HC Deb 18 June 1997 vol 296 cc313-30 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: The United Kingdom shall be entitled…to exercise at its frontiers with other member states such controls on persons seeking to enter the United Kingdom as it may consider necessary for the purpose. 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.

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.

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.

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.

Mr. John Major (Huntingdon)

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and for returning to the House speedily to deliver it.

In some areas, I can support the Prime Minister's statement, although in others the implications of what he has agreed have yet to be more fully set out than he has been able to set them out today. As the House will know, the documentation is extensive, and it is not yet fully available. I hope that the Prime Minister can confirm that the House will have the opportunity of a debate as soon as it has had a chance to study the implications of what he has negotiated.

Will the Prime Minister also confirm that the treaty as originally envisaged is not yet complete, and that large and important areas have not yet been decided and, indeed, were not mentioned in his statement? Can he tell us how many of the points that he has announced today will need legislation? As many of them are constitutional, can he confirm that those constitutional points will be debated here, on the Floor of the House, in due course when the legislation is introduced?

At the outset, let me probe what seems to have been agreed on NATO and on border control. On defence, the Prime Minister is entirely right to resist merging the European Union with the Western European Union, and he has our full and unqualified support for doing so; but may I check precisely what he has agreed to? Notwithstanding his assurances to the House, the draft treaty talks of the objective of gradual integration of the Western European Union into the European Union". When and how is that to happen?

The Dutch presidency has said that for the first time Britain has conceded the principle of integrating defence in the European union". Is that correct? Can the Prime Minister clarify the matter or explain why the presidency should have said that if it is not the case? How does that square with what the Prime Minister has been saying?

On border controls, is the Prime Minister aware that he has our complete and unqualified support in maintaining the control of this House over this country's national borders? There can be no question about that. Is it not a fact, however, that the agreement on border control was effectively achieved by last March, when our partners accepted that Britain would never give up border control? Can the Prime Minister confirm that the Dutch presidency made that clear then? If he cannot, I will hand him the quotes and the reports of the time which illustrate that that was indeed the case.

Is not the reality that this outcome—which is very welcome—was achieved by negotiations conducted by the last Government, and that what the Prime Minister has done is apply his usual jackdaw technique of picking up other people's property and claiming credit for it?

Can the Prime Minister also clarify the impact that Amsterdam has had on other elements of justice and home affairs? Is it not the case that the Government have an opt-out only on border controls? Where exactly do they stand on the new title on asylum and immigration that is proposed in the draft treaty? It is not clear from what the Prime Minister had to say. Could he tell me whether the European Court of Justice and the Commission's remit has been extended, as seems to have been done, to cover asylum and immigration? Is it not the case that the Council of Ministers, at a later date, will consider extending qualified majority voting to this area?

Could I ask the Prime Minister to outline the implications of the treaty for the European Court of Justice? Can he confirm to the House that he dropped the previous Government's proposals to reform the European Court of Justice although some of them had support from some of our European partners? Can he also confirm that he has achieved nothing to limit the damaging effect of retrospective application of European Court of Justice judgments?

On qualified majority voting, can the Prime Minister confirm in which areas he has given up the veto and explain how that will be of benefit to the House or the British nation? Can he also tell the House whether there are other areas where our veto has been bypassed or will be revisited at a later date?

The Prime Minister said that jobs were at the top of his agenda. Can he name any precise and practical measures that have been agreed at this summit that will create jobs other than for lawyers interpreting the treaty? Can he confirm that the social chapter will be integrated in the treaty, making a mockery of the claim to extend labour market flexibility? Can he also confirm that, utterly contrary to what he said in the general election campaign, this extends qualified majority voting to a wide range of new and important areas? What precisely has he agreed—an employment chapter with teeth that imposes costs and interferes, or an employment chapter with no teeth that raises expectations that it cannot meet?

Can the Prime Minister clarify what he has agreed on flexibility? He says that he has a veto, but can he indicate what agreement he has reached with his colleagues as to the areas in which he would permit this new flexibility to proceed by unanimity?

