§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the White Paper, Developments in the European Community July-December 1988 (Cm. 641).
§ Mr. Speaker
I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. In view of the large number of right hon. and hon. Members who wish to participate in the debate, I intend to limit speeches to 10 minutes between 7 o'clock and 9 o'clock. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members on both Front Benches and others who may be called before that time will bear in mind the pressure to speak in this important debate.
§ Mrs. Chalker
It is right that this debate comes just two months after the publication of the White Paper. It is an understatement to say that there is very widespread interest in European issues at present. The debate is an important opportunity to look forward, and to reflect on the second six months of 1988.
My main purpose is to cover the elements of Community policy in the period under review—the White Paper, Cm. 641. The key themes for discussion in the weeks leading up to the Madrid European Council closely reflect the themes of the six-month review. We also have before us the first special report of the Select Committee on European Legislation of last year.
In 1988 we secured two major achievements. The first was a substantial reform of Community finances and the CAP in February. The second was real progress towards the completion of the single market programme.
The groundwork had been laid by previous Conservative Governments. In the 1960s Conservatives had the vision to see that Britain's future was as a member of the Community. Both in opposition and in government we worked to find a way to make a successful application. In the early 1970s those efforts proved successful.
In the 1980s the Government have pursued Britain's interests in the Community through a tough and realistic analysis of the options and opportunities. Our aim has been, and it continues to be, to ensure that the 1992 campaign, as The Economist put it on 6 May:does to red tape and government controls, what Harry Houdini did to chains, straps and manacles".In contrast to that excellent record, the Opposition have got failure down to a fine art. They failed to negotiate a single penny of refunds for Britain when they were in power. They have failed to devise a credible European policy—in fact they have changed their mind about membership five times at least—and while they are still arguing about which part of the 1960s baggage to dump the Community is striding confidently into the 1990s. It is small wonder that even the Socialist parties in Europe do not take Labour seriously. After all, it was the Labour leader who called the single marketan abdication of responsibility".Labour chose an anti-marketeer as the leader of its MEPs in Strasbourg. He has admitted that many of their economic policies would be illegal under the treaty of 505 Rome. Labour, if ever again in office, would face a stark choice: to abandon its economic policies or face expulsion from the Community.
By contrast, I have read with great interest some of the clearly expressed views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). He makes a cogent case for commitment to Europe. Let me make it clear beyond anyone's contradiction that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the whole Government have long held that same commitment. But those of us who are involved in the day-to-day work believe that we must adopt a twin-track policy, declaring our commitment and, at the same time, following a common sense approach. That is how we can best serve Britain's interests, and we intend to do that.
I and, I suspect, a good number in this House part company with my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley in his advocacy of a second chamber of the European Parliament. On the other hand, I share the concern of many right hon. and hon. Members who clearly agree with his view that the current arrangements for scrutinising European Community legislation in Westminster have not proved satisfactory.
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
The right hon. Lady said that the Labour party has to make a choice, but do not we all have to make a choice? Either we have democratic parliamentary self-government or we can have the treaty of Rome, but we cannot have both. Hon. Members from all parts of the House have to make that choice. The right hon. Lady has to make that choice.
§ Mrs. Chalker
The House has made that choice, and I understand that recently the Labour party has also made that choice. I am very worried that the hon. Gentleman may be out of kilter with his Front Bench, but that is not for the House to worry about, as it is a matter for him and for the Labour Front Bench.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Is the right hon. Lady aware that the Labour party has not discussed membership of the European Community for a number of years? A committee has made those decisions, and the matter still has to be discussed at the Labour party conference. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) will be called to speak this afternoon and will put a somewhat different case from that which has been developed by others.
No one should think that all Conservative Members are united on the question of the European Community. They are also divided because the nation is divided and we shall have to work out a solution that is satisfactory to the people. That discussion will continue for some considerable time.
§ Mrs. Chalker
Sometimes I think that the Labour party will never change. It is still the same dinosaur, the head not knowing what the tail is feeling. However, let me return to scrutiny.
§ Mr. Budgen
No doubt my right hon. Friend will move on to that in a moment.
My right hon. Friend dismissed the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) rather too quickly. Does she agree that, if not in the next few weeks, at some time in future, we are about to test the constitutional check on the Community of the European Court? At present that is a political court. It does not judge narrow laws by narrow criteria; it applies political tests of policy. Is it not true that there is no need for a senate, because the EEC has something approaching a supreme court which fulfils more or less that function? When the British Government come to test the effect of the Community, as they are bound to do in future disputes, we shall find out how legal or political that court is.
§ Mrs. Chalker
I look forward to reading and hearing the results of cases taken to the European Court of Justice. On many occasions when we have had cause to raise with the Commission or with the European Court of Justice the rules that we have followed, they have been found to be absolutely legal and legitimate. I am sure that that will be the case in future.
§ Mrs. Chalker
I shall come to tobacco later, as my hon. Friend is obviously seized by the issue.
I return to what I believe to be the House's real anxiety about scrutiny. I recognise it, and some hon. Members will remember that I referred to it in some detail in a debate in March. I know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has been working hard on this issue to try to help hon. Members to resolve matters so that we get a situation that is much more consistent with the views expressed by hon. Members.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
Before the right hon. Lady leaves that matter, will she confirm that the problem is not just one of scrutiny, because when she and other Ministers to go Brussels the decisions that they reach are reached under prerogative powers? That is to say that there is no obligation, requirement or precedent for the House of Commons to give judgment on treaty making. Every law, whether on smoking, workers' rights or health, is made under prerogative. That is the problem. The question is not only whether we are told what the Government will do, but how that ancient constitutional question which reopens controversies of the 17th century is to be dealt with so that hon. Members can control Ministers using Crown powers to make in secret laws that apply in this country.
§ Mrs. Chalker
I have heard the right hon. Gentleman on this issue on a number of occasions, and I have also heard some of his hon. Friends and some of mine speaking about it. It is right that the Leader of the House, in co-operation with the Scrutiny Committee, and the Procedure Committee, should be discussing these issues. It is not for me to say how we should resolve matters in the best interests of the necessary scrutiny that the House should undertake. It is right that the efforts being made by the Leader of the House should be strongly supported.
§ Mrs. Chalker
I shall not give way again. We were asked to be brief and I have allowed about five interventions in the first 12 minutes. Now I want to get on with the debate.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. the Minister has made it quite clear that she is not giving way.
§ Mr. Leighton
On a point of order. Would it not help the debate if we could get a clear answer to an important constitutional point? My right hon. Friend—
§ Mrs. Chalker
I should like to return to the issue of scrutiny because it is important. The volume of work in Brussels has meant constant work for all of us, not least for the House. Single market measures have added to an already heavy legislative load. In 1988 we had a record number of debates on EC matters—39 debates on 109 documents. This year the pace has continued and, as hon. Members know only too well, we have had eight debates on 13 documents in the last fortnight.
I am aware that hon. Members consider these late-night debates to be a growing burden on the House. As most hon. Members know, my right hon. Friend the Lord President is looking at that matter because we want to improve the present system of EC legislation scrutiny. I look forward to hearing the comments of hon. Members on new ways of carrying out the scrutiny process.
In 1988 we saw excellent progress towards building the type of single market that is wanted by all the people of Europe. It is built on free market principles of encouraging enterprise, developing consumer choice and seeking higher growth. That is how we shall achieve greater prosperity for all in Britain and in the Community.
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
I am very pleased to hear that our right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is considering giving better powers of scrutiny to the House in some way or other. Could my right hon. Friend share with us at this early stage some of the ideas that are running through her mind so that we can get our minds working on similar lines?
§ Mrs. Chalker
I would be foolish in the extreme to share secrets with my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) because they would no longer remain secret. Views and ideas should be forwarded via the Leader of the House to the Scrutiny Committee and the Procedure Committee. I hope that my hon. Friend will do that.
I should like to continue on the topic of the single market because that has been responsible for the main part of our work in the second half of last year and certainly forms a large part of the scrutiny that I have described. The treaty of Rome has always been a charter for economic liberalism. These policies are working well in the United Kingdom and now our partners want them to work throughout the European Community.
Last year we agreed nearly 100 single market measures. Fifty-four were achieved under the Greek presidency in the period under review in our debate. That means that we have agreed nearly half of the total from the Commission's White Paper. In short, there can be no turning back—a fact well recognised by the Heads of Government at the Hanover summit. The measures that we have agreed are opening markets and encouraging enterprise. Exchange controls will be abolished for most member states by 1990. 508 Britain did it in 1979 and other partners are now following suit. Nine years later we and the Commission have had to persuade the remainder to do likewise. This step will bring considerable benefits to consumers, traders and the business community.
In 1988 we provided for the phasing out of lorry quotas. We abolished restrictions on non-life insurance and on the right of professionals to practise Communitywide. 'We adopted rules that will force liberalisation in public purchasing which accounts for no less than 15 per cent. of Community GDP. We adopted numerous constructive measures in the fields of financial services standards and food law. That is how committed Europeans work in practice, steadily advancing the ideals that they believe in.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)
My right hon. Friend has said something that is most worrying. Who has told her that there is liberalisation in non-life insurance? That is not the case. I have carefully read the directive on insurance companies. It is proposed that in six countries there will be an element of liberality on what are called large risks, which means that we might be able to insure the Eiffel Tower if the French would consider it. There is also what is called the "cunul" rule which was put in by the Commission. It says that if one state considers that it can offer the same service it has power not to let other states in. The Minister has said that liberalisation will come about and, of course, it would be wonderful if that were to happen, but I am afraid that whoever told her that there will be complete liberality on non-life insurance was talking a load of rubbish.
§ Mrs. Chalker
I do not like to say this to my hon. Friend, but I am afraid I must tell him that he has not got it quite right. I shall ask the expert on the subject, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, specifically to address that point in his winding-up speech because it obviously worries my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor).
Before my hon. Friend asked that question I was telling the House that we have been working steadily to advance the ideals in which we believe. But there are some genuine market needs that require other decisions. Competition policy must be enforced. We must tackle trade-distorting state aids. British policy has given a clear lead here. About one eightieth of our GDP goes in subsidies. Per employee, we give less subsidy than any other member state, and quite right too. The French, Germans and Italians all spend far too much. That distorts competition and damages Europe's ability to compete in the wider world.
The year 1988 was much more than a watershed in the single market. Its achievements were made possible only by the hard-fought deal that we secured at the Brussels European Council in February 1988. By the end of the year, we had clear evidence that those reforms were working. Agricultural expenditure was being brought firmly under control and intervention stocks were falling rapidly. The result is that agricultural spending is expected to be below the agreed ceiling in 1989. The February 1988 deal is bearing fruit.
As I said in our debate in March, many other things must be done as well. The problem of fraud is a serious budget challenge which requires serious action. That is why Britain took the initiative to put fraud high up the Community agenda. Our efforts have been instrumental in ensuring proper discussion of the annual report of the 509 Court of Auditors by the Council of Economic and Finance Ministers. Such reports are helping to highlight the nature of fraud and the possible counter measures. Anti-fraud measures are now being built into agricultural regulations and into regulations governing payment of own resources.
§ Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)
Before my right hon. Friend leaves the question of fraud, will she tell us whether she believes that fraud should be controlled by the Commission—which is not the case at the moment —or whether it should continue to be controlled by the nation states involved?
§ Mrs. Chalker
We must work out a way in which nation states are involved as well as the Commission. If one nation state is accusing another, we require the involvement of the Commission to resolve the problem. The Court of Auditors, which is already working so well, can help greatly to detect and deter fraud. That is what we are all about.
In the second half of 1988, Britain also secured a good deal from the structural funds. The United Kingdom has received more money from the European social fund than anyone else—both this year and last—totalling more than £400 million each year. We have also had particular success in obtaining funds from the European regional development fund for projects in Scotland, with more than £70 million for the Highlands and Islands integrated operation and more than £230 million for Strathclyde. We are now working hard on programmes for areas such as Merseyside, Manchester, Salford, Trafford, Tyne and Wear and Birmingham.
Although the 1992 process is going well, we must be alert to the risks to that process. In particular, we must fight any revival of the negative view in Europe that encourages the function of Governments to be one of interference and over-regulation. The success of the single market is based on deregulation, and so it must continue. However, there are some people in Europe, including some Opposition Members, who believe that the process requires new or detailed harmonised social legislation involving great grand schemes of social engineering. That leads to proposals such as that expounded by Commissioner Papandreou which would override differing national needs and practices. There is no case for Communitywide legislation requiring compulsory forms of worker participation. Such matters are best left to the market.
Of course, we want European action in some areas of social legislation. As the White Paper makes clear, last December we adopted an important framework regulation on health and safety at work. That must now be followed up with more detailed directives.
However, we must be selective. We shall fight hard against unnecessary social engineering. We see no need for the type of wide-ranging social charter that the Commission is now proposing. That would stifle the growth that will provide lasting jobs for Europe's unemployed. We shall therefore oppose it.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
It is very important that we do not take a negative attitude on Europe. Will my right hon. Friend therefore confirm that no one, unless motivated by political malice, could 510 accuse us of being negative about Europe if we argue for a genuinely free single market in which consumers are given the maximum opportunity to choose from competing systems of practice? That freedom of choice will be denied if Brussels insists on harmonising too many of those competing practices.
§ Mrs. Chalker
My hon. Friend has expressed a philosophy which I share with him.
I do not want there to be any doubt about what I am saying. There is a social dimension to Europe. It should involve the provision of training and retraining, the creation of new employment and securing further reductions in unemployment. However, that should come about as a result of deregulation and economic liberalisation. It should not occur as the result of forced decisions such as those we have heard mooted among some members of the Community. The social dimension must not involve the creation of new regulations which will hamper business.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)
I warmly welcome this part of the new twin-track foreign policy. I now understand that we are going to fight against the social charter and social engineering in Europe. Will my right hon. Friend give us chapter and verse about the legal basis on which we will veto or challenge and block, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister assured us that she would at Question Time this afternoon, the rest of the Community's apparent enthusiasm for the social charter? If we are going to exercise a veto, what is the legal basis for that action?
§ Mrs. Chalker
I will give my hon. Friend some information. Now that Commissioner Papandreou has spelt out her ideas and intentions in some detail, we have discovered that she wants a solemn declaration. That is not a proposal for legislation as such. Any solemn declaration requires consensus. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spelt out our view very clearly earlier this afternoon.
We shall have to see how the Commission follows up that view. At the moment, we simply have newspaper reports of plans which would give us great doubts and cause us to fight such proposals were they to come forward in the form of a directive.
There is definitely a social dimension, as I have just explained. But the proposed charter would take us in one direction only; it would create unemployment, not more jobs. That is why it is so clearly unacceptable to the Government.
§ Mr. Benn
Oh, yes. It is easy to repeat the rhetoric of Bruges. However, that rhetoric has no constitutional foundation, given the Single European Act. I shall be grateful if the Minister will tell us whether the British Government, let alone Members of Parliament, have any power to stop the charter if it emerges as an almost unanimously agreed directive.
§ Mrs. Chalker
I have already explained that the idea of the social charter is that it is a solemn declaration. It is not in directive form. If it came forward as a directive, it would state whether it was subject to qualified majority voting or to unanimity. When we know the details, we will be able to decide exactly what we should do. I am not prepared to answer hypothetical questions when there are no directives relating to the solemn declaration outlined by Commissioner Papandreou.
Equally, I see no need for the Community to be involved in detailed areas of domestic policy such as classroom education.
§ Mr. Marlow
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Let me help my right hon. Friend. If she has not seen the charter, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) has a copy.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. That is not a point of order. This is a short debate and continuous interruptions prolong speeches.
§ Mrs. Chalker
As I said, we see no need for the Community to be involved in detailed areas of domestic policy such as classroom education or any of the other matters on which some commissioners seek to intervene. Decisions on such issues belong to national competence. That is in accordance with the treaty of Rome, and so it should remain.
On 17 April we had the publication of the Delors committee report on economic and monetary co-operation. That has also excited considerable interest. The committee was charged by all Heads of Government at the Hanover European Council in June 1988with the task of studying and proposing concrete stages leading towards economic and monetary union".The Committee produced a thorough analysis. The report makes abundantly clear that economic and monetary union would take a very long time and require substantial treaty amendment. On the basis of the report, even the most ardent proponents would not claim that EMU was possible until well into next century, but it is not on the current agenda.
Many aspects of monetary co-operation are already on the agenda. Some have been there for many years. We can and should discuss them now. They include the financial aspects of completion of the single market such as capital liberalisation and improved economic and monetary co-operation.
In addition, we support other practical measures including the wider use of the privately traded ecu, and its use where appropriate in intervention; and increased holdings of EC currencies in foreign exchange reserves.
That is a substantial programme of technical measures. The Community should now concentrate on such practical steps, on which the United Kingdom already has a fine record. Britain has led the way in abolishing capital controls. We led the way in issuing Treasury bills denominated and payable in ecu. We hold ecu and a variety of EC currencies in the reserves.
So the Government will press for a procedure for working out, in the Council of Economic and Finance Ministers and the monetary committee, how best to ensure that more of the right practical steps of co-operation are taken.
Let me say a brief word about the extra dimension of the EC's relating with its neighbours and trading partners. 512 The Community must look beyond Europe, as we have always done. There must be no fortress Europe. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said some time ago:the expansion of the world economy requires us to continue the process of removing barriers to trade. It would be a betrayal if, while breaking down constraints on trade within Europe, the Community were to erect greater external protection. We must ensure that our approach to world trade is consistent with the liberalisation we preach at home".That message was well accepted by the whole Community. As the European Council said at Rhodes,the single market will not close in on itself".The current GATT round gives the Community the chance to prove that it means what it says. In Britain, the Government intend to ensure that the reality reflects the rhetoric. The Uruguay round is crucial to the future of the world trading system. If it does not succeed, we shall all suffer.
The forthcoming European elections will give us a chance to hear what the people of Europe have to say on all those issues. They will also allow us to campaign on our European ideals and commitment. Our critics complain that we have joined the Community, but will not play by the rules. That is a travesty. Britain sticks to the rules and we work hard for British interests. Where we do not like the rules we seek to change them.
The Labour party plays only for its own electoral interests. That is why its approach to Europe is so different from the Government's. Our approach to Europe has an enormous advantage. It will be supported by the British people, as it always has been when Britain has a key role to play in the world. Every time that the British people have had to choose between success and failure over the last 10 years, they have chosen success.
I commend the motion to the House.
§ Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)
I beg to move, as an amendment to the Question, at the end to add:'regrets that the condition of the British economy after 10 years of this Government leaves this country grossly ill-prepared for the challenge of the Single European Market; notes that Britain trails behind its main competitors in major social areas and that, in the light of the Single European Act enacted on a whipped vote and on a guillotine timetable set by the Government headed by the present Prime Minister, the level of accountability on decision-making to the House is totally inadequate; and calls for an approach to the European Community which is based on co-operation on policies for growth, environmental and regional protection, the valued contribution of women, and the central role of a high standard social agenda.'.It is interesting that this debate, so long delayed, was opened by the Minister of State. There were repeated rumours this week that the Foreign Secretary would open it. In view of the renewed interest in the subject in the country, and particularly in the Conservative party, one would have thought that the Foreign Secretary might have graced us with his presence this evening. The Foreign Secretary chose to make a major speech this week at the CBI dinner and he was interviewed from the radio car for the Radio 4 "Today" programme this morning. The only place that has not been graced with his presence as chief spokesman for the Government on this important matter is the House.
The Minister of State is assisted today not by her usual sidekick, the Paymaster General, who is also the chairman of the Tory party but is clearly being protected from his own troops this evening, but by another Postman Pat from 513 the Department of Trade and Industry. In view of the importance of the issue, the House has been short-changed.
§ Mr. Robertson
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He has had a fair amount of air time this week on the radio in the family feud that has broken out inside the Conservative party, which we might come to at an appropriate time.
The Minister of State said that there is a new Conservative party policy on Europe. It is defined as being twin-track.
§ Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)
Since the hon. Gentleman's words are on the record, should it not also be on the record how few Opposition Members are present?
