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Column 1203pretend that miracles are happening when they are not, they could make more progress and we would have a far more satisfactory debate. We all know that our trade with Europe is bad. In fact it is worsening. The position is serious. There has been a deficit in our trade in manufactured goods with Europe of £12.75 billion over the past 12 months compared with only £2 billion for the rest of the world. I am not saying that that is the fault of the Common Market. I do not know what the reason is. But it is a serious problem. The same applies to budget control. After Fontainebleau Ministers were saying what they are saying now after the February Council meeting about budget control. They say that matters have been resolved and they have made decisions which are binding on the Council. We all know that budget control was a sick joke. Sadly, the same is true of the CAP. We repeatedly hear all the pledges about what Ministers think will happen and the spending cuts that they hope will happen. In every previous instance they have been totally and completely wrong.
Sadly, it is the same now about 1992. I am sure that the Minister is well aware that we are not seeing moves towards free trade. We are seeing a move towards massive harmonisation. On insurance, in which I am involved, a measure has been proposed for a very limited form of flexibility, which certainly might not happen in Germany because of the special rules which they have there. I would love to see free trade within the EEC, but I think we are kidding ourselves if we believe that great progress has been made.
It is the same with fraud and, in particular, protectionism. The Minister said that she was very pleased with the measures being taken to try to undermine protectionism. I must ask her if she knows of any measure at all that has been taken within these six months that has reduced the amount of protectionism in the EC. We all know that it is increasing.
Mr. Taylor : I was not aware that that was a measure dealing with protectionism. I asked the Minister if she knew of a measure to do with protectionism--in other words, Europe against the rest of the world.
I appeal to the Minister to look at the issue of the use of anti-dumping procedures. The Commission is now using, not dumping procedures, but what it regards as a normal price as a means of increasing substantially the price of imported goods, or else forcing domestic producers to increase their prices.
I am not trying to say that everything is bad. I do not want to preach against membership of the EEC, because that is a battle of a long time ago. I simply appeal to the Minister and to the Government to make a positive decision not to try and sell the Common Market but just to try and say how things are. On that basis we could make more progress.
Secondly, on the question of documents and our debates, I hope that we shall not go through the whole nonsense of saying that somehow things will improve dramatically if we have our debates at 7 o'clock instead of at 10 o'clock, if we have more time, and so on. Other hon. Members have rightly said that--sadly or happily for the country, we do not know which--massive amounts of
Column 1204sovereignty have been surrendered. Many of the laws which we used to make in the House of Commons are now being made by the Council of Ministers on the recommendation of the Commission. Although the views of the House of Commons are interesting, we know that as far as decisions are concerned they do not affect things at all. It would help enormously if, instead of trying to pretend--as the right hon. Member for Chesterfield rightly said--that we are influencing decisions in Europe and that our views are terribly important, we simply accepted the fact that most of the big decision-making has gone to another place. What should worry us is that it has gone to a new form of democracy where there is no elected assembly controlling Ministers and policies, but--
Mr. Benn : The hon. Gentleman, being a realist in his present manifestation, says that we should accept it, but of course it is our electors who put us here. I wonder if he would comment on the possibility that I see ahead one day that people would vote for a party expecting something to be done and discover, after that Government, if they were able to form one, were in office, that they had no power to do what they had been elected to do. That is the real issue. It is the rights of the electors, not the rights of individual Members of Parliament, that seem to me to matter. That is when the threat to democracy will become apparent.
Mr. Taylor : I am sorry if I was confusing the right hon. Gentleman. I listened to his speech with infinite care and I thought it was a masterful speech about what had happened in the past. When he came to looking to the future I am afraid I got rather confused, because the idea of Britain signing some kind of treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union as a means of solving the practical problems of the EC did not seem to me to be very practical.
What I am saying is that we in the United Kingdom--I do not care whether it is the Government, the Opposition, the press, television or anyone at all-- should surely accept the fact that this has happened, reluctantly in my case, not so reluctantly in the case of others. We should say what has happened and then ask ourselves what we should do about it.