On common foreign policy where the Prime Minister's statement was particularly unclear, can he tell the House what is meant by common strategies? To what extent will decisions of the Council on common foreign and security policy be made by qualified majority voting? [Interruption.] Labour Members do not like these questions, but they should have been in the Prime Minister's statement and they were not.

Can the Prime Minister tell the House who will adjudicate on what is national policy and, therefore, to be decided by unanimity? On quota hopping, we look forward to the statement by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in a few moments, but the Prime Minister should know that the Spanish have already poured scorn on his claims to have solved quota hopping. He agreed in the election that it could be effectively dealt with only by treaty changes, but does not his agreement depend entirely on Commission good will and will not it seek to look after the interests of not just this country but Dutch, Spanish and other interests as well? Is not it the case that he made not the slightest attempt to push through the treaty changes that were the only way to guarantee help for British fishermen?

On enlargement, the Foreign Secretary extolled the virtues last week of a wider Europe, and we agree with him on that, but where is the progress on enlargement in the treaty? Where was the agreement over institutional reform, on the number of Commissioners, on voting weights? What practical measures will be taken to ensure that new countries are welcomed into the Community? Is it not a fact that this treaty does nothing whatever to help build the wider Europe that the Prime Minister says that he wishes to see and which I wish to see, but does help to create a deeper and more centrally integrated Europe?

Some of the right hon. Gentleman's agreements we can welcome; others suggest that this is both a botched and an incomplete negotiation that he is reporting to the House. It will certainly cause dismay in central and eastern Europe, as he should know. Much of what the Prime Minister has just won he inherited, and much of the rest was never at risk, as he knows. The Prime Minister has made a series of concessions to the European Union. He has gained nothing that was not readily available and he has done nothing whatever to widen the Community and much to ensure that it is deepened. He has missed the opportunities of the summit. What he has reported is not a triumph but a travesty.

The Prime Minister

Well, that was a good try anyway. I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman, in all sincerity, that on 9 June he made a speech in the House where he took the Labour Government to task for, he said, being about to sell out and give away a whole lot of things. Apart from issues such as the social chapter and employment chapter, where we are in genuine disagreement, I think that we have secured agreement on every single point that he made in that speech, as well as on certain things that he did not mention, such as legal personality, which he said we would never possibly get taken out of the treaty—and we did.

Anyway, if I may deal with the points that the right hon. Gentleman has made, of course the intergovernmental conference will require legislation. As for debating it on the Floor of the House, that will be discussed by the business managers in the normal way, but, of course, it will be properly debated. As for what he was saying about the WEU and EU and gradual integration, of course, the draft treaty text was precisely what was changed, so we now have a situation where there is no obligation to move into integration at all. That is the very thing that we managed to secure.

What is more, for the first time, we have secured a specific statement in the treaty that says that NATO for us is the foundation of our common defence. That is a huge step forward. It is what we never had before and we have now.

In relation to border controls, the right hon. Gentleman says that last March they had all got an agreement. I have to say that that is not our understanding of it. He was in power for 18 years, during which time they did not secure that at any point—either under him or under the previous Prime Minister.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about asylum and immigration. We have no obligation to be in that at all, but what we have secured, which is important and a better way of going about things, is what I call an opt-in. We have the power within the treaty to go into any of these areas if we want to. If we do not want to, we need not, but if we do, no other country can block us going in. For example, the European Court of Justice role in Schengen, which he was talking about, does not affect us.

It is more sensible to realise that the rest of Europe has a genuine, different interest. In the rest of Europe, people want a uniform system of asylum, immigration and visa policy throughout the continent of Europe—and they want it, in many ways, to toughen their immigration and asylum policy. There are severe problems in many of the countries, not least Germany, because of the asylum and immigration policies that they have.

Our interest is different and there is no harm in recognising that there are different interests. The purpose of the protocol is to secure our legal frontiers, but to allow other countries, if they want to do things differently, to have another system, with our having the power to join them if we want to, but being under no obligation to do so.

In relation to QMV, we secured unanimity in all the areas where we wanted it, such as immigration. We made sure that the national veto was preserved in all the areas that we wanted, but, yes, there were some areas in which I agreed an extension of QMV—research, for example. It is important for this country that we have QMV in certain areas. It is a good thing for us, not a bad thing. Fraud is one such area. It is good that we have QMV in certain areas because we can then prevent smaller countries from blocking our interest.

