HL Deb 17 February 1993 vol 542 cc1170-210

5.46 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch rose to call attention to the constitutional effects of ratifying the Treaty on European Union signed at Maastricht; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps I may start by apologising to all of your Lordships who are to speak this afternoon if I have chosen an inappropriate subject for a short debate. I am painfully aware that the large number of speakers means that each may only speak much more briefly than me, when nearly all are far better qualified to open the debate than I am.

My only qualifications for doing so are that I have had the honour to sit on your Lordships' Select Committee on the European Communities for about a year, and I have worked in Europe and elsewhere as an international insurance broker for some 30 years. In this latter capacity, I have formed strong commercial friendships in every country in Europe, and I have close personal friends in most of them. In that sense, my Lords, I am a good European.

Some of your Lordships have asked me what is a "constitutional effect". I am advised that the answer is anything which affects the Constitution of this country or the absolute sovereignty of the Queen in Parliament. To quote from one of your Lordships' Select Committee reports: The supreme authority in the internal order of the United Kingdom is the Queen in Parliament. The doctrine that Parliament has an unfettered legislative power is the fundamental principle of the United Kingdom's constitutional law".

So the question is: how would the Treaty on European Union, if ratified, affect the sovereignty of the Queen in Parliament? In other words, since it does not appear to add any useful powers to our parliamentary democracy, what further powers would the treaty cede to Europe which have not already be ceded by the Single European Act and the Treaty of Rome?

I must say, my Lords, that reading this proposed treaty and its predecessors, and attending your Lordships' Select Committee, have opened my eyes. There seems to have been a relentless march towards a federal European union for many years now, to an extent which I for one have found quite shocking. I am sure that the vast majority of the British people would also be similarly surprised.

Reading back over some of your Lordships' debates, particularly your debates in 1986 on the Single European Act and in 1990 and 1991 on political union with Europe, it appears that your Lordships have been increasingly reluctant to move towards this federal goal. It appears to me—and I may be wrong—that most of your Lordships seem to have favoured ceding only that part of our sovereignty to Europe which was necessary to achieve the single market, which is now in operation. The main exception to this general rule is that we gave powers over some environmental matters to Europe in 1986, under Article 130R of the Single European Act. But by and large we only ceded our sovereignty to create the single market, which most people agree is an important achievement.

However, it seems to me that the Treaty on European Union goes much further than that. It seems to be a positively gigantic step towards a federal Europe and the cession of our parliamentary sovereignty to Brussels and to Luxembourg.

To start with, it is actually called the Treaty on European Union, and its very first sentence in Title I establishes a European union amongst the parties to it. I know there is controversy about the meaning of the word "union", but Article 8 of the treaty proceeds to set up citizenship of the union for every person holding the nationality of a member state. We are all to be subject to the duties imposed by this new status, but those duties are not spelt out.

I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister could tell us what these duties are likely to be, and how we are to square them with our duties here, if they happen to be in conflict. Also, and I hope that your Lordships will not regard this as an offensive question, could my noble friend go further and tell us whether Her Majesty the Queen is to become a citizen of the union, and, if so, what that does for the supremacy of the Crown in Parliament?

I suppose the most obvious way in which our sovereignty is ceded to Europe under these treaties is when we agree that certain areas of decision making will be taken over by qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers. The 12 Community countries have 76 votes between them, of which 54 constitute a qualified majority. Britain has 10 votes. I am advised that the Luxembourg court is likely to uphold the decision taken by qualified majority voting in the Council.

The powers of the Council to take decisions by qualified majority voting would be much extended by this treaty. Some of them are included in Articles 102 to 109 which would give the Council new powers intended to lead to economic and monetary union, and to an independent European central bank. Britain has reserved its position on monetary union, and the Germans have said that they want another look at it before finally signing up; so perhaps it will not happen anyway.

The turmoil in the foreign exchange markets and the shambles of the exchange rate mechanism make the prospect of economic and monetary union less likely now than when the treaty was negotiated. This is very significant because these aims were perhaps the treaty's most important. With such prominent aims in doubt, one must begin to wonder whether it is worth pressing on with the treaty at all.

Be that as it may, the union treaty would introduce the competence of the Council by qualified majority voting, or by co-decision, into areas of education, culture, public health, consumer protection, trans-European networks and development co-operation. It would extend such competence in the fields of transport, research and technological development, the environment, and our old friend social policy, out of which we may, or may not, have opted—I am not quite sure.

I submit that all these areas represent a substantial extension of Community power at the expense of our national sovereignty.

I come then to Titles V and VI of the treaty which further pool our sovereignty with the proposed union in foreign policy, defence, justice and home affairs. The most worrying article I find here is Article J, which deals with security and defence. On my understanding of this article, it appears to allow the Council of Ministers, by qualified majority voting, to start, or at any rate to continue, military action against our wishes. The relevant paragraphs are J.8.2 and J.3.2 which appear to say that, although the Council will have had to be unanimous when deciding, shall we say, to send troops somewhere, it could act by qualified majority voting in the development of the ensuing action. I hope that my noble friend the Minister can put my mind at rest on this point.

The rest of the clauses in Titles V and VI, or J and K of the treaty, would contribute to the march towards federalism in foreign policy, justice and home affairs. This is reinforced by such items as the "Declaration on Voting" in the field of the proposed common foreign and security policy. Here, Britain would agree that we—and I quote— will, to the extent possible, avoid preventing a unanimous decision where a qualified majority exists in favour of that decision".

The drift towards federalism in this vital area of our national interest is to be further encouraged by what are known as "common positions", agreed by the Council. The elaboration of common positions already takes place in the framework of political co-operation, but they are not now regarded as legally binding. However, I understand that the Foreign Office has recently made clear that common positions will be legally binding in future in international law. At the moment we do not have have the machinery to scrutinise them. I wonder whether my noble friend would care to comment on this development.

Before I leave the detail of the Treaty on European Union, I should perhaps mention "subsidiarity", which is to be found in Article 3b, and which is supposed to safeguard our sovereignty from the further erosion I have mentioned. To refute this claim I can do no better than to quote the clause in question: In areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Community shall take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can, therefore, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the Community".

The weaknesses inherent in this clause are plain for all to see. They have been much debated publicly, and so I shall not dwell on them now. The question is, of course, who decides? And the answer is the Council, often by qualified majority voting.

I am aware that "interpretive declarations" on the meaning of this clause were issued after the Birmingham and Edinburgh Summits last year, but I am advised that they have done nothing effective to remedy the deficiencies in Article 3b of the treaty text. So I am afraid subsidiarity offers little protection to our sovereignty; it merely emphasises the member states' role as agents in carrying out Community policy.

To conclude on a general note, I have to ask if we really need this union treaty. Do we not have enough on our plate with the Single European Act and the Treaty of Rome? After all, even if this union treaty is not ratified, we shall still have the single market, the effects of which are difficult to judge. I say this because we still put more in than we take out, and because in at least one important field (insurance) in which I work, I think it unlikely that we will gain the advantage which we sought through entry. This is not the fault of the single market so much as it is of the fact that for many years British insurance companies have not enjoyed a level playing field with their European competitors in their reserving and distribution policies. The result is that our competitors are now very much stronger than we are, and better able to take advantage of the single market. Yet insurance is one of our industries which was always supposed to be going to benefit most from our entry into Europe. I have to tell your Lordships that I am afraid that it may not.

Other problems arising from what we have done so far with Europe are emerging. Of course it is fun to laugh at Europe when it tells us we cannot shoot vermin out of season, or when it decrees that carrots are henceforth to be a fruit, or when it prescribes in law the length, curvature and thickness which cucumbers must possess before they may be sold in the single market.

But it is not quite such a joke when one learns of the many billions of pounds which are stolen annually through fraud in the Community, and when one reads your Lordships' report to the effect that the political will to stand up to this immense scandal simply is not there. Nor is it so funny when Europe tells us where we can, and where we cannot, put our roads, and what the quality of our water should be. The time and energy wasted by our Ministers and others in Europe must be very expensive and debilitating. Public opinion against the treaty is mounting daily.

I have mentioned just some of the problems which result from our present involvement with Europe. These are far from resolved, and will require all the stamina and wisdom of my noble friend on the Front Bench and her colleagues in government. Are they sure that it is really wise to press on with a new treaty which must surely exacerbate the problems we already have? Of course, I know that their colours are somewhat nailed to the mast, but might one way out not be to offer the British people a referendum? Like most of your Lordships, I dislike referenda—I dislike them very much—because I trust our system of parliamentary democracy to take our national decisions, and to protect the sovereignty of the Queen in Parliament. But it seems to me that that trust can no longer hold when the decision in question would undermine the very system upon which we otherwise rely. In my view, the Treaty on European Union, signed at Maastricht, would, if ratified, so start to undermine our parliamentary democracy as to make it eventually worthless.

That is why I very much hope that the Government will not proceed with it. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

6 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important matter. I congratulate him on the competent and concise way in which he introduced the subject. I too am concerned that every citizen of this country is to be forced to become a citizen of the European union without consent and without consultation. There is no provision in the treaty for any person to renounce his citizenship of the European union unless he also renounces his British citizenship.

In my view, the benefits of the European union are chimerical and the duties are unspecified. They are to be written in at some time in the future. In that respect I believe that we may be buying a pig in a poke. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, asked whether Her Majesty the Queen would become a subject of the European union. I believe that that question was answered in another place by the Home Secretary; she will become a citizen of the EU. She will, therefore, become a citizen of an embryo superstate and will owe a duty to its constitution and to its institutions. Many Royal Prerogatives will no longer he exercised solely by the Crown but by a foreign-dominated junta sitting in a foreign capital.

As regards economic and monetary union, it may well be that the whole scheme will collapse; but it may well not do so. The fact is that EMU transfers economic, financial and monetary power to EC institutions thereby reducing and in some cases eliminating parliamentary control of Britain's economic well-being. The opt-out of Stage 3 is a meaningless concession because Stages I and 2 inevitably lead on to Stage 3, complete with a single currency. Furthermore, convergence will cost the United Kingdom taxpayers thousands of millions of pounds extra with consequent damage to our own economy, infrastructure and social services. British people are not being informed of the additional costs arising out of the treaty.

The fact is that the Maastricht Treaty takes a large step towards a federal European state. Of course the Prime Minister and his Ministers assure us that that is not so and Erskine May lays down that Ministers do not lie to Parliament. But they can conceal the truth and I believe that they are doing just that in respect of the Maastricht Treaty. The sad thing is that we shall not know the truth until it is too late. But Herr Kohl, Martin Bangemann, M. Mitterrand and many more people in Europe know the truth. They have no doubts about the meaning of the treaty and they have proclaimed the treaty as federalist. Indeed, they exult in that fact.

