|Previous Section||Home Page|
A twin-track approach has been well on display this week in the Conservative party. It means facing both ways at the same time. There have been two sets of early-day motions, two sets of letters to The Times, two sets of books being deployed, with two distinct and wildly contradictory views being put over.
The Government are in a hopeless mess. The federalists are at the throats of the nationalists. The maximatists are chewing up the minimalists. The free traders are against the regulators. Sovereignty obsessives are against the European union visionaries.
The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and Lord Cockfield, Lord Plumb and the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine)- -the last three of whom used to be in the magic circle, in which the Minister of State still is, however tenuously--are now arraigned against this upside-down Britannia.
The Prime Minister, who signed the Single European Act with its commitments to European union and majority voting, increased powers for the European Parliament, who rushed it through the House of Commons with the aid of a whipped vote and a guillotine, then forgot that she had done it all. They said of Ronald Reagan in the case of Irangate, "Guilty but asleep". Is it amnesia or hypocrisy that afflicts the Prime Minister?
Mr. Marlow : The hon. Gentleman has gone through a farrago of falsehoods. Let us try to get some of the facts right. Can I just put one correction to him? There is but one EDM from the Conservative party on the Order Paper this week, and it starts off with the words "supports the Prime Minister".
Mr. Robertson : It is nice to see the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) in the House and taking time off from running his fairground. I know that the Prime Minister will be personally reassured that he and his hon. and right hon. Friends who signed that early-day motion were actually supporting her.
The Prime Minister signed the Single European Act three years ago with her eyes wide open. It is sheer brass neck theatrically to denounce now the fact that we are being out-voted, which was the very consequence of her
Column 514signature. The Prime Minister is legendary as the mistress of detail. No item is too small to escape her omnipotent gaze, so her bleating now about what is coming on to the European agenda is bogus and wholly incredible. She supervised the reduction in Westminster's powers of decision. She supervised the workings of faceless networks of the national civil servants who really determine European law. It is the Prime Minister who suppresses information, and it is she who keeps the doors closed on the meetings of the Council of Ministers at which decisions are ultimately made. The Prime Minister has worked hard to keep Parliament in the dark about the actions taken by her Ministers in our name.
Mr. Robertson : That demonstrates the cleverness of the Minister at the Dispatch Box. I say to the hon. Gentleman, who comes new to these debates, that I stood at this Dispatch Box to oppose the Single European Act on behalf of my party. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I warned the Prime Minister and her right hon. and hon. Friends about what they were letting us in for. We warned her about the likely consequences of the majority voting increase. I voted in the Lobbies against the Single European Act. That is on the record-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo), who makes so much noise, can confirm the voting record for himself. When that decision was made and the treaty was signed, we made clear the reality that we would all have to live with. I take exception
Mr. Teddy Taylor rose --
The Prime Minister forced the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office to sign the document on her behalf, and she forced it through the House with inadequate debate--yet she now tells the world that she did not realise what she was getting signed. That is what the issue is all about.
Mr. Taylor : Am I wholly wrong in saying only 10 of the hon. Gentleman's right hon. and hon. Friends voted against the Bill's Third Reading? I believe that some of them are present in the Chamber now.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : Whatever may have been the numbers voting on the Bill's Third Reading, does my hon. Friend recall that the final guillotined Committee and Third Reading stages took place very late at night? Does he recall also that in the programme "On the Record" broadcast last Sunday, the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), who has a particular record on these matters, stated that the Prime Minister signed the Single European Act--although it was really signed by the
Column 515Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office--with great reluctance? Does my hon. Friend recall also that, when the Prime Minister returned from the Stuttgart summit on other matters concerning European union, she could not cite any mandate for the Stuttgart arrangement--and I believe that there was no mandate for the Single European Act either?
Mr. Michael Knowles (Nottingham, East) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) claims that there was no mandate for the Single European Act, which was the subject of the hon. Gentleman's question to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister--
Mr. Robertson : My hon. Friend made a significant point, particularly in view of the Minister's comments about the inadequacy of the scrutiny given by the House to European legislation and of her promise that more would be done. Right hon. and hon. Members who sat through previous European debates recall only too well that those promises have been made before. We can only hope that the Select Committee on Procedure will take on board the serious points made by right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House.