The curious thing about the psychology of the Conservative party—which has become more curious today in this great new alliance, this meeting of minds—is that the greatest extension of QMV was agreed by the Conservative Government and that the very greatest extension was by Baroness Thatcher at the time of the Single European Act. That was the right thing to do. I do not say that as a point of criticism because if people can block measures opening up the single market, that is an inhibition on the effective working of the EU.

The right hon. Gentleman asks about the employment chapter. Incidentally, we secured a benefit from being part of the social chapter because there were moves by other countries to extend QMV to areas in social security and elsewhere that we did not want. If we were not part of it, they would have done it, and it would have been part of the social chapter. He would say, "Well, we had our opt-out", but experience teaches us that, in fact, these things still affect British companies operating on a European-wide basis. By being part of it, we were able to ensure that the social chapter was drafted sensibly.

On the employment chapter, heaven knows why the right hon. Gentleman's Government opposed that. It is a perfectly sensible measure. I do not know whether he was attacking it for being too prescriptive or for not being prescriptive enough. It provides the opportunity for measures to be taken, for example, to assist small businesses. That is a perfectly good thing. It sets the creation of jobs at the core of the employment chapter, in a way that is responsive to economic change. That is a big step forward for us and for our arguments.

In relation to flexibility, the right hon. Gentleman asked us to secure an emergency brake at Amsterdam, and we secured it. We are protected there, as we are protected in the common foreign and security policy.

The two final points relate to enlargement and to the common fisheries policy. On the latter, when we came to power there was not a single member state that supported the right hon. Gentleman's proposed treaty protocol. It was without any credibility and, incidentally, it would not have dealt with existing quota hoppers. We have secured not the Commission's good will, but its agreement and support for changing the licence conditions for vessels operating in this country, which will allow us to deal with both existing and future quota hoppers. Of course, that does not do everything that we would want to do—

Mr. David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)

The Spanish may go to court.

The Prime Minister

Yes, the Spaniards may take us to court—but, for the first time, we will have the Commission's support in defeating them. That is what is important. It is considerably better than tabling a protocol—[HON. MEMBERS: "Dream on!"] Hon. Members may say "Dream on", but the truth is that the protocol required the unanimous support of all other countries, but not one of them supported it.

On enlargement, the reform of the common agricultural policy and the single market are mentioned in the conclusions. I should like there to be more progress on the institutional mechanisms. We tried to secure that, but it was not possible. However, we shall continue trying to secure the very best deal possible for Britain and for the process of enlargement. We believe in enlargement. It is important and it is something which we owe the emerging democracies in the east of Europe.

I say to the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) that by playing a sensible and constructive role in Europe, we have a better chance of getting enlargement on our terms.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

In the Prime Minister's not unjustifiably long list of the Government's successes at Amsterdam, I was glad to note that he did not include something that was claimed by his spokesman and some of his Ministers—that the Government were responsible for the rescue of monetary union. The Financial Times has a quotation from Amsterdam: You could say we have rescued EMU"— said a member of the Government; I wonder who that could be— although I would be grateful if you did not say it too loudly. Perhaps I could say, not too loudly, that it is a little bizarre to claim to have rescued an organisation that the Government have not yet decided to join.

The right thing to say about the Amsterdam summit is that it was a modest achievement in the progress that needs to be made in Europe in tackling the challenges that lie ahead of it. Some have called the summit a failure—it was not, it was a disappointment. The Government are entitled to claim success in the things that the Prime Minister listed and we welcome those successes, not least because they were aims that we, too, wanted to be achieved at Amsterdam.

However, there is an exception. I think that the Government misunderstand the process now in place for the integration of European defence and foreign policy. I do not think that the Prime Minister was right to say that NATO has not previously appeared in a treaty text in the way that he described. I note that the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), is nodding. If my memory is not wrong, NATO appeared quite explicitly in the Maastricht text, which said that nothing undertaken under the treaty should prejudice the importance of NATO. No one I know in Europe wants to get rid of NATO. However, building a second European pillar—which, over time, must mean the WEU being integrated into the European Union—will not undermine NATO; it will strengthen it.

