The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) : With permission, I should like to make ashort statement. Following representations through the usual channels, the business for Thursday 19 May has been changed and will now be as follows.
Thursday 19 May----Motion on the Coal Industry (Restructuring Grants) Order.
Motion on the Value Added Tax (Education) Order.
Motion on the Railways Pension Scheme Order.
Motion on the Railway Pension (Protection and Designation of Schemes) Order.
The business for Monday 23 May will be announced on Thursday in the usual way, but it may help the House to know that it is likely to include the Third Reading of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill, followed by other Government business.
Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland) : I thank the Leader of the House for his statement and for so readily agreeing to change Thursday's business so that hon. Members who wish to do so can be in Edinburgh on Friday. I also thank the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues for suspending campaigning for the European elections until after the funeral.
Mr. Newton : The warmth of the House's reception for the right hon. Gentleman shows both its welcome for his remarks and its pleasure at his breaking the normally Trappist vow of the individual who holds his office.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the generosity of his remarks and the way in which we have been able to co-operate on that matter and on another on which the Government planned to make a statement today, which the right hon. Gentleman and I discussed on Friday.
I remind my right hon. Friend that we lost the Report and Third Reading stages of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill last Thursday. Can he say when that business is likely to come forward ?
Mr. Newton : Perhaps I can be helpful by saying that I anticipate that it will be included in the business that I shall announce on Thursday. We are still giving that matter consideration, so I should not wish that to be taken as an absolute commitment.
arrangements--particularly those of Scottish Members. I have my sleeper booked already.
Does the Leader of the House acknowledge that some of the motions tabled for Thursday are contentious ? It would be helpful for the dispatch of Thursday's business if the right hon. Gentleman can say something about the timetabling of those motions.
Mr. Newton : I am not in a position to say anything off the cuff, but I hope to take the generally constructive posture of the Opposition Chief Whip, in indicating that there might be co-operation through the usual channels on agreeing something reasonably tidy in that respect. I will certainly do my best.
Mr. Peter Thurnham, supported by Dame Peggy Fenner, Mr. John McFall, Mr. John Fraser, Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith, Sir Gerard Vaughan, Mr. A.J.Beith, Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones, Mr. Paul Boateng, Mr. Colin Shepherd, Mr. Dudley Fishburn and Mr. Patrick Nicholls, presented a Bill to make provision for persons bound by covenants of a tenancy to be released from such covenants on the assignment of the tenancy, and to make other provision with respect to rights and liabilities arising under such covenants ; to restrict in certain circumstances the operation of rights of re-entry, forfeiture and disclaimer ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 20 May, and to be printed. [Bill 111.]
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It will be brief, and I apologise for making it today. There is a feeling on both sides of the House that--given your great interest in preserving the rights of hon. Members--you might wish at some stage to comment on the view that, over the past two or three weeks, private Members' time and private Members' business have been interfered with in an unwarranted way. Two weeks ago, a Bill that would have given disabled people rights
Mr. Sheerman : I remember your being there, Madam Speaker. The feeling is that the Government are now organising business in a way that almost undermines private Members' time and private Members' Bills. I have heard the matter being discussed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Will you make a statement, Madam Speaker, or talk to the relevant Committees in order to make some headway ? There is a feeling that our rights as Members of Parliament are currently being undermined by the Government.
Madam Speaker : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was present on Friday, when I was in the Chair and several hon. Members raised the issue. I understand that a number of hon. Members have already written to the Procedure Committee about the whole procedure of dealing with private Members' Bills. I anxiously await the Committee's report, in which I am as interested as the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is on the same subject. May I point out that the problem with private Members' Bills arises every year ? It is in the very nature of private Members' Bills that if they are controversial, it is always difficult to get them through ; I must point out, however, that when the Select Committee on Sittings of the House--which I have the honour to chair--sat just over two years ago, there were no representations for the procedure for private Members' Bills to be changed.
Madam Speaker : The right hon. Gentleman has been in the House for a long time, and is very experienced in these matters. I am as aware as he is of some of the difficulties that the House runs into from time to time in regard to contentious issues.
[Relevant documents : White Paper on Developments in the European Community July to December 1993 (Cm 2525) and the Commission's White Paper on Growth, Competitiveness and Employment (Supplement 6/93 to the Bulletin of the European Communities).
Madam Speaker : Before I call the Minister to open the Adjournment debate, may I appeal to the House ? A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House will be taking a great deal of interest in the debate. I do not wish to impose a 10-minute limit on speeches, but I ask hon. Members to exercise voluntary restraint in regard to the length of their speeches.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory) : I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State apologises for not being present ; he is attending a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels. He had hoped that the discussion on Bosnia would allow him to return in time for the debate, but, for other reasons, it has had to be delayed until this afternoon.