I can cite one piece of evidence illustrating the Government's culpability. It may stagger right hon. and hon. Members and the public to know that the last oral statement to the House on the Foreign Affairs Council of Ministers--which is the most senior of all councils and is now so important that it is called the General Affairs Council--was made on 17 December 1986. It is two and one half years since the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary reported to the House on a meeting of the Council of Ministers, which is an astonishing record for a Prime Minister who dares to attack the Brussels bureaucracy. For the Prime Minister to posture as the last barrier in the way of a European super-state is breathtaking and sheer nerve. It will not convince many of the British people, who throughout history have despised counterfeit posturing and double standards in their leaders.
The Prime Minister has now served up the embers of the typically genteel Tory disagreement about what kind of future there should be for Europe, but it has been transformed into a blazing war which, like the aged leadership in Beijing, she watches helplessly, not knowing how to control it.
Last September in Bruges, the Prime Minister spoke of a European super- state and that concept, along with the "Socialists and standardisers" among her Right-wing fellow leaders, is still her chief target. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup described that as
"an abuse--an attempt to mislead the public on the nature of the European Community."
He might well do so, because a pamphlet published by Tory central office entitled "50 Questions and Answers on the European Community" posed the question :
"Isn't Britain becoming part of a United States of Europe?" The answer given is :
Column 516"No. The Prime Minister has made the Conservative position quite clear. Progress toward completion of the Single Market by 1992 is NOT synonymous with progress towards a so-called United States of Europe' or a surrender of our independence, sovereignty or national identity."
So what is all the claptrap that we hear about a European super-state?
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) : Although many right hon. and hon. Members welcome the Labour party's conversion to the European cause, can the hon. Gentleman say whether Labour now welcomes the Single European Act and all its consequences, as well as common taxation harmonised in Brussels and not fixed in this country?
To cover up the economic weakness brought upon this country by her Government and the consequent vulnerability of our industry and commerce within the single European market place, and to divert attention from the social backwardness of our country as we face the challenges of real competition from our partners in the continent, this dishonest bogey of the Brussels super-state has been erected. "Socialism by the back door" they call what most Conservatives in West Germany, the continent's most successful economy, regard as simple prerequisites for an effective single market. So-called Socialist and standardising bureaucrats are abused, although this central office pamphlet points out that there are fewer officials working in the European Commission than are employed by one borough council or even in the Tory-run Scottish Office in Edinburgh. At a time of maximum challenge for Europe, with the single market looming before us, with Japanese and American competition looming over us, with opportunities for co-operation in science and technology and in environmental protection, when all these matters are there to be solved, with immense prizes or penalties for the people of this country, the Prime Minister's obsessive interest is in suppressing dissent in her Cabinet about the European monetary system, obstructing the creation of what the Foreign Secretary on Tuesday night at the CBI dinner called
"a level playing-field for Communitywide competition",
with the "high level of protection" that is mentioned in the Single European Act, and imposing from above, from No. 10 Downing street-- Mr. Teddy Taylor rose --
Mr. Robertson : Perhaps the hon. Member for Southend, East would just wait--opposing from above and from No. 10 a blinkered, limited big- business vision of Europe on Tory MEP candidates, Members of the House and, of course, her tired and browned-off colleagues within the Council of Ministers.
I give way for the last time to the hon. Member for Southend, East.
Mr. Taylor : In view of what the hon. Gentleman said about this dramatic battle which the Labour party put up against this frightful Single European Act, which is undermining our democracy and which has caused all these troubles, how can he explain the fact that, on 10 July 1986, on this great vote on this historic occasion, there
Column 517were around 20 Members of the Labour party present to vote against it? If it is so important, how was it that the Labour party on that occasion, as on so many others, treated such a vital issue with such contempt--as they are doing today, with a handful of its supporters here discussing the situation?
Mr. Robertson : The hon. Member, before he struggled out of the Chamber, told us that it was 10 Labour Members. It is now 20, so that is double what he said. Even when he was living on the precipice in Glasgow, Cathcart he could recognise that as a slight error of judgment.
If the hon. Member for Southend, East had been present during all the hours for which we debated the Single European Act and all the divisions that we had, if he had been able to deliver any of the promised rebellions from his colleagues--all the ones who are making the noise now--perhaps the decision would have been remarkably different. If he had waited for a few more minutes in the Chamber he would have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) say that the key votes at that time were not on Third Reading but at an earlier stage, because the hon. Member for Southend, East did a deal with the Leader of the House on the timing of that debate so that it took place at a far later hour than anybody could possibly have envisaged.