Finally, I wish to protest once again at the failure to involve the people in decisions which have far-reaching consequences for their future and that of their children. The Government have no mandate to force the treaty through. At the general election in April the English text of the treaty was not available. As all the political parties were agreed about the treaty, there was no real discussion during the general election campaign. Noble Lords should remember that when the Front Benches are harmonised the British people are disfranchised. That is why there must be a referendum. Without that the people of this country will never finally accept the binding shackles of the Treaty of Maastricht.

6.4 p.m.

Lord Moore of Wolvercote

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, for initiating this debate. It cannot be disputed that the constitutional implications of the Maastricht Treaty are considerable. One has only to read the title; "Treaty on European Union". Surely there can be no doubt that the original drafters of the treaty were envisaging ultimately a federal European state? It will be said that such was the purpose of the Treaty of Rome and the Single European Act. No doubt there is truth in that. However, I do not believe that when the majority of people in this country voted in the referendum to join the European Economic Community they envisaged that Britain might end up as part of a European federal state.

The argument for joining Europe was an economic one. The Treaty of Rome had been most successful in establishing a powerful new economic bloc. Britain, as a trading nation on its doorstep, could not afford to stay out. The opinion in financial, industrial and commercial circles was pretty unanimous. The Commonwealth hated the decision and, as a result, Britain's relationship with the Commonwealth will never be the same. However, Britain could not stay out of the European Economic Community.

But that was a vote to join an economic bloc. Today the future as presented by the Maastricht Treaty looks very different. A majority of the member states of the EC, led by France and Germany, want to move towards a political union. Only skilful and determined negotiation by the British Government has prevented that from being spelt out in the Maastricht Treaty. But the long-term aim has been made clear. People in this country have become aware that a major constitutional issue may be at stake in deciding whether to approve the Maastricht Treaty. Referenda have been held in Denmark, France and the Republic of Ireland. Denmark rejected the Treaty and France approved it only by a whisker. To add to the public's confusion, Britain has been forced to leave the exchange rate mechanism and even the ERM is in jeopardy.

In those circumstances I submit that the British people should be allowed to vote in a referendum on whether this country should approve the Maastricht Treaty. I was interested to hear that the noble Lords, Lord Pearson of Rannoch and Lord Stoddart, share that view. No question of principle is at stake because in recent years we have had referenda on Europe, Scotland and Wales.

I also have the impression that such a decision by the Government would be very well received in the country. The Government may well be right in proposing to go ahead with Maastricht with the safeguards for Britain that they have managed to have built into the treaty. But the threatened collapse of the exchange rate mechanism, such a vital part of the way ahead as envisaged in the treaty, has created serious doubts and great anxiety, even among those most pro-European. The closeness of the vote in another place at the end of last year was a vivid illustration of that general unease.

My conclusion is that the issues are too important and recent developments are too serious for the Government to take such a decisive step without a new endorsement by the people which a referendum would give.

6.8 p.m.

Lord Ridley of Liddesdale

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, for introducing the subject. The fact that it is so popular that we are allowed to speak for only four minutes each forces me to concentrate on only one point. It does not give me time to say all the things that I think about the Maastricht Treaty. That point is the relationship between what is happening in regard to the Maastricht Treaty and the confidence which is necessary to bring about an industrial recovery in this country. I am talking not only about special interest groups such as the farmers, the fishermen, those who have abattoirs and those who suffer from the myriad regulations which come from Brussels. I am not even talking about the sovereignty issue per se. I want to talk about the damage and demoralisation which has been inflicted on British business as a result of trying to move to fixed parities and a single currency.

In relation to the ERM, I agree that it may have been necessary to have high interest rates to reduce inflation. However, unemployment is now nearly 1 million higher than two years ago. The effect of unemployment has been to make people fearful of spending, borrowing and consuming, thus deepening the recession. There are record numbers of bankruptcies and there has been a horrible fall in the level of industrial investment as a result of the unprofitability of British industry. Asset values have fallen disastrously, again making people frightened to spend and to borrow.

Worst of all, we have lost about four per cent. of our gross national product as a result of membership of the ERM. That stores up huge problems for the public sector borrowing requirement. It is an extreme worsening of the state of the nation's wealth.

It is to be hoped that that is all behind us because we have left the ERM. However, the Government keep saying that they want to rejoin at some stage. If we proceed with the Maastricht Treaty, we shall have to rejoin. That inspires the opposite of confidence among investors and businessmen. Wherever one goes people say that they do not know what the Government's economic policy is. Is it to go back into the ERM eventually, with fixed exchange rates operating under the single currency, or is it to remain out of the ERM and have our own economic policy? That doubt is worsening the prospects for recovery.

I also draw attention to the fact that the fall in our gross national product means that this coming year our borrowing requirement will be 8 per cent of GNP. The Maastricht Treaty requires it to be 3 per cent. Therefore, we have to cut our public sector borrowing requirement from 8 per cent. to three per cent., a sum of approximately £30 billion. What shadow does that cast over the future of British business? We joined the Community in order to become better off. We prospered until 1990, but ever since we stopped pursuing the single market as our main objective and started to pursue the single currency we have become worse off. Surely it is time to recognise that it is the single market which matters and that the single currency does not.

6.14 p.m.

Lord Healey

My Lords, I fear that I shall break the happy consensus which has united the previous speakers by trying to make one simple point. That is that Britain's influence in Europe has been gravely impaired in the past two years by a civil war inside our government party over the Maastricht Treaty, a civil war in which both sides have grossly exaggerated the importance of the issues at stake and often misrepresented the facts.

Seven years ago, in 1986, Parliament passed a Single European Act which committed Britain to work for European Union, including a common foreign policy, a common defence policy and economic and monetary union. That Act was forced through another place on a guillotine Motion by the noble Baroness who sits opposite me today, who was then at the height of her powers, with the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, acting as her familiar. It was a real witches' sabbath.

As the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, has pointed out to us on many occasions in the past few years, there is nothing in the Maastricht Treaty, now so strongly opposed by those who supported the Single European Act, which is not already in the Single European Act except a timetable and conditions for European monetary union which is now universally accepted as quite unrealistic, as the European finance Ministers made clear on Monday. Incidentally, this is the third time in the past 20 years that a target date for EMU has been missed. I suspect that will happen again before it finally comes about. If Britain fails to ratify the Maastricht Treaty that will be seen by all its partners in Europe as a gross breach of faith.

There has also been some argument in the government party about the protocol which lays down procedures for operating the social chapter of the treaty and which specifically excludes Britain. Those who oppose the Maastricht Treaty have tended to describe the social chapter as a Marxist invention, although it is strongly supported by every Conservative Government in Europe and by all the parties with which the Conservative Party associates at Strasbourg. In fact the only party in Europe which takes the view of the opponents of Maastricht in the Conservative Party is the National Front of Monsieur Le Pen in France.

The noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, made it clear in a letter today—and I shall not repeat his arguments —that the scope of the protocol which governs the operation of the social chapter offers nothing which anybody in Britain, employer or worker, should fear. However, the past week has seen the Government express four contradictory views on the legal consequences of deleting the protocol. The latest view is that it makes no difference if Parliament decides to delete it. The Government have spent a year opposing a referendum in order to protect the sovereignty of Parliament, and now they are destroying the sovereignty of Parliament to protect their own face.

Equally serious is the fact that the Government are devoting nearly two years of precious parliamentary time to discussing arguments over the Maastricht Treaty in a period when Britain's own economy is in ruins, when unemployment is at unprecedented levels throughout the western world, and when the ex-Communist world faces terminal collapse. Meanwhile, the Government are wandering in a wilderness of mirrors; the Prime Minister is continuously uncertain whether he wants to be at the heart of Europe or is the greatest Euro-sceptic of them all. Our partners in Europe do not know whether to laugh or to cry. There is one point on which I hope we can all agree: the generalship shown by the Government in dealing with the Maastricht Treaty makes Fred Karno look like the Duke of Wellington.

6.18 p.m.

Lord Reay

My Lords, unlike some other noble Lords who have spoken, and in particular my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch, to whom we are indebted for this rich foretaste of great days to come, I am not a Euro-sceptic. I believe that if we had not already joined the European Community we would, like almost every other European country not already a member, be seeking to join today, even though it would be to a Community less to our liking than the one we have now since our influence would not have been exerted, as it has been, on its development.

I believe that the single market was a great achievement, not least for my noble friend the former Prime Minister. It brought the prospect, which is still barely in place, of the largest free market in the world for goods and services and the movement of people —a thoroughly desirable objective and one close to our liberal tradition. Similarly, the Treaty of Maastricht represented a negotiating triumph for my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and at the time, little more than a year ago, it was generally so seen.

Of course the Maastricht negotiations presented a different type of problem from those for the single market. Unlike the single market, which was a concept we could wholeheartedly embrace and use our influence to advance, the impetus behind the Maastricht Treaty was something for which we had, and today still have, less enthusiasm: the desire by other member states for economic and monetary union. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister therefore set out to achieve a compromise we could live with, and in this I suggest he has succeeded. The Maastricht Treaty presents a framework in which the Community can develop.

Political co-operation, for the first time given legal status, will proceed outside the treaty framework, as will defence co-operation. Within the treaty framework the principle of subsidiarity has been given legal recognition. It has been accepted that national powers should be the rule and that Community powers be the exception which need justification. The treaty gives the courts new powers to act against non-compliance with Community regulations by member states, for long a bone of contention with us. Also there are the opt-outs for us on the social chapter and the single currency.

All that was achieved after many months of effort and skilled diplomacy. But has the time come for us to throw out the treaty? Has the world changed so much in a year? In both cases I do not think that it has. If Maastricht is not ratified the Community will still continue to move ahead without us. All member states, save ourselves and Denmark, have ratified the treaty and it is a Community which they expect to be governed by Maastricht that the EFTA countries today and other countries tomorrow are seeking to join. The Community will certainly proceed along alternative but similar lines if this treaty falls as a result of our not ratifying it.

The difference is that we shall be outside those developments, looking on without influence and having brought much odium upon ourselves for forcing this course upon the Community. Indeed, not only should we have lost influence on the future development of the Community but we should have lost influence where it is still needed to protect what we might have thought to be already achieved, as currency instability threatens the single market. We should lose out not merely relatively but also absolutely, as inward investment to this country dried up, deprived of the certainty of access to the rest of the European market.

So I suggest that we need to remain at the heart of Europe, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and my noble friend the former Prime Minister before him have said. We must use our undiminished influence to fight for what we believe to be in the best interests both of ourselves and of Europe: free trade, a community open to the world, a community of nation states co-operating to meet their responsibilities in the world and acquiring greater strength by so doing. I do not believe that we should invent new reasons for succumbing to an old temptation, the temptation to believe that we can so organise our lives as to remain unaffected by what happens on the Continent. We are perhaps the first generation to learn that that cannot be so, and to see that lesson applied. Let us not start to unlearn it now.

6.24 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I must venture to dissent from my noble friend Lord Healey, who asserted to the House that the Treaty of Maastricht contained no new powers that were not already enshrined in the treaty establishing the single market. I have no time now, but I will take him through the treaty clause by clause and, believe me, I can point them out to him.