Thirdly, we should accept--I hope the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, who I know has a terrific interest in the time of Oliver Cromwell and King Charles and a great historical interest generally, will agree--that there is a case for the Government and the House of Commons saying : "This has happened, power has gone, the Common Market is not working well ; it is not an efficient body ; it is a body with a lot of fraud and overspending. When and how can we influence this?"
There is, in my view, apart from the endeavours of our Ministers who go to the Council of Ministers and try their best but often get outvoted, only one time when we can do anything. That is when the Common Market runs out of money and has to ask for more resources. At that point, of course, we have a veto. That is the situation that arose in February 1988, and then the Prime Minister sought an assurance, as she did at the time of Fontainebleau, that there would be strict budgetary controls. Sadly, we shall not get them, for the reasons we know, but at that stage we could make a number of important demands.
I suggest that we should not go through all the nonsense of saying how we are going to improve our discussions of European affairs, but instead draw up a realistic agenda.
Column 1205We know what agenda would be generally acceptable to the House of Commons. We all surely know that the CAP is not working well and is not being reformed. It cannot be reformed so long as it is controlled by the Council of Ministers. It will not happen and we are kidding ourselves if we think that it can. Is there not a case, without affecting the integrity of the Common Market, for repatriating agriculture to member states and having each of them carry out its own agricultural policy, subject to Commission approval if need be? In that way we could make some progress.
Is there some way in which we could have a better way of saying which article of the treaty is relevant to which Euro-document? The Foreign Office, if its officials are the very clever people we think they are, should be starting to look carefully at how the Commission is seeking to use article 100A for majority voting when it should not be so used. Surely this is another case in which we could ask for a change.
I believe that we have to accept that decisions have been made. I regret them, but we shall never know what would have happened if they had not been made. Now we have to do some realistic work on the Common Market. There are a lot of interesting things in the White Paper. We are told that moves towards 1992 are making great strides. If we look at all these major supermarket issues that have been agreed we see that one has been to extend the non-noise directive and cover what are called sit-in lawnmowers. I do not know what they are, but I do not think they are terribly important.
There is an important job to be done and when we next come to the point of bankruptcy--when the Common Market has no more cash at all, when it has to appeal to us for more cash--we shall be in exactly the same position as earlier Parliaments here were with King Charles. He used to come to the Parliament when he ran out of money and ask for more. And we told him that he could not have it unless he agreed to a, b and c. If we really want to reform the Common Market, stop the nonsense and move in a better direction, we should start preparing our agenda for change.
So, first, accept things as they are and tell the whole truth ; secondly, do not fiddle around trying to pretend that things have not happened that have happened ; and, thirdly, let us use the one opportunity we have for achieving real changes in the Common Market to make it better, more workable and more sensible.
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) : I intend to do something that has so far been rare in this debate--to dip at some length into the report that we are debating. It may seem a little unorthodox, but there are some useful things to be said, not just about what is written in the report but also about what has been left unwritten.
I notice, for example, that at one point the Government referred to the fact that they had achieved a major victory when the Commission agreed to provide an impact assessment of any move in the open market saga on specific industries. But when, on the first page of the report, they referred to the fact that the structural fund would double by 1993, they forgot to mention that the Prime Minister was on record as having said in the House
Column 1206that that would not happen. Nevertheless, in the end she agreed to it, and I am glad that she did, because although those structural funds suffer from a lack of additionality they eventually find their way to regions with high unemployment.
There is another omission from the White Paper. The Government are happy to refer in paragraph 1.16 to the fact that the Commission endorsed :
"policies on deregulation, including support for the fiche d'impact' system (whereby each Commission proposal for legislation is accompanied by an assessment of its likely impact on business". When I have requested in this House and in the European Parliament that all the moves towards a single market should be assessed in terms of their impact on the regions, my requests have been turned down. I still believe that it would be useful if the Government attempted to assess the impact of the moves towards a single internal market on jobs in the regions. I believe that most economists agree that it will place further strains on regional economies, particularly if the Government are not prepared to develop the necessary communications to ensure that the regions have close links with population centres in the Community.