That having been said, does the Prime Minister agree that the summit is marked not by the work it did, but by the work left to be done? Is it not true that there is a great deal of work to be done, perhaps at some future intergovernmental conference—surely there must be one—to prepare the way for enlargement and to complete the process of institutional change? Surely the right hon. Gentleman cannot be satisfied with the progress in, for example, the democratisation and accountability of the European institutions and in other areas that need to be dealt with before Europe can move forward. That is important, and I hope that the Prime Minister will agree.

We should dispose of the leftovers of the Maastricht treaty and move on to the new agenda of creating a people's Europe, which is less about the Europe of political elites and more about the Europe that delivers what people in Europe want. It is only through that that we can bind Europe's institution and move forward sensibly in the process of integration.

The Prime Minister

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that. On the rescue of EMU, it is not for us to rescue it or otherwise. I thought that he was a great proponent of EMU—

Mr. Ashdown

I am.

The Prime Minister

Then he should be grateful to whoever said it.

The right hon. Gentleman said that it was a summit of disappointment, but that is not entirely correct. There was progress on jobs, crime and the environment. The summit was more a staging post on the way to try to reshape the European agenda, which is important. I echo what the right hon. Gentleman said about a people's Europe and I have said that myself.

On NATO and the arguments about an EU-WEU merger, I did not say that NATO had never been mentioned in the texts. It was mentioned, but the importance was that common defence and a common defence policy was actually contemplated in the Maastricht treaty that was negotiated by the previous Government. What we have done is put into the treaty words that indicate that we see our common defence as founded on and realised through NATO. That is an important difference, because it defines common defence in the perspective of NATO within the context of the treaty. It is important that we have secured that.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is a lot more to do, especially on enlargement. It is important to move that agenda forward and we are better placed as a country to play a proper role in that than we were before.

Several hon, Members


Madam Speaker

Order. The questions and answers from the two major Opposition party leaders have taken more than half an hour. I now seek one brisk question each from Members and I ask the Prime Minister also to make a brisk response. Otherwise, I will not be able to call many Members.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Will the Prime Minister give the House an assurance that if economic and monetary union proceeds and a single currency comes on to the agenda, there will be a free vote in the House on that matter, so that the decision is made by the people here and not by a political elite?

The Prime Minister

It is more than that. We have said that if the issue of monetary union comes on to the agenda in this Parliament, it will be a matter for a referendum of the British people. We do not know whether that will be the case or not. Our position—to retain the option to join if we wish, and we have already made our statements on that—remains as is and it will not alter.

Mr. lain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)

Does the Prime Minister agree, however, that the summit was not a success on defence, because he has conceded—as the Dutch presidency has said—the principle that defence is now in the treaty in the sense that there is a common purpose and direction? In binding NATO in as a reference, the Prime Minister has provided an opportunity for others to build a common defence—albeit around NATO—that was not there before.

The Prime Minister

No, that is simply factually wrong. The first time the ideas of common defence and a common defence policy appeared in European treaties was when they were negotiated by the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). We are under no obligation, under the text that we have negotiated, to merge the EU and WEU. Indeed, as I have said, we have the right to have our common defence founded in NATO.

Mr. Giles Radice (North Durham)

Despite the mean-minded response of the previous Prime Minister, does not the successful outcome of the Amsterdam summit show that a constructive approach by Britain yields results for British interests in jobs, border controls, defence, crime and drugs, as well as providing a new hope and dynamism for Europe?

The Prime Minister

I thank my hon. Friend for that and he is correct. It is in British interests to be part of Europe. If we are part of Europe, it is in British interests to be constructive and engaged. Of course, we must protect our national interests, and all countries do. The absurdity of the foreign policy of the previous Government was that, in the end, the policy was directed at party and not at the interests of the country. That is what has to change

Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle)

Will the Prime Minister accept that the exemption on border controls will be widely welcomed because—regardless of who negotiated what, when or how they were prompted—the issue has been fudged since the introduction of the Single European Act? Does he accept that hon. Members on both sides of the House wanted that exemption? Will he tell the House whether the European Court will now have jurisdiction over all European conventions—including, once it is ratified, the external frontiers convention?