What is really important is this. I cast my mind back some 50 years or more where we had unanimity between the parties: Liberals, Conservatives and Labour alike. That was in the face of an outside danger and my own party was non-party enough to assist in Mr. Winston Churchill (as he then was) in becoming Prime Minister. We were united as a nation, and in Parliament all the parties were united behind that. Since then there has been no unanimity among the parties in the United Kingdom, until now. It is rather ironic that there is one thing on which the Conservative Party, my own party and the Liberal Party can agree; namely, that it is necessary in formal terms to limit the authority of another place to deal with the affairs of this country.

There can be no doubt in my mind that that stems in part from a lack of confidence in politicians of all political parties who progressively, and in the face of the events that have occurred over the past few years, find themselves in the position where they cannot entirely cope with the problems that have arisen in the modern age—partly, I am bound to say, of our own making but partly due to events outside. And of course no party and no country can remain immune from the effects of living within a wider society.

The supporters of the Maastricht Treaty point out that to that extent we have lost sovereignty. That is because they do not understand what sovereignty means. I and most of my friends would agree that we operate within areas that are from time to time constricted by trade, finance, movements of capital and other things. None of us can be immune from those, but we can retain our own ability to work within those constrictions; whereas Maastricht creates a formal and legal limitation to our own powers to deal with the difficulties that we face.

I believe that it is not too late to ask the leaders of all political parties to start thinking in terms of purpose and conviction again rather than in terms of what the public opinion polls tell us are popular with the people at large. There ought to be sufficient political courage on all sides of the House to work out our own solutions within the constraints within which we operate. Are we that low that we have to rely upon civil servants in Brussels—a growing band of foreign civil servants—as well as on international bankers to do the job for us? I believe that we can do it for ourselves. For that reason I think that the Maastricht Treaty ought to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

6.29 p.m.

Lord Blake

My Lords, I wish to make one point and one point only: the debate is about the constitutional effects of ratifying the Maastricht Treaty. I strongly believe that whatever those effects may be they should not occur without the endorsement of a referendum. I happen to have the honour of being president of the Campaign for a British Referendum, or CBR in the acronymic world in which we now dwell. This is not an organisation which is either anti- or pro-Maastricht. No doubt some members have strong views one way or the other, but they are united by the view that whether one is for the treaty or against it the issue is of such constitutional importance that it ought to be submitted direct to the popular vote.

The referendum is not, as some claim, un-English and unprecedented. Mr. Harold Wilson, as he then was, promised in 1974 a referendum on the renegotiated terms of Britain remaining in the EC. That was duly held in 1975, very much on a cross-party basis. Referendums have been held on other matters, as noble Lords have said.

We shall no doubt be told that there is no need for a referendum because all three parties supported Maastricht at the general election in April last year. But that, of course, is precisely why we should have one. The issue was never properly discussed. In any case, elections turn on a host of other matters such as Mr. Major's soap-box or the war of "Jennifer's ear". One can never, or hardly ever, have a single issue election. Nor, in general, would one wish to have such an election. However, there are single issues of such importance that they deserve to be put not only to Parliament, which is elected on a multitude of issues, but to the people as a whole. That particularly applies to major constitutional changes which are in effect irreversible. I am not saying that irreversible changes should never be made. I am simply saying that they should not be made without the express agreement of the nation.

We shall no doubt be told that the issues are too complicated and difficult to be put to the public and that they will not be able to understand what it is all about. If a referendum on Maastricht can be held in Eire, Denmark and France without any complaints that it was too obscurely worded or that people did not know what they were voting for, surely it cannot be beyond the wit of a British Government to achieve the same.

During the discussion about the Statement on Maastricht on Monday in your Lordships' House it is recorded at col. 928 of Hansard that my noble friends Lord Harmar-Nicholls and Lady Chalker both said it would be desirable for noble Lords to be adult and sensible in considering this matter. Ought not the Government to recognise that the British public by and large are adult and sensible and are perfectly capable of making up their own minds in a coherent fashion on the subject of Maastricht?

6.33 p.m.

Lord Harris of High Cross

My Lords, long before Maastricht loomed into view liberal economists who favoured the Common Market nevertheless foresaw that centralised power from Brussels might over-whelm the competitive market of the Treaty of Rome. In an IEA Hobart paper 20 years ago Professor Harry Johnson shrewdly anticipated the words of the noble Lord, Lord Ridley, today by predicting that a common European currency, would involve both a heavier sacrifice of economic sovereignty … and a larger risk of economic stagnation". In 1971, on the eve of the British referendum on membership, the IEA commissioned an assessment from Russell Lewis who had headed the European Community Information Office in London. He reluctantly acknowledged the danger of what he called, a new European-scale version of the bureaucratic, national, corporatist over-centralised style of government". Yet in 1988 the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was pilloried for daring to warn at Bruges against the spectre of a European super-state. Four years later her successor as Prime Minister suddenly declared himself a Euro-sceptic and clutched at the shadow of subsidiarity to fend off the substance of M. Delors' super-state.

Much constitutional confusion follows from the total misconception that centralised law is appropriate to impose uniformity and standardisation on widely differing economies in varying stages of development. It was one of. Adam Smith's seminal insights that all trade, whether within or between countries, was based on differing costs and the division of labour as the chief cause of the wealth of nations. All the complex, international division of labour springs from a single elementary fact. It is that through natural and acquired advantages of differing locations and resources costs of production are not level. As shown most dramatically by Hong Kong, foreign trade is the means by which by which lower-cost areas expand exports, trade Up, and so raise their own standards of living.

The folly of Brussels has been lightly to misuse the law, including the Single European Act, in the vain pursuit of a level playing field. All we need for free trade is a legal framework of broad, general rules for competition based on mutual recognition of differing national standards. What we have instead is an impenetrable jungle of detailed, specific regulations that are often shaped to placate union lobbies, business pressures and blatant national interests.

It is a misguided egalitarian perversion to debase the majesty of law in order to impose uniform conditions of production at the starting line. The result is not only to frustrate gains from trade, to inflate subsidies, to harden rigidities and thereby impair the spontaneous process of economic growth. Towering above such visible costs is the damage from needless centralisation and politicisation of economic life. This is already provoking fierce tensions and even hatreds both between and within the Twelve. By extending qualified majority voting, imposing monetary union and increasing the Commission's so-called "competence", Maastricht would carry this malignant process past breaking point.

Meanwhile such insensitive and coercive remote control threatens to bring our unique heritage of parliamentary self-government into increasing conflict with the edicts of the Brussels Commission and with the ceaseless imperialism of the Luxembourg Court. Those edicts and that imperialism will be the more bitterly resented for being not only unnecessary but positively hostile to the single market which was their bogus pretext.

6.36 p.m.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch has done this House a great service in enabling noble Lords to discuss what is of vital importance and interest to our country; that is, the Maastricht Treaty. Never was it more timely to say that truth has many facets. We talk about the sovereignty of our country and about the British constitution. One of the main principles of our British constitution is the sovereignty of Parliament. The powers of Parliament in exercising its sovereignty include, among many other things, the conclusion of treaties and the definition of who comes within the sovereign territory.

It is worth recalling that the right to conclude external trade treaties was lost in 1973. They have been decided by qualified majority vote ever since the EEC Treaty of 1957. The Single European Act not only condoned that but it further empowered the European Parliament with the task of assenting to or rejecting both accession and association agreements —there are many of the latter—thus depriving the United Kingdom Parliament of the ability to exert its sovereign powers in treaties which came under those particular provisions of the Single European Act as it amended the EEC treaty.

The freedom of movement of persons was reinforced in the Single European Act by Article 8A in the formation of the single market. That means that in law the United Kingdom is restricted in controlling who comes into the sovereign territory of the United Kingdom as regards European Community citizens. Further, the right of the European Parliament was established to use the co-operation procedure to amend draft legislation of the European Community. About 50 per cent. of amendments now adopted by that Parliament appear in European Community legislation which then comes back to our Westminster Parliament. The Maastricht Treaty —perhaps this is not recognised—seeks to impose limitations on some powers which have been acquired over the years and have apparently slipped to Brussels. Much of this imposition of limitation is due to the work of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and his colleagues during the negotiations on the treaty.

Much has been said about subsidiarity but the fact is, it is working. The Commission has already struck out a whole list of matters on which it intended to draft legislation. That will no longer happen. EMU is now subject to strict convergence conditions and, as I am sure my noble friend Lord Ridley has pointed out, even those convergence conditions will probably be impossible to achieve. Therefore EMU may not even happen. We also have the protection that Parliament will be able to vote before entering into the third stage. Foreign policy and Home affairs, including migration, are firmly entrenched into inter-governmental procedure. The Court of Auditors has been strengthened, which is vital in the fight against fraud.

The question of European citizenship is one of interest. At least it is going to be on a reciprocal basis throughout the Community, unlike Commonwealth citizenship. Some people may remember that Commonwealth citizenship gave Commonwealth citizens the right to come to this country and to vote in our elections, but that was not on a reciprocal basis.

Finally, I should like to point out that there is for the first time a declaration in the Maastricht Treaty of the importance of the role of national parliaments and of better co-operation with the European Parliament. I hope that this is an opportunity which our Westminster Parliament will not reject, and that it will seize it and use it for the benefit of our own country and our own Westminster Parliament.

Ratification of the treaty will ensure that these checks, some of which I have briefly mentioned, will be applicable to the existing treaties in force, including the Single European Act, concluded by a government some of whose members apparently did not understand its effects.

There is no option for Britain now to go it alone in an unstable world and raise barriers with our most important trading partners. The Acts of Parliament in accordance with our constitution in recent years acknowledged the transfer of sovereignty on some issues to a system of co-decision with other member states, and that requires and demands that negotiators on behalf of Britain need the strength and support of a majority of Parliament behind them. Undermining the Government's position serves only to undermine their strength in Community negotiations. The present ploys of seeking to overthrow the treaty will not succeed, but they do serve to weaken the negotiating power of our Government at the present time. This is a service neither to the Conservative party nor to Parliament, and nor is it a service to Britain.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I would just remind your Lordships that when four is on the clock we are in the fifth minute.

6.42 p.m.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, I think that somebody in this debate must protest against the arrangements for debating a subject of first importance with so little time allowed to each speaker. It was almost as bad last week in the defence debate. Such arrangements are an assault on the dignity of the House and on the dignity of the participants. The Procedure Committee must find a solution. After all, the House is not short of time at this point in the year.

There is another difficulty. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, deployed a long, elaborate, excellent argument, but nobody has a chance of replying to it until the Minister herself comes to wind up. She is the only one with the scope to do it. It is a highly political subject, yet even my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition has only four minutes like the rest of us. This is not a subject for this kind of debate.

I do not belong to the minority in this Parliament which is exciting every fear, fighting the battle very hard, and sparing no extravagance of rhetoric to repudiate Maastricht and of course closer union with the European Community. On the contrary, I belong to the majority in this Parliament which I think is well aware of the shortcomings of the treaty yet believe that it is the best thing on offer to this country and the best thing likely to be on offer. It is our turn now to say that there is no alternative.