To that end, projects such as the building of a second bridge across the River Severn, the electrification of lines from London to south Wales and the need throughout the United Kingdom for direct rail links with EC capitals must be brought to fruition if the regions are not to be left behind in the move towards the single market which, according to the Government, has progressed better under the German presidency than under the British presidency. There is a titillating sentence about economic and monetary union :
"The Council also decided to establish a committee of central bank governors and others to study and propose practical steps towards the progressive realisation of economic and monetary union."
Did the Prime Minister agree with that? From the tone of her Bruges speech, one could swear that she was on another planet when that agreement was made. For good or ill, however, that agreement has been made and the Prime Minister has made a commitment on behalf of the British Government to move towards the realisation of economic and monetary union. Perhaps the Government can tell us what progress might be made on that, or will it be like the fight against inflation--something that the Prime Minister says is proceeding albeit, as we are all aware, proceeding very unsuccessfully?
The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) asked about true inflation rates and much play was made about the fact that mortgage rates are included in our inflation rate but not in the inflation rates of other Community countries. It is also true, however, that fewer householders have mortgages in other Community countries and the rental element does enter their inflation indices.
I will cite some figures, although I accept that they are not the latest figures. Indeed, they may flatter the Government because they are the OECD main economic indicators for November 1988. Of the G7 countries, the figures show that British inflation was 6.4 per cent., in France it was 3 per cent., in Germany it was 1.4 per cent., in Italy 5 per cent., the United States 4.2 per cent., Canada 4.1 per cent., and Japan 0.5 per cent. According to the OECD figures, there is no doubt that the British economy is performing very badly with regard to inflation--and the position has become worse since last November.
Column 1207The Government should also tell us what they think will happen about economic and monetary union. Time and again we have been told that in principle the Government want to join the European monetary system, but that the time is not yet right. Perhaps the Government can tell us today what will happen to the pound in relation to the deutschmark, the dollar or any other European currency. Will they want to take into account comparative unemployment rates before they do that? Under what conditions would the Government be prepared to join the EMS? I am sure that the whole House would like to know that.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) referred to the appearance of Mr. Gorbachev on the scene. A very short paragraph in the White Paper gives us some hope that the Commission and several European Governments might be prepared to respond more positively than the British Government to Mr. Gorbachev. We might see the spectacle, as has happened in relation to several issues relating to foreign affairs, in which the British Government are dragged along to a more positive and progressive position than they really wanted. Paragraph 10.12, headed "EC/Hungary" states : "Following several further rounds of negotiations, the EC and Hungary initialled in Brussels on 30 June an agreement on trade and commercial and economic co-operation."
If we link that with the fact that the Russians under Mr. Gorbachev have also allowed Comecon to recognise the European Community to make trade and commercial agreements, there is every hope that other such agreements might be made in future. If we take that in tandem with Mr. Gorbachev's obvious desire to see reductions in nuclear and conventional forces, Britain, which at the moment is being dragged unwillingly by countries such as Germany, might achieve developments which go way beyond the competence of the Community.
Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East) : The hon. Gentleman continues to say that this country is being dragged unwillingly towards trade or discussions with the Soviet Union. He will recall that the Prime Minister very early on said that we can work with Mr. Gorbachev. Does he also agree that it would be necessary for the Soviet Union to devalue the rouble very considerably if we are to trade effectively with them?
Mr. Griffiths : I do not dispute the fact that the Prime Minister said that Mr. Gorbachev is a man she can deal with. However, in the context of the move to remove nuclear weapons and the agreements which have already been made between the United States and Russia, the Prime Minister still seems to be determined to modernise NATO nuclear weapons while countries like Germany are counselling otherwise. I hope that their counsel will hold sway. With regard to the exchange rate between the rouble and the pound, I leave it to the trading experts to find the most effective way of developing our trade relations.
Two matters affecting the environment are specifically mentioned in the White Paper. The first relates to an agreement
"covering the phased reduction up to 2003 of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from large combustion plants."