Mrs. Chalker : We have heard quite a lot from the hon. Gentleman about the absence of scrutiny, badly timed debates and inadequate control of technical legislation, and we hear quite a lot about 10 pm debates. We now have a debate in prime time on the Floor of the House, and what happens? Opposition Members are not here, and those of them who do turn up go on bickering about voting history. It does not augur well for the Labour party in Europe.
Mr. Robertson : The bickering about voting records is coming from the right hon. Lady's side of the House. If all her hon. Friends were here to support her this evening, I would be extremely surprised, because it is not the usual situation at all.
At the heart of the family squabble that has broken out in the Prime Minister's party is the Prime Minister's style in the Community. It is a flamboyant but notably unproductive style. It gets her noticed, but it rarely produces the goods for Britain. It produces fireworks and reactions from others but it alienates our friends and isolates our country. Britain is continually sidelined, marginalised and out-manoeuvred. That, we are to believe, is the mark of a patriot--the best European of all, as she proclaims in today's Daily Mail. But the real test is there and can be measured. The reverberations of the Bruges speech may well be ringing round Europe, but how is this country faring, for instance, in the committees that will determine the technical standards that will apply in the single European market of 1992? There are two major standardising committees : one is CEN--the European Committee for Standardisation--and the other is CENELEC--the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation. There are 73 chairmanships and secretariats in the control of the Federal Republic of
Column 518Germany, with only 47 in the hands of Britain. No wonder Mr. John Banham, the director general of the CBI, said this :
"Britain is not putting enough resources behind the present negotiations in Brussels over standards, and this would be a very expensive mistake when we find we have to comply with German or French standards in the new trading environment of 1992."
This is more of an acid test of the British Community policy than anything we heard about in the Minister's speech this evening, and we fail that test by a mile. As the right hon. Member for Henley so eloquently put it in his book published last weekend--no doubt we shall hear from him if he catches your eye later this evening, Mr. Deputy Speaker :
"Every hostile speech provokes at best despair, at worst contempt. The French and the Germans, at every sign of British aloofness, draw closer together."
That says it all--and that is somebody who is in the know and was once part of the charmed magic circle.
All the time, our economic position makes our bargaining position weaker and weaker. Our inflation rate is still higher than that of our competitors and is rising. Our interest rates are among the highest and they are not falling. Our trade deficit, especially with our Community partners, has now reached historic and crippling proportions.
Mr. William Cash (Stafford) rose --
In 1980 our trade in manufactured goods with Europe was roughly in balance.
In 1980, our trade in manufactured goods with Europe was roughly in balance. Today it is in deficit by over £14 billion. In 1980, our manufacturing deficit with West Germany was £550 million, even then not a good figure, but in 1988 it had risen to £8 billion. Our deficit with France has doubled in eight years. Our deficit with Italy has increased by eight times in those eight years. Only with Greece and Ireland do we achieve a surplus. Yet the Prime Minister had the audacity, in a letter to me two weeks ago, to say : "In manufactured goods, the import/export ratio has been doing rather better vis-a -vis the rest of the EC than with the rest of the world."
If one can produce these statistics in relation to the Community, that says a lot about the rest of the world.
This is a vivid example of how politicians can use, abuse and devalue statistics. This is the real indictment of this Government's policy in the Community. It has left Britain's economy pitifully weak to face the challenge of the European market and has kept us so socially backward that our opportunities will be all the more limited. That is why the partisan, dogmatic and self-defeating attitude to the social dimension so debilitates Britain's future. Mr. Butterfill rose --
In addition to the crippling interest rates and the rising tide of imports, our level of investment in manufacturing
Column 519is lower than it was in 1979 when this Government came to power. Our training-in-skills record is appalling and we invest only 10 per cent. of what West Germany does in this field. Our investment in non-military research and development as a percentage of gross national product is the lowest of all advanced European industrialised countries.
