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Sanctions (Libya)

Q7. Mr. Dalyell: To ask the Prime Minister if he will discuss with President Clinton the consequences for policy in relation to approaching the UN to lift sanctions against Libya of the acquittal of Juval Aviv by an American court. [2580]

The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend knows, Juval Aviv has been acquitted by an American court. We are also aware of the allegations that have been made by him, but the advice that I have received is that it does not alter the case that the existing evidence in respect of those who perpetrated the Lockerbie bombing suggests that it was carried out by Libyans.

I believe that the United Nations Security Council sanctions should remain until the Security Council resolutions are properly and fully complied with; they are not being complied with at the moment.

Mr. Dalyell: If that is the case, and in the light of last Wednesday's Adjournment debate when I told of the scepticism of Professor Robert Black, professor of Scots law at the university of Edinburgh, and the profound scepticism of Peter Anderson of Simpson Marwick--after all, that firm acted as the lawyers for Pan Am--do we have the Prime Minister's assurance that he is absolutely sure that the Crown Office has the evidence to prosecute successfully, which it has claimed to have? If there is a scintilla of doubt about the advice that he has received, would he consider appointing either a European judge or a judge of the Court of Appeal in England to examine what the Crown Office says that it has?

The Prime Minister: The short answer is that the advice that I have received is that the evidence is still clear on this point. Partly as a result of the trial of Mr. Aviv, and as a result of many other allegations and counter-allegations that are made, which are sifted carefully, the process is kept under continual review and re-evaluation, as it should be. At present, the evidence is still clear, in so far as there is evidence about who perpetrated the Lockerbie bomb, and it points to Libyan involvement. The United Nations Security Council resolutions are still in place because they have not been complied with. Until they are, in my view those sanctions should remain.

Sir Teddy Taylor: In view of the real agony sustained by the relatives of those who lost their lives in this dreadful bombing, would the Prime Minister be at least willing to make a positive and constructive approach to Libya to ensure that the trial takes place, especially as Libya has offered to hand over the two suspects to a third

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country? Might not an ideal compromise be a trial in Malta, where it is alleged that the disaster was initiated? Would not the Prime Minister be willing to try to get a trial somewhere and somehow to bring relief to the relatives?

The Prime Minister: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the plain fact is that there is the opportunity of having a trial if the suspects are handed over. I do not believe that it is fair to say that a trial, for example, in Scotland, would be unfair in any shape or form. I think that that would be a wrong reflection on the legal system there. Of course, we continually try every avenue that we can to make progress in this matter, but I do not think that I can hold out some hope to the hon. Gentleman that we will reverse the policy that the previous Government adopted, which, in this instance at least, I support.


Q8. Mr. Kemp: Has my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister authorised any of his officials to make a statement that appeared in today's press to the effect that the future of the Conservative party is in the hands of 38 people from the planet Zog? And if not, why not? [2581]

Madam Speaker: Order. The Prime Minister has no responsibility for that. What a waste of a question to the Prime Minister.

Mr. Yeo: Will the Prime Minister confirm that if any of his Cabinet Ministers are found to have knowingly misled the House of Commons, that Minister will be expected to resign?

The Prime Minister: I have always made it clear that those Ministers who knowingly, deliberately or seriously mislead the House of Commons should not be in the Government. I have always made that clear and I make it clear again today. I hope that the values that this Government have undertaken to work with are somewhat different from those of the previous Government.

Q9. Mr. Stevenson: Is it not a scandal that thousands of our children and young people are being taught in dilapidated buildings? Is it not a fact that that is a direct result of a deliberate policy of chronic neglect by the Conservative party when it was in government? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that under this Government this completely unacceptable situation will be dealt with as a matter of priority? [2582]

The Prime Minister: I can confirm that. Of course it is important that we begin to put right the damage done over a period of years. The plain fact of the matter is that the previous Government were one of the very few Governments anywhere to preside over a situation where the proportion of national income spent on education fell, although the social security and welfare bills rose enormously. It is precisely for that reason that we do not see additional expenditure on education as enough in itself. It must be accompanied by measures that reduce the huge and appalling burden of social and economic failure that is the product of the past 18 years. It is both those things going together that allows us to get as much

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money as possible into the areas of productive investment and to get us out of social failure. [Hon. Members: "Where from?"] How about by reducing the numbers of young people on the dole? That is where from.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that he spent three years answering questions in opposition--[Laughter.]--asking questions in opposition, slamming the previous Government's record on possible charges in the health service, and that he fought the recent

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election on the basis that the Conservative Government might introduce such charges, yet today cannot rule out prescription charges for pensioners or hotel charges for everybody else when they enter hospital? Is that not a betrayal?