An organisation called EURISOL, the United Kingdom mineral wool producers, published a report yesterday. It shows that if the proposals currently under discussion for building regulations as they affect insulation standards were to be introduced by the Government, they would stop
Column 120839.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from polluting the atmosphere over a 50-year period. That is a significant reduction. In regard to the energy objectives of the European Community, on the basis of current use we would need two fewer average-sized power stations to produce the electricity that we need.
I wish to refer to a matter which is not mentioned in the report but has been aired recently--the water quality directives. The hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) opposed any concept of European standards because we would always use the lowest common denominator. If we have the lowest common denominator for bathing water and drinking water quality standards, why have the Government taken some 13 years so far to fail to bring more than one third of our beaches up to the standard of the so-called lowest common denominator? Why are the Government still seeking derogation on the drinking water quality directive which they affirmed in 1980 and why, unless there is a vast reappraisal of the programme, will we not achieve the standards of that directive until after the year 2000? Have the Government received any response from Brussels on their proposals on the bathing water and drinking water quality directives?
Earlier this month the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Minister of Trade and Industry had discussions in Brussels on the regional fund as to which areas of the United Kingdom, such as areas of declining traditional industry, would be eligible under the second objective. Has a definitive list now been introduced? Although most of south Wales is likely to be included, there are still some doubts about south Glamorgan which should be cleared up.
Finally, one issue relating to the development of a single market has aroused no official response--the ability of all citizens holding British passports to travel unimpeded throughout the European Community whether they are on holiday or looking for work, as that is supposed to be one of the great advantages of the single market. At present, there are several types of British passport, not all of which give their holders all the rights of normal British citizenship. Will the Government clarify whether anyone holding any British passport would be able to move freely throughout the European Community looking for work when the single market has been completed?
On a constitutional issue, the Minister of State suggested that the Government might take advice as to the best time for the House to discuss proposals from the Commission. I suggest that the best time would be fairly soon after any proposals are announced. Whether or not the Commission makes major amendments to those proposals later on, if the Government have any intention of listening to advice from the House, the sooner we are able to give that advice the better it will be for everyone.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield mentioned the Danish Parliament which has a system of scrutiny which, before the Single European Act was passed, led to the Danish Minister laying a veto on the table while he went back to Copenhagen to discuss the issues with the Danish Parliament's European Community committee and attempt to reach some agreement before returning to Brussels and explaining the position. That system works in Denmark probably because the Government always have a knife -edge majority, and the public at large perceive that the European Community can have an enormous impact on people's lives. It has
Column 1209therefore become an important part of the constitutional process in Denmark. By extending majority voting, the Single European Act will reduce the effectiveness of that committee, but the Danish Parliament will still be able to play an important role on matters in which Governments have a veto.
If the Government are to listen to the advice of the House, there is no reason why an informed debate should not be held one month after a proposal has been published, giving hon. Members the opportunity to examine it and seek advice from other interested bodies. It would be nice to think of the Government going to Council meetings and putting forward the view of the British Parliament.
Mr. Griffiths : The Minister whispers "We do", but more often than not we discuss European matters after a common position has been reached and after the Council has made a decision, so our debates in the House are almost post-mortem discussions.
Mrs. Chalker : The hon. Gentleman should know that we frequently use a scrutiny reserve--the term used in the Council of Ministers when a Minister listens to a debate but keeps a scrutiny reserve until the issue is discussed in his national Parliament. That procedure is frequently used by United Kingdom Ministers, and we shall continue to use it. Nevertheless, I understand what the hon. Gentleman said about early deliberations on Commission proposals, although that might not be the best time in every single instance.
Mr. Griffiths : I am grateful to the Minister for that advice. I should be interested to know how often the use of the scrutiny reserve has led to the Government listening to advice from the House and changing their position in the Council of Ministers.