We are to debate two White Papers, one on developments in the European Community during the last six months of last year and the other on the European economy. If there is a common theme running through both papers, it is making the European Union work better. The Maastricht treaty came into effect in November last year, after clearing its final hurdles in the German constitutional court. Our aim now is to make a success of it. Implementing the treaty means curbing the itch to legislate, and seeking Community instruments that are simpler and clearer. It also means putting into practice the second and third pillars of the Union, so that member states can tackle issues of foreign policy, justice, and home affairs on a basis of more effective intergovernmental co-operation.
The Uruguay round of the general agreement on tariffs and trade was also completed successfully last year, in December. The Government strongly supported the efforts of Sir Leon Brittan, the Trade Commissioner, who conducted negotiations on behalf of the 12 member states. It was vital for us that the European Union maintain its free-trading vocation, remaining committed to dismantling trade barriers not just within the Community but worldwide. It was not easy to overcome the protectionist tendencies of some other member states, but there is no doubt that--as with previous GATT rounds--this round will deliver a powerful boost to world prosperity.
Figures are obviously only estimates, but a recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development study estimated that an increase in world income of about US $270 billion could result from the Uruguay round. The industrialised and developing world will benefit from increased trade flows and there will be better rules for settling trade disputes.
Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth) : Will the Minister admit that countries that are highly dependent on trade in cane sugar, for example, have come out of the GATT round extremely badly ? They are 20 per cent. worse off than they were when they received special concessions from the European Community. Is not the throwing away of our
Column 557responsibilities to small banana and cane sugar producing countries the reason why some of us are cynical about the way in which GATT works ?
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : Under the Lome conventions, we have a number of legal obligations to assist certain developing countries. The hon. Gentleman mentioned bananas and sugar, but the agreements, if modified, can be reconciled with the free-trading objectives of the Uruguay round. It was noticeable that the developing world was enthusiastic about the Uruguay round ; it sees a great deal to gain overall in a freeing up of world trade.
The European Commission, negotiating on behalf of the 12 member states, deserves our thanks for the persistence with which it conducted those negotiations, but the self-discipline of the 12 member states made an agreement possible. We hope to introduce and to give effect to the World Trade Organisation ; the agreement was signed in Marrakesh and is due to come into force on 1 January next year.
During those negotiations, another feature of the economy was at the top of the British agenda for Europe--unemployment and the need to tackle the associated question of competitiveness in world markets. In the past, we have discussed competitiveness in Europe, but we also need to ask whether Europe is competitive in world terms and, if not, what we can do about it. Similarly, unemployment in Europe has been under-debated and has not received enough attention.
A change of emphasis is noticeable, particularly among those in Europe whose vision of the future has hitherto been about creating new institutions. The value of institutions lies not in theory, but in what they do, what they deliver and how effective they are. We believe in creating a people's Europe, not a Europe for bureaucrats and politicians. That means responding to people's day-to-day concerns about jobs, security, crime and the need for budgetary discipline and action against waste and fraud. That has meant patient work in the Council of Ministers with other member states that share our aims in particular areas of policy.
For instance, the Maastricht treaty gives full legal status to subsidiarity. That means that decisions will be taken by member states unless the policy objectives require action at Community level, as was the case with the GATT negotiations. To give effect to that principle, last year the British and French Governments submitted a joint list of directives to be withdrawn, amended or repealed. Most of them were accepted and the Commission is now working up details for implementation.
We will keep up the pressure and the Commission will produce another report by the end of this year. I know that the German presidency, which starts on 1 July, attaches the same high priority to making subsidiarity work in practice and to turning the words of the treaty into action.
The White Paper on the European economy is in many ways a disturbing document. There are 20 million people unemployed in the European Union and the number has been rising at every turn of the business cycle over the past 30 years. Even in good years, growth in Europe has delivered far fewer new jobs than in economies elsewhere in the world. Last year, member states were invited to submit papers on growth, competitiveness and employment. Ours was the first to be published--we submitted it
Column 558in July last year. Many of its themes were incorporated into the final Commission White Paper, which is one of the subjects of today's debate.
Europe has become a high-cost continent. Action is needed to lighten the burden of regulations, to improve the flexibility of labour markets, to avoid excessive social costs and to improve training. Action is also needed to complete the single market and enforce the rules on competition. In December last year, the European Council adopted just such an action plan. The Commission is now to conduct an audit of existing legislation in terms of its effect on employment.
There is a feeling, which is now widely shared, that well-meaning legislation has imposed uncosted burdens on industry and business.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire) : Has my hon. Friend read the report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development which was published about two years ago and said that non-wage employment costs were the biggest single cause of unemployment in France which is now at its highest level in absolute terms ?