Of course from our Labour point of view there is one egregious deficiency in the Government's proposals, and that is to keep Britain out of the agreement on the Social Chapter, a measure that for us Labour people, and almost everybody else in Europe, helps to develop what could be a mere efficient trading bloc into a closer and more human community. It is of course to our embarrassment that we have been joined in our demand to restore the Social Chapter by some of those who hate it most but thought it would be a wrecker. Fortunately, they seem to be wrong.

Some of us Labour supporters of Maastricht this morning were relieved that Mr. Smith apparently has insisted that Labour should not support any wrecking amendments. We can only hope now that the parliamentary battle will not after all be fought in a fog of legal conundrums. Though in the end we shall ratify the treaty, the hope of achieving economic and monetary union in good time seems less feasible than it once did. The preliminary need will be hard enough—to end the recession and to get the Community back on the road to full employment.

The Foreign Secretary is not my favourite prophet, but he spoke wisely on Monday when he said that the world is in an economic and social turmoil and that the destruction of the Maastricht Treaty would add substantially to that turmoil; and if, he said, we were held responsible for the destruction of Maastricht it would reduce our say on matters of vital concern to us in Europe and the world.

6.46 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, we should be grateful to my noble friend Lord Pearson for one thing at least, in that he has flushed out of the undergrowth a whole covey of unreconstructed anti-marketeers. We have heard for most of this afternoon arguments I well recall hearing in the early 1970s when we first joined up to the Treaty of Rome—arguments we heard again when the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, renegotiated the treaty in 1975, arguments we heard again in 1986 and arguments we are hearing again today.

I should have a good deal more respect for the people who hold those views if they would make clear to everyone that they were actually against the European Community and our continued membership of it. That is what this argument is about. It is not really about the Maastricht Treaty. The Maastricht Treaty is just the frontispiece for the usual arguments that have so plagued politics in this country for 20 years about our continued membership of the Community and so damaged our position inside the community and in the world.

The first step is always the most important step on any journey, and the most important step we took was back in the early 1970s when we joined up to the Treaty of Rome. The second most important step was in 1986 when we joined up to the Single European Act. I would contend, if I had time, that the step we took then was a good deal more important than the step we are being invited to take this year by joining up for the Maastricht Treaty.

I jotted down just a few things in the Single European Act and I should like to read them out quickly to your Lordships. Qualified majority: all over the Single European Act are the two words "qualified majority"; acting unanimously, it is suggested, towards harmonising indirect taxation; co-operation to ensure convergence of economic and monetary policies; strengthening economic and social cohesion; strengthening the scientific and technological basis of European industry; jointly formulating and implementing European foreign policy. That is what we signed up for in 1986.

I did so gladly. I voted for that treaty and that Act gladly, and I did so led by my noble friend Lady Thatcher. I was tempted to read out the Division list of those Members of another place who agreed to that treaty being passed, but that would take rather too long. There are a few familiar names who appear to have had a conversion as on the road to Damascus since they led their party into the Division Lobbies on that treaty. People who demanded loyalty from their colleagues, and rightly received it, seem to have dropped the word "loyalty" from their lexicon. We are going to have to decide quickly whether we want to stay in this European Community and act as members of a club or whether we want to get out. The economic consequences would be hugely damaging. For my own part of the United Kingdom inward investment which comes because we are members of the European Community is very important to our economic health and to employment.

But more importantly—and this is perhaps more important for a younger generation—all over the world today we are seeing a descent into tribalism. Surely in Western Europe we know enough about the evils of tribalism through our long centuries of history. The European Community is an attempt to turn our backs on that tribalism. Surely our future deserves that.

6.50 p.m.

Lord Moran

My Lords, the ERM is barely surviving. The United Kingdom has had to pull out. There is no sign of the convergence of European economies. We await the second Danish referendum. Opinion in Europe seems to be hardening against Maastricht. In those circumstances many people outside this House regard the Maastricht Bill as a stupendous irrelevance and believe that the Government should be concentrating on urgent matters such as 3 million unemployed, the plight of manufacturing industry, the breakdown of family life and the appalling increase in juvenile crime.

But the essential point is that the Treaty of Maastricht marks a major step towards the achievement of what is called an ever closer union, with a single currency and a central bank with sweeping powers. Anyone who studies the treaty can be in no doubt that its whole thrust is towards a single European state. The lessons of the break-up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia are ignored. In such a state this Parliament would become subordinate. Britain would cease to be an independent country. This House would become as irrelevant as the GLC. Eventually the Palace of Westminster could, like County Hall, be sold, perhaps to become a Japanese-owned hotel.

I much regret that Ministers consistently avoid telling the British people down what road they are travelling but insist that there is no question of a super-state; that the Community is now moving towards the transfer of power from Brussels back to national governments; that subsidiarity is a real safeguard; and that we are preserving our freedom of action and our status as a sovereign nation. It seems to me that none of that is true.

I am quite sure that a change of this magnitude should not be brought about without the wholehearted support of the British people. But they have not been asked what they want. Since all three parties are agreed on Europe, they cannot express their views through the normal electoral process. A referendum, as urged by the noble Lord, Lord Blake, and my noble friend Lord Moore, is therefore unquestionably needed. Parliamentary approval achieved by arm twisting by the Whips or legal sleight of hand is no substitute. If the British people are asked and declare that they want a single European state run from Brussels, so be it. Those who dislike the prospect can lump it or leave. But to take that step without the clear support of a majority of the British people would be wrong and dangerous.

6.52 p.m.

Lord Skidelsky

My Lords, I suspect that I am in a majority in this House in not much admiring the Treaty of Maastricht. However, I part company from some other noble Lords who have criticised it and asked for a referendum. I do not believe that a referendum is appropriate for the exact reasons stated by the noble Lord, Lord Healey: that in the form in which we have signed it, the Treaty of Maastricht commits us to nothing that we have not long agreed to. It is an absurd proposition that we should have a referendum on whether we have a floating or fixed exchange rate. That has never been the case in the past. I believe that by far the best way to stop some of the dangerous potential of the treaty from being realised is to fight for its revision at the intergovernmental conference in 1996 rather than withdrawing now into insular isolation.

It is a great over-simplification to say that the Maastricht Treaty is a blueprint for a federal Europe. It is more complicated than that. It is a compromise between the French and German models of the state. The French model is bureaucratic. The French president governs through an echelon of higher civil servants, often without regard to his Prime Minister or to his cabinet. A Europe moulded in the traditions of Napoleon and in the practice of the Fifth Republic is the official French version of the European dream.

The current German model is at the opposite end, although German history offers grimmer alternatives. It is a decentralised model with a weak centre, strong states and a strong constitutional court. A federalised Europe or part of Europe is a logical extension of that model and is foreshadowed in the German constitution.

Both those models are exportable constitutional blueprints. The British model, which takes its constitution for granted and relies on agreements and good sense to make illogical institutions (like your Lordships' House) work, is uncompetitive in that market. That is one important reason why European unity has developed along Franco-German rather than British lines. What Maastricht portends is difficult to say at this point. The likeliest potential is for a weakly federal Europe with a strong self-confident bureaucracy, a community overregulated by officials but without the power to act decisively in international affairs, which only the power of national governments can give.

It is at that point in the argument that I part company with those who simply wish to reject the treaty. To say that it is not what we would like, and that therefore we should have nothing to do with it, is to give up too easily and too early. If there is a danger of Maastricht growing into a monster, it must be in our interest to try to tame and domesticate it, not to turn our back on it and let it grow unchecked. If it is the emergence of a new Carolingian Empire we fear, we do not escape its dangers by running away from it.

Although we count less in Europe than we should, we are not without influence or allies. Our Presidency of the Council, and the conclusions we got it to reach in December prove that. I note in particular the widespread support for the British attempt to use the principle of subsidiarity to start clawing back some of the powers usurped by the Commission. That was no mean achievement. The Commission's own submission in October 1992 was an alarming document. It seemed to suggest that over wide and increasing areas the role of national parliaments should be limited to implementing Community law. We fought and resisted that. We have begun to have the principle of reversing unnecessary legislation accepted and have introduced specific criteria for Community action and a more restrictive approach to harmonisation. It is only a start but it indicates what can be done if vision, will and willingness to seek allies is present.

My vision is of a free trade, liberal, confederal Europe based on the close and durable co-operation of its leading powers in the pursuit of common goals. I wish that we spent less time debating Maastricht and more time considering why Europe, as it now is, still has to rely on the United States to try to stop Bosnians, Croats and Serbs from massacring each other. Let us get Maastricht over and done with, and in the meanwhile work with our partners to bring about the tasks worth doing: reviving the European economy; re-equipping the former Soviet Union; and bringing peace to our borders.

6.58 p.m.

Lord Hamilton of Dalzell

My Lords, I remind noble Lords that the Treaty of Maastricht commits us to the irrevocable fixing of exchange rates. I believe that that removes the ability of the Government to run the economy of the country. It seems extremely cynical to take the view that because such an event may not happen it must be safe to sign the treaty. The treaty is not just a piece of paper, I hope.

Perhaps I may advance the argument further. The Chancellor of the Exchequer on behalf of the Government holds executive powers over interest rates and taxes. In his speech in the emergency debate after "white" Wednesday my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon, whose work I much admired when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, stated that a chancellor has three policy options: a prices and incomes policy; the medium term financial strategy; and an exchange rate policy. My noble and learned friend believed that the prices and incomes policy had been tested to destruction. The point about the prices and incomes policy was that it was not only tested to destruction; it was destroyed by the people of this country who refused to abide by it. Not only did that action destroy the policy, but it also destroyed two governments: the miners' strike destroyed the Conservative Government in 1974 and in 1979 a Labour Government was destroyed after the winter of discontent.

One can make the same criticism about an exchange rate policy. We have just seen it destroyed by market forces. My noble and learned friend Lord Howe got around that difficulty by stating that he recommended a system of regulated movements in currency exchange rates. But that is not what the Treaty of Maastricht provides. We are committing ourselves to the irrevocable fixing of exchange rates.

That seems to leave us with the option of the medium-term financial strategy, in which the Government can use their executive powers to have a domestic monetary policy for the benefit of the British people.

There is no doubt in my mind that the treaty removes the power of the Government to run the domestic economy for the benefit of the British people. The thought makes me fear for the stability of the country. If the Government have no control over their financial policy, for whom do we vote in an election, and why?

7 p.m.

Lord Jay

My Lords, if my noble friend Lord Healey and others are right in saying that there is nothing in the Maastricht Treaty which was not already in the Single European Act, then presumably we do not need the Maastricht Treaty or the Maastricht Bill. However, all I wish to do in the four minutes available is to draw four conclusions from the remarkable speech on the Maastricht Bill made by the Foreign Secretary yesterday in the Commons.

