HC Deb 20 October 1992 vol 212 cc319-32 3.30 pm
The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major)

With permission, Madam Speaker, I shall make a statement about the European Council in Birmingham on Friday last. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I represented the United Kingdom.

I should like to thank the city of Birmingham, its leaders and its people—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. I know that hon. Members who are leaving the Chamber have business elsewhere in the House. Will they leave quietly so that we can hear what the Prime Minister has to say?

The Prime Minister

I should like to thank the city of Birmingham, its leaders and its people for the effectiveness and speed of their organisation of the European summit.

Following the events in the financial markets a month ago, a number of EC member states asked for this meeting to help to restore confidence throughout the Community and to address the issues raised by the market turbulence. Amongst those concerns, clearly evident in the referendums in Denmark and France, was the unease that too many decisions were being taken centrally in Brussels. The summit conclusions on these and other issues are in the Library of the House.

Let me deal first with economic and monetary co-operation. At Friday's meeting we reaffirmed our commitment to pursue open market policies, to control budget deficits, and to reduce inflation. It was unanimously agreed that these are the basis for recovery and for the creation of new and lasting jobs here and in the Community as a whole.

The European Council also reaffirmed the necessity of the work set in hand by Finance Ministers after the recent turmoil in the currency markets. It was agreed that the work will involve Finance Ministers, the Monetary Committee, Central Bank governors and the Commission. It will cover recent economic and financial developments in Europe and the implications of changes in the economic environment in recent years. In particular, it will look at the impact of the increasing size and sophistication of financial markets and greater capital liberalisation.

One critical discussion concerned the negotiations for a general agreement on tariffs and trade Uruguay round settlement. Over the past two weeks, significant progress had been made between the Commission and the United States in all sectors of the negotiation. I asked Commissioner Andriessen to report to the European Council. At the end of our discussion, the Commission was given the authority to continue to negotiate with the intention of reaching a satisfactory conclusion within the next 10 weeks. Subsequently, further useful progress was made in talks in Canada over the weekend. A GATT settlement would make a vital contribution to recovery and would be very much in Britain's interest. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, it would lead to an extra $200 billion in annual world output.

In the Birmingham declaration we also took significant steps towards bringing the Community closer to ordinary people. The declaration agreed at Birmingham has a number of distinct elements. It recognises the importance of national identity. It acknowledges that the Community can act only where member states have given it the power to do so in the treaties. It lays down that action at the Community level should happen only when necessary. It calls for new guidelines, so that when Community action is taken it takes the lightest possible form. It introduces better consultation by the Commission before proposals are brought forward. It calls for a greater role for national Parliaments in the work of the Community.

The declaration provides, for the first time, a proper framework for the practical definition and implementation of subsidiarity. We agreed that, at the Edinburgh European Council in two months' time, we must make a reality of that principle. All members of the European Council agreed to take decisions at Edinburgh to make subsidiarity an integral part of future EC decision making. That change of attitude by the Council and the Commission is as important as the procedures and criteria to be introduced.

Prime Minister Schluter of Denmark reported to the European Council on the present state of discussion on the Maastricht treaty within Denmark. The Danish Government have published a White Paper and will produce specific ideas shortly. It remains their aim to ratify the treaty, and we plan to set in place at Edinburgh the framework that will allow them to do so.

The Birmingham Council also gave us an opportunity to review our action to relieve suffering in Somalia and Yugoslavia. The Community has given a lead in both countries. In Somalia we called for an immediate ceasefire to allow for the rapid deployment of United Nations troops and for the distribution of aid and agreed to try to expedite these deployments.

In Yugoslavia, at British initiative, a Community humanitarian force will be established. It will support the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in delivering humanitarian aid. The Community will speed up aid already pledged, which includes 120,000 tonnes of food. We have invited the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to hold a meeting of experts as soon as possible to make sure that that aid gets through without delay. There will be a follow-up meeting in a few weeks' time to ensure that effective action is being taken. Member states also pledged further staff and resources to strengthen the UNHCR effort. I can today announce a further £15 million of bilaterial aid to provide 22 more trucks, 10 Land Rovers, shelter, medical supplies and personnel. Deliveries will start very shortly.

