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Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): My right hon. Friend will be aware that, halfway through the period for which he has announced the business, the

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intergovernmental conference will open in Turin. Will my right hon. Friend and the Government ensure that the negotiating Ministers come back to report to the House and to give progress statements, to allow hon. Members to question them and to ensure that the Government are making progress in the direction of a Europe of nations?

Mr. Newton: As always, I will bear in mind what my hon. Friend says, but there will be a long and complex process and it would not facilitate that process--or be practicable--for full statements to be made every time there was some kind of meeting connected with the process.

Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich): May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the use of bovine serum--that is, serum derived from cattle--in the production of vaccines for immunisation? I was advised this morning that the Department of Health stopped the use of bovine serum from British cattle in 1989, and that no vaccines have contained it since 1990. Will the Leader of the House make arrangements for the Secretary of State for Health to come to the House next week to say whether that is so, and, if it is so, what was the scientific advice available when the Department of Health took that decision?

Mr. Newton: I cannot comment on the scientific advice in relation to the point that the hon. Gentleman raises, but I will draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham): Has my right hon. Friend noticed that it has become an odd practice of the House that, when we have motions for the Adjournment on subjects such as Europe and the Scott report, the House mysteriously divides with the intention of embarrassing the Government? Does the Leader of the House think that the reason why there will not be such a vote tonight is perhaps to cover up massive splits among Labour Members?

Mr. Newton: I hope, think and believe that the reason is that everyone is anxious to have a calm and constructive debate.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): May we have a debate on the subject covered in a letter that I have just received from a nine-year-old constituent, Louise Orrill of Wingerworth? She is being taught in a class of 37 children, in accommodation intended for only 20.Her school, Hunloke primary, is due to lose another teacher as well, which will only add to the problem.

Why do these difficulties persist, when there was supposed to have been an improvement in the standard spending assessment? The problem is that it did not take account of the growth in the pupil population. That needs serious consideration, because the problem is widespread in Derbyshire and throughout the country.

Mr. Newton: The hon. Gentleman will know that I am not in a position to comment on a particular local

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authority's position, let alone on a particular school.He has, however, with characteristic ingenuity, found a way--fairly speedily--of making sure that his constituent's representation is drawn to the attention of the Education Secretary.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle): With regard to the Family Law Bill, my right hon. Friend will be aware that many hon. Members feel strongly, as a matter of personal conscience--it has nothing to do with party political controversy--that the Bill is misguided, in that it introduces no-fault divorces, and the waiting period is too short. Does he accept our view that, on a matter of such enormous importance, all the contentious issues relating to no fault and the waiting period should be discussed on the Floor of the House? In that way, members of both parties, including Ministers, will be able to vote freely and exercise their consciences on a vital social matter.

Mr. Newton: I hope that my hon. Friend was here a moment ago when I said that it was the Government's intention to propose that what might be called the conscience clauses be debated on the Floor of the House. I cannot add to that, but I hope that what I have said will give my hon. Friend the sort of assurance that he seeks.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East): When will the order under the negative procedure relating to eyesight tests for heavy goods vehicle drivers be brought before the House? Have the Government had any change of attitude over this controversial measure, which is causing such concern throughout the country--especially to those immediately affected?

Mr. Newton: I cannot say anything about the timing at present.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): Further to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich(Mr. Austin-Walker) about bovine serum used in vaccines, may I help the Leader of the House by repeating the request for an early debate? I understand that the chief medical officer has issued a letter to the medical profession, reassuring its members that only foreign bovine serum has been used since 1989, so it is a matter of some urgency that we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Health.

Mr. Newton: I have already promised to draw the earlier question to my right hon. Friend's attention--and if I remember correctly, it was a request not for a debate but for further information.



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    Intergovernmental Conference

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Bates.]

    [Relevant documents: Minutes of Evidence taken before the Select Committee on European Legislation on 13th February (House of Commons Paper No. 226), the Commission Opinion on the holding of an Inter-Governmental Conference entitled "Reinforcing Political Union and Preparing for Enlargement", European Parliament resolution A4-0068/96 entitled "Report on (i) Parliament's opinion on the convening of the Inter-Governmental Conference(ii) Evaluation of the work of the Reflection group and definition of the political priorities of the European Parliament with a view to the Inter-Governmental Conference" and the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee on 18th March (House of Commons Paper No. 306-i).]

Madam Speaker: More than 50 Back Benchers have expressed a wish to speak in this debate, so I have limited all Back-Bench speeches to 10 minutes.

4.27 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind): I am delighted that the House is to have this opportunity today to discuss the forthcoming intergovernmental conference, taking into account various papers, including the Government's White Paper entitled "A Partnership of Nations". The next few years will be as important as any in the European Union's 40-year history. The Union confronts a number of serious challenges.

First, we must tackle with vigour the urgent task of improving Europe's global competitiveness. Europe must be as successful as north America and the far east if we are to ensure high employment and growing prosperity. Secondly, we must promote the enlargement of the EU as a means to assist stability and to consolidate freedom and democracy in the countries of central Europe.

Thirdly, enlarging the European Union necessarily entails reforming its agricultural and structural policies if we are not to bankrupt the Community budget. Fourthly, we shall need to work out the arrangements for financing the EU after 1999.

Fifthly, the European Union will face hard choices on a single currency. Britain's position is, of course, protected by the opt-out negotiated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

The IGC, which begins on 29 March in Turin, is only one of a series of parallel negotiations within the European Union over the next few years; nor is it necessarily the most important. It is not likely to be the defining event for the European Union in the 1990s.

Generals and Ministries of Defence are sometimes accused of always preparing to fight the last war. Perhaps some commentators, in according such attention to the IGC, have been preparing for a re-run of Maastricht.If so, that is unwise. Maastricht had its origins in the project to create a single currency. Before that, the 1985 IGC, which negotiated the Single European Act, was inspired by the goal of a single market.

The next IGC--the one about to begin--unlike 1985 or Maastricht, has not been convened to negotiate a big idea. The conference that begins in Turin will essentially be an exercise in improving the effectiveness of the European Union's machinery before we tackle the bigger challenges

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that I have already mentioned. My intention in saying this is not to belittle the importance of the IGC, but I believe that the conference should be seen in its proper context.

Our White Paper, "A Partnership of Nations", sets out the overall British strategy for the conference. The Government are committed to making a success of Britain's membership of the European Union. We shall be positive in our approach and shall work for agreement with our European partners. We believe in partnership, because we remain convinced of the central importance of the nation state in our vision of Europe's future.

Our approach found an encouraging resonance last week, when the French Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, said:

The nation state remains as relevant as ever to today's Europe.

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