Mr. Benn : Before my hon. Friend is seduced by the Minister's language, I should explain that the scrutiny reserve is used as an instrument by the Executive to give themselves more time to think. It is not at the discretion of the House of Commons, so it is in no sense a legislative safeguard. It is a technique for a Minister who does not want to say, "yes", probably because he has not consulted his colleagues at home, but it is no guarantee for the House of Commons.
Mr. Spearing : While I concur entirely with the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), a resolution of the House on 30 October 1980 requires a Minister to debate an issue in the House prior to assent in Brussels unless that is impossible. While the right hon. Lady's words were seductive, does he agree that any debate, whether or not it is held under a scrutiny reserve, unless it involves a constitutional change which is required by the treaty, is merely advisory, so all the debates to which my hon. Friend refers are advisory and consultative debates only, unless we adopt a similar system to that which applies in Denmark?
I conclude by saying that the White Paper, while telling us what happened under the German presidency, does not tell us what will happen in the future, particularly with regard to economic and monetary union. I hope that we shall receive a detailed response on those matters because they are vital to the future of the British economy, especially in the regions.
Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston) : As a Welshman I am sure that the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) appreciates the perils of the single market. He will realise that if there is to be an integrated market which embraces more than 300 million people over such a vast area, there must be a limited number of growth points. Broadly speaking, they will be in what we have come to call the golden triangle. Wales is unlikely to be in that triangle and so is Lincolnshire--if I may say so in the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies).
I hope that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) will not mind me saying that he made a powerful and entertaining speech. I wonder whether he realises how close he came to the views expressed by no less a man than M. Monnet just before he died. I saw a paper written by one of Monnet's colleagues in which he described a conversation in which M. Monnet, reviewing his life, said that he had a regret about the European Community- -he wished that it had been founded not on economics but rather on the sort of cultural links to which the right hon. Member for Chesterfield alluded.
Comparing this White Paper with its predecessors, I am struck by the way in which the European Commission is now nibbling away at a range of issues far wider than that with which it used to deal only a few years ago. To some extent, that can be explained by the magic year, 1992. I hope that the House appreciates why that date was selected. It was designed to coincide with the end of Lord Cockfield's second term of office, the vice-president who was responsible for the internal market. As we know, he launched a programme of 300 changes that were to be made before his term of office came to an end. I hope that now that he has departed we may look upon 1992 as no more than one--albeit very important--year in this century.
This does not altogether explain quite a large number of items in the White Paper, which refers to environmental matters, health, education and youth training. Very soon, we must make up our minds whether we want a deeper Europe that deals with such issues, or a wider Europe. We cannot have both.
As I have said so often, I am totally in favour of more international co- operation. I do not understand how one can speak of many of the environmental issues unless one talks in European terms. We cannot deal with many of them by ourselves, and the question is with whom, and how, we should try to overcome our problems. I should particularly like to discuss the paragraph in the White Paper that deals with copyright, and a number of allied matters that are of enormous importance if we are to achieve the expansion of trade to which my right hon. Friend the Minister of State referred. I wonder whether
Column 1211she reads that excellent journal called the "New European". A recent issue of that quarterly contained an article by Mr. Anthony Walton, a leading member of the English patent bar. He spoke of the enormous success of the European Patent Office, which goes back a number of years and includes all the EC countries. It goes far beyond that- -it means that an inventor in Stockholm, Geneva or any other European capital can go to the local office, register a patent and immediately it takes effect throughout all the countries that are adherents to the European Patent Office.
The system works extremely well--it is efficient and cheap. However, outside the profession of patent lawyers and patent agents, very few people know about the European Patent Office because there are no rows or disputes. It works. Yet in the White Paper, the EC Commission is nibbling away and trying to undermine the Patent Office by arrogating its role to itself.
I wonder if my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will consider this matter carefully, because there is at hand an institution that can extend the work of the European Patent Office very effectively. That institution is the Economic Commission for Europe, based in Geneva. That city is as European as any other, although I fear that some of my hon. Friends rather quixotically deny that it is in Europe. Every European country in the United Nations is entitled to take part in the proceedings of the commission, and many of them actively do so. Many of them, particularly EFTA countries, wish to take a more vigorous role in co-ordinating the economic activities of the European continent.