A confident and successful Community is a vital interest of this country. Sixty per cent. of our visible trade is with the Community. Much of our external investment comes from the Community. Eight of our top 10 trading partners are in the Community. With less than three months to go to the completion of the single market, which could raise Community output by more than 4 per cent., it was vital to re-establish confidence in the interests of stability, recovery, growth and jobs in all our countries. The Birmingham European Council did precisely that.

Mr. John Smith (Monklands, East)

Let me make it clear at the outset that the Labour party welcomes the discussions and decisions on the former Yugoslavia and on Somalia.

We agree with the emphasis laid on providing winter shelter for the very large number of people who are now at risk in the former Yugoslavia and on the strengthening of support for the humanitarian aid and relief provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

We are glad that the seriousness of the situation in Somalia is recognised, but does not the fact that it is so widely accepted that more needs to be done illustrate how irresponsible it would be to cut overseas aid even further as the problems of famine spread, not just in Somalia but throughout east, central and southern Africa?

Although the importance of a GATT agreement was acknowledged at the summit, little progress appears to have been made towards achieving it.

Those important matters apart, is it not now clear that this was a summit conceived in panic after Britain's humiliating withdrawal from the ERM, a summit which should have had jobs, growth and investment at the top of its agenda but did not, and a summit which turned out to be another missed opportunity of the inept and fumbling British presidency?

As we were told that a principal reason for calling the summit was to make a major reform of the so-called fault lines in the ERM, why was that brushed aside in anodyne references to the need for further reflection and analysis? If the Government had a case on that matter, why did not they use their presidency to make it? Was it because if they had done so other participants in the events leading up to black Wednesday such as the German and Italian Governments would have exposed the gross incompetence displayed by the Prime Minister and his Chancellor of the Exchequer? Can the Prime Minister tell us whether during the presidency his Government have produced one initiative which tackles rising unemployment, falling investment and low growth?

In the context of the declaration on greater openness, the Prime Minister said: The Community must send a signal to the citizens of Europe that we will listen to their worries and respond to their needs. If that is such good advice, why does he not lead by example? What evidence is there that he listens to the deep worries and real needs of British citizens as our economy slides from recession into slump?

When the Prime Minister agreed at Birmingham that promoting subsidiarity involved greater openness, a better informed public, decentralisation of decision-taking and better consultations before proposals were made, did it ever occur to him that those desirable characteristics of good government were signally lacking in his own Administration at home? Is to refuse an independent review of the pit closures consistent with his profession at Birmingham about the need for a more informed public debate and more open government? Is that an example of better consultation procedures before proposals are made?

When the Prime Minister said that his EC partners should give the Maastricht treaty what he described as a human face, did he not appreciate that the social chapter is precisely that part of the treaty which other member states see as its human face but which his Government reject? Does he not realise that the social chapter is essential in transforming a market for business into a Community for people?

In summation, was not the Birmingham summit typical of the British presidency as a whole—inconclusive and largely irrelevant?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for occasionally touching on the summit, even though when he did so he showed how little he really knows or understands about the Community. On the few summit points that he made, I am grateful for his support for what is being done for Yugoslavia and the humanitarian aid that is being dispensed there. It is the British Government and British aid that is leading the way in Yugoslavia. It is British medicine that is reaching people in Yugoslavia, and it was largely British planes which led the way in carrying that aid into Yugoslavia.

On the GATT round, it is not the case that little progress was made at the summit. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman must understand as leader of his party that it is not normally always possible to state in public what has taken place in private among Heads of Government. But we have made progress towards a GATT settlement.