First, the Government have, I am afraid, gone a long way in the past few weeks to shake the public faith, both in the authority of Parliament and in our legal system. On Monday the Foreign Secretary made this astonishing statement about the social chapter: there are legal considerations on either side of the argument. The question at the end of the day is not [which is more legally] valid but which set of considerations is the more important".—[Official Report, Commons, 15/2/93; col. 33.] That does not sound quite like the rule of law to me.

Secondly, if it is true on the Government's view that the treaty on the social chapter says that the Government are entitled to opt out, and if the Bill were to say that they are not so entitled, then at any rate to the non-lawyer there still seems to be a wholly unresolved contradiction.

Thirdly, the doctrine that the Crown—that is, the Government—is entitled to make treaties without parliamentary approval becomes untenable when a treaty alters in a major way the whole constitution of the United Kingdom. On that doctrine, the Government can make a treaty with anyone from China to Peru, abolishing the wish of Parliament, and then inform Parliament that it had no right whatever to intervene. That is surely absurd.

Fourthly, in my view the whole deplorable muddle over the treaty and what it does or does not mean overwhelmingly supports the case for a full and fair referendum, to enable the electorate to make up its mind. The treaty, after all —and there is no dispute about this—proposes revolutionary changes in the constitution of the UK and a major surrender of power over the economy, as has just been said, over foreign affairs, security and defence and on the legislation about citizenship.

The noble Lord, Lord Blake, has been justly described as the British substitute for a written constitution. Both for that reason and for his admirable speech today, it seems to me that his voice is a most powerful, indeed overwhelming vindication of the case for a referendum on the issue.

7.4 p.m.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I have listened carefully to the debate this afternoon in the hope of understanding the panic and near hysteria to which mention of the Maastricht Treaty seems to give rise in some quarters. I cannot say that I am much the wiser or that the arguments that I have heard today are any different from the arguments we have heard since 1973 and before that. In that, I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. It has nevertheless been a reasoned and thoughtful debate and it gives my noble friend the Minister the opportunity to set the record straight where necessary.

My own approach to the issues raised by the Maastricht Treaty is certainly one of caution. I believe that it is right to be cautious in this, as in other instances where the future of our country in the world is under consideration. I also believe that nothing is to be gained from rushing in headlong. But the Government can hardly be accused of rushing in or, indeed, of casting caution to the winds. After all, we have been active in the development and evolution of the European Community for 20 years and we gave it considerable attention and scrutiny during the period of our applications for membership before that.

We must also, I believe, recognise that our Prime Minister —alone of all the leaders in Europe—negotiated hard and well before signing the treaty, not after. He initiated a full scale debate in the House of Commons which was the envy of French and Spanish politicians to whom I talked at the time.

My right honourable friend's successes in getting the best possible deal to coincide with our national interests have been dealt with perfectly adequately by other speakers this afternoon, particularly in relation to the opt-outs on monetary union and the social chapter. That surely proves that it is possible to have our special interests taken into account when necessary.

However, in mentioning the social chapter, I would nevertheless point out that we already have a perfectly good social charter which we signed in 1976. That is the social charter of the Council of Europe, which is the counterpart of the European Convention on Human Rights and guarantees the enjoyment without discrimination of a number of fundamental rights: for example, safety and health at work; fair remuneration; protection for children and young persons. So by all means let us consider ways of strengthening the supervisory system of that social charter, but we certainly do not need another one.

I am a convinced and enthusiastic European, both as a former member of the European Parliament and now as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. But that does not mean being blind to the difficulties. So, combined with my cautious approach, I also believe that we should be realistic and recognise how greatly the European Community has changed and developed since we joined, and how much, indeed, the world and our national circumstances have changed. That, in my view, is the strongest card in favour of the Maastricht Treaty. It dots the "i"s and crosses the "t"s on the European Act and what has gone before. What Maastricht does is to limit increasing centralisation, as my noble friend Lady Elles put it so well, to clarify and define, to provide sanctions and scrutiny procedures where they are much needed.

For example, Article No. 128 requires cultural aspects to be taken into account in other EC policy areas. That surely is a safeguard for those who fear losing our national identity. Article 129 provides a definition of public health in which I certainly took considerable interest, as a Minister for Health, and ensures that Community activity cannot impinge on our National Health Service. Budgetary scrutiny procedures are introduced and increased powers given to the European Court to ensure that implementation is fair and the famous level playing field is achievable.

To those who advocate a referendum, I ask: what about the constitutional effects of that? What does it do to our parliamentary democracy if Parliament is to be bypassed every time something really important comes up? I believe that what we are talking about is institutional change which is necessary in a changing world and I certainly look forward to supporting the Bill to introduce the Maastricht Treaty when it comes to your Lordships' House.

7.8 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, I also am a good European but my idea of Europe is not confined to where the writ of Brussels runs. In 1949 we were all anxious to see Europe at peace and the countries of Europe learning to co-operate with each other. At that point, we were approached by Mr. Jean Monnet with the suggestion that there should be a joint Anglo-French economic plan. That was examined by the Foreign Office in the person of Mr. Roger Makins, as he then was, now our colleague the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield. The reply was returned that Britain could not sacrifice her long-standing and important ties with the United States and she could not abdicate from her right to control her own economic policy.

Since then, there has been what can only be described as an open conspiracy. The French and Germans got together for different national reasons to create a United States of Europe. That is their entitlement. If they wish to do it they are obviously entitled to do so. But the attempt has been made to bring this country into that combination by a mixture of threats and blandishments. The blandishments are economic. But it takes someone with the political innocence of Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish to believe it.

Let us take the simplest form. We have been in the Community for over 20 years. We knew at the time that the common agricultural policy was very damaging to us. Over those years we have not succeeded in getting it changed. So much for being at the heart of Europe. We are now being landed with a trade war with the United States. Can anyone believe that this country, if it still controlled its own foreign trade policy, would be engaging in a trade war with the United States? If Sir Leon Brittan would still glory in the name of Briton, like George III, he might not be prepared to represent French protectionism (which is what it is all about) in international negotiations.

Nor is it true, alas, that any of the safeguards referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Reay and Lord Skidelsky, and others are genuinely there. It is not only that the Commission said: "Subsidiarity is an old idea. It is always there in any state and any federation of states". In other words, in October the Commission already described what was being created as "a federation of states". The declaration from Edinburgh did not alter that. One cannot have safeguards unless one has, as the United States has, a written constitution with an independent judiciary to interpret it.

The European Court at Luxembourg is not independent. It is an instrument of European integration, as are the Commission and the council—not the Council of Ministers, but those who do the work; that is to say, the permanent representatives. It is simply not true that the safeguards are there. I am sure that the Prime Minister did his best. I am sure that he intended to seek to protect this country's institutions. But in fact those institutions are now under threat. To those who say, "The Europeans won't like us very much if we now turn our backs on the treaty", one can only reply that there are more Europeans than one would think of if one takes one's view of Europe from the cafes of Brussels.

7.13 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I have no doubt that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues are entirely sincere in their belief that the Maastricht Treaty can be manipulated so as to ensure the survival of our nation state and prevent the formation of a federal or, worse still, unitary Europe. But equally, I have no doubt that Herr Bangemann and those numerous senior politicians and officials on the Continent who share his philosophy—notably those from Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries—are equally sincere in their belief that Maastricht represents a giant step forward in the creation of a united states of Europe, broadly on the lines of the United States of America, but more centralised. Even at this early stage, the ancient nation states of Europe have less autonomy in certain matters than do the individual states of America, Australia or the provinces of Canada. Clearly, those two sincerely held but totally opposed interpretations cannot both be right. Which will be proved correct in the long term?

Mr. Major has a country to run, as have all British Prime Ministers. There are and always will be urgent problems to contend with relating to health, education, law and order, social security, energy, transport, and above all the economy. No British Prime Minister, and no prime minister anywhere, can afford to spend even as much as 10 per cent. of his or her time dealing with what is still legally the European Economic Community. In contrast, the Utopians in Brussels can choose, if they wish, to devote 99 per cent. of their time plotting to phase out gradually the individual nation states and create a unified Europe. I say "plotting"; it is done with the very best of motives, as they would judge it.

This being so, it is fairly obvious who is going to win, particularly as the idealists are reinforced by the hard headed pragmatists in Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Greece, for whom the treaty is a means of extracting much more money from the so-called wealthy countries. As it is, every man, woman and child in the Republic of Ireland, for example, receives a net £121 a year from the British taxpayer, and that sum is set to rise once the treaty is ratified.

But let us suppose that this interpretation is over-pessimistic and that we end up in the year 2015, say, still retaining some notional degree of national independence. Are we then out of the wood? No, my Lords. The massive extension of qualified majority voting deprives the British people, and all other peoples, of control over large areas of their own lives. Not only is that wrong, but far from promoting friendship between the peoples of Europe, which is one of the objectives of the Treaty of Rome, it will create tension and even hostility between them. Individuals the world over will reluctantly and grudgingly submit to most laws they dislike and to most taxes they dislike provided they are imposed by their own kith and kin, so to speak, people with whom they share a common culture and a common history. The moment such unpopular laws or taxes are imposed by distant people with whom they have no affinity, there will be the risk of civil disobedience and even physical resistance. The notion that the gracious bestowal of subsidiarity will compensate for finding oneself in a small minority in all major areas of decision-making is frankly laughable, especially when one studies the pathetically tiny list of trivial items that is to be devolved back to us in consequence of last December's Edinburgh summit.

Last but by no means least there is the question of the compulsory citizenship of the union and the rights and obligations attaching thereto. The nature of those obligations is nowhere spelt out. But very senior lawyers whom I consulted believe that they entail a general duty of loyalty to the new union, and therefore there is a danger that disloyalty to the union or to any of its component states—for example, by supporting Turkey against Greece in the event of a conflict between those two countries—could be construed as treason by the European Court. That is a very worrying possibility.

7.18 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Healey, while he is still in his place, would not think it impertinent if I echo the first part of his speech and suggest to my noble friend Lord Pearson that perhaps the questions that he addressed in his speech, matters which have been addressed by other noble Lords who agree with him, are now yesterday's questions and not today's.

What has gone wrong with the Community so far, and what has gone right (and we have not heard enough about that this afternoon) has flowed from previous treaties, not from Maastricht. Now we have the Maastricht treaty. It contains a number of provisions. Many are there at the behest of the United Kingdom. They should begin to reverse the centralisation trend and the rate of increase of Commission activity, which we who serve on the European Select Committee know is right.

The Maastricht Treaty also contains at its heart a timetable for moving to stage three, which is a monetary and economic straitjacket. Even if we exercised our opt-out option, it would prove pretty uncomfortable for the United Kingdom. When the treaty was signed, it gave many of us who were European enthusiasts a lot of anxiety. It still gives anxiety to many speakers in this debate. But time has moved on. Federalism is seldom mentioned nowadays in the reports about what is being said in Europe. Denmark said no. France said yes by a small margin; were it not for France's Caribbean vote, it would have said no.