I am told, and perhaps my right hon. Friend will put me right if I am wrong, that sadly our Foreign Office is not at all enthusiastic about the Economic Commission of Europe, which it fears may be a competitor with the EC. However, if we are to have a wider, rather than a deeper, Community, surely it is an institution not to be overlooked--especially when we seek to expand trade throughout the whole of Europe in the way that my right hon. Friend suggested. Whether or not one approves of the Economic Commission for Europe turns largely, I suppose, on whether one believes in the deeper Europe or the wider Europe. If the deeper Europe is our objective, I hope that we realise the consequences when we seek to have over 300 million people governed by the same laws and the same system of taxation. It will mean that we will evolve into a unitary state, which will have grave implications for the future of the House, making it primarily a consultative rather than a legislative body in due course.
That was not the vision that the Prime Minister saw at Bruges. The first half of her speech was passionately pro-European, but did she not make the point that Europe would work more harmoniously if there were opportunities for countries to act in a sovereign way, making their own laws fit in with Europe's interests? If Europe is indeed a number of circles of interest, European law should be limited to where those interests converge rather than beyond the circles. Once the law goes beyond the circles, there is bound to be conflict and disharmony.
Does my right hon. Friend the Minister of State wish the European Patent Office to be strengthened and enlarged, with its role extended still further into eastern Europe, so that it embraces all the 38 countries of Europe, or would she rather that its role were taken over by the Commission of the EEC? If the latter course is taken, it
Column 1212will not advance the argument that my right hon. Friend made earlier about wanting more trade. Indeed, it would be a step towards a fortress Europe. Surely it must be obvious that if we want trade opened throughout Europe the position on the patent and copyright system must be settled amicably and the 12 items listed under that heading in the White Paper must be dealt with properly. If they are to be arrogated to just 12 countries, with those countries imposing their ideas on the remainder, that will do nothing to liberalise trade throughout the whole of Europe.
Copyright and patent law, prosaic though it may be, may present a little test of whether the Foreign Office will be moved by the principles of Bruges or whether it would rather dabble with a fortress Europe. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider the matter carefully because those of us who wish to see a wider Europe and the barriers to trade broken down throughout the continent think that there is only one route for us to take, and that route is not mapped out in the White Paper.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : Earlier in the debate the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) referred to the widespread concerns of the British public about developments within the European Community. Without wishing to sound facetious, may I tell him that I encountered widespread concern in my part of the world about the activities of the Government? That concern is referred to more often than what is happening within the European Community.
I accept that there are concerns. Perhaps part of the problem has been that the coverage given to the European Community, including its Parliament and the Commission, is not so wide as the coverage given to this place. It is only recently that the media and the press have started to move towards adequate coverage of activities within the European Community. The European institutions must be given greater coverage so that people can understand and switch into what is happening within the Community.
Much of the debate has centred on the apparent inability of the House to scrutinise proposed legislation from the European Community. Reference has already been made to page 35 of the White Paper and to the fact that the House has had the opportunity to have 13 debates, on 49 documents, in the six months covered by the White Paper. Such debates tend to be held late in the evening, usually after the main vote at 10 o'clock, they last for one and a half hours and they may not be the best way of dealing with that aspect of our
We need to consider how we deal with European legislation. Particularly as 1992 approaches, it would be remiss of the House if we did not have an opportunity to extend our powers and facilities to scrutinise European legislation. Perhaps one of the first things that we need is someone to translate the gobbledegook of European documents and to spell out their implications in a comprehensible way to hon. Members and to the public. The point was drawn to my attention by an industrialist in my constituency last weekend. He said that he found it difficult to understand the implications of some of the directives. Perhaps that facility in itself would do a great deal to assist public comprehension of the workings of the Community.