§ Mr. Robertson
That was not even clever. It betokens the Government's embarrassment at their divisions that that is the sort of level to which the debate can drop.
A twin-track approach has been well on display this week in the Conservative party. It means facing both ways at the same time. There have been two sets of early-day motions, two sets of letters to The Times, two sets of books being deployed, with two distinct and wildly contradictory views being put over.
The Government are in a hopeless mess. The federalists are at the throats of the nationalists. The maximatists are chewing up the minimalists. The free traders are against the regulators. Sovereignty obsessives are against the European union visionaries.
The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and Lord Cockfield, Lord Plumb and the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine)—the last three of whom used to be in the magic circle, in which the Minister of State still is, however tenuously—are now arraigned against this upside-down Britannia.
The Prime Minister, who signed the Single European Act with its commitments to European union and majority voting, increased powers for the European Parliament, who rushed it through the House of Commons with the aid of a whipped vote and a guillotine, then forgot that she had done it all. They said of Ronald Reagan in the case of Irangate, "Guilty but asleep". Is it amnesia or hypocrisy that afflicts the Prime Minister?
§ Mr. Marlow
The hon. Gentleman has gone through a farrago of falsehoods. Let us try to get some of the facts right. Can I just put one correction to him? There is but one EDM from the Conservative party on the Order Paper this week, and it starts off with the words "supports the Prime Minister".
§ Mr. Robertson
It is nice to see the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) in the House and taking time off from running his fairground. I know that the Prime Minister will be personally reassured that he and his hon. and right hon. Friends who signed that early-day motion were actually supporting her.
The Prime Minister signed the Single European Act three years ago with her eyes wide open. It is sheer brass neck theatrically to denounce now the fact that we are being out-voted, which was the very consequence of her 514 signature. The Prime Minister is legendary as the mistress of detail. No item is too small to escape her omnipotent gaze, so her bleating now about what is coming on to the European agenda is bogus and wholly incredible. She supervised the reduction in Westminster's powers of decision. She supervised the workings of faceless networks of the national civil servants who really determine European law. It is the Prime Minister who suppresses information, and it is she who keeps the doors closed on the meetings of the Council of Ministers at which decisions are ultimately made. The Prime Minister has worked hard to keep Parliament in the dark about the actions taken by her Ministers in our name.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs (Mr. Francis Maude)
Did the hon. Gentleman support the Single European Act?
§ Mr. Robertson
That demonstrates the cleverness of the Minister at the Dispatch Box. I say to the hon. Gentleman, who comes new to these debates, that I stood at this Dispatch Box to oppose the Single European Act on behalf of my party. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I warned the Prime Minister and her right hon. and hon. Friends about what they were letting us in for. We warned her about the likely consequences of the majority voting increase. I voted in the Lobbies against the Single European Act. That is on the record—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo), who makes so much noise, can confirm the voting record for himself. When that decision was made and the treaty was signed, we made clear the reality that we would all have to live with. I take exception—
§ Mr. Robertson
I wish that the hon. Gentleman would exercise some patience.
The Prime Minister forced the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office to sign the document on her behalf, and she forced it through the House with inadequate debate—yet she now tells the world that she did not realise what she was getting signed. That is what the issue is all about.
§ Mr. Taylor
Am I wholly wrong in saying only 10 of the hon. Gentleman's right hon. and hon. Friends voted against the Bill's Third Reading? I believe that some of them are present in the Chamber now.
§ Mr. Robertson
That is complete nonsense. The hon. Gentleman can split hairs, and I cannot remember the precise time of day at which that Division took place.
§ Mr. Robertson
We all say farewell to the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) as he leaves the Chamber. No doubt he will return, and we shall see whether he has his calculator with him.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Whatever may have been the numbers voting on the Bill's Third Reading, does my hon. Friend recall that the final guillotined Committee and Third Reading stages took place very late at night? Does he recall also that in the programme "On the Record" broadcast last Sunday, the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), who has a particular record on these matters, stated that the Prime Minister signed the Single European Act—although it was really signed by the 515 Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office—with great reluctance? Does my hon. Friend recall also that, when the Prime Minister returned from the Stuttgart summit on other matters concerning European union, she could not cite any mandate for the Stuttgart arrangement—and I believe that there was no mandate for the Single European Act either?
§ Mr. Robertson
My hon. Friend, whose credentials can never be questioned, makes a significant point in respect of the guillotined debates.
§ Mr. Michael Knowles (Nottingham, East)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) claims that there was no mandate for the Single European Act, which was the subject of the hon. Gentleman's question to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—
§ Mr. Robertson
My hon. Friend made a significant point, particularly in view of the Minister's comments about the inadequacy of the scrutiny given by the House to European legislation and of her promise that more would be done. Right hon. and hon. Members who sat through previous European debates recall only too well that those promises have been made before. We can only hope that the Select Committee on Procedure will take on board the serious points made by right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House.
I can cite one piece of evidence illustrating the Government's culpability. It may stagger right hon. and hon. Members and the public to know that the last oral statement to the House on the Foreign Affairs Council of Ministers—which is the most senior of all councils and is now so important that it is called the General Affairs Council—was made on 17 December 1986. It is two and one half years since the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary reported to the House on a meeting of the Council of Ministers, which is an astonishing record for a Prime Minister who dares to attack the Brussels bureaucracy. For the Prime Minister to posture as the last barrier in the way of a European super-state is breathtaking and sheer nerve. It will not convince many of the British people, who throughout history have despised counterfeit posturing and double standards in their leaders.
The Prime Minister has now served up the embers of the typically genteel Tory disagreement about what kind of future there should be for Europe, but it has been transformed into a blazing war which, like the aged leadership in Beijing, she watches helplessly, not knowing how to control it.
Last September in Bruges, the Prime Minister spoke of a European super-state and that concept, along with the "Socialists and standardisers" among her Right-wing fellow leaders, is still her chief target. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup described that asan abuse—an attempt to mislead the public on the nature of the European Community.He might well do so, because a pamphlet published by Tory central office entitled "50 Questions and Answers on the European Community" posed the question:Isn't Britain becoming part of a United States of Europe?The answer given is: 516No. The Prime Minister has made the Conservative position quite clear. Progress toward completion of the Single Market by 1992 is NOT synonymous with progress towards a so-called 'United States of Europe' or a surrender of our independence, sovereignty or national identity.So what is all the claptrap that we hear about a European super-state?
§ Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)
Although many right hon. and hon. Members welcome the Labour party's conversion to the European cause, can the hon. Gentleman say whether Labour now welcomes the Single European Act and all its consequences, as well as common taxation harmonised in Brussels and not fixed in this country?
§ Mr. Robertson
The answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question is no, but we shall have to live with it. The answer to his second question is also no.
To cover up the economic weakness brought upon this country by her Government and the consequent vulnerability of our industry and commerce within the single European market place, and to divert attention from the social backwardness of our country as we face the challenges of real competition from our partners in the continent, this dishonest bogey of the Brussels super-state has been erected.
"Socialism by the back door" they call what most Conservatives in West Germany, the continent's most successful economy, regard as simple prerequisites for an effective single market. So-called Socialist and standardising bureaucrats are abused, although this central office pamphlet points out that there are fewer officials working in the European Commission than are employed by one borough council or even in the Tory-run Scottish Office in Edinburgh.
At a time of maximum challenge for Europe, with the single market looming before us, with Japanese and American competition looming over us, with opportunities for co-operation in science and technology and in environmental protection, when all these matters are there to be solved, with immense prizes or penalties for the people of this country, the Prime Minister's obsessive interest is in suppressing dissent in her Cabinet about the European monetary system, obstructing the creation of what the Foreign Secretary on Tuesday night at the CBI dinner calleda level playing-field for Communitywide competition",with the "high level of protection" that is mentioned in the Single European Act, and imposing from above, from No. 10 Downing street—
§ Mr. Robertson
Perhaps the hon. Member for Southend, East would just wait—opposing from above and from No. 10 a blinkered, limited big-business vision of Europe on Tory MEP candidates, Members of the House and, of course, her tired and browned-off colleagues within the Council of Ministers.
I give way for the last time to the hon. Member for Southend, East.
§ Mr. Taylor
In view of what the hon. Gentleman said about this dramatic battle which the Labour party put up against this frightful Single European Act, which is undermining our democracy and which has caused all these troubles, how can he explain the fact that, on 10 July 1986, on this great vote on this historic occasion, there 517 were around 20 Members of the Labour party present to vote against it? If it is so important, how was it that the Labour party on that occasion, as on so many others, treated such a vital issue with such contempt—as they are doing today, with a handful of its supporters here discussing the situation?
§ Mr. Robertson
The hon. Member, before he struggled out of the Chamber, told us that it was 10 Labour Members. It is now 20, so that is double what he said. Even when he was living on the precipice in Glasgow, Cathcart he could recognise that as a slight error of judgment.
If the hon. Member for Southend, East had been present during all the hours for which we debated the Single European Act and all the divisions that we had, if he had been able to deliver any of the promised rebellions from his colleagues—all the ones who are making the noise now—perhaps the decision would have been remarkably different. If he had waited for a few more minutes in the Chamber he would have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) say that the key votes at that time were not on Third Reading but at an earlier stage, because the hon. Member for Southend, East did a deal with the Leader of the House on the timing of that debate so that it took place at a far later hour than anybody could possibly have envisaged.
§ Mrs. Chalker
We have heard quite a lot from the hon. Gentleman about the absence of scrutiny, badly timed debates and inadequate control of technical legislation, and we hear quite a lot about 10 pm debates. We now have a debate in prime time on the Floor of the House, and what happens? Opposition Members are not here, and those of them who do turn up go on bickering about voting history. It does not augur well for the Labour party in Europe.
§ Mr. Robertson
The bickering about voting records is coming from the right hon. Lady's side of the House. If all her hon. Friends were here to support her this evening, I would be extremely surprised, because it is not the usual situation at all.
At the heart of the family squabble that has broken out in the Prime Minister's party is the Prime Minister's style in the Community. It is a flamboyant but notably unproductive style. It gets her noticed, but it rarely produces the goods for Britain. It produces fireworks and reactions from others but it alienates our friends and isolates our country. Britain is continually sidelined, marginalised and out-manoeuvred. That, we are to believe, is the mark of a patriot—the best European of all, as she proclaims in today's Daily Mail. But the real test is there and can be measured.
The reverberations of the Bruges speech may well be ringing round Europe, but how is this country faring, for instance, in the committees that will determine the technical standards that will apply in the single European market of 1992? There are two major standardising committees: one is CEN—the European Committee for Standardisation—and the other is CENELEC—the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation. There are 73 chairmanships and secretariats in the control of the Federal Republic of 518 Germany, with only 47 in the hands of Britain. No wonder Mr. John Banham, the director general of the CBI, said this:Britain is not putting enough resources behind the present negotiations in Brussels over standards, and this would be a very expensive mistake when we find we have to comply with German or French standards in the new trading environment of 1992.This is more of an acid test of the British Community policy than anything we heard about in the Minister's speech this evening, and we fail that test by a mile. As the right hon. Member for Henley so eloquently put it in his book published last weekend—no doubt we shall hear from him if he catches your eye later this evening, Mr. Deputy Speaker:Every hostile speech provokes at best despair, at worst contempt. The French and the Germans, at every sign of British aloofness, draw closer together.That says it all—and that is somebody who is in the know and was once part of the charmed magic circle.
All the time, our economic position makes our bargaining position weaker and weaker. Our inflation rate is still higher than that of our competitors and is rising. Our interest rates are among the highest and they are not falling. Our trade deficit, especially with our Community partners, has now reached historic and crippling proportions.
§ Mr. Robertson
No, I have given way enough. Hon. Members have a right to speak later in the debate. I am not giving way.
In 1980 our trade in manufactured goods with Europe was roughly in balance.
§ Mr. Robertson
In normal circumstances I would do so, but it would be unfair to the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends who wish to speak later in the debate.
In 1980, our trade in manufactured goods with Europe was roughly in balance. Today it is in deficit by over £14 billion. In 1980, our manufacturing deficit with West Germany was £550 million, even then not a good figure, but in 1988 it had risen to £8 billion. Our deficit with France has doubled in eight years. Our deficit with Italy has increased by eight times in those eight years. Only with Greece and Ireland do we achieve a surplus. Yet the Prime Minister had the audacity, in a letter to me two weeks ago, to say:In manufactured goods, the import/export ratio has been doing rather better vis-à-vis the rest of the EC than with the rest of the world.If one can produce these statistics in relation to the Community, that says a lot about the rest of the world.
This is a vivid example of how politicians can use, abuse and devalue statistics. This is the real indictment of this Government's policy in the Community. It has left Britain's economy pitifully weak to face the challenge of the European market and has kept us so socially backward that our opportunities will be all the more limited. That is why the partisan, dogmatic and self-defeating attitude to the social dimension so debilitates Britain's future.
§ Mr. Robertson
No, I am not giving way again.
In addition to the crippling interest rates and the rising tide of imports, our level of investment in manufacturing 519 is lower than it was in 1979 when this Government came to power. Our training-in-skills record is appalling and we invest only 10 per cent. of what West Germany does in this field. Our investment in non-military research and development as a percentage of gross national product is the lowest of all advanced European industrialised countries.
The percentage of our population who are receiving higher education is lower than the equivalent percentage in Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands, and our industries—open to the world as they are—stand acutely and uniquely vulnerable to takeovers, asset stripping and being swallowed up. But yesterday, without even a sight of the Commission's proposed social charter—an outline of a social charter—Ministers were pushed out into the street to condemn it out of hand, despite the fact that that document derives from one of the conclusions reached at the Rhodes summit and subscribed to by the Prime Minister. That conclusion stated that theEuropean Council awaits such proposals as the Commission might consider useful to submit having drawn inspiration from the Social Charter of the Council of Europe.The social charter is a binding instrument passed by the Council of Europe and voted for by the United Kingdom Government. It was presented yesterday by Madame Papandreou, voted for by all but one of the Commissioners—and described by the Prime Minister today as a Socialist charter.
The European Community has an economic and social committee made up of representatives from industry and the trade unions, as well as a good many independent people—academics and others—who were appointed by their individual Governments to sit and consider such matters. The social charter was put to that committee on 22 February, and only 22 out of 165 people voted against what the Prime Minister has today described as a Socialist charter.
On Monday this week, the Secretary of State for Health was sent to Brussels to be humiliated and out-voted by 11 to one on a simple, sensible protective scheme for cancer warnings on cigarette packets. Having experienced such humiliation—as a member of the Cabinet—the Secretary of State would have opened his Daily Mail today with fascinated interest to read the Prime Minister's comment to Sir David English that the scheme wasThis tobacco thing, the thing on the packet, it is not worth making a song and dance about … On its own it is not worth fighting about.Now the Secretary of State for Health knows why he was sent out there: to be humiliated over something that was "not worth fighting about".
§ Mr. Robertson
No, let me finish my catalogue of the Government's humiliations.
Next Monday the Secretary of State for Education will be sent to try to veto the Lingua project, a sensible plan to encourage more language teaching in schools and more exchanges of young people. That programme has no legislative consequences for this country, but we know that it is deeply desirable, and the Department of Education and Science was positively enthusiastic when it was originally floated here. We are also about to sabotage the Commission's plan on health and safety, despite the strong 520 support that the Secretary of State had given it. Now we want to veto its plan to allow pensioners to share travel concessions in individual countries.
§ Mr. Budgen
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman shares my view of the European Court. Does he regard it as a political court? The Prime Minister must regard It as one. There is a great issue of principle involved in what constitutes a measure directed towards improving the internal market. If the Prime Minister is not prepared to authorise the testing of that principle in the court, it is plain that she has no real faith in the court and regards it as a political rather than a legal organisation.
§ Mr. Robertson
Reading the interview in today's Daily Mail, I wondered why the Prime Minister signed the Single European Act in the first place, and also whether she fully understands what she signed even now. Sir David English understood the point that the hon. Gentleman has made, but it is clear from the answer that she gave him that the Prime Minister does not understand the technicalities of what she let herself in for when she signed the Act, or gave authority for the signature. Paragraph 3 of article 100A states:The Commission, in its proposals envisaged in paragraph 1 concerning health, safety, environmental protection and consumer protection, will take as a base a high level of protection.I do not know whether the Prime Minister managed to convince herself, in the amazingly flamboyant interview in the Daily Mail which takes up the front page as well as two inside pages, but it is clear from the paper's editorial that she did not persuade Sir David English. The editorial, placed next to the interview, says:We admire her spirit. But we wonder about her tactics … When she approved with such a magisterial flourish her Government's signature to the Single European Act in 1986, did she fully realise the implications of what she was doing?".Sir David may have got his knighthood, but I doubt that he will get the peerage for which he was probably aiming when he devoted three pages of his paper to the matter.
§ Mr. Robertson
No, I have gone far too far.
When will the Government realise that our European partners—whether they be Conservative, Liberal, Social Democrat or Socialist—believe that the same high standards mentioned in the Single European Act in relation to health and safety and working practices, in the workplace as well as in the environment, are prerequisites for the working of the single market? Our partners will not be held back by a British Government who believe in minimum standards.
Let me offer one helpful comment to the Minister of State, who I know does not share the prevailing view in the Government about the level playing field for competition referred to by the Foreign Secretary. Speaking at the Institute of Directors conference, the ambassador from the Federal Republic of Germany said:Our success in attaining the internal market depends in a very real way on simultaneous integration in the social field. We should work as far as possible and practicable for parity in social security and social benefits, in occupational safety requirements, vocational training, and last but not least in the field of worker participation.521 Those are the words of a representative of a centre-Right Government, lecturing our Government on what may happen.
§ Mr. Robertson
No, I will not give way.
The Minister of State made the point that, before the next six-monthly debate on the European Community, the British electorate would have a chance to give its verdict on the conflicting visions presented to it on 15 June this year. Perhaps that will be a better test of opinion than any debate we have had in the House. The electorate will, of course, be confronted by the confusion on the Conservative Benches. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup has said that he will campaign for those who believe in the vision that he stands for. No doubt the right hon. Member for Henley will support another small group of elite candidates, and the rest will be told precisely what to say by No 10 Downing street.
Alternative and sharp visions will, however, be on display in the election: visions of a party that wants to take Britain back to the little England of the past, and sees no future in Europe except in the deregulated free-for-all for big business, or of a party that is committed to Europewide co-operation and believes in doing for the environment what can be done only at European level; a party that is willing to cleanse our beaches, our rivers and our water supplies; a party that is willing to tackle multinational companies and unemployment without the Community; a party committed to protecting the vulnerable regions, industries, firms and people within the Community.
That depends on a party that believes in the Community, in co-operation and in mutual respect, in an atmosphere of building majorities and of political give and take which we all, barring the Prime Minister, know is the essential reality for any domestic or multinational system. It is in the Prime Minister's blindness to the dangers facing the country, her unpreparedness and her casual, careless disdain for the new politics of Europe that we see the threat to the country and disaster for the Conservative party.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)
I suppose that most of us are now Europeans of some sort, but what kind of Europe each of us wants seems to be a proper subject on which right hon. and hon. Members may differ. The representation on the two Front Benches is eloquent testimony that there are differences on both sides of the House. I could not identify in the speech of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) any clear Labour party view about Europe. He had a certain amount of fun trying to knock down various Aunt Sallies, but I could not understand the Labour vision.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of State on the speech with which she opened the debate, both for what she said and for what, perhaps wisely, she did not say. She was absolutely right to emphasise the contribution that we have made in the last decade to the development of the European Community and more particularly to the single market, which is in wide measure our creation. We have had great influence in liberalising 522 and in reducing expenditure on the agricultural policy which had got out of hand. We have benefited from the rather brazen attack by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the budget, and it was very much in our interest that she pursued that matter.