We have had the currency devaluations and seen what speculators can do when currencies within a system are put under strain. Germany is struggling with the political and economic effects of reunification. German and French elections are approaching. It is not surprising that this week we hear that the Community Finance Ministers—apparently led by Germany—have agreed that the timetable for stage three should be lengthened at least until 1998 and probably longer. It seems that in the end stage three may never happen at all.

At any rate, there is now a lot more time and room for manoeuvre for the Community to sort itself out. Yet we need the treaty for all the advantageous and necessary provisions it contains. It seems to me that it should be ratified; the benefits within it should be enjoyed and on the currency and central bank issues we go on from there together with our colleagues in the Community. I suggest that the main anxieties about the Maastricht Treaty now are yesterday's questions.

7.21 p.m.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, I have heard every speech in the debate, not for the first time. There is nothing new. We have been doing this for 22 years from a date in 1971 when we were questioning whether or not the Treaty of Rome was the direction in which we should go. At that time only 39 Conservative Members voted against it because of the power and influence of the government of the day—mainly from Mr. Harold Macmillan as he then was. The argument is there.

The message that I hope my noble friend will take back to her colleagues in the Government is this: that there is an honest, deeply felt difference of opinion on an important matter involving the future of this country. The debate has reflected it. Those people who have taken the trouble to look into it find that it is felt also by people outside. The Government must face up to the fact that honest, decent, sincere people, many of whom have tried to study what it is about, hold different views. We live in a democracy. The only constructive contribution came from my noble friend Lord Blake.

One must accept the difference. We must go on. We do not want to scratch one another to bits. We do not want to ruin the party system upon which our parliamentary system is based. The difference of view in my party was reflected in the debate today and we know that there is a difference of view in the Opposition party.

When one has those divisions it is the Government's duty, in order to preserve our system of government, to find a way out of the impasse. The only way I can see is the one mentioned by my noble friend Lord Blake—a referendum. No one is in love with the referendum system. Our parliamentary control has worked well for more than a century and it is a good way, where power of attorney is given to Members: they give some thought to the detail and deal with it. They cannot do that with Maastricht. Therefore it must be referred in some way to the people who will either suffer or benefit from whatever flows from whether or not the treaty is signed.

I give this warning to my noble friend Lord Mackay and many others. Those of us who have been a long time in Parliament —I have been in the Palace of Westminster for 43 years—have learnt many lessons from the various tactics that can be used. I remember when in company with the noble Lord, Lord Jay, and others trying to point out the downside of the European treaty. We were told that we could not say that certain things would happen. It was said, "We have the power of veto to stop those things happening". The power of veto hardly exists. We have gone down all the roads that we warned about and the veto is no longer there.

Maastricht comes along and what do they say? They say exactly the same. They use the power of the Whips to push it through because they are so wedded to it. They are saying, "Maastricht does not contain the dangers you talk of. We have achieved subsidiarity. Subsidiarity will prevent the dangers occurring"—just as the veto was supposed to prevent them happening.

I therefore ask my noble friend when she reports, as I hope she will, what happened in the debate to indicate that nothing less than a referendum will do, or some alternative which will allow the people to have a say, since those who are supposed to represent the people are divided. That is a constructive suggestion. I hope that my noble friend will heed it.

7.25 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, when the terms of the debate were first announced I was particularly concerned to deal with the gross misrepresentation by the Government of the terms of the social chapter. But there are other issues with which I should deal on which there ought to be Community action fairly soon.

First, there is the scandalous speculation in currencies of member states. Our states are being picked off one by one. That can only be dealt with by unified action by the Community. Secondly, there is the dangerous rise of nationalism—to which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, referred—in parts of what was the USSR and other parts of Eastern and Central Europe. It is extremely worrying. The Community can play a large part in dealing with the appalling position brought about by the growth of nationalism. There is also the fearful trend towards racism which is gathering in parts of Europe, even in states within the Community. Those are issues which have not been dealt with by other Members, but they are vital issues on which the Community could act through the Maastricht Treaty.

There is also the question of confusion occasioned by those who helped to lead us into the Single European Act. Now they are prominent in opposition to the Maastricht Treaty. I should like to know why and how they justify those different actions.

When the treaty was first produced—I have read it —I realised that it was not a perfect instrument. Equally, the Treaty of Rome was not a perfect instrument, yet I found it possible in the referendum of 1975 to vote to join the Community. I still regard that treaty as being imperfect and it contains points that need to be improved. My colleagues have sincerely taken a different view.

The last Labour Party conference in October made a declaration that Britain is intimately involved with Europe. It reaffirmed its commitment to closer economic and political co-operation in Europe. On that we must keep in mind that Britain's trade with Europe is substantial. In 1991, 55 per cent. of our trade was with European states; it was worth nearly £59 billion. I was able to support the referendum in 1975 and I have no hesitation whatever in supporting the attitude of the Labour Party on the Maastricht Treaty, even though we know it is imperfect. Rejection of the treaty is likely to move the United Kingdom out to the periphery of Europe, but Britain's future requires that we should be at its heart.

I wish to make some brief points on the social chapter. The Government have grossly misrepresented the social chapter. I emphasise one point only. There are no provisions applying to pay, the right of association, the right to strike or the right to impose lockouts. Other provisions can be determined only by qualified majority voting. Other provisions regarding directives require unanimous decisions. We should condemn the Government's misrepresentation of the social chapter and deal with it accordingly.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch for giving the House the opportunity to discuss the Maastricht Treaty, albeit in a somewhat shorthand way. It is an issue of great constitutional importance. Indeed, I think a good many people in this country, including sometimes myself, believe it is a treaty of union by stealth, unlike the treaty of union between Scotland and England which took place nearly 300 years ago. In that case at least both Parliaments knew what they were talking about.

The title of the treaty surely must mean something even if the interpretation appears to be confused. It is called a Treaty on European Union. The word "union" in the constitutional sense, as I understand it, has or used to have a precise meaning. There are so far as I know only two kinds of constitutional union; first, federal or confederal, as with the United States or Switzerland; and secondly, incorporating, as exemplified in this United Kingdom. We are given to understand that Her Majesty's Government fought a long and bloody battle to exclude the word "federal" from the wording of the Maastricht Treaty. It was not to be allowed at all. So, as we are evidently going to have a union, I have to ask what sort of union it is if it is not confederal, federal or incorporating.

I am driven to the conclusion that we have here a federal union, and, as we have seen this afternoon, I do not think that I am alone in my conclusion. If we are not going to have a union, why is "union" the principal word in the title of the treaty? Indeed, without the word "union", the title would be meaningless. We have heard endless talk about the European train which is supposed to be going towards a closer and closer union and to be carrying Britain into the heart of Europe, wherever that may be. I have a home outside Krakow in Poland, which I think is actually in the heart of Europe. It is also outside the EC, but that is incidental.

I believe that we should move with great caution in this matter and it could be that with the Single European Act we have gone too far already. At all events we ought to be consolidating any gains that have been made and not madly accelerating towards some nebulous Eldorado.

I should like to ask my noble friend the Minister one question. Granted that this is a union, whatever else it may be, do the states so united have the right to secede after the union? This may not be an immediate issue but the failure to be precise on this point in the constitution of the United States resulted after 70 years in a bloody civil war. Her Majesty's Government ought to tell us what we are in for.

Secession would be far from easy whether or not there was to be a right to it. Indeed, a legal exercise of the right could in certain circumstances lead to war. We are very far in already in this Community but it could still be possible to get out, though I myself would not advocate that. But I believe that this is a "treaty too far" and, no matter what may be said by its proponents, that it is an entire surrender of sovereignty.

7.34 p.m.

Baroness Flather

My Lords, I should have been a great deal happier if today we were debating the implications of the Single European Act and even happier if it had been the Treaty of Rome itself, for that is what today's debate has been about. I wonder what happened to the idealism which gave birth to the European Community in postwar Europe. I still subscribe to it, even if no one else in this Chamber does. It is not simply about what we gain from it. It is also about what we give to it.

It was the Treaty of Rome which foreshadowed the Single European Act by stating that the single market should be completed, at the latest, by 1973, though it took 20 years to put that into effect. And it was with the Single European Act in 1986 that we gave away what the detractors of Maastricht will have us believe we are giving away now. On the contrary, as many noble Lords have already stated, Maastricht is attempting to roll back the power of the European Commission and return the decision making to the national governments. Subsidiarity is not a new invention of the Maastricht Treaty but it is only under this treaty that the burden of proof is placed on the Community institutions to show that action should be taken at Community level rather than at national level. This more than anything else is likely to blur M. Delors' vision of a super state with himself at its head.

We were late in joining Europe but we joined and we took a huge leap when we rushed the Single European Act through our Parliament. It is surprising that some of the greatest detractors of Maastricht saw nothing to fear from that. Dare one wonder whether all the implications were clear to them at that stage? But it is less than becoming now to forget their own central role in taking Britain further towards a federal Europe than does anything in the Maastricht treaty. It was the Single European Act which made the European Commission all powerful, not Maastricht.

We cannot stand on the sidelines of Europe. We need to be at the centre. The Europeans need us and we need them. We must approach our present situation with both realism and honesty. It is not a question of better late than never. We cannot turn back the clock even if we should wish to do so.

Maastricht has become a bandwagon for anti-Europeans. What I have heard this afternoon suggests to me no more than a total dissatisfaction with the existing situation—something in the nature of "Don't get me wrong. Some of my best friends are Europeans". They know that not only do people not understand the provisions of this treaty, they do not know what the position is under the Treaty of Rome or the Single European Act. If the treaty is not signed, let us be in no doubt. The rest of Europe will still move on, with or without us. The train has left the station. Let us be willing passengers on it.

7.37 p.m.

Lord Hacking

My Lords, this is a most important matter, which raises complicated issues. It is to the great credit of noble Lords who have spoken before me that they have allowed me to rise to speak only six minutes after the appointed time under the timetable set by the Government. I do hope, with the concurrence of my noble friend, that this canter can come to an end. The next two speakers from the Front Bench were formerly Commissioners in Brussels. I would ask your Lordships to agree that they should have longer than the four minutes that has been allocated to the rest of the speakers.

I also come to this matter as a lawyer who has practised European law; as a lawyer who has appeared in the European Court; and as a member of your Lordships' Subcommittee E on law and institutions. I also come to this matter in support of the Maastricht Treaty. I believe that the case as regards federalism has been greatly overstated, as the noble Lord, Lord Healey, suggested. If your Lordships look carefully at the treaty they will not find the evils in it. Indeed the Maastricht Treaty improves considerably on the position under the Single European Act of 1986.

In introducing the debate, my noble friend Lord Pearson referred to Article 3b. When he said that it is the "Council that decides" on the issue of subsidiarity, he missed altogether the role of the European Court. If the Council has not properly applied Article 3b there is an immediate remedy in the European Court. Therefore it is important when considering the Maastricht Treaty to look at the strengthening of the powers of the European Court and of the rule of law in Articles 165 and 184. It is important also to look at the strengthening of the European Parliament in Articles 137 to 138e.

