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Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr) : May I add my welcome for the encouragement that my right hon. Friend is giving, in hard cash terms, to conifer planting ? Does he agree that the Scottish climate is ideally suited to rapid growth ? Does he acknowledge that the statement is good for the timber industry as it will secure indigenous supplies ? Does he also acknowledge that, in the long term, the deal is good for the economy as it will reduce import costs ?
Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I am grateful for his welcome. Indeed, it has come to my notice that conifer trees grow about three times faster in some parts of western Scotland than they do in Scandinavia and that they are of better quality for the purposes of our wood processors.
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : I welcome the central point of the Secretary of State's statement about keeping the forest in public ownership, and I pay tribute to the part played by the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), in achieving that.
Since the Secretary of State and I share representation of the Galloway forest, which is one of the largest in Scotland, can he assure me that the jobs and conditions of service of those people who work so hard on behalf of Forest Enterprise and the commission, at Straiton in my constituency and throughout the forest, will be safeguarded when the next steps agency is set up ?
Mr. Lang : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome, and I join him in paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State who is responsible for forestry matters for his extremely wise and sensible advice as we developed the proposal.
On the future of employment in the forestry industry, with more and more trees reaching maturity, as we are approaching harvesting time, and with the increased planting activities that I envisage as a result of the better focused and increased grants, employment is likely to rise rather than fall.
Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will be warmly welcomed by those of us in north Worcestershire who have a close attachment to the magnificent woodlands after which my constituency is named ? He mentioned increased grants for broadleaf planting in his statement, but said that the grants would be subject to certain densities. Is there a case for, and will he consider, eliminating that condition for broadleaf grants in areas of outstanding natural beauty where high densities may not be appropriate ?
Mr. Lang : I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his welcome. While we are seeking higher densities of about 2,250 trees per hectare for broadleaf grants, a density of 1,100 trees per hectare may be acceptable for new native
Column 189woodlands in appropriate sites, or for small -scale planting of broadleaf trees where there is little potential for timber production--normally, as discrete woodlands of less than three hectares, or as components of predominantly coniferous planting schemes. I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : Can the Secretary of State give us a guarantee that, as a result of his announcement, the public will not lose access rights to any more forests in the United Kingdom ?
Mr. Lang : I have no doubt that the new access agreements that we have introduced today, and the rich diversity of measures that we are taking to encourage increased access to Forestry Commission and private sector woodland, will lead to considerably improved opportunities for access. I cannot, of course, give the hon. Gentleman any absolute and categorical guarantees, because the ultimate decisions are largely for the purchasers and for local authorities. Emphasising the role of local authorities and making their task so much easier will lead to many more productive access agreements being reached.
Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow) : My right hon. Friend instanced the millions of people who enjoy our woodlands. I wonder whether he has yet had time to consider how hundreds of thousands of those same people might become investors in forestry if the Treasury could be persuaded to put the rules affecting such investment on an equal footing with investment in other productive industries.
Mr. Lang : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his welcome and I note his suggestion, which is essentially a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, much more planting is taking place at the hands of the private sector than at the hands of the Forestry Commission, and hon. Members will recognise the good sense of that.
Mr. Eric Clarke (Midlothian) : May I ask a question that I have asked Ministers before about research establishments, particularly the one in my constituency in the Bush estate ? The Secretary of State omitted to mention research establishments in his statement, which I support, with qualification. What is the future for research establishments ? Must they wait on the public efficiency drive on all establishments which has been proposed by the Government ?
Mr. Lang : I did not mention research establishments in my statement because it was not concerned with that aspect of the Forestry Commission, but my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will have taken note of the hon. Gentleman's comments.
Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie) : Will the Secretary of State do anything to safeguard consumers'interests in relation to two particular aspects of his statement ? First, how will we know whether the freedom to roam is safeguarded and promoted ? Secondly, with regard to forestry grants, the Secretary of State will know that the previous system was a disaster in terms of speculation. In the present system, planting has been flat. Is there not a case for giving power to an existing or new
Column 190body to speak on behalf of the people to guarantee their freedom to roam and that the investment system is working in the public interest ?
