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Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 9:20 pm on 25th June 1996.

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Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 9:20 pm, 25th June 1996

It appears finally that the Euro-sceptics have taken over the heart of the Conservative party. I am moved that the Conservative party feels that it is unfair, unjust and disloyal that Opposition politicians should dare to criticise the Government. We take that as advance notice that shortly, when they are in Opposition, they will not venture to criticise the Government, but will show the total loyalty and support that they expect from us. The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) fails to recognise that if we had the Europe of variable geometry that he wants, we would have to negotiate to get the ban lifted, not with one Commission but with 14 Governments. If he thinks that his Ministers have the time and energy to do that and to run the country, he is deluded.

We have been criticised for the terms of the motion— for daring to suggest that the Minister of Agriculture should be held accountable to the House for the administration of agriculture policy. I must point out that that is supposed to be how our unwritten constitution works: Ministers take responsibility for policy delivery by their Departments. When their Departments fail to deliver, Ministers should be called to account to the House. A perfectly normal way to do that is by tabling a motion in the terms that we have used to demonstrate that a Minister and his Department have failed to deliver what was expected of them.

I must explain why we believe that the deal that the Government secured in Florence was the worst that they could have obtained. That was entirely due to their failure to act early enough and it was aggravated by their policy of non-co-operation. Last Thursday, before he went to Florence, the Prime Minister told the Leader of the Opposition: No animal that would not have been slaughtered is now to be slaughtered. My right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) said: There is muddle, confusion and chaos … The Prime Minister"— talking of the slaughter of more animals— says none, but the National Farmers Union says 66,000. The Prime Minister replied: He is wrong on almost every aspect."—[Official Report, 20 June 1996; Vol. 279, c. 996–97.] Yet on Monday, three days later, on his return from Florence, we were told that between 120,000 and 160,000 additional animals will have to be slaughtered. That was an abject surrender.

In addition, the Prime Minister claimed yesterday that he had a timetable for the removal of the beef ban; he has no such thing. He has his interpretation of what he hopes can be delivered. He has no assurance from anyone in the European Union or the European Commission that says at what stage any of progressive liftings of the ban will be achieved. It will be determined by the institutions of the European Commission.