My worry, particularly as regards the debate that has gone on in another place, is that political manoeuvring—I do not attach that criticism to any single party—is obscuring the debate. What I care about is our commitment to the affairs of Europe and that we should play a central role in it. That means not just obtaining a squeaky majority in another place, but demonstrating a commitment by the people of this land as a whole. In my view it would not be out of place for that view to be tested in a referendum. I should be happy to go to the hustings and I am confident of the result.

7.40 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, I am indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, for his generous appeal to the Government Front Bench, but I am ready to surrender my sovereignty and accept the collective discipline that we have all had to submit to in this debate.

This is the second rather curious debate on Maastricht which has taken place this week. Together they underline the damage which has been done to one of the true interests of the British people in our interdependent world and, as members of the European Community, through what must be said to be the drift which has been allowed to take place by Government. One of the most important and astonishing sentences in the Statement made earlier this week about the social chapter was right at the end where the Foreign Secretary reminded the House that the Government won an overwhelming majority on the Second Reading in another place for the Maastricht Bill.

I felt at the time, and I do so even more now, that the Government made a very great mistake in not pressing ahead at that time on the basis of their own election victory and instead allowed themselves to be attached to the coat tails of the Danes following their referendum. Appeasement never works in politics and the Government, the House and the British people are paying a pretty high price for the kind of political appeasement that the Government have conceded to the tiny minority of unreconstructed anti-marketeers, to quote the words of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who have been able to conduct their campaign so vigorously over so many months.

I am both puzzled and saddened by the tone of so much of this debate this evening and by the way in which the opponents of United Kingdom membership of the Community, whose convictions we all respect—we have heard it all before, as the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, said—continue to clamour to close the constitutional stable door long after the horse has departed.

As has been mentioned, when we adhered to the Treaty of Rome, we accepted that we committed ourselves to an ever closer union. It did not mean a federal union. I do not believe that the great federal vision is at all a reality in the foreseeable future. We were committed to a closer union at that time. Since then we have had a referendum on the subject, a re-negotiation of our terms of entry and successive general elections. A major consensus was built up in this country on the real issues regarding sovereignty.

What does sovereignty mean in the modern world? It means that we should conduct our affairs in such a way that we are ready to pool our sovereignty in our own interests. We have pooled our sovereignty as regards our interests in self-defence through NATO. We have done so in the various developments in the European Community because we believed that it was the best way to ensure our future prosperity as part of a single market and to ensure the proper influence of Britain in world affairs.

The European Community will go on without us. The real question for us, and the real meaning of sovereignty in this matter, is how we use our role in the Community. As has been mentioned, the Single European Act was carried through Parliament by the Administration led by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. It made far more constitutional modifications to our theoretical independent sovereignty than the Maastricht Treaty does. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, recited some of those modifications. If he wishes to, Mr. Major can claim that he has been far more conservative over constitutional changes in the negotiations which he conducted on the Maastricht Treaty than his predecessor was over the Single European Act. Perhaps the only significant change was as regards citizenship.

I see the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, tapping her watch, and quite rightly. I apologise. I shall conclude on citizenship with the rhetoric that I used through the 20 years of debates on that subject. By nationality I am a Scot. I am proud to be a British subject. By conviction I am a citizen of Europe and I see no conflict at all between those three propositions.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I have enjoyed listening to this debate in one sense but not in another. Perhaps I may join with those who have complained about the fact that we are all limited to about four minutes. I shall do my best to keep to four minutes, but I gather that the noble Baroness does not need to rise for about another 10 minutes to give her her 20 minutes, so I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I leak a little around the edges—

Noble Lords


Lord Richard

The House is obviously divided. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, has not graced us with his contribution this evening. We look forward to what he has to say on this subject with great anticipation. I have no doubt that it will be relevant and stimulating and will no doubt have a profound political effect. We are sorry that he did not think that he could do it in this House in four minutes, but nevertheless we look forward to hearing him.

I am sorry that I do not have the opportunity to respond to the modest and moderate strictures on the European Community of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross. For him, I believe that he expressed himself in a somewhat restrained and subdued way this afternoon. We look forward to him reverting, I suppose, to his more vigorous self in due course. As for my noble friends Lord Stoddart and Lord Bruce of Donington, it would take more than four minutes for me to discuss some of their contributions and therefore I shall not try.

I wish to make two preliminary points and then say a word or two about the social chapter. The first and basic point as regards what we are supposed to be considering tonight was made by my noble friend Lord Healey. If the Government do not ratify Maastricht now, having gone through the detailed process of negotiation of the treaty and having secured the accommodations which they claim to have secured from our other 11 European partners, it will be the most enormous breach of faith on the part of this country. Secondly, it would diminish our influence inside the Community almost to vanishing point.

As regards those who say that we should not ratify, a great deal of the argument has been couched in words not that we should not ratify the treaty but that we should not be in the Community anyway. That is not the argument that is now before us, but whether we ratify the treaty. Having negotiated it in the way that Mr. Major did and having secured the concessions that he did, it would be a monstrous breach of faith not now to ratify.

I do not recognise the Community that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, and I worked in from some of the descriptions that I have heard in the course of this debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, referred to the all-powerful Commission. Good heavens! In my day the Commission was so powerful that every issue of social policy I put up was knocked down by the Council of Ministers. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, had exactly the same experience. The idea that the Commission is somehow formulating great plans for a federal Europe which it can then force through on unwilling individual member states is a travesty. The Commission does not work like that. As those who know the Community realise, the Commission attempts to produce an answer to a problem which it perceives to be a European-wide matter and it tries to produce a European-wide solution to it.

That may be the Commission's view, but when one gets to the Council of Ministers there is a good, solid battle among the individual countries to get their slice of the action. It is the modern European equivalent of the American smoke-filled room in which deals are done, some inside the room and some outside. They are done by the Ministers of the individual nation states and not by the poor old commissioner, who is frequently trying to defend his policy against the depredations of individual and national interests. I do not recognise the description of the Community that has been given tonight by some noble Lords.

Perhaps I may now turn to the one point that I should like to make. It relates to the social chapter. We have heard so many versions of the legalities relating to the social chapter and the opt-out that, if the House will forgive me, I think that I shall venture to give my own. It seems to me that the starting point is what we have accepted already in the social field. There is quite a lot about it in the Treaty of Rome. Article 2 of the treaty again emphasises the importance of such things as a high degree of convergence, a high level of employment and social protection.

The next stage is that we come to the so-called social protocol, which can be found on page 117—at least, it can on my copy of the treaty. What does the social protocol do? It incorporates the so-called UK opt-out but in a very strange way. It does not refer to "The UK opt-out", but states, "The other 11 shall be permitted." According to the so-called "UK opt-out", all the 12 countries agree that 11 of them shall, have recourse to the institutions, procedures and mechanisms of the Treaty". I see the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, nodding in agreement. I am not sure whether I should take comfort from that.

But let us continue. According to the opt-out, the other 11 states are permitted to use the mechanisms, institutions and procedures of the Community. As I understand it, the opt-out and Amendment No. 27 in another place, which is a very simple amendment, take out the protocol on social policy. That means that we do not agree that the other 11 member states shall be permitted to, have recourse to the institutions, procedures and mechanisms of the Treaty", for the purposes of using those procedures and mechanisms in order to give effect to the agreement on social policy, which is an agreement only between the 11. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is still with me—and that I am being frowned at by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington. If your Lordships will allow me to finish this point, I promise that I shall sit down.

If that amendment were to be carried, as I see it, it would mean that the other 11 countries would have to re-ratify the treaty because it would not be the same. Indeed, they would not be able—again, as I see it—to use the procedures and institutions of the Community to pursue the social policies to which 11 of them have agreed. In order for the United Kingdom to opt in, we should have to take a further step.

Although I have done the best that I can with the varying interpretations of the decisions and judgments that the Government have issued on this matter, for the life of me I do not understand the latest one which the Foreign Secretary gave to the House of Commons on Monday. The idea that accepting Amendment No. 27 would not mean re-ratification of the treaty by the other 11 is beyond me. I regret very much to see that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is still nodding.

7.53 p.m.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch, for giving the House this opportunity to debate the constitutional effects of the Maastricht Treaty. We have gone a little wide of that but no matter. His speech, like those of other noble Lords, was indeed thought-provoking. I shall try to address his many concerns.

Perhaps I may say right at the beginning to the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, who said that this debate is an insult to the House, that earlier today your Lordships considered whether this matter should be referred to the Procedure Committee, because this is not the first time that an issue of major importance has been limited to a debate of two-and-a-half hours. We shall, of course, have ample time to debate the Maastricht Bill when it comes to this House.

The noble Lords, Lord Richard, Lord Thomson of Monifieth and Lord Healey, and many others, were absolutely right when they said that not to ratify the Maastricht Treaty would be an enormous breach of faith. We have heard a lot about the technicalities and complexities of the Maastricht Treaty and about where some of your Lordships think that it is going and how it might affect the United Kingdom. However, I beg your Lordships not to lose sight of the basic positive benefits that the treaty contains. Several of my noble friends, including Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish and Lady Hooper, have commented on that fact. The treaty checks the centralising trend in the Community. But it recognises that inter-governmental co-operation is just as European, and just as effective, as action under the provisions of the Treaty of Rome. For the first time the principle of subsidiarity has been given an explicit treaty base. We have built on this with the agreement at Edinburgh on guidelines for the application of subsidiarity. The treaty clarifies and codifies the new competences; it reduces the scope for Commission initiatives beyond the scope of the treaty's intention. It strengthens the rule of law; it empowers the Court of Justice to fine member states which fail to comply with legal obligations. I remember over many years that both Houses of Parliament have wished for those things, and they are now there in the treaty.

The financial accountability of the Community institutions has been improved, with strengthened financial control for the Parliament over the Commission and an enhanced status for the European Court of Auditors with the tightening of accountancy rules to prevent fraud, to which my noble friend Lord Pearson referred. Special arrangements have been secured for the United Kingdom where it is in our interest. We retain the right to decide whether, and then when, if we decide to go forward, to join Stage III of economic and monetary union. My noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour was right to express that point.

Thus, we are helping to formulate policy, but have managed to keep our own options open. We will not be committed to the social chapter, with all the consequences for jobs and industry that industry in this country firmly believes would follow. That is an impressive list by any account. However, although I understand the real anxiety which has been expressed by many noble Lords, there are concrete achievements in this treaty which I believe are a tribute to the negotiating skill of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. There is no reason why anyone should seek to undermine this.

I am aware of the difficulty of producing a definitive constitutional analysis of the European union. Several noble Lords have referred to this, including my noble friend Lord Belhaven and Stenton. The European union is a unique animal, but the word "union" was in the opening line of the original Treaty of Rome. There is no reason to be frightened of that word, which is now to encompass the Community and the separate pillars which are to be inter-governmental. The concept of the union was, in fact, a setback for the federalists. It does not enhance federalism.