The Prime Minister: I suggest that the hon. Gentleman waits for the outcome of the review. I can tell him that we shall fight the next election on a platform of renewing and improving the national health service after 18 years of Conservative failure.

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European Council (Amsterdam)

3.30 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): With permission, Madam Speaker, I shall make a statement about the European Council in Amsterdam on 16 and 17 June, which I attended with my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Council conclusions have been placed in the Library and I will place a full copy of the text of the Amsterdam treaty there as soon as possible.

Our aims in the negotiations were to protect our essential interests over immigration, foreign policy, defence and a central role for Britain in Europe, to promote changes of real interest to the British people and to move Europe on to a new and positive agenda. We also promised to bring a fresh and constructive approach to Europe and to the negotiations.

I am happy to tell the House that those objectives have been fully achieved--and they were achieved while at the same time improving both our standing in Europe and our relationships with our European partners.

First, we have obtained legal security for our frontier controls, through a legally binding protocol to the treaty. That is an achievement of lasting value, attained for the first time. The key point in the protocol says:

I know that that will be welcomed by the whole House. We have ensured that we, and only we, decide border policy, and that policies on immigration, asylum and visas are made in Britain, not in Brussels.

Others may choose to have different arrangements, to suit their traditions and geographical position. I see no reason for preventing them from doing so, although such arrangements will continue to be governed by unanimity. Under the treaty, the United Kingdom can also participate in areas of interest to us if we so choose, at our option. That is not an opt-out but an opt-in, as we choose.

In the justice and home affairs area, we have agreed better arrangements for co-operation on police matters, crime and drugs. I attach great importance to more effective international action in those areas of direct concern to people. However, such co-operation will remain intergovernmental and subject to unanimity. Thanks to amendments that we also secured, the European Court will have no authority to decide cases brought in United Kingdom courts on those issues.

We have also ensured continued protection for our essential interests in all the areas in which we sought it. We have maintained, as we said we would, the veto on matters of foreign policy, defence, treaty change, Community finances and tax.

We have prevented the extension of qualified majority voting in areas where it might cause damage. Others wanted to extend QMV in the social chapter, which would have affected our companies even if we had not been party to the chapter. Because we were in it, we were able to stop that. We agreed to QMV where it is in our national interests--for example, on research and development and on action to combat fraud and waste.

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We have also ruled out other potentially damaging proposals. For example, others wanted to give the European Union explicit legal personality across all the pillars of the treaty. At our insistence, that was removed. Moreover, the treaty spells out that international agreements can be concluded only on the basis of unanimity following a clear Council decision. In addition, we secured a veto over flexibility arrangements which could otherwise have allowed the development of a hard core, excluding us against our will.

Second, for the first time in a decade Britain is setting a positive agenda for Europe. In April, I set out in Manchester our platform for reform: completion of the single market, a new emphasis on flexible labour markets and education and skills, reform of wasteful policies in agriculture and elsewhere, enlargement and a more effective common foreign and security policy. Each of those elements was fully reflected at Amsterdam, in the intergovernmental conference or the Council conclusions. In particular, we successfully promoted support for a new action plan for the single market that echoes key British concerns. That should, in time, lead to further opening of Europe's markets to British companies. Completing the single market will be one of the top priorities for the British presidency.

Third, we have put jobs at the top of Europe's agenda, where they belong. The new treaty chapter on employment recognises the importance of job creation and sets member states and the Community the task of promoting flexible labour markets, and education and skills. That is where Europe must make a difference.

