EUROPEAN STANDING COMMITTEE BOVERSEAS AID
2nd November 1993
HOUSE OF COMMONS
European Standing Committee B
Tuesday 2 November 1993
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[MR. NICHOLAS WINTERTON in the Chair]
Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West): On a point of order, Mr. Winterton. I should like to suggest that this Committee do adjourn. My reasons are well known. Clearly, someone has made an error. The Select Committee on European Legislation recommended that this Committee should consider these important matters, but nevertheless posed a number of questions, the replies to which it has not had the opportunity to discuss. It would serve no purpose for this Committee to consider these important matters in advance of the Select Committee to its questions.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd): Further to that point of order, Mr. Winterton. This Committee is a creature of the House of Commons, and the Government come to it wishing to extend whatever courtesy, is appropriate, thus I, as the Government's respresentative, may be questioned on Government policy in this area. When this matter is debated—which may or may not be this morning, depending on what happens in the next few minutes—I believe that members of the Committee will express substantial support for the Government, because the motion that I will at some stage move—either today or at a later date—will be that this Committee should take note of and endorse Government policy, which is to oppose a Commission proposal. I believe that other member countries of the European Community will be unanimous in supporting the British Government. I say that because I do not want to be discourteous to the Committee. I apologise once again that, because of an oversight by an official in the Overseas Development Administration, the correct procedure was not followed. I shall not bludgeon a Conservative majority decision upon the Opposition. However, I question whether it is wise to adjourn. The Commitee is constituted and I, at least, am ready and available to debate matters today as the House adjourns later this week before the opening of the new Session of Parliament. It might, therefore, be better if the Committee took this opportunity to hold the debate. I am in the hands of the Back Bench Members of the Committee; I want to hear and take note of their views. If Opposition Members express a strong desire that the Committee should adjourn and my hon. Friends acquiesce, I shall not object. However, the Committee should consider the wisdom of that view.
Mr. Clarke: Further to that point of order, Mr. Winterton. My point of order was my first contribution in my present role and I did not make it lightly. The Minister was right to invite the Committee to consider the importance of recommendations on the rehabilitation 2 fund. We are all greatly concerned about helping countries which have been devastated. The evidence is before our eyes night after night. I repeat the conclusions of the Select Committee report. It states: "We consider that this proposal raises questions of political importance, which we recommend should be considered further by European Standing Committee B … Before that debate takes place"— in other words, the Select Committee felt that it was important to consider information before our debate took place— "we wish to have further information from the Government on …" and there follows a series of extremely important questions. My hon. Friends and I would be happy to discuss those matters this morning, but if we embark on such a discussion, it would be in the knowledge that the Select Committee, which considered these matters to be so important, has not had an opportunity to consider and debate the replies or to give its views to this Committee. That is an important principle in respect of the scrutiny of European issues, which we believe is solid enough for us to encourage the Committee to do what the Select Committee expected, although it may cause inconvenience. I understand that these matters can be dealt with by 2 December. If that is so, the subject will not be lost.
Mr Derek Enright (Hemsworth)—rose.
The Chairman: Order. I am a little hard of hearing first thing in the morning. I believe that the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) will, on behalf of the Opposition, move that the Committee do now adjourn.
Mr. Enright: Further to that point of order, Mr. Winterton. As the only member of this Committee who is also a member of the Select Committee on European Legislation, I beg to move, That the Committee do now adjourn. Both sides agreed that there were distinct and definite reasons for asking questions. The Select Committee on European Legislation has an overview of all that goes on and draws the various strands together so that it is not a case of development here and agriculture there. Therefore, it is very important as a matter of principle that the subject returns to the Committee for discussion. Opposition Members will deal with it with all necessary expedition to ensure that the matter is discussed properly. As the Minister said, it is an important topic about which there are differences both within and between parties. Those differences must be put into focus by means of the questions that are asked.