We need to continue emphasising the benefits of the current economic and financial thinking in this country which can make a great contribution to Europe, albeit with a certain modesty because we do have the highest rate of inflation in the Community and our living standards are not yet within reach of the living standards of the French, the Germans or, indeed, of the Benelux countries. So when we discuss social and other policies we should appreciate where we stand in comparison with our partners in the Community.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State did not embark on the proposition advanced in certain quarters that the real issue is between national sovereignty and federation. That is a windmill which should not be tilted at because it is not really there. I maintain that it is not, with some experience of the European movement since 1946. Indeed, I will go back further. In London 87 years ago, we proposed that the self-governing countries of the Empire, later the Commonwealth, should federate. The British Government put forward a proposal for a single imperial Government, eventually a single Parliament, a single imperial secretariat, a single navy and a customs union. Money did not come into it—we were all on gold. The proposal was turned down by the Colonies. If we could not get six mainly English-speaking, tremendously loyal and patriotic imperial countries, with only 20 or 30 years of self-government behind them, to federate, it is not likely that the ancient and famous states of Europe will go into a federation, whether directly or by the back door. It just will not happen.
§ Mr. Amery
I am not giving way. Mr. Speaker has asked us to be brief.
As to sovereignty, we have already given up a good deal in other spheres. The biggest surrender has been in the Western European Union, where we have committed ourselves indefinitely to station troops and air forces on the continent.
The whole idea, launched by Alexander Hamilton 150 years ago, that there could be no choice—that there had to be either nation states or federation—has been proved wrong by the British. We had the Commonwealth, which was a great success, with political co-operation, with a preferential union—it was not quite a customs union—with a single reserve currency, sterling, and a joint defence policy. There are lessons from our own history that we can apply with advantage in Europe.
The European Community has been in existence for some 30 years—we were not part of it at the beginning—and it is already more than a Commonwealth, though miles less than a federation, and it will grow in its own mysterious way. When we look back on it, that will be when we can say what kind of constitution it is developing. It will not be federal, and it will be different from the Commonwealth. It will be something new, and only later shall we be able to measure our contribution to it.
I thank and congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of State on the delicate way in which she handled 523 the report of the Delors committee. I must confess that I was slightly shocked by what I would call the kneejerk reaction of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the report when it was published. I was shocked first for protocol reasons. Mr. Delors is a distinguished civil servant. He was previously a politician and may aspire to being one again, but at present he is the appointed, unelected top civil servant of the Commission. He was asked to produce a report and he did so. He is like the secretary to the Cabinet. We do not criticise a Cabinet secretary because we do not like his report. If we want to argue about the Delors report, we should do so with the other Ministers. The Chancellor of the Exchequer should go to the other Finance Ministers. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is against the report. That is building up Mr. Delors unnecessarily. Since I had always understood that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would like to keep Brussels under control, we should not build up the Commission too much. If Mr. Delors has ambitions for a superstate, he will be delighted at the way in which my right hon. Friend has taken him on.
I was also worried because my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and later my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, fastened on to paragraph 39 of the Delors report, which gives the impression that the Commission would like us to commit ourselves, before we embark on discussions, to the final goal of a single currency and a central bank. I have lived through all this two or three times before. When the Schuman plan was brought forward, we were asked to accept the idea of a supra-national high authority. Of course, such a high authority has never emerged. There is an authority, but it is not supra-national. At Messina we were told that we would have to accept a supra-national high authority, but General De Gaulle saw to it that there never was one.
I was horrified that we should take the matter as seriously as we appeared to have done. So, greatly daring, I went over to Brussels and asked Mr. Delors whether this was a condition or an indication. He said, "What do you mean?" I said, "If I am catching a train from Paris, destination Marseilles, and I find the train uncomfortable, or I change my mind about where to go, can I get off at Dijon or Lyons?" He replied, "Of course you may, and so may any of the other passengers. We simply would like you to have in mind where, on the whole, we think you should be going and where we hope you would like to go. But if experience teaches you that that is not where you want to go, then of course you must be free to get off. You do not surrender sovereignty in that sense."
The next point that worried me was the argument put forward by the Prime Minister that to have a single currency and a single bank must necessitate a federal Government. I am not sure that that is true. We had a single currency in the shape of gold, but all the gold standard countries went to war against each other in 1914, so there was not much sacrifice of sovereignty there. When we went off the gold standard, we produced the sterling currency, which was not a single currency but a reserve one —I shall return to that concept shortly—so I am not sure that it is a logical conclusion to suggest that it is not possible to have a single currency without having a federal Government.
The Delors report is a clever compromise between the maximalists and the minimalists with, as my right hon. Friend the Minister pointed out, the saving grace of not having a timetable, save that it urges those not already in 524 —particularly ourselves—to join the EMS by the summer of 1990. I can see the difficulties. For example, we have 8 per cent. inflation and it would be uncomfortable for us to join unless we can bring that down to a more reasonable figure. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that, with God's grace, it will be down to 3 or 4 per cent. by that date. We do not know what the impact of the abandonment of exchange control would be on the French, Italian and other currencies. Delors says that it is already abandoned from the point of view of the corporate sector. We do riot know what the effect would be on the private sector. Those are some of the problems that we must face. Let us suppose that we could say, "Not just when the time is right, but when we have got our inflation down and we have been able to study the consequences of abandoning exchange controls by the other countries concerned, then we will join, and we hope that that would not be too far after 1990." I am not demanding that we do that, but I hope that the Government will consider it seriously.
We come to phase two, and a tactical problem arises. All the countries—apart from ourselves and a couple of others—which are members of the EMS start from the EMS in negotiating phase two. Delors sketches what it might be, but it is just a submission from technocrats, officials and some bankers. If we are not in the EMS, we are not at the starting gate. We are not in a position to negotiate about phase two. Yet phase two, it seems, could be of enormous interest to us and we might make a great contribution to it.
In 1931, when we went off the gold standard, all the experts thought that the heavens would fall in. On the contrary, however, we created a reserve currency which became second only to the dollar throughout the world, although it was without any gold or other foundation. It was not a single currency. The various members of the Commonwealth kept their own central banks and control of their money supply and interest rates, but they lodged their reserves with the Bank of England and tried to keep their parities as close as possible. When I described that to Delors, he said "It is close to the phase two that I want to see." I wonder whether we might take the initiative and volunteer to help in creating the second phase, which could be done without any surrender of control of our own money supply or interest rates. We could be helpful. We are the experts in this matter and it is an initiative that we could take.
Phase three commits us to a single currency and a single central bank. It is a fascinating idea, but I do not see how we could conceivably commit ourselves to it because we have no idea what Europe will look like 10 years from now. Will eastern Europe come in? There are all manner of considerations which cannot be foreseen. On the other hand, need we reject it and say that it is unacceptable because of the possible surrender of sovereignty involved? That is why I have said in the past, though nobody really understood why I said it, that I would rather be guided by the words of the hymn:Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to seeThe distant scene; one step enough for me.On the subject of hymns, there is the splendid one,I vow to thee, my countrythat we sing at memorial services, the first verse of which is a total commitment to the defence of the United Kingdom and its interests, and the second a noble 525 obeisance to a distant kingdom of which we have heard but never seen. So we might abstain from committing ourselves, but also abstain from rejecting the concept.
We must look at the European picture as it is. At present, all the countries concerned are not being drawn into Brussels but are being pulled in other directions. We have our own immense overseas interests. So have the French, in north and tropical Africa. The Spaniards and Portuguese also have big overseas commitments. Hon. Members will have noticed that the Spaniards have a horrible problem just now in that they have always allowed free immigration from Latin America. Will they be allowed to continue doing that? It would mean the free immigration of Latinos to all the European countries.
The Germans have the Drang nach Osten—they are fascinated by what is happening in the east. I would not exaggerate the importance of the Germans' move to reunification because the east represents only 6 or 7 per cent. of their overseas trade, but they dominate the European monetary system. If we are not in it, they will dominate it. Even if we go in, they will be very important.
I do not know which way the French will go, whether it will be Vichy or Free France. When I put that to M. Delors, he said, "If you come in, you will dilute the German influence, and we would not be against that."
I recall—this is pertinent and conclusive—that I once asked Winston Churchill how we were to reconcile our interests in the Commonwealth, which still existed, with our membership of Europe. He said, "It will not be easy on the other hand, we must have a united Europe if there is not to be another Franco-German war and if we are to keep the Germans in the Community." And then he said, "A Europe united without us could be a Europe united against us."
§ Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)
It is pleasing to me, as one who has taken part in these European debates for a long time, to see the sudden degree of interest that has been aroused. There was a time when I almost felt inclined to cross the Floor and put my arm around the shoulder of the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) and comfort him in his loneliness.
Things have changed, and it is evident that the Government are well capable of generating a lively debate without even having an Opposition. We have the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who may catch Mr. Speaker's eye and speak in the debate and who has been talking about the Prime Minister's blind attitude to Europe. The Sunday Times quoted him as having referred to the famous fable about the hare and the tortoise. He pointed out that the tortoise won only because the hare stopped running, and he added:There is no conceivable prospect that the German, French, Italian, Spanish or any other hares are going to stop every few years to allow a tortoise wrapped in a Union Jack to lumber past.That is strong stuff, and I agree with it.
The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who is sadly not with us, said that the Prime Minister's views were absolute rubbish. That was not, perhaps, the most delicately intellectual comment he could have made, but it was pretty direct. Then, Sir Henry Plumb —[HON. MEMBERS: "Lord Plumb".] Lord Plumb, I beg his 526 pardon. One forgets all these ennoblements because they come so quickly one upon the other. Lord Plumb was the leader of the Conservative group in the Strasbourg European Parliament. The Independent, on 10 May, said of Lord Plumb:While never naming her,I hardly need to say who "her" is—Lord Plumb will criticise almost every element of Mrs. Thatcher's Bruges campaign, reserving particular poison for the suggestion that Brussels is wilfully creating unnecessary red tape. 'The creation of common rules for a common market … will eliminate the pettiness of certain forms of national bureaucratic regulation. 1992 is blowing the whistle on red tape, not creating it'.His speech also contained a clear defence of the social dimension. Therefore, there is some turmoil in the Government. The Minister began with a flourish—
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd, North-West)
I trust that the hon. Gentleman will make it plain that, on that occasion, Lord Plumb, was speaking not as a Conservative, but as the president of the European Parliament. There is an important distinction.
§ Sir Russell Johnston
Lord Plumb is the president of the European Parliament, but people do not undergo sea changes of personality when they take on different occupations, tasks and jobs. He is a Conservative. He is a decent chap, but a Conservative.
The Minister began with a great flourish, and went on the attack. I suppose that she was anticipating that others might do likewise. She spoke of the Conservative record in the 1960s, and denigrated the Labour party. I remember the 1960s quite well and the Conservative record in Europe at that time was not so startling.
The Liberal party was the first party to call for entry into the Community. At this election, the Social and Liberal Democrat party is the only one that is committed to both the Single European Act and the freedom that it will generate, and to the kind of social, economic and environmental policies that must necessarily accompany it. We also look forward to further constitutional development.
At the beginning of this debate, much emphasis was placed on scrutiny. We are, after all, gathered to discuss developments that took place in the European Community between July and December of last year. One might say that it is a waste of time because all the water has gone under the bridge. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who has temporarily left us, commented on this subject. If we are talking about scrutiny, we must talk about the European Parliament. There is no way in which this House can effectively scrutinise European legislation.
§ Sir Russell Johnston
The hon. Lady may say nonsense as much as she likes. That is my considered view. If, however, we talk about making a pre-legislative contribution to what is being put together, that is another question. As a legislative Chamber, we have made very little progress in pre-legislative discussions, although to a degree the Select Committees are carrying out that type of work. If hon. Members are seriously concerned about the fact that they are unable to make a proper contribution to the evolution of European Community policy, the only 527 effective action will be pre-legislative, so that input can be made which can subsequently be considered and examined. That is the only way forward.
The right hon. Member for Chesterfield went on quite a bit about that, and about Crown prerogative and the fact that when the Government negotiate changes they do so as a Government. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) also joined in. The Labour party is in no position to criticise this aspect. It is precisely what the Labour party want. The derogation that the British Labour party made from the section of the European Socialist manifesto entitled "A People's Europe" is not about having a more supranationality, but about safeguarding the inter-relationship between sovereign states. In my humble opinion, the Labour party is not in a position to criticise the Government, much as it may want to.
Many hon. Members wish to speak and time is limited, so I shall confine myself to a limited number of issues. The Minister mentioned regional policy. The Heads of Government of the Community have consistently held the view that the common internal market must be accompanied by a proper regional policy. If it is not, we risk strong growth in the inner regions of the Community and depression in the outer areas, such as Scotland, the north-east and Wales, and other fringe areas in the Mediterranean, as activities pull towards the centre. That is why I make no apology for repeating a quote made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is a central individual within the Government. After his recent Chatham House speech he said:The growth of regional policy—within the Community—would be positively damaging.That was an extraordinary statement and very much a free market statement. The other day, at Scottish Question Time, I asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he agreed with it. He smiled seraphically and said that he did not. I would like a Minister to clarify the Government's view on regional policy in this debate. While I am at it, I might say to the Minister, who looks slightly sad—
§ Sir Russell Johnston
It is about time we stopped blowing trumpets about the amount of regional money we receive, while ignoring the additionality rule. That money does not provide extra funds for the deprived areas but is simply an exchange that occurs within the British budget.
Reading the White Paper, one could easily gain the impression that the Government are fully content with developments in the Community. However, the six-month period that we are talking about contains the famous Bruges speech in which the Prime Minister put her backing firmly in favour of an unregulated free market throughout Europe and showed a great lack of enthusiasm for social, regional and environmental policies—social engineering is the phrase which is increasingly being used. We firmly believe that unbridled competition must be tempered. There are matters in the social sphere that the market, good as it may be at generating economic activity, will never undertake unless it is made to.
The Prime Minister is once again on the warpath, shooting from the hip at a variety of almost unexpected targets. I shall consider one or two. First, there were plans for a common card for the over-60s to enable them to 528 benefit from concessions on public transport and other facilities. It was a sort of glorified European bus pass. The initiative for that came, strangely enough, not from the Commission, from the strange, wicked bureaucrats in Brussels, but from Eurolink Age, an organization representing the interests of older people throughout the European Community which was set up by Age Concern. The project was probably the brain child of Age Concern's director, Sally Greengross.
A letter of 7 December 1987 to the Secretary of State for Social Services, from the hon. Members for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) and for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) and my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), who are officers of the all-party parliamenary group for pensioners, stated:We write … to express our support to European initiatives which were discussed …Consideration is being given to marking a European year by the launch of a European Seniors' Pass … We believe that this … would benefit many individual elderly people across the European Community. We therefore hope that you will feel able to join us in supporting these initiatives.Why not? I do not understand all this talk of interference.
I do not want to go on about cigarettes but, like all smokers—I know I should not be one—I look around for the least injurious cigarettes which will not kill me the day after tomorrow. In the Federal Republic and in France the nicotine and tar contents are printed on the packet. Instead of bearing the legend "low tar" the packets tell me exactly how low. What is the objection to that? The Secretary of State for Health should be wholly in favour of it.
I am told that we are to veto the Lingua teaching scheme at the Council on Monday, but I do not know whether that is true. The Association of Teachers of German wrote to The Independent to say that its members thought itparticularly gallingthat the Prime Minister intendsto deny the opportunity of cultural and linguistic exchange".Mr. Alan Jones and Miss Margaret Tumber continued:One can only hope that wiser counsels will prevail and thatperhaps the Government have their own plansto match the intention of Lingua in encouraging and funding pupil and teacher exchange, in providing grants for employers to enable them to improve the language skills of their workforce, and in facilitating exchanges between universities, polytechnics and other institutions of higher and further education.One would imagine that this country had a splendid record of speaking foreign languages—it has not. I see no earthly reason why we should not participate in a programme to deal with that problem.
§ Mr. Butterfill
In his enthusiasm for all things contained in the treaty, will the hon. Gentleman reaffirm that the Liberal party remains committed to the principles of the European Atomic Energy Community, and in particular to article 1, which reads:creating the conditions necessary for the speedy establishment and growth of nuclear industries"?If so, will he explain its attitude to Hinkley Point?
§ Sir Russell Johnston
I do not think that nuclear energy and language teaching are closely aligned, and I must press on. 529 Language is the most important aspect in free movement. If people cannot speak other people's languages it is difficult for them to move and work freely in different environments.
It is interesting that the Prime Minister increasingly sets her face against free movement, which is an intrinsic part of the Single European Act. The hon. Member for Hamilton mentioned the splendid interview that the Prime Minister gave to the Daily Mail, headedWhy I am the best European of all".I read it rather sleepily this morning and thought at first that the interview had been given by Ted, but I was wrong. The Prime Minister said that we shall continue to need customs posts, immigration controls and all the rest of the barriers that the Single European Act was intended to do away with:How are you going to stop anyone from Bangladesh … coming for a holiday in Greece … right across all borders, no controls, and settling in Britain and we would have no means of finding out? Now, in France you have to carry an identity card, and you have to carry it everywhere so that police can challenge you anywhere … As I said in my Bruges speech, we are practical. They have identity cards, but can you imagine compulsory identity cards in this country? We recoil from it.So what about football identity cards? What is the difference? In different ways we all have to prove that we are who we are by means of various forms of documentation, and the idea that identity cards are a dreadful intrusion on freedom is utter nonsense.
A couple of points about European monetary union. The Delors committee report was the most important happening of the past six months. The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) described a conversation he had with M. Delors and gently criticised the Chancellor for reacting rather quickly to it. The Chancellor said, as reported in The Independent:Our view of the Community is one of independent sovereign nation states. We cannot accept the transfer of sovereignty which is impliedin the Delors proposals.
Economic and monetary union 'would in effect require political union and a United states of Europe' which was 'not on the agenda for now, or for the foreseeable future'.But it is on the agenda now and it will stay on it.
The right hon. Member for Pavilion said that we should not start arguing about the precise form of a federal or confederal Europe, but there will be an increasingly supranational structure of some sort. It is unavoidable and, in my opinion, desirable, necessary and practical. The argument about sovereignty is based on a myth and is a means in practice of clinging to nationalistic rights which are becoming less and less meaningful in the European Community. To advance the Community, we must go beyond 1992 towards economic and monetary union, and that is the logic of the Delors proposals.
Yesterday's publication of the European social charter, although not strictly speaking under consideration in this White Paper, has already been mentioned. It is early to start being specific about it, but it lays down a number of fundamental social rights which should be exerciseable by citizens throughout the Community. It is not only a charter of workers' rights; it contains various social rights—the rights of women, pensioners and people outside the labour market—and we shall need common rules of that sort.
530 Common standards and entitlements are an inescapable part of the future of the Community, enshrining not only the right to make money but the right to social protection. My party and I are committed to the social aspects of the Community, and I hope that the Government will review the sort of approach that they have hitherto adopted.
§ Mr. Michael Heseltine (Henley)
The word "sovereignty" has rightly come up in the speeches made by right hon. and hon. Members because it is at the heart of the matter. I start my three brief points in a simple belief that is widely shared. If a country has the power to exercise sovereignty on a national scale, it is appropriate and desirable that it should do so—appropriate not only in the sense of national pride, but because the more local and immediate they are, the more effective the controls over that power are likely to be.
However, if in the world in which we live sovereignty is no longer capable of being exercised on a national scale because the scale of power that is necessary in the modern world has outstripped the capacity of a medium-sized nation to control it, then in the pursuit of the sovereignty of the nation Governments have a responsibility to seek to recover the power through partnerships of sovereignty that may embrace wider groupings of sovereign independent nations. That is why this country, against its instincts, traditions and much of its history, reluctantly concluded in the 1950s and 1960s that it belonged within the European Community of nations. We wished to recover a sense of national sovereignty, albeit a national sovereignty shared with other nations similar to ourselves. We could no longer exercise sovereignty on a national scale within a community of Europe, so in the pursuit of British self-interest we made that decision.
