualified majority vote on minimum standards of health and safety for workers. If other action is suggested in the social sphere, it has to be on the basis of unanimity. The social agreement of the Eleven would extend the use of qualified majority voting to new areas, including working conditions, informing and consulting workers, and the equal treatment of men and women. If it had been adopted for the Community as a whole, it would have provided more scope for Community action to centralise policies in which, because of the strongly differing experiences and traditions of member states, we believe that the principle of subsidiarity should apply. I have been asked several times to specify.
We believe that a range of unwelcome legislation could be imposed on the British Parliament, including a compulsory model for worker consultation in British firms, a rigid framework for rules and conditions of employment, costly new restrictions on part-time workers, and the notion that, in sex discrimination cases, employers should in effect be considered guilty rather than innocent. Furthermore, the trade unions are clearly watching the provisions of the social charter, which would allow Europe-wide deals between unions and employers' groups, which may or may not be representative, and for those deals to be transformed into Community law without United Kingdom Government or parliamentary involvement. In short, we believe and argue that the provisions could place in jeopardy many of the achievements of the past 14 years in freeing our labour market from restrictions that destroy jobs.
Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central) : Will the Secretary of State explain why he believes that the social chapter would be so much more damaging to this country than other member states believe it would be to their economies? Will he join me in condemning the advertisements that have recently appeared in the German press, extolling the virtues of our low wages and low national insurance contributions and encouraging German firms to invest in this country on that basis? Why
Column 387is he equating us with third-world economies? Why will not he adopt the social chapter and allow our workers to have the same rights as others so that they can compete equally with other EC member states?
Mr. Hurd : We do not want our economy to suffer from the high costs that are causing such harm to the German economy at the moment. [Interruption.] Members of Labour's Front Bench are hopelessly out of date. If they were following the debate on the continent, they would know that the Commission, the Germans, the new French Government and many other people are concerned about European competitiveness and the high labour costs--wages plus other costs--which European employers are having to shoulder in comparison to those in the United States, Japan and Asian countries.
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) : If that is true--if Britain offers less protection to people at work, lower standards of safety and health at work and lower wages--why have other economies done so much better than ours?
Mr. Hurd : I would say, "Watch that space." That is not what is happening at the moment. The right hon. Gentleman-- [Interruption.] We are emerging from recession more quickly than most commentators, and certainly the Opposition, expected. Part of the reason may be the fact that our labour market is organised not to put such extra burdens on employers.
In answer to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson), who said that we were isolated, I quote from a statement made on 3 May by Mr. Carlos Ferrer, the president of UNICE--the Union of Industrial and Employers Confederations of Europe--to Employment and Social Affairs Ministers. He set out a long series of criticisms and demands, which are summed up in the phrase that he used to the assembled Community Ministers :
"Please stop taking measures which unnecessarily destroy jobs." He is not an Englishman, but the head of the European employers' organisation, and he makes our point exactly.
Mr. Hurd : The European employers have been a little slow to realise what is afoot. I strongly advise right hon. and hon. Members to read what was said. The critique here--rather belatedly put forward, I agree, but very cogently argued--is exactly what Conservative Members have constantly urged and supplies the reason why we did not join the social chapter. We are adhering to that position and will continue to do so.