The Prime Minister

None of those matters will apply to Britain unless we wish them to do so, and that is the advantage that we have gained. On preliminary rulings of the European Court of Justice, we secured changes to the text that will mean that other states will have to opt in if the European Court is to have jurisdiction. That change is another considerable advance.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the exemption on border controls; it is important that such an exemption is actually written into the treaty. If it had not been written in the treaty, there would have been a danger that, over time, our ability to control our own borders would be eliminated.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

While I welcome the Prime Minister's statement on employment and growth, he did not specifically mention completing the single market. Will he confirm that completing the single market will in itself create a fundamental attack on unemployment across the European Union?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. The previous Prime Minister asked me what the employment chapter will do. One of the important things that it has done is to signal a different approach. By placing right at the forefront the single market action plan, which has been championed by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and by placing action to make people more employable in a different labour market right at the heart of the test on jobs—rather than old-style interventionism, regulation and all the rest of it—we have sent the right message and signal on employment and growth.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

The Prime Minister went to Amsterdam with the intention of extending QMV to environmental policy. As I understand it, that applies only under article 130s of the Maastricht treaty. Did he succeed?

The Prime Minister

We actually stopped it applying to taxation, thereby ensuring that we were completely protected on that matter. Ultimately, there were very few extensions of QMV, partly because of the considerations of states other than Britain. There were very few—

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon)

How many?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman will see them.

The extensions are very minor, and I should like gently to try to persuade hon. Members of that. It was right for us to agree all the extensions of QMV that have been agreed. I will put the case higher and say that I was arguing for extension of QMV in matters such as research and combating fraud, because British interests are currently being blocked by one or two nations that are acting in a manner that is contrary to the interests of proper finance in either the European Union or the single market. I ask Conservative Members—in their current period of reflection and, perhaps, new spirit of coming together—to liberate themselves from some of the paranoia that gripped them while they were in government.

Mr. Charles Clarke (Norwich, South)

Is the Prime Minister aware that there will be a welcome in the country for the priority that the Council presidency has given to employment and job creation in the employment chapter and the social chapter? Will he comment on the timing implications of that commitment to employment and jobs for EMU and the 1999 start date?

The Prime Minister

The truth of the matter is that we simply do not know whether that date will be achieved, although other countries are extremely anxious that it should be. What is important for Britain is to keep our own position very clear and unchanged, and to ensure-as we did when the issue arose in Amsterdam—that we get our principles right. Those principles are that there should be no weakening, fudging, botching or undermining of the Maastricht criteria, and, at the same time, to try to shift the focus of the debate in Europe to jobs and employment. Those principles should determine our approach.

Mr.John D.Taylor (Strangford)

Subject to the detail on quota hopping, it seems that the arrangement that has been reached does not stop further quota hoppers joining the British fleet, does not expedite the removal of existing quota hoppers and, in any case, is temporary up to 2002. Does the Prime Minister agree with the recent suggestion by Mrs. Bonino that in the review of the common fisheries policy in 2002, even the issue of the renationalisation of the fishing industry could be considered? Would the Government consider that possibility?

The Prime Minister

I have not seen the remarks of Commissioner Bonino to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, but the agreement is not temporary. The revision of the CFP is to take place in 2002, but the agreement holds. In relation to stopping existing and future quota hoppers, the agreement does the most that can possibly be done, which is to give us the ability—or enhance our ability—to impose licence conditions on vessels fishing under our quotas. Obviously, the importance of that is that it discourages further quota hopping and also means that existing quota hoppers are considerably impeded.

In addition, I stress the importance of the Commission agreement to bring forward further enforcement measures. As I understand it, the problem of quota hopping is not merely the fact that people own our quotas but that those who come in from outside and own our quotas take a far bigger catch than they are supposed to, and there are no proper systems of inspection in the ports of nation states at which they land the fish. That is one of the things that we have to tighten.