I am not in any way in favour of some anonymous, ill-defined remote concept of supra-European existence. I am interested in Europe because I see in the arrangements of Europe and in the power structure of Europe a way in which British self-interest can be exercised within a power that is more relevant to the world in which we live and in which increasingly our children will live. With all my privileged experience as a Minister in Conservative Governments, I have not known of one German, Frenchman, Italian or Greek who has any other interpretation of why those countries are members of the European Community. They see a wider sovereignty shared as a better prospect for them than the illusions of yesterday's sovereignty hung on to for too long. That is why we are together. If it ever ceases to be the case that the members of the European Community perceive their self-interest no longer to be bound up with the European process, the Europe about which we are talking today will cease to exist. There will be nothing new historically in that. Pan-European movements in the past have come to an end. If we cannot identify a personal or national self-interest, our pan-European process will come to an end—and so it should.
My second point starts with the Single European Act, which this Parliament was the first to ratify in 1986. Let us be under no illusion—Britain did not want to sign the Single European Act. We took the classic British role in believing that events would unfold and that the market would speak. The only reason that we signed the Single 531 European Act was that the other 11 members of the Community—fewer at that time—decided that they would go on with a structural advance in the relationships of Europe and, if we did not want to be part of it, that was our sovereign right so to determine. We had made that judgment before. They knew that, every time we exercised that sovereign right to stay behind, it was only a matter of time before we reassessed the position and sought to catch up, but then we would join arrangements that they had moulded in their interests and not in ours.
Once the House had signed the Single European Act in the pursuit of the single European market, we had accepted the reinstatement of the process of majority voting. [Interruption.] It was built into the original treaty of Rome, but was frustrated by de Gaulle in the Luxembourg compromise. It was to get back to the intention to create a single market that the Luxembourg Council of Ministers determined to enact again, and it changed the treaty in order to achieve the legislative process of majority voting.
Once any of us are involved in a process of majority voting, there is only one way to win—by persuasion. We must have the better arguments, we must win the electoral debate, we must persuade other partners in the venture, any one of which has the same right to hold up his hand in dissent. Once we recognise that, we will realise that not only must we have arguments that will persuade the constituency of our European colleagues, but that we have another constituency to persuade. If the purpose of the single market is to widen the horizons and opportunities for British commerce and industry, who will determine whether we win or fail? It will not be the Government or Members of the House—it will be the industrial managers of our companies, who believe that there is something to go for, who understand the opportunity and who commit their companies to the exploitation of that opportunity. If in the process of winning politically in the European debate we create an atmosphere of incredibility and disbelief about what Europe is about, not only will we alienate the very political constituency that must determine with us the rate of progress politically, but we will detach the British industrial and commercial management from the venture.
If we have not persuaded the industrialists to gear up to the process that is under way, we shall pay a devastating price in the 1990s. I am second to none in admiring what my noble Friend Lord Young has done to create awareness of the effects of 1992 across the country. Few people employed in our wealth-creating process do not know that the single market is coming, but if asked what they are doing about it, the Government's success in creating awareness is directly reversed by the attitudes of British industry, which today by some nine to one are still failing to make the adjustments on which success in the market place will ultimately depend. As politicians, it is incumbent upon us so to temper the language that we use in winning the intellectual debate in Europe as to maintain the enthusiasm of the industrialists upon whom our future depends. Thus is the task interwoven.
Although I understand all too clearly the principle upon which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health went to Brussels to win or lose the issue about health warnings on cigarettes, I wonder whether he would not have been wiser to hold his fire for the battle about the social arrangements for Europe, which really matter. If we are seen to fight on every battle ground, with the same 532 wooden arguments and the same apparently obstructionist approach, we shall switch off the potential support of the very people on whom we shall depend. I believe that we must fight to prevent the more excessive elements of the social charter. It would be a disaster to try to impose mandatory workers on the boards of British industry. Let us fight on that ground, with all the intellectual conviction that we shall rightly need. Why do not the Government, who have done so much to widen share ownership in Britain, try to put into the social charter of Europe provisions to extend the share-owning democracy among Europeans? Why do we not take the best British ideas and put them on the European agenda rather than cavilling at the worst ideas of Europe and refusing to have them here?
It is important that we understand the changing definition of sovereignty. If one changes the definition of sovereignty, power moves from old concentrations to new, which is a source of resentment. How could it be otherwise? We are at the heart of that dilemma because power is moving from this place, which causes a growing and legitimate concern.
§ Mr. Heseltine
My hon. Friend says that it does riot need to move, which rightly questions the whole European process, and I respect his position. History may prove him right. The endeavour may founder as it has foundered before, but so long as it has not foundered, so long as we are in it, and so long as our treaties commit us to it, the only way to protect British self-interest is to be at the leading edge of what is happening. We therefore come back to the transfer of sovereignty that is built into the process, not because anyone forced it on us, but because we signed treaties unleashing a profound reassessment of how British influence will be dealt with and administered in the world of tomorrow.
§ Mr. Heseltine
No, I will not give way.
There are two areas in which that sovereignty might be moving away towards the European concept. The first relates to Governments and the second to Parliament, and I wish to make a clear distinction between the two. I have been a member of a Government and I have had some experience of dealing in Europe, and I have a clear memory of the endless submissions that come up from civil servants asking for guidance about how they should handle the private and secret negotiations in Europe.
§ Mr. Heseltine
Governments know what is going on, but this House does not. The question that we must have before us is how to bring power back here. That is the debate that must continue, and that is the way to consolidate the advance of Europe politically with the democratic accountability in which we all believe.
§ Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)
The right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) is right to say that sovereignty is at the heart of the matter. Those 533 who are not prepared to address that question are not taking part in the great debate that has continued in this country since the mid-1950s.
If I was to accept the right hon. Gentleman's definition of worthwhile sovereignty—a kind of power of control over virtually all the factors that influence one's national life—I would still believe that no country has ever enjoyed such sovereignty. To abandon one's Parliament and one's democracy is implicit in the abandonment of national sovereignty. The alternative way pursued by the world community for more than 50 years is to forge, through alliances and treaties, all kinds of agreements and regulations affecting the conduct of affairs. Those agreements, by their very nature, are limited and, at the right time and if circumstances change, one can withdraw from or extend them.
A different path is open to us. The idea that we have no choice except to become submerged in some quasi-federal union in Europe or be left with our small catchment area of sovereignty is absurd. The alternative is the entire system of international relations developed during the past 50 years or more.
The Minister of State started the argument about scrutiny. I agree that we are not doing anything like enough in this House to scrutinise the legislation and the other proposals and directives issued from Brussels. The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) was right, however, to say that at least in one area of the Single European Act the only scrutiny that can lead to worthwhile action is that undertaken in the European Parliament. He is right, because that relates precisely to those areas of the Act where we have abandoned the right of veto over the proposals put before the Council of Ministers.
In those cases where there is no alternative but qualified majority voting, or where matters are decided by the so-called "co-operation procedure" of the European Parliament, no proper accountability is left to the Westminster Parliament. Such European scrutiny relates to those changes that were made in the Single European Act that deliberately removed the power of veto from the Council of Ministers. Scrutiny where there is no accountability is interesting; but it is not exactly what Parliament is about. Such scrutiny is not about the accountability of Ministers or about accountability for decisions to the people and to Parliament.
I shall make a short contribution, as I fall within the ten-minutes rule. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) mentioned some of the economic facts that are so salient to discussions of the single European market and our attitude to them. Tucked away in appendix G is the appalling table of Britain's balance of trade in manufactured goods with the European Community. That deficit has risen from £1.2 billion in 1980 to more than £12 billion in 1988. That is a terrible affliction upon the British economy and upon the prosperity of the British people.
That deficit with the Community presently accounts for nearly the entire appalling deficit in overseas trade in our current account. Therefore, it matters enormously that we should start thinking carefully abut the effects of going forward to the even greater competitive system that is 534 embodied in the single European market to be established by 1992. It also greatly affects the powers of national Governments to influence their economies.
Public purchasing power, which has been one of the most useful tools for the encouragement and development of important industries and enterprise in our country, is no longer to be a matter for the nation state to decide. There will be a register of state rights and the subsidies and other subventions, direct or indirect, made by states will be limited if not abolished by the Single European Act. The important question of monopolies and mergers policy will no longer be a national responsibility, but will be transferred to the Community, which has a great interest in cross-frontier mergers.
The arrangements I have described are part of the 1992 single market and of the Single European Act. Such arrangements are to be decided not by the Council of Ministers, on which we have a veto, but by qualified majority voting. Therefore, if the single European market is established, powers governing public purchasing, monopolies and mergers and the like will no longer be available to the British Government.
The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) spoke about Britain joining the exchange rate mechanism of the EMS. The downside of that, of course, is that, if we join, we then lose virtually all control over our exchange rate and interest rate policies. In the news yesterday, we heard of the pressures upon us from Brussels for the harmonisation of VAT. Of course we have some reservations about that, but does anyone here doubt that future Governments will be allowed to retain the power to decide indirect taxation—VAT, customs and excise duty or company taxation—given the momentum of change in the next few years? That will happen unless a halt is called to these changes.
The Single European Act and the thrust of policy in the European Community today pose real dangers to us. The Prime Minister has a lot of explaining to do as the principal sponsor of the Single European Act. I must say that she makes a bogeyman out of Mr. Delors. Conservative Members are obviously much troubled by qualified majority voting; they fear it greatly. Such voting, however, does not apply in the social area, which is specifically exempted under article 100A2 of the revised European treaty. All matters relating to trade union legislation and social policy will be kept within the old rules of unanimity voting by the Council of Ministers and subject to the national veto.
The one exception, in article 118A, relates to measures affecting health and safety. On an odd day last summer, that may have made the Trades Union Congress delirious, but it does not make me particularly enthusiastic about what is gained from the European single market of 1992.
We shall have to make a choice about the kind of Europe we want. It is not improper for people to wish to see an end to national Parliaments and nation states. That is their privilege. However, we are on the road towards national oblivion and the destruction and dissolution of our own democracy. We may create in Europe equivalent institutions, but the power to decide our own policies in our own elected Parliament—a power that used to reside in our own people—is on the way out, and unless we are very careful, it will disappear.
§ Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)
This is a critical debate on the future of the European Community. A debate on the issue is long overdue and it ought to be properly addressed. I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing the debate to range slightly wider than the official title of the motion—developments in the Community during the last six months of 1988. You have the right to call any of us to order, but the problem is that the House has regularly debated European Community problems after the event instead of debating the essential question of what will happen in the near future and the big issues that will arise from the Madrid summit. Moreover, there has not yet been a debate on the Delors report.
§ Mr. Taylor
It is intriguing that we have yet to have a debate on the social charter, although the timing of its announcement has been known for some months.
The shift in pace of Community progress has resulted from the passing of the Single European Act. There is no point in fudging that statement. It was because it was known that a shift in the pace of the Community was needed that from the Stuttgart declaration—to which the Government were enthusiastic adherents—onwards we, along with our European partners, made an effort to bring the Single European Act into existence. There is an important but subtle statement on page 1, the preamble to the Single European Act. It says that as a result of the Single European Act the signatories wereDetermined to improve the economic and social situation by extending common policies and pursuing new objectives, and to ensure a smoother functioning of the Communities by enabling the Institutions to exercise their powers under conditions most in keeping with Community interests.I stress the words "Community interests".
Individual Members of this House may or may not be pleased that that is what it says. It was decided that in order to advance Community interests there would be a system of majority voting. The Single European Act made it clear that majority voting would be principally to enact the single market programme, but the Act as a whole also makes clear undertakings in other areas and has chapter headings such asCo-operation in Economic and Monetary policy (Economic and Monetary Union)andEconomic and Social Cohesion.We therefore should have addressed those matters in 1987 when the Single European Act was passed.
I am hostile to many aspects of the social charter. They would do grave damage to this country. My point is that we have known since 1987 that a social charter was under discussion, but all that we decided to concentrate on were the economic and business aspects of the Community. We hoped that any other aspect would go away. That has not happened, nor could it have been expected to happen.
Britain has a marvellous opportunity to convince the other EEC members that the Conservative Government have put in place a first-class social policy, particularly in relation to employment. Today's employment figures confirm that point. We now know that 6.5 per cent. only of the population is unemployed. More people are in paid employment now than have ever been. Moreover, the percentage of our population in paid employment is higher than in any other member state. That is a proud record. It 536 is the result of deregulation which, as Britain has explained to the Community, is the right way forward in so many areas. However, we have not joined in the social debate, with the result that we now cry "Foul" when our Community colleagues produce something that they have thought through and wish to adopt.
Once again, this country is at a disadvantage. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) said—my hon. Friends know that I have a great interest in this, too—this country has developed employee share ownership. We have more shareholders—not all of them employees, admittedly—than members of trade unions. I know from my various connections that many people on the continent believe that employee share ownership is good for their business, yet it does not form part of the social charter. The House has a right to ask why that is so. The answer is that we did not enter the debate early enough.
The proof of that statement is that when we have entered other debates early enough we have, by and large, not been left alone and in the minority. I cite the Treasury team's excellent work in persuading our Community colleagues and the Commissioner that the plan that Lord Cockfield tried to foist on the Community in respect of VAT was nonsensical. He did not learn the error of his ways. It took a French Commissioner to see the error of his ways, but she did so because we positively took part in the debate. We advanced carefully argued proposals which provided the Community with an alternative point of discussion that was much more market orientated.
§ Mr. Taylor
My hon. Friend really must stop making that point about the veto. We shall not win the intellectual battles in the Community if we just wield the veto argument. The whole point is that we must persuade our Community partners. [Interruption.] Of course we could use the veto, but we should do so only in a direst emergency. We must ensure that we have the majority on our side. That is the only way in which the Community can sensibly work together. It must be by persuasion.
There are many other areas in which the force of argument has helped this country. For example, the Community is gradually moving forward in the right direction on its competition policy. I hope that the Minister will address that question in replying to the debate. The Commission is now coming forward with more reasonable proposals for competition policy. I think that we shall find that they are more acceptable. We have also persuaded the Commission to inquire into state subsidies in other EEC countries. This is critical to the development of the single market. The last figures that I have to hand show that in 1986 £65 billion was spent on state subsidies throughout the Community—three times the whole of the Community's budget.
We do not need to say that we are at the mercy of a marauding bureaucracy in Brussels when we have won the argument. If we want a deregulated Community—which I do—we have to regulate to deregulate. It will not surprise any member of this Parliament that there are occasions in the House when we have to examine Government regulations which are to apply to this country. It is not surprising that at Commission level regulations should come forward to open up the markets. It is in this country's interests that the regulations that most directly 537 affect our interests should be the toughest possible. It ill behoves us constantly to appear to be denigrating the Commission, which is the servant of the Council of Ministers and is trying to ensure that the Community opens up its frontiers to people, capital and business. We must address those critical problems.
In conclusion, we have an enormous opportunity. Many of us in the Tory party have been enthusiastic but not uncriticial Europeans for many years. We must not lose this opportunity by not realising that we can take a lead in these matters. Our arguments are convincing, but we must participate in the debate in a way which gains friends and influence instead of losing them. We must not go to the Madrid summit firing on all siege guns in the blind hope of winning some last battle.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Quite properly and understandably the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) addressed his remarks to his hon. Friends. We know that there is a difference of opinion in the Conservative party about the way in which it should approach Europe. I shall call it the EEC because imperceptibly we are going into Eurospeak, just as we have moved from the Common Market to the European Community, and now, conceivably, to European union.
Tonight, as before, I speak not so much as a member of a United Kingdom political party, but as a member of a party in favour of Parliament. Therefore, I wholeheartedly endorse the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore). He was talking not about a party advantage but of the advantage of parliamentary democracy in the United Kingdom for which there has been no mandate for any party to give away. Hence my intervention about a mandate for either the Stuttgart declaration or the Single European Act. I do not believe that the Government had such a mandate and I do not believe that they have it now.
On the question of Parliament and scrutiny, I speak as Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee, rather than personally as I did in the introduction to my speech. Our debate is unnecessarily retrospective. The Scrutiny Committee has suggested on a number of occasions that such debates should be prospective. On a six-monthly cycle it would be appropriate if they looked ahead to the succeeding six-monthly cycle of presidency, and conceivably they would take place just before the successive six-monthly summit. That would provide the opportunity for a total review of where the Community was going and what the Government of the day should do. However, the Committee would also wish there to be scrutiny of particular issues. The Delors proposal for economic and monetary union and a central bank has been mentioned. It is no secret that the Committee has already recommended that document for debate and the Government have provided an explanatory memorandum. Similarly, if it comes within our terms of reference, there should be a debate on the social charter that we have heard something about. If scrutiny is to be what it says it is, I hope that such debates will be separated from the general six-monthly debates of which this is an example.
There has been some criticism of the standard of scrutiny. We hope that we have contributed to its 538 improvement by HC421, a special report on the programme of legislation which the Commission adopted for 1988. We hope to be issuing a similar report for 1989 ere long. It contains mostly the Cockfield proposals for 1992, but not exclusively. Unless hon. Members have the report, they will not see what is en route.
I now leave the role of the Scrutiny Committee, revert to the introduction of my speech, and put on what I believe is a parliamentary hat. I am glad that the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) is still in his place, because I wish to refer specifically to his speech. Leaving aside a certain confusion about the nature of the Luxembourg veto compromise on which I shall not spend time, many of his remarks reminded me of what the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was saying in the early 1970s about the opportunity for British industry. In the White Paper that the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup produced at that time, he said that the effect on Britain's manufacturing balance of trade would be positive and substantial. We all know that the effects have been negative, but substantial to the extent of £13,000 million a year. I do not believe that any prospect of economic monetary union, in which the Bundesbank would play a major part, would produce very much confidence. If that happened under the Common Market, what would happen under the single market? There has been some debate about the nature of the single market, but none as yet today about its extent.
The Single European Act has been referred to extensively, but its definition of the single market has not been quoted. Article 8A states:The internal market shall comprise an area without internal frontiers in which the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital is ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Treaty.The right hon. Member for Henley described a great vision in macro-political terms which he further expounded in his book.
§ Mr. Spearing
The book is of great macro-political interest, but it does not go far enough.
Despite extensive inquiries, I have yet to discover the extent and scope of article 8A of the Single European Act. At what point does the jurisdiction by majority vote, which that Act ceded to the institutions of the Community, cease? I asked the Attorney-General what legislation is outside its scope, and he replied, "Criminal and family law". I put it to the right hon. Members for Henley and for Old Bexley and Sidcup that, juridically speaking, there is virtually no limit to the effective jurisdiction of European institutions under the Single European Act and under majority voting. There are limits, but those limits are well beyond what anyone believed them to be when the legislation passed through the House.
If that is the case, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney was absolutely right. It is not that power will go; it is going in every late-night debate where we vote away a consolidation of existing law. It is not just new law; we are building cages for future legislation of the House. Night after night the power of the House, and with it the power of the British people disappears.
There may be hon. Gentlemen who want that, but do their constitutents know it? Have they been elected here to 539 dissipate the power which put them here? They have every right to do it if they stood on such a platform on their election. I do not think that the right hon. Member for Henley did that.
In his absence, I accuse the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup of the ancient offence of praemunire—adherence to a foreign power. He was very excited on television on Sunday. I make a retrospective indictment of him of adherence to a foreign power in prospect. That prospect is no longer a prospect; it is with us night after night. Praemunire means adherence to a power away from the Crown. Of course, anything from Brussels bypasses the Crown as it is directly applicable.
The scope of the treaties to which the House and the Government are already party is bleeding the power away from the House, away from the British people in a way for which they have given no mandate and which they do not know about or understand.
§ Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe):
I: In the Nancy Mitford novels which were popular some decades ago, there was a character called Uncle Matthew who went around all the time saying, "Wogs begin at Calais." I regret that the Uncle Matthew tendency is alive and well and has been getting strong in the last few months as the debate in the nation and, I am sad to say, in our party—I might even say in the Government—has moved into a different phase. We should seriously address that. I endorse what my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) said.
We should invite the Government to consider again the policy and the implications of what we now have to describe as the twin-track policy and ask whether we should go back to a single-track policy. There is a tendency to underrate the deep understanding acquired by the British people about the significance of the European Community. It is, of course, quite easy to be tricked by the Uncle Matthew tendency, but fundamentally the British people instinctively understand the broad issues that are at stake.