Fourth, the treaty makes Europe more relevant to people: it ensures greater openness; it increases powers to combat fraud and waste; it strengthens environmental protection; it creates power to act against discrimination on grounds of sex, race, religion or disability; it gives subsidiarity--ensuring that decisions are taken at the European level only if there is real added value in doing so--real teeth through a binding protocol; and it imposes an obligation to take into account the welfare of animals.

Fifth, the treaty prepares the institutions of the Union for enlargement. Not as much progress was made on that as there might have been, but we have ensured that, at the time of enlargement, the Council's voting system will be changed to give Britain and other large countries more votes. Europe must now get on with making a reality of the historic opportunity of enlargement. We need to extend our stability and prosperity to the new democracies of central and eastern Europe. The European Council is committed to decisions on the opening of enlargement negotiations at its meeting in December. We shall play a leading role in those negotiations, particularly during our presidency.

Sixth, while retaining our veto, we have taken steps to improve the effectiveness of foreign policy co-operation with better planning and co-ordination. That is an important British interest, but getting Europe's voice heard more clearly in the world will not be achieved through merging the European Union and the Western European Union or developing an unrealistic common defence policy. We therefore resisted unacceptable proposals from others. Instead, we argued for--and won--the explicit recognition, written into the treaty for the first time, that NATO is the foundation of our and other allies' common defence.

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The House will also be interested to know that the treaty contains provisions to strengthen Parliament's ability to scrutinise European legislation properly, by laying down a minimum six-week period for documents to be available.

We also made real progress in Amsterdam on the problem of quota hoppers--fishermen from other member states who fish against British quotas--even though it was not part of the IGC.

We secured an agreement with the Commission on our two central concerns. First, we are entitled to put into law a clear economic link between boats using our quotas and Britain. Economic benefits from boats flying the British flag should go to British ports, for example through a proviso that 50 per cent. of a boat's catch should be landed locally. We will, with all possible speed, introduce new licence conditions to reflect that. Second, the Commission agreed to bring forward new tougher measures of enforcement to ensure that fishermen landing their catch abroad cannot escape controls. Those measures are agreed by qualified majority voting and so cannot be blocked by another member state.

Taken together, those agreements will mean a major disincentive to quota hoppers, present and future. Commission agreement to the new measures means that their vulnerability to legal challenge--a perennial problem hitherto--should be greatly reduced.

The letters between myself and the President of the Commission setting out those agreements are in the Library. The Commission's letter also confirms that important principles underlying the common fisheries policy, notably relative stability and the provisions on 12-mile limits, should remain when they are reviewed in 2002.

Those commitments allow us to start working with fishermen from around the country to plan a sustainable future for the industry. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will make a more detailed statement immediately after this.

On economic and monetary union, the documents discussed by the House on 9 June were approved. I made it clear that the entry conditions should be strictly applied and that sustainable convergence is essential if monetary union is to go ahead successfully.

The European Council also agreed a resolution on employment, with British ideas at the centre of it. We have shown that, alongside low inflation and sound public finances, Europe needs a new approach to employment and growth, based on British ideas for competitiveness, introducing more flexible labour markets and employability. That means creating a more skilled and adaptable work force, better equipped to cope with economic change. It also means a new emphasis on getting people off welfare and into work. It does not mean the old agenda of tax and spend; no new money from the Community budget was agreed at Amsterdam. That is the right approach, in or out of monetary union.

The successful conclusion of the intergovernmental conference enables Europe to put institutional wrangles behind it and to move on to the issues that affect people's daily lives: jobs, the environment, crime. Progress in those areas will be our priority. We are determined not to let Europe get bogged down again in minutiae. If we are to build a people's Europe, we must stay focused on the people's concerns.

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We said that we would secure our frontiers, and we did. We said that we would preserve NATO, not the European Union, as the cornerstone of the defence of Europe, and we did. We said that we would get a new deal for our fishing communities, and we did. We said that we would put jobs at the top of the agenda for Europe, and we did. We said that we would start to make Europe more relevant to the concerns of the peoples of Europe, and we did.

We made Britain's voice heard at Amsterdam, because, for the first time for many years, Britain spoke as a united Government with a clear direction for Europe. We have proved to the people of Britain that we can get a better deal by being constructive, and we have proved to Europe that Britain can be a leading player, setting a new agenda that faces the real challenges of the new century.

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