I in no way pretend that the agreement solves the whole problem—that would be a foolish illusion and it would be wrong to suggest it—but it is a significant step of progress. It is now necessary to discuss with the fishing industry what changes are necessary to our licence conditions and then to try to make sure that we develop a forward strategy for the fishing industry so that it has a viable future and so that there is a genuine prospect of people securing their livelihoods in the long term.

Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill)

Will the Prime Minister confirm that although he is rightly opposed to a takeover of the WEU by the European Union and deserves to be congratulated by all parts of the House on his success in resisting that project, it does not mean that the Government are opposed to common defence? Indeed, the whole purpose of the WEU is common defence.

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point—that is the purpose of the WEU and, indeed, of NATO. It is important that we do not determine one framework within which common defence is placed. My concern about the proposal to integrate the WEU into the European Union is that it suggests that everything goes through the EU. That is not the case. The debate at Amsterdam was not simply between integrationists and non-integrationists, but about the best way to make progress on common defence among countries that have a genuine co-operative interest. We very largely did that. It was not just about protecting our interests, although that was important, but about trying to suggest to the rest of Europe that there is a different way of looking at the matter.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

I know that the Prime Minister is aware of the importance to the British economy of the tourism and leisure industries. He will also be aware that they are, by their very nature, large employers of seasonal and part-time workers. What representations did he make on behalf of those industries to ensure that the application of the social chapter and the employment chapter does not cause them undue damage?

The Prime Minister

In relation to the social chapter, we made it absolutely clear that we do not favour an extension of qualified majority voting in respect of any measures that come up. Therefore, under the unanimity provisions, we can make a judgment as we wish.

In respect of the employment chapter, it is important that hon. Members understand that it specifically ruled out the harmonisation of laws. It is not about more regulation or harmonising the laws of member states but, in a sense, about trying to provoke a debate about the best way forward for economic reform in Europe. Of course the tourism and leisure industries are tremendously important, but they would benefit from an open single market in Europe and also from a prosperous Europe.

Miss Melanie Johnson (Welwyn Hatfield)

What lessons does the Prime Minister draw from the fact that, although Margaret Thatcher said, "No, no, no" to Europe, she did not manage to succeed in getting legal protection for our frontiers?

The Prime Minister

What is important is tat we say, "No" when it is sensible to do so, but that we do not spend our whole time saying, "No" as a matter of principle to everything that anyone else suggests. That means that we were able to achieve security for our border controls. That is important and I am pleased that we were able to do it.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

The Prime Minister—or at least his publicity machine—has been claiming victory on the issue of quota hopping, but the Spanish say that no deal has been reached and the Commission says that we are only at the outset of reaching a deal.

Will the Prime Minister confirm that current category A licences already contain the stipulation for a 50 per cent. landing and all that is changing is the enforcement? Can he guarantee that, as a result of the changes he has negotiated, the capacity reductions will fall on the flags of convenience fleet and not on domestic vessels? If he cannot give that guarantee, fishermen around the coastline will say that he may be claiming victory, but has been sold a haddie.

The Prime Minister

No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. The latest information is that Spain was threatening to take Britain to the European Court as a result of the agreement, so, with all due respect, I think that he is wrong. We are able to strengthen the licence conditions and it is important that we do so; it is important also that we bring forward enforcement measures, but nobody can pretend that this subject will be easily dealt with or easily solved.

The hon. Gentleman says that we have been claiming some great victory, but we are not claiming victory at all. What we are claiming is that we have made progress. We have made progress, and that progress stands in sharp contrast to what went before. It is all very well for him, but he has no serious proposals of his own as to how to deal with the issue.

Mr.Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Irrespective of whether the 1999 start date is realistic, what discussions are taking place about the question of the accountability of a central bank to the European Parliament?

The Prime Minister

This was dealt with in the resolution of the Finance Ministers. It is something of which they are aware and it formed part of the discussion between France, Britain and other countries at the meeting of the Finance Ministers. That process of accountability is, of course, important and that discussion will continue, but what is absolutely essential is that nothing that was agreed at Amsterdam in any way changes the basic criteria. As I have said, whether or not those criteria can be met is another matter.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Has the Prime Minister considered exactly what the budgetary implications for the country and the Chancellor would be if the British Government were outvoted through an extension of qualified majority voting in research and development? By the same token, I understand that he has agreed to a massive extension of co-decision. Obviously, that is happy news for colleagues in another place, but can he explain to us today how he intends to guarantee the sovereignty of this House in those circumstances?