On the right hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks about the fault lines in the exchange rate mechanism, for market reasons that is a matter which needs to be discussed in private. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman is a former shadow Chancellor, I am astonished that he has no apparent understanding whatever of that. As for the summit being called, as he put it, in panic, it was demanded by France and other countries and not by the United Kingdom. So I trust that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will direct his remarks and criticisms to other sources rather than to us.

On the question of conversations with the Italian and German Governments, perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman should consult them. He would then be better informed about what they had to say.

On the question of openness and other matters, as I made clear in my statement a few minutes ago, these are matters on which detailed decisions are now committed for the Edinburgh summit in just 10 weeks.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman returned yet again to the social chapter, utterly failing to understand yet again the impact that he is told by every employer and business man that it will have on jobs, prosperity and employment in Britain. If he is to lecture us on unemployment and jobs, let him drop his affiliation to the job-destruction measure which we in Britain will not accept.

Sir Peter Tapsell (East Lindsey)

Following the Birmingham declaration, does my right hon. Friend feel that he can claim the prize of 200,000 ecu offered by Mr. Delors for the first person who can define subsidiarity?

The Prime Minister

The prize might have to be divided among all the Heads of Government, including the President of the Commission, who introduced a paper which dealt with subsidiarity—a paper of great clarity which moved the Community's position forward.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

I understand that the summit is already known in Brussels as the summit that never was: called to discuss the exchange rate mechanism, it never discussed it; called to put pressure on the Danes, it did not do so; called to explain Maastricht to the people, it only briefly began that task.

I shall concentrate on the area that the Prime Minister said in his statement was a British initiative, an area that has been regarded by many as one of the successes in Birmingham—the action taken in Bosnia. We have to be grateful for small and for late mercies, but it was not the action taken too late at Birmingham which will cost lives in Sarajevo and throughout Bosnia; it was the lack of action during the past three months. I ask the Prime Minister to reflect on the fact that every measure taken in Birmingham was a measure that he told me in August was impractical. I ask him to reflect on the fact that, as a result of that delay, humanitarian aid will have to go over winter rather than summer roads in Bosnia, and that the failure to stockpile food in Sarajevo, which I and others called for in August and September, will result in miserable deaths in a European city which we shall see writhing in its agony on our television screens as we come up to Christmas.

The story of the Prime Minister's actions as leader of the European Community—he was not alone in the lack of leadership but had a duty of leadership as President of the EC—will be a story that will look miserable and tortured for the next six months, and the epitaph written on it will be, "Too little and too late."

The Prime Minister

I have rarely heard a more arrogant assertion of inaccuracies. As the leader of the party that barely is, the right hon. Gentleman ought to be better informed about what this country has done. He ought to spend less time running down the work that has been done by British aid agencies, pilots, individuals and Government. We were among the first to put planes and aid into Yugoslavia. We put in as much aid as anyone. We put troops in, against the opposition of many people, because we believed that it was right to assist people who will face difficulty this winter. The medicines that are treating people in Yugoslavia come from this country, and so do many of the doctors. The right hon. Gentleman would be better employed bearing in mind the work that we have done and the leadership that we have given rather than attacking on every occasion what this country has done.

Sir Peter Hordern (Horsham)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the effectiveness of the European Community will be judged not by its internal institutions but by its relations with the outside world, and in particular in the GATT negotiations? Will my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that no country in the European Community will be allowed to prevent a successful outcome of the GATT negotiations upon which so much hangs?

The Prime Minister

I shall certainly endeavour to ensure that that is the position. Once the Community's negotiators recommend an outcome to the Community, a decision can be taken by qualified majority. If there is an overwhelming majority in the Community, because negotiations were permitted to proceed last week, it is not now possible for one Community member to block an agreement, provided that the Commission reaches an agreement and that, as the Community's negotiators, it recommends that agreement to the European Council.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

Did the Prime Minister refer at any time from the chair in Birmingham to the common agricultural policy? In that regard, if it is right to protect British agriculture against cheaper food from outside the EEC, at substantial cost to every British family, not to mention the food mountains, why is it wrong to protect British coal?