The percentage of our population who are receiving higher education is lower than the equivalent percentage in Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands, and our industries--open to the world as they are-- stand acutely and uniquely vulnerable to takeovers, asset stripping and being swallowed up. But yesterday, without even a sight of the Commission's proposed social charter--an outline of a social charter--Ministers were pushed out into the street to condemn it out of hand, despite the fact that that document derives from one of the conclusions reached at the Rhodes summit and subscribed to by the Prime Minister. That conclusion stated that the
"European Council awaits such proposals as the Commission might consider useful to submit having drawn inspiration from the Social Charter of the Council of Europe."
The social charter is a binding instrument passed by the Council of Europe and voted for by the United Kingdom Government. It was presented yesterday by Madame Papandreou, voted for by all but one of the Commissioners--and described by the Prime Minister today as a Socialist charter.
The European Community has an economic and social committee made up of representatives from industry and the trade unions, as well as a good many independent people--academics and others--who were appointed by their individual Governments to sit and consider such matters. The social charter was put to that committee on 22 February, and only 22 out of 165 people voted against what the Prime Minister has today described as a Socialist charter.
On Monday this week, the Secretary of State for Health was sent to Brussels to be humiliated and out-voted by 11 to one on a simple, sensible protective scheme for cancer warnings on cigarette packets. Having experienced such humiliation--as a member of the Cabinet--the Secretary of State would have opened his Daily Mail today with fascinated interest to read the Prime Minister's comment to Sir David English that the scheme was
"This tobacco thing, the thing on the packet, it is not worth making a song and dance about On its own it is not worth fighting about."
Now the Secretary of State for Health knows why he was sent out there : to be humiliated over something that was "not worth fighting about".
Mr. Budgen rose--
Next Monday the Secretary of State for Education will be sent to try to veto the Lingua project, a sensible plan to encourage more language teaching in schools and more exchanges of young people. That programme has no legislative consequences for this country, but we know that it is deeply desirable, and the Department of Education and Science was positively enthusiastic when it was originally floated here. We are also about to sabotage the Commission's plan on health and safety, despite the strong
Column 520support that the Secretary of State had given it. Now we want to veto its plan to allow pensioners to share travel concessions in individual countries.
Mr. Budgen rose --
Mr. Budgen : I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman shares my view of the European Court. Does he regard it as a political court? The Prime Minister must regard it as one. There is a great issue of principle involved in what constitutes a measure directed towards improving the internal market. If the Prime Minister is not prepared to authorise the testing of that principle in the court, it is plain that she has no real faith in the court and regards it as a political rather than a legal organisation.
Mr. Robertson : Reading the interview in today's Daily Mail, I wondered why the Prime Minister signed the Single European Act in the first place, and also whether she fully understands what she signed even now. Sir David English understood the point that the hon. Gentleman has made, but it is clear from the answer that she gave him that the Prime Minister does not understand the technicalities of what she let herself in for when she signed the Act, or gave authority for the signature. Paragraph 3 of article 100A states : "The Commission, in its proposals envisaged in paragraph 1 concerning health, safety, environmental protection and consumer protection, will take as a base a high level of protection." I do not know whether the Prime Minister managed to convince herself, in the amazingly flamboyant interview in the Daily Mail which takes up the front page as well as two inside pages, but it is clear from the paper's editorial that she did not persuade Sir David English. The editorial, placed next to the interview, says : "We admire her spirit. But we wonder about her tactics When she approved with such a magisterial flourish her Government's signature to the Single European Act in 1986, did she fully realise the implications of what she was doing?".
Sir David may have got his knighthood, but I doubt that he will get the peerage for which he was probably aiming when he devoted three pages of his paper to the matter.
Mr. Cash rose --
When will the Government realise that our European partners--whether they be Conservative, Liberal, Social Democrat or Socialist--believe that the same high standards mentioned in the Single European Act in relation to health and safety and working practices, in the workplace as well as in the environment, are prerequisites for the working of the single market? Our partners will not be held back by a British Government who believe in minimum standards.
Let me offer one helpful comment to the Minister of State, who I know does not share the prevailing view in the Government about the level playing field for competition referred to by the Foreign Secretary. Speaking at the Institute of Directors conference, the ambassador from the Federal Republic of Germany said :
"Our success in attaining the internal market depends in a very real way on simultaneous integration in the social field. We should work as far as possible and practicable for parity in social security and social benefits, in occupational safety requirements, vocational training, and last but not least in the field of worker participation.
Column 521Those are the words of a representative of a centre-Right Government, lecturing our Government on what may happen.