The Prime Minister

The European Parliament cannot actually propose anything that the Council has not agreed to. What I announced in my statement was an enhanced way in which national parliaments, and this Parliament in particular, can study European documents. As for being outvoted through QMV on research and development, the problem is the opposite of that: it is that we will often want measures to be put through by the Commission using QMV—["HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I am answering the question. The reason why it is important to have QMV in the area of research is that without it we can be blocked in what we want to do.

Obviously, if a large number of countries are opposed to what Britain is doing, we will not get our way, but the current problem is that, under unanimity, we can be blocked by one country. That is why I say that the sensible approach to QMV is to treat it on a case-by-case basis. Where it is not sensible to extend it, do not extend it; where it is sensible to extend it, do not take an ideological view that QMV in all circumstances is wrong.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Prime Minister aware that I do not measure success at these summits and common market conferences on the basis of further integration, which I regard as a sort of setback? I hope he will be able to please me as well as all the others who want that sort of advance among those 15 nation states. Will he answer this key question: as the single currency was the big issue among all the others, can he seriously tell me whether the momentum towards a single currency in those few days at Amsterdam was advanced or stalled? Please me.

The Prime Minister

I am habitually trying to please my hon. Friend, as he knows. The short answer is that it is impossible to tell, because in the end it will depend on whether countries meet the criteria. Matters would have been pushed forward in an unhelpful way if the criteria had been changed. We cannot tell what the outcome will be at the moment.

I can say, however, that I believe that the language on employment, jobs and growth was more realistic, and more what I would call people-centred, than most of the language that I have read in previous conclusions.

Mr. William Cash (Stone)

Will the Prime Minister confirm that in Amsterdam he has agreed, under the resolution in annexe II to the presidency conclusions, that we will enter the exchange rate mechanism even if we do not sign up to EMU on 1 January 1999?

The Prime Minister

No, that is not correct.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his successful visit to Europe and on his negotiations? However, did he have discussions with Chancellor Kohl about the Eurofighter? As thousands of jobs in my constituency and many more thousands in Lancashire depend on that project, I hope that he did.

The Prime Minister

I thank my hon. Friend. I know how concerned he is about this matter on behalf of his constituents. I raised that issue with Chancellor Kohl in Bonn a short time ago and I was pleased that he confirmed that he still desires to proceed with the project. Apparently, budget discussions are going on in Germany at present, but I think it is very important that the project proceeds, for the defence of the country and for jobs and skills.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether the new UK protocol maintaining the UK's borders applies with the same legal force to the nearly 400 million EU citizens as to those who are not EU citizens, given the new treaty wording to which he has subscribed—that the free movement of persons is assured"?

The Prime Minister

As I understand it, the position is that they have to produce their documents in the normal way, so that is something that has happened and will continue to happen.

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on his success in Amsterdam. I am especially grateful as, for the first time in 10 years, I shall be able to visit member states without having to apologise for my Government's intransigence. May I press the Prime Minister on enlargement and ask him whether there was any optimism on the future negotiations for the acceptance of Cyprus into the European Union?

The Prime Minister

No, that did not form part of the discussions. However, on enlargement, there was not as much progress as there should have been and, without doubt, we should have liked there to have been more, but there is still a considerable will to make progress. Some of the institutional methods of doing that are still open for debate, but the conclusions of the Amsterdam summit were very strong on the principle and issue of enlargement. I have made it clear that when we have the presidency of Europe we shall be making progress on that as one of our priorities. I believe that it is essential that we do so.

