HC Deb 30 October 1996 vol 284 cc639-40
6. Mr. Betts

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the timetable for the intergovernmental conference. [688]

Mr. David Davis

The intergovernmental conference is expected to conclude in mid-1997. This objective was agreed at the Special European Council in Dublin on 5 October.

Mr. Betts

Is the Minister aware of a recent survey by the Institute of Management which showed that 68 per cent. of United Kingdom managers feel that the Government's policies have weakened the United Kingdom's position in Europe and that 56 per cent. of those managers believe that, as a result, we need a change of Government? As well as setting a timetable for the IGC, should not the Government also set a timetable for the general election to give the British people and British managers the chance to vote for a Labour Government who will be willing to give this country a new start in Europe?

Mr. Davis

The most terrible timetable this country could face would be under a Labour Government, when we would see the shortest and fastest loss of sovereignty that the country has faced in many years.

Mr. Cash

Will my hon. Friend take the opportunity to rule out a single currency before the Labour party does so, in line with the comments made by the shadow Foreign Secretary during the "On the Record" programme last weekend?

Mr. Davis

I was a Maastricht Whip for too long to get sucked into the Labour party's problems.

Mr. Robin Cook

I congratulate the Minister on having at least reached an agreement that the IGC should end by mid-1997. It is one of his few areas of agreement and he has been able to reach it only because he does not expect to be in office in mid-1997. Can the hon. Gentleman enlighten the House about the timetable for ending the beef ban? Does he recall the Prime Minister telling the House that a start would be made on lifting the ban by October and that most of the ban would be lifted by November? Will the Minister confirm that tomorrow is the last day of October and that Ministers now have no idea when the ban will be lifted because they have broken the commitments they made in Florence and the promises they made to British farmers?

Mr. Davis

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his optimism, if nothing else. The Prime Minister made clear yesterday the position about Florence; I was there, so I remember it too. The decision at Florence was to make any moves on the basis of the best science available. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman has read the Anderson report on the BSE epidemic and how long it will be before it is complete. That is the best science available. When the right hon. Gentleman has read that report, I will talk to him again about the timetable before us.

Mr. Forman

In the context of the IGC timetable, is my hon. Friend aware that many Conservative Members, from different points of view, believe that the Franco-German idea of a flexibility pact, in whatever form, would be dangerous to the interests of this country and would be a snare and a delusion from the British point of view? I make that comment because it would deprive us of the leverage that we now have in prospect of using our national veto on all those important constitutional issues where we want the principle of subsidiarity to work and we do not want to see further creeping European competence.

Mr. Davis

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. Two years ago, the Prime Minister made a speech at Leiden talking about variable geometry and flexibility. He did not have in mind the idea of creating some sidestep around the British veto, particularly on constitutional matters, which will change things for all time in the relationship between Europe and its constituent countries. I agree with everything that my hon. Friend said.

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