Mr. Lang : If by consumers the hon. Gentleman means visitors to our forests, we keep a record of the number of visitors to commission forests. At present, there are some 50 million visits a year. It would be relatively straightforward to continue to keep tabs on the progress of numbers. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to suggest the creation of a new body. I have not noticed any shortage of bodies willing to proclaim themselves the spokesman for environmental interests, ramblers, walkers, mountaineers and all those people who take an interest in our forests. They lack no opportunity to make their views heard.
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) : How incompatible are the access agreements involving private woodland owners with the deeply unpopular trespass provisions in criminal justice legislation ? Where an access agreement is signed, will hikers, anglers and others be protected against the liberal employment of those deeply unpopular trespass provisions ?
Mr. Lang : The provisions to which the hon. Gentleman refers are in the Criminal Justice Bill, and they are not essentially a matter for me. They are aimed not at those people who seek simply to enjoy the land, but at those who invade other people's land with objectives that are damaging to the interests of owners and other users of that land. That is a different matter.
Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute) : May I join the Secretary of State in congratulating the Forestry Commission and its staff on their excellent work, particularly in the past 10 to 15 years ? Will he tell us, because he has not made it clear, who will give local authorities, if they are to be responsible for access and maintenance of access to forests that are sold into private ownership, the resources to carry out that task ?
I am sorry to hear that the disposal programme is continuing. It seems like continuing privatisation by the back door. If it does continue, what will happen to forests such as those around Lochgoilhead in my constituency, which were gifted to the Forestry Commission by the old Glasgow corporation for the enjoyment of the people of Glasgow ? I hardly think that the Government have any right to sell off those forests.
Mr. Lang : I assure the hon. Lady that, even if the present disposal programme continued at its present rate, it would take another 100 years before disposal of the commission's forest woodlands would be complete. A new classification system has been introduced to ensure that forests and woods that are most in demand for access are the least likely to be sold, so I envisage that the problem will largely dissipate as an issue.
Local authorities will be responsible not for carrying out maintenance but for considering whether to ask for an access agreement to be written into a sale. The commission will make it as easy as possible for them to do so by drawing up draft agreements, by allowing longer for consultation, by paying legal fees and by involving heritage bodies, such as Scottish Natural Heritage, in the consideration of such matters.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) : May I press the Secretary of State on that very simple point ? The Welsh Select Committee prepared a report last year, from which the Minister will see that numerous local authorities throughout Wales said that they wanted to enter into access agreements but could not afford to do so. Unless this core point is addressed, we are wasting time talking about public access. Who will appoint the chief executive ? Finally, I add my voice to that of others who have welcomed the broad thrust of the statement that forestry should remain in the public sector, but I am concerned about the words in it "at this stage".
The main cost that a local authority will bear is the legal cost of drawing up an access agreement. I have indicated that the Forestry Commission will pay those costs.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have not successive Speakers deprecated from the Chair reference to applications for private notice questions ? Is it not a little bit much to be told quite clearly by the Prime Minister at Question Time that we did not get a statement on the important issues involved in the decision to appoint the Luxembourg Prime Minister, Mr. Santer, rather than the Belgian Prime Minister, Mr. Dehaene, because we did not apply for private notice questions. Is this not a rather new doctrine ? Supposing I were to put one in tomorrow-- would I be lucky ?
Madam Speaker : In answer to the last question, I think not. On the first question, it is not for me to interpret what the Prime Minister said. We all need to be clear about that. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman, as I will, will read the Official Report tomorrow to see whether his interpretation is correct.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am aware of your concern about access to the House for all people, including disabled people. I am also aware of your desire to inquire into any alleged abuse of the House. I just tried to book a small dining room for a party of disabled constituents at the end of November, only to find that no booking is free until next year. I would not have been concerned about that, if I had not this morning received from a constituent a Team 1000 document, which says that, if one pays £1,000 to the Conservative party, one can dine in the House of Commons on a regular basis. This is a letter from the chairman of the Conservative party, with an accompanying note from the Prime Minister.
Last year, 1,399 bookings were made by Conservative Members and only 167 by Labour Members. During the summer recess, will you please inquire into what is happening, when people can pay £1,000 and buy access to here but my constituents cannot do so ?
Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman is telling me that he cannot book a dining room between now and next year. I think that he should refer the matter to the Catering Committee. I will do so myself, but it is also incumbent on the hon. Gentleman to do so.
Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman began his point of order by saying that no room was available for him to entertain constituents between now and next year, but that at the same time rooms are being advertised. There is obviously something wrong. I suggest that he refers the entire matter to the Chairman of the Catering Committee, who is responsible, and I shall do so myself. Therefore, there will be a two- pronged effect, and a very effective two-pronged effect at that.
Column 193last week that the rules of the House would be upheld. Have you seen the list of Members to be appointed to the Privileges Committee ? Have you noticed
Madam Speaker : Order. There is nothing disorderly about that. We shall reach that subject later tonight, and the hon. Gentleman can make his views known then. It is not a matter to be dealt with now. It is on the Order Paper to be dealt with at the appropriate time.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : With reference to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), would it be possible to consider the wider issue and the way in which the House of Commons is increasingly being used purely and simply for commercial purposes ? Apart from being used by the Conservative party, the dining rooms are hired by hon. Members on behalf of various commercial organisations--in some cases hon. Members receive money, and in others they do not. Is it not undesirable for dining rooms of the House of Commons--the representative assembly of the British people--to be used sometimes for commercial purposes ?
Madam Speaker : I am hoping that the reference that I promised to make to the Chairman of the Catering Committee--the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) will do likewise--will be looked into. That issue relates to the original point of order.
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), Madam Speaker. Without going into specifics, could you give us guidance as to whether there are any circumstances in which it is in order for people to sell tickets for £1,000 or any other price to eat in the Houses of Parliament ?
Madam Speaker : I want to see all the information before I am prepared to comment on that. I am sure that the hon. Member for Huddersfield will let my office have that information as soon as possible.
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As for doing things properly, when approached by a lobby organisation to book one of the rooms downstairs that we use for afternoon teas and other things, is it in order for an hon. Member like me to do so on behalf of the trade unions and the workers at Rosyth ? That is just what I have done within the past two weeks, and it seems to be a proper use of lobbying and Parliament.
Column 194One should be careful before one makes charges against individual Conservative Members who believe that they are carrying out their parliamentary duties.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sorry to press you on the matter, but can I ask you a direct question ? Do you believe that there would be a conflict of interests on the Privileges Committee in the event of the motion being carried ? The hon. Member for Shipley
Madam Speaker : Order. I will not hear anything further from the hon. Gentleman. I ask him to resume his seat. We can discuss that matter later tonight as it is on the Order Paper. [Interruption.] Order. The hon. Gentleman knows precisely our procedures ; he may well take action this evening, but it is not for him to take action now, as we have not reached that stage on the Order Paper.
-- Rev. Martin Smyth, supported by Mr. Alfred Morris, Mr. James Molyneaux, Dr. Joe Hendron, Mr. Ken Maginnis, Rev. William McCrae, Mr. William Ross, Mr. Roy Beggs, and Mr. Clifford Forsythe, presented a Bill to prohibit, in Northern Ireland, discrimination against disabled persons on the grounds of their disability ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon 21 October, and to be printed. [Bill 154.]
Mr. William Cash, supported by Sir Michael Neubert, Mr. Michael Alison, Mr. John Whittingdale, Mr. Iain Duncan Smith, Mr. Bernard Jenkin, Mr. Christopher Gill, Mr. Douglas French, Mr. Charles Hendry, Mr. David Nicholson, Mr. Richard Spring and Mr. Keith Mans, presented a Bill to regulate the holding of certain occasional sales ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon 21 October, and to be printed. [Bill 156.]
Mr. Alan Keen, supported by Mr. Andrew Robathan, Mr. Simon Hughes, Mr. Cynog Dafis, and Mr. Jon Owen Jones, presented a Bill to prevent the making of false or unsupported environmental claims and similar claims relating to animal welfare in relation to goods or services ; and for purposes connected with those matters : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon 21 October, and to be printed. [Bill 157.]
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the European Communities Act 1972 so as to provide for the application of Community law within the United Kingdom to be supervised by Parliament.
The purpose of the Bill is to strengthen the role of Parliament in the implementation and interpretation of European Community law as it applies in the United Kingdom.
By our accession to the treaty of Rome in 1973, we made European Community law superior to our own law. European law consists of the treaties, all the decisions, directives and regulations, and the accumulated judgments of the European Court of Justice, comprising a developed system of law on its own, distinct from the laws of the member states.
