Previous SectionIndexHome Page

The Prime Minister: At point 85 of the Council conclusions, we made clear our opposition to extra-judicial killings and to aspects of Israeli policy with which we disagree. I know my right hon. Friend will also want me to say that it is important that we deal with all aspects of the violence. We should recognise and remember that many innocent Israeli citizens are dying in the most appalling terrorist acts. In the end, if we want to play a part in resolving that situation, it will be incumbent on us less to condemn people and more to get the situation sorted out.

Tony Baldry (Banbury): The House will know that one of the advantages of European Council meetings is not only the formal sessions, but the opportunity that they provide for informal and private discussions between Heads of Government. Can the Prime Minister assure the House that he took those informal opportunities to make clear to fellow Heads of Government the urgent need to reform the common agricultural policy? We understand his point about the need for formal discussions to take place in the Agriculture Ministers Council, but if the World Trade Organisation is to succeed at Cancun, as the Prime Minister said when he came back and reported on the G8 summit, reform of the CAP is vital. There is not much time between now and Cancun, and we should like to hear him assure the House that he took every opportunity informally to impress upon his colleagues the need for action to be taken on reform of the common agricultural policy.

The Prime Minister: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we take every opportunity we can to press the case for CAP reform. The one hope that we have is that at Cancun in September the WTO must reach an agreement, and we must have a proper offer from Europe in place by that time. That is concentrating minds. I am not saying that we will reach agreement in the Agriculture Council, but it is fair to say that we have come a significant distance in the past few days. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we lose no opportunity whatever to tell people what we think. Essentially, we are in a majority on the issue, but obviously we need to move others too.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East): In the discussions on enlargement, was any mention made of the early-warning letters that have been sent by the Commission to some of the members-designate? As the champion of

23 Jun 2003 : Column 721

enlargement, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that his Government will work as closely as possible with countries that have received such letters to ensure that all outstanding points are dealt with before 1 May, to avoid the possibility of infraction proceedings being issued against some of them as soon as they become members?

The Prime Minister: The matter was not discussed at the European Council. There are issues that still have to be resolved in respect of that, and it is important that all the countries coming into the European Union abide by the rules of the EU. I am hopeful that these issues will be resolved. The implicit assumption of the entire meeting, which was the first time that we had met from the beginning as 25, was that the issues would be overcome and countries would be able to accede to the European Union in the way anticipated.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): The Prime Minister is refusing the British people the right to vote on the future European constitution, on the ground that previous treaties have been signed without referendums. Does he not understand what is blindingly obvious to the British people: that the changes and the process of handing over power to European institutions are cumulative? The British people take the view that the process has gone far enough. They want an opportunity to say no. Why is he depriving them of that right?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman certainly let the cat out of the bag at the end of his question. The difference between us is that I do not believe that unless there is a fundamental alteration of the essential constitutional arrangements, a referendum is the proper way to proceed. The reason why we have said that we will have a referendum on the single currency, should we recommend it, is that it does represent a fundamental change in our constitutional arrangements; these proposals do not. Therefore, I do not agree that we require a referendum. The reason why I point out that previous Conservative Governments did not hold a referendum in those circumstances is to show the

23 Jun 2003 : Column 722

difference between being in government, where one has to take some responsibility for getting these things right, and in opposition, where one does not.

Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford): Did the European Council consider the need to amend the stability and growth pact in order to give member states greater freedom to stimulate their economies while maintaining fiscal discipline?

The Prime Minister: There was not a specific discussion at the European Council on that matter, but as my hon. Friend knows, discussions are going on about how the stability and growth pact can be made more flexible to take account of the different economic conditions through which countries live. The ideas that we have put forward on that meet with a certain amount of approval.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): The Prime Minister has simply failed to answer the very direct question about a referendum. Let me remind him that, before 1997, he made a personal pledge to hold a referendum on European integration if it was not in the manifesto. The European constitution was not in his manifesto. Will he please stop avoiding the issue and tell the House why he really will not have a referendum on this constitution?

The Prime Minister: I have said why—it is for the reasons that I have given today. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has got up for a second time, because he was saying earlier that it was no part of the Conservative party's desire to leave the European Union, but I have his quotes from the Frost programme a couple of weeks ago—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the Prime Minister answer.

The Prime Minister: This is what the right hon. Gentleman said:

That is the true dividing line. The reason why the right hon. Gentleman wants a referendum is so that he can say no, paralyse the European Union and get out. That is the real dividing line between the two political parties and it has been made even more clear today. I suggest that he gets up another time.

23 Jun 2003 : Column 721

23 Jun 2003 : Column 723

Point of Order

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you been approached today by any Minister seeking to clarify the position on tax? Since the astonishing revelations by the tax-raising Leader of the House and the statements by the right hon. Members for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) and for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers), have you had any request from a member of the Government to clear up this very important matter, as it now appears that there is a secret agenda to raise tax among members of the Government?

Mr. Speaker: Perhaps that is something that the right hon. Gentleman can raise in business questions.

23 Jun 2003 : Column 724

Opposition Day

[10th Allotted Day]

Student Finance

Mr. Speaker: I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

4.22 pm

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): I beg to move,

I welcome the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education to his place and wish him well in his post, which has so far claimed five ministerial lives. It seems a poisoned position, but we wish him well.

My father was a Burnley postman who was prevented from taking his place at the grammar school in Burnley in 1917 on the basis that his family were too poor to buy him a uniform. That was the reason why he did not go to the school. However, my father, who has since died, knew only too well the true value of education and it was his proudest moment when I was not only the first in our family not to leave school at 15—that is what people did in working-class Lancashire mill towns in those days—but the first to go on to higher education. If this debate is about anything—

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): Shameless.

Mr. Willis: It was a shame; the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right.

Mr. Pound: I said shameless.

Mr. Willis: I am sorry.

If this debate is about anything, it is making sure that no student with talent is denied access to university on the basis of poverty or fear of debt. Access for students from under-represented groups must be one of the core issues that we address in this debate. It is one of the fundamental reasons why the Liberal Democrats, some Conservatives and, I suspect, the vast majority of Labour Members oppose the introduction of top-up fees and the escalation of student debt. It is why 139 Back-Bench Labour Members have voiced their opposition by signing early-day motion 2, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), and why four Cabinet members, including two former Secretaries of State for Education and two other Ministers, went on record condemning the very thought of such an idea.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department, who was then Secretary of State for Education and Employment, said in answer to a question about top-up fees—

Next Section

IndexHome Page