The Prime Minister

There was a very heavy agenda at Birmingham, as will be apparent from what I said a few moments ago, and on this occasion there was not a discussion on the common agricultural policy. We have had that discussion frequently and will no doubt return to it in the future, not least because of the reforms that have taken place, many of them led by the British Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, in Birmingham, he was congratulated upon his very interesting speech at the Conservative party conference in which he said that the Maastricht treaty was not about immigration? I wonder whether he would comment on page 84 of the treaty, article K.1.3, which appears to read: immigration policy and policy regarding nationals of third countries I wonder whether my right hon. Friend could confirm that he obtained the legal advice upon that speech from my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

The Prime Minister

I am sure that my hon. Friend is familiar with article K.4.3, which makes it clear that the Council shall act unanimously in this area unless it decides, unanimously, that implementing action is to be adopted by qualified majority.

As I made clear the other day, the only common interest in immigration in the European Community is the external girdle around Europe. The justification for that is that over the next decade a genuine difficulty may be faced across the whole of western Europe by immigration from Africa north into Europe and from eastern Europe west into Europe. British immigration policy is not damaged by anything in the Maastricht treaty, and I repeat that point to my hon. Friend in case he is in any doubt.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

Is not the Prime Minister aware of the obvious contradiction in the Birmingham declaration between its passage about a Community close to its citizens and the passage that follows immediately which deals with proceeding, without hesitation, to ratify the Maastricht treaty?

Is it not a fact that the Danish people have said no in their referendum on the Maastricht treaty, that the French managed to get a majority by a knife edge in favour of the treaty, and that the British people have not even been asked? Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that he has not gone back on the promise that he made to the House in his statement on 29 June after the Lisbon summit that we would not proceed with the Bill to ratify the Maastricht treaty until the Danish Government had made clear whether they would present new proposals to their people in order to obtain their consent? Is it not clear that the Danish White Paper is simply a consultative document and that, therefore, we have not reached that stage? May we therefore be assured that there will be no early move to reintroduce the European Communities (Amendment) Bill?

The Prime Minister

The fact is that the Danes are going to go hack at the end of their consultation period to seek the assent of their people in the constitutional referendum that is necessary. The Danish Prime Minister has made that clear. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the French result, but the fact is that the French won the referendum by the same sort of majority that the Danes lost by. In the United Kingdom the long-standing principle is that these matters are decided in this House, in the United Kingdom Parliament. In due course, after we have had the paving debate that I promised the House, we shall reintroduce the Maastricht treaty in this Session of Parliament.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the conference was a successful occasion as it showed further progress towards developing the European Community? Can he say a little more about the plans for greater openness by the Council of Ministers?

The Prime Minister

I can certainly say that a whole series of proposals are now being examined in the hope that they will be finalised by the Edinburgh summit. That is our intention. Among the matters we have in mind, for example, before decision making is done, is the much greater use of Green Papers, familiar to the House in our legislative procedures but less familiar to the House in terms of the European Community's activities. That is an illustration of the sort of matter that is at present under consideration.

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)

Did the Birmingham summit advance the cause of European union?

The Prime Minister

The Birmingham summit was called not for that purpose but for the purposes I set out. European union—depending on its definition—[Interruption.] There have been many disagreements about the definition, from the time it was first set out in the treaty of Rome—is certainly not imminent. If by European union the right hon. Gentleman means currency union and a single currency, I have expressed the view that I have expressed to the House before: I believe that the required convergence of European economies will take far longer than is set out in the timetable to which others signed up at Maastricht but to which we did not, and I believe that current events make that clearer hour by hour.

Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the progress made at Birmingham, but can he ensure that by the time of the Edinburgh summit there is a list available, agreed by the Commission, of those detailed areas from which it will withdraw on the ground that such matters are better handled at national level? Is he aware that in that way we shall be able to worry not just about the meaning of the word "subsidiarity" but see how it will work in practice?