Mr. Spearing : May I draw the attention of the hon. Lady and her industrialist constituent--indeed, of all industrialists and all citizens of the United Kingdom--to the weekly reports of the Select Committee on European Legislation which has that very duty to perform? In the last Session those reports were HC43--i-xxxvii ; in this Parliament the reference is HC15 and so far we have published nine reports. I am not saying that our English is pellucid, but it is the clearest interpretation that we can achieve of some of the convoluted documents to which the hon. Lady has referred.
I share many of the concerns of the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) about the implications of the White Paper for transport policy. One issue affecting transport is the development of the Channel tunnel. While that may not be covered by the 1992 legislation, it is touched by it. It is interesting to note that the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs is considering in detail the implications of the Channel tunnel for industry and development in Wales. We do not have such a facility for Scotland because the House has been unable to establish a Scottish Affairs Select Committee, so we are in difficulty in terms of the communication system.
It is important for industry, particularly in an area such as I represent, to have easy access to the market. We already suffer severe disadvantages. I therefore very much welcome the establishment of an organisation called CREATE, which is the Campaign for Rail Electrification from Aberdeen to Edinburgh. That would be a step in the right direction which would assist Grampian region and the Highlands and Islands to compete more effectively. Many of the goods produced there are high quality products for which there is a great demand in the European Community. I shall not detail all the wonderful assets of my part of the world, but they include food and fish processing, textiles and whisky--a major export from my own constituency. It is important that as we move towards 1992 the Government should consider transport issues as they affect peripheral regions of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) spoke about the regional fund. We feel strongly that the Government, by their failure to give additionality to what has been made available by the Community, fail to recognise its importance. The Chancellor of the Exchequer insists that the growth of regional policy would be positively damaging, but we regard that as insulting to those areas which have benefited extensively from the work of the European Community and from the funds that it has directed to us. The Government must consider more carefully their handling of regional policy and its operation within the context of the European fund. Last year, the Highlands and Islands faced a major problem when they were suddenly informed by the Commission that they were regarded as being better off than areas of Kent. It was only because of a major campaign by the local MEP, the Highlands and Islands Development Board, Highlands regional council and certain hon. Members that the situation was improved. We did not achieve a return to the original position, but we
Column 1214moved further up the scale so that the Highlands and Islands were not left high and dry without the major assistance that is so important to them.
I refer also to the antagonism of Conservative MEPs to any suggestion that there should be an agricultural development plan for the Highlands and for Grampian. They have consistently voted against an ADP in the European Parliament. As agriculture is a fundamental part of the Scottish economy, can the Minister explain the reason for that antagonism?
With regard to proportional representation in the European Community, it is ludicrous that the United Kingdom is the only country to be left without proportional representation and has ended up as the odd man out. I share the view of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber that people are discouraged from casting their votes because they feel disfranchised. If proportional representation operated, people would be encouraged to take more interest in the Community and the European Parliament. If Scotland were a self-governing nation, it would be entitled to 16 MEPs instead of eight. With proportional representation, there would also be a better spread of Scotland's political viewpoints, and as MEPs link together in political groupings Scotland would have greater influence in the European Parliament.
The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) deliberately set out to attack my party's policy. It is important to set the record straight, for the benefit of right hon. and hon. Members and for the wider audience outside the House. My party has believed in the independence of Scotland within the European Community since 1983, and that policy was re-endorsed last year at our party conference in Inverness--by a majority of eight to one, which any politician would accept as being an overwhelming majority. Given the absence of any Scottish right hon. and hon. Members on the Conservative Benches, the hon. Member for Hamilton may have felt compelled to do his best to fill the gap--and I congratulate him on making the best Tory speech that I have yet heard from this side of the House. The hon. Gentleman is attempting to be a hatchet man and to bolster up the Tory establishment, with which he seems happy to be in cahoots. Perhaps that is because, since Govan, the Labour party has been scared witless and is losing its grip, so the hon. Gentleman is happy to become involved in the conspiracy of establishment politics. The basic principle underpinning Scotland's right to be an independent country within the European Community is the legal principle clearly spelt out by the Secretary of State for Scotland--or the governor general, as we prefer to call him--in his capacity as Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, on 31 October 1984. Referring to the situation which obtained as a result of negotiations between Denmark and Greenland, he said :
"As the treaties contain no provision for the withdrawal of a member state, or a part of one, the precise terms of Greenland's change in status had to be negotiated within the Community to provide appropriate amendments to the treaties."--[ Official Report, 30 October 1984 ; Vol. 65, c. 1319.]