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : Yes, non-wage labour costs are sometimes startlingly high in Europe, which is undoubtedly a contributory cause of unemployment. When I said that the feeling was widely shared, I included thoughts from the OECD's report and other studies that offer the same conclusion. There is no doubt that the result of such burdens and costs has been higher unemployment in Europe and firms becoming less competitive in world markets. In other words, over-regulation leads to unemployment.
Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest) : Does my hon. Friend agree that the ability of different communities to create jobs is a matter not merely of wage costs caused by social regulation but of the imposition of taxation ? The proportion of gross national product taken in taxation in Europe varies between 36 and 45 per cent., whereas the United States takes only about 31 per cent. and Japan 29 per cent ? It is precisely those countries which have been most successful in creating jobs.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : I could have said that Europe is becoming a high-cost and high-taxation continent, and something must be done about both. However, over-regulation was the subject of my remarks. I was drawing attention to the fact that the Government are tackling the problem at the national level. We believe that it must be tackled with the same vigour in the Community.
It was clear at the very successful Anglo-German summit last month that many of the concerns about cost, taxation and over-regulation are shared by the German Government and, as they will be taking over the presidency on 1 July, I think that we can look forward to further deregulation initiatives in the latter half of the year.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : Does my hon. Friend agree that, apart from the problems of high costs and high taxation, which are part of the European set-up, we also have a serious problem with vicious protectionism ? Does he recall our correspondence about the crazy restrictions recently placed by the European Community on trade with China which have knocked on the head two firms--PMS. and Hi-Tec--in Southend ? They have been
Column 559instructed to reduce their business by 75 per cent. which will mean the loss of jobs as a direct result of European protectionism.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : I recall the correspondence with my hon. Friend. He will know that we did our best at the Council meeting concerned further to liberalise trade and to dismantle the restrictions to which he has referred. He will agree that barriers have come down and that restrictions have been removed on trade between the two countries, although not as far and as fast as he would like. I know that the firm in his constituency had been put at a disadvantage by the remaining barriers to trade.
The action plan agreed last year at the Brussels summit did not tackle only cost and regulation ; it also includes measures to make the single market work better. A high-level group is to co-ordinate work on energy and transport networks. A separate group is studying information networks and we hope that that will lead to rapid moves further to liberalise the European telecommunications market. Many of these are long-term measures, but interim reports will be made to the European Council meeting next month in Corfu and further reports will be made by the end of the year, by which time we wish to see real progress.
Other areas in which the citizens of Europe want action are international crime, terrorism, drugs, money laundering and illegal immigration. Those are dealt with in the so-called third pillar of the Union through co- operation between Governments. Good progress has already been made and, in particular, the EUROPOL drugs unit started work in February to analyse and exchange intelligence on drug trafficking and related crimes.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary recently launched an initiative to crack down on fraud in the Community, again using the new procedures available under the Maastricht treaty. European taxpayers have the right to know that their money is being properly applied and that waste, mismanagement and fraud are being dealt with. The European Parliament has new powers in this area to ensure that money is accounted for and that the reports of the European Court of Auditors are taken seriously and followed up. Indeed, the European Parliament now has wider powers to check the legislative process. They can help us to redefine the work of the Community so that what needs to be done is done better, through fewer, clearer instruments which are then properly complied with and properly enforced.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : The second item on the Order Paper today is a motion on a report of the Court of Auditors on the environment. Why was it 16 months before that report was presented to European Standing Committee A, by which time it was outdated ? The Committee was so incensed that the motion before it was defeated. Today's motion must either be accepted or objected to, and we cannot discuss it on the Floor of the House. If we are concerned about the report of the Court of Auditors, should not the matter be discussed on the Floor of the House ?
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : If the hon. Member has complaints about procedure, he would do better to direct them to the business managers. My point, which I repeat, is that reports from the European Court of Auditors, which
Column 560have tended to be largely ignored in the past, are now to be followed up and implemented. In addition, the European Parliament has certain powers to ensure that that happens.
Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington) : Does not the interesting example raised by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) underline a rather important home truth about the European Union, which is that national Parliaments and the European Parliament should regard each other as complementary rather than as necessarily conflicting ? Together, they can add to the sum total of public accountability.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : My hon. Friend makes a fair point. The real debate in Europe now is how the new powers are to be used ; that is the importance of the European elections. People now have the chance to put in Members who will utilise the new powers and, where necessary, work with their colleagues of similar parties in national Parliaments to achieve the same ends.
I return to the future of the Community and, in particular, enlargement. I am pleased that the European Parliament recently approved the agreement to admit Austria, Norway, Sweden and Finland to membership of the Union. The way is now clear for signature of the accession treaty, probably at the next European Council meeting in Greece, and a Bill to enable United Kingdom ratification will be introduced to Parliament in due course, certainly in time to meet the deadline of the end of the year. All that, of course, is subject to the referendums that must be held in each of those four states and for them to decide if they wish to join.