The Prime Minister

I can confirm that that is the intention.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Will the Prime Minister confirm that at Birmingham Chancellor Kohl put forward proposals on subsidiarity that are much more far reaching than those the right hon. Gentleman outlined today and were in line with the proposals put forward by the Germans to the Council of Ministers in Brussels? Are Her Majesty's Government actively considering those proposals put forward by Chancellor Kohl?

The Prime Minister

Chancellor Kohl's proposals were certainly far reaching, but they were not more far reaching than those put forward by the United Kingdom Government. We have been in discussion with the German Government for some time over the question of subsidiarity. We share the view that we need to move in that direction. That is no longer just the view of the British Government, as it was some time ago. it now has solid support from the German, French and other Governments. There has been a sea change in attitude among the European Heads of Government, brought about by a range of events over the past year or so, not least the continued advocacy of the case by the British Government. So that the hon. Gentleman is right to say that the Germans are in favour of greater subsidiarity, but he is incorrect in saying that their proposals are more far reaching and wide ranging than are ours.

Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm, and not be too modest about it, that it is as the result of his personal intervention with our French partners at Birmingham that the dispute between Europe and America over farm subsidies is likely to be resolved and that there will be concluded a GATT agreement which will do far more than anything else for world trade and getting the economy out of recession?

The Prime Minister

It is absolutely clear that nothing could be more beneficial for world economic circumstances at present than a satisfactory speedy GATT agreement. I confirm that I have had a number of conversations with the Commission, with individual Governments in the Community and with the United States. I shall continue to do so for the reason I set out, which is that there is nothing more important on the economic agenda at present than the satisfactory conclusion of a GATT agreement.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

In seeking so unsuccessfully to put flesh on subsidiarity, did the Prime Minister draw to the attention of his fellow Heads of State the opinion of Lord Mackenzie-Stuart, the jurist and the former president of the European Court, that the definition as given in the treaty is gobbledegook? What is the right hon. Gentleman's reaction to that view?

The Prime Minister

My view is the same as that of the Lord Chancellor of this country, who does not agree with the noble Lord to whom the hon. Gentleman referred.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the greatest adverse consequences of failure to reach agreement in the GATT round is that not only would it be extremely damaging to ourselves but would be devastating for third world countries? Is he aware that agreement will be best achieved by the way in which he is proceeding rather than by silly megaphone negotiations? Does he accept that, generally speaking, the weird notion that we can solve Britain's economic problems independently of and in isolation from the Community is the greatest delusion since the Indian rope trick?

The Prime Minister

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's final point. In terms of economics and trade, nowhere in the world is an island these days and international co-operation is vital in the self-interest of jobs, prosperity, growth and our future.

My hon. Friend is also entirely right in saying that the principal gainer from a satisfactory GATT agreement will be the third world. On the one hand, it now receives aid from the west and, on the other, it must be deeply frustrated by seeing the west then close its markets to third world exports and products. The third world wishes to export, become self-sustaining and build up its own industries. That is vital, as is an early settlement of the long-running and damaging oilseeds dispute between the Community and the United States.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

The Prime Minister has expressed his support for the principle of subsidiarity and a greater role for national Parliaments. How does he reconcile that principle with his refusal to allow the nations of Scotland and Wales to have Parliaments of their own? Before he goes to Edinburgh, will he recognise the overwhelming demand of people in Scotland that there should be a Parliament to serve the people of Scotland so that they may have a greater role under the principle of subsidiarity?

The Prime Minister

I am inclined to refer the hon. Gentleman to the 40 or 50 times that I have answered that question before.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Did the Danish Government say in Birmingham how soon they expected the completion of their inter-party talks on the conditions for a second referendum in Denmark? If those conditions are not acceptable in Brussels, does not that mean that the second referendum in Denmark will not take place and that the Maastricht treaty will be dead, regardless of anything that we do?