The Chairman: I shall deal with the point of order that has been raised. It is my understanding that a mistake has been made. The Minister has been courteous enough to advise the Committee of that mistake and to apologise for it. I am sure that the Committee accepts his apology. I have taken advice and it appears that, although the timetable will be tight, the Select Committee on European Legislation is due to meet tomorrow and will, therefore, have the opportunity to consider the answers from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. There will then be just enough time for this Committee to meet again before 2 December, which the Minister has told me is the operative date. I am the servant of the Committee and am in its hands concerning the matter of its Adjournment today.3
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): Further to that point of order, Mr. Winterton. Am I right to assume that there is no intention that this Committee should meet on Thursday this week? Clearly, the printed report of tomorrow's Select Committee proceedings will not be available to hon. Members who do not belong to the Select Committee. I assume that this Committee will reconvene after the Queen's Speech.
The Chairman: I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that this Committee will not meet to consider this matter on Thursday of this week. The date on which it will meet to discuss the matter has yet to be decided, but adequate notice will be given.
Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding): Further to that point of order, Mr. Winterton. How is it physically possible for a matter to be placed on the agenda for this Committee's deliberation when the conditions set out in the Select Committee's recommendation that the matter should be considered by European Standing Committee B have not been fulfilled? Could it be that someone simply did not read the Select Committee's recommendations and did not notice the conditions attached to those recommendations? If there is another explanation, what is it?
The Chairman: This matter was referred to this Standing Committee by the Select Committee on European Legislation. Once such a matter has been so referred, it must come before this Committee. I do not see any particular problem with that. The matter appears straightforward. The members of this Standing Committee did not refer the matter to themselves; it was referred to this Committee by the Select Committee.
Mr. Davies: Further to that point of order, Mr. Winterton. The essence of our procedure, as all hon. Members know, is that the Select Committee goes through the vast corpus of proposed directives on which the European Community—perhaps I should now call it the European Union—is working. The Select Committee then chooses those items which it considers require more detailed parly scrutiny, either by this Committe or by European Standing Committee A. In this case, the Select Committee on European Legislation decided that this matter required further consideration by this Committee, but only when certain conditions had been fulfilled. One of those conditions was that the Committee should consider the matter only when the Government had provided the additional materials listed on page 2 of the Select Committee's 4 recommendations. How is it physically possible for the matter to be inscribed on our agenda and for the Committee to be convened today to discuss it, when the Select Committee's recommendation was conditional and contingent on the fulfilment of specific preconditions which have not been met? How was it possible for that to happen?
The Chairman: I am not sure that I can deal with the hon. Gentleman's question to his satisfaction. The Standing Committee meeting was scheduled to take place today on the assumption that the information that the Select Commitee requested would be available for its meeting last week. That information was not available. Our meeting has gone ahead as scheduled. The information was provided to the wrong source.
Mr. Lennox-Boyd: It has been moved that the Committee should adjourn. If a substantial number of members of the Committee including representatives of the official Opposition, wish to adjourn, I am happy to accede to the motion. However, I ask you, Mr. Winterton, for an assurance that, although timing is tight, there will be a clear opportunity for the Committee to debate the subject. I do not want any mistake of mine, for which I have expressed regret, to prevent the debate from taking place. I believe that we could have a debate this morning. However, if the Committee wants to adjourn, I am happy to accede to that wish.
The Chairman: Before I put the Question, let me make it clear that the Select Committee on European Legislation meets tomorrow. It will consider the answers that the Government have now provided. I repeat that the Select Committee met last week but that the information that it had requested was not available. I seek advice from the Clerks and those who try to arrange the business of the House through the usual channels. I am advised that there is time for a further meeting of European Standing Committee B to discuss the matter that was scheduled for debate today. I am grateful to the Minister for the helpful, courteous and co-operative way in which he has dealt with the matter. The Opposition clearly believe that it would be appropriate for the Select Committee to consider the Government's answers before European Standing Committee B discusses the subject. I hope that the position is clear to all members of the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at thirteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.5
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:
Winterton, Mr. Nicholas (Chairman)
Ainsworth, Mr. Robert
Davies, Mr. Quentin
The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 102(5): Clarke, Mr. Tom (Monklands, West)
Lennox-Boyd, Mr. Mark (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)6