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Column 790Soames, Nicholas
Speed, Sir Keith
Spencer, Sir Derek
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Spink, Dr Robert
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Townend, John (Bridlington)
Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Column 790Trend, Michael
Twinn, Dr Ian
Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Tellers for the Noes: Mr. Timothy Kirkhope and Mr. Michael Bates.
Column 790Question accordingly negatived.
Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 60 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading), and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Order [19 December],
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill [Lords] , it is expedient to authorise-- (1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of-- (a) any amount payable--
(i) as compensation under Part II of the Act; or
(ii) under paragraph 6 of Schedule 2 to the Act in respect of remuneration or expenses of administrators;
(b) any administrative expenses incurred by the Secretary of State or the Lord Advocate under the Act; and
(c) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable out of money so provided under any other Act; and
(2) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums falling to be paid into the Consolidated Fund under section 203 or 412 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975.--[ Mr. Wells .]
Question agreed to.
That this House takes note with approval of the Government's assessment as set out in chapters 4, 5 and 6 of the Financial Statement and Budget Report 1995-96, as updated, for the purposes of section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993. This is the second section 5 debate that has been held. As last year, the House is invited to approve the economic and budgetary information to be sent to the European Commission in accordance with the provisions of the treaty. That information is contained in chapters 4, 5 and 6 of the "Financial Statement and Budget Report", which is usually called the Red Book. At the end of chapter 1 of the Red Book, it is mentioned that those chapters will be used for this purpose and will form the basis of the appropriate submissions. The House will also know that, following the decision to leave the rate of VAT on domestic fuel and power at 8 per cent., my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced further measures on 8 December 1994 to keep public borrowing on a downward path. The increased rates of duty on alcohol, tobacco and road fuels, together with some reductions in public expenditure, were approved by the House and were incorporated in revised tables. A set of revised Red Book tables was published in due course.
The Red Book, therefore, in its original form and with the revised tables, provides the report to Parliament for section 5 purposes. This evening the House is being asked to approve that that report and those tables be sent to the Commission to discharge our obligations under articles 103 and 104c of the Maastricht treaty. The House is not being asked to approve November's Budget. That has already been done. That was and remains a matter of legitimate controversy, which was and still is being debated as part of other business. Nevertheless, reading last year's debates, I notice that the Labour party contrived a vote against the motion, although it was never really made clear on that occasion on what grounds it objected to the required information being sent. The hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) is--I think--opening the debate for the Labour party-- Mr. Andrew Smith (Oxford, East) indicated dissent .
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: The hon. Gentleman is indicating that he will not open the debate this year, but he certainly did so last year. Indeed, I cannot resist drawing the House's attention to one of the hon. Gentleman's predictions last year, when he said that the balance of payments deficit was
"set to get worse."
That was corrected immediately by my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Dorrell), the then Financial Secretary, who pointed out that it was getting better. The hon. Member for Oxford, East nevertheless persisted and said that the balance of payments "was set to get worse."
"Time will be the test of who is right on that."--[ Official Report , 9 February 1994; Vol. 237, c. 400-2.]
Column 792Time has been the test. Exports are up by 15 per cent. on a year ago and the current account was in surplus for the last recorded quarter. I hope that whoever opens the debate for the Opposition will show a little more modesty in his or her predictions and also, this year at least, vote to allow the Government's information to be transmitted to the Commission, regardless of whether the Opposition agree with the underlying policy.
In summary, therefore, I invite the House to approve the medium-term economic and budgetary position set out in the Red Book being sent to the European Commission as required under the treaty.
Mr. David Shaw (Dover): Have my hon. Friend and others in the Treasury been able to consider the fact that the Red Book is produced to the very highest standards of accounting policies and principles in Government accounting, that other countries throughout Europe do not produce their accounts on a similar basis and that many other countries have unfunded pension liabilities of an extraordinarily large nature? Is the Commission able to take our Red Book and use those accounts meaningfully in Europe or, in fact, will it not know what to do with our Red Book in relation to the accounts of other countries?
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: My hon. Friend is right to say that the way in which we present our accounts and Budget projections is a model that we could well commend to other member states. It reflects credit on us that the projections provide an easily understood and comprehensive guide to our tax and spending priorities. I do not know whether the Commission receives similar information of such a high standard from other member states. However, all other member states are required to send similar information to the Commission and, on the basis of that information, the Commission produces a report and draws up an assessment of how the economies of Europe are converging or diverging.
I commend the motion to the House.
Ms Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West): I apologise to the House as I am losing my voice. I am sure that hon. Members will be pleased about that because it means inevitably that I shall have to make a shorter speech than I would otherwise have made.
It was interesting that the Minister was prepared to make such a short speech in which he did not say very much. He has moved a motion that is before the House simply because of the magnificent way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) and his colleagues managed, in the debates on the approval of the Maastricht treaty, to put down what was referred to at the time as a ticking time-bomb. As a result of that, the Government were forced to concede a section of the Maastricht Bill, along with others, in respect of which the House has an opportunity to debate information that we subsequently forward to the European Community.
Column 793Why was the hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) so keen for us to have this debate when all the information is set out in the Red Book and it is sent off to the Commission? What is the point of having this debate?
Ms Armstrong: The hon. Gentleman obviously trusts the Government, and exactly what they say, absolutely. As the evening passes, perhaps I can persuade him that that is not the view of the British people. Very few of us, and even the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) who, at one stage, was vice-chairman of the Tory party, know precisely what Government policy is in respect of this and other areas. We do not know the Government's views on convergence. We have to wait until Wednesday to see whether the Prime Minister has any new information for us.
The Prime Minister told us on Friday that he was going to give us the definitive position at long last. Some of us wonder how long that position will last, because we have been told that on numerous occasions before. I wonder whether the position will last until the end of the debate. I wonder even more whether it will last until the end of the Government and whether the Government will last much longer than the debate.
According to the motion, the House will commend the Government's assessment to the Commission "with approval". I have very little sense of approving the Government's policy set out in the Red Book. It is our duty and responsibility as an Opposition to ensure that, on every occasion, the House has an opportunity to examine these issues with much more care than the Minister was minded to show this evening.
These questions are pertinent to our debate tonight, even though we cannot be fully assured of the Government's positions because they change so frequently. Indeed, they change not just because of debates in this House, but because of what is said by Conservative Members here, there and everywhere--wherever they may be.
Ms Armstrong: We heard from the Chief Secretary on one occasion--I think that it was on television one morning--that he would proceed with monetary union virtually over his dead body. One very live body who has been concerned by such debates is trying to intervene.
Ms Armstrong: We do not yet know what convergence criteria the Government seek to satisfy and to have laid down. The Prime Minister suggested that he will seek to renegotiate some convergence criteria. It is appropriate to look at not only the convergence criteria that the Prime Minister originally negotiated but precisely the convergence criteria that the Opposition have been urging on the Government for some time, particularly those concerning the nature of the real economy. Nobody else wants me to give way.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): Will my hon. Friend give way? [Interruption.] Does she not find it very revealing that, when there is enormous sensitivity in the country about convergence criteria, there should be a
Column 794feeling in the Government that the House of Commons does not need to debate the detail and the implications of this highly sensitive and important subject?