There are three basic areas in the world—north America, Japan and the Pacific basin, and western Europe —and either we believe in Europe and belong to it or we wither on the side. I am certain that our constituents are not prepared to allow us to wither on the side. They look to us to make sure that we remain in the European Community. Although they do not understand the clauses and the nuances of the Single European Act, and are, understandably, not as sensitive as we are to the sovereignty of Parliament, they understand the broad issue that is at stake. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister most certainly knows it.
I remind the House of a memorandum that the Prime Minister addressed to her colleagues in the Community. She called fora series of new policies to promote the economic, social and political growthon which the future well-being of the Community depended. She said:This means giving greater depth to the Community in both its internal and external activities.She spoke of the need to createa genuine common market in goods and services which is envisaged in the Treaty of Romebut said that that could be achieved only bya sustained effort to remove the remaining obstacles to intra-Community trade.540 Only by that means could we enablethe citizens of Europe to benefit from the dynamic effects of the fully integrated common market with immense purchasing power.In a comment on the Commission, which is a focus of attention at the moment, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that it was central to the functioning of the Community and that Europe needs to advance its internal development. One of the objectives that she enuciated was toheighten the consciousness among our citizens of what unites us.We should surely remind ourselves of that once again. That memorandum by the Prime Minister to her colleagues was issued in 1984.
The only thing that has changed since 1984 is that we have come closer to the attainment of those goals I welcome that, and the Cabinet, the party and the country should welcome it. I accept the five principles set out by the Prime Minister in her Bruges speech. Sadly, it was not the principles of the Bruges speech but its impact which has given encouragement to the little England tendency and to hon. Members who for entirely legitimate reasons of their own have never accepted Britain's membership of the European Community. That is entirely their right, but it is not the judgment of the House or the nation.
It is the judgment of our party that we should not accept many of the ideas being discussed in Europe. As two of my hon. Friends have said, the way to make sure that those ideas do not prosper but our contributions do is to be in Europe, to be positive about it, and to take our ideas there. That is the only way to be sure of a resonance from those who think like us in Europe. Let us be clear that the majority of Governments in Europe are more or less of the centre-Right persuasion and they are not interested in a Socialist utopia or in pan-European federalism. They are not interested in giving up their sovereignty.
I urge my hon. Friends who have reservations to look into their heart and ask themselves whether the attitudes that they betray are not a manifestation of a lack of national self-confidence. The Mintel report published last week clearly demonstrated something that we all know instinctively—that, although the French are chauvinistic and nationalistic, they do not fear working in the Community; nor do the Germans, and nor should we. We do not need to. We must make sure that the Single European Act works. We must accept it in its entirety and fight within the Community for the things in which our party believes. If we fight outside, we shall lose, but if we fight within Europe, our interests, and therefore those of the nation, will prosper.
§ Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)
I have been a convinced supporter of the European idea for many years, but I have to admit to a strong feeling of what the Germans call schadenfreude. That is because it is the Conservative party which for so long has apparently been united in Europe which now appears to be divided on the issue. It is also the Conservative party, at least in the person of the Prime Minister, which is taking a shrill and wrong headed, anti-European stance.
The attitude and antics of the Prime Minister puzzled me. As the Financial Times said in an excellent leader on 17 May, the Commission is not a great bureaucratic 541 machine. As one of my hon. Friends has said, it is somewhat smaller than most Government Departments. It is not a legislative body, but an executive body and its job is to enforce the rules, not to make them. The Financial Times also said that any decision involving a major inroad in national sovereignty has to be taken unanimously.
When decisions are taken by a majority vote, it is by virtue of the Single European Act, which the Prime Minister witnessed, if she did not actually sign, and which Parliament has endorsed. If the Prime Minister is in doubt about that, I can refer her to an excellent note prepared by the Library on the implications of the Single European Act.
As the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) has said, far from the Commission being a Socialist plot, both the Commissioners and the Council of Ministers have a non-Socialist majority. I do not know what the Prime Minister is up to, because clearly she must know all that. How are we to explain her rather peculiar behaviour? Partly, I suspect, it is her way of proceeding. She mistakes the Commission and the Council of Ministers for members of her Cabinet. She is so used to lecturing and hectoring and generally slagging her colleagues that when it comes to the Commission or members of other Governments she continues to behave in the same way.
I think that it is also partly due to the Prime Minister's incorrigibly insular nationalism. Instinctively, she believes that all foreigners must be in error whatever the circumstances. She grossly overestimates British power and that is probably her worst mistake of all. Her attitude is reflected in her fortress Falklands policy, in her overbearing behaviour towards Chancellor Kohl and her inappropriate references to wartime and saving the continent from Hitler. That attitude reveals a totally outdated and unrealistic estimate of Britain's position in the world.
The truth is that Britain is a medium-sized European power—no more and no less. It follows that our interests can best be pursued through co-operation, conjunction and co-ordination with our European neighbours, primarily through the European Community. We are more likely to be effective if we behave like a good neighbour and partner rather than like a blustering and petulant bully trying to punch above our weight in the world.
Europe is on the move and, because of the Government's behaviour, we risk being left behind or, even worse, being left out. Whatever the Prime Minister may say, the completion of the internal market has social implications. In a notable speech earlier this week, Lord Plumb was quite right to say that the social dimension ispart and parcel of ensuring fair competition, especially in regard to matters such as health and safety.There is another powerful argument which other Right-wing parties on the continent of Europe recognise, even if this Thatcherite Conservative party does not. A floor of social rights on a European level is essential if we are to ensure that all Europeans enjoy the fruits of the internal market.
There are also important economic consequences of 1992. The closer integration of trading arrangements is bound to lead to closer economic and monetary arrangements. I agree that that process is afoot. There is now a strong case for Britain to join the exchange rate 542 mechanism of the European monetary system. That would assist in achieving a more stable exchange rate and it would help secure lower interest rates and act as a very useful discipline against inflation. Equally important, it would enable the United Kingdom to get in on and influence the debate on economic and monetary union.
Whatever we think of the Delors report and its details and procedures—and we heard an interesting speech by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) about that—the danger for the United Kingdom now is that, as with the formation of the Common Market in the 1950s and 1960s, this country could be left out of the key decisions that will shape Europe's future. Joining the exchange rate mechanism would at the very least ensure that the British view was represented and not ignored during this crucial period.
It is essential for British interests and for the future of Europe that we begin to play a more positive role. After the way in which the Prime Minister has behaved in recent weeks, I confess that I begin to despair of the Conservative party, although some powerful voices on the Conservative Benches are beginning to speak out. More power to their elbows and may they continue to speak out because that would make for a more interesting Parliament.
Fortunately for the country, the Labour party is now putting forward extremely constructive proposals on the future of the European Community. Because of that, I will take particular delight in supporting my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Lobby tonight.
§ Mr. David Howell (Guildford)
We have all listened very hard to hear constructive proposals from the Labour party and tried to see the new shiny wallpaper of Labour's economic European policy. As time passes, we see less of the wallpaper and more of the rotten walls behind the policies. No doubt we shall hear more about those policies before the debate is over. I want to continue the theme of monetary union referred to by the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice). That issue preoccupies us and encapsulates many of the worries and issues that we are considering today.
Already it seems that the United Kingdom has been put a little on the defensive with regard to European monetary union. That is a great pity because I believe strongly that the British case on the monetary union is excellent. That case has not been put very well, but it should be put with great vigour and it is important that it is set against the more extravagant and unworkable ideas currently circulating in the Community under the label of monetary union.
The Delors report was referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) and others. Some of us have had a chance to consider it. I believe that it is very unsatisfactory and is not a contribution to European monetary union or greater integration of the European economies. The Delors report is a tramlines report. It is determinism. It states that we must leap on at the beginning and go right through to a goal which lies years ahead. Our practical common sense tells us that that cannot be the way forward.
I believe, however, that stage 1 of the Delors report is sensible—a lot of stage 1 is necessary to retain control of our currency—but stage 2 is technically impossible. No one has ever designed a set of central banks on a reserve 543 federal basis. Central banks cannot be operated like that. The Germans tried that system momentarily and found that it would not work. The Americans had a similar experience. A central band is a very centralised institution depending on a very few people and their very rapid decisions. Stage 2 is nonsense and stage 3 lies a considerable way ahead.
Nevertheless, stage 1 of the Delors report involves our being members of the exchange rate mechanism and the central bank governors co-operating closely together to bring stability to the currency markets. That is very sensible. It is important that we should go to Madrid to ensure that we are at the table to accept the stage 1 ideas to influence further developments in Community monetary integration. We should not allow the Delors ideas to race forward, or other proposals currently being aired for other Community members to get together to design further amendments to the treaty of Rome or even a new treaty. That would be disastrous for the momentum of western European economics, including our own. That would not be acceptable. It would be a great mistake if we went to Madrid in a negative mood and were unable to start constructive discussions on the basis of accepting the kind of ideas contained in stage 1 of the Delors report.
If we do not go to Madrid with a positive approach, we shall be excluded from the next stage of monetary developments in Europe. There is also a real danger that we shall lose complete control—sovereign control, to use this evening's language—over our currency. After next June, capital movements will be free in Europe. After 1992, banks will be free anywhere in Europe to take deposits in any currencies from any Community member. They will also be free to grant loans. There is no way of controlling our currency or influencing its supply and demand, both of which determine the price of a currency, without the pound being in some form of framework or without very close co-operation between central bank governors when the banking systems of Europe cease to be consistent and identical with the currency systems of Europe. There is no way of operating sovereign control over our currency and monetary policy if we have no framework. That concept must involve stage 1 of the Delors report.
Several hon. Members have referred to sovereignty this evening. Does stage 1 of the Delors report involve the loss of sovereignty? Yes, it does. A great deal of what is happening in the world of open trading, including the aim of the single market, the removal of tariff barriers, the rise of global financial systems and totally integrated world financial markets, must weaken states and national Governments and parties such as the former British Labour party—I am not sure whether the current Labour party holds the same view—which believe in the state as an instrument of their Socialism and idealism. That is the process that is going on. If that is not recognised, what is happening to the economic power of all national Governments has not been understood. Of course that power is being weakened. We should be open-eyed and realistic about that.
Let my hon. Friends fight the loss of sovereignty to Brussels over non-economic issues that we can handle ourselves. There is plenty of nonsense coming from the bureaucrats in Brussels that we should resist. As a believer in a free market Europe, the open trading system and the development of a global financial system, however, I do not believe that we can fight the transfer of sovereignty from national state Governments to consumers and 544 international markets. If my hon. Friends wish to do that, they are abandoning the motive powers of free markets in the modern world.
We should recognise that sovereignty is being transferred to consumers and to markets and that Governments are becoming weaker in the sense that they can no longer wield the kind of power that Keynes and others taught that they could wield on a national basis and somehow steer and manage their sovereign individual economies. That power is being sucked away. If we want to bring that power back and become protectionists again, or Socialist nationalists—I use those words in an unoffensive way—the protectionist isolated economy can indeed be restored. Such economies exist in the world, in miserable places such as Burma. There are still some left in eastern Europe, although they are learning the lessons. Those are countries with sovereign powers over their consumers and markets and plenty of power in the state Government as well. But the entire trend, not only of European policy but of international economic policy, is to transfer sovereignty to consumers and markets, away from the state and away, I am afraid, from national parliaments as well.
My hon. Friends and Opposition Members can fight heroically night after night to keep that power in the national parliaments, in the state Governments and in their party policies and manifestos, but it is being taken away by the decision to commit ourselves to the international open trading system—the removal of tariffs and barriers. That is where the power is going and we should not fight it. Let us fight nonsense from Brussels, but to fight the realities of a modern economic system would be to plunge us back into a dark age of protectionism and dwindling prosperity, which all our common sense, and all who believe in a free economy, should resist.
§ 8.2 pm
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
The right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) said that capitalism in Europe is incompatible with democracy and that is one of the most candid admissions that I have heard. I hope that his speech will be studied because he was saying that the House of Commons and the ballot box is no route to justice, to development or anything.
This is not about sovereignty. No nation in the world is sovereign. The United States could be destroyed by a bomb from anywhere. We could be polluted from anywhere. We are talking about democracy—the right of people to shape their future by using the ballot box to make the laws under which they are governed. Democracy and sovereignty are not the same thing. The United States, the most powerful country in the world, has democracy, but it does not have sovereignty. It cannot protect itself from what happens in Tehran or somewhere else. At least we have had a candid expression of the real choice.
This interesting debate could, at least, be useful to the electors on 14 June in clarifying the issues and the choices. People have not yet appreciated the enormity of the change that has occurred. When the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) signed the treaty of accession under prerogative powers without publishing it, he gave away the rights of the electors to govern this country. When Parliament agreed the European Communities Act 1972, it confirmed it. When the referendum was put before the people, all the party leaders 545 —the present Prime Minister, the former Prime Minister Sir Harold Wilson, and Jeremy Thorpe—united in a coalition to tell people that Europe would be good for Britain. When the Single European Act was signed without consulting the electors, that was consolidated. I am sad —I say this with deep regret—that the Labour party, of which I am a member, should have abandoned its basic belief that people can change their future through the ballot box. As the right hon. Member for Guildford said, the ballot box cannot be used to change the future when power is handed to markets and, as he laughingly said, to consumers.
This is an interesting debate because the implications of those massive changes are coming home. They are taking two forms. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars), who will no doubt speak, wants an independent Scotland within the Common Market. The Prime Minister wants an independent United Kingdom within the Common Market. Those Tory Members who joined in the praise for Europe want to see a more federal Europe. But the reality is that they all agree about one thing. I hope that those who read Hansard or listen to the debate never misunderstand that.
Let me go through some constituencies. The right hon. Members for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), Old Bexley and Sidcup, for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) and the hon. Member for Govan all believe that power has gone permanently from the House and can never be recovered. They may disagree about this and that, but they are united on that. The Opposition Front Bench is united with the Government Front Bench in the belief that those powers can never be returned and should not be asked for. That is the reality against which the debate takes place.
The consequences of that are worth a moment or two of discussion. I speak as a former Minister who was in the Council of Ministers for five years, as was the right hon. Member for Guildford. I was president of the Energy Council in 1977. As a Minister there I was a member of a legislative body meeting in secret. The Council of Ministers may sound like a Cabinet, but it is a legislative body. I proposed that the Council of Ministers should meet in public, but it would not accept that. We have Hansard and allow people to hear our debates, but the Ministers there did not want their constituents to know what bargains they were making with other countries. It is done by prerogative.
As I mentioned in an intervention, the only power that a British Minister has in Brussels is the power of treaty making deriving from the Crown. That is why the word scrutiny is meaningless. It would be more accurate to say that we are spectators of our fate. If it was said that at Wimbledon there are a lot of scrutineers of the game of tennis, that would be right because they would be watching, not playing. We are watching our fate being shaped, not participating in it.
The Bill of Rights was overturned when we joined the Common Market. It says that no court can interfere with Parliament. But now the courts have the right to supervise the legality of legislation that we pass according to some other criteria. In the process, I honestly believe that the franchise has been destroyed.
546 Let me try to make the point, which, in a strange way, is not political. If, under a Labour Government, there was a run on the pound and exchange controls were introduced, the courts would say that that was illegal. Civil servants would say, "I am sorry, Minister"—as they said to me in minor cases—"what you are doing is illegal." There would be a constitutional crisis at the heart of Government that could not be resolved.
Before Conservative Members laugh, let me say that that is one reason why they favour the Common Market —to prevent Socialism. But if the Labour party were in office now and we agreed to a mass of EEC social legislation, a Tory Government could not change it when they came to power. If it were a Labour Government looking at Jacques Delors' proposals—not that I have a lot of time for them—and if we stiffened and strengthened them so that an incoming Conservative Government could do nothing about the unions because free movement of capital and labour means a commonality of view across the Community, a subsequent Conservative Government could do nothing. If they tried, the trade unions could take them to court. The court would say that the Government may have been elected with a landslide majority, but they could not do what they want.
Nobody in this debate has addressed the fact that Community legislation cannot be repealed. It may be that it cannot be passed without unanimity, but it cannot be repealed without unanimity either. It is like a lobster pot —easy to get into, but difficult to get out of.
I sincerely believe that when the British people discover that the Government that they elect are confined by the decisions of the previous Government, agreed in the Council of Ministers, they will either take to despair, or to violence, or revert to the most awful nationalism of the kind that the Prime Minister and, I fear, the hon. Member for Govan espouse—the idea that somehow it is the foreigners that are the trouble. The trouble is caused not by foreigners but by the structure basically being undemocratic because it cannot be changed through the ballot box.
There are many ways of looking at Europe for those who are called little Englanders. There are lots of internationalisms apart from that of frère Jacques Delors, who is so beloved of the Trades Union Congress because he treats it with more respect than the TUC receives from No. 10. The TUC never gets invited to tea at No. 10 these days, but it is invited to three-course lunches in Brussels because M. Delors needs the TUC. Socialism was never brought about at the top. No progress ever came from the top, because top people always have a vested interest in the status quo. Social advance always comes from underneath. Look at China and what is happening in Poland. It was not that the central committee in Beijing or in Warsaw decided to change but that the pressure for change was there. Take away the legitimacy of that pressure and the capacity to channel it through the ballot box, and there will be trouble.
Some people favour a fully federal Europe. I can understand why. We would all have a vote and elect a president and two Houses. It would be fully an American system. But I favour a commonwealth of Europe—an association of fully self-governing states that would harmonise as quickly as it could, where it mattered, but in which no majority would have the power to push legislation through against the wishes of others.
547 The successive Parliaments in which I have sat for many years have abandoned not their own rights, because we had none, but the rights of those people who sent us here. When that is learnt, it will not be 1 million people in Tiananmen square but 1 million people in Parliament square who will remind us that we are their servants and they are not pawns in our game, to be given away in the pursuit of market forces or some European dream from Henley or somewhere else. That is the issue which the House must face.
The Labour party does not want to face it because it is embarrassing. The Conservatives do not want to face it because to do so would reveal what they have done. However, one day the people will face it, and that will be uncomfortable. Democracy cannot be denied by any amount of lecturing about Adam Smith and the rest. Democracy is the desire of the people to govern themselves, and that cannot be extinguished by any number of Acts or treaties signed by the Conservative party.
§ Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston)
This is the second time that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have called me immediately after a speech by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr Benn); and for the second time I must embarrass him by admitting that I find myself more in agreement with him than perhaps I ought to be. The right hon. Gentleman is right to question the meaning of the word "sovereign", which has been used so often in the debate.
One wonders what the countries of Europe outside the Community, which are in the majority, think about the word "sovereign". I believe that they would point to the United Nations and say that most of its 159 member countries won a place in it by showing that they had achieved self-determination and had ceased to be subordinate to a colonial power. The broad test of admission to the United Nations is being a self-determining state—the ability to make one's own laws, to have those laws interpreted in one's own country, to make one's own treaties, and to impose one's own taxation. Those are the four elements of sovereignty as defined by constitutional lawyers.
Sovereignty is not the same as the notions expressed in the notable speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). No country is now sovereign by his definition. One sighs when so many of my right hon. and hon. Friends denounce others of us for being anti-Europe. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) that Britain has for a long time been part of Europe, both geographically and historically.
How are we to work with our neighbouring countries? The route we have chosen is shared with a minority of other European countries, which is to go the super-national way; to turn our backs on the elements of a sovereign nation state and to submit to the super-national approach leading to what is called a deep Europe. That confronts Europeans—and I hope that we are all Europeans—with a great dilemma.
The argument for European co-operation in the future will be not economic but environmental. To speak of only 12 European countries as Europe and to act only within that little Europe is futile. How can we cope with the fearful pollution of the North sea, for example, if we 548 cannot work with the other countries that adjoin it—Scandinavia, the Baltic states, and Switzerland, which plays its part in polluting the North sea through the Rhine?