The establishment and status of Community law may indeed have had implications for Britain and its Constitution. But this is not a new innovation to be found only in the Maastricht Treaty. This concept was established by the original Treaty of Rome in 1957. It remained unaltered by the Single European Act in 1986. In fact, the Maastricht Treaty improves on the status quo through the intergovernmental provisions of the European Union.

The union provides a structure for alternative forms of co-operation between member states outside the existing framework of the Treaty of Rome, where the Commission enjoys the exclusive right of proposal and the European Court of Justice has ultimate jurisdiction. I shall refer in a moment to intergovernmental co-operation in common foreign and security policy and in justice and home affairs, the two areas in which we have IGCs. However, just as the structure of the European union does not lead to the existence of a super-state, so it would be similarly misguided for anyone to read too much into the citizenship provisions of the Maastricht Treaty. Many fears have been expressed tonight about citizenship, but that is not dealt with in the way that has been suggested.

Let me now come to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Belhaven and Stenton about seceding from the Treaty of Rome. At the time of our accession to the Community, the Government of the day stated that membership did not endanger parliamentary sovereignty, since a future Parliament could repeal the European Communities Act and withdraw from the Community. Obviously it would now not be just the European Communities Act but the embodiment of the Single European Act and of the Maastricht Treaty. As the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said, I do not believe that that would be in Britain's interests.

Let me turn to what was perhaps the most common theme in the debate; that is, the call for a referendum on Maastricht. As I have often said before in the House, the Government do not believe that it is necessary or right. Maastricht itself introduces no constitutional innovation. While the doctrine of the primacy of Community law may be viewed as having a "constitutional" significance, that is not a new concept. Parliament accepted it in 1972 in approving Britain's accession to the Community. In 1975, we had a referendum in which the people also endorsed Britain's membership of the Community. That was the referendum on the constitutional step and the result was a majority of two to one in favour. The Maastricht Treaty amends and adds to the provisions of the Treaty of Rome, but the status of Community law in the United Kingdom's legal framework remains unchanged.

I firmly believe that the essence of our parliamentary democracy is that Parliament is elected to represent the people, and to take decisions on their behalf. That was obviously the view of my noble friend Lady Thatcher when she led the Conservative Party through the "No" Lobby in the 1975 EEC referendum debate. She has changed her mind now as have others. I sometimes wonder why there has been such a change.

The Bill currently before another place is being debated in considerable detail. There are a number of highly complex and legal issues to be dealt with. I look forward to discussing them with your Lordships later this year. It is notable how long the other place has spent discussing the Bill. It is important that we should do the same.

My noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls said that nothing less than a referendum or some alternative would do. The alternative is called a general election. I discussed the European Community when we had the general election last year, and we saw the result.

I shall leave the social chapter and Amendment No. 27 tonight, not because I do not want to tussle with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, but merely because we went over it clearly on Monday when I announced the Government's decision at the Dispatch Box, and time is short. My noble friend Lord Pearson and a number of other noble Lords asked about citizenship. It is important that we should consider that point carefully. The concept of a union citizenship is additional to national citizenship. It does not replace national citizenship. It constitutes a means of linking some existing rights with limited additional rights. Many thousands of our citizens already use the right of free movement outlined in Article 8a to live, work and study in other member states, just as citizens of other member states can come here. They may now also take advantage of some new rights. EC nationals may vote in local and European elections in another member state where they are resident. General elections will be unaffected. It is right and proper that people should be able to exercise democracy where they live.

Citizens of the union will also enjoy the right to reciprocal consular facilities in countries where the nation of origin is unrepresented. Another provision allows citizens to petition the European Parliament and to take grievances to the European ombudsman. Those are rights which will benefit the British citizen. I do not see that they pose a threat to our Constitution.

Let me now turn briefly to duties. Nowhere in the citizenship provisions is there any mention of a duty of the kind normally regarded as deriving from national citizenship; for example, military service. The reference in the treaty to "duties" is not a reference to specific duties. Neither the Maastricht Treaty nor any previous Community treaties impose specific duties on individuals. It is therefore an unnecessary and empty reference. In many ways I find that it is a misleading reference, and I wish it had not been included, because it has no value. I assure your Lordships that there is no power to add new duties under the Maastricht Treaty. Even the addition of new rights will require unanimity in the Council and ratification in each individual member state and, in this country, by both Houses of Parliament.

My noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked two other questions on that topic. First, he asked about the position of the Queen. I made that clear to my noble friend Lord Tebbit on 10th February in a Written Answer. Let me just add that the Maastricht Treaty in no way alters the Queen's constitutional position in the United Kingdom; nor does it impose specific duties on any individuals. If she chose, Her Majesty would be entitled to exercise the rights set out in the citizenship provision provided for in Articles 8 to 8e of the treaty. My noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch also asked about renunciation. He asked whether one could renounce citizenship. That is a non-issue because citizenship confers certain rights but no obligations. Citizens are not obliged to take advantage of the benefit.

Another theme in the debate has been Community competence, and the fear expressed by some of your Lordships that that is increasing. I find the Maastricht Treaty a welcome step forward because it constrains what many noble Lords have claimed to be the Community's creeping competence. In areas such as education, health and culture, harmonising measures are explicitly excluded. The content of primary and secondary education, and healthcare, for example, rightly remain matters for each member state to decide. The same is true for vocational training. The Commission will no longer be able to propose wide-ranging measures to be voted through by a simple majority of member states. The scope of the Commission's competence has been reduced and the voting arrangements toughened to qualified majority voting.

Those examples show how, for the first time, the Community's centralising tendency is being checked and reversed. In the past, the Community seemed to be drawing more and more areas of policy into the separate framework of Community institutions operating under the Treaty of Rome. What we have done with the clarification of competence, as well as the new forms of inter-governmental co-operation, is to move away from that. They were points made by my noble friends Lady Elles and Lady Hooper.

I was pleased that my noble friend Lord Hacking mentioned the role of the European Court. The European Community is a community of law, as he rightly said. It is founded on treaties and institutions, especially the Council of Ministers. That is the law-making institution. Such a system must contain provision for judicial review and settlement of disputes, otherwise there could be an abuse of power by institutions, and unchecked breaches of the rules by member states, businesses and firms. That is the function of the European Court of Justice. It is one which we in Britain should and do support.

I do not believe that the European Court of Justice is a centralising force. I know that some people accuse it of that. What I do see is that by expanding the powers and scope of the Community with constructive interpretations of the treaties and Community legislation, those who do so simply mislead. We have seen clear signs recently that the court is readier now to give due weight to national arrangements and states' rights, to be less inventive in interpreting Community law, and to give greater scope to exceptions and derogations. I would cite in July last year the national insurance contributions case in the field of social policy where the court upheld the maintenance of different state pension ages for men and women in the United Kingdom. It did so, having taken full account of the national financial consequences of so doing.

I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, said about centralisation. I wish it were true that general rules, mutual recognition and gentlemen's agreements were enough to maintain open trade not only in the single market but in the great wide world too. That was not the experience of the 1960s, the 1970s or the early 1980s. Mutual recognition is our preferred approach but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, recognised in negotiating the Single European Act, an efficient single market needs a common framework in many areas. As I have said, the Maastricht Treaty expressly excludes harmonisation in the new areas of co-operation.

As regards subsidiarity we must remember that it is right that the principle enshrined in Article 3(b), now with the guidelines agreed at the Edinburgh European Council should make sure that every institution is committed to applying the principle at every stage of the legislative process. Any one member state can raise subsidiarity if a legislative proposal from the Commission appears to ignore the principle of subsidiarity.

Other noble Lords spoke about the increase of qualified majority voting being a blow to parliamentary sovereignty. We extended the qualified majority voting under the Single European Act. Without that we should never have been able to complete the single market, which has already been of great benefit to British industry. The Maastricht Treaty extends the qualified majority voting to some areas related to the single market, for example, the energy, telecommunications and transport infrastructure known in the jargon as trans-European networks. The objective of qualified majority voting is to secure greater efficiency in the Community's decision making. It is true that we could be outvoted but often others are out voted to our advantage. It is worth remembering that in hundreds of decisions we have been outvoted only five times and on only three issues.

In common and foreign security policy we proceed by unanimity. I am glad to see that through the inter-governmental arrangements we have brought both the common and foreign security policy and the policy on justice and home affairs together in a sensible manner.

The debate has been interesting. The European community has never lent itself to neat constitution analysis. It is a union of nation states and that is set out clearly in Article F in the Maastricht Treaty

A number of noble Lords have implied this evening that we should remain members of the Community but preserve the right to pick and choose those elements we implement and those we do not. That is simply not practical. Opt-outs have already been secured where it has been in our interests to do so; that is in economic and monetary union, the move to a single currency and the social protocol allowing the other 11 member states to move beyond the provisions of the treaty.

Far from undermining Britain's Constitution and the authority of the Government the Maastricht Treaty safeguards Britain's sovereignty. Crucially, the treaty strengthens the hand of our Government against legislative intrusion by the Commission. I heard it said: far too little credit has been given to the Prime Minister for the skill with which he has created a new structure for co-operation at intergovernmental level which is distanced, above all, from the Commission".—[Official Report, Commons, 18/12/91; col. 322.] That was said by my noble friend Lord Tebbit.

It was thanks to the Prime Minister's supreme negotiating skills at Maastricht that Britain was able to reject those things that did not fit our needs. We rejected the imposition of a single currency without an Act of Parliament at a later date. If the Labour Party had been in power it would have signed Britain up to the social chapter, probably to a single currency and many other things besides—

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, they now agree. We would then have been legally beholden to the Community. It was the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary who ensured that the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice was limited, the powers of the Commission contained and the balance between Community and national institutions tilted to strengthen national governments.

That is the way to go. We can win the argument in Europe only by fighting our corner. We shall be there to do it as we have done. We shall continue to do so and that is why the Government will support the Maastricht Treaty.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, it only remains for me—

Lord Healey

My Lords, before the Minister sits down will she answer the question—

Noble Lords

Order Order!

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am sorry but there is exactly one-and-a-half minutes before the debate will be cut off.

Lord Healey

My Lords, it will take me 30 seconds to ask the question. Will the Minister answer my noble friend's question? Is it not the case—

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the noble Lord is out of order.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, it only remains for me to thank all noble Lords who have spoken. There is a certain amount of confusion in some of your Lordships' minds about the difference between a single market and further political union. I urge those who support the Treaty on European Union to think more about that. Beyond that, it may be that many of us are waking up to the evils of European union precisely because the effects of the Single European Act are beginning to be felt and precisely because we are beginning to see that the political cart has run so far in front of the commercial horse that it is now almost out of sight.

Finally, I can but apologise again for the short time for which each of your Lordships was able to speak. Perhaps the usual channels will offer your Lordships a better opportunity to discuss the matter before the Bill in question comes to this House. With that somewhat slim hope, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.