HC Deb 01 March 1995 vol 255 cc1027-8
2. Mr. Whittingdale

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress he has made on drawing up proposals for the 1996 intergovernmental conference.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. David Davis)

We are developing our approach to next year's intergovernmental conference, based on the principles outlined by the Prime Minister. We are determined to play a positive and constructive role in it, and to ensure a successful outcome which promotes British interests.

Mr. Whittingdale

Is it not increasingly obvious that the convergence criteria set down in the Maastricht treaty and the timetable for achieving them are now utterly discredited? Does my hon. Friend agree that although the convergence criteria in themselves are sensible objectives of economic policy the timetable is a political tool and should be taken out of the treaty altogether?

Mr. Davis

I have some sympathy with what my hon. Friend says about the timetable, and that is reflected to some extent in the Government's stance on the 1996–97 aspect of that timetable. We emphasise the criteria as being more important than the timetable itself, and we are not alone in that. That attitude is also taken, for example, by the head of the Bundesbank, Mr. Tietmeyer, who has made it very clear that the criteria are the key issue and that we have to hit those before any further progress is made.

Mr. Worthington

I have noted with interest what the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary have said recently about co-operation between Britain and France on defence measures. Following the withdrawal, in effect, of the United States from United Nations peacekeeping operations and the lack of logistical support, do the Government regard the intergovernmental conference as a suitable framework in which there might be more European co-operation to give logistical support to peacekeeping operations in Africa?

Mr. Davis

That sort of thing is happening anyway, but the hon. Gentleman is right inasmuch as the sort of things being countenanced as the defence component of the IGC are what are called Petersburg-type actions, which involve peacekeeping and other similar measures, not as a replacement or in any way a supplanting or weakening of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Mr. Colvin

I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that it is important that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary should go to the IGC with the whole-hearted support of the House and the people we represent. Does he agree, however, that if there were a referendum on any subject before the IGC, he would go to the conference not with our support but in a straitjacket and that any referendum—if there is to be one—should therefore be after the IGC and not before?

Mr. Davis

My hon. Friend has a good point. Any referendum would have importance only in the event cif a change that is of constitutional significance. To hold a referendum in advance would imply that we intended to negotiate such a change. That is not what we have in mind.

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