We must find a method of widening Europe, for it is a wider Europe we need—not a super-national but an international Europe, whose countries recognise that there are different circles of interest, and not a single circle of interest, encompassing all 35 of them, let alone a circle of interest limited to only 12. There are several circles of interest demanding international co-operation, and the countries within those circles should work together to achieve more than they could individually.
The question must be asked, what is the best route for achieving that? When the right hon. Member for Chesterfield speaks of a commonwealth of Europe, must go along with him. We already have the Economic Commission for Europe comprising 35 countries, which for the past 40 years has brought down no end of non-tariff barriers and accomplished environmental achievements long before most of us started talking about the environment. That is the kind of Europe—a wider Europe —that we should have. However, we cannot have a wider Europe if we are to create a deep Europe. Countries outside the Community will recoil from losing their statehood, or whatever term one uses, and their self-determination, and sinking them into the European Community.
The dilemma that we face in Europe is that we go along either the deep Europe route or the wider Europe route. There can be no mixture of the two. Sadly, we are now going down the deep Europe route, which will frustrate and foil our efforts to achieve that which we ought to be achieving in Europe in terms of the environment, trade and many other matters. They include the European patent system. What a non-tariff barrier is the patent. One can register a patent in London today and it can take effect in Stockholm and in other countries of Europe outside the Common Market. That has been achieved through the ECE. That is the kind of thing that we ought to do in bringing down the barriers that exist outside the Community, while at the same time ensuring that people feel that they can still determine their own policies and own Governments, and can ensure some sense of democracy. We shall not achieve that if we go along the deep Europe route.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
I rise in my place to perform a rather unusual task and that is vigorously to defend our Prime Minister. This may be the first time and it is probably the last time that I shall do any such thing, but I feel that she has been grossly misunderstood and, indeed, misrepresented. How could a woman of her status not know what she is doing? In Europe I spend a great deal of my time explaining to people that it is not correct that our Prime Minister does not understand the implications of being a European. After all, as I point out, it was she who pushed through the Single European Act and voted for it. I did not vote for it, but the Prime Minister voted for it. Who put the Whips on the Conservative majority? I did not do that—the Prime Minister did it. Who was it who insisted that this should be pushed through in a very short time on a guillotined motion, against the feeling of most Members of this 549 Parliament that it needed to be debated in considerable detail? That was not I—it was the Prime Minister. I believe, therefore, that she is badly misunderstood when she is represented as not being a very good European.
All sorts of interesting things can happen, however. I am away from the House for two weeks with a Select Committee and return to find that the Common Market question has undergone an extraordinary sea change. Can this be the organisation of bureaucrats in which preferment is not by ability but only by nationality and which, I am told, is a hot-bed of Socialism? I really do not recognise it. Those of us who have had to do with it over a great many years are hardly likely to accept that description. What is important and should be confirmed time and again is that the present Conservative party has got itself into an extraordinary situation precisely because it has never been prepared to consider the way in which the House of Commons deals with European legislation.
I was interested to hear the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) say that sovereignty was the arrangement whereby a group of nations got together to decide what they would do. It is an interesting use of the English language if not an accurate one. I believe that what we ought to be doing here is something rather different. The House of Commons has machinery which would enable it at every point to have an input into European legislation. It has a series of Select Committees which currently match individual subjects—Select Committees which occasionally, but not very often, look briefly at individual directives or regulations but never at the point at which they could have an influence on the decisions taken.
If that is the situation, the Prime Minister could make a very simple, practical gesture to prove to us all not only that she is fully European but that she understands the implications for a democratic state of the changes incorporated in the Single European Act. She could come to the House before the summer recess, because she is a practical woman and likes to do things with rapidity and to take charge on her own, and say that in future she would like all the Select Committees to look at a very early stage at all suggestions emanating from the Commission.
It is the Commission, whether or not its members are described as bureaucrats, which can initiate legislation. Many European parliamentarians have the right to comment but not to decide, so it is not true that there is any kind of democratic control over what happens. To call the members of the Commission civil servants is a slight misnomer when so many of them are not only directly appointed by their own nation states but have it made very clear to them that the responsibility for decision-making purposes still resides in the Quai D'Orsay, in Bonn, in Madrid—wherever their own future lies. If hon. Members do not believe me, I can only say that they have not discussed this matter very frequently, as I have, with many European civil servants over the years.
Thomas More had one of his narrators in "Utopia" say that intelligent human beings who trusted one another had no need of treaties because if they trusted one another they would never do anything to injure one another's interests. If, on the other hand, they believed that they had to sign treaties because that degree of faith did not exist, that meant almost by implication that they were prepared to 550 break the treaties that they had signed. I paraphrase, but it is a lesson that all politicians would do well to remember. Thomas More learnt the hard way that politics is a singularly unkind and unrewarding job.
Let us therefore accept that we have the treaty and the machinery, and the House of Commons can, if it wishes, this month take back a simple power. If we do not at any point represent the interests of our constituents in many of the directives that are being passed, these debates will become longer and longer spaced out and the amount of detail going through will be less and less scrutinised by the Mother of Parliaments. I offer one simple solution. Let us have a Select Committee of the House of Commons with representatives of every party, the sole function of which is to consider at the very earliest stage the implications of directives and make it clear to Ministers what their attitude is. The Danish Parliament does this very efficiently with a committee which can be called together at great speed and can discuss individual items. We do not do that. Even in the other place European legislation is better scrutinised than in this House, and in some instances much more efficiently.
If we do not take that course, debates in the House of Commons about what it is to be European or what it is to react to the Single European Act will be so much hot air without the understanding that it is power that decides where Europe will go. It is not an intellectual argument. The French, the Germans and the Italians do not rely on intellectual persuasion. They rely on carefully constructed coalitions of views, the giving of one benefit to receive 10 in return. The British do not understand the rules, they have never learnt the game and they are being beaten into the ground.
I offer one simple solution. Let us today send a message to the Prime Minister saying that we know that she is a European, that we are as European as she is and that we will support her if she simply brings back into our machinery all the legislation that is to be decided by majority votes and takes note of what the British say. Would not that be a remarkable innovation?
§ Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)
My grandparents were born when there was a British Empire and, had they so wanted, they could have governed that. My parents were born and lived their formative years at the time of the Battle of Britain. I have no doubt that for that generation the moment when the Anglo-Saxon world stood alone was the high point of their awareness of their Britishness.
For me—and this is where I nail my colours to the mast —the creation of Europe seems to be the most important task that my generation can undertake. I realise that other people have different ideals, but that is what brought me into politics and that is an ideal from which I will not resile. It is not a hopeless or far-fetched ideal; it is a very practical one. After 10 years as one of the Prime Minister's foot soldiers in the European Parliament, I am aware of the pitfalls, the barbed-wire and all the difficulties involved.
The choice for the United Kingdom is quite clear: it is engagement or withdrawal. I do not believe that there is a halfway house. I do not believe in a second-class citizenship in Europe. I can imagine the Prime Minister's response if she were invited to captain the second eleven in 551 the European Community. We have to be part of the ongoing process of Europe or get out of the Community. There is no practical way between the two.
If there is no choice but to continue—and I do not believe that this Government, with its commitment to Britain's role in the world, could conceivably contemplate withdrawal, because our role in the world is so involved in our membership of the Community—we have to consider how to make the best of it. There are several guidelines that would help us in the coming months, when there will be important decisions to take.
First, we should use a rhetoric which is appropriate to the occasion. We are told constantly that there are people who agree with us. They do not declare it, but there is anecdotal evidence that there are people who agree fundamentally with what we say. We have to make it possible for them to declare that they agree with us. Sometimes we erect a wall of rhetoric which does not reflect our politics and makes it difficult for them to declare that they share our point of view. That is an important political fact about achieving our objectives.
Secondly, we should be careful about the erection of the Brussels bureaucracy into some kind of modern evil empire with Mr. Delors as the demon king. I simply do not believe that that is a plausible representation or that it helps our case. I should like to see the return of pragmatism to our debates in the Community; I have always assumed it to be the great British virtue.
Thirdly, we must recognise that the single market is not and has never been a purely economic doctrine. It has always had implications for sovereignty, for all the reasons that are enshrined in the Single European Act; it has always been a constitutional as well as an economic movement. Other people have the right to define 1992 in terms that suit their political conditioning, background and needs. I agree that the social charter is a mish-mash of half-baked ideas of doubtful legal status; I agree that we should not eat at that table. Nor, however, should we deny that others may have political needs—for example, a social market tradition in their economies—that they will wish to put on the agenda.
I also believe that there is a close link between European Community processes and defence, and that involves Germany's role. Not the least of Europe's achievements has been the anchoring of Germany's fragile democracy in the western camp—
§ Mr. Curry
Democracy has been fragile throughout German history. A common subject for discussion in the European council chambers is "Can we trust the Germans?" I think that that is rather insulting to them, but I recognise that with the loosening of the reins in eastern Europe there are bound to be temptations. The best way in which we can ensure that Germany remains a fully fledged western partner and part of NATO is by not denying her the important alternative vision of the continued progress of Europe, which is a crucial element of our defence.
We must approach the Madrid summit—where we will consider the Delors report—with care and circumspection, but with a determination to engage in discussions. First, we must say that chapter 39, with its irrevocable commitment, must go. I do not think that it amounts to a row of beans: it is a typical document produced by civil 552 servants who are impatient with the politicians' delay in making decisions. It will not bind any politician. Politicians may sign such documents, but if the circumstances change they will not keep to the agreement. Chapter 39 might just as well go now as be disproved later.
Secondly, we should distinguish between economic arid monetary union. There are links between them, of course, but they are not the same. There are plenty of examples of political organisations in which economic policy is to some degree independent of monetary union. I see no reason why the United Kingdom cannot sign up to stage one of the Delors report. It will involve joining the exchange rate mechanism, but there are arguments for that, although I recognise that there is hostility to it among my right hon. and hon. Friends. The argument can cut either way, and I am not sure that I would fight a religious war over it.
We are likely to experience a decline in inflation relatively soon, along with the price stability achieved by the continental countries—partly through stringent monetary policy, but also because of the link in the exchange rate mechanism. Ireland's inflation is running at 2.5 per cent. I feel that the case is, on balance, in favour of joining the ERM before long. For one thing, I feel that it is the least expensive means of reducing inflation: the commitment to fight it will be given an institutional form which will influence the market. Perceptions matter in this business. I also believe that the introduction of the pound will mean that the whole mechanism must be expanded and strengthened. That will take time, and will take priority over more weird and wonderful aspects of the Delors report, of which I share the suspicion voiced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell).
Joining the European monetary system would require a more formal structure of central bank co-operation, agreement on monetary targets and a strengthening of commitment to intervention. Conversely, however, strengthening the commitment may require a less practical use of that commitment.
I believe that the Government have brought about significant achievements in Europe: the fight against protectionism, the importance assigned to the link with the United States—which is crucial—the reform of finances and farm policy, and the drive for the single market. When the history of this period is written, I believe that people will identify the break-up of the Communist empire, the new relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States—and the new relationship between Europe and the United States that is bound to evolve—the development of the Pacific Rim economies and the unification of Europe. This is one of the most historic movements that have taken place in my generation, and I trust that the United Kingdom will play a full and constructive part in it.
§ Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan)
I thought that the most interesting part of the speech by the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) was his observation that there comes a point in the history of various parts of the world at which power moves from what he described as the old concentrations. He also made the fair point that it is entirely legitimate for people to pursue the national interest, and to view changing circumstances from a "national interest" perspective. There is certainly a recognition that power is moving from the old concentrations of the Union created in 1707 to the wider 553 union of the European Community, leading many—including myself—to argue that Scotland should be an independent member of the Community.
In the past few months, the response to that logical argument—in particular, from the Governor General of Scotland—has been that Scottish policy is vigorously championed inside the Community, but that the present apparatus operated by the British Government is adequate to locate Scotland's influence within the Community. As the White Paper shows, the reality is very different. It tabulates 32 meetings of the Council of Ministers, at only three of which the Scottish Office was represented—and those meetings were concerned only with fisheries. Fourteen informal meetings were held, at none of which Scottish Office Ministers were present. It seems that, apart from fisheries, there was no direct, distinct or unique Scottish interest in matters such as the environment, energy, insurance, banking, social Europe, health, technology, education and steel. The White Paper mentions themajor ministerial speeches on Community topicsto be found in annex C. Of the 49 speeches logged there, not one was made by a Scottish Minister. That illustrates the scale of Scottish silence and—in my view—impotence, and our lack of influence on European policy.
I want to concentrate on two issues. The first is social Europe, and here I address myself to the Under-Secretary. It has been interesting to hear the different points of view about the legal basis of a veto on social Europe. Some hon. Members have said that it will be subject to a qualified majority, others that it will be subject to unanimity. The Minister of State has hedged and dodged a fair amount by saying that the Government have to see what is contained in the directive that will come before us before giving a positive and formal response. Surely the legal basis of the social charter should be clarified at an early date: it is an issue of genuine public concern and should be widely debated.
Many people, not only in the United Kingdom but throughout the European Community, regard social Europe as the other side of the coin, balanced equally with the free-market aspect of the Single European Act and the attempt to set up an internal market. In its report to the Council in December, the outgoing Commission makes that point very forcefully. But the British Government seem to view it as one-way traffic: everything that strengthens capital must be pushed forward. The free movement of capital puts it in a powerful position to exploit opportunities in the wider internal market, but also puts it in a powerful position to exploit the Labour party.
The British Government's scenario, as I understand it, involves no attempt to obtain an even or indeed a reasonable balance between capital and labour, especially in a Community with such a desperate level of economic development.
There will be a temptation on the part of capital to play one group of workers off against another group because of the different levels and standards of wages and conditions in different parts of the Community. Capital will attempt to force down wage rates and standards of health and safety. We have seen it already in the so-called free market United Kingdom economy, in the treatment of people who 554 used to be protected by wages councils and of young people aged 16 or 17 who are told to take youth training scheme places or get no money.
The majority of the 320 million people in the Community live in civilised economic countries, where market forces are subject to control. They have experienced economic and social success because of that. We cannot expect them to accept undiluted Thatcherism as the only consequence of the Single European Act and the internal market. If the British Government do not know it, others in Europe recognise that people are the biggest, most important and most valuable resource. Other countries will want to continue a "people first" policy, giving people respect and dignity and acknowledging their importance by ensuring that in the world of work, which is important to every individual, they have enshrined rights, the same as employers are given by the so-called deregulation and freedom of the open market. It is shameful and ultimately destructive for the United Kingdom Government to threaten a veto on the social charter.
The second issue involves principle. The hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) put it well when he said that the British Government have to make up their mind whether it is engagement or withdrawal. I do not think that people and politicians in this state have ever made up their minds about whether they are part of the European Community. I know that, physically and legally, the answer is that we are a part of the Community, but I am asking the question in a political/economic sense.
The political arena is crucial. Attitudes, will power and a willingness to be constructive, to participate and to see other people as partners, not opponents, are vital. The United Kingdom seems to be part of the European Community, but not with the Community. Until that fundamental question is solved, we will continue to have girning, bickering, tackling and scrambling along, as the rest of Europe, which is used to consensus and partnership, makes significant progress. I do not think that there has ever been an honest answer from Government in the main areas of policy-making to that fundamental question.
The Single European Act was designed to produce momentum and to enable the European Community to hold its place in the new world order that is opening up. Any hon. Member who believes that a single country can stand by and watch the shift of economic and political power from the Atlantic to the Pacific and still survive without co-operation in Europe is living in cloud-cuckoo-land.
The important issue is what Europe does next. There will have to be further decisions on the kind of political and economic instruments needed to control the forces realised by the internal market. What kind of Europe will our children inherit in the 21st century? That is the crucial question. Instead of talking ridiculous and childish nonsense about whether cigarette packets should have the health warning on the side or on the front, we should put our energy into the bigger issues. Statesmanship and vision are required. I do not think that we will get them from the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) or from the Prime Minister. They should be there, but they are not.
What we see from the Thatcher Government is a demeaning exercise in chauvinism stoked by parochialism. It makes many people ashamed to be associated with it. I 555 wish to dissociate my party from it and I hope that it will not be long before Scotland in its entirety is dissociated from it.
§ Mr.William Cash (Stafford)
I am strongly in favour of Europe, but I am equally vehement against federalism. This has been a momentous year in Europe, partly because of the Bruges speech. I do not think that enough attention has been paid to the important effect of that speech on the development of the European Community. There is no doubt that it has reset the agenda. It has done one other thing, too. The developments that have taken place in the House on the redefinition of our approach towards the scrutiny of legislation that comes to us from Europe will be emulated by other national Parliaments. We have already seen evidence of that in France, and I believe that it will happen in other member states.
During the debate we have heard about the use of the veto. One thing that has to be made clear is that the exercise of the veto and the ability to fall back on the unanimity provisions in the treaty are important in relation to VAT and to those parts of the social charter that are subject to the veto—there is a grey area there. The powers of the House through the scrutiny process and the exercise in the Council of Ministers of the powers accumulated by Ministers will be seen to be more valid because of the use of the veto than because of the Single European Act majority voting provisions.
That is not to say that, if the Single European Act were to be voted on again, I would vote differently from the way in which I voted originally. If our membership of the Community is to mean anything and if we are committed to the European Community, with the 300 or so legislative proposals that were outstanding, we could not have removed the logjam without a form of majority voting.
I am concerned that there is a misunderstanding about the nature of the Community. My right hon. Friends the Members for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery)> and for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) talked about the importance of persuasion and about whether we should have something akin to a commonwealth of nations. We heard the same comment from the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). It is important that the House should reflect on the fact that this is a legal order with a Court of Justice which has a tendency, if not an objective, towards political integration in Europe. There are those—I have come across them frequently and I do not criticise them for the honesty with which they hold their views—who genuinely believe that we should move towards a federally and politically integrated and united Europe. I disagree with them profoundly. The great empires that aspired to be constructed on the basis of legal arrangements all came to nothing. We need a flexible, mutual, reciprocating Europe of the kind that we now have, with the existing arrangements that were set up in the aftermath of the Single European Act.
We must accept that there has been a policy of moving by stealth towards a politically united Europe. That is openly admitted by people in the Community. They make no secret of it. The situation has been blown open largely by the Bruges speech and by a handful of people who have campaigned to bring it into the open.
There remains a strong sense of dirigism in the Community, and my great concern, of equal proportion to 556 my concern about sovereignty, is the tendency within the dirigiste system for a move towards autocracy. I would not be worried about that if I genuinely thought that there was a means of filling the democratic vacuum—we hear much about the democratic deficit; I prefer to call it the democratic vacuum—that exists.
There are two alternatives. One is to move step by step towards—as the vice-president of the European Parliament put it—a single government for a sovereign people of Europe, which is the European Parliament. I would regard moving towards that goal as being fatal to Europe, let alone to this country and to my constituents. The second is to reinforce the democratic process in this House and persuade people—to borrow some words used by my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley at the end of his remarks—to bring back to the Parliaments of Europe, which are directly elected by their constituents, the task of representing them, thereby ensuring that we return to a range and horizon of democracy which fits in with the huge area of legislation and activity that has been absorbed into the European Community.
I firmly believe that the remoteness that the European Community would experience as a result of going down a quasi federal path would result in contact with the people being lost. It would not be long before democracy disintegrated. It is an irony that at a time when there are centrist tendencies in the system that we are experiencing, the Soviet Union, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and other countries are going centrifugal, not centrist. There are those in the United States who would like to see their arrangements changed because of an over-influence by states which interferes with the speed with which trade must be conducted.
I agree with the Prime Minister in her policies towards Europe. The Bruges speech was the major turning point of the European Community this year, not merely for Britain but for Europe as a whole. We will continue to have independent sovereign states, but we must look at the precision of the legal treaty base of the Community. At the same time, we must look at the powers and democratic traditions of this and other European countries.
Democracy in this country, with two world wars behind us and 300 years of tradition, is worth preserving. It must be admitted that some member states have only recently had revolutions or experienced totalitarianism, so that their democracies are shallow and need time to develop. If we in the Mother of Parliaments maintain the degree of democracy that is required in this House and persuade the other member states to look hard at our determination to ensure that democracy survives here, Europe will be a more democratic place for all the people of Britain, and of Europe generally, to inhabit.