The Prime Minister

The Community is anxious to assist the Danes in the difficulties that they face at the moment. We hope to put in place at the Edinburgh summit a framework to do that. That was agreed at Birmingham a few days ago. The Danish Prime Minister is in the process of consulting the other Danish political parties and much wider. He then proposes to set out what he believes is necessary to enable him to put the treaty for consideration before his people again at a further referendum. It is impossible to put a precise timescale on that at present, but it is clear that the Danes wish to proceed with it as speedily as practicable.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

On behalf of all my colleagues who are privileged to represent the city of Birmingham, may I thank the Prime Minister for his expression of thanks to the people of that great city and its city council for their efforts in making arrangements for the summit? May I also, on their behalf, invite the Prime Minister back to Birmingham as soon as possible so that he can explain directly to those people and their city council what positive results came from that summit, or what positive results he expects from the Edinburgh summit, which will get the people of the west midlands back to work?

The Prime Minister

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, I am grateful for his remarks. The organisation in Birmingham was remarkable and was dealt with at great speed. The convention centre there is of a high order and everything that was necessary was readily provided, including the striking of a remarkable memento coin that was handed to all the European Heads of Government. I reiterate my thanks to the people and council of Birmingham.

On the second half of the hon. Gentleman's question, I shall happily send a copy of the Birmingham statement immediately, but he will have to wait for a copy of the Edinburgh statement until after we have had the Edinburgh summit.

Sir George Gardiner (Reigate)

In the light of my right hon. Friend's experience at Birmingham, is he confident that the Edinburgh summit will produce not only a practical definition of subsidiarity but a precise legal definition that will stand up to tests before the European Court?

The Prime Minister

That is certainly our intention. The definition is already legally underpinned by article 3b of the Maastricht treaty. We must negotiate and agree a definition among all the 12 members of the Community, but I believe that there is a will among the Twelve to reach an agreement, and we committed ourselves to doing so in Birmingham.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

Did not this jamboree prove to be a grossly embarrassing sideshow, a gross waste of public money, which served only to increase opposition to the Maastricht treaty? Is it not clear that there is no escape via subsidiarity because nobody knows what it means? If the Prime Minister knows what it means and puts it on a piece of paper, Jacques Delors is willing to give him 200,000 ecu.

The Prime Minister

I think that the hon. Gentleman's wish is father to the thought. I doubt that those people in Yugoslavia who have got extra aid, those in Somalia who will get extra help, people who see the prospect of a GATT agreement moving that bit nearer and people who can now see the changes that will clearly come about in terms of subsidiarity would recognise an iota of truth in what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

In present circumstances arising from Birmingham, what is more important to my right hon. Friend—the good will of a couple of elderly European politicians intent on imposing their blueprint on an increasingly reluctant Europe, or the good will of his hon. Friends? If it is the latter, would not it be the height of political wisdom for my right hon. Friend to delay the return of the Maastricht treaty to this House until such time as the Danes have ratified it? God willing, they may never do so.

The Prime Minister

Surely there is no doubt about the good will of my hon. Friend. I for one have never doubted it. I look for his support now and in the future on the programme on which we jointly contested the general election. He mentions our colleagues in Europe. This country, as with their countries, always has to put the national interest first and always will. A part of our national interest must mean that we have a central say in the decisions taken in Europe that affect this country, its jobs, its industry and its prosperity, and that we are determined to do. It may be the ambition of some to see this country isolated as a sour little outpost of western Europe, but it is not my ambition.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

Does the Prime Minister understand that the case for subsidiarity from Brussels to Westminster, which he supports, is the same as that for subsidiarity from Westminster to Edinburgh, which he does not support? As he has such poor understanding of the concept of subsidiarity, I advise him not to take up Jacques Delors' offer of a job in the Commission and 140,000 ecu for the first person to explain subsidiarity on one side of a piece of paper. Alas, as with his present employment, that is another job for which the right hon. Gentleman is uniquely unsuited.

The Prime Minister

I have no wish either now or in the future for a job in the Commission.

Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the role of national Parliaments will be fully recognised and reflected in the work of the Community?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir; and one of the agreements made at Birmingham was that we shall be looking for ways to agree at Edinburgh that will enhance, not diminish, the role of national Parliaments.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North)

Will the Prime Minister stop wringing his hands at the Dispatch Box in an attempt to explain to his Back Benchers the cosmetic changes to Maastricht? Why did he not seize the opportunity at Birmingham to sell British coal from the most efficient coal industry in Europe to our European partners instead of announcing last week plans to butcher that industry?

The Prime Minister

There is no hand wringing at all; the hon. Gentleman is mistaken about that. He spoke about British coal. If, for example, he had spoken about imports from Germany and German subsidies, I would have had to tell him that the scale of such imports to the United Kingdom coal market is .002 per cent. Much of it is anthracite and other coal that is not readily available here, and virtually none of it goes to power stations. The hon. Gentleman would be wise not to raise too many myths.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

Did the Birmingham summit consider the serious situation that is developing as a result of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia insisting on the continued use of that name? Is he aware of the great strength of feeling about this in our Community partner of Greece? Will he take all possible steps to avoid conflict in that area?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend raises a question that has been discussed on a number of occasions in the Foreign Affairs Council and in the European Council at Lisbon. It is a particularly intractable problem which the Community is actively seeking to solve. There were no discussions in the formal meeting, but I understand that there were bilateral discussions at the Birmingham summit even in the limited time that we were there.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Reverting to the Delors prize for the definition of subsidiarity, would the Prime Minister be interested to know that I am putting in a 95-word attempt at that competition? Does the Prime Minister recall that, on a number of occasions, and particularly on 29 June at column 594 of Hansard, he asserted that there is a definition of subsidiarity in article 3b? Indeed, on that occasion he said that it was justiciable. Does this not mean that either the Prime Minister has signed a treaty containing an unsatisfactory definition of this concept or that all this kerfuffle is unnecessary? Which is right?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is probably too late for the award, although I am sure that he would be a powerful contestant. At the summit at Birmingham, Mr. Delors made a substantial presentation on subsidiarity, how it would be brought about, and how it would proceed. From that, the hon. Gentleman will find that a clear, practical definition, apart from the legal definition that is justiciable and that exists in article 3b, will be available. Therefore, he is too late for the prize.

Mr. Michael Spicer (Worcestershire, South)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, in a speech on 7 September in the Queen Elizabeth hall, he said that he would not wish to bring the Bill ratifying Maastricht back to the House until what he called the "Danish difficulties" had been resolved? As Birmingham showed that the "Danish difficulties" have not been resolved, will he consider not bringing back the Bill until at least after the Edinburgh conference?

The Prime Minister

It is now clear from my discussions with the Danish Prime Minister and from what the Danes have said how the Danes will resolve their difficulties. They have set out alternative options on which they are negotiating. They then propose to come to the European summit at Edinburgh and then to proceed. Therefore, the way is open, at a time convenient to the House, for us to reconsider the treaty to which, on behalf of the country and with the consent of the House, I gave our name.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

The Prime Minister said earlier that there was discussion of Government deficits. Later, he said that he did not believe that we would move to economic and monetary union in the timescale laid out in the Maastricht treaty. He knows, as we know, that the times for convergence imply an enormous cut in Government expenditure. As we in Britain are on the brink of a terrible slump and need to borrow to invest, and as there is a terrible depression spreading across Europe, was there discussion of modifying the terms of convergence so that the people of Europe can borrow money to invest, thereby creating jobs rather than furthering depression?

The Prime Minister

There was not a discussion of deficits as such in the way suggested by the hon. Lady. There was an agreement, based on discussions on deficits that we have had on many occasions, of the desirability of containing deficits as one of the essential prerequisites to growth and prosperity. As I said in an earlier answer, I do not believe that the convergence timetable is practical at the moment. With the possible exception of Luxembourg and France, none of the countries, including Germany, meet all of the convergence timetable, and some of them seem very far away.