When we first joined the EEC, it was left to the national authorities of each member state to decide how to implement a directive. That is still enshrined in article 189 of the treaty, but over the years the ECJ has developed the doctrine of direct effect, which means that a directive is now binding on the member states and on their citizens alike. At the same time, it creates rights which national courts are bound to uphold.
Moreover, the doctrine of the occupied field means that powers once gained by the Community cannot be withdrawn. The ECJ has demonstrated itself to be an interpretative and innovative court. In the context of our system of common law and statute law, we would say that it was a political court. In one ruling, the court accepted that it "must not be defeated by obscurities or contradictions in the text, for the real meaning can be deduced from the context or the spirit of the text".
The leading textbook on EC law, Lasock and Bridge, describes how the court will fill in the gaps in the system and so update the text, acting
"not only as a Constitutional Court of the Community but also as an architect of European integration".
In a landmark case in 1978, the court ruled that
"a national court which is called upon . . . to apply provisions of Community Law is under a duty to give full effect to those provisions, if necessary refusing of its own motion to apply any conflicting provisions of national legislation, even is adopted subsequently, and it is not necessary for the court to request or await a prior setting aside of such provision by legislative or other constitutional means."
Recently, there have been a number of judgments in which the ECJ has more confidently asserted this principle, in a way that is wholly alien to our unwritten constitution. Furthermore, the doctrine of direct effect is leading even our own courts to develop the same methods of free and political interpretation, even overturning Acts of our Parliament. Many right hon. and hon. Members will remember the Factortame case in 1990, in which the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 was simply disallowed.
Over the past two years, the Government have suffered five defeats on various reinterpretations of the 1978 acquired rights directive--the last of them on the day before the European elections. This is wreaking havoc with
Column 196the Government's competitive tendering and contracting out policies, which were previously regarded as perfectly reasonable and legal. How is it that, although we are told that Parliament cannot bind its successors, we find that legislation passed by a Labour Government as a result of a directive to which they agreed now binds us to a succession of new and ever wider interpretations from which we cannot escape ?
Until recently, such controversial decisions affecting policy would not have been touched by judges ; the nature of these issues is clearly and obviously political. Typical of the free and loose way in which our laws are developed is what happens under article 119 of the treaty, which establishes the principle of equal pay for men and women. Pay is now widely interpreted to mean pensions, redundancy terms and other things, and goes far beyond the intention of this House when we first joined the Community.
On 3 March this year, in the Equal Opportunities case, our Law Lords effectively struck out aspects of the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978, on the basis that current differences in employment conditions between part-time and full-time workers are, in their judgment, indirectly discriminatory against women, because more women work part-time. Does this further innovation reflect the fact that one of our Law Lords is a former justice of the European Court ?
There is also the continuing scandal of the huge financial settlements on pregnant former service women ; it is set to cost the Government the price of a new frigate. What price "Front Line First" ? Those who have fought and risked all for their country--and their widows--must wonder who decides such absurd priorities. Surely the politicians, not the judges, must decide.
This Bill does not purport to put a stop to all this, but should not this Parliament at least have a role in the process ? The Bill proposes that the obligation to implement EC law should be transferred from our courts, which are making increasingly political judgments automatically, to the High Court of Parliament. That means that, where it is found that UK law is incompatible with EC law, the matter would be referred to the appropriate Secretary of State, who would then lay an Order before us, on which we could deliberate and vote.
That merely puts us on a par with our European Community partners. They all have written constitutions, which defend their national sovereignty. In France the Conseil d'E tat, and in Germany the Karlsruhe court--the supreme court of Germany--effectively set limits on the penetration of EC law into the system. Our Parliament is our supreme court. We are surely entitled to similar protection, the same as the others. After all, we want to be at the heart of Europe. Governments have always been ready to reassure the House that such protections are unnecessary or alarmist. In 1975, during the referendum, we were assured :
"No important new policy can be decided in Brussels or anywhere else without the consent of a British Minister answerable to a British Government and British Parliament."
That has gone by the board. During the passage of the Maastricht Bill, the then Foreign Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), admitting that the ECJ has
"traditionally been a centralising institution,"
and went on to claim that he saw
Column 197"clear signs of a change of emphasis, and I believe that that trend will be reinforced by the Maastricht treaty."--[ Official Report , 27 January 1993 ; Vol. 217, c. 1058-60.]