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)
When I first came to this House 15 years ago I heard much the same arguments being adduced about Europe as I have heard today. I have listened with interest, as always, to what has been said, remembering that we are looking back not only at the last six months, which are covered by the report, but from where we are now to where we were all those years ago. There seems now to be a role reversal between the two main parties, at least on the surface, compared with the position when I first came to this place. I wonder why that role reversal has come about if not because some newer 557 hon. Members have come to understand the consequences which face us if we proceed down the road that we have followed for the past 15 years.
The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) told a story about getting on a train and being able to get off here and there and said that there was no timetable for the journey. But there was a destination, as there is in the matter that we are discussing, and in this case the destination was mapped out long ago. It is that destination that has always troubled me. While other parties have to some extent shifted their ground, the Ulster Unionist party has not shifted its position one iota on this. [Interruption.] Conservative Members might find their party in a happier position on the matter today if they had not been so busy shifting their ground in recent months.
The Single European Act was sold to this House as the vehicle which could deliver to the population of Britain a single open market—a sort of western Europe wide open market for our products. If that was all that it was supposed to do, and if people believed that, then I confess that many Members of Parliament were either wilfully or willingly deceived, for not everyone who was putting that idea forward had only that idea in mind. There was a long-term destination before those who put up the Single European Act and all that went before it. In other words, the creators of that Act went far beyond a single market. I believe that they sought a united states of Europe, a single government, a single currency and a single policy for that government, acting as any government must. The Act was largely a smokescreen to hide the real intentions, for those concerned were talking about a market rather than about the constitutional and political implications.
The whole matter goes far beyond the scrutiny aspect to which reference has been made. The fact that there is now the necessity for scrutiny shows how much power we have given away and the many areas over which we no longer exercise real authority—or, as others have put it, sovereignty—in the governance of this nation.
Free trade does not need the same Government, the same law or even the same currency. We had references earlier, in effect, to statements such as, "Poor little Britain," "Poor little England," "Poor little United Kingdom" and "What can we do on our own?" I wonder how anybody elected to this House could think so little of the capabilities of the people whom they govern. I have greater confidence than that in the people of this country.
Although I was very young at the end of the last war, I think back to the condition of Europe, and particularly of Japan, at that time. Now we have only to walk through our streets and to look in the windows of our shops to see them stuffed with high quality products produced by the economic miracles of Japan and Germany, to name but two countries. This country has within it the ability to do far better on its own than it has hitherto. I have confidence in this country, and I am glad that my hon. Friends and I have always taken a jaundiced view of the EEC in all its forms. I am glad to see that other hon. Members—some, unexpectedly, Conservative Members—are coming round to the view that we have always held.
§ 9 pm
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
This has been a thoughtful and interesting debate, and one in which the opening speech of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) was not echoed by most of the other speakers from the Labour party. That shows the deep divisions on this matter that exist in the Labour party. It is trying to grope towards a new view of Europe, and a more positive suggestion, although I believe that it did not join in the collective declaration of building Socialism in Europe, which was made by the other Socialist parties represented in the European Parliament.
§ Mr. Foulkes
We signed the joint Socialist manifesto of all the European Socialist parties. The Labour party was a full signatory.
§ Mr. Dykes
That is a good way of explaining it. I meant that many Labour party members both here and in the European Parliament argued against that very idea. There have been changes within the other parties as well. However, the Liberals are entitled to say that, over the years, they have been consistent in their general enthusiasm for Europe. We remain, however, not only, as is self-evident, the governing party, but the party with the classic enthusiasm for Europe. That has been shown in today's debate with, perhaps, one or two exceptions, though not many.
There is a realisation that we must go forward as a Conservative party and a Conservative Government in developing the European Community. There is a tremendous enthusiasm for that, as shown in the Prime Minister's so-called Bruges speech. One sees in it a tremendously profound enthusiasm for the European Community. Some members of the press, and perhaps some members of the Conservative party, have misunderstood that. Quite logically and understandably, it is when we come to the details that we find different arguments being advanced. That is not a weakness or a problem. We also have arguments about aspects of domestic policy in the Conservative party before policies are finally formulated. We hope that people will rally round when the policies are finally agreed and presented by way of legislation. Could that not provide the same basis for our approach to the proposals on how the Community is being developed?
I am known to be enthusiastic about the development of the European Community and recent constitutional changes to try to accelerate that, because the Community was developing in such a hesitant and faltering way. However, I would not accept such an absurd idea that we should approve of everything suggested by, for example, the Commission by way of new policies or everything that comes out of the Council of Ministers and different portfolio Councils on various complicated matters. That would be crazy and would not lead to a genuine Community.
It would equally be a weakness if members of the Conservative party began to have what some members of the press have recently described as fatal second thoughts about the Community. I do not think that will happen. It is merely a temporary pause and nothing more than a blip on the radar screen. Why such doubts have suddenly arisen remain a mystery.
Like, I am sure, other hon. Members, I receive many letters on this subject, which has become a major debate. 559 It is regrettable that the House always return to the first principles involving why we joined. As far as I know, no other national Parliament does that. Even the Spanish, who joined fairly recently, now get on with their membership of the Community. I recently had a very telling letter from someone living in Oxford. After commenting on a letter which I had had published in a newspaper, the writer said:In common with many others I am most anxious lest the UK marginalises itself in the Europe of the future. The P.M. has said 'our destiny is in Europe'—but geographically we are on the edge—therefore we have to be especially positive in policy discussion—
§ Mr. Dykes
If I had time I would comment on that, but sedentary interruptions are not allowed in these brief speeches tonight.
The quote continues:if we are to play a leading role.That is not merely because we are geographically on the edge. More importantly, we joined much later than the original members, which produced its own built-in disadvantage which still exists.
It is not a weakness to see the point of view of others in the Community. That is, I suppose, the definition of the word "community". From our travels in other member states, we know that they still have suspicions, which unfortunately have been renewed recently, about our membership because of the various utterances made from time to time. That is a pity.
I notice that our latest intellectual party document about politics called "Talking Politics", which all Conservative Members use religiously, said on 11 May:Europe: the Conservative approach. The single market is a Conservative invention, making the Community a real common market at last.I am proud of the ideas that we are developing with the single market. However, the idea is not that no other member state is keen on the idea of a single market. That is why it has been developed, because it is a common Community decision. Therefore, we must be careful to listen to our fellow member nations and bodies politic in the different countries, and members of the European Parliament representing other national delegations.
I am sorry to have to make such a heretical suggestion, which I know is risky as we work more and more with foreigners, but we must also listen more to Commission officials. There are British officials in the Commission who have plenty of ideas about the future development of the European Community. We cannot say that we have a monopoly of ideas and that the Commission officials are to deal with only the mercantilist, commercial single market and nothing else, and that there is no such thing as social policy.
The premier capitalist economy of Europe, Germany, is unfortunately much more successful than we are, although I hope that we shall one day catch up with them. Even Right-wing German business men regard the concepts of social policy as perfectly legitimate instruments of Government policy and decision-making.
§ Mr. Dykes
The Minister makes a good point, which I accept readily because that is the essence of the Community. Other member states will have different 560 packages of ideas reflecting their historical traditions, proclivities and particular political majorities. I hope that we will not enter the scenario of dictating what political majorities the other member states should have. Some of my colleagues do seem to have been tempted recently to suggest that.
§ Mr. Dykes
I entirely accept that. That is why my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary is a communautarian. I have always believed that, and I know that he has a tremendous enthusiasm for the single market. I want him to be in the frame of mind of accepting other ideas as well. The Community is about give and take. We should not say that we refuse to accept the idea of country X, for whatever mysterious or self-evident reason. I do riot think that that will arise.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) used to be very anti-EEC when he was a Labour Member, but has now changed.[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) and I have a continuing dialogue about these matters. The hon. Member for Govan and others have said that we should have more self-confidence in this country. The Government need more self-confidence vis-a-vis the rest of the Community. Why are our Government so nervous about the European Community? This Parliament too needs more confidence about the European Community.
I totally reject the idea that scrutiny will not be effective in the future, under the guidance and tutelage of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). Those procedures will become much better. This Parliament will link up with European Parliaments and—why not?—with the other national Parliaments as well. Then we will fall within the true definition of a Community where there is give and take. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) said, it is not only national self-interest superimposed on a developing supranational structure, although that is the main motive driving force. We look after the nation's interests and therefore, we hope, the interests of our citizens and voters.
However, it is not only that. There is also the idealism of the Community—the common desire to build a modern prosperous and social Europe. I do not think that the social charter will be a problem, and the Government need not appear hysterical about it. I hope that I have used the wrong adjective. I believe that there will be give and take and that in the end the matter will be agreed around the negotiating table at Madrid, or later, in the relevant Council. Individual states will compromise; they can develop their own ideas and not be dictated to by others.
However, if we—fatally—keep repeating week in and week out that we are opposed to a collective view on all aspects of policy in the Community, we shall make ourselves more and more marginal, to use the word in the letter that I quoted, even though we have been a member for 16 years. That would be humiliating, and I refuse to accept it. Such a result would be unnecessary and would make us look utterly foolish in Brussels and Strasbourg. Whatever the election result on 15 June, we shall need to 561 work with our colleagues in the European Parliament on collective scrutiny so that we can influence Government policy.
I always enjoy the highly theoretical but sincere speeches made by the hon. Member for Newham, South who, like the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), described the wonderful, mystical ballot-box relationship between the people and this sacred sovereign Parliament. It would be nice if that theory were right, but in practice we know how the system works: the usual channels, the Whips clamping on the whip, ossified majorities in this place and a voting system which allows Governments to rule without restraint or limitation on the basis of a minority vote of the total electorate. All systems have their imperfections—but also take advantage of the fabulous opportunities which were described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery).
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
This has been a fascinating debate—it is going on in the country, too. The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), who we all know is a sincere and enthusiastic supporter of the Common Market, must be rather a disappointed man this evening. Things have gone so far that he is reduced to being engaged in controversy with the Government and Conservative Front Bench spokesmen, which shows the split that has developed in his party. At one time, the hon. Member for Harrow, East, like others in this country, must have thought that the Common Market issue was settled, but it clearly is not. It has now reached the forefront of British politics and caused a major split in the Conservative party. That does not surprise me greatly—I always thought that it would happen. I merely wondered why it took quite so long to do so.
The basic truth is that we are faced with a major dilemma, and by "we" I mean every Member in all of the many corners of opinion on the Common Market in this House—the issue does not divide neatly into two sides. This dilemma takes the form of the incompatibility of the EEC with our parliamentary system. The Community is incompatible with the democratic parliamentary self-government of this country. The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) always diverts my attention by shaking his head right under my nose at what I say—he has done so for years-but whatever he thinks, to the extent that the Common Market develops, if it does, and to the extent that it succeeds in its own terms, our Parliament becomes more and more redundant. That is the fact with which we shall all have to cope. We can only have one or the other: British parliamentary democracy or the treaty of Rome. I suspect that no one ponders these matters more than you, Mr. Speaker.
Some people say that the answer is proper scrutiny. I am all in favour of as much scrutiny as we can effect, and I pay tribute to my parliamentary neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). However, even under his chairmanship of the Scrutiny Committee, satisfactory scrutiny is not possible, for a number of reasons.
562 First, there is so much of this legislation; secondly, there is the timing of the tortuous process. A third reason was adduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who said that Ministers go to the Common Market under prerogative powers-treaty-making powers—and act in the name of the Crown, not that of Parliament. When that question was asked, I rose on a point of order, the only time in 10 years that I have done so. I felt strongly about this, because the Minister refused to answer my right hon. Friend's question. She could not answer the question whether Ministers act with prerogative powers and are thus beyond the powers of the House. She is fudging the issue. We can have as much scrutiny as we like, but if we send our Ministers under article 100A, and there is majority voting, even if we are capable of instructing our Ministers they may be outvoted.
The Prime Minister sent the Secretary of State for Health on a humiliating trip recently. It concerned the wording on cigarette packets, and the Minister told the EEC to keep its nose out, because this was a matter for the House of Commons. The EEC told him to get lost. So even if there is unanimity in this House and we send a Minister off to Brussels convinced of our opinions, it will make no difference because the powers have been lost under the Single European Act.
The shoe is beginning to pinch. The sovereignty of Parliament is not a reactionary idea: it is the British way of doing things. I hope that people will not mock that way, which has come out of our history and is not a party-political issue. Parliament is sovereign; there are no restraints on it—that is the constitutional doctrine. We are not bound by past generations. Each new generation can do its own thing in its own way. That is the British genius and it has served us extremely well.
The Common Market imposes restrictions, inhibitions and restraints on us and tells us what to do. As that happens more frequently, it inevitably causes friction and tension. The EEC keeps extending its competence—it is sometimes called creeping competence. We have not paid much attention to the six-month report, but I shall refer to it out of deference to my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson)—I know that he reads these documents every night before he goes to bed. The report informs us that the Scrutiny Committee considered 415 documents and recommended 48 for debate in the House—
§ Mr. Leighton
I do not want to offend my hon. Friend, but I hope to allow another Conservative Member to speak before the debate ends—I even hope that he may agree with some of what I have said.
No one can deny that debating these issues late at night is unsatisfactory. It is a farce and a sham, and hon. Members know that, which is why they do not bother to turn up.
The Council of Ministers is a legislature that meets in secret. Whatever it decides is then translated willy-nilly into our law. Every time that happens that is subverting and derogating from our Parliament and not just from one side of the House. If there is a political development, perhaps we will change sides and we will have some say in Government. It is the nation's Parliament that is being derogated from.
563 The Single European Act destroys the pledges that were given in the referendum, when the Government issued a paper that said that no new policy or law could be inflicted on Britain without the assent of a British Minister accountable to the House. That pledge has been destroyed, because that Minister can now he outvoted. I see that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) is present. That process in the EEC will not only destroy our parliamentary self-government, but will fragment the United Kingdom. Why should the Scots bother to send Members of Parliament to Westminster if decisions are taken not here but in Brussels? The Scots are likely to think that it is a waste of time sending Members of Parliament here, and that will damage the unity of the country.
The incompatibility must be resolved. It is now coming to the boil. We have not heard the end of the story. Some of us have taken an interest in the matter, and I hope that the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) when he carried out his research found that I was one of the 10 noble Members who voted on Third Reading—
§ Mr. Leighton
I hope that I was one of those 20. I have been in that noble band over the years and I intend to keep with its noble cause, because I belong to the Parliament party and I am sure that in this country we will prevail.
§ Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)
This country is making an important contribution to the development of the European Community in keeping alive the argument for liberalisation of markets and for deregulation. This country is keeping alive the argument that prosperity grows most swiftly and progress is made most rapidly when the case for less government is urged successfully on those who would over-govern or over-regulate. We can see that in a number of positive proposals that have been put through on British initiatives or have been strongly argued for by British representatives—for example, the deregulation of some aspects of civil aviation, which has brought cheaper air fares and more choice of routes; the liberalisation of capital movements, which has created a more genuine financial market across Europe; and the proposals to deregulate telecommunications and aspects of public purchasing, which can give businesses a real chance to sell in the wider European market and develop the commercial links, the interchange and commerce on which the entire growth of the European ideal must rest.
I dissent from those who have argued that British industry is ill-equipped to meet that challenge or is in some way impeded by the policies being pursued. Obviously, the contrary is the case. British business wants a Government consistent in defending British interests, consistent in arguing for more access and consistent in arguing for less government and more freedom for business to prosper, and that is what business in this country has. We can see that that has succeeded by the way in which the Japanese, the Americans and others outside the Community wish to locate and invest here to ensure that they are in a good position. They come to the country where enterprise policies are most supported and where the British community gives them the kind of backing that they require to exploit the wider European market.
564 When I came to the debate, I was obviously conscious that there had been arguments in the press about possible splits. I found the debate interesting because there is indeed a massive split on offer in the House today—and it has been seen in the Opposition. A succession of Labour Members have made extremely powerful speeches in defence of British national democracy and against the European Community at exactly the same time as Labour Front Bench spokesmen have argued that Labour is now the good European party. They are the same Labour Front Bench spokesmen who will not tell us all their policies on Europe and have tried to keep them secret from their own party until the publication of a document, from which many of their colleagues feel excluded, in which policies are developed which are not good European policies by Commission standards. The Labour party does not accept that Brussels should fix British taxation, economic policy, social policy or many other policies. The Labour party appears to be moving closer to the Government's position in accepting that we are part of a wider European Community and that that wider Community is one that must be limited in its ambitions and concentrate above all on the prospects of 1992.
§ Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)
I, too, came into British politics because of an enthusiasm for the European Community, but I share the apprehensions, of many other speakers about the apparent lack of democratic accountability within the institutions of that Community. There is a need to remedy that position.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) said that we should not criticise M. Delors, because he was a senior civil servant similar to one of our senior civil servants. My hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) said that Commissioners were servants of the Council. If only that were the case, but it clearly is not. The Single European Act, for example, says that the Council acts on a proposal from the Commission. I believe that that is the root of some of our problems : it is the Commission that sets the agenda for what we are discussing. It is not this Parliament and, regrettably—although it now has some increased powers—it is not yet the European Parliament. Most proposals are coming from people who are not accountable to any of us, which is the root of many of our problems.
I must congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the other Ministers who have been going to the meetings of the various Councils on the progress that they have made towards 1992. I believe that on the banking own funds directive, financial services, public procurement, mutual recognition of professional qualifications and indirect taxation they have done a good job. However, I do not believe that many of the Commission's other proposals are relevant to the completion of the internal market or the creation of prosperity in Europe. An example of that has been the social charter. The Commission has its priorities wrong, and it should be concentrating much more on other areas that are in urgent need of being rectified if we are to create a true common market and a true European Community.
It is important to consider Government subsidies. The French, for example, in comparison to us, give double the amount of subsidies to their industries, the Germans two 565 and a half times more, and the Italians eight times more. That urgent matter has not been addressed by the Commission and I believe that it has been extremely dilatory.
One needs only to read the Court of Auditors' report to realise that nothing like enough has been done to prevent fraud. At the moment the management is totally incompetent. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) has already described how progress on general insurance is being frustrated. Enormous barriers to takeovers still exist within the European Community. Anyone can come to this country and take over one of our companies, but in Germany and Spain there are no formal takeover codes. The enormous problems still facing the Community must be solved.
The social charter proposals take away from national parliaments what should be their responsibility. To retain some form of national sovereignty does not contradict the idea of progressing to some form of federal Europe. In the United States of America there is a national Government, but individual states take decisions on those issues about which they feel passionately or about which they believe the local communities should have the right of decision. I believe that that should be the future model for Europe. We should not go along with the social charter claptrap that is now coming out of the Commission.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)
Those of us who are regular connoisseurs of such debates, whether as volunteers or conscripts, will agree that this has been a vintage occasion. Although the Opposition greatly welcomed the debate—much more than the Government, I hazard the guess—we would much prefer properly organised prospective rather than retrospective debates. We could then consider forthcoming decisions in the Community and express our views and the House could begin to take a greater interest in proper scrutiny of that legislation.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) was the only hon. Member to consider the previous six months in detail. Certainly they were eventful, particularly the infamous Bruges speech to which almost everyone has referred today. That speech was so internally inconsistent as to be totally self-contradictory. One sentence proclaiming an alleged belief in the European ideal was followed by another beating the nationalist drum and challenging the basic tenets of the Community. Henceforward, however, we are to describe that speech as an example of twin-track policy—we have the Minister of State to thank for that description. If such double-speak was intended to confuse our enemies, it succeeded only in confusing our friends and partners in Europe.