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye) : What assessment has the Minister or the Foreign Office generally made of the damage that was done by the position of the British Government and others in the qualified majority voting fiasco to the subsequent referendums in the potential member states ?
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : Our assessment is that it has done no damage at all. It shows that important national interests can be protected and that agreements can be reached. That should be of assurance to new countries coming in, which have a well-developed sense of statehood.
The whole process of enlargement fulfils a long-standing British ambition. Indeed, we started the ball rolling on the current round of enlargement at the Edinburgh Council meeting of 1992. The negotiations for enlargement were tough and a number of member states had important interests to defend. We protected our fisheries, we kept our budget rebate intact and, yes, we reached agreement to protect minority positions in the Council of Ministers when votes are taken by qualified majority. Just to avoid any misunderstanding, let me emphasise that that issue was about majority voting.
We will continue to insist that, on vital national
interests--matters such as taxation, defence, foreign policy, immigration, treaty changes and so on--unanimous voting will continue to be required. I realise that that is the difference between the parties. The Opposition wish to extend majority voting, and they have said so on a number of occasions, but we do not.
We look forward to the four new countries joining on 1 January next year, if possible. Of course, they will not all share our views, but they are free traders and they are used
Column 561to making their way in the world. They will be contributors to the budget, so they will share our views on the importance of budgetary discipline. They all have a keenly developed sense of statehood, with strong national parliaments. All of them are committed to good government and a European Union based on the rule of law.
Mr. Winnick : In view of what the Minister has just said, is he aware that there is increasing concern, certainly in this country, over the fact that, in the new Italian cabinet, five members are clearly pro-fascist and in the second tier of 37 Ministers, 12 are associated with fascism ?
Bearing in mind the fact that, as I have said in exchanges with the Foreign Office, next year will be the 50th anniversary of the defeat of fascism, when we will be celebrating--not commemorating, but celebrating--the end of the war against fascism, does not the Minister recognise that the answer that he gave me in the previous Foreign Office questions was very complacent indeed and that we should be concerned--however it came about-- that there are fascist Ministers and Cabinet Ministers in one of the leading member countries ?
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : I do not recall that the hon. Gentleman complained when we used to do business with Communists and Marxists, some them with extremely disagreeable records on human rights. At Government level--I include the previous Labour Government--we frequently have meetings with the leaders of east European countries and the countries of the former Soviet Union, most of whom were hardline Communists, with extremely poor records on the treatment of human rights.
I shall repeat the point that I made, possibly to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), at a Question Time. It is for the Italians to decide, under their democracy, whom they elect. If they elect a Government and they are committed to the constitution and duly elected, we will do business with them.
Mr. Enright : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it in order for a Minister to attack an hon. Member of the House for taking positions which he has never taken ? For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has always
Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is not raising a point of order with me. He is putting to me a point of argument and frustration. If Opposition Members catch my eye, they will be able to put matters in another perspective.
Column 562dictatorships and totalitarian movements if they were communist. That is a lie, and the Minister should withdraw his statement.
Madam Speaker : That is a matter for debate, not a point of order. If the hon. Member feels that he has been done an injustice by the Minister, he may seek to catch my eye and to set the record, as he believes it to be, absolutely correct.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory rose
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : I am not disputing the hon. Gentleman's record of standing up for human rights. I made the separate point that he and his hon. Friends did not complain when the Government, and the Labour Government, used to do business at official level with communist countries and Marxist states, all of which had deplorable records on human rights.
My final point is that if we make a success
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not giving way. I have begun my concluding remarks and I wish to adhere to Madam Speaker's injunction that we try to keep our remarks relatively brief.
A successful enlargement this time round will, we hope, pave the way for future rounds of enlargement. Recently, two more countries--Hungary and Poland--applied for membership. Already, Malta and Cyprus are being considered. Those developments raise important questions about institutional reform and finance--questions that go well beyond the scope of today's debate. We welcome, however, the prospect of reuniting Europe, its having been divided by communism for nearly 50 years.
We reject a European Union that is rigid, centralised and incomplete. We share with other countries a view of Europe that is diverse, outward looking and able to face common challenges with confidence. I believe that the events of the past six months and more have taken us further in that direction.
Ms Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East) : The debate, when first planned, would have coincided with the opening shots in the European election campaign. That is no longer the position because of the tragic death of John Smith last week.
The debate allows us, however, to advance our views on what we see as the development of the European Union, to comment on the documents that are before us and to show that there is an alternative to the Government's approach and that we have many positive ideas for the way forward.
I welcome the debate, but its timing is unfortunate for practical reasons. It is rather odd that the debate coincides with the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels. That being so, it is rather difficult to influence any of the discussions that the Foreign Secretary might be having with his counterparts. In terms of our ability to influence today's meeting, it is a matter not of one minute to midnight but of one minute after midnight.
The Minister raised various issues, one of the most important being the enlargement of the European Union, to