In response to the first thing that my hon. Friend said, I should say that I believe that, as a result of having a serious position on Europe, which means standing up for British interests whole-heartedly throughout but being serious, not intransigent, we shall get a better deal.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mon)

The Prime Minister briefly mentioned subsidiarity. Does he agree that subsidiarity means decisions being taken not just at European member state level but at levels below that? How is that principle advanced by the new treaty? Will he confirm that the representatives of the small nations and regions of Europe will have an important part to play, following Amsterdam, in important matters such as the future of regional policy?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I do agree. That is one of the very things subsidiarity is supposed to achieve. That is why we are strongly promoting the agreed protocol. It was made clear during discussions on it that subsidiarity means a far stronger role being played below member state level. That of course applies to the nations and regions of Europe—and below that level, too.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

Can the Prime Minister confirm that the treaty now recognises explicitly the fact that European Union citizenship does not replace national citizenship—something which the previous Government signally failed to secure?

The Prime Minister

That is correct.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)

The written conclusions to the summit contain pages of Euro-waffle about the need to create more jobs, including some damaging provisions, but they also press for flexible labour markets and lower business costs. How does the Prime Minister reconcile this new-found attachment to market forces with the fact that, at the same summit and in the same treaty, he is signing up this country to the provisions of the social chapter which, by definition, interfere in labour markets and raise business costs?

The Prime Minister

For the first time in the written conclusions to a summit, we got in straight terms the importance of concentrating on the very things on which we wish to concentrate: employment, growth, competitiveness, small businesses, and education and skills instead of old-style regulation.

The right hon. Gentleman says that lower business costs and flexibility are inconsistent with the social chapter. Basic minimum standards at work are not, in our view, inconsistent with economic prosperity. The social chapter, in relation to consultations with workers at a Europe-wide level and parental leave, is perfectly sensible.

I return to the point that I made earlier in response to the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major): as a result of being in the social chapter, we can play our part in shaping any legislation that may come from it. As a result of the Conservative Government's opt-out, the social chapter directive on consultation of workers on a Europe-wide basis came into force. We played no part in shaping it and had no influence over it, yet British companies ended up having to apply it. Half the British companies to which it would have applied, had we been part of the social chapter, ended up having to apply it voluntarily—but with no influence on the process. That is not a sensible way to proceed.

Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on two counts. First, he has given us a clear and concise report, in stark contrast to the muddle and acrimony of the former Government. Secondly, he has nailed the lie that he is a poor negotiator—a lie put about by Conservatives during the election campaign. We now know that it was the previous Prime Minister, not my right hon. Friend, who was the poor negotiator.

On enlargement, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that our inner cities are suffering from unemployment and a lack of infrastructural development because of the previous Government? But enlargement will mean resources being drained away from the inner cities and poorer regions of Britain to the new countries. Can he assure us that he will consider that seriously in future negotiations?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right to say that it is important to get enlargement on the correct terms. The purpose of enlarging is to draw into the EU the countries of eastern Europe. That is of mutual benefit—it is not simply a one-way process—because we will create a larger trading area. Enlargement should also be used as a lever to reform the common agricultural policy, which is currently a scandal.

It is because we understand the problems of unemployment in the inner cities that we are committed to taking action on it.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

To return to the issue of quota hopping, can the Prime Minister not grasp that west country fishermen do not want tinkering with the licence? They want quota hopping stopped. Is it not a fact that, as a result of the Prime Minister's inactivity at Amsterdam, we will not get rid of a single quota hopper, and British fishermen will not be able to catch one extra fish? West country fishermen were looking to the Prime Minister for an exercise in statesmanship. They found, instead, that he sold their industry down the river.

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is factually wrong. The purpose of the agreement that we got is precisely to affect the activities of existing quota hoppers and of future quota hoppers as well. The key to that is the ability to change the licence conditions under which vessels operate.

The treaty protocol of the previous Government, which had not the slightest prospect of ever being negotiated, did not deal with the problem of existing quota hopping.

It is easy for the hon. Gentleman to get up and pretend to people that there is some easy answer in relation to quota hopping. There is not, and he should know that. People may get up and say, "I could have gone to Amsterdam and got the whole thing stopped overnight", but that is simply untrue. [Interruption.] It is said that it did not matter. That is unfair and wrong. It did matter, which is why it was a big part of our negotiation. It is most cruel and most deceiving to tell people that there is a simple solution, when one knows perfectly well that there is not.