Perhaps the Prime Minister is confused. Confusion was certainly apparent in her astonishing impromptu speech —referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice)—at the Daily Mail and Evening Standard opening with Bubbles Rothermere et al. The Prime Minister said in reply to her predecessor:We stood when freedom was challenged, we stood and we fought for freedom and the liberation of Europe was mounted 566 from our shores, and would not have been liberated unless we had stood and unless America had joined us. That is the vision of Europe I have. That is what the battle is really about.What a strange comparison. Apparently, she perceives the threat from Brussels as comparable with that from Adolf Hitler.
Such speeches are part of the "lively" dialogue that has been taking place within the Tory party. It is not just nuances of difference or even two to six different interpretations—it is now open warfare. Lord Plumb, a leading Conservative, described his Prime Minister's actions as "petty national protectionism". He said that her call for a Europe merely of sovereign states, co-operating with each other where they wished, misunderstood the nature of the Community. He put her right as firmly as any man can by pointing out thatthere are no serious advocates in the Community of a European super-state".The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) rightly reminded us of that today. I venture to suggest, with perhaps a little humility—(Interruption.]
§ Mr. Foulkes
I venture to suggest that we might make a better judgment on the issues if we recognised that the European Community is neither a capitalist plot, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) might think, nor the Socialist super-state envisaged by the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor). The Community is what we, as members, make it. Whether we agree to share our sovereignty is our decision.
In the debate that has been raging within the Conservative party we know that the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) has been less restrained in his criticisms than Lord Plumb. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) quoted the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) extensively and that right hon. Gentleman spoke eloquently for himself. From all the discussions and actions of the past few weeks it is not clear, however, whether the general confusion, and, in particular, the confusion about the Single European Act, is caused through ignorance or deliberate duplicity.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton said, article 100A of the Single European Act was rushed through the House, with a three-line Whip and a guillotine, against a united Opposition. We considered the legislation in Committee on the Floor of the House on a Friday and the Government panicked and moved the closure because they were so worried by the effectiveness of the opposition.
It was clear to us, as it ought to have been clear to Conservative Members, that the Single European Act introduced qualified majority voting on health—that includes warnings about the danger of smoking—safety, environmental pollution and consumer protection. The only exclusions were fiscal provisions, those relating to the free movement of persons, and the rights and interests of employed persons. Either Conservative Members knew what they were doing but now regret it and pretend that the reality is different from what it is, or they did not know what they were doing, which would have been a disgraceful dereliction of duty.
The Prime Minister is now stamping her foot petulantly and getting her Cabinet Ministers to mimic her in Europe, 567 not just in relation to smoking but, as the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber said, on identity cards for pensioners—an idea that came from the voluntary movement in this country—the health and safety package and the social charter.
Labour is enthusiastically committed to the proposals for a social Europe where workplaces are safe and workers are well trained, fully consulted and properly rewarded throughout their working lives. Labour is also enthusiastically committed to a Europe where the role and contribution of women is properly recognised. Our programme, announced this morning, for upgrading employment rights, for radically changing the nature of training, for putting industrial relations law on a fair footing and for cleaning up the working environment will reinforce and be reinforced by the agenda for a social Europe which is now being developed but which is vehemently opposed by the Prime Minister and Conservative Members.
At Prime Minister's Question Time earlier today, the Prime Minister described the social charter as more of a Socialist charter. As my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) reminded us, however, Lord Plumb said at Chatham House—and others have repeated it today—thatIt is in fact part and parcel of ensuring fair competition.On Tuesday last, Lord Cockfield said to the Select Committee on European Legislation, which my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) chairs so excellently, thatSocial policy is part of the policy of the Community, as enshrined in the Single European Act.If we are all to compete fairly in the Community, there must be harmonisation of the social as well as the economic and free market aspects of the Community. Equally, environmental standards need to be raised to the highest and equal levels, not just to keep our water pure and our beaches clean, but to ensure fair competition between enterprises in different countries. Capitalists do not voluntarily spend money on environmental protection if it cuts their profits. The Opposition know that all too well. On this, as on other issues, the Government are guilty not just of double-talk—the twin-track policy that we keep hearing about—but of double standards. We all marvelled when the Prime Minister suddenly discovered environmental issues and donned the green mantle, although, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, she donned it only to reveal that it is deeply soiled.
Once again, the Government's action fails to match the truth. If I may be forgiven for citing a local example, all seven Ayrshire beaches, including two in my constituency, fail to meet the requirements of the European Community directive on quality of bathing water, thus jeopardising health and undermining the huge and growing tourist potential. The Clyde river purification board urged the Government to take action and Strathclyde regional council wants to upgrade its sewage treatment works, but the Government refused to make capital available for that purpose. Again, they are all talk and no action. We now know that that is called a twin-track policy. The Prime Minister talks tough but fails to produce any effective action.
As we know, the Single European Act means that, increasingly, important decisions will be taken at a European level. That governmental activity must be brought under proper democratic control. The Opposition 568 see the path of future progress as being towards closer co-operation rather than an attempt to create a united states of Europe. As Ernest Bevin said, we are not going to open that Pandora's box and let all the Trojan horses out.
The solution is not to create a centralised tier of government in Brussels to supplant national government, but to make sure that the extensive and growing European co-operation that we seek is responsible to the British Parliament and the British people. Ministers must be made accountable to Parliament for the agreements that they make at the Council of Ministers. That is why we want an effective system of parliamentary scrutiny of European Community legislation. Again, the reality does not match the talk. The Government adopt a twin-track policy, as we must now call it. Statements in the House of what is being done in our name by Ministers in Brussels have withered to almost nothing. The Opposition have suggested a European Grand Committee to improve scrutiny, but no action has yet been taken. The Prime Minister and other Ministers prefer to keep decision-making away from the House and within the Civil Service, ministerial and Council of Ministers nexus where they can get on with it without any real scrutiny.
Our amendment highlights the inadequacy and ill-preparedness of the country to face the challenge of 1992. I am glad that a Minister from the Department of Trade and Industry—the so-called Department of enterprise which adopts another twin-track policy of all talk and very little action—is to reply to the debate. The British economy is saddled with a massive trade deficit and a higher inflation rate than in any comparable country. It is an under-invested, badly-trained, ill-equipped economy which is in no shape to compete in the 1990s. The right hon. Member for Henley correctly pointed out in his book that 90 per cent. of major British companies undertake no market research on the continent, and that 93 per cent. take no initiative to train employees in another European language. What are the Government doing? They are planning to send the Secretary of State for Education and Science to Brussels to veto the Lingua programme which might have improved that situation. In addition, 95 per cent. of British firms have no sales agents working in the rest of the Community. Those are just three key examples of our lack of preparation.
I hope that I have persuaded some Conservative Members who occasionally support us. The sad reality is that the Conservative Government have left Britain ill-prepared for our European future. Ten years of Conservative Government have left us too weak economically to meet the challenges and too socially backward to take the opportunities. The danger is that failing to meet the challenges and turning our back on the opportunities will condemn us to a mean and dispiriting future, as a depressed economic region on the edge of a greater European economy. We reject that option. That is why we ask the House to support our amendment.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs (Mr. Francis Maude)
I have great pleasure in agreeing with the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) that we have had a most remarkable debate. He is a veteran of the 569 six-monthly debate; I am a veteran of the debates we somtimes have later at night. He was right to say that this has been a vintage occasion.
There has not been that much said about the White Paper which is the subject of the take-note motion. I do not go as far as my hon. Friends who, in their amendment, describe it as a "depressing document". Perhaps there is not enough life and sparkle in the document to keep a five-hour debate going.
We had a series of notable speeches, especially from my right hon. and hon. Friends. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), with a majestic historical sweep, opened up horizons which are of value to us all. My right hon. Friends the Members for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and for Guildford (Mr. Howell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body), to take just three hon. Members who made remarkable speeches, applied themselves seriously to the issue that has been of concern to the Conservative party for a long time.
The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) made an extremely powerful speech. He showed that the one theme running through all the speeches and which informs us all is that these are matters of the profoundest importance for the House. It has been a long debate and I have only 15 minutes in which to reply to it. Some of my hon. Friends have asked me to deal with specific points, but in the short time available to me I cannot possibly do justice to all the issues that have been raised. I hope that my hon. Friends will forgive me if I do not go into points in great depth.
There has been much comment about the future. Perhaps the most remarkable phenomenon in the debate was that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) in opening for the Opposition sought to present his party as the most European. So European is it that while he spoke there were only six Labour Back Benchers in the Chamber and almost all of them disagreed with him. I can see why the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, who wound up for the Opposition, was at pains to invite my right hon. and hon. friends to support the Opposition amendment. The reason for that is plain to see. The Opposition could rustle up only 20 Members to vote against Third Reading of the Single European Act, but it does not look as if they will be able to manage even as many as that tonight.
The serious contributions came predominantly from my right hon. and hon. Friends and I should like to deal with the central anxiety that some of them expressed, that we are not fully engaged in the European Community. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) said that we were nervous about the European Community. We are not a bit nervous and the facts utterly confound that anxiety. Every measure of compliance with directives, of the implementation of court judgments, of complaints to the Commission or courts against us shows us to have the best record in Europe.
Of course, we occasionally raise objections to a proposal at an early stage in a way that may look negative, but that is actually because as good Europeans we take European proposals seriously. That means that we sometimes point out difficulties and problems which others have not spotted. That enables us to take a lead in Europe.
570 Let us look at one example, the issue of approximation of indirect taxes. We said at an early stage that, quite apart from our objection to the imposition of VAT on food, the Commission's proposals were cumbersome and bureaucratic. We were derided for being negative, but we put forward alternative proposals which were better in every way.
We argued and persuaded for a solution which harnesses market forces and which avoids the centralisation and regulation of the Commission's proposals. By dint of our hard work and leadership, we have won over many other member states to the fundamentals of our position, and the Commission itself now recognises that its original proposals simply would not work. Yesterday it announced new ideas which go a good way towards meeting our basic concerns, for example, on zero rates. That is a major vindication of our firm stance. Of course there is much hard discussion ahead, but the argument is going our way. That is but one example of the ways in which Britain leads in Europe. I fully accept what my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley says, that we should be at the leading edge. I believe that we are.
Let us look back 10 years to the issues which then bedevilled the Community and which some people argued threatened its very existence: a common agricultural policy totally out of control; a budget with huge imbalances; a single market which was no more than a dream; a Europe held together by cash and red tape. Ten years on, the CAP is beginning to be seriously reformed. At long last, surpluses are reducing. That has not happened by accident. It has happened because of hard arguing, firm leadership and a refusal to accept that it was impossible. Britain is in the lead.
We must not forget the huge and growing budget contribution which the previous Labour Government had so skilfully negotiated. In 1984 when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was negotiating to reduce the budget contribution, the Leader of the Opposition was characteristically supportive of British interests. He said that the Prime Minister had better enjoy the sunshine at Fontainebleau because he did not think that she was going to enjoy much else. He said that my right hon. Friend would not come away with £475 million adding, "That I do know."
For once the Leader of the Opposition was right. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did not come away with £475 million; she came away with £600 million and she has saved Britain £4.5 billion in total since then. Had my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister not argued and argued and persuaded and persuaded, that net contribution would today be some £4 billion, which would represent nearly 3p on income tax. That was Labour's legacy.
Throughout the campaign to reduce contributions to the EEC, what was the Liberals' battle cry? It was "Surrender, surrender." Who takes the lead in attacking fraud in the Community? Once again, Britain has led and has pushed that issue high on the agenda.
The single market is no longer a dream. It is a growing reality. Who was pressing for that?
§ Mr. Maude
No, I will not give way. I have little time.
We Conservatives said so many years ago when my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup 571 (Mr. Heath) led us in that historic move into the Community that the achievement of a real, free, single common market was one of our principal goals. However, because of disagreements within the Community, because of other problems and because so many other countries have consistently defended their nationalistic and protectionist corners, progress was frustrated.
Time and again during the negotiations that I conduct for the United Kingdom, it is Britain which leads, it is Britain which drives programmes forward and argues for the European, liberal and genuinely free market solution. Only last June we supported a Council resolution stating that market forces should be strengthened, that the cost of compliance with Community legislation should be minimised and unnecessary regulation avoided and that existing legislation should be reviewed with a view to simplification. I stress that that was a proposal by the Commission which was supported by all 12 member states.
We are not isolated in Europe. We are winning converts all the time. We have rarely voted against single market measures. The only time that I did so was because the measure was not European enough. It would have allowed national protectionism to continue. In contrast, Germany has voted time and again, and been voted down, against measures which it found too liberal to stomach.
Let us consider some examples. Last year the Commission introduced a directive to open up the market in telecommunications terminals. We supported that directive because it would break down barriers to trade. However, the French, Italians and others are challenging it in the European Court. Last month we argued and won our case for a directive to liberalise transfrontier broadcasting. Who opposed it? It was opposed by Germany, Belgium and Denmark. On most of the issues we are in the majority. We are driving the programme forward. We are in the lead.
When we oppose proposals, as we do perfectly properly, it is rare for us to be alone. For example, we argued against the proposal for a right of residence directive partly because it dealt with issues outside Community competence. Many other member states had equal difficulty with it and the Commission has now withdrawn it.
The Netherlands, Luxembourg, and, increasingly, Germany are as fundamentally opposed as we are to the proposal on withholding tax. The suggestion that Britain is on the sidelines while the real arguments go on without us is incomprehensible to those of us who take part in the discussions, day by day, week by week and month by month. So often we argue, in close alliance with the Commission, for a free market and a deregulated Europe against the narrow nationalism of some of our partners. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in her speech at Bruges:Britain does not dream of some cosy, isolated existence on the fringes of the European Community. Our destiny is in Europe, as part of the Community.Nothing could be clearer than that.
My right hon. and hon. Friends have spoken of the future of the Community and our future in it. Three years ago we signed the Single European Act. That was the first major change to the treaty of Rome for 30 years, and we agreed it. We signed it along with 11 other nations because it was necessary to achieve the original aims of the treaty. It was proving impossible to complete the single market against the single country veto. That is what the Single 572 European Act changed. It introduced majority voting for specific purposes. It was to enable the single market to be completed.
§ Mr. Maude
It specifically states that taxation, monetary issues and issues affecting the rights of employees can still be vetoed. We do not complain about majority voting. We have gained a great deal from it. As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said, transfers of sovereignty are not done in pursuit of an ideal; they are done out of hard-headed self interest. That was done by all the 12 member states who signed the Single European Act.
Of course, there will occasionally be times when we lose, but as long as the issues on which we are voting are those which the Single European Act envisages, we will stand by those decisions. But we will argue, and so will many of our partners in Europe, against measures that extend Community competence beyond what we have agreed. Neither we nor our partners are being bad Europeans when we hold fast to the terms of the Single European Act. I make no apology for that.
Now there are further proposals for further institutional changes. The Delors report is a useful document. It is rigorous in its analysis and it fudges no issues. The central and unavoidable conclusion that it reaches, as we knew it must, is that an economic and monetary union involves a transfer of sovereignty from member states to the new central monetary institution and central control of fiscal policy. That effectively means political union.
I do not say that that will never happen. What I do say is that it is not now, nor for the foreseeable future will it be, something on which the Community could agree. That firm view, shared by others in the Community, does not mean that we will stand back from the discussions on monetary co-operation.
The Delors report sets out three phases towards monetary union, but I have to say that the committee made it much more difficult to take part in those discussions by linking, in article 39 of the report, agreement to phase I to agreement to phases 2 and 3. Of course, we can talk about phase 1. Far from our being on the sidelines, we are already well ahead of our colleagues in the Community. None of this can happen without the final removal of exchange controls in Europe. We did that 10 years ago. The rest of the Community, after we and the Commission argued and persuaded for so long, agreed to follow suit by the middle of next year.
It was we who pioneered the issuing of ecu Treasury bills and who led the way in holding ecu and other European currencies in our reserves. It is we who have open financial markets. It is we who have led the way. We may have a two-speed Europe, but it is we who are ahead.
Let me talk now about another area in which it is said that great changes must be made. I do not contest for a moment that there is a social dimension to the single market. That is all about providing benefits to our people as consumers, travellers and employees. All the studies show that a substantial number of new jobs will arise. But the one thing that would guarantee that we squander those benefits would be to encumber Europe with the dead weight of heavy social regulation.
That is why the Labour party is at long last taking an interest in Europe. The one consistency in its stance at any moment is that it is prompted not be principle but by its 573 cynical and incompetent calculation of electoral advantage. Its attitude to the single market repays study—opposition, opposition and opposition.
Dr. Seal, the leader of Labour Members of the European Parliament, said:The completion of the single market will make many of Labour's industrial and trade union policies illegal.He is right. The Labour party has concluded that if it cannot have Socialism through the front door, it will have it through the back door. It is right to think that it will not get it through the front door. The British people will ensure that. But we shall make sure that the back door is locked.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 51, Noes 176.574
|Division No. 208]||[10.00 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||McNamara, Kevin|
|Allen, Graham||Marek, Dr John|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Battle, John||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Murphy, Paul|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Pike, Peter L.|
|Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)||Radice, Giles|
|Clay, Bob||Redmond, Martin|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn|
|Corbett, Robin||Richardson, Jo|
|Cousins, Jim||Robertson, George|
|Cryer, Bob||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Dixon, Don||Short, Clare|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth||Skinner, Dennis|
|Foster, Derek||Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|Foulkes, George||Spearing, Nigel|
|Fyfe, Maria||Wall, Pat|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Gordon, Mildred||Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Hughes, John (Coventry NE)||Worthington, Tony|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Leighton, Ron||Mr. Frank Haynes and|
|Lewis, Terry||Mr. Allen McKay.|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Burns, Simon|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Burt, Alistair|
|Amos, Alan||Butterfill, John|
|Arbuthnot, James||Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Carrington, Matthew|
|Ashby, David||Cash, William|
|Batiste, Spencer||Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda|
|Bellingham, Henry||Chapman, Sydney|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Cope, Rt Hon John|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Couchman, James|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Cran, James|
|Body, Sir Richard||Curry, David|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)|
|Boswell, Tim||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Bottomley, Peter||Day, Stephen|
|Bowis, John||Devlin, Tim|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Dunn, Bob|
|Brazier, Julian||Durant, Tony|
|Bright, Graham||Dykes, Hugh|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Fallon, Michael|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||Favell, Tony|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Fookes, Dame Janet|
|Forman, Nigel||Neubert, Michael|
|Forth, Eric||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|French, Douglas||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Gale, Roger||Norris, Steve|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Paice, James|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Portillo, Michael|
|Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Harris, David||Price, Sir David|
|Hawkins, Christopher||Raffan, Keith|
|Hayes, Jerry||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney||Rathbone, Tim|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Redwood, John|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Renton, Tim|
|Hind, Kenneth||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Riddick, Graham|
|Howard, Michael||Ross, William (Londonderry E)|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)||Rowe, Andrew|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Howells, Geraint||Shelton, Sir William|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Hunter, Andrew||Sims, Roger|
|Irvine, Michael||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Jack, Michael||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Jackson, Robert||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Janman, Tim||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Jessel, Toby||Stern, Michael|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Stevens, Lewis|
|Johnston, Sir Russell||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Summerson, Hugo|
|Key, Robert||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Kilfedder, James||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Knapman, Roger||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Knowles, Michael||Thurnham, Peter|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Lilley, Peter||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Tracey, Richard|
|Luce, Rt Hon Richard||Trippier, David|
|Lyell, Sir Nicholas||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Maclean, David||Viggers, Peter|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Major, Rt Hon John||Watts, John|
|Malins, Humfrey||Wells, Bowen|
|Mans, Keith||Wheeler, John|
|Marland, Paul||Whitney, Ray|
|Marshall, John (Hendon S)||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Wolfson, Mark|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Wood, Timothy|
|Miller, Sir Hal||Yeo, Tim|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Mr. David Lightbown and|
|Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester)||Mr. John M. Taylor.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the White Paper, Developments in the European Community July-December 1988 (Cm. 641).
§ Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have noticed that only 51 Members voted in the Aye Lobby. Would it be possible for Hansard to include what I believe the European Community call an "explication de vote" so that we may 575 know how many hon. Members were anti-marketeers and how many were pro-marketeers—or whether perhaps they have been influenced by the new Labour policy document?