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Mrs. Ewing: What about Tuesday?

Mr. Newton: I have no wish to engage in a confrontation with the hon. Lady. I am sorry about the clash, but I do not believe that it would be right to expect me to apologise for putting on the order of business business that the House clearly expects to conduct.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): May we have a focused debate on the proposed enlargement of NATO?

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The subject is often scooped up in defence or foreign affairs debates, but its importance must be emphasised. We should have a debate exclusively on this issue, bearing in mind that the general election will preoccupy us in the spring and there is a summit in Madrid in the early summer. It would be helpful if the House were able to discuss those changes, which are profoundly important for Europe and likely to occur this side of the general election battle.

Mr. Newton: That is a serious issue. The House has substantial opportunities to debate defence and related matters during the year, but I shall of course take note of the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): Is the Leader of the House aware that there has been an outbreak of E. coli 0157 in my constituency this week, and that it is rumoured that it comes from contaminated milk from the adjoining constituency of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans)? There is tremendous anxiety. Eight people have been affected, mostly in the West Craven part of my constituency. May we have a statement next week on the outbreak and, perhaps early in the new year, a more wide-ranging debate on food safety--of the type called for by my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor)?

Mr. Newton: I appreciate and respect the hon. Gentleman's reasons for raising that issue. I share his concern about the outbreak in his part of the world, just as I share the concern about the outbreak in Scotland. In his area's case, the outbreak is being investigated locally, and the Department of Health is keeping in close touch. I shall draw my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health's attention to the hon. Gentleman's request.

Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry): The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that, should, by some miracle, the IRA call a ceasefire, the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Bill will become a matter of considerable importance, and of greater interest than it currently is. To that end, we welcome the fact that, at the end of the week in which we return to this place, we shall finish considering that Bill in the House. Is he also aware that a similar Bill, designed to accomplish exactly the same ends, is being passed in Ireland at present? Will he arrange for copies of the Dail Eireann Bill to be placed in the Library of the House that so we can be assured that it does exactly what the United Kingdom Bill does? Will he arrange for there to be a debate or a statement on BSE next week?

Mr. Newton: I note both those requests. I shall ensure that that relating to the Irish version of the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Bill is brought to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

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Point of Order

4.47 pm

Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will recall the exchanges that took place earlier this afternoon on the statement on what has become known as the Welsh budget. At the outset of the statement, I mentioned the leak that took place earlier this week which led to accurate and comprehensive details of the statement appearing in the Western Mail on Tuesday. This is a matter of great concern to Welsh Members of Parliament because, at last week's meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee, we pressed the Secretary of State for the very information that appeared on Tuesday morning, and he refused to give it.

I was very grateful that the Secretary of State condemned the leak, and that he undertook to hold an inquiry, but I should like to ask you two questions. First, will you give your views on this matter, and say whether it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State to make a statement to the House on the conclusion of his inquiry, so that we can test whether it has been as full and as thorough as we would expect it to be? Secondly, what steps can you take to ensure that the inquiry is as full and as comprehensive as it should be?

The point that concerns me is that Welsh Members have been treated very discourteously, if not contemptuously, by someone in the Secretary of State's office, and I should like to be assured that the inquiry will examine not only the role that civil servants may have played in the matter, but whether Ministers have been responsible for leaking information--or whether it is the strange political animal that we have come to know as a political adviser. Will you advise me what steps you can take to ensure the fullest inquiry?

Madam Speaker: I noted the hon. Gentleman's comments when he drew this matter to the attention of the House earlier today. I am very concerned by what I heard at that time and by what I read in a newspaper yesterday. Our clear convention is that important statements must be made first to this House, and I deprecate it most strongly when the substance of a statement is revealed in the media before presentation to the House. I join the hon. Gentleman in welcoming the comments made by the Secretary of State today when he said that he would have this matter investigated to see how the situation arose. It is, of course, for the Secretary of State to determine whether he will seek to make a statement to the House, but I should have thought that, in the circumstances, he might keep the hon. Gentleman informed of his inquiries.

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European Union

[Relevant documents: The White Paper on Developments in the European Union, January to June 1996 (Cm 3469); Presidency General Outline for a draft revision of the Treaties; The Commission's Work Programme for 1997: New Legislative Proposals (SEC(96)1819); The Commission's Work Programme for 1997: Political Priorities (COM(96)507); European Community Document No. 10867/96 on the introduction of the euro; European Community Document No. 10893/96 on reinforced convergence procedures and a new exchange rate mechanism; European Community Document No. 10892/96 on a stability pact for ensuring budgetary discipline in stage 3 of EMU; Second and Third Reports from the Select Committee on European Legislation of Session 1996-97 (HC 36-ii and 36-iii); Sixth Report from the Select Committee on European Legislation of Session 1996-97, European Documents on Economic and Monetary Union: the Scrutiny Process (HC 36-vi); Eighth Report from the Treasury Committee of Session 1995-96, The Prognosis for Stage Three of Economic and Monetary Union (HC 283-I and II); Minutes of Evidence taken before the Select Committee on European Legislation on 3rd December (HC 136-i); and Minutes of Evidence taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee on 5th and 9th December (HC 148-i and 148-ii).]

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

Madam Speaker: We now come to the second day of the debate on the European Union. I must let the House know that, again, speeches by Back Benchers will be limited to 10 minutes.

4.50 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind): On this, the second day of our debate on the European Union, I wish to concentrate my remarks on the intergovernmental conference and the Dublin summit.

First, however, I will respond to certain remarks made by the President of the European Commission, who said the other day that the hour of truth was approaching when the United Kingdom would have to decide whether it believed in Europe as a free trade area or as a political union. Many hon. Members like to present the issue in equally Manichaean terms. It is reminiscent of choices that used to be urged upon British Governments: Commonwealth or Europe? America or Europe? Those have always been false choices because reality lies between such poles.

For Britain, the European Union is, and always was, more than a free trade area. For a start, the single market involves much more than the elimination of tariff barriers. That was the first and easiest step in its creation. It also needs rules to prevent non-tariff obstructions to trade, like the mediaeval rules on what could go into a pint of beer, which excluded British beers from Germany, or the rules on insurance policies, which eliminated competition, whether on price or product innovation, in much of the continental market.

All that involves supranational rules and supranational institutions, whether the Commission or the European Court, to enforce them. British consumers, workers and manufacturers have all benefited from those rules.

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It is strongly in the British interest that the EU should have a common external trade policy. There is a persistent continental instinct, particularly in France, to put up trade barriers around a fortress Europe. Yet those instincts were faced down by the Commission, which negotiated a market-opening GATT deal on behalf of us all. That would not have been possible--nor would we have been able to protect British commercial interests as well as we did--without strong European institutions.

If a simple free trade area was such a splendid option, why has the European Free Trade Association collapsed? Why did Sweden, Finland and Austria so quickly abandon the European economic area, which came into force only in 1994, in favour of full membership of the EU? The answer is that, to secure tariff-free access to the European Community, they found themselves having to follow single market rules and regulations, including competition policy, over which they had no control or influence. That may be a sustainable position for Iceland, Norway or Liechtenstein, but I hardly think that it would befit a country of our size and history.

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