Mr. Butterfill rose --
The Minister of State made the point that, before the next six-monthly debate on the European Community, the British electorate would have a chance to give its verdict on the conflicting visions presented to it on 15 June this year. Perhaps that will be a better test of opinion than any debate we have had in the House. The electorate will, of course, be confronted by the confusion on the Conservative Benches. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup has said that he will campaign for those who believe in the vision that he stands for. No doubt the right hon. Member for Henley will support another small group of elite candidates, and the rest will be told precisely what to say by No 10 Downing street.
Alternative and sharp visions will, however, be on display in the election : visions of a party that wants to take Britain back to the little England of the past, and sees no future in Europe except in the deregulated free- for-all for big business, or of a party that is committed to Europewide co- operation and believes in doing for the environment what can be done only at European level ; a party that is willing to cleanse our beaches, our rivers and our water supplies ; a party that is willing to tackle multinational companies and unemployment without the Community ; a party committed to protecting the vulnerable regions, industries, firms and people within the Community.
That depends on a party that believes in the Community, in co-operation and in mutual respect, in an atmosphere of building majorities and of political give and take which we all, barring the Prime Minister, know is the essential reality for any domestic or multinational system. It is in the Prime Minister's blindness to the dangers facing the country, her unpreparedness and her casual, careless disdain for the new politics of Europe that we see the threat to the country and disaster for the Conservative party. 6.20 pm
Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion) : I suppose that most of us are now Europeans of some sort, but what kind of Europe each of us wants seems to be a proper subject on which right hon. and hon. Members may differ. The representation on the two Front Benches is eloquent testimony that there are differences on both sides of the House. I could not identify in the speech of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) any clear Labour party view about Europe. He had a certain amount of fun trying to knock down various Aunt Sallies, but I could not understand the Labour vision.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of State on the speech with which she opened the debate, both for what she said and for what, perhaps wisely, she did not say. She was absolutely right to emphasise the contribution that we have made in the last decade to the development of the European Community and more particularly to the single market, which is in wide measure our creation. We have had great influence in liberalising
Column 522and in reducing expenditure on the agricultural policy which had got out of hand. We have benefited from the rather brazen attack by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the budget, and it was very much in our interest that she pursued that matter.
We need to continue emphasising the benefits of the current economic and financial thinking in this country which can make a great contribution to Europe, albeit with a certain modesty because we do have the highest rate of inflation in the Community and our living standards are not yet within reach of the living standards of the French, the Germans or, indeed, of the Benelux countries. So when we discuss social and other policies we should appreciate where we stand in comparison with our partners in the Community.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State did not embark on the proposition advanced in certain quarters that the real issue is between national sovereignty and federation. That is a windmill which should not be tilted at because it is not really there. I maintain that it is not, with some experience of the European movement since 1946. Indeed, I will go back further. In London 87 years ago, we proposed that the self-governing countries of the Empire, later the Commonwealth, should federate. The British Government put forward a proposal for a single imperial Government, eventually a single Parliament, a single imperial secretariat, a single navy and a customs union. Money did not come into it--we were all on gold. The proposal was turned down by the Colonies. If we could not get six mainly English-speaking, tremendously loyal and patriotic imperial countries, with only 20 or 30 years of self-government behind them, to federate, it is not likely that the ancient and famous states of Europe will go into a federation, whether directly or by the back door. It just will not happen. Mr. Spearing rose--
As to sovereignty, we have already given up a good deal in other spheres. The biggest surrender has been in the Western European Union, where we have committed ourselves indefinitely to station troops and air forces on the continent.
The whole idea, launched by Alexander Hamilton 150 years ago, that there could be no choice--that there had to be either nation states or federation --has been proved wrong by the British. We had the Commonwealth, which was a great success, with political co-operation, with a preferential union--it was not quite a customs union--with a single reserve currency, sterling, and a joint defence policy. There are lessons from our own history that we can apply with advantage in Europe.
The European Community has been in existence for some 30 years--we were not part of it at the beginning--and it is already more than a Commonwealth, though miles less than a federation, and it will grow in its own mysterious way. When we look back on it, that will be when we can say what kind of constitution it is developing. It will not be federal, and it will be different from the Commonwealth. It will be something new, and only later shall we be able to measure our contribution to it.
I thank and congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of State on the delicate way in which she handled