If Scotland votes to become an independent nation, it will clearly remain within the Community and negotiations will follow about the terms of that continuing membership. My party has never sought to deny that, and it is disingenuous--to put it mildly--for hon. Members to
Column 1215suggest otherwise. The hon. Member for Hamilton failed to point out that other parts of the United Kingdom would be in the same position as Scotland.
Mr. Robertson : The United Kingdom is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Is the hon. Lady saying that, in the event of Scotland becoming independent, she expects it to have a sixth seat?
Mrs. Ewing : I do not take the same imperialistic view as the hon. Member for Hamilton. My understanding of international law is that Scotland has been included in treaties as a result of international agreements reached by the British Government, and that those treaties stand until such time as Scotland negotiates out of them. The hon. Gentleman has again produced a red herring in respect of a specific situation.
The political principle underpinning the concept that I described is a nation's right to self-determination, which the House, or anyone else, would be foolish to deny. The final adjustment of Scotland's status will require the unanimous agreement of member states, but so would expulsion from the EEC. The arguments made by the hon. Member for Hamilton are wrong, and I hope that he will desist from making them again until such time as he has researched the subject more thoroughly and is informed of the legal principles which obtain in international law.
The White Paper also raises the question of representation on the Council of Ministers. Annex A on pages 36 to 39 of the White Paper presents a list of the 56 meetings held in the six months between January and June 1988. On only one occasion, on 29 February 1988, did a representative of the Scottish Office attend when Lord Sanderson of Bowden played second fiddle to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Right hon. and hon. Members may ask why Scotland seeks separate representation and requests that Scottish Ministers attend the Council of Ministers. I remind the House that Scotland has a separate legal system, which means that the implications of some directives must be treated differently.
Scotland also has a different education system. Mention has been made of the interchangeability of professional qualifications, so that lawyers and vets can already work anywhere in the European Community without obtaining additional qualifications. Soon teachers will be able to do the same. Because Scotland has a different education system, and a different way of registering teachers--through the General Teaching Council for Scotland--it needs separate representation when such matters are discussed.
Scotland's fishing industry represents 60 per cent. of the Community's fisheries. That industry is vital to Scotland. Many jobs all around our coast depend on fishing. Despite that, in a six-month period on only one occasion did anyone try to represent Scotland's interests at the Council of Ministers. I understand that the position has not improved and that Scotland now faces massive cuts in its haddock and whiting quotas.
With regard to agriculture, Scotland's crofting communities are very different from those of other agricultural areas--with different traditions, different attitudes, different crops and a different way of life. A great deal of the marginal farmland in the United Kingdom lies within Scotland, and there should be representation for that.
Column 1216Transport has also been mentioned. The whisky industry merits special representation because, while we may not be unique in the European Community in producing whisky, we are certainly the major producer and it is vitally important that those interests be looked after.
It is not appropriate that Scotland should continue to be deprived of full representation in the Council of Ministers. Such representation can be achieved only through full self-government for the people of Scotland. That is something that they have the right to choose or to reject by democratic process. It is my firm belief that words such as those that we have heard from the Opposition Front Bench today are intended to demean the aspirations of the Scottish people. Perhaps we should remind ourselves that after the 1983 election the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) said that we needed to play down the aspirations of the people of Scotland. It is certainly not my intention to play down the aspirations of the people of Scotland. I see an interesting future for them within the European Community.
I do not think that the Community is perfect--many of us are only too well aware of the problems that exist and of the difficulties that have to be overcome--but the members of any organisation have to go forward in trust, with self-respect and mutual respect. That is how I should like to see Scotland participating in the Community, and I hope that the day will come sooner rather than later.