That is what he said, but has it been borne out by events ? Lord Denning was right when he told us what was happening to our law back in 1974, when he described EC law as
"an incoming tide. It flows into estuaries and up the rivers. It cannot be held back."
As the 1996 renegotiation of Maastricht approaches, we are seeing a gradual evolution of Government policy. That needs to amount to a complete reappraisal--and, indeed, a new British consensus on Europe is forming, reflected not least in the sponsors whom I have gathered for the Bill. Only last week, the official Opposition declared themselves in favour of a Europe of nation states and against a federal Europe. Here is an opportunity to give a little legislative expression to these emerging aspirations.
Some may feel that it is gesture politics to introduce a Bill at this stage of the Session, and, of course, the procedure is perhaps just that, but I make no apology for giving the House an opportunity to set down a marker. If we are not prepared to stand up for the supremacy of our Parliament, we can be certain that no one else will bother.
I urge right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House merely to declare their belief in our powers and rights by supporting the Bill, for who else will defend them ?
Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth) : May I first start by agreeing with the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) that we really should have a written constitution. I am glad that he is now on record as saying that it would make life so much easier if we had one. I welcome him and offer him free membership of the society that seeks precisely that.
On directives-- [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Colchester, North has quite finished--he is prone to mumble, and I have heard him do exactly that in European Standing Committee B--perhaps he might think for one moment about the directive that he originally mentioned. He was absolutely correct. A directive was, and still remains, a directive from the centre, and is fulfilled in the way that individual Governments see fit.
That was one reason why we made such a mess of the directive on knackers' yards, which were running perfectly well for a very long time, yet were ordered by the European Union to ensure that they were set up in a hygienic way. No sooner were Ministers and civil servants down to it than all sorts of regulations were put in place that were absolutely and totally unnecessary. The Commission confirmed that they were totally unnecessary.
Far too often, as with the hon. Member for Colchester, North, directives are over-zealously fulfilled. Therefore, the fault is in watching out on our own Executive. I agree with the hon. Member for Colchester, North about another genuine difficulty. It is that the Select Committee on European Legislation and Standing Committees A and B do not have the power that they should have properly to examine European legislation.
The hon. Member mentioned the acquired rights directive. I am convinced that we were right to warn the Government about what would happen. I remind the hon.
Column 198Gentleman that article 119 is part of the treaty of Rome and was passed long before we decided to join. The then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), signed up to the treaty of Rome, with which I am in total agreement. The agreement does not give equal pay. If the hon. Gentleman had bothered to read it, he would see that it gives equal rights, which are crucial for women.
The hon. Gentleman failed to mention that, under article 119, the Government have been interfered with more than any other European Government. We have been taken to court more often than any other member country for offending against women's rights, and we have been found guilty every time.
I shall not divide the House. [Interruption.] I would rather see the Bill go its little zig-zag way through the differing groups in the Government. We have the means properly to scrutinise European legislation, and we should do that. I look forward to watching the peregrinations of the hon. Member for Colchester, North as he goes about his business.
Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No.19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business), and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Bernard Jenkin, Mr. Michael Brown, Mr. David Nicholson, Mr. David Evans, Mr. David Congdon, Mr. David Faber, Mr. Nick Harvey, Mr. Peter Thurnham, Mr. Harold Elletson, Mr. Nirj Joseph Deva, Mr. Andrew Robathan and Mr. John Sykes.
-- Mr. Jenkin accordingly presented a Bill to amend the European Communities Act 1972 so as to provide for the application of Community law within the United Kingdom to be supervised by Parliament : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 21 October, and to be printed. [Bill 158.]
Mr. William Cash (Stafford) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Did you notice that, in his speech, the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) did not attempt in any way to dispute the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) ?
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. That is a total abuse of the procedures of the House, and the hon. Gentleman knows it. He rose to put a point of order, but he knows full well that it was not a point of order.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to refer to another hon. Member's speech and say that that hon. Member said something which he clearly did not ? In opposing the Bill, the hon. Member for Hemwsworth (Mr. Enright) said that my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) had said that he wanted a written constitution. My hon. Friend made no such statement.
Several hon. Members rose