On the basis of sound economic policies, quite apart from any convergence criteria set at Maastricht, these convergence principles are right for sound economic management—nobody doubts that, certainly among the European Heads of Government. However, as I said earlier, in the present circumstances it is becoming increasingly unlikely that countries will reach convergence conditions on the timetable set out in the Maastricht treaty. That is not a new judgment; I made it when I declined to commit the country to entering a single currency on the timescale agreed by our European partners.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

With national economies in recession throughout the world, does my right hon. Friend agree that what we most need now is a restoration of trading confidence, which will most easily follow from agreement under the general agreement on tariffs and trade? Does he agree also that as a major trading nation we would stand to benefit greatly from such an agreement? Does he believe that there is now a genuine political will within Europe to achieve a GATT agreement?

The Prime Minister

I agree unreservedly with every word that my hon. Friend has spoken. I believe that there is a genuine political will across Europe. I hope that it extends in precisely the same measure to each and every country in Europe. Certainly the Heads of Government agreed on the desirability of securing a settlement. Our negotiators have been sent back to negotiate first with the Americans. When those negotiations are completed, they will return to the general negotiations in Geneva to reach a settlement. I fervently hope that that will be possible.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Given that one of the stated objectives of the United Kingdom's presidency was the widening of the Community, or the speeding up of that process, will the Prime Minister accept that there is genuine concern among many of us on both sides of the Chamber that there seems to be an inability within the Community to resolve a European problem, which is that of Bosnia and the surrounding areas of that state?

As the Prime Minister has already said that there was not a substantive debate at Birmingham on the issue, will he tell us what diplomatic initiatives he envisages between members of the Community in addition to the humanitarian aid, which we all welcome while recognising the complexities of the situation? What is being done to ensure that refugees from what appears to be genocide are shown the hand of friendship by this country as well as by other members of the Community?

The Prime Minister

Many refugees—I do not have the number immediately to hand—have been admitted to this country in recent months. The London conference set out a series of objectives that few people expected to be met in terms of seeking to reach an agreement in respect of the tangled conflict in Bosnia. It is not an agreement that is readily available with the ancient hatreds—I can put it in no other way—that have been reopened by the combatants in the dispute. United Nations negotiators are in constant touch to see what can be done. Progress appears to have been made time and again. It has then been broken, as it were, and the word has been broken of one or other of the combatants who put their hand to progress. That is a matter of great regret to me and everyone else.

There is a difficulty that the hon. Lady and the House generally must face. I share her view of the humanitarian difficulties that will be faced this winter, and that is why the United Kingdom has taken so much action, but I do not believe that it would be a practicable proposition for this country, or any collection of countries, to put troops into the middle of the dispute to hold the combatants apart. With great regret, I do not believe that that would be possible or practicable. I believe that there would be a blood bath of unprecedented proportions and that the troops who would be there would be there for an indefinite period. I do not believe, given the terrain and the circumstances, that such a move would be possible. That means that we are driven back to negotiations, and negotiations are being carried out on behalf of the United Nations.

We must rely on the good will of the combatants—to my great regret, it has not always been forthcoming. We shall have to continue to try to do that and in the meantime alleviate the hardship as much as we can. In terms of alleviating the hardship, there is a decision to send 1,800 British troops, who will stay there. There will be rather more initially to establish the troops in post. It is a difficult decision. It will not be an easy task for the troops, nor will it necessarily be a safe one. I took the decision because I share the view that has been expressed by the hon. Lady and by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), the leader of the Liberal Democrat party, that during the winter, whatever we do and whatever anybody else does, many men, women and children will die, quite apart from those killed in conflict, as a result of the terrible dispute in former Yugoslavia.

Several Hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. On that note I am drawing this session of questions to a close—[Interruption.] I am always in a no-win situation